Sunday, December 30, 2007's Browser Hijacker

Click to enlarge on Featurepics
"Business Hack," © fluca

Probably unknown to current management of the Generations Network (TGN) and new owners, Spectrum Equity Investors, they have inherited a problem that has affected many: something is sometimes hijacking browsers to

The Ancestry Insider suffers from the problem on his laptop. Frustrated to his fill, he's finally fixated on finding and fixing this problem.

Part 1: An Unholy Alliance

On my laptop, when I enter a non-existent domain, say, my browser is redirected to Over several years I've tried several respected malware scanners, trying to detect and fix this problem, including Spybot Search and Destroy, Ad-Aware Free and Norton AntiVirus. When I upgraded to Internet Explorer 7, the problem remained. When I downloaded and tried Firefox, the hijacking still occurred.

My investigation thus far has been unable to determine if this situation is an unhappy accidental alignment of technology settings or the last vestige of an unholy alliance the company made years ago with aggressive Internet marketer,

According to Beau Sharbrough in a 2004 article in the Ancestry Daily News,

Spyware is unwanted software, hidden on your computer. It might include the following:

--- Adware. These programs serve you popup ads. They might also send information to advertisers. One of the more insidious examples is Gator. They produce popup ads that don't come from the site you are visiting. For a fee, they will put up Ford ads on pages that have “Honda” on them

Gator's adware technology was installed during the installation of some program offered for free in exchange for the permission to display advertising. Some of Gator's programs were eWallet, GotSmiley, Dashbar, Precision Time, Screenscenes and weatherscope. After installation, a user would be shown popup advertisements that matched their interests, which were inferred from the websites they visited. (Source)

Spyware legal expert, Benjamin Edelman, says,

Users who manage to read the [63-page Gator] license find surprising terms: Users must not run third-party tools (like Ad-Aware or Spybot) to remove Gator, and users must not investigate what personal information Gator tracks and sends.

Because the popups sometimes obscured the websites of competitors, and because Gator fought being described as "spyware", Gator and its software were involved in legal actions with or among: the Internet Advertising Bureau, Virtumundo, L.L. Bean, PriceGrabber, the New York Times, the Washington Post (among other media companies), Weight Watchers,,, Extended Stay America, Hertz, Lending Tree, Metrodate (representing a class of websites),, Quicken Loans, Six Continents Hotels, TigerDirect, UPS, Wells Fargo, Teleflora, Nordstrom's, JC Penney, Atkins, Gevalia, Interlinx ( and PC Pitstop. (Source)

Paul Allen

In a 2004 Paul Allen, former Ancestry executive, wrote a blog article titled Gator files for IPO as Claria Corporation in which he acknowledged the use of Gator's technology at

My team at used to advertise on Gator. It was cool to think that we could “gator” our competitors web sites and pop-up our advertisement just as a web user was thinking of subscribing to, say, [a competitor at the time]. I don’t think this should be considered illegal. If an end user wants a Gator tool on their machine to monitor what they are doing and save them money by giving them competing offers or coupons just in time, what is wrong with that?

Allen shows a clear understanding of Gator's deceptive practices but still expresses admiration.

Gator [is] much hated in the industry by web site publishers and much beloved by aggressive Internet marketers. ... The numbers are amazing...

Gator has about 43 million customers that have downloaded one of their software applications, knowingly or unknowingly. These applications are mostly completely useless, but they get downloaded inadvertently...

Getting people to download software for free which stays resident and helps Claria make money is actually quite brilliant...

I think they are just taking advantage of the naivety of many web users...

I think Claria has some clever tactics and end users have been gullible.

Claria has since announced exiting the "adware" business, although its software remains on download sites and continues to be installed on computers. Claria also announced it has shut down the servers that supply popup advertisements to the Gator Advertising Network (GAIN).

List of Suspects

I admit Gator was my first suspect. But is it possible that starved of responses from the GAIN ad servers, Gator's software degrades into default or unintentional behavior that causes or contributes to the mysterious browser redirects?

When I learned that even Mac users have been hijacked to, I knew it was time to start looking for another suspect.

Next time, we'll look at suspect 2: DNS poisoning.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

New FamilySearch Update for 25-Dec-2007

I've updated the map and list in Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch.

Newport Beach has been announced, completing announcements for California. Manhattan and Johannesburg have been announced. All have been given the new preparation length: 4 months. We're on a Lubbock watch. Rumor has it that they may be announced by the end of the year. Let me know if you hear anything. (

FamilySearch support personnel can share:

  • What new FamilySearch is
  • New FamilySearch is coming
  • Names and dates for temple districts that have gone live

Support can not divulge:

  • Names and dates for temple districts that have not gone live
  • Packet information
  • New FamilySearch Rollout DVD

Google Holiday Logo

Most of you probably know that Google sports specially adapted holiday logos on special days. If you missed the gradual, day-by-day "building" of their Christmas 2007 logo, check out all 5 days at

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

News for 19 December 2007

There are several news items of particular note today. I can't decide whether to post a single article with a little about all of them, or separate articles that go more in-depth and risk not getting to them all.

New Learning Center at Ancestry

Ancestry has launched an all new Learning Center. See it at A moment or two after you arrive on the page, Megan Smolenyak will start moving and speaking to you. There's lots of good information for new genealogists or new users of If you're an explorer like me, there's lot's of neat little nooks and crannies to explore.

Ancestry has some nice-looking email newsletters. I used to be embarrassed how poorly they were presented in the learning center. Check it out for yourself. Here's the same article presented with the old design and the new design. Check out this week's Ancestry Weekly Journal.

New Tree Features at Ancestry

You may have noticed last night that Ancestry's Member Trees were inoperable. An announcement on the Ancestry Blog by Kenny Freestone stated, "We're doing this because we are rolling some really cool new features to the site. ... We apologize for the downtime, and hope to delight you with the new features you'll find when we are back up!"

If you were expecting another post on the blog today announcing these great, new features, you were disappointed. Instead of talking about the jaw-dropping new features, Ancestry took the opportunity to announce the March 2008 retirement of Online Family Tree.

