Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fire, water, ice destroy the 1890 Census

Newspaper photographs show the fire damage Some people think the 1890 US Federal Census perished by fire. In truth, part did. Others think it perished by water. That also is true for a portion. The cold truth is a large portion perished by ice—the cold nature of government bureaucracies and the frozen vacuum that existed prior to the establishment of an agency charged with preserving the nation's historical documents.

In the lead paragraph of a set of 1996 articles in NARA's Prologue magazine, Kellee Blake noted,

Reference sources routinely dismiss the 1890 census records as "destroyed by fire" in 1921. Examination of the records of the Bureau of Census and other federal agencies, however, reveals a far more complex tale. This is a genuine tragedy of records--played out before Congress fully established a National Archives--and eternally anguishing to researchers.

Blake described the icy depth of the tragic loss in these words:

Of the decennial population census schedules, perhaps none might have been more critical to studies of immigration, industrialization, westward migration, and characteristics of the general population than the Eleventh Census of the United States, taken in June 1890.

Click to read Blake's "'First in the Path of the Firemen,' The Fate of the 1890 Population Census," Part 1 and Part 2.

If you don't want me to spoil the mystery before you read the articles, stop reading now.

If you want the short summary, continue reading.

Timeline of the 1890 Census Destruction

  • June 1890 - Eleventh Census of the United States administers the Department of the Interior. Unlike earlier censuses, originals are not kept at the local level.
  • 1 July 1890 - Enumeration was generally complete by this date. Widespread accusations of fraud arise.
  • March 1896 - Fire destroys the schedules for mortality, crime, pauperism and benevolence, special classes and portions of the transportation and insurance schedules.
  • 1902 - Establishment of the US Census Bureau.
  • 1903 - A census clerk reports the population schedules are in "fairly good condition." In subsequent years repeated requests for an archives building for their safe storage receive a cool reception.
  • 10 January 1921 - The 1890 census is neatly stacked in the basement of the Commerce Building. At about 5 pm fireman James Foster noticed smoke and called the fire department. With twenty streams of water pouring into the building, the fire was out of 9:45 pm, although fighters continuing to pour water into hot spots past 10:30 pm.
  • 11 January 1921 - While the basement vault was fireproof and (supposedly) watertight, the 1890 census was stacked outside the vault. About 25 percent were completely destroyed by the fire, but only half the remaining forms had fire, smoke and water damage. That means about 38% were undamaged!
  • 15 January 1921 - Archivists denied further access during insurance companies' examinations. Experts were ultimately unable to determine the cause of the fire. The damaged records were transferred to a temporary warehouse.
  • Subsequent months - Organizations lobbied against the destruction of the census and were assured no destruction was planned.
  • May 1921 - The records were transferred back to the census building.
  • December 1932 - The Chief Clerk of the Bureau of Census sent to the Librarian of Congress a list of items up for destruction if not of historical interest. Item 22 was the 1890 census. The Library of Congress did not indicate any items should be retained.
  • 21 February 1933 - Congress authorized destruction.
  • 1934 - According to one note at the Census Bureau, "remaining schedules destroyed by Department of Commerce in 1934 (not approved by the Geographer)."
     Note indicating 1934 destruction of 1890 census schedules
  • 1935 - According to another report, the final destruction of the population schedules of the 1890 U.S. Federal Census did not occur until 1935.

Fire destroyed 25% of the 1890 Census. Somehow, government ineptitude destroyed the rest, the undamaged 38% and the water damaged 37% that modern technology might have been able to recover. It was a fitting irony that one arm of the government laid the cornerstone for the National Archives Building on February 20th, 1933 and the following day another arm of the government authorized the destruction of the 1890 census.

Fitting, but fatal.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

FamilySearch has been busy

Of course when I'm too busy for blogging, interesting things happen. But in case you haven't seen them all yet, let me update you. I'll freely quote from others to make posting these quicker. And you can skip those you've already read.

Family Tree

Tim Cross, FamilySearch Family Tree Product Manager, last Sunday revealed the expected release date and expected features for his product. Quoting Cross:

Look for an update to the Family Tree on the week of March 17th. The update should include:

1. Submitting names to your temple list. In early testing, some patrons have confused this with submitting names directly to the temple. The operation simply puts the names on the list found under the temple tab.

2. Print Temple Ordinance Cards from the temple tab. This button generates an FOR in PDF format. In our testing, patrons recognized the term "cards" more than "Family Ordinance Request." Once you click the button, you discover that we are really printing an FOR (in PDF format) not cards. Since it's a pdf, you can print it directly or save it electronically. The FOR still needs to be taken to the temple to get cards.

3. Assigning to the temple from your temple list.

4. A link to resolve possible duplicates before submitting.

5. The ability to enter patron ordinances on-line directly. The ability to reflect patron entered ordinances is currently only available via GEDCOM upload on Note, if official ordinances are combined into an ancestor reflecting patron entered ordinances, the official ordinances rise to the top.

6. A new relationships column in the records tab for a folder. The column identifies which records have parents, spouses, and children relationships. Patrons have requested the ability to know which records have these relationships so they can move those records out. Hopefully, this feature helps.

I will update the blog when we post the update to the Family Tree. Tim Cross

New FamilySearch

The mid-quarter update for New FamilySearch (NFS) has been released. The "What's New" document at contains this information:

More LDS Church Membership Records

The system now contains the records of about 350,000 deceased members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whose records were never added into the system. You can now see these individuals on family trees and use the Search feature to find them.

Corrected Ordinance Statuses

The statuses of about 500,000 ordinances that were incorrectly listed as “In progress” now show as “Completed.” The system did not automatically update these ordinance statuses when the ordinances were done. This sometimes occurs when a user of the new FamilySearch prints a Family Ordinance Request and has the family ordinance cards printed. Then all or some of the ordinances are done in a temple that does not have the new FamilySearch. The ordinances are recorded, but it takes longer for the information to appear in the new FamilySearch.

You can continue to use family ordinance cards in any temple, regardless of whether the cards were printed using a Family Ordinance Request or TempleReady disk. Please be aware, however, that it takes extra time to update the ordinance information in the new FamilySearch when ordinances are performed in a temple that does not yet have the new FamilySearch. This situation will no longer occur after all of the temples are using the new FamilySearch.

