Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Relative Finder, Style

What kind of product manager designed my alarm clock?

The alarm sounds like a quarter-ton cricket. CHIRP! CHIRP!

Right next to your head, it’s effective, I assure you. There’s nothing like the sound of a gigantic arthropod in bed with you to simultaneously thrust you from bed and chase all remnants of sleepiness away. CHIRP! CHIRP!

And my alarm is just as insistent as an entire summer evening’s orchestra. CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP!

Last night I discovered a whole new reason to despise my alarm clock’s designer. The cold, advance scouts of autumn snuck through town the other night, chilling any cricket foolish enough to stand its ground. When the scouts fell back to prepare for summer’s fall, but one cricket remained. Chirp, chirp.

It sounded like the neighbor’s alarm clock was ringing… Chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp.

All night long… Chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp.

Incessantly… Chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp.

But I digress… (chirp).

Last week I looked at a preview of a developing FamilySearch technology that calculates the relationship between any two people in the new FamilySearch (NFS) Tree. I tried Orville Wright and Philo T. Farnsworth, unsuccessfully.

Click on More options and Find famous relativesI chose Philo T. Farnsworth and Orville Wright so I could also try’s Famous Relatives Finder.

While FamilySearch Relationship Calculator is designed to calculate the relationship between any two people in the NFS tree, Famous Relatives Finder is designed to find a relationship between any person in One World Tree and a predefined list of famous people.

To find famous relatives of someone in an Member Tree, click on “More Options” followed by “Find famous relatives.”

According to Famous Relatives Finder, Orville Wright and Philo T Farnsworth are 4th cousins, 4 times removed. Gosh, I hadn’t considered a closer connection than their White ancestor, but it was certainly possible.

Famous Relatives Finder displayed the connection:

Common Ancestors Rebecca Sykes (1678-1760)
Siblings [not specified] Benoni Wright (1719-1761)
1st Cousins Benjamin Wright (1660-1743) Dan Wright (1757-1832)
2nd Cousins Mindwell Wright (1694-1712) Dan Wright (1790-1861)
3rd Cousins Mary Belding (1722-1766) Milton Wright (1828-1917)
4th Cousins Anna Kellogg (1755-1838) Orville Wright (1871-1948)
  Reuben Farnsworth (1787-1847)   —once removed—
  Philo Taylor Farnsworth (1826-1887) —twice removed—
  Lewis Edwin Farnsworth (1865-1924) —3 times removed—
  Philo T. Farnsworth (1906-1971) —4 times removed—


Oh boy.

Here we GIGO again. Benjamin Wright (b. 1660) can not be the grandson of Rebecca Sykes (b. 1678). Nor is it likely that Mary Belding (b. 1722) was the daughter of Mindwell Wright (d. 1712).

The back-to-back failures of relationship calculators on FamilySearch and, both because of garbage in their trees, was too much to handle.

I cracked.

All I could hear was that incessant cricket. Chirp, chirp. Product managers come and go, incessantly repeating the mistakes of their predecessors. Chirp, chirp.

Ancestral File. FamilySearch attempts to use automated matching to stitch together thousands of source-less, mistake-riddled pedigrees. As with the examples today and last week, many of the trees fail pedigree analyses so basic that even PAF would complain. Chirp chirp.

The result: Garbage in, garbage out. Chirp, chirp.

One World Tree. attempts to use automated matching to stitch together thousands of source-less, mistake-ridden pedigrees. Chirp, chirp.

The result? Again, garbage in produces garbage out. Chirp, chirp.

New FamilySearch. FamilySearch tries stuffing garbage into a human-assisted stitcher. Chirp, chirp.

Result: Garbage in, garbage out. Chirp, chirp. Member Trees. tries throwing garbage at human stitchers. Chirp, chirp.

Result: Chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp…

Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Mailbag: Role of Gloves in Preservation

NARA volunteers prepare Civil War case files for digitization. Photo courtesy of Earl McDonald, National Archives. Dear Insider,

Oh, AI, there are indeed gems in the files. There are beautiful frakturs, my distant cousin's prosaic printed family record, an astonishing list of people who took the Oath of Allegiance in PA in 1777, and ~not least~ one of the few surviving pages of records of a Mohawk Valley, NY church.

I note in one photo at your link, with some dismay, that the volunteers sorting through the original files are not wearing gloves.

