Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Name Appeared on the Screen

It's called coincidence, hunch, synchronicity, fortuitous luck, spiritual guidance, paranormal activity, karma, extra sensory perception, life-after-death, fate, divine intervention, genetic memory, manifestation of providence, intuition, statistical inevitability, inspiration, psychic channeling, revelation, subconscious reasoning, vision, sixth sense, collective subconscious, dream, past-life imprinting on present consciousness, 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

A woman in Utah had been searching for information on one of her ancestors. One day she attended a Family History Library class on Church records taught by employee, John Van Weezep, a senior bibliographer in the acquisitions department. During the class, Van Weezep showed an immigration record from Steeple Ashton, Wiltshire, England.

To their astonishment, the example contained the very information for which the woman was searching!2

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

     2. Douglas D. Palmer, “What’s Your Line?” LDS Church News, 23 December 1967, p. 14, col. 1; images online, Google News Archive( : accessed 28 December 2009).

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Series: Vault Vednesday

FamilySearch Granite Mountain Record VaultI’ve been trying to wait until 2010 to kick off this new series, but I’m just too excited to vait!

It’s been like vaiting for Christmas, vaiting for 2010 to come. The 2010 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference is going to be held in Salt Lake City! This is going to be… well… AWESOME!!! I’m so excited! The nation’s best genealogy lecturers are coming to town! And FamilySearch is planning some cool stuff for conference attendees, which brings us to this new series.

According to the conference vebsite, the conference highlights will include a virtual tour of the Granite Mountain Record Vault! Shock and awe! I’ve always been fascinated by FamilySearch’s Granite Mountain Record Vault (the GMRV as we at FamilySearch like to abbreviate it) in a canyon up above the Salt Lake Valley.

Now, I hate to steal any thunder from the head of FamilySearch (who has the authority to fire me!), but I figure sharing some of my fascination with the Vault (as we at FamilySearch like to call it) can only increase your desire to come to the conference and attend this virtual tour.

Picking the day of the veek to run this series vas a little tricky, as I couldn’t find a day of the veek that begins with “V.” But I think I’ve vorked out a vay to make that vork. Stay tuned for “Vault Vednesday!”

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

AAA Mormon Architecture Article

If you are interested in Mormon history, you may be interested in the January 2010 online edition of Via, AAA Traveler’s Companion, magazine of the California State Automobile Association. It features “Mormon Architecture: Temples, tabernacles, and towns in Nevada and Utah embody Mormon vision and craftsmanship.” The article describes several buildings without showing pictures. As you read the article, click the thumbnails below to see what you’re reading about.

The Brigham City (Utah) Tabernacle. Destroyed by fire and authentically restored.

Click for the old Box Elder County tourism website   Click for Ronald Johnson photos on   Click for map and photos  

 Las Vegas (Nevada) Mormon Fort State Historic Park. The original fort is gone, save an adobe wall. Does AAA want travelers to judge Mormon architecture by this specimen? Methinks an enterprising editor may have fiddled with author Julia M. Klein’s original title to make it fit artfully on the page.

Click for more photos from  Click for NPS Teaching with Historic Places lesson plan  Click for the state park website

Click for more info from St. George, Utah

Brigham Young Winter Home

Click for more info and photos from the county historical society  Click for more info and photos from temple visitor center

St. George Tabernacle

Click for more info and photos from Mormon Historic Sites Registry  Click for more photos on

St. George Utah Temple

Click for more photos and info from  Click for more photos and info from

Jacob Hamblin Home

Click for more info and links at county historical society site  Click for more info on Utah Travel website

 Provo, Utah

BYU, Joseph F. Smith Building

 Click for more info from  Click for more photos from

BYU, Law school building

Click for photo from

Provo Tabernacle

Click for more images via  Click for more photos and info from

Provo Utah Temple

Click for more photos and info from

Click for photos from  Sat Lake City

Salt Lake Temple

Click for the Mormon Historic Sites Registry  Click for architecture details from Wikipedia


Salt Lake Tabernacle

Click for the Mormon Historic Sites Registry  Click for more info from

Assembly Hall

Click for the Mormon Historic Sites Registry  Click for more info from

Joseph Smith Memorial Building. FamilySearch world headquarters.

