Friday, August 31, 2012

FGS: FamilySearch Key Messages

Paul Nauta addresses bloggers at FGS conferenceAt a preconference blogger dinner, FamilySearch’s spokesperson, Paul Nauta, presented FamilySearch’s key messages for the Federation of Genealogical Societies annual conference.

The big news is a $100 discount for RootsTech 2013. You should be aware that the RootsTech audience has been expanded to include new users, so if you’ve stayed away because it is too technical, you should reconsider. From now through the end of the week, you can get the $119 price by going to and using registration code “blog119.” We were told that this price will be the best offered. Registration without this insider opportunity will not come until sometime next month.

FamilySearch would like attendees to be aware of the amount of Alabama content recently released on To see for yourself, go to and type “Alabama” in the search box. (Private message to FamilySearch: It would sure be nice if you supported a parameter that preloaded the search box, such as ?search=Alabama.) The FamilySearch mission is to “Provide easy access to records to help individuals identify their ancestors and link families.”

FamilySearch would like attendees to know about the growing research assistance available free to anyone. FamilySearch now has over 500 online courses. These show the presenter and slides simultaneously. The research wiki now contains over 66,000 articles. Live help is available, as well as Facebook and Skype groups. Go to

Nauta shared some of the same facts and statistics presented by Rod DeGiulio at the BYU Conference. (See “Rod DeGiulio: All About Records.”) He mentioned that FamilySearch does not have permission to publish all its microfilm in the Granite Mountain Record Vault. Some contracts don’t allow it, but FamilySearch is trying to negotiate permission for those films. Ninety percent of FamilySearch’s record coverage priority belongs to the countries shown in the map below:

Map showing 90% of FamilySearch record priority

About one-third of FamilySearch’s camera operators are senior volunteers. FamilySearch would like to invite members of the public to volunteer since they want to expand camera operations as their microfilm scanning winds down. Interested parties should contact No special skills are necessary. You may be able to work from home or travel abroad.

FamilySearch would like conference attendees to know about the just completed 1940 census community indexing project. About 165,000 people participated. To understand how many that is, FamilySearch spokesperson, Michael Judson, said this is enough to fill the 2012 Olympic stadium twice. Four-hundred and thirty-four family history societies participated. They collectively indexed 15 million record and arbitrated 7. Society accuracy measured 98%, a little higher than average. Two-hundred twenty-three of those societies have transitioned to the next project.

The Ancestry Insider Indexing HistoryThe next community project is indexing U.S. Immigration and Naturalization records. About 2 million records have already been indexed by 50,000 volunteers. The goal for 2012 is 30 million records. This is a considerably larger project than 1940. While the 1940 census consisted of 132 million names, this project contains 500 million. Attendees can visit the project booth and have a picture taken of them standing in front of a dock, representing immigration.

What is coming in the future?

FamilySearch is planning to add book checkout for its copyrighted book collection. Just like checking out a physical book from a library, the system will allow users to checkout an electronic copy.

FamilySearch will add the ability to correct mistakes in indexed information.

FamilySearch will release Family Tree. Family Tree is supposed to be source-centric to move towards a more accurate pedigree. Family Tree is “A place to hold the best genealogy, freely available to all, and preserved for future generations.”

Finally, FamilySearch deputy chief genealogical officer Michael Hall gave a short report on citation progress on He provided a handout that I will cover in detail in a separate article.

FamilySearch Citation Report Card

DSC01056At the FamilySearch Blogger Dinner of this year’s annual Federation of Genealogical Societies conference, FamilySearch spokesperson, Michael Hall presented a report card of sorts on FamilySearch’s citations.

I have to give a big conflict of interest here. I serve as an advisor to those implementing citations at FamilySearch. I’m partly responsible for what’s good and what’s bad. I also have to maintain good working relationships. But while I can’t give an unbiased view of FamilySearch’s citations, I am in a position to understand why certain decisions were made.

Hall’s presentation was augmented by this handout:


FamilySearch adheres to the principles of “Evidence Style” as presented in Elizabeth Shown Mills’s book Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace and in associated reference sheets such as QuickSheet: Citing Online Historical Resources: Evidence! Style and QuickSheet: Citing Databases and Images: Evidence! Style. Applying these principles can result in differences between FamilySearch citations and similar examples in these reference works. Some of the differences are operational and some are strategic.

Evidence Explained is used because it is the only citation guide that supports derivatives and covers the many kinds of manuscripts used by genealogists. Other citation styles could be considered, but none support derivative sources and none cover all the different kinds of sources used by genealogists. An MLA style guide, for example, is not going to tell you which citation elements are necessary to locate a birth certificate created at the county level and filed at a state archive. Elizabeth Shown Mills took an existing style guide, Chicago, and extended it to meet the needs of genealogists.

Derivative Sources

Genealogists depend on derivatives of manuscript sources. Derivatives are copies of various sorts such as transcriptions, abstractions, and microfilm or digital images. Genealogists can seldom visit the churches and archives housing the many manuscript sources they use. Consequently, they must depend on derivatives.

A genealogical citation, therefore, should specify the location of both the online derivative and the offline original. A complete citation basically combines a citation for an online derivative and one for the offline original. The two are joined using the word “citing.” Any information already found in the citation to the derivative is dropped from the citation to the original.

For example (with “citing” bolded),

        1. "United States Census, 1790," index and images, FamilySearch (
MM9.1.1/XHKG-MTH : accessed 07 Aug 2012), Paul Raymond, Richmond, Berkshire, Massachusetts; citing p. 503, NARA microfilm publication M637, roll 4.

Collections, Records, and Images

FamilySearch needs to provide users with citations to its record collections, records, and images.

Collection citations are displayed on collection pages. Up until recently they have been stored in the FamilySearch Research Wiki and have cited the offline original but not the online derivative. Today (or very soon, if not already) they are stored in a secure location and cite both the online and offline sources. Some of these citations need improvement, which FamilySearch will do over time.

