Thursday, July 30, 2009

NFS Rollout News: St. George and Idaho Falls

The general membership in the St. George Utah and Idaho Falls Idaho temple districts will soon be receiving access to New FamilySearch, according to Lance McIntosh yesterday at the BYU Family History and Genealogy Conference. Local leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints started receiving notices yesterday. Presumably, these rollouts will take place in groups of stakes over several weeks. It was not clear if one temple would be completed prior to the other, or if each week would include groups of stakes from both temple districts.

Rollout to the St. George Utah temple is significant, as it is the oldest operating temple in the Church today. While the Kirtland (Ohio) and Nauvoo (Illinois) temples preceded St. George, the Kirtland Temple is no longer owned by the Church and the original Nauvoo Temple was demolished after being damaged by arson and tornado.

Rollout to St. George and Idaho Falls is also significant because it will leave just Wasatch Front temples. (See “Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch.”)

While it is possible that St. George or Idaho Falls could all release at once, as Boise did, I think one has to consider the unknown risks introduced by the August NFS release. (See “NFS August 2009 Release.”)

IGI Dies Without Fanfare

This week saw another significant, yet unheralded milestone. On Monday the final two temples feeding data into the venerable International Genealogy Index (IGI) switched to the new recording system used by NFS. I assume no new data will be added to the IGI. At an appropriate, as yet undecided, future date, it will be removed from the website.

The IGI is being replaced with two systems, reflecting two of the three sources of the information it contains: genealogy data submitted by members of the Church and data extracted from source records. Genealogy data submitted by members of the Church is now entered by members directly into New FamilySearch. All of the data contained in the IGI that was extracted from source records is being staged for publication on Record Search.

I heartily endorse the separation of the two types of data. Having them combined in the IGI has long caused problems for researchers, violating several genealogical best practices:

  • Evidentiary data (extracted records) should be kept separate from conclusionary data (member submissions).
  • Conclusions (member submitted genealogies) can not be believed without citations to the supporting evidence.
  • It violates the principle of Respect de fonds to mix collections of different origins. Member submissions and extracted records shouldn’t be mixed. And don’t look for one big “IGI Collection” on Record Search; that too would violate the principle. Different sources of data will be divided up into different collections, reflecting FamilySearch’s determination to follow best practices.

Then Why Do I Have Heartburn?

My only heartburn in the death of the IGI concerns the third source of information in the IGI: temple ordinance data for use by members of the Church.

Granted the IGI was not an original source for pre-1969 temple records. But it provided source film and batch numbers. The IGI even allows searching by source, allowing some nice research techniques for those with pioneer ancestors.

For several decades now, temple records have been “born digital.” Since digital copies of digital records can be made with little chance of introducing errors, the IGI has been, essentially, an original source of primary information about temple ordinances. I’m not saying the genealogical information was correct, or properly sourced, or that every ordinance performed was properly recorded. What I’m saying is that if the IGI said an ordinance took place in the last 25+ years, then it took place. Period.

If I were King and cost were no object, I would see that Record Search contained collections that provided evidence of temple ordinances. In addition to fully searchable electronic indexes, for records that were not born digital, the indexes would be linked to images of the transcribed records. Every record would have a source citation. This is not a special case and wouldn’t require special expense. It would be produced just like any other collection on Record Search. Like other Record Search collections whose owners have contracted with FamilySearch to restrict access, and like the Special Collections room at the Family History Library, access to Temple Record collections would be restricted to temple worthy members of the Church. When the day comes that we can link information in NFS to evidence in Record Search, no special work would be required for ordinance information. (An old programming adage is, avoid special cases in order to avoid special bugs.)

FamilySearch, I hope you won’t take away the IGI until there are replacements for all three types of data it contains: conclusionary information supplied by members of the Church, evidentiary information extracted from records, and evidentiary temple ordinance information.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Follow #BYU #Genealogy Conference on Twitter

I plan on posting real-time updates about the BYU conference this week using Twitter. Unless conference organizers suggest a different hashtag, I'm going to use #byugen as the hashtag for my tweets. I invite anyone else tweeting the conference to use #byugen also.

If you'd like to follow along, you might be able to at without joining Twitter first. If not, join Twitter and in the search box on the right, search for "#byugen" (without the quotes). Or folloow my tweets at

With a Twitter account, you can use other Twitter hashtag applications like where you can easily add your own contributions to the real-time reports about the conference.

If you're at the conference in person, come to my Lunch presentation on Wednesday and say hello! Stay tuned...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Busy work versus temple work

To my friends who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: you probably will not find anything of interest in this article.

Dear Ancestry Insider,


I have spent hours every day on [New FamilySearch] NFS trying to do every do-able ordinance for my ancestors since my ALS diagnoses. It seems that I spend most of the time merging records. Am I doing NFS a favor merging all these records?  I hope so....



It sounds like you are both doing ordinances and some clean up of New FamilySearch. I commend you. I think doing one without the other would be a waste of time. You have to do enough combining to avoid needless duplication of ordinances. But there is so much cleanup to do, you can't do it to the exclusion of getting some real work—temple work—done.

Wisdom and order in all things. (See Mosiah 4:27)

God bless you,
-- The Ancestry Insider

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

NARA 2009 Strategic Plan

NARA hopes to make more of its holdings available online, such as this image available on Flickr The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has posted a draft of their 2009 Strategic Plan update. By law, they must update the plan at least every 3 years and the last update was done in 2006.

