Friday, May 31, 2013

Serendipity in Carpooling

Calvin Knight of Kaysville, Utah used to drive Bryan Wise to work each day because of Bryan’s health. Bryan was Calvin’s brother-in-law and a good friend.1

Bryan passed away on 27 May 2010 from an aneurysm.2

Those who knew Bryan loved his keen sense of humor, his lively stories, and his positive outlook on life, despite serious health challenges for the past three years. Even in his final hours, he made family members and caregivers laugh and feel better themselves.3

One day Calvin was reading some of the journal of his 3rd great-grandfather, Miner G. Atwood.

Miner led an immigrant company of Mormons to Utah in 1865.4

Wednesday, August 16. Last evening the cattle were very restless, some straying away, but they were all found. Started at 9 a. m; traveled five miles and camped on Beaver Creek, one and a half miles from Nebraska. (The southern boundary of the State of Nebraska.) Here a sister [Phoebe Hatton Wise] came to me and begged to be taken on to the [Salt Lake] Valley with her husband and son; I had room made for them in different wagons and brought them along. Brother Thos. Wise, the husband, gave me six dollars towards their provisions..5

Calvin was intrigued by the common surname between his friend, Bryan Wise, and his ancestor’s acquaintance, Thomas Wise. He opened up FamilySearch Family Tree and found the connection.

Pedigree of Wallace Keith Wise

One hundred forty-five years before Calvin was driving his friend Bryan to work, Calvin’s 3rd great grandfather arranged a ride for Bryan’s 3rd great grandfather, not just to work, but across the great plains to a new life in the Utah Territory.

That is called serendipity in genealogy.


     1. Calvin Knight, “Family History Moments: Meeting on the Trail,” Church News, The Church of Jesus Christ of Letter-day Saints, online edition ( : accessed 30 May 2013); print edition, 26 May 2013, p. 16, col. 3. This is the source for my entire article except as otherwise noted.

     2. “Bryan Wise Obituary,” Deseret News [Obituaries] ( :, accessed 30 May 2013); citing print edition, Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 30 May 2010.

     3. Ibid.

     4. Church History Department, “Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel,” database, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Church History website] ( : accessed 30 May 2013), Miner G. Atwood Company, trail excerpt citing “Atwood, Miner G., [Journal], in Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 8 Nov. 1865, 8-22.”

     5. Ibid.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

FamilySearch World Wide Camera Operations

Image Credit: FamilySearch
© 2013 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
All rights reserved.

In a 17 May 2013 email to partners, affiliates, bloggers, and members of the press, FamilySearch disclosed (or reiterated) information about its world-wide records acquisition efforts.

There are more than 1. 5 million images captured each week. Who makes this possible? Records preservation missionaries, contractors, FamilySearch employees, archive employees, and many volunteers are responsible for capturing millions of images each year.

There are about 222 cameras located all over the world; 92 cameras in the Western Hemisphere, and 130 in the Eastern Hemisphere. These industrial cameras can each take millions of images ranging from 16 to 50 megapixels. Computer software is used to calibrate the camera, capture the image, manage the project, and capture metadata or information about the records. Clamps and foam wedges are used to keep the book level and the image in focus. All images are saved on an external hard drive [which] at the end of each week [is] placed in a protective case, and sent to Salt Lake City, Utah. Once the hard drive arrives in Salt Lake, it is sent through an auditing process where rejected images are sent back for rework and approved images are processed and published.

At NGS 2013 FamilySearch disclosed that it plans to significantly increase the number of cameras. It plans to do so using record preservation missionaries to operate the cameras. (Record Preservation missionaries are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, generally retired, who volunteer 18 to 24 months of their time to operate FamilySearch cameras.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Providing Feedback to Product Managers

Providing Feedback to has a mechanism allowing you to send feedback to the decision makers of the different features of their products.

Click “Get Help” in the upper-right corner of the website and search for “Feedback” in the online help. Select “Providing feedback about Ancestry.” This will lead you to the Feedback Form where you can specify website feature and type of feedback, whether bug report, feature suggestion, or success story.

The blog is another good place to leave feedback. When a post is made about a particular website feature, decision makers follow the comments.

For Family Tree Maker, fill out the form at

For corporate matters, the corporate website includes contact information for key departments.