Sample record citations are presented in the Research Wiki, and for a long time no citations were displayed on record detail pages. FamilySearch began displaying citations to the online derivatives on the record pages several months ago. Today, for our most popular collections, FamilySearch cites both the online derivatives and the offline originals. Over time, FamilySearch will make this improvement to additional collections.

FamilySearch is not yet displaying image citations, and we have no progress to report at this time regarding such an effort.

Multiple Archives

Collections composed of records from multiple archives are difficult to cite. Collection citations in the wiki cited something generic like “County courthouses in Ohio,” rather than attempting to list all the counties in Ohio. Such citations have little value. While users need to know the coverage of record collections, it is impractical to list dozens or hundreds of archives in collection citations. Of necessity, coverage information must be handled elsewhere. In such cases FamilySearch follows the Evidence Style practice of citing just the online derivative.

While a collection may contain records from multiple archives, each record comes from a single archive, and the record citation can specify it. Unfortunately, our current technology does not allow FamilySearch to do so. However, we can include the FHL microfilm number. Using the film number, researchers can look up the archive in the FamilySearch catalog. Developing the technology to do the lookup automatically is expensive and will take a considerable amount of time, but this functionality should be available at some point in the future.


FamilySearch has made considerable progress in our goal to present users with complete, genealogically sound citations for collections and records. Additional work is needed for images and for citations to collections with records from multiple archives.

This leaves plenty of questions to be answered. I may answer some of the larger ones.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Become That Dynamic Destination

DSC01063“Family history is a destination,” said D. Joshua Taylor, business development manager for brightsolid. “It’s all about the destination.” Taylor was speaking in the opening plenary session at the annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS). The conference began Wednesday morning in Birmingham, Alabama. The first day of the conference is targeted to society officers. Taylor posed a question to them, “What kind of destination is your society?” If your society looks like a roach infested motel from the outside, prospective members won’t recognize what’s inside.

“It’s all about being a part of your community,” said Taylor. You should add value to your community. Become involved with the chamber of commerce, the tourist bureau, local hotels, local restaurants even. When they have questions about cemeteries or local history, they should come to you. Offer your services to local travel agents. Participate in community bake sales. Become involved with local charities.

“We need to shift our thinking. How can we invest in the community to show that we have value,” asked Taylor. “It’s a two way street between you and your community.” When the local television station needs information about family history, they should come to you. When it comes to family history, you should own your community. Offer your services to the local county clerk. When they are being bothered by an overly assertive genealogist, they can send him to you.

“Societies that have made themselves essential to their community will find themselves involved by that community.” You know things that others don’t. You have records that others don’t.

Society success is not your membership size, your seminar attendance, or to balance your budget. Society success is fulfilling your mission.

“Become that dynamic destination.”

The Federation of Genealogical Societies annual conference continues through Saturday. If you’re in the Birmingham area, come on by.

Also check out the new FGS website at

Wednesday, August 29, 2012 Free Census Weekend, Time Machine

The 1940 time machineJust in time for the Labor Day weekend, is offering its entire U.S. census collection for free through September 3rd. The 25 collections, consisting of  713 million records, are:

  • 1790-1940 United States Federal Census collections
  • 1850 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules
  • 1860 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules
  • 1890 Veterans Schedules
  • Non-Population Schedules 1850-1880
  • U.S. Enumeration District Maps and Descriptions, 1940
  • U.S. Federal Census – 1880 Schedules of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes
  • U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules, 1850-1885
  • U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918
  • U.S., Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940

Additionally, Ancestry has created a time-machine of sorts. Answer a few multiple choice questions and Ancestry will create a personalized video of the life you would have led 72 years ago. Access the 1940 Time Machine on their website.

Finally, Ancestry has provided a handy chart indicating what information was collected in each census year. Click on the thumbnail below for a full-sized image.

What You'll Learn in the Census, Year by Year

FamilySearch Announces Post-1940 Community Project

Immigrants at Ellis IslandFamilySearch recently issued this announcement:

North American Indexing Volunteers Invited to Join New US Immigration & Naturalization Community Project

More than 160,000 volunteer indexers made the 1940 U.S. Census available for searching in just five months. The project was an unprecedented success that dramatically illustrated what the genealogical community can accomplish when united in a common cause.

Now many volunteers are turning their attention to the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Community Project, an indexing effort to make passenger lists, naturalization records, and other immigration related records freely searchable online. Hundreds of thousands of North American volunteers are expected to contribute over the next 18-24 months, focusing initially on passenger lists from the major US ports.

Individuals, societies and other groups that want to participate should visit to learn more.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

FTM Lucky 13 Family Tree Maker 2012For owners of Family Tree Maker (FTM) 2012, 2013 is proving to be a very lucky year. recently announced that they will not be releasing an FTM 2013. This means owners of FTM 2012 will have another year during which they can receive free updates.

“We have decided to make several key updates to the existing software, and give those updates away for free,” said Ancestry spokesperson, Matthew Deighton. “We will be working hard this year to improve the current product and you will see these bonus features throughout the year.”

According to Ancestry, numerous new features have already been added to FTM 2012:

  • Numerous enhancements to TreeSync so syncing your tree to is faster and more reliable
  • A new Family View Report that displays a person’s ancestors, spouse, and children together (similar to the Family View in the People workspace)
  • A new Undocumented Facts Report that lists people’s facts that have no source documentation
  • The ability to merge info from multiple versions of the same fact
  • New source templates for the 1940 U.S. census and improved support for city directories
  • Dozens of report enhancements including performance improvements and new options in the relationship chart, family group sheet, Individual Report, Notes Report, Data Errors Report, Outline Descendant Report, Media Item Report, photo albums, Media Usage Report, Documented Facts Report, and calendar

Owners of previous versions can qualify for the free updates by first upgrading to FTM 2012.

Monday, August 27, 2012 Finalizes Purchase finalizes recently announced it had finalized its acquisition of for approximately $100 million in cash and assumed liabilities. is a great addition to the family,” said Tim Sullivan, President and CEO of “It is a fast-growing business that has expanded the addressable family history market through a simple and affordable approach.”

