Friday, October 9, 2015

Darned, Stout Rope

Records are the darnedest things. And one in particular is particularly darned. It is, perhaps, the most famous will in American genealogy. And with the new will and probate collection, it is easy to access.

Perform an exact search of the “Pennsylvania, Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993” collection for George S Wolff, probate year 1908. Select the view images icon for George S Wolff, Philadelphia County. View image 158.

The top portion of the will appears as follows:

"a good stout rope with which to hang himself"

Page 1             The sentence scratched out was scratch
                       ed by me. George S. Wolff

                  George S Wolff
               Summerdale, Phila.

                                                Dec. 4th 1906

      I the undersigned George S Wolff being
of sound mind & body write this my last will
and testament :
      I first direct that all my debts be paid and
all my affairs be adjusted to establish the value
of my estate. When this is done  I direct that,
before anything else is done, ---------------------
Fifty cents (50 ¢) be paid to my son-in-law
Chas. W. Wensel  a native of Huntingdon, Pa. to
enable him to buy for himself a good stout rope
with which to hang himself & thus rid mankind
of one of the most infamous scoundrels that
ever roamed this broad land, or dwelt outside of
a penitentiary, [several words scratched out]
[several words scratched out] -------------------
    I next direct that all of my estate after
having paid my debts and said fifty cents
be held in trust until my youngest daughter
Irene is of age and when she has reached
her legal maturity an equal division of share
and share alike is to be made between all
of my children, six in number, provided however
                      Continued on P. 2

What adds to the amusement for me is that in his description of his son-in-law, George had to census himself!

If Mariette doesn't divorce him, she gets nothing.

Continuation of my will  (P. 2)
       from P.1
  that my daughter Mariette now married to
before named Chas. W. Wensel is then divorced
from him & have full and absolute control of
her only child Robert or other children she may
have by that man before her divorce. -----------
  If however she is not divorced from Wensel then
the division shall only be share & share alike
between my five remaining children, and Mariette
now Mrs. Wensel is not to share in any form
part or manner in any property that I have
left behind. ------ …
[remainder of document is not shown.]

From the 1910 census of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania:

Detail from 1910 census showing Charles W Wensel is divorced and living with his parents.

Yes, records say the darnedest things.

Image Sources

Will: Portions of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, Wills 2238-2261, 1908, book 56, page 395, will 2249, 4 December 1906, George S Wolff; images ( : accessed 4 October 2015). Subscription required.

Census: Detail from Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, 1910 U.S. Federal Census, enumeration district 67, Huntingdon Borough, sheet 6A, family 136; image ( : accessed 4 October 2015), path: Research:Records, Books and Datasets > U.S. Census > 1910 > Charles W Wensel.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

News Ketchup for 8 October 2015

Ancestry Insider KetchupTime to ketchup…

Bullet Ancestry.comOctober is Family History Month and is sponsoring a number of activities to celebrate. Besides the Find A Grave Community Day on 17 October 2015 (see “Find A Grave’s Community Day 17 October 2015”), they are broadcasting several webinars, doing some social media giveaways (follow their Facebook page), and sponsoring a Pinterest contest. For more information, see “Welcome to October Family History Month 2015” on the Ancestry Blog.

Bullet Ancestry.comI have a lot of interest in source citations. And I’m not a fan of the citation capabilities of So I hope to find some time to watch Ancestry’s YouTube video: “Crafting Source Citations in Your Ancestry Tree.” I’m especially disappointed that New Ancestry doesn’t support non-Ancestry sources in the facts timeline. You’d think they would want people to contribute their scans of source documents.

FamilySearch tree bulletFamilySearch’s new Indexing program has been “almost here” for several years. FamilySearch has now said that starting in June they’ve been rolling the system out to a limited set of users. That number is up to 4,000. This number is gradually growing, but by invitation only. For more information, see “What’s Happening to the New Indexing Program?” on the FamilySearch blog.

FamilySearch tree bullet

FamilySearch has added logo buttons on the person pages of Family Tree that launch record searches on partner websites:,, and For more information, see “New Feature: Search Genealogy Records on the Web’s Largest Sites” on the blog.