Don’t try to use any of these contact points to ask for help or other assistance. For that, you still need to contact’s support people or use the online resources has posted.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Click to go to the TLC website.
The upcoming season of “Who Do You Think You Are?” is moving to cable. It premiers on TLC on 23 July 2013. The press release reads in part,

“Who Do You Think You Are?” explores the roots of celebrities who embark on an intense personal journey to discover their family’s past. Some of the celebrities to be featured in these all-new episodes include Christina Applegate, Cindy Crawford, and Zooey Deschanel. Each of the 8 hour-long episodes reveal the real person behind the celebrity as they come to understand the lives their ancestors lived that helped shape the person they are today.

The show was cancelled by NBC after three seasons. In its new home on cable, will continue to be a major sponsor.

See the complete press release on the corporate website.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Mailbox Monday: FamilySearch Irrelevant Results

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxI got lots of great responses to the question, “Do you have a fix that you’d like to see on or” (See all the responses at “The Future of Family History—According to You!”) There were several threads of common thought. Here was one of them:

Dear Ancestry Insider

I would really like FamilySearch to stop giving totally irrelevant results, like other countries when I've specified one UK county, census when I've specified christenings. If I wanted these I'd leave that field blank.


Dear Ancestry Insider,

I agree with Unknown. My comment is in response to your second bullet point, “Return search results in the same century specified.” It should also include “same country and year range specified.”

Marianne in MD

Dear Ancestry Insider,

It urks me when I ask specifically to search a certain year, place, and name, and 1,000 different years, places, and names turn up. You can do better than that, FamilySearch!

Brownie’s Points

Dear Unknown, Marianne, and Brownie,

I understand your consternation. If I search for the birth record of my cousin, Lucy Sider (or Side), who was born in London, England between 1891 and 1893, I get matches in U.S. Censuses and in Ohio marriage records.

I think you’ll be happy to hear about FamilySearch’s “Restrict records by” feature. You can find it (currently) underneath the first and last names boxes:

Options to restrict records by location, type, and batch numbers on FamilySearch

There are three options: “Location | Type | Batch Number.” If the country box is not visible, click “Location.” If the record type options are not visible, click “Type.”

Enter “England” in the country box and you will receive matches restricted to records created in England or created about primary events in England. (If a birth record documents a birth in England, it doesn’t matter where the record was created.) In the case of my cousin Lucy, restricting the country to England cuts the matches down to four English census records.

For the United States, England, Canada, and Australia, you can restrict the location further. When you enter the country, FamilySearch provides a dropdown list from which you can select state, province, or English county. In the case of Lucy, restricting the location to London, England restricts the matches down to two census records.

The second restrict by option is record type. Where I was looking for Lucy’s birth record, I might have restricted the record type to “Birth, Baptism, and Christenings” and quickly learned that FamilySearch had no matching birth records.

As to restricting to a particular date range, I don’t know of any way to do that. Matching terms exactly does not work. However, does list the matching records first.

If anyone knows how to restrict to a particular date range, chime in.

The Ancestry Insider

Thursday, May 23, 2013

#NGS2013 – The Future of Family History—According to You!

What fix or feature do you wish or FamilySearch would provide?
What fix or feature do you wish or FamilySearch
would provide?
At the 2013 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society, some guy did a luncheon presentation titled, “The Future of Family History—According to You!” As part of the presentation he asked audience members, “If you could see or FamilySearch fix just one thing during the next year, what would it be?” Hopefully representatives of both organizations were present taking notes. But just in case, I offer these brief notes taken by a kind attendee.
  • Stability—keep the website the same; don’t keep changing it.
  • Return search results in the same century specified.
  • Bring back Old Search on the Library Edition.
  • NEVER get rid of old search.
  • I’d like to be able to download search results.
  • Fix others’ bad trees.
  • Fix automatic-logout.
  • The ability to split a tree on Ancestry
  • Exact search: It would be nice if it was.
  • Put a big red X on bad trees
  • Computer won’t upload a tree until you’ve documented it.
  • On it would be nice to be able to go back to where you were after you’ve followed a set of links.
  • For Old Search: visual indications that you’ve already looked at certain lists or parts of it
  • Ancestry—record only once
  • Shakey leaves: documentation problems, temporary tree
  • FamilySearch: get to the catalog with one-click

We also did more long-term wish list. Here are just a few of those:

  • Map pop-up with surrounding counties
  • do a Family Tree—Wikipedia model
  • Tag cloud of FamilySearch Pod
  • Map s as existed at time of event
  • Citations written out the way they should be—in the various programs
  • Film numbers and lists of all family history centers and libraries where they are at

There was lots more. It was impossible to capture it all.

