Thursday, March 29, 2012

1940 Census Availability

Since publishing yesterday’s article, I asked FamilySearch about census availability and learned the following.


Images for the census will not magically, suddenly appear on Images will appear for one state at a time. Images must go through their normally publication process. The first state will appear sometime Monday morning. Subsequent states will each take hours, amounting to a day for large states.

I imagine the process will be much the same on It is not enough to load the images on a server. The website must also provide the ability to browse to images of interest, such as the town or an enumeration district in a city. I consider this a horse race and will watch with great interest to see who gets images up fastest.

Things are different for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). They get a head start, so images will magically appear on their site. At 9:00 am Monday Eastern Time, all the images of the census will magically appear at The website is being provided under contract to NARA by

The 9:00am release creates an interesting scenario. If I am not mistaken, the images will be sold on hard drives to organizations like FamilySearch and beginning at 12:01. That means some other organization besides NARA can have bragging rights for publishing the first images.

Indexing Batches

I learned a couple of things for those wanting to help FamilySearch index the 1940 census. I understand FamilySearch will get the message out once they are ready. The challenge is getting enough states ready that indexers are not frustrated by lack of a batch to download.

Indexers are being instructed to come and index sometime during the week rather than trying to catch the first batch. So much for my crash prediction. 

But what about my nerves? I’m going to be pretty much a basket case until I index 1940. See. I told you something would crash.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

1940 Census Crashes

1940 censusI feel a bit like Chicken Little. But looking at the amount of marketing buzz that both FamilySearch (and partners) and are generating over the 1940 census, I have a hard time believing that we, the genealogy community, aren’t going to crash something or somebody on 2 April 2012 when the 1940 Census debuts.

That’s my official excuse for not doing much as an official 1940 Census Blog Ambassador. I don’t want to add to the problem.

Just kidding.

Seriously, a friend mentioned that he installed the indexing app for his mother recently. This was on a Sunday not long ago. It took him several (seven?) attempts. The indexing system is just not keeping up with demand.

FamilySearch remains confident.

Help me prove them wrong… or right… Set some indexing time aside Monday after work. (Don’t tell my employer. I don’t plan on waiting until after.) Index a batch. If nothing crashes, index some more.

One way or the other, Monday is going to be quite the day!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New Look for FamilySearch Labs

imageLast week I had two people alert me to the facelift on Some old projects are gone. One new one called “Fresh” is present but (as of the day I wrote this) was not operable. It says “This project represents the new face of FamilySearch for people who have never participated in their family history before. We'll have more information and stuff to play with here in a few days.”

Another new project is “Ohio Research Assistance.” This is described thusly: “We are experimenting with how to best provide research help to our users throughout the world. Our first phase is to provide research assistance to those needing help finding their ancestors in records involving the State of Ohio.” For more information, the article contained a temporary link ( when I wrote this article.

Labs still lists the Research Wiki and Forums. Have I wrongly considered these two features to be beyond the “labs” stage?

Regarding Submit Your Tree, the website says it is an easy way to upload a GEDCOM and compare it to the millions of records in the tree (NFS). The program identifies which people are already in NFS and which ones are not.

English Jurisdictions 1851, Standard Finder, and Community Trees are still listed.

Check it out. By the time you read this, maybe the “Fresh” project will be available.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Last Chance to Prepare

Bragging rights are at stake.

If you plan on participating in the excitement of the 1940 Census launch, you have precious little time left to prepare.

You know you’ll want to index a batch on the first day anyone outside NARA gets a chance to see pages from the 1940 Census.

If you haven’t indexed before (or even if you have), there are some things you’ll want to do beforehand if you want to hit the ground running next Monday.

  1. Visit Optionally, try out the two minute Test Drive. This is a quick introduction showing how indexing works. The instructions whip by rather quickly. To see them again, click Done and then Restart. Fill in the Field Value column. The answer to the first one is “Normal.” The answers to the rest are highlighted in purple on the sample document. For each value, read the Field Help on the bottom right.
  2. Download. Click Get Started and Download Now. This will download the Indexing App to your desktop.
  3. imageRun the App. On your desktop, click FamilySearch Indexing. The app will load and then present a Sign In window.
  4. Register. If you don’t have a FamilySearch account (Wiki,,, and Indexing all use the same account), register using the button on the left.
  5. If you have an account and don’t remember either the user name or password, click the appropriate link. (Aren’t you glad you didn’t wait until next Monday? Now’s the time to get this figured out.)
  6. Sign In.
  7. Tutorial. Indexing is easy enough, many people dive right in and lean heavily on the Field Helps. I recommend you complete a tutorial. One place to find it is under the Indexing Links tab. (Look for the series of tabs on the right side of the app: My Goals, My History, Arbitration Results, and Indexing Links.) Click on Indexing Tutorials. Then click Indexing.
  8. Practice. There are two 1940 census practice batches that you can try now. Click Download Batch. Select the first project (*SIMULATION* 1940 US Census, Part 1) and click OK. Optionally, download a batch from the second project (Part 2).

