Tuesday, September 30, 2008

FamilySearch Investment Presets

WARNING: This article is largely off topic. If you don't want to learn about FamilySearch employee investment options, stop reading now.

In the news we hear of investment companies going under because of bad mortgage loans. Democrats blame republicans for decreasing regulatory oversight. Republicans blame company CEOs and are taking steps to prevent CEOs from escaping with golden parachutes. The Dilbert cartoon strip for 10 June 2008 is eerily prophetic of the current news. The individual shown at the podium is the company CEO.


FamilySearch 401 K Preset Options

My mom always taught me, never invest any money in stocks that you can't afford to lose. Mutual funds mitigate some of the risk, but not all of it. Risk is lowered by diversifying. No asset class does well in every economic environment. And in bad economic times, not all asset classes do as poorly as the worst performers. Risk is also lowered by staying in the market long term. Downturns have always been temporary, and if you can wait them out, the stock market as a whole does well over longer time frames. Bond funds don't spike as high or as low as stock funds. In general, the greater the possibility for gain in a particular asset class, the greater the possibility for loss. The risk for large gains or large losses of large-cap, mid-cap and small-cap stocks are medium, higher and highest, respectively.

FamilySearch employees are offered a 401K plan with several different preset mixes. I've eliminated the percentages from the FamilySearch preset mixes, since they might be considered propriety information. But I'd like you to see the general breakdowns shown by the pie charts below.

WARNING: The information contained herein is for educational and comparison purposes only and may not apply to your individual financial situation. You should consult with your own financial advisor before making financial decisions.

If you're within 5 years of retirement, the FamilySearch short term preset mix looks like this. The investments have lower yields, but also less risk.

Allocation strategy for 5 year term

If you're within about 10 years of retirement, you can be less conservative.

Allocation strategy for 5 to 10 year term

If you're over 10 years away from retirement, you can place even more at risk.

Allocation strategy for terms over 10 years

Employer matches for your contributions to a 401 K plan are one of the best risk mitigations. For example, if your employer matches 100% of your contribution up to $1,000 and you invest $1,000, then you've already doubled your money. The market could drop a whopping 50%--lose half its value--and you would still break even. It almost always makes sense to save up to the point where your employer stops kicking in free money.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ancestry.com's Card Catalogs

One of Ancestry.com's hidden gems is its card catalog. Today we'll look at how to get to the card catalogs, old and new. In later posts we'll explore them in more detail. From the Ancestry.com home page, first click on the Search tab.

Click the Search tab

Ancestry.com's old search and new search implement completely different card catalog experiences. We'll try them both and you can see what you think.

Old Search

The upper-right corner of the old search interface looks like the example below. You'll know it is the old search if there is a message on the upper-left (not shown below) that says "Try out the New Ancestry Search" and two links on the right-hand side labeled "Try It", which you can click to try the new search and new catalog, and "Tour", which you can use to learn about the new search.

To use the old search card catalog, look for the Search Resources box on the right-hand side and click the top link, "Card Catalog."

For old search, click Card Catalog under Search Resources

New Search

The new search interface looks like the example below. You know it is the new search because of the message near the upper-left that says "Thanks for trying the New Ancestry Search." Should you wish to switch back to the old search, click the link towards the upper-right labeled "Switch back to old search experience." To use the card catalog, in the Featured box on the left-hand side, click on "Go to the Card Catalog."

For new search, click Go to the Card Catalog in the Featured box

Friday, September 26, 2008

What is a record?

For Ancestry.com databases, sometimes we speak of database records. The concept of a record differs a little bit between database programmers and genealogists, so it would probably be a good thing to help you understand what an Ancestry.com database record is.

A record is the smallest displayable unit of a database. That seems easy enough, but let's show some particular examples.

Database Type A record is Names per record Example
Vital records One event, such as a birth, marriage or death One vital event typically names several people England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index: 1837-1983
Newspaper (images) One page Estimated The New-York Times, 15 April 1865
Book (images) One page Estimated ANZAC Memorial, 1914-1918
Folio One folio (paragraph) Estimated Virginia Colonial Soldiers
Photograph One photograph Estimated Public Member Photos
Map One map Estimated Lewis & Clark's Journey
Table-style One row One or more WWI Civilian Draft Registrations
Table and image One row One or more 1880 US Federal Census
Image with special name handling I'm not clear if it is one name or one image Not clear Who’s Who in Australia, 1921-1950 ? Yearbooks
Tree One individual One Public Member Trees


The table shows a database type of "folio." You may be aware that Ancestry.com was an outgrowth of Paul Allen's earlier company, Folio, which produced electronic books wherein the smallest searchable unit was a "folio" which typically was a paragraph. Many of the old databases from the early days of Ancestry.com give me the distinct impression they were either converted from Folio format, or Folio's technology was originally used in some fashion to publish the database on Ancestry.com.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Misadventures in Indexing

Fine. I admit it. My indexing numbers are nowhere as big as Renee Zamora's. That's not to say I don't find it as meaningful. In fact, my problem is that sometimes I find it too meaningful. Take last week. I made the mistake of taking a batch of Louisiana Death certificates. Soon I was so drawn into these people's lives, that it took all week to get one batch done.

I started on the first certificate. Cause of death? Drowning. How sad. How old was this person? A ten year old boy. Wow; that is sad. Why did someone write "refugee" at the top?

