Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Holiday Vacation

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, etc.Dear readers,

The holidays are already upon us and I am taking a holiday from writing.

That’s not to say I won’t accidentally post some especially hot topic. (That reminds me. Don’t forget the RootsTech early registration deadline. I’ve forgotten; is it the end of the month? Register at But I digress…)

Website usage shows a dramatic ever decreasing amount of online genealogy done from Thanksgiving through the end of the year. That’s something to be proud of.

May each of you find joy with your living loved ones is my holiday wish to you.

See you on the other side!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Newspaper Column Notes Anniversary

Jasen Lee, Deseret News, and Heather Erickson,
Deseret News writer Jasen Lee
listens to Heather Erickson,
director of corporate communications
(Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
Last week Jasen Lee, Deseret News columnist, wrote about’s 15th anniversary.

I’m not that big into genealogy, but it would be cool to learn if you had some famous—or for that matter infamous—person in your family lineage. invited Lee to submit information for them to look at prior to sitting down with him and doing an interview on the company’s 15th anniversary. Lee subsequently met with’s Heather Erickson.

To read the complete story, see “Tracing My Family’s Roots.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: Evidence Explained, 2nd Edition

Has it been years since Genealogical Publishing provided me a review copy of Evidence Explained? I use it more than any other book they’ve sent, and I’ve neglected to write the review? Time to fix that.

Let me start by saying I don’t understand how anyone would hold onto another citation style instead of adopting Mills. Chapters 12-14 are equivalent to alternative styles. Chapters 3-11 cover new source types not handled by the other guys. Even chapters 12-14 cover new ground: derivative publications.

You could stick with your old citation style, the equivalent of chapters 12-14. But then you would have to spend hundreds of hours and talk to the dozens of experts Mills acknowledges in the book’s forward, experts familiar with the source types of chapters 3-11. They could tell you the minimum amount of citation information necessary for each new source type. Goldilocks wants these citations. You don’t want bloated citations. And you don’t want anemic ones either. But I digress…

You could do all that. But, why? Mills has already done it. Why would you not buy Evidence Explained?

Sure it’s big. Duh; it’s an encyclopedia. You’re not supposed to read it cover to cover. For citation basics, read chapter 2. Then refer to the remainder of the book on an as-need basis.

Chapter 1 is different. Read it beginning to end. Then reread it. Its information on evidence analysis is top notch.

Second Edition

As in any book of this size and complexity, there will have been many small errors. I’m not asking the publisher and they’re not telling the scope of those corrections. (Who knows. Maybe yours truly supplied one of the corrections. Perhaps one of my ancestor’s names is now immortalized in this valuable tome. But I digress…)

With advances in technology, even in the few years between the editions, Mills has had to tweak things. In section 2.33 (p. 57) Mills has added Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn. In section 3.42 (pp. 154-5), instant messaging. Section 3.44 (pp. 156-8), Second Life. Section 10.6 (pp. 500-1), historical record collections. Section 14.25 (pp. 811-3), Twitter.

Care has been taken to minimize shifting of the page numbers of chapters and sections. The only one I noticed was Section 3.39; the title slipped from p. 152 back to 151.

To add the mention of FamilySearch’s publication of digitized microfilm on p. 53, a less important sentence was dropped. (Private note to the publisher: There is a small space between the 5 and the 3 that you should remove.)

For other changes, dropping text was avoided. Words were packed tighter on nearby pages and unused space at the end of the chapter was utilized.

The Past

This new edition preserves good things from the first. The gray-colored QuickCheck pages visually separate the various chapters when viewing the book edge-on.

As in the previous edition, Mills professionalism shows through in her reliance on experts to supply source materials. I love the instant messaging example from Pat Richley to Gordon Erickson on page. 155. Classy and fun.

There are some things I imagine this edition will not fix.

I worry some view the QuickCheck Models with an undeserved air of completeness. The models are a starting place, not an end-all. I find the QuickCheck Models are not always the ones I need the most. Of necessary, the models cover the breadth of representative citations.

I worry that most people think there is one and only one right citation. I think they don’t realize how much variability is allowed. Somehow the whole “Source List Arrangements” set of sections (2.47 to 2.52) goes over some people’s heads. And they don’t understand what Mills means when she gives alternatives like “If listed by family name” and “If listed by title of sampler.” (See 3.38 on p. 151.)

The Future

Further changes will be called for in future editions. For example, the imminent demise of the classic will precipitate several of the changes necessary in the next edition. The International Genealogical Index and Vital Records Indexes are going away. Their extracted records have been reorganized into separate geographic collections. For privacy protection, submitter information for Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File has been replaced with pseudonymic identifiers. (Future submitters will be able to specify how much or little of their contact information is visible.)

More and more, change has become unchanging, unavoidable aspects of life. Like death and taxes.

If you want to keep up, upgrade to the second edition.

Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace
Second Edition 
6.0" x 9-ish", 885 pp., hardback. 2009.
ISBN  978-0-8063-1806-6
Genealogical Publishing Company
$59.95 (list)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Darned Double Enumerations

Records say the darnedest things

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, Records say the Darnedest Things.”

Records Are the Darnedest Things: Darned Double Enumerations

Could double enumerations be nature’s way of trying to maintain the yin and yang of the universe? Far too many of us have ancestors missing from the census. Double enumerations are when an ancestor occurs twice in a census.

Utah pioneers of 1850 are an especially fertile group for double enumeration as the 1850 U.S. Census for the state of Utah was taken in 1851. (If I’m not mistaken, it was actually the statehood application census from the Deseret Territory’s 1851 statehood application. Can anybody provide a source to that effect? But I digress…)

For example, the family of Alonzo Pearis Raymond was enumerated once in Pottawattamie County, Iowa in 1850:1


and again in the “1850” census of Salt Lake City:2


Alonzo’s sister Louisa does him one better. She’s enumerated once in Pottawattamie with her mother and step-father:3


and again in the “1850” census of Salt Lake City:4


and again in Salt Lake with the Nelson Whipple family, family friends with a newborn baby and a two year old.5 (Need I say more?)


Yes, records say the darnedest things.


     1.  “1850 United States Federal Census,” database and digital images, ( : accessed 9 November 2011), entry for Alonzo Raymond (age 29), District 21, Pottawattamie, Iowa.

     2. “1850 United States Federal Census,”, entry for Alonzo P. Raymond (age 29), Great Salt Lake, Utah Territory.

     3. “1850 United States Federal Census,”, entry for Louisa William (age 16), District 21, Pottawattamie, Iowa.

     4. “1850 United States Federal Census,”, entry for Loisa Williams (age 16), Great Salt Lake, Utah Territory.

     5. “1850 United States Federal Census,”, entry for Loisa Raiment (age 16), Great Salt Lake, Utah Territory.

Thank you to J. H. Fonkert for his NGS Magazine article, “Seeing Double: Taking Advantage of Double Census Enumerations,” in the October-December 2010 issue for inspiring this article.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

FamilySearch Announces New CEO

Dennis Brimhall and wife Linda in 2005Earlier this afternoon FamilySearch International announced the appointment of Dennis Brimhall as Chief Executive Officer. Brimhall replaces Jay Verkler who has held the position for the past 10 years.

FamilySearch attributed the change to the practice of its sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to regularly rotate senior management. The change is effective in January 2012, the tenth anniversary of Verkler’s presidency.

Verkler’s presidency has been characterized by his extensive technical expertise and the unprecedented shift in FamilySearch resources towards digital technologies.

Brimhall has 38 years of not-for-profit management and leadership, primarily in healthcare. He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.1

Brimhall announced a focus of his presidency in his first statement to the public: “We really need to understand our customers’ needs and satisfy them. Our focus will be to ensure that FamilySearch’s customer experiences are really first rate.”

Brimhall currently lives in Englewood, Colorado2 where he works as Principle [sic] Consultant at Turning Point Health Advisors. Previous to that he was president and CEO of the University of Colorado Hospital for 17 years.

Ecclesiastically Brimhall serves as an Area Seventy 3 in the 6th Quorum of the Seventy of the Church.4 In 2004 he served as a stake president in Denver, Colorado.5 In July 2005 he began service as a mission president in Louisville, Kentucky.6 In April 2009 he was called as an Area Seventy.

Brimhall was born in Provo, Utah to Delbert Creed and Elinor Brockbank Brimhall. His wife, Linda, is the daughter of Owen Mauss and Louise Nebeker Christensen.7

The entire text of the FamilySearch announcement is available online.


     1.  “Dennis Brimhall,” Linked in ( : accessed 15 November 2011).
     2.  “New Leadership Changes,” Deseret News ( : 5 April 2009, accessed 15 November 2011), 4.
     3.  John L. Hart, “Two More Quorums are Created; Now Eight,” Church News: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ( : 7 May 2005, accessed 15 November 2011).
     4.  R. Scott Lloyd, “Quorums of the Seventy: Service to God,” Church News: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ( : 16 April 2011, accessed 15 November 2011).
     5.  Eric Gorski, “LDS Church Growing in Inner Cities,” Deseret News ( : 1 May 2004, accessed 15 November 2011).
     6.  “New Mission Presidents Begin Service,” Ensign, July 2005, 76; PDF images online, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [website] ( : accessed 15 November 2011).
     7.  “New Mission Presidents,” Church News: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ( : 16 April 2005, accessed 15 November 2011).’s Vital-ity

Ancestry recently added a bunch of new vital records.

“We released over 50 databases,” said company spokesperson, Crista Cowan, “containing millions of vital records from all over the United States.”