Third-Party Certified Computer and Web Programs

To see the most current list of certified third-party software, go to

The Family Tree

The interface for the new FamilySearch is being redesigned to make it easier to use. This new interface is called the Family Tree. You are invited to preview and give feedback on the Family Tree while it is still being developed.

To see the Family Tree, go to, and click the Family Tree link. Use your sign-in name and password for the new FamilySearch to sign in. You see the same family information in the new FamilySearch and the Family Tree. Further, changes that you make in either program are immediately visible in the other.

The Family Tree does not yet have all of the features found in the new FamilySearch. For example, features that let you add new information, correct information, and print a Family Ordinance Request are still being developed. However, the Family Tree has some very useful features that the new FamilySearch does not:

  • When you open an individual’s folder, you can see the contact name of the user who has the ordinances reserved.
  • You can easily resize your family tree to show many more generations on the screen.
  • ...
  • When you display the list of your reserved ordinances, you can see whether the cards have been printed and which ordinances are done.
  • You can view the individuals in your pedigree as a list. When you first switch from the pedigree to the list, the list contains the individuals in the pedigree view. Once the list is displayed, you can sort the individuals by last name, first name, gender, birth date, birthplace, or person ID.

The Family Tree is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

To let us know what you like and do not like in the Family Tree, click the Feedback link, found in the upper right part of the screen.

Record Search (the software)

Record Search product manager, Bryce Roper, announced last Saturday the new features in version 1.5, released 18 February 2009. Quoting Bryce:

After months of planning, Record Search released a new version this week. The list below will give you an idea of some of the changes. Please go to the site and take a look.

Updated Home Page

  • The home page has been cleaned up a little for easier navigation of the information you need.
  • The map now shows the number of collections available when you hover over a region.
  • The region drop down list has been changed.

Collection Navigation

  • The list of collections is now in a single column.
  • We now identify collections that are waypoints only- no index.
  • We also identify collections that have no images.
  • We added a cleaner look and feel to user guidance.
  • [The Search form now displays the collection being searched.]

Image Viewer

  • Image navigation: previous, next, and go to buttons have been moved to the bottom of the page.
  • Images can now be rotated 90º clockwise or counter clockwise at a time.
  • You asked and we listened; now view images in full screen mode.
  • Print select area: Print only the area you want. Watch for more enhancements to this feature in the future.

Help and Feedback

The help and feedback screens have been improved for more options to get answers to your questions.

[Bryce added information about known bugs later Saturday:]

Thank you for the feedback on the new Record Search release. Your feedback has helped us identify some issues that need to be fixed, specifically issues with:

1. IE 6 displaying a 500 server error
2. Flash Player 10
3. Older versions of Windows operating system i.e.- Win 98 and ME
4. FireFox browser issues

We are working on fixes for all of these issues and will update the blog as soon as we have them fixed.

Record Search Collections

Paul Nauta, FamilySearch public affairs manager, released this information last week:

Familysearch added over 6 million new indexed records and 1.4 million new images since 5 January 2009 to its Record Search pilot (see chart below).

The West Virginia birth, marriage, and death records, and the South Dakota state censuses for 1915 and 1925 are now complete. Many thanks to the thousands of online FamilySearch Indexing volunteers who helped make these wonderful records available. See the chart below for more details. The new records can be searched for free at (Click Search Records, then Record Search pilot).

Collection Name


Digital Images


1920 United States Census



Added California

1915 South Dakota Census



New and complete

1925 South Dakota Census



New and complete

West Virginia Births



Updated – 3 new indexed counties (Brooke, Kanawha, and Upshur). Collection should now be complete.

West Virginia Deaths



Updated – 3 new indexed counties (Brooke, Kanawha, and Upshur). Collection should now be complete.

West Virginia Marriages



Updated – 3 new indexed counties (Brooke, Kanawha, and Upshur). Collection should now be complete.

Illinois, Cook County Birth Certificates




Illinois, Cook County Birth Registers





FamilySearch Indexing

Paul Nauta, FamilySearch public affairs manager, released the following information last week. Nauta does not do much to address the growing curiosity among indexers wondering why completed indexing projects do not show up immediately on Record Search. Quoting Nauta:

New Indexing Resource Guide

During the most recent update to the FamilySearch Indexing Web site, a resource guide was added under the Help tab. This page is a quick reference tool for finding answers to most indexing questions. It includes resources for indexers, arbitrators, group administrators, and stake extraction directors. It also includes language resources, such as handwriting helps for English, Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, German, and Dutch.

To find the resource guide, go to, click on the Help tab, and then click Publications.

Recently Completed Projects

(Note: Recently completed projects have been removed from the available online indexing batches and will now go through a final completion check process in preparation for future publication.)

  • Argentina Censo 1869 – Buenos Aires 2
  • Arkansas – 1920 US Census
  • Colorado – 1920 US Census
  • Connecticut – 1920 US Census
  • Delaware – 1920 US Census
  • Massachusetts 1855 State Census
  • Massachusetts Death Records 1915
  • Massachusetts Marriages 1906-1915
  • Massachusetts Marriages – Part 2
  • New Hampshire – Early to 1900 Deaths
  • Tlaxcala 1930 Mexico Census

Current FamilySearch Indexing Projects

[as of the time this was released last week.]

