Friday, February 26, 2010 Bloggers Day: Search (Part 2)

Last year I intended to do stupendously rich articles about Bloggers Day presentations. Since I never got around to it, this year you’re getting my stupidously poor notes.

Today I will finish the presentation of Tony Macklin, the search product manager.

  • The issues for the design of Search are:
    • Relevance and control
    • Browse (which is very important and also instructional)
    • Speed and efficiency
  • Showed us a prototype for a new, new search
    • (Thomas MacEntee nicknamed it “HD search,” to distinguish it from the old, new search.)
    • The Search Home looked something like this:
      Sketch of the HD Search home
      • You’ll have to excuse my scribblings. Tony was speaking so fast. Hey! It made sense at the time.
      • Tony pointed out that location searching will be back.
    • The Category Search looked something like this:
      HD Search Catagory Page Mockup
      • I was able to mock up my scribbles without too much work because the page was very similar to the new database page look. Don’t expect it again.
    • The basic search form looked something like this:
      Sketch of the HD Search form
      • Usability showed that changing the label from “Birth Place” to “Where did your ancestor live?” was much easier for new users.
      • Another usability addition that is one of those, “Duh! Why didn’t we do that before?” was the addition of a birth year calculator. Enter the person’s age in a particular year to calculate the birth year.
      • Starting out, the search form has just a few fields. But users can click to add fields for family members and life events. Once added, the fields will always be present unless you later hide them. This allows users to configure the search form to match their particular needs.
    • Advanced HD search has transparency about what the search is doing. And it allows users to filter search results.
      • Restrict name matches: Options will be exact, initials on given names, Soundex on last name, and name variants. This filter will be available in the next couple of months, according to
      • Restrict to locations: Restrict to state, state and adjacent states, county, or county and adjacent counties. This filter is in testing now which required a change beneath the covers today. That is why the order of results can be different today compared to yesterday.
      • Restrict to national collections only: United States, UK, Canada, and so forth. This filter has been available for about two weeks and is pictured below.
        Advanced search now has collection and record type filters
      • Restrict to record types: historic records, stories and publications, family trees, and photographs & maps. This filter was released in January 2010.
      • Restrict to lifespan. This filter has been available since May 2009.
    • Q. How will you deploy HD search?
    • A. Advanced HD search will be implemented incrementally. Eventually, HD Search will replace New Search.

That completes my report on the lectures from Bloggers Day. Next time I’ll cover Andrew Wait’s closing remarks.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Major Failure of Utah Computer Center

Fire suppression system in data center This past weekend a major failure in a Utah data center brought down hundreds of websites, including at least one genealogy site. With the St. George Family History Expo starting tomorrow, the Family History Expos website ( has been down all week. A notice on their website assures attendees that the conference will go forward as planned, but if you wish to register at the door, bring check or cash. Their credit card software was on their website and they may not have it up again by the time the conference begins.

A test of the fire system at Consonus Technologies’s Utah data center went awry, flooding the room with fire suppressant, crashing and damaging hundreds or thousands of servers. Back in January I toured the data center along with other attendees of Bloggers Day. We were shown their fire suppression system and warned to evacuate immediately if the claxon sounded.

The exact number and identities of affected websites is unknown. One Consonus customer is Westhost, a web hosting company. A web hosting company provides various web-related services such as websites, Internet connectivity, email, web addresses, and e-commerce services. Another Consonus customer is, a new type of hosting company that provides a service called cloud computing. Each of these web hosting companies may have hundreds or even thousands of customers.

A FamilySearch Indexing user reported problems in the hours following the failure, but I don’t know if they were related. (Fortunately, I don’t know, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to speculate for you.) User donaldbuncie reported experiencing an identity verification problem followed by “error starting the application” messages. Later on Monday a moderator stated, “Those problems from today and this weekend should be resolved now, you can try those projects again. Thanks for your patience!”

Detailed Timeline

Documents obtained exclusively by the Ancestry Insider give a detailed view of the failure and subsequent events. (All times are Mountain Standard Time.)

Saturday, 20 February 2010

  • 8:50 AM – Fire suppression system disarmed. Fire system placed into maintenance mode.
  • 9:10 AM – Pre-test checklist executed.
  • 9:20 AM – Testing begins.
  • 2:18 PM – Nine of ten actuators are disabled preparatory to rearming the fire suppression system. One is inadvertently overlooked.
  • 2:21 PM – Fire suppression system is rearmed and immediately activated, flooding the data center with fire suppressant. The fire suppressant damaged servers and disk drives.
  • 2:45 PM – Power failure detected by customers.
  • 3:05 PM – Consonus reported the failed fire test to customers.
  • 3:08 PM – Power restored.
  • 4:14 PM – confirmed disk drive failures, but redundant disks prevented data loss. Technicians began replacing failed disk drives.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

  • 6:55 PM – Consonus official incident report reported by customer to end users.