Geolover *


Dear Insider,

I would like to comment that the volunteers are not instructed to wear gloves when handling paper as it is not safe to lose the tactile feeling that bare hands provide. More harm than good can come to paper from gloves. They are instructed to always wash their hands before working with original documents. These procedures are established by NARA's preservation department, and the same rules apply to NARA's digitization and microfilm staff as well as to the public in the research room. Please note that gloves are required when handling any type of photograph.

Anonymous *


Dear Readers,

To learn best practices for preserving your own valuable artifacts, visit “Caring for Your Family Archives” on the National Archives website.

Read policies for organizations like and FamilySearch, at “National Archives Preservation Guidelines for Vendors Handling Records and Historical Materials.”

Still want more? See “Holdings Maintenance” for preservation professionals.

Thank you both. I learn a lot from all of you.

-- The Insider

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Story of Intrigue, Mystery, Larceny, Fraud, Tragedy, War, and Death

Lots of wonderful, magical things have been found in pension files. I'm not speaking solely of information. For example, there is the needle work sampler found in the Revolutionary War pension file of Chester Goodale.

I recently read of another item, decidedly on the strange side. Just recently someone came across a piece of clothing that a corpse wore for three years before the piece was removed and placed in the file!

I kid you not.

It's a story with intrigue, tragedy, a disinterred corpse, larceny, mystery, fraud, a lethal gunshot to the head, a potter's grave, war, and a gingham apron.

Who says genealogy can't be compelling?

Learn the whole story at "Civil War Conservation Corps Reaches a Significant Milestone." For more information about samplers in the National Archives, click here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Relatively Eye Popping

If you have any eyes left to see, today I’ll give you a peek at Relationship Calculator. Relationship Calculator is the third of three eye popping technologies  demonstrated by Tim Cross at the recent BYU Family History Conference. Cross is a product manager at FamilySearch, working to develop a genealogical community leveraging the new FamilySearch (NFS) Tree.

Relationship Calculator

In several places around Temple Square one can see descendancy charts showing common origins of famous people. One chart shows descendants from the Howland family. Another shows descendants from the Loomis/White families.

Descendancy tree in the FamilySearch Center of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building
Descendancy chart of Robert White and Bridget Allgar

I thought one of these relationships would make a good test case for Relationship Calculator. The charts are of uncertain quality, to be sure. And the technology is still under development. So I didn’t expect everything to work flawlessly.

On their Tree Seek website, Misbach Enterprises provides a simple interface to Relationship Calculator. They call it “How are we related?” I used it for the test. (Sorry, friends; it requires an NFS account.)

I thought it best to pick two people that were famous—but not too famous. That would minimize the possibility of IOUSes blowing up the calculation. I first tried one of the most distant relationships. Orville Wright and Philo T. Farnsworth are 8th cousins, twice removed.

You know Orville Wright. Philo T. Farnsworth is the inventor of the television and is honored by Utah with one of its two statues in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall Collection. (The other is Brigham Young.)

I tried LW1S-2J2 (Wright) and KWCQ-PFY (Farnsworth) in Relationship Calculator. It could not find a relationship.

Could unresolved duplicates in the NFS Tree sever the connection between the two?

I checked Farnsworth and was able to successfully navigate back to Robert White (KNZM-D6J), as shown in the chart below.

Philo T Farnsworth is a descendant of Robert White and Bridget Allgar

But I found two points where the default parents were incorrect. Perhaps that caused the failure. I checked to see if Relationship Calculator could connect Farnsworth with White, his 9th great grandfather.

Relationship Calculator decided they were 5th cousins, 3 times removed. Oops.


I’ve copied the names into the table below and added birth and death dates.

Common Ancestor [not specified]
Siblings John Cary (1583-1661) Robert Carey (1457-1540)
1st Cousins Sarah Morgan (1700-1777) William Cary (1482-1528)
2nd Cousins [not specified] First Lord Richard Cecil (1495-1553)
3rd Cousins Ruth Harmon (1733-1755) [not specified]
4th Cousins Lydia Shelden (1759-1846) Richard White (1516-1578)
5th Cousins Lucinda Kent (1785-1829) Robert White , Jr. (1558-1617)
  Philo Taylor Farnsworth (1826-1887) —once removed—
  Lewis Edwin Farnsworth (1865-1924) —twice removed—
  Philo T. Farnsworth (1906-1971) —3 times removed—


Oh boy.

A little pedigree analysis shows that John Cary (1538-1661) and Robert Carey (1457-1540) can not be siblings. Nor can Sarah Morgan (b. 1700) be the daughter of John Cary (d. 1661), nor can Lydia Shelden (b. 1759) be the daughter of Ruth Harmon (d. 1755), nor is it likely that Richard Cecil (b. 1495) is the son of William Cary (b. 1482), nor is it likely that Richard White (b. 1516) is the grandson of Richard Cecil (b. 1495).

