Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Utah Pioneer Database Quality Rumors Put to Rest

According to its website,

The Mormon Overland Travel, 1847-1868, [database] is the most complete listing of individuals and companies in which Mormon pioneer emigrants traveled west to Utah from 1847 through 1868. It is an incomplete listing, as rosters have not been found for all companies. It also identifies sources to learn more about the experiences of each company.

The database is the work of Melvin L. Bashore, senior librarian at the Church History Library and Archives. He received a Distinguished Service Award from the Oregon-California Trails Association for this extraordinary database.

When published on the Internet, the database’s website invited contributions. This raised questions about the possible inclusion of non-primary information, diluting the quality of the database. When I got the chance to contribute, I jumped upon it as an opportunity to learn how contributions were handled.

I had come across a document witnessed by Harmon Cutler that stated that the George Wilkins family travelled in his company of 1852. It named father, mother, and two children and it specified the parents’ death date.

I submitted a full transcript of the document along with a complete source citation. I shortly received a response from a volunteer missionary that greatly added to my confidence in the database. It stated that because of their interest in accuracy they only accept

what historians call “primary sources,” (period documents such as a pioneer diary, the company journal, an autobiography or a letter written by one of the pioneers, the individual’s obituary, or a source published during the pioneers lifetime, etc.) Such documents must be explicitly clear that an individual was in a specific company or that they traveled at a particular time.

The missionary stated that my source met the criteria and he had added the information to the database. I was happy to see these safeguards to protect the quality of the database.

After setting such high expectations, I was surprised and disappointed with what I found when I searched for George Wilkins and family. Additional information had been added along with a one-word citation: “FamilySearch.” Was the source one of FamilySearch’s high-quality historical records? Or was it one of the error-ridden, source-less online trees?

And the database has no mechanism to associate citations with particular pieces of information. It is impossible to tell which information came from which source.

Further, the FHL film number had been stripped from my citation, leaving users no apparent method of accessing the source save to personally visit the Church History Library and Archive in Salt Lake City. My transcript had likewise been discarded.

In the end I found the rumors to be true. I discovered that “The Mormon Overland Travel, 1847-1868” database does indeed suffer from the use of second-hand information. However, and to my surprise, the sources were not those supplied by contributors but those supplied by its own staff.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 and Facebook and FacebookI’ve wanted to write an article that does justice to’s recent Facebook integration, but it has been a couple of weeks and I still don’t have time. If I can’t do the feature justice, at least let me point it out.

See’s blog article, “Using Facebook to Grow Your Family Tree.”

For my last article on and Facebook, see “ Developing Facebook Application.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday Mailbox: Errors in City Directories

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I have been a member of for many years. In the past year, especially, I've noticed many, maNY, MANY errors in the transcribing and indexing on

I accessed the City Directories for Enid, OK and wow, what I found was astoundingly egregious. All you have to do to verify what I'm saying is to start with the 1905 Enid, OK City Directory and search for Joseph Hutcheson. You'll go mad trying to find a decent index for him.

Access the City Directory for Enid, OK and start going up the years. On the way, please do enjoy such genealogical tidbits as "Walnut Hyde" (taken from the street name and last name....don't ask me) and "Baking Soda Tea Bisquits..." taken from a store advertisement. Then, there's also "telephone 7 days a week" and "Ill" instead of an "H", or "II" (as in "The Second"), instead of an "H", even after women's names.

Some of the most egregious errors I've ever seen! It is quite apparent that whoever is doing the transcribing is not only unfamiliar with the English language and common names, but with the English alphabet, as well. Beyond that, there is apparently NO quality control - no checking for veracity. These butchered transcriptions and indexes are sent to where they're uploaded immediately - if they do random checking, then they're using aliens or people who don't speak English ...or children who can't spell...or read, to do it.

The way some letters don't seem to be understood by the transcriber, tells me that whoever is transcribing doesn't speak English well and probably is sitting in front of some kind of chart. But since these people are probably paid by the record, their managers are probably telling them to hurry, hurry, hurry. That's their incentive. And that, sadly, is the reality of what's happening to the records at

Patriot Gal*

Dear Patriot Gal,

It will come as no surprise to you to learn that about a year ago started employing a whole new set of indexers for their city directories. These indexers do not speak English. They have problems reading. As you surmised, they work from some kind of chart, as the English alphabet is foreign to them.