Monday, 22 February 2010

  • 9:00 AM – Westhost reported replacement of damaged hardware. Majority of servers back online. Some data loss will require restoration from tape backup.
  • 5:13 PM Westhost reported all services restored except 6 dedicated servers and 12 shared.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

  • 1:25 PM – Westhost reported that restoration from tape backup has been hampered because the backup servers were also damaged. Ten shared servers and some dedicated servers are still down.
  • 9:54 PM – In Westhost’s last report they stated that a few dedicated servers would be restored in the next 4-6 hours.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

  • 11:00 PM - Family History Expos updated the notice on their website. Their web hosting service reported that they are still having problems restoring backups. Family History Expos lamented that they “are probably last on their list” but will make the St. George Expo “a GREAT event and you should come and see for yourself.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Vault Vednesday: Vednesday Class Picks

2010 NGS Family History ConferenceIn today’s edition of Vault Vednesday I’ll talk about Vednesday classes at the NGS Family History Conference and the reservoir at the Granite Mountain Record Vault (GMRV).

Vednesday Classes

As I’ve mentioned, after Jay Verkler’s opening keynote (including virtual vault tour!) the exhibits open at 9:30. Then at 11:00 the classes begin. NGS Conference classes are one of the best ways to improve your Genealogical Maturity.

Here are just a few of the Vednesday classes I’m considering. Check the schedule for others you might enjoy.

I’ll be in a lot of trouble if I don’t attend that last one!

And you’ll be in a lot of trouble if you fail to avail yourself of these classes!!! These are just a few of the Vednesday classes and this is just the first of four days, folks!

Hope to see you there!

Early bird registration must be postmarked by 8 March 2010. There are just 14 days left.
Pre-registration must be postmarked by 12 April 2010. There are just 49 days left.
The conference begins 28 April 2010. There are just 65 days left.

The Vault Reservoir

The reservoir inside the GMRV The reservoir inside the GMRV

The Granite Mountain Record Vault has its own ample water supply. At the rear of the vault is a water storage reservoir that is continually replenished by a spring deep inside the granite mountain. In 1973 the water flow was 8,700 gallons per day. Tests showed the water to be pure enough for drinking and for processing microfilm.

Photographs show the bare rock. The reservoir area was not lined with steel as were the other areas in the vault.


     The Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Records Protection in an Uncertain World, 16 p. brochure ([Salt Lake City, Utah: self-published, 1973]).
     The Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, In a Granite Mountain, 12 p. brochure ([Salt Lake City, Utah: self-published, 1975]).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Free St. George Expo Tickets!

[As I am writing this article, the Family History Expo website is down. The links to the website may not be working yet when you read this article. If not, try again later.]

Click to go to the St. George Family History Expo website #FHExpos is the Twitter tag for the St. George Family History Expo this weekend. But I’ve painted myself into a conflict of interest corner and I need your help ASAP to get me out! I accepted an invitation from Holly Hansen to be a Blogger of Honor at this weekend’s conference.

Holly’s wonderful. Her marketing for Family History Expos draws people to genealogy conferences that are new to conference attendance and perhaps new to genealogy. We all benefit when others join the community. So it shouldn’t surprise me that she is leveraging bloggers so effectively to promote her Expos. It’s something I’ve always been happy to do. This time around, however, three factors have given me pause.

New Social Networking Policy

Last week Holly informed me of a new Social Networking Policy (Google Cache) that outlaws my trademark comprehensive conference coverage. In part the policy reads,

Family History Expos encourages the use of Twitter at Expos. Please tweet the highlights of classes attended; however, it is not appropriate to give full details of class materials presented.

Copyright to all class presentations, recordings, and syllabus materials belong to Family History Expos and its presenters by agreement of said parties.

© Family History Expos, Inc. 2010. All rights reserved.

Since Family History Expos doesn’t pay presenters, their remuneration comes through exposure. They generally welcome the additional exposure I give. The real issue here is the interests of Family History Expos. Producing conferences is a risky business and Holly does so on a shoestring. I am honored to do what I can to help Holly help the genealogy community. And if that means I have to change my conference reporting style, I am happy (and sad!) to do so.

Conflict of Conferences

Long ago I made the decision to support FamilySearch’s efforts to encourage all of you to attend the 2010 National Genealogical Society Family History Conference. I have made my honest opinion clear: if you attend only one conference this year, it should be the NGS Conference. In fact, if you only attend one national conference for the rest of your life, this is the one you should attend.

At the time I accepted the Blogger of Honor distinction from Family History Expos, I didn’t think through the conflict. How can I encourage you to attend NGS and the St. George Expo, knowing that your decision to attend one may mean you won’t attend the other. Don’t hate me, Holly! But…

If you attend only two conferences this year, besides attending the NGS 2010 Family History Conference you will want to take a strong look at the St. George Family History Expo. See my earlier article, “See You at the St. George Family History Expo.”

