Friday, May 27, 2011

The Gretna Green for Death? Why Y

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

A place where people often go to get married is called a “Gretna Green.” A Gretna Green has far more marriages than is normal. Did you know there is a “Gretna Green,” a sort of elephant graveyard, for death?

This table shows the number of deaths found in Public Member Trees for four places. The table compares numbers of deaths with current populations.

  Deaths Population
Y 6 million 86
London 4 million 8 million
Los Angeles 3 million 4 million
Paris 1 million 2 million


What is this mysterious Y where so many people go to die?

Of course, every good genealogist knows that place names need to be complete so they aren’t ambiguous. Gratefully, some very helpful genealogy programs will expand the names for you, “fixing” the problem. Consider this descendent of a Norse god.

Before After
Born: Europe
Died: Y
Born: Europe, Fayette, Georgia, United States
Died: Y, Somme, Picardie, France


Deaths in Y are not limited to the descendents of Norse gods. Consider an early resident of Asia.

Before After
Born: Asia
Died: Y
Born: Āsīā, Ghowr, Afghanistan
Died: Y, Somme, Picardie, France


Abraham Lincoln’s son, William, died in Y, as have people from across the globe.

Fortunately, genealogists are the questioning type. Confronted with inexplicable deaths in Y, they start questioning why:

  • “I have found that a number of my ancestors died in this small French village and I'm trying to find out more information about it aside from what's in Wikipedia. Why did so many end up there? The span goes from the 1100s-1800s and there are many surnames.”
  • “Very strange to find we're all having this issue. Mine's not even telling me a date when they died, just that it was there.”
  • “I've found that around 20 of my ancestors ranging from 1100 to about 1850 died in Y, Somme, Picardie. I know that it was held as a fief by the English, from around the mid 1200s to the mid 1300s, which may explain why so many English went there.”
  • “Mine, Too! All my McGhee women in the early to mid-1800's moved from Pittsylvnia/Bedford area, VA. to this town in france. WHY???”
  • “Now that [I] read all these notes from others, I am beginning to wonder if, perhaps, it was a "spa" or infirmary of some sort, where people went, who were seriously ill. It seems that everyone who went there, died there!?? Was their something going around in the mid-1800's in Virginia? My relatives were all women, English, born in VA. 1790-1830”
  • “I also have a relative [that] someone on a family tree has listed as dying in Y, Somme, Picardie, France. I have not yet proved this to be true by finding a death certificate. Does anyone know how to find death certificates or registers for this area. Will they be written in French?”
  • “And I thought it was just me who was crazy. Perhaps there was a foreign office to which members of my family were assigned during the 1700's, as they reappeared in NY a couple generations later. Or maybe it was just a great place to escape then, as it is now.”
  • “I think it was a sanitarium for consumption patients. That is what they called Tuberculosis, back then. That is consistant with Lincoln's son's diagnosis, as well.”
  • “I have come across a few different sources that show this as the location of vast military cemeteries going back ages - I don't know if this accounts for all of the hits we're getting, but certainly applies to some/most ...”

(You’ll be happy to know that this discussion gradually wound around to the real problem.)

Yes, records say the darnedest things…


Thank you, Desta Elliott, for suggesting this topic.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jay Verkler, FamilySearch, and the Community

Jay Verkler addresses 2010 NGS Conference
Jay Verkler addresses 2010 NGS Conference
© 2010 IR1. All rights reserved.

I had a chance to grab a minute with Jay Verkler at the close of the 2011 National Genealogical Society (NGS) annual conference. Verkler is president and CEO of FamilySearch.

“We’re very excited to see how the genealogical category is moving forward,” he said. “To FamilySearch, the growth of the category has always been very important, which is why we support societies, archives, and other commercial companies. We don’t think about them as competitors; we think about them as partners trying to build the community.”

Verkler said this year is turning out to be a great one. He saw a lot of positive indicators at NGS,  spoke with representatives from several societies, including NEHGS, and was pleased to hear many are on growth paths.

Verkler is glad that is doing well. “Ancestry’s growth has just been fantastic. It’s been exciting.” Their success as a public company attracts more investors to the category who then put money into other genealogy companies. Verkler said we’re going to see other companies in the space, like BrightSolid in Europe, MyHeritage with its worldwide penetration,, and “some other companies that you can’t see yet that are coming your way soon, that are all gaining financial funding.”

“For us, it’s exciting to see that,” said Verkler. “All of these things make 2011 and 2012 look like great growth years.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Citation Principles: What is a Derivative?

 Two derivatives of the 1790 Census, Brookfield, Connecticut
Above are two types of derivatives from
the same page of the 1790 U.S. Census.

Citations have two purposes: locate the source and indicate its strength. This series of articles explains what we must do to accomplish these purposes for genealogical sources.


To properly characterize the strength of a derivative source, specify the type of the derivative and the source from which it was derived.

What is a Derivative Source?

The term derivative source, simply put, is a copy of a source.

The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual defines a derivative source as one that is

repeated, reproduced, transcribed, abstracted, or summarized from something already spoken or written. … John Doe’s will found in the county record book is a first-generation derivative copied from his original testator-signed document; a photocopy of the record-book will is a second-generation derivative, … a published abstract [is a] third-generation-derivative, [and a research note taken from the published abstract is a fourth-generation-derivative].1

Photographic Derivatives

The strength of a derivative depends on the type of the derivative. Look at the illustration above from the 1790 U.S. Census. On the right hand side is a digitized copy of the original. On the left is a typeset copy. The interpretation introduced during typesetting makes it a weaker source than the image copy.