I’d provide a list with links as I’ve often done in the past, but has changed their list of new databases. They’ve made the list much prettier. Simultaneously, they removed the static links to the databases. You can no longer copy and paste a list with working links. That’s a dangerous thing for websites to do, as Google won’t index via dynamic links. Fortunately, Google found other paths to the databases, as shown in green below.


But I digress…

As I perused the databases, I found something interesting. Some of the new databases come from  After making the discovery, I spot checked every 5th new database released on October 17th to see where it came from.

Database Names (without links) Records Source

Oconee County, Georgia Probate Death Certificates, 1927-2010

7,008 Oconee County

Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1914-1942


Private donor

Georgia, Deaths Index, 1914-1927



Cook County, Illinois, Deaths Index, 1878-1922



Michigan, Births and Christenings Index, 1867-1911



New Jersey, Deaths and Burials Index, 1798-1971



New Hampshire, Death and Burial Records Index, 1654-1949



Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marriage Index, 1885-1951



Russell County, Kansas, Vitals and Newspaper Records, 1800-1937


Historical Society

Pennsylvania, Marriages, 1852-1854



I found 90% of these records were from FamilySearch.

My sampling method was unscientific. Does the same percentage apply to the 50 million names released in new databases that day?

I asked Ancestry and FamilySearch for comment. Ancestry declined and FamilySearch had no response.

Overly Long Source Citations

Incidentally, in the “Utah, Birth Registers, 1892-1944” database, I found something interesting. Genealogy publishers face a problem of lengthy database source citations when they combine records from many different archives. Here’s how Ancestry handled the problem for this database:

Original data: Assorted Birth Registers of Utah Counties. Salt Lake City, Utah: Utah State Archives and Records Service. View Full Source Citations

A click of the link and you see a page full of sources Ancestry combined to create this database.

I like it. Simple. Comprehensive. Elegant.

Unfortunately, when you view a record, the source citation—still split weirdly in two—doesn’t provide a finished citation:


One must cobble together information from these two parts plus the separate page. Unfortunately, the same lists weren’t provided for the databases originating from FamilySearch. (That’s not surprising,however, as FamilySearch doesn’t provide them for the collections on its own site.)

Still, 50 new vital record databases, some with complete lists of sources; Ancestry is vital still.

Thursday, November 10, 2011 and Tree Growers

We’re in a happy place right now, I think. Mind you, we haven’t always been here. Why are we in our happy place at the moment?

For those of us who are still hoping to learn about an ancestor
Search for ancestors without using names
Two articles from’s November Newsletter
Last time I introduced the concept of tree decorators and tree growers. Two items in’s November 2011 monthly newsletter point out the needs of tree growers. (I’d point you to an online copy of the newsletter, but it doesn’t appear that Ancestry supports that.)

The first article began, “Ever try to find a birth record? It’s usually a pretty straight-forward process, provided you already know most of the information that you’re going to find on that birth record. But for those of us who are still hoping to learn those details, getting that birth record can be a little bit trickier.”

The second article began, “Search for hard-to-find ancestors without using names. Instead, use birthdates, places and other details, then review results carefully. You could discover your ancestor — maybe the whole family — was recorded with a misspelled moniker.”

Good job, Ancestry!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tree Decorators and Tree Growers

Genealogists are Tree Decorators or Tree GrowersIt occurred to me the other day that there are two types of searchers on and

I call the two types tree decorators and tree growers.

Their search needs and requirements are different, which explains why some people like Ancestry’s New Search and some hate it. It explains why some people like the more than the current

Tree Decorators

Relevance ranking is a feature of’s New Search and FamilySearch’s record searching. Search results don’t have to match everything you search for, but the more things that match, the higher the record appears in the search results. The more you specify, the more results you get. More importantly, the more things you specify, the more the good results float to the top.

I’m a 5th generation genealogist, the inheritor of a complete, seven generation, largely undocumented tree. (The bug may have skipped one generation; I don’t have any indication that Alma did any genealogy. But I digress…) I spend a lot of my time hanging documentation on my tree.

I’m a tree decorator.

When I search, I search with a complete set of information about my ancestor. I search using every single fact or guess I have about an ancestor. The Search software uses the information to find every single record about my ancestor. Relevancy ranking works spectacularly, even where records have been misindexed, parts of a record were not indexed, or the record creator got some information wrong.

Relevance ranking works great for tree decorators.

Tree Growers

Exact search is the way the and’s Old Search worked. Every result must exactly match everything you searched for. The more you specify, the fewer the results and the better they are.

I split my precious genealogy time working on a brick wall. (Five generations of researchers have failed to break through, I must point out. This is more like a nuclear-bunker wall than flimsy brick. But I digress…) I am trying to grow my tree.

I’m a tree grower.

I am searching for people who are not yet in my tree. When I search, I search with precious little information. With relevance ranking, the less information you know, the worse the software performs. You’ve probably seen the messages: “If you add a name or other information, we’ll give you better results.”

Relevance ranking doesn’t work for tree growers and it knows it.

