Friday, May 27, 2016

Serendipity in Graveyards and Digital Scans

Cemetery photograph by the authorIt is as though our ancestors want to be found. Uncanny coincidences. Olympian luck. Phenomenal fate. Tremendous intuition. Remarkable miracles. We call It, “Serendipity in Genealogy.”

Several of you have shared serendipity stories in response to Margaret McCleskey’s cemetery story. Since not all my readers see the comments, I thought I would repeat some here. The first is from an anonymous poster:

I've had a couple of these cemetery experiences. The first was 20 years ago looking for the graves of my aunt and uncle. I was driving a convertible with the top down and was leaving the cemetery because I was unsuccessful at finding them. It started raining so I got out to put the top up, happened to look at the grave stones on the ground next to me when I was getting back in, and there they were. I was shocked!

The second time was two years ago in South Dakota. I found my grandparents graves the day before, but was unsuccessful at finding my great grandparents, who I knew were buried there also. I discovered when I stopped at a gas station to fill up with gas the next morning that I had apparently lost my wallet. I went back to the cemetery to see if I could find it, and found both sets of great grandparents and a lot of great aunts and uncles I didn't remember also being there. This with the assistance of cemetery workers who hadn't been available the day before, but just happened to arrive while I was there. I also found my wallet in the back seat of my car, where I had slept during the night since I was short of funds. I believe I was called back.

Another is from Joan (Myers) Young.

While going through Hampton Reformed Cemetery in Hampton, Adams County, PA, I was looking for the graves of my 2nd grandparents who I already knew were buried there. The surname is MYERS and those familiar with this area will understand that about half of the surnames in that cemetery are MYERS. I searched and searched and could not find them. I told my husband we might as well leave for our long drive home because it was getting late and would be getting dark soon. On my way out of the cemetery a bird flew right into my face. It was a Killdeer defending its nest. The bird forced me back to get away from its attack...and I ended up staring directly into the inscription on my grandparents' stone, with the names as plain as could be. Had it not been for that Killdeer I'd never have found them. Somehow I feel they wanted to be found and reached out to me in the only way they knew how...through that bird.

Margaret Rutledge shared another:

Serendipity is amazing. I was helping a distant relative who wanted to find a marriage record in a New Jersey town's records. My local family history center had the film in its library, so I volunteered to find it for him. When I looked at the film every page was ripped, blotched and stained and the film images were so dark the words were almost illegible. I dutifully made digital scans of every page anyway. I randomly picked a page to attach to my e-mail to illustrate how hard it would be to find anything in them. To my absolute amazement, in the middle of my screen appeared the very marriage record he was looking for.

That is serendipity.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

News Ketchup for 26 May 2016

Ancestry Insider KetchupBehind again. Time to catch up.

BulletTreeDrew Smith, the most recent recipient of the National Genealogical Society’s Filby Award, recently shared a fun genealogy version of Jeopardy. See Challenge a genealogy friend to a match! I think you’ll like it.

BulletTreeThe Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy has announced several scholarships to attend their annual institute. “SLIG will be held at the Hilton Salt Lake City Center hotel, January 22-27, 2017. Fourteen courses of in-depth study on a wide array of genealogical topics are being offered to help students ‘elevate [their] genealogical education to new heights.’” For more information about the scholarships, see

Bullet has purchased Adpay, Inc., owners of, an obituary submission website. is a website that allows funeral directors to place obituaries in local newspaper and out-of-area publications in a single order. It supports 3,000 newspapers in the U.S. The website is designed for funeral homes and newspapers, so don’t look to use it personally. I don’t know if Ancestry will leverage the website to acquire obituaries for, but I’m hoping it does. See the full announcement at

Bullet Ancestry.comEarlier this month Ancestry enhanced their DNA analysis software. The enhancement increases the precision of DNA matching while changing recall of correct matches. You’ll recall Ancestry vice president Kendall Hulet defined the two terms in his RootsTech 2016 luncheon. “Precision is finding the right stuff,” he said. In other words, some percentage of DNA matches are wrong and this enhancement decreases that percentage. Matching algorithms not only return a few bad results, they also miss a few good ones. The ability to match all the good results is called recall. The new enhancement changes the recall. A few good results that were previously returned now are not. If you starred or made notes about a match that no longer appears, Ancestry is allowing you to download them for a limited time. Click here for step-by-step instructions.

