Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Findmypast Making Progress Digitizing PERSI Articles

PERSI is available on Findmypast.comI came across a list of periodicals that Findmypast has added to its PERSI collection.

According to the FamilySearch Wiki,

The Periodical Source Index, or PERSI, is the largest subject index to genealogy and local history periodical articles in the world. Created by the staff of the Allen County Public Library Foundation and the ACPL’s Genealogy Center, PERSI is widely recognized as a vital tool for genealogical researchers. PERSI indexes articles in 11,000 periodical titles (including 3,000 defunct titles) published by thousands of local, state, national and international societies and organizations, arranging 2.25 million entries by surname or location and 22 basic subject headings.

While indexing all these articles, PERSI doesn’t actually include them. Researchers must subsequently find a copy of the periodical. Fortunately, PERSI includes a list of institutions holding the respective titles. Or one can pay a small copying fee and get copies of articles from the Allen County Public Library.

You’ll recall that Findmypast added the PERSI index to their website back in February 2014. As part of that partnership, Findmypast is digitizing indexed articles, which increases the value of PERSI by several orders of magnitude. While I hope Findmypast can negotiate posting of recent periodicals, the list indicates that thus far they have not done so. All currently posted articles are from magazine issues for which the copyright has expired. Still, the list is pretty impressive:

You may wish to check it out. Even without a subscription, searching PERSI on the Findmypast website provides useful pointers toward indexed articles.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Insider Ketchup

Ancestry Insider KetchupI’m trying to take the rest of the month off for Christmas, but news keeps happening. I have no time. Time to quickly ketchup…

Laura Bush and Daughter Speaking at RootsTech

From the RootsTech press release:

RootsTech 2015 attendees will get to hear firsthand how one of the nation’s most famous families celebrates their family across generations.  RootsTech, the largest family history conference in the world, announced today that former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush Hager will be the keynote speakers during the Friday morning general session on February 13, 2015.

For more information, see the article on the FamilySearch blog. Explains Missing DNA Ancestry

I hear people all the time complain that their DNA report excludes countries of known ancestry.’s Anne Gillespie Mitchell recently explained some of the reasons. Read “Ask Ancestry Anne: Where Is My Native American DNA?” on the blog.

LDS Church History Department Collaborates With FamilySearch

The Deseret News LDS Church News recently shared news of a partnership between FamilySearch and the Church History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Using the power of and the scholarship of The Joseph Smith Papers Project, descendants of early Church members can now connect to original source documents where their own progenitors are mentioned,” said Elder Steven E. Snow, Church Historian and Recorder, according to the article.

The article gives a link to a page on where members can go to see if there are any links for their ancestors: You can also search on the Joseph Smith Papers website at Check the list of people at

For more information read the article on the Deseret News website or on the FamilySearch blog, see "Did Your Ancestors Interact with the Prophet Joseph Smith?"

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday Mailbox: What is Going On Here? historic person marketing pageDear Ancestry Insider,

Recently, when I performed a Google search for family names, links appeared which lead to the person in "Historical Person Search" results like the example to the right.

So far, I have NOT been able to

  • see the actual source of this information (which is often incorrect)
  • go to the source
  • go to the member tree that might be the source

HOW ARE THESE "Historical" records generated??????

AND NOTE  the suggestion in the section titled “Ready to Discover Your Family Story” inviting me to start with my own name, from which they will find my tree for me. 

Given that LIVING people are supposed to be "PRIVATE" what is going on here?

Jean F Milne

Dear Jean,

Have you noticed in Google that when you type in a person’s name sometimes you get links to a bunch of websites giving you a little bit of information about the person and offering to sell you more? Maybe even perform criminal background check? For example, among the Google search results for [william george pentland] are those from,,, and Well, I think that realized that they could attract more people to their website if they did the same thing. They have built pages like the one you saw and let Google index them. The page contains sells information about the features that might attract new users. indicates the source for your example is “10 records, 10 photos and 28,051 family trees.” The vital information and relatives are synthesized from the 28,051 family trees. If you’ve viewed shaky leaf hints from family trees, you’ve seen these synthesized records. Combining records of William from 28,051 family trees is too much work for a human; they must use machine algorithms. And machines frequently make mistakes. The ten records are the results of searching their historical record collections and are shown in the section titled “Top Record Matches For…” The ten photos are similarly the results of a search of their photo collections, which seem to be dominated by those submitted by users.

