Friday, March 29, 2013

#RootsTech – Ron Tanner: Go Fish

Ron Tanner talks at RootsTech 2013Why are 1.2 million comedians out of work? Because FamilySearch Family Tree product manager, Ron Tanner, will do it for free. His presentations are always entertaining and informative.

“If genealogists played cards, what game would they play?” Tanner asked. “Genealogists play Go Fish.”

“Do you have any sources for John?”

“Go fish!”

“How about for Ann?”

“Do I have to give you all my sources about Ann?”

“Yes. It’s ‘Go Fish'.’”

-—- o -—-

“[FamilySearch] Family Tree is different than most trees,” said Tanner. “Family Tree is not a bunch of trees that you can search. Instead we put them all together into one, shared tree.” He said the purpose of Family Tree is to document accurately the genealogy of the world and preserve it someplace safe.

“Approximately 80% of all research done in genealogy is duplication,” he said. Family Tree prevents duplication of research.

Tanner walked through various features that are designed to make sharing and collaboration easier. There are mechanisms allowing researchers to communicate, to monitor changes in ancestors, to track changes and the users making them, and to restore deleterious changes. Family Tree asks users to explain their changes and facilitates use of sources.

Change notifications are currently sent once a week, but daily and maybe hourly are being considered.

I have problems with one limitation of Family Tree. Tanner said that alternate values for vital events are no longer allowed. He said a person can only be born once and “there are clear genealogical rules to determine which date to pick.” I disagree. No set of codified rules is above interpretation and no codified rules exist for genealogy. Back in PAF 1.0 days the injunction that always followed product deficiency was “stick it in the notes.” Will that be the recommendation this time around?

Meanwhile, back to Tanner’s presentation…

Records and images from FamilySearch historical records can be linked to individuals in the tree by placing the record in the Source Box, then taking it back out and attaching it to an individual. (I wish I could do it in one step. And I wish I could attach the source to a piece of evidence rather than the person.)

“Our URLs on FamilySearch will not go bad,” said Tanner. “That’s our promise.” (Have I talked about this before? I’m not certain FamilySearch has ever said this publicly before, so I may not have. I understand it applies only to URLs that have “pal” in them. It stands for persistent archival links. I find pals in URLs for records and images, but not other stuff.) 

Merging two people takes a lot of effort (to do correctly). This is intentional. (In New FamilySearch a misguided soul could combine people with a few mouse clicks. Undoing the damage took many times the effort. In Family Tree, designers have reversed that. They made it hard to inflict the damage, and easy—just a few mouse clicks—to undo it.)

FamilySearch is working on the ability to upload scanned images of source documents. (While you can upload scanned documents today as photographs, I’m told it is best to wait until they can be uploaded and linked to sources.) In speaking of the importance of photos and stories Tanner said that after four generations no one knows you. “You are just a name.” He showed an example obituary and photograph he entered to preserve the memory of a close loved one.

Tanner showed the new Fan Chart feature and indicated the goal is to have this out in the next month or so. Over the next couple of months they hope to add the ability to print real pedigree charts and family group records in PDF format.

“If we’re going to work together on a shared family tree, is there anything we’re going to have to do differently? The answer is ‘yes,’” said Tanner. “We need to stop playing Go Fish and play 52-card Share-em.”

“With all of us doing all the parts we can do, we can do amazing things,” he said. “We can build an amazing tree of human kind.”

Thursday, March 28, 2013

RootsTech Luncheon: It Was a Sign…

I stayed at a motel for the first two nights of RootsTech. The morning of the luncheon on the topic of DNA, I saw a pattern in the carpet that hadn’t been there before:

DNA pattern in the motel carpet

Is it just me? Or do you see it too?

Ken Chahine and Catherine Ball of AncestryDNAI saw it as a sign… a sign that I’m not very observant.

At the luncheon we first heard from Ken Chahine, senior vice president over DNA. Then we heard from Catherine Ball, AncestryDNA vice president of genomics. She explained some of the science behind their ethnicity determination.

AncestryDNA divides the world into 20 regions such as British Isles, Central European, West African, and so forth:

AncestryDNA genetic ethnicity regions

When AncestryDNA tests your DNA, they attempt to measure how much of your genetic ethnicity comes from each of these regions.