Hmmm. Was that really the best way to follow-up the excitement generated by the first post? I am grateful that Ancestry announced beforehand that the Ancestry Trees would be unavailable last night. It always aggravates me when Ancestry has planned downtime and then doesn't tell their users beforehand.

Maybe Freestone is doing a "soft rollout." Ancestry does that quite often. They'll roll something new and not tell anyone so that they can see how it performs under light loading. After they've worked any kinks out, then they tell everyone.

If that's the case, I'm sorry I'm spilling the beans. But after last night's announcement I poked around today until I found something new.

Ancestry trees will now give you hints when it finds individuals in other people's trees that match individuals in your own! I don't know all the ins and outs yet, but I've already located pictures that I don't have of my ancestors in other people's trees.

I'm pretty savvy when it comes to searching Ancestry, so I don't expect to find any ancestry records attached to other people's trees that I haven't attached to my own. Or should I say, I didn't expect to find any. I've already found some that, no doubt, I could have found if I had had the time to work on that line. I can see I'm going to love this new feature.

I still need to try attaching these records from others' trees to see how effortlessly the records and photographs come over. And I don't yet know where the "pay wall" separates functionality offered to subscribers vs. non-subscribers. I know that non-subscribers can build trees, upload photos, and invite other non-subscribers to see, upload to or change trees. So who knows, maybe they'll get most of this new functionality. I'll just have to perform some investigations.

So far, the feature looks terrific. This marks a new (for Ancestry) and interesting way of enabling collaboration that diverges from FamilySearch's strategy of one, shared tree. It will be fun to see how the two play out and how the two might cooperate.

Ancestry and FamilySearch Do a Deal

Speaking of cooperation between the two, The Generations Network (TGN) and FamilySearch announced today an agreement restoring full access to starting today in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and the 13 largest regional family history centers (FHCs). While the announcement stated that they "hope to expand access to other family history centers in the future," how would you like to be a patron of the largest FHC that didn't get access?

The agreement comes 8 months after TGN withdrew access of from FHCs. The move was widely believed to signal a falling out between the two. Officials from both organizations maintained that the two enjoyed good relations.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but TGN CEO, Tim Sullivan, said “We’ve enjoyed a ten-year working relationship with FamilySearch, and we look forward to continued collaboration on a number of family history projects.” What would you say if I told you that Tim, my close, personal friend, had taken me into his confidence and told me some of the collaborations being considered?

Fine. If you don't believe I know anything, then I guess I have nothing to say about it.


Stay tuned...

Fixes Needed in New FamilySearch

Here's my wish list for improvements to New FamilySearch (NFS).

  • Visual interface for Combine, so people will stop combining fathers and sons together.
  • Implement the concept of Groups like Microsoft Office does for graphical elements. In PowerPoint one can not only group several objects together, one can group several groups together. In terms of NFS, it would be nice if combining a father and son together produced a group of two groups which, when ungrouped resulted in the original two groups (the father and the son).
  • Implement Wikipedia's History Tab concept so one can easily Undo or Redo changes made to a person, including combining.
  • Implement Wikipedia's Discussion Tab concept. In particular, a discussion should be created anytime two people are separated so one can leave a message discussing why those two shouldn't be re-combined. Any attempt to re-combine the two would require the user to view the discussion before permitting the combine. After performing the re-combine, the user would be required to add a message to the discussion explaining why.
  • Implement Wikipedia's automatic toggle suspension concept so that once a change has been toggled back and forth a certain number of times, the change is frozen and further toggling is prevented until an administrator intervenes.
  • Implement concepts Wikipedia's uses for quality control. Sometimes thought of only in terms of vandalism prevention, automated agents are important for general quality, detecting unintentional damage, and directing the attention of the community.

If you can't tell, I believe Wikipedia has arrived at a workable model of collaboration on a grand scale and NFS should learn from and follow it as much as they can.

Lab Takes a Whack at New FamilySearch

I'm out of time and I haven't talked about the FamilySearch Labs announcement Monday. I guess you're on your own. Read about it and see sample screens here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Updated map and list of tables on NFS

This is just a short note to let you know I've updated the map and list in my article, Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch.

San Diego, Fresno, Baton Rouge and Guatemala City have gone live since the last update. Villahermosa may be live this week. Houston has been announced.

Chattanooga Stake is having a meeting on 19 Jan 2008 about genealogy. Read what you will into that.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Did Ancestry Remove Census Transcriptions?

Ancestry Complaints, Chapter 1

It was a month ago Suzie Henderson posted her complaints about and it's only today I'm getting around to responding. Sorry about that, Suzie. I've edited Suzie's comment here for length and clarity.

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I agree with everything you said here. Ancestry offers a fine product and gives free server space to RootsWeb, Cyndi's List, many GenWeb sites [World and U.S.], etc. We all really appreciate that.


First, I would not mind paying Ancestry at all IF they would not remove content from their site so that they could charge me extra to get it back again.

Second, I would not mind paying Ancestry at all IF they did not take my credit card number and hold it hostage.

Let's treat each of these concerns separately. Remember, I do not speak in an official capacity for Ancestry. But these are my understandings and recollections.

Did Ancestry remove census transcriptions?
Did Ancestry remove
census transcriptions?

Census Transcriptions

I originally subscribed to because they had so many transcribed census records. When they added the Census Images for an additional charge, the transcriptions were removed from the site. Information already on the site that I was paying for was removed. Why?

Ancestry used to have many AIS U.S. Federal Census Indexes (aka transcriptions). Some people quote error rates as high as 15 to 19 percent for these indexes. As part of Ancestry's U.S. Federal Census initiative, Ancestry re-indexed these censuses, replacing the AIS indexes. While the old indexes went away and you would no longer have been able to access them, you would have been able to access the new indexes.

Simplified Subscription System

By the way, you weren't the only customer put off by the requirement to pay additional money for access to census images. Back in the old days the old subscription system was splintered and confusing. There was the U.S. Records Collection, U.S. Census Collection, U.S. Newspaper Collection, U.S. Obituary Collection, U.K. Records Collection, etc. Users were constantly being asked to penny up for additional record sets. Complaints were numerous and satisfaction low.