Ancestry spokesperson Matthew Deighton announced that AncestryDNA users can now share their ethnicity results.

AncestryDNA ethnicity results can be shared with others. AncestryDNA ethnicity results can be shared with others. AncestryDNA ethnicity results can be shared with others.


FamilySearch tree bullet

I’ve not yet reported on the results of the FamilySearch Indexing global “Fuel the Find” event held back in August. While they fell short of their 100,000 indexers goal (they had 82,039), they achieved several milestones: 12,251,870 records indexed and 2,307,876 records arbitrated. Volunteers achieved an 89% increase in non-English indexing.

“We are thrilled with the number of people who are fluent in a non-English language who accepted the challenge to index records in that language,” said Courtney Connolly, FamilySearch digital marketing manager. “If volunteers will keep up this rate of non-English indexing and arbitration, we’ll soon see people everywhere experiencing the same success in finding their ancestors that English-language researchers enjoy.” Volunteers did 2,183,212 non-English records including 1,380,684 in Spanish, 147,568 in Portuguese, 226,734 in French, and 116,835 in Italian. has twenty times more records in English than in all other languages combined. “There is a huge and growing need for English speakers who are fluent in a second language, and native speakers of non-English languages to learn how to index. Tens of thousands of new volunteers are needed to keep up with the opportunity to index the world’s records,” said Connolly.

FamilySearch shared accomplishments in a PDF file. Here’s a snippet:

FamilySearch 2015 Indexing Worldwide event participants by language

NARA Renews Partnership Agreement

NARA Digitization Project Manager, Erin Townsend
2010 photograph of NARA Digitization Project Manager, Erin Townsend,
viewing newly digitized and published records on
Image credit: NARA. 
“We are pleased to announce the renewal of our digitization partnership agreement with the National Archives and Record Administration,” said Matthew Deighton, spokesperson. The essence of the agreement is that Ancestry pays for, digitizes, and indexes records for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Ancestry’s subscribers and NARA visitors get exclusive access to the digitized records for five years. NARA calls it an embargo period. Then NARA can release the records free to everyone.

Embargos are already starting to expire on  early partnership projects. According to NARA, they have published 5.25 million images on their website. NARA uses a different paradigm than other companies for publishing online record collections. If I understand correctly, records must be accessed through their catalog.

Digitizing originals can be quite expensive, so Ancestry, and by extension all you Ancestry subscribers, are to be applauded. You’re making a difference. “With investments in scanning and indexing reaching more than 1 billion records, we have saved taxpayers more than $100 million dollars at commercial digitization rates,” said Matthew. If my math is correct, that means it would cost NARA $10 to scan and index each record. (Wow! If that is the case, FamilySearch is underpaying its indexers. Oh, wait… Never mind.)

The renewal comes despite an incident in March. An Ancestry employee was caught throwing away NARA documents rather than digitizing them. (See “NARA Suspends Scanning Operation” on my blog.) I’ve never seen any other public information on the incident. Obviously, if NARA has renewed the agreement, Ancestry must have cured any weaknesses in their processes.

Ancestry began digitizing NARA microfilm back in 2000. They began scanning original paper documents in 2008. In that time they have published 1,371 collections from NARA collections, containing over 170 million images and more than 1 billion records.

“This agreement marks the renewing of a great partnership and we are proud to continue our relationship with the United States National Archives and Record Administration,” Matthew said.

Partnerships are a key part of NARA’s digitization plan. More than 97% of the documents scanned at NARA are done by partners. It appears genealogy companies are doing the lions’ share of that. That mirrors user requests. NARA recently asked what people wanted digitized the most. “Overwhelmingly, people asked us to digitize records of genealogical interest,” said NARA’s Denise M. Henderson. “[Requests] include… immigration and ethnic heritage records; [and] military and veterans records, especially those from World War I and II.”