Exact search does. Tree growers don’t know much about an ancestor, but we do know something and the results we get darn well better match.

Further, tree growers need rich collection-specific search forms. We might know a neighbor’s name instead of a parent’s, or a slave owner’s name instead of the ancestor’s, or a profession instead of a birth date.

Two users. Two search requirements.

Tree decorators and tree growers.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Official RootsTech Blogger

RootsTech 2012 - 468x60[16]

I’m pleased to announce that I have been asked to serve as an official RootsTech Blogger! I’m a little late letting you know, but hey… I’ve been busy.

So, I’m hoping my lethargy has not caused anyone to miss an opportunity for a cheap, early bird special. As long as you register by the end of November, you should be fine. Advance registration is $129, a $60 savings from the regular price.

Insider Presenting Two Sessions

Many of you are unaware of my work translating dog journals. I will be presenting Lassie’s journal in a session at RootsTech titled “Lassie! Go for Free Genealogy Help!” Interesting stuff.

I am also presenting, “Genealogy Internet Gems.” Yes, I have a big ego. No, the session is not about me.

How big is my ego? Dare I say that the $129 registration fee, divided between two sessions, is well worth it?. Dare I say that? Naw.

Extra Special Extra Early Discounts

If you’re fortunate, you have been one of the special few to get an extra special discount. These have been short term discounts available to select groups. FGS Conference attendees were given a special price. Likewise, NGS members. Both discount offers have since expired.

The latest that I’m aware of is for family history consultants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day. If you’re signed up as a consultant, you received the pricing and the discount code in a Consultant Update e-mail on October 24th. As with last year, there will also be a limited number of free training classes for consultants. Information will be forthcoming.

Technology Workshop

The BYU Family History Technology Workshop is once again part of RootsTech this year. The workshop consists of the presentation of scholarly papers presented in academic fashion. The workshop committee, chaired this year by BYU CS professor, Bill Barrett, has issued a call for papers. A one page abstract is due by December 15th to Submissions will be reviewed by at least two members of the program committee and acceptance notifications will be made January 10th. Awards will be given for the top student paper. New this year is a Developer Challenge.

AncestryInsiderThere. I’ve filled my “Official Blogger” obligation to invite you to get the early bird discount. Truthfully, I hope you can attend RootsTech. Stop by and say hello! You may not recognize me, however. I’ll be wearing a normal-person mask to hide my yellow skin. I have a secret identity to protect, you know.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Mystery of the Non-Duplicate Duplicates

You may recall the question last week from “Robin in Short Pump” (obviously, a family name of Italian origins). Robin found two nearly identical records in the “Virginia Marriages, 1785-1940” collection that had several differences.


I posed some questions and enlisted your feedback. Thank you, to those of you who shared such great comments.

Here are the questions and my answers (which echo yours).

Can you think of what you might do to further understand the information provenance of these two records?

Because we have film numbers we can easily look up the descriptions of films 32,020 and 2,048,457 in the Family History Library Catalog. Film number 32,020 contains (among other things) marriage registers from the county clerk of Isle of Wight County in Virginia. Film number 2,048,457 contains marriage registers from the Virginia state Bureau of Vital Statistics.

Here’s my stab at the information provenance: The bride and groom provided the information about themselves and their families to the Isle of Wight county clerk’s office. The marriage officiator provided the information about the marriage. The county subsequently provided a copy to the state of Virginia. FamilySearch came along and microfilmed, indexed, and published both the county and state copies.

Each time a record is copied, something is lost.
Textual derivatives are particularly lossy.
If you can’t access the original,
an image copy of the original is almost as good.

Are these original or derivative sources?

Since the Virginia state record is a copy of the Isle of Wight county’s, I consider it a textual derivative of the county’s original. However, what we see online is a index (textual derivative) of an image copy (microfilm) of the county original and the state derivative.

Which provides stronger evidence, an image copy or a textual derivative?

I didn’t ask that very well. Assuming you make an image copy and a textual derivative of the same original, the image copy is preferable. Examining Microfilm 32,020 would be nearly as good as examining the county original.

This illustrates another idea. Not every textual derivative is created equal. If the official state copy of the county original is created under controlled conditions by the same clerk that created the original, it can be given nearly as much consideration as the microfilm copy. The FamilySearch indexing from the microfilm will likely be the biggest source of textual errors.

Why is it a very bad idea to cite these sources?

Because Microfilm 32,020 is readily available to anyone in a local family history center, the responsible genealogist will consult and cite it rather than the online textual derivatives.

Thank you, Robin of the Short Pump, for your question. And thank you to all who provided feedback.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Copyrights, Contracts, and Trademarks; Oh My!