While they hurry quite a bit faster than you or I would, it is not greed or speed that induces them to count advertisements as directory entries. The problem there is pure stupidity. That’s right. They are not smart enough to always recognize what are obviously advertisements.

They aren’t children or space aliens. These new indexers are computers. And despite what some people think, computers are very stupid, especially when it comes to reading and comprehension. It is a great achievement that Ancestry has coerced the degree of accuracy that it has from these directories. Most computer read content is far, far worse.

For more information, see my article, “Data Extraction Technology at”

--The Insider

Thursday, October 25, 2012

IGI Q and A - Part 2

FamilySearch International Genealogical IndexFamilySearch product manager Robert Kehrer recently responded to user comments about the International Genealogical Index (IGI) on the FamilySearch Blog. This is the second in a two part article telling some of what he said.

New Search Features Coming

One commenter complained that a search for people in England returned U.S. census records. ( users will recall when this was a problem. Ancestry has already added a fix.)

“We will shortly be implementing a feature,” said Robert Kehrer, “that will allow you to tell the system you ONLY want records that originate in England.”

Kehrer responded that the current system will return all matching records regardless of where the record was created. Search results above the orange bar closely match the criteria you specify. This might locate an English ancestor both before and after immigration.

When you get to the orange bar in the search results, things change. I almost always stop looking when I hit the bar. “Below the orange bar,” said Kehrer, “you may see other records matching some but not all the parameters you searched on, like the name, and other events.” However, results below the bar will all be connected to England, for example, in some way.

The new feature will change that. Records only from a specified locality will appear in the results. The new feature will also support restricting results to a particular record type, such as “birth.”

Pedigree View

A commenter asked what had happened to the pedigree charts available on the classic Kehrer announced that a tree view was under development. “You’ll be pleased to know that we are currently coding up for delivery in the very near future (measured in weeks if all the code testing goes well) a tree view for AF/PRF/Contributed IGI records.”

“This view will show the primary person, all spouses, children, parents and grandparents. all names will be clickable to move them into the primary person position. All primary person data, notes, sources, and citations will be viewable. Secondary persons will have basic vital data shown as well.”

Separating Indexing and Contributed Information

Where on the IGI could be searched as one unified record collection, now the IGI has been separated. About 600 million entries were the result of indexing (extraction) projects. These have been separated into many state- and country-specific record collections.

About 208 million entries were contributed by users. These have been placed into a collection separate from the indexed entries. Both sets can be searched—one at a time—from a special collection page: .

A commenter expressed appreciation that FamilySearch had separated indexed records from contributed records.

“We have received a lot of positive comments from people who recognize the slightly different nature of the contributed data,” said Kehrer. (I am a big supporter of dividing the IGI into the two parts.)

He said that the present “user experience” (requiring two searches) is the result of the limited time FamilySearch had to get the IGI off the old computer system before it went down. “We are now working to make it easier to search both contributed and indexed data with one search,” he said, “and still be able to see which type of data you are looking at in the results.”

The IGI is Not Complete

One commenter expressed concern that talking about a “complete IGI” might be misleading to some. Just because all the entries from the classic IGI have been loaded onto the new system doesn’t mean the IGI is a complete record of the various parishes and jurisdictions covered. Inclusion of some records from a locale doesn’t mean the IGI includes all records from that place.

I second that sentiment. The IGI contains a small selection of records in FamilySearch’s microfilm collection. Some films were skipped. Some films were partially skipped. Some records, such as stillborns, were never indexed. Some indexed records were discarded rather than duplicating user contributed entries. That means an entire parish may be present except for a handful of people.

The commenter expressed concern that no more parish records would be indexed for the IGI. On the contrary, Historical Record Collections, the successor to the IGI, continue to be expanded.