More than 440,000 subscribers pay about $39.95 a year for a subscription. was launched barely more than two and one-half years ago. During that time it has accumulated over 2.3 billion historical records according to its website. The records known to have been obtained from FamilySearch account for over one billion of these: 500 million public family tree records and over 500 million U.S. census records.’s other largest holdings are also available on other sites. From England and Wales, BMD records account for nearly 300 million of their records and census transcripts contain another 160 million. Living people records contain 200 million and NewspaperARCHIVE contributes another 100. The Social Security Death Index is the next largest collection, at 90 million.

Multiple price points is a tried and true method of marketing. Witness three drink sizes at McDonalds. plans to operate separately, retaining its brand and website, keeping it as a lower priced offering to its more robust property.

Friday, August 24, 2012

BYU Conference: Church History Library Online

Alan Morrell of the LDS Church History LibraryAlan Morrell presented a session titled “The Church History Library’s Online Presence and Databases.” While he is currently the curator of Mormon history at the Church History Museum of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he previously worked in the Church History Library.

The Church History Library is gradually increasing its presence online and can be accessed from

The Church History Library page shows several important collections:

The Catalog

The “card” catalog has recently become available publicly. Previously, one could access the catalog only at the Library. The catalog includes materials from several places: the Church History Library, FamilySearch family history books, BYU digital collections, and the Internet Archives.

Morrell encouraged users to login, as several catalog features are available only when logged-in. Login with your LDS or FamilySearch username. Items can be saved on the e-Shelf where they can be organized into baskets and baskets within baskets. Each has a green comment box. Queries can also be saved, with the option of alerts when new items are added. As with many online catalogs, search results can be filtered using the controls along the left side of the screen. To see just digital resources, click “View Only Digital” above the first result.

Search Help is available, but is hard to find.

Mormon Pioneer Overland Travels

The Mormon Pioneers Overland Travels database is the most complete list available of pioneers crossing the plains to the Utah from 1847 to 1868. Rosters were not kept, so the listings are incomplete. However, it is searchable by name and contains a large number of pioneers. The database can be searched by name or browsed chronologically or by company name. The database contains information about companies. It contains lists of sources. In some cases, sources have been transcribed and trail excerpts can be read online.

Of all the digital collections Morrell showed, I recommend this one the most.

Digital Collections on Other Websites

Some of the Church History Library’s collections have been digitized and made available on other websites. The Church History Library is one of the contributors to the family history book collection. Other publications have been published on the Internet Archives website at The collections include:

  • Conference Reports – Official reports of General Conference published since 1899 and distributed to leaders and libraries. Early conferences included talks from local as well as general officers of the Church.
  • The Instructor (1901-1970) – A magazine for Church auxiliary organizations, primarily the Sunday School
  • The Improvement Era (1897-1970) – Began as a magazine for the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association, it became the periodical for adults

As of the time of this writing the Church History Library’s Internet Archive collection contains over 13,000 books, magazines, and items, including German, Scandinavian, and Dutch magazines. I don’t believe the Internet Archive supports full-text searching across the entire collection, making it difficult to find ancestors mentioned therein.

Some Church History Library holdings are present among the digital collections of Brigham Young University (BYU). For example, nearly 1,000 photographs in the C. R. Savage collection are from the Church History Library. BYU digital collections include many other collections of possible interest to Church and family history researchers. These are full-text searchable.

Digital Collections on the Church History Library Website

Some journals of early Church members are available on the Church History Library website, such as Lorenzo Snow’s journal. Morrell showed an example page (p. 11). I thought the ubiquitous water mark was too thin, obscuring some hard to read writing. A well designed watermark uses large, bold, sans-serif fonts to minimize interaction with the normal text of the page.

While it is called a library, the Church History Library is mostly an archive. Consequently, some collections (such as CR 1234 1) are organized hierarchically. The catalog contains finding aids for some of these collections. Clicking on an item at each level of the hierarchy opens a list of items that can, in turn, be selected.


Click the image thumbnail to open an item. Morrell’s example was Brigham Young’s Letterbook, vol. 2, p. 227.

Morrell demonstrated how to browse the Charles W. Carter glass negative collection, but I was not able to make work his example of selecting Items 1-15 > John Taylor. The thumbnail disappeared as soon as I selected John Taylor.

If your ancestor had interactions with the prophet Joseph Smith, you may be able to find documents mentioning your ancestors in a couple of online digital collections. The first was the Joseph Smith Collection (MS 155). This collection must be browsed. There is also the Joseph Smith Papers website at The documents in this collection have been cataloged, allowing for searches of document title and description. The website also contains biographies for prominent people mentioned in the papers. Morrell showed the biography of Charles Allen as an example.

Morrell showed us the Historical Department Journal, 1844-1997. While chiefly a record of work in the historical department, some entries also include information about events taking place in Salt Lake City or elsewhere in the Church. One entry led him on a detour to the Mormon Missionary Diaries collection at Brigham Young University’s website.

For those with ancestors in Southern Utah, Morrell showed us the Annals of Southern Utah Mission, circa 1903-1906. As an example page, he showed us an entry describing the dedication of the St. George Temple.

In passing he mentioned several other collections which might be interesting:

  • J. Golden Kimball journals (MS 1354)
  • Amasa M. Lyman collection (MS 829)
  • Charles C. Rich collection (MS 889)
  • Lorenzo Snow Journal/Letterbook (MS 1330)
  • Erastus Snow journals (MS 1329)
  • Willard Richards journals (MS 1490)
  • Orson Pratt autobiography and journals (MS 587)

One day the website will make it possible to click a link to request digitization of materials.

For assistance with the collections of the Church History Library, click on “Ask a Librarian” in the footer of the Church History Library website.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

FamilySearch, Fold3, National Archives Joint Project

Civil War widows' pension fileThe National Archives recently released a new video in their “Inside the Vaults” series that highlights the project to digitize the Civil War widows’ pension files. A team of 60 volunteers led by National Archives personnel crossed the 100,000 mark of 1.28 million case files. FamilySearch is providing volunteers who create the digital images. I think Fold3 produces the index. publishes the index and images on their website.

Click on the video above.

