Wednesday, March 25, 2015

NGS 2015 Conference Official Blogger (#NGS2015GEN)

imageI’m pleased to announce that I get to help promote the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society as an official blogger! The conference is 13-16 May 2015 in St. Charles, Missouri. The early bird registration deadline is fast approaching: this Monday, 30 March 2015. Early bird registration saves money. For more information see page 15 of the registration brochure.

It looks to me like even more urgent than the early bird registration deadline is accommodations. Eight of nine conference hotels are sold out (at conference rate). I don’t know how many rooms were available at each property, but I surmise that a lot of people have already registered for the conference. I’d get registered while the registerin’s good.

For more information, visit

P.S. Another official blogger, Jen Baldwin, has done something cool. She’s put together a Flipboard “magazine” which aggregates posts about the conference (flagged with #NGS2015GEN). See it at

Monday, March 23, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Does Your Tree Software Care?

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

When you commented parenthetically, "Let’s see how your tree program likes a marriage date after a death date! Or maybe you use one of those programs that doesn’t care, no matter how bad your data is," I immediately thought, "Yes, like FamilySearch Family Tree, which accepts all dates no matter how ridiculous." Just to make sure I wasn't falsely accusing FSFT of such practice, I logged on, found a relative with no marriage date entered and entered a date after the death of the wife. It accepted it, no questions asked.

This has always bugged me. I am not a professional programmer, but I do have some experience writing programs that my chemistry students used. It was easy to program checks for impossible answers that notified the student of the problem. I suspect it would be just as easy for FamilySearch software engineers to do the same for the Family Tree software. Why don't they do it? Do you have any idea?

It really gnarls me that FamilySearch Family Tree is one of "those programs that doesn't care". Oh, and in case you are wondering, I deleted the false marriage date after seeing it was accepted uncritically.


Dear John,

FamilySearch flags a bunch of, what I call, pedigree analysis errors. In the FamilySearch help system, see “Fixing Data Problems in Family Tree.” It says it checks for death year before marriage. I tried the same experiment on the FamilySearch Beta tree that you tried in the real tree. I got the same result. I checked the tree view and found that it does report the error after the fact: “Death Year before Marriage.”

FamilySearch detects a number of pedigree analysis errors.

Bottom line: FamilySearch does not check for errors while you enter information. It does not report the errors in person view. It does report the errors in pedigree view.

Doing this experiment I discovered two other bugs, or perhaps “design flaws.”

The Change Log is advertised as a place to undo erroneous changes. When I entered the bad death date, I subsequently went to the Change Log to undo the change. However, there was no undo button, just the word “Current” (as shown at #1 in the screen capture, below). You must wade through perhaps thousands of changes until you find the second to last time the value was changed. There you will find a “Restore” button (#2, below). What if the value had never, ever, been changed before? There will be no button to undo the change.

These may be bugs in the Family Tree Change Log

Another issue I found, and I don’t know if this is just because I was on the Beta tree, is that my real name was displayed in the change log instead of my display name (as shown by the arrow, #3, above). Why give me a check box to keep my real name private, if you are going to ignore my wishes?

Seems like a bug to me.

Thanks for your question, John.

The Ancestry Insider

Friday, March 20, 2015

Darned Posthumous Marriage

Weber County, District Court, Utah, judicial declaration of common law marriage, civil no. 104900910, Kenneth J. Vanderwerff and Janetta J. Gardiner, 13 September 2010.We 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, even downright laughable.

Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

I’m no lawyer, but even I can see there is something really weird about the marriage of Kenneth J. Vanderwerff and Janetta J. Gardiner. Here’s the story as my non-lawyer mind understands it.

Vanderwerff and Gardiner moved in together in 2007, but never married.1 Utah law doesn’t recognize common law marriages without a judicial decree.2 Vanderwerff died on 22 April 2010. Their “relationship was not solemnized as a marriage in any state during Mr. Vanderwerff’s lifetime.”3 As of 22 April 2010, they had never been married.