Free St. George Family History Expo Tickets

To make the St. George Expo more attractive, I have the privilege of awarding two free tickets. Forgive me if you feel this is too commercial, but I need to fulfill my obligation to Holly. I am offering the tickets as a contest prize. Here are the contest rules:

  1. The two submitters that follow all these rules and receive the greatest number of points will each be declared a winner. The name, address, and e-mail of the winners will be submitted to Family History Expos. If it is not too late, Family History Expos will award each winner a free pre-registration to the St. George Family History Expo. Points may be earned in three ways, as explained below.
  2. Submit one or more stories of serendipity in genealogy.
    - The story must be true.
    - The serendipity must have happened to you; third-party stories are notoriously exaggerated.
    - The story must be non-denominational. That is, it should be of interest to more than the members of one particular church or system of beliefs.
    - The Ancestry Insider will award 100 points to each story he judges to be usable.
    - When possible, include a digitized image that adds interest to the story. Images make a story more usable.
  3. Submit one or more record anomalies. (I’m planning on a future series of columns.)
    - A record anomaly is a record that contains one or more errors, such as wrong gender, wrong name, wrong information, enumerator error, death certificate for a live person, etc.
    - You must include a digital scan of the record.
    - You must explain what is wrong with the record.
    - You must include digital scans of other records used as evidence to prove the first record is wrong.
    - The Ancestry Insider will award from 1 to 10 points to each record he judges to be usable.
    - The more reliable the type of record usually is, the higher the point value. Thus, an image copy of an original birth certificate will be given more points than an image of a census record.
    - Indexing, transcription, and publication errors are not generally usable unless the mistake is especially entertaining and the mistake was published by or FamilySearch. The same is true for compiled genealogies.
  4. One hundred points will be awarded to the first submission (and only the first submission) that correctly identifies the most recent Ancestry Insider article written in chiastic structure. To qualify, the submission must show the chiastic structure of the article.
  5. Your submissions:
    - must be included in a single e-mail,
    - must include your name, address, and e-mail address,
    - must be e-mailed to ,
    - must use the e-mail subject: EXPO CONTEST ,
    - must be received by Wednesday, 24 February 2010, 5:00 AM Mountain Standard Time, and
    - must include a statement giving the Ancestry Insider permission to publish and otherwise use the submissions.
  6. You may submit only one e-mail, but you may submit multiple stories, records, and chiastic article identification in the e-mail. The score for each e-mail will be determined by adding up the scores for all the submissions included in the e-mail. In the event of a tie, the Ancestry Insider reserves the right to break the tie using any method. The Ancestry Insider will be the one and only judge of the usability of submissions and reserves the right to later use submissions judged not usable during this contest. The Ancestry Insider is not responsible for lost or misdirected e-mails.

I would be delighted to receive story and record submissions even if you’re not entering the content. Send each story or record separately with e-mail subjects SERENDIPITY STORY or ANOMALOUS RECORD, respectively. Thanks!

Monday, February 22, 2010 Bloggers Day: Search

Last year I intended to do stupendously rich articles about Bloggers Day presentations. Since I never got around to it, this year you’re getting my stupidously poor notes.

Tony Macklin is the search product manager.

  • How many user-submitted corrections are being made?
    • There were 80,000 a month before the new record page that combines the record view, the image view, and the correction page all into one.
    • There are 900,000 a month now
  • The new combined page was not immediately used for all databases
    • It was launched on a few census databases, then expanded to all census years
    • It was on 19 databases for the latter part of 2009
    • It will be used on between 4 and 5,000 databases by the end of January
    • It will be used on all structured (fielded) databases by the end of the year
  • and share some common characteristics. They both index content and provide a way to search the content. They both present search results, and both allow users to click a result to view the content .
  • But and Google have several striking and important differences.
    •’s search is about individuals. users are not looking for the most popular person, but a particular person.
    •’s search is about understanding places. Names and boundaries change over the years.
    • It’s about understanding names. Names have various spellings, nicknames, abbreviations, and translations. For example, Catherine has over 800 variations.
    • It’s about understanding records. Google creates indexes solely for electronic documents, while creates indexes for records of many different types, formats, characteristics, and appearances.
      • works with a large range of sources
      • Handwriting is hard to read.
      • Searching needs to handle inaccuracies in names, dates, and places.
      • Searching needs to blend together results from newspapers, photographs, and structured records.
  • What are the snippets of information you know?
  • New search is currently used for 87% of searches and Old Search is used 13%. However, Old Search users are twice as likely as New Search users to successfully find what they are looking for.
  • The issues are:
    • Relevance and control
    • Browse (which is very important and also instructional)
    • Speed and efficiency

Next week I’ll talk about the newer than new search prototype that Tony shared with us.