Is the problem Relationship Calculator or is it the data in the Tree? As the old saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.” (GIGO)

Whether Relationship Calculator works or not is immaterial while the tree is full of garbage.


Next week I compare’s Famous Relatives Finder. Can it do any better? Stay tuned…

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Evidence Management and Member Trees

In the absence of evidence, superstition. It's a Middle Ages thing. That's my theory anyway.

Tucker Carlson

You may recall that a session at the NGS conference by David Rencher and team got me thinking about evidence management. In “The Evidence Architecture of the New FamilySearch Tree” I showed that records preloaded into the New FamilySearch Tree (NFS) from Ancestral File, PRF, and the IGI are evidence summaries.

To illustrate evidence management in, I’ll again use the tree from Rencher’s presentation.

Record View

Compare the evidence summary example, below left, to the record view, on the right.

Example Evidence Summary   1850 Census Angeline Clements Detail

As in an evidence summary, each piece of evidence is separate and labeled by what kind of “fact” it is (e.g. name, age, birth date). Unlike an evidence summary, it is not possible to annotate information in the summary or to give it a summary name for easy identification.

In the header of the evidence summary there are two links, one to the subject person and one to the source. Equivalent functionality is available in the record view, shown more completely below. Click the Save record to… link circled on the left to link to a subject individual. Since doesn’t have source management, the source information is displayed on the record view page (the four circles on the right).

1850 Census Angeline Clements

Review Record Hint

When you click the Save record to… link, allows you to review the information from the source before saving it into your tree, as shown in the illustration, below.

Save record to is part evidence summary, part conclusion entry

This interface allows the user to set or change conclusions in their tree. The left side shows the information indexed from the source. The right side shows corresponding conclusions in the user’s tree.

The user’s choices are limited. For each piece of information the user can:

  • change the conclusion
  • link the source to the conclusion
  • create an alternative “fact”
  • link the source to the new alternative

This system has many weaknesses.

  • The user can not see existing alternative “facts.”
  • The user can not see existing sources linked to conclusions or alternatives.
  • The user can not link source to existing alternatives.
  • If information already exists as an alternative “fact,” there is no way to link the source to it.
  • If information already exists as an alternative “fact,” adding an alternative creates a duplicate.
  • Two duplicates with different sources can not be combined.
  • The user can not change conclusions and retain old conclusions as alternatives.
  • Changing the conclusion does not unlink sources that supported the old conclusion.
  • Sources can be linked only for indexed information. For example, if a death record also has birth information, but only the death information is indexed, then the interface above will lock the birth fields. The user can not enter the birth information nor link the source to it.

Compare this to evidence management’s conclusion interface, reproduced below. Each alternative is preserved and associated with its source. Additional information and space for analysis guide the conclusion process.

Example conclusion interface

This concludes this series on evidence management. The primary audience has been development personnel at family history organizations. See “Evidence Management” for an overview of the series and links to other articles.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mailbox Monday: Web Versus Desktop

Dear Insider,

I have been searching my family history for 10 years now. What started out as a list of 20 people that my great-grandmother gave to me in an old photo album has blossomed into a family of over 1,000 people and growing. 

Until recently I was paper-based. I have never had a desktop family tree program but I recently paid for a month of Canadian access and managed to build a sizable public tree on-line. I appreciate the work that Ancestry has done but can't afford to keep paying for their service (two daughters with braces...) and I need to avail myself of a free service.

I would appreciate your advice on a 'next-step'.

If I download my GEDCOM file from Ancestry and upload it to FamilySearch will any of the data be compromised? Should I wait for the new version of FamilySearch to go live?

Do you think I should bother with a desktop program at this point or is it better to keep everything on-line? I run a Mac at home, where I do most of my research and will sometimes do a bit of searching from my office PC.

Finally, will there ever be one big happy on-line family tree, where if I input 'proof' that I am the son of X and Y - I will be instantly connected to all of my ancestors?

Thank you,

Mark Donaldson


Dear Mark,

A Stanford University initiative to help libraries backup digital information is called LOCKSS: Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Save. That’s a maxim we should all live by. Try to keep copies of your genealogy in a variety of places, and in a variety of formats. Use choices that are convenient for you, or you won’t use them.