Click for more photos from  Take a virtual tour of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building

Beehive House and Lion House

Click for Beehive House info from the Mormon Historic Sites Registry  Click for Lion House info from the Travel Utah website

Conference Center

Click for more info from  Click for photos from

I hope that added to your brief, online tour of Mormon architecture.

Monday, December 28, 2009

NFS News: Media Event Excludes Online Community?

Craig Miller
Image credit: Chen Wang, Deseret News

Craig Miller, FamilySearch director of member needs, demonstrated New FamilySearch (NFS) to LDS-related media representatives recently, according to reports in the Deseret Newss LDS Church News. This writer did not receive an invitation, as he has for recent blogger/media events, leading one to question FamilySearch’s understanding of online marketing. True, the event targeted media providing news exclusively to members of FamilySearch sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and this writer primarily attempts non-denominational coverage. But were any LDS family history writers included?

I made a quick perusal of online genealogy news sources that I consider to exclusively target the LDS audience, including Ileen Johnson’s FHCNET, Sue Maxwell’s Granite Genealogy, Renee (Zamora)’s Genealogy Blog, and Ohana Software’s Ohana Insights Blog. While Miles Meyer’s blog is not LDS-specific, his insights as one of the first adopters of New FamilySearch, his training presentations, and his participation in online communities are well known in the online LDS genealogy community. None of these have published articles from the event.

No doubt the online LDS genealogy community was passed by because they are already engaged in family history, whereas the LDS Church News and Meridian Magazine reach those not now participating. Still…

Can FamilySearch Open Up?

Long-time readers know I campaigned for years before started opening up to the genealogy community. FamilySearch, now years behind, has much larger obstacles to overcome:

  • FamilySearch is part of a large, non-profit bureaucracy. Having worked in both for-profit and non-profit organizations, I think large, non-profits are inherently affected by inertia. Take the DMV, the IRS, the SSA, the military, government contractors, etc.  Change in these organizations can be glacially slow.
  • FamilySearch is part of a church that is often targeted with opportunistic lawsuits. As a result, the Church has extremely onerous intellectual property (IP) clearance processes to approve public comments. These seem to be designed to expedite dismissal of frivolous IP lawsuits. Unfortunately, the result is that the time investment involved in releasing any information is often more than most employees are willing to make.
  • Supervisors in the Church, which owns FamilySearch, have reserved the privilege of making some news announcements. As believing members of the Church, FamilySearch employees happily and willingly defer this responsibility to the Church. As a result, simple announcements that are important to the genealogy community are sometimes overlooked by the Church.

For example, coverage of the mid-December media event quotes Elder Richard J. Maynes as the Church’s executive director over FamilySearch. The news of Elder Maynes assignment as executive director was broke by the now defunct Shoebox Genealogy blog some 19 months ago, but I’ve never seen any announcement of this appointment by either the Church or FamilySearch, despite the importance to the genealogy community.

NFS Release to Non-LDS?

With the rollout of NFS to members of the Church (mostly) complete, the rest of the genealogical community are increasingly interested in when access will be given outside the Church. The LDS Church News articles made it clear that the current version of New FamilySearch is designed for Church members. Representatives of FamilySearch explained that NFS was designed to

  • Simplify the process for members who wish to perform temple ordinances for their ancestors.
  • Reduce the duplication of temple ordinances for ancestors.
  • Enable collaboration of genealogical research by providing one common pedigree for researchers.

You will notice that only the final point of the three is applicable to genealogists outside the Church. The information given to LDS media representatives is noticeably specific to Church members; no information was given about when the rollout to other genealogists will begin.

Home page of NFS provides links to tutorials, pedigree, temple ordinances
Image credit: R. Scott Lloyd, Church News

Genealogical Maturity

Miller demonstrated New FamilySearch by entering the name of a reporter’s deceased grandfather. “Immediately it became clear that the reporter’s great-aunt was in the database twice…in one instance erroneously, as she was identified as a male.” This is a common situation among data submitted by members of the Church. The Church has made a number of changes since 1969 to make family history easier for members, resulting in large amounts of erroneous information. Processes and requirements used to be genealogically sound, which made them overly complex for new members capturing first-hand knowledge.