Photographic derivatives—those created using cameras, scanners, and photocopy machines—can be virtually as strong as the original source. Elizabeth Shown Mills calls these image copies.2

Textual Derivatives

Indexes, abstracts, extracts, transcriptions, translations, and the like are textual derivatives. Textual derivatives can be far less reliable than originals, as we see from the plethora of indexing errors found on genealogy websites. Also, textual derivatives are usually less complete than originals because it is expensive and time-consuming to transcribe all the information in a record.3


Different types of photographic and textual derivatives have different evidentiary values, so it is important to specify derivative types in the citations of derivative sources.


     a. Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual, ed. Helen F. M. Leary (Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2000), 9.

     2.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007), 30.

     3.  Mills, Evidence Explained, 28-31.

Table of Contents

The table of contents for this series as it currently stands:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 launches Web Search

Eric Shoup at Reception
Eric Shoup of

Eric Shoup of announced the release of Ancestry Web Search at a reception Thursday night of the 2011 NGS Conference. Once burnt by their Internet Biographical Collection, is not shy about explaining how this time things have changed.

The Internet Biographical Collection

The Internet Biographical Collection (IBC) was a collection released on 26 August 2007. It consisted of copies of web pages containing genealogically relevant information. The copies were made without warning to or permission from page owners. See Becky Wiseman’s “Is this Fair Use?” and another example from USGenNet for examples showing how the IBC worked.

Hundreds of people blasted Dozens of bloggers flogged them. Page owners objected. And capitulated. Just three days after launch, pulled the plug on the collection.

My favorite flogging was done visually:

Susan K. Kitches, image composer, “ Scrapes Websites,” Family Oral History Using Digital Tools ( : dated 28 August 2007, accessed 21 May 2011).


Web Search versus IBC says they have addressed the complaints made about the original version of the IBC. Here’s my comparison:

Internet Biographical Collection Web Search
Made copies of owners’ web pages without their knowledge or approval. Sites can be added or removed by owner request. I think I asked and said that they had the permission of the three sites that they have currently indexed.
Required subscriptions. (On the 28th, opened the collection to registered users.) Anyone can use it.
Result lists contained links to’s copies of the pages, not the owners’. This deprived owners of several benefits, including advertisement revenues. No improvement. Still no links to owners’ pages.
Result pages contained information abstracted from the owners’ pages. Same.’s stated intent is to limit the information shown so users are incented to click through to the owners’ pages.
Result pages contained links to’s copies of the pages, not the owners’. (On the 28th, supplemented the links to their copies with links to the owners’ originals.) Result pages contain links to the owners’ websites. made nearly complete copies of owners’ web pages, including text and graphic design. Many felt this was a clear violation of the law. I felt that they had, indeed, crossed the line, but that they were playing in a gray area and had not wantonly violated the law. Does not copy others’ pages. I believe this is the key difference between the IBC and web Search.
Citations did not specify the original sources. Thus, citations did not give credit to the owners. Citations do not specify the derivative sources.
Thus, citations do not disclose’s involvement. They need to read my series on citation principles so they understand why a citation needs to specify both the derivative and the original.
Links went directly to the pages with the indexed information. Links do not go directly. Links go to the search page and users must retype the search parameters. This might be owners’ preferred behavior, but as a user I’d like the links to take me directly to the results.
Indexed the same content as search engines like Google. According to’s Brian Edwards, Web Search indexes deep web content, stuff you can’t find doing a Google search. seems to have followed the advice of fellow blogger, Randy Seaver.

I wish that Ancestry would carefully consider the reaction to adding a database like this before they do it.

I spoke with Web Search product manager, Brian Edwards. He said, “We’ve spoken with many members within the genealogical community to try to make sure we approach this in the right way.” He said believes it’s important to respect the wishes of the owners of the content indexed by this new product.

Really? No Caching?

Caching others’ web pages (copying, really) was at the heart of the IBC controversy. If you know where to look, has links to cached copies of indexed pages. As I wrote this on Saturday, I experienced the downside of not caching pages., the website indexed by “Web: Marion County, Indiana Marriages since 1925,” was down.'s misuse of caching in the IBC may have poisoned the possibility of using it now.

Google caches copies of inde
Google caches indexed pages

I think web page owners will be more amenable to Web Search than to the Internet Biographical Collection. And I think haters and conspiralists will like it in their own way; it gives them more fodder. But I’m not so certain about the rest of you. What do you think?



Private message to Brian Edwards: In our interview I mentioned I wondered if might be doing deep web searches on some websites. While researching this article, I came across an example of why I think this might be so. I did a Google search for ["internet biographical collection" (source OR citation)]. I clicked on one of the results, Kimberly Powell’s “Cache 22” article. The page came up with my search terms already in the search box. Interesting, huh?

Does Google performs deep web searches?

Monday, May 23, 2011

FamilySearch Indexing Outage Continues

Some time around noon on Sunday, FamilySearch Indexing stopped working. As of 1:00 pm Mountain Time, the outage has not been fixed.

A message at states:

Indexing is down for maintenance

I contacted FamilySearch for comment and was told that a public statement will be made shortly. They do not yet know how long it will take to fix the issue. They are characterizing this as a “major outage.”

While the website states that Indexing is down for maintenance, it is unlikely that FamilySearch intentionally brought the site down on a Sunday. Judging from the number of single day indexing records, Sunday is their biggest day.

Indexers receive much less helpful notices. One common notice is this one, which you see when you try to run the Indexing program:

Launcer failed notice from FamilySearch Indexing program.

If you got it running, there was no notice in the message area of the Indexing program:


The only notice many indexers will see is a lack of projects in the batch download window.