One interesting change since the last update is the inclusion of social media tools as a way to engage the public. This initiative is already underway. See “National Archives Photos on Flickr: FAQs” for more information about the Archive’s presence on Flickr. Interestingly, NARA has posted higher resolution images of historic documents on Flickr than on their own website. The NARA photostream is located at

A somewhat controversial subject in the Strategic Plan is NARA’s dependence on “dynamic partnerships” to digitize the Archive’s holdings. Part of NARA’s vision is that

[NARA] holdings and diverse programs will be available to more people than ever before through modern technology and dynamic partnerships. The stories of our nation and our people are told in the records and artifacts cared for in NARA facilities around the country. We want all Americans to be inspired to explore the records of their country. (Page 3. Note that the PDF image numbers differ from the page numbers present on the pages.)

On page 9, strategic goal 4 states, “We will provide prompt, easy, and secure access to our holdings anywhere, anytime.” To accomplish this goal, NARA hopes to create an online “archive without walls.” Some of the specific strategies for accomplishing this goal are

  • “For the broadest possible access, we will make digital copies of selected non-electronic records available online. We will identify these holdings in a digitization plan that sets priorities for putting these holdings online.
  • “We will work to establish partnerships with both governmental and private institutions to facilitate the availability of NARA holdings over the Internet, while ensuring that NARA obtains ownership of the digital versions.” (Page 10)

I am staunchly in favor of such partnerships as I’ve expressed in articles such as “Expanded access to NARA records.” Since writing that article we’ve seen concerns that these partnerships lack accountability and quality control. See my article, “Standards of an archive-quality digital record repository,” for a proposal that would deal with these concerns.

I’ve done a little probing since that piece and learned some archival science. I hope to write an article explaining the principal principle of archives, respect de fonds, along with its two sub-principles, provenance and original arrangement. My proposal and this principle are amazingly similar. Stay tuned…

Visit “Draft 2009 Strategic Plan” on the National Archives website to see the complete plan and leave your comments. You are invited to comment on the draft plan up through 5 August 2009.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NFS Rollout News for the Moon Landing’s 40th Anniversary

Neil Armstrong steps onto the moon It would have been nice if Neil Armstrong had made his miraculous landing (which none of us realized or appreciated at the time) and immediately hopped down and made his giant leap off the end of the ladder. I was so excited, the hours after the landing were interminable before we witnessed that grainy gray bulge shift against the fuzzy black and white background. The CBS NASA expert had to tell Walter Cronkite what we were seeing… at least until Armstrong made his famous statement. Then Cronkite removed his glasses and wiped an eye.

Good stuff.

Forty years later members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints along the Wasatch Front are waiting for New FamilySearch (NFS) to land in a temple near them. Since the last map update, NFS has touched down in the Logan (29 Jun 2009) and Boise (20 Jul 2009) temple districts. The switchover of all Boise stakes at once was not expected, but certainly welcome. Since the last map update another major milestone was reached. All family history consultants throughout Idaho and Utah now have access to NFS. The “red” zone is no longer red!

New FamilySearch Rollout Map for 20 Jul 2009

Who will be next? If FamilySearch is avoiding the Salt Lake City area, then Idaho Falls and St. George may be next. Will they switch all at once as Boise did? Or will they switch by groups of stakes as Logan did?

Since the last map the St. George, Ogden, and Draper Temples have begun using the NFS Ordinance Recording System (ORS) to record temple ordinances. With the switch in Draper, all Idaho and Utah temples can now process Family Ordinance Requests (FORs) printed by NFS. However, rumors that Provo would switch after the July 4th holiday turned out to be just rumor; we know now that it will switch on 28 July 2009. That leaves two other temples that need to make the switch by the end of July. Assuming the switch will be done on “Temple Tuesday,” Jordan River and Idaho Falls will be switching either today (21 July 2009) or next Tuesday (28 July 2009).

On 11 July 2009 we hit the 2nd anniversary of “Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch,” where you can always check to see the latest details of the rollout.

Can anybody out there in South Jordan or Idaho Falls tell us if either temple switched to the new NFS ORS today?

Monday, July 20, 2009

FamilySearch Support

Lance McIntosh, North America Area Manager for FamilySearch Support Six years ago when Lance McIntosh started working at FamilySearch, the organization received very few support calls. Little wonder since the support phone number was not publicized, the support hours were limited to standard business hours, English was the only available language, and calls from outside the United States were toll calls.

McIntosh, North America Area Manager for FamilySearch Support, was given the assignment to build a world-class support organization to handle the growing set of FamilySearch online products. With 20 years of experience in support, he was well suited for the job. What made this assignment unique was the mandate to use volunteer labor.

FamilySearch’s sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is well known for its young, white-shirted proselyting missionaries. In his presentation at the July UVPAFUG meeting, McIntosh informed us that the Church also assigns missionaries to various family history assignments.

An army of family history missionaries

Graph of FamilySearch Support Staff When McIntosh started in 2003, FamilySearch support had 5 missionaries and 35 employees. The number of employees (the light green line in the graph) dropped to a low of 10 in 2006. Missionaries grew slowly at first, only reaching 20 in 2005 (the dark green line). With the release of New FamilySearch (NFS) that number has grown tremendously since and is expected to hit 1100 this year. Supporting that number of missionaries takes some amount of paid staff, so the number of employees has also grown, although much, much slower, projected to reach just 15 this year. This small growth is only possible by using missionaries in many leadership positions.

Support handles four types of questions:

  • Product questions “How do I…”
    • PAF
    • CD products (which are being phased out)
    • FamilySearch Indexing
    • Family History Center (FHC) operations (my uncle and aunt are missionaries in this area of support)
  • Installation questions
  • Policy questions
  • Research questions

Support for FamilySearch products is available to both members of the Church and non-members, alike.