“FamilySearch’s record acquisition efforts have not stopped by any means,” said Kehrer. “Rather they have accelerated now that we are not anchored down with the old site technology. New indexed and image only collections are being published and new records are being added to previously published collections every day.”

It is true that there will no longer be a single collection that contains all the indexed entries from the IGI, but just like the old IGI, all can be searched in a single search. FamilySearch’s collection is growing too fast to be constrained to a single database called the International Genealogical Index. They have over 1300 collections now containing over 3 billion searchable names. And that is growing fast.

Person Search versus Record Search

In response to one comment, Kehrer innocuously explained an important detail about FamilySearch’s historical records. It is important but easily overlooked. “FamilySearch records are person-centric.” This means that FamilySearch’s Record Search doesn’t search for records. It searches for mentions of people in records.

The remark came in response to a commenter who pointed out an unexpected oddity in a record title in form like this one:

"Texas, Deaths, 1890-1976," Sam Ealy Johnson Jr. in entry for Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1973

This title, for address, is the mention of Sam on President Johnson’s death certificate. This address,, is the mention of Rebekah Baines on the same certificate. And is the mention of President Johnson on that certificate.

Search for Sam Ealy Johnson with spouse Rebekah Baines and the result list shows all the person-mentions for Sam, regardless of whose record he appears on.

“Each of the persons in our databases have their own person details page,” said Kehrer. “Please don’t make the mistake of thinking you are looking at a household record or a birth certificate record.”

FamilySearch’s record search returns people-mentions, not records.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

IGI Q and A - Part 1

FamilySearch International Genealogical IndexFamilySearch product manager Robert Kehrer recently responded to user comments about the International Genealogical Index (IGI) on the FamilySearch Blog. This is the first in a two part article telling some of what he said.

Classic Search vs. Newest Search

Several people commented that the old, classic was much easier to use and asked if FamilySearch couldn’t please bring back the old search.

“There is no way to re-implement the old site and it’s search,” said Robert Kehrer. But that doesn’t mean the new site can’t be improved. He said he would be “passionately interested in the specifics of what you found better and easier to use on the old site.” FamilySearch is continually refining the new site.

Got a specific suggestion? Leave a comment below and I will pass it on.

Finding the IGI

The IGI can be found at Most of us aren’t going to remember that URL, however. To get to the IGI collection page without knowing the URL,

  1. Start from the FamilySearch home page.
  2. Click on “All Record Collections.”
  3. In the Filter by Name box, type in IGI (or International).
  4. Click on the title, “International Genealogical Index (IGI).”

One person complained that this was a difficult way to find a record collection. Kehrer agreed, but pointed out that you don’t need to get to the IGI page to search the IGI. At least for indexed entries, when you search from the home page, you are searching the IGI. Plus, you also get results from the other 3 billion names in FamilySearch record collections.

As for finding record collections, Kehrer said they are redesigning the page to make it easier to locate any particular collection.

Missing Entries

Users are complaining that entries are missing in the new IGI. One commenter pointed out he had family from South Africa that was missing from the new IGI. I tried searching Community Indexed and got thousands of results from anyplace but South Africa. As I randomly looked through the returned results, skipping 400 results, I happened across one from South Africa (Patrick Saunders Trumpeter). I wonder why it wasn’t at the top of the list? The results were part of the World Miscellaneous Births and Baptisms, 1534-1983 collection. You may have greater luck searching there than searching from the IGI page.

Another commenter singled out Monte Escobedo, Zacatecas, Mexico church records from the middle of the 1800s.

Kehrer verified what users are experiencing. About 234 million records are missing from the IGI.

“When we went live with the IGI on the new site we believed that we had loaded all of the old IGI data,” he said. “We have unfortunately discovered that some data was missed.” This discovery was aided by users who could provide specific examples of missing entries.

FamilySearch has identified about 14 million indexed records and 220 million contributed records that have not been loaded yet. “These records have been identified,” he said. “We’re are in the process of preparing that data and will load it shortly.”

Kehrer said with some confidence that those who can’t find records will probably find their ancestors once they load the missing data.

Got some names, dates, and places of people you know are missing? Leave a comment below and I will pass them on.


