Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is Google’s Search Really a Single Field?

This is one of a series of articles about Google’s search interface and its application to genealogy.

Have you read Daniel M. Lynch's new book, Google Your Family Tree? If you don't have the book, you can learn many of the tips and tricks by doing a Google search for "Google" and "Genealogy." What you'll find is that Google is gradually introducing pseudo-multiple fields that are essential for many types of searches, including genealogy searches.

Name Fields

To account for an optional middle name and to simulate first and last name fields, separate the first and last names with an asterisk (*), like this:

Dan * Lawyer

Fortunately, Google is “smart” enough to look for “synonyms” like Daniel for Dan. Unfortunately, the same algorithm will match Attorney instead of Lawyer. To simulate of name fields, you must take another step. Include the names in reverse order to match web pages that list last name first:

(Dan * Lawyer) OR (Lawyer Dan)

To account for occurrences without middle names, also include the names without the asterisk:

(Dan * Lawyer) OR (Lawyer Dan) OR (Dan Lawyer)

It also occurs to me that we’re seeing results with just Dan. To assure we get Dan and Lawyer, put quotes around the names:

"Dan * Lawyer" OR "Lawyer Dan" OR "Dan Lawyer"

Unfortunately, using quotes disables synonym checking, so we’re no longer seeing Daniel. You’ll have to use additional searches to match other common spellings or forms of names.

Date Fields

Introduce a pseudo-date field to search for a range of dates. Separate the two dates by two dots like this: 1958..2009. To make certain the date applies to any of the three name arrangements, we add parentheses like so:

("Dan * Lawyer" OR "Lawyer Dan" OR "Dan Lawyer") 1958..2009

Other Pseudo Fields

Google provides a whole set of special words and prefixes which can be used in the single search field to invoke the same capabilities as its multiple-field advanced search. For example, if we wanted to search records only on FamilySearch.org, we could use the “site:” prefix:

("Dan * Lawyer" OR "Lawyer Dan" OR "Dan Lawyer") 1958..2009 site:familysearch.org

Single field or multi-field

Now, if you can’t remember how to invoke all these pseudo-fields inside Google’s single-field home page, you can use Google’s multi-field Advanced Search page and accomplish the same things. Q.E.D. These single-field special tips, tricks, weird punctuation rules, etc. create the equivalent of a multiple field search.

Think about it. Google, with dozens and dozens of search engineers—certainly many times more than FamilySearch has working on search—can’t figure out how to make a natural-language single-field search work for something as simple as searching for all forms of a person’s name and a date associated with that person. If Google can’t do it, what chance is there that FamilySearch can do it?!?

Google Genealogy Searches

If you’re serious about doing genealogy searches with Google, you’re better off using one of the many multi-field genealogy search forms that are available. These search forms remember all the arcane Google rules for you. You enter data in a simple, genealogy-oriented search form and the website generates the weird Google single-field search syntax for you.

One example of such a website is www.genealogy-search-help.com which gives this familiar-looking search form:

Genealogy Search Form for Google

Enter all the information you know and click Submit. Most Google genealogy search websites responds with several choices and this website is no exception. Pick a choice and the website suggests one or more Google searches for you to try. For the example above, some of the suggestions are:

For additional information about Google genealogy searches, see

  • Barry & Associates, Inc., Genealogy-Search-Help.com (www.genealogy-search-help.com : accessed 17 June 2009); this is the example website from above.
  • Easy Google Genealogy Searcher,” Ancestor Search …Find your family history (www.searchforancestors.com : accessed 17 June 2009); special forms that work instead of remembering all the special Google keywords and prefixes.
  • Easy Google Genealogy Searcher - Part 2,” Ancestor Search …Find your family history (www.searchforancestors.com : accessed 17 June 2009); more special forms.
  • Kathi Reid, “Using Google in Genealogy Searches,” Ancestor Search …Find your family history (www.searchforancestors.com : accessed 17 June 2009).
  • Kathi Reid, “Google in Genealogy Searches,” Ancestor Search …Find your family history (www.searchforancestors.com : accessed 17 June 2009).
  • Kimberly Powell, “Google Genealogy Style,” About.com (http://genealogy.about.com : accessed 17 June 2009).

For more help with Google Search, see

Monday, June 29, 2009

Where’s Waldo… er… the Ancestry Insider?

Where's the Ancestry Insider? Last weekend I took a little trip to celebrate the summer solstice. Can you guess where I was?

Tell ya’ what. To make things easy for you, we took photographs.

Not obvious enough for you? Fine, another hint.

This magnificent circle of stones is located next to a highway.

Looking for a genealogical-world tie-in?

The highway leads to a genealogical company rumored to be changing its name…


The Ancestry Insider at Stonehenge on the summer solstice

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Son of Blogger: Summit 2

Saturday I participated in the “Son of Blogger” summit at the Southern California Genealogy Society Jamboree 2009. I’m nursing a head cold, so I had to wear a mask to avoid infecting anyone. ;-)

Here are the panel members and some of their panel reports:

Here are some of the bloggers in the audience and their reports:

Thank you to all of you that said hello, introduced yourselves, or left little notes. It was wonderful to meet all of you!

