Friday, February 27, 2015

More Than Serendipity in Tan Le’s #RootsTech/#FGS2015 Keynote (#RTATEAM)

Tan Le’s voice wavered a bit and she shed a tear or two as she spoke of her grandmother and some special moments they shared. Le shared them with us in her RootsTech keynote. Now FamilySearch has shared them with you in a three minute video on their YouTube channel. See “#RootsTech 2015 Keynote: Tan Le Remembers Her Grandmother.”


To see her presentation in its entirety, with both the Thursday keynote presentations, visit the RootsTech website.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Search Ancestry Like a Pro (#RootsTech #RTATEAM)

At RootsTech, Crista Cowan presented “Search Like a Pro.”

“Remember, you are not searching for people; you are searching for records about people,” said Cowan. She presented the process she uses to find records.

  • Start by looking at the hints. [Click the leaf shown in the person page—below—or on the tree view.]
    Fred Ross Cown example from person page on

    “Ancestry provides hints for the top 10% of our most popular databases as a way to get people started in their discoveries.” They are just hints not certainties. Pay attention to record hints first. Use hints to other family trees as clues. [I might emphasize this. The evidentiary value of other people’s family trees is much, much less than the evidentiary value of original records. ---tai]
  • When you follow a hint, you are going to link to a record page. Pay attention to the view button on the record page (#1 in the image below). “Always, always, always look at the image.” The image is going to have more information than the record page. [And there is always the possibility of transcription errors.]
    Fred R Cowan census record example from

    When you find a record about your ancestor, attach the record to your tree so you don’t have to search for it again. [Also, marks it as such in search results and the record page (#2 in the image above). When you come across it again, you know you’ve already discovered it.]

  • While you are looking at an ancestor’s record, look at the suggested records shown along the side (#3 in the image above). This is like which shows you a list of the other things people bought who bought what you bought. That’s what suggested records are. These are records that other members have attached to the same person in their trees.
  • After you’ve looked at the hints, there are still more records to find. There are misspellings, wrong ages, and other reasons why hinting doesn’t find all the records. Search starting from the tree. [Underneath the portrait in the first image above, click “Search records.”] fills in the search boxes for you with every piece of information known about that person, including every place they have ever lived and all their immediate family. “We do this because we want to see what records bubble to the top. Is there any single record that has all the information? No, so we present a list of ranked results.” Pay attention to the records that show up at the top of the list of results. Don’t go through too many pages of results. Stop after a page or two. Then switch from records to categories.
  • Craft a basic search. [I can’t remember for sure what my notes mean by this. Perhaps she was recommending trying a search without all the extra detail added by starting a search from the tree. That’s what I do at this point. The extra detail suppresses results from databases with fewer fields.] Use the advanced search form. Once you choose to use the advanced search form, it remembers. It has more fields which will make it possible to do a more powerful search. Think about the kind of record you are searching for when crafting a search.
  • Do a global search. It searchers over 32,000 titles containing over 15 billion records. That number is growing by one million new records every day.
  • Do a category search. It searches only records that are included in a specific category. Categories are listed along the right side of the main search page. [I think Cowan also pointed out the special categories found in the lower-right corner: New York 400th anniversary, African American, and Jewish family history. Over the years there have been others. They didn’t included them in the list, so they may not be current. I’ve seen  NARA, U.S. Military, and others.]
  • Do a database search to search for records in a specific database. Extra search boxes are present to allow matching fields not present in a global search.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 Shows New Website Improvements at #RootsTech/#FGS2015 showed upcoming improvements to their website during RootsTech/FGS2015 in their booth in the Expo Hall. These include LifeStory, Historical Insights, a new Media Gallery, and an improved Facts page.

Dan Lawyer, product manager, wrote about the changes in the Blog. In the article, Lawyer says:

We’d like to invite you to become a part of the Ancestry beta. To join the beta, simply add your name to the waitlist at this link:

We will be inviting people on the waitlist to join the beta in batches over the next few months. When you are next, we will email you instructions for how to access the beta. You will be able to send feedback to the Ancestry team from directly within the beta site. We want to hear your feedback on what’s working well, what problems you  discover, and your suggestions for improvement. When you send us feedback, you are helping Ancestry to reinvent the way we do family history.

For more information, see “Sneak Peek of The New Ancestry Website Coming!.”

Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Do I cite the Entire Census or the Page?

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

I have just read your article on sources and citations (May 26, 2010).  I agree that such terms should be properly defined to avoid ambiguity.

I have constructed my UK family tree, using BMD indexes to determine the basic structure of the family relationships.  To record it I used PAF and, more recently, converted to Ancestral Quest v14. 

I now wish to add the information about residential addresses and occupations that I can find in the published census returns.  To do this in AQ I need to associate the information with events in the individual's "timeline". However, the "event" is the census process itself, which is also the ultimate "source" of such information - on a national scale.  Furthermore, if I wish to include a scan of the relevant census page, AQ only makes a provision for this in a "source" record.

So, is the source the relevant census page, or is it the entire collection of records for that year?

I tried to get help from the [AncestralQuest] email group, but they didn't seem to understand my difficulty.

Are you able to advise me on how census derived information should be recorded in family histories?

Kind regards,
Paul Grant

Dear Paul,

It’s kind of scary going back five years and seeing what I wrote about citations. I’ve learned a lot since then. I’m pleased to see that what I wrote stands the test of time.

I’ve not looked at AncestralQuest citations since then. Let me speak generically so that my advice will be applicable to any revision of any tree management software. I will use dictionary definitions for source and citation. Ignore AncestralQuest for a moment, or the mismatched definitions will confuse you.

