Tuesday, August 30, 2011

One Week Free Access to Ancestry.com Migration Records

Ancestry.com Immigration and Travel Collection Free Access WeekAncestry.com announced yesterday that it is offering free access to select immigration and naturalization records through the Labor Day holiday, ending 5 September 2011. The announcement is a little unclear regarding the set that is free, so you’ll have to try it out and see for yourself.

Access is not quite completely free. You must pay by disclosing your e-mail address to Ancestry.com, a proposition not nearly as costly as it was back in the bad days. If you already have a username and password, you can use them without registering again. This includes those with free member tree accounts and with expired subscription accounts.

Visit www.ancestry.com/immigration for more information and to try it out for yourself.

FSI My Accuracy

“My Accuracy” helps volunteers doing FamilySearch Indexing see how well their work survives the arbitration process. The feature was introduced in July. Your accuracy report appears as a new tab in the bottom right corner of the indexing start page. Your accuracy score reflects batches arbitrated in the last 90 days.

My Accuracy, a new FamilySearch Indexing feature

Click Review Batches to see a list of those batches. The Indexing application opens a browser page. Log in to see the list. Each line contains the index date, project name, description, accuracy score, and arbitration date.

My Accuracy's list of recently arbitrated batches

Click a project name

The review page looks similar to the indexing application. The field list at the bottom shows your values and, for those different from yours, the arbitrator’s values. The summary tab in the lower-right shows the accuracy calculation for the batch. In the example below, the batch contained 304 fields and the arbitrator agreed with 299 of my entries. Dividing the former into the latter yields 98%.


My Accuracy is provided as a tool that invites learning. In the example above, my entries differed from the arbitrators in 5 instances.

  1. imageI put “Carmino,” the arbitrator changed it to “?”. That is an obvious arbitrator error as a question mark signifies one illegible character. A more appropriate arbitrator response might have been “Ca*i*”, as these letters are quite obvious.
  2. imageI put “Grange,” the arbitrator changed it to “Orange.” This is an obvious handwriting interpretation error on my part. The O doesn’t look at all like a G. Both G and O occur elsewhere in the image. By using My Accuracy, I’ve learned that I am not being as careful as I think I am.
  3. imageI put “Cambridge” as the town, the arbitrator deleted Cambridge and left it blank. That is an arbitrator error. The town appeared on the back of the card and apparently the arbitrator hadn’t read the instruction to check there. In the arbitrator’s defense, FamilySearch has made it extremely difficult to learn the instructions for an indexing project. There are no less than six places that must be consulted to get all the instructions.
  4. imageI put 1863, the arbitrator changed it to 1865. Upon further review, I agree with the arbitrator. It looks like 3 was overwritten with a 5. There’s a case for specifying 186?. The problem with indexing it as 186? is, you’ve guaranteed a non-match for someone who searches for either 1863 or 1865. I would rather index this as either 1863 or 1865 and have a 50% probability of a match. (It is too bad that the search system can match ? to 3 or 5, but can’t match 3 or 5 to ?.)
  5. imageI left the state blank, the arbitrator changed it to Vermont. I see now that Vt appears after Shelburne, the town name.

If you feel the arbitrator was mistaken, click the Feedback link next to the arbitrator’s value. This opens a popup with a Please Review checkbox that you can check if you feel your original value. Unfortunately, FamilySearch doesn’t allow you to enter an explanation, which could save the reviewer a lot of time tracking down the town name on the back, or the state abbreviation in the corner. Without an explanation, the reviewer is in much the same situation as the arbitrator.

Actually, the instructions don’t state that FamilySearch will review the value. What action will FamilySearch take? In 90 days somebody remind me and we can check the published collection. Vermont marriage of Grace Phelps and Albert Martin, 8 September 1859. We’ll check the bride’s father’s first name. Will it be “?” which the arbitrator specified? Will it be “Carmino,” as I specified? Will it be “Cassius,” as suggested by Ancestry.com tree contributors? Or will it be something else entirely?

After many months we’ll finally find out what FamilySearch does when you check the Please Review box.

Or tomorrow I I could ask the FamilySearch Indexing product manager…

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Mailbox: Ancestry Removing Find A Grave Photos?

Dear Ancestry Insider,

The email below was sent to me by one of my students. [Insider Note: I’ve removed identifying information from the student’s letter because I don’t know if Joanie had the student’s permission to forward it to me.]


I have a private tree on ancestry.com.  As part of my research I [find headstones on]findagrave and put the photo and a link on my private tree.  I must have a couple hundred photos, all with the required documentation. 