Now you’re ready. Come Monday, April 2nd, you’ll be part of history. Index one batch on the first day and you’ll have bragging rights for a decade.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Brimhall and Verkler, Part 5

Dennis Brimhall and Jay Verkler at RootsTech 2012At RootsTech I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with FamilySearch outgoing CEO, Jay Verkler, and with incoming CEO, Dennis Brimhall. I asked each the same set of questions. The similarities and differences in their responses make interesting reading. I’ve presented the interview throughout this week. Click to see all the articles in this series.

The Insider: I'm a big proponent of the FamilySearch wiki.

Jay: Me too.

Insider: Everyone knows something. Can I get both of you to commit to adding something?

Jay: I won't commit to add a page. But I will commit, as I use it if there is something I can add, that I will take time and add it. I'll definitely commit to that. But off the top of my head, I don't know what I will add.

Dennis: (Laughing.) You know, let me be honest with you. I'm a bit intimidated by the Wiki. I look at it and I'm a little frightened. I'm a little intimated to add anything because we have this sense on Wikipedia that you don't really add something unless you can really add it and document it and have a citation and demonstrate that what you're adding is really improving it. So I confess to a certain bit of intimidation there. Now maybe I need to get over that because I'm sure I can find something where I can add something.

But I am a bit intimidated. Am I alone?

Insider: You are not alone.

Dennis: I'm just afraid. The worst case is you'll add something and 15 people will say, "You're crazy." Give me some time. I'll warm up to it.

Insider: Jay, what one counsel would you give Dennis about leading FamilySearch?

Jay: Obviously Dennis and I talk a lot about different specific aspects of the organization, most of which doesn't belong in any kind of public forum. The broadest public statement in terms of counsel would be to continue FamilySearch’s strengths, to have long-term vision, to articulate that openly and clearly and continue to get more and more open. The journey to an open organization is a long journey and I hope that will continue because there is great strength in it. I think we are demonstrating the great strength and then the focus on execution for that vision. Think globally or think long-term, execute in the short term. That's probably the best advice I can give.

Insider: Dennis, if you could give Jay one piece of feedback about his accomplishments at FamilySearch, what would it be?

Dennis: Congratulations! If you go back to where we were when he came, if you just go back and say, “OK, that's what it looked like,” and you look at it today: it’s a miracle. It’s a stunning miracle. I think that because technology is like a frog in the water, it changes and we get used to it. All of a sudden we're used to cell phones. We forget when they were the size of bricks and they had batteries the size of shoeboxes. So [with FamilySearch,] go up and come back in and say, “Wow. Look at what's happened.” If you look at his contribution, if you look at what he did, how he organized us, and what he's gotten going, it's a stellar accomplishment. I would give him a statement of congratulations.

I hope that he handles the withdrawal well. (Laughter.) He will. He's very bright. He's got other great things to do.

Insider: Thank you both. Any final thoughts?

Dennis: Thank you. As you know we are very, very appreciative and dependent on this type of interaction [with the genealogy media and bloggers] for what we're getting done. You are all people who feel strongly about it. You all contribute in some way. We don't get our efforts done by going on Good Morning America so much as we just talk to passionate people who can spread the word. We're very grateful for it.

Obviously we're looking out to the 1940 census so any little boost you can give us there will be gratefully appreciated. It's not “we,” it’s a community effort. But thanks for all you do.

Jay: it's been a fantastic ten years and I've really appreciated all the great people, in FamilySearch and all the great people outside the organization. This is a community with some really great people I'm going to continue to meet and run into all the time, just people who are really good people. It has been a great privilege.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Brimhall and Verkler, Part 4

Dennis Brimhall and Jay Verkler at RootsTech 2012At RootsTech I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with FamilySearch outgoing CEO, Jay Verkler, and with incoming CEO, Dennis Brimhall. I asked each the same set of questions. The similarities and differences in their responses make interesting reading. I’ll present the interview, a couple of questions at a time, throughout this week. Click to see all the articles in this series.

The Insider: What are FamilySearch's biggest strengths?

Dennis: There may be other people that have more records on line but nobody has more images than we do. By an order of magnitude we have more images than anybody else. One of our strengths is simply the repository of our images: 2.4 million rolls of microfilm. And [the number of images] is growing every hour. We've got cameras out their collecting these images, getting the digital rights to them. That ability to collect and preserve images is a hugely important part of what we do.

Another advantage is that we have volunteers. Every day we have 100,000 indexers doing a million indexes a day. That's a strength. When it comes time to do the 1940 census, we can turn 100,000 indexers on that task. Why? Because they like doing it.

We have the ability to marshal more resources and so as we begin to think about doing the 1940 census, the number of people doing indexing needs to go up to 150 to 200 thousand. We have the ability and the infrastructure to do that, the scale, the size that we can work, the ability to do a project like the census and say we'll get this done and then get it available for everybody.

