Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New FamilySearch News for 30-April-2008

Well, it's Tag der Arbeit Eve and time for another New FamilySearch (NFS) update.

"Ancestry Insider," you ask. "Did you pick Tag der Arbeit because there are no English holidays today?"

"No," I lie. "Tag der Arbeit is the German name for a Swiss holiday and today's news has a Switzerland connection."

Bern Switzerland was the only temple district getting New FamilySearch yesterday. Typically two, and sometimes three, temples are activated each week. Rumor had pointed to an April Hong Kong release. Hong Kong would have been a big milestone, since the Chinese  language requires more than Roman characters. Come to think of it, a conflicting rumor has it that the non-Roman character set milestone will happen in Japan. Stay tuned.

One other change to my Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch article is the addition of 8-Jul-2008 as the release target for the Newport Beach, California temple.

NFS Record Search pilot updated

Tim Crabb announced version 1.3 of the NFS Record Search pilot on the FamilySearch Labs Blog this afternoon.

This release features a number of enhancements from the look and feel to the types of searches that are available. 

Take some time to check it out and give us feedback on how we are doing.

It's been so long since I've used Record Search, I'm not completely certain which features are new, but I found several features that are new to me.

The search type can be set to Exact, Exact & Close or Exact & Close & Partial. Close matches will match different name forms. For example, "Joseph" will match "Joe."

When entering a place name, you can select from matches presented.

The search form can be expanded to allow entry of spouse or parent names, an event type, a year range and a place.

Records flagged as new or updated in the last 30 days are

  • 1850 US Census
  • 1850 US Census (Mortality Schedules)
  • 1895 Wisconsin State Census (Images only)
  • Norway Baptisms, Burials, Marriages 1700-1900
  • Texas Deaths, 1890-1976
  • Spain, Albacete Diocese, Catholic Parish Records 1550-1930 (Images only)

NFS Family Tree pilot updated

Yesterday Tim Cross announced updates to the NFS Family Tree pilot. Cross listed these improvements:

  • We added “Helpful Tips” to identify features that may not be obvious.
  • If you have folders open when you log off, those folders are open when you log back in.
  • We improved the graphics when selecting other spouses and other parents from the Tree tab.

Personal Ancestral File Problems

I've mentioned before my opinion that PAF users should consider upgrading to a free or low cost replacement program once NFS is mature enough to warrant it. A post by Shoebox Genealogy documents some of the problems in Personal Ancestral File (PAF):

  • Multimedia functions need to be altered to integrate rich media into the PAF database, allowing users to more easily share photos, source images, audio, and video.
  • New temple codes need to be updated
  • Option for listing the additional LDS ordinances of confirmation and initiatory, which are now being listed in NFS.
  • Rich text in the notes sections
  • Storing the unique NFS ID numbers with an individual, instead of/in addition to, the AF number.
  • Auto-update old two letter temple codes to the 5 letter codes
  • Much more, as described by the general genealogical community

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Ancestry Insider Revealed

Ancestry Employees Get First Look (Take 2)

Following up on my original post last week, residents of Utah Valley got their first hint of a new project under development. The Generations Network employees were seen over the weekend sporting new T-shirts we received in appreciation for the first week of alpha testing. On the front, the shirts have either "Luke, I indexed your father" or "Are you the key master?". The reverse side has the logo followed by the words, "World Archives Project."

So while I can't fill in all the blanks yet, here's last week's post partially filled in.

This [21-April-2008] Tim Sullivan introduced Generations Network employees to the World Archives Project, Ancestry's name for its v________ indexing initiative....

Understanding that things could change before its release, here's what it currently looks like:

[---STAY TUNED---]

For comparison, here's the FamilySearch Indexing program:

FamilySearch Indexing program

The slogan for Ancestry's World Archives Project is ____ __ ____ ___ _____'_ _______ _____. ... To illustrate the concept visually, the company has some p_______ with the p_____ r______. Here's an example:

[---STAY TUNED---]

Congratulations to Randy Seaver for interpreting the clues and figuring out the gist of my post. Stay tuned as this story unfolds.

The Ancestry Insider Unveiled

After the Ancestry Insider spotlighted the staff of Family Tree Magazine, assistant editor Grace Dobush wrote,

Wow, thanks for writing about us! But now we're really curious—what do you look like Simpsonized?

Well, I wouldn't do this for just anyone. And I've not had very good luck with the Simpsonize Me website. But after realizing my pseudonym was more famous than I, it felt like the time had come to unveil my likeness.

So without further ado...

So, for anyone out there who happens to know what the non-Simpsonized me looks like, what do you think? Does it look like me or no? Stop by my blog and vote in the poll in the right-hand column.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ancestry Poised to Release DNA Groups

Participants in Relative Genetics DNA Groups received notification recently that Ancestry is ready to move their DNA Group projects from the Relative Genetics website to the DNA Ancestry website. This is scheduled to occur on 30-April-2008. The Relative Genetics website will remain available through 1-July-2008, although any changes made there in May will not be replicated to the Ancestry website.

The notification noted that

  • The DNA Ancestry groups will start out with just one project administrator. Co-admins must join the project after which they can be given administrator status.
  • Default privacy settings will show your name in match results unless you login and change the privacy settings to anonymous.
  • Relative Genetics customers that have opted out of the transfer to DNA Ancestry are shown in the member list as "opt out #". No other information about these individuals will be transferred to DNA Ancestry.
  • Only projects with 3 or more members will be transferred.
  • Participants are recommended to export their project prior to the migration as a personal backup.

This will complete the transition from Relative Genetics to DNA Ancestry that began back in June-2007.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


When I debuted my fall-themed header on the blog website, I intended on changing it with each season. But autumn turned to winter and I never got a winter scene composed. Spring is now displacing winter and the blossoms and buds in Utah Valley are completely enthralling. Inspired, yesterday morning I set about creating a new website header.

