Sunday, September 30, 2007

New FamilySearch Coming to You!

It's been a bit since I've updated on the status of the New FamilySearch (NFS) rollout. Forgive me if you've read all this before.

Rollout Timeline

The order of the rollout still garners lots of curiosity. Official FamilySearch policy is that the list not be shared. "Part of the reason is they don't want people to desert their temple district to go somewhere there is the new stuff," said Robert on FHCNET.

To see an an example timeline for the rollout of New FamilySearch in a temple district, read a letter by Miles Meyer. To see what the login page looks like, go to You can try to register, but until your district is rolling, you will get an error message. (See this source.)

October Schedule

In fact, the rollout may be temporarily on hold while some bugs are worked out, according to a FamilySearch Support rep.

Assuming no delays, here are the upcoming releases that we know about: Las Vegas was not online by 25 Sep 2007 as "announced." Doris Fenton has "been told" that Bismark, North Dakota should be online by 18 October 2007. Albuquerque, New Mexico is scheduled for either 13 October 2007 or 23 October 2007, depending on who you ask. Cardston is scheduled for 30 October 2007. Grace Bagwell "was told" that Denver is scheduled for April 2008.

NFS Announced for Wasatch Front

Clair Quilter wondered if the upcoming training for Salt Lake, Bountiful, and Jordan River Temple Districts means that New FamilySearch is coming. Yes. Someday, Clair, someday. Many sources have confirmed that the Wasatch front will be last. At the BYU genealogy conference a presenter said they hoped to roll out to 6 or 7 temples a week after the first of the year. They're trying to get it to the Wasatch Front by July 2008. I expect that will slip to October Conference.

To keep up with the latest rollout information, subscribe to the Ancestry Insider and bookmark the Insider's article, "Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch."

Beta Test New FamilySearch Affiliates

New FamilySearch (NFS) will support an Application Programming Interface (API) which lets affiliates and partners create programs and websites that access NFS, talk to it, download data from it, upload data to it, synchronize desktop genealogy data with it and even add features to it.  FamilySearch and affiliates are doing a beta test from Oct 22 to Nov 14. If you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and have spare time during that period, you should consider becoming a beta tester.


If you wish to volunteer to beta test FamilyInsight from Ohana Software, makers of PAF Insight, read this message, posted by John Vilburn on the PAF Insight email group:

Subject: FamilyInsight (formerly PAF Insight) beta test
Date: Thu Sep 27, 2007 3:12 pm
From: John Vilburn < john@ohanasoftware >

We will be beta testing FamilyInsight starting in mid to late October. Users of PAF Insight will find it very familiar because it is the next generation of PAF Insight, with a new name.

Specifically, we will be testing the new function that synchronizes your PAF data with the new FamilySearch. The testing will take about 3 weeks. You do not have to reside in an area where the new FamilySearch has been rolled out. So, for those who don't have the new FamilySearch in their area, this will also be an opportunity to get some first-hand experience with what it will offer.

If you would like to participate in this beta test, please send an email to beta@ohanasoftware indicating your interest. At this time the new FamilySearch is only available to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, so you must be a member to participate in this test.

John Vilburn
Ohana Software LLC

Ancestral Quest

If you wish to volunteer to beta test a new version of Ancestral Quest that talks to New FamilySearch, read this message from Gaylon Findlay from the makers of Ancestral Quest, Incline Software:

From: Gaylon Findlay <>
Subject: [PAF-5] Beta Test Ancestral Quest with FamilySearch
Date: Thu, 27 Sep 2007 13:28:54 -0600


We are looking for testers for some new features in Ancestral Quest. Let me provide a little background to help you understand the nature of these enhancements.

As many of you know by now, the LDS Church has been developing a new web-based system to, as they have stated, replace TempleReady. Many rumors have abounded around whether PAF would be updated to work with this new system. Our understanding is that while PAF 5 will remain a supported product by the Church for the foreseeable future, it will remain as is. The Church has invited various commercial companies to provide programs and utilities to enhance PAF 5 and provide a means whereby PAF users can synchronize their data with the new FamilySearch system.

Ancestral Quest, from which PAF 5 was derived, is being updated now to interface with the new FamilySearch. It will allow a PAF 5 user to upload .paf data to FamilySearch, and to update the .paf data from FamilySearch. So a PAF user will be able to continue to use PAF 5, and use Ancestral Quest as a tool to handle the interface with FamilySearch. Because PAF is so similar to Ancestral Quest, we expect that after a time, users may decide to discontinue use of PAF 5, allowing Ancestral Quest to do all that PAF did for them, plus handle the interface to FamilySearch all in one program. But they will have the option of continuing to use PAF 5 and other utilities developed to enhance PAF 5.

Incline Software, the producer of Ancestral Quest, is looking for beta testers to test the new features of Ancestral Quest which provide the interface between the .paf database and the new FamilySearch system. While this could change, the Church has currently set a time period of October 22 - November 14 to do the testing. Because the new FamilySearch system is only available at this time to members of the LDS Church, only members will be able to participate in this test.

If you would like to test the new features of AQ that provide an interface between the PAF database and the new FamilySearch, and you have time to test during the test period mentioned above, and you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please send an e-mail to to confirm your interest.