Project Name



Argentina Censo 1869 - Cordoba y San Luis Spanish 66%
Argentina Censo 1869 - Corrientes y Entre Rios Spanish 3%
Arkansas Marriages – Part 3 English 35%
Belgium - Antwerp Foreigners Index English 19%
Brandenburg Kirchenbücher German 38%*
District of Columbia - 1920 US Federal Census English 38%
España Lugo Registros Parroquiales [Part 1] Spanish 15%
España Ávila Registros Parroquiales Spanish 32%
Florida 1885 Census English 36%
Florida 1935 Census English 95%
France, Coutances, Paroisses de la Manche French 8%
Massachusetts - 1865 State Census English 74%
Nayarit – Censo de Mexico de 1930 English 44%
New Brunswick 1871 Census English 3%
Nicaragua, Managua Civil Records Spanish 10%
Norway 1875 Census part 1 Norwegian 4%
Nova Scotia 1871 Census English 3%
Ontario 1861 Census English 42%
Sonora – Censo de Mexico de 1930 Spanish 12%
St Petersburg Kirchenbuchduplikat 1833-1885 German 1%
Tabasco – Censo de Mexico de 1930 Spanish 10%
Trento Italy Baptism Records, 1784-1924 Italian 49%
UK - Cheshire - Church Records English 85%
UK - Cheshire - Land Tax English 13%
UK – Cheshire – School Records English 7%
Ukraine Kyiv 1840-1842 Russian 3%
Venezuela Mérida Registros Parroquiales Spanish 1%

(*This percentage refers to a specific portion of a larger project.)


Current FamilySearch Affiliate [Indexing] Projects

[as of the time this was released last week.]

Project Name



Arkansas Marriages IV English 36%
Belgique – Registres Des Décès (Français) French 14%
België - Overlijdens Registers - In het Nederlands Dutch, Flemish 16%
Bremer Schifflisten German 27%
Flanders Death Registration French, Dutch, Flemish 37%
Indiana Marriages 1882-Apr 1905 English 69%
Nova Scotia Antigonish Church Records English 54%
Ohio Tax Records – 2 of 4 English 67%
Vermont Militia Records English 18%

FamilySearch dual 2 hour outage 1st thing Tuesday

From the FamilySearch Record Search Pilot Site collection news:

23 Feb 2009 - Record images will not be available for viewing on the Record Search pilot from 12:00 until 2:00 AM, Mountain Standard time on Tuesday, 24 Feb 2009 due to scheduled maintenance. Searching of indexed records will not be affected by this outage. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

From the FamilySearch Indexing application's "My Messages" from headquarters:

Notification of Downtime

23 Feb 2009. The FamilySearch indexing image server computer will be down for maintenance from midnight tonight, February 23rd, to 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday, February 24th (MST, GMT-7). No images will be available to download during these two hours; however, you may still be able to index batches that are downloaded before midnight and submit them during this time.

By jove, do you think the two might share the same image server? It's also interesting to compare the presentation styles of the two FamilySearch groups.

Monday, February 23, 2009

With Russians invading, we left everything

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, subconscious reasoning, numeracy, vision, sixth sense, collective subconscious, dream, reincarnation, educated guess, inner voice, out-of-body journey, chance, non-mechanical reality, portent, omen or "the sheer cussed ... wonder of things."1

We call it Serendipity in Genealogy.

Serendipity in Genealogy

1909 photo of a polish family
The Insider's conception of an old 
photograph of a polish family of four.
Image Credit: LOC,3
Modifications © 2009, The Ancestry Insider

Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, last January shared an experience of genealogical serendipity in which he played a small part some years ago.2

Brother Edwin Q Cannon, Jr. … was a missionary to Germany in 1938 where he loved the people and served faithfully. At the conclusion of his mission he returned to Salt Lake City. He married and commenced his own business.

Forty years passed by. One day Brother Cannon came to my office and said he’d been “pruning his missionary photographs.” … Among those photographs he’d kept ... were several which he could not specifically identify. Every time he had planned to discard them, he’d been impressed to keep them, although he was at a loss as to why.

They were photographs taken by Brother Cannon during his mission when he served in Stettin, Germany, and were of a family—a mother, a father, a small girl, a small boy. He knew their surname was Berndt but could remember nothing more about them. He indicated that he understood there was a Berndt who was a Church leader in Germany, and he thought, although the possibility was remote, that this Berndt might have some connection with the Berndts who’d lived in Stettin and who were depicted in the photographs. Before disposing of the photos he thought he’d check with me.

I told Brother Cannon I was leaving shortly for Berlin where I anticipated that I would see Dieter Berndt, the Church leader and that I’d show the photographs to him to see if there was any relationship and if he wanted them. There was a possibility I’d also see Dieter Berndt’s sister … in Hamburg.

Amazingly, when Thomas Monson boarded the flight from Zurich, Switzerland to Berlin, one of his fellow passengers was... you guessed it... Dieter Berndt.

He sat next to me and I told him I had some old photos of people named Berndt from Stettin. I handed them to him and asked if he could identify those shown in the photographs. As he looked at them carefully, he began to weep.

He said, “Our family lived in Stettin during the war. My father was killed when an allied bomb struck the plant where he worked. Not long afterward the Russians invaded Poland and the area of Stettin. My mother took my sister and me and fled from the approaching enemy. Everything had to be left behind, including any photographs we had. Brother Monson, I am the little boy pictured in these photographs and my sister is the little girl. The man and woman are our dear parents. Until today I’ve no photographs of our childhood in Stettin or of my father.”

Edwin Cannon and Thomas Monson had experienced something not uncommonly experienced by genealogists. Little had they realized they had come into possession of the last remaining visual evidence of a couple who seemed to be calling back from the grave, saying to their children, "Remember us!"

1. Henry Z Jones, Jr., Psychic Roots : Serendipity and Intuition in Genealogy (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1993), p. 81.

2. Thomas S. Monson, CES Fireside for Young Adults, 11 January 2009, MP3 file, ( : accessed 27 January 2009), minutes 33-37, retrieve via Gospel Library, Additional Addresses, Broadcasts, Archives.

3.  The Ancestry Insider, retouch artist, untitled digital image, 2009; modification of Lewis Wickes Hine, original photographer, "Slebzak family (Polish) working on Bot[t]omley farm, near Baltimore, Md....," online image, Library of Congress ( accessed 16 February 2009), digital ID; citing call no. LOT 7475, v. 1, no. 0837[P&P]; Photographs from the records of the National Child Labor Committee (U.S.); Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540, USA.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

FTM 2009

Arnie Krauise has done a biting benchmark of FTM 2009 performance. Read the whole thing at "FTM 2009: A Comparison."

