Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cyndi's List Highlights Free Stuff

Cyndi Howell announced this week the creation of a new category in Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet, "Free Stuff." The new category can be found at Links in the category are divided into these groups:

  • General Resource Sites
  • Charts & Forms to Print or Download
  • Databases
  • Getting Started
  • Software
  • Translation Tools
  • Trial Subscriptions

    There are just under 120 links in the general resource and charts groups. Many of these are census transcription forms. About 70 links are given to free databases. There are 17 links in the remaining groups.

    Of the free databases, the introductory material explains,

    Many databases online are free to search. Some are completely free. Some will return limited results and require that you subscribe for a fee in order to view the complete results or record. Some will supply you with free results, but you will have to pay to order the original source records. Some will require that you register your name and e-mail address in order to view the results. It would be cumbersome for me to list all of the free databases in this section, especially since they are already listed elsewhere on Cyndi's List under the appropriate category headings. [Here] you will find a brief highlight of some of the more popular free databases to get you started online.

    You can show your support for Cyndi's List by using these links. Even though the links lead to free resources, using some of them provides financial support to Howell, who works daily maintaining this wonderful resource which she provides free to the genealogical community.

    Thursday, March 27, 2008

    You Will Hate Ancestry's New Search, Not!

    Did you learn WordPerfect and then make the grueling switch to Word? Are you a "classic" Family Tree Maker (FTM) user drowned by the undertow of the new FTM user interface? Were you one of the Ancestry users irked back in July 2006 when Ancestry split its Search form into four tabs?

    If you fall into the latter category, hold on to your hats 'cause Ancestry's at it again. Although judging from his blog article, Ancestry's Search Product Manager, Kendall Hulet, has learned his lessons.

    Back in 2006, subscribers woke up one day to find the old search interface gone and the new one thrust upon them. This time select subscribers asked to try out the new search interface have the ability to switch back and forth between the old and new interfaces.

    And this time the change is rolling out gradually, user feedback is being solicited and the UI (user interface) is being tweaked weekly according to the feedback.

    In some ways the new search interface is a return to the beloved old one that went away back in 2006. The separation into four tabs has gone away; once again one search searches all databases. The 2006 changes moved the advanced search from the main search form onto a page of its own. Advanced search has now migrated back into the main search form.

    However, if you hate change, you will hate this. In many, many ways the new search interface bears little resemblance to its pre-2006 ancestor. The Search team seems to have had the same epiphany that I experienced Christmas shopping online. The excellent techniques used by online resellers to refine and narrow your gift searches can also be employed to finding ancestors.

    Ancestry has also made it much easier to evaluate search results by including Hover-Previews, photograph thumbnails and newspaper image snippets.

    My initial experiences with the new Search?

    Being the suspicious type, any search that resulted in zero results was suspect. I spent a lot of time switching back to the old interface and re-trying failed searches, each time finding that the old search couldn't find any results either.

    I wouldn't be long in the old interface before I longed for features of the new. I always found myself switching back to the new search UI.

    Ancestry still gives lots of ridiculous results. I wish Ancestry would allow use of date and geographic filters in record searches as they do in the new card catalog. That would go a long way in clearing out the flotsam.

    Searching databases with OCR indexes still stinks and search is still matching on initials. This makes it impossible to find newspaper articles about people with given names starting with A or I. But the image snippets make it possible to avoid most of these rat holes. Too bad they don't have them for family and local history books also.

    Al-in-all, I think Ancestry has a winner on its hands. To see for yourself, click here to see screen shots and a detailed description of the new Search UI.

    Tuesday, March 18, 2008

    Two Ancestry Presidents Contrasted

    The two keynote speeches at this year's BYU Computerized Family History Conference gave attendees the unique opportunity of seeing two of's CEOs side by side. Paul Allen was Ancestry's first CEO and Tim Sullivan is the current CEO of Ancestry's parent company, the Generations Network (TGN).

    Paul Allen

    Paul Allen began by pointing out the fallacy that genealogy is second only to pornography in Internet usage. "We’re lucky if genealogy is in the top 50," said Allen. "We haven’t even scratched the surface of getting more people involved."

    Allen presented an interesting retrospective on his history, the establishment of, and what he has done since, including current projects, and (For a similar recitation, watch Allen's Entrepreneur Lecture last fall at BYU.) Until just recently Ancestry and FamilySearch were the only organizations investing in this market. World Vital Records recently hit 1 billion names online and have another billion in the pipeline. "I'm happy to be back," said Allen.

    "FamilySearch Indexing is the most positive disruption in the genealogy industry," said Allen. While he went on to explain that disruption was something that provided increased value at decreased cost, no doubt Allen is well versed in Harvard Business School's Clayton M. Christensen and his ideas around disruptive technologies.

