Thursday, May 28, 2015

Searching for Sources at FamilySearch at #NGS2015GEN (Part 2)

I barely got started telling you about Robert Kehrer’s luncheon presentation at the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. Today I get to the meat of his presentation: Record Hints. [As I warned last time, my memory is getting fuzzy and what you’re getting here is a mixture of Robert’s material and my own interpolations.]

Robert contrasted FamilySearch searching versus hinting.

Searching Hinting
You enter data into the search form. Behind the scenes, FamilySearch’s hinting system takes data from Family Tree.
The search form limits the number and type of parameters you can enter. The hinting system uses a rich data cloud (described below).
Searching is “on demand.” The search occurs when you click the search button. Hints are pre-calculated. If your ancestors are in the tree, then you probably have hints just waiting for you.
The risk of false positives is high. In other words, many of the search results are not what you’re searching for. The risk of false positives is low. Record Hints are correct about 98.5-99% of the time. The real magic is how thorough the results are. For the record collections searched by the hinting system, the system finds about 60-70% of the records pertaining to the person in Family Tree.
The user controls the search. You can iterate, fine-tune, and tweak search parameters to find those elusive records. The system is in control.

The hinting system searches using the name, gender, all events with dates and places, all one-hop relatives (parents, spouse, children) and their names, dates, and places. The more information available, the more accurate the results are.

Hints are accessible in four places:

Click the brown icon on the pedigree view.
Record hint icons on the pedigree view
Click the brown icon on the descendancy view.
Record hint icons on the descendancy view
Check the upper right corner of the person page.
Record hints on the person page
Or in the Record Hints box, click Show Details.
Show Details link in Record Hints box

Robert made a quick aside about icons of different colors. See my article “#NGS2015GEN and FamilySearch (Part 1)” for more information.

When you click a hint, a box pops up with the information from the record. Examine the data. If the hint is incorrect, click Not a Match. If it might be correct, click the blue button, Review and Attach.

image displays the SourceLinker attach tool. SourceLinker:

  • Helps you decide on matches.
  • Links names in records to persons in Family Tree.
  • Adds information from records to Family Tree.
  • Adds relatives to Family Tree.
  • Creates sources and citations in Family Tree.

SourceLinker displays information from the record and from Family Tree side-by-side. It automatically lines up family members. FamilySearch’s experience is that when you can see the whole family in context, you can better decide if the record pertains to a person in Family Tree.

George Winn example of SourceLinker

Robert gave us a tour of SourceLinker. I’ve labeled sections of the tool in the George Winn example, above. Click Open (or Details) in the section header to open a section and Close to hide it.

SourceLinker displays information from the record in the left column. Above the column it indicates the record collection name. Click Record or Image to popup the indexed text or the original image.

SourceLinker displays information from Family Tree in the right column. When you clicked the blue button to attach a record, SourceLinker matched the whole of Family Tree against this record to find the best match. Then it checked the last 50 persons you looked at. If the person found was also in your history list, it made that person the focus person. If not, SourceLinker brought in a panel and let you choose the focus person from a list of matches, your history list, or explicit ID. For hints, the system previously selected the focus person. If SourceLinker displays the wrong person, click Find Your Family. In the example above, it is a Winn-Winn situation.

Section 1 – Parents. In the first section, SourceLinker displays information about the parents. In this example, no parents are identified in the record, so the section is closed.

Section 2 – Focus Person and Spouse. In the second section, SourceLinker displays information about the focus person and spouse. In the first part of the section, SourceLinker lines up vital information from the record with the information in the tree. Compare the two when deciding if the person in the record matches the person in Family Tree. The second part of the person section displays information present in the record that is not present in the tree. Click Add to copy it into the tree.

In the third part of the person section, select boxes to indicate what vital information is supplied by the record. You can also add the Source to your Source Box. Specify a reason as to why you are attaching this record. Why do you think the record pertains to the person? I want them to know what I was thinking when I added this source, Robert said. In the George Winn example, my reason is

I believe this record matches George Thomas Winn because of matches in: name, gender, birth year (albeit off by one in this census record), birth state, he is residing at his birth place, and the given name and birth year of the wife and children match (again, within one for a census record).