Tony Macklin of Tony Macklin is senior director of search for This includes the search experience, the search algorithms, and the technology behind hinting. Tony has spent most of his career in the UK and joins with more than 10 years experience developing products for US based online companies such as Intuit, and eBay. Over the last 5 years he has concentrated on how to make search deliver better, more relevant results. He is based in the San Francisco office.

Friday, February 19, 2010

He Decided to Get My Attention

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

Walter Maschmeyer in his home office Walter Maschmeyer mentioned that he had started doing genealogy to his father. His father, back in Germany, had done some genealogy himself, and gave his large file of results to Walter. But Walter had little information on the Kessels, his mother’s family.2

Walter remembered his Uncle Fritz, his mother’s brother, but could find no information about him. Uncle Fritz had visited often during World War II while Walter lived in Hannover.

Walter also remembered his mother speaking of a second brother, “Maenne,” who fought for Germany during World War I. Maenne had been captured in 1918 and had died in a French prisoner of war camp. Unfortunately, “Maenne” was a nickname, and Walter had been unable to find any information about him as well.

After his father’s passing, Walter went through his father’s papers. He came across an envelope labeled “Kessel.” Excitedly, Walter opened the envelope and found many information-rich documents and photographs. One turned out to be a letter from Maenne’s sergeant to Maenne’s father to tell him of Maenne’s capture by the French. In this hand-written letter was the long sought for name. Maenne’s real name was Hermann Kessel.

Writing of what happened next, Walter said,

Working on my family history, I had an experience that confirmed my belief that our ancestors are watching us.

Flush from the discovery of Uncle Hermann’s name, Walter walked into his home office and—apparently for the first time—noticed a leather wallet sitting rather precariously on top of a filing cabinet. Opening the wallet, Walter discovered a collection of family photographs. The first one was a tombstone engraved with Uncle Fritz’s name. Examining the back, Walter found the long sought for information: Fritz’s birth and death dates.

I imagine that he [Fritz] and his brother Maenne must have had a little chat in the spirit world. He decided to get my attention.

     1. Henry Z Jones, Jr., Psychic Roots : Serendipity and Intuition in Genealogy (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1993), p. 81.
     2. Walter Maschmeyer, “Family History Moments: Watching Us,” LDS Church News, 6 February 2010, p. 16, col. 3; online edition available (www.ldschurch : accessed 13 February 2010).

Thursday, February 18, 2010 Bloggers Day: Products

Last year I intended to do stupendously rich articles about Bloggers Day presentations. Since I never got around to it, this year you’re getting my stupidously poor notes.

Eric Shoup gave the presentation on products.

Is it my imagination, or have my notes gotten lighter as we tired throughout the day? Next time: Tony Macklin talks about search.'s Eric Shoup Eric Shoup is the vice president of product for Prior to he spent five years at eBay in senior product and general management roles. Prior to eBay, Eric’s product experience included online groceries in Hong Kong, and

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Vault Vednesday: Optimized for Preservation

It’s Vault Vednesday! This is another in a series highlighting the Granite Mountain Record Vault (GMRV) and the NGS Family History Conference coming to Salt Lake City, 28 April—1 May 2010.

Optimized for Preservation

The Granite Mountain Record Vault was designed to be an ideal long-term storage facility. The location is ideal in many ways, shielding genealogical records from most natural disasters: hurricanes, flooding, tornados, lightning, and so forth.

Office spaceHallway
Office space (above left), hallway (above right).
Air treatment equipment (below left), electrical generator (below right).

Air treatment equipmentElectrical generator

The natural climate of the vault is also ideal. The temperature is 57 to 58 degrees, year round, and the natural humidity is always 40 to 50 percent. To these natural conditions, FamilySearch has added air treatment machinery to produce a clean-room type environment, filtering most dust, smoke, and chemicals out of the air. Emergency power generators keep the equipment working during power outages.

2010 NGS Family History ConferenceThe 2010 NGS Family History Conference

The Utah Genealogical Association, the local host for the 2010 NGS Family History Conference, is organizing twenty-minute consultations with genealogy experts. This service is provided for no additional charge with your conference registration. Sign up when you pre-register.

Bring a pedigree chart, applicable family group sheets, and a list of sources that you’ve already consulted.

Early bird registration must be postmarked by 8 March 2010. There are just days left.
Pre-registration must be postmarked by 12 April 2010. There are just days left.
The conference begins 28 April 2010. There are just days left.


     The Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Records Protection in an Uncertain World, 16 p. brochure ([Salt Lake City, Utah: self-published, 1973]).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 Bloggers Day: Member Services

Customer Service representative at Last year I intended to do stupendously rich articles about Bloggers Day presentations. Since I never got around to it, this year you’re getting my stupidously poor notes.

Following our virtual tour of the Washington, D.C. scanning facility, Tom Foster, director of member services gave us a real tour of the call center. The center is located one floor below digital preservation services.