Another advantage is that we're neutral. We're not for profit. We love the people that are in this area. We love the commercial companies that are here and are making money. We love that because we're all doing the same work. People find a name on our tree versus their tree; we're happy with that either way. We can have that neutrality where we're not threatened by anybody. We're happy when anybody succeeds.

Jay: I think we've already talked about most of them. The position we operate from [is a strength]. Probably its biggest strength is that its focus is really for the good of the industry. If the organization can continue to have that focus, it will make the right choices, not competing or hurting things. Also not being a wall flower, having a direction, having a focus. "These are the things we need to accomplish." A long term focus, the ability to execute in incremental steps, those I think are its greatest strengths.

Insider: What are FamilySearch’s biggest weaknesses?

Dennis: It’s a very large enterprise. To keep it focused and moving and the flow from images, to records, to indexing, to a tree, at that scale is a very big thing. Trying to make sure that we can use our volunteers properly. The worst thing that you can do is to have a volunteer that's not tasked in a way that they're comfortable and happy. Trying to keep 250,000 volunteers feeling like they’re really contributing and doing something meaningful is an issue.

The larger you get as an organization, the more bureaucracy you get, the more difficult it gets to adjust or move when we expect to do that rapidly. We talk about making the elephant dance. That's a tome that's used organizationally to say how do you take something organizationally that's ponderous and make it nimble. That’s one of the things in which I have a lot of interest in and some experience in. Those are some challenges we have in those areas.

Jay: When you're as diverse as FamilySearch is—and it needs to be in my opinion—it can be difficult to keep all the plates spinning. I think in many cases we need to keep those plates spinning for various conscious reasons. And we have to keep the ability to do so, but that can slow us down if we don't manage it well. It's a leadership challenge and can become a weakness if we're not careful.

Insider: The 1940 Census indexing project is coming up. Do you plan on taking time out of your busy schedules to help out?

Jay: I would argue that I've helped out quite a bit, and helped out more in the things that I've been doing than if I took the same time and indexed. I plan to do some indexing because I think it's important to have direct contact with the experience so I do plan to do some indexing, but I probably won't spend hundreds of hours indexing.

Dennis: You know, I'm going to do it. Now my wife does a lot of indexing. I haven't been doing it but I've absolutely made a personal commitment that I'm going to index the 1940 census. The wonderful thing about indexing is that you can do it even if you are busy. You can be sitting in the doctor's office with your iPad and you can do it. So absolutely, I'm already signed up. I want to be ready.

So I'm not a foreigner to it; I just need to get caught up with the technology and get ready to do it online.


Friday: “Will you commit to add something to the FamilySearch Wiki?”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Brimhall and Verkler, Part 3

Dennis Brimhall and Jay Verkler at RootsTech 2012At RootsTech I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with FamilySearch outgoing CEO, Jay Verkler, and with incoming CEO, Dennis Brimhall. I asked each the same set of questions. The similarities and differences in their responses make interesting reading. I’ll present the interview, a couple of questions at a time, throughout this week. Click to see all the articles in this series.

The Insider: Jay, what do you think are your top accomplishments at FamilySearch?

Jay: When you're the CEO of an organization the organization's successes are your successes, the organizations failures are your failures. You don't succeed and have the organization fail. That also means that at some level anything that you call a great success wasn't your success. So there are things I'm really proud of, that FamilySearch has done in the last ten years, but it would be wrong to call them Jay's success or the things that Jay's done. One of the things that's sometimes a little hard to control is that—if you'll let me just babble on for a minute—is being CEO is a really visible thing and I get a lot of compliments. I wish I could translate the thanks that I often receive, to the people that actually deserve the thanks. The organization works because of all the people in it.

Some of the things I'm most proud of the organization in the last ten years:

I think we've really come to a new understanding about our role within the ecosystem of family history and how family history works. I have a diagram that has a little pond. It's got the sun and the soil, the water, the animals, all those elements are part of an ecosystem. None of them are the most important. All of them are required and needed for that whole ecosystem to occur. I think FamilySearch has really gotten their head around our role in the ecosystem. It’s got non-profit archives, societies, consumers. The consumers themselves can be professionals or avid hobbyists. They can be people who spend 20 hours at this, and really ought to call it a part time job, a serious avocation in terms of hobby, all the way to beginning people. And of course commercial organizations and commercial companies of all sizes from public companies like Ancestry to a brand new little company. Understanding and comprehending that ecosystem, learning to play within it, learning what our roles need to be and what we don't need to do so others can do—I've really been happy with how the organization has done that.

I've been very happy we've been able to execute and deliver the digital records that are coming out. Last year we published over 300 million digital records, which is more than we had at the start of the year, so we more than doubled the digital records. That's just really cool. I think that's awesome.