And variety there is:

  • Web and desktop
  • Electronic and paper
  • PC and Mac
  • GEDCOM and proprietary
  • Trees, personal and communal
  • For profit and not for profit
  • On your property and off your property
  • Local backup and cloud backup

Unfortunately, let the GEDCOM standard languish so it is difficult to make complete copies of your genealogy. GEDCOM can not transfer genealogical data without compromising sources, images, attachments, and citations.

What do I recommend for you? I work almost exclusively with and, so I am ill qualified to speak to other possibilities. I invite your fellow readers to proffer their advice.

But here’s what my family does.


FamilySearch Bullet  FamilySearch Personal Ancestral File (PAF)

One family member is our designated archivist. She has the official copy of our PAF-compatible tree. She sends copies to us and when we have new information to add to it, we make the changes and send the PAF file back to her. Various FamilySearch affiliates make it easy to merge the changes back into the master. Affiliates can also store a collaborative copy online, and upload information to the new FamilySearch Tree.

We don’t use PAF much for photographs and digitized documents. For those, we use an…

Bullet Member Tree

We use our Member Tree to share ancestor photographs and digitized documents. We leave the tree public so that lots of people will pilfer our stuff. Should we ever lose anything, we can find lots and lots of copies. (Some of the copies even credit us. But I digress…)

You don’t have to maintain your subscription to continue using your tree. Once your subscription expires you will not be able to see others’ trees, but you can use your own for free. While I believe you can still see the records attached to your tree (, is that true?), in the spirit of LOCKSS, you should download the records to your desktop for safety’s sake.

Keeping a copy of your tree online allows you to access it as easily from home on as Mac as at work on a PC. Also, takes care of hardware, software, and media upgrades for you. You don’t have to move files from floppies to CDs to DVDs to flash drives.

Of the online genealogy vendors, is one of the most stable. They aren’t likely to go out of business or disappear anytime soon. They keep copies of your stuff in a granite vault similar to the FamilySearch Granite Mountain Record Vault.

FamilySearch Bullet  new FamilySearch Tree

We regularly spend time in the new FamilySearch Tree (NFS) citing sources that dispel myths in our lines. The Tree is currently optimized for adding information, not removing bad. So my current counsel and practice is to ignore the bad and add the good. There’ll be time enough for fixin’ when the system’s done. (Apologies to Schlitz.)

We won’t use a communal tree as our only online solution, but in keeping with the LOCKSS principle, we plan on using it for one.

Will there ever be one, big, happy tree to rule them all? One tree to find them, one tree to bring them all and in the brightness combine them? (Apologies to Tolkien.)

Scientific cannon is filled with universally accepted truths that were debated for years, decades, even centuries, before attaining unanimity. And this by minds more logical and careful than some of today’s communal tree contributors.

How about you? Do you think there can ever be a universally accepted communal tree?


-- The Insider

Friday, September 17, 2010

More FamilySearch Indexing numbers

"Sunday and Monday were our best indexing days this year," according to a statement issued by "We indexed a combined total of two million records [and] arbitrated almost one million." Over 14,000 volunteers contributed to the record. Over 450 were first timers. About 180 people indexed over 1,000 records.

"Thank you," said the statement. "It's amazing what we can accomplish together in behalf of researchers around the world."

You probably know that FamilySearch uses double key indexing. Each record is indexed twice, called an A Key and a B Key. The two keyings are compared and corrected when necessary. For its 1910, 1920, and 1930 census probjects, FamilySearch is using indexes from as the A Key. FamilySearch volunteers key the information a second time, the B Key. Anytime the two differ, the record is sent to an arbitrator to look more carefully and resolve the difference.

For the 1930 census, did not index several key fields, including gender, race, and marital status. FamilySearch is adding these fields. Consequently, indexers will sometimes get 1930 census batches that ask only for the additional information. These batches supplement the existing A Key. Batches for the B Key will ask for all the fields.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

FamilySearch Digging Up Cemeteries

FamilySearch is leading a genealogical community effort to develop technologies that leverage the power of the new FamilySearch (NFS) Tree.

Tim Cross, product manager at FamilySearch, showed three of those eye-popping new technologies at the recent BYU Family History Conference. Last time I talked about Community Reference Links. Today, I’ll show you another and next week I’ll wrap up with the third.

Cemetery Matching

At one time the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told its members not to include cemetery names in burial locations. It made it too hard for the Church to match duplicates.

The NFS Tree changes this. It is not only OK to enter a cemetery name, there are advantages to doing so. FamilySearch has been busy adding cemeteries to the standard location database in the NFS Tree. Currently it contains over 140,000. Specify a standard cemetery and the NFS Tree is able to exactly match the cemetery to identify all those buried there.