As Thomas mentions, if you wish to follow along with real-time updates from the Jamboree, then search for “#scgs09” on Twitter. Refresh the page to see the latest. The conference wraps up today.

Friday, June 26, 2009

NFS Rollout News: Read-Only Access Becomes Wait-Only Access

On 18 June 2009 FamilySearch announced that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Idaho and Utah could get read-only accounts for the New FamilySearch (NFS) if they didn’t otherwise have full accounts (see “By July 2009 NFS to replace IGI”).

Wednesday, FamilySearch abruptly “rescinded” the program, as was announced in New.FamilySearch.org Help Center document 107353:

Read Only Access to members in the Wasatch Front has been rescinded (stopped). Members who already had read-only accounts will no longer be able to access new FamilySearch.

Help Center document 107347 has been reworked to eliminate reference to read-only access. (See Renee Zamora’s “New FamilySearch Access” for the full text of 107347 as it was before.) Now the document instructs members that in place of using the IGI,

Members should meet with a family history consultant or visit a family history center [FHC] to view and verify the latest ordinance information. Family history consultants and family history center staff have the information necessary to help members view completed ordinances using the new FamilySearch system.

After verifying that an ancestor needs temple ordinances, members may continue to prepare ancestral names for temple ordinances using the TempleReady process. After a TempleReady submission file has been created, the family history center staff can assist the patron to create and print a Family Ordinance Request form that will be taken to the temple, and used by the temple staff to print temple name cards.

Alternately, consultants or FHC staff can use the Helper Feature of NFS and assist the member in directly entering information into NFS, checking for duplicates, and printing an FOR, thus skipping TempleReady altogether. Consultants are responsible to supervise members when using this approach.

And Then There Were None

To allow members to comply with the new policy, consultants in the final two temple districts received notification and access to NFS yesterday. The final Logan stakes received word that they would go live on 29 June 2009. With Logan finished up, Boise received word that her stakes would be next for the stake-by-stake rollout.

Temple Stakes Process
Temple on NFS Consultants on NFS Members on NFS
* Boise 29 Yes 22-Jun-2009 19-May-2009 Soon, by stake *
Bountiful 32 Yes 16-Jun-2009 4-Jun-2009 No
* Draper 25 No * 14-Jul-2009 18-Jun-2009 No
Idaho Falls 45 Yes By end of July 18-Jun-2009 No
* Jordan River 87 Yes By end of July? 25-Jun-2009 * No
Logan 43 Yes 2-Jun-2009 8-May-2009 (All) 02-Jun-2009 (5)
08-Jun-2009 (10)
15-Jun-2009 (7)
22-Jun-2009 (7)
29-Jun-2009 (14)
Total (43 stakes)
Mt. Timpanogos 61 Yes 8-Jun-2009 26-May-2009 (60)
6-Sep-2007 (1)
No (60)
6-Sep-2007 (1)
Ogden 76 Yes ? 11-Jun-2009 No
Oquirrh Mt.
—open house--
* Provo 74 Yes 7-Jul-2009 ? 25-Jun-2009 * No
Salt Lake 71 Yes 15-Jun-2009 4-Jun-2009 No
St. George 44 Yes 23-Jun-2009 8-May-2009 No

Abruptness of the Change

The cancellation of the Read-only program happened so suddenly, not all help documents have been updated to reflect the change. A search for “Read-only” from the Old FamilySearch.org product support page still returns these documents about Read-Only Family Tree access:

A search for “Read-only” in the New.FamilySearch.org Help Center returns these results:

Two Rowboats

I would have thought FamilySearch would have released the schedule of temples switching over to the new system. Don’t switch to FORs in Draper until 14 July 2009; apparently they can’t take them.

With so little warning in our district, it was a nightmare at my FHC Wednesday, swamped with patrons sent back from the temple with TempleReady floppies. I personally offended patrons at the rate of one per hour, pleading to get them to check for duplication in NFS instead of the IGI, and refusing to convert their TempleReady submissions without the check, as consultants had been doing.

Don’t be fooled. Converting a TempleReady submission to an FOR does not do an automatic duplication check. I’ve already come across two submissions that created duplication. These were duplicates from the same patron with the data entered exactly the same both times! NFS gladly produced duplicate FORs with nary a complaint. The same wasn’t true when I told the patron that he’d been led astray by his ward consultants and FHC staff earlier in the week. He complained.

I explained to another patron that we were currently operating as though we were standing with one foot in one rowboat (without patron access to NFS) and one foot in another rowboat (temples using NFS). It’s a lot of work to keep from falling into the water.

It’s going to be a long year.

Unanswered Questions

Since FamilySearch isn’t saying, maybe some of you know. When will Ogden start keeping ordinance records in NFS? How about Jordan River? Will Provo be using it when they reopen so close to the 4th holiday, as rumors have reported? What about Idaho Falls? Inquiring minds want to know. AncestryInsider@gmail.com. Please, no confidential information.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Has Google Conditioned FamilySearch Patrons?

This is one of a series of articles about Google’s search interface and its application to genealogy.

Dan Lawyer, FamilySearch product manager made this comment:

FamilySearch Product Managers have not suggested that Google is good at searching genealogical data. They have correctly (in my opinion) understood that Google has trained the masses to use a single field for search. The logic then follows that if…using a single field search for genealogy could [be made to work well], then those that are new to genealogy may more quickly be productive if they are able to use their current search paradigm.