The help world: We delivered 35,000 help requests in 2002 and we delivered 11.5 million interactions in 2011. Now that's some cool growth in terms of really helping people and executing a model that works in 12 languages and that's cool. Again, did I do that? No. Don [Anderson] and all kinds of great people, thousands actually, made that happen.

The tree that's going to become public this year.

The framework I talked about at RootsTech: I think we have resources to help accomplish and partners that want to accomplish and so forth and an ecosystem that I hope will bring that to bear. I will be so happy if that occurs.

So those are all things that I don't think I would take credit for but I'm really excited happened in the last ten years.

Insider: Dennis, what do you hope will be your top accomplishments at FamilySearch?

Dennis: Jay was here ten years. If I'm here ten years, what would I look back and say “gee, what did we do?”

First of all, we've got lots of records that we need to get available. We're just scratching the surface of with the records that we have today. We're got teams out there with cameras collecting more images every minute of every day. We've got to make sure that that flow of what's coming in and what's getting digitized and available to people, we've got to keep that going. One of the things I'd be happy about is if we were making a dent in that, if we could say that we can see the point at which we were going to get this done. There is a finite number of records that we're dealing with right now. Whether that's North America or other places, there's still a finite number. It seems inconceivable that we could do it, but we will do it. We’ll get it done. So I'm hoping that we'll make a sizable dent in that.

One thing is, I hope we'll have an experience for our patrons that is delightful, that they enjoy it, and they’re not frustrated by it. Those of us who've been around a while have been frustrated by technology. We need to be moving beyond that. We need to be having experiences that are enjoyable and attracting. That would be another area of success.

Another thing, our efforts have been historically North America and English countries because that's where we have the interest. That's where we have the records. You can track that back a little further, but it goes right back to Europe and England and Scandinavia. That's where Americans came from. Some came from further south, but there are only a few places. We have members of our church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) that are all over the world and the growth is in Latin America and Asia and Africa and in some cases Eastern Europe and into what was formerly the soviet Union. We've got to do some more work to make sure that when they feel the desire to find their ancestors they can come on our site and we can help them.

That can be different because here we're very focused on names and places and dates. Many of these people focus on relationships. We go to Africa and we've got people who can't say when they were born. They don't know how old they are. But they understand the relationships and oral histories. So we've got a large team right now collecting thousands and thousands of oral histories in Africa. It’s a different culture. We need to be respectful of that. They're still part of the same mission. So I will feel success in ten years if we've really been able to go beyond this English North American-centric view and understand that we've got people around the world that feel the same desires and the same needs. We help them and partner with people who can do it better.

Sounds a little grandiose, doesn't it? We've got ten years to do it.


Thursday: FamilySearch’s biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses. Dancing elephants and spinning plates. The Insider challenges the CEOs to index the 1940 census.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Brimhall and Verkler, Part 2

Dennis Brimhall and Jay Verkler at RootsTech 2012At RootsTech I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with FamilySearch outgoing CEO, Jay Verkler, and with incoming CEO, Dennis Brimhall. I asked each the same set of questions. The similarities and differences in their responses make interesting reading. I’ll present the interview, a couple of questions at a time, throughout this week. Click to see all the articles in this series.

The Insider: What's the hardest thing about leading an organization as large as FamilySearch?

Dennis: One of the hardest things is we're keeping up with technology that changes so rapidly. You just feel like you've got it fixed and solved and all of a sudden you've got a new place you need to take it. Many people who’re in this genealogical area don't have to worry about preservation. They simply get it somehow and they enter it into their software programs and once they've got it there that's fine. But we also have the issue of preservation, which is a huge part of what we do. Making sure that we're attending to that at the same time that we're enabling the patron to find their ancestors, that's the broader task, the broader issue than just connecting the ancestors together.

The other thing is it’s a worldwide effort. You know we have 4600 family history centers all over the world. Just in your mind you hear about that and figuring out how to make it work is something I'm trying to grasp right now. I'm so new I'm still trying to get my brain around what it means to have that number of volunteers and that number of places all marching in the right direction.

Jay: It's inertia. Inertia's your friend and inertia's your foe. If you get inertia aligned and moving towards your target it's awesome. Things work and there are benefits and so forth. And when the organization isn't aligned for what your goal is and the inertia is elsewhere, that becomes probably the most difficult thing in getting a large organization working.

The other thing that's tricky about this particular organization is championing and helping innovation come from different parts of the organization, especially when people lock onto their individual “this is what I want to do” role. I feel like we've made great progress in that area, but it’s always a challenge in an organization like ours.

One of the other things that's challenging about an organization like FamilySearch is because we don't take a competitive position with really anybody. Well, sure we'll take a competitive position with evil, or something moral, but we don't take a competitive position with other companies. So often in a corporate environment, that competition creates urgency, but at FamilySearch we have to be motivated by not just competitive urgency, because that's not the key motivator, we really want to be motivated by how quickly the work needs to happen, where are the opportunities. We have to be opportunity motivated, not competition motived. That's a different motivational factor.