Cross showed a proof-of-concept or alpha release of “World Cemeteries” from Tree Seek, a product that taps into that capability to produce a directory of the world’s burials.

(What is an “alpha” release? Before a product is released to the general public, a “beta” release of the product is given to a few members of the public for testing purposes. Before “beta",” an “alpha” release is given to the developer’s own employees for internal testing. But I digress…)

World Cemeteries displays icons on a map indicating the number of cemeteries in a general area. The color of the icon indicates the number of cemeteries.

World Cemeteries Displays Colored Icons with Cemetery Counts
World Cemeteries Displays Colored Icons with Cemetery Counts

Click an icon to zoom in and center the map on that location.

Balloon with Cemetery Information 
Balloon with Cemetery Information

List of those in NFS who are buried in that cemeteryContinue to zoom until a cemetery of interest becomes visible. Click the cemetery to see a balloon with the name of the cemetery and links to resources. One link goes to a FamilySearch Wiki page appropriate for the cemetery. Another link goes to its Find-a-Grave page.

The first link, “FamilySearch Burials,” is the eye popping one.

Click on FamilySearch Burials (it requires an NFS account) and World Cemeteries queries the NFS Tree for a list of all those buried in the cemetery. I’ve shown an example to the right.

Click another link and World Cemeteries indicates which ones are your close relatives.

World Cemeteries also makes it easy to link this cemetery to your ancestors in the Tree. After you navigate to a cemetery, you can search for your ancestors and add the cemetery location to their burial information.

With a list of all the burials in a cemetery, it would be easy to add the standardized cemetery location to all of them. That would be a nice service project for a youth group, scouting unit, school, or genealogy society.

Cool stuff, isn’t it?

Imagine some future time when you get a moment to make an unplanned visit to a cemetery. You turn on your cell phone, click a button or two and your favorite FamilySearch-powered phone app digs up a list of your closest relatives interred in the cemetery. That’s something I can dig.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Genealogy Web Search

One prize in the genealogy community that is yet to be won is that of “the Google of Genealogy.” (I was thinking it would be funny to speak of the “Google of Genealogy” and the “Mother of All Googles of Genealogy.” That would make the two GOG and MAGOG. Unfortunately, humor and religion rarely mix well without someone taking offense. So I’ve opted for digression over transgression…)

In any case, the prize is yet to be claimed. Recent unsubstantiated rumor sent to the Insider point to another shot at the title by

Clues have surfaced linking web crawling by agents of as early as the beginning of this year. The indications point to Google-style indexing of publicly accessible data on sites such as

Such a search service would be of tremendous value. Using Google for genealogy searches is hampered because Google first gathers text from across the Internet with little regard for semantics. Then it tries to figure out semantics afterwards. Semantics refers to the meaning of the text, such as what is a name, what is a date, what is a place, and what is the relationship among these. The Google of Genealogy would index genealogical information for which the semantics were already known. In other words, the website has already identified names, places, and relationships.

This is a concept whose time has come. We’ll keep a couple of eyes open watching for further progress in this area. If you see anything, let me know.

Stay tuned…

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mailbox Monday: Community Reference Links

Dear Ancestry Insider,

How does this differ from's "Web Links" that are available (though not prominently) to subscribers on Family Trees? There, too, one links to other websites referencing the individual.

Nolichucky Roots

Dear Nolichucky,

I'm giving you my understanding of what I’ve been told. But this is an emerging technology. I may have misunderstood, or the technology may change before you, the public, ever see it.

I should clarify that Family Trees are also available to non-subscribers, for free. But I digress…

Let me illustrate how Community Reference Links would differ from web links. Let's say that you have a Nolichucky Smith in your Family Tree.

Imagine someone finds a record about him on FamilySearch and attaches it to the new FamilySearch Tree (once that is possible). You would automatically get a shaky leaf in your tree. You could attach the record from FamilySearch to Nolichucky in your tree. Something similar happens to all the Nolichucky Smiths on all participating websites.

You find the 1880 census record for Nolichucky Smith on and attach it. The link shows up on Nolichucky Smith in the new FamilySearch Tree and so forth.

Community Reference Links are worthwhile for pay websites—and this is important—because non-subscribers must still pay to access the linked records. Pay websites get a source of highly targeted potential subscribers. Click-through rates will outperform any other source.

Community Reference Links are good for you, an end user, because you find out whenever anyone finds a record about your ancestors. You find out what websites have those records. You can make more informed decisions about website subscriptions. You find free records and photos.