Rather than bifurcating requirements for submission of first-hand knowledge, the Church dropped tools, training, and requirements necessary for research beyond a person’s personal knowledge. The Church dropped the requirement that submissions include sources, and eliminated evidence methodology training from its family history manuals. (Compare the 1951 A Guide for Genealogical Research, with the 2009 Members Guide and Instructors Guide. Try to find in the modern training the evidence methodology presented in Chapter 8 and elsewhere in A Guide…)

Genealogists outside the Church will cringe when ancestral lines converge with Church members’. Genealogists will then find the data used to seed NFS is predominantly genealogical maturity level (GML) one: submitters depended on compiled genealogies, depended on instinct and logic instead of evidence, sources are not present, and information about multiple individuals is often combined into one person. A GML of one is charitable where inconsistencies are present such as fathers born before sons. Hopefully, this experience doesn’t discourage outside contributors like it has some members.

While the preloaded data is clearly GML 1, here’s how I would grade the NFS software itself. GML ranges from 0 (worst) to 5 (best). See my articles on genealogical maturity level for more information. This is a little subjective, so I hesitate to give an overall score.

Category GML Comments
Sources 1 Data preloaded by FamilySearch was all compiled genealogies.
Makes source specification extremely onerous.
Does not teach the importance of source-based genealogy.
Does not teach source interpretation or ranking of sources.
Citations 1 Excludes sources specified by Ancestral File contributors.
Excludes sources specified by PRF contributors.
Excludes sources specified by TempleReady contributors.
Does not clearly identify sources of data preloaded by FamilySearch.
Specifies data load dates rather than source creation dates.
Does not support manuscript source templates.
Does not support source provenance or quality assessment.
Does not support industry standard citations.
Information 1 Does not teach primary and secondary information (vs. source).
Does not support capture of information separately from conclusions.
While the inner/outer person architecture could have been used to implement this, the large amount of preloaded compiled genealogies created IOUSes, leading to de-emphasis of this architectural feature.
Evidence 2 While NFS does not support user evaluation of evidence quality, I give it a 2 because the system has some rules employed in choosing default values for summary display.
However, it does not require evidence.
Basic API calls exclude evidence, requiring multiple calls to get sources.
Does not support correlation of indirect evidence.
Does nothing to promote proficient or stellar use of evidence.
I need to think about NFS support for conflicting evidence.
Conclusions 3 Supports selection of conclusion, discussion, and retention of conflicting evidence. (Remember, this score is for the system, not for the data or the behavior of users, which might be different.)
Does not teach or encourage sound reasoning.
Does not enable use of indirect evidence, beyond notes (although I don’t know what I expect it to do beyond notes).
Does not teach or inspire proficient conclusions in users.
Conclusion Trees 2 Uncombines are time consuming and difficult.
User interface makes analysis during combine difficult.
Does not require evidence before performing combines.
Allows merging of compiled genealogies into tree.
Does not manage evidence separately from conclusion tree.
Does not allow publication of high-quality conclusions, either directly or via data export.

Before making New FamilySearch available to genealogists outside the Church, FamilySearch must ask itself if the user experience is positive enough to encourage outside participation. If not yet good enough, will users return after incremental improvements are made?

Tell me what you think. Click on Comments, below, or send me a message that I can share publicly.

Do you agree with my evaluation? How would you score NFS? Is NFS ready for general release? Do you contribute? Why or why not? If not contributing now, what improvements must be made before you will contribute?


To read the LDS Church News articles for yourself, see:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ron Tanner interviewed

Dear Ancestry Insider,

If it seems helpful to your readers, they can use this link to click-to-listen to an audio interview with Ron Tanner, product manager for the New FamilySearch program.  It appears now on The Cricket and Seagull Fireside Chat podcast, and will run later this week on and online.