    Allen mentioned four problems that need to be addressed to allow genealogy to be more widely adopted. Genealogy is too expensive. It takes too much time to do. It needs to be easier. And it’s not fun enough for young people.

    "Social networking is the biggest key to extending the reach of genealogy beyond those currently doing it," Allen said. "Let's share really cool stories and pictures." We can get millions more interested in family history.

    Tim Sullivan

    Ancestry's CEO, Tim SullivanVery few people attended Tim Sullivan's key note, but those that did were treated to an unprecedented look inside the Generations Network (TGN), according to session host, Kory Meyerink.

    "How do commercial players advance genealogy?" asked Sullivan rhetorically. "Very simply; by spending lots of money." Sullivan said TGN invests over $100 million a year providing services and growing the number of people involved in genealogy.

    Commercial players help get original records digitized and online according to Sullivan. At current rates, it will take over 2,000 years to digitize all of NARA's holdings. (The New York Times) Records throughout the world are perishing. In the past 10 years TGN has spent, not counting indirect costs, almost $70 million acquiring, imaging and indexing content and continues to spend over $10 million annually.

    Sullivan said that TGN will spend over $40 million in 2008 around the world trying to get more people involved in genealogy. More people not only means more revenues for commercial companies, it means more collaboration, more user-uploaded content and more indexing volunteers.

    Anticipating the question, Sullivan pledged to keep RootsWeb free despite inclusion of in RootsWeb's domain name.

    Asked about full availability of Ancestry in Family History Centers (FHCs), Sullivan noted availability in the regional FHCs and acknowledged ongoing discussions. "I hope we can get it available again."

    "We think what FamilySearch has done is fantastic," Sullivan said in response to a question about his company's recent volunteer indexing announcement. He didn't add any details beyond those in the short announcement.

    Friday, March 14, 2008

    Computerized Family History and Genealogy Conference

    [While I'm not a fan of train-of-thought writing, you may never hear about my attendance at this conference if I don't take a shallow dip into it.]

    I’m here at the conference. I’ve got laptop power but no Internet. I’ve got syllabus, but no CD. Maybe that was an extra cost item. They’ve announced they have 700 attendees. I’m seeing lots of familiar faces, but as usual I can’t remember who they are. Well, Alan Mann I know. Alan is Manager of Information Services at the Family History Library.

    They tell me I can exchange by printed syllabus for a CD! Paul Allen is the keynote speaker this morning and Tim Sullivan is this evening. I'll try and post on their presentations later.

    Well, it’s lunch time. Renee Zamora was good enough to watch my laptop for me while I ran out and grabbed a bite to eat. (Thank you, Renee.) She, along with the other smart people, had brought a lunch. With the Morris Center gone (along with most of Deseret Towers—I used to live in V-422) the line at the creamery was humongous.

    The New FamilySearch track was held in the basement auditorium of the Bean Museum, which probably seats less than 220. I suppose they put the NFS track there because they feared no one would bother to cross the parking lot for any track of lesser interest. But last fall they filled the 500 seat conference center auditorium for some NFS classes. Many were turned away from Jim Greene’s class this morning. The room had no wireless Internet for attendees nor wired access for presenters.

    Gordon Clarke acknowledged my post on PAF's mostly dead status and asked that I quote him as saying, "I kind of see new life as being breathed into PAF. I don’t think PAF is dying, I think it is getting a second life." Clarke, consider yourself quoted. I'll explain more in a later article. I think the headline will be, "FamilySearch's Gordon Clarke announces the resurrection." (Teasing genes run deep in my family.)

    P.S. If you subscribe to my column via FeedReader, you may not have received the two articles I posted Wednesday. If not, you may wish to read

    Thursday, March 13, 2008

    RootsWeb moved onto

    Tim Sullivan, CEO of the Generations Network today posted the following notice on the RootsWeb blog:

    As you know, The Generations Network has hosted and funded the RootsWeb online community since June 2000, thereby maintaining RootsWeb as the world’s oldest and largest free genealogy website. TGN remains committed to this mission and believes that RootsWeb is an absolutely invaluable and complementary resource to, our flagship commercial family history site. We believe in both services and want to see both communities prosper and grow.

    As part of this goal, we have decided to “transplant” RootsWeb onto the domain beginning next week. This move will not change the RootsWeb experience or alter the ease of navigation to or within RootsWeb. RootsWeb will remain a free online experience. What will be different is that the Web address for all RootsWeb pages will change from to Again, the RootsWeb experience is not changing.

    The decision to host RootsWeb on is being made for one primary reason: we believe that the users of each of our two main websites can be better served if they have access to the best services available on both. Simply stated, we want to introduce more users to RootsWeb and vice versa.