Among other performance issues, what really jumped off the page at me was how slow GEDCOM file operations were using the new, 32-bit code versions of Family Tree Maker (FTM). The old FTM 2006/16, the last 16-bit code version of FTM, read a test GEDCOM in 21 minutes. Yes, it was a big file. The new FTM 2008 and 2009 releases, which use the new 32-bit code, took a whoping 342 minutes and 312 minutes, respectively. That's between 5 and 6 hours!

Programmers usually approach file import in straightforword, easy-to-program ways. A GEDCOM file is a text file; open it with Notepad and you can read the contents. It may make little or no sense to you, but you can read it. But I digress. Since it is a text file, the programmers are reading it one line at a time. How can I say so with such confidence? Read my lips: "that's between 5 and 6 hours!"

Read, then process. Read a little more, then process. Read a little, then process. Easy to program; killer on performance. The same sector of data is redundantly read over-and-over from the disk.

Somebody at Generations Network needs to tell the developers that that kind of inefficient programming isn't going to hack it with consumers. Windows is a modern operating system with features like memory-mapped files. The test system had 2 GB of RAM, if I recall correctly. They could read the entire file into memory in a minute or two, process 100,000+ individuals from the memory buffer in five minutes or so, and be done with the whole thing in under 10 minutes.

Thanks to Randy Seaver and Hugh Watkins for pointing out the update to Krauise's review.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Solving Problems in NFS

After my post, "Solving Problems on," reader Sue Barnsley took me to task for bashing I know I must be hitting that magic, journalistic middle ground when I am accused both of bashing and brown-nosing

Maybe it would be a better characterization to say that Barnsley doesn't think I'm keeping my FamilySearch bashing commensurate. My editorial goal is to deal equally with both, after all.

But Barnsley steps up to the plate for me with some biting criticism of FamilySearch. Read on...

Dear Ancestry Insider,

It seems to me that you are always bashing Ancestry for one reason or another. I use this program all the time. Yes it is expensive, but I also have to pay for access to the BMD from Scotlandspeople it is a fact of family history work. The work that I submit to the Lords House [Mormon Temples] has to be as accurate as I am able to get it. Ancestry is decent program and helps. It is only one of the resources that I use and it is a good one. Suggestion: How about doing a spot on "solving problems in NFS".
Some topics for you to consider:
  • Duplication, do we have the right definition;
  • Junk genealogy, has NFS aided and abetted the use of junk genealogy;
  • Standardized place names, what in the world where they thinking;
    [Sue, was that pun intentional? That's worthy of an A.I. high-fi'e!]
  • Accuracy in Family history - a thing of the past; [Another good one!]
  • Combining - do we have to?;
  • Inaccurate information - why do I have to keep it;
  • Why does some information show up on the Online IGI and not NFS;
  • Does all the work appear on NFS;
  • How true is the following maxim from one of our prophets: When records are copied in an improper way and incomplete records are sent to the temples, but one thing will be the result – confusion (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 2:208) - Let's have a discussion, infact this one goes right along with Combining.
  • Will NFS be released to Idaho and Utah before the problems are fixed?
  • Family Tree: slow, cumbersome and not intuitive, but we will roll it out anyway - You will learn to love it.
  • Discussion: Some of the names found in the temple recently - Are you responsible? (Some that have made it to our temple through this program include C-1, C-2, C-3 interpreted Child 1, Child 2, Child 3)
  • Why are there no checks and balances or quality assurance built into this program?
I could go on. Programs should not be rolled out until they are tested and fixed in production, because it is difficult and expensive to fix when a program has been rolled out. Any programmer or project manager worth their salt knows that. And I guess that as long as there are members who think that NFS is the greatest thing since sliced cheese FamilySearch will continue to market this product as "wonderful" but for the rest of us, we just shake our heads in disgust and ask what in the world where they thinking.

Sue Barnsley

Dear Sue,

Don't sugar coat it like that. Tell us what you really think about the new FamilySearch. Sounds like somebody got up on the wrong side of the GED-COM!

Seriously, I have to correct your misunderstanding regarding the "Solving Problems..." article. That was not a case of bashing. The article addressed problems caused by browsers and the caching architecture of the Internet. is not the problem, so how can I bash them about it?

Don't get me wrong. I love to bash and do so whenever...

  1. I can,
  2. they need it,
  3. I can provide steps to reproduce the problem I'm complaining about, and
  4. I have a positive suggestion for fixing the problem.

But with great article titles like that, if you can back them up with articles, I'd be happy to publish them for you. Sounds like you have some good things to say. Bring it on, Sue. Bring it on.

— The Ancestry Insider

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Record Search Pilot unavailable today from 9 to 5

According to a collection news post on 16 February 2009,

ATTENTION! the Record Search Pilot will be unavailable from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM Mountain Standard time on Tuesday, 17 February 2009 for installation of new software.

The proximity of this date to the regular mid-quarter NFS release might lead one to wonder if any new features will be released. As of this moment, the site is up and running and the About box indicates the version is 1.4.200810031617.

Stay tuned?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Solving Problems

The Help page sported a special, new announcement earlier this month:

If you encounter an error page when trying to access part of the site, please try a "hard refresh." Go to and when you get the error page either press the Ctrl and F5 buttons on your keyboard at the same time, or hold down the Ctrl button and click the refresh button on your internet browser.

If you continue to experience errors after that, please try clearing your internet cache and then try accessing again.

This isn't really new news. I've said it before. And it's the first thing developers do when unexpected things start happening on the website, or the private, staging copies of the website developers use internally.

It's also not necessarily complete news. If Control-Refresh (Ctrl-F5) doesn't work, the next step you should try is exiting your browser, restarting it and then retrying what you were doing. And if you are a fan of multiple-windows, be certain to close all browser windows before restarting your browser.

