Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Jim Ericson and FamilySearch Indexing (Part 1) – #BYUFHGC

Jim Ericson of FamilySearch gave a presentation titled “Straight Talk about the State of Indexing” at the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. His purpose was to “answer several key questions related to FamilySearch indexing and the program’s future in a direct, no nonsense way.” [It’s been so long since the conference, I’m starting to forget things that aren’t in my notes. Hopefully I don’t mess it up too badly. This will be the first of two articles about Jim’s presentation. Here goes…]

To lead off, Jim thanked those who have indexed. There have been 3 billion names indexed in 1.4 billion records through the FamilySearch indexing program. There have been nearly 250,000 indexers so far in 2016. [Since Jim’s presentation, that number has grown to 262,868 according to the FamilySearch Indexing website.]

For the recent world-wide indexing event 116,000 people indexed 10 million records. Participants represented 110 different countries. While some, like Tonga and Samoa had only a few, this is amazing.

FamilySearch's Jim Erickson talks about the world-wide indexing event.

There were 10,000 youth ages 8 to 17 who participated. FamilySearch likes to get youth involved. Youth indexers come and go, Jim said.

FamilySearch's Jim Erickson talks about the world-wide indexing event.

More than 23,000 (19%) participants were not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On Facebook there was huge interest by the general public. First time indexers composed 23% of participants. Jim said that is why they do these events. It extends the number of indexers.

Jim told his indexing story. He searched for hours and hours to find the maiden name of William Worley’s wife, Betsy G. He finally found their marriage record and learned it was Gilson.

Jim Erickson spent hours and hours searching for the marriage record of William Worley and Betsy Gilson.

Since then, FamilySearch volunteers have indexed that record and Jim has attached it to Family Tree. “Now people don’t have to go through the process I went through to find Betsy G.,” he said.

Jim said indexing helps us all personally. We learn about family history and learn how to read handwriting. We serve others. We belong to an amazing volunteer community. We improve data entry skills. We increase unity with family and friends and we gain a deeper appreciate for the worth of all men. FamilySearch doesn’t recommend that children start indexing records on their own, but it is a way to collaborate and build family unity, Jim said.

What are the biggest challenges of indexing?

Indexing can be really challenging, especially for beginners. It has an unintuitive software interface. People’s expectation is that you should be able to get started without helps or hints. The handwriting is difficult to read has sometimes has poor legibility. The last few batches often take a long time until researchers buckle down and do the last, hard batches. Instructions vary by project, which is a problem if arbitrators don’t read the instructions and change batches that had been done right. There can be a variety of records, even within the same project.

The software FamilySearch is using can be a challenge. It has had a long, miraculous journey, Jim said. There was a small company called iArchives that was providing software for commercial offshore keying companies. FamilySearch took that software, meant for a trained workforce working on a few projects, and deployed it to a large, diverse workforce. Even though FamilySearch is coming out with web-based indexing, the current software will be used for a long, long time. Some projects have to be offline. But it is now an amazing effort to keep this legacy system running. During the world-wide indexing event an engineer was restarting the server every 10 minutes to prevent it from crashing.

A big challenge of indexing involves human factors. For example, the indexing program used to have a screen showing the percentage of an indexer’s work that was not changed by arbitrators. We’ve removed that because it was causing friction, Jim said. (See “What’s New with Indexing—June 2016” on the FamilySearch blog for more information.) If the indexer has really studied and the arbitrator hasn’t and overrides the correct information, it is really frustrating. You have to remember that indexers and arbitrators are volunteers, Jim said. “We can’t fire them for not doing a good job.” They are doing their best and FamilySearch Indexing is achieving mid-to-high 90th percentile accuracy.

Jim provided some tips for success. Work with a fried or get some training. Focus on a single project at a time for quality and efficiency. Follow the directions. Reach out and help others. Be patient. And stretch yourself into harder projects. “That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do—not that the nature of the thing is changed, but that our power to do is increased.” (Attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, quoted by Heber J. Grant.)