There are 3 levels of Support for Family History: Church Headquarters Support, Area Support, Local SupportLevels of Support

There are three levels of support.

1.  Local Support

At the local level, support is provided by family history consultants and family history centers. “Did you consultants know you were part of FamilySearch support?” queried McIntosh. “There’s no way we could handle the load without you.” In fact, the 2006 update to the Family History Work section (nine) of the Church Handbook re-centered the Church’s family history support on consultants. Family history center directors have felt threatened because centers are no longer the focus. “We feel strongly that the consultant is the key.” About 50,000 individuals currently work in this level of support.

2.  Area Support

There are 1,100 volunteer missionaries serving in about 45 countries around the world. Some serve in the 14 Area Support offices scattered across the globe. Others serve in their very own homes. Most are older, retired individuals. FamilySearch uses a sophisticated phone system that routes calls to missionaries home phones when they are signed in to take calls. The system also utilizes the location of callers so that both parties to each call speak the same language.

  • The system first tries to connect the caller to someone in the same country.
  • If there are no support personnel available in the same country, the system next tries to route the call to a country that speaks the same language.
  • If that is not possible, it next routes the call to a secondary language. For example, many Portuguese speakers are able to communicate in Spanish.
  • Next the system asks the caller if English is OK, and routes the call to an English speaking person.
  • Finally, the system will advise the caller that no one is available to take the call and asks if the caller would like to leave a message and receive a call back.

3.  Headquarters Support

If Area Support is not able to provide an answer, the issue can be escalated to Headquarters Support. Headquarters Support is composed of about 40 individuals, a mixture of employees and missionaries. These missionaries are usually very technical, sometimes 19 years old or in their 20s.

McIntosh then compared the support experience today with that of six years ago. The support e-mail address and telephone numbers are widely publicized (see “Getting Help,” below). Support is available around the clock, in every major language. Toll-free numbers are available for 90 countries.

Getting Help

1.  Self Help

When you need assistance, FamilySearch prefers that you first try to help yourself. Both the old Product Support page and the NFS Help Center allow users to type questions and get answers from a knowledge base. This is the same knowledge base used by Area Support when they help you. See an example of using the Product Support page on the old website.

McIntosh called for a show of hands from those who had NFS accounts, and then a show of hands from those who had used the help center. Amazingly, only about half of those with NFS accounts had used it. For any product that allows public access to their internal knowledge base, I always prefer self help. I’m technical enough that when I get stumped, it’s usually because of something well beyond first-level support staff’s capabilities. I don’t have enough patience to shepherd an issue through the levels of support necessary to get the right answer.

Self help: very much recommended.

FamilySearch Help Center has a new tab, 'Local Assistance' 2.  Family History Consultants

Most family history consultants are members of the Church and are given the assignment by leaders of their ward. Some family history consultants are not Church members, but are community volunteers who help staff FHCs.

Similarly, Church members can obtain assistance from consultants within their ward and anyone can obtain assistance from consultant by visiting a FHC. This past week FamilySearch added a new tab to the NFS Help Center. The new Local Assistance tab (see the graphic to the right) lists the names and contact information for consultants within your ward.

3.  E-mail/Web Form 

I’m not certain McIntosh expressed a preference between using e-mail and telephone support. Companies seem to prefer e-mail over phone calls because the per-incident cost is cheaper. When I do have to contact a support organization, I prefer e-mail over telephone calls. That way nothing is lost in translation as my incident is escalated up a support organization.

McIntosh did express a preference that NFS questions be submitted through the Help Center instead of the e-mail address ( because the Help Center captures and sends additional information about the context in which you were working. This additional information might be necessary to resolve your issue. Don Snow, the UVPAFUG officer conducting the meeting complained that using the Help Center doesn’t carbon a copy of the issue back to your e-mail address. Another audience member suggested relying on the My Cases tab of the Help Center (partially visible in the graphic, above) to track your support cases.

4.  Telephone

The toll-free number for FamilySearch Support within the United States and Canada is 1-866-406-1830. The number is derived from the date that the Church was organized (April 6, 1830). McIntosh had apparently been questioned before about why the order of the numerals didn’t follow the United States genealogical standard for dates. He deftly sidestepped the issue by declaring that we couldn’t blame him for the choice, as he hadn’t chosen the number.

All the world-wide toll-free numbers as well as the e-mail address can be found online at .

Family History Consultants are Key!Registered Consultants

McIntosh reminded family history consultants that they needed to register. He pointed out that registered consultants received all these perks:

  • News
  • Training
  • Information and tips
  • Resources
  • E-mail memos
  • Links to past memos
  • Early access to NFS

McIntosh asked the people not register just to get NFS access. Remember, you will be listed a a consultant to others using NFS. On the other hand, he said, if you are a de facto consultant, go ahead and register. That is to say, if because of knowledge or prior callings you are acting in the capacity of a consultant, you should go ahead and register and go through the training so that the assistance you give to others is correct.

McIntosh showed us the web page and the registration form, which is accessed from the left side of the page. To change your information, register again. It won’t produce a duplicate. It will overwrite the old. If you change wards, it won’t automatically change you. You must register again to change it. They have asked the Church to add features to their membership software so that this isn’t necessary, but have no control over if and when this might happen.

The right-hand side of the web page leads to the Utah and Idaho Release website. McIntosh told us that barely half of the Church, by volume, had switched to NFS and both the system and the support organization had to handle the upcoming volume. Someone in the audience asked about the Provo temple and I heard say that all temples were then using the new NFS ordinance recording system. I may have misheard, as all temples are now capable of accepting NFS Family Ordinance Requests (FORs), but not all temples are using the new Ordinance Recording System (ORS). (See “NFS Rollout News: Ron Tanner Presentation.”)