What about you? Do you have a fix you’d like to see in the next year or a feature you’d like to see in the next five? Leave a comment at

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

#NGS2013 – TRON, Mr. Spock, and Willie Wonka

The easiest equipment for digitizing documents is a digital cameraI don’t seem to be able to take notes at conference luncheons. That was certainly the case at the luncheon presented by’s Sabrina Petersen at the 2013 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. She titled her presentation “TRON, Mr. Spock, and Willie Wonka: If They Can Digitize So Can You.” Petersen is director of global imaging for Unlike TRON, Mr. Spock, and Willie Wonka, we won’t be digitizing and transporting people anytime soon, but we can digitize photographs and documents.

Petersen presented some great suggestions, and in the absence of notes she was kind enough to send me some:

1. Think like an Archive.

Archives think about how to preserve records and photographs for their patrons and posterity within a budget.  For the most important and their most used copies they make digital surrogates, and put the record in a secure location so that it doesn’t have to be handled all the time, and store it in a dark safe place.  Digitization allows for multiple copies of the original that can be shared as well as stored.

2. Think about how you are going to find a particular picture/document in the future.

Putting metadata within the name of the image itself is the easiest way to find it in the future.  You might put “Aunt Nancy Family Reunion 1982 picnic” as the name of the picture.  Or “Death Certificate Benjamin Franklin Blansett 1912”.  By making the name the basic information you can then easily search and find it again.  Then you can further organize the files by putting them in folder by event, family surname or by type of record.  All of these will help make the retrieval of this easier in the future.

3. Digitize your records. 

This can be done by using a whole slew of different types of equipment, but probably the easiest is a digital camera for most documents, besides which cameras are easy to carry with you when you are visiting relatives, or maybe even at an archive.  Make sure you capture the document or picture as straight as possible when you take the picture.  While it might be easy to straighten a photo after you take it, it will produce some digital artifacts that are not yet visible.  If you copy these files many times, depending on the format, these artifacts become more apparent to the naked eye.  The easiest way to help avoid these is simply take a straight picture to begin with.

4. Which brings us to formats to save your images. 

There are a lot of formats to choose from.  JPEG and TIFF are the most common.  Whichever you choose, make sure that you have the original copy someplace safe and then make a second copy which is the one you play with, send to others, or upload for safe keeping to your family tree on Ancestry.  This second copy can be any file format you choose, including a PDF.  This makes it easy to share, easy to send, and easy to upload.

5. Lastly remember that anything you do now is better than nothing.

Thanks, Sabrina. Now everyone. Get out there and get digitizing.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

#NGS2013 -’s Mobile App

The Ancestry Insider listening to Aaron Orr
(C) 2013 by the National Genealogical Society, Inc.
Used by permission of the National Genealogical
Society and the photographer, Scott Stewart.
Scott inadvertently caught me listening to Aaron.
Can you tell which one is me? didn’t have any presenters do regular sessions at the 2013 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society, so I had a challenge writing about I would have attended their “Ancestry Day” sessions Saturday, but I was too wound up in my own presentations. As an alternative, I attended a couple of their in-booth presentations.

Aaron Orr is the product manager for’s mobile product. It is available for both iOS and Android although the Android app lags the iOS version a little bit.

The Ancestry app is free and easy to use. Login using your account. Or simply start entering your tree.

You can see all your trees on your device. Download a tree to your app and as long as you don’t log out, it will stay on the device. If you want to make changes, you must be connected. As you make changes either on the web or on the app, changes are reflected on the other.

You can choose either a pedigree view or a tree view.

Ancestry app Pedigree View  Ancestry app Tree View

Click on a person or swipe the right edge of the screen to view details about a person. Along the bottom you can select three tabs: info, family, and gallery.

The bottom of the person flyout

On the Info tab you can see life events and add more. You can view hints. You can view the person’s relationship to yourself. You can add notes here. “Notes are super great while out in a library or archive,” said Orr.

