Wednesday, February 27, 2013

RootsTech Kansas City?

Jen Baldwin made an interesting post on the Conference Keeper Facebook page not long ago:

Jen Baldwin post about RootsTech Kansas City

It points to this website:

RootsTech Kansas City website

Cooperation or competition? The logo matches the official RootsTech logo. The dates match the final two days of the RootsTech conference.

The only official notice on the RootsTech website is that a Kansas City rice medley will be served at the Thursday luncheon.

P.S. I re-checked today and the website is gone!

On a related note?

I’ve been asked if some of the sessions will be broadcast this year as they have been in the past. I checked and found that, yes, some will be. The schedule will not likely be released until the week of RootsTech.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

AncestryDNA Open to the Public

AncestryDNA Open to the announced last week that its AncestryDNA project is now available to the general public.

“It was important to us to allow loyal members the first crack at the DNA test,” said spokesperson, Matthew Deighton about the product’s May launch. Now after nine months, 100,000 DNA samples, and 7.7 million ancestors linked, AncestryDNA is officially open to the public. Says the press release:

This easy-to-use, comprehensive test provides consumers with their genetic ethnicity and the unique opportunity to connect DNA results directly to any applicable family trees, matching test takers with other close or distant family members. Combined, these features provide the most complete snapshot of one’s family history that has ever been available.

Interest in using DNA to explore family history is growing. In a 2012 Harris Interactive survey, 56 percent of Americans—more than 110 million people—stated they would be interested in taking a DNA genealogy test. This number is 14 percent higher than the previous year.

For the full text of the announcement, see the press release on the corporate website.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Monday Mailbox: Is FS Losing information from Collections?

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Over the last year or so I have noticed a number of changes in a few of the Family Search databases.  The largest to date has been in the “Iowa, Marriages, 1809-1992” database:

The following is the information that I found when the collection came on-line:

[Dear readers, Jack had a bunch of text here showing what he originally found. In addition to the information in the “Iowa, County Marriages, 1838-1934 record in the second image, below, the record also had

  • Bride’s birthplace: Decatur
  • Bride’s marital status: Single
  • Indexing project (batch) number: M02682-2
  • System origin: Iowa-EASy
  • Film number: 1671443 ]

When I recently returned to check additional marriages from the 1809-1992 collection, I noticed some changes. Digging showed that [groom’s birth date and age were missing]. This is what I found:


I understand – at least I believe I do – that the batch numbers and the system origin numbers represent two different original source records. What I do not understand is where the missing information can now be found.

I did find another record for this couple in the “Iowa, County Marriages, 1838-1934” collection.  [Shown below.] But that record does not contain all the info I found the first time.


So, what’s going on? 

I’m left wondering if I now need to check every source that I have retrieved from to assure they still provide the exact info that I originally recorded!?

Hopefully, I’ve provided enough info for you to clue me in on these changes.

Jack Coffee

Dear Jack,

First I apologize for heavily editing your message. I hope I didn’t lose the gist.

Despite the different system origins, the two records you’re looking at are almost certainly from the same original. I’ve quite often seen collections in the past that contained two entries with different system origins for the same original record. This occurred when records from one database system were copied into another. Then the records from both systems were copied into FamilySearch Record Collections.

But what you’re seeing is troubling. FamilySearch has the same record in two different collections and neither is complete. Let me sum up the differences:

Collection Bride’s Birthplace Bride’s Marital Status Groom’s Birth Date Groom’s age
Iowa, Marriages, 1809-1992     Missing Missing
Iowa, County Marriages, 1838-1934 Missing Missing    

I will ask FamilySearch what is going on and get back to you.

--The Insider

Friday, February 22, 2013

Subscribing and Changing E-mail Address

I regularly get requests from readers to subscribe, unsubscribe, or change e-mail addresses. Please do not e-mail me ( to request these. I use a service that handles the e-mails for me and I have no special access. You can do these easier than I can.

To subscribe, go to or just click here. Enter your e-mail address. You will receive a verification e-mail. Once you respond to that message, you are subscribed.