While FamilySearch used to roll entire temple district live all at once, with Logan, it was spread out over a month. The rest of temples were expected to work that way. Since then, it was announced that all of the Boise temple district would roll live today, 20 July 2009.

McIntosh said that the exact schedule and order of remaining temples has not been established yet, but that the goal is to have them all done “soon.”

Closing Bonus

In closing McIntosh announced that there is a current opportunity for members of the Church to serve as FamilySearch Support missionaries. While some part-time missionary opportunities prescribe a minimum of 8 hours of service per week, FamilySearch Support requires at least 12 to 15 hours. The Church website states that a minimum commitment of 12 months is needed; McIntosh said six.

As mentioned, the service is provided from your own home, answering questions about family history products and software by responding to phone calls and e-mails. For more information, click here.

Images, in order of appearance:

  • Lance McIntosh photograph, photographer unknown, ( : accessed 18 July 2009).
  • Photograph of missionaries on Temple Square, Christina Smith, photographer, Ensign, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 2006, 26-7 (,7779,592-6-1-2006,00.html#).
  • Graph of support staff prepared by the Ancestry Insider.
  • Diagram showing three levels of support, slide 158, “How Consultants Support the New FamilySearch,” online training module,  ( : accessed 18 July 2009); available to family history consultants in the New FamilySearch Help Center > Training & Resources > E-Learning Courses.
  • Detail from New FamilySearch Help Center, ( : accessed 18 July 2009); copyright Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
  • “Family History Consultants are Key!” slide 166, “How Consultants Support the New FamilySearch,” online training module, (http:/ : accessed 18 July 2009); available to family history consultants in the New FamilySearch Help Center > Training & Resources > E-Learning Courses.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Top Secret FamilySearch Project

You may have been able to tell from my last two articles (here and here) that I loved Ron Tanner’s presentation last Saturday. But I’ve saved the best for last. Keep in mind Tanner’s humorous presentation style, wrapping serious information in mock-seriousness. (While it plays extremely well live, it can be misinterpreted in written form.)

So when I tell you that Tanner laughed at us immediately after asking if any of us thought New FamilySearch improved genealogy, I don’t want you to write and complain to your son’s grand-father-in-law, the General Authority (high official) at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sponsor of FamilySearch. You’ll get both me and Tanner in trouble.

Conclusion Model

In mock-comedic seriousness, Tanner warned us that the proposal he was going to share with us was all theoretical. These were ideas being tossed around. He not only invited us to share are reactions with him, he passed out 3 x 5 cards, invited us to write down our feedback, and at the end of the presentation he conscientiously collected them.

To set the stage, Tanner asked us what might be the capabilities of an ideal family tree system. He suggested we would ask for (contrast these with NFS, if you will),

  • The ability to easily correct information
  • The ability to prove conclusions are accurate with source references and images
  • Invite greater peer review and collaboration
  • Allow for the evolution of a combined human family pedigree

Tanner then proposed ideas that sounded like genius to me. Sure, he was pretty much quoting ideas I published last year, but hey, I recognize genius when I see it.

Tanner announced that we would be the first sentient beings outside FamilySearch to hear the top-secret, internal project name for this proposal. He mockingly made us raise our hands and swore us all to secrecy. Then he revealed the internal code name:

Source Centric, Open Edit (SCOE) model

Hmmm… At least I think he was joking about that solemn oath of secrecy…


SCOE proposes a new human pedigree that encompasses all the principles that Wikipedia uses to make it such a successful, massively collaborative project. SCOE will be freely editable by any registered user. That’s the “open edit” portion of the SCOE moniker.

And it will establish a community where sources, polite discussion, and dispute resolution procedures lead conclusions to converge towards best possible values as judged by genealogical community standards, backed by proper evidence. That’s the “source centric” part of SCOE.


I know some of you are anti-Wikipedia ideologues. Tanner had at least one attending his presentation. While academia has been loathe to give any nod to a publication that favors “consensus over credentials” (see “Wikipedia”), Tanner shared a 2006 review of Wikipedia by Library Journal. The review concluded that,

While there are still reasons to proceed with caution when using a resource that takes pride in limited professional management, many encouraging signs suggest that (at least for now) Wikipedia may be granted the librarian’s seal of approval.

In its short lifetime, Wikipedia has racked up some awfully amazing stats:

  • Launched just 8 years ago, on 10 January 2001
  • 13 million articles among 262 languages
  • Through Jan 2007 the number of articles doubled every year
  • Thereafter, about 1600 articles were added every day
  • The current size is the equivalent of 784 book volumes

English Wikipedia Article Count Graph

As to the accuracy of Wikipedia, Tanner said,

I did an experiment to see how quickly incorrect information was detected and corrected on Wikipedia. I vandalized… er… I mean, some unnamed individual went out and introduced wrong information on the solar system page. The page was restored to the prior version within 27 seconds.

(I hate to tell you this, Ron, but as you yourself mentioned in your presentation, another precept of Wikipedia is that changes are all logged so that undesirable members of the community can be held accountable. The Wikipedia solar system history page shows every change that has ever been made to the article.)

As a second test, the dragon page was modified. The thinking was that the solar system article might be too mainstream, but a less popular page might be watched less carefully. Not only was the dragon page restored in 26 seconds, but a helpful message was included, discouraging addition of information that cannot be substantiated.