The funnest part of the tour was the moment we emerged from the elevator and were greeted with squeals of delight. An employee caught sight of Dick Eastman, ran up and asked for his autograph. Boy, did we tease him! We were jealous, of course, The only person who’s ever asked for my autograph was a state highway patrolman. (But I digress…)

  • has 1.66 million paying subscribers
  • The website has over 7 million unique visitors each month
  • Visitors have created 12 million family trees
  • There are more than 1.25 billion people populating these user-contributed trees
  • will be switching from a few, large attendance webinars towards lots of webinars that may have smaller attendance
  • On the 4th day of a user’s subscription, does a welcome call

For a couple more thoughts on member services I refer you to an article by fellow attendee, Leland Meitzler. Next time, I’ll review the product presentation from Eric Shoup.

Tom Foster of Tom Foster has served as director and then senior director of member services at since May 2005. Over the past 25 years Tom has held various leadership positions in the customer care and support operations industry, focusing on high tech, multi-client care, and sales and product support. He has worked in these roles at Microsoft, Compaq, T-Mobile, Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems, and Nike.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Hayes Ohio Obituary Index

Ohio Obit Index search options on the Hayes Center websiteIn a recent Bloggers Day article I bulleted’s intent to publish the Hayes Center Ohio Death Index. Now that has published that database, orders for obituary copies from the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center have quadrupled over last year, according to the Port Clinton News Herald. Orders now come in from across the nation and all over the world.

Raising the awareness of a database is one reason I’ve never had a problem with including free databases in its subscription content. This has been a definite win-win situation for, the Hayes Center, and in my opinion, subscribers.

Ohio Obit Index search options on website The Ohio Obituary Index contains over 1.5 million entries from as far back as the 1810s right up to the present. You can access the database for free at the Hayes website. Go to . Search options are pictured above left. (Click on the image to see the original full size.)

But even if you’re not an subscriber, you can tap into the more powerful search index. On go to the database and you will see the search options shown to the right. (Click for original.)

However, as a non-subscriber, to see all the details of a search result, you must click the link (pictured below) to the Hayes Center website.

Search results from Ohio Obituary Index results on

Friday, February 12, 2010

Insider Ketchup

Modification of an image
© 2005, The Facey Family
Some rights reserved.

Once again, it’s time to ketchup on the many items I’d like to write articles about, but don’t have the time.

BulletTreeThere has to be some joke that could be made about this news story, but I don’t have the time to tickle it out. Maybe Chris Dunham, the Genealogue, could give it a shot:

Bullet is doing an interesting co-marketing promotion. You can earn dividend miles on U.S. Airways by subscribing to

  • 6 month U.S. subscription for $89.70 (14.95/mo.), 1250 dividend miles (13.9 miles per dollar)
  • 12 month U.S. subscription for $155.40 (12.95/mo.), 2500 dividend miles (16.1 miles per dollar)
  • 6 month World subscription for $161.70 (26.95/mo.), 2500 dividend miles (15.5 miles per dollar)
  • 12 month World subscription for $299.40 (24.95/mo.), 5000 dividend miles (16.7 miles per dollar)

For more information, click here.

FamilySearch BulletDan Lawyer does short interviews with several techies that worked on the Search feature of the new FamilySearch website Beta.

(If you can’t see the video above, click here to see it on YouTube.)

Bullet Ancestry.comProving once again that there’s nothing new under the sun, has added “bucket” searches (as we called them internally) to New Search. I still remember the hue and cry that erupted back in July 2006 when introduced search buckets. “Now I have to do four searches instead of one!” users complained. Users wanted to go back to the “old search,” which searched all databases. Sounds like today’s “new search.”

Bucket search on new (top) and old (bottom)
(Above, top: Bucket search on new search. Above, bottom: Bucket search on old search.)

New FamilySearch rollout map from the Deseret News's Mormon Times FamilySearch BulletThere are been several new articles in Mormon Times on New FamilySearch (NFS) since I last pointed in that direction. These articles talk about temple work and will be of interest mostly to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

You may be interested in the map photographs at the top of the articles. They are of a large map on a wall inside FamilySearch’s offices. It is difficult to see in any of the photographs, but if you look carefully at the closeups, you can see little green LEDs. As each temple went live, an LED was lit. In real life, the effect is pretty electrical (so to speak). Very cool.


Good grief. I’m out of time again, and I’ve not cleared out even half of my backlog. Here’s a couple more quick ones:

BulletTreeUPrinting is giving away five 24x36 poster prints, which I assume could be PDFs generated by’s MyCanvas feature. For information about the giveaway, click here. You must enter by 19 February 2010.

BulletTreeGenealogy Gem’s Lisa has scored big with an exclusive interview with another Lisa: Lisa Kudrow. Way to go, Lisa! Lisa will be releasing the Lisa interview on Valentine’s Day. For more information, click here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010 Bloggers Day: Content (Part 2)

Last year I intended to do stupendously rich articles about Bloggers Day presentations. Since I never got around to it, this year you’re getting my stupidously poor notes.