To view the video online, click here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Suzanne Russo Adams: Search Paradigm Shifts

Suzanne Russo Adams presented Paradigm Shifts When Searching Online Genealogical RecordsSuzanne Russo Adams, content strategist for FamilySearch, spoke on the topic of “Paradigm Shifts When Searching Online Genealogical Records” at this year’s BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. Even though Adams is employed by FamilySearch, she spoke to searching on,, and other sites.

Adams said that a paradigm shift occurs when the usual way we think about something is replaced by something new and different. To that end, we need to understand the record collections we search. We need to understand data treatments, search methods, searching indexes, and browsing images. But we still need to use sound research principles and practices.

Online record collections may not contain what you assume from the title of the online collection or the associated offline collection. Always be sure to read the collection information provided by the publisher. On, look for the “Learn More” link. On, scroll down below the collection search form. Look for information about sources, time coverage, missing records, and other anomalies. Also, take time to learn the search systems of websites you use.

Databases and online record collections are not straight transcriptions; the data is treated in different ways. To the extent you can, learn about how the data was treated. How did the publish index the records? Were human indexers or computers (OCR) used? Domestic or offshore indexers? Was data keyed as seen or interpreted? Are images included? Are collections updated? How complete are the collections? Is the content fielded or just a “bag of words.”

Different websites use different search systems. In addition to straight matching, some support phonetic matches, or wildcard matches. Some use phrase or proximity matching. Some support Boolean operators like AND, OR, NOT. Some have advanced search forms.

When you search indexes on and, you can perform a global search across all record collections. Or you can search a category or a single collection. has nearly a quarter billion records that are not indexed. You must browse through the images like searching through a microfilm. When you browse images be careful to pick collections that cover the right place and time and contain the records you desire. Check to see how the records are arranged. They may be alphabetical, chronological, or some other method. Look to see if the original record had an index at the start or end.

“No search engine can ever replace what you know or learn about the families you are researching. Don’t forget to use your mind…shift your way of thinking to search in new and different ways.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012 Free Scanning at FGS Conference offering free scanning at 2012 FGS is again offering free scanning at the 2012 annual Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference. “ will offer attendees the opportunity to have high quality scans done of their family history documents and photos. will be doing the scanning on Thursday through Saturday, August 30-September 1, during Exhibit Hall hours,” said the announcement.

The FGS conference is being held in Birmingham, Alabama. If you’re in the area, you should avail yourself of this opportunity.

For more information, see “FGS 2012 Document Scanning by” on the FGS Conference News Blog.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday Mailbox: Uploading Images to FamilySearch

Dear Insider,

Recently, I have had a few genealogy people insist that FamilySearch has no intention of making it possible to upload images to the FamilyTree.

I have heard from people who attend Riverton Family History seminars that the feature is coming. Some missionaries/directors have even told me they've seen image upload demonstrated even though it is not in the beta yet.

Why would said employee insist so strongly that there is no intent to create such a feature and that it is not possible that a demo was ever shown?

PS. I forgot to clarify that the person who told me this will not happen is an employee of FamilySearch. A missionary of FamilySearch or a volunteer or someone who is very involved at least said the same thing. (We were speaking as FamilySearch volunteers about the topic of FamilyTree)

Michael W. McCormick *

Dear Michael,

I have heard Ron Tanner, group product manager, state many times that FamilySearch will one day allow uploading images of source documents. Why would an employee insist so strongly that this is not the case? I don’t know, but they are definitely misinformed.

It is interesting that some think they’ve seen the feature demonstrated. I attend a lot of public demonstrations and see a few private demonstrations and I have never seen anything demonstrated. This feature is far in the future; I believe it is too early to have anything to demonstrate.

Just in case something has changed since last I heard Tanner, I asked the question of FamilySearch’s official spokesperson, Paul Nauta. This is his response:

Dear Mr. Insider,

It is definitely in the development plans for the FamilySearch Family Tree to allow the upload of images pertaining to individuals in the Tree. We have more pressing feature priorities this year, but the image upload feature is in the development plans for 2013.

Paul Nauta

I hope that settles your mind concerning this question.

The Insider

Friday, August 17, 2012

Darned Son-in-law

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 Son-in-law

A coworker shared this will with me:

Buy for himself a good stout rope

                           Summerdale Phila. Dec. 4th 1906

I the undersigned George S Wolff being of sound mind
& body write this my last will and testament
Fifty cents (50¢) be paid to my son-in-law Chas W Wensel
a native of Huntingdon Pa. to enable him to buy for himself
a good stout rope with which to hang himself & thus rid
mankind of one of the most infamous scoundrels that ever
roamed this broad land or dwelt outside of a penitentiary

Yes, records say the darnedest things.



Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, Wills 302:175-6, no. 2249, George S. Wolff will, proved 10 November 1908; Register of Wills, City Hall, Philadelphia; Family History Library microfilm 1,311,083.

The full text of the will can be found in “Sidelight: A Disgrunted Father-in-Law,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 97 (March 2009): 16.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ancestry Killer, Six Years Later

An old cemeteryHere’s something interesting I ran into recently in my tickler file:

LDS Church Building “Ancestry/MyFamily Killer”

Word on the street has it that the LDS Church [FamilySearch] is in the process of building a completely free service that will “bury” and I’ve heard the board at [] is “freaked” because people inside the LDS Church working on the project have dubbed it the “Ancestry Killer”. I’d be a little nervous too.

According to my source, the LDS Church has put an incredible amount of resources toward the project. Apparently they have brought in top talent from Microsoft and Oracle to build the service. They have been working on it for sometime and are in the process of testing and transferring data to the new service from existing records. I don’t think this will bode well for any genealogy service charging a subscription fee including the newly minted That would make the new service more than just an Ancestry killer. It would make it a category killer and that is one huge online category. …


Can anyone else shed light on this issue? …

October 12th, 2006

From the wording, I’m pretty certain that this article speaks of New FamilySearch. For what it’s worth, nobody in my circles at FamilySearch considered it an Ancestry killer.