For these reasons Ancestry introduced what internally we call "New Pricing and Packaging." This consists of a simplified two tiered pricing system. The U.S. Deluxe Subscription consists of all record sets pertaining to the United States, including both census indexes and images. The second tier is the World Deluxe Subscription which gives access to all records.

Canceling Ancestry Subscription

If I could log in with my subscriber name and cancel my subscription, I might then trust Ancestry with my credit card number again. I can sign up online to spend money at Ancestry. But I can only stop spending money at by making a telephone call and arguing about why I want to stop spending money.

I was assured by Ancestry that I would be reminded annually that my card would soon be charged for an new subscription. I was reminded once in 8 years. The only way I was able to get out from under my subscription was to cancel my credit card and not give Ancestry the new number.

Ancestry has made it clearer during signup that your subscription automatically renews. The notification could be a little more prominent for me, but it is there and it's repeated in the Terms and Conditions.

Ancestry warns
Not quite noticeable enough for me, Ancestry warns users
in plain sight that subscriptions automatically renew

You can cancel the renewal either online or by phone without argument at least two days before the renewal date. You can cancel an initial annual subscription during the first 7 days and receive a full refund.

Ancestry will send an e-mail notice 15 days before your subscription automatically renews (except for monthly subscriptions), but in many cases you will never see it. I'm always surprised how many people forget to tell Ancestry when their e-mail address changes. Also, many e-mail systems will treat the notification as SPAM  and throw it away for you.

(If any of you readers have a notification still around, can you share with us what the sender's e-mail address is? Some e-mail systems allow adding addresses to a list of trusted addresses.)

If you're intent on canceling at a particular time, I advise you not to depend on getting the notification; mark your calendars instead.

Subscribers can cancel online on the My Account page
Subscribers can cancel online on the My Account page

If Ancestry should ever revert back to its old behavior and make it unnecessarily difficult to cancel a subscription, don't suffer the inconvenience of canceling your credit card. Instead, call up the credit card company and ask them to reverse the first charge that shows up after you have notified Ancestry to cancel your subscription. The credit card companies track such "charge backs" and companies with large charge back rates can lose their ability to accept credit card payments.

But under current management, I don't see that happening. CEO Tim Sullivan has told us internally that if a customer is going to leave us, he wants to be able to win them back later with the great new stuff we are working so hard to provide. We don't want to make enemies out of them. This only makes sense.

Try Us Again

Suzie, I don't blame you or anyone else for having a bad taste in your mouth from previous negative experiences at Ancestry. But if you've been away for a couple of years, it's time for you to come back and give us another try.

We've revamped our subscriptions. We've added exceptional new content. (Everyone always thinks of our U.S. and U.K. census collections, which are unequaled, but our immigration records should knock your socks off! And during 2007 we've made astounding progress adding military, state census and vital records.)

Ancestry Member Trees Have Shaky Leaves
Ancestry Member Trees
Have Shaky Leaves

Our free family tree building software with its shaky leaves is a next-generation feature unmatched by any other. I had my tree in good shape, populated with photographs where ever possible, when Ancestry Press came along. With one click I've produced eye-popping books and large pedigree charts. Our DNA offering is young, but very cool. (To everyone at work, if I've forgotten to mention your personal exceptionally cool accomplishments, my apologies.)

In short, Suzie, while you've been away we've been working our fingers to the bone and we have a lot more to show for it than just bony fingers. Come give us another try. This time, we want you to stay because you want to stay.

The Ancestry Insider

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Marriage Records Database

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I found a marriage on U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 on Ancestry which comes from Yates Publishing Co. Once while searching another line I discovered getting the document from them would cost something like $14. Do you have any way of finding the original source? I am so afraid it is going to be someone's family group sheet and that's not worth the cost.


Dear SRJ,

You've come to the right place. I have the goods on the aforesaid database. As you mentioned, the marriage records in this database were provided by Yates Publishing. Bill Yates founded Yates Publishing in 1972 and something called the Family Group Sheet Exchange (FGSE) in 1981. You can submit family group data for free and Yates Publishing sells it to others, thus providing you a valuable networking opportunity. (They say sarcasm is especially difficult to detect in the written word. Hmmm.) See the Yates Publishing website for a much longer, elegant way of explaining this.

The Yates database is based on the FGSE and, according to the database description, "these records were extracted from family group sheets, electronic databases, biographies, wills, and other sources." One can contact Yates Publishing "for more information or to order an original Family Group Sheet [from] the FGSE." Unfortunately, the Ancestry database description gives the wrong contact information and no longer includes the instructions for obtaining source material from Yates. Don't worry. We'll explain how to do that before we're done.

Source Citation

As you mention, it would be great if one could decide before paying if the source materials were worth the cost. Fortunately, there is a way.

Often overlooked, underneath the information given in an Ancestry search result from any database is a section titled "Source Citation" that gives information for locating that particular record or result in Ancestry's database or the original source. An example from the Yates database looks like this.

A result from the Yates Database
An example showing a source citation

The source citation in this example is

Source Citation: Source number: 1345.000; Source type: Electronic Database; Number of Pages: 1; Submitter Code: GCH.

You'll want to look first at the source type to determine if the cost is worthwhile. The different types are shown in the table below. (Subscribers can click on "Example" to see an example of each source type.)

Electronic Database


Family group sheet, FGSE, listed as parents


Pedigree chart


Family group sheet, listed as a child


Family group sheet (from "Gleanings"), listed as parents


Correspondence file (significant amount)


Correspondence file


Manuscript (significant amount)


Genealogy book




Family group sheet (from "Gleanings")


Lineage chart




Subject of a biographical sketch


Family or bible record (significant amount)


Genealogy book (significant amount)




Family or bible record


Lineage chart (significant amount)


Will, made by one of spouses


Article (significant amount)


Mentioned in a biographical sketch


Query (significant amount)


Pedigree chart (significant amount)


I've listed the types in order, from most common to least common. Note that many types are repeated with the notation, "significant amount." Use this and the page count to further judge how valuable the source material might be.

One nice feature of the search form for this Ancestry database is that the Keyword field also searches the source type. With the exact search box checked and "significant" typed in the keyword field, your search will only return results if there is a significant amount of source material for the result.