Can ancestry just remove them all? How does ancestry.com know that I wasn’t the one who took the photo to begin with?

I am a member of findagrave.com. I have contributed 1000s more photos than I will ever copy. People write me and ask me for permission and I give permission for use of photos I have taken.


Joanie Hanion

The letter first received by the student from Ancestry.com:

From: Ancestry Executive Team
To: [Name Removed]
Subject: Copyright Claim
Date: Wed, 27 Jul 2011


July 27, 2011

Dear [Joanie’s Student],

Thank you for using Ancestry.com. We appreciate your patronage and are committed to providing excellent customer service.

A specific complaint has been made about copyrighted photographs that were posted on your Personal Member Tree.  You may have added these photos from another member’s public tree unknowingly; however, per the Terms of Service on our website, we are under obligation to remove any copyrighted photos. Thus, we request removal of the following photos from your family tree:

http://trees.ancestry.com/tree/[URL to the photograph]

We kindly request that you remove the photos within 3 business days. We ask that you do not re-post the specific copyrighted photos in question. If it becomes apparent that you are purposefully continuing to post copyrighted photos on the website, we are required by law to remove the photos and may be obligated to take further action.

If you have any questions regarding this or any other matters pertaining to Ancestry.com, please contact us by responding to this email.


Naomi    Executive Office
360 West 4800 North
Provo, UT 84604

Student’s reply to Ancestry.com:

From: [Joanie’s Student]
Sent: Wednesday, July 27, 2011
To: Ancestry.com Customer Service
Subject: RE: Copyright Claim


I have removed the photo of Ethel (Workman) House's tombstone as requested below.

Yes, I did get it from another member's tree via Member Connect.

There was nothing in the photo or JPG file tag that indicated to me that it was copyrighted.

Thanks for keeping us within the law.

Best Regards,
[Joanie’s Student]

Ancestry.com’s reply to Joanie’s Student

July 27, 2011

Dear [Joanie’s Student],

Thank you for contacting us at Ancestry.com.  We appreciate your feedback and are committed to providing excellent customer service. 

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.  The initial Ancestry.com user who posted the photos to Ancestry.com took the photos off of Findagrave.com. On the Findagrave.com website, the photos are copyrighted by the individual who uploads them to the site.  Because an Ancestry.com user uploaded copyrighted photos onto the website, we are obligated to remove all instances where that copyrighted photo appears on our site.  We sincerely appreciate your willingness to comply with our request.

If you are able to take your own personal photos of the gravestones, you are more than welcome to add them to the site; however, we are required to remove the particular photos in question.

If you have any questions regarding this or any other matters pertaining to Ancestry.com, please contact us by responding to this email.


Naomi    Executive Office
360 West 4800 North
Provo, UT 84604

Dear Joanie,

I spoke with Ancestry.com. They are not targeting Find A Grave submissions. They act according to requests from individual copyright holders. Let me illustrate with the case in hand.

  • Jackie Wilson Goddard is like you, a Find A Grave member who has contributed thousands of photographs.
  • Back in 2009 Jackie took a picture of the gravestone of Ethel House, b. 1887, d. 1972.
  • Last March, she uploaded it to Find A Grave and added an explicit copyright notice:

Copyright © 2009 by Jackie Wilson Goddard. All rights reserved. The photograph may be used solely for personal, informational, and internal purposes. The photograph may not be modified or altered in any way OR posted on any other web-site for any purpose.

  • This may seem restrictive, but as Jackie points out on her profile page, all photographs on Find A Grave are copyrighted. Your willingness to share your photos does not override Jackie’s copyright.
  • Some errant person uploaded Jackie’s photograph to their Ancestry Member Tree, in violation of Jackie’s copyright and Ancestry.com’s Terms and Conditions.
  • Joanie’s student found the photograph via Ancestry.com’s Member Connect and attached it to his tree.
  • Jackie discovered her photograph was on Ancestry.com, informed Ancestry.com of the copyright violation, and asked them to remove it. Anyone who discovers their copyrighted work on Ancestry.com can do the same.
  • Ancestry.com verified Jackie’s claim, as they do all requests to remove copyrighted works.
  • On 27 July 2011 Ancestry.com contacted the Errant Uploader and anyone else who had attached it to their own tree. Joanie’s Student was one of these.
  • Presumably, 3 or 4 days later Ancestry.com removed any remaining copies.

Lessons learned?