To unsubscribe, click the link at the bottom of an e-mail.

If your e-mail address, has changed, just subscribe again with your new address. Unsubscribe if you can, but it isn’t a necessity.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

WSJ Article: Historic Timbuktu Texts Saved from Burning

Image credit:
Agence France-Presse/Getty Image
When Islamist militants in Mali tried to destroy historic manuscripts, the vast bulk of the library was saved by wily librarians and a security guard.

Read the entire story in the Wall Street Journal Online.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

RootsTech Early Bird Sleeps In

The Ancestry Insidere is an official RootsTech bloggerRootsTech just announced that Early Bird pricing has been extended to 22 February 2013. As they continue to entice more people to sign up, I’m really hoping they don’t over book the conference. I really hate packing into a session with tightly spaced chairs wired together and then trying to take notes on a laptop with my elbows hanging over the laps of the two people adjoining me.

As long as I’m in a complaining mood, let me say another thing. I don’t know about you, but I’m lost in all the options of RootsTech’s pricing. Here’s the latest.

Full Conference:





  Student $39  
  LDS Family History Consultant $99  
  “Early Bird” $149 Extended to 22 February 2013
  “Last Chance” $179 16 March 2013
  The chance after the last chance $219  

Then there are a myriad of additional options:





  LDS Family History Consultant training only Free Registration URL was provided in an email to consultants
  The Leonardo Thursday night social $10  
  Story Telling Friday night event  Free Limited to the first 150 people
  Various lunch events $25 Some already sold out
  Getting Started classes
Single day pass*
  Getting Started classes
3 day pass
$49 $39 early bird price
  All classes
Single day pass*
  Story@Home Combo Pass $89 $79 early bird price
  Developer Day $89 Just for software developers
  * Fewer sessions available    

The options are complex enough, the RootsTech website gives this table:


While the early bird keeps sleeping in, he’ll fly away eventually. Sign up now.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Monday Mailbox: FamilySearch Responds

Mailbox from W 300Dear Readers,

This is cool. A FamilySearch vice president, Craig Miller, responded to my article, “FamilySearch Photos.” You may recall I pointed out several deficiencies in the product.

Let me first share a note from one of the FamilySearch developers working on Photos. Then I’ll share Craig’s response. And finally, I’ll rejoin you afterwards.

Dear Ancestry Insider,

The photos feature is still in development and is not yet complete, and I'm glad you gave it a try. Many of these issues are being addressed right now. The search is a temporary one until the complete search experience is integrated with Family Tree.

Please join the discussion on Get Satisfaction to find out the current status and add additional feedback. I hope once it is complete that FamilySearch Photos will be a great experience for everyone, and feedback like this is great at helping it improve.

Logan [Allred] *

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Two years ago the development team announced at RootsTech that they were going to change the way they developed the software for the web site. They decided that in order to better involve the community in the design of the products that they would take an approach that starts with a very minimal set of functionality and make it available as soon as possible to a select set of people. They would take the feedback and that would be the basis for their next design and build cycle which is usually about 2 weeks (changes will come often - sometimes 3 times a day). As pieces solidify more people would be able to access the functionality which tests the scale and performance.

Some times as they get to a certain set of functionality that initially seemed to meet the needs of customers it is discovered that it doesn't scale or it doesn't meet the needs of a specific segment and they have to go back to the drawing board. Although it's a painful process for those that choose to experiment and give feedback it is having remarkable results. Currently there are several major efforts underway that are in various stages of design and build.

One of the largest is the Family Tree, another is photos and stories. Others are underway that are still in design. Family Tree is particularly difficult because of the complexity of transitioning from an "opinion model" of the data in to a "conclusion model" in the family tree. Trying to keep the data straight in each part and keep both running and in sync has proven very challenging.

That being said we are working hard to take the customer's feedback and make improvements.

Thanks for hanging with us.

Craig Miller
VP Product Management
FamilySearch *

Hi. It’s me again.Thank you, Craig and Logan. That’s pretty awesome to have a vice president respond to one of my articles.