User Testing

FamilySearch tested a basic prototype of an openly-editable tree system with a group of people from a broad range of genealogy and Internet experience. FamilySearch discovered that users can become comfortable with such a system if

  • sources are used as evidence,
  • they can see who changed the data and why they changed it,
  • they are able to contact those making changes,
  • they can optionally be notified when changes occur,
  • they can hook reliable and verified sources to their data, and
  • sources are protected and can be modified only by the contributor.

“We’re thinking about having theories, with reasoning, and one theory can be set as a conclusion,” said Tanner. “We’re looking at making the system more consistent with genealogical best practices.”

Tanner said that a Source Centric Open Edit system must:

1. Provide a genealogy-structured interface rather than the free-style format of a traditional wiki system

2. Prevent non-registered users from modifying data

Registered users have to provide contact information. We’ll verify e-mail addresses by sending them a message as part of the registration process.

3. Allow restoration of previous values after data is changed

Each person page would have an associated history page that logged and captured every change, as with the history page for the Wikipedia solar system page. Like Wikipedia, it must be simple for a user to restore a previous version of the page.

4. Separate evidences (sources) from conclusions

I applaud FamilySearch product managers for including this extremely important concept. The necessity seems to elude product managers during their first years of operation in the genealogy industry. Picking on FamilySearch for the moment, witness the treatment of sources during the past 40 years:

  • After 1969, temple submissions were no longer rejected without sources
  • Contributor information was not keyed into electronic systems from submissions
  • Ancestral File was stripped of sources prior to incorporation into the database
  • TempleReady submissions did not require sources and if any were present in the PAF file, the sources were excluded from the submission file
  • Sources in Pedigree Resource File submissions are removed before the data is presented online
  • New FamilySearch (NFS) excludes source information from ordinance data, even when the IGI lists sources that may contain additional data
  • Much of the data in NFS shares a general, common source: “Temple Records, March 2007”
  • Source handling in NFS is widely regarded as inadequate if not counter-productive

5. Notification and collaboration features

As we’ve seen from Wikipedia, these features are critical to facilitate friendly discussion and avoid inadvertent errors or vicious vandalism (not viscous, as my spell checker suggested).

6. Protection of classified or sensitive genealogical information

Administrators need to be able to lock a page from view or edit. This is needed as part of dispute mediation. It’s needed for groups such as the Japanese burakumin, for specific individuals, medieval families, and famous or infamous persons.

7. Mediation of conflicts between contributors.

The system needs moderation or dispute resolution. This would be modeled after Wikipedia’s dispute resolution process.


In conclusion, Tanner reminded us that these are just ideas being thrown around. He asked us to give him our suggestions, as they’re still thinking this all through. He had us think back to the beginning of the presentation, when an open edit system sounded insane. He said, that while we might not be totally convinced, he wanted us to sit on it.

“Now aren’t you thinking that maybe this could work?” he asked. “This is still just research. We may not do any of this.”

Q and A

Tanner had a couple of minutes to answer questions, and attendees didn’t hold back. (These are not quotes.)

Q. Won’t vandalism be a big problem?
A. Sure, It’s a problem in all open systems. We’ll need community administrators. Wikipedia has 2,000 volunteer administrators.

Q. What do the General Authorities think about this proposal?
A. I’ve talked this over with Elder Maynes and Elder Sybrowsky. Their biggest concern is over inappropriate images.

Q. How long will temple reservations last?
A. Forever. Forever. Seriously, we realize this needs to be looked at.

Q. When will SCOE happen?
A. I have preliminary approval to proceed with this project. If I were King, I would have the beginnings of this start in February or May. Maybe the first step will be the addition of discussion pages. The full treatment is a year or two away. I’m trying to get the features added incrementally.

For more information, see Ron’s PowerPoint presentation from the March 2008 BYU Family History and Genealogy Technology Workshop.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NFS August 2009 Release

The beta test for the August release of New FamilySearch (NFS) started last Friday and Ron Tanner, product manager, gave attendees to his presentation at the UVPAFUG meeting Saturday an advance pique at some of the new features.

Notice: Virtually all of this article is germane only to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Friends who are not members might want to skip this article.

New Temple Ordinances Tab

The old Temple Ordinances tab looks like this:

The Old New FamilySearch Temple Tab

The new Temple Ordinances tab has been taken from FamilySearch Family Tree, where it has garnered great user response. It will look like this:

New New FamilySearch Temple Tab

This new temple ordinance tab has several advantages:

  • Accumulating names prior to printing Family Ordinance Requests (FORs)
  • Reprinting FOR
  • Reassigning ordinances from the temple back to yourself (if temple hasn’t yet printed card)
  • Removing (cancelling) reserved ordinances
  • Sorting and resizing columns
  • Reserving all ordinances for an individual, including sealings

Other Changes

Family group records do not automatically show all sources. Instead, you can click a link to the sources and display or print them separately.

The new Temple Ordinances tab requires Adobe Flash Player version 9.0.115 or newer. If you are unable to use the FamilySearch Family Tree Project, you will also not be able to use the new Temple Ordinances tab.

See my previous article, “NFS Rollout News: Ron Tanner Presentation,” for information from the presentation about the NFS rollout. Tanner went on to talk extensively about possible future features. I’ll talk more about those in an upcoming article. Stay tuned…

Monday, July 13, 2009

NFS Rollout News: Ron Tanner Presentation

RonTanner's Facebook picture shows his sense of humorRon Tanner is the current New FamilySearch (NFS) and Family Tree product manager at FamilySearch, replacing Jim Greene (NFS) and Tim Cross (Family Tree). Tanner presented last Saturday at the Utah Valley PAF User Group. (UVPAFUG Motto: “While we’re no longer PAF-specific, we’re still using up old letterhead.”)