  • You don’t have right to use any photograph on Find A Grave for any purpose without the permission of the owner. You can understand why contributors don’t want Ancestry.com making money from photographs that are supposed to be free for the benefit of all. (I think this position is short sighted. But that’s a topic for another time.)
  • If you want to allow others to use your gravestone photographs without contacting you first, you need to post your permission with each photograph.
  • Because your member tree is private, no one knows if you’ve posted hundreds of photographs without permission. No one will complain to Ancestry.com. And Ancestry.com will not be contacting you, asking you to remove all your Find A Grave photographs.

Let me take that back. Don’t hate me. Now that I’ve published your letter, Ancestry.com knows you’ve posted hundreds of potentially illegal photographs. Maybe you’ll get a letter after all…

-- The Insider

Friday, August 26, 2011

Darned Non-English Indexers

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 Non-Native Indexers

I’ve written before about Ancestry.com's use of Chinese indexers. In the early days of FamilySearch Indexing I commonly heard of FamilySearch volunteers “checking” their interpretation of indecipherable names against Ancestry.com’s Chinese produced indexes. Perhaps learning to read 20,000+ Chinese characters in several different calligraphy styles leaves the Chinese workforce well qualified in figuring out a couple dozen poorly written Latin characters.

Ultimately, the more context you have, the better your ability to interpret what you’re reading. (See “Indexing Errors: Test, Check the Boxes.”)

…which is exactly why native speakers do a better job indexing unstructured text. Consider this example from Ancestry.com. Somehow I don’t think that on 27 April 1871 Miss Sophenia Bowan married “Holy Matrimany.”


This is also why an index without images is never a good idea. If you consult the image, you will find:


Yes. Records indexed by non-native-speakers say the darnedest things.


“Missouri Marriage Records, 1805-2002,” database and images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 June 2009), entry for Holy Matrimany and Miss Sophenia Bowan; citing Missouri Marriage Records; Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City, Missouri.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Insider Ketchup for 23 August 2011

Ancestry Insider KetchupI’m way behind on Ancestry.com news stories. Time to ketchup.

Ancestry.com BulletAncestry.com has announced its plans for Footnote.com. As some surmised, it is being retargeted as a military history website. Ancestry.com is renaming it www.fold3.com. “The Fold3 name is derived from the third fold in a traditional military flag folding ceremony,” said Ancestry.com, “which ‘is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world.’”

Ancestry.com will retain Footnote’s current non-military content, according to spokesperson, Heather Erickson. “However we do currently have some 3rd party content on Footnote (mainly newspapers) that could be removed in the future at the content owner's discretion.”

If I understand Corporate-Speak correctly, that translates as, “Newspapers will go away when our contract expires unless the owner gives us a screamin good contract extension.”

Ancestry.com BulletAncestry.com announced last week that it will make the 1940 U.S. Federal Census available for free from the time they release it until the end of 2013. By that time FamilySearch will have it available for free.

If both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch are making the index available for free, I wonder if there is any chance they will combine their efforts. It’s a crying shame if they redo each others’ work. That’s especially true if you are an Ancestry.com subscribing, FamilySearch Indexing, tithe paying member of FamilySearch sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You will pay for the 1940 census thrice: once with your subscription dollars, once with your tithing dollars, and once with your indexing hours.

Ancestry.com BulletDick Eastman pointed out Ancestry.com’s help wanted ad for “computational biologists.” It looks like Ancestry.com is trying to find a way to better leverage DNA data. I have friends in product development at Ancestry.com, so I was offended on their behalf that this new position will be “analyzing data and members of the product development team.”

Just how does a computational biologist analyze a product developer, I wonder.

Ancestry.com BulletOn the first of this month Michael Hait, a professional genealogist, created the Ancestry Errors Wiki where you can record errors you find on Ancestry.com and other genealogy websites. “I would like to invite all genealogists to visit the site and add any errors of which they are aware,” said Hait. “Only with all of our help will this site be a successful and useful resource.” Hait said the site is for errors other than indexing errors, since Ancestry.com already allows users to fix indexing errors. For more information, see “Introducing the ‘Ancestry Errors Wiki.”

Ancestry.com BulletIf it weren’t for an article by DearMYRTLE, I would have missed an announcement from Ancestry.com’s Tony Macklin: “With regard to the existing collections, we expect to be reviewing these [source information statements] as part of an ongoing content improvement project over the coming months, and will aim to adjust these source information statements at that time.”

What, exactly, will Ancestry.com do to improve their source statements? The only specific Macklin mentioned was the addition of “Reproduced by permission” to books they republish under license from HeritageQuest.

