Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Six Month Motor Home Genealogy Road Trip

The Brown's moto home sits in from of Ancestry.com 
The Brown’s motor home sits in front of Ancestry.com’s Provo headquarters.
Image copyright Ancestry.com

“Most people who know Rob and Kathy Brown are either jealous or think the Browns have totally lost it,” wrote Genelle Pugmire in an article Saturday in a Salt Lake City newspaper.

The family sold their home and talked Ancestry.com into sponsoring a six to nine month drive around the country in a motor home packed with five children. “The Great-Great-Great-Grand Adventure: A Family History Journey” will take the Browns “a distance of more than 10,000 miles, visiting 40 states and more than 40 major cities,” according to Rob Brown.

According to Pugmire, Rob’s mother told him, “You're a little too young for a mid-life crisis.”

For more information, read the entire Deseret News article. Visit http://ancestry.com/adventure to track the Brown’s journey.

I just hope someone warned them what it is like doing genealogy with a name like Brown.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Mailbox: Ancestry.com Results Differ

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I am presenting a lecture to a library next month regarding the difference between the Library and Home edition of Ancestry.com. I was at the library and used my personal account and the library account to see what was the difference. What I got was much more surprising!

[Insider note: Pam searched for James Wilmington and viewed the results summarized by category to see a breakdown of results by database. She found the Ancestry Library Edition did not include results from the following databases:

  • Du Pont romance: a reminiscent narrative of E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company
  • Heads of Families at the first census of the United States taken in the year 1790: Massachusetts
  • History of Harrison County, West Virginia
  • Maurice Times (Maurice, Iowa)
  • North Carolina Heads of families at the first census of the US
    taken in the year 1790
  • Southwest Virginia historical records
  • State census of North Carolina 1784-1787
  • West Eau Claire Argus (Newspaper)]

At first, I thought the Library edition had more records, 1552, than the Home edition, 1245. I came home and thought, let me try that one more time. I did the same search and there was a higher number, 1584.

[Insider note: The following databases returned zero records the first time Pam ran the query on her Ancestry.com account. The second time she ran the query, she got the correct number of results.

  • 1901 Census of Canada
  • 1906 Canada Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta
  • New York State Census 1892
  • New York, State Census 1915]

I always thought I got strange results when I search at the library and sometimes at home. Today, I caught it!! Often, if I get a zero result list, I redo the search. And, I am always right because I would get different results. I realize computers are not perfect…cough…cough…but, could Ancestry also have issues? <g>

Hoping you may have some insight on this. I am going to tell the librarians and patrons to always use both library and the home edition if they have it. In addition, never believe the results, especially when you get zero!


Dear Pam,

Gosh. Has it been five years since I reviewed the Ancestry Library Edition? (See “The Ancestry Library Edition.”) The Library Edition is distributed by ProQuest. ProQuest has products of its own that duplicate some of the content of the Ancestry Home edition. To protect these other products, the Ancestry Library Edition excludes content that competes with them. Certain newspapers and books are excluded, including the ones you identified.

Databases coming and going in the Home edition is more interesting… and problematic. I don’t think this is a case of the Home edition not working at the library. Ancestry.com doesn’t know when you are at home. (If they do, we’re all in trouble!) Try the query again at the library with your Home edition. I think you’ll find it works fine.

I think what you saw was a failure of the Ancestry Ra system. Back in January 2010 I wrote about Ra. (See “Ancestry.com Bloggers Day: Data Center Tour (Part 2).”) A failure in Ra could explain databases going away and then coming back.

Loads of generic servers are divvied up to handle requests to particular groups of Ancestry.com genealogy databases. One group might be birth, marriage, death databases. Another group might handle military databases, and so forth.

Note that the databases left out the first time you ran the query are all census databases. That’s what makes me suspect Ra. The results from a group of census databases may have been left out.

If this is what happened, and Ancestry failed to inform you, then people have to heed your warning to “never believe the results, especially when you get zero.”

Thanks for sharing your experience,
--The Insider

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ancestry.com DNA Research Revealed

imageAncestry.com’s leading DNA scientists participated in the 2012 American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) annual meeting. Leading DNA experts from across the country gather to present the results of the latest studies. Several scientists from Ancestry presented papers. We can see a bit of the work going on inside Ancestry by reading what they’ve said about their papers:

Pushing the boundaries: Using Haplotypes to infer ancestral origins for recently admixed individuals

This research presents new ways to look at people around the world, and continually pushes our thinking on how we determine ethnicity and population boundaries—specifically in challenging regions like Central Europe—with better data, better algorithms and better analysis.

In other words, Ancestry’s DNA scientists are working with haplotypes to make it possible for AncestryDNA to better determine the ancestral home of people with European ancestry, for example.

Using Y-chromosomes Haplotypes to improve inferred ancestral origins in European populations

In a nutshell, this abstract illustrates how predictions of geographic ethnicity for European populations using autosomal genotypes can be improved by incorporating Y-chromosome information. In fact, using Y-haplogroup distributions to redraw regional boundaries within Europe improved ethnicity predictions by up to 9%.