Among the records NARA will focus on (not necessary via Ancestry) for the next 18-24 months are:

    Record Group              Title 21                              All Naturalization Records 21                              Bankruptcy Dockets (within certain parameters) 26/36                        Seamen Records / Crew Lists 24                              Naval Muster Rolls 24                              Logbooks of U.S. Navy Ships, 1801-1940 24                              Logbooks of U.S. Navy Ships and Stations, 1941-1978 24                              Bureau of Naval Personnel Casualty Case Cards, 1964-1977 129                            Inmate Case Files (Leavenworth) – first 10,000 case files only 226                            Office of Strategic Services Personnel Files, 1942-1945 59                              Department of State Name Index, 1910-1959 59                              Department of State Central Decimal Files, 1910-1929 15                              Case Files of Disapproved Pension Applications of Veterans of the Army and the Navy Who Served Mainly in the Civil War and the War with Spain, 1861-1934 15                              Case Files of Disapproved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Veterans of the Army and Navy, 1861-1934 109                            Record Books of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Offices of the Confederate Government, 1874-1899 498                           Helper Files, ca. 1945 – 1947 – 19 series/multiple countries 407                           World War II Operations Reports, 1940-1948 29                             1950 Census Enumeration District Maps

Tuesday, October 6, 2015 at Banking Conference – Part 1

Howard Hochhauser, chief operating officer (COO) and chief financial officer (CFO)On 30 September 2015’s Howard Hochhauser gave a presentation at the Deutsche Bank Leveraged Finance Conference. I took extensive notes, approaching a full transcription. I’ve reordered and gathered the material into subjects and left out most of the financial information. I’ve divided my report into two. This is the first part. The second part will come next week.

Howard Hochhauser is the company’s chief operating officer (COO) and chief financial officer (CFO). As COO he runs the company under the leadership of the chief executive officer (CEO), Tim Sullivan. Howard has been with the company for about three years now. Their mission is to help everybody discover, preserve, and share their family history. While he feels like they’re not very good yet with the share part, they are working on it. Ancestry created and leads the family history category.


They have 2.2 million subscribers. Over the holiday weekend alone they acquired 10 thousand new customers. Customers pay, on average, between $19 and $20 a month. More than half of the subscribers have subscription lengths of 6 months or longer. Ancestry’s lifetime revenue from subscribers is about $250. A third of the people that come to the service have previously been with them.

Demographics are biased towards female. In the US, more than 60% of subscribers are female and that continues to grow. The average age is over 55.

The business is somewhat seasonal. Over the summer people tend to tune out. That gets worse in the 4th quarter as people focus on the holidays. That’s the slowest time of year. It’s not unusual for their total number of subscribers to go down during December. Right after Christmas there is a massive uptake, which continues through the winter. TV shows and marketing efforts tend to move that around a bit. They sponsor four of them, most notably Who Do You Think You Are. That has made August a great month.

Roughly 50% of those that try out the 14 day free subscription continue as a paid subscriber. (That’s called bill-through.) Retention rates among the higher costing subscriptions are not materially different.


Revenues are $644 million. EBIITDA margins approach 40% (which most of you are not familiar with nor care about). This is a very high margin business. Compounded annual growth rate is mid- to high-teens with expanding EBITDA margins.

Marketing costs are roughly $150 million a year. They feel like they’ve made some marketing missteps this year that affected revenues. (He didn’t share what those were.)

They recently posted a dividend. Since being private they have paid out over $260 million to shareholders. Tim and Howard own upwards of 10% of the company. (You do the math.)


They do about 30% of their business internationally. The UK is about half of that, generating roughly $70 million in revenue. The rest is Canada, Australia, and the rest of the world. (I wish I could have seen the slides, so I would know the shares for those last components.)

Mexico and Germany are the next two markets they are going to enter. (I see that and websites are already live.) Ancestry launched the Germany product on 1 October 2015, Unification Day. The launch into Mexico and Germany is mostly to appeal to those new markets and partly to benefit existing markets. Germany is the largest source of US immigrants. Over time, they predict that the size of their business in Germany should mirror that of the UK. They’d love to create another $50 to 70 million business.

Next week I’ll present part 2. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Ronald Vern Jackson and AIS

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Readers,

In my article “Monday Mailbox: How Fast Was the 1860 Census Indexed” I talked a bit about Ronald Vern Jackson and Accelerated Indexing Systems (AIS). I solicited additional information and several readers came through.

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Ron hired BYU [Brigham Young University] students to extract the census records as well as others.  Others created the sort cards sometimes using BYU sorters to alphabetize the indexes.  I believe it was the 1830 census that I obtained for him which had already been published.  He used this book to publish his own.