Ancestry.com BulletAncestry.com recently released a database titled, “USHMM: Munich, Germany, Displaced Jewish Children at the Ulm Children's Home, 1945-1948.” The prefix, USHMM, stands for United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which collaborated with Ancestry.com in the production of the database. This is the second time Ancestry.com has used a prefix to set off a category of databases. The first was “Web” for Ancestry Web Search databases. (See “Ancestry.com launches Web Search.”) Speaking of which…

Ancestry.com BulletAncestry.com released eight new Ancestry Web Search databases on Friday, all with Netherlands records in Dutch. The eight doubled the number of Web Search databases. The 16 databases contain almost 24 million records.

These are the 16 databases:



Web: Rootsweb Obituary Index


Web: Netherlands, Genlias Death Index, 1796-1960 (in Dutch)


Web: Netherlands, Genlias Marriage Index, 1795-1944 (in Dutch)


Web: Marion County, Indiana Marriages since 1925


Web: Netherlands, Dutch East India Company Passenger Lists to India, 1699-1794 (in Dutch)


Web: RootsWeb Marriage Records Index


Web: Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York


Web: The Hague, Netherlands, Marriages 1811-1931 (in Dutch)


Web: Netherlands, Genlias Baptism Index, 1811-1902 (in Dutch)


Web: Kent County, Michigan School Census 1903-1925


Web: The Hague, Netherlands, Deaths 1811-1956 (in Dutch)


Web: Grand Traverse County, Michigan Marriages


Web: The Hague, Netherlands, Births, 1811-1906 (in Dutch)


Web: Allen County, Indiana Deaths 1870-1920


Web: The Hague, Netherlands, Divorces 1812-1931 (in Dutch)


Web: Alabama Coal Mine Fatalities 1898-1938


Beyond the Walls of Your FHC

“We should not confine ourselves to the brick and mortar walls of our family history center,” said Art Johnson in his session at the 2011 BYU Family History Conference. Family history center staff members and family history consults should reach out to enrich the world. Johnson manages FamilySearch support. (That’s 1-866-406-1830 and support@familysearch.org, if you were wondering.)

FamilySearch is doing their part to reach out.

“The idea is to provide to the community help where they want it,” said Johnson. With so many people on Facebook and other social websites, it is natural to have a presence on each.


Illinois Genealogy FamilySearch Research Community New York Genealogy FamilySearch Research Community

FamilySearch is reaching out on Facebook where they’ve currently established research communities for nine states

and 6 countries

Research community pages join existing Facebook pages:

While FamilySearch is creating Facebook pages, family history centers (FHCs) are encouraged to create pages in the FamilySearch Wiki rather than establishing their own Facebook presence.


FamilySearch is also reaching out on Skype, where they’ve created a number of Skype chats for genealogical research.

Join a FamilySearch sponsored Skype genealogy research community

Johnson said that FamilySearch doesn’t make it a policy to run the communities, but to enable their existence.

I’m not familiar with Skype but it appears there is no way to search for group chats. Apparently, you must contact a creator or host who adds you to the group. Instructions on joining one of the FamilySearch Skype chats are found in the FamilySearch Wiki article, “Join a Skype Research Community.”


FamilySearch is also reaching out via Twitter, where it posts news items using the username @FS_News.

FamilySearch is on Twitter


FamilySearch recently announced a newly redeveloped YouTube channel.

FamilySearch YouTube channel

And You

Staff members at smaller family history centers often find themselves with no patrons to help. Johnson encouraged family history consults to reach out and help via these social networking websites as well as FamilySearch’s own Forums and Wiki.

There is a mistaken idea that we as centers, as consultants, are not supposed to interact with societies. Not true! We have different purposes but we can help one another.

“Take an opportunity to turn your work inside out,” said Johnson. “Become more extraverted in helping others.”

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Mailbox: Copy and Paste FHLC

Dear Ancestry Insider

I copy and paste Family History Library catalog entries into a bibliography and into search lists for counties where my ancestors lived. In the old catalog, I could view the printable version, select and copy the films, and paste them into my application. Multiple reels would each display on a separate line.

In the new catalog, which doesn’t have a printable version, when I paste multiple films, all are displayed in a single paragraph with no hard returns. For entries with multiple reels, splitting the reels onto separate lines can be quite time consuming.