Well, a lot of things have happened in the past six years, but the death of is not one of them. Quite the opposite. Ancestry has thrived. Perhaps someone from Ancestry could look up and post a comment with some stats comparing today’s numbers (revenues, profitability, subscribers, record count) with 2006’s.

FamilySearch Family Tree will soon replace New FamilySearch. At that time, ironically, New FamilySearch is scheduled to be terminated.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Echo King: Result Ranking Unveiled

Echo King address 2012 BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyEcho King presented “Searching” at the 2012 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. King is director content product manager for Ancestry.

Relevance Ranking

“The way that we rank things [determines] the order in which we display things,” said King about how Ancestry decides the order of search results. Ancestry uses a system called relevance ranking to guess which results are most relevant to your search and display them first. As you proceed down the list, less and less relevant results are displayed.

“Behind the scenes we are doing all this scoring of different fields,” she said. “Different fields contribute differently.” A match on the last name is considered more important and is given a higher score than a match on given name. Date and place matches come next. Matches in other fields come last.

Scores are affected by partial matches. A misspelled name has a lower score. Estimated dates score lower. Anything inside a date range scores the same. For example, 1966 +/-1 gives the same score to 1965, 1966, and 1967.

There is a weakness in Ancestry’s ability to guess which results are the ones you are interested in. “The more fields that are indexed in a collection, the higher the score. That is not always a good thing,” said King. “That is why censuses are almost always at the top of the list.” City directories have very few fields, sometimes just first name, last name, and location. Lots of results with partial matches can show up higher than an exact match in a city directory, which has few fields.

Consequently, “don’t assume that you can do one search and find every record about a person,” King said. Consider two different search strategies. One is to start by specifying just basic information about an ancestor. Then iteratively add more information and examine the results. The other strategy is to start with everything you know about an ancestor and iteratively remove information. In either case, search specific collections where you feel your ancestor should appear.

There is another weakness you may encounter. “The drop down list [of locations] is not perfect. We’re working on improving that,” she said. If the location does not appear, she suggested putting the name in the keywords field. I always use the location field, since it allows entry of locations not in the list.

If you don’t want Ancestry ranking the results of your searches, the feature can be disabled by changing the view setting above the first result. Change the view from “Sorted by relevance” to “Summarized by Category.”

Ancestry has corrected a weakness you may have experienced in the past. Results outside a person’s lifespan are filtered. Results are filtered out that occur more than five years prior to birth or two years after death. If only the birth or only the death is specified, the person is assumed to have lived for 100 years.

Ancestry has fixed another weakness you may encounter: receiving results for the wrong country. Use the Collection Priority feature to limit results to a particular country. This setting is remembered and must be explicitly changed as desired. search typesSearch Types

“There are lots of different ways to search the records,” said King.

Global search searches all collections. Global search is performed from the home page or from the search page.

Category search searches a group of collections that have a common theme such as all immigration records or all U.S. census records. “Why would you want to search on a category?” she asked. “Because you get fields that are specific to a category of records.” For example, a category search of immigration records allows searching by the name of a ship. If a field is not present, use the keyword field. I’ve used this to get all the names on a single page of a census. There are two ways to locate a search category. Hover over the search menu. Or click search and pick from the list of categories along the right-hand side of the page.

Collection search searches a single record collection. “I often use collection specific searches as well,” said King.

Other Points

  • You can use a wildcard anywhere in a name, even at the beginning, but you must have at least three letters.
  • “It can take up to 45 days for [a correction] to show up in the search [index].”
  • If a census household has a mother-in-law with a different surname than the household head, Ancestry might add an alternate name for the wife because they think they know the wife’s maiden name.
  • To print a record, don’t use the browser print. Click on print just above the image.
  • Searching newspapers takes a different strategy because newspapers are indexed using OCR.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Monday Mailbox: Classroom Use of the Ancestry Insider

Dear Insider,

I read at the end of your article: “All content is copyrighted by the Ancestry Insider unless designated otherwise. See for other important legal notices.” I know this sounds dumb, but does this mean that I can't copy and use it as a handout in my Sunday School Class on genealogy? I have to admit that over the last 40 years I have copied articles on genealogy and used them as handouts in my Sunday School Class. I always write on the top where I got it from so they could go and read it for themselves.

Now I read and hear that copying  anything is a no no. The trouble at Find A Grave sure stirred up a lot of trouble for us. I thought that because I was not making any money on it, It would be OK to copy. Now I think my thinking was wrong and I would like you to tell me that I can not copy anything. Or can I?

Thank you,
Gary White

Dear Gary,

I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is, you have my permission to make copies of my articles for your non-commercial classroom use. See the notice at the bottom of To quote, "For content copyrighted by the Ancestry Insider, permission is granted for non-commercial republication as long as you give credit and you link back to the original." (Note the use of “non-commercial” rather than “non-profit.”)

The bad news is that there is no easy answer to your question. Some mistakenly believe that fair use allows anyone to copy anything for non-profit, educational use. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Circular 21, "Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians," from the U.S. Copyright Office discusses this very complex issue.

It may be easier to contact authors than it is to understand the circular. I suggest that you ask authors for general permission to use their articles as handouts. If they are not comfortable with general permission, seek permission for individual articles.

--The Insider

Friday, August 10, 2012

Serendipity at the BYU Conference

Serendipity at the BYU ConferenceSue VerHoef is an archivist for the Atlanta History Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Last week she had the pleasure of attending the BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.

John Titford, a Londoner by birth, works as a writer, broadcaster, researcher, and genealogical bookseller. And he was asked to be a keynote speaker at this year’s BYU conference. He also gave several lectures, one being “Who Was Mrs. Williamson? An 18th and 19th Century Genealogical Detective Story.”

Of all the classes offered during that time slot, Sue chose to attend John’s.

On the first slide of the presentation he showed the first page of a 200+ page manuscript book that he picked up at a used book faire. It dated from about 1830 to 1840 and contained about 8,000 entries of servants seeking employment in Derby, England.

Sue’s Bridgart line came from Derby.

As that first slide flashed by on the screen, Sue thought she might have seen the Bridgart name.