While I can no longer hold a camera steady, I took camera and tripod into the yard and took some pictures of the beautiful new green on the Elm tree and the awesome blossoms on our Bradford Pear. I had my wife help me take pictures of her friend's pink plum blossoms to add some color. Today I put it all together and the website now sports my new spring-themed header. If you get a moment and you can keep your expectations low, stop by and take a look.

My Secret Identity

I had a sobering thought today. If I should reveal my real name here, it would mean nothing to any of you. If I were to publish my photo, none of you would recognise me! The few people—coworkers, family and friends—that would know me by name or face already know I'm the Ancestry Insider. My pseudonym is more famous than I am!

That put the ego where it belongs.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Serendipity in Genealogy: And the Telly Goes to...

It's coincidence, hunch, synchronicity, fortuitous luck, guidance, paranormal, spiritual, karma, ESP, visitation, life-after-death, fate, divinity, genetic memory, providence, intuition, Deity, inspiration, psychic, revelation, the force, subconscious reasoning, numeracy, vision, sixth sense, collective unconscious, dreams, reincarnation, educated guess, inner voice, out-of-body journey, mystical, ghost, chance, acausal, non-mechanical reality, portent, omen, or "the sheer cussed awfulness—or wonder—of things." (See Henry Z. Jones, Jr., Psychic Roots: Serendipity & Intuition in Genealogy, p. 81.)

We call it Serendipity in Genealogy.

And the Telly Goes to...

Congratulations to Roots Television, an online video channel covering all aspects of genealogy, which has been recognized in its first year with four Telly Awards. One Telly recognized "Roots Books: Psychic Roots," a talk show interview with Hank Jones. Host Sharon DeBartolo Carmack and Jones discuss Jones' books, Psychic Roots: Serendipity & Intuition in Genealogy and More Psychic Roots: Further Adventures in Serendipity & Intuition in Genealogy.

I recommend you watch the program, as Jones shares several of the best stories from his books. Here's one of his favorites.

Serendipity in Genealogy

For years Reverend Shuster wanted to visit the hometown of one of his Shuster ancestors in another state, but his ministerial duties had always kept him too busy. After years of trying to find the time, he was at last able to make the trip. He hoped to visit the town's old graveyard and see if his ancestor's tombstone still existed.

Upon arrival in town Reverend Shuster's first order of business was to check out the cemetery, which turned out to be rather large. He found the sexton and inquired about the location of his ancestor's tombstone. Amazingly, the sexton knew exactly where that particular grave was located.

When the Reverend mentioned how surprised he was that the sexton knew the location so readily, the sexton replied that Reverend Shuster was the 5th person that day to ask about that grave.

Amazingly, the Reverend had finally made his trip to the town on the very day that a Shuster Family Reunion was taking place at a location adjacent to the cemetery! This serendipitous timing allowed him to make contact and establish relations with loads of extended family members.

You can view part 1 of the 5 parts above. To see the remaining parts (or if you can't view the video above), go to the Roots Television website: Roots Books: Psychic Roots.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Serendipity in Genealogy: The Lost Shoe

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

Click to enlarge on Featurepics

"...One of my cousins was trying to locate our great-grandmother's grave in the cemetery in Garden City (Finney County) Kansas while on their way to Colorado for a vacation.

"After searching for quite a while, they were unable to locate it and decided to go on down the road. When they went to get into the car, they noticed their daughter had lost a shoe so they went back into the cemetery to find it. It was found -- on the gravestone of our great-grandmother!"

By Charles E. Templer in Overland Park, Kansas, USA

Previously published in RootsWeb Review, 25 October 2006, Vol. 9, No. 43.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New FamilySearch Update for Earth Day 2008

In honor of Earth Day, I thought I'd recycle some old New FamilySearch (NFS) rollout rumors. But then some new ones came in, so I won't have to. Here's the news and the new rumors.

Dallas Texas, Melbourne Australia and Perth Australia all went live today, 22-Apr-2008.

Brisbane Australia is currently closed for cleaning. While closed they will be upgraded to NFS. They will reopen on 7-May-2008.

Halifax Nova Scotia has been told they will go live at the end of May. I'm guessing 27-May-2008.

The Hague, Netherlands received their 4 month notification on 21-Apr-2008. Nauvoo Illinois will also go live in 4 month, placing them about Aug-2008. From this we can infer that all of the temples that have already been announced will be live before then. That is, unless they are being held until the I.O.U.S. problem is fixed.

No news about Seattle as of 21-Apr-2008.

Want to see when your area will get NFS? I've filled in my guesses for over 25 temples that were in transition at the time of the rollout hold. See the latest map and tables at Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ancestry Employees Get First Look

This morning Tim Sullivan introduced Generations Network employees to the _________ _________ Project, Ancestry's name for its v________ _________ initiative.

While Sullivan gave employees permission to talk about it outside the company, 2 minutes later more careful heads prevailed and we decided we should wait. Since electronically you can't see the twinkle in my eye with which I write this article, let me make it clear that I'm not being critical; I'm using the situation to have some fun with you.

The __________ tool was to enter Alpha release today and employees were asked to spend several hours this week trying it out and giving feedback. Understanding that things could change before its release, here's what it currently looks like:


For comparison, here's the FamilySearch Indexing program:

The slogan for Ancestry's _________ _________ Project is ________ ________ ________ ________. (I like the phrase: "Everybody deserves to be remembered." Unfortunately, a cremation urn company already has a similar trademark.) To illustrate the concept visually, the company has some ________ with _________ . Here's an example:


Employees received a postcard sized example and a gray wrist band inscribed with "" and the project name.