Lemon Egg

A Lesson on Copy and Paste

Dear Lemon,

How the film list looks when pasted into another application depends on both the browser and the application. For example, when films from “Marriage records of Utah County, 1887-1966” are copied from Microsoft Internet Explorer and pasted into Microsoft Word, Word puts them in a table like this:

Marriage applications, 1-966, Jan 1897-Sept 1899



Marriage applications, 967-1194 Sept 1899-June 1901



Marriage applications, 1192-2187 June 1901-Dec 1903



Marriage applications, 2186-2576 Jan 1904-Sept 1905



Marriage applications, 2577-2845, 1-261 Sept 1905-June 1907



Firefox is extremely picky about what text you select. If you select only lines with films, when you paste into Word you lose the line breaks:

Marriage applications, 1-966, Jan 1897-Sept 1899 FHL US/CAN Film 482939 Marriage applications, 967-1194 Sept 1899-June 1901 FHL US/CAN Film 482940 Marriage applications, 1192-2187 June 1901-Dec 1903 FHL US/CAN Film 482941 Marriage applications, 2186-2576 Jan 1904-Sept 1905 FHL US/CAN Film 482942 Marriage applications, 2577-2845, 1-261 Sept 1905-June 1907 FHL US/CAN Film 482943

To avoid this when copying from tables in Firefox, you must include the beginning of the table. Then when you paste into Word you get:




Marriage applications, 1-966, Jan 1897-Sept 1899



Marriage applications, 967-1194 Sept 1899-June 1901



Marriage applications, 1192-2187 June 1901-Dec 1903



Marriage applications, 2186-2576 Jan 1904-Sept 1905



Marriage applications, 2577-2845, 1-261 Sept 1905-June 1907



Some pasting problems can be resolved by first pasting into Windows Notepad. Then copy from Notepad and paste into your app. This breaks the films onto separate lines like this:

Marriage applications, 1-966, Jan 1897-Sept 1899 FHL US/CAN Film 482939 
Marriage applications, 967-1194 Sept 1899-June 1901 FHL US/CAN Film 482940 
Marriage applications, 1192-2187 June 1901-Dec 1903 FHL US/CAN Film 482941 
Marriage applications, 2186-2576 Jan 1904-Sept 1905 FHL US/CAN Film 482942 
Marriage applications, 2577-2845, 1-261 Sept 1905-June 1907 FHL US/CAN Film 482943 

Hope this helps,
-- The Insider

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The FHLC is No More

At the 2011 BYU Family History Conference Robert Kehrer, FamilySearch product manager, said that the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) has been rechristened as “the FamilySearch Catalog.” The name was changed because FamilySearch is gradually adding holdings from family history centers.

Whatever you call it, FamilySearch recently brought the contents of the new catalog—the one on www.familysearch.org—up to date with the old catalog—the one on classic.familysearch.org. Did you know the new catalog was not being kept up to date? I was surprised when I found out. Kehrer said they are in the process of putting together a system to update the new catalog nightly but it isn’t in place yet.

That’s not the only reason to keep using the old catalog.

Kehrer was quite apologetic about the state of the new catalog. “Our implementation of the FamilySearch catalog on the new website is not complete,” he said. “There are some very key features that are not yet implemented.” He listed several for us. Here are some shortcomings that bug me:

  • The results for a place name search in the new catalog returns all subjects containing the place name. In the old catalog, it returns available records by type.
Expected Results for Utah New Catalog Results for Utah

Utah - Archives and libraries
Utah - Archives and libraries - Bibliography
Utah - Archives and libraries - Directories
Utah - Archives and libraries - Inventories,…
Utah - Archives and libraries - Periodicals
Utah - Bible records
Utah - Bible records - Indexes
Utah - Bibliography
Utah - Biography
Utah - Biography - Indexes
Utah - Biography - Societies - Periodicals
Utah - Business records and commerce
Utah - Business records and commerce – Dir…
Utah - Business records and commerce - History
Utah - Cemeteries – Indexes

African Americans - Utah - History
Album quilts - Utah
Architecture, Domestic - Utah
Asian Americans - Utah
Baptist Church - Utah
Baptists - Utah
Blacksmiths - Utah
Businessmen - Utah - Biography
Cache Valley (Utah and Idaho)
Cambodians - Utah
Camp Floyd (Utah) - Records and correspondence
Catholic Church - Utah
Catholics - Utah
Cattle trade - Utah
Chinese – Utah

  • The old catalog had a built-in gazetteer, including "View Related Places."
  • The old catalog had references for place names that no longer exist.
  • The old catalog formatted film results in table format.
  • The old catalog formatted and structured information in easy to read format.
  • The old catalog call number search returned all titles starting with the specified call number.
  • The old catalog sorted results alphabetically.
  • The old catalog made it easy to create a URL from a film number.
  • Kehrer mentioned some problem with periodicals that I wasn’t aware of.