I hope you find it useful.  Best to you in your work,
Steven Kapp Perry
Host of The Cricket and Seagull Fireside Chat podcast at:

UPDATE from the Insider:

I love Ron Tanner. He's got a great radio voice; excellent for podcasts. Among the interesting facts you'll hear during this podcast:

  • New FamilySearch contains information on 90 million people
  • It requires 650 servers
  • It contains 1.4 billion records
  • That is 20 terabytes of information (1 terabyte is the equivalent of about 4000 DVD movies)
  • The Record Search pipeline adds one terabyte of information every week
  • Several hundred thousand volunteers are currently indexing
  • Indexers are completing about a million records a day

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Southern California Genealogy Society Jamboree Video

Starting to publicize for the 2010 Southern California Genealogy Jamboree, the Southern California Genealogical Society posted a video shot at the 2009 event, where yours truly participated in Son of Blogger: Summit 2.

If you can’t see the video above, try viewing it on YouTube.

Blogger Summit 2 - Son of Blogger

Here’s another still from the video. Panelist (from right to left, not all pictured) were: George G. Morgan, Stephen Danko, Leland Meitzler, The Ancestry Insider, Craig Manson, DearMYRTLE, Dick Eastman, Schelly Talalay Dardashti, and Lisa Louise Cooke.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Above the Fold

This is another mostly unimportant article in my series filling the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ll return with more valuable topics after the holidays.

There’s a tool in Google Labs right now that may be of interest to bloggers and those of you with family history websites. Browser Size allows website owners and designers to see how much of their websites are visible without scrolling when viewed on older computers. Older computers have “smaller” screens, either smaller in physical size, or having fewer pixels, or both.

The fold is a concept borrowed from the newspaper world and refers to the fold separating the top half of the front page from the bottom. Just as some people never venture further into a newspaper than “above the fold,” so too many website visitors never scroll beyond the visible portion of a web page.

Google Browser Size view of

The illustration above shows a Browser Size analysis of Long time users remember when “Start your tree” pushed “Search” below the fold. The message boards filled with complaints that had removed search from the home page from users that didn’t think to scroll down. Google’s Browser Size shows that the Search button is above the fold for just 30% of Internet users (as measured by Google visitors, not visitors).

Almost 98% of visitors will see the Start Your Tree button without scrolling. Only 50% of visitors will see the newsletter subscription button.

One benefit of registering on for non-subscribers is homepage customization, which allows adding or moving page elements as desired.

For more information about Browser Size, see “Browser Size: a tool to see how others view your website” on the Official Google Blog.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thank You, Thank You, and More Thank Yous

Randy Seaver's Santa Photograph Thank you, Randy, for the "Follow Friday" recommendation last month. It is an honor. Figuring the number of blogs you follow into my calculation, if you honor a new blog every Friday, you won't need to repeat any blog until 4 November 2016. That's my new goal in life: I want to be Randy Seaver's Follow Friday recommendation on the 4th of November 2016, making me the first blog he's recommended twice. By then you'll actually look like your Santa photograph.

The Kreative Blogger Award I also received the Kreativ Blogger award from Randy. Thank you very much. The award originated from Hulda's Husfruas Memoarer blog in Norway. I haven't spoken much Norwegian since serving in the underground during the War. Scroll down to the Google Translate widget to translate her post into English. The original award had a fan-out of 4, if I understand correctly. When bestowing the award, one presented suitable praise on the recipient, who was under no obligation to do anything. Thanks to Simon Leong's Food Favourites blog for information about how the award has morphed.

Thank you, Janet and DearMYRTLE, for the Genea-Speak Award. The Genea-Speak Award is the one that started with the contraband graphic. It looks eerily similar to the logo of the National Genealogical Society. MYRT identifies Texicanwife as the originator of the award, bestowed "for excellence in writing, speaking, and the promoting of good genealogical practices." When informed of the mistake, Texicanwife explained she had found the graphic in a 1970’s clipart set. She immediately created a new award with advanced anti-infringement technology built in. Stare at the new graphic for 10 seconds. Concentrate on the white background. Concentrate... Concentrate...  Nothing?

The original Genea-Speak
The original award
The National Genealogical Society Logo
The NGS logo
The New Genea-Speak Award The new award

OK. Maybe it's just me. Maybe wild mushrooms on my salad was not such a good idea.

Blogger of Honor Badge Finally, Holly informs me that Family History Expos has given me a "Blogger of Honor" badge for my reporting at the Salt Lake City Expo. Thanks, Holly!

If you’re wondering why I haven’t followed all the rules for these awards, no offense is intended. Read my last article, “Awards, Awards, and More Awards.”