It's also not completely correct news. Check the URL in the address bar. If the URL indicates you are looking at an error page, then it doesn't matter how many times you refresh the page, you're still going to get the error page. However, if the URL is normal, then refreshing the page will help. For example,

  • Here's an example where no amount of refreshes will help. Go to . The address displayed by the browser changes to Since it says "error" in the address, refresh will never help. Try hitting the back button and then Control-Refresh (Ctrl-F5).
    Refresh won't work if 'error' is present in the URL
  • Here's an example where refresh could work. Say you were to try to view my cousin Imogene's 1930 census record. If you received an error like the one shown in the illustration below, then control-refreshing might work. Notice the address is entirely normal. OK, I understand you may not have enough experience looking at URLs to know if it looks normal. But you can see that the word "error" is not part of it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Insider Out

Click for more information on the 2009 St. George Family History Expo

The Ancestry Insider is scheduled to make several public presentations in the near future. The first is at the...

St. George 2009 Family History Expo

Anybody who is anybody (Don't you hate self-referencing definitions?) will be at the St. George Family History Expo later this month, the 27th and 28th of February 2009. I'll be presenting on Saturday at 9:30 am. My topic should sound familiar to my daily readers: "Visiting the National Archives."

Never been to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.? Hankering to go? Is unfamiliarity with a new place keeping you away? In this class the Ancestry Insider shares practical tips he learned from his recent first trip. Be inspired to make that trip. (For Experienced Genealogists)

An interesting aspect of Family History Expo conferences is the drawing of door prizes. At the St. George conference prizes range from Ancestry Publishing books to a Family History Library Retreat valued at $399.

For more information or to register, visit . The early registration cost of $60 for the conference ends tomorrow, 14 February 2009. At the door the cost will be $65. Registering for just one day hardly saves you anything at $50. The syllabus is on CD. A printed copy is available for $25 plus shipping if you don't get your copy while at the conference.

While I'm out, I'd love to have you stop and say hello. Look for the short, old, plump guy with glasses, suspenders and... would you believe... yellow skin?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Record Search images unavailable Friday 12 AM to 2 AM

FamilySearch International posted a notice on their Record Search pilot website yesterday indicating that images will be unavailable on Friday the 13th (figures!) from 12:00 midnight for approximately 2:00 am Mountain Standard Time.

Text records will still be available, but images will not be available.

The Record Search pilot site contains some of the very first results from the FamilySearch Indexing initiative, although thus far there is a tremendous time lag between completion of an indexing project and availability of the collection.

To access the Record Search pilot, visit:

To access the Indexing initiative, visit:

BYU Genealogy Conferencing Triple Header

Again this year Brigham Young University (BYU) is poised to deliver a triple-header in genealogy conferencing in mid-March at the BYU Conference Center in Provo, Utah. The three are scheduled together since presenters, vendors and BYU computer science students often attend more than one of the conferences.

2009 FamilySearch Developers Conference masthead

First up on Wednesday, 11 March 2009, is the FamilySearch Developers Conference, "The Catalyst for Interconnectivity." Don't even think about attending this one unless you are a major league Web Services player or if your APIs hit last year were close to 1.0 and you've played for one of these farm clubs: Flex, PHP, Java, Dot-Net, Cocoa, Ruby, Obj.-C or equivalent. If you speak Nerd, have an idea, have the time and the inclination to code a great add-on product to New FamilySearch's Family Tree or Record Search, this is the conference for you!

Fans will not be allowed into the stadium. If you don't play ball, don't come thinking you'll glean some news about the future of the industry. Believe me, you don't want to find yourself staring across the plate at Jimmy "the framework" Zimmerman when a 95 mph presentation comes zinging your direction! Not to worry, though. I will be inside the booth covering this match-up for you.

The cost is $60 until 27 February 2009 and $80 afterwards. Students are $30.

Family History Technology Workshop masthead

Next in the lineup is the Family History and Technology Workshop, which is slated for the following day (Thursday, 12 March 2009). This conference is a forum to discuss and present the latest academic research, inventions and emerging technology relevant to genealogy. Far from just a contact hitter, this conference has some real power, following the format of an academia symposia. Awards are presented for the top student research papers. Past titles include topics generally interesting to the non-academic (such as "Progress with Searchable Indexes for Handwritten Documents") to esoterica with titles like "A Cross Cultural Comparison of Four Generations of American, Brazilian, French, and German Male and Female First Names Categorized According to Gender, Decade of Birth and Geo-Location of Birth."  No doubt that was the award winning title that year... assuming they give an award for the best title... of a paper.

This conference costs $75 for advance registration, $35 for students. More information can be found at, including slides, papers and recordings of some past presentations.

Conference on Computerized Family History and Genealogy masthead

"Building a Lasting Legacy," the Conference on Computerized Family History and Genealogy, is the cleanup hitter, the main event, the big time. This is the one you want to attend. It finishes out the week, spanning both Friday and Saturday, 13-14 March 2009. Everyone may be invited, but the stadium only seats about 600, and it sells out every year.

The conference is sponsored by FamilySearch International, the BYU History Department, the BYU Center for Family History and the BYU Center for Continuing Education. More than 50 classes hit topics for rookies to seasoned veterans, explaining the application of computers, programs, Internet and digital devices to genealogical research.

The pricing is not clear for the conference, but as I write this about 200 people have already paid it. Evening classes are $20. Last year that price was per evening; I wonder if it is the same this year? Students are $25. For more information or to register, visit , e-mail or call 1-801-422-4853.

Come if you can. But don't sweat it if you can't. I'll have all the news, as usual, afterwards.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

All a-twitter

twitter "If you aren't familiar with Twitter, it is one of those things, like MySpace, that sounds totally ridiculous and stupid when you first hear about it," says user, Eric Nuzum. Yet, millions are finding it a totally cool way to follow real time news of friends, family, coworkers, genealogy community members—even world news.

Posting messages ("tweets") on Twitter has been compared to micro-blogging, since posts are limited to 140 characters. It's not surprising, then, that many bloggers are also experimenting with Twitter. Bloggers can use tools like TwitterFeed to automatically post a notice on Twitter each time they publish to their blog. However, critics of this practice feel it is a misuse of the Twitter community, prefering that users continue to use news readers for notification of new blog posts.

Paul Allen, owner of World Vital Records, says that one of the keys to obtaining real value from Twitter is carefully choosing who to follow.