Finding the Submitter

Yates Publishing has also put the database on the web as The Computerized Ancestor where one can access it for free. Bill Yates told me that the index on the Computerized Ancestor is more current than the one on Ancestry. And as of the publication date of this article one can use this database to find contact information for the submitter of a record found here or on Ancestry.

Let's take the example result above with submitter code GCH. Scroll down to the bottom of The Computerized Ancestor home page and find the section titled "Authors." Click on the Begin Browsing button. The list of authors (submitters) gives last name, first name, middle name, city, state, zip code, submitter code and file. Scroll down to the Search for section.

I tried entering the submitter code and clicking Search, but I couldn't get it to work for me. Instead, I guessed that GCH were initials so I searched for Last Name of "H" and then browsed through the H surnames until I found GCH in the Code column. GCH happens to be George Christian Hamilton of Saudi Arabia.

A more complicated approach probably works more reliably. Say you wish to find submitter code GUI. Change Settings so that the Ordering dropdown is "by Code." Then click Change Settings. Then search for the code of interest. In the search results, the code you searched for is listed 2nd. To get it to the top of the list, search for the code immediately after it. In the case of GUI, this is GV1. Now GUI will be the first result in the list. Change Settings so that the Ordering dropdown is "by Name, City,..." and click Change Settings. In the search results, the code you're interested in is again listed 2nd, but now the submitter's information is displayed with it. In the case of GUI, the submitter is Barbara Hammond of Paris, IL 61944 and the GUI code was derived from the GUINN file name instead of her name.

Contacting Yates Publishing

If you decide to purchase source material from Yates, their current contact information is

Bill Yates
508 Loomis Ave
Melba, ID  83641

Provide the source citation and Yates says, "I can provide a copy for a specific reference for $7.50, payable by check or PayPal."

The source material is normally available in surname packets and you may wish to consider purchasing an entire packet.

"We have much data in our collection which is available nowhere else," Yates explained. A catalog containing the size and pricing for the different surname packets is available on the Yates website. Glancing through the catalog, I see packet costs range from $7.50 (for a dozen sheets) to $40 (for 140 sheets).

Hope that helps,
The Ancestry Insider

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ancestry Slow Today!

If you thought was slow today (Thursday), you're not alone. Starting some time after 11:00AM Ancestry become, at times, slow to the point of uselessness. As of the time of this posting, the site seems to have returned to normal. If you have further problems tonight, check back here for updates.

Also today mysterious ribbons appeared on three of the Ancestry navigation buttons. Someone expressed concern that clicking the buttons didn't seem to do anything different than before. Be assured, nothing is wrong with your computer. The ribbons illuminate areas of the website where purchases can be made. You may find, as I did, that meaningful gifts can be created or purchased in these areas. (Shhh! Don't tell anyone. I'll tell you more after Christmas, but I don't want to ruin any surprises right now.)

Updated 10:30PM

I spoke too soon. When I started trying to use Ancestry Member Trees, I found they were still suffering from problems. The Family Tree view doesn't work. If you add or change information about a person, the Ancestry Hints "Searching..." never completes. If you try to attach an OWT match, the browser suddenly jumps to the home page. Anyone with an HTTP sniffer can see that this is Ancestry's current response to a 500 error. That means a fatal exception prevented the page from being composed for display. Ancestry Member Trees used to handle 500 errors with a special page. I think it said something like, "something went wrong. Would you like to use RootsWeb or one of our other sites instead."

I wonder if part of the problem this morning was that the home page itself was causing 500 errors. The website handled the exception by sending the user back to the home page, which quickly blew up again. Thus, the behavior caused an endless cascade of errors until the user gave up and closed their browser or went to some other website. Granted, the old 500 error handling page shouldn't have been sending users off to RootsWeb for a once-in-a-blue-moon error. But unceremoniously dumping the user back to the home page is not only a confusing user experience, technically, it can cause an endless escalation of errors. Take my example above. I tried to attach an Ancestry Hint matching record. I would rather I get a message explaining that the operation had failed. Give me a chance to try it again or to go to the home page. The page used to and still should explain that the error had been logged and reported (which actually happens).

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tonight's Software Disasters

What an awful evening! I had simple plans; write a little review of my positive experience with Ancestry's new passport database. I found an ancestor's brother's file had signature, photograph, birth certification—even his income tax return! But I saw an advertisement for and thought I'd stop by my local Family History Center (FHC) to see if they had access yet.

The first machine I tried (a Windows 98 SE machine) asked me to select a certificate from an empty list. Thirty minutes. No LANDesk. Move on.

Second machine. Expired certificate. wanted newer Flash player. Multiple install failures. Success via 2nd window, but Footnote now gets stuck "Loading" images. Thirty minutes. Move on.

Third machine. Repeat experience of second machine. Repeat thirty wasted minutes.

Back to plan A; write review. Try to connect to Ancestry via my laptop. Can't get through FHC firewall. Thirty more minutes. This happens sometimes and if the staff cycles the power on the firewall, then my laptop gets a lower IP address that works. But why rock the boat? Certainly I could find something else useful to do.

Back to machine #3 which still has IE6 as its browser. Log on to Ancestry. Boy that new footer looks ugly with IE6. And ads were showing up too far to the right. And the "More Options" popup when editing vitals in an Ancestry Tree is partly off-screen. I hope we start testing with IE6. If I remember correctly, we still have about 35% of our users on IE6. And I hope we fix these problems.

John Pitcher arrived in New York on 7 Oct 1869 on the Manhattan. I thought I'd try and find what day he left Liverpool. Ancestry identified the Manhattan as part of the Guion ship line. I tried Googling various combinations of Guion, Manhattan, the date, etc. and gave up after half-an hour when a near miss on the New York Times archives website crashed their search engine. That was after locking up trying to view a PDF document on their site.

(Have you ever met one of those people that can't wear a watch because their body is magnetic or something? That's what I am, only for software. I can locate bugs in anything. But I digress...)

Then it hit me. Why not try searching newspapers on Ancestry? Duh!

I clicked the Search button at the top of the page. In the Browse Records sidebar... But wait. What is this odd advertisement on the far right? Just a picture of mother and daughter with no words. Why? Intrigued, I hover. Nothing. I click. Nothing. I bet that's a bug too. (I find later it is.)