The Computer Assisted Genealogy Group of Northern Illinois (CAGGNI)If you smelled a setup yesterday, you were right. “What are they up to now?” “They,” the Computer Assisted Genealogy Group of Northern Illinois (CAGGNI), were soliciting new members at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference. You can learn more about CAGGNI at

If you are like me, (and I know I am,) you thought the brochure was from I’ve come to associate backlit leaves of that shape and color with

Copyright is one way to protect intellectual property, such as original artistic works. We recently had some discussions here about Find A Grave photograph copyrights. Some of you share with no expectations. Others want the law followed to the last pound of flesh. (See “Monday Mailbox: Ancestry Removing Find A Grave Photos?” and comments. Also see “Can I Get an Amen?!”)

I’ve also written about using contract law to protect intellectual property. (See “Can I Freely Copy Public Domain Documents?”)


This is a dangerous article for me to write because my understanding of trademarks is more limited than my understanding of copyrights and contracts. For example, I don’t know if Carol Burnett’s trademark ear tug is protectable intellectual property.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A trademark is a distinctive indicator that identifies that a product or service originates from a particular source. A trademark can be registered with the government, or it can be established through usage.

Until researching this article, I didn’t realize that trademarks can be sounds or smells, or can include motion. Click on the number or musical note for each of these trademark sounds from the website of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In the unlikely event you can’t identify the trademark, click on the magnifying glass.

   75332744soundlook it up in TARR
   72349496soundlook it up in TARR
   75934534soundlook it up in TARR
   75326989soundlook it up in TARR
  If the sounds don’t work in an e-mail, try listening to them on the Ancestry Insider website.’s Backlit Leaves

I assume that Ancestry has not registered a trademark claim on that particular treatment of backlit leaves. I further assume that if large numbers of us experienced the same confusion as I did—assuming that the brochure was from—then can still claim it as a trademark.

They might also have a copyright claim against this brochure. (See “Generations Network files suit against Millenia.”)

But the point of this article is to inform you that trademarks are a form of intellectual property protection that are separate and distinct from copyrights.



Wikipedia contributors, "Trademark," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia ( : accessed 15 October 2011).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What are They Up to Now?

Here’s a brochure I picked up at this year’s Federation of Genealogical Societies conference.

A Group for Today's Genealogy Researcher

Can you guess what they’re doing now? I’ll give fifty points to the first correct answer, but you must post as a comment. E-mail answers will not be accepted.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Darned Oliver, Kankakee, Illinois

Records say the darnedest things

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, Records say the Darnedest Things.”

Records Say the Darnedest Things: Oliver, Kankakee, Illinois

A reader, Jason Thompson, recently wrote and pointed out something unusual about the town of Oliver, Kankakee, Illinois in the FamilySearch collection, “Illinois State Census, 1865.” What’s unusual is, it doesn’t exist.

FamilySearch misread Ganeer as Oliver

Search Engine Optimization

To check it out for myself, I thought I’d take a shortcut to the record collection by Googling the collection title. The Google search results show how much catching-up FamilySearch needs to do. Result #1 is an collection, “Illinois State Census Collection, 1825-1865.” Result #8 is the first FamilySearch link, to a wiki article about the collection. (I’ve circled both in the screen shot, below.) The actual collection doesn’t show up at all.

Google search results place database way above FamilySearch

FamilySearch implemented their collection list in a way that makes the list invisible to Google. Consequently, Google doesn’t know about their collections. Freshman error. They’ll get it fixed soon enough. First they have bigger fish to fry. And I have digressed away from one…

Browse Hierarchy

The browse hierarchy correctly identifies Ganeer, IllinoisI checked the browse structures on Ancestry and FamilySearch. The two are the same except where FamilySearch has the town of Oliver, Kankakee County (below, left), Ancestry has Ganeer (right).

The browse hierarchy incorrectly identifies Ganeer as Oliver, Illinois


Images are available on both websites, so I clicked through to look at the first image on each. I clicked on FamilySearch and saw the image below, left. I clicked on and saw the image on the right.

The enumerator mispelled Ganeer as Genier The "pay wall"

Okay, that was a cheap shot. The image is free on FamilySearch and what you see above, right, is the “pay wall.”

The quality of the image on Ancestry depends a bit on what browser you use. With Internet Explorer, it looks like the image below, left. With other browsers, it looks like the image on the right.'s advanced image viewer in Internet Explorer displays better image quality's basic image viewer washes out images

I can see how Ganeer might be misread as Olevier, but Oliver would be a stretch, particularly for someone who has read my articles about the importance of context when indexing. No one with a list of Kankakee County localities (towns, villages, and unincorporated places) is going to come up with Oliver.


“I brought this [error] to the attention of FamilySearch,” said Jason Thompson, “and was referred to a web page stating that corrections simply can't be made to their records, no matter the circumstance.” Apparently, the support rep thought this was a run-of-the-mill indexing error.

Browse hierarchy errors are not created by indexers and are far more intrusive.

“This single error impacts 6 census images, 222 records, and 1,341 individuals,” said Thompson.