Stay tuned for more information.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Family Tree Magazine Staff

This is one in a series of encyclopedia articles describing people, products and companies in the genealogy industry. When you hear a noted genealogist's name, do you find yourself thinking, "I know I know that name," but you can't quite get the ol' noggin to access the data? I'm right there with you! For that reason, these articles are.

They had me the moment they listed my blog on their Genealogy Insider blog. But the staff at Family Tree Magazine continue to do little things that endear them to me.

Family Tree Magazine staff: Grace Dobush, assistant editor; Kathy Dezarn, art director; Allison Stacy, editor; and Diane Haddad, managing editor
Family Tree Magazine staff:
Grace Dobush, assistant editor;
Kathy Dezarn, art director;
Allison Stacy, editor;
and Diane Haddad, managing editor.

First let me introduce them using a photograph from their holiday greeting in December-2007. Pictured (left to right) are Grace Dobush, assistant editor; Kathy Dezarn, art director; Allison Stacy, editor; and Diane Haddad, managing editor.

In January-2008 Grace wrote about her first trip to a Family History Center where she discovered she gets seasick using a microfilm reader. My first thought was... Well, actually my first thought was, "this is a young group." But my very next thoughts took me back to days at the Salt Lake Family History Library with my father and mother. We arrived shortly after the library opened in the morning. And we stayed until late afternoon when we were so tired we had started getting seasick as the microfilm images zoomed past. Now my father is gone and those are shared memories never to be forgotten.

Family Tree Magazine staff, Simpsonized: Dobush, Dezarn, Stacy and Haddad
Family Tree Magazine staff, Simpsonized:
Grace, Kathy, Allison and Diane.

In August-2007 the staff came across the Simpsonize Me website and posted Simpsonized portraits of the whole crew. I've rearranged their positions to correspond with their holiday greeting. What do you think? Do their Simpsonized selves match their real selves?

Earlier this month Diane appeared on morning television in San Diego to explain Tamagotchi family trees. No, if you don't know what a Tamagotchi is, I'm not going to explain it. Quoting Diane,

For more on Tamagotchi trees and how kids can research their own families, watch the video (remember, I woke up before the crack of dawn) on San Diego's NBC affiliate Web site.

I was hoping for Tamagotchized portraits, but no luck.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ancestry News From Winning to Wearying

Ancestry News Catchup

RootsWeb SSDI Used in Fraud Scheme

Tracy June Kirkland, 42, allegedly used to find the names, Social Security numbers and birth dates of newly deceased people, randomly call credit card companies to find an account, and then have the mailing address—and in some cases the account name—changed to her own.

RootsWeb spokesman Mike Ward says the company sometimes hears rumors or speculation about people using the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for identity theft, but this is the first prosecution he's aware of.

"The reason the Social Security Administration has it out there is to prevent fraud," says Ward. The government produces the Death Index so that banks and other lenders can prevent people from applying for credit using a dead person's information. Kirkland allegedly exploited a weakness in current safeguards by taking over accounts that were already open.

(This report is adapted from "Feds Charge California Woman With Stealing IDs From the Dead," by Kevin Poulsen.)

Vote for Webby Awards, Win a Nokia Smart Phone

TGN's website has been nominated for a Webby Award. For information on voting, go to the MyFamily Blog. The posting there drew some very interesting user responses.

Registering on the Webby website before 1-May-2008 automatically registers you in a contest to win one of ten Nokia N95 smart phones. Registration requires disclosure of your e-mail address and creation of a username. For me the biggest risk was not Nokia getting my e-mail address. It was the time I wasted tooling around the nominated websites. I spent 2 hours in only 1 of the 70 categories. I gravitated right to the "Weird" category under "Connections." Highly recommended. Even if you don't have a weird sense of humor, you'll still enjoy the "Cute Overload" nominee.

Ancestry/Ford Sweepstakes

After the Ancestry/Buick Sweepstakes, I guess Ford didn't want to be outdone. Enter the Ancestry/Ford "Meeting David Wilson" Sweepstakes for a change to win one of 200 DNA test kits or 800 30-day subscriptions. Your entry must be submitted before 21-June-2008 at

TGN Hiring

Lots of job postings have shown up recently for the Generations Network (TGN). One is an Indexing Project Coordinator to coordinate with international keying vendors. I'm gland TGN isn't planning on using volunteer indexers exclusively. Also interesting to me, 4 positions are located in San Jose, including a software engineer position to work on DNA Ancestry. The pool of available software engineers in Utah is small, but expanding engineering work beyond the valley is always met with suspicion.

Another TGN Employee Blogger

I came across another TGN employee blogger, Cameron Evans on the Ecuablog. I harp a lot on these pages about the need for employers to implement a specific blogging policy. I assume TGN feels its existing employee policies are sufficient, which they are. My agenda, however, is prevention of abuse so that TGN in particular and employers in general don't have problems that cause them to forbid employees from blogging about work-related topics. Take the case of Ecuablog. Evans' post of 28-March-2008. In relating the story of getting hired, he mentions the specific amount of a hiring bonus. Now most people know that any public disclosure of any part of one's compensation package is against policy in any company. But something about blogging makes people forget they are in a public forum. And once out there, it propagates forever.

In my opinion, companies should have a good company blogging policy as a substitute for a good slap up the side of the head.

"Hello, McFly. Anybody home?! Nothing is private on the web. Nothing!"

TGN Recognized by Utah financial group

TGN was recognized by the MountainWest Capital Network in a luncheon held 20-March-2008.

Generations Network (, provider of online genealogical research, was recognized for a successful $300 million dollar deal (purchase of a majority interest) by Spectrum Equity Investors in December 2007. David Sampson, Controller of The Generations Network, accepted the award on behalf of the company.

David Sampson
David Sampson, TGN Controller, in tan coat.

A previously undisclosed detail of the TGN/Spectrum deal was made public in a press release from Hercules Technology Growth Capital, Inc.