I support the process Craig has outlined. I am an incrementalist. I would rather have partial functionality sooner than full functionality later. Get your product in front of your users and let them help shape it.

But I understand that many of you are totally flummoxed by products released this way. Relearning how to use a product every two weeks, or three times a day, can be perplexing.

I appreciate your pain. Teaching others about a moving target is particularly challenging. “Welcome students. My slides are old so it doesn’t really work this way anymore, but here’s how it now works. Oh, and by the way, by the time you get time to try it out, it won’t work this way either.”

If you’re going to live with the pain, you might as well participate in the upside. Give your feedback. Learn to use Get Satisfaction. Let your voice be heard.

--The Insider

Friday, February 15, 2013

Over a 1,000 Live People in SSDI Each Month

Social Security Administration
Image credit: WFLA 8, Tampa, FL
A coworker pointed me to this news story.

“Every month over a thousand living people are listed by Social Security as dead, according to an investigation by WFLA 8 (Tampa, Florida).” The results are disastrous. Credit cards stop working. Pensions stop coming. Insurance is cancelled.

See the video at

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 Disengaging Young Genealogists

Is it just me? I seem to have problems using several times a week. It runs so slow, it is hard to use. But last Wednesday night at my local Family History Center? It was embarrassing. And it was excruciating.

We had a youth group come in to learn about family history. There were three leaders (who did nothing but talk among themselves) and five young men. I tried to teach them how to use Family Tree while doing research.

Everything we did required five or more refreshes. The pedigree view wouldn’t show up. Or expanding a branch wouldn’t work. Or clicking on a name would bring up a blank person card. Or View Person would bring up a form with no information filling in the blanks. Or the right half of the merge page would be blank.

Trying to interest a group of teenage boys in genealogy is tenuous at best.

One of the boys didn’t have a Family Tree login account and was quickly lost to his cell phone. A second one sat behind the rest and unswervingly wrote in secret code in a small notebook.

The third boy showed the most interest. With much diligence he got to the point where he needed to merge two people in his tree. I worked with him for several minutes but the merge page kept coming up empty. I left him with standing instructions to hit Retry every 15 seconds and holler when the screen came up. I never heard from him again.

The fourth boy was able to push through far enough to find a man in a collateral line that listed a wife but no children. I had the fifth boy bring up historical record collections. (The All Collections list takes upwards of 30 seconds. If I scroll down while I wait, I find the first 30 entries area listed, but it takes forever for the remainder to show up.) He found the man in the census, complete with children.

But it did the fourth boy no good because the system was so slow, he couldn’t get to the point where he could add the children. He finally gave up so I sent him off to where he enjoyed finding a portrait and a gravestone photograph of this ancestor.

Engaging another generation in genealogy is tricky. Last Wednesday night at my Family History Center, the website did more disengaging than engaging.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

FamilySearch Photos

Click these images to enlarge
FamilySearch Photo Feature
Home Page

FamilySearch recently uploaded photos
Recent photos

Editing a tag
Editing a tag

This page shows people tagged in a photo and whether or not they are linked to Family Tree
People in photo linked/not linked to Family Tree

Once tagged to a person, the photo appears on the Family Tree person page
Photo appears on the Person Page

As I mentioned not long ago, FamilySearch is working on a photograph feature. This feature serves both to engage new genealogists and to provide seasoned genealogists with a way to upload scanned documents.

The photo feature makes it possible to upload your photos, identify people in the photos, and link the people to Family Tree.

I took a minute last Saturday to check it out.

I started by uploading a 5 MB photograph (that I had scan for me at a conference in 2010). I received an error when I tried to upload a PNG file, even though the site said that PNG and JPEG are supported. I switched to JPEG and started the upload. I have a slow (DSL) connection at home, so it took some time.

Be careful what you name your photos as the filename is visible to all. I had the name of a living individual in mine. Oops.

I tagged four people in the photograph and then attempted to link them to the tree. The system automatically searched the tree for a person matching the name tag. The result listed six results, none of which were my ancestor. I clicked the search button, hoping to reveal a search form giving me more options, such as birth date. No luck; the same six people were shown. Then I noticed you can enter the person by FamilySearch person ID. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want a more robust search. If this is an attempt to make the user experience simpler, it’s back firing.