As for the “Ready to Discover Your Family Story” section, I assume is using their standard tree building engagement process. It starts engaging you by prompting you to add information about yourself. Next it engages you a little more by asking for information about a parent and then a grandparent. With each piece of information supplied you are more engaged and more likely to continue the process. At some point you are prompted to supply an email address so you can save your results. Without hardly thinking about it, you have an user account and member tree. Now you are almost fully engaged. teases you with record results you can partially see. For just a little money you can see the full records and add the information to your tree.

Some people see an invitation to search for an ancestor rather than starting with themselves.Like any good company, tests alternatives to see what provides the most engagement. For example, in your example some people see an invitation to search for an ancestor rather than starting with themselves. It’s possible that may have given me this alternative because it knows that I already frequent genealogy websites.

I’m pretty sure uses the same rules for privacy on this page that it does anywhere else. That’s why you are led to create enough of a tree to get you back to generations for which has records. Living individuals in trees are kept private.

Katy Perry by Joella Marano
Katy Perry
Photo by Joella Marano.
Used under license, unchanged.

You probably already know this, but the notion that all living individuals are kept private anywhere on (and FamilySearch, for that matter) is false. Many entities, government and otherwise, legally release information about living individuals and that information often shows up online.

The Ancestry Insider

Friday, December 12, 2014

Darned Records: Always Check Adjacent Images

Front side of a California marriage recordWe depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies. Some are amusing or humorous. Some are interesting or weird. Some are peculiar or suspicious. Some are infuriating, or downright laughable.

Yes, Records say the Darnedest Things.”

Experienced researchers know to look forward and backward when viewing images online or on microfilm. A coworker told me about a recent experience. He was helping a friend view California county marriage records.
The reverse side of a California County marriage records contains additional information.My coworker was familiar with these records and knew to check the next image to see the back of the form. The back contained this additional information:

  • Bride and groom’s marital status and number of the marriage
  • Bride and groom’s occupation and industry
  • Parents and their birthplaces
  • The bride and groom’s birthplaces and residences are sometimes given with greater specificity.
  • Much of the information from the front is duplicated on the back. If illegible on the front, it might be legible on the back.

Having learned the principle, his friend applied it to British Columbia marriage records and made a more serendipitous discovery. Only the fronts of these records were present. There was no apparent reason to check the next image.

Interfiled among the marriage records he found a letter from their rector, certifying banns.But when he checked, he found interfiled among the marriage records, someone had slipped in a letter from their rector, certifying banns of marriage had been read. Had he not checked the next image, he would have missed this cool document.

Darn you if you don’t check the images before and after the one with your record!

Thursday, December 11, 2014 Releases Historical Insights

Example historical insight from Ancestry iPad app: Mormon released a cool new feature last week for its Apple app: Historical Insights. In their blog, they wrote:

So how does it work? In some ways, insights are like hints. While we can’t be positive that your family member experienced a certain event like the San Francisco earthquake, we use information you’ve added to your tree and historical records to determine whether your relative might have been in the city in 1906 when it occurred. And like hints, you have the ability to accept an insight and keep it in a person’s profile or ignore it.

User feedback was pretty positive. Either they loved it, or they wanted it on their non-Apple device. wrote their intention to add it to their website app. Nothing was said about any other mobile device.

In my brief look at the feature, I was impressed. In the example to the right, detected an ancestor who lived in Illinois in 1840 and Utah in 1850. It surmised (correctly) that he had immigrated on the Mormon Trail.

Some hints have pictures, some don’t. All have the barely legible not-quite-white text on a lime green background. (I’m always mystified that interface designers are more concerned about aesthetics than legibility. But don’t get me started…)

The success of the feature will depend on two things: can they assemble a large enough store of historical facts to make the feature worth their efforts, and can they present pertinent hints to the right people. For one of my ancestors who left Vermont, they mentioned the volcano eruption that caused the year without a summer. That’s a good call on their part. That’s an important events that many people don’t know about that precipitated a large number of people to leave Vermont. For another ancestor they mentioned that he was living in Kentucky where they may have witnessed “the night the stars fell.” That’s another cool event, but they need not associate it with Kentucky. It was visible across the entire country. They did make some bad calls. My American born and died ancestors were almost certainly not affected by the discovery of gold in New South Wales and may not have been affected by immigration precipitated by wars in Europe.

This is a great feature. It has the potential of becoming a strategic tool that could bust through brick walls. I hope they continue to hone it into an important tool for understanding why our ancestors did what they did.

For more information, see the announcement on the blog.