Msmyph (mjsmyth@….com)

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Those AIS indexes in the big heavy volumes were an absolute lifesaver in their day!!   They helped me solve quite a few puzzling lines of my ancestry.   Now I'm thinking that maybe they would help overcome the occasional riddle as to why I can't find a particular name in a census on FS or, because of bad handwriting or errors in indexing.   Are they available anywhere electronically?    I'm not sure the microfiche are still known by current FHC staff?

Marcia Green

Dear Marcia,

That’s a great idea. There’s a definite advantage to multiple indexes, and with HeritageQuest retiring their indexes in favor of Ancestry’s, we’ve recently lost a valuable “second opinion.”

You might be right about new family history center staff members, but many staffers are in their older years and well remember the AIS fiche. The real problem will be centers that threw out the fiche or fiche viewers, not having the insight you’ve just shared.

---The Ancestry Insider

Another reader, Kath Baker, sent me an email pointing to three sources of information.

His obituary appeared in the Salt Lake City Deseret News:

SALT LAKE CITY-Ronald Vern Jackson, age 53, died Wednesday, Nov. 4, 1999 at his home in Salt Lake City, Utah.… He was a world renowned expert in genealogy and was the author of numerous publications. He loved his grandchildren and cherished the time he spent with them…1

Ronald Vern Jackson, noted genealogical data publisherKath sent a link to Ron’s persona in FamilySearch Family Tree: Ronald Vern Jackson (KW4T-DLD). It includes several photographs, including the one to the right.2

An article concerning his estate was published in a Texas newspaper:

Regarded as probably the best-known of American genealogists, very little is known about Ronald Vern Jackson. Save for one thing.

When the Salt Lake City, Utah resident died in 1999, he left a percentage of his business fortune to the genealogy division of Montgomery County's library system. But it wasn't until 2004 that the county became aware of the gift.

Two years of legal wrangling between Montgomery County and Jackson's heirs ended Monday when County Commissioners agreed in executive session to accept a settlement of $128,773…

“I do not know what the size of the estate was, but I do know the will was not probated” by Jackson's six heirs, [County Attorney David] Walker said.3

Rest in peace, Ron.


     1.  “Obituary: Ronald Vern Jackson,” (Salt Lake City, Utah) Deseret News, 7 November 1999; text archived online ( : accessed 12 September 2015).
     2.  Detail of Ronald Vern Jackson from a photograph including his father, Leslie Vern Jackson, and his brother, Raymond Leon Jackson, standing in front of the Salt Lake Temple; uploaded by Heather Denise Turley, 10 March 2015, untitled image, FamilySearch ( : accessed 12 September 2015), attached to Ronald Vern Jackson (KW4T-DLD).
     3.  Howard Roden, “County Gets $128,773 in Settlement,” The Courier of Montgomery County (Texas), 9 January 2007; text archived online, Houston Community News and Media Group ( : accessed 12 September 2015).

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Find A Grave’s Community Day 17 October 2015

The Find a Grave Community Day is 17 October has announced that this year’s Find A Grave Community Day is scheduled for 17 October 2015. Ancestry’s Jessica Murray said “Last year was an amazing success thanks to you, our incredible volunteers, who visited over 100 cemeteries and contributed more than 250,000 photos on the days leading up to, and on, Find A Grave Community Day 2014.” They hope to break that record this year.

If you wish to participate, check the Find A Grave event list on Facebook for something near you. If you find one that interests you, click the Join button.

If you wish to organize an effort to photograph a cemetery, Ancestry reminds you to get permission from the cemetery first. Once you have permission, register your event. Once a day Ancestry will take the new cemeteries and create corresponding Facebook events. As you make plans, keep an eye open for unfulfilled photo requests for nearby cemeteries.

Ancestry has created a page of resources for you to consult. See

I was doing some research the other day and came across a book of transcriptions of cemetery markers. It gave me the marker I needed, but it was only a transcription. I immediately pulled up Find A Grave, just like any of you would. And I immediately found a photograph of the marker I needed. Find a Grave just keeps getting better and better.