Death certificate of drowning victim

Next certificate. Also said "refugee" at the top. Cause of death? Drowning! Wait a minute. Same name? No, this one was North Hudson's five year old name sake. Same date? Yes, 8 July 1927. Both in Port Barre, St. Landry Parish. Wow. Opelousas is crossed out and Porte Barre written in. Wonder what happened.

Second certificate, 12 July 1927 in Port Barre, St. Landry Parish.

Third and fourth certificates. Also refugees who drowned on 8 July 1927. Both named Hudson. North Hudson was here again, as informant. Does that mean he had to identify the bodies?

Another two drowning victims

Fifth, sixth, seventh. All children of Delphine Thornton, ages 13, 9 and 5. All 8 July 1927 in Port Barre. Oh, my goodness. She lost three children in whatever happened.

What did happen? It didn't take very long before Google had uncovered the Great Flood of 1927. The Mississippi had overflowed her banks during the spring runoff.

1927 flood at Moreauville

The two photos, below, show Kerr's Drug Store in Port Barre early in the flooding and 13 days later.

Kerr's Drug Store 10 May 1927   Kerr's Drug Store 23 May 1927

Displaced "refugees" were evacuated to neighboring communities.

Avoyelles Parish residents fleeing to high ground

I'm still unclear of all the goings on, but the floodwaters seem to have lasted for months. On 8 July 1927 I think the levee protecting Port Barre failed. It fell to the medical examiner in Opelousas to perform the terrible last reuniting of lost family members. I found myself feeling awkward, standing in the back, an unbidden guest, witnessing this pervasively private moment.

Then I thought that perhaps, if caring members of these families ever come looking for them, my indexing will easily bring them to this very same spot, let them see what I am seeing. I will have quietly slipped out the back, letting loving family unite again across time. And grieve. And remember.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I *heart* your blog award

I *heart* your blog award People are so nice. Renee has awarded me an "I Love Your Blog" award. Thank you. And here's right back at you, Renee.

The rules for the award are:

1. Can put the logo on his/her blog

2. Must link to the person who gave the award

3. Must award 7 other blogs and link to them

4. Must leave a comment on each of the nominated blogs

I used to think that part of the service of my blog was to monitor a zillion Ancestry.com and FamilySearch related blogs so you wouldn't have to, passing the news about Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org on to you. In practice, I've found I'm too opinionated and have too much to say to spend much time in the news amalgamation role.

But I still enjoy reading all those blogs. Let me share some favorites with you. These are the blogs I check everyday. There are hundreds more that I check more infrequently, depending on their Ancestry.com or FamilySearch coverage.

I hereby award the "I Love Your Blog" award to (in alphabetical order):

  1. 24-7 Family History Circle — Owned and hosted by Ancestry.com, editor Juliana Smith is the real draw here along with regular columnists: George G. Morgan, Michael Neill, Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, Maureen Taylor, Paula Warren and Sherry Irvine. Also a good weekly wrap-up of new databases on Ancestry.com.
  2. All Things Kendall and Caroline — Ancestry.com director of product management Kendall Hulet and wife Carolina. She's a hoot. As for Kendall, he better keep his day job.
  3. Ancestry.com Blog — With a catchy title like that, you know it's the official, corporate blog.
  4. Ancestry.com Recent Genealogy Databases — This is a news feed version of Ancestry's What's New page. Why they don't offer an RSS feed of that page is beyond me. But someone figured out how to create one from the page.
  5. Arlene H Eakle's Genealogy Blog — Professional researcher. Pragmatic. Straight shooter. Knows her stuff. Often mixes in some good, western, rural philosophy.
  6. Cyndi's List — It's been forever since she posted, but it's nice to see news once and again about Cyndi's famous list.
  7. DearMYRTLE — DearMYRTLE, aka Pat Richley is a noted author, lecturer and genealogist. Her blog is an excellent news source. She's well connected in the industry. She's a great teacher and has a gift for mentoring. Her grandmotherly byline aside, "Myrt" is a technical pioneer, taking genealogy into emerging technologies from Q-Link, AOL and chat rooms to Internet radio, podcasting and the Second Life virtual world.
  8. DNA Ancestry.com — How does DNA get away with their own blog when everyone else has to use the corporate one? Don't ask; don't tell.
  9. Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter — The Johnny Carson of genealogy bloggers, he was doing it before it had a name.
  10. FamilySearch Labs Blog — "Future Tools to Dig Up the Past." Official FamilySearch blog.
  11. Genea-Musings — I want to be Randy Seavers when I grow up. I used to think that he could read my mind, because every time I thought of a good article subject, he'd write about it the next day.
  12. Genealogy and General Subjects Blog — She had me the minute she used "genealogy" and "gadgets" in the same sentence.
  13. Genealogy Insider — by Diane Haddad, et. al. Talented writers, all. I was devastated when I didn't make her top seven. <sniff>
  14. Genealogy Roots Blog — News about online vital records.
  15. Leland
  16. Megan's Roots World — While she's mostly over in Facebook-land, she occasionally comes back to the blog-o-sphere to update us.
  17. Nate Skousen — The Generations Network employee blogger. "I love my job." Go Nate!
  18. Paul Allen (the lesser) — Not a genealogy blog, per se, but Internet entrepreneurship. Founder of MyFamily.com/Ancestry.com. Thoughtful. Low quantity, high quality. Just the way I like it.
  19. Renee's Genealogy Blog — New FamilyLink/WorldVitalRecords.com employee. Excellent source for Utah Valley and LDS genealogy news. If the product managers for New FamilySearch and FamilySearch Indexing aren't hanging on every word of her "Adventures" series, they should be.
  20. Rootdig — Michael John Neill's genealogy site. Researcher, author and speaker.
  21. RootsWeb Newsroom — Official RootsWeb.com blog. Sorry—RootsWeb.Ancestry.com—blog.
  22. Shoebox Genealogy — Professional Salt Lake genealogist. Makes me so mad, I could spit. Subtitled "Genealogy with an attitude." That's putting it mildly.
  23. Taking Genealogy to the Common Person — Dan Lawyer, Product Manager at FamilySearch.
  24. The Genealogue — The Dave Barry of genealogy bloggers, Chris doesn't know it, but he gave me my first big break. My numbers were inconsequential until he quoted a story I published.
  25. Think Genealogy — "Mark Tucker is a software architect by day and a family historian on as many nights and weekends as possible."
  26. Upstate New York Genealogy Blog — Dick Hillenbrand is reason enough, but I'm also working a dead-end in, you guessed it, upstate New York.
  27. Utah Valley PAF Users Group - Press Releases — If you live in Utah Valley, a subscription will remind you of what's coming in the next meeting. If not, hope for one of Renee's detailed minutes/reports of past meetings.
  28. What a WONDERFUL Thing to live Today! — Someone who hopes to be a FamilySearch Missionary doing book scanning at Allen County Public Library. Very infrequent posts.