Before clicking the Attach button, compare the names and vitals of the spouse (in the last part of section 2), children (section 3), and siblings (section 4). Click Details on the right hand side to reveal more information about each person. If these play a part of your reasoning, note that in your reason statement.

If FamilySearch presented an incorrect hint, click Not a Match. FamilySearch removes it from the hint list. If you can’t tell if it is or isn’t a match, click Cancel.

To attach other persons in the record, click on the Attach arrow between the left and right columns. Attached persons are highlighted in green. Once one person has been attached, subsequent attachments can be done rapid fire, without waiting for each to turn green. Jennie and Mozelle are ready in the George Winn example, above. An exclamation icon separates Ruth instead of an attach arrow because Ruth is still living and records can not be attached to living persons.

If there is no matching person in Family Tree, click the Add arrow to add them. The Add arrow can be seen, above for Evelyn.

SourceLinker does its best to line up persons in the record and the tree. If it fails, click the up/down arrows on the person on the left and drag them to line up with the person on the right. This is shown for Evelyn, above.

There may be others in the record who are related to someone other than the focus person, Change the focus person in the record and tree, accordingly. It will then be possible to attach the others in the record. In the header of section 2, click the Change options. In the Winn example, Johanna Nielsen is George’s mother-in-law, so she might be Jennie’s mother. Jennie’s mother in Family Tree is Kirsten Johanne Johansen, so she is, in fact, Jennie’s mother (as opposed to an earlier wife’s). Change the focus person of the record to be Jennie. Change the focus person in Family Tree to be Jennie. SourceLinker will display Jennie’s parents instead of George’s and will line up Johanne with Kirsten Johanne. Click the Attach arrow between the two.

If the focus person had multiple spouses, select other spouses by clicking the small, sideways carot next to the spouse.

Before hints, users were adding thousands of sources per day. Now they add a quarter-million sources each day! Hints have allowed new users to have initial successes, allowing them to make meaningful contributions and the very start.

To see a short interview of Robert, view DearMYRTLE’s “AmbushCAM FamilySearch.”

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Searching for Sources at FamilySearch at #NGS2015GEN (Part 1)

Robert Kehrer's grandfather, Howard Franklin AllorFamilySearch’s Robert Kehrer, search product manager, presented a luncheon session at the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. It was titled “FamilySearch Hinting: Making Difficult Research Easy.” Like shaky leaf record hints in personal member trees, FamilySearch’s record hints are indicators in Family Tree that a record exists that might pertain to a person in the tree.

[Since we are days past the conference, I must worn again that my recollections fail me. Some of the information below comes directly from my notes. Some are interpolations.]

Users can create sources in Family Tree in four different ways:

  1. By creating a Memory source. (Family Tree sometimes calls these documents.)
  2. By explicitly creating a new source. The source can be from anywhere on [or off] the Internet.
  3. Through searching for a record. This is done with an attach tool that Robert called the Source Linker.
  4. Via hinting. This also utilizes the attach tool.

Howard Franklin Allor is Robert’s grandfather.

Discharge papers of Howard Franklin AllorRobert found his grandfather’s naval discharge paper and uploaded it to To add a document, click on Memories, then Add Document, and then drag and drop the file. Robert didn’t show it, but a document can also be attached to a source in the Sources section of the person page. As this document contains strong evidence regarding an event in Howard’s life, I would do so. The evidence of birth is weaker, but I would still tag it as a source for the birth information.

From the discharge papers, Robert learned that his grandfather had served on the USS Stokes, so he searched the web and found a website dedicated to the Stokes.

On the website, Robert found a photo of the crew during the commissioning ceremony. Because a crew list showed his grandfather was present, and because of his grandfather’s glasses and moustache, he was able to locate him in the photo! He downloaded it and uploaded it to

Robert demonstrated how to create a source to any arbitrary page on the Internet. As an example, he created a source for Howard’s SSDI record on That’s a good example, because it demonstrates copy and paste of a source citation. To create the source, go to the person page, scroll down to the sources section, and click Create a New Source. Make up a title. This is the title that will be displayed in the source list. Copy and paste the URL. Copy and paste the citation. Put whatever you feel appropriate in the Notes field. Some people copy and paste the record values. Robert copied and pasted some of the database description.

