Friday, December 19, 2014

Beware the Accuracy of the Darned Census

Doris Wheeler, aka Howard Mueller, in the 1940 censusHow accurate is the census? Well, records say the darnedest things!

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.

Reader, Doris Wheeler, has first hand experience. She remembers the visit by the 1940 enumerator.

It was a big deal to have visitors to my grandparents' 3rd floor apartment in Jersey City, where I lived with them. Unfortunately, the poor man had to have been plied with drink by all the families he had visited. His record of my family rendered them unrecognizable. I was replaced by a completely fictitious young man, and my grandparents' names were changed, along with their ages and occupations—all drastically. Only the address was correct. I found them because I remembered a neighbor's name and that person was recorded correctly. I'm sad that future generations will never be able to find me. I did not exist, although I was seven years old and very much alive.

Line # 42: Should be Theodore F. Muller, age 71, b. New York
Line # 43: Should be Mary (or Marie), age 64, b. New York, Housewife
Line # 44: Should be me, Doris J. Muller, age 7, b. New York, female. There is no Howard in this family.

Yikes! That’s a pretty sober reminder that census records should never be trusted in isolation. The genealogical proof standard really is important.

Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things!”

(Thank you, Doris, for your contribution.)

Thursday, December 18, 2014 Shares Global Family History Survey Results has shared a study they commissioned on family history. The preface to the report states:

The aim of this report is to show how knowledge of the past has impacted the present, and how a greater sense of ‘connectivity’ has changed the concept of the modern family within the six countries in which we conducted the study.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank The Future Foundation, who carried out the research on our behalf and uncovered some truly fascinating trends. This document forms the first part of a multi-chapter report, the full findings of which will be published over the coming year.

Report Highlights:

- In 2014, more than one in three (36%) online adults used the internet to learn more about their family history – double those in 2008 and forecast to double again by 2025.
- 67% feel knowing their family history has made them a wiser person
- 72% say it has helped them to be closer to older relatives
- 52% discovered ancestors they hadn’t known about

I have my doubts about one claim made in the report. claims to have digitized 15 billion records. According to their catalog, three of those 15 billion come from user submitted family trees. Another bunch was submitted by FindAGrave volunteers. didn’t digitize those at all; they obtained them from their users. The catalog shows they obtained over a billion records in their “select” series from FamilySearch. With 800,000 in their public records databases and nearly a 100,000 in the social security death index, plus other electronic indexes, there’s no doubt they’ve purchased over a billion database records. I could be wrong, but I think the proper claim is that they’ve published 15 billion records.

It’s a fascinating read and very valuable information for potential competitors. This has the potential of really helping individual genealogists in many countries. Hats off the for their willingness to help not just themselves, but the global community. To see the report, visit “Ancestry Global Family History Report 2014” on slideshare.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Findmypast Making Progress Digitizing PERSI Articles

PERSI is available on Findmypast.comI came across a list of periodicals that Findmypast has added to its PERSI collection.

According to the FamilySearch Wiki,

The Periodical Source Index, or PERSI, is the largest subject index to genealogy and local history periodical articles in the world. Created by the staff of the Allen County Public Library Foundation and the ACPL’s Genealogy Center, PERSI is widely recognized as a vital tool for genealogical researchers. PERSI indexes articles in 11,000 periodical titles (including 3,000 defunct titles) published by thousands of local, state, national and international societies and organizations, arranging 2.25 million entries by surname or location and 22 basic subject headings.

While indexing all these articles, PERSI doesn’t actually include them. Researchers must subsequently find a copy of the periodical. Fortunately, PERSI includes a list of institutions holding the respective titles. Or one can pay a small copying fee and get copies of articles from the Allen County Public Library.

You’ll recall that Findmypast added the PERSI index to their website back in February 2014. As part of that partnership, Findmypast is digitizing indexed articles, which increases the value of PERSI by several orders of magnitude. While I hope Findmypast can negotiate posting of recent periodicals, the list indicates that thus far they have not done so. All currently posted articles are from magazine issues for which the copyright has expired. Still, the list is pretty impressive:

You may wish to check it out. Even without a subscription, searching PERSI on the Findmypast website provides useful pointers toward indexed articles.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Insider Ketchup

Ancestry Insider KetchupI’m trying to take the rest of the month off for Christmas, but news keeps happening. I have no time. Time to quickly ketchup…

Laura Bush and Daughter Speaking at RootsTech

From the RootsTech press release:

RootsTech 2015 attendees will get to hear firsthand how one of the nation’s most famous families celebrates their family across generations.  RootsTech, the largest family history conference in the world, announced today that former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush Hager will be the keynote speakers during the Friday morning general session on February 13, 2015.