    Today, despite the fact that and are the two most frequently visited family history sites on the Web, only 25 percent of visitors to visited RootsWeb in January 2008, while only 20 percent of visitors to RootsWeb visited (according to Comscore Media Metrix). We think we will serve our users best by doing a better job of letting them know what is available on both and RootsWeb. Hosting RootsWeb on is the first step towards making this happen, but we will absolutely look for more and better ways down the road to advance this goal.

    Hosting RootsWeb on will also make it easier for us to make changes and improvements to the RootsWeb experience in the future.

    All old RootsWeb URLs will continue to work, whether they are bookmarks or favorites, links to or from a hosted page or URLs manually typed in your Internet browser. We will have a redirect in place so that all old URLs will automatically end up on the appropriate new RootsWeb URL. You will never need to update your old favorites or links unless you want to. We have worked to make the transition as seamless as possible for our users, and this change should have a minimal impact on your experience with the site.

    RootsWeb will remain a free online experience dedicated to providing you with a place where our community can find their roots together. If you have questions regarding this change please email them to


    Tim Sullivan
    The Generations Network, Inc.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    Richard Turley steps down as head of FamilySearch

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church) announced today the appointment of Richard E. Turley, Jr. as assistant Church Historian and Recorder. Turley has been serving as managing director of the Church's Family and Church History Department and the president of the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU). The Church's family history organizations are collectively known as FamilySearch.

    Turley is a noted historian and author who has tackled controversial subjects such as the Mountain Meadows Massacre and Mark Hoffman's fraudulent Church history documents.

    Turley will serve as assistant to Church Historian Marlin K. Jensen. The positions of church historian and assistant are ecclesiastical positions while managing directors are staff positions. Staff positions are subordinate to ecclesiastical positions. Through much of history, the church historian has also been a member of one of the Church's ruling ecclesiastical councils. Jensen continues this trend, serving in the Church's First Quorum of the Seventy.

    No word was made about Turley's replacement.

    PAF is only mostly-dead

    Gordon Clarke read an official statement at the FamilySearch Developers Conference today announcing future migration paths available to users of the venerable PAF genealogy software. Once New FamilySearch (NFS) is fully available, PAF users will have several migration options available. Users can perform a one-time transfer of their data to NFS, which like PAF, will be free. Or users can purchase a commercial genealogy program, many of which are currently developing support for NFS. Also at the conference, it was announced that a group of developers has created an extension to the PAF database file format allowing continued use of PAF files with the new capabilities of NFS. Commercial programs equipped with this extension will be able to support existing PAF files while simultaneously providing the advantages and new features of NFS.

    The announcement is essentially an end-of-life announcement for PAF and puts to rest rumors that PAF was dead already as well as rumors that FamilySearch would make one more release of PAF with New FamilySearch support.

    The first annual FamilySearch Developers Conference continues today through 5:30pm at Brigham Young University (BYU). Tomorrow BYU hosts the Family History Technology Workshop followed by the Computerized Family History and Genealogy Conference on Friday and Saturday.

    Thursday, March 6, 2008

    And now, the story can NOT be told...

    You're tired of me whining about the pitfalls of employee blogging, I know. If it gets too thick for you, just skip this article.

    I won't break my employment agreement. It prevents disclosure of company trade-secrets and proprietary information. But is it a gray area when publicly available information comes to me through proprietary means? For example, several months ago Ancestry started selling DNA test kits to the general public though the website indicated DNA-Ancestry was still in beta. I was one of the lucky employees invited to participate in the test for free.

    Several participants outside the company wrote about their experience. I had a very positive experience and wished to write about it also. Ancestry had yet to announce their entry into the DNA space, so it was hot news.

    I felt I could write about the experience, regardless of my employment status, had I gone to the website while at home on my own computer, on my own time and on my own dime. That would place me on equal footing with outside participants.

    But my participation was entirely connected to my employment. I felt like I had to get a release before I could benefit Ancestry with my glowing review. Our PR director had no previous employee blogging policy to work from. He ultimately decided to treat me as any other outside writer. And he reminded me of my obligations to the company. Ironically, in that situation his decision left me at a disadvantage compared to outside writers.

    I never have purchased a DNA Ancestry Test Kit. And I've never been comp'ed a reviewer's copy. So to this day, that glowing review has never been published. My revenge is thinking that some days my blog outperforms Ancestry's. He, he, he.

    Wednesday, March 5, 2008

    Where are the results of indexing projects?


    I have a question that perhaps you can answer, and forgive me if you already have somewhere, or if the information is on the FamilySearch website and I have missed it.

    My question is whether the results of already completed indexing projects are now in some way accessible through the IGI or the general FamilySearch search form. They do not seem to be. As this is a database question, and not one relating to software, it would not seem to be a feature of New FamilySearch, unless part of that is access to an expanded database(s).