I brought up Family Tree to walk my pedigree to find the person ID. Unfortunately, Family Tree was on the fritz; a living person was missing from my tree leaving me unable to walk the tree. I flipped over to New FamilySearch (which I hope they don’t shut down too soon, given the buggy nature of Family Tree) and found the ID.

I copied and pasted it into the search box back in FamilySearch Photos and hit the search button. Nothing happened. Fortunately, I’m familiar enough with computers to think to search for spaces on the end of the ID. Since I copied and pasted it, it’s not uncommon for that to happen. Once I removed the trailing spaces, the search returned the proper ancestor. Someone with less experience would probably give up.

On my second person, the search also failed. This time F5 (refresh) brought the page back to life.

Once I associated the photo with a person, I could click to see all the photos containing that person, including a photo uploaded by someone else. The photograph also appeared on the Family Tree person page.

Much remains to be explored, but that gives you a flavor of the new FamilySearch Photo feature.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Cook County Images Disappear From

Dear Ancestry Insider;

I was using FamilySearch Saturday afternoon [26 January].  I was searching within the Cook County Illinois birth certificate images when suddenly I received a message to try back later.  Well, an hour later I tried again only to discover that all the Cook County databases where images were previously available were now ALL only showing indexes.  Having them all disappear does not look like normal maintenance downtime although that may be the case.

It is now Sunday morning and nothing has changed.  This is a huge and valuable collection and I hate to see it disappear, the reason being ??????

Maybe all will be restored by Monday . . . maybe not.  Maybe you have covered this previously and I missed it, for which I apologize.  If none of this is the case would you please be able to call upon your Family Search contacts and find out if this is temporary or permanent.  And possibly WHY.  I so hate to think this may be another local government money grab at work.

Thank you,

Dear Lori,

I poked a little bit and found this message posted in the FamilySearch Wiki article, “Illinois, Cook County Death Records (FamilySearch Historical Records).”

Image Visibility

Due to the provisions and guidelines of a newly revised contract with Cook County,  FamilySearch has removed all images for Illinois, Cook County vital records from its historical records collections online; free indexes to the collections will remain.

As part of our new agreement, FamilySearch will receive an additional 4.7 million records for FamilySearch patrons from the over 9 million free indexed records in the Cook County collection. The following collections are affected by the change:

  • Illinois, Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878-1922
  • Illinois, Cook County Birth Registers, 1871-1915
  • Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1922
  • Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920

Original images can be ordered or viewed through the following mediums.

1.  Microfilm and microfiche from the Family History Library are available via Online Film Ordering in most parts of the world. The film number is included in the source information found on the index of the record.

2.  Illinois, Cook County web site  (pay site)

3.  Request a digital copy of items found in the Family History Library  catalog services from the Family History Library (photoduplication). Include source information found on the index of the record in your request.

It sounds like you are correct, Lori. However, I wouldn’t think too harshly of the Cook County government. The recession has hit everyone hard, particularly record custodians and archives.

Thanks for alerting all of us to this disappearance.

--The Insider

It sounds like this is a lose-win situation. (Not as good as a win-win, but hey, sometimes you have to take your wins where you can find them.) While the images have disappeared, we are gaining access to an additional 4.7 million records.

I was also glad to learn about the FamilySearch photo-duplication service. That’s pretty handy stuff. There are lots of records on that don’t include images but do mention a microfilm number. I’ll probably use it myself rather than walking across the street to the library.

You may call it laziness, I prefer efficiency.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Monday Mailbox: More Mythology

In response to my article, “FamilySearch Values Sources,” I received this comment.

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I Googled “world population vital records” and came across an interesting chart on page 3 of: (inadequate source - - right?) The chart indicates that 70 (100-30) percent of the countries in the world have inadequate or no birth records. Americas 47 percent, Africa 95 percent, and in South-East Asia 99 percent of the countries have inadequate or no birth records.