For more information, see the article on the FamilySearch blog. Explains Missing DNA Ancestry

I hear people all the time complain that their DNA report excludes countries of known ancestry.’s Anne Gillespie Mitchell recently explained some of the reasons. Read “Ask Ancestry Anne: Where Is My Native American DNA?” on the blog.

LDS Church History Department Collaborates With FamilySearch

The Deseret News LDS Church News recently shared news of a partnership between FamilySearch and the Church History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Using the power of and the scholarship of The Joseph Smith Papers Project, descendants of early Church members can now connect to original source documents where their own progenitors are mentioned,” said Elder Steven E. Snow, Church Historian and Recorder, according to the article.

The article gives a link to a page on where members can go to see if there are any links for their ancestors: You can also search on the Joseph Smith Papers website at Check the list of people at

For more information read the article on the Deseret News website or on the FamilySearch blog, see "Did Your Ancestors Interact with the Prophet Joseph Smith?"

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday Mailbox: What is Going On Here? historic person marketing pageDear Ancestry Insider,

Recently, when I performed a Google search for family names, links appeared which lead to the person in "Historical Person Search" results like the example to the right.

So far, I have NOT been able to

  • see the actual source of this information (which is often incorrect)
  • go to the source
  • go to the member tree that might be the source

HOW ARE THESE "Historical" records generated??????

AND NOTE  the suggestion in the section titled “Ready to Discover Your Family Story” inviting me to start with my own name, from which they will find my tree for me. 

Given that LIVING people are supposed to be "PRIVATE" what is going on here?

Jean F Milne

Dear Jean,

Have you noticed in Google that when you type in a person’s name sometimes you get links to a bunch of websites giving you a little bit of information about the person and offering to sell you more? Maybe even perform criminal background check? For example, among the Google search results for [william george pentland] are those from,,, and Well, I think that realized that they could attract more people to their website if they did the same thing. They have built pages like the one you saw and let Google index them. The page contains sells information about the features that might attract new users. indicates the source for your example is “10 records, 10 photos and 28,051 family trees.” The vital information and relatives are synthesized from the 28,051 family trees. If you’ve viewed shaky leaf hints from family trees, you’ve seen these synthesized records. Combining records of William from 28,051 family trees is too much work for a human; they must use machine algorithms. And machines frequently make mistakes. The ten records are the results of searching their historical record collections and are shown in the section titled “Top Record Matches For…” The ten photos are similarly the results of a search of their photo collections, which seem to be dominated by those submitted by users.

As for the “Ready to Discover Your Family Story” section, I assume is using their standard tree building engagement process. It starts engaging you by prompting you to add information about yourself. Next it engages you a little more by asking for information about a parent and then a grandparent. With each piece of information supplied you are more engaged and more likely to continue the process. At some point you are prompted to supply an email address so you can save your results. Without hardly thinking about it, you have an user account and member tree. Now you are almost fully engaged. teases you with record results you can partially see. For just a little money you can see the full records and add the information to your tree.

Some people see an invitation to search for an ancestor rather than starting with themselves.Like any good company, tests alternatives to see what provides the most engagement. For example, in your example some people see an invitation to search for an ancestor rather than starting with themselves. It’s possible that may have given me this alternative because it knows that I already frequent genealogy websites.

I’m pretty sure uses the same rules for privacy on this page that it does anywhere else. That’s why you are led to create enough of a tree to get you back to generations for which has records. Living individuals in trees are kept private.

Katy Perry by Joella Marano
Katy Perry
Photo by Joella Marano.
Used under license, unchanged.

You probably already know this, but the notion that all living individuals are kept private anywhere on (and FamilySearch, for that matter) is false. Many entities, government and otherwise, legally release information about living individuals and that information often shows up online.

The Ancestry Insider