So you see, Community Reference Links operate more like shaky leaves and member connections than website links.

-- The Insider

Broken Links

Dear Ancestry Insider,

The Community Reference Links you discussed sounds really great except for one big problem. Web links don't always remain constant. Webmasters seem to have a propensity for redesigning things periodically and when they do, sometimes the URL for a particular object changes. This results in the infamous broken links often seen on web sites that have a lot of off-site connections. Unless and until this problem is solved, I will continue to download everything I can to my own storage facility where I know I can find it.


Dear John,

I have found someone else whom I think the world of. Oops. Wrong dear John letter. I digress…

John, you are so right. CRLs is not an attempt to solve the issue of broken links. I would continue creating your own copy of anything you want to keep.

While solving broken links is not the focus of CRLs, breaks would undermine the value of the link community. FamilySearch is giving the problem some thought. One line of thinking is to place vendors under contract to honor forever any links the vendor submits to the community. Another approach would be to require URLs with some sort of embedded identifier. The identifier is used to automatically mend broken links.

Thanks for the feedback.
-- The Insider


Apologies to you who already read these comments online. Comments and my replies are edited for length, style, or clarification.

Friday, September 10, 2010

We, the Community

Gordon Clarke Tools and community connect to create great power, said Gordon Clarke in his Salt Lake Family History Expo presentation. Clarke is the FamilySearch Affiliates Manager.

“Many hands make light work,” quoted Clarke. “But have you heard, ‘many eyes make good conclusions’?” Community shared trees are one way people can connect. And the new FamilySearch Tree is not the only shared tree in town. Many online trees are available. Clarke highlighted several that also have the ability to exchange data with the new FamilySearch tree.

Clarke made the point throughout his presentation that “FamilySearch is just a drop in the bucket in the world. There is plenty for everyone to do.”

Clarke manages FamilySearch Web Services. Web Services allows multiple websites and desktop programs to interact in a standard way. “Partnering with FamilySearch makes it possible for multiple parties to be compatible,” said Clarke.

The Community Reference Links web service is an emerging FamilySearch technology that allows anyone to contribute information to the online community via links rather than making copies. “If you keep your information in one place and share it via links, then you avoid problems where genealogical data gets copied around without your ability to make corrections,” said Clarke. Photographs don’t have to be copied from one place to another. You access photos where they resides. Community Referencing Links are finding application in cemetery research, photograph and document sharing, and identifying others researching the same ancestors. (Stay tuned for a full report about Community Reference Links from Tim Cross’s BYU Genealogy Conference presentation.)

As Clarke puts its, “We are smarter than me.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Killer Cool! Wow!!!

Just heard about a killer cool presentation from the BYU Family History Conference. Wow. That’s all I can say. Wow!

Community Reference Links proof of concept 
Tim Cross example of Community Reference Links

Tim Cross showed three new eye popping services being developed by a genealogical community of cooperating partners led by FamilySearch.

These are innovative and astounding applications leveraging the new FamilySearch Tree (NFS).

Community Reference Links

Community Reference Links is an emerging technology that enables you and the rest of the genealogy community to hook together everything about your ancestor that is on the web. This includes artifacts, photographs, and stories that pertain to an ancestor. Cross showed a “proof of concept” application showing this capability.

Cross’s demonstration is still accessible (as I write this) at You can see a screen image pictured to the right.

At the top left of the page is a link to the focus individual on NFS.

Focus individual in the new FamilySearch Tree

Below that are links to various information and artifacts around the Internet. One is a link to a person page on

Person page on

Another links to a grave on

Memorial photo from

Finally, the page has links to several photographs on Family Photoloom.

Photographs on Family Photoloom

These community references are called links because the artifact or content isn’t copied. Web pages, photographs, and other artifacts remain where they are.

I should reiterate that this is a proof of concept, only. When—or even if—it will see the light of day is impossible to predict. This is such a simple, powerful concept, I can’t imagine it not coming to fruition. If FamilySearch should somehow stumble and fail to productize this service, I think other vendors will move forward without them.

Next time I’ll show you two more eye popping services. Does anybody else see a problem with this? Three eye pops. Two eyes. Maybe you’ll see two more, and maybe you won’t.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mailbox Monday: Future of the NFS Tree

Tree on the Peter Whitmer Farm
Future of the NFS Tree
Credit: Ancestry Insider, July 2008
Tree on the Peter Whitmer Farm

Dear Ancestry Insider,

THANKS for this great informative post. A real service to the genealogical research community. (And why should FHD hire someone to write this kind of news releases, when you do such a fine job?) I'm a retired copyeditor so I feel qualified to say that.