Dan has worked tirelessly to make genealogy simple for “the masses.” He has my respect and full support.

In my article, “Google’s Spartan Interface,” I talked about the widespread praise Google’s single-field interface has received. It’s no wonder that product managers at both FamilySearch and Ancestry.com have asked product developers to study the possibility of applying such an approach to genealogy.

But I’d like to raise the issue that Google-conditioned masses probably don’t correlate with existing FamilySearch.org users. By making genealogy easier for the masses, do you disorient existing users? I used Quantcast.com to compare the demographics of Google.com users (below, left) and FamilySearch.org (below, right).


(If you can’t see the demographics in the table above, try viewing this article on my website.)

The numbers on the right side of each report are compared to 100, the Internet average. As you can see, Google and FamilySearch demographics are almost complete opposites. Without exception, anytime one of the two is above the Internet average, the other is below.

I'm guessing about 80% of the patrons I help at my FHC are regular FamilySearch.org searchers, but I doubt very much that more than 25% of them use Google.

What do you think? Can you think of an intuitive way to enter genealogy searches into a single field?

Click “Comments” below to share your thoughts.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

NFS Rollout News: And Then There Were Two

Yesterday’s New FamilySearch (NFS) rollout news was so riddled with problems, I finally scrapped it. Today, we try again. Apparently, not all the rumors circulating right now are sanctioned. I don’t know if that means the information is incorrect, or just not yet officially announced. I’m still waiting on clarification from FamilySearch.

To keep track of the varying stages of rollout in the different temple districts, and the various flavors of rollout, I’ve created a new table format. For the remaining temple districts in the red zone, here’s my new table. When I can, I’ll get this copied to my regular page, “Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch.” I’ve added lots of question marks to reflect current uncertainties.

Temple Stakes Process
Temple on NFS Consultants on NFS Members on NFS
Boise 29 Yes 22-Jun-2009 19-May-2009 Read-only ?
Bountiful 32 Yes 16-Jun-2009 4-Jun-2009 Read-only
Draper 25 No * 14-Jul-2009 18-Jun-2009 ?
Idaho Falls 45 Yes By end of July 18-Jun-2009 ?
Jordan River 87 Yes ? No ?
Logan 43 Yes 2-Jun-2009 8-May-2009 (All) 02-Jun-2009 (5)
08-Jun-2009 (10)
15-Jun-2009 (7)
22-Jun-2009 (7)
Total (29 stakes)
Read-only? (14)
Mt. Timpanogos 61 Yes 8-Jun-2009 26-May-2009 (60)
6-Sep-2007 (1)
Read-only (60)
6-Sep-2007 (1)
Ogden 76 Yes ? 11-Jun-2009 Read-only ?
Oquirrh Mt.   Under construction    
Provo 74 Yes 7-Jul-2009 ? No ?
Salt Lake 71 Yes 15-Jun-2009 4-Jun-2009 Read-only
St. George 44 Yes 23-Jun-2009 8-May-2009 Read-only ?

Numbers in parentheses refer to the number of stakes.
* Recently updated
† Highland Utah Stake

That leaves just two temple, the Provo temple and the Jordan River temple, that have not yet entered the transition to NFS. And only one temple, Draper, can’t process Family Ordinance Requests (FORs). I’ve updated my map to reflect the current situation, with just two red dots left.

New FamilySearch Rollout Map for 23 Jun 2009

When I can, I’ll get this updated at “Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch.” Do I have the dates correct for your temple starting to use NFS internally? What about consultants in Jordan River and Provo? Can you register in NFS? Full-access or read-only? Let me know. Keep everyone informed by sending your news to AncestryInsider@gmail.com .

Monday, June 22, 2009

Google’s Spartan Interface

This is one of a series of articles about Google’s search interface and its application to genealogy.

Google's famously spartan interface An article in BusinessWeek back in 2005 titled “Google’s Search for Simplicity” notes that while Google’s “payroll has rocketed…to over 4,200 staffers” and “sales have jumped…to more than $3 billion,” its “famously minimalist home page looks almost as it did when [Google was an] upstart search company.”

BusinessWeek attributes Google’s success to this “no-frills, fast-loading” interface.

In an interview for Good Experience Google’s product manager for its user interface, Marissa Mayer, compared Google to a Swiss army knife.

All of us on the UI team think the value of Google is in not being cluttered, in offering a great user experience. I like to say that Google should be "what you want, when you want it." As opposed to "everything you could ever want, even when you don't."

I think Google should be like a Swiss Army knife: clean, simple, the tool you want to take everywhere.…

When you see a knife with all 681 functions opened up, you're terrified. That's how other sites are - you're scared to use them. Google has that same level of complexity, but we have a simple and functional interface on it, like the Swiss Army knife closed.

In a 2006 DMNews article, Google engineering director Jen Fitzpatrick acknowledged how much testing Google does, combining “internal testing, user studies, log analysis and customer feedback.” Said Fitzpatrick,

The audience of people using Google was not of the people building Google. … If there's one thing we've learned time and time again, [it] is we're not representative of our users.