I guess I exceeded seven a little. Hey, at least it was a multiple.

Judging from the sudden eruption of high-school quality acne on my face, I've got a reunion to attend this weekend, so it may be a day or so before I fulfill requirement number 4. Can you do a favor for me? If you check out any of these blogs, leave them a comment. Mention I sent you and tell them they're winners in my book.

Meanwhile, I have some awards of my own to collect. Most hair loss... Most weight gained... Most likely to be laughed at...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Eric Shoup, of eBay, now Ancestry.com VP of Product

Eric Shoup, Former General Manager for eBay Stores, Joins The Generations Network as Ancestry.com's Vice President of Product

Management Leader to Play Key Role in Bay Area Growth of Ancestry.com


PROVO, Utah, Sept. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- The Generations Network (TGN), parent company of Ancestry.com, today announced the hiring of Eric Shoup as vice president of product for the Ancestry.com business unit. As a new management leader, Shoup will be responsible for the product strategy, product definition and design for the global platform of Ancestry.com, the world's largest online family history resource. He will lead the product management and user interface design teams. Bringing more than 15 years of product marketing and general management experience, he will be based in the company's San Francisco office.

"We're thrilled to have Eric Shoup join Ancestry.com during this time of accelerated growth," said Andrew Wait, senior vice president and general manager of family history for Ancestry.com. "Eric is key to the continued expansion of Ancestry.com and to our company's increasing presence in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. His impressive background and strong leadership skills make him the best person to lead this effort while nicely complimenting our team in Utah."

Prior to joining TGN, Shoup was at eBay for five years, where he focused on growing several of eBay's growing businesses, most recently as the general manager for the eBay Stores and ProStores business units. In a previous position, Eric assembled and led eBay's first global mobile product team. During his eBay career, Shoup also played key product leadership roles over different areas such as eBay Stores, Shipping and Merchandising.

Prior to eBay, Shoup drove key product marketing and management initiatives at Commerce One, a leading provider of global e-commerce solutions for businesses. While at US Interactive, Shoup designed and managed consumer ecommerce and marketing Web sites for established companies such as Lexus and Wellcome Supermarkets (Hong Kong).

As a new member of the management team, Shoup will work closely with a strong team of professionals in Ancestry.com's new San Francisco office, including Cheyenne Richards, recently promoted to vice president of marketing and a former executive with Avenue A Razorfish, as well as co-workers recently hired from Yahoo, Apple, Organic, CNET, Zenith Optimedia and Expedia.

About the Ancestry Global Network

The Ancestry global network of family history Web sites is wholly owned by The Generations Network, Inc. It consists of nine Web sites -- http://www.ancestry.com/ in the U.S., http://www.ancestry.co.uk/ in the UK, http://www.ancestry.ca/ in Canada, http://www.ancestry.com.au/ in Australia, http://www.ancestry.de/ in Germany, http://www.ancestry.it/ in Italy, http://www.ancestry.fr/ in France, http://www.ancestry.se/ in Sweden and http://www.jiapu.cn/ in China. Ancestry members have access to 7 billion names contained in 26,000 historical record collections. Tree-building and photo upload are free on all Ancestry websites. To date, Ancestry.com users have created more than 7 million family trees containing 675 million profiles and 11 million photographs. Nearly 5.4 million unique visitors logged onto Ancestry.com in July 2008 (comScore Media Metrix, Worldwide).

SOURCE: Ancestry.com

CONTACT: Sara Black of PainePR, +1-213-996-3812, sblack@painepr.com, for

Web site: http://www.ancestry.com/

Bravo Ancestry.com

Yesterday afternoon Kenny Freestone of Ancestry.com announced that yesterday evening their tree serivce would be down for about 30 minutes. (See Ancestry Trees Service Will Be Down Tonight) What's notable is not the service interruption but the fact that they told us about it beforehand. When I was at Ancestry I stuck my neck out a couple of times and announced here on these pages a planned outage.