USS Stokes commissioning crew on 4 November 1944I thought it would have been interesting if he had created a source for the commissioning photo. Having seen a couple of misidentified photographs in Family Tree, I am increasingly aware of the need to specify the provenance of historical photos. Robert has a high confidence in the photo because he knows the provenance. But how can other people judge? A source and citation would go a long way. Your citation might look different than mine and still be just fine, but I would have tinkered with a citation looking a bit like this one:

Ken Brown, “Crew Photos,” text and digital images, USS Stokes (AKA-68), website ( : accessed 19 May 2015), third of four photographs labeled “The above photos of the USS Stokes commissioning crew were taken on 4 November 1944”; provided by Steve Carver, son of F2c George R. Carver.

If I knew something about George R. Carver, I might add that. Was he there? Was he an official who would have known the subject of the photograph? (But I digress…)

A source can be created through searching a record. has records containing about 5.2 billion names. The records are very heavily weighted towards civil (vital) records, church records, and census records—records that help bridge the generations. One way to begin a search is by clicking Search Records on the person page:

Howard Franklin Allor's person page on FamilySearch Family Tree starts a search, using the name, birthplace, and a birth year range of two years on either side of the birth year. (See the left side of the screen shot, below.)

Search results for Howard Franklin Allor, search initiated from FamilySearch Family Tree

Notice the difference between starting a search from an Ancestry Member Tree and FamilySearch Family Tree. loads the search with every known fact about the person, including names of some relatives. FamilySearch is nearly the opposite, specifying just birth information. The result will become apparent in part 2 of this article.

Click on a result and review it. If it pertains to your search subject, click the big blue button on the right hand side labeled “Attach to Family Tree.”

Find a grave record of Howard Franklin Allor, search initiated from FamilySearch Family Tree

Next time I’ll talk about number four on the list of ways to create a source: hinting.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Owners of Hoping to Sell

Stock image of a rubber auction mallet hitting a stack of money
Image credit: Keerati /
It seems will soon be on the auction block, according to “people familiar with the matter.” Reuters broke the story last Wednesday, citing sources that did not wish to be identified. Ancestry’s owner, Permira Advisers LLC, has hired an investment bank to perform the auction.

Permira is a private equity firm. Let me see if I can remember how they work. I’m not an expert, so I may not have this completely right. But here’s how I think it works: A private equity firm is a company with expertise in buying and selling stock in privately owned companies. It invites people to give them money with the anticipation that ten years later they will get their money back, plus a profit. The pile of money is called a private equity fund. The firm takes the funds and buys multiple private companies. At the end of the ten years, the people want their money back, plus a profit. If the firm can’t deliver, people get awfully cranky. And they don’t want private shares of; they want cold, hard cash.

So when Permira bought back in 2012, it was expected that several years later they would want to unload it. I’ve been told that in the private equity world, three years is a long time. Well, we’re coming up on three years for

How much money will Permira make? It is hard to say, but let’s look at one, simplistic measure. In 2012 sold $334.6 million in subscriptions and was sold for $1.6 billion. That put the value of the company at 4.8 times its subscription revenues. Last year they sold $553.8 in subscriptions. The same ratio would put their present value at $2.6 billion. Like I said, that’s pretty simplistic. Lot’s of other factors will be considered. But the Reuters “people” predicted a valuation of between $2.5 and $3 billion, so my napkin math is reasonable.

Monday, May 25, 2015

In Memoriam: Software Friends at and FamilySearch

My thoughts and prayers today are with our military families who have lost cherished family members. I am also cognizant of others mourning loved ones. A recent death of a friend at saddened me deeply. This Memorial Day, I’d like to honor him and several other software friends who have passed away at and FamilySearch.

Frank Edward Briscoe (1953-2015)

Frank Edward Briscoe
December 11, 1953 - April 26, 2015

Our husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend, Frank Edward Briscoe, graduated from this life on April 26, 2015 at his home in Orem, UT after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 61. We will miss him.