[Hercules participated] in $150 million syndicate financing for The Generations Network, Inc., an online network of family history Web sites. Hercules provided $17.5 million in debt and $500,000 equity capital in December 2007.

Last Items

You probably don't care about the following items, but I'm on a roll! I'm clearing my files of TGN mentions in the news.

  • Ryan Bonnett, IT Administrator for TGN, was quoted in a press release about a storage monitoring product, 3PAR and Tek-Tools. Hypothetically speaking, would such a product make it possible to detect storage-full conditions that would prevent users from uploading images to... say... the website? Hypothetically.
  • This bullet is definitely boring. Ancestry and TGN are mentioned several times in a press release titled "Interevco Launches Web Site Incubator Division." Unless you're looking for a firm to help you increase your web-based advertising, this one's a real yawner.

And with that, I'm caught up. Whew!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New FamilySearch Update for Tax Day 2008

New FamilySearch Rollout Map for 15-April-2008

You know what they say about death and taxes. The rollout of New FamilySearch (NFS) is nothing but sure. After the rollout resumed last week (Bismarck and Monterrey México) following a 7 week delay I was eager to see if anything would happen today. Happily, it did! Oaxaca México and Toronto.

After 2 weeks of releases, I've updated the rollout table and map in my article, Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch. Release Target dates in the Temple Districts in Transition table can all be thrown out the window.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

NFS Rollout Resumes

FamilySearch quietly resumed the rollout of New FamilySearch (NFS) this past week. On LDS Tech Bryce Fifield reported,

Bismarck Temple Live.

Just got back from the Bismarck ND temple. They are using nFS. Ordinances performed were online before I got home from the Temple.

Sources at FamilySearch confirmed that Bismarck and Monterrey, México were activated on 8-April-2008. These are the first temples activated since the delay was announced in February. (See New FamilySearch Delayed.) The cause of the delay remains unspecified and speculation is rampant.

TempleReady Replacement

In a comment posted to my article PAF, NFS and the Princess Bride  new blogger Shoebox Genealogy said,

I've heard several reasons for the suspension of the rollout from different researchers and other professionals, but the IOUS situation was new to me. Are there other factors that are slowing the rollout? The theories I've heard:

1) Poor reception of the new system by professional genealogists
2) Confused masses
2) Realization that more features need to be added before the general public gets it
3) Reworking the combine algorithm
4) Not enough server capacity
5) General authorities not approving of the current version
6) Waiting for third party software to assist in the synchronization of files
7) Aliens have held FamilySearch developers hostage and are demanding the recipe for fry sauce before releasing them.

Okay, so I haven't heard the aliens one, but a different researcher walks into our office nearly every day with a "Hey, I just talked to a family search guy at the FHL and he told me they're having XYZ problem and THAT'S the reason it's not rolling out"

As for Shoebox' first 3 items, we all need to remember that version 0.9 is primarily a replacement for TempleReady. FamilySearch knows NFS needs to be reworked before it is released to professional genealogists and the general public. Remarkably, the 1.0 version is being developed publicly and everyone's feedback is welcome. See Family Tree at FamilySearch Labs.

Since the resumption of the rollout is not coincident with a new release of NFS, I discount items 3 and 5. There are still no third party software, so item 6 is not the case, although third party synchronization will alleviative IOUS problems.

The Church has been accused of liberal views regarding illegal aliens, so I doubt item 7. (That was an attempt at humor. ;-)


That leaves IOUS and item 4, server capacity. One prevalent online rumor combines these two possible causes, claiming that the rollout to the Mesa Arizona Temple in early February resulted in IOUS that overwhelmed server capacity. If that is the case, then the resumption of the rollout may be possible because of increased server capacity. If that is the case, NFS users should see an improvement in NFS performance.

NFS Product Manager, Jim Greene, defined IOUS and IOUF at the recent BYU genealogy conference. An IOUS, or Individual Of Unusual Size, is a person in NFS composed by combining hundreds or thousands of separate records. An IOUF, or Individual Of Unusual Fan-out, is a person related to hundreds or thousands of individuals that presumably need to be combined.

NFS help Document ID: 101056 addresses IOUS.

new FamilySearch: Large record warning


When you select individual details, a yellow warning icon (triangle with an exclamation point enclosed) shows up in the heading bar of the information screen indicating an inidividual [sic] record of unusual size. (IOUS)


This is a known issue. This individual has more relationships than FamilySearch can display. This individual has other relationships to parents, spouses, and children that are saved in FamilySearch but cannot be displayed. This includes relationships that you may have contributed. We are working on a way to make these records more manageable. This information has not been lost, but FamilySearch will not be able to display it correctly until a future release.

For an example, search for person KWJY-BPD, Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the Church.

Joseph Smith, Jr. entry shows Large Record Warning icon
Joseph Smith, Jr. entry shows Large Record Warning icon


Greene admitted that the Church underestimated the size to which IOUS and IOUF would grow and the software needs to be adjusted accordingly. The regular schedule of NFS releases seems to be the mid-point of each calendar quarter, so upcoming releases can be expected on the 15th of May, August and November. I think it is safe to assume that until the problem of IOUS is fixed, the rollout will continue on hold for temple districts with large numbers of members descended from early Mormon ancestors. Sorry, Las Vegas.

If something else was holding the rollout, it apparently has been fixed and the rollout has resumed in other districts. Bookmark Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch to track the ongoing rollout.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ancestry shows a new Face (Book App)

You might all know about this already. My memory is so... how shall I put it... so... so-so. If a Facebook application from Ancestry is old news to you, forgive me. But as near as I can recall, there has been no official announcement. It's been out there for weeks and I've sat on the story, waiting for either official announcement or public comment from someone that stumbled across it. This week, officials at Ancestry gave employees permission to tell friends and relatives.