Meanwhile, with time running out before the center closes, I scroll down to the Newspapers & Periodicals section of the Browse Records sidebar and click on Historical Newspaper Collection. "Guion" is a pretty unique word; I should be able to do an Exact Matches Only search for it as a keyword with the year set to 1869 and find what I'm looking for.

I get 139 matches in the New York Herald, 30 in the Edinburgh Evening Courant, and 5 in the New York Times. That's encouraging. I try Edinburgh first. I click the link for one of the dates and nothing happens. I try another and another. Still nothing. Another and another. What is it about this evening that is conspiring against me? Why was the Ancestry Search engine failing on me?

I view the source for the page and discover the bug. Gigantically long URLs are causing the browser to fail. I fiddle for another 30 minutes and give up searching. Time to do it the old fashion way.

I browsed.

Intelligently, of course. Start at Historical Newspaper Collection. At the bottom of the page, click on New York state. I notice the New York Herald has coverage for 1869, so I select it. I again scroll down to browse by date. I select 7 Oct 1869. I start browsing page by page, hoping the information, if present, isn't on page. 24. On the 2nd image, I find page number 6. Great. Another bug. This isn't the first time I've found a newspaper in Ancestry's collection that has the newspaper pages scrambled. I continue. Image 3 is page 9. Image 4 is page...

Wait! A headline that reads "Shipping News." Down a little ways, subheadings reading "Arrivals. Reported by the Herald Steam Vegies." (I might have misread the last word, but I'm getting too excited to care!) Second paragraph starts, "Steamship Manhattan..." I read, "Liverpool Sept 22..." Yahoo! My evening isn't totally wasted! I'll just attach this page to John Pitcher as the source for his Liverpool departure date...

I click on Save and...


And the Save Options popup is missing the option to save to an individual in my tree!

Rats! Another bug thwarts my last attempt at productivity! I've been told this shouldn't be called a "bug" but a feature request.

Whatever. It's late and I'm going to bed.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cool Stuff in the Works

The Ancestry team is preparing a holiday gift for you. Of course, I can't tell you what it is. Renee Zamora got an early look at the new feature. While she couldn't disclose what it is, Zamora wrote that

It was the best item I have personally ever tested for [Ancestry]. I am really excited to see this new enhancement become available on their site. So look forward to exciting things from Ancestry.

I can't tell you when it's coming. But from all the signs, I expect it soon. So start checking back often and expect to see it some time before Christmas.

Ancestry Will Soon Unveil a New Enhancement
Ancestry Will Soon Unveil a New Enhancement
Original animated GIF courtesy

I love working at Ancestry. We do some really cool stuff, and we do it as quickly as we can. We mess up sometimes; don't hate us.

The great thing about free enterprise is that it is a closed-loop feedback system. (The Ancestry Insider must be channeling Randy's engineering background again.) Ancestry acts. The market reacts. Ancestry provides products and services. The market pays for them. Money talks. More money is positive feedback and less money is negative feedback. (Although in engineer-speak, positive feedback is negative and negative feedback is positive. Engineers... Go figure...)

Others Doing Cool Stuff

Ancestry isn't the only one doing cool stuff. Two extremely significant developments have occurred recently.

On his blog, Dan Lawyer of FamilySearch Labs demo'ed a simple mashup using the new FamilySearch API. Click one of three links and the component makes an API call to New FamilySearch and displays details about the associated person. Imagine mixing and mashing components from multiple sources to create your own optimized web application. If the general public is allowed access to the FamilySearch APIs, this could be the most significant genealogical technology development of the year.

Simplified rendition of Lawyer's New FamilySearch Mashup
Simplified rendition of Lawyer's New FamilySearch Mashup (WVR) released a Facebook application which appears to be their website packaged as a Facebook app. Properly architected, this is a powerful paradigm. Imagine a website being able to deploy as an application in multiple portals such as Facebook, Yahoo and Google. Enter your data once and leverage it across multiple universes for multiple purposes. This is another significant genealogical technology milestone.

We Relate is World Vital Record's Facebook application
We Relate is World Vital Record's Facebook application

Ya' gotta love technology! Who can predict where all this will lead to!?!Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

FamilySearch Rollout Update

It's a busy time of year, but I'll steal a few minutes to say hello to everyone and let you now I'm still kick'n.

New FamilySearch trademarkI've added Perth to my list of Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch.

In a previous life I built a development organization that released simultaneously in a half-dozen languages, including Japanese. It adds to the cost and date of the English release, but decreases the overall cost and shortens the overall schedule. FamilySearch seems to have taken a similar approach to the development of the New FamilySearch (NFS) website. This type of process would seem to be ideal for the international needs of FamilySearch owner, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church). The website currently supports German, English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, traditional Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

Whether behind-the-scenes pieces of New FamilySearch have followed this same approach is hard to tell. The actual rollout to temple districts has first verified English, where the majority of temple work occurs, followed by Spanish, which has or soon will become the predominant language of Church members.

New FamilySearch Japanese home pageA spokesperson for FamilySearch revealed that rollout to a temple in Japan will come soon.This is great news. Verifying that all the behind-the-scenes pieces of NFS work for a 16-bit language is a major milestone. Japanese is one of the world languages that have more letters or symbols than will fit in the 256 different combinations possible in the 8-bits of one byte. To implement Japanese, Chinese, Korean and other languages with large sets of written symbols, one must use 16-bit characters or double byte characters (a mixture of 8- and 16-bit characters).

As if to maintain the ying and yang balance of the universe, the spokesperson also informed me that the New FamilySearch (NFS) rollout schedule is lagging a bit. Utah likely won't see it until later in 2008.

Thanks, Generations Network

The Generations Network logoI mentioned in my series on employee/employer blogging that the Generations Network (TGN) employee Hector intended to blog about his work environment. Since then, he's followed through. In a posting he titled "My Employer: The Generations Network," Hector states,

This is the first truly family-friendly, where they mean what they say, company that I have worked for. Everybody else has given lip service to this philosophy, but TGN lives and breathes it. I truly thought these sort[s] of companies were a myth, and was shocked when I found they were for real.