Frank was born on December 11, 1953, to Lewis Samuel Briscoe and Catherine Rose Frustaci, in Denver, Colorado. He attended schools in Denver all throughout his growing up years. He attended Brigham Young University where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography, and later earned a Master’s in Public Administration. He worked for BYU Food Services for 7 years, then later began his career with computer technology, where he remained for 23 years.   At the time of his passing, he was employed with, where he had worked for the past 11 years. (More…)

Scott William Pathakis (1960-2014)Scott William Pathakis
May 10, 1960 – April 26, 2014

We had to say goodbye too soon to our outrageously talented and lovable husband and dad, Scott William Pathakis. He was born on May 10, 1960 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to the late Ted William & Carlene B. Schlegel Pathakis. Scott was the most perfect husband to Lori Allred Pathakis and they have four wonderful children, Erin Tracy (Christopher), Andra Staley (Davis), Clark and Brooke.…Following a hike with Lori, Clark and Brooke in Capitol Reef National Park he suddenly became sick and collapsed into the arms of his sweetheart.  He left this world suddenly and painlessly, and his family finds comfort knowing that he is now with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ.…

He was a software engineer with the Family History Department for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints …His expertise in database and search technologies has greatly contributed to the success of (More…)

imageNolan Kay Larsen
June 6, 1958 - February 14, 2013

Nolan Kay Larsen, beloved son, husband, father, brother, uncle, and grandfather, passed away unexpectedly on February 14, 2013. He was born June 6, 1958 to Lee Larsen and Dawn Larsen in Provo, Utah.

He grew up in Bountiful with his 2 sisters and 2 brothers. He graduated from BYU with a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science. While attending school, he met his sweetheart, Denise Norton, and made her his eternal companion on November 24, 1984 in the Mesa Arizona Temple.

He excelled in his career as a software programmer working on a variety of platforms. He enjoyed photography, technology, problem solving, genealogy, and traveling. (More…)

imageBrian Collings Cooper
February 14, 1953 - January 19, 2010

Brian Collings Cooper of Orem, Utah, passed away on 19 January 2010 at age 56 after struggling with cancer. He was born 14 February 1953 in Pocatello, Idaho, to Lindell and Blanche Collings Cooper. After serving a mission for the LDS Church in Colombia, Bogotá and Cali Missions, Brian married Janet Johnson of Rexburg, Idaho, on 20 August 1976 in the LDS Idaho Falls Temple. They are the parents of eight children: Jared (Sue Ann), Joseph (Amanda), Nancy, Nathan (Stephanie), Rebecca (Jeffrey Tucker), Elder Robert Cooper (California San Jose Mission), Jason, and Janelle (deceased). …

Brian [earned] his Bachelors Degree and Masters Degree from Brigham Young University in computer science. He has been employed as a computer programmer by Eyring Research, WordPerfect, Novell, Celio, and the LDS Church Family History Department. (More…)

Gone, but not forgotten.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Smiths and Joneses at #NGS2015GEN

Details from the old TV show: Alias Smith and JonesAt the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society, Elizabeth Shown Mills presented a session titled “Smiths and Joneses: How to Cope with Families of Common Names.”

She taught a research process model, research analysis model, and identity triangulation model. These are covered in her QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to the Research Process. I reviewed this product recently. (See “Review: Research Process QuickSheet.”) She taught her Problem Solving Spiral, taken from her QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle). (You can see a diagram of the spiral on her blog.) Unlike some product-hawking presenters, she never mentioned the existence of these products. Quite the opposite. If you went to the NGS conference, you can print a copy of her handout (pp. 441-4) and you’ll have half the information from these two products.

Elizabeth states that when dealing with common names, the chance of erroneously linking a record to a person is greatened. I loved Elizabeth’s terminology: “identity theft” and “former ancestors.” Committing the first, results in the second.

One thing she taught was that we need to finish extracting information, analyzing documents, and correlating findings while we are still onsite with the records. I recently suffered the results of not doing so. I was on an expensive, cross-continental research trip. I thought my pristine photographs of a business ledger would suffice. No need to extract them on the spot. When I got home I found that while the photographs were pristine, the handwriting was not. How I wished I could examine additional pages to assist deciphering. Oops.

“Research is not trolling the internet for names.” Dealing with common surnames doesn’t change the rules of sound research. “Working with common names requires that every source and every piece of information be critically appraised from every possible angle.”