Fitzpatrick admits that Google approaches user interface in an iterative fashion. One is not likely to get it right the first time. I’m glad to know that both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch use iterative development processes. I welcome the refinement process we are seeing on both organizations’ websites.

What do you think about the search interface on these websites?

Are they intuitive? How could they be improved? Click “Comments” below and let us know what you think.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Fathers Day

I hope all of you enjoy a warm Fathers Day being with or remembering our fathers.

In celebration of Father’s Day, let me share a video titled “A Father Indeed,” produced by FamilySearch sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

If you are unable to view the video, above, then try viewing it online.

Friday, June 19, 2009

By July 2009 NFS to replace IGI

Yesterday FamilySearch announced to users of the New FamilySearch (NFS) that all temples in Idaho and Utah will record ordinances using the new FamilySearch System by the end of July 2009. Because all temples outside the Orient will be using NFS, no further temple ordinance information will be added to the International Genealogical Index (IGI).

“Because of this, members [of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] should use the new FamilySearch site to view and verify the latest ordinance information,” states Help Center document 107347, which is only available to users logged into NFS. “Members who have registered in the existing FamilySearch.org site will be given access to register in the new FamilySearch system.”

Also because of the total switch-over to NFS, temples will not accept TempleReady floppies except in extenuating circumstances. Instead of taking a TempleReady disk to the temple, patrons take a Family Ordinance Request (FOR), which is a sheet of paper with a bar-code.

However, some members in Utah and Idaho will only be given read-only access to NFS for several months. For such members, the temple submission process will require these steps:

  1. Research and identify ancestors as normal.
  2. Use New FamilySearch to check what ordinances have already been done.
  3. Use TempleReady to prepare a submission file.
  4. Have a family history consultant in your ward or family history center (FHC) convert the TempleReady file to an FOR. For this step, you will need your membership record number.

Family history consultants should be warned that converting a TempleReady file to an FOR does not check for duplicates, as some of the prompts imply. Last Wednesday at my FHC a patron accidentally brought in a TempleReady file for a family that he had submitted earlier in the day. NFS accepted the file without complaint.

After reading the announcement, I felt unclear on several points:

  • When will members who have registered in the existing FamilySearch.org site be given access to register in the NFS site? Now? As their temple goes live? At the end of July?
  • What determines who gets full-access versus who gets read-only access? System load?
  • Will all members who have registered in the existing Family FamilySearch.org get full access?
  • When will members who have not registered in the existing FamilySearch.org get to use NFS?

In the Timpanogos temple district, members are already required to take FORs to the temple, even though only consultants have access to NFS.

  • Is this true in other Idaho/Utah temples?
  • Is there a place in the Help Center we can go to see a list or a schedule showing when that requirement starts at the remaining Idaho and Utah temples?
  • Members in the Timpanogos temple district must have a family history consultant do the duplication check for them since only consultants currently have NFS access. Will that continue to be the case for some stakes after the end of July?

If I get any answers, I’ll pass them on. Stay tuned…

P.S. Draper and Idaho Falls consultants received notice yesterday that they now have NFS access. Watch for the latest news at “Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Utah Vital Records Fees to Increase in July

Fees are increasing in a couple of weeks for vital records from the state of Utah. This table shows the increases that go into effect on 1 July 2009:



Certified abstract birth or declaration of paternity

$15 – first copy

$8 – additional copies

$18 – first copy

$8 – additional copies

Certified certificate of stillbirth

$12 – first copy

$15 – first copy

$8 – additional copies

Certified death certificate

$13 – first copy

$8 – additional copies

$16 – first copy

$8 – additional copies

Details can be found at these web addresses:

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Translate This Page

After I pointed out Lynn Turner’s Hispanic Genealogy blog recently, I received this e-mail from a reader:

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I enjoy learning about new blogs that might help me. I have grandchildren that have ancestors from Spain through Mexico and to the U.S. and some of their relatives would also like me to help them find more info.

I tried the translate this page feature and although it's not 100% correct, it's good enough to read and I'll try it for a while. You never know where you may find help.


Dear Anne,

What a marvelous idea! Many of us find ourselves increasingly helping others doing Hispanic research. Using one of the many translation tools available for Internet pages is a quick and easy way to unlock Spanish research information to English readers.


-- The Ancestry Insider

Google’s Translate Page

If you have the Google toolbar, then even without the Translate button, you can easily translate a page using the steps illustrated below. Right click on the page. Click on Page Info, and then click Translate Page into English.

With the Google toolbar installed, translate a page by right clicking, then Page Info, then Translate Page

This is one of many reasons to use the Google Toolbar. Highly recommended.

The Power of Standards

P.S. Gosh I love the Internet! This is one of many, many examples illustrating the principles espoused by keynote speaker, Phil Windley, at the last FamilySearch Developers Conference. The power of adherence to standards (in this case, HTML) has lead to a serendipitous application (in this case, page translation).

Monday, June 15, 2009

NFS Rollout News: Your Stake’s Listed!

Watchers of the New FamilySearch (NFS) rollout in Utah and Idaho have seen release dates appear by the names of Logan stakes in this table:

Logan Utah Stakes Table

I’ve thought on several occasions that it would be neat when the day came that a table showed up with the name of my stake. That day arrived last week some time, along with this list of remaining temple districts:

Temple district list with links to stake lists

Click on the name of your temple district and look for your stake. Unfortunately, unless you are in the Logan district, you won’t be seeing any dates in the “Release Date” column. However, each table gives the names and e-mail addresses of the Area Family History Advisers assisting stakes with the rollout of NFS.