On the Family tab you can see family members: parents, spouse, children, and siblings. You can add new ones.

On the Gallery tab you can see photos, attached records, and sources. You can add more photos.

The top left corner of the screen has a list button that lists all the people in your tree. Or filter the list to just direct ancestors, end-of-line people, living relatives, people with hints, or people with recent hints. Or search by name.

The top left of the Ancestry app

The center button at the top lists your user trees. It shows which ones have been downloaded. You can change the tree settings from there.

While difficult to see, some person cards have a shadow. (All of the persons in the illustration above have one.) Click the person to reveal more of that person’s tree.

There are two types of hints: photos (iOS only) and records (shakey leaves). There was a way to share but I can’t remember how. You can share via Facebook, Twitter, or email. It sends a cool email that contains the image and context about the person. It looked pretty cool but I could not find how to do it. Why don’t iPad apps have help files? I tried to search help on,  but Advanced Search had never heard of the Ancestry app. Frustrating.

I only experienced one other hiccup while I prepared this article. One time I clicked the screen and it went all scrambled. After about 5 seconds I was suddenly back on the iOS desktop. I restarted the Ancestry app and found myself on some random person. Hopefully nothing was lost in the episode.

Because Family Tree Maker can synchronize with public member trees, and because the Ancestry App can synchronize with public member trees, it is possible to synchronize your tree across all your devices and environments.

Thanks, Aaron, for the demo.

Friday, May 17, 2013

#NGS2013 – Futures for FamilySearch Family Tree

Ron Tanner of FamilySearchWhenever possible, I attend sessions presented by product managers so I can report on the future plans that they often reveal. (Too bad product managers rarely present such sessions.) In this regard Ron Tanner’s presentation at the 2013 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society did not disappoint.

For the most part, he didn’t give too much guidance on when these features might be seen. “Sooner or later, or later than that,” he said.

Family Tree will soon have printable family group sheets and pedigree charts. When? The release is being held up by translation into 10 languages. Product managers are considering not waiting, releasing English sooner.

In a few weeks or so they’ll add the ability to take any photograph and make a source out of it.

Family Tree is currently in a transition phase with synchronization occurring between Family Tree and NFS. “Today, if a combine is not allowed in NFS, then we are not allowing a merge in Family Tree,” said Tanner. “Once we can separate the two, then you’ll be able to do the merge.”

Family Tree will soon support notes on ancestors and the notes over in NFS will be copied over. The notes will support up to 10,000 characters, allowing long proof statements.

FamilySearch is going to bring over all your sources from NFS. Tanner later said something I partially missed, so I’m not certain I understood it correctly. I thought he said FamilySearch is going to send a survey to those with sources in NFS asking if they want their sources migrated. If they so indicate, the sources will be placed in their source box.

Family Tree doesn’t support attaching sources or reasons to living persons. They are not yet full-fledged citizens of Family Tree, residing exclusively in NFS. Consequently, these new features of Family Tree will not be supported for living persons until they are fully implemented.

Tanner wants to add quality indicators to Family Tree. These would flag basic pedigree errors like

  • birth after death
  • death after burial
  • person died young and has spouse
  • birth before mother/father birth
  • birth before mother/father was 12
  • birth after mother died
  • death before marriage date
  • marriage date before person is 12

FamilySearch will match records in historical record collections to ancestors in the tree.

They are going to add a report abuse button that allows you to report someone who keeps reverting changes and won’t read notes and won’t discuss. “If they won’t cooperate we will delete their account.”

They are working on the watch notification timing. They may allow change notification to occur in as little as 5 minutes.

They are adding Helper capability to Family Tree. It allows someone to sign in as someone else—with their permission—without that other person disclosing their password.

He is thinking about implementing toggle war detection. If a value gets changed back and forth too many times the system would automatically lock it for some time, say two weeks. It would tell the combatants to let their emotions cool down and to enter into a discussion as to what is the right value.

He is thinking about implementing an “Is Accurate” designation that could be applied to an ancestor once he was largely complete and unanimously regarded as accurate. The designation would make it harder to change information about that ancestor.

FamilySearch is working on a way to help attach census records to an entire family and minimize the amount of work required.

They are also discussing what to do to support DNA results.