To properly interpret Tanner’s NFS news, you have to understand his manic, even zany, presentation style. Tanner had attendees smiling ear-to-ear when not breaking into laughter. He joked that while working at Bell Labs (he has a masters degree in computer science), his extravert score on a personality test set a new record.

Now that he’s moved from engineering into product management his job is to guide the progress and future direction of the products assigned to him. He does this by researching user needs, observing how his products are used, even gathering user suggestions. “I listen to all your suggestions, throw away most, then implement a few. [I’m] like a politician,” he joked.

August Release

Tanner verified what NFS watchers have long observed: The development team plans to do a release every three months with improvements and bug fixes. The beta test for the August release started last Friday. See my upcoming article, “NFS August 2009 Release,” for information.

Tanner disclosed that one change in this release isn’t directly visible to end users. The code that manages data internally, called a database, has been mostly re-written to handle IOUS (Individuals of Unusual Size) better. While this change should result in better performance, there will not be an increase in the number of duplicate individuals that can be combined, which was recently increased from 85 to 150. (See, “Mid-May releases of NFS and Family Tree.”) While warning us that the limit will never be completely removed, Tanner suggested the limit may increase with the November release.

Family Tree

I also learned that the planned role of the FamilySearch Family Tree Project has changed. In fact, it has reverted back to the original purpose for FamilySearch Labs. Family Tree is part of the FamilySearch Labs website, where new ideas, features, and products are developed in a public setting, letting users kick the tires and give feedback. I first reported back in June 2008 that FamilySearch Lab’s Family Tree would eventually replace NFS when FamilySearch (the organization) combined all the pieces onto (the website). This was still the case in March 2009, when Tim Cross reported a long list of features necessary before Family Tree could replace the current NFS.

Tanner, however, admitted that it would take too long to make Family Tree complete. Instead, individual features from Family Tree will be moved into NFS. The first feature is the August release’s new Temple Ordinances tab. The Family Tree project will likely sit unchanged for awhile as personnel are used to move desired features into NFS.

Rollout Roadmap

Tanner reported that all non-Asian temples are now using the new Ordinance Recording System (ORS) associated with NFS. In the tables of my article, “Temple Districts Using New FamilySearch,” this statement corresponds with the column labeled, “Process FORs.” This is different from the complete switchover, which corresponds to the column labeled “Temple on NFS.” Users have been warned that the complete switchover is coming by the end of July.

“Remember, I’m a product manager,” quipped Tanner. “I make lots of promises that I don’t keep. All remaining Wasatch Front temples will be done this year. Asia temples are planned for the first half of next year.”

An audience member quizzed Tanner about access for users who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And in his blunt, non-serious manner Tanner shot back, “Don’t you think the system today would make non-members retch?” We all laughed, but realized the degree of truth in his joke. Tanner stated that FamilySearch’s Executive Director was asking intently when non-member access could happen. Tanner told us, “maybe early next year.”

To control the velocity of the non-member rollout, Tanner thought they might use a system like Google Mail’s initial rollout plan. When Google Mail was first released, to use it one had to receive an invitation. Each user could invite one friend to use Google Mail.

Tanner also mentioned plans to combine NFS into the old but gave no timeline or details.

Tanner went on to talk extensively about adding support for a “conclusion model.” I will cover that portion of his presentation in an upcoming article. Stay tuned…

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Come See Me At The BYU Conference

BYU 2009 Conference on Family History and Genealogy

At the Disneyland Resort, one attraction invites park visitors to discover what Disney cartoon character best matches their personality (I’m Jiminy Cricket). One question used in the evaluation is,

Would you rather have lunch with nice people or have nice people for lunch?

Well, it seems I’m on the lunch menu Wednesday (29 July 2009) of the BYU 2009 Conference on Family History and Genealogy. The schedule for the four day conference only shows a lunch speaker on one day. And it’s me! How weird is that? I don’t feel like I’m any different than any of you kind folks that say such nice things to me when we get to talk with each other at conferences.

They’re not calling it a keynote, mind you. That would be weird. There is a classroom map on the BYU Conference Center website. I’ll be presenting in room 2258, according to the Quick Glance Schedule. I wonder how this will work. Will it be a lunch area where people bring sack lunches? Will there be food items for purchase? Will people be wandering in and out, like a mall eatery? This could be scary!

I hope to see some friendly faces there in support!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

It’s Not Stonehenge Nor The Generations Network

You’ll recall last week I posted this picture and asked where you thought it might be:

The Ancestry Insider at Stonehenge on the summer solstice

You may even recall the 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 actual location of this stone edifice is the Stonehenge Retirement Center of Orem (motto: we provide health care from the Bronze Age), located on Orem Center Street, the highway that connects Interstate 15 with The Generations Network headquarters in Provo, Utah.

As Predicted

As predicted, yesterday the company formerly known as The Generations Network (TGN), formerly, Inc, formerly, formerly Ancestry Publishing, announced that it was changing its name to , the unpronounceable symbol recently abdicated by the artist previously and subsequently known as Prince.

Just kidding! The Generations Network changed their name to No, really! This time I kid you not. See their new corporate website,, for the complete text of the announcement.

It’s ironic, don’t you think, that the new corporate website and the announcement that they are no longer TGN is found on At the time of this writing, still points to the old TGN corporate website.

The problem of an appropriate corporate website address existed for, Inc. They eventually found a home at It seems unlikely that the corporate website will stay at, but it remains to be seen where it will land.