Cache and Bear Lake Valleys, Wasatch front north from North Salt Lake. Morgan. Wyoming: Afton and Thayne. Brent and Dianne Russon
Salt Lake Valley, I-80 Evanston to Wendover, Kamas, Park City. LaMar and Marjorie Westra
Nevada and Arizona (Page) Jim and Janyce Miller
Northern Utah Valley to Lindon, BYU, UVU Randy Bryson
Southern Utah Valley to Orem Max and Ruth Seamons
St. George Utah temple district (stakes in Utah) Keith and Emily Anderson
Boise Idaho temple district Ted and Marilyn Hess
Idaho Falls vicinity, Moore and Salmon Larry and Kathy Killian
Rigby, Idaho vicinity: Terreton to Ririe Barry and Phyllis Lewis
Pocatello, Idaho vicinity: Blackfoot to Arimo, American Falls John and Toni Faddis


Speaking of Logan release dates, since my last rollout news, here’s what’s new:

  • Seven stakes in the Logan district were given a release date last Monday and went live today, 15 June 2009.
  • As I write this, it hasn’t happened yet, but if things go according to pattern, today another group of stakes in the Logan district will be given a release date, probably for 22 June 2009.
  • Also, the Ogden district received notice on 11 June 2009; leaders and family history consultants now have access.

As always, all the latest information can be found at “Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch.” Keep everyone informed by sending your news to AncestryInsider@gmail.com .

Friday, June 12, 2009

More FamilySearch and Ancestry.com bloggers

Last time I told you about a couple of blogs by FamilySearch employees. Today, I’ve got a couple of Ancestry.com employee spouse blogs. I was also going to share another FamilySearch employee blog, but decided the author revealed too much personal information. Young people these days. They share so much. Maybe I’m just old, but sharing so much personal information is just not my cup of tea.

All Things Kendall and Carolina

On the All Things Kendall and Carolina blog, Carolina identifies herself as "being married to an employee of The Generations Network (aka Ancestry.com, aka MyFamily.com)." That would leave Kendall as the Ancestry.com employee.

Kendall, I was thinking it was weird that your wife submitted a mitochondrial test on her father rather than doing it on herself. Duh! Am I stupid. Not stupid enough to submit mitochondrial tests on both myself and my mother, but stupid enough to not realize the two additional ancestral lines that can be tested by doing a mitochondrial test on my father and a Y chromosome test on a maternal uncle. Thank Carolina for me.

A Spot of Sun

I wrote about this blog post before, but somehow the article has disappeared. So here’s my previous article:

Another spouse identified herself shortly after a The Generations Network Christmas party several years ago. You have to read Brooke's account of TGN's holiday party to get the full flavor of her gracious, charming personality. Here's just a short quote.

All night long the snow fell outside the windows while we partied. It made for the perfect holiday atmosphere. But the real treat was the "surprise" Christmas gift from Matt—a night at the resort sans kids...

This is just one happy view on our drive home
This is just one happy view on our drive home.

It is hard to explain the happiness of the day. It just felt so perfect and happy. By far my best Christmas present!

Unless you own a dictionary of Mormon jargon, you'll want to stop before you get into her church party and words like stake, ward, primary, sunbeam, LDS and testimony.

But you don't want to miss the link to her Colorful Utah website and the exquisite photographs there.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Other Employee Bloggers at FamilySearch

Long time readers may remember my “Don’t get hit by the train” series about The Cluetrain Manifesto and employee bloggers. In the last article of the series, “Employees: Don't Get Hit by the Train — Part 4,” I listed the blogs I knew about by employees of Ancestry.com and FamilySearch. In the 20 months since that article, I’ve come across a few more.

Reformed(?) Hacker

Reformed(?) Hacker is about technology, not genealogy. According to Naymz.com, site owner Lynn Monson is a “software engineer and architect at FamilySearch.org.” Monson describes himself as “Lead Architect, Unified System, LDS church.” In his most recent post, “Fielded search vs unstructured text,” mentions he’s having problems convincing product managers that Google’s single-box search form is inferior to the typical genealogy website search form, with boxes for given name, surname, birth date, etc.

According to Monson,

To date, I have not been able to convince the PM folks. They simply retort that “google does it, why can’t we?”. The numerous examples I respond with — demonstrating that google, in fact, does *not* do it properly — have been unconvincing. In addition, I happen to know, from a trusted source, that Google receives numerous complaints from genealogists over the behavior of their search engine on genealogical sources. The whole endeavor is going to come to a head soon. I need to find ways to convince them.

Yikes! That’s scary! It’s especially scary because New FamilySearch and Record Search Pilot already have anemic search forms. They only allow a single life event! You can’t specify both a birth place and a marriage year, as one might learn from a census. Perish the thought that they’re going to get worse! Don’t product managers monitor the market? Surely they saw the uproar over at Ancestry.com when New Search eliminated some fields from search forms.

Lynn, make them put Google to the test. Take a record site that Google has indexed and compare the search results using the site’s fielded search vs. a Google search with the “site:” qualifier restricting Google.

