Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Either Really, Really Good or Really, Really Bad

Leave it to FamilySearch to release a controversial new website design while I’m not available to write about it. I’ve got a couple of minutes, let’s cut to the chase, the new website is either really, really good or really, really bad and we won’t know for months which it is.

Think back to yesterday’s article, “The Chasm.” An organization's failure to recognize the chasm results in a one-size-fits-all approach that simultaneously overly simplifies post-chasm genealogy and overly complicates pre-chasm genealogy. As deficiencies are noticed for genealogists on one side of the chasm, the pendulum swings in their favor at the expense of the other.

One of two things just happened at the FamilySearch.org website. Either,

        1) FamilySearch realizes the chasm exists and we’re seeing the first move in constructing separate experiences for pre- and post-chasm genealogists,


        2) FamilySearch doesn’t realize the chasm exists and just swung the pendulum back towards pre-chasm genealogists.

The former would be really, really good if it is followed up with additional moves to create a post-chasm experience, and to make both experiences genealogically sound.

The latter would be really, really bad and serves neither genealogist particularly well.

Only time will tell.

P.S. Congratulations to FamilySearch indexers for hitting one billion records indexed (also while I’m out of town).

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Chasm

In genealogy there is a chasmIn genealogy there is a chasm. On one side of the chasm, genealogy is easy. On the other side, genealogy is hard.

On one side of the chasm are the ancestors and relatives we know personally. We know them as people. We grew up with them or with our parents talking about them. On the other side are ancestors and relatives that we know only through records.

On one side of the chasm we utilized living memory—our own and our loved ones.’ On the other side we utilized records.

On one side of the chasm are the modern census and vital records that uniquely identify individuals and relationships. On the other side records are incomplete, spotty, illegible, unindexed, hard-to-locate, or offline. Records are indispensably helpful, though seldomly so.

On one side of the chasm we blithely used direct evidence. On the other side, we painstakingly categorize, compare, contrast, correlate, and cite direct, indirect, contradictory, and negative evidence.

In genealogy there is a chasm. Before the chasm we thought genealogy was easy. After the chasm, do we forget it once was so?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Annual Fine Print

Before I get to the legal stuff, I wanted to proffer an explanation. I haven’t been writing much lately. That’s because I am dedicating large amounts of personal time to upgrading my genealogy skills.

This effort will probably consume a year of my time, so I ask your patience. I’ll still try to get in a couple of articles a week. That brings me to the next couple of weeks.

Don’t expect any articles.

I’m going to a conference! Then I’m going on a research trip!

I’m looking forward to town clerks and local historians and graveyards and librarians and vertical files and obituary collections and probate court clerks and court houses. And nice people… nearly all of them alive.

And now some stuff I like to remind you of every year, my annual “fine print.” You are welcome to skip the remainder of this article.

The Ancestry Insider blog is the unofficial, unauthorized view of Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. The Ancestry Insider reports on, defends, and constructively criticizes these two websites and associated topics. The author attempts to fairly and evenly support both.

"Ancestry Insider" does not refer to Ancestry.com, but to the community in general. I don’t believe Ancestry.com owns or should own the word “ancestry” and I don’t believe anyone should use it synonymously with Ancestry.com.

I want you to know that my reporting is not completely unbiased. The Ancestry Insider may be biased by at least the following factors:

  • The Ancestry Insider accepts products and services free of charge for review purposes, including an Ancestry.com subscription. And free access to FamilySearch.org. Oh wait, everyone gets that.
  • The author of the Ancestry Insider is employed by FamilySearch owner and sponsor, the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All things considered, I would rather not lose my job. And I try to maintain good working relationships with those whose work I am critiquing.
  • The author is a believing, practicing member of the same Church. Through and through.
  • The author is a former employee of Ancestry.com. I loved it there and would work there again (although they probably wouldn’t have me). I maintain friendships established while employed there.
  • It is the editorial policy of this column to be generally supportive of Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.
  • The author is an active volunteer for the National Genealogical Society. May I say again that you ought to strongly consider attending their conference next month in Las Vegas. ;-)

The Ancestry Insider is written independently of Ancestry.com and FamilySearch. The opinions expressed herein are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of Ancestry.com or FamilySearch. I write on my own time with rare exceptions. One exception is national genealogy conferences. FamilySearch has asked that I attend and write about these conferences. It does not prescribe what or who I write about, so I write about both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.

I reserve the right to republish email and comments posted on my blog. These may be edited for content, length, and editorial style.

All content is copyrighted by the Ancestry Insider unless designated otherwise.

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. You may copy articles in your newsletter if you are a non-profit genealogy society. Underneath the title, put “by the Ancestry Insider.” After the article put the address of the website (http://ancestryinsider.blogspot.com). Hot link the address so that clicking it takes the user to my website.