Most of the people that I follow on Twitter are not posting what they just had for lunch or what they are watching on TV. Instead, they are smart people answering the question, “What did I just learn, read or think that is important to share?” I don’t follow people on Twitter that post inane comments. But I do follow dozens of venture capitalists, employees at Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Web 2.0 startup companies and even a congressman from Texas. By carefully selecting whom I follow on Twitter, I have chosen to tap into an information stream, a constant flow of ideas and links from hundreds of the smartest (and most vocal) people on earth.

Allen appreciates the brevity of Twitter posts. With hardly more than a glance he can learn many things from many people.

Like other bloggers, I am also experimenting with Twitter, wondering what place this tool might earn in our future. You can find me on Twitter at . In addition to notification of new blog articles, I've added one other feature you won't get by coming directly to my website. Whenever adds a new database, day or night, I'll post a notification of the new database and a link to it. Can you get that from's Twitter postings? No! Can you get real-time notification of new content announcements from or her blogs? No! My Twitter posts are the only shop in town. The "tweets" on me. (Ha! It took a long time to lead up to that pun, but you had to know it was coming.)

Just don't tell Bryce, or any of the other super-programmers at One of them could code up an RSS-compliant copy of the existing webpage, , so quickly your head would spin. (Bryce can do it in a day. It will take the company 5 times as long to roll it live.) The secret is that each database is listed with a post date. That makes it possible for me to mashup the page and feed it into Twitter. That's what will also make it easy for a clever developer to provide an RSS feed with the same information. Too bad they haven't taken the time to do so. Content may be king at, but product management's minds are elsewhere.

They could also add record counts, name counts, and image counts like they have to the new search card catalog. And they could...

So many ideas, so little time (to suggest them all!)...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Standards of an archive-quality digital record repository

Photograph of a record from a pension fileRecent online discussions among members of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) have raised issues about FamilySearch International,, and others' ability to provide archive-quality digital record repository services to patrons of archives such as the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

A user has raised charges of

  • missing images,
  • unindexed names,
  • incorrectly indexed names,
  • lack of quality control, and
  • lack of accountability.

(You can see a summary by Randy Seaver of most of these charges.)

Speaking as an industry expert (using the word loosely!) without regard to what internal knowledge I may have about FamilySearch's strengths and weaknesses, these are some characteristics that I believe an archival-quality digital record repository ought to have:

  • A process that captures a count of the number of items in a physical collection, compares it to the item counts in the digital collection and posts all the results for patrons to examine. Ideally, where an independent item count exists, that number should also be supplied. The idea is to have publicly posted two sets of counts of names, images, or any other important items. One set has the expected numbers, the other has the actual numbers. If the numbers differ, somebody better be able to explain why.
  • A process that captures the metadata for each item to allow the ability to browse through every item of a digital collection in the same order as the items in the physical collection. Each item should be displayed along with metadata that would indicate missing items. For example, images digitized from microfilm could have the linear position on the film along with the linear width of the image. If these numbers revealed unaccounted gaps, the metadata should include an explanation. A note would also be required for missing page numbers, missing certificate numbers, out-of-order items, alphabetical ordering anomalies, etc.
  • A process that allows users to correct (or at least mark) an index entry with incorrect information or an incorrect image. The corrections should be displayed with the corrected item. Uncorrected items should be so noted, again alongside the item. The total number of errors should be posted along with the inventory numbers.
  • A process that allows users to submit corrections to bad browse structures or incorrect/incomplete information in collection descriptions.

These MUST be automated processes. We're dealing with just too many records for non-automated processes to deal with corrections.

Vendor with online collections having these characteristics would earn the confidence of record custodians, record owners and patrons.

There is another item that I know patrons want. As a veteran of the software industry, I also know the expense of providing it is currently beyond most organizations. But one day when this is a common feature in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, it should also be a requirement that an archival-quality record repository places on vendors that wish to digitize records:

  • A process that informs the patron when a correction is available to an item that the patron reported to be bad.

So, sorry, Ellen. The processes don't exist to allow you to know how soon you will be able to access the missing image for your Texas ancestor. And if I were you, I wouldn't hold my breath.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Wrong images in FamilySearch Record Search

I received this inquiry back at the end of October 2008:

On June 13, 2008, I wrote to Family Search:

In the Texas Death Records 1890-1976 database, the index data for film #2116470 seems to have been mismatched to the images for film #2134914.

Here are two examples to illustrate the problem:

Search for "Earl Jeff Smith," who died in 1935 in Harris County, Texas. Data indicates film #2116470, image #2211. Display image and you get the death certificate for "Charles Gilbert Baker" who died in 1929 in Colorado County, Texas. Search under Baker's name and data says film #2134914, image #2211.

Search for "Harvey S. Smith," who died in 1935 in Harris County, Texas. Data indicates film #2116470, image #2300. Display image and you get the death certificate for “James Thomas Heflin” who died in 1929 in Dallas County, Texas. Search under Heflin’s name and data says film #2134914, image #2300.

I’m trying to get to the image for “Earl Jeff Smith,” and would be grateful for your help in rectifying this small glitch in an otherwise terrific online resource.

Ellen Dunlap

My response in early November was:


Thanks for the examples. I'll see if I can find out what the problem is and the outlook for a solution.

I can tell you that watching the team work on problems, it feels like I'm watching a pit crew trying to change the tires on a race car--without pulling the car out of the race.

The team is more heads down on fixing the process problems that created these data problems than they are on fixing the data problems themselves. That's one reason this is called a pilot. It doesn't make any sense to try and send the collection through the pipe again if it is just going to spew out bad data again. And it makes even less sense to pull workers off fixing the pipeline to fix a single collection by hand.

I'll let you know when I hear something.

-- The Insider

Ellen's been patient. But it's been three months since she wrote me and seven months since she wrote FamilySearch, so she recently asked for an update:

Did you ever hear back on this matter we discussed in November?  The data/image mismatch problem still exists.  If two films -- 2116470 and 2134914 (not even close enough to be a typo) -- are completely switched, that sounds like a process problem that might be replicated with other films as well.

I have written to FS also, but had no reply.