Insider: How would you describe your leadership style?

Dennis: I think I may have mentioned before that I can't do the job of anybody. And if I can't do it then what I need is to empower them to do it and then stay out of their way. I think my leadership style is really to empower people. Now you can't empower them unless you've made it very clear why you exist. You have to be very, very clear that this is our mission; this is what we're trying to accomplish. Once people understand your goal and what you're trying to accomplish, most people, if you leave them alone, they'll get there. I can't write code, I'm not a licensed genealogist, but we have a lot of people that do and are. I think I make sure that they understand exactly why we exist and then I stay out of their way.

Jay: Probably the thing I would say the most about my leadership style is that it's variable. It's variable depending on the task at hand, what I think needs to happen, the organization, and the people. And I think that it's important to be variable.

Let me give you a quick example of where that sort of thinking came from. Back when I was at Oracle, so this is 1992/1993, I was being recruited by a bunch of different companies who would essentially give me—now I was in a reasonably large organization then—give me the same job in their organization. The organization might grow, it might even double in size, but the type of job would roughly be the same thing in three years and five years. I realized at Oracle that changing hats is far more difficult than just running a large organization. Starting a small organization that grows rapidly, so you're three people and then 20 people and then 50 people and then 200 people and then five- and then a thousand and so forth—that is much more difficult than taking an organization from 500 to 900. And so I actually left a large organization and started [a small one] with three people, literally 3 people, and we shipped a product, a whole product, within 9 months, which inside Oracle had never been done. It was ten people within two months and so on, but it meant it grew to build a business just very rapidly.

That was much more difficult and challenging and fun. So for my style I certainly have got to switch roles. There was a time here when I needed to be an engineering V.P. and a CEO. That was really hard. Those two jobs are really hard and I tried to broadcast to everybody that I was going to drop a whole bunch of balls, especially on the CEO side because we had to get the product working and shipping, for the whole org depended on it. That was tough. It was a good change in style; I became very focused when I became engineering V.P. and I was drilling through all kinds of things. I became known as the micromanager for a while there because of the drilling to deliver. I would say that that was probably not my style right now or when I left the organization at all because the organization developed in a way that that was an inappropriate style. So I've tried to match style with the org. Not everyone would agree with my choices there, but that's how I think about leadership style.

Wednesday: A cool past. A grandiose future.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Brimhall and Verkler, Part 1

Dennis Brimhall and Jay Verkler at RootsTech 2012At RootsTech I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with FamilySearch outgoing CEO, Jay Verkler, and with incoming CEO, Dennis Brimhall. I asked each the same set of questions. The similarities and differences in their responses make interesting reading. I’ll present the interview, a couple of questions at a time, throughout this week.

Click to see all the articles in this series.

The Insider: Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Dennis: I actually grew up in Utah. I went to BYU and then headed off to Northwestern Kellogg School of Management and got an MBA. I have spent my career in academic medicine, which is in running large university hospitals: first the University of Utah, then the University of California at San Francisco, and then the University of Colorado. That's my background and that's the area I loved in life and enjoyed for all these years.

I was retired when I got a call from the Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] which said, “Would you come and be involved in FamilySearch?” I said, “Are you sure you've got the right person?” knowing the great things that Jay Verkler has done. I remember that they said, “Yes, we change things every now and again.” I think one of the reasons was that FamilySearch has become a very large and complex organization. It has grown rapidly so now the opportunity is—not to abandon a technology focus by any means—but to begin to organize for the next steps forward.

Jay: I love a lot of things. Of course my family and all those important things. I love FamilySearch; I love what's happened here and I love the industry. I love a lot of hobbies. And I enjoy the diversity, whether its water skiing or sports stuff or music. I love a lot of different kinds of music. I love cars; I love speed (laughing). I love mountain roping. I love hiking and camping and backpacking. There are a lot of wonderful things in life.

Insider: Enough about you; tell us a little about your ancestry.

Dennis: I know a little bit about it. I’ve studied. I've done a little bit of work. I'm not entirely a pilgrim when it comes to genealogy, but my ancestry has pioneers who came across the plains, including Rebecca Winters who's buried up by Scottsbluff, Nebraska, one of the very few recorded pioneer graves. It’s a terrific story about that grave and the laying of the railroad track.

And then we can go back to her father, Gideon Burdick, who was George Washington's drummer boy when he crossed the Delaware River on that Christmas night in 1776.

If you go back further on both sides, with the exception of a little French in there, it goes back to England. We are from England and so the name was Bramhall originally. When we came over here they wanted to change their names so we became the Brimhalls. So Brimhall was entirely an American name and there's not many around. We've lived in Chicago and Denver and San Francisco and we were the only Brimhalls in the phone book. So it is not a very common name. It is out here [locally] because of the brothers who early on joined the Church. That's why we concentrate out here.