OK. I think that about covers it. Wish me luck. Don’t forget to register for the NGS conference Monday. Stay tuned…

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

#NGS2013 - Now Would Be a Good Time to Decide

NGS 2013 Official BloggerThe pre-registration deadline is fast approaching for the 2013 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. You should go sign up right now while you’re thinking about it. The deadline is this very Monday, 22 April 2013. The conference will be held 8–11 May 2013 at the LVH-Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. That’s three short weeks away.

Sure, you can always register at the door. Onsite registration opens Tuesday, 7 May 2013, noon through 7:00pm. Or show up any morning of the conference and purchase a full ($230 with member discount) or single-day registration ($115).

So why pre-register? Pre-registration is required if:

  • you wish to purchase a ticket to one of the Thursday breakfasts, 9 May 2013, 7:00 a.m.
  • you wish to purchase a ticket to any of the many luncheons held daily. Yours truly will speak—sans mask—at one of them.
  • you wish to purchase a ticket to the NGS Banquet, Friday, 10 May 2013, 6:00 p.m.
  • you wish to purchase one of the pre-conference Vegas area tours sponsored by the conference.

For more information about these events, consult the Conference Brochure.

So don’t just sit there. Register now at http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/conference_info .

Monday, April 15, 2013

New FamilySearch Website to Debut

lds.org integrated with Church member family history experienceAs I wrote this article over the weekend, it appeared FamilySearch still plans to debut its new website today, 15 April 2013.

The AncestryInsider@gmail.com received an invitation to view a beta version of the website. The invitation was directed to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so it will be interesting to see if the new design is available to the general public. Give it a try (www.familysearch.org) and leave a comment letting everyone know what you find.

The new website highlights photo and story sharing, Family Tree, a new fan chart, and temple opportunities for Church members. According to the email, members of the Church will find their family history experience can start with the Church’s website, www.lds.org.

New FamilySearch.org prompts new users for parents and grandparentsUsers fill out forms with information about parents and grandparentsThe new website includes an interactive fan chart for navigation through one's tree
Click images to enlarge

When a new user registers and views their fan chart, they are prompted to enter basic information about their parents and grandparents. (See images, above.)

When I attempted to upload photos for the first time on the beta website I was given this message:

We're excited to have you join FamilySearch Photos and Stories! Due to the overwhelming response, all of today's invites have been spoken for. Never fear—more will be available tomorrow at 9 a.m. MST. Please check back and we will get you started preserving and sharing your family photos with this exciting new tool. In the meantime, you can view photos that have already been published.

When I viewed the indexing page, I found the page shared progress reports not readily available elsewhere:

The new indexing page shows stats not available elsewhere

FamilySearch counting "down" to one billion recordsThat is not entirely true. I just found a special page (https://familysearch.org/billionrecords) showing the number of records that have been indexed. The page shows the count “down” (so to speak) to a billion records. Give the page a few moments and it will start showing the count incrementing. It’s pretty cool, although I think the counting is just for show. Hit F5 to refresh your screen and maybe you get a truer value.

But I digress…

When I clicked the Volunteer link, I saw some interesting information about donating to FamilySearch:

FamilySearch soliciting donations

I haven’t seen FamilySearch soliciting donations before. Interesting.

There’s probably lots more interesting things to discover. Check out www.familysearch.org today to see if the new website is public.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

RootsTech Ketchup

Ancestry Insider KetchupRootsTech was three weeks ago and I’ve not finished all the stories I wanted to write. My memory’s mush, however. It’s time to ketchup…

Dirk Weissleder

In the media center at RootsTech I got to meet Dirk Weissleder, National Chairman of the German Federation of Genealogical Societies. Dirk has over thirty years in genealogy and he opened the 64th Deutscher Genealogentag (German Genealogical Convention) on 31 August 2012.

DearMYRTLE had an opportunity to interview him.

Dirk Weissleder interviewed by DearMYRTLE

If you can’t see the video above, see it at www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BuJYiEAVLI.

Other RootsTechs

Read about the Houston RootsTech event in an article in the Cypress Creek Mirror. Interestingly, one of the local classes there was one about Google searches that was taught by a Google employee. I can see how these satellite events can tap into local talent and highlight local records and search strategies.

While I’ve never heard anything else from the other locations affiliated with RootsTech, I did come across a couple of pictures:

Houston: http://web.stagram.com/p/418852775163338210_290284870

Kansas City: http://web.stagram.com/p/417368225200771007_144712082

One Billion Records Indexed?

In the days leading up to RootsTech FamilySearch announced that indexers had indexed 984 million records since indexing began in September of 2006. They hoped that the billionth record would be indexed at RootsTech. There would be unspecified prizes for the indexers and the arbitrator of that billionth record.

I never heard another word.