With FamilySearch Indexing down, no projects show up in the batch download window

I received a notice that was unhelpful. The notice said I must update my Indexing program before I could download a batch. I dutifully uninstalled FamilySearch Indexing. When I tried to re-install, I found the web notice that Indexing was down for maintenance. Growl. Now I’ll have to needlessly reinstall when Indexing comes back up.

FamilySearch advises users not to try to re-install. They admit is won’t fix anything and can slow the system down.

I wonder how many older indexers FamilySearch loses because of its failure to provide better messaging.


One place to check for messages is FamilySearch Indexing on Facebook. Go to and click on Wall. (Wall is on the left side of the window, underneath the image.) A little after 5 yesterday, FamilySearch posted this message:

Most of you have already noticed, the indexing system has been struggling today. The engineers just shut everything down and will bring it back up shortly. If you receive an error message or a notice to update your program, please ignore it, wait a few minutes, and try again. Thank you for your patience!

At 6:06 pm:

The system is still down. Latest word from the engineers: They have many individuals involved, trying to get the system running again.

We hope they can get it running soon.

At 9:14 am, message from Brandon Bauman:

No ETA yet. We're doing our best. Thanks for your continued patience.


It’s nice that Facebook users were informed, but I wonder how many of FamilySearch’s indexers are on Facebook. You would think that FamilySearch’s own support forum would be the place to go for messages about the outage. Apparently not.

Go to and click on FamilySearch Indexing. I didn’t find any messages from FamilySearch about the outage, but there were messages from volunteers, commiserating or dumping.

User “oxxguy” wrote,

Wouldn't it be nice if there were an indexing system health page maintained on a separate server (on facebook, say, or on an LDS server) so that we could find out if the system is down instead of just guessing "is it me?"

Unregistered Guest wrote,

It seems to me that the IT department doesn't have much concern for volunteers. Maybe they're too busy to even notice that they are putting their users out. I know IT departments tend to give notice. I don't see anything so far about advanced notice about may 22, 2011 being a maintenance day.

Maybe the server just crapped out and they have to replace something and they don't have failover, which is quite annoying.…

I wish that they'd put some technologically savvy people on the phone support because, I'm a techie and I want to know exactly what's going on.

User “indaloman” wrote,

I am sick of everytime they update their software, I cannot get into the program. They could not care less about volunteers, if something goes wrong and we lose hours of work, well thats just tough!

I think I have had enough, and I will go back to FreeGEN, FreeCEN etc, at least they give their volunteers support.

Private message to FamilySearch: Please re-read my article on the Cluetrain Manifesto.

Bottom line: Talk openly to your volunteers. Over-communicate. Or watch the train leave the station without you.

Monday Mailbox: A Nice Ride in the Mountains

Several readers responded positively to Tim Cross’s “A Nice Rice in the Mountain.”

Dear Ancestry Insider

If the person knows nothing about their family, how do you make this "nice colored chart?" I honestly would like to know. Everyone I know, if/when they have interest in family history, comes to me and asks me for help. It's not horribly hard to break it down to something that they'd understand, but adding some colors to it may help. So, how do you do this?

Amanda Forson*

Dear Amanda,

That’s an excellent question. Starting another’s genealogy is no different than your own. Start with them and work backwards. If they know absolute zero about their family, then there really is nothing you can do. Otherwise, start with what they know.

There are plenty of getting started guides around:

The idea is to do enough ground work, perhaps a generation or two, to give them that “nice ride” experience.

--The Insider

What recommendations do the rest of you have for Amanda?


* Amanda Forson, e-mail to, “The Ancestry Insider: A Nice Ride in the Mountain,” dated 22 April 2011, 1:56 AM.

Friday, May 20, 2011

What’s Next at

After the reception Thursday evening, I went up to the reception. Here again, I found an interesting contrast. No clear winner here, just interesting, each organization’s choices, and interesting ramifications.
Location Cavernous meeting hall The FamilySearch booth
Audience size Sparse, hundreds Crowded, dozens
Presentations Multiple presenters, slides, demos Short introduction, short video
Executive presenter Josh Hanna I don’t think there were any.
Presentation length Long Short
Refreshments Fancy desserts Cookies
Leftovers Tons Tons
Chocolate choices 4 1


Joshua Hanna, executive vice presidentContent is King continues to delivery most of the same key messages as it has in the past. Josh Hanna, executive vice president presented information about record collections and Eric Shoup about product improvements.

I appreciated Hanna’s participation. In my early days at, some of us felt like had not yet come to grips with what it meant to be a content publisher. We felt like we had to campaign to prevent cuts in the content acquisition budget. Marketing wanted new customers. Product management wanted to improve the old search. Executives wanted online trees. The board of directors wanted a simplified website that would appeal to non-genealogists. We campaigned for “content as king” and worked to convince decision makers that no one wanted to renew a magazine subscription to a magazine that republished the same issue month after month.

From my vantage point it looked like Tim Sullivan and Andrew Waite pivoted the focus from customer acquisition to customer retention. That required to shift its focus from customer acquisition to content acquisition. Once they gave subscribers a reason to stay, they are now both retaining subscribers and acquiring subscribers. In fact, in a private meeting with online media on Friday, Eric Shoup disclosed that subscriber acquisition doubled in Q1 over previous quarters.)