Jay: I consider my ancestry to be not just my personal ancestry but my wife's ancestry too. That's interesting. I'd never really realized that until you asked. On my side of the world I have pioneers who crossed the plains from back in England. That's all been well researched. I've never validated it. I will someday but that doesn't look like the most productive area to work in.

For my father there's no genealogy completed at all. The Verkler line goes back into Zurich but I haven't documented it well back into Zurich and that's what I'm going to work on in the next few months. His mother died when he was 6 years old and so he knew nothing about her. I've opened up a lot of that line through some research that goes back into Germany and I'm trying to get across the pond. Illinois is where the Verklers were part of. My wife has Hungarian roots. She and her father have done some research on Norwegian lines. For her Japanese lines, I have a personal enjoyment. Part of what I care doing is the family history of my kids. That's where our different roots are. My kids are just a mix of everything. It’s kind of cool.

Insider: What is the best thing about leading an organization as large as FamilySearch?

Dennis: One of the really interesting things—and I've found this in the hospital world as well, but it’s probably more of the case here—the people who work for us really, really want to do this work. And they want to do it right. Yes, for many of our people, they're paid but most of them could do something else for a little more money than we pay them. They really want to be here. That's one of the really nice things about it. The other thing is, they're very passionate about making it work for other people; they understand that if we’re successful other people will be successful. That kind of focus on the purpose, focus on the mission, it’s just different than coming to work every day.

The other thing that is always important to remember is we have 250,000 volunteers. Now that is a stunning number. It’s a stunning number! All over the world these are people we don't get paid at all, but they're here simply because they love it and they want to do it. Managing that number of volunteers and keeping them focused and busy doing things that are collectively for the good, and helping us move along is really a big effort. Just imagine having 250,000 helpers who are dedicated to what you want to do. Who’s got that? That's really neat.

Jay: There's a ton of things that are wonderful about FamilySearch that really don't equate to its size: the clear mission that FamilySearch has. That mission is really about helping everyone on the planet. Yes, sure, a lot of companies want to help everyone on the planet. For over ten years I've really understood the impact that family history has on all kinds of different walks of life. When you hear the African American leaders in the inner city explain how important it is that their kids who don't have fathers know where they came from, that's cool. Or when you sit on a plane—and I've sat on a lot of those plane rides, especially when I was commuting—and you have people just light up when they know what you do because they want to tell you about their families. Just seeing impact after impact after impact of family history has been awesome.

FamilySearch's role is as a non-profit organization that can partner with archives and can be kind of a partner archive that can provide resources to the world, but can also work with companies in a trusted way. We're trusted by so many different companies and organizations; that's just totally cool.

And then just to see patrons discover things because of our focus on people, those dimensions of the FamilySearch organization, whether it’s small or large, have been wonderful.

Of course one of the nice things about a larger institution is that you can have a lot of impact if you get everyone singing the same song, and going in the same direction. And that's been fun too.


Tuesday: Micromanagement, competition, and opportunity.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dennis Brimhall and Jay Verkler, A RootsTech Interview

Dennis Brimhall and Jay Verkler at RootsTech 2012

At RootsTech I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with FamilySearch outgoing CEO, Jay Verkler, and with incoming CEO, Dennis Brimhall. I asked each the same set of questions.

There’s a reason the interviews I did at RootsTech are only now being published. May I say that transcribing long interviews is excruciating. But I think it was well worth it. The similarities and differences in their responses make interesting reading. Their responses to my challenges to index and contribute to the Wiki were… well, I’ll let you discover for yourselves.

I’ll present the interview, a couple of questions at a time, throughout the week.

Monday Dennis and Jay introduce themselves. “Are you sure you’ve got the right person?” “Horse thieves.” “I love speed.”

Friday, March 16, 2012

Serendipity In My Own Backyard

It is as though our ancestors want to be found. Uncanny coincidence. Olympian luck. Phenomenal fate. Tremendous intuition. Remarkable miracle. We call It, “Serendipity in Genealogy.”

Right in My Own Backyard
   by Joan Byrne

A few years back, I was hunting for information on my elusive Chicago Leinen family. I posted a query on the Leinen message board on RootsWeb and got a reply from a person who was indeed a fellow Leinen descendant. We were both great-great-grandchildren of John Henry Leinen and Mary Clooney, who emigrated from Germany and Ireland (respectively) in the mid-1800s, met in Chicago, and married in 1859.

We were of course thrilled to find each other and exchanged information. She e-mailed, 'Where do you live?' I e-mailed my location (a small town outside of Seattle, Washington) and she quickly fired back, 'You're not going to believe this--so do I!' We couldn't believe the coincidence. She lived ten minutes away, and I drove to her house that very afternoon, where we drank tea, shared news clippings and photos, and filled in gaps in the family history.