I’ve gone looking and found a graphic posted on the FamilySearch Indexing Facebook page on 29 March 2013 that gives the number of records indexed as 989,999,999.

RootsTech Developer Challenge

Part of the original vision of RootsTech was to bring together technology developers with technology users. With this year’s RootsTech, that goal seems to have slipped from the objectives. However, there was still a developer’s day with special classes for developers.

And once again there was a developers challenge. Nearly 20 developers participated in the 2013 developer challenge by submitting projects that demonstrated technical innovations for family history. From these, a panel of judges selected six finalists.

Designation Project Name Submitted By
Finalist BrowseHero Tom Auga & Chris Giesey
Finalist Completely Relative
(MS Windows App Store)
Benjamin Godard
Finalist Hope Chest Eric Vance
Finalist OurFamilyHealth Jaehoon Lee
Finalist ResearchTies Jill N. Crandell
Finalist Treelines.com Tammy Hepps

When winners were announced on Friday we were told to visit http://rootstech.org/challenges/overview for full details. Unfortunately, that page hasn’t been updated to show the winners. (Yes, it’s true—the RootsTech website this year was never kept up to date.) According to my cryptic notes, BrowseHero and OurFamilyHealth were category winners and Treelines.com was the overall winner.

Congratulations to the developers of these new, innovative products.

That’s a wrap. See you at NGS…

Friday, April 5, 2013

Ancestry Insider Spotted at RootsTech

Someone spotted me in the media center:

The Ancestry Insider at RootsTech 2013

And in the Find My Past booth:

The Ancestry Insider at RootsTech 2013

There are also a couple more, less obvious.

Veronica Johnson of Savvy Office Solutions posted a photograph of the new FamilySearch logo and unwittingly caught me (well, part of me):

Photo credit: Veronica Johnson (Linkedin, Twitter, via.me)

Now that you know where to look, check out this photograph taken at the same time by bloggers Sistas in Zion:

Photo Credit: Sistas in Zion (Twitter, Blog, Facebook, Pinterest)

If you missed me at RootsTech, come see me at the annual conference of the National Genealogical Society this May 8th through 11th in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Land That I Love: RootsTech Tabernacle Choir Mini-Concert

Mormon Tabernacle Choir RootsTech Mini-ConcertOne of several events Thursday night of RootsTech was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir min-concert, “Land That I Love.” The theme was immigration, to spotlight the need for indexers to help with the FamilySearch U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Community Project. My memory is getting pretty foggy, so I hope I don’t mess up the facts too badly.

We heard the choir sing “High On the Mountain Top.”

Land That I Love - Mormon Tabernacle Choir Mini-ConcertWe watched a short video presentation about immigration in general and Irving Berlin in particular. We heard the choir sing, “God Bless America.”

We heard short remarks from Elder Allan F. Packer, FamilySearch chairman of the board, and a general authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He mentioned research done at Emory University by Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush. They found that the more children know about their family history, the greater their self-esteem and well being. (See “Do You Know…: The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being.”)

Elder Packer also quoted Alex Haley:

In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.

Elder Packer reminded us of the great success of the 1940 U.S. Census Indexing Project. He then invited us to help out with the immigration project.

The choir finished with what I consider to be their trademark piece; it is one of my favorites. We heard them sing “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

For more detail about the concert, see “RootsTech Irving Berlin Concert Highlights Need to Index Immigration Records.”

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

RootsTech: Ancestry.com Search Tools

Searching Successfully to Reveal Your Ancestor’s Story on Ancestry.comI have to apologize to Anne Mitchell, presenter from Ancestry.com. Every conference my article on her presentation is, well, wanting. It’s no fault of hers. She gives great presentations.

During the conference it is all I can do to keep up writing about the keynote sessions. In the days immediately following the conference I next turn to newsy sessions about Ancestry.com and FamilySearch that announced new and upcoming features. These are usually presented by product managers. Ancestry.com product managers don’t present; FamilySearch product managers do. That means FamilySearch gets more than an even share of articles.

By the time I’ve been home a week my memory has faded. My notes don’t make any sense. I’m bored with conference articles. I’m ready to move on. That’s when Mitchell’s presentation inevitably comes up. Sorry, Anne.

Well, that time has come.

Fortunately, Anne has posted her slides online. With slides in hand, for once my notes make sense! You can find them at http://ancestry-reference-desk.com/links/slides-from-presentations/. (The Ancestry.com Reference Desk website is Mitchell’s new blog about using Ancestry.com or Fold3 in a library or institution.)

While Mitchell’s overall presentation was about writing up our Ancestors’ stories, I was most interested in the numerous search tips and tools (slides 8-26).

“There is not one perfect way to search,” said Mitchell. “If anyone tells you differently, just smile at them.”