At the end of the lecture, Sue very excitedly jumped up and asked John if he would go back to the first slide. “I think I saw an ancestral surname of mine.”

He went back to the first page and there it was. The audience broke into applause.

That was not the end of it. John had transcribed the book and happened to have a copy on the laptop he chose to bring. After the lecture he went back and searched the transcription. There he found several other occurrences of the family name to share with Sue.

“I'm still grinning from ear to ear,” said Sue. “it's something I'll never forget, nor will I forget how gracious Mr. Titford was to spend time sharing his work with me.”

That is what we call “Serendipity in Genealogy.”

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Rod DeGiulio: All About Records

Rod DeGiulio addresses the BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy“It is an emotional thing for me,” said Rod DeGiulio, pausing for a moment. Rod DeGiulio is senior, executive vice president of records for FamilySearch International.

DeGiulio was sharing some of the exciting record acquisition projects underway at FamilySearch. One of them is an agreement with the Italian government to digitize all their civil registration records. The Italian project is near and dear to DeGiulio. Of Italian ancestry, he’s had a lifelong desire to research his Italian ancestors.

“I tried to put myself into a position where doors could be opened,” he said. One day he was approached by his superiors at Hewlett Packard corporation and asked if he might possibly accept a multi-year assignment in Italy.

That gave him the opportunity to travel to the small town where his ancestors lived. At their first meeting, the elderly parish priest would not allow him to see the records for trivialities such as family history. Over time, DeGiulio befriended the priest was eventually given access to the records. With excitement he opened records that had probably not been looked at for 50 or more years. Within minutes he had found his grandfather’s birth record.

“My heart was just turned in full,” said DeGiulio. In another hour or two he found his great grandfather. Eventually he was able to tie about 70% of the people in the area into his family.

DeGiulio put himself into position again when he took early retirement from Hewlett Packard. He was soon approached by FamilySearch to marry his knowledge of high capacity manufacturing with his love for genealogy. He has “responsibility for the acquisition, digitization, data treatments, and online publication of high value genealogical records from all over the world.”

It’s not a small task. It is estimated that of the 70 to 90 billion people who have ever lived, 10 billion of them have been documented and 60 billion records exist for them.

In India alone, today there are 1.2 billion people. The 2011 census occupies 36 linear miles of shelf space. By law it must be destroyed before the 2021 census. Records are perishing throughout the world.

In Guatemala, FamilySearch is imaging civil registration.

In Venezuela, FamilySearch is engaged in a project to digitize Catholic Church records of birth, baptisms, and death from 1800 to 2011. FamilySearch is operating four cameras. The local diocese and seminary are providing some of the indexing volunteers.

Leaders in Sierra Leone heard of our Guatemala project and wrote to Thomas S. Monson, president of FamilySearch sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, asking if they could do the same in their country.

Rod DeGiulio spoke about the FamilySearch/Italy projectThe Italian project is an agreement with the government to digitize and publish online all civil registration records for the entire nation. They estimate there will be over 130 million birth, marriage, and death records. Over 20 camera crews are now in Italy. The project will take over six years to complete. FamilySearch has created a special page about Italian records and research.

Since 1938 FamilySearch has captured 3.1 billion, most stored on 2.5 million rolls of microfilm from 202 different countries. Twenty-three percent of the images in the vault have been digitized. They will finish in 3 to 4 years.

Six hundred million images from 1,225 archives have been published so far and FamilySearch is adding about a million images per day. They have published nearly 3 billion searchable names. They are adding about 1.1 million records a day with 1.7 million names.

They are adding 80 to 100 million per year using 210 camera crews in 48 different countries. One-third of them are senior missionaries. Many more are needed because FamilySearch wants to expand by several times in the next few years. No special skills are required and service opportunities are available locally and abroad. For more information, email

FamilySearch is attempting to shorten the time between record imaging and online publication. A year ago, it took seven months to process and publish the images. Today it takes between four and six weeks between click and publish.

FamilySearch originally guessed indexing the 1940 US Census would take from April to November. Now they are expecting to be done by the end of the month (August). Over 155,000 indexers have participated. In a recent indexing push, FamilySearch challenged indexers to break the old record of 3.3 million and index 5 million records in one day. Within the first three hours they hit the 5 million goal. By the end of the day, indexers had finished a whopping 10.5 million names.

More international indexing is needed. At current rates, indexing the Italian project will take 40 years.

Also, as the 1940 community project wraps up, FamilySearch hopes indexers will continue on with a new project: US Immigration and Naturalization records. See a progress dashboard for more information.

FamilySearch now has 60,000 books and periodicals in its online collection.

FamilySearch releases computer code every two weeks to make the website easier to use. Within the next several months, it is hoped that users will be able to add corrections to misindexed records.

DeGiulio made the remarks at the 2012 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Ancestry Insider Honored as One of Best 101

Ancestry Insider is one of the 100 best genealogy websites for 2012I’m humbled and honored that the Ancestry Insider has been chosen as one of Family Tree Magazine’s 101 best family history web sites for 2012.I received the award in the “Best Sites for Getting Genealogy News” category. Other winners in the category are:

“This lively, frequently updated blog delivers the scoop on what’s new at … and FamilySearch,” wrote David A. Fryxell.

“Congratulations!” Allison Dolan, Family Tree Magazine Publisher and Editorial Director told me in a private email.

The full list of 101 winners and commentary can be found on the Family Tree Magazine website and in the September 2012 issue.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

George Ryskamp: Apples and Oranges

George Ryskamp at the BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyGeorge Ryskamp presented “Apples and Oranges: Trees on Ancestry and FamilySearch” at this year’s BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. He gave an overview of the tree systems on each and then presented head-to-head comparison tables.

He began by warning us that all he could present was an overview (which I have further summarized). To make it worse, the and are moving targets.


On the home page there are links to two different tree systems. Underneath “Discover Your Family” is the “Trees” link. This leads to “User Submitted Trees,” which are the Ancestral File and the Pedigree Resource File (PRF).

“Not only are we searching for the dead, but the submitters are dead too,” joked Ryskamp. Ancestral File and PRFs are so old, many contributors are deceased.