I don't think Ancestry.com was ever opposed to you knowing about planned outages, I just think that prior to their blog, they just had no easy way of informing you. And perhaps because there was no easy way of informing you, product managers weren't in that mode of thinking.

My how times have changed since I started this blog--desparate for candid vendor/market communications. Bravo, Ancestry.com

NFS Rollout Update for 16-Sep-2008

It's late, so I'll make this quick.

I've updated the map and tables for this week's changes. See Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch.

Here's where we stand outside the U.S. and Canada

  • Europe: Complete, including England!
  • South America: Complete. New FamilySearch rolled into Bolivia just as the foreign Mormon missionaries rolled out.
  • Australia/South Pacific: Just New Zealand left. At the UGA conference I kind lady from New Zealand mused whether they might be holding because of the variety of languages in use there. She's going to try and check for us and let me know.
  • Africa: Just Nigeria left.
  • Mexico: Just Mexico City (under renovation) left.
  • The Orient: No change; no word.

Here's where we stand outside the red-zone:

  • Sep 9 rolled live: Atlanta, Columbia River Washington, Louisville, St. Paul. Thanks to Mike, I got Louisville moved to the right location on the map. You can see its dot jump back and forth as the map animates.
  • Sep 16 rolled live: Denver
  • Sep 23 to roll: Saskatchewan, Seattle, Washington D.C.
  • Sep 30 to roll: Memphis, Spokane. Yesterday Renee announced that Medford Oregon would go live on this date.
  • That doesn't leave many more to do in October: Anchorage, Montreal, Oklahoma and Portland. Heck, they could all be done in a week. Or maybe it will take two.

No word yet on the red zone. When I have more time I'll share some of the thoughts I shared with the group at my session at UGA last Saturday. Thanks to all that came. It was great to be there with you. I know it was disappointing for you to find out I was some guy you'd never heard of before. No, I'm not Paul Allen, but you must admit, I'm close. <wink> <wink>

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Belfast Telegraph: What if Mormons are right?

Photograph of boxer, Harry Tracy I hesitate to share this article with you, but if you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church), you will probably enjoy it. After all, the article defends the Church's practice of gathering records and performing baptisms for the dead. Titled "What if Mormons are right and Catholics and Protestants wrong?" one could wonder if the author, Eamonn McCann, was on the verge of conversion to Mormonism.

Not likely. McCann seems to be the Howard Stern of the Belfast [Ireland] Telegraph. McCann is a pro-gay,  pro-abortion activist; anti-Catholic, anti-Protestant, radical antichrist, outspoken atheist; a prominent card carrying Socialist Workers Party member; and a left-of-the-left Trotsky-Marxist. More likely, the author's real intent is to ridicule Christianity by pointing out intolerance among Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Mormons.

Christ and Children from around the World. © 1997, IRI.
Christ and Children
from around the World.
© 1997, IRI.

Members of the Church may find the article persuasive and logical, even entertaining. I know I did. But once I was aware of McCann's beliefs, I re-read the article. Now I find it petty and baiting, prejudicial and demeaning. I find it manipulative that the author draws Jews and Protestants into his world view where there is no god and religions are intolerance incarnate.

Mr. McCann, you're wrong. Intolerance is a choice God leaves up to individuals. You almost got me, but I choose tolerance.

Monday, September 15, 2008

New FamilySearch 0.94 Released

I just noticed that New FamilySearch 0.94 has rolled live! I'm on my lunch break, so I'll have to be brief.

This is nerve wracking. As I told the attendees of my presentation at the UGA conference Saturday, we (the public) should know quickly whether this release will be sufficient for any of the temples on hold to go live. I imagine notifications could go out as early as tonight. If no one in Idaho, Utah or Vegas hears anything by the end of the month, I'll be greatly disappointed.

Let me know as soon as you hear anything. AncestryInsider@gmail.com

In the mean time, to read about the changes in 0.94, go to https://new.familysearch.org and click on the tree icon on the right side under News and Updates.

Indexing Tora! Tora! Tora!

This is an inside joke for Orientals, mixing the Chinese word 'mediocre' and the Japanese 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' It was easy to cheer on both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch when I worked for Ancestry.com since Tim Sullivan continually reassured employees and the genealogy market that the two are not competitors. (One Ancestry.com employee is rumored to have asked human resources if that applied to the non-compete agreements that employees are required to sign. The employee was assured that insofar as non-compete agreements, FamilySearch is considered a competitor. I need to tell you someday about my situation, but for today's topic, I digress...)

I wondered if my multiple-competitor cheerleading days were over last week when FamilySearch reacted to Ancestry.com's indexing program announcement by issuing a statement titled, "FamilySearch Indexing is not affiliated with Ancestry's World Archives indexing program." Looking over it now, it doesn't seem quite as defensive as it did at the time. It must have been the timing, more than anything else that made it feel to me like FamilySearch was taking a hard, competitive stance against Ancestry.com.

Tim Sullivan then issued a message responding to the FamilySearch message reacting to the Ancestry.com announcement. Follow that? Anyway, apparently I wasn't the only one to interpret FamilySearch's message the way I did. Sullivan said that readers of the "message might get the impression that this is some big competition between Ancestry.com and the LDS Church."

"We definitely don't see it this way!" Sullivan again reiterated, saying there was plenty of work to go around. I hoped to include a table comparing the claims of the two organizations and my independent grade for each, but I've run out of time.