Gardiner filed a petition asking the court to grant a decree of marriage. The petition was granted on 13 September 2010, making them legally and lawfully wedded. The court can “back date” the marriage to before the decedent’s death. I suppose back dating is needed when the petitioner is seeking survivor benefits or the like and the marriage needs to be effective prior to the death. In this case, that field is blank.4 They became married after Vanderwerff’s death. (Let’s see how your tree program likes a marriage date after a death date! Or maybe you use one of those programs that doesn’t care, no matter how bad your data is.) As of 13 September 2010, they were married.

Relatives of Vanderwerff’s filed various motions with the court, and on 27 February 2012 the court “provisionally set aside the declaration of marriage.”5 As of 27 February 2012, they had never been married.

On 15 March 2012, the court officially set aside the declaration of marriage.6 As of 15 March 2012, they had never been married.

Gardiner challenged and the case went to the Utah State Supreme Court. On 9 December 2014, the court reinstated the 13 September 2010 marriage declaration.7 As of 9 December 2014, they have been married since 13 September 2010.

Darned if records aren’t absolutely necessary to untangle the sometimes complicated knots of our lives.


     1.  Janetta J. Gardiner v. Nedra V. Taufer, et. al., 2014 UT 56, ¶ 2; PDF document, Utah Courts ( : accessed 7 March 2014), path: Appellate Opinions and Cases > Supreme Court Opinions > 2014 > Gardiner v. Vanderwerff.
     2.  “Utah Code,” database, Utah State Legislature ( : accessed 7 March 2014), § 30-1-4.5.
     3.  Gardiner v. Taufer, 2014 UT 56, ¶ 2.
     4.  Weber County, District Court, Utah, judicial declaration of common law marriage, civil no. 104900910, Kenneth J. Vanderwerff and Janetta J. Gardiner, 13 September 2010, District Court’s Office, Ogden.
     5.  Gardiner v. Taufer, 2014 UT 56, ¶ 9.
     6.  Ibid., ¶ 10.
     a.  Ibid., ¶ 34.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Enhancements to FamilySearch’s Personal Trees

Robert Kehrer, senior product manager for search, recently announced enhancements to FamilySearch Genealogies, its personal tree feature previous called Community Trees. FamilySearch Genealogies are searched or submitted from To reach that page, click on Search and then on Genealogies.


There are four tree collections in FamilySearch Genealogies:

  • Ancestral File
  • Pedigree Resource File
  • International Genealogical Index from LDS Church member submissions
  • Community Trees

You already know what the first three are. Anyone can upload a tree to the Pedigree Resource File. The ability to have a personal tree on FamilySearch is often overshadowed by FamilySearch Family Tree. You can upload a GEDCOM. If desired, you can then move new persons into Family Tree.

Community Trees is a new addition to FamilySearch Genealogies. They previously resided on the FamilySearch Labs website. It is “s collection of sourced genealogies from specific times and places that have been linked according to family lineages and relations.” See my article, “FamilySearch Community Trees” for more information.

The new search form allows searching all or any one of the four collections. The form has been updated to with the familiar feel of the historical records search form.

Two years ago I complained that this area of didn’t have a pedigree view, even though it contained lineage-linked trees. See “Ancestral File Tree View.” This new release fixes that deficiency, as shown above. Like New FamilySearch and Family Tree, it uses the new-fangled couple pedigree instead of an individual pedigree. In my opinion, lines joining four parents to two children is initially ambiguous and confusing. (See the image, below.) But you get used to it.

Lines joining four parents to two children is initially confusing.

A separate person page is avoided by including a panel along the left side. (See the first image of this article). Unlike the classic website, which displayed four generations with rich details, this pedigree shows only names and birth and death years.