While an ancestor will not typically appear more than once in the Ancestral File, they may appear multiple times in Pedigree Resource Files. There is no pedigree view. There is no family group view.

The sources found in the PRF are usually not very good. In Ancestral File, there are none at all. There is no contact information. And there is no updating. [If it isn’t already possible, there is a plan to allow PRF submitters to replace a submission with a new upload.]

For those with access to the FamilySearch Family Tree, there is a “Family Tree” link at the top of the page.

Anyone can update the Family Tree. “All of us are hopeful that a sense of rationality will appear,” said Ryskamp. Otherwise, wars can develop where two relatives disagree on the facts. “It is exciting and hopefully it will eliminate duplication.”

Ancestry Member Trees are unique to the owner. You can have a whole series of trees. You can start a tree by uploading a GEDCOM, but you can’t upload a GEDCOM to add to an existing tree. Trees can be public or private. If a search matches an individual in a private tree, a notice is included in the search results and the searcher can request access to the private tree. The tree owner decides whether to grant access or not.

The tree owner controls who can make changes to the tree or who can contribute photographs and documents.

Member Trees have a pedigree view and a family view. Ryskamp that it was interesting that on the pedigree view the principal person’s siblings were labeled as such rather than as additional children of the parents. The family view is more conventionally known as a descendency chart.

For citations to sources on you can easily click to get to the record. You can easily add source citations or upload images of documents.

In your trees Ancestry shows hints to records available on Ancestry. They are relatively conservative, so only a few reference incorrect records. They will show you hints in records and in family trees of others. You can review a hint before accepting. If accepted, the information is automatically copied into your tree.

Comparing Apples and Oranges Tables

Primary Purposes

*  Share Data *  Do Temple Work
*  Research Support *  Avoid Duplicating Temple Work
* Preserve Data    -  The Universal Tree
(And of course, make money) *  Collaborate


*  Source Citation *  Source Citation
*  URL Links *  URL Links
*  Direct Link to Ancestry Records *  Direct Link to FamilySearch Records
*  Document and Photo Upload *  [FUTURE] Document and Photo Upload


*  Able to Share or Not *  Share and Edited by Everyone
*  Makes Available Photos and Documents *  No Images
* System Setup to Contact Any Submitter (Although Not All Answer) *  Contact on Family Tree Although Email Not Mandated. No Contact Info On AF and PRF

Compatibility with Other Programs

*  GEDCOM Compatible *  GEDCOM Compatible
   - No Ability to Add a GEDCOM File to an Existing Tree     - No Ability to Add a GEDCOM File to an Existing Tree ?
*  No LDS Temple Work Capacity *  Full LDS Temple Capacity Coming
*  Family Tree Maker 2012 TreeSync *  Integrated with Affiliate Programs

Display Functionality

*  Compact Data Display *  Lots of White Space
*  Easier to Go Deep in a Couple of Clicks *  Several Clicks to Go Deeper
*  Source and Photo Attachment Can Be Complicated *  Source Attachment is Simple


*  Encourages Research Through Hints *  No Research Emphasis Beyond Sources
*  Direct Links to Ancestry Documents *  Direct Links to FS Documents
*  Stories and Other Items Included *  No Stories, But Possible Through URLs
*  Large Non-LDS Participation *  Primarily LDS Participation
*  Sources Not Mandated *  Sources Not Mandated

So which trees are best? “The advantages of Ancestry are definitely worth putting out a tree,” said Ryskamp. “The real answer: I use both.”

Monday, August 6, 2012

Census Indexing Update: And It’s Over finishes publishing the 1940 US CensusOn 3 August 2012 announced that they had finished indexing—and publishing—the 1940 US Census. “We are so excited to be publishing our index to the 1940 U.S. Federal Census for free on,” said Tim Sullivan, CEO of

Meanwhile, as of 8:30 that morning, FamilySearch had not published an index since the 18th of July. Their indexing completion percentage had risen to 99, and the status map indicated two states left to finish: New Jersey and Tennessee.

Later in the day FamilySearch announced that indexing was complete and six states would be published today, 6th of August. The announcement said that they would finish publishing the entire census by the end of the month. Despite the announcement, as of Saturday, 4th of August, batches were still available for “US, Puerto Rico—Censo Federal de 1940.”

The full text of the Ancestry press release can be read online, as can the announcement by FamilySearch.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Echo King: Online Trees at

Echo King speaking at the BYU Family History ConferenceThere are many advantageous of using online trees (Member Trees), according to Echo King, director content product manager, She presented “Online Family Trees @” at the 2012 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.

As I write about and, I’m always worried about boring you by repeating information I have already covered. I’ve written a lot about Ancestry Member Trees over the years. Here is some information I hope is interesting.

One advantage of using Ancestry Member Trees is the connections and collaborations made possible. Ancestry alerts possible relatives via its hinting system and its member connect features. “I love to get the stories and the photos,” said King. Collaboration features make it possible to discover stories, photos, and heirlooms shared by other users.

Another advantage is backup. Ancestry backs up your tree for you.

You can access your tree from anywhere you have Internet access.

One big advantage of Ancestry Member Trees is that Ancestry searches for you and gives you hints (shaky leaves) to Ancestry’s large collection of records. Ancestry has found that successful searching is happening more from tree hints than from home page searches. limits the system to confident hints, so there are often less obvious records to be found. “I always do a search after I’ve handled the hints,” said King. When you click on Search Records on the person page, the search form is preloaded with all the person’s information, including relatives. Long-time readers know that I am a big fan of such tree-based searching.

Another advantage of Ancestry Member Trees is the ability to attach documentation and photographs. While there is no limit to the number of photographs, there is a limit to the total space. King could not remember what the limit is.

It’s true that member trees contain lots of duplicate, erroneous data. “I love to use them for the hints,” said King. But don’t assume anything. It is possible to turn off the shaky leaf hinting from other member trees but she couldn’t remember exactly where that was done.

Start your free tree from the home page. You can enter information manually or upload a file of type GEDCOM, FTM, PAF, or Legacy.