Thompson “reopened” his question to FamilySearch support. This escalates the issue up the support food chain. This time he was told

We report [these issues] for an engineering fix. When this collection comes up for review...all of the problems ever reported will be fixed and the collection republished. The fixes you are suggesting would require changes to the index, relinking to images and republishing the entire collection. It can't be done piecemeal.

There is a “Known Issues” section in each collection’s wiki article. I think it can be used to report these types of issues. See where I’ve done just that for the Oliver/Ganeer issue.

Oliver, Kankakee, Illinois? Yes, records say the darnedest things.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Information Provenance

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Although I have years of experience with the old FamilySearch, I'm using the new one for the first time. I am getting two nearly identical results for what I presume to be the same records, except for the batch and source film numbers. Why? How do I cite these?

This has happened a number of times in the Virginia Marriages and Virginia Births and Deaths databases. For example, J.H. Holland/S.J. Stringfield marriage in Isle of Wight County, Virginia, 3 March 1898.

One result shows groom's father's name as Ed, the other Elwin. Batch and source film numbers are different. Why?

I'm awfully spoiled being able to contribute corrections to Ancestry's database, can that be done at FamilySearch too?

Robin in Short Pump

Dear Sensible Shoe Robin,

Here are the two results in question, with the differences highlighted:


Why Two Results?

Why is Some Info Different?

Information passes through different hands along the way from record to ourselves. This is called information provenance. It works much like chain of evidence that you hear about in cop shows.

These two records have batch numbers. That means they were indexed by FamilySearch volunteers. Because there are two different batch numbers, there were two different projects. The system origin is Virginia-EASy. EASy was the Extraction Administration System used before FamilySearch Indexing.

These records have a film number. That makes it easy to find out where the information came from. The film numbers are different, so the information might have come from different records. The possibility also exists that the same record was filmed twice.

  • Can you think of what you might do to further understand the information provenance of these two records?

How are They Cited?

There’s something we should do before thinking about citing these records.

  • Are these original or derivative sources?
  • Which provides stronger evidence, an image copy or a textual derivative?
  • Why is it a very bad idea to cite these sources?

As you can tell from that last question, we won’t be figuring out how to cite these records.

Can a User Contribute Corrections?

Sadly, no. I understand that FamilySearch has this on their roadmap.

After you and your capable co-readers have had a chance to respond, we can review the answers together. Feel free to post comments with your answers. (Scroll to the bottom of this article and click “Comments.”) Don’t send me e-mail; I ignore it.

--The Insider

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

FamilySearch Data Centers and Second Vault

FamilySearch disclosed last week that it uses three data centers and is planning a fourth. A data center is a place where an organization can store computer servers, hard disk servers, tape backup servers, web servers, and Internet connection hardware.

Data center computers and other components are designed to be
mounted into racks some eight feet tall. Racks were organized
into numerous rows, totally filling large rooms.

A spokesperson from FamilySearch said that the website is kept in a data center in Ashburn, Virginia. A smaller datacenter in West Valley City, Utah acts as a backup and as a staging area where changes are tested before rolling them to Ashburn. A yet smaller datacenter is located in downtown Salt Lake City within walking distance of FamilySearch’s corporate offices in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

Fans force cold air through little holes in the floor into “cold air” aisles.
Computer fans draw the cold air through the electronic hardware, expelling
the now hot air into “hot air” aisles where it returns to the air coolers.

  • The FamilySearch website consists of about 6,000 servers
  • The general public will add 10 to 15 times the users to the new FamilySearch Tree
  • Each center has a robotic tape machine whose size rivals that of a a school bus
  • FamilySearch’s Internet connection is large enough to stream more than 75,000 movies simultaneously
  • FamilySearch volunteers index 1.5 million records a day
  • Each center has miles of cables
  • FamilySearch’s ViaWest data center consumes 5 million kilowatt hours annually
  • To guard against earthquake damage, the ViaWest data center is built on big shock absorbers
  • Instead of the 10 or 20 amp breakers you see in your homes, ViaWest uses a 5,000 amp circuit breaker
FamilySearch’s downtown data center is collocated with C7 Data Centers.

FamilySearch leases space for the West Valley datacenter from a company named ViaWest. It was here that a fire suppression accident destroyed most of the hard drives in the facility. It was this accident that destroyed the Family History Expos website shortly before the St. George Family History Expo. A ViaWest spokesperson did not know how much FamilySearch was affected by the incident. (See “Major Failure of Utah Computer Center.”)

FamilySearch is contemplating another data center facility to be specifically designed as a data preservation center, according to the spokesperson. FamilySearch employees’ families were shown an architectural rendering of the facility during tours of the Salt Lake area data centers.

Jay Verkler alluded to the project during an October 2010 meeting with bloggers. It will be, as he put it, FamilySearch’s second storage vault.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday Mailbox: Is FamilySearch a Branch of Ancestry?