I can tell you from first hand experience that both organizations have strengths. FamilySearch used to be the undisputed leader in the genealogical industry. Its Family History Library, branch family history centers and extensive microfilming efforts put it on top. But today, when it comes to Internet genealogy, FamilySearch has been sitting on its Laurels (a little LDS inside joke, there). Ancestry.com has become the the undisputed leader in using Internet genealogy to produce profits and shareholder value. (See Making Sense via Motives.) In comparison, the FamilySearch Internet offering is mediocre. Ancestry.com has awakened FamilySearch to the possibilities for using the Internet for its motive of creating eternal families. While FamilySearch's response has been slow, its response and ongoing plan are massive.

Tora! Tora! Tora! Internet genealogy and Indexing has awoken two sleeping giants! The benefit of the "non-competition" competition between these two giants will be gigantic for genealogists.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ancestry's Mythical OneWorldConnect

Ancestry.com Dendrology 101: Ancestry's Mythical OneWorldConnect

According to one competitor's website, Ancestry.com has a tree system called OneWorldConnect. See the detail from their website, below. Sorry, guys. There is no such tree system. One wonders if they were trying to reference OneWorldTree or WorldConnect. However, OneWorldTree is, to use their terminology, an "Internet-Based Collective Family Tree" (albeit read-only). And WorldConnect is "a collection of family trees."

A competitor examines Ancestry's non-existent OneWorldConnect
A competitor examines Ancestry's non-existent OneWorldConnect

In my opinion, an example of a "Linked Family Tree" is GenCircles Global Tree and their SmartMatching. But this isn't meant to be an inventory of all Internet tree systems. Otherwise I'd take the time to show you an example of GenCircles SmartMatching for George Washington.

In conclusion, be assured that Ancestry.com has no OneWorldConnect and has no Linked Family Tree.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ancestry Member Trees

Ancestry.com Dendrology 101: Ancestry Member Trees

Ancestry.com's latest and greatest family tree system is Ancestry Member Trees, or, simply Member Trees. (I've never seen Ancestry Member Trees abbreviated as AMT, but hey, AMT and taxonomy seem to belong together. Besides, I'm capable of starting a precedent. Just look at the recent surge in usage of the phrase "but I digress" among genealogy bloggers. But I digress...) AMT was released in July 2006. AMT is a free collection of member-contributed family trees. Tree information can be modified online and accessed by web browser anywhere you have web access.

Ancestry Member Trees, pedigree view
Ancestry Member Trees, pedigree view

An AMT can be Public or Private. Private Member Trees used to be called Personal Member Trees and can only be viewed by owners and invitees. Private Member trees, however, are included in search results. While no private information is revealed, Ancestry.com allows interested subscribers to anonymously contact private tree owners to request more information.

Ancestry Member Trees, individual view
Ancestry Member Trees, individual view

After a long series of family tree systems that incremented the state of the art to a degree, I really like what Ancestry.com is doing with AMT. It's my opinion that AMT is the first online tree management software that is starting to approach the mature feature set of its desktop cousins.

With this article, we conclude our course on Ancestry.com Dendrology 101. By the way, I haven't forgotten my promise to talk about tree-based searches. Stay tuned...

Monday, September 8, 2008


Ancestry.com Dendrology 101: OneWorldTree®

OneWorldTree (OWT), like FamilySearch's Ancestral File, was an attempt to build a single, unified pedigree containing all of the people and data from Ancestry.com's records. Computers were used to identify and merge records about the same person. When it was released in April 2004 it contained all the families that could be identified in the 1930 census plus trees submitted to Ancestry World Tree (AWT) through the Ancestry.com website. Initial plans were to merge in all of Ancestry.com's records, but as time passed, I believe the only other records added were AWT trees from RootsWeb and maybe family trees from World Family Tree (WFT).

The OWT database requires an Ancestry.com subscription to use and has two different modes: classic and read-only. The classic mode allows users to clean up their view of the OWT data, adding individuals and data, choosing among conflicting parents and spouses, linking additional Ancestry.com records to individuals and otherwise fixing mistakes. However, customers' customizations were visible only to themselves. Some of the initial messaging to customers said that user corrections and additions would periodically be incorporated into the globally-visible tree, but it was later discovered that the website Terms and Conditions did not give Ancestry.com the right to do so, so this plan was abandoned.

OneWorldTree classic mode
OneWorldTree classic mode

When Ancestry Member Trees became available, the ability to make changes in OWT was removed, rendering it read-only to new users. Classic mode was retained for those customers that had previously made customizations. Ancestry.com provided a migration path so these customers could move their OWT additions into a Member Tree. As far as I know, since that time Ancestry.com has ceased improving OWT.

OneWorldTree read-only mode
OneWorldTree read-only mode; compare to classic mode

In my opinion, like Ancestral File before it and New FamilySearch's Family Tree after it, OWT suffers from unmerged-duplicates, incorrect merges, endless loops and known inaccuracies. Still, Ancestry.com is able to use it as the basis for showing users' relations to famous individuals.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Correction to previous article

Yikes! As far as typos go, I committed a doozy in the last article, Details revealed about Ancestry.com Indexing Initative. Leaving out one letter, "r", changed "free" to "fee" and reversed the meaning of the sentence. Here's what the bullet point should have said.