Today I’ll finish Gary Gibbs’s content presentation. ran a survey at the end of November to learn customers’ content requests for 2010. There were 30,000 responses to the survey, which is an incredibly high participation rate. That’s even more amazing when one learns that the survey contained 110 questions about content. This survey was for U.S. content acquisition, only. Here are the results of the survey:

  • Most request record type:
    1. Birth, Marriage, Death (BMD) (29%)
    2. Census (21%)
    3. Immigration (11%)
    4. Family and local histories (9%)
    5. Court, land… (8%)
    6. Directories (4%)
    7. [Sorry, I didn’t get the percentages or the ranking for Newspapers and Military.]
  • Order in which customers desired these records:
    1. BMD 1861-1914
    2. Funeral home records
    3. State census
    4. BMD pre 1861
    5. Land ownership maps 1860-1920
    6. … [I didn’t get the remaining dozen or more items.]
  • State (region) ranking:
    1. Mid-Atlantic
    2. Eastern Midwest
    3. Southeast
    4. … [I didn’t get the rest.]
  • Time Period ranking:
    1. 1861-1914 (64%)
    2. 1816-1860 (57%)
    3. 1776-1815 [I got the order but not the percentages for the rest.]
    4. 1915-1945
    5. 1620-1775
    6. 1945-present
  • Ancestry/ethnicity is (mark all that apply):
    1. English (78%)
    2. German (68%)
    3. Irish (63%)
    4. Scottish (50%)
    5. French (32%)
    6. Welsh (21%)
    7. Native American (21% [Really? Did I write that one down correctly?] )

Q. When are you going to do a Mac version of your keying tool?
A. (Andrew) We aren’t currently working on it. However, we currently have one very large Mac project under development. I can’t say what it is, but it is a product for which you wonder, “Why has it taken them 15 years to produce a Mac version?”

Q. Will NARA allow you to index the 1940 census ahead of time?
A. No. However, NARA is pre-scanning the images.

Next time: If comes through for me, we’ll have a virtual tour of the scanning facility in the District of Columbia.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Vault Vednesday: FamilySearch Open House

Cross section of a vault room
Empty vault
Tours included a film

This is another in a series highlighting the Granite Mountain Record Vault (GMRV) and the NGS Family History Conference coming to Salt Lake City, 28 April—1 May 2010.

Vault Rooms

Open house visitors were treated to views of the vault rooms. Each vault room was 27 feet wide and 15 feet tall. The tunnels were lined with heavy corrugated steel and concrete was pumped in to fill the space between the steel and the granite tunnel walls(photo top right).

Drop ceilings hid most of the curvature of the roof. Florescent lighting illuminated work areas. There are indications that vault rooms were empty at the time of the open house (photograph, middle right and subsequent newspaper stories).

In addition to the facilities, tours showed open house visitors a film explaining the purpose of the vault and scenes during vault construction (bottom right).

An apocryphal story states that early, impish employees snuck a firecracker into the vault and set it off. In these contained rooms, the sound of the blast must have been intense, reverberating and echoing in the confined space. Today such a prank would likely result in termination. Vault access is tightly controlled. Public tours are a thing of the past. Workers and private tour visitors are prohibited from taking photographs. Upon seeing these vault articles, FamilySearch officials warned off publication of some vault details that were present in the publications of FamilySearch, International back when it was known as the Genealogical Society of Utah.


2010 NGS Family History ConferenceNGS Conference: FamilySearch Tour

NGS conference attendees this year, in addition to the virtual vault tour and Church History Library tour, are invited to tour the FamilySearch Center in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building (JSMB). The center contains computers and ample personnel to help beginners begin the search for their roots and includes an activity center that will keep children of visitors busy while parents have an opportunity to explore their roots.

For non-beginners, the center has several draws. A recent facelift included installation of an immigration pier photo op, giving visitors an opportunity to generate a keepsake, putting themselves in the context of their immigrant ancestors. And the center offers discount coupons for dining in JSMB restaurants.

Groups can reserve instructional rooms equipped with individual computers and presentation equipment. My family has used these rooms several times for our bi-annual family history reunions.

The JSMB serves as the world headquarters for FamilySearch, International.

The Ancestry Insider arrives at Ellis Island with his trusty dog (or is that a rat?).

While in Salt Lake City for NGS, stop by the FamilySearch Center and get a picture of yourself arriving!

The Ancestry Insider arriving at Ellis Island

Early bird registration must be postmarked by 8 March 2010. There are just 27 days left.
Pre-registration must be postmarked by 12 April 2010. There are just 62 days left.
The conference begins 28 April 2010. There are just 78 days left.