One question: "Someone" wrote a few weeks ago that nFS will be rolled out to "everyone" gradually by temple districts, as it was for LDS members. Reading your post carefully, I don't see any indication of that. Can you clarify?

Thanks again. Cheers,
Dolly in Maryland
(non-member, a FHC volunteer for 39 years & counting)

Dear Dolly,

First, let me send a capital THANKS right back at you. Our family history centers (FHCs) could not function without wonderful volunteers such as you. FamilySearch and all our patrons are indebted to our wonderful community volunteers.

I spoke with a member of the new FamilySearch (NFS) Tree hardware team the other morning about the rollout. His team is looking forward to it with great excitement and trepidation. FamilySearch really has no way to know exactly how much the general public will load the system.

That is why the Tree must be rolled out gradually. Rather than temple district, the rollout will probably start with a few, select invitations. Ron Tanner didn’t comment on the rollout method at the Family History Expo, but I seem to someone saying publicly that that would begin this year with just a few targeted invitations. After that, I’m guessing that FamilySearch will do something along the lines of Google’s rollout of Gmail.

As the capacity of Gmail increased, Google gave some existing users a few invitations that could be given to friends. If Gmail remained stable with the additional users, more invitations were distributed among current users. In this way Google had great control of the speed of the rollout. That is something that FamilySearch needs as well.

Does anybody remember better than I how that whole Gmail rollout worked?

Thanks for writing,

-- The Insider

P.S. I assume you already have your own account with access to the NFS Tree. As a 39 year, current FHC volunteer, you qualify for current access.

Fixing the Tree

[I created the following letter by combining and liberally edited two letters (here and here). Consequently, it may no longer reflect the views and opinions of the original author. Sorry about that.]

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Occasionally I check the old FamilySearch site for certain ancestors. For one search I did today there are 7 IGI entries, 1 Ancestral File entry, and 2 Pedigree Resource File entries. The 10 entries contain liberal numbers of errors.

I am confident (abstractly, not having access to nFS Tree) that there are several copies of the target person in the Tree, probably all with wrong spouse, wrong parents, wrong marriage place, wrong place of death. Hence merging (which I do understand) will diminish server load but probably not increase truthiness.

My point is that the source materials for the nFS Tree are derivative, secondary, and lacking citations; these sources do not give much guidance for accuracy.

I am glad that the correction-of-conclusion process is heading in a more streamlined and rational direction. The elephant in the living room is that countless numbers of religious rites have been performed based on erroneous genealogical assertions. Surely the submitters have an emotional attachment to their mistaken submissions, this over and above the sheer weight of error-riddled trees on the web and their mistaken sources.

I hope a robust correction process will be able to prevent the 'wiki-war' phenomenon.

Pseudo-G. L.


Dear Pseudo-G. L.,

Today, one cleans up multiple copies of a person by combining them all together in a mishmash that preserves each and every single assertion from each and every single source. In your example, the resulting person would have ten copies of the name, even if some were identical. Every birth date from all ten sources would be present. Likewise for the other facts. The person could theoretically have 10 different mothers and 10 different fathers. The person could have ten times the number of children they actually had—or more if some of the 10 sources had too many children.

Fortunately, today a contributor can correct information they contribute. Unfortunately, the contributors of most of the IGI, Ancestral File, and Pedigree Resource Files are unknown or have yet to claim their contributions. And unfortunately, only the contributor can correct or remove erroneous information. Fortunately, one can dispute it. Unfortunately, once disputed, even the contributor can not fix it.

In the NFS of tomorrow, sources (such as the IGI, AF, and PRF) are extracted and exist independently. Anyone can “fix” any problem in the tree.

Keep in mind that in "our tree," "fixed" is determined by the community. It happens like this: You or I applies "your fix" or "my fix." If no one objects, it becomes "our fix." If someone objects, they undo the change and engages the fixer in a discussion. When consensus is reached, you apply "our fix."

Once a discussion is underway, it is bad form to apply or re-apply "your fix." Doing so can result in temporary suspension.

When consensus can not be reached, the decision goes to an arbitrator who decides "our fix." I worry that FamilySearch product managers are operating under the assumption that in any disagreement, genealogical practice and standards dictate a clear, best decision. I believe in many situations even the best genealogists can disagree. I believe it will be necessary to allow contributors to appeal an arbitrator’s decision to a panel of arbitrators.