Q1 new subscribers nearly doubled 2010 quarterly additions
Q1 new subscribers nearly doubled 2010 quarterly additions

Hanna’s participation said to me that still feels that content is king. He pointed out that they’ve spent over $100 million publishing genealogy records over the past 15 years. They published 200 collections in 2010. (See But I digress…

In addition to what they’ve already done in 2011, they plan a Memorial Day release of the entire U.S. Navy Ship Muster Rolls for 1939-1949, consisting of 27 million records. These records document ship assignments, promotions, transfers, and discharges. This is one of the most requested collections at the National Archives, Hanna said.

This fall they will be adding U.S. birth, marriage, and death records for Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Ohio, New York, Kansas, Texas, Washington, Missouri, Oregon, Illinois, and Georgia.

Next year comes the big daddy of the decade. The 1940 US Federal Census images, 3.2 million of them, will be released to the public on the NARA website on 2 April 2012. will then work to produce indexes of the 132 million people.

Eric Shoup presented next. His presentation overlapped considerably with “What’s New at,” presented the following day by Ann Mitchell and Jen Hodnett. I think I will write about both presentations at the same time.

Stay tuned…

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Enlist Now that the War is Over

Civil War Enlistment Reception Civil War Enlistment Reception

I attended two vendor receptions Thursday evening. Translated, that means I’m a loser and failed to sign up for the evening BBQ before tickets sold out. But I digress…

The first was at the FamilySearch booth, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War… And to encourage the enlistment of indexing volunteers. Hey, for an Enlisted badge and a chocolate-chip cookie, I’ll index another name or two.

Interestingly, the poster and matching flyer directed people to I can’t get that address to work on my computer. Did you know some web addresses are case-sensitive and some are not? Apparently, this one is. If you really want to see the page, use

It’s a shame, really. FamilySearch appears to have spent some effort preparing the page, and not many attendees are likely to see it.

Landing Page

This type of page is called a “landing page.” FamilySearch is pretty new at landing pages so I thought it would be interesting to compare their page with’s. I didn’t know where to find the Civil War landing page, or even if they had one. But because of their purpose, their addresses have to be short and obvious.

I found it on my first try: You can also use, because uses Microsoft Windows, which ignores the case of filenames.

Compare the two. Here’s what they look like above the fold. (See “Above the Fold.”)

FamilySearch Civil War landing page Civil War landing page

I’m no graphic designer; all I know I learned from a day-course in designing slide presentations. Compare the use of color, white space, and contrast in the two. Which do you like better? I know which one I like.

With this landing page, FamilySearch for the first time provides a search form that searches a group of collections. Here, the landing page searches a number of Civil War record collections. From the numbers along the top of the search results, it is apparent the FamilySearch Civil War landing page searches these five collections:

I find it weird that these five aren’t the same five listed on the landing page. And neither list matches the list on the flyer given out at the reception.

All this aside, I love these new collections. I love getting more people “enlisted.” And I love chocolate chip cookies.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Is Mills Style Necessary?

The Chicago Manual of Style
Richard S. Lackey, Cite Your Sources : a Manual for Documenting Family Histories and Genealogical Records
Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian
Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace

Citations have two purposes: locate the source and indicate its strength. This series of articles explains what we must do to accomplish these purposes for genealogical sources.


I’ve heard genealogists (one, a professional) say that the Chicago Manual of Style (or some other classic style) is all they need, and that Mills Style citation guides are overkill.

Is that true?

Extensions Happen

When existing citation styles have not met their needs, some fields have invented new styles. Some have extended existing styles. The Chicago Manual of Style recognizes this need and specifically allows it. “Flexibility. Elements of different systems can be combined or adjusted as appropriate to the subject matter and readership.”1

The University of Nebraska Kearney has special needs as a congressionally designated depository for U.S. Government documents. It extended existing citation style guides with examples showing how to cite the many different government documents in its repository. The supplement to Chicago is titled Citing Government Documents: Chicago Manual.2

The Duke Divinity School uses Turabian citation style. But for near eastern, biblical, and early Christian texts, Duke supplements it with the SBL Handbook of Style : for Near Eastern, Biblical, and Early Christian Studies.3

Genealogical Sources

Genealogists have special needs that are not covered by other citation style guides.

Locating sources in archives is far more difficult than locating published sources. The dozen citation templates provided in standard citation style guides fall far short of the endless permutations of jurisdictions (cities, counties, states, nations, parishes, dioceses, archdioceses, etc.), record types (vitals, land, probate, etc.), and arrangements (record groups, series, files, items, etc.) associated with archival sources.

The inadequacy of classic citation guides is not limited to a lack of templates. Characterizing the strength of copies of manuscript sources requires identification of both the original and the copy.

The need to give genealogists special citation guidance was recognized decades ago. In 1980 Richard Stephen Lackey published Cite Your Sources.4 In 1997 Elizabeth Shown Mills published Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian.5 In 2007 Mills published Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.6

Archives Have Extended Library Standards

Interestingly, what Mills has done for citing archival sources, the Society of American Archivists has done for cataloging archival sources.

For many years libraries used a standard called Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules for writing bibliographic descriptions.7 Chapter 4 in AACR2 (as the 2nd edition is called) covers manuscripts and manuscript collections. Archivists found it inadequate for the wide range of sources held by archives so they created Archives, Personal Papers, and Manuscripts, which extends, but is compatible with AACR2.8

Small wonder that the needs of archivists and archive users should reflect one another.


Series Summary

So far in this series of articles we have spoken of these purposes, principles, and practices for genealogical citations:


     1. The Chicago Manual of Style 15th ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003; CD-ROM version 1.2.3), 596; italics in the original.

     2. Diana J. Keith, Citing Government Documents: Chicago Manual, PDF publication ( : revised April 2008), Calvin T. Ryan Library > Research Tools > Government Documents > Citation Style Guides.