Tune in next time to learn what is coming in the future and to answers to attendees’ questions.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ancestry Insider in Family Tree Magazine Top 101

The Ancestry Insider is a Family Tree Magazine 101 Best Websites for 2016I recently received this message from Diane Haddad, editor, Family Tree Magazine.

Congratulations! 

Your genealogy website has been named one of our annual 101 best family history websites in the September 2016 issue of Family Tree Magazine. This issue is being mailed to subscribers and is available at ShopFamilyTree.com. It goes on sale August 16 at newsstands. 

Each year, Family Tree Magazine publishes the 101 Best Websites for family history to guide genealogists to the top websites where they can make family history research progress, and to honor the individuals and organizations who create those sites. This year, we took a fresh look at the list, adding more than 30 new, innovative and overlooked sites. For the "old favorites" on the list, we've highlighted new content and features.

The full list of 101 Best Websites for family history, including your site, can also be found using the category links at http://www.familytreemagazine.com/article/101-best-websites-2016 .

Thank you, Diane, David A. Fryxell, and Family Tree Magazine. I am constantly amazed and overwhelmed by the number of quality, awesome websites out there. More are being added everyday. It’s more than I can keep up with. It is an honor to have Diane and David take notice of my small contribution. Their annual list is a great way to keep up with some of the best.

Websites were recognized in one of 16 categories:

101 Best Websites for 2016 main page
2016 Best Big Genealogy Websites
2016 Best Websites for Exploring Your Ancestors' Lives
2016 Best US Genealogy Websites
2016 Best Sites for Sharing Your Genealogy
2016 Best Websites for Putting Ancestors on the Map
2016 Best Genealogy Library Websites
2016 Best Websites for Finding Ancestors in Old Newspapers
2016 Best African-American Genealogy Websites
2016 Best Cemetery and Directory Sites for Genealogy
2016 Best Tech Tools for Genealogy in 2016
2016 Best Immigrant Ancestors Websites
2016 Best British & Irish Genealogy Websites
2016 Best International Genealogy Websites
2016 Best Genetic Genealogy Websites
2016 Best Genealogy News & Help Websites

Monday, August 22, 2016

RootsWeb Update for 20 August 2016

RootsWeb by Ancestry logoHere is the latest I know about the RootsWeb website.

As of 20 August 2016

  • Freepages FTP service seems to be down still.
  • Mailing lists seem to have miscellaneous problems with archives and admin tools.
  • I was able to browse mailing list archives. I understand that was recently broken.
  • The mailing list archive search doesn’t return any emails since sometime in April.
  • I was able to subscribe to a mailing list.
  • I hear reports that emails are being sent, but spam filters are not working, so a lot of the email is spam.
  • User contributed data stats haven’t been updated since 24 February 2016. I don’t know if RootsWeb is currently accepting new data.
  • There are currently 15,297 web pages in the freepages genealogy community index. I haven’t monitored it for change, but there it is.
  • The freepages file manager, http://freepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/­fileman/, is still missing.

DonFT wrote on 19 August 2016:

I heard from somebody at RW Help whose reply included the words "decisions are being made as to the future availability of this feature." My impression was that the person was referring to the free pages generally. Suggests to me that they may be abandoning the whole thing. Thoughts?

BKip wrote on 18 August 2016:

Having been unable to access the Freepages File Manager since sometime in July I’ve been mostly in the dark about what is going on. My site is fully available for viewing, but I am unable to make any updates. An email to the help desk gave me an ambiguous reply leaving me just as confused. This page is the first place I’ve found where there is at least a bit of information.

Is there another place where there is more information on the status of Freepages?

Is Freepages expected to continue?

Is there a different URL to log-in to the File Manager? http://freepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/fileman/file_manager.cgi

Any further information would be truly appreciated.

BKip, I’m afraid I have very little information you don’t already have. There is a status page (http://helpdesk.rootsweb.com/ or http://rootsweb.custhelp.com/), but Ancestry.com is not using it.

Tim received this message from RootsWeb on 15 August 2016:

Dear Tim,
Thank you for contacting RootsWeb in regard to Mailing List spam.
We are sorry that you are encountering a problem with spam. We will do all that we can to assist you. The Mailing Lists are undergoing maintenance. Spam filters have temporarily been turned off during this process. Other tools including those for subscribing and unsubscribing are also not available at this time. We expect the spam filters to be re-enabled soon. We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience.