The other problem that, Inc. faced was the ambiguity of the name “” Nothing deflates an important business discussion like trying to explain whether you’re talking about the company or the website. “No, is not part of, it is part of, Inc. No, the website is not going away or being replaced by Yes, provides the family tree feature of, but if you want all of, Inc.’s tree functionality, use”

I can only assume that this name change means one of two things:

  1. (the company) executives lack corporate memory about the problems caused by naming the company after one of several web properties.
  2. (the website) is dead, dying, or otherwise going away.

I have a lot of respect for current (the company) management, so I’m betting on the latter. Look for (the company) to close its (the website) development office in Seattle as an indicator that this is the case.

Sorry, (the website) fans. However, if (the company) executives are looking for a good rest home for (the website), I know of one in Orem…

Monday, July 6, 2009

They Were Under Her Bed All the Time

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

Listening to Alaura Ramsey's story, it sounds like Uncle Sammy might have been a favorite Uncle. But while she felt a special closeness to him, Samuel Wilson Black had married into the Boyce family and Ramsey grew up without learning much about his family. Like most of us, I imagine the genealogy bug didn't bite her until Uncle Sammy was gone and it was too late to ask him.

As she acquired each evidentiary artifact, she dutifully typed the information into her computer, marked the document with a check-mark in the corner, and filed it into her Boyce Family folder. Ramsey found Uncle Sammy as a boy in the U.S. census. That gave her his siblings' names and approximate birth years.

Image courtesy

But then years went by and Ramsey could find little additional information about three of the siblings. She knew Uncle Sammy's parents and grandparents had moved to Idaho when he was young. Living in Boise, Ramsey availed herself of the state's historical archives. Many a time she concentrated hours of her research on just these three siblings, only to come up empty. The sisters were especially difficult because she was unable to identify their married names.

Recently, Ramsey decided to perform an exhaustive search for Sammy's sister, Virginia. She spent hours. Again, she failed to find any additional information. Having pursued every avenue she knew how to do, in utter frustration she appealed for help from beyond this world. "Heavenly Father," she prayed, "please help me find them, if it is Thy will." She got her answer the very next day.

Under The Bed, copyright 2009, Michael BoffeyRamsey was getting something from under her bed when she glanced over at some genealogy files and the thought came to her:

You really should go back through those records and check to see if you have the sources accurately recorded.

Ramsey was meticulous; she had no doubt that there was nothing in her files that needed to be recorded. Still, perhaps more for curiosity than for any other reason, she opened the box. She opened the Boyce Family file and examined the document on top. She discovered it was the obituary for Uncle Sammy's father!

And it didn't have a checkmark.

I imagine her heart skipped a beat as she skipped to the end of the obituary where survivors are enumerated.

And there it was.

Surviving is a daughter Virginia Schmutte, living in Nebraska.

And it didn't stop there. The other two siblings of interest had also survived their father. They were listed, married name and residence.

Alaura Ramsey sought Uncle Sammy's family all over the state, only to find they had been under her bed all the time.

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

2. Alaura Ramsey, Family History Moment: A Distinct Thought, 14 February 2009, LDS Church News, p. 16; online edition available ( : accessed 20 April 2009).

3. 1920 U.S. census, Gooding County, Idaho, population schedule, Bliss Precinct, Enumeration District 2-170, sheet 1-B, p. 604, dwelling 14, family 14, Sherman E. Black household; digital image, ( : accessed 22 April 2009), citing National Archives microfilm publication T625, roll 292.

4. Michael Boffey, photographer, "Under The Bed," digital photograph, flickr ( : uploaded 24 January 2009, accessed 21 April 2009); some rights reserved.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Ancestry Insider Named to Top 101

Family Tree Magazine 101 Best Web Sites 2009

When I met Family Tree Magazine’s Diane Haddad earlier this year I admitted that each article I published was done in fear that my writing skills were lacking. She was a darling; she reassured me and told me not to worry.

So it was an especial treat when I received a letter from Allison Stacy, Family Tree Magazine Publisher and Editorial Director, informing me that for the second year in a row the Ancestry Insider has been named one of Family Tree Magazine’s 101 Best Web Sites.

There’s a couple of letters

But there’s a couple of letters I can read lest my head gets feeling too big. The first:

Hi. I love your column and read it ravenously whenever it appears in my email!  I know you will keep me updated on, as well as other matters. 

But......there IS one thing I wish you would do.  Not just you.  A lot of other people, too.....and that is:  PLEASE stop using grammatical structures such as "There's two new links....." as you did in this last AncestryInsider.  It should be "There ARE two new links...."  You need a plural verb (are) to agree with the plural subject (links).  The word "There" is merely a place holder, not the subject;  therefore, the verb should NOT be "is"  which you have used in your contraction "There's."

You are certainly not the only one I have seen forgetting the rules of subject-verb agreement.  Lately, I have seen quite a few folks slacking in their usage.  I consider you to be a "master" in many realms, and so I am bringing the usage problem to your attention simply because I know so many people read your column.  We tend to mimic those we admire.  I don't want anyone picking up any bad grammar habits from a "master" who simply slipped.

One of your greatest fans,


Dear Brenda,

Thank you for your fragrant argumentation about my flagrant augmentation, the implications of which, constant and casual contractions that they are, precludes the presumption of formality frequently associated with grammatical masters worthy of mimic; and for the greatness of your rhetorically ravenous fan-chi.

The Ancestry Insider (two words)

Mountain Climbing

Dear Ancestry Insider

In a response to 'Geolover' on 30 December 2008 on your blog, you said, in part, "... [b]ut you've peaked my interest. What do you know about's post-New Years plans?"

