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