Ancestry provides both pedigree view and descendency view (they call it family view). From either view, hover over a person and click on Profile to see the person view. Hidden somewhere along the right side of the person view is the “Family Group Sheet” button. Click on it for the traditional family view.

Ancestry Member Trees can be synchronized with your desktop Family Tree Maker tree. When asked if it was possible to sync with FamilySearch Family Tree, King said no, “we have a gap right now. I think it is something we need to work on as an industry.”

There are some limitations to Member Trees. It is not possible to export or import a branch of a tree. It is not possible to merge persons, although that is being worked on. There is no relationship between Member Trees and RootsWeb trees. There is no way to search for a tree by tree name, but under member connect you can search for members by member name.

If you have problems or questions, call the Ancestry hotline at 1-800-ANCESTRY.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ron Tanner: Lick from the Same Lollypop

Ron Tanner addresses the nervousness of my-tree-itus“We built exactly what you wanted,” said Ron Tanner about (nFS). “How are you liking it?” Audience members groaned. “You said you didn’t want anyone changing your stuff.” Users wanted their contributions to be safe so that others could not change their work. “You have my-tree-itus,” he said.

Ron Tanner is the product manager for nFS and the new Family Tree. He spoke at this year’s BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy on the topic, “Introducing FamilySearch Family Tree.”

Tanner showed a long list of birth facts for his ancestor, Henry Martin Tanner. “I ask you. How many times can you be born?!” Since the introduction of nFS users have experienced deep frustrations in the inability to fix even the most obvious of errors. Only the contributor of an opinion can fix it, but many times it is impossible to contact the contributor.

Elder J. Thomas Fyans, a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1978 said,

It is apparent, then, that ours is a shared ancestry. We shouldn’t think back and say “mine, mine, mine”; we should say “ours, ours, ours.” The farther back we reach, the greater the chorus swells.

It has become apparent that genealogical research efforts are being duplicated. To determine the extent to which such duplication exists, I took my genealogical records to a professional research institute. They compared my records with their name pool and determined that they already had ninety-five percent of my records in their file. (Ensign, November 1978, 28.)

“We have to do something different,” said Tanner. “We have to work together.” The new Family Tree allows anyone to change anything. Tanner called it open edit. “We’ve got to lick from the same lollypop.”

The open edit system has:

  • sources - “Make sources king.”
  • reasons – users must explain each change made
  • discussions - “its a place to talk it out”
  • change log – can roll back bad changes
  • notifications – notified when someone makes a change

FamilySearch plans to add automatic detection of warring. If a value is toggled back and forth too often, the system will freeze it for two weeks. There will be a way to report abuse.

To compound the problems in nFS, FamilySearch filled it with bad data. ““I content that no human would do to a tree what we did,” said Tanner. FamilySearch took Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File (PRF), and the International Genealogical Index (IGI) and applied computer algorithms that combined and corrupted the data. “We did that.” FamilySearch plans to remove all the extra values on the details tab that came from Ancestral File, PRF, and the IGI. Only the summary values will remain (and all non-vitals).

Family Tree doesn’t use the combine system that was the hallmark of nFS. Family Tree returns to the more familiar merge operation. When you merge two people, you will have to choose one by one each fact. Then one of the people goes away. However, the merge can be undone. Merge is not available yet, but FamilySearch is working on it now.

Until nFS is retired, changes made to either nFS or Family Tree are copied to the other. The two different architectures makes the copy problematic. “New FamilySearch must be turned off as soon as possible,” said Tanner.

“Family Tree is to be the world’s genealogy.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Richard Turley Opens BYU Conference

Richard Turley showed a clip of his appearance on the View with Barbara Walters“Clearly it meant a lot to her as it means to all of us as we research our families’ past,” said Richard Turley of Barbara Walters’ reaction to receiving her family history. Turley told the story during his opening keynote at the Brigham Young University (BYU) 2012 Conference on Family History and Genealogy.

Turley had the opportunity to share Walter’s family history with her when he appeared on the View in July 2001. At the time, he was serving as managing director of the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints. Walters thanked Turley immediately after the segment as they left the set. Several minutes later Walters sought him out in his dressing room and thanked him again, making it apparent that she truly appreciated the gift.

During his tenure as managing directory Turley experienced many ups and downs. Several occurred in the year 1999. In March he appeared on the Today Show. In April a gunman showed up at the Family History Center and began shooting. Turley said that the gunman put his gun to the head of Nellie Leighton, one of the greeters, and fired. Miraculously, she survived. Today at the age of 93, she’s still greeting visitors.

In May, the Church launched “Today people are used to having family history online, but in 1999 it was truly revolutionary,” said Turley. They didn’t know how many people would use the service. For a beta launch, they expected a million hits a day. The address leaked out and they got five million hits. For the public launch, they thought they were overly optimistic planning on 25 million. They got 100 million and had to limit people to 15 minute sessions.

In August, Salt Lake City experienced a freak tornado. Turley was at lunch with several aunts for their regular genealogy session when a strong storm hit. He stepped out on the balcony and saw debris swirling on all sides of him as the tornado bore down. He saw it drop a tree behind him and calmly announced to his aunts that it was a tornado. One suggested that perhaps he should move away from the window. He came inside, sat back down—his aunts hadn’t even moved—and they continued their work. “We weren’t about to be interrupted from discussing our family history.”

The tornado passed the Church Office Building, which houses some personnel of the Family History Department. As it passed, it lifted a large concrete tile and thrust it through the window of one of Turley’s colleagues. The office furniture was crushed against one wall. Fortunately, the man was not in his office at the time. (Coworkers tell me the tornado damaged cars in the Family History Library parking lot, but the library was not damaged.)

Even though there are now billion of records online, “we have all focused not on the billions, the millions, the thousands, or even the hundreds, but the individuals,” said Turley. “Genealogy and family history are really about individuals when it comes down to it. In the end we find our hearts turning to individual ancestors.”


Richard Turley, keynote speaker at the BYU family history conferenceRichard E. Turley Jr. currently serves as assistant Church historian and recorder for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints.

The BYU conference continues through Saturday. Day registrations are available.