Thank you,
Gaylon Findlay
Incline Software

For more information about the NFS API program, including a list of other affiliates that might be looking for beta testers, check out Renee's Genealogy Blog article, "Interfacing with NFS - Part One."

Friday, September 28, 2007

Don't Miss the Train - Part 2

Click to enlarge on Featurepics
"Too Late," © Josef F. Stuefer

This is the second in a four part series examining the use of blogs to open communications between consumers and companies in genealogy. In part one we introduced the Cluetrain Manifesto. In this installment we will present some of the theses from the Manifesto. In part three we'll examine the official blogs of Ancestry and FamilySearch. In the fourth and final installment, we'll talk about employee bloggers. 

These Theses

Last time we learned about the Cluetrain Manifesto, a set of 95 theses positing that technology allows consumers to form strong, online communities that won't suffer companies to continue marketing in manipulative monotones. Companies must open honest, candid lines of communication between individual consumers and individual employees or perish.

Today we'll learn more about the manifesto by going through some of the theses I believe are still applicable. I've slightly edited some, but given the original manifesto numbers in parentheses.

  • Markets consist of human beings. (2)
  • Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice. (3)
  • Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived. (4)
  • Networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange. (9)
  • As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. (10)
  • People in networked markets have figured out that they get far more honest information and better support from one another than from vendors. (11)

Allow me to comment on #11. Think back to the problem of using personal Ancestry accounts at the Family History Library. Did the first solution come from the vendor or the networked market?

  • There are no secrets. The networked market knows about companies and their products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone. (12)

Sorry to interrupt again so soon. Think back. How have you heard about New Family Search rollouts? Allow me to say just three words: "Internet Biographical Collection." Enough said.

  • Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman. (14)

As an example, compare two messages from Ancestry announcing the removal of the Internet Biographical Collection (IBC): an official message and a personal message. Could the difference be any clearer?

  • Companies that don't realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity. Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. (18 and 19)
    Click to enlarge on Featurepics
    Copyright Olesha
  • Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships. (25)
  • There are two conversations going on. One inside the company. One with the market. (53)
  • These two conversations want to talk to each other. They are speaking the same language. They recognize each other's human voices. (56)
  • Sadly, the part of the company a networked market wants to talk to is usually hidden. (61)
  • [Silence] is suicidal. Markets want to talk to companies. We are those markets. We want to talk to you. (60 and 63)
  • We've got some ideas for you too: some new tools we need, some better service. Stuff we'd be willing to pay for. Got a minute? (76)
  • You're too busy "doing business" to answer our emails, message board posts and comments on your blog? Oh gosh, sorry, gee, we'll come back later. Maybe. (77)

As my editorial policy states, I defend Ancestry. I love Ancestry. But if I could change just one thing at Ancestry, I would abolish their culture of unresponsiveness. See, for example, this chain of 69 user complaints. Users literally pled for a response that never came. Listen to the anguish:

* I would appreciate if you would respond to some of the questions asked above. (AC Lynch)

* Please reply- it is very difficult communicating with you (Judith Hiatt)

* Ancestry, do you see these complaints? Why don’t you address them by answering, either here or on your website. People have legitimate concerns and deserve to have some answers from you. (Gail Ahrens)

* no one will answer my e-mails begging for help. Not even a form letter. (Donna Corley)

* You might as well e-mail to a brick wall when trying to get a response from Ancestry. (Barb Conrad)

Ancestry's silence fanned the flaming emotions. The tirade of angry comments grew longer and louder. It was painful to watch, particularly because Ancestry was improving in the criticized areas. Why not tell them?

* Why, after 45 comments, is there still no rebuttal from the HQ of I think a clear, logical response should be forthcoming in an attempt to justify or find excuses for the many unhappy commentaries!! (SAM K. BOOT)

* I e-mailed you weeks ago... You never responded. (Deborah Daley)

* Does anyone at Ancestry even read these complaints? (Louise Williams)

* please honor those of us who have been loyal with answers to the many complaints... Please treat us as family and answer. (brenda)

* Ancestry, your lack of communication and customer service stinks...It’s wonderful that you keep adding databases, but it won’t be enough to save you when you really get some competition. (Donde)

* Well! Just finished reading all the critiques and I’m floored that there have been no answers posted. Is this spot just for us to let off steam and go away? ...Because of all these comments, I will not be a long-time member, that’s for certain. Are you listening, Probably not. (Dina Bensen)

* Come on Ancestry you have our money - now give us some answers to all the above comments and complaints! (Carlene Eaton)

Which leads to thesis 78

  • You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention. (78)
  • Don't worry, you can still make money. (80)
  • Your product broke. Why? We'd like to ask the guy who made it. Your corporate strategy makes no sense. We'd like to have a chat with your CEO. What do you mean she's not in?  (82)

Want to talk to WorldVitalRecords's CEO? Just visit his blog.

    Click to enlarge on Featurepics
    "Can they come out and play?"
    Copyright fluca
  • We know some people from your company. They're pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you're hiding? Can they come out and play? (84)
  • When we have questions we turn to each other for answers. If you allowed "your people" to talk maybe they'd be among the people we'd turn to. (85)
  • If you don't quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that's more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with. (89)

OK, so that last set is self-serving for an employee blogger. But that's a topic for later in the series.