Not every Family Tree user has chosen to make their email address visible. Tanner would like an internal messaging system built so people can send messages to them and everyone else.

I look forward to seeing these features, no matter how many months or years it takes. Thanks, Ron.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

#NGS2013 – FamilySearch Family Tree, An Item or Two

Ron Tanner of FamilySearchA lot of expert, accredited, certified genealogists present at the annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. I learn a lot.

Not to be left out of the initialism crowd, Ron Tanner, product manager at FamilySearch, added some of his own. He is “Ron Tanner, POFT, OAG, F4:1.” He explained that these stand for Product Owner of Family Tree, Observer of All Genealogists, and Father of 4 with 1 grandchild.

In his session, “FamilySearch FamilyTree: Documenting the World’s Genealogy,” Tanner made a case for a unified, shared, world tree. Without one, there is a lot of duplication of research. It is difficult to continually compare your tree with all the other pedigrees out on several websites. “What will happen to your online tree when you are gone?” he asked. “Who will take over your work?” FamilySearch is expert in preservation. With Family Tree, your work is preserved in the vault.

I’ve already written about much of what Tanner presented. Here’s an item or two that may be new to you.

The history list keeps track of the last 50 people you have worked on. You can quickly jump to any one of them by selecting their name.

The pedigree is a little bit different because it shows couples together, This allows more people to be shown on the screen.

FamilySearch Family Tree pedigree shows couples together

“Our goal is to make it easier to change data back, than what it takes to change it,” said Tanner. Family Tree allows undoing changes with the click of a button. This addresses the problem in New FamilySearch (NFS) where cleaning up problems took hours and reverting to the erroneous state took seconds.

An original design goal of Family Tree was that every change required an explanation. But some users wanted to edit the explanation associated with the previous change. “[We asked ourselves,] ‘Do we make people add a new reason or let them edit the last reason?’” said Tanner. “We decided to let you edit the last reason.” In my mind this essentially changes the objective from explaining the change to explaining the value. That’s OK, though.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about the future plans for Family Tree.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

#NGS2013 – Stump the Genealogist

Crista CowanFriday I attended a presentation in the booth titled “Stump the Genealogist.” Crista Cowan fielded questions from the audience about their genealogy or about The following should not be taken as quotes. I’ve taken some liberties in rewording questions and answers.

Q. Blah, blah, … can’t determine when he might have died… blah, blah… appeared in this census and was gone the next.

A. Have you checked city directories to see when he stopped appearing? The census was taken every 10 years. City directories fill in the gap in between. When they disappear, that’s a clue that they died or moved out of the area. Sometimes the city directory will even give a death date, or list a wife as a widow.

We now have more than 1 billion records in the U.S. city directories database.

To find it, use the card catalog. Point to Search and click on Card Catalog. Filter by “Schools, Directories & Church Histories.” The U.S. City Directories database then appears at the top of the list of databases.

Q. Some directories are not complete. Are you planning on fixing them?

A. We digitized these from microfilm so all we have is what is on the microfilm.

Q. Are you going to get the 1890 census?

A. It was destroyed in a fire.

Q. I can not find my great grandfather. Blah, blah. In 1860 he was 9. Blah, blah.

A. Did he serve in the Civil War? That is where I would focus. Point at Search and click on Military. Down the right-hand column in the More Help section click on Civil War. This will search all our Civil War collections.

Q. I’m looking for the death record of my blah-blah. He blah, blah in New Jersey between 1905 and 1909. And blah blah.

A. Where have you looked for her death record? Here’s one of the things I want you to think about. Every time you do a global search, that’s great. But if I’m looking for something really specific I’ll look to see what records has. Use the card catalog. Point at Search and click on Card Catalog.

For your blah-blah, you can click on the Birth, Marriage & Death filter to show just vital records. Then click on Death…. Filter by USA and then New Jersey. You could even filter down to the 1910s. You can see we have a database of New Jersey Deaths. I would search just that collection.

Think about what you’re looking for and then see if we have a database that might contain it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Family Tree Magazine Honors the Ancestry Insider

40bestblogs_13-rgbI am humbled to learn that Family Tree Magazine has honored the Ancestry Insider blog as a Family Tree Magazine 40 Best Genealogy Blogs in its May/June 2013 issue.