The correct word to have used here is piqued, not peaked.  The former is a transitive verb that means 'to provoke or arouse'; it comes to us from Vulgar Latin through Old French and means, literally, 'to prick or irritate'; while the latter is an adjective that means 'ending in a peak'.  I believe you meant the former.

The reason that "[s]ome things just drive me nuts ..." is that it is my belief that, as bloggers, we have an obligation not to mislead.

But, then, it's probably a minor point ...

Best wishes,
Lawrence Bouett
Lafayette, California

Dear Lawrence,

Are FamilySearch employees allowed to speak Vulgar Latin?

The Ancestry Insider

All things considered, I enjoyed Allison’s letter the best.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Serious Census Search Techniques

A somewhat arbitrary part of my editorial policy has been to avoid regurgitating the blog posts of others. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy the service some bloggers provide of alerting readers to really good blog posts. Since that need is already being filled by others, I try to provide fresh news, insights, and commentary. But the policy is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules…

Bernie Gracy, Colorado Family History Expo keynote speaker I love to learn. That’s one reason I enjoy genealogy; there’s always something new to learn. That’s why genealogy conferences are so popular—and so important. Arlene Eakle recently reported the main points of Bernie Gracy’s keynote from the 2009 Colorado Family History Expo. This is some serious census sushi.

Check out “The TRUTH is Out There…

Wednesday, July 1, 2009 Releases “Expert Connect” adds Expert Connect service I must admit to being so busy keeping up with the news of FamilySearch’s New FamilySearch, that I’ve neglected taking time out to learn about a new service from However, Expert Connect is too important a development to let the announcement go by without mentioning it. I realize some of you subscribe mainly for news while others mainly for FamilySearch news. I think it’s important that you also learn something about the other vendor.

In stark contrast to FamilySearch’s free genealogy and culture of volunteerism stands, whom Family Tree Magazine places in a class all by itself. From all indications, emerged from the dark days of the dot-com drop to become hugely successful. Early investors were always caught between fearing that Google would discover how much money there was to be made and hoping that Google would discover what a desirable acquisition they could be.’s huge material success has made them the company to hate and they have become the lightning rod for those that despise commercializing genealogical information.

But besides there are many, many people and organizations that are making money from genealogy. Or at least trying to make money. Some are just trying to pay for their genealogical “habit”… er… “hobby.” I meant to say, “hobby.” Some have found a nice income stream doing heir research for law firms. But by and at large, professional genealogists are a hard-working group that sometimes requires supplemental income because genealogy can be a tough way to make a living.

And so, professional genealogists have had various reactions to news that was adding a service designed to connect potential clients to professional genealogists—for a cut. It’s like eBay and auctions. On one hand, eBay has increased the amount of money being made in the auction market. On the other hand, prices of some items (such as semi-rare books) have been driven to record lows.

Think of dividing up a pie among professional genealogists. The size of the pie will get much larger. But the number of vendors dividing up the pie gets larger. It’s not clear whether the end result will be bigger or smaller pieces for each professional. For more reactions from professionals, see Randy Seaver’s, “Expert Connect Service from”

For consumers, the same issues faced on eBay are present here as well. Is the provider honest? Competent? Dependable?

Expert Connect is organized around five services (quoting the website):

  • Record Pickup: Save yourself a cross-country trip. Hire a researcher in another state to visit a specific archive, collect the record you need and mail it to you. Learn more at
  • Local Photo: Get a picture of your grandmother's headstone without leaving your living room. Pay a researcher who lives near her old hometown to snap the photo for you. Learn more at
  • Ask an Expert: Pose a research question to a panel of experts, but only pay for the most useful answer. Then proceed with your research on your own. Learn more at
  • Record Lookup: Hire a professional to verify a hunch you have about an ancestor. Rely on an expert to identify the document you need and track it down for you. Learn more at
  • Custom Research: Outsource an entire section of your family tree, or recruit a seasoned genealogist for a project that's beyond your experience or time availability. Learn more at

I checked to see how many people have already signed up to provide record lookups at the Family History Library and found 15. I imagine that number will be ten-times that amount in a year.


Expert Connect is not the only attempt to create a marketplace to bring professional genealogists and clients together, although none of the existing services have the megatraffic muscle to offer professionals that can. Other competitors are

And finally, FamilySearch is exploring use of the FamilySearch Wiki as a means allowing professional genealogists to advertise their services for free. I doubt this is a competitive move in answer to’s offering. Instead, I think it is the result of one of two causes.

1. There may have been inappropriate attempts to advertise services on the wiki. FamilySearch warns,

Don't add an entry to a page like Ohio Vital Records that says "Joe Genius is a professional genealogist who does fee-based vital records lookups in Ohio vital records. Click here to go to his user page and see his services and fee schedule."

The professional genealogists project on FamilySearch Wiki may be a response to such actions.

2. Alternately, FamilySearch may see professionals as potential wiki contributors with a vested interest. When someone contributes to the Wiki, there contribution is logged on the history page. The contribution is tagged with the contributor’s username and a link to the contributor’s user page. That’s right, each contributor is allocated their own page on the wiki which can be edited like any other page. FamilySearch invites professions to

  • “Post your education, credentials, experience, and professional associations on your user page.
  • “Attach sub-pages to your user page which include featured services, examples of client reports, and customer testimonials.”

When users find Wiki articles containing know-how that they’d like to tap into, they can see who contributed the information and can check to see if they offer professional services.

FamilySearch wins. FamilySearch Wiki users win. And the professional wins.

For additional information about Expert Connect, see