Well? What do you think? Believable or rubbish? Would open communications have prevented the IBC debacle? What about Ancestry's practice of public silence? Does it shorten or prolong wildfires? Leave me a comment, question or complaint. I'm listening.

Thursday, September 27, 2007 Adds Corporate Blog

Last Tuesday launched a new corporate blog:

A sidebar welcome message says, "Here you will find informational, and sometimes fun, posts from the folks behind the scenes here at Ancestry. We hope you’ll notice just how passionate we are about family history and about the products we're building to help connect families over distance and time."

The blog has one post thus far, by Suzanne Bonner.

The Ancestry Insider glibbly took credit for this advance, bragging to his staff, "It's no coincidence that the company took this step after I began my editorial series calling for them to join the online conversation."

Great. Wait until he figures out they've just eliminated the need for his blog. The entire staff will be out on the street.

"I hope so," said the Insider. "I hope so."

FamilySearch Indexing Tip: Birth Year Quiz Answer

What year would you enter for this record from the 1900 census?At the end of last week's FamilySearch Indexing tip, the Ancestry Insider gave a "pop quiz." The question was, "What year would you enter for the record shown to the right" from the 1900 U.S. Census? We received three very insightful comments.

Dino (All Dino, All The Time) said,

I'd have to record 1887.

It looks like the numerals in 1886 are all the same size and the 7 was written larger and darker to make it clear that it was an emendation.

Dear Dino,

We didn't even know emendation was a word, until our spell checker got a crack at it. The Insider claims he knew. And to prove it he waltzed in Tuesday morning and announced, "I received an emendation for bravery in the War!" Hee hee. We tittered behind his back, "So he started the war as a coward?!"

Anonymous "ByTheBook" wrote,

According to the project information for the Georgia census record (and it's the same for all the other 1900 census records I've done) you should use 1887 because: "Many fields may contain corrected or crossed-out information. ... When information is crossed out and then replaced, type the new data into the appropriate fields."

Dear ByTheBook,

We're glad you've carefully read the instructions and you're young enough to remember what it was you read. Some of us here at the Insider's office can remember back when we could remember things. Some of us just wish we could remember back to when we still remembered being able to remember things.

The Ancestry Insider weighed in saying, "Because the emendation itself is the vehicle for emending the non-emended data, technically, the non-emendated data is not separately crossed out."

While the Insider won't concede your point, we think you're right. Dino makes the case that the "7" was the correction. And even though the "6" is not separately crossed-out, writing over the top of it effectively crosses it out.

Chad Milliner, a good friend of one of our staff members, concurred.

To me, it appears as if the "7" was added later by a clerk, trying to correct what otherwise would be an impossible age. But what if the year of birth as written originally by the enumerator was correct, and it was the age that was wrong? In that case, the clerk's "correction" would have made one wrong piece of data into two wrong pieces. Thus, if I could accurately determine what it was that the enumerator originally wrote, I would key that year, not the "7". If I could not figure out what it was the clerk originally wrote, then...

"Truly, you have a dizzying intellect!" the Insider interrupted. He's so rude. Still, office protocol demands following a movie quote with the next line, so several voices answered in near unison, "Wait 'til I get going!"

We challenged the Insider, "If you're so smart, what is your answer?"

"If you had followed the link to the hint I gave," the Insider intoned superciliously, "you would have found that enumerators were to record the age at their last birthday previous to June 1st." The form itself only mentions recording the age at their last birthday.

Examples from the 1900 CensusAs we learned last time, the birth year and age add up to 1899 or 1900. Looking at the example to the right you can see that in months previous to June 1, the birth year and age add to 1900. For June to December, they add to 1899.

"Since the child turned 13 in January, the year should be 1887," announced the Insider.

While the Insider ended up at the right answer this time, he did so for the wrong reason. He should have finished reading Milliner's message because he may not always be so lucky.

Milliner points out that entering something at odds with the instructions, is like "tilting at a windmill, since [you are] keying something different from the other keyer, and the arbitrator [will] side with what the other keyer used."

Milliner further makes the suggestion that "FamilySearch Indexing [provide a] way for a keyer to note to the arbitrator why it was he or she keyed something the way he or she did." That's a good suggestion. Thanks, Chad.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Nervous Green Duck, reborn

When the Family Tree Maker (FTM) team saw the original Nervous Green Duck, they loved it and just had to have one of their own. They created one with an FTM theme and the two stood side-by-side for awhile.

But over-exposure made the Nervous Green Duck nervous and he has flown the coop. The Nervous Green Insider blamed us (his staff) for failing to recognize that some blog readers do not honor the hidden attribute we used on the duck's image, exposing him to discovery and ridicule. (We weren't sure if he were speaking of himself or the duck.)

Regardless, the Insider blamed us and we are sorry--for ourselves, not for the duck. You see, the Insider made us create animated images to replace the ones that were lost. Duck 1 shows the rejection of the old corporate name and image. Duck 2, the new FTM image. With no further ado, here's our versions of... "the Nervous Green Duck."