Should we stop attempting to build a one-world tree where so many of the branches will, by some, be considered “Mythology”? Obviously the answer is a resounding “No”. Will accredited genealogists need to get used to seeing a high percentage of the branches in the tree unsourced? They will have to answer that for themselves.

Perhaps we need to consider replacing the statement, “Genealogy without sources is Mythology” with a statement such as “Genealogy without sources is 100 percent better than No Genealogy”. At least there will be a tree where the tree decorators can come along and hang on a source ornament (if one exists).

Demer *
Logan FamilySearch Library

Dear Demer,

I’m sure I must be misunderstanding your comments in some regard. Let me address each point in turn and you can leave a comment explaining where I’ve misunderstood.

I Googled “world population vital records” and came across an interesting chart on page 3 of: (inadequate source - - right?) The chart indicates that 70 (100-30) percent of the countries in the world have inadequate or no birth records. Americas 47 percent, Africa 95 percent, and in South-East Asia 99 percent of the countries have inadequate or no birth records.

I assume you are aware that other sources exist besides vital records. You probably know how recently vital record laws were enacted in this country and have research strategies you teach patrons of the Logan FamilySearch Library for ancestors born before then.

I concede your point that some people lived but were never recorded in any source. I trust you are not suggesting that we try to account for them. That is exactly what Abigail did. (I’ll leave off her last name, even though you can look it up in New FamilySearch.) Her submission, father to son, is given below. Birth and death years are in parentheses.

One can argue that each of the people in this tree really did exist because every son had to have a father. However, notice that each generation is separated by 25 years and some names are inexplicably from the Book of Mormon. It is not surprising that no sources are provided, as no records exist for some of these time periods. One must assume that this information is fraudulent.

Should we stop attempting to build a one-world tree where so many of the branches will, by some, be considered “Mythology”? Obviously the answer is a resounding “No”.

You are certainly right that some will consider Abigail’s branch to be mythology. I hope you are part of that group. Let’s attempt to build a one-world tree, but let’s do it with sources, not mythology.

Will accredited genealogists need to get used to seeing a high percentage of the branches in the tree unsourced? They will have to answer that for themselves.

Slamming accredited genealogists does nothing to advance your argument.

Perhaps we need to consider replacing the statement, “Genealogy without sources is Mythology” with a statement such as “Genealogy without sources is 100 percent better than No Genealogy”.

I respectfully disagree. Abigail’s genealogy is not 100 percent better. It is 100 percent worse.

At least there will be a tree where the tree decorators can come along and hang on a source ornament (if one exists).

You’ve missed one of the most important, driving factors for the creation of the tree: eliminating the duplication of research. Why make someone else duplicate your research to find the source you used? If you didn’t make up your information, why wouldn’t you specify your sources?

Some people will argue that Abigail’s submission is an aberration, that most people aren’t fabricating genealogies. More pernicious than Abigail’s submission is the wrong information that isn’t obviously wrong. Most are innocent mistakes, but the intent of the submitter doesn’t change the effort necessary to detect and correct the errors.

Help me out here Demer. I know you don’t want a tree with fabricated information. I know you don’t want people to withhold the sources of their information. I hope you know that vital records are not the only sources that can be specified. I know you don’t want to force others to duplicate research just to specify the sources that the submitter could have specified themselves. What am I missing?

--The Insider

Sunday, February 3, 2013

RootsTech to Have Three Opening Keynotes

The Ancestry Insider is an official RootsTech bloggerRootsTech announced today that it will have three opening keynote speakers, Dennis Brimhall, Syd Liberman, and D. Joshua Taylor. Two, Brimahll and Taylor, are from RootsTech sponsors, FamilySearch and brightsolid, respectively. Liberman is a professional story teller. His participation may reflect this year’s joining of the Story@Home conference with RootsTech.

RootsTech will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah on the 21st through the 23rd of March. Early-early bird pricing is $149 for a full conference admission. This rate goes through the 15th of February. Early bird pricing, $179, continues after that for “a few weeks” according to FamilySearch spokesperson, Amy Smith. Eventually, pricing will go up to $219.