     3.  “Citation Style Guide,” Duke Divinity School Library ( : accessed 1 May 2011), Help Desk > Citation Help > Divinity School Style Guide.

     4.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997), 5.

     5.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997); in its 16th printing in 2006.

     6.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace(Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007).

     7.  “About AACR2,” AACR2 ( : accessed 1 May 2011).

     8.  Richard Pearce-Moses, A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology (www.archivists
.org/glossary : The Society of American Archivists, 2005), s.vv. “Archives, Personal Papers, and Manuscripts.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

FamilySearch as an Archive

Ed Donakey said FamilySearch wants to preserve end users' data FamilySearch is digitizing, providing access, and preserving the world’s genealogical records, said Ed Donakey in a session at the NGS Conference last Thursday. Donakey is strategic relations manager for FamilySearch.

The technical infrastructure necessary to provide access to FamilySearch’s digitized records is immense. Donakey briefly touched on one item, maintaining the Internet connection of the website’s four datacenters. FamilySearch uses redundant connections so that the website can continue to function even if an Internet connection fails. An East coast datacenter has six Internet connections. In case a particular Internet provider should fail, the six connections are distributed among several Internet providers, including Qwest, Sprint, and XO. If all six connections failed, website operations would transfer to a Utah datacenter. It is connected with three lines to the Internet. Even if eight lines failed, would still have full speed access, said Donakey.

“Digital preservation is imperative for us,” Donakey said. Preserving digital records has many unique problems not suffered by microfilm preservation. The ways in which you can lose digital records is hellacious. (That’s my word, not Donakey’s… We’ll, actually, it’s not my word either. But I digress…) Failures include media failure, hardware failure, software failure, communication error, network error, hardware obsolescence, software obsolescence, operator error, natural disaster, and economic failure.

The solutions are not targeted to archivists only. “FamilySearch wants to provide the tools, technology, and infrastructure for local, national, and international archives and end users to preserve their key data,” said Donakey. “We’re doing everything we can to preserve these records for our posterity.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday Mailbox: Collection Names and Blog Duplication

Dear Insider,

Another issue with the “Oklahoma County Marriages, 1891-1959” record collection is the name. There is a county in Oklahoma named Oklahoma. Many of our customers--and even a staff member-- at the library look at the title and say "My relatives didn't marry in Oklahoma County, so why look at this?"


Dear Tex,

I couldn’t agree more. FamilySearch tends to make one of two mistakes in such record collections:

-- The Insider

Dear Readers,

To produce this blog I use a free service from Google. They’ve proven very reliable. But Friday the 13th was too much for them. There was a 24 hour period Thursday and Friday during which I could not post new articles and you could not leave comments. I’m sorry if you got multiple copies of articles, or if you couldn’t post comments, or if you posted comments and they were deleted. Hopefully all the problems are now in the past.

-- The Insider

Friday, May 13, 2011

To Infinity and Beyond

Craig Miller at NGS 2011 Conference “For the Family Tree, the whole effort this next year is to be able to make it public,” said Craig Miller, “and to be able to allow people to preserve their information and to share it in a collaborative way.” Miller made the remarks in his session “FamilySearch 2011 and Beyond” at the 2011 NGS Conference.

Product Management

Craig Miller is Sr. Vice President of Product Management at FamilySearch. Miller explained what product managers do. “We analyze how people do family history. We watch what you are doing and why are you doing it.” Then they work with software engineers to build products that meet users’ needs.

Miller explained why may not be as easy to use as you would like. “At FamilySearch over the past few years we have been developing things out in the open. I apologize for that, but it provides really value information. I apologize, but not really.”

“Some of the things we do may prove confusing,” he said. “I’m going to try to explain a little of that today.”

Search Changes

Miller started with the recent changes in Search, which have drawn lots (and lots and lots) of criticism. “We really goofed up,” he said. He noted that in the Record Search Pilot, filtering to Utah or Wisconsin took just a couple of clicks. He counted on the latest release and found that today it takes 40!

FamilySearch can’t go to the local store and buy a search engine that serves the needs of genealogy. What is available out there is technology like unto Google. Miller pointed out that genealogists need to be able to search and match name variants, time ranges, geographies, and various events.

FamilySearch spent 4.5 years customizing the search engine used in Record Search, only to find that it could not scale. That means, as the planned thousands of record collections were added, the number of computer servers needed was growing explosively.

Fortunately, FamilySearch located another search engine that was twenty times better. Unfortunately, FamilySearch now has to re-customize the search engine with all the special capabilities of the Record Search engine.

Miller assured me after his presentation that improving search was one of the top two points he would like me to take away from his presentation. Over the next several months FamilySearch will be working on this. “We’re revamping it and constantly refining it and adding the features that are needed.”

Family Tree

The biggest point was FamilySearch plans for Family Tree. “We’re trying to preserve the heritage of mankind through a common family tree.” And they are working hard to make it available to the public.

Here again FamilySearch made some bad decisions. Miller said that at the outset of the FamilySearch Family Tree (nFS) project, they failed to appreciate how extreme the problem of duplication would be. When FamilySearch loaded all their separate trees into the common tree, they had 1,000 variations of John Lathrup. (Miller didn’t tell us the total that existed prior to collapsing exact duplicates.)