Quack Quack!!!! Quack Quack!!!!
The Ancestry Insider's version of the Nervous Green Duck
Quack!! Quack!!

The Insider Staff gratefully acknowledges the original creator(s) of The Nervous Green Duck, which can no longer be seen at the website,

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ancestry Titles Available in FHCs

FHC Edition correct list of 43 databasesLast Wednesday the Insider reported that had decreased the number of titles available to patrons of FamilySearch's Family History Centers (FHCs). The Insider has learned this morning that the change was a display glitch; Ancestry had not changed the databases available to FHCs. Users were still able to use all 43 databases, even though only 9 were displayed on the availability list.

Display glitch showed just 9 databasesThe two screen shots to the right show the correct 43-database list and the incorrect 9-database list that was displayed for a number of days.You can see this page for yourself here. The Insider understands that the Salt Lake Family History Library enjoys a little larger list. He'll post that list when he gets a chance.

In addition to these 43 databases, there are dozens of free databases at Ancestry. See Cyndi's list of free Ancestry databases and databases marked FREE in the Ancestry card catalog. While the Ancestry Family History Center edition blocks access to most free databases, one can switch to to view them at a Family History Center.

Most everyone knows that earlier this year Ancestry cut back on the number of databases it made freely available to patrons of FHCs. The Insider has received tips of FHCs or individual staff members that have purchased full Ancestry subscriptions for patron use and carefully administer the subscription within a narrow interpretation of Ancestry's terms and conditions. The Insider understands that both Ancestry and FamilySearch frown upon this practice. While no known security holes exist, there is always the possibility that a patron could discover confidential information about the subscriber.

Help will come

Serendipity in Genealogy

It happens to individuals of all religious, cultural and intellectual persuasions. Almost all long-time genealogists have experienced it in one form or another. It can be as simple as a thought or feeling. Many times it is manifest as extraordinary luck or fortuitous coincidence. Genealogists have experienced guidance as simple as facts popping into their heads or as dramatically as post-mortal visitations. Explanations are as varied as those that experience the events, but their prevalence testifies of their reality.

In about 1986, my mother took a genealogy sheet to a store in Logan, Utah, to have 25 copies made for a family reunion we were having the next month. When she picked them up, she found there were 26 sheets. As she looked through, she found a mostly blank page that contained the words M Lindblad, the name of my great-grandmother. Researchers had not been able to find anything beyond her name on that line.

Mother went back into the store and asked about the sheet with the name on it. People in the store told her they knew nothing about it.

Click to enlarge on Featurepics
"Search the
parishes in Sweden"
© Tony McAulay

She wrote a letter to the person who had been hired to work on that line and told him about the sheet. He had been unsuccessful before, but took another look at the records. On one, he found a penciled note indicating there were some other records and where they were. He searched and found the parents of one set of grandparents of Margaretha Jonasdatter, which was her maiden name. He said he couldn't find any more information on one of the names, Jonas Larsson, and suggested searching records of the parishes in Sweden adjacent to the one where the records were found.

These records were sent to my mother; I found them after she died. When my wife and I were called as Family History missionaries in 2002, I decided to see if I could find additional information. For nearly a year, I searched more than 80 parishes. I finally said in my prayers one night just two weeks before our mission was over: "If I am going to find Jonas, I am going to need his help, as time is running out."

Photo of researchers at microfilm readers
Photo credit: NARA

The next day, with five minutes left in my shift, I inserted a microfilm into the reader and scanned down to 1774, the year Jonas was born. There he was, with his parents, six brothers and sisters and grandparents. When I searched the remaining parishes in the microfilm batch, I found nothing. I feel that when you need His help and ask for it, that help will come.

Source: Dee R. Hansen, "Family history moments: Help will come," LDS Church News, 21-July-2007, p. 16.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ancestry, Don't Miss the Train - Part 1

Click to enlarge on Featurepics
"Too Late," © Josef F. Stuefer

This is the first in a four part series examining the use of blogs to open communications between consumers and companies in genealogy. In this part we will introduce the Cluetrain Manifesto. Part two will present relevant points from the Manifesto. In part three we'll examine the official blogs of Ancestry and FamilySearch. In the fourth and final installment, we'll talk about employee bloggers.

The Cluetrain Manifesto

I found the Cluetrain Manifesto nailed to the door of The Church of Employee Bloggers. The list of 95 theses is a 1999 prophecy regarding the "conversation" between markets (consumers) and companies.

The manifesto prophesied that consumers would form such strong online communities that companies would be forced to open honest, candid lines of communication between individual consumers and individual employees. Companies that didn't would perish. The more controversial parts of the manifesto further reasoned that strong intranet organized employees would make hierarchical management unprofitable and obsolete.

While some of the theses have not stood the test of time, others still seem to be true, six years later. Some ring particularly true for employee bloggers.

Roadkill on the Information Highway
Road kill on the Information Highway

The name of the manifesto comes from a statement made by "a veteran of a firm now free-falling out of the Fortune 500."

The clue train stopped there four times a day for ten years and they never took delivery.

The Cluetrain Manifesto started as a website. The ringleaders, as they call themselves, explain that "when we created in April, 1999, it kicked up some dust. A few thousand people signed their endorsement of the ideas. Lots of email, lots of press coverage." The website led to a book which is now available online.