      Dexter Ellis, "Inspection Tours Set for Records Vaults in Canyon," Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 30 November 1963, Church News section, p. 3, cols. 2-5; digital images (
.com/newspapers : accessed 25 December 2009). 
     "Church Invites Public To Visit Cottonwood Genealogy Vaults," Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 2 December 1963, p. B 5, cols. 6-8; digital images ( : accessed 25 December 2009). Also see “Deep Vaults to Protect Church Files,” Los Angeles Times, 2 December 1963, p. b15; and “Plan to Show Record Vault of Mormons,” Chicago Tribune, 2 December 1963, p. C16.
     "Vault Toured By Church, Civic Leaders," Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 3 December 1963, p. 12 B, col. 1; digital images ( : accessed 25 December 2009).
     The Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Records Protection in an Uncertain World, 16 p. brochure ([Salt Lake City, Utah: self-published, 1973).
     Lynn Arave, “FamilySearch Unveils New Face and Products,” Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 1 October 2009; online archive ( : accessed 7 February 2010).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 Bloggers Day: Content

Last year I intended to do stupendously rich articles about Bloggers Day presentations. Since I never got around to it, this year you’re getting my stupidously poor notes.

With lunch just past, was going to keep us awake during siesta hour? First up was Gary Gibbs, vice president of U.S. Content. His energetic presentation did the trick.

  • Developing and working to bring a constant flow of records
  • Upwards of $10 million annually on content.
  • Worldwide content acquisition
    • Canada, Provo, UKI,… [I didn’t get the whole list in my notes, but I believe it included all countries with offices:]…, Germany, France, China, Australia
  • Domestically, have three people negotiating with state archives and vital records offices
    (Brian Peterson, Quinton Atkinson, and Al Viera)
  • Big new announcement is on the horizon
  • Archives’ digitization priorities spreadsheet
  • Terms of a typical agreement:
    • Digitize collections
    • Available on
    • Available for free at the archive
    • The archive receives digital copies
    • has an exclusive period during which the archive can’t offer the records to other organizations
  • For 2009
    • Delivered 29 of the top 30 promised content
    • Another came out near the beginning of 2010
    • The last one, land records, is coming in Q1 2010. It was delayed by the decision to key all the names on cadastral/land ownership maps.
  • Customers are attaching records to their trees at an accelerated rate since the addition of member connection features
    • Total of 400 million at the end of 2009
    • 150 million at the end of 2008
    • 50 million at the end of 2007
    • Started with 0 on 2 August 2006
    • Currently experiencing 5 million attaches a week
  • Iowa State Census for 1915 and 1925U.S. records coming in 2010 (see the web announcement for more information and for International records)
    • 1920 census improved
    • Early census years 1790-1840. First every field keying.
    • State and Territory Census Records (pictured to the right) †
    • 1950 census substitute (2,500 city directories in 48 states)
    • DDD (Deaf, Dumb, Dehydrated) censuses *
    • Historic public records & voter registrations (1930s-1980s, 700 million records)
    • U.S. Citizenship ApplicationConnecticut Divorce Records (1969-1997)
    • Delaware BMD (1800s-1933)
    • Missouri death records (1910-1958) †
    • Hayes Library Ohio Death Index (1830-2009)
    • Vermont vital records, 1909-2003
    • U.S. funeral home and cemetery records †
    • Naturalization records (1795-1972) (pictured to the left) †
    • Boston, Honolulu and New Orleans passenger lists (1899-1957) †
    • Revolutionary War CMSR, pension, bounty land applications †
    • Returns from U.S. Military Posts in 21 states (1800-1916) †
    • Navy muster rolls (1900s) †
    • Civil War Pension Application and WWII Draft CardCivil War Union draft registers and Confederate pension applications (pictured near right)
    • WWII 1942 draft records for Idaho, Oregon, and Washington (pictured far right)
    • US county land ownership maps (1860-1920)
    • McNeil Island and Atlanta Federal penitentiary records †
    • Yearbooks, 7 million names from 1900-2000
      * Not mentioned in the web announcement
      † This may have been mentioned on Bloggers Day, but my notes aren’t complete.
  • World Archives Project
    • 33.5 thousand contributors
    • From 92 countries
    • 31 partners
    • 45.3 [?]
    • 23 million records keyed in 2009 (counting each double keying)
    • Two people recruiting societies (Lou Szucs and Suzanne Russo-Adams)

Next time: I’ll finish up Gary Gibbs’s content presentation.

Gary Gibb of Gary Gibbs is vice president of U.S. Content and is responsible for content acquisition and partnerships. He has worked for for ten years in various roles, spending his first five years as vice president of product management. Gary has an extensive background in technology, having worked in product development and management roles at Novell, WordPerfect, and TenFold. He has bachelors and masters degrees in computer science from BYU and an MBA from the University of Utah.

Monday, February 8, 2010

See You at the St. George Family History Expo

Click to go to the St. George Family History Expo website #FHExpo stands for this month’s St. George Family History Expo, to be held in… (don’t get ahead of me now) …Timbuktu! Just kidding. It’s in St. George, Utah on 26th and 27th, February 2010.