Tomorrow: New features, pedigree view, IGI not complete (redux), person search versus record search

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 Sold for $1.6 Billion

imageIt was announced yesterday that Permira, a private equity firm, has agreed to buy for $1.6 billion dollars. Actually, I’m not astute enough to know if Ancestry is being bought for $1.6 billion, or if it is being valued at $1.6 billion. Suffice it to say that major stockholders will be making lots of money.

It sounds like Tim Sullivan, President and Chief Executive Officer, and Howard Hochhauser, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer, are selling some of their stock and keeping some. The same seems to be true for Spectrum Equity, a company that owns 30% of Ancestry’s stock. According to a message sent to employees Monday morning, many employees will also be offered stock ownership opportunities.

Private equity firms buy companies with the idea of selling them later at a profit. It can be an outright sale, or by going public (again, in Ancestry’s case). Premira hopes to grow the value of the company by expanding its business in Western Europe. The company will go on with its current structure and will continue with headquarters in Provo, Utah.

The purchase will not actually occur until sometime in 2013, after shareholders have approved.

Hopefully this dispels continuing rumors. is not owned by FamilySearch or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Neither does own, nor have they found a way to purchase a Church. The two are separate entities who, in my opinion, sometimes cooperate but mostly compete for users and for rights to acquire records. That’s my opinion, anyway.

For a list of companies currently owned by Premira, see

For the full text of the announcement, see

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Mailbox: Please Change My Email Address

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Please change my email address from to I really enjoy your posts.

Thank you,
Anne Lamson

Dear readers,

If your email address changes, I can’t update your subscription address for you. You need to do it. Come to my website, by clicking an article title in one of my newsletters. Then look on the right side of the screen for “Subscribe by email.” Enter your new email address and you’re all set.

Thank you,
The Insider

Wednesday, October 17, 2012 Acquires 1000memories

Ancestry and announced earlier this month that they have acquired the website and company 1000memories. 1000memories is a photo hosting website for all the photographs you have sitting around your house. Photos can be uploaded from your hard drive or transferred from facebook, instagram, or Flickr. Photos can be scanned by scanner, digital camera, or smart-phone app. Photos can be sent to a scanning center where slides and photographs are professionally scanned for a cost of 22 cents apiece or more.

For the full text of the announcement, visit the official announcement or the Ancestry blog. For 1000memories take on the acquisition, visit the 1000memories blog.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Two RootsTech Hotels Added After Two Sell Out

The Insider is an Official RootsTech 2011 Blogger

RootsTech has announced the addition of two hotels after the first two, the Salt Lake Plaza and the Radisson, both sold out. These two are adjacent to the conference center. I don’t know if you can still reserve at non-conference rates. They may be entirely sold out.

The two added hotels are the Little America Hotel and the Crystal Inn Hotel & Suites. I’ve not stayed in either one, so I can’t say much. Well, that’s not entirely true. I stayed in the Little America once back in the ‘70s. Yup. It’s that old. But it has been regularly remodeled. The best thing about it is that it is located near a Trax light rail station that is inside the free-fare zone. It’s a quick ride from the Little America to the doorstep of the convention center.

While the Crystal Inn is also within the free fare zone, there is no convenient bus route. Google recommends walking about three blocks (0.4 miles) to the Trax station (next to the Little America) and riding from there. The hotel does state that they have a free shuttle which runs downtown. I imagine RootsTech Organizers will make certain that the shuttle runs to and from the convention center.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 World Archives Project Update

The World Archives ProjectThe World Archives Project (WAP) is’s community indexing program. In a recent update, announced that in the past four years the project has completed 170 projects. They have published 130 databases with indexes available for free searching on Ancestry. Viewing images still requires an Ancestry subscription.

There are currently 26 projects available for indexing. Among these are California Railroad Employment Records, 1862-1950; Kansas, City and County Census, 1919-1978; Liverpool, United Kingdom, Crew Lists 1860-1919; Pavia, Lombardia, Italia: Registri di Matrimonio, 1866-1937 (Registers of Marriage); and USHMM Lodz, Poland, Vital Records of Jews in the Lodz Ghetto, 1939-1944.