The manifesto hit a chord for many. The comment of one signer echoes the feelings of many. "I'm blown away. Floored. Bowled over. The manifesto rocks."

The manifesto also garnered its share of criticism. John C. Dvorak, a popular columnist for PC Magazine, said the book's authors "managed to capture in one book almost all of the lunatic fringe dingbat thinking that characterized the Internet boom."

Next week we'll look at some of the theses so you can make your own conclusions.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

FamilySearch Indexing Tip: Birth Year

You've noticed, of course, that the 1900 U.S. Census includes both the birth year and the age. But have you noticed that adding the year and age together gives 1899 or 1900? Makes sense, doesn't it, since this is the 1900 census. You can use this tip when the year is hard to read, but the age is plain.

What if the year is obviously wrong, as in the case to the right? Using our tip, one can see that 1553 should be 1853. Which do you enter in FamilySearch Indexing?

I was surprised at the answer from FamilySearch support:

Dear Patron,

You will index the information the way it is written on the Census Record.  When the Patron is doing research on this person they will see the orginial [sic] census record and the indexing we have done. They will enter the correct information on their personal record.  We are making a mirror image of the census records.

Indexing Support

O.K. Pop quiz! Everyone take out a paper and a pencil. Here's the question. What year would you enter for the record shown to the right? If you think it will help, click here for a good website containing instructions given to the enumerators.

Add a comment below, give the year and explain why you chose that value. Next week I'll give the correct answer.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Bloglines Plumber

At the moment, Bloglines is the Ancestry Insider's blog reader of choice. He doesn't like Bloglines stripping out his fantastic new web design (which he freely stole from a Blogspot template). But he loves the ability to read all his news online and to mix and mash together regular feeds from blogs, groups and email lists. And it has custom support for Yahoo and Google groups. And you can accept and display emails from email-only sources. (That's especially cool.) But I digress.

You all know the Insider's penchant for humor. While readers express more positive responses to his non-humor pieces, he persists if only for his own enjoyment. Plus, he wants to be the Genealogue when he grows up. Or at least be quoted by him. But I digress. Again.

Click to see the Bloglines Plumber
Click on the Bloglines Plumber
to see the full image with text

One doesn't often enjoy getting one of those annoying server-down messages. That's when online apps and net-terminals lose their sex appeal. Oops. Digressing again.

Well last Saturday the Insider enjoyed for the first time a server down message. The Insider applauds Bloglines for their use of humor on their server-down page. We're quite sure with this buildup you'll be disappointed. But go ahead and click the Bloglines plumber photo above to see him in full-size glory.

[Dear Mr. Merritt, As the Insider's 11th grade English teacher, we wanted to apologize to you for the frequent shift between I and we in the above piece. The Insider: he writes bad.   — The Staff]

Monday, September 17, 2007

Not by Chance

Serendipity in Genealogy

It happens to individuals of all religious, cultural and intellectual persuasions. Almost all long-time genealogists have experienced it in one form or another. It can be as simple as a thought or feeling. Many times it is manifest as extraordinary luck or fortuitous coincidence. Genealogists have experienced guidance as simple as facts popping into their heads or as dramatically as post-mortal visitations. Explanations are as varied as those that experience the events, but their prevalence testifies of their reality.

Having been brought up in an orphanage, I knew very little about my family and I didn't have a great deal of interest in them. [Later in life] I became very interested. I wanted to do everything I could to learn about my ancestors.

One day, as I was preparing to go on a business trip to Canton, Ohio, I remembered that my father had been born in that state. I knew that he had been 20 years older than my mother and that he had been married before and was a widower. So I called an older half-sister and asked her if she knew our grandparents' names and where they had been buried.

She gave me their names and told me that when she was a child she would visit them in a town in Ohio called Osnaburg, later called East Canton, and she thought they might have been buried there. I was amazed, because this was only a few miles from where I would be going.

I was very excited, and after my business meetings and just before leaving to return home, I said a prayer that I would be guided if there was anything for me to find.

I found myself in front of a small cemetery. I decided to look at every headstone. While doing so, I saw an elderly man coming toward me on the sidewalk. I walked up to him and told him about my search for the grandparents of Fanny and John Robert Gier. He directed me to a house in town.

When I went there, I found a woman in her 80s, Gurtie Baker, and her husband, Paul. When I said my maiden name was Irene Gier, she began to cry. She said she knew Uncle Bobby had remarried and had other children but that she never expected to see any of them. It turned out her mother and my father were brother and sister.

I left the home with pictures taken in 1918 and 1920 of my father, all his siblings and his mother and father. She also gave me all their birth and death dates and told me where my grandparents were buried.

Throughout the visit, she said several times, "This didn't just happen by chance." I agree.

Source: Irene Durham, "Family history moments: Not by Chance," LDS Church News, 18-August-2007, p. 16.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Why the 1900 Census!?!

A 1930 U.S. Census Image

What was it about FamilySearch's decision to index the 1900 U.S. Census that concerned people so much? One Ancestry Insider reader wrote,

Could you help answer one question I have had? Of all the projects to start indexing why did [FamilySearch Indexing] choose the 1900 census? I have my own ideas but I wonder if you have heard why. Thanks. Please keep these comments confidential.