Search tools #3 and #4 concern local and family history books. “Local histories and surname histories are great resources,” said Mitchell. In my experience Ancestry’s normal search is not likely to find your ancestors in these books. You need to first identify a book of interest and then read or search it. First, find the book by going to the card catalog. Filter by Stories, Memories, & Histories. Type in the name of the place or surname in the Keywords field—not the titles field. Once you have found the book, try searching, but don’t ignore the index found at the back of the book.

Search tool #7 is One World Tree (OWT). OWT is a combination (like FamilySearch’s Ancestral File) of the submissions of many people, stitched together by a computer into a single tree of all humanity. I wasn’t able to find OWT in the Card Catalog. To find it, I clicked on Search, I scrolled down until I found “Family Trees” in the right-hand column. Underneath it I clicked on “More…” Then in the right-hand column I clicked on OneWorldTree. What you can find through the card catalog is Ancestry World Tree (aka RootsWeb WorldConnect) which is one of the sources for OWT. OWT hasn’t been updated in a long time, but to the extent that people update their RootsWeb WorldConnect trees, they are more current. Try searching these two tree systems, particularly the Ancestry World Trees marked with a Sources icon.

“Can I guarantee you that every tree out there is correct?” asked Mitchell. “No. Can I promise you that you can find absolutely amazing stuff? Yes.”

Search tool #15 is to read the database search form to see what is indexed and searchable. Select Show Advanced. “If you’re here at a conference, you are capable enough to never do anything but an advanced search,” she said. Then look at all of the fields listed.

As an example, look at “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957.” Beyond the standard things, you can search on:

  • Arrival year, month, and day
  • Arrival port
  • Departure port
  • Origin
  • Destination
  • Ship name

(Try searching on Ship’s name on FamilySearch. Don’t get me started on how poor their search forms are.)

I have a question about one thing Anne said. She said that if it isn’t listed, it wasn’t indexed for searching. That wasn’t true when I worked at Ancestry.com. The Keyword field was provided for searching a few miscellaneous fields that aren’t used enough or useful enough to warrant their own search field. Is that no longer the case?

She gave another, unnumbered, tip I wanted to mention. Sometimes its nice to know how big a place is when you’re creating theories about unique identity. To find the number of people in Smithfield, Utah in 1910 I would search the 1910 census, set Lived In to Smithfield, Cache, Utah, USA (restrict to that exact place), and leave the name fields blank. Above the results it says “Matches 1–20 of 2,067.” That tells me the number of people in town. Now I know that Smithfield’s a pretty small place, so everyone probably knows everyone. That’s useful to know.

Say I have a record about John Pitcher of Smithfield. Does that uniquely identify a person? I could add the name (restrict to exact) and find out there are three John Pitchers in town. No. I need more information to determine which John is spoken of. If there were only one, then I would know all the details of the record applied to that one person.

Thanks, Anne, for all these tips.

Again, you can see the slides for yourself. They are posted on Anne’s blog.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Did Your Ancestor Fall Out of the Sky?

Joseph Kittinger BrazelEver feel like your dead-end ancestor must have fallen out of the sky? That’s how Bill Brazel feels about his grandfather, Joseph Kittinger Brazel. There’s even a family legend that he had.

“Joseph just kind of appeared out of nowhere,” says Bill of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Joseph showed up living about 80 miles north of Carlsbad, New Mexico when he started keeping a journal.

“Grandpa Joe’s journal is a real gem,” Bill says. “He meticulously kept track of the weather and the movement of the stars and planets. He was curious about everything and made beautiful drawings of plants and animals.”

“Unfortunately, I’ve found no record of him prior to that time,” says Bill.

Joseph appears in all the normal places, marrying, having children, and buying and selling land. He even appears in some recently declassified military documents. During World War II he worked as a civilian contractor at the White Sands military base. He was present at the testing of the first atomic bomb and was censured for watching the detonation from outside the safety bunker. He seemed to have suffered no ill effects, living cancer free his entire life. The brightness alone should have blinded him. Joseph is mentioned in an interesting newspaper article, having gone missing in early July of 1947. When he was found the next day in the desert he had no memory of what had happened.

But no document mentions parents, nativity, siblings, or prior residence. Bill says he’s tried to find friends, family, or neighbors associated with him from before that time, but keeps coming up empty. According to Bill’s father, Grandpa Joe never spoke about his early life.

“In an attempt to break through the brick wall, I had DNA tests done,” says Bill. Unfortunately, the tests were a bust and may have been messed up by the lab. To believe the test results, Bill has no close relatives anywhere on the planet and a full fourth of his ethnicity is unknown.

The answer to the mystery may best be answered by the last thing Joseph Kittinger Brazel wrote in his journal: This is an April Fools  work of fiction and in any resemblance to real persons no disrespect is intended.