“Let’s tip our collective hats to those bloggers who stick with it and keep sharing their wit, wisdom and family history finds with us,” said contributing editor David A. Fryxell. “We love blogs packed with information, but we also adore those brimming with the blogger’s personality.”

The Ancestry Insider was honored in the “Tech Support” category. Of the Ancestry Insider, Fryxell said

That author remains anonymous, though the blog notes with tongue in cheek, “He has been an insider at both the two big genealogy organizations, FamilySearch and He was Time magazine Man of the Year in both 1966 and 2006. And he really is descended from an Indian princess.”

David, David, David. I really am Time magazine Man (Person) of the Year in both 1966 and 2006. And I really am descended from an Indian princess. <sly-smile>

For the complete list, see “Top 40 Genealogy Blogs in 2013.”

Monday, May 13, 2013

#NGS2013 – Cutting Through the Confusion: Research in Upstate New York

At the 2013 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society, Karen Mauer Green presented a session titled Karen Mauer Green“Cutting Through the Confusion: Research in Upstate New York.” Green is an editor, author, lecturer, and professional genealogist. She co-edits the NYGB Record. She has served on the boards of APG and FGS.

“This is a huge subject, upstate new york,” she said. “We can’t cover it all in one hour.”

“I want to give you some guidelines and tips and also warn you about some pitfalls,” she said.

The definition of “upstate” differs by person and situation. For purpose of the lecture, Green defined upstate New York as everything but the five boroughs of New York City. She focused on the time span 1780-1850.

One confusion experienced by researchers in New York state is town versus township. In New York, the concepts are equivalent. In my recent research, I found records giving the living place of an individual alternately as Dugway and Albion. Both are true because Dugway is a place (hamlet?) within the Town of Albion in Oswego County.

“You’re used to having records in certain places and that is not always the case. It leads to blinders.” There is no real consistency among counties. Counties differ in “what information is recorded, what the record is called, how and where the record is preserved, and how the record is accessed.”

“This has all been very negative, but I have more bad news,” Green said. In the focus time period there are no New England style town vital records, A state law to keep them was passed in 1881, but consistent records were not kept until 1908. Further, there were no county marriage records.

Substitutes for vital records are worth looking for. Some are newspapers, justice of the peace records, minister’s records, and church records.

Green discussed other records useful for doing research in the time period, which I won’t mention.

“I know I have been discouraging to you, but the good news is that people do break through [brick walls],” she said. Back up. Start over. Apply cluster methodology (Elizabeth Shown Mills’s FAN club—Friends, Associates, and Neighbors).

“You will almost always find a gate,” she said

Thursday, May 9, 2013

#NGS2013 - Online Tools for Genealogists

Barbara Ann RenickBarbara Ann Renick presented “Online Tools for Genealogists” at the 2013 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society (NGS).

Renick is secretary for the NGS board of directors and authored Genealogy 101: How to Trace Your Family’s History and Heritage.

In her session titled “Online Tools for Genealogists” she spoke on “seven types of online tools genealogists find helpful: language and handwriting, time and calendar, geographic and map, history and background information, help and educational, utilities, and locator tools.”

One of the tools she mentioned was the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), a national gazetteer.

“All of you pay your taxes and you deserve to get something back,” she said. GNIS is produced by the United States Geological Survey (USGS)

GNIS includes not just current place names but historic names as well. I used this capability recently. I wanted to visit the Happy Valley Cemetery in Oswego County, New York. I couldn’t find it on any map (and I didn’t think to use Find-A-Grave.) I searched on GNIS and found it easily. With an additional click I had it plotted on a map.

Renick has published links to the online tools on her Z Links page,

#NGS2013 - Using to Unearth Your Family Roots

At the 2013 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society, Beth Taylor of FamilySearch presented “Using to Unearth Your Family Roots.” She is a research consultant for the United States and Canada at the FamilySearch Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

She presented use of the website from the researcher’s point of view.

“I’m a user, just like you.”

She spoke about the FamilySearch Family Tree, which she calls “the new, new FamilySearch.”

“What if we had our tree?” she asked.

Taylor said you can discover what research has already been done. You can collaborate with others to reach conclusions. You can explain your conclusions and attach sources. And you can share photos and stories.