Dear K.C., I promise I'll not tell another soul. Keep reading for the answer to your question.

Did We Just Declare War?

"Is everything OK at" a volunteer missionary of the FamilySearch department asked when FamilySearch announced the 1900 Census indexing project. "In our devotional today they announced that we were now at war."

"We Have a Bible..."

Another Insider reader wrote,

I signed up to do some indexing, but then decided it was kind of ridiculous to index [the 1900 Census] for Family Search when Ancestry and HeritageQuest have already indexed those same records. How many versions do we need?

At a recent conference an attendee asked a presenter from FamilySearch, "Why don't you just buy one of the existing indexes?The presenter froze and his voice trailed off, "We thought we had...."

The Real Answer

To get the real answer, we asked Paul Nauta, manager of public affairs for FamilySearch.

"We were seeking a record for the novice members of the Church in the United States that would give them a good indexing experience," said Nauta. Plus, the 1900 index project would produce a record set in which users would have "a high likelihood of success of finding someone in their living memory."

Many aspects of the census made it a good first project. It allowed FamilySearch to test some behind-the-scenes parameters. And "censuses are particularly easy for us to set up for indexing purposes, and of all the vital record types, censuses are the most user friendly to the novice indexer."

Nauta went on to explain that the 1900 U.S. Census includes a rich set of information. "[It] provides parents' birth place, number of children born to a mother, how many were still living, month and year of birth of each person, and more." He explained that given the loss of the 1890 census, it was particularly valuable to index the 1900 census which complements the 1880 census which they've already indexed.

An 1850 U.S. Census Image from Utah Territory

What's Next?

Nauta revealed to the Insider that "FamilySearch Indexing is doing very well at this writing. We will be adding more censuses to the indexing cue shortly." Many indexers have already seen the first batches show up from the 1850 U.S. Census. FamilySearch made the choice public at the UGA Conference in Salt Lake last Wednesday.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

FamilySearch Indexing Hint: Lookup List

Let's use the surname to the right as an example. If you weren't quite sure what the name was, you could use the Lookup ability of FamilySearch Indexing (FSI).

The Field Help explains you can click on the Down Arrow (circled in red in the illustration) to select surnames from the Lookup List.

Click on the down arrow and then click Lookup.... Or if you like to remember and use keyboard shortcuts, just press Ctrl-F.

Either way, FSI shows the Authorities Lookup popup window for surnames.

Type a few characters in at the top and FSI shows all the names that start with those characters.

FSI also has advanced Search Criteria for times when you can clearly read some of the characters but still can't figure out the name. 

Check the box next to Use search criteria. Then fill in the letters you are confident about in the Starts with, Contains and Ends with boxes.

If no names match, then the Authorities Lookup may not contain the surname you're looking for. Or maybe you're mistaken about one or more letters. In our example, "Her" may not be the first letters.

Try experimenting with other possibilities. In our example, we've set Starts with to "H" and Contains to "lbu".

If you find the correct name, click on it and then click Accept Selected. If you don't find it, click Cancel and enter as much of the name as you can read, using "*" where there are 2 or more letters you can't read and "?" for 1 letter. 

Another Example

Here's an example using the given name. Clearly the name begins with "Cl" and ends with "ra", but the name seems to have too many bumps to be "Clara". Is there another name that the name Authority Lookup knows about that fits this pattern?

Yes! "Cleora" is a given name that fits the search criteria. Going back to the census image, we can see that Cleora does indeed match.

Do you have tips of your own? Add a comment below and share them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Layoffs at The Generations Network

The Generations Network (TGN) released 30 employees last week according to Marilyn Meyers in a post Tuesday evening on the LDS-FHC-Consultants news group on Yahoo. "My sister and brother-in-law both work for The Generations Network. They said [the] people were let go because they had streamlined their operations to the point they didn't need them."

A 3rd-hand report (poster in New York via Family History Center director via son at TGN) from the previous day claimed hearing of extremely deep layoffs at the company (75%), although several later posters refuted this report.

Confirming the reports has been difficult. TGN has made no announcement. The Insider received a message from a former employee asking why we're not blogging about last week, but didn't mention a layoff or give any other information. We searched the net for clues and found a new blog started last Wednesday by TGN's Affiliate Marketing Manager, Mark Olsen, who says he left the company Friday after he "was asked to be an affiliate." But Olsen made no mention of layoffs.

Rumors of layoffs have renewed speculation that TGN is grooming itself for a liquidity event. Liquidity refers to how easily an asset can be sold. Because TGN is a private company, its stock is not publicly traded. As a result, investors have little or no ability to liquidate their TGN stock. It's like buying a piece of real estate as an investment that is too expensive for anyone else to buy. The value of the asset is real and it does increase over time. But it doesn't do you much good if you can never get any money out of it.

For major investors in private companies, liquidity comes in one of two ways. In one method, the company goes public so that its stock can be publicly bought and sold. Going public raises the value of the company so much that a company can take advantage of the increased value by offering it for sell to the public. This is where the term Initial Public Offering (IPO) comes from.