Bobango2 sent this query to RootsWeb:

Checking in once again on the repairs to the Freepages file manager. RW has over 15000 sites listed in this category. It would be nice to know that they are still working on the issue and have a completion date in mind. It is very frustrating for those of us who have devoted hundreds of hours to these pages not to be able to upload new material or make corrections. Surely, someone in IT can throw light on this matter.

He received this reply on 15 August 2016:

Thank you for contacting RootsWeb in regard to maintenance to the site.
We sincerely apologize for the length of time the maintenance is taking. We had hoped it would be completed by now. Our development team is working on getting this completed as quickly as possible, it is just taking longer than expected. We appreciate your patience and understanding during this time.
If there is anything else with which we might assist you, please let us know

I received this message from the RootsWeb product manager on 15 August 2016:

Right now we are dealing with getting the spam filters working on the mailing lists again. I have nothing new to report other than we are trying to fix problems as we find them.

So, there’s what I know. Post comments as the situation evolves and any of you learn more.

P.S. I got to thinking. How long will Ancestry.com keep the mailing lists running? How much are the mailing lists being used now days? Here’s the historical picture for the number of messages sent during the month of July, since 1995. (Note I skipped some years, as indicated by the dots.) Writing on the wall, guys. Writing on the wall.

Historical graph of the number of RootsWeb mailing list messages during the month of July

Friday, August 19, 2016

Riverton RootsTech Startup Weekend

imageI received this announcement from FamilySearch:

Save the date for start-up weekend on August 25–27, 2016—an awesome 2-day hack-a-thon for developers, entrepreneurs, and designers! Wonder if your app idea has "legs"? Come do a 1-minute informal pitch, and see if you can attract enough interest to build a team. RootsTech is hosting this family history edition of start-up weekend. Projects that relate to family history in some way are encouraged nut need not be family history exclusive. Put ideas into action, and be part of actually building the foundation of a startup—all during this faced-paced 54-hour event. It's also okay to come with no pitch—simply a desire to be a part of this awesome community.

Learn more: http://www.up.co/communities/usa/riverton/startup-weekend/8638

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Crista Cowan and Searching on Ancestry.com – #BYUFHGC

Crista Cowan and Searching on Ancestry.comCrista Cowan presented “Supercharge Your Ancestry Searches” at the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.

Crista is the corporate genealogist for Ancestry.com. She announced that Ancestry now has more than 17 billion records. Crista said that six to eight years ago she was the indexing manager and had the single largest line item in the budget. Back then they indexed 1 to 2 million records a month. Now, they do that much in a day.

I’ve written before about this presentation. (Crista asks me, “Why do you keep coming?”) To read my articles about previous presentations, see

Here are some additional thoughts that struck me this time around:

Looking first at hints (shaky leaves) to other people’s trees might prejudice you. Look at record hints first.

“In some cases the only thing the archive will provide us is indexes,” Crista said. “Where an image exists, always look at it.” Ancestry indexes enough information to get you to the image. There may be additional information in the image. You can also discover indexing errors. You can see nearby people on the record.

When you are going through a person’s hints, to dismiss a hint you previously had to choose either Yes or No regarding the applicability of that record to that person. But sometimes you don’t know yet. Now you have the choice of selecting Yes, No, or Maybe.

Suggested Records are displayed right of a recordCrista has a love/hate relationship with Suggested Records. Those are the records listed to the right hand side of a historical record. [She said love/hate, but it was clear it was a love/love relationship.] She loves it when there is a bunch of suggested records. She also loves it when there are no suggested records. That happens when she is plowing new ground. 

“Our core search has not changed in years,” she said. What they are doing is adjusting what happens when you search from your tree. Depending on the amount of matching information, and what that information is, they rate and order the results, giving you the best records at the top.

When you launch a search from a person in a tree, smart filtering allows you to eliminate from the search results all the records you have already found and attached to that person. (Look for this setting at the top of the search results.)