We had much in common besides great-great-grandparents: we were both born in Chicago, went to the same small college in Grand Rapids, Michigan (ten years apart, so our paths never crossed), and ended up in the same town in Washington.

Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 26 September 2007, Vol. 10, No. 39.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Family Tree Maker 2012 has provided me a half-dozen review copies of Family Tree Maker over the years. I’ve not opened a single one. I’ve never had the time to learn or the need to use a desktop product. I’m a big fan of Ancestry Member Trees. My tree lives in the cloud. My scanned documents are (presumably) backed up and kept save by My documents are there to be shared with others. (Believe me, plenty of mine are.) My links are attaching Ancestry content to my tree. (I’ve found a dozen-plus book references for one ancestor in addition to the easily found half-dozen record matches.) I’m happy living in the cloud.

Last week I started preparing for my travel to the National Genealogical Society 2012 Conference in Cincinnati, to be held 9-12 May 2012. I decided I’d research my Ohio ancestry while I was in the area. Trouble was, I didn’t know if I had any family in Ohio. Fortunately, I’m a 6th generation member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I practically inherited an 8 generation pedigree… almost totally undocumented. Somewhere in there, there had to be some Ohio research waiting to be done.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could run a query on my Ancestry Member Tree and get a list of all references to Ohio? No can do. For all their advantages, online trees have a big disadvantage. They are immature, with only a handful of years since their births.

Desktop genealogy programs, on the other hand, have been around for many years. The venerable PAF was released in 1984. Family Tree Maker was released in 1989. Feature sets have been growing ever since (despite the occasional software rewrite).

If I had my tree in PAF, I could have used Advanced Focus Filter and easily generated a report of every ancestor with an event in Ohio. But my tree was not in PAF, it was an Ancestry Member Tree. Fortunately, I had heard that the latest version of Family Tree Maker has the capability of synchronizing a desktop tree with an online Ancestry Member Tree.

It was time to try out Family Tree Maker.

I got a review copy, installed it, and accepted the offer to synchronize to my online tree. It was really easy. Within 5 minutes I had all my tree except for the scanned documents. Family Tree Maker (FTM) informed me that I could begin using it while my documents were downloaded in the background. Then I started poking around, trying to locate a way to get my report of Ohio ancestors. As I had feared, there was going to be a learning curve getting used to a desktop genealogy program. Eventually, I gave up and sent an inquiry off to Ancestry.

Meanwhile, the download of my many, many documents continued in the background, probably well into the following day. I don’t know how long it took, but that night, at midnight, my backup script kicked in and started copying the newly downloaded files from my computer to an external drive. Over 20 hours later, I found my backup was still copying files.

It felt pretty good. I had all the original documents up in the cloud on Ancestry. I had copies on my desktop, linked into the correct people in my FTM tree. And I had another copy out on an external drive. Having those extra copies means it is very unlikely that I will every lose all my hard work. It felt very good.

Back to Ohio

Ancestry got back to me with the steps necessary to find all the Ohio connections in my tree. There was no wonder I couldn’t find it. I’ll tell you what they told me, as it is not obvious by any means.

In FTM 2012, go to the “Publish” workspace, along the top of the window. In the Publication Types panel on the left, select “Person Reports.” Then select “Custom Report” in the middle of the screen.

Select Custom Report from the People Reports

A custom report can include all individuals, or some subset that you choose. In the options panel on the right, set “Individuals to Include” to “Selected Individuals.” In the middle of the “Filter Individuals” dialog box, click on “Filter In… >” .

Use FTM Selected Individuals, Filter In...

In the “Filter Individuals By Criteria” dialog box, choose “Other.” In the “Search Where” drop-down list, choose “Any Fact Places.”

In FTM Filter by Criteria, choose Other > Any Fact Places.

Enter the name of the location—“Ohio” in my case—into the Value field. Click OK. The right hand side of the dialog box now displays the list of matching individuals.


Click OK to see the custom report.


Now I have 5 pages of Ohioan ancestors to research and document.

I’ve told you how to get the list of people to research when you take a trip. When it comes time to do so without offending your travelling partners, you’re on your own.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday Mailbox: The End of Printer Friendliness

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Enjoy your e-mails so very much.

My big gripe with the 'new' Family Search is that I now cannot print a record that is enlarged enough to read.  Looking through my paper files, back to 2009, I was able to do so.

I am finding the same is true for Ancestry.  They have taken a step backwards.  Both of those sites have taken the fun out of finding and printing my resource information.

Keep up the good work.  I enjoy your humor!


Dear Dee,

You are absolutely correct. Producing a good print of a pedigree or family group chart seems to be impossible on or

I think, however, I have found the cause of the problem.

Read on…

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Speaking of getting better results from, I have “one for the books.” It set me off in such giggles that I've forgotten exactly what search produced such silly results.