Several people pointed out an important place to access the 1870 census that I left out of “Monday Mailbox: Searching the 1870 Census.” Unfortunately, none left a public comment, robbing the rest of you of their insight.

Where else can you access the 1870 census for free? Read on…

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Why did you not recommend searching on HeritageQuest?  It’s free and available from home (through most local library sites).  There are 847 Fanning’s listed in the US in 1870.


Dear Jerry,

A simple oversight, I assure you. Love the bold blue, btw.

--The Insider

Dear Ancestry Insider,

You might also mention that many public library systems also have HeritageQuest which the library system allows one to access from home. It has the 1790-1830 and 1860-1930 (only a few states for 1930 though) censuses. Usually if the library system offers Ancestry, one must go to the public library itself to use it. It's great to be able to use HeritageQuest from the comfort of home. Wonder if you mind suggesting a non-Ancestry product??


Dear Sam,

The complete question is, “Wonder if you mind suggesting a and non-FamilySearch product?” I’ve been known to make an except or two, particular for free products. This one seems warranted.

--The Insider

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I wish HeritageQuest had not become defunct because they kept’s transcribers on their toes. Anytime I find a new person I check out on HeritageQuest first. Then I look at Ancestry. HeritageQuest did a much better job on indexing. I don't bother with FamilySearch at all; it appears to be just another branch of

Lee Elliott

Dear Lee,

I can assure you that FamilySearch is not a branch of In fact, I think it fair to say that a certain amount of animosity exists between the two organizations.

But in the context of your statement, your point is a good one. Enough good will exists between the two that they exchanged some census indexes. In general, however, indexes for a record collection on one may not match the other.

--The Insider

P.S. Since I’m not mentioning products, I won’t point you to yet another copy of FamilySearch’s U.S. census indexes. But if you happen to click here, I won’t stop you. Interestingly, has published copies of FamilySearch census indexes for years that FamilySearch themselves hasn’t.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Booklet Review: German Genealogy at a Glance

Genealogy at a Glance: German Genealogy ResearchOnce again I’ve been asked to review one of Genealogical Publishing Company’s (GPC) “At a Glance” series. Genealogy at a Glance: German Genealogy Research is one of nine in the “At a Glance” series. Each one is printed on a single piece of laminated cardstock which is folded to form a four page booklet.

Once again I’ve had to depend on someone else to glance at the information and provide a review:

For the most part the information is pretty good, except that I am surprised that the “Germans from Russia” weren’t mentioned as a group. Under Places of Origin, Tip, there is sometimes a way to determine the village. The early immigrants many times named their fields after their home villages, and finding the earliest burial/grave marker may also mention their origin in Germany.

Once again, I think GPC is misapplying the 4-page format.

“As surprising as it sounds,” says GPC, “you can learn the basic steps in German genealogy in just a few moments. That’s all it takes to read Genealogy at a Glance, which is designed to cover the basic elements of German genealogical research.”

You pay $7.95 plus $7.50 FedEx shipping for eight pages. Do the math and you will find that you pay a few bucks per moment and nearly $4 per page.

If I am going to pay that price for a single piece of cardstock, I want more than to “learn basic steps…in just a few moments.” I darn well better want to “glance” at it again and again and again.

Genealogy at a Glance: German Genealogy Research
8.5" x 11", 4 pp., folded and laminated. 2011.
ISBN 978-0-8063-1885-1
Genealogical Publishing Company
$7.95 (list) plus shipping.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New Pedigree Resource File: Sources and Notes

We saw Barbara’s letter* in yesterday’s “Monday Mailbox” and Friday’s “Darned Records” article.

Barbara may have been using one of the new features in the September 2011 release of Notes and sources are now shown online; there is no need to find and consult the CD–ROM or DVD just to see notes and sources.

Consider the record mentioned in Barbara’s letter. On it looks like this (less some of the note):


On the current it looks like this:


Notice these differences:

  • As previously noted, notes and sources are included online
  • Disk number, PIN, and submitter information are gone
  • Instead, a regularly formatted source citation is given

FamilySearch is trying hard to entice users away from the classic site and onto the current PRF notes and sources are a compelling reason.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Mailbox: How Do I Fix PRF

Dear Insider,

How does one ask to correct a Pedigree Resource File?

A copy of an obit has been posted to show the death of Henry Farley Byerly for a pedigree under his name.

The obit is from a Clinton, DeWitt County, Illinois newspaper and records HFB's death occurring in Kenney, DeWitt County, Illinois. The Pedigree Resource File shows HFB's death in Austin County, Texas. Texas Cemetery is in DeWitt County, Illinois.


Dear Barbara,

According to the website, where Pedigree Resource File (PRF) was born,

How do I change information in the Pedigree Resource File?

The Pedigree Resource File allows you to submit and preserve your records. … Pedigree Resource File submissions become static once the submission is processed. If you find errors in the data submitted by you, submit the file again, and the second submission will appear on a future compact disc. Your previous submission will also appear.1

At FGS, someone suggested FamilySearch allow annotations. Then you could add your own opinion without compromising the submitter’s submission. RootsWeb’s WorldConnect allows it. We used to do it in pencil in published family trees. It makes sense.