This description runs counter to what I thought Ancestry was trying to do when it hired these scientists. Beforehand, Ancestry offered a Y-chromosome DNA test—males only—to determine his ancestral home. I thought they hired a bunch of DNA scientists because they were trying to apply autosomal DNA to aid in that determination. This description makes it sound the opposite. It makes it sound like the results of autosomal tests are being refined—again for males only—by going back to the Y-chromosome. This is interesting considering AncestryDNA’s test continues to be available to both men and women and continues to give a full breakdown of genetic ancestry.

Genetic evidence of multiple non-Asian migrations into the new world

An analysis of the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) Y-chromosome and mtDNA databases resulted in evidence for multiple migrations from the Iberian Peninsula into the New World (Mexico, Central and South America); specifically, two groups were identified—Basque males who share ancestry within the last 2000 years and a Jewish group in Mexico, which fled persecution during the Inquisition.

This study seems to have little application to Ancestry’s business. Perhaps part of the deal when Ancestry acquired Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) DNA samples was to allow some research projects like this one to continue. (One of the samples Ancestry bought from SMGF was my own. I guess the lesson there is to think twice before making a goodwill offering to a non-profit foundation, particularly when the offering is a DNA sample.)

SMGF has some very informative animations teaching more about DNA:

DNA is an exciting frontier in genealogy and it is good to see Ancestry pushing the envelope.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

FamilySearch By the Numbers

FamilySearch recently released the current size of their collections as of the 1st of November:

Total images published in Historical Records section: ................................................. 698.9 Million
          An image is a graphical representation (photograph) of
          an original, physical document.

Total records published in Historical Records section:................................................... 1.99 Billion
          A record is the information documented (transcribed)
          for a single life event. For example, a birth record, a
          marriage record, a death record.

Total searchable names in Historical Records section: .................................................. 3.07 Billion
          Searchable names are all (transcribed) names
          contained on a record. For example, a single birth
          record contains three names (child, father, mother).

Total collections on FamilySearch Historical Records section: .................................... 1,311 Collections

Monday, November 12, 2012

Free Census Guide

imageAncestry.com recently ran a promotion billing itself as the “Home of the U.S. Census, 1790-1940.” (See http://www.ancestry.com/census.) What do you think? Are they?

Along with this promotion Ancestry is offering a free seven page PDF census guide, “Follow Your Family Using Census Records.” I think the offer was to subscribers only, as it presupposes access to Ancestry.com, but I think anyone can click the link and get the booklet.

The 1940 census is free for (I can’t remember how long) on Ancestry.com, although you’ll need to sign up for a free account. Ancestry.com indexes and images can be used for free at many libraries and at FamilySearch family history centers (FHCs).

All the census indexes are available for free on FamilySearch.org, with or without a free account. Images are another story. According to the FamilySearch.org website, images to U.S. censuses are available as indicated below.

Census Via link to a subscription Website At a FHC To members of a supporting organization* Free to everyone
United States Census, 1790 Ancestry.com X X  
United States Census, 1800 Ancestry.com X X  
United States Census, 1810 Ancestry.com X X  
United States Census, 1820 Ancestry.com X X  
United States Census, 1830 Ancestry.com X X  
United States Census, 1840 Ancestry.com X X  
United States Census, 1850       X
United States Census, 1860 Fold3.com      
United States Census, 1870       X
United States Census, 1880 Ancestry.com X X  
United States Census, 1890 Ancestry.com X X  
United States Census, 1900       X
United States Census, 1910 Ancestry.com X X  
United States Census, 1920 Ancestry.com X X  
United States Census, 1930 Ancestry.com X X  
United States Census, 1940       X

I have got to say I don’t understand. All the images were produced by FamilySearch. FamilySearch has the most awesome census indexing volunteers in all the world who could have chunked out free indexes to all the pre-1900 censuses in just a few months. (Actually, they did. They did the A key and the arbitration. Ancestry provided the B key.) Yet FamilySearch users can’t freely see many of FamilySearch’s own images.

Yup. Ancestry.com really is “Home of the U.S. Census.”


* FamilySearch is fully supported by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

KSL-TV “Geneology” News Story

Genealogy in Germany by Tanya PapanikolasRecently (Friday?) Salt Lake City television station, KSL, aired a story on genealogy and FamilySearch. As is somewhat traditional with television stations, they misspelled genealogy. But otherwise it is a nice piece that highlights FamilySearch and gives a little bit of information about their work in Germany.

To read the story and to watch the news segment online, click here.

Freedom: A Gift From Your Ancestors

A balloon from the Grand Parade of America's Freedom Festival at ProvoSeveral years ago Ancestry.com, Inc. (then MyFamily.com, Inc.) employees participated in the Grand Parade of America’s Freedom Festival at Provo. We were handlers for a big balloon like the one to the right.

It was a bit tricky maneuvering the balloon around traffic signals and under low-hanging trees. Gloves were a necessity, but wrapping the rope around your hand was a good way to lose fingers.

I don’t want to denigrate our volunteer efforts. Let’s just say we were not invited to help again the next year.

Where am I going with this? Ancestry gave us all matching t-shirts and on this election day I wanted to share the saying printed on them.

“Freedom – A gift from your ancestors”

Our ancestors lived, sacrificed, or even died that we might live and that we might live free.

Go vote.