I don't want to get in trouble so as of this moment each of you is a "personal friend of mine." (Extra friendship points to anyone that knows which SNL host used that phrase.)

Ancestry's foray into the Facebook space is "Family Facts." Experienced Facebook users will search for "Family Facts" in the box on the upper-left. But then there are Facebook users like me, who had this show up on "my wall" soon after joining.

i never thought I'd come to the day that i would write on the facebook wall of one of my parents. this is history right here

Users like me can click on this link to get to Family Facts application home:

The Family Facts application home looks like this:

Family Facts application home

The Family Facts application looks like this:

Family Facts application

Experienced Ancestry users will recognize Family Facts as a free feature of the Ancestry website available at the bottom of the main Learning Center page. Family Facts present various information about your surname, most of which has been culled from Ancestry's genealogy databases. See the list of available facts in the image above on the left.

Users can choose one of the available facts to display on their profile:

If you were hoping to display part of your Ancestry Member Tree, your research interests or a tool that helped you connect to relatives or fellow researchers, then you will be disappointed in this application. But if you'd like a little graphical something to add a little pizzazz to your profile while displaying some interesting tidbit about your surname, then you may find Ancestry's Family Facts to your liking.

More information about Family Facts is available in an Ancestry Magazine March 2006 article and in a 24/7 Family History Circle September 2006 article by George Morgan.

Our Name In History

In November of 2006 Ancestry announced print-on-demand surname books called Our Name In History that makes use of Family Facts as well as other information. The website explains more about these books.

A year later on-demand publisher BookSurge announced it had partnered with Ancestry to offer the quarter-million titles in the Our Name In History series on The list of available titles shows the books have received mixed reviews.

Some bad reviews seem to assume the books are repeats of the fraudulent Halberts books which contained 1 page falsely presenting a coat of arms as belonging to the surname, 5 pages of generic history and 100 pages of phone book listings.  For example, a man named McGonigle wrote a bad review of the Jones book. (Maybe his mother was a Jones.) He called it a total fake, "about as valuable as opening the telephone book and making a list of all the Jones people in it." A full 33 of 35 people found the review helpful, even though I don't believe the man had even seen the book.

I thought the more honest reviews were more helpful. Negative reviewers noted that some of the content was not surname specific, the book was smaller than anticipated and the surname information was generic. I take this to mean they hoped to find genealogical information, at least some of which was specific to their line. I believe these statements will help set proper expectations for prospective buyers.

One positive reviewer stated, "According to my Grandmother, the book is great. She is almost finished with it and she got it yesterday." Another gave it 5 stars, calling it a "fine book." (However, both reviewers added they would have liked more specifics.) I think the books are lovely and could make great Christmas gifts. I intended to do so until Ancestry Press came along and gave me the ability to publish my own, family-specific books.

Message Board Links

In February this year Ancestry added links to Family Facts from the joint Ancestry/RootsWeb message boards. The large number of "false positives" have caused a great number of complaints about the feature. Apparently, the feature works by comparing all words in the post against a word list. While Ancestry has made improvements, the feature still has problems and is still disliked by most users.

Surprisingly, the surname links are not provided for the surnames specified for the message. For example, in a message on the Sider message board, the author specifies 3 surnames: Sider, Riley and Cadwell. Links are not provided in the surname list nor is the list used to disambiguate given and family names in the message body. This is just one example of how, in my opinion, Ancestry is missing a big opportunity to provide genealogical specific features in its message boards that would distinguish them from the generic messaging systems available from Yahoo, Google and others.

But that's a subject for another time.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Possibly Fraudulent Genealogy Websites

Mike Ward, PR Director for and parent, the Generations Network, warned the public today of websites targeted to the genealogical community with alleged fraudulent intentions. Said Ward, "from what we can tell, these sites are nothing more than a series of web pages with links to other services. These sites, in our opinion, are clearly fraudulent."

According to Ward, "it appears the site colors, fonts, and pictures on at least one site are designed to mislead people into believing the site is related to"

Judge for yourself. Below you can see the and websites side-by-side. Home Page Home Page
Notice colors, flags, trees with free family tree offer, photos and more. Home Page Home Page
with pop-up showing flag links to other Ancestry websites.

The names of the other two websites mentioned, and could possibly cause confusion among consumers.

The full text of the announcement can be read on the Ancestry Blog.

FamilySearch Not Affiliated With Texas Polygamists

FamilySearch parent, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church), released a statement today praising U.S. media outlets for properly distinguishing between the "13-million-member international Church" and the small polygamous sect raided by Texas officials late last week. The statement noted that international news outlets haven't done as well, not always understanding that the two churches are separate and at odds with one another.

Confusion is understandable, given that the polygamists' call themselves the "Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" or Fundamentalist Mormons. The Church notes in a November 2006 press release that the Associated Press Stylebook specifies that the term Mormon should be applied exclusively to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The term Mormon is so closely linked with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Mormon missionaries, Mormon temples and members of the Church, that it causes confusion and offense when the term is applied to other religious groups such as the Texas sect.

With the statement today, the Church released two video clips reiterating that it has no affiliation whatever with polygamy or polygamous groups, having abandoned the practice in 1890, more than a hundred years ago.

If you can't play the video below, try this link.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Expanded access to NARA records

The title read something like "Another Agreement Restricts Free Access to Public Records." I was shocked and disappointed to see such a commentary on the proposed Generations Network (TGN)/NARA agreement. The proposal does nothing of the sort. The proposal expands free access to public records.