You are quite right that a robust correction process, arbitration as it is called, is the only thing that stands between success and anarchy. FamilySearch owns the first task: create an arbitration process that works. We, the community, own the second task. Able genealogists must step forward and donate time as arbitrators. That will determine whether the Tree becomes the greatest genealogical tool ever created or the greatest genealogical failure.


-- The Insider


Dear friends,

Please have a wonderful holiday! As you labor on your genealogy today, try not to slow the Internet down too much while I’m laboring on my genealogy. :-)

-- The Insider

Friday, September 3, 2010

My Favorite Aunt Arlene

Arlene Eakle Arlene Haslam Eakle (say “E-cull”) is the favorite aunt you always wished you had. I love the mixture of home-spun wisdom, professional knowledge, and bravado that makes her a favorite aunt. If you don’t follow her blogs, you will want to check it out.

At the Salt Lake Family History Expo I attended her class, “Close to Home: Genealogy Resources in Northern Utah and Southern Idaho.” The topic is near to my heart, since five generations of my family of every single line lived in that area.

Family History Centers (FHCs) in the area have more than microfilm. In her presentation, Eakle went city by city telling us the records available in each. For example, the Cache Valley Regional Family History Center at 50 North Main Street has genealogy volumes on their shelves that are out of print and available no where else. They also have an extensive card index—the old kind written on real cards.

“How long they will continue to operate this way, I don’t know. But they have specialized materials that the Salt Lake Library doesn’t have.” Since FamilySearch is scanning Idaho Falls FHC paper-based materials for access over the Internet, the future is uncertain.

The state of Utah has created an online library. It is at . Accessing  fee-databases requires your library card and a code from your public library. Contact your local library for the code. She like the HeritageQuest scans of the U.S. census since it was indexed by native English speakers. It gives a second copy independent of Search results are organized geographically, state by state and county by county.

Eakle herself has a library. How she got it is quite a story.

British Isles researcher, George Sherwood, accumulated a lifetime of information. His collection contains transcripts of many records, and in some cases the original documents. He told Eakle that he had made adequate arrangements to preserve his files after his death.

“What he didn’t tell me,” said Eakle, “is that he had willed it to me.” Upon his death she learned that she had inherited a 6.5 ton collection.

“When the semi truck showed up in our driveway, my husband said, ‘Oh my. we’re going to have to buy a building.’ ” The Eakles purchased a 10,000 square foot library and founded a library. Since then she has happened upon many other collections and added them to her library.

It was a fine presentation. Thank you, Aunt Arlene.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Zero to Search Success in Sixty Seconds

Anastasia Harman appearance on the Martha Stewart show The room was packed. The room monitor did a great job of ushering late comers to the few free seats. Anastasia Harman was presenting this session at the Salt Lake Family History Expo on 27 August 2010.

I must say she ignored very nicely the person who took a cell call in class. (He-lo-o!) I tell my classes that I don’t care if they leave their cell phones on as long as they let me answer their phone should it ring. I’ve only answered one call. But I digress…

Harman told attendees that to understand search results, you should know the five different record types among’s nearly 30,000 titles. (Is that a new term? “Titles?” They used to call them “databases.” I like it. Good change. But I digress…)

One type of title has indexes and images. The indexes were hand entered, field-by-field.Another type has indexes but no images. These have value because as indexes they tell you what archive to contact to get the original record.

For printed, non-fielded records—newspapers and books—Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is used to create indexes. Anastasia only mentioned the last two types: member contributed records and image first records.

Gear stick - copyright by RambergMediaImagesAnastasia likened different search strategies to automotive transmissions. There are manual transmissions and automatic transmissions. Manual transmissions are the ones where you use a search box and type in your search terms. (Is “box” new, official terminology? I like it when anything you wish to talk about has a name. As your mother taught you, “everything has a name and when you’re done playing, you should put every thing back in its place.” But I digress…)

Automatic transmissions are searches where you enter your ancestors in a tree and let do searches for you. You don’t have to set around and wait, however. You can click Search from a person page in the tree. “To me this is a big time saver,” said Anastasia. The system fills out the search box with everything you know about the person, including spouse, parents, children, and all locations.

Manual searches have three “gears.”

1. Global searches pick off the low-hanging fruit out of all the records on

“If you take anything else away from this class, never look at every one of the 27 thousand some odd matches.”

2. A collection or category search narrows the search to records of a specific type or collection.

3. Lastly, search an individual title. The search box contains fields specific to that title.

So, gentlemen, start your search engines. And please, do not use your cell phones while you drive.

Want to see more of Anastasia? Click here to watch her appearance on the Martha Stewart show.