Dear Ellen

I'm sorry you never heard back from me. This is one of the cases where "no news is bad news." I haven't forgotten your request, however. Just recently I heard a list of collections read for a project re-processing some missing images from microfilm back at the Granite Mountain Record Vault. I was listening for, but didn't hear "Texas Deaths, 1890-1976" mentioned.

Films Swapped?

Under the assumption that the two films (2,116,470 and 2,134,914) were completely swapped, I tried to find the name to search for that would give the corresponding image from film 2,134,914.

I searched for Earl Jeff Smith (of roll 2,116,470) as you did and found the certificate for Charles Gilbert Baker (of roll 2,134,914). I searched for Baker hoping to get the certificate for Smith. Unfortunately, I got the certificate for Baker. The two sets of images have not been swapped. Rather, the images of one set have been swapped.

Duh! Re-reading your message, Ellen, of course that is what you meant. My computer science brain was interpreting your message using the semantics of a computer scientist rather than a normal person.

Process Problem?

'Swivel chair' processing was required where gaps existed in the pipeline
'Swivel chair' processing was required
where gaps existed in the pipeline
Credits: Pipeline, Chair
Modifications © 2007, The Ancestry Insider

As a result, all images for film 2,116,470 are wrong. As you mention, that certainly sounds like a process problem. I asked about this and was told that yours is one of several wrong-image problems in the "Texas Deaths" collection that were introduced by swivel-chair handling rather than digital pipeline processes. While still working at, I did a four-part article on the FamilySearch Digital Pipeline, based on information presented at a BYU genealogy conference.

In part 2 I explained that swivel-chair processing—manual processing—was required where gaps in automated processing existed. In the case of your "Texas Deaths" image problem, I guess this means that creating the sets of images and copying them into the correct places, was a manual process. Now that step has been automated and the automated process doesn't suffer from the human fallibility that created your problem.

So when will you be able to get Earl Jeff Smith's death certificate?

That, my dear Ellen, in my opinion IS a process problem. Speaking as an industry expert without regard to what internal knowledge I may have about FamilySearch, these are some processes that an archival-quality vital records repository ought to have:

Stay tuned for "Standards of an archive-quality digital record repository."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

FamilySearch news bytes

My goodness. Did you see I consigned my former employer to the small status of "bits" yesterday compared to the broader and higher concept of "bytes" for FamilySearch today? That was totally not planned in advance. Come on,, you know I love you guys!!

Brown nosing aside, I've got several FamilySearch news items to take care of, so we'll follow the same format as yesterday. Using the same song, however, is optional.

FamilySearch Wiki has announced the launch of its second barn raising: England! Alan Mann, noted United Kingdom researcher announced Tuesday, "During this February 2009 barn raising we will revise the England Portal, topic pages for the four basic English record types, and add pages for major English research sites. At the end of the barn raising the wiki will contain information about the latest and best basic records and web sites to use in finding English ancestors."

Everyone is invited to help out. There are tasks for both experienced English researchers as well as those who just want to help. Many hands make light work. You can browse through the task list at

For assistance registering, see "Old fashioned barn raising at FamilySearch wiki."

fsa Members of the "official unofficial FamilySearch group" on Facebook received an invitation yesterday to participate in a 10 minute alpha test this Friday, 6 February 2009. Dan Lawyer, event organizer, said, "We've organized a 10 minutes quick test of the FamilySearch Alpha. It is set for this Friday, February 6th. For more info check out the FamilySearch Alpha - Test #1 event on the FamilySearch group page." The additional information gives the URL for the test and asks participants to look at the home page, the blog and the library.Lawyer earlier explained that FamilySearch is in the early stages of designing the new replacement for the venerable website.

Visitors to the FamilySearch Labs website can also find a link to see the current concept design for the FamilySearch Alpha website. As work proceeds, updates will be made every 2 to 4 weeks.

The expected release date for the new site has not been made public. Uncharacteristically, they told me this time! They don't usually trust me with that kind of information. Sorry! I'm not sharing. I've got some trust to earn.

At-home indexing is rapidly increasing genealogical records access"At-home indexing [is] rapidly increasing genealogical records access," according to a recent press release from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Over 150,000 people have volunteered to help. If all of them are active, each would only have to index 7 names for the group to produce a million names! Of course, not all volunteers actively continue to index. And indexers are not keeping up with the microfilm scanners that are creating digital images from the microfilm collection in the Granite Mountain Record Vault.

“At the current rate of scanning,” reports Paul Nauta, FamilySearch Manager of Public Affairs, “it will take between eight and ten years to complete the microfilm scanning.”

Learn more and volunteer yourself at

Another source reports the microfilm scanning project may not proceed that slowly. According to Nancy Scott of Cincinnati, Ohio,

The schedule for digitizing the church records at the Granite Mountain is 5 years according to Steve Brey, our Area Family History Manager from the Salt Lake City Library, who spoke at a FH conference this past October held in Kentucky.

We'll definitely need more people to help index if we're going to keep up.

Catalog entry showing link to Record Search Nancy also mentioned,

As it is, if you go to the library catalog and search for a film number, there will be some sort of red bar come across the screen and if this is the case you can look at the film online at that very moment. I have not been so lucky to have had the ones I am searching appear but I keep checking before ordering the films anyway.

That was news to me! Several people inside FamilySearch have told me that no such links exist from the catalog into Record Search because it is still a pilot. But if you search for film 953959, you will indeed see a red message, shown in the illustration above or to the right, and a link to the Record Search pilot.

However, this may have been an isolated test. The catalog actually needs separate links to the 1855 and 1865 Massachusetts State Censuses. And when the pilot is over, any links entered into the catalog will have to be fixed. Further, I've checked close to a dozen of the other collections from Record Search and none have the red notice.

So don't feel bad, Nancy. You're not the only one who isn't lucky enough to see this link.


Once again, it is time for bed and my list isn't cleared yet. Oh, well...

", ma-jor, gen-er-al!!" Thank, you; thank you!

Thanks, folks. You've been a terrific crowd. Tell your friends; I'll be here all week.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ancestry news bits

I'm way behind in my list of news items about, so here goes a bunch of them, just so I can take them off my list. If you desire, read them as fast as you can to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan's Model of a Modern Major-General.