Active participants in Ancestry's World Archive Project

  • Have free access to original images in the project's databases.

Both Ancestry.com's World Archive Project (WAP) and FamilySearch Indexing (FSI) seem to be using identical models. Everyone gets free access to resulting extractions and indexes. Active participants in either WAP or FSI also get free access to the images. Non-active participants in either WAP or FSI can get free access to the images through thousands of local libraries (public or FHCs, respectively). Non-active participants in either WAP or FSI can have home access to the images by "joining" the sponsoring organization. WAP is sponsored by a commercial organization, so joining is a commercial act. FSI is sponsored by a religious organziation, so joining is a religious act.

Both sponsoring organization are hated by some individuals. If you hate only one of the two, volunteer with the other. When one participates in either WAP or FSI, one is effectively giving the extracted indexes and data as free gifts to humanity. If you hate both, don't even worry about volunteer indexing. Depression runs in my family, so I'm serious when I suggest that if you hate both, you should have an extended talk to someone you trust. You're probably fine. But you'll be glad you had the talk.

Details revealed about Ancestry.com Indexing Initiative

Ancestry.com announced today additional details regarding the World Archives Project, their volunteer indexing initiative, including incentives for project participants.

I never know whether to cringe or be amused when people let irrational dislike for Ancestry.com lead them to irrational conclusions. One of my most thoughtful readers and active commenters once left this doozy.

[Ancestry.com indexers] pay to be subscribers and then work for them for free. Congrats to Ancestry for finding so many suckers.

Note my comment mainly has to do with indexing for Ancestry instead of for Family Search. At least FS will have a class of indexers who get access to images in return for their work. What do Ancestry indexers get? That's right. A pat on the back and next year's subscription bill with no discount.

Ancestry.com clarified today that

  • "All indexes will remain free to the public on Ancestry.com.
  • Ancestry.com will donate copies of record indexes and images from the project to partnering government archives and genealogy societies.
  • Images and indexes from the project will be available for free to patrons at thousands of subscribing libraries across the U.S.
  • Ancestry.com will provide free advertising to partnering genealogy societies. "

Further, active program contributors will receive the following benefits:

  • Vote on which records to index in the future.
  • Have free access to original images in the project's databases.
  • Receive a 10% discount off an annual U.S. Deluxe subscription renewal or
  • Receive a 15% discount off an annual World Deluxe subscription renewal.

To be classified as an active contributor one must index a minimum of 900 records per quarter. As the term record is somewhat ambiguous, I'm not certain if this means 900 record batches, 900 names or something else.

[Also see the follow up to this article.]

The full text of the press release follows:

Ancestry.com Introduces the World Archives Project to Preserve and Provide Online Access to Historical Records

Philadelphia – Sept. 4, 2008 – Ancestry.com, the world's largest online family history resource, today launched the World Archives Project, a global public indexing initiative designed to give individuals everywhere the opportunity to help preserve historical records. The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) is the first organization to partner with Ancestry.com during this beta phase of this new venture, enlisting genealogists and family history enthusiasts to help test the software and prepare it for a more public release.

Now in public beta, the World Archives Project allows individuals to transcribe information from images of original historical records and to create indexes that will remain accessible for free on Ancestry.com and on Ancestry's localized sites in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Sweden, and Italy. Active contributors* will soon be able to access all original images that are part of the World Archives Project. Organizations can also partner with the World Archives Project and sponsor indexing projects. Ancestry.com will donate a digital copy of the sponsored index and images back to partnering organizations.

"As a global society, we are falling further and further behind when it comes to digitizing historical records," said Tim Sullivan, president and CEO of The Generations Network, parent company of Ancestry.com. "The World Archives Project allows us to work collectively as a community to preserve and to digitize records that will otherwise surely be lost to the wear and tear of time. By providing free access to these indexes on the world's most popular family history website, we will provide millions of people with access to records that might help them unlock new clues about their ancestors."

Already, several thousand individuals have joined the World Archives Project private beta, indexing Wisconsin Mortality Schedules and Nebraska State Censuses. Participants provided feedback and recommendations for this public beta release.

"We are thrilled to be a part of this cause and to help spread the world about this new initiative," said Wendy Elliott-Scheinberg, president of FGS. "The World Archives Project is a great way for enthusiasts and genealogical societies to directly impact and further family history research."

"FGS has been enormously helpful in the development of our vision for the World Archives Project," said Sullivan. "The 500+ genealogy societies that FGS represents are absolutely critical to the continued health and growth of genealogical research. We've been searching for years for the right way to partner with genealogy societies, and we think this project will allow us to help them attract new members by leveraging the popularity of Ancestry.com. We appreciate the encouragement and support FGS provides and look forward to continuing our relationship as this project marches forward."

For more information about the World Archives Project or to get involved, visit www.ancestry.com/worldarchivesproject.

*Specific guidelines must be met to be considered an active contributor. For more information, visit http://landing.ancestry.com/wap/learnmore.aspx.

About Ancestry.com

With 26,000 searchable databases and titles and nearly 3 million active users, Ancestry.com is the No. 1 online source for family history information. Since its launch in 1997, Ancestry.com has been the premier resource for family history, simplifying genealogical research for millions of people by providing them with many easy-to-use tools and resources to build their own unique family trees. Ancestry.com is part of The Generations Network, Inc., a leading network of family-focused interactive properties, including http://www.myfamily.com/, http://www.rootsweb.com/, http://www.genealogy.com/ and Family Tree Maker. In total, The Generations Network properties receive nearly 7.5 million unique visitors worldwide (© comScore Media Metrix, July 2008). To easily begin researching your family history, visit http://www.ancestry.com/.