The enhancement is free for all customers and has already been applied to your results. For more information, see “AncestryDNA’s Cutting-Edge Science Gets Even Sharper” on the Ancestry blog. For a high level overview of the advances in the science, see “The Science Behind a More Precise DNA Matching Algorithm” on the Ancestry technology blog. For a deep dive into the science, see “AncestryDNA Matching White Paper,” a 46 page PDF file.

Bullet Ancestry.comSpeaking of AncestryDNA, Facebook reader Frank Guzzo has alerted me to a preliminary ruling in the trademark infringement case involving AncestryDNA and AncestrybyDNA. The court has denied Ancestry’s request for a preliminary injunction. Ancestry had asked that the judge make DNA Diagnostic Center (DDC) stop using the trademark AncestrybyDNA immediately. The judge ruled that DDC can continue using their trademark AncestrybyDNA while the case is litigated.

Ancestry registered the trademark ANCESTRYDNA on 22 January 2013. The ANCESTRYBYDNA trademark was placed on the Principal Register on 25 March 2008. However, Ancestry has asked that the DDC trademark be cancelled due to alleged fraud.

For more information about the case, see “ Files a Trademark Case Against DNA Diagnostics Center” on CeCe Moore’s blog, Your Genetic Genealogist. To read the judge’s order, see “ Operations Inc. et al v. DNA Diagnostic Center, Inc., Filing 60” on the Justia website. (Thank you, Frank.)

Bullet Ancestry.comAncestry spent $77.1 million in measured media advertising in 2015, up from $63 in 2015. During the first quarter, had 8.3 million unique visitors. This is up from 7.4 million unique visitors for all of 2015 and 8.2 for 2014. For more information, see “Omnicom Adds to Continue Winning Streak” at Adweek.

Ach! I didn’t even have time to catch up!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 Preparing Large German Record Collection

Fraktur font city directory sampleAnd I’m guessing it is German city directories.

A number of years ago developed technology allowing its computers to “read” (technically called OCR, or optical character recognition) and interpret U.S. city directories. (See “Data Extraction Technology at”) While the technology sometimes produces silly results, overall, it allowed Ancestry to publish over two billion records in record time and at minimal cost. The tradeoff seems reasonable.

Ancestry has nearly 700 German city directories but has yet to apply the technology to them. “The main challenge with German is the common use of the Gothic or Fraktur font when printing,” says Laryn Brown, Ancestry product manager. “This special script-like font is particularly difficult to recognize using the best OCR [optical character recognition] tools available today. Words and especially names can be misread as many of the characters in this special font are extremely similar.”

Ancestry’s solution is a quality-assurance check that compares the names the computer thinks it’s reading against a list of known names. If the computer sees something not in the name list, a reviewer is alerted. If the computer has identified a name not in the name list, the reviewer adds it. Otherwise, the name is mapped to the correct name or deleted. The results of these reviews are fed back to the computer so it can learn from its mistakes. It re-reads the books and the process is repeated. 

“When these records are finished, a random list of German words in a very difficult-to-read font will have been turned into a set of records about people that looks a lot like an annual census,” said Laryn.

This new collection will become available over several years and will include millions of pages of new content.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ancestry ProGenealogists Expands to Larger Facility

Ancestry ProGenealogist Salt Lake recently expanded the Salt Lake City facilities of their professional research subsidiary, ProGenealogists. They held a ribbon cutting ceremony at the now 22,000 square foot facility on 12 May 2016. (See a short video clip of the ribbon clipping.) Ancestry ProGenealogists employs 90 people worldwide, including San Francisco, Dublin, and London. They plan on hiring another ten this year.

Ancestry bought ProGenealogists in 2010. (See “ Acquires Genealogy Research Firm.”) Ancestry had been spending so much engaging them for researching the Who Do You Think You Are television series, it made sense to acquire the company outright. Under Ancestry’s ownership business has grown tremendously.

For more information, see “AncestryProGenealogists Office and Staff Expand” on the Ancestry blog.

Photo showing inside the ProGenealogists new offices
Inside the ProGenealogists new offices

Monday, May 23, 2016

Monday Mailbox: Genealogy Search Engines

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,


You some time ago (yeah, real helpful) published an article about a search engine where you only had to enter information once and then it would save it while you searched multiple sites, one at a time. I have lost the link. (Getting old and, at 70, starting to suffer from crs :) Thanks.

Richard E. A'Hern AFGC, SBH

Dear Richard,

You don’t have to be 70 to have bad memory. I’ve started losing memory with a vengeance. I might remember many years ago reviewing a website that did this, but I can’t remember what it was called.

I’ve dug around more recent articles and found two of interest.

---The Ancestry Insider