    Thanks, Mike

    Dear Mike,

    You ask a good question. Until the design of New FamilySearch is extended to include Record Search, the results of previous indexing projects is available temporarily at Click on Records Search and then on Register to use Record Search. If setting up accounts is still a manual process (see this post) then it may take a business day or two before your account becomes active.

    Some indexed databases have associated images (like the censuses you helped index) and some do not (like the Social Security Death Index). The currently available indexed databases are:

    • Census and Lists
    • 1850 United States Census (Mortality Schedule) *
    • 1850 United States Census *
    • 1850 United States Census (Slave Schedule) *
    • 1880 United States Census
    • 1895 Argentina Census
    • 1900 United States Census
    • Court and Legal Records
    • Freedman Bank Records 1865-1874
    • England, Cheshire, Register of Electors 1842-1900
    • Migration
    • New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island) 1892-1924
    • Vital Records
    • Freedmen's Bureau Virginia Marriages ca. 1815-1866
    • Cheshire, Church of England Christening Records 1538-1907 *
    • Cheshire, Church of England Marriage Records 1538-1907 *
    • Cheshire, Church of England Burial Records 1538-1907 *
    • Georgia Deaths 1914-1927
    • Ontario Deaths 1869-1947
    • Ohio Deaths 1908-1953
    • Utah Death Certificates 1904-1956
    • Texas Death Index 1964-1998
    • U.S. Social Security Death Index *

    Other records have been photographed (digitized) and the images placed online. These collections have been divided into small groups of images that can be browsed to find desired records (speaking in the genealogical sense, not the database sense).

    • Census and Lists
    • 1850 United States Census (Mortality Schedule) *
    • 1850 United States Census *
    • 1850 United States Census (Slave Schedule) *
    • 1900 United States Census
    • 1905 Wisconsin State Census
    • 1930 Mexico Census
    • Court and Legal Records
    • Maryland, Cecil County Probate Estate Files 1851-1940
    • Land and Property
    • Vermont Land Records, Early to 1900
    • Military
    • United States, World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942
    • Vital Records
    • Germany, Brandenburg and Posen, Civil Transcripts of Parish Registers, 1800-1874 *
    • England, Diocese of Durham Bishops' Transcripts ca. 1700-1900
    • Czech Republic, Litomerice Regional Archive Church Books 1552-1905 *
    • France, Coutances Catholic Diocese 1802-1907 *
    • Illinois, Diocese of Belleville, Catholic Parish Records 1729-1956 *
    • Virginia, Fluvanna County Colbert Funeral Home Records 1929-1976

    * Databases with a star have been updated in the last 30 days.

    Collections (databases) may not be complete. Click on the name of the collection. The description page indicates incomplete ("early access") collections. For example, currently 98% of the 1900 United States Census index is available. All that is lacking are the Armed Forces and the Indian Territory indexes.

    So, Mike, dive in and enjoy the fruits of your labors. You indexed my ancestors and I indexed yours. We are both richer for our efforts.


    The Ancestry Insider

    Sunday, March 2, 2008

    I Felt Two Hands

    This is another in the Ancestry Insider's series called Serendipity in Genealogy.

    Hildo Rosillo Flores of Piura, Peru started his family history with just a four-generation pedigree chart. He started in the usual way, interviewing his parents and relatives.

    "To find the death dates of my maternal great-grandparents, I traveled to the town of Zorritos, in northern Peru, where they had been buried," says Flores.

    This Pisco, Peru Cemetery illustrates the mixture of older, below-ground burials and the above-ground vaults used for new interments.
    This Pisco, Peru Cemetery illustrates a
    mixture of older, below-ground burials
    and the above-ground vaults  used for
    new interments. Image © Alex Seeley.

    The cemetery, on the outskirts of town, primarily contained vaulted compartments. After an initial search, Flores was not able to locate his great-grandparents vault, so he went into town to confer with a cousin. She assured him they were interred in that cemetery, so he returned determined to find their final resting place.

    "I returned to the cemetery and began a methodical search, walking down every vault aisle and reading every inscription." Still, nothing. He knelt and prayed, then repeated his thorough search pattern. For a third time, he was unable to find them and now it was getting late. He would have to leave without finding them. He turned toward the front gate, ready to leave the cemetery when something wondrous happened.

    "Just as I took my first step, I felt two hands take hold of my head from behind and turn it towards a certain spot. My eyes rested on a small, dirty headstone that was level with the ground. I looked behind me to see who had grabbed my head, but no one was there. I walked to the headstone, lay on the ground, and cleaned off the inscription."

    Isidro Garcia Rosillo, died August 1, 1934.
    Francisca Espinoza BerrĂº, died January 31, 1954.

    To his amazement, it was the very marker Flores was searching for!

    Adapted from "Who Turned My Head?" Hildo Rosillo Flores, Ensign, October-2007, p. 72.