But overall, this release is a big win.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Librarians Express Concern Over HeritageQuest Changes

The old HeritageQuest interfaceOn 4 March 2015, took over operation of the HeritageQuest website on behalf of its owner, ProQuest. (See yesterday’s article, “ Did Not Buy HeritageQuest.”) Many parts of the HeritageQuest website were replaced with technology, including its search engine. These parts including an expanded U.S. Federal census, an expanded book collection, an expanded revolutionary war collection, and Freedman’s Bank records. PERSI and the U.S. Serial Set remain on the old HeritageQuest search engine.

Some librarians have expressed disappointment in the adoption of the search engine. I took the following quotes from the Librarians Serving Genealogists mailing list

“I taught an intro gen class to archivists last week and when I mentioned the upcoming change there were moans throughout the room. I tried to be upbeat! …I hope that I won't spend a lot of time in the coming days saying ‘what were they thinking.’ It breaks my heart, plain and simple.” —Mary Mannix. “Patrons are now calling in and complaining about the census search.” —Mary Mannix.

The index is a concern: “Personally I always thought HeritageQuest Online did more careful indexing than Ancestry.” —Irene Hansen

“I liked Heritage Quest the way it was, knowing and understanding its limitations, it was powerful in its own ways for census research, not the least of which were (1) indexing that was different than Ancestry’s, and (2) getting results for exactly what I asked, and nothing more.” —Claire Klusens.

“I loved the searches and could never understand why Ancestry for all it costs gives you way to many hits that are of no use and just a huge waste of time.” —Janice Healy

I used to think that enabling exact search was all that was necessary to solve the problem of too many results. As I watch genealogists work, though, I’ve found another important difference between old and new searches: grouping and sorting: “Now one can no longer do a search for, as an example, the number of individuals age 20-29 born in Denmark, Kentucky, etc. who were living in county X in 1880 (which one could do easily with no names in the old version), and then see a nice alphabetical listing of the individuals that fit those parameters - a great way to find those misspelled foreign surnames!” —Michele McNabb

HeritageQuest could change the sort order of the results by any column: “I do wonder why Ancestry can't at the very least allow different sorting functions (by county, date, etc.).”—Martha Grenzeback

And HeritageQuest grouped census results by state and county: “The old method was so much better. I use both Ancestry and HQ when I have difficulty in locating someone. In the old HQ you could search for a surname and it would give you everyone by that surname living in each county of the state. I have found many people this way. Due to the problems with legibility of census takers writing and with transcription errors, this method was very helpful.” —Carla Mellott

On one hand, HeritageQuest had a simple search system: “We had patrons who could not master Ancestry that could search HeritageQuest on their own.” —Susan Scouras

On the other, it was more powerful than the search system: “I just wish they had left open an area or some way for those who are comfortable with Boolean searches to use them!  Their current search methods are awkward approximations of a correctly structured Boolean search.” —Nancy Ross

One librarian reported why PERSI and the serial set were still on the old system: “I watched a Proquest webinar on the new HQ yesterday. According to that, the only reason those two sections have not been changed was because, in the case of PERSI, Proquest's contract with the Allen Co. Public Library will not give Ancestry access to the data, and, in the case of the U.S. Serial Set, the PDF format is not a format the Ancestry database mode can currently "ingest."  They are working on that one....” —Martha Grenzeback

Most people without complaints, or even pleased with a change, don’t tend to come online and register that opinion. But there are a few positive comments.

“From the customer perspective they are thrilled to bits to have free remote access to the census records.” —James Jeffrey

“I have found an improvement from the old HQ.  The Map Guide to U.S. Federal Censuses 1790-1920, by Thorndale and Dollarhide is no longer buried, but is top center beside Search and Research Aids. Those maps change least for genealogists.” —Laura Wickstead.   (Amen to that.)

“I tried the name Zachariah Blankenbeckler which I usually use when I demo in our class. …I got…hits [from] agricultural censuses I had not seen.” —Nancy Calhoun

So there it is, good and bad. What do you think? An overall win, or loss?