Most of what Taylor presented I have written about before, so let me hit some highlights.

Family Tree still supports the bow-tie view pedigree chart, starting with you in the middle. You can hover and click to see multiple wives and hover and click to see the children. Click on a person to see a summary card. Additionally, Family Tree sports a fan chart as an alternative to the bow-tie view.

Fan chart of Mordecai T. Cleaver (1832-1878)

On a person page the subject individual is listed more than once under Family Members. That is not to say there are others with his name. Rather, he is listed once for each spouse and once as a child for each set of parents. He’s listed in bold to indicate that he is the subject of the page.

Family Members section of person page on Family Tree

In historical record collections, FamilySearch has

  • 3.5 billion searchable names with
  • 1 billion images indexed.
  • There are about 200 million indexed names published each year.
  • There are about 35+ million new images added each month.

Use filters to decrease the number of results from a search. By way of illustration, a search for Mordecai Cleaver (b. 1832, Ohio) in the 1870 census can be accomplished entirely with filters:

  • A search for family name Cleaver gives 334,000+ results.
  • Filtering Birth Year to the 1800s drops the number to 126,661.
  • Further filtering birth year to the 1830s drops the results to 9,769.
  • Filtering the birthplace to the United States and then to Ohio filters down to 404.
  • Filtering for the 1870 census drops the results to 64.

That’s a small enough set that someone can easily review it.

Filtering is also available for the list of all record collections. One of Taylor’s favorites is filtering by name.

As indexing projects progress, results are published incrementally. The number of records shown in the list will go up as FamilySearch finishes more of the collection. For a state collection, they might publish by county. The little description at the top of the record collection page is important because it often tells what jurisdictions are done.

When looking at a record in a collection without images, pay attention to whether the record shows a film number. The film can be ordered for viewing in your local family history center.

Instead of having all the fields automatically showing in a search form, FamilySearch requires you to click to open up the search fields.

If you’re not paying attention to the browse-only collections, you’re missing half of what FamilySearch has to offer.

#NGS2013 - Documenting the Lives of Mormon Women

Gena Philibert-Ortega“Why is it it is so hard to find information about our women ancestors?” asked Gena Philibert-Ortega in her session at the 2013 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. We need to use the kind of sources that document women’s lives, she said. These are sources like newspapers, membership lists, signature quilts, scrapbooks, diaries, history resources, and so forth.

“One of your first stops should be the FamilySearch Research Wiki,” she said. One article is “Tracing LDS Ancestors.” It is a good place to start learning about LDS genealogy in general.

To find women we need to research more than the woman herself. We have to research the family, the neighbors, the community, and organizations. For example, even though your grandmother may not have kept a diary, someone who did may have written about her.

“You’ll also want to research the history of the time,” she said.

When using a library or archive card catalog or online resource, don’t search for your ancestor’s name. Instead use keywords such as “Mormon Women” or “Washington County.”

Philibert-Ortega pointed out many excellent websites. All the links will be posted on her blog, Gena’s Genealogy.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

No Time is Ever Wasted Doing Research

Marian Smith of the USCIS“No time is ever wasted doing research, if we learn,” said Marian Smith at the opening session Wednesday morning of the 2013 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. “Some questions take years of work to answer,” she said. But along the way we learn about persons, places, events, economies, and societies. This information helps explain some of our ancestors’ decisions. “You can never learn too much about the historical background,” she said.

Smith’s address was titled “People, Policy and Records: The Importance of Historical Background.” She is the chief of the Historical Research Branch of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service, since 1988.

Smith presented the story of her research project to uncover the author and origins of the Morton Allan’s 1931 book Morton Allan Directory (or “MAD” as she sometimes wanted to call it.) Genealogists have used it for generations to identify ships, ports, and travel dates to facilitate passenger list research. (It can be searched on Stephen Morse’s One Step search website.)

Four points sum the major lessons learned by her experience:

  1. Some questions take years of work to answer.
  2. No time is ever wasted doing research if we learn more.
  3. Be prepared to be surprised.
  4. Question your sources.

The session was sponsored by whose representative, Amy Johnson Crow, shared a bit or two of information. People had a lot of questions when bought Archives. As they said they would, Ancestry has kept the Archives name, kept Archives separate, and improved the offerings. They’ve added new content, including the UK Census, Griffith’s Valuation and records of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). They’ve upgraded their image viewer. They have a new weekly series of live stream videos. Look for improvements in search and browse later this year.