Kehrer said FamilySearch will “keep the old catalog up until we get those features in.” Are there other catalog features you want added to the new catalog before FamilySearch shuts down the old one? Leave a comment below with your list and I’ll make certain he sees them.

Kehrer said that FamilySearch has tested and refined a great catalog design that he thinks “will delight you.” The old catalog design had a lot of “click depth.” The new design is meant to make it much “shallower.” I take this to mean that it takes a lot of mouse clicks to find what you want in the old catalog and Kehrer has a new design that takes fewer clicks.

I’m not in a position to know why FamilySearch would try to write their own catalog when there seems to be companies that specialize in catalogs. These companies probably have dozens of fulltime programmers that work full time on cataloging software and will do so year-in and year-out long after FamilySearch calls it quits on their catalog. Catalog companies know all the nuances. They’ve learned all the hard lessons. They keep up with the state of the art in library science and in technology. They amortize development costs across dozens of libraries. Why would FamilySearch think it can singlehandedly do it better and cheaper?

On the other hand, I don’t like 90% of the library catalogs I’ve used. OK, FamilySearch. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Go ahead. Delight me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Make More Data Free

“Our goal at FamilySearch is to make as much genealogical data available for free as possible,” said Robert Kehrer, senior product manager for search technology at FamilySearch. Kehrer spoke about FamilySearch’s genealogical data at the 2011 BYU Family History Conference.

“We are adding new record collections almost every day or augmenting records to existing collections,” said Kehrer. This point was proved in the second session when Kehrer noticed that the collection count had increased from 680 to 681.

Toward their goal, sometimes FamilYSearch publishes collections without free access to images, according to Kehrer. As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes record custodians limit what FamilySearch can show. (See “South Davis Fair: Selective Blindness.”) Kehrer presented various limitation scenarios. Here are some of them, with an illustrative collection.

Kehrer says that FamilySearch has asked people if they think that FamilySearch should still publish the collections, even with such limitations. “They always say, ‘Yes, give me what you can.’”

Kehrer emphasized that FamilySearch never charges to see the images on FamilySearch.org.

The FamilySearch.org collection list shows a camera icon next to each collection with images. While it doesn’t currently differentiate among these scenarios, Kehrer said that in the future there would be some indication.

The FamilySearch.org collection list

Collections are shown with the number of indexed records or the annotation “Browse Images.” Kehrer compared the latter to “digital microfilm.” Without an index, you have to browse through the images, sometimes one at a time, to find a record of interest. FamilySearch provides waypoints to facilitate browsing. Waypoints are like signposts marking off sets of images. Depending on the record type and organization, waypoints might divide up the images by location, date, or surname.

New collections are marked with a brown asterisk. Kehrer said that collections are marked new for about 2 weeks.

Family Group Records Collection

The Family Group Records Collection was originally available in binders in the Salt Lake Genealogy Library An audience member asked about the binders of family group charts that used to be in the Family History Library. Have they been digitized and put online?

Kehrer didn’t know the answer, but I do. No; they are not online.

This is a hot button for me. I think of these family group charts like family bibles created by Mormons in the the ‘60s and ‘70s as part of the “four generation program.” Better than many family bibles, the charts specify the relationship between the informant and the husband on the chart. This gives an indication of how accurate the information might be. A couple even list sources. For descendency research, these records contain information not yet made public in state vital records or the U.S. census. For more information, see “Family Group Records Collection” in the FamilySearch Wiki.

Kehrer directed the audience members to the two programs that subsequently replaced the Four Generation Program: the Ancestral File and the Pedigree Resource File (PRF). Both of these are online. In fact, a new version of each was just published on www.FamilySearch.org. (See “The July 2011 Release of FamilySearch.org.”)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Coming Soon to a FamilySearch.org Near You

100_1384 1000px During the 2011 BYU Family History Conference, Robert Kehrer, senior product manager for FamilySearch, spoke of features coming to FamilySearch.org. There were too many to verbositize.