In the update, Ancestry announced that a Mac version of the indexing software is now available. Active contributors are eligible for Ancestry subscription discounts. Active contributors are those that index or arbitrate 900 or more records in a rolling 90 day period. Active contributors can also see the images from WAP projects, so long as Ancestry has permission to publish the images. Some projects, such as those with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum call for image publication on the partner website.

I like the way Ancestry posts project statuses and recognizes their top indexers:


For my stories on the introduction of the WAP back in 2008, see

Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday Mailbox: Family History Center Volunteers at RootsTech

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I am a Family History Consultant, or so they call me at the Family History Center where I have volunteered for the last 4 years.  I am not a member of the Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]. From the information given here and on the link you offered, I get the impression I do not qualify for this [RootsTech family history consultant] discount.  Suppose that's true?


Dear Readers,

I know that FamilySearch really, really appreciates members of the community who volunteer to serve on the staffs of their local family history centers. I contacted the RootsTech Conference Dude (sorry, I don’t know his actual title). He verified that all family history center staff qualify for the discount. Contact if you have further questions. Before I could get back to her, Margaret had done just that and received the discount.

The Insider

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sing Us a Song, You’re the Camera Man

He doesn’t sing for a living. Oscar Fabian Riquelme Achucarro is a camera man. He photographs records for FamilySearch. He was featured recently in a FamilySearch blog article.

FamilySearch International is currently capturing over 80 million new images of historical documents per year with the help of some 200 camera operators,” says the article. Operators may be employees, volunteers, or contractors.

Oscar is working in Porto Alegre, Brazil where he spends 40 hours a week photographing documents. “Like most camera operators, Oscar can capture 3,000-5,000 images a day, and up to 60,000 images per month.” Using a foot pedal to control the shutter, Oscar can make his camera sing.

Read the decidedly long titled article at “Meet the Camera Man—An Inside Look at How Historical Documents are Being Digitally Captured.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Family Tree Maker—The Gift That Keeps On Giving's Family Tree Maker 2012Some people have claimed that is skipping the release of a Family Tree Maker 2013 because they are still fixing serious tree-synching bugs in the 2012 product. Regardless of their motives, Family Tree Maker 2012 owners received word recently that another free update is available.

A few of the new or improved features are:

  • Several bugs have been fixed in Tree Sync and several new features have been added, such as the ability to flag desk-side media objects for exclusion when uploading photos and documents.
  • In the Places workspace locations are grouped together hierarchically to make them easier to access.
  • Backups can now include media files from where ever they are on your hard drive and can now include information such as website favorites and historical events for timelines.
  • Facts can be copied and pasted to multiple family members, including media and citations.

For more information, read “Another Bonus Update for Family Tree Maker 2012.”

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

RootsTech News

The Ancestry Insider is an official RootsTech BloggerRootsTech is offering Family History Consultants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a $99 discount to attend all three days of RootsTech 2013. To get the $99 price, consultants must use a discount code at checkout. Consultants received the code in an email on or about last Friday. If you are a consultant and are not receiving consultant emails, I encourage you to register:

Get Ready For RootsTech!

This is a great, high energy video. If you presented, blogged, exhibited, sponsored, or just attended RootsTech 2012, check it out. You might see yourself. You’ll definitely see people you know.

Can’t view the video above? See it at

Monday, October 1, 2012

Monday Mailbox: RootsTech Hotel Space Going Fast

Dear Ancestry Insider,

The week of Roots Tech is not only spring break for skiers but also the NCAA basketball regional finals at the nearby Energy Solutions Center. Many of the hotels are completely booked like the Marriott across the street. Downtown Salt Lake will be very crowded that week. Those of us traveling from out of state should get our hotel and flights early and please get the word out to Roots Tech attendees.

Widholm *

Dear Widholm,

Yikes! I hadn’t realized there were that many things happening in Salt Lake that week. Thanks for the warning. I was aware that the workshops are filling up fast. If you’ve already decided to go to RootsTech, act now. If you haven’t decided yet, give it some thought. Right away.

The Insider