I can verify that TGN really is family friendly. I suppose it took Hector's comment to make me appreciate how rare such companies can be. So on this Thanksgiving weekend, let me say to my employer, "Thank you." Our corporate mission is to unite families across space and time.

It's nice that TGN starts in the homes of its own employees.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Australian NFS Reports Make 20

New FamilySearch U.S. Rollout as of November 2007

Since yesterday, I've received confirmation for Las Vegas and Bismarck. I've also learned of Boston, the 2 Hawaii temples and 2 Australian temples, Melbourne and Sydney. See the latest list at Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch. Others have also produced maps and lists that you might enjoy. See the table at Renee's Genealogy Blog and Miles Meyer's Google Map.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dozen more to get New FamilySearch

New FamilySearch U.S. Rollout as of November 2007While FamilySearch has maintained its official policy of public silence about the continuing rollout of New FamilySearch (NFS), the online LDS Genealogy community was buzzing last week as members of about a dozen districts shared their excitement at receiving word they would get the New FamilySearch within 90 days.

The map above shows in green the six districts already using New FamilySearch: St. Louis, Reno, Billings, Orlando, Albuquerque, and Alberta Cardston.

In yellow are the districts that we think have been announced, although the lack of official announcements makes the list somewhat uncertain. Red indicates districts that have not yet started the conversion process. Utah districts, known to be last, are not shown. (For the latest list, click here.)

Questionable Districts

I find it unlikely that the California Newport Beach district, for which I've heard no reports, will not roll out at the same time as the surrounding districts. The entire state of California may, indeed, be within 90 days of being on NFS. This will hit the new system with a huge amount of traffic.

I've also shown Las Vegas and Bismark in red. Despite reports that NFS had been announced for these districts, I've not been able to confirm these. Likewise, Spokane, which reportedly was going to be #11 to go online, is shown in red. Baton Rouge may be in the same category, although I showed it in yellow. If any consultants (besides FHC directors) from these districts have received the notification email, please let me know!

Purple squares indicate announced temples in the United States and Canada.

Complete States

If Las Vegas and Newport Beach are in the rollout process, then by sometime in February all the temples in these Western states will be online: California, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. Several states with only one temple are online or will be online by that time: Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Montana, Ohio, Michigan and Florida.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

FamilySearch vs.

Halloween Happenings

What good is a secret if you can't share it with someone?!? Halloween night I was itching to brag about my secret identity. I just had to tell somebody! But who? I decided, before reading Renee Zamora's blog for the day, to share it with an old spook at the City/County building. He's helped me with some client research, so I kind-of owed him.

So who should call up this morning to tell me she knew my secret identity? Yep. Just don't tell anybody else, Renee, or I'll send my friend home with you again! ;-)

Happy Birthday, Paul Allen!

Employees at The Generations Network (TGN) were reminded of Paul Allen's early role at the company this week when the TGN Treehouse website on sent out a reminder of upcoming birthdays.

Allen's current project is, which he says is doing well. Happy Birthday, Paul!

E-mail announcing Allen's birthday
E-mail reminding employees of Allen's upcoming birthday.

Highland Utah Stake Gets New FamilySearch

Document ID: 102052
Published: 6-Sep-2007

Problem: The Highland Utah Stake is not listed as being in a temple district that is now live or in the rollout process.

Resolution: Members of the Highland Utah Stake have been given permission to register with the new FamilySearch even though their temple district is not live. If they have problems or questions, it is all right to assist them.

FamilySearch Indexing by the numbers

FamilySearch Indexing (FSI) recently hit a new one day record of 24,718 batches submitted in one day. (Source)

FamilySearch Cooperation

The famous Salt Lake Temple
The famous Salt Lake Temple
Copyright 2007, Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The seeds of FamilySearch's cooperation with 3rd party affiliates were sown in the 19th century by a prophet/president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church). (I imagine you're all aware that FamilySearch is owned and operated by the Church.)

Upon the completion of the famous Salt Lake Temple, President Wilford Woodruff offered a dedicatory prayer that Church members accept as the word of God. Part of the prayer supplicates,

As Thou has inclined the hearts of many who have not yet entered into covenant with Thee [that's those who are not members of the Church] to search out their progenitors, and in so doing they have traced the ancestry of many of Thy Saints [members of the Church], we pray Thee that Thou wilt increase this desire in their bosoms, that they may in this way aid in the accomplishment of Thy work. Bless them, we pray Thee, in their labors, that they may not fall into errors in preparing their genealogies; and furthermore, we ask Thee to open before them new avenues of information, and place in their hands the records of the past, that their work may not only be correct but complete also. (Emphasis added.)

The Church and FamilySearch are working to fulfill Woodruff's plea to "open ... new avenues of information [to the many outside the Church] and place in their hands the records of the past." In light of Woodruff's prayer, it makes sense that the Church would, to the extent they can afford it, give their records away to those outside the Church.

FamilySearch vs. Ancestry

So where does Ancestry fit in? I used to think I understood the relationship between FamilySearch and Ancestry. As I've learned more, I've come to appreciate that all but a hand-full of people judge one or the other with very few of the relevant facts.

Sure, I'm disappointed that FamilySearch doesn't interpret Woodruff's prayer as a mandate to give Ancestry all their records for free. :-) Still, comments from Ancestry's Sullivan and FamilySearch's Rencher give me faith that the two parties can find ways to cooperate that advance the different goals of each party and—more importantly to you and me—benefit the genealogy community as a whole.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Concerns in FamilySearch/NARA partnership

The National Archives The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Genealogical Society of Utah, doing business as FamilySearch, announced the completion of an agreement this past week. In general, I'm supportive of this type of agreement and this one in particular. While I don't know that Ancestry has such an agreement in place, I know that they've published between 150 and 200 NARA record collections and are working on more.

However, when I read the draft agreement, clause 3.3 gave me heartburn.

3.3 GSU hereby assigns to NARA all copyright that GSU does or may own in and to the Digitized Images by virtue of having created digital copies of original documents in the public domain. ... GSU will own all copyright and other intellectual property rights to the Digitized Materials (the Digitized Images with the associated metadata).

I find it highly troubling that FamilySearch claims copyright in digitized images of public domain documents and if this clause made it into the final agreement, by signing the agreement NARA implicitly acknowledges that doctrine.