Didn’t FamilySearch learn that sort of thing when they built Ancestral File? (Search for John Lathrop of Massachusetts in Ancestral File. Look at the variants in the list. Look at the number of submitters for each variation…) I’ve spoken before about the need for product managers to preserve “corporate memory” of things learned in the past. But I digress…

Darn it. Even a little math would tell you… Oops. I’m still digressing…

(As long as I’m hopelessly digressing, may I just say that I don’t understand how anyone in the south can weigh less than 400 pounds? Wow! The food here is so good. And Goo Goo Clusters!? Mmmmm…)

Miller went through the flaws of the Family Tree to demonstrate why it wasn’t ready for the public. As I had guessed they would, FamilySearch blamed the architecture (conclusion model versus wiki model) rather than the data (garbage in, garbage out). To be fair, there were (are) some design problems:

  • Redundancy – I believe it’s now public knowledge that when viewing a person in the tree, every redundant was explicitly and simultaneously loaded into a computer’s memory, crashing that computer. As you crash more and more of the computers (servers) that constitute a website, the website gets  s l o w e r   a n d    s   l    o     w      e       r……………
  • Disputes – Miller showed the infamous dispute symbol. Whose idea was it to create a feature that informed the contributor that they had a fact wrong and simultaneously locked the fact so no one could fix it?
  • Source citations – Since the tree doesn’t have evidence management, sources had to be multiplied, duplicated, and redundantly replicated across every event on every person on every duplicate associated with that source. Miller showed one example list of sources that went on for 26 pages. (Don’t even get me started at the substandard nature of the citations…)
  • Errors could only be fixed by contributors, most of which were unidentified, sometimes even dead. He didn’t mention it, but no one could fix gender errors except for Salt Lake.

Miller reviewed the wiki architecture that FamilySearch is moving to. I’ve covered it before, so won’t repeat it here. Miller presented four goals they have for the Tree this year:

  1. Provide the ability to correct and improve data.
  2. Integrate the Tree (currently at with .
  3. Improve site navigation.
  4. Create meaningful sources.

Miller thought that if this all goes well, they’ll have the tree rolled out to the general public by next spring.

Stay tuned… (but don’t hold your breath…) Takes Another Swing

After the ill-fated Internet Biographical Collection debacle, one would expect to be extremely careful the next time they stepped into the ring.

In a late evening reception announced they are re-entering the ring. And they are doing so with the hopes of mending fences rather than fighting the other guys in the ring.

Enter “Web Search.”


It’s tempting to give you a full write-up. After all, I am writing at 9pm Utah time. On the other hand, I have an early morning meeting and need to arise at 3:30am Utah time. Suffice for now, if they adhere to their design principles, they may have gotten it right this time. Stay tuned…

For now, you’re on your own. Visit,

Thursday, May 12, 2011

From NGS: Preserving War of 1812 Pensions

FGS Preserving War of 1812 Pensions Sounds a bit like extending the pensions of some really, really old people: “Preserving War of 1812 Pensions.”

Actually, it is a project to digitize the War of 1812 pension applications held by the National Archives. There are 7.2 million pages of documents in 180,000 pension files. None are available on microfilm. Soon, all will be available to anyone with access to the Internet.

Curt Witcher, an FGS  VP, and Brian Hansen, General Manager at’s, spoke briefly about the project at yesterday’s FGS Luncheon and gave attendees a fundraising brochure. A donation of $25 to the project will digitize 50 images.

Images from the project  have already started showing up on Access the images for free at You won’t have to give a credit card and you won’t have to register.

So far there are 1,438 images online. That leaves a measly 7,198,562 to go. Witcher encouraged stepping up fundraising efforts so that the publication rate can be sped up.

I’m a little unclear about some details of how this partnership works among NARA, FGS, and (an website). Here’s what I understand:

  • According to the project brochures, “FGS…lead[s] fundraising efforts.”
  •’s will host the index and images on their servers where anyone can access them for free.
  • The brochure explains the RPAC committee of NGS and FGS, but doesn’t state its role in this project, if any. Is this name-dropping? Or is RPAC involved?
  • The brochure mentions the Malcolm H. Stern-NARA Gift Fund. Name-dropping again? Is the 1812 fund the same as the Stern fund?
  • When the brochure states that indexing and imaging one page costs $0.50, is that at cost? Does make money on each image? Does it lose money on each?
  • According to the blog, they are “providing a dollar-for-dollar match of each donation through a provision of services.” What is “provision of services”? Is that the provision of a host website?
  • Witcher announced that the dollar-for-dollar match is up to $1.5 million. If the match is “provision of services,” what does that mean about costs beyond $3 million? Won’t 7.2 million images cost $3.6 million?

Short timeline about the War of 1812Witcher asked us to take some project brochures home and share them in our societies. I figure you, my readers, are the highest society I hang out with, so it seemed right to share with you.

Click on one of the brochure images to see a PDF copy of the entire brochure.

For more information, consult:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

NGS and My Darned Day Job

Where the Past is Still Present

NGS 2011 Conference: Where the Past is Still Present
Image: Detail from "A Meeting of Souls" by Madeline Carol, 1991

Hi all. Ancestry Insider here at the NGS Conference in Charleston. I wish I were reviewing a couple of cool sessions for you today, but to preserve my secret identity I am working a couple of shifts in the FamilySearch booth. I know you won’t blow my cover, so I can tell you how I’m disguised. I’ll be the short, tubby guy with normal colored skin. However, don’t let the disguise fool you; I’m actually tall and quite fit.

Let me tell you about one of the sessions I would have attended.