Sorry, but today you can neither fix it nor flag it. If it makes you feel any better, you can fix this in the new FamilySearch Tree (when you get access). There, fixing is enabled and encouraged.

--The Insider


     1. “How Do I Change Information…,” FAQ question, FamilySearch ( : accessed 6 September 2011); hover over Help, click Product Support, look under Other Products, click Pedigree Resource File, click “How do I change information…”. This webpage is scheduled for termination, so you soon won’t be able to find it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Darned Pedigree Resource File

Records say the darnedest things

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, Records say the Darnedest Things.”

Records Say the Darnedest Things: Pedigree Resource File

Watch “Monday Mailbox” next, for a letter and question from Barbara. (I’m sure there is only one reader of my newsletter named Barbara.:-) Barbara found an interesting entry in FamilySearch’s Pedigree Resource FIle (PRF). Apparently, someone included an obituary in a person’s notes section, then stuck the wrong information in the record!

Here’s bits of the obits:

March 16, 1888

Henry Farley Byerly was born in North Carolina, February 26, 1809. …In October, 1851, he emigrated to DeWitt county, where he has ever since resided…


Henry F. Byerly died at his home in Kenney the 13th inst., aged 78 years, 8 months and 4 days. The burial took place at the Texas Cemetery the 14th.

According to Barbara, Kenney and Texas Cemetery are in DeWitt county, Illinois.

Here’s the PRF record:

An entry from PRF classic

Lessons learned?

  • Sources are good. Having the text of the obituary was a powerful anecdote [sic] for the error.
  • Compiled trees should be used as finding aids, not sources.

Watch for the full text of Barbara’s letter on Monday. Until then, “records say the darnedest things.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Progress in the War for Columnar Search Results

Tables arrange data into rows and columns. They are a time proven way of organizing and presenting data. Once upon a time, utilized columnar tables when presenting search results. (Anyone remember how they did it back in ‘97?) Ancestry never mixed search results from different record collections. This presentation was one reason many users preferred “Old Search” over “New.” used to have columnar search results
Ancestry users had a clear preference for columnar search results

FamilySearch’s soon-to-be-retired website came along in 1999. Its sentence style presentation of results from one or more record collections made scanning results slow and inconvenient.

Class FamilySearch listed search results in sentence format

With the introduction of relevance-ranked search results from multiple record collections, Ancestry succumbed to the dark side, labeling and stacking the information (a tabular column replacing columnar table).

In search results, they stacked the information

This layout persists in “New Search” today.

In search results, they stacked the information

FamilySearch came along in 2007 and introduced the Record Search Pilot. It utilized columns!

FamilySearch's Record Search Pilot presented search resuls in columns

The progress was soon lost with the introduction of Beta which again stacked search results. FamilySearch improved on the Ancestry display by bolding the principal name, but lost ground by separating it from the rest of the record data.

Beta stacked information in search resuls

In the September 2011 release of, FamilySearch has introduced a compromise.

September 2011 returned to columnar search results layout

FamilySearch made three major changes. They widened the search results to utilize wasted screen space on either side of the results. That gets a thumbs up. They included more information. Also a thumbs up. And they lined up dates, places, and the names of other people. This is a great step in the right direction, but I think more is possible.

Rules for Website Designers

I think lists of search results should follow these requirements:

  • Utilize the entire width of the screen.
  • If something else shares the horizontal space, allow the user to resize the two panes.
  • Allow the user to change column widths, change the order of columns, and add or remove columns dynamically. See Microsoft Outlook or Windows Explorer for examples.
  • Allow the user to sort any column in either direction (such as A to Z or Z to A).
  • The first two columns should be principal name and principal date. For a death record, that is decedent and death date. For a marriage record, it is the individual matching the search result and the marriage date. For a census, it is resident and residence date.
  • Almost never stack or combine data of different types (dates and places, for example) or different semantics (birth and death dates, for example).
  • One instance in which it might be okay to stack, is a column with all the names of others mentioned in the record, labeling them as Ancestry and FamilySearch do today.
  • Another instance might be links and icons associated with actions, such as cameras, permissions, quality, and links to view record or image.
  • In most instances, wrap information that is too long for a column. In some instances, truncate the information, show ellipses, and display complete values when the cursor is placed on top of the truncated information.

Here’s an artist conception of such a layout. The user has squished several columns and sorted by birth date.

The Ancestry Insider's conception of columnar search results from multiple collections

My reference to Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer, but the computer/folder viewer) raises some interesting possibilities for exploration. Explorer has several views: detail, thumbnails of varying size, icon view, and list view. I can imagine clever web designers tickling additional ways to interact with search results.

What about you? What is your wish list for the layout of search results?