  • There are many improvements planned for the new Family History Library Catalog. I talk about these in tomorrow’s article, “The FHLC is No More.”
  • Kehrer said that hopefully by the end of the year you’ll be able to connect source documents from FamilySearch.org to the new FamilySearch Tree.
  • Making corrections to indexing errors is one of the top requests Kehrer receives. He said it takes a lot of development to make this possible. “We’re just beginning to spec out the system,” he said. Lots of works still needs to be done so we should not start looking for this feature until 2012. There will be pedigree chart and family group views of Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File.
  • In the near future we’ll be able to upload to the pedigree resource file. It will be possible to compare a submission to the New FamilySearch Tree and move new information from the submission into the FamilySearch Tree.
  • Hopefully by the end of the year you’ll be able to search individual collections using any or all of the indexed fields. Also coming is the ability to search groups of collections such as can be done today for Civil War collections. (See “Enlist Now the War is Over.”)
  • The New FamilySearch Tree (NFS) will be brought in to become a part of the www.FamilySearch.org website.
  • Audience members complained that FamilySearch.org is not organized clearly and it is hard to navigate. They pointed out how clear and easy navigation is on http://new.FamilySearch.org. “That is something our user testing has identified,” said Kehrer. “We are working to remedy that.” Someone else complained that when you are there, there is no indication that you are in the wiki. I hope that is part of the fix.
  • The current image viewer uses the Flash browser plugin. Flash has many problems so FamilySearch is replacing it in coming months with a new viewer that works entirely in HTML, the standard used by browsers. This means it will work on mobile devices like smart phones, iPads, and iPhones. (Kehrer asked how many people used the thumbnail in the lower-right. It will be difficult to implement, so he considering releasing the new viewer before the thumbnail is available.)
  • Kehrer said that record filters are very powerful but too “clicky.” It will be redesigned so it is easier to use.
  • FamilySearch is working on documentation on par with what is available for the New FamilySearch Tree that explains how to use the FamilySearch.org website.
  • Historical books, currently stored on a BYU website will be moved and made searchable on the FamilySearch website.
  • Search results, currently stacked, will be laid out in columns. “I believe the most refined filter is the human eye,” said Kehrer. Additional control is being added to search matching. You can specify matching against exact results, results that are close, and results that match what you specified but the record lacks some of the information you specified.
  • Kehrer is interested in finding better ways of specifying locations. Boundaries change and events occur in adjacent jurisdictions. He’s toying around with maps.

Coverage Information

He is also looking to a distant future when each collection will have coverage information. He showed an example, but warned it hasn’t really been designed. Here’s my stab at what it might look like:

Alabama Death Records

1908-1935: Available Online (Search Records or Browse Images)
     1,858,819 Records, 504,847 Images

     Publication History:
     18 Aug 2010: Initial 1,038,919 Records & 305,975 Images
     23 Nov 2010: Added   200,142 Records & 101,525 Images
     04 Feb 2011: Added   645,365 Records & 497,186 Images

1935-1970: Available on FHL Microfilm (See Catalog or Order Microfilm)
     About 2,000,000 Records

     Currently Being Indexed (Help Index)

1970-Present: Individual Records Available from the State (See Instructions)
     Alabama Center for Health Statistics
     P.O. Box 5625
     Montgomery, Alabama  36103-5625
     (Order online from 3rd party vendor)

I’m sorry; did I just drool? Hurry, Robert, hurry!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ancestry Personal Profiles

“My generation clicks on anything just to see what it does. Your generation doesn’t click on anything unless you know what it does,” said Ancestry.com’s Crista Cowan at the 2011 BYU Family History Conference. “I’m giving you permission to explore,” she said. Ancestry.com Public Profiles is one area we can explore. Profiles allow other researchers to find and approach you. (You don’t have to be a subscriber to create a personal profile. You can do it with a free account. )

Cowan’s own profile includes a picture and a couple of paragraphs about herself. She said that a picture and information make you more approachable. Particularly members of the younger generation don’t trust those who aren’t willing to open up a bit about themselves.

Crista Cowan profile on Ancestry.com

In your profile you can list how you’re willing to help others. You can list what surnames you are researching; you can narrow the focus by specifying the locations and date ranges.

Research Interests, Ancestry.com personal profile

Because “Last signed in” is broke, Cowan frequently updates her profile to show that she’s currently active.

You can list information about yourself: your gender, age group, other characteristics, and favorite websites. (Private message to Crista: The link to your home page is broken.)

About Crista Cowan, Ancestry.com personal profile

Your profile shows your World Archives Project indexing activity. (The World Archives Project is Ancestry.com’s counterpart to FamilySearch Indexing. If you don’t find a project you wish to index on FamilySearch, consider checking the Ancestry.com projects.)

World Archives Project activity, Ancestry.com personal profile

Cowan includes a link to a Facebook page she created for an ancestor, Daniel Shipman. I don’t have time to relate the Facebook portion of her presentation, but it is worth checking into the page so you can see what can be done.

Thumbnail of Daniel Shipman Facebook page

To discover and collaborate with distant cousins, remember Cowan’s admonition: “I’m giving you permission to explore.”