Finding Fathers

Elizabeth Shown Mills speaks to a full crowd on
Finding Fathers: Bridging the Generation Gap.
Image credit: National Genealogical Society

Noted author and genealogist, Elizabeth Shown Mills, taught “Finding Fathers: Bridging the Generation Gap.” The description in the syllabus reminded me of one of her classes I attended in 2009. In the syllabus, Mills emphasized the importance of thorough research, of discovering and using sources that are often overlooked, such as business records and directories. Mills said “success requires…harvesting clues—not just explicit facts.”1

In her class in 2009 she presented a case study illustrating the application of these principles in breaking through a road-block of burned counties and illegitimacy. This was one of the examples on my mind when I penned the descriptions of stellar genealogy in the genealogical maturity model.

Experiment Followup

Speaking of Mills classes reminded me that I have a scientific experiment riding since writing about one of Mills’s classes. (See “BCG Lecture: Elizabeth Shown Mills.”) It is an anecdotal experiment comparing the quality of indexes produced by paid, foreign workers versus volunteer, natives.

Mills found two gentlemen of the same name, both indexed on I asked Elizabeth not to correct the names and then we’d wait. We’d wait until FamilySearch indexed the names and then we’d compare.

Writing this article reminded me that I needed to check to see if FamilySearch has indexed the necessary census year. Nope. I’ll have to wait some more.

Well, I’ve written about a session I didn’t attend and an experiment I didn’t conduct. That’s enough damage for one day. Stay tuned…

The NGS 2011 Conference, “Where the Past is Still Present,” continues through the rest of the week at the North Charleston Convention Center, South Carolina. Single day registration is $100. Registration open daily at 7:00am. The Exhibit Hall (Hall B,A1) is free and open to the public each day at 9:00am. Exhibit space sold out, so you will find close to 100 exhibitors and plenty to see. On Saturday, “Ancestry Day” classes are also free.


     1.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Finding Fathers: Bridging the Generation Gap,” National Genealogical Society 2011 Family History Conference Syllabus, CD-ROM (Charleston, South Carolina: NGS, 2011), 6.

The Transformation of NARA

Photo by Ports Bishop “What’s happening” is how David S. Ferriero summed up his address for me. As we found out, the list is long. Ferriero made the remarks Wednesday morning at the opening session of the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference. As head of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Ferriero’s formal title is “Archivist of the United States.” AOTUS is the title of his blog.

Blogs are just one of the items on Ferriero’s long list. His is one of nine NARA blogs. “We plan to be a leader in government in the use of social media,” he said. “We’re not waiting for people to come to our web site. We’re reaching out to them with our social media activities.”

Ferriero said NARA has “28 Facebook pages for Presidential libraries and regional archives as well as individual programs and offices within the Archives. We have a YouTube site that draws on our vast collection of film and videotape of events throughout the 20th century. And you’ll find us on Flickr, where we are geo-tagging our photos when possible, and on Twitter and Foursquare.” Prologue magazine is available on iPad, iPhone, Droid, Scribd, and Zinio.

In addition to a newly designed website with genealogy portal, NARA is posting documents on and has launched OPA for access to born-digital government records.

After his presentation he took a few questions. “Let me start with one of the answers,” he said. “Not until they’re digitized.” Everyone laughed, as that could be the answer to so many questions. He then noted that he was speaking of the move of personnel records to St. Louis.

“We’re doing all we can to digitize our holdings as quickly as possible.” Thanks to partnerships with organizations like and FamilySearch, NARA has 130 million images, many with newly created indexes. Thanks to the Federal of Genealogical Societies (FGS), pension records for the War of 1812 images are already coming online at and NARA websites.

NARA is digitizing the 1940 census in-house because of legal issues so that it will be ready for public availability. You won’t have to go to an affiliate website. It will be available on NARA’s. This is the first census being released in digital format only, so don’t plan on ordering microfilm.

“Will it be indexed? Sort of.” While Ferriero didn’t explain himself, I think he was speaking of the district indexes that Stephen Morse’s volunteers produced.

Ferriero said, “it is our determination to make things easier for all of you, to make genealogy research a more rewarding and fruitful experience.”

I suppose that is “what’s happening.”

NGS Wednesday 005 with AI Ann Hilke gave attendees a good laugh to start the session when she welcomed us to “NGS 2011, Where the Past is Still Past.”

The NGS 2011 Conference, “Where the Past is Still Present,” continues through the rest of the week at the North Charleston Convention Center, South Carolina. Single day registration is $100. Registration open daily at 7:00am. The Exhibit Hall (Hall B,A1) is free and open to the public each day at 9:00am. Exhibit space sold out, so you will find close to 100 exhibitors and plenty to see. On Saturday, “Ancestry Day” classes, sponsored by, are free and open to the public.

The Insider’s Guide to Citations

The Insider's Guide to Citations Forward

I see a lot of misunderstandings about citations. They are both easier and harder than you think. I see a need for a summary of citation purposes, principles, and practices.

In this series I hope to accomplish several things:

  • Show beginners how easy it is to cite historic record collections on and While these two websites are my editorial focus, the principles apply elsewhere.
  • Convince and that they need to shoulder the heavy lifting, so that citations to their collections can be easy for beginners.
  • Convince non-beginners that what I am showing beginners is credible, keeping in mind that we are speaking about one limited kind of citation: those to historic record collections on professional sites like and
  • Convince everyone that Mills citation guides are absolutely necessary for citing archival sources.
  • Pass on some insights I gained during a year's study of citation issues, perhaps with some discussion of advanced topics.

I am pretty certain I can’t accomplished all of these in a single series. But hey, I’m the Ancestry Insider and I’ve got to try.

Mine, Yours, and Ours

In reality, “The Insider’s Guide” is the wrong title for this series. After only a few articles, it is obvious where this is headed. I am getting lots of feedback, corrections, and suggestions. This is quickly becoming “the Insider’s—with Lot’s of Help from You—Guide to Citations.”