Ready? One, two, one, two, one, two, (faster), un,to,un,to,un,to...

  • Ancestry released their 27,000th database in December 2008.
  • At the bloggers' briefing we were told the new $79 price (down from $149) for the 33-marker, Y chromosome test meant would be losing money on the kits. You're probably aware of other companies with much larger databases. is a late arrival to this market and is trying to make up time. They only have a little over 30,000+ people currently in their ancestry database and 5,500 surname groups. I can't remember for certain, but I think they said once they have critical mass, the price may go back up unless their costs have come down by then. See the DNA Ancestry website for more information.
  • Illustration courtesy DNA results can now be linked to your Ancestry Member Tree. Once you associate paternal results with a person in your tree, those results are inferred up the paternal line. I'll have to check to see if they're also inferred down paternal lines also. (, they are.) Once enough people have added DNA results, it may be possible to isolate the ancestor in which a genetic change took place. You can see why wants more results posted.
  • State and County search pages are back. Did you suffer from the site outage a couple of weeks ago? At that time discovered that these locality searches were consuming large amounts of Ancestry's capacity (something like half?) even though they accounted for a small percentage of the searches (I'm thinking less than 10%). Worried that this was contributing to the site problems, Ancestry pulled the capability. It is now back with a more powerful database server.
  • "New Site Features Added to in 2008" is a new webinar available in the Learning Center. Click on Keep Learning, Webinars and then on the webinar name. Oops. I guess it isn't available yet. Oh well; once the interest is gone maybe they'll get it posted.
  • At bloggers day I cornered Eric Shoup, VP of Product Management and made a pointed request: "Assign your product managers to blog once a week with a report on what they have accomplished that week. You want them to make a regular report to you anyway; why not make it public? Knowing they'll have to make a public accounting would be a good motivator to show weekly progress." Long time readers know that in these pages I have advocated greater communication for years, taking some risk by so doing. So it was very gratifying when Shoup issued this statement yesterday:

As of 2009, Ancestry product managers are making a more concerted effort to reach out more to our customers via our bulletin boards and blog.  We recognize how vital this dialogue is to both understanding our customer needs as well as communicating what is new or coming up on  And frankly, this helps hold our Product Managers accountable to our customers for building the right features and communicating sufficiently.  This is an example of a broader objective this year within the Product team to “engage our customers in conversation”.  We hope this will result in better products and a better informed customer base.

Thanks, Eric!

  • At bloggers day we were also told that we were just weeks away from a long requested search improvement: date filtering. It has long bothered users of relevance ranked searching that highly ranked results had dates outside the specified birth and death dates. Other improvements in coming months will improve date and place handling. I don't have any more specifics, however.

Well, I'm out of time and I've hardly made a dent in my list. 'Night all. (You can stop singing now...)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Employee Spotlight - Jim Greene

Photograph of Jim Greene, product manager at FamilySearch Jim Greene, product manager at FamilySearch International, was recently the focus of an employee spotlight on the website. Greene is currently product manager over the FamilySearch Wiki and the famous Salt Lake City Family History Library. A product manager investigates user needs and prioritizes features for implementation by software engineers.

Greene's excited about his current work on the FamilySearch Wiki.

"We believe that by involving the worldwide community of family historians in a collaborative effort, we can create an encyclopedia of unparalleled ... source [of research guidance]," said Greene.

Greene has two undergraduate degrees, in Spanish and in business management, and an MBA from Penn state. Greene worked for 10 years at IBM before moving to Novell as a product manager for 10 more years. Then he came to FamilySearch where he was the product manager for New FamilySearch.

Greene was asked a series of questions for the article. One question was, "What or who has been an inspiration to you in your work?" Greene responded,

I find great inspiration in the people I have met all over the world, who save what little they have to travel to the family history center or the temple, and the missionaries who cheerfully come to the Family History Library to help others find ... their ancestors.

I first learned of Greene a decade ago because of his good work in the OS/2 community. It's a pleasure now to be his co-worker.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Old fashioned barn raising at FamilySearch wiki

FamilySearch has announced an old-fashioned barn raising at the FamilySearch Wiki. You can find the Wiki at or by going to and... and...

Oops. You'd think they'd stick a link to the Wiki on the Help menu of Oh, well. Go directly to FamilySearch's first barn raising at Maryland Barn Raising Tasks.

According to the Wiki,

On a frontier homestead, the largest and most complex structure was usually the barn. Because barns were built with massive posts and beams that depended on each other for strength, their heavy walls had to be built separately and then raised by a crowd. Settlers who wanted a barn needed a barn raising -- a party or social event in which the community would help complete the heavy work quickly. Wikis have barn raisings too -- short, focused community efforts to create or revise content relating to a single topic such as "genealogical research in Maryland."

This first barn raising project is creating pages to help genealogy researchers with Maryland ancestors. England will be next.

"A barn raising is accomplished with volunteers of all expertise levels -- from total beginners to master craftsmen," said Michael Ritchey, Community Content Coordinator for FamilySearch. Anyone can help out, whether or not you understand how to change wiki pages, or even whether or not you know anything about Maryland genealogy research. The list of tasks on the Maryland barn raising page includes "Simple tasks" that "support the writing of articles." One example is using Google to find Maryland maps online and contacting Michael Ritchey with your results.


There's no easy way to contact Ritchey's team to volunteer for a task until you register on the Wiki. Fortunately, a tutorial can help you through the process of registering and a you can print the registration instructions from a wiki article. (Click here to see the tutorial. Click here to see a printable copy of the wiki registration instructions.) Some day in the future you won't have to register separately for,, and Until that day comes, you have to get a separate login for each of these parts of the family.

If you want to volunteer but don't feel confident enough to edit the Wiki pages yourself, I'm guessing you can contact Ritchey's team by sending information about the task you wish to do using one of these two methods:

  1. If you are able to register and log into the wiki, send Ritchey a message by clicking on this URL:
  2. Otherwise send a message to FamilySearch support and ask that it be forwarded to the FamilySearch Wiki team. Try this link or send the e-mail to

Come help create this next-generation genealogical research guide.