What About Ancestry?

Does Ancestry make the same claim? I'm neither a lawyer nor an Ancestry spokesperson. Ancestry's owner, The Generations Network, has posted its Copyright Policy and in it they claim copyright on "content ... created by us, or by third parties as work for hire, or where the copyright has been assigned to us." I hope that since the policy doesn't explicitly make claim to copyright in digitized public domain documents, that that is a reflection of the corporation's policy on the issue.

Copyright is not the only way to protect intellectual property. Discussions on Ancestry's Terms and Conditions after the Internet Biographical Collection fiasco focused solely on their copyright claims, ignoring the remainder of the terms. The Terms and Conditions is a license—a contract—wherein you are given access to content in exchange for a legal obligation not to copy it except as specified.

I might be in left field legally, but I view this analogously to a library or private institution that holds valuable publications or works of art for which the copyright period has expired. They protect the intellectual property in these public domain works by contractual agreement. You can view the works, but you can't take photographs or make photocopies.

But I digress...

NARA's Chief Public Domain Advocate

Max J. Evans of NARA At an FGS conference a couple of years ago I had a heated discussion with Max J. Evans, executive director of NARA's National Historical Publications and Records Commission. We were both so passionate in our positions that it was not until near the end that I realized we were both advocating the same thing. Copyrights should expire and the works pass into the public domain, and stay in the public domain.

If clause 3.3 survived into the final agreement, then it's a grand irony that Evans, who may be NARA's chief proponent for keeping public domain documents in the public domain, is leaving NARA to work for the Family and Church History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

While we're on the subject of Mr. Evans, let me digress onto another subject that I hope to write about. In a 2004 Ford symposium Evans asked what archives might learn from The question resonated with me since at Ancestry I tried to evangelize a community model that I call the model. Some managers at Ancestry get it, some don't. Wikipedia gets it. eBay gets it. FamilySearch is showing hopeful signs. Stay tuned.

The Press Release

Here is the entire text of the press release, in case you missed it.

Press Release October 23, 2007

National Archives and the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) Announce Digitizing Partnership

Washington, DC

Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein and Wayne Metcalfe, vice president of the Genealogical Society of Utah, today announced a five-year partnership agreement to digitize case files of approved pension applications of widows of Civil War Union soldiers from the National Archives. GSU has many years of experience microfilming historical records at the National Archives and throughout the world and in recent years has moved to providing digital capture and publishing services. Digitization makes possible unprecedented access to the unique historic documents in the custody of the National Archives.

This partnership will begin with a pilot project to digitize, index, and make available the first 3,150 of the pension files. Upon successful completion of the pilot, GSU, doing business as FamilySearch, in conjunction with, intends to digitize and index all 1,280,000 Civil War and later widows’ files in the series. These records, of great interest to genealogists and others, are currently available only at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. The widows’ pension application files, a rich source of information about ordinary American citizens of the time, include supporting documents such as affidavits, depositions of witnesses, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, and pages from family bibles.

“For a number of years we have had a very productive relationship with FamilySearch,” said Professor Allen Weinstein. “This agreement expands our relationship to enable online access to some of the most popular and voluminous records in our holdings. It is an exciting step forward for our institutions and for the American people,” he added.

“There is an unbelievable treasure trove of genealogical information housed in the records of the National Archives; the vast majority of which genealogy enthusiasts have never seen,” said Wayne Metcalfe. “The growing digital collection and indices that will stem from this relationship will be a priceless resource for countless family historians and researchers.”

FamilySearch will make the digitized materials available for free through and in 4500 family history centers worldwide, or on a subscription-based web site operated by a third party, subject to National Archives approval. They will also be available at no charge in National Archives’ research rooms in Washington, DC, and regional facilities across the country. In addition, FamilySearch will donate to the National Archives a copy of all the digital images and the associated indexes and other metadata that they create.

This agreement is one of a series of agreements that the National Archives has reached or will reach with partners to digitize portions of its holdings.

# # #

For Press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New FamilySearch Version 0.91 Coming Soon

The FamilySearch logo

Rumor has it that an updated release of New FamilySearch (NFS), internally called version 0.91, will soon hit the New FamilySearch website. New New FamilySearch will contain minor but helpful improvements to most key tasks. The release is expected before the end of the year. The schedule for the affiliate software beta test runs through November 14, so I wouldn't expect it before then.

The new release is said to make it easier to search, combine and enter data. I've been told that the silly "Finalize Your Choices" page (below) has been improved, making it look like it's really supposed to be there. A source inside FamilySearch confirms that the page was really a placeholder for some functionality that hasn't made it into NFS yet. When it does, there will be rhyme and reason to choosing between "Yes, combine" and "Yes, combine, but some information is different."

The Silly Finalize Your Choices page

By the way, did you know that when comparing two records if you hover over a spouse, parent or child's name, NFS will highlight all names on the page that belong to that person (see illustration below), even if some are on the left hand side and some are on the right. This is helpful knowing that someone (maybe you) has already combined the relative's record. It makes it quite likely that the two records refer to the same person.

Hover your cursor over a name and the same individual is highlighted in both the left and right records

Claim Your Contribution

Perhaps the most exciting enhancement for me is the ability to claim Ancestry File (AF) and Pedigree Resource File (PRF) contributions. Many users know that some of the information they've submitted in the past was wrong. Correcting AF data required writing letters and submitting floppies and sometimes years of waiting. With the advent of PRF, FamilySearch advised users to submit corrections by duplicating their AF submission with a corrected submission to PRF. PRF submissions were corrected by duplicating the submission to PRF with the corrections. Some individuals made it an annual process. Hundreds of thousands of duplicate records were produced. But I digress...

With NFS it is not only possible to correct data you enter into NFS, it is also possible to claim all your old AF and PRF submissions and correct them also.

Version Numbering

Spokespersons for FamilySearch have stated that the "0.9" nomenclature references the early versions of NFS reserved for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church). The "1.0" nomenclature refers to a future release open to the general public. The priority of the 0.9 release is collaboration and cooperation among Church members to avoid duplication of ordinances in the Church's 124 temples. Once this need has been addressed then the software can be upgraded for the needs of genealogists in general.