I have an ancestor named Paris Raymond. Google is especially fond of people with the given name Raymond. His hometown is Lincoln. Google is especially fond of a president by that name. His wife’s hometown is Paris, New York. When you have both Paris and New York in the same search, Google is absolutely certain you’re talking about major world cities. When it comes to my ancestors, Google blows chunks. (Can FamilySearch employees say that without offending one or more readers? I guess I’ll find out.)

And eBay? An absolute nightmare. I’d like to be notified if the family Bible ever came up for auction, but the flood of false positives wakes me up at night in cold chills.

Hispanic Genealogy

Hispanic Genealogy is another blog written by a FamilySearch employee named “Lynn.” Lynn Turner’s user profile says,

I graduated from BYU in Family History and Genealogy in 2004. My areas of expertise include Spain and Latin American. Currently I work for FamilySearch as a Record Specialist. I hope you enjoy the blog!

Turner is an accredited genealogist. He previously worked as a Reference Consultant. He has taught Computers and Technology in Family History at BYU conferences and presented at genealogy conferences in the U.S., Spain, and Colombia.

Even though he’s a top-notch co-worker, I’ve never read his blog. Why? It’s in Spanish!

Tomorrow, a couple more blogs. Stay tuned…

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Book Cover Images From Amazon.com

Warning: This article is off topic. I provide it for the benefit of other bloggers, and I need a handy reference myself.

Sometimes I need a book cover image for a blog article. And generally, I get it from Amazon. I can generally fall within the fair use doctrine of copyright law by

  1. using the image for non-commercial, educational use,
  2. limiting usage to just the cover of the book,
  3. using a small thumbnail of the cover, and
  4. not compromising the market value of the cover or book.

I also try and return fair value in exchange for the value I receive. I do this by linking the image back to the Amazon page where they sell the book. (I’ve heard the Amazon terms and conditions require this.) Oh; and to avoid stealing bandwidth from Amazon, I download the image and host it on my blog instead of linking to it.

The URL format for Amazon book covers is:


iiiiiiiiii is the 10-digit ISBN with the dashes removed. If you examine the URL when viewing a book product page on Amazon.com, you’ll likely see an alternative code of the form /I/xxxxxxxxxxx. While I don’t know what it means, be advised that this identifier can change over time.

_oooo is an option which you can leave out, or include one or more of

  • _PAm,x,y,b – shadow: m=margin; x,y=offset right,down; b=blur (example: _PA10,5,5,10)
  • _PB – shadow below and left
  • _PC – shadow below and right
  • _BOw,r,g,b – border: w=width; r,g,b=color (0-255) (example: _BO5,255,0,0)

If you see any of the following options used on images on Amazon, you generally want to remove them to get rid of the icon from the cover image:

  • _PGaaaa – place icon aaaa along bottom of image
  • _PHaaaa – place icon aaaa along top of image
  • _PIaaaa,o,x,y – place icon aaaa at x,y relative to origin o.

SCsZZZZZZZ is the size code and can be

  • SCTZZZZZZZ – tiny (85 x 121)
  • SCMZZZZZZZ – medium (124 x 176)
  • SCLZZZZZZZ – large (389 x 550)
  • SXx – set width to x (example: SX50)
  • SYy – set height to y (example: SY50)
  • SLs – set size of longer dimension to s (example: SL50)
  • SSs – set size of longer dimension to s, then white fill to get a square image (example SS50)
  • AAs – same as SS. Change to SL to eliminate whitespace.

Be forewarned that the size specified will be the final size of the image, and the book cover will be reduced in size to account for any adornments added such as shadows and borders.


For more information, see Nat Gertler, “Abusing Amazon images,” AAUGH.com (http://aaugh.com/imageabuse.html : accessed 9 June 2009).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

See the Insider at the SCGS 2009 Jamboree

Southern California Genealogy Jamboree 2009 The Southern California Genealogical Society (SCGS) Genealogy Jamboree is coming up Friday-Sunday, 26-28 June 2009 at the Burbank Airport Marriott Hotel and Convention Center. And I’m going to be part of a panel discussion, “Summit 2: Son of Blogger,” Saturday Morning from 9:30 am to 12:00 noon!

Son of Blogger participants are:

It is indeed an honor to be asked to participate. However, audience feedback from last year warns us not to spend time worshiping the noted bloggers in the group. Since we’re not supposed to during the event, may I just say that I’m blown away to have so many competent writers both on the podium and out in the audience. Other noted bloggers such as Randy Seaver will be in attendance. (Go easy on us, Randy!) This should be a great event. Come by and say hello! I love meeting the real people at the other end of the network cable.

“Ancestry Insider! You just attended the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree! What are you going to do now?!?” “I’m going to Disneyland!!!”

But I digress…

Would you like to submit questions to the blogger panel? Now’s the time. Send your questions to Paula Hinkel at phinkel@pacbell.net .

Next Monday, 15 June 2009, is the last day to preregister or sign up for banquets or breakfasts. Register at www.scgsgenealogy.com . For additional information about the jamboree, visit www.genealogyjamboree.blogspot.com .