The other time investors get liquidity is when the company is acquired, meaning someone is willing to buy all (or most) of the private stock using cash or other liquid asset.

In either case, the value of the company must be determined. Many factors are used to determine the valuation of a company, including revenues, revenue growth over time and expense levels. The last item is where the number of employees comes into play.

In today's world of hyper-productivity, business management experts generally regard regular turnover of at least 5% as healthy. Specifically, the least productive 5% of employees should be annually replaced, since even an average replacement will outperform the bottom 5%. Further, like people gaining weight, corporations pick up unnecessary positions. Theory has it that regularly shedding the least useful positions is the simplest and most direct method of identifying functions that are truly necessary.

What do you think?

Monday, September 10, 2007

I Found Her Crying

It happens to individuals of all religious, cultural and intellectual persuasions. Almost all long-time genealogists have experienced it in one form or another. It can be as simple as a thought or feeling. Many times it is manifest as extraordinary luck or fortuitous coincidence. Genealogists have experienced guidance as simple as facts popping into their heads or as dramatically as post-mortal visitations. Explanations are as varied as those that experience the events, but their prevalence testifies of their reality.

Serendipity in Genealogy

Canon Stephen Neill Stephen Neill is an Anglican priest in Ireland in the diocese of Limerick & Killaloe. Requests for genealogy lookups are common and Canon Neill can only help as his schedule allows. His parochial ministry covers 4 churches, which keeps him plenty busy despite help from four parish secretaries and a parish treasurer.

It's a long way to Tipperary, particularly for a couple from half a world away who showed up unannounced at Neill's door after half a lifetime searching for a genealogical record. Neill was quite busy and would typically have directed the couple to make an appointment to come back later.

Through a string of coincidences, however, that is not what happened this day.

One reason Neill may have been overly busy was the recent death of his trusted parish treasurer. One of the parish treasures is the Templeharry Rectory records which extend back to 1799.

"We are lucky in this respect," says Neill, "as many parishes have lost earlier records and a huge amount of data was lost in the Four Courts fire of 1922."

Presidential candidate Barack Obama

Another reason Neill may have been busy was a genealogy lookup request from an researcher in America looking into the progenitors of presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama. You'll recall Ancestry's announcement of Obama's Irish roots back in March. Continued interest led Ancestry to Moneygall in Neill's parish.

"I have to confess that I get a lot of these requests," says Neill, "and it was only after the nature of the possible link with Senator Obama was revealed that I fully engaged with the search."

This brings us to the point where these many separate threads started to weave together. Because of Ancestry's request and because it was for someone famous and because of the death of the parish treasurer, Neill had to retrieve the records.

Image from Templeharry Rectory records
A page from the Templeharry Rectory records
containing a record of Obama's ancestry.

"As if all this were not strange enough, on the day I collected the records in question from my late treasurer’s son I had an unannounced visit from a charming couple from Tasmania who were—you guessed it—looking for their roots!" Neill says, "there was something about this couple that made me want to help them and despite the fact I was a bit pressed I invited them in and gave them access to the very registers that I had just collected." Then he left them and returned to his office.

"After a while I returned to see how my visitors were getting on, only to find the lady in tears of joy having found a record she had been trying to trace for 30 years! WOW!"

When Neill recounted the story later, the Ancestry researcher explained that "such ‘SERENDIPITY’ was remarkably common in genealogy research." After experiencing it himself, Neill responds, "I can see how people get hooked on this. I think I may be a late convert!"

(Source: Stephen Neill, "All Politics is Local.....Barack Obama for Moneygall!", PaddyAnglican [Internet Blog], 3-May-2007, accessed 5-Sep-2007, <>)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Unreadable Floppies

An external floppy drive
This External Floppy Drive connects to the USB port
Photo courtesy

Genealogists sometimes share data by floppy. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do so regularly and often have problems with TempleReady at Family History Centers (FHCs) or at the Church's temples.

Why is it that floppies written by one computer are not always readable by another?

There are two different problems that can cause this and they can appear to be very similar.


CAUSE: Floppy disk format not recognized by Windows 98, XP, 2000, NT, and ME because it is a preformatted floppy missing one byte of information required by these operating systems.

TO AVOID THE PROBLEM: If you have a choice, use TempleReady on a computer with Windows 98, XP, 2000, NT, or ME. If you must run on Windows 95 or MS-DOS, always format the floppy again before using it for sharing.

TO FIX THE PROBLEM: Copy all the files from the floppy to a temporary folder on the computer. Format the floppy again. Copy the files back to the floppy or reuse TempleReady.

Thanks to RussellHltn for his link to Microsoft's explanation of this problem.


CAUSE: Floppies work a little bit like old phonograph records. Instead of the needle in a groove used by a phonograph record, floppies use an electro-magnet and read or record circles of information. If two floppy drives disagree about the location and spacing of these circles, then one of the computers won't read floppies recorded by the other.

As a computer is used and gets old, its floppy drive can become so near or far sighted that it records floppies that can't be read by other floppy drives (although it can read its own floppies just fine). You know you have a problem if several computers can't read floppies written by your computer.