It has been reported that at least some staff members of Family History Centers (FHCs) who are not members of the Church have been able to get accounts for NFS and are reportedly helping train Church members to use the new software. Since the registration process requires a membership identification number, the special process that must be followed is explained on pp. 5-6 of the NFS FHC Directors' packet. (Source)

Monday, October 22, 2007

NEHGS and Announce Partnership


Two Genealogy Industry Leaders Offer Special Pricing and New Member Benefits

Boston, MA & Provo, UT– October 22, 2007 – The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) and, part of The Generations Network, Inc., today announced the availability of special membership pricing that allows members of both organizations and those wishing to join to take advantage of some of the most important family history information available anywhere. Beginning Monday, October 22, special discounted pricing is open to NEHGS members, members and those interested in joining both.

Those interested in signing up for NEHGS and an U.S. Deluxe membership can now do so for the single price of $155.40, a combined savings of $75. This subscription provides annual memberships to both organizations and gives subscribers access to some of the most valuable and important genealogical research information anywhere. Current NEHGS members wishing to join, or members wishing to join NEHGS, can also do so for a special low price. In addition, as part of the agreement, will publish on its site indexes of the leading NEHGS publication, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register (1847-2002).

“We want this collaboration to give people an opportunity to engage in genealogy at a level that they maybe haven’t before,” said D. Brenton Simons, NEHGS President and CEO. “ is an extraordinary online resource and we are thrilled to be working with them on this. We hope this provides the groundwork for future opportunities.”

Since 1845, NEHGS has been one of the leading genealogical resources in the country. And while NEHGS does have a rich collection relating to early colonial American history and genealogy, the organization also offers access to other regions throughout the country, including New York State. Members of NEHGS also have access to its staff of expert genealogists, which includes leading genealogists in American, English, Irish, Scottish and Canadian research. NEHGS also produces some of the most important publications in genealogy, including The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, published continuously since 1847, and the member magazine New England Ancestors. Other NEHGS collections include:

  • Mass Vital Records (1841-1910)
  • Early Mass vital records to 1850
  • New York Probate Records (1787-1835)
  • The New England Historical and Genealogical Register online (1847-2004)
  • More than 1,650 cemeteries and burial grounds transcriptions from all of the New England states, New York, and Eastern Canada
  • Town Records
  • The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England (1620-1633), Volumes I-III
  • Early American Newspapers (1690-1876)
  • The Search for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in The Boston Pilot (1831-1920)
  • Special collections and manuscripts from the Archives of NEHGS
  • Premium Database - Early American Newspapers, (Series I) (1690-1876)
  • Premium Database - The 19th Century U.S. Newspapers database provides access to approximately 1.7 million pages of primary source newspaper content from throughout the 19th century

With more than 5 billion names and 24,000 searchable databases and titles, is the world’s largest online resource for family history information. Free services on offer individuals the opportunity to create online family trees and share them with others. Members can upload photos, add stories to their tree – even record oral histories. The membership option available within the joint NEHGS and package includes an U.S. Deluxe subscription, which provides access to all U.S. historical records available on the site such as:

  • More than 3.8 million family trees with more than 330 million names included
  • The only complete online U.S. Federal Census Collection (1790-1930)
  • U.S. State and territorial census records including Iowa (1836-1925), Kansas (1855-1915), Minnesota (1849-1905), Wisconsin (1895 & 1905), Mississippi (1792-1866) and more
  • U.S. Indian Census Schedules (1885-1940)
  • The most comprehensive online collection of U.S. passenger lists (1820-1960) from over 100 different U.S. ports including New York (Castle Garden and Ellis Island), Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and San Francisco, among others Border crossings from Canada to the U.S. (1895-1956) and Border crossings from Mexico to the U.S. (1903-1957)
  • The largest online compilation of U.S. Military records with more than 90 million names from the 1600s through Vietnam, including more than 24 million World War I draft registration cards
Vital Records
  • 20th century vital records from California, Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and more
  • More than 16 million pages of U.S. historical newspapers from the 1700s through 2003
Maps and Photos
  • The largest online collection U.S. historical land ownership maps (1850-2000) encompassing nearly 50,000 from across the country Access to over 3.5 million mostly vintage photographs uploaded by users

“This partnership allows members of both organizations the ability to search U.S. and New England records from one location – their home computer,” said Drew Izzo, Vice President of Marketing for “NEHGS offers its members the unique opportunity to closely examine their New England roots. With a U.S. Deluxe membership to, members can expand their family history research into other parts of the country.”

Other aspects of the special collaboration include member discounts on select services and products. To learn more, visit NEHGS Web site at: or call 1-888-296-3447.


The New England Historic Genealogical Society, founded in 1845, has more than 20,000 members nationally, making it the oldest and largest non-profit genealogical organization in the country. The NEHGS library, located in Boston, includes more than 28 million items, such as manuscripts, letters, periodicals, books, documents, photographs, and other rare and valuable items. These collections provide genealogists of all levels and expertise immeasurable access to their own family histories and stories. The NEHGS staff includes some of the most respected and experienced genealogists in the country, specializing in American, English, Irish, Scottish, and Canadian research.

NEHGS also publishes several publications including The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Published since 1847, the Register is considered by many to be the leading source of early American research. Under the NEHGS and Newbury Street Press imprints, NEHGS also publishes a number of books on family and local history.


With 24,000 searchable databases and titles and more than 800,000 paying subscribers, is the No. 1 online source for family history information. Since its launch in 1997, has been the premier resource for family history, simplifying genealogical research for millions of people by providing them with many easy-to-use tools and resources to build their own unique family trees. The site is home to the only complete online U.S. Federal Census collection, 1790-1930, as well as the world's largest online collection of U.S. ship passenger list records featuring more than 100 million names, 1820-1960. is part of The Generations Network, Inc., a leading network of family-focused interactive properties, including,, and Family Tree Maker. In total, The Generations Network properties receive 8.2 million unique visitors worldwide and over 429 million page views a month (© comScore Media Metrix, August 2007). For more information, visit

Media Contacts

Tom Champoux, Marketing Director
New England Historic Genealogical Society

Mike Ward, Public Relations Director
Part of The Generations Network, Inc.