A census of a nation is a source. There is a citation that applies to this entire source.

All the pages for a county (or some other sub-jurisdiction) are a source. There is a citation for this source. It includes all the elements from the previous citation, plus some more.

A single page is a source. There is a citation for this source. It includes all the elements from the previous citation, plus some more. 

A line of a census is a source. There is a citation for this source. It includes all the elements from the previous citation, plus some more.

All of these statements are true at the same time.

Most tree managers provide some mechanism to speed citation entry. One can enter some of the more general details of a source citation into a data structure so they can be reused over and over. I will call this a Master Source List. When specifying the citation for a single fact, one references an entry in the Master Source List and then adds additional citation detail.

What you specify in your Master Source List is entirely up to you and the specific research project. The Master Source List feature (or whatever it is called in your tree manager) is there for your convenience, so you get to decide to what specificity you use a Master Source List entry.

  • You could specify the national census in the Master Source List entry and add remaining detail each time a specific fact is cited.
  • If the majority of the citations are for a particular county, one might wish to add a second entry that includes the county details. Add remaining detail each time a specific fact from within the county is cited.
  • It is conceivable, but unlikely, that a situation could arise, perhaps for a small project in a small file, where a majority of the citations specified a particular page. In addition to a national or county entry, one might have a Master Source List entry for that one page.

There are other considerations that might affect your decision:

  • How long of a Master Source List is too long? How easy does your tree software make it to find an entry when you need it? (I do most of my work in an Member Tree and has awful, awful, awful management of source citations. Any length is too long. But I digress...)
  • Will you be producing a research report that includes a bibliography? And do you want to use the Master Source List entries verbatim in the bibliography?
  • Are you collaborating with another person?  Making your citation entry optimal may not work the same for them.
  • Does it bother you to mix jurisdictional levels in your Master Source List? Some people may find it illogical and a violation of mutual exclusion. Others may find it too difficult to remember what they've done if they are inconsistent.
  • Are you synchronizing your tree with an online tree? Citation exchange is still in the wild, wild West. It may take some experimentation to learn what works best with your desktop software and your online software.

The bottom line is that the feature is created for you, not you for the feature.

---The Ancestry Insider

Thursday, February 19, 2015

NewsBank and FamilySearch Obituary Partnership (#RootsTech #RTATEAM)

imageJohn Alexander of FamilySearch and Ross Allred of GenealogyBank presented a session titled “The Future of Genealogy – Indexed Obituaries: Learn How FamilySearch and GenealogyBank Have Partnered in Creating an Indexed Obituary Collection.”

NewsBank is the parent company of GenealogyBank. They have been in business for more than 40 years. They tried to acquire content for professors and students to do research. They have been trying to acquire all the news media tat is out there so that professors and students could do research. They were not in the consumer space, but they noticed that about 30% of all their searches were for single names in obituaries. Who do you think was doing all that searching? Genealogists, of course. Seeing the market, they created GenealogyBank.

Their modern obituaries (starting in 1977) are not from scanned images, but were “born digital.” They have the Social Security Death Index, but they estimate their obituary collection covers roughly 90% of all deaths. Allred was tasked with finding a way to extract the information from the obituaries. If my notes are correct, GenealogyBank currently has 47 million digital obituaries and add three to four million a year.

For decades FamilySearch has focused on traditional records like vitals and censuses. Increasingly there are privacy restrictions that protect those records. They started looking for substitutes and found that newspapers are rich in content, stories, and relationships. But there were issues. The records were narrative text versus fielded documents. Indexing volunteers might not be willing to index complicated texts. FamilySearch had acquired very few newspapers and it would be very difficult to try and visit the large number of publishers. Newspaper publishers aren’t interested in giving content to FamilySearch for free. Many had already licensed their content to other online publishers exclusively. A partnership between FamilySearch and NewsBank served the needs of both organizations.

And while there is lots of great content in newspapers, the two decided to begin with obituaries. They also decided to begin with born-digital obituaries rather than historical obits. Digital obits are more modern and bridge the gap between modern vitals and the 1940 census. NewsBank receives 10,000+ of them daily. The goal is to hand these off to FamilySearch and get them quickly searchable.

They will start indexing historical newspaper obituaries beginning in 2015. By about 1876 obits contained rich content. But they will be a challenge. It would be unwieldy to hand a page of obituaries off to an indexer. There are an average of 12-18 obits per newspaper. They are figuring out how to cut out individual obits to make them available to indexers. FamilySearch initially thought they would do a light index: just the decedents name and basic vitals. Ultimately, they decided to index as many relationships as are present. They have found an average of 7.3 named relatives in each obit. The number was much higher in Idaho, where they averaged 27 named relatives.

About 100 million names were indexed in 2014, about 90 million of them from GenealogyBank obits That’s an average of 600 thousand names indexed daily from about 80 to 85 thousand names per hour.

Searching and showing obituaries is just like any other record. Search results look the same. Record details look the same. The record detail page provides a link to the full obituary for GenealogyBank subscribers. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can follow a link to an image containing the full text of the obituary. (Remember, these are born-digital obituaries. There is no image of a newspaper page.)

There is still a lot more newspaper content beyond obituaries. It’s now just a matter of prioritizing the work. They are looking forward to starting with births and marriages, especially where they don’t have access to the vitals. There is also military information, probate notices, photograph, stories, social notices, and more. There are also ethnic and international newspapers.