Monday, June 8, 2009

NFS Rollout News: IOUs, IOUSs and IOSs

It has been a little while and I owe you (IOU) an update on the rollout of New FamilySearch (NFS) to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since our last update, the following has occurred:

  • Last Thursday family history consultants from the Salt Lake and Bountiful temple districts received word that they were beginning the transition to NFS.
  • Five stakes in Logan went live on 2 June 2009 and another ten today.

As always, all the latest information can be found at “Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch.” Keep everyone informed by sharing your news at AncestryInsider@gmail.com .

Individuals of Unusual Size

IOUSs (individuals of unusual size) is the term used to describe the software glitch that held up the deployment of NFS to Utah and Idaho. I call this the red zone because my rollout map utilizes green, yellow, red traffic semaphore colors. When the rollout stalled last year, all the world was green (using NFS) except Las Vegas, which was yellow (in transition) and Utah and Idaho districts, which were all red (not yet in transition).

New FamilySearch Rollout Map for 4 Jun 2009

I believe that IOUSs continue to be the limiting factor in the velocity of the rollout to the Red Zone. Lately, we’ve seen a variety of methods used to control the rollout speed.

We’ve seen:

  • An experiment in Vernal. The nature of this experiment has never been mentioned publicly, but I understand it is over. All members of the Church in Vernal now have full access to NFS.
  • As previously covered in this column, the publicly available Product Support pages of FamilySearch.org documented giving members in Utah “read-only access” to NFS. Shortly after that article appeared, the list of temples that would get read-only access disappeared from the site. Read-only access is perhaps just an uncertain experiment planned for the future or held in the past.
  • In St. George, the rollout invitation originally went to the Church’s family history consultants only and required consultants to finish training lessons before gaining access to NFS. Presumably, this would smooth out the number of new NFS users over time instead of having all the new users hit the system simultaneously. If I understand correctly, this experiment ended and all consultants in the St. George district now can register for NFS.
  • In the Logan district, consultants in five of its 43 stakes were given advance access to NFS to allow training and familiarization before the membership at large was given access a few weeks later. (A stake is a geographic subdivision of a temple district, somewhat comparable to a diocese.) This pattern was repeated for ten more stakes who received full access today. Stake-by-stake rollout will continue in Logan until all stakes have access.
  • In the Mount Timpanogos temple district, the temple semi-retired TempleReady today and has started using NFS, even though members don’t have access to NFS. (TempleReady was a software program used by members of the Church to request temple ordinances for their ancestors.) The ramification on members in the Mount Timpanogos district is immediate and if you’re not prepared, it can be a little disconcerting.

Note: While I attempt to explain jargon specific to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for you, my friends who are not members, the remainder of this article is unlikely to be of any interest outside Church members.

If not TempleReady, What?

As in the Timpanogos district today, when a temple converts to NFS prior to the temple’s patrons, the method for making ordinance requests changes. Instead of taking a TempleReady disk to the temple, patrons take a Family Ordinance Request (FOR).

To assist patrons in the preparation of FORs, family history consultants at family history centers (FHCs) and in local wards have been given NFS accounts and a special feature called “Sign in to Help Someone Else.” In “NFS’s Helper Feature” I discussed misinformation going around stating that consultants shouldn’t use the Helper Feature. Some of this information comes from official sources, such as KB 105521 which currently states, “Signing on as a helper in the new FamilySearch when someone is not registered can be risky.” Another, KB 100546, can be misinterpreted if not read carefully. While support missionaries are instructed not to make changes for users when using Helper, family history consultants can and should.

IOSs to the Rescue

In the Timpanogos district today, and in other districts utilizing this split mode—temple on NFS, patrons not—patrons will follow this process to request temple ordinances for ancestors:

    Your membership record number is located near the top of your Individual Ordinance Summary
    Your membership record number is located near
    the top of your Individual Ordinance Summary.
    Image Credit: © 2009 IRI, All rights reserved.
  1. Ordinance requests are now tied to a Church member’s membership. The Church will know who submitted the offending request the next time someone submits ordinances for President Obama’s parents. Consequently, you will need to bring your membership number with you when you come to create a temple submission. The number recorded on your temple recommend may or may not be correct. The safe approach is to get an Individual Ordinance Summary (IOS) from your ward clerk. Your membership record number is located near the top, as shown to the right.
  2. Meet with your family history consultant at the family history center (FHC), your home, or another location where you have (preferably high-speed) access to the Internet. Bring your membership number and your genealogy.
  3. The consultant will log in to NFS using his or her own account. Then the consultant will “Sign in to Help Someone Else” as explained in this knowledge base article. The consultant will need your full name, date of birth, and your helper access number, which is the last five digits of your membership record number. Note that confirmation date is not necessary to be helped.
  4. Using the skills the consultant has learned in the training lessons, the consultant will help you search NFS to prevent duplication of the ordinances you desire to submit.
  5. For ordinances that haven’t been completed, the consultant will help you enter the information about your ancestors. As each is entered, select the option to print later. This allows you to combine all the names onto one submission. (See “Include More Than One Person on a Family Ordinance Request.”)
  6. Once you have checked and entered all the ancestors for your submission, the consultant will then help you print a Family Ordinance Request (FOR) from the Temple Ordinance tab of NFS. The FOR takes the place of a TempleReady disk.
  7. Take the FOR to the temple. The temple will print ordinance cards for you.