  • The contract does not limit access to public records. Access to the original records remains unchanged. Other than your travel costs, you can still freely access these records.
  • The digitized copies of these records become freely accessible at all NARA reading rooms. This expands, not contracts, free access to these public records.
  • The contract is non-exclusive, so should the taxpayer, the government, FamilySearch or a private benefactor decide to allocate money to digitize the records, it can be done as though this agreement didn't exist. This agreement maintains free access to these records; it prevents exclusivity.
  • In all likelihood, these records will be added to the Ancestry collections available at thousands of public institutions. If this happens, it further expands free access to these public records.
  • The contract makes the digitized copies of these records freely available to everyone after five years at no cost to the taxpayer, despite the expenses TGN incurs in digitizing the records.
Illustration from the New York Times

According to the National Archives, at current rates it will take over 2,000 years to digitize all of NARA's holdings. (The New York Times) We need this agreement and the similar agreements with other vendors. This proposed agreement is a definite win for the public. TGN and the other vendors are hoping that during the five years the digitization costs can be recouped. If they can, it will be a win for the vendor as well. I'm hoping it will be a win for these commercial firms or five years from now they will pull out.

Public comments on the proposal must be received by 9-April-2008. If you support the proposal, please visit If you oppose the agreement, please proceed to the end of the Internet ;-).

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Future of PAF

As my previous posts have sparked some online discussions that may have propagated misinformation regarding the future of PAF, I feel like I need to share the exact wording of the statement from Gordon Clarke, FamilySearch Third Party Product Manager, given at the FamilySearch Developers Conference and the BYU Computerized Genealogy Conference.

At these two conferences Clarke read a statement that he characterized as official and explained he would read it word-for-word so he would not get it wrong. Afterwards Clarke e-mailed the text of the statement to third-party developers, stating that "FamilySearch has updated it[s] 2008 Messaging to include 'The Future of PAF'."

I've inserted some commentary, which is not indented.

The Future of PAF

Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is a free genealogy software program offered by FamilySearch. PAF has amassed millions of users since its introduction in 1997. Over the years, many other genealogy software programs have been introduced by commercial companies. Most of these programs offer additional features while often supporting the GedCom and PAF file formats.

The last major release of the program was PAF v5.2 in 2001. Since then, FamilySearch has been developing a web-based genealogy system that will allow the general public to create, search, manage, and share their family histories completely online. This online system will also replace TempleReady, a software program used exclusively by Latter-day Saints to prepare records for temple ordinances. The first phase of the new system (referred to as New.FamilySearch) is being rolled out to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Once the system is complete, it will be available for free to the general public and in multiple languages.

For more information about New FamilySearch (NFS), see the several posts I have made about it. Note that "system complete" is defined by this statement to be the point in time when New FamilySearch is released to the general public. NFS will be a much advanced system compared to the version that has previously rolled out to members of the Church.

Today, users of NFS will definitely need to continue using PAF or one of its competitors. NFS isn't set up to handle the living people in your file. It doesn't allow multimedia content. It doesn't allow export. It doesn't allow private content or temporary-working data. The system for inputting and saving sources needs to be overhauled and in my opinion there's a risk that any work you do with sources now may have to be redone in the future.

PAF does not currently support two way data transfers to the new online system. However, data in PAF can be exported to the new online system by creating a GedCom file of the PAF data and then importing the file into new online system. In the future two way data transfers between PAF and the new online system will be accomplished via a third-party add-on utility.

Two points here. First, many have pointed out that one should not and can not currently export one's entire PAF database and import it into the current release of New FamilySearch. Doing so can create "Individuals of Unusual Size," which bog down the performance of the current system. Engineers are currently addressing this problem, so this restriction is temporary.

Second, third-party developers are working to allow two way data transfers between PAF and NFS. Ohana Software, the PAF Insight people are upgrading PAF Insight (and renaming it to Family Insight) to allow this. Ancestral Quest is also being upgraded with this capability. The two companies are collaborating on extensions to the PAF file format to make this seamless.

While Ohana's offering presupposes you will continue to use PAF 5, Ancestral Quest's product looks and feels just like you are using PAF 5 (they were the original developers of PAF for the Church), so PAF users won't need to change the way they do things.

PAF users can continue using PAF until the new online system is available to them. Once the new system is available, PAF users will have several options available to them:

Remember that "system complete" refers to a much more mature version of NFS than the current release. FamilySearch spokespeople give assurances that PAF will be supported for a very long time. You can continue to use it, and the Church will assist you with its support department for the foreseeable future.

1. Upload their current GedCom file one time and thereafter work exclusively from the new online system.

While upload of entire GEDCOM files is currently not allowed, we're speaking of a future time when this restriction no longer exists.

2. Continue using PAF and exporting any new data via a GedCom file to new online system. This option will require any data that is added to the new online system by others, to be manually entered back into your PAF if you want to have that information on your computer.

Many of you have expressed a desire to continue to use PAF for the remainder of your sojourn on this earth. This option is for you, particularly if you've been burned so many times importing GEDCOMs of other people's garbage that you'd just as soon type new information in by hand. There's a lot to be said for this level of control over your PAF file.

3. Purchase a third-party add-on utility for PAF that enables data transfers between PAF and the new online system, or

If you've grown comfortable with PAF Insight, this option is for you. Continue to use PAF and PAF Insight as you do now. A future upgrade of PAF Insight will work with the NFS instead of the IGI.

4. Purchase a third-party full-featured software program that supports automatic data synchronization with the new online system.

Bugs in PAF are not being fixed. You should really consider one of the third-party software programs. I've already mentioned Ancestral Quest allows you to continue using your PAF files and the PAF way of doing things. Once this point in time comes, I'm sure you'll be able to try out free versions of these programs at Family History Centers. Did I hear that Legacy will include NFS support in its free, entry-level offering? Don't short-change yourself by not learning about the time-saving features that have been added to PAF's competitors.