Cafe Rio Mexican Grill started in St. George St. George is best known as the birthplace of Cafe Rio, a popular restaurant chain. What? You’ve never heard of Cafe Rio? Okay, maybe St. George isn’t best known as the birthplace of Cafe Rio. But if you haven’t heard of Cafe Rio, I recommend you check it out while you’re in town for the Expo. It’s a local favorite!

Amanda Righetti (as Grace Van Pelt) from The Mentalist was born in St. GeorgeSt. George is best known as the birthplace of Amanda Righetti who plays Grace Van Pelt on The Mentalist (seen in this photo with Tim Kang as Kimball Cho). Wait a minute. Now that I look at her biography on the show’s website, it says she was born “outside Las Vegas.” Hmmm. Maybe Righetti is not what St. George is best known for. If you eat unrefrigerated leftovers from Cafe Rio, you may have to check out of the hospital also.

I think it is safe to say that among genealogists, St. George is best known for the St. George Family History Expo! With its golf courses and Las Vegasque weather, it’s the perfect place for a February conference.

Yours truly will be teaching, “Blog Your Way to Genealogical Success.” Having your own genealogy blog will give you a free, easy way to publish your results on the web, log your research, and establish contact with helpful relatives. This class is for beginners. You’ll get a step-by-step guide for successfully creating a blog. Prerequisites: You must know how to turn your computer on, use a mouse, and browse the Internet.

Mine is not the only session you’ll want to attend, of course. This conference is the perfect place to increase your genealogical maturity. Go to the show’s website. Review the presenter biographies. You’ll see national experts and local favorites.

Blogger-of-Honor2While I’m in town I’ll also be one of the Expo’s “Bloggers of Honor,” along with some of the industry’s best known. I am very honored. Native St. Georgers have, maybe, never seen a more popular chain of august bloggers than the group I have been asked to join.

Bernie Gracy, who writes the blog, will present the conference keynote. While he is perhaps best known for his lectures on location-based genealogy, in St. George this year he plans to give “an unconventional and hopefully motivational keynote, ‘Let Your Light Shine; Let Their Light Shine.’ ”

If you’re busy on the 26th and 27th and can’t make it to St. George, I will try to post notes live on Twitter. For information about following the St. George Family History Expo live on Twitter, see my August 2009 article, “The Ancestry ‘Tweety’ Insider.” But this month follow the hashtag, #FHExpo.

Thursday, February 4, 2010 Bloggers Day: Lunch with Tim Sullivan

This is another in a series of reports about Bloggers Day 2010.

We had lunch with CEO, Tim Sullivan and general manager, Andrew Wait. Here’s my brief notes:

Andrew Wait told us that feedback from their My Story ads said the ads didn’t explain enough about what the genealogy experience was like. In fact, the life-changing stories set the bar so high that average people couldn’t identify with the experiences.

As a result, five days earlier started a new advertizing campaign that goes back to the previous style a bit.

Tim Sullivan asked us if we had any questions for him. When there was a half-second pause, he said if we didn’t have any questions, he had questions for us. Then he asked us…  uh…  …something. I don’t actually remember what it was. My notes are devoid of anything Sullivan said. Sorry, Tim! I did jot down some comments from my fellow writers:

DearMYRTLE said, “Genealogy is a winter sport.” Does that mean Tim asked if we were seeing an upswing in genealogical interest?

iPhoneTreeToGoAt some point Andrew said, “Try a Twitter search of ‘’ You’ll see lots of positive feedback.” I think that means several of us expressed appreciation that had taken the time to meet with us and said our opinions of were much improved. I think someone even contrasted the day with the infamous “Internet Biographical Database” fiasco. [To read more on that subject, I recommend the series of articles by fellow attendee, Craig Manson.]

I can’t remember what led to my favorite comment of the day. Thomas MacEntee said, “I’ve always thought of genealogy as CSI without the icky bodies.” Mysteries. Dead people. Detective work. Yup; I think he nailed that one pretty well.

The final note I have on lunch was Andrew’s announcement that had submitted “Tree to Go,” an iPhone application which would be available soon in the iPhone store. [ announced the application to the public on 19 January 2010.]


Who did throw at us right after lunch? We were hoping it would be someone who could keep us awake. We were not disappointed. Stay tuned…


Ancestry Bios Tim Sullivan Tim Sullivan is the CEO of, Inc. He was previously CEO of Under Tim’s leadership, expanded globally into 29 local languages and grew paid subscribers from 189,500 to nearly one million while growing revenue more than six-fold. Prior to joining, Tim was vice president of e-commerce for Ticketmaster Online-Citysearch, Inc. Before that he spent seven years at the Walt Disney Company where he was vice president and managing director for Buena Vista Home Entertainment Asia Pacific. Tim is a graduate of Harvard Business School and was a Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.