Consequently, I think I need to share an updated outline with you on a regular basis.

  • The outline is changing because of your feedback.
  • You won’t worry about a topic being missed if you can see it coming.
  • The optimal order of articles won’t match the order they’re published.
  • It will serve as a current table of contents.
  • It might serve double-duty as a summary of citation purposes, principles, and practices. We’ll see.

Click Citations in the right column of the Ancestry Insider website to see the most recent table of contents.

Again, thank you,
-- The Insider

This is “The Insider’s—with Lot’s of Help from You—Guide to Citation.”

Friday, May 6, 2011

Darned Indexes!

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: Darned Indexes!

An index or other textual derivative may not always represent what a record actually says. Take this example.

The index states that these two were married

Travis Roach married Juanita Hardy on 7 August 1941 in Jackson County, Oklahoma, right? That’s what the index says.1

The image tells a different story

Wrong! This license was canceled; no marriage took place.2

Should this record be in the index if it will be misunderstood? Absolutely!3

This record might tell the story of two star-crossed 17 year olds whose parents denied them true love (judging from the lack of parental signatures). Or the information may be absolutely critical to someone’s research; no doubt there are records just like this one that are the only source of an illegitimate child’s father.


Yes, records say the darnedest things.


Postscript: Doesn’t your heart go out to young girls named “Pet” who fall in love with young men named “Roach”?!

Not that “Pet Roach” is not a perfectly fine name. Don’t write and complain!

I know some perfectly wonderful people named Roach. (Have I gotten my foot out of my mouth yet?)

And there are perfectly wonderful people who have pet roaches. (Maybe I should just stop talking…)


     1. “Oklahoma County Marriages, 1891-1959,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 5 May 2011), Travis Roach, married 1941; citing “originals housed in the clerks’ offices of the district courts in various counties throughout Oklahoma.”

     2. “Oklahoma County Marriages, 1891-1959,” index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 5 May 2011), Travis Roach, married 1941; citing “originals housed in the clerks’ offices of the district courts in various counties throughout Oklahoma.”

     3. My thanks to BAMaxwell for bringing this record to my attention. See BAMaxwell [alias], “"Canceled" Oklahoma County Marriage,” forum post, 12 October 2010, FamilySearch Forums Beta ( : accessed 5 May 2011), FamilySearch Support > FamilySearch Indexing > Indexing Projects  > United States and Canada Projects (post 17045).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Specify the Source of the Source

Specify the source of the source
Image: frenta. Used with permission.

Citations have two purposes: locate the source and indicate its strength. This series of articles explains what we must do to accomplish these purposes for genealogical sources.


Specify the Source of the Source

Genealogists must generally use copies of records rather than the originals themselves. Genealogists use a fancy term, derivative sources, for copies.1 Records on microfilm, the Internet, and in publications are derivative sources.

The strength of a derivative source depends on the strength of the source from which it was derived. (The strength also depends on the type of derivative, but that’s the topic for next time.) Since a citation should indicate source strength, a citation of a derivative source must specify the source of the source.2

Consider the following online sources of Kansas marriage records. Without knowing the sources of these sources, it would be difficult to judge their strengths.

Database Title Source of the Source
Kansas Marriages, 1840-1935 “Original and compiled records.”
Kansas, County Marriages, 1855-1910 “Marriage registers and records made by county clerks.”
Leavenworth county, Kansas, Marriage Records, 1900-1920 “104 through 110 in the collections of the Leavenworth County Genealogical Society.”
Kansas Marriage Index, 1854-73 “LDS microfilms and local newspapers.”
Kansas and Kansans, Vol. 2 Published book.
The annals of Kansas Published book.


In future articles we’ll develop citations for these sources. Next time, we’ll talk about types of derivative sources.


Series Summary

So far in this series of articles we have spoken of these purposes and principles for genealogical citations:


     1.  The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual, ed. Helen F. M. Leary, (Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2000), 9.

     2.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007), 47-8, 52.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Monday Mailbox: Author-Date Citations

Dear readers,

My article, “Citations Have Two Purposes,” elicited a good batch of comments. Here are some related to the author-date citation style.

-- The Insider

Dear Insider,

…The important thing is to have the full publication details in the literature list at the end.

Kaisa Kyläkoski *

Dear Insider,

You said "In some fields both purposes can be met with as little as a name and a publication date, the so-called author-date style. This style works well when:".

I think you're not looking deeply enough. In my field, this is what appears in the narrative instead of a footnote. It is merely indicates the information that the reader needs to consult the associated REFERENCES CITED at the end of the article/book.

Also I give newbies a different, additional pair of reasons for citing sources (which I think are imperative):
a) it gives credit to the people who have done work before you (since you may be citing a COMPILATION document rather than a primary source)
b) it allows those who continue your research in the future to verify the captured information and compare it with other (possibly discrepant) sources.

Judith Rempel *


Dear Kaisa and Judith,

Good point. I’ll try to fix that section of the article.

As for additional reasons for citing sources, Judith, you read my mind. Or Turabian. Merge our lists of reasons to cite sources and you have the list that appears on pp. 133-4 (see note 2 of my article). An earlier draft of my article contained the complete list.

-- The insider

Dear Insider,

The abbreviated scientific citation style works well not because of the reputation of the authors cited, but because the works cited are peer reviewed.

Anonymous *


Dear Anonymous,

Are you trying to say that peer review is a better indicator of quality than the reputation of the author? Fair enough. My point is that in some fields of study the name of a reputable author has enough value as an initial indication of quality, that it makes sense to call it out before the reader reaches the source list at the end of the article.

-- The Insider