There are benefits for users who wish to use both the new online system and one of the full-featured software programs. These programs will allow users to:

1. Work offline and then enable genealogical data to be automatically updated and reconciled with the online system.

2. Maintain a working copy of your genealogy file on your own computer hard drive, and

3. Use additional or advanced features that will not be offered in the online system.

The decision is much easier for those who are just beginning their family history and those who do not have an electronic file of their family history—they will simply be able to build their family histories completely online. No other software will be needed.

You don't have to rush into a decision. It will take many, many months before NFS is released to the general public. During that time, many, many bugs will be worked out of these third-party offerings. The NFS support in these programs will be demonstrated at conferences, user groups and family history fairs.

Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Developers Conference Presentations

Presentations from last month's FamilySearch Developers Conference have been posted online. Be forewarned; these are mostly of a highly technical nature. I'll explain non-technically some of it in future columns.

Friday, April 4, 2008 Reverses Forced Migration Policy

The 2.0 Beta LogoThe team at the Generations Network (TGN) today announced a reversal of their decision to force users to migrate from the tried and true 1.0 websites to a new version, dubbed 2.0. Previous migration announcements worried long-time users who felt the new offering lacked necessary features, or was too hard to learn.

In a letter sent to users today, said, "As of today, we will continue support for 1.0 and have no plans to require migration of 1.0 sites to 2.0." Full text of the announcement can be found on the Official MyFamily 2.0 Blog.

TGN hired Michael Graff in September 2005 to head their business unit. Graff was a 14-year veteran at Microsoft and lived in the greater-Seattle area. In early 2006 TGN announced the establishment of a Bellevue office to "enhanc[e] the existing product," said at the time to have more than 3 million users. Most of 2006 seems to have been focused on SnapGenie, a technology acquired by TGN. was announced broadly in September 2006.

The first 2.0 beta rolled live in early December 2006. The features were photos with descriptions, stories, notes and invitations. The next big release came at the end of January 2007 adding comments, voice notes, story sharing and photo sharing. In March they added news calendar, member list, avatars and albums. (See timeline.) And announced the migration plan that would ultimately move everyone off 1.0. announced the release of an enhanced 2.0 beta in October 2007. This table compares 1.0 and 2.0 feature sets.

Comparison of 1.0 and 2.0 features

A January 2008 post on the MyFamily blog indicated the migration from 1.0 to 2.0 was taking longer than expected and the transition period would extend into 2008. Then the blog fell silent.

Michael Graff's LinkedIn profile indicates that he left in March 2008. No announcement was made of his departure, but in his keynote address at the BYU conference, TGN president Tim Sullivan indicated membership had fallen to 1.8 million. On 25-March-2008 a post on the MyFamily blog titled "Getting back on track" started off by saying "Obviously it's been a while since we've had a fresh post here on the blog."

Now, less than 2 weeks later comes the announcement that mandatory migration will no longer be required. This is more than 2 years after spending on 2.0 began.

While I'm not privy to all the thinking behind MyFamily 2.0, I know that 1.0 is built on really old technology that none of the techies in the company want to touch, fearing it is so brittle it will easily break. I believe the decade old code had to be rewritten, but I believe TGN approached it the wrong way.

I'm a big believer in the philosophy behind Baby Steps, the fictitious book from the movie What About Bob. Paul Allen quotes several industry luminaries in his latest blog entry that illustrate my belief that fast incremental advancements and small incremental changes are better than large changes that take a long time.

TGN and users would have been better served with incremental rewrites of the 1.0 code. Make the gradual rewrite transparent to users. You don't have to replace the entire website. You can introduce improvements and new features incrementally.

When I started work at TGN, a similar process appears to have been in process with the site. Parts of the site were implemented in the same old technology as the 1.0 site (internally called Warp). Parts of the site had apparently been rewritten in Microsoft ASP technology and plans were already underway to eventually move to ASP .NET.

Over several years the parts of on Warp have been upgraded to the latest technology transparently to users. This has made it possible to improve the website while the 1.0 website has sat largely static.

The jump from 1.0 to 2.0 is too gigantic, leading many 1.0 users unlikely to make the leap. Meanwhile, the inability to make changes to the 1.0 code-base has left unable to compete effectively against other social networking websites.

As I say, I don't know the plans behind But in my opinion, they should start the incremental rewrite and upgrade of the 1.0 site. When they get it far enough, they may still be able to salvage much of their investment in 2.0 by applying it to the incrementally rewritten 1.0 site.

Baby steps. Baby steps.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

PAF, NFS and the Princess Bride

[With apologies to Rob R.]

Princess Peanut Buttercup had a dream of writing a new story, uniting all the families in the kingdom.

"Inconceivable," responded Vicinity.

"As you wish," responded Gentley. You see, Gentley believed in Princess Peanut Buttercup's dream of the New Family Story.


..........."Wait a minute," the little boy said. "This isn't a genealogy story, is it? Old, dead people are boring."

"Who's telling this story?" complained Grandpa Columbo. "I told you this was an exciting, action story with giants and duals. Now, may I go on?"............


"As you wish" was all Gentley ever said to the princess. And while he was starry-eyed in love with her, Gentley genuinely believed in Princess Peanut Buttercup's dream of the New Family Story. He set out to visit all the families of the kingdom. He roamed far and wide, across the Sea of Shrieking Eels and over the Cliffs of Insanity. One day he was confronted by an opera singer.

"Hello. My name is Iggy Mon Toyota. You knew my father. Prepare to write." He drew his pencil and the two began furiously writing.

"You're amazing," Mon Toyota said, "But there's something I have to tell you. I'm not left-handed."

"I'm not left handed either!" responded Gentley. "For crying out loud! Why are we using our left hands?!" They switched to their right hands and quickly finished the story of Mon Toyota's father. Gentley knew he had found a friend and companion to help write the New Family Story.