Ms. Marty Hiatt


Friday, March 9, 2012

Serendipity: It’s a Wonderful World

It is as though our ancestors want to be found. Uncanny coincidences. Olympian luck. Phenomenal fate. Tremendous intuition. Remarkable miracles. We call It, “Serendipity in Genealogy.”

Mark Donaldson shared this tale of serendipity with me:

George and Elizabeth Shosswood DonaldsonMy Dad died more than 10 years ago and at his funeral we played one of his favorite songs - Louis Armstrong's -  It's a Wonderful World.

My Dad's Mother took my Dad and his brother away from the Donaldson family in Cobalt Ontario to move to Toronto when they were young - so that my Dad never knew his grandfather, whose name he had written down as Soshwood Donaldson. After my Dad died, there was no one for me to ask about the Donaldson family history and it was, at that point, all but lost. Both of my Dad's parents were born in the states (to travelling Canadian parents as it turns out), so I didn't think to look in Canada for Soshwood.

Early searches in on-line chat rooms and some physical searches at the Archives of Ontario ( still turned up nothing. Eventually I received an email from someone living near Ottawa asking if I meant to be searching for Shos(s)wood Donaldson? (spelled Shoswood or Shosswood on various documents) After a few more emails she sent me an entire history of my Donaldson family's move from Scotland to Canada in the early 1800's and even provided me with pictures of my great-grandfather and his 5 brothers. All of a sudden, I had a family.

I drove to Buckingham Quebec from Toronto to see the town where the family had set up a homestead. As I was driving through the Gatineau Hills, listening to French radio stations - I pushed the search button on the radio and on came Louis Armstrong and - you guessed it It's a Wonderful World. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I physically felt a chill.

I visited the area on the Lievre River, where the family farm was and 'happened' upon the Presbyterian Church graveyard in Buckingham where I felt as though I was being led to a gravesite. Sure enough, in the back corner of the cemetry was the tomestone of George Donaldson (the emigrator) and his wife Elizabeth Shosswood Donaldson.

Call it what you will…


Thanks, Mark, for sharing.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Family History Expo Wrap

Tara Bergeson teaches family history consultants
Tara Bergeson teaches
Family History Consultants
I didn’t get to attend the Family History Consultant training sessions, but I popped in long enough to learn where you can download the handouts.

Go to, login, and click on Family History Consultant Conference Presentations—2012 (New).

FamilySearch Digital Book Collection

I also couldn’t attend Dennis Meldrum’s “Family History Online Books: A New Step Forward.” I wrote about the website change a month ago. (See “Changes to Website.”) Meldrum is manager of Digital Book Processing at FamilySearch.

The FamilySearch collection of family and local history books keeps growing. The size of the collection has grown to “over 45,000.” The collection contains more than just family histories and local histories. According to Meldrum’s syllabus, it also contains “directories, how-to books on genealogy, genealogy magazines (including some international magazines), medieval books (including histories and pedigrees), and gazetteers.”

Books come from several libraries. (See this page.) For books copied from the Family History Library, a link is present in the Family History Library Catalog. (See this example.)

The website doesn’t seem to include any help on how to search. Meldrum presented wildcards and keywords that affect the search:

  • ? is a single character wildcard
  • * is a multiple character wildcard
  • Use "quote marks" to match an exact phrase
  • AND, OR, NOT, and parentheses can be used to create logical expressions

On the drive home from the Expo, I tried to view a book (the example, above). I clicked on the title at 5:36. The blue progress bar crawled agonizingly slow. At 5:39, the bar was less than 25%. I went off and did some text messaging. At 5:42 it was about half way, but I wasn’t going to wait 12 minutes to bring up a book.

The last time I reviewed the site, I registered a complaint with FamilySearch support that book viewing was really slow, much slower than the old BYU site. The response was “I tested a couple books and the browsing experience was fine, the image displayed in an expected time frame.”

What!? Google books doesn’t make me wait that long. Internet Archive doesn’t make me wait that long. BYU didn’t make me wait that long. No online book archive that I have ever used makes me wait that long.

The respondent went on to state that “FamilySearch is only displaying the files, which are hosted by the different digital library” and to suggest that I view the same book at the other library and compare.

Isn’t that what I did to begin with? Didn’t I already compare? Didn’t I find that BYU loading one page was hundreds of times faster than FamilySearch loading hundreds of pages?

I can say one thing… Well, two things, actually. One thing is that the new FamilySearch book viewer stinks.

The second is that support organizations are consistent. This isn’t just a FamilySearch problem, but every multi-tiered support organization I deal with. By the time I contact support, the situation is way beyond what a first tier support person can handle. I get a canned response and the case is closed. I have to reopen and ask to be escalated.

I wish FamilySearch support would track how often a person’s cases required escalation, and to what level. If all my issues require escalation to tier 3, don’t subject me to tiers 1 and 2. Automatically route my issue up.

And while you’re solving the world’s multi-tiered support issues, how about finding a way to let me see a page of a book without waiting over 10 minutes.