See “Switching from Personal Ancestral File, TempleReady, Ancestral File, and the Pedigree Resource File” for more information.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ancestry.com California Death Index

I recently received this e-mail from one of my readers:

Hi! Been reading about the Ancestry.com search and the frustrations therein. Thought I'd send along a great example.

Looking for Fredrick Murphy, born 1902 and died in California.

If you follow the links below, you will find that he does come up when you search RootsWeb’s California Death Index, but does NOT come up when you search the same database in Ancestry.com.

* sigh *
Cherie in OC

Dear Cherie,

Thanks for your question. Problems with the Ancestry.com search software are one thing. Problems in the databases which are searched by that software are another. The deficiencies of the Ancestry.comCalifornia Death Index, 1940-1997” database have been discussed several times by genealogists. See for example the long discussions started with each of the following messages.

According to the post by Randy Seaver, the Ancestry.com database has 8,194,784 records, which is smaller than the RootsWeb database by 13.5%. Almost a year ago Phil Carnahan asked Ancestry.com for comment and was told:

We appreciate your message. We apologize for any inconvenience. At this time we are working to complete the posting of information in the California death index . We do not have an official release schedule for future postings. Certain information may not currently be available due to varying issues. These include (but are not limited to) research, rescanning, and quality assurance matters. We will complete the posting of this database as quickly as possible, but there will be some delay before the entire project is completed. Thank you for your patience.

PLEASE NOTE: In addition to the above issues governing when more information is added to this database, this data is supplied by a third party. Periodic updates to this database are provided to Ancestry.com as these are made by the organization responsible for collecting this information. However, the frequency of these updates varies.

Another poster, EdrieAnne Broughton attributes the missing entries to California privacy laws.

This [Ancestry.com] database cannot be updated due to California privacy laws and I doubt they are going to waste manpower and resources to pick up the missing [names] from the first transcriptions.

Other Online Sources

The California Death Index (CADI) is available from several other sources online.

While the RootsWeb.com “California Death Records [1940-1997]” database has 9,366,786 records, it is not without its problems. One poster noted a wrong birthplace in the RootsWeb CADI and a correct birthplace in the Ancestry.com CADI. Carnahan noted in a later post,

I tried a search for anyone born in 1900 on RootsWeb and found none. I tried the same search on Ancestry and found many. I then jumped over to the CDs issued by the state and guess what, there are no births listed on the death index as 1900 on any of the CDs. I checked a couple Ancestry said were born in 1900 and the CDs had them listed as being born in 1901. I finally found a death listed in the Ancestry CADI which was also listed in the SSDI [Social Security Death Index]. The RootsWeb CADI and CDs gave a birth year as 1901 and the Ancestry CADI and SSDI gave a birth year as 1900. I guess we're all forewarned! None of these resources can be fully trusted to be correct.

The source listed for the RootsWeb CADI is “The California Department of Health Services Office of Health Information and Research vital Statistics Section.” Carnahan’s post makes it appear that this source is the set of CDs issued by the state of California. The source for the Ancestry.com CADI must be something else.

The SFgenealogy.net “California Death Index (1940-1997)” database contains 9,366,409 records (5,130,708 males and 4,235,701 females). This total is a smidgen less than the RootsWeb.com database, which makes me wonder if they have the same source.

I wasn’t able to identify how many records were in the www.familytreelegends.com “California Deaths, 1940-1997” database, although I was able to search the database for free. It does have births from 1900. Apparently, their database was previously published by Pearl Street Software in 2004-5. Beyond that, I don’t know the source of their data.

I am also unable to identify how many records were in the www.vitalsearch-ca.com1940-2000 Death Index Summary,” which can only be searched by “Premium Search Members.”

Source of the Sources

This information makes it clear there are at least two separate sources for the different online California Death Indexes. One is the set of CDs previously mentioned. Phil Van Camp gives a titch more information about the CDs in a post.

Calif[ornia]'s dept of Vital Statistics was selling it, a set of three CD's [covering deaths] from 1940 - 1979 for approximately $100, last I heard.

Unfortunately, last I heard, those CDs are no longer available for purchase. According to the Family History Library Catalog, the CDs are available for use at the Family History Library. Pt. 1 covers 1940-1979 and Pt. 2 covers 1980-1997.

Another source for the CALI is a set of microfiche. See “California Death Index” by Sandra Harris and Dan Mosier on www.sfgenealogy.com. According to this article, some California libraries that have parts of the fiche set are:

  • Oakland Main Library, 1940-1987
  • Sacramento, California State Library, 1905-1990
  • San Francisco Main Library History Center (6th Floor), 1940-1987
  • San Francisco Sutro Library, 1940-1993
  • Santa Clara Library, 1940-1987
  • Thousand Oaks, Thousand Oaks Library, years not stated

Film and fiche for 1905-1994 are listed in the Family History Library Catalog. There are no notices excluding lending to local family history centers (FHCs), so I’m guessing that these films and fiche can be loaned to your local FHC. However, some of the fiche are in sets of 100+ fiche with loan fees of $.15 per fiche, so you are looking at more than the standard $5.50 film rental rate for some dates. Once the FHC has the fiche, it may keep it indefinitely.