Keynote speaker, Dennis Brimhall, is currently the President and CEO of FamilySearch International.  He was formerly the President and Chief Executive Officer of University of Colorado Hospital from 1988 to 2005. A native of Provo, Utah, Brimhall earned an undergraduate degree in zoology from Brigham Young University in 1972 and a master’s degree in management from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 1974.

Syd Liberman is a nationally acclaimed storyteller, author, and award-winning teacher. Many of his stories deal with growing up in Chicago and raising a family in Evanston, Illinois. He is known for his original historical pieces. He has received commissions to write stories for some of America’s leading institutions and agencies, including the Smithsonian; Historic Philadelphia, Inc.; NASA; and the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. His work has garnered awards from the American Library Association, Parents' Choice, and Storytelling World. Liberman was one of six tellers featured on the television special, The Call of Story. He has also performed numerous times at the Timpanogos and National storytelling festivals.

D. Joshua Taylor is the Business Development Manager – North America for brightsolid online publishing, the creator of A nationally known and recognized professional genealogist, lecturer, genealogical author, and researcher, Taylor is the current president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and the former Director of Education at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Taylor holds an MLS (Archival Management) and an MA (History) from Simmons College, and is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Federation of Genealogical Societies Award of Merit, and the Rubincam Youth Award from the National Genealogical Society. Taylor was also a featured genealogist on NBC's Who Do You Think You Are?.

Friday, February 1, 2013

FamilySearch Values Sources?

Genealogy without sources is mythologyI mentioned Monday that FamilySearch has a dubious past when it comes to sources. Fortunately, FamilySearch’s current product managers get it.

  • One major design goal of Family Tree is source-centricity.
  • Citations have been added to records.
  • Source Box has been added to Family Tree.
  • Family Tree sources can be linked to records.

I’m an incrementalist, so I’m happy with this constant stream of improvements. Kudos to FamilySearch.

It has not always been so. Consider FamilySearch’s historical disregard for sources:

  • Early Family group sheets: had no space for citations.
  • Four generation program: family group sheets had miniscule space for citations.
  • Individual and marriage entry forms: The source information listed on these forms was discarded when these forms were keyed into the Community Contributed IGI.
  • The Parish and Vital Records List (PVRL): published on fiche, listed all the sources in the Community Indexed IGI. This information has been discarded.
  • Early PAF: contained no structured citation support. Citations had to be typed into the notes.
  • GEDCOM: doesn’t support transfer of structured citations without loss. (Maybe Randy Seaver can leave a comment with a link to the tests he ran.) Even though most of today’s family tree products support citations for dozens of source types, FamilySearch has gone years without adding support to the GEDCOM standard.
  • Ancestral File: source information was discarded from patron submissions.
  • TempleReady: no longer required sources for temple submissions. Worse, any source information present was discarded.
  • Record collections: are published without coverage information. Records from multiple archives are stuck together into single collections and the source citations don’t identify the archives that particular records come from. Volume names are no where to be found. Images are displayed on screen and saved to disk without citations. Records are copied to the clipboard without citations. (Fortunately, enough information is given to get back to the online record.) Images are printed without citations. (Fortunately, enough information is given to get back to the online images, though not the offline originals.)
  • new FamilySearch Tree (NFS): source lists do not use standard citation formats. If you’ve ever viewed an NFS source list report you can see the illegible consequences. Family Tree doesn’t support source list reports at all.
  • NFS and Family Tree: do not require sources, even though the tree is intended for collaboration. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, NFS and Family Tree do not cite sources for information about temple work, presenting this all-important information without proof.
  • Family Tree: doesn’t have the structured citation entry that desktop programs have.

And Suzanne’s complaint from Monday’s mailbox:

  • NFS and Family Tree: do not support the transfer of sources to and from desktop programs.

Much still needs to be done. Some of these past mistakes will take years to overcome. Some are uncorrectable. Here’s hoping FamilySearch will never revert to its historical behavior because “genealogy without sources is mythology.”1

1 It is more than a little ironic that I don’t know the source for that quote.