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The July 2011 Release of FamilySearch.org

A new version of the FamilySearch.org website was released last week and Kehrer showed several new features at the recent 2011 BYU Family History Conference.

FamilySearch added features to the list of historical record collections. As soon as you start typing in the search box, the titles displayed are filtered down to just those containing what you’re typing. For example, I typed in “par.” The number of listed collections dropped from 681 to 21 containing one of the words parish, Paraguay, or departure. Adding an i dropped the list to 18 parish register collections.

I selected United Kingdom as a location to further filter the list. Unfortunately, adding a place, date, or collection type clears the title filter. That’s annoying. I retyped “pari” and found that filtering by United Kingdom dropped the number of titles from 18 to 6. Additional filters are available for time frame, record type, and image collections.

Kehrer also showed that clicking on one of the column headers (Title, Records, and Last Updated) sorts the results using that column. This is handy. (I hope in the future FamilySearch will allow clicking a column a second time to reverse the sort order.)

Filter and sort FamilySearch.org record collections list

The July release contains updated releases of two classic FamilySearch record collections: Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File (PRF). Ancestral File on Classic.FamilySearch.org contained about 25 million records. The new release contains 40 million. The additional records come from Ancestral File submissions made before the program was shut down, but after the last release. The last version of PRF on Classic contained 120 million records. This latest release on FamilySearch.org contains 200 million records. This release was refreshed from the original submissions.

I appreciate the efforts to improve the source citations for these collections. An insider tells me that they are consulting with industry expert, Elizabeth Shown Mills. Because of increased privacy concerns FamilySearch can no longer include a key piece of information: the submitter. This further erodes the value of these large, suspect collections. Information providence is essential in judging evidence strength.

I understand that FamilySearch.org is trying to give us every reason to move from Classic to the latest FamilySearch.org. A 66% increase in the size of the Ancestral File and the Pedigree Resource File is a pretty big carrot for users of these record collections. Now if they only had pedigree and family group charts…

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ancestry.com is an Animal

Ancestry.com is an animal,” said Michelle Ercanbrack of Ancestry.com at the BYU Family History Conference. Ercanbrack’s session was “Tips and Techniques in Searching for Ancestors in Ancestry.com.”

“Ancestry.com is an animal. It is a huge resource,” she said. You’ll want to check back often to see new databases. Ercanbrack said that they are adding thousands of records each month. A box on the Ancestry.com home page features significant new collections.

 A box on the Ancestry.com home page features significant new collections

For more, click the link “View all new records.” (Note: The widget looks differently if you are not logged in and the link is “See all new content.” I wonder if there is a good reason for the inconsistency?)

 Ancestry.com Recently added or updated collections page

The list of collections can be filtered by country. Upcoming collections are highlighted in a box to the right of the list. Slated for this month are Defective, Dependent and Delinquent Classes census schedules and new mortality schedules. New U.S. Yearbooks are planned for next month. I noticed that on this page at least, Ancestry.com was moving away from the techie “database” moniker to the user friendly “record collection” terminology employed by FamilySearch to describe a collection of records. I’ll keep an eye out to see if the change is intentional and site wide.

I thought it significant that Ercanbrack took precious minutes away from her presentation to warn attendees about OCR databases. I have never done justice to my dislike of OCR databases. “These titles do not have manually created indexes,” said Ercanbrack. “Rather the computer ‘reads’ the digital image and offers matches it thinks best meet your search criteria.” She warned that “sometimes when you’re getting funky results it’s because of OCR databases.”

Ercanbrack suggested using global search (available on the home page or on the main search page) if you are new to Ancestry.com or to find “low hanging fruit.” Otherwise, you should consider searching a category or an individual collection. To find available collections, use the card catalog.

She said emphatically that we should give up old search. “New search is so much better as far as the results you get.” New search gives finer control of the search engine. You can specify geographic adjacency. (You must use advanced search and you must select the location from the Ancestry.com match list.)

  Ancestry.com can include neighboring counties or states in search resultsSelect a location from the match list  

You can specify name-matching criteria. (Catherine alone has over 800 variations.) Old-old search constrained you to exact matches; new search gives you field by field control. If you are hooked on old-old search’s presentation of search results, change the View to “Summarized by category.”

 View results summarizedby category to see results like old-old search

Ercanbrack pointed out that “member trees are a fantastic search tool.” You can use tree entries to auto-populate a search with all the information you know about a person.

Auto-fill the Ancestry.com search form from information in your tree

I’ve said that for a long time. That’s how I do most all my searches on Ancestry.com. Ancestry.com may be an animal, but tree-assisted search is the cat’s meow.