About FGS

The Federation of Genealogical Societies links the genealogical community by serving the needs of its member societies, providing products and services needed by member societies, and marshaling the resources of its member organizations. FGS was founded in 1976 and represents the members of more than 500 genealogical societies. FGS links the genealogical community by helping genealogical societies strengthen and grow. To do this, FGS publishes FORUM magazine, filled with articles pertaining to society management and genealogical news. FGS also publishes an extensive series of Society Strategy Papers, covering topics about effectively operating a genealogical society.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Possible Changes in NFS 0.94 Revealed

Alert Internet watchers alerted the Insider today that FamilySearch has posted a publicly accessible document some time in the past several days titled "What's New in FamilySearch (August 2008)." As we've previously informed you, New FamilySearch (NFS) releases are tentatively aimed for the middle day of each quarter. We are now definitively into September (observant, aren't I?) without the release of 0.94.

Users and visitors to the current NFS home page know that the page contains a link to "view a list of recent updates to the new FamilySearch." Apparently, release 0.94 is now in beta testing, using a publicly available URL, so anyone who knows the URL can go to the beta website, click on the usual link and see the changes expected for release 0.94.

WARNING! Because it is a beta website, the documentation may not reflect the actual software present. And because it is a beta website, the software may change before it is officially released. But as of the time I'm writing this, which is the evening before you read it, if all goes well, which is a long shot considering I experienced a catastrophic computer failure last night. My computer is deader than a door nail. And my wonderful backup system failed as well. Fortunately, all I lost was my presentations for the UGA conference in two weeks. Yikes! But I digress...

Third Party Product Support

The first of five major changes expected is official and better support for 3rd party products. FamilySearch is serious about opening things up so that 3rd parties can put them out of business--at least the desktop genealogy software business.

I understand that FamilySearch officials have candidly told 3rd parties that they wouldn't mind if 3rd parties provided the tools, records and resources that are needed by the larger genealogical community. That allows FamilySearch to concentrate on the goals, tools, records and resources that are unique to FamilySearch and its owner, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church). I assume at the moment that means sealing the departed together into eternal families in Church temples, digitizing a vault of priceless, microfilmed records and managing their expanding army of "volunteer" indexers.

I put volunteer in quotes because FamilySearch benefits from formal assignments made by local lay clergy to individual Church members to participate in the indexing program. Formal assignments are not always necessary, however. In my experience, the satisfaction I feel when I help index is exhilarating. You feel like you are giving a gift to humanity. If you've ever experienced a serendipity in genealogy experience that convinces you that an ancestor really wanted someone to remember them, then you'll already know the feeling that I often have when I help with an indexing project. Highly recommended. Highly recommended.

Other Changes

  • When you uncombine you can show more records at a time, jump to a specific record and--here's the best part--uncombine multiple records at the same time. And if you do, all the uncombined records remain combined with each other.
  • You can not combine records if the resulting record is too large. I don't know if this is a change the limitation made in the 30 June 2008 interrim release or if is just the official release and documentation of the change made at that time. (See the release history here.)
  • You can now change your contact name. Your username is still permanent, but thank goodness you are no longer locked into the contact name you chose back when you didn't know what it was used for. Having three different names (username, contact name and real name) can be confusing, but there are good reasons to have all three. The system needs to know your real name. But for privacy and security reasons, you shouldn't share your real name or your username with others. Having a separate contact name allows you to specify just your first name. Or you can use the cool-sounding handle you used on your CB radio back in the '70s. ("Breaker-one-nine. This is Pedigree-Papa. Can anybody give me the correct 10-36?")
  • The screens used for selecting ordinances and printing Family Ordinance Requests have changed slightly. Buttons may have been renamed or moved.

Well, I'm out of time. And I've got a computer to go work over. Grrr....

Trees from Genealogy.com

Ancestry.com Dendrology 101: Trees inherited from Genealogy.com

Family Tree Maker

Logo for Family Tree Maker 2008 In April 2003 The Generations Network (then called MyFamily.com, Inc.) acquired genealogy.com and with it, a couple of family tree systems. Family Tree Maker (FTM) is a desktop family tree management program. When Family Tree Maker version 11 was released in September 2003, FTM was over ten years old. FTM 4.0 for Windows was released about August 1997. I'd like to learn a bit more about FTM's history, if anyone would like to post some comments with the information. Since Ancestry.com completely re-wrote FTM, it has been the object of considerable criticism, which I don't intend to cover here. If you feel the urge, go ahead and leave a comment.

World Family Tree

World Family Tree (WFT) Genealogy.com also gave The Generations Network its World Family Tree (WFT), a collection of user contributed family trees which it resells on CD. WFT was available by January 1997 from the Banner Blue division of Brøderbund Software. WFT Super-bundle 2, containing vols. 8-12 was released about March 1998. The latest volume is 339. I wouldn't mind someone posting some WFT history, as well.