Debunking Misleading Records by Thomas W. Jones

imageWe have to make an act of faith and trust that a record is wrong, said Thomas W. Jones. That is, we need to mistrust that a record is correct. In Jones’s session, “Debunking Misleading Records,” he said it was uncharacteristic of him to ask such a thing, but in this case it is warranted.

“You have to mistrust it in order to be able to validate it,” said Jones.

Trust of incorrect records is rampant, he said. We want to believe that the information is correct.

We need to mistrust records so that we can detect errors. We detect errors by analysis and comparison. We then discard incorrect information. Finally, we prove correct answers by explaining and documenting our conclusion, including the resolution of conflicting evidence.

He suggested discarding incorrect information when it is:

  • “Information that you cannot corroborate,
  • Secondary or indeterminable Information from a derivative source,
  • Information you can document or convincingly explain as incorrect, or
  • Some combination of these.”

Use maps, tables, and prose to detect errors. “Write it out and you will find the brick wall doesn’t exist,” he said. At the very least you’ll understand better what you need to do next.



Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA, has been a researcher since 1963. He is an educator in the Boston University Genealogical Research Certificate Program, as well as various institutes, conferences, and state seminars. He is a trustee of the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, and since 2002 has co-edited the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. Jones made the remarks in a session of the 2013 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society.

#NGS2013 Insider Room Map

I’m finding the room map of the conference provided by NGS to be confusing. So I’ve created my own. This won’t be useful to most of you, but for those of you at the conference, perhaps this will help.

NGS 2013 LVH Map

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

#NGS2013 Conference App for Laptop

NGS 2013 Conference AppDid you know that the NGS 2013 Conference App is available for use on your laptop computer? As long as you have an Internet connection, you can use the app on any computer with a browser. Check it out at

Your printed conference schedule contains black and white maps. I think the color maps in the conference app on a laptop are far more legible.

For native smart phone apps, check out

Monday, May 6, 2013

#NGS2013 – Attendee Final Preparations

NGS 2013 Official BloggerWith the 2013 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society quick on the scene, here’s some information conference attendees will want to know. (I’m taken most of these from “Tips for First Time Conference Attendees,” although they are applicable to all.)

  • Check out the program beforehand and plan what sessions you might want to attend. I like to print out the schedule and highlight sessions of interest. A list of sessions is on the NGS website. Alternatively, you can download the entire conference program booklet and print just the daily schedules. It is moderately big at 10 MB. The schedules are pages 22-29.
  • Bring some pre-printed address labels to use in the exhibit hall. If you want a vendor to send you additional information, stick an address label on the form so you don’t have to write out your address. I prefer getting brochures in the mail over carrying them in my bag and my luggage.
  • If you bring a laptop to the conference, you can access the syllabus off a flash drive provided by the conference. If not, and if you want printed copies of session handouts, you can download the entire syllabus as a PDF file before coming to the conference. It’s big (70 MB), so it will take a while to download. In a pinch you can print in the hotel business center, but that could be expensive.
  • If you pre-registered, you can avoid the crowd Wednesday morning by checking-in Tuesday night up to 7:00pm.
  • Don’t ask me why this country keeps its indoor spaces icy cold, even during winter time. You may well need a sweater or jacket inside the convention center.
  • The letter at the beginning of a session number indicates the day of the week, W, T, F, and S. Knowing this can help when leafing through the conference program or syllabus.

Stay tuned for conference coverage this week…

Friday, May 3, 2013

#NGS2013 - The Ancestry Insider’s NGS Daily

The Ancestry Insider's NGS Daily

I’m getting pretty excited about the NGS 2013 conference next week.

For the conference I’m experimenting with an online daily magazine. The magazine attempts to amalgamate the stories by all the bloggers and twitters about NGS or the conference. You’re welcome to try it out and follow along the comings and goings during the conference. It has kinks, to be sure. It is probably leaving some bloggers out. And it is picking up some random stories not about NGS. (Another organization is using the #NGS2013 hash tag.) But I hope you find it useful.

You can read it at You can read it there and you can sign up for a daily e-mail to notify you as each day’s edition is published.