TO AVOID THE PROBLEM: If you're still using Windows 98 (or earlier, come on, you know you're out there), it's time to buy a new computer. Buy the cheapest name brand computer you can find. It should be less than $500 on sale. Don't buy one that requires a subscription to the Internet. Be brave. If you're retired, take the money out of your kid's inheritance. If you don't have the money, ask your kids for a Christmas present. (Just don't tell them you were going to disinherit them a moment before!)

I like to wait until Compaq computers are on sale for $400, but eMachines and Gateways are almost always available at that price (or cheaper). Make certain it comes with a 6 to 12 month warranty. Don't pay for an additional warranty unless the convenience is really worth it.

The new computer may not include a floppy drive, so find out how much it will cost to add one. Your best bet may be to buy an external floppy drive.

TO FIX THE PROBLEM: If you're using Windows XP or later, you'll have to decide between replacing the floppy drive or buying a new computer. The floppy drive itself is pretty cheap. If you or someone you know is willing to perform the exchange, go for it. Otherwise, call the computer stores in your area and ask what they would charge to replace your floppy drive. Compare that with the price of a new computer (see price range above). The older your computer, the more you should lean towards buying a new computer.


Floppy drives are fast becoming dinosaurs. New computers often don't include one. If you don't need a new computer, investigate the option of buying an external floppy drive that plugs into a USB socket of your current computer. Prices range from $35 to $70.

What do you think of the Insider's recommendations? 

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Am Eye Seeing Things?

Picture of ID Badge

I was having lunch with a good friend from the Generations Network the other day. 

"I see you have a new employee badge," I said.

"I do," he replied. "I forgot my badge, so I had to check out a day badge."

"I see," I said. I could see the badge reminded me of something. I just couldn't see what it was.

I could see the nervous green duck; that wasn't it.

Even though the color has been lightened, I could see the leaves were obviously Rosa mulliganii, a climbing rose with white blossoms. This particular plant bears the unmistakable signs of flourishing in Kent. I'd bet money they're from Sissinghurst Castle Garden. Probably the central arbor in the White Garden. But I digress...

Am I seeing things or does The Generations Network employee badge remind you of something too?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

BYU Conference: Elder Coleman Presentation

Elder Gary J. Coleman of the First Quorum of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the lead keynote presenter earlier this year at the BYU Family History and Genealogy Conference. He titled his presentation, "Become Involved in Some Aspect of Temple and Family History Work." A transcript of his presentation, as well as his slides are available on the BYU website at
Monroy Family - 1913
A highlight of the talk was the story of the the Monroy family. Sister Coleman's grandfather, Elder Carlos England served a mission in Mexico from 1911 to 1913 and kept a journal with photographs that are now a priceless piece of their family history. He recorded blessing 3 year old  María Concepción Monroy soon after the Monroy family's conversion. England kept a photograph of the family taken at the time, shortely before the father, Rafael Monroy, died as a martyrdom of the church during the Mexican Revolution. Eighty-three years later, the Colemans reconnected with María, exchanging pictures and remembrances.
"It was a great blessing for us to get to know her and share this historical incident between her and Sister Coleman's grandfather," said Elder Coleman.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Serendipity in Genealogy

Today we begin a new feature at the Ancestry Insider. We call it serendipity in genealogy. It happens to individuals of all religious, cultural and intellectual persuasions. Almost all long-time genealogists have experienced it in one form or another. It can be as simple as a thought or feeling. Many times it is manifest as extraordinary luck or fortuitous coincidence. Genealogists have experienced guidance as simple as facts popping into their heads or as dramatically as post-mortal visitations. Explanations are as varied as those that experience the events, but their prevalence testifies of their reality.

Something Kept Drawing Me Back

Dora J. Fisher had been searching all her life for information about her father's youngest brother, believed by most to have been stillborn. An aunt told her she remembered the boy was born one evening about 1926 near Bothwell in Kent County, Ontario, Canada. He died the following morning. But no one living knew his name.

Fisher relates that "on February 17 I was indexing" with FamilySearch Indexing. "I would download a batch of 24 Ontario Death records, index them, and send them back. Then I would go do a load of laundry or something, but something kept drawing me back to the computer." Volunteer indexes have little control over the particular batches they are asked to transcribe.

After about 10 batches the names of her grandparents jumped off the page. They were listed as parents of a deceased boy:

Name: John A. Taylor
Born: 20 Jan 1928
Died: 21 Jan 1928

"I scared the heck out of my husband," says Fisher. "I threw my arms in the air and hollered, 'I found him!' Then I cried." And then she called her two living aunts—John's sisters—to tell them his name and other information contained in the record.

"If I had stopped earlier in the day, someone else would have gotten this batch, and I wouldn't have the information," comments Fisher. Serendipitously, something kept calling her back to the computer.

(Source: Dora J. Fisher, "Ensign article," LDS-WARD-CONSULTANT [email list], 28-Jul-2007, accessed 1-Sep-2007, <>)

We take the title of our series from Psychic Roots: Serendipity and Intuition in Genealogy, by Henry Z Jones, Jr., F.A.S.G. The book "is all about the influence of coincidence and serendipity on genealogical research," according to the back cover, "the chance combination of events over which the researcher has no control but which nevertheless guides him to a fortuitous discovery." If you have serendipitous experiences to share, send them to