WFT has also been a popular target for complaints by those who feel it unethical for a company to resell user-contributed pedigrees. However, contributors are clearly informed of that fact before they are allowed to submit family trees. I'm guessing that the biggest issue is the unauthorized submission of one person's work by another. I can imagine one would be quite shocked to come across one's hard work being sold by Ancestry.com without one's knowledge, permission or compensation.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ancestry Family Tree

Ancestry.com Dendrology 101: Ancestry Family Tree

In December 2001 Ancestry.com introduced Ancestry Family Tree (AFT), a free desktop family tree management program. By its appearance, I would guess that AFT, like FamilySearch Personal Ancestry File (PAF), is a derivative of Ancestral Quest. According to one website, the filename was AncestryFamilyTree.exe, it was version and it was released on 30 November 1999. I assume then, that AFT was a special version of Ancestral Quest 9.0 with extensions for Ancestry.com. AFT could upload to Online Family Tree (OFT) and Ancestry World Tree (AWT). And It could download data from AWT.

Ancestry Family Tree
Ancestry Family Tree

After Ancestry.com's parent company, the Generations Network (TGN) acquired Family Tree Maker (FTM), it dropped AFT in favor of a free version of FTM. Later, TGN eliminated its free version of FTM. A quick Google search uncovers many web pages that still have links to download AFT. These links end up on the FTM website, but on a 404, page-not-found page. Ancestry.com's product management team doesn't utilize product specifications like the ones I saw working with Hewlett Packard early in my professional career. As a result, product details such as this one are easily forgotten. I suggest that Ancestry.com redirect http://aft.ancestry.com to its latest free tree offering, Ancestry Member Trees. But I digress...

It bears repeating that AFT and FTM are Windows programs that run on your local computer. All the other family trees I've covered are online. To learn a little bit more about AFT, view this demo.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Online Family Tree

Ancestry.com Dendrology 101: Online Family Tree

Ancestry.com's Online Family Tree (OFT), released in 1999, is also a collection of user-submitted trees. OFT allows multiple participants to make online changes to your family tree. Your tree is not visible to anyone unless invited. It is not included in any search results unless you optionally submit it to Ancestry World Tree (AWT). According to the OFT web page,

Ancestry's Online Family Tree is a free service that allows you to record, preserve, and share your family tree on the Internet without any additional software. In a matter of minutes, you can enter several generations of your family in your own password-protected Online Family Tree. And if you already have a family tree (GEDCOM) file, you can import it directly into your Online Family Tree.

The Online Family Tree is the first family tree application that allows you and other family members to add, edit, or delete information in your Online Family Tree at the same time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The main, pedigree view of OFT looks like the illustration, below.

Online Family Tree (OFT)
Online Family Tree (OFT)

On 19 December 2007 Ancestry.com announced it was retiring OFT. OFT is implemented using JavaScript and is slower than molasses. It is old code, and as I've said before, old code gets brittle and hard to maintain. Ancestry.com provided a migration path to Ancestry Member Trees and gave users several months to make the transition. The scheduled time to retire OFT, March 2008, came and went with no action by Ancestry.com. If you are still actively using OFT, I would get off as soon as possible. I assume that at this point catastrophic failure of the OFT servers would be the final curtain for this product.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Ancestry World Tree

Ancestry.com Dendrology 101: Ancestry World Tree

Ancestry World Tree (AWT) is a free collection of user-submitted GEDCOMs (trees). Your tree is visible to anyone (except that living individuals in the tree are obscured). The submitter can, however, decide the number of generations that users can download from the tree, if at all. AWT can print the standard genealogical reports (visible in the links in the illustration, below). Submitters' contact e-mail is available in 'bot-proof format, or Ancestry.com subscribers can opt to restrict contact through Ancestry.com's anonymous connection service. This service hides a tree-submitter's e-mail address while still allowing e-mail exchange with interested parties.

According to the Ancestry Daily News, AWT has been available on Ancestry.com since 1997. When Ancestry.com acquired RootsWeb.com, it decided to replace the original AWT with RootsWeb's WorldConnect. While WorldConnect was released in October 1999, it was the more capable of the two tree systems. Around October 2001 the trees from the two systems were merged and WorldConnect was given the ability to wear a WorldConnect mask or an Ancestry World Tree mask, depending on the website used to access it. Either way, it is the program and the same set of trees.

Ancestry World Tree (AWT)
Ancestry World Tree (AWT)

According to RootsWeb, each tree has a unique user code that appears in the URL after the characters "db=". The user code of trees submitted through AWT begin with ":a". The user code of trees submitted through Online Family Tree consists of a colon followed by a number. The user code of trees submitted through RootsWeb do not begin with a colon.

While the Ancestry.com website no longer curries submissions to and buries use of AWT, it remains available and on the RootsWeb side is RootsWeb's primary vehicle for the free sharing of family trees. For more information about Ancestry.com's original positioning of AWT, visit the old AWT home page.

Ancestry.com Dendrology 101

The taxonomy of Ancestry.com's trees is not well known, so I thought I'd cover a little dendrology with a series of articles. The word dendrology comes, of course, from endray-ologay, which is Pig-Latin for "the study of trees." And taxonomy is Italian for "money I owe the government."

Let's begin with the general taxonomy of Ancestry.com trees. All Ancestry.com trees fall into the kingdom of "The Generations Network" (Greek for "formerly MyFamily.com, Inc."). Phylum in your documents folder. Try to pay attention in class. Tim Sullivan gives the orders. And I like to think that I am—I mean was—the genius.

In the following series of articles I'll talk about the taxonometric family of each Ancestry.com family tree.