Five long years passed. Buttercup and Gentley stood on the crest of a hill, overlooking the kingdom.

"Let the roll-out of New Family Story begin," announced Princess Peanut Buttercup, giving Gentley a strong hit on the back. Slipping, Gentley began rolling down the tall, steep hill.

"As you wish," hollered Gentley, his voice disappearing into the ravine.

"Oh, my Gentley!" Buttercup shouted. Then she joined Gentley in the New Family Story roll-out.


"Combining the stories of all the families of the kingdom!? Inconceivable!" Vicinity announced confidently.

"You're only saying that," Gentley responded, "because no one has ever done it before."

"You'll never succeed," continued Vicinity. "You'll perish in the fire swamp."

"Nonsense. We had too many plot points and had to eliminate the fire swamp."

"No fire swamp?! Inconceivable! What about I.O.U.S.'s?" asked Vicinity.

"Individuals of Unusual Size? I don't think they really exist." Gentley had no sooner spoken when Physique the Giant blocked their path.



News of the suspension of the roll-out soon reached the far corners of the kingdom. Something would have to be done about the I.O.U.S.'s before rolling out to the Wasatch Front.

"With Personal Account Facility we could defeat the I.O.U.S.'s!" announced Mon Toyota.

"What? The predecessor to New Family Story?" replied Gentley. "Maybe if you had a wheelbarrow, that would be something. But isn't Personal Account Facility dead?"

"It just so happens that Personal Account Facility is only MOSTLY dead," said Miracle Max Clarke. "There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do... Go through his pockets and look for GEDCOMs."


Soon Personal Account Facility was alive again and kicking. Physique and the other I.O.U.S.'s were resting well and dreaming of large women. New Family Story was rolling out to the rest of the kingdom.

"Gentley, we did it!" Buttercup yelled as she threw her arms around her beloved Gentley.

"As you wished," Gentley replied, returning her embrace and sealing it with a kiss.




........... "Grandpa," the little boy said, "maybe you could come over again tomorrow night and tell me our family story."

"As you wish," answered the Grandpa.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

April Fools Followup

I've heard that some of you were never able to see your search results in yesterday's 1890 Census Recovered article, perhaps deciding that that was an April Fools joke and giving up. If that happened to you, try clicking this link to go online and retry your search on my website. If the Search button still doesn't work, try the Search link next to it.

Reaction to the article was mixed. AnonymousFHC wrote,

You got me. It took me a couple of reading before I caught on and then I rolled on the floor with delight.

Bruce M., a college composition teacher, thought the article was "not very original or creative." (Weird! That's exactly what my college composition teachers said about my writing!)

Robert Baca, president of the New Mexico Genealogical Society (and a secondary school teacher who obviously appreciates good writing) thought he could use the article creatively.

I sent this to the New Mexico Genealogical Society Board. I can't wait to see their reaction. [I may] soon ... be ex-president of NMGS.

Award winning blogger, Randy Weaver, had rashly promised his wife he'd stop blogging when the 1890 Census was discovered intact. Oops. Sorry about that, Randy.

Now I have a little matter to confess. Everything before the heading "Complete Recovery" was true. Click on the first reference to see the National Archives Prologue article by Kellee Blake that I used as my source. The other references in my article bear the same number as those in Blake's article.

Perhaps the remainder of the article was... political positioning and not representative of my actual beliefs. I'm sorry. The 1890 Census population schedules have perished.

But I.N.S.A.N.E. and I have found the 1890 Census punch cards, which I'll post next April Fool's day!!! ;-)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

1890 Census Recovered!

April 1, 2008, Provo, UT — The Ancestry Insider is pleased to announce on this special day the recovery of the Eleventh Census of the United States (1890).

The 1890 Census was previously thought to have perished by fire(1). In March 1896 the census had its first brush with fire, which destroyed many of the non-population schedules. The population schedules were reported to be in "fairly good condition." (7)

Fire damage from the 1921 fire
Damaged records from the 1921 fire.
Photo courtesy NARA.

On 10-January-1921, fire took another punch at the 1890 census. This time the fire destroyed 25% of the schedules and damaged another 38%, leaving about 37% undamaged. (12) The records were moved from the basement of the Commerce Building to a storage warehouse.

After 1922 history becomes sketchy regarding the disposition of the census. In 1932 it surfaced in an inventory of items proposed for destruction, which Congress authorized in February 1933. No definitive record exists concerning its destruction. While a small scribbled note purports the destruction of the 1890 census in 1934 (25), at least one report states the census was still extant at the beginning of 1935.

It was shown in 1942 that the census had at least partially survived when some Illinois schedules were discovered during a Census Bureau move. (26) Further portions were discovered in 1953 (M407).

Complete Recovery

Exactly 20 years ago, on 1-April-1988, the National Archives Ruined Census Schedule Transfer Imaging Company (NARCISTIC) was founded with the express goal of tracking down the remaining portions of the 1890 Census. The company had just about given up all hopes of accomplishing its goal when it discovered a little known branch of the Department of the Interior. Curators at the Institutional National Secret Archives for the Non-Existent obtained special permission for NARCISTIC researchers to search its extensive Spanish-American war collection. About this time last year NARCISTIC researchers discovered mislabeled boxes containing the 1890 Census population schedules, but INSANE External Secrecy Policy prevented announcement of the momentous discovery.

For the last year INSANE personnel have digitized and indexed these priceless records. The Ancestry Insider's familiarity with E.S.P. led to his discovery of the project. While E.S.P. prevents direct disclosure by INSANE staff members, it does not prevent the Insider from accessing INSANE websites, allowing the general public to search the complete 1890 Census for the first time!

Search the 1890 Census

To search the 1890 census, enter a name below and click Search.


(1890 U.S. Federal Census Courtesy INSANE. All Rights Reserved. Copyright April 1, 2008.)