AncestryDNA attempts to measure your genetic ethnicity

This can be quite difficult. Over the centuries DNA gets spread around a lot. So determining what constitutes a Scandinavian, for example, is difficult. There is no such thing as a 100% genetically pure Scandinavian.

An additional challenge is determining the genetic makeup of people in these regions in the past. Ancestry is in a better position to determine this because, unlike most genetic scientists, Ancestry has DNA samples linked to compiled pedigrees.

Ancestry attempts to identify reference persons from among their participants. (Is that what they called them? I can’t remember.) A reference person’s ancestors are all from the same region. (I think they looked at the eight great-grandparents, but I don’t remember for certain.) The more reference persons they can find for a region, the better they can isolate signatures that differentiate a person with ancestry from that region.

Consequently, the more participants that take an Ancestry DNA test, the higher the likelihood that they can properly identify your genetic ethnicity. They are especially interested in reference persons.

Ancestry can thus continually increase the accuracy of their ethnicity calculations. And as they do so, they will update your test results without further charge.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

RootsTech FamilySearch Luncheon: I Am the Man

On Thursday Craig Miller spoke at the FamilySearch luncheon about “some of the challenges of dealing with family history.”

One issue is duplication of research. You do a lot of work to document a line; you spend countless hours. Only then do you come across the results of someone else researching the same line.

Another issue is the preservation of your work. “It’s all about saving that legacy,” said Miller. You could write a book, but your children may not read it. How do you preserve your research for those that value it?

Long time readers know I’ve taken particular delight in poking fun at FamilySearch for naming a website “new FamilySearch.” I’ve always wondered who picked that name. Thursday I found out.

“I am the man,” said Miller. “I named these websites the way they are.” He said we could blame him. He explained that  there were reasons. He didn’t have time to explain them.

Knowing where to start has been a challenge. The consolidation of new FamilySearch and FamilySearch Family Tree eliminates some confusion. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the starting place is the same now as for other online Church needs: (See

Miller then showed slides of a newly designed FamilySearch website. They’ve done some user testing and are simplifying navigation, brightening colors, increasing font size, and improving contrast (all issues I have raised over the years). new website design new website design new website design new website design new website design utilizes warm color palette, photographs, simple icons.

A video shows the same things that Miller showed about the new website design:

The video, along with a description of features, is also available on a page on

In addition to the new fan chart view, they will add a descendency view and other charts in the future.

FamilySearch is adding a feature to assist members of the Church provide temple ordinances for their deceased ancestors. They have added an automated way for them to scan their first four generations of ancestors for the people they’ve added as a quick flow rather than walking the tree manually.

“No one has a help system like us and it’s all free,” said Miller. There are several different ways to get help. Help is available via live chat, phone call, or help center. Help is available for products or for research assistance.

Three or four weeks from now the general public will have access to the photos and stories feature of the new website.

The FamilySearch website addresses challenges confronting family history. It allows people to work together on a common website. It preserves research. At the end of the day we have an ancestor page that is filled out and preserved, said Miller. “The vault isn’t going away. That is where we store the backup tapes.”

“The purpose of FamilySearch is to help families work together to preserve their heritage,” said Miller.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Brimhall Unveils New FamilySearch Logo

At the close of his keynote address Thursday, Dennis Brimhall, FamilySearch president and CEO unveiled a new logo.

New FamilySearch Logo

FamilySearch employees were not given a chance to see the logo before the general public. Upon inquiry, someone said it was because it has not been finalized. I don’t know how authoritative that source is.

The animation in Brimhall’s presentation suggests that the logo represents FamilySearch’s new emphasis on photos and stories. Photographs from his story about his father morphed into the shape of the tree logo:

Photos Covering Boxes in FamilySearch Logo

On a different note, you’ll recall that last week I wrote about next year’s expansion of RootsTech. (See “FamilySearch Gives RootsTech Bloggers Sneak Peak.”) In his keynote, Brimhall showed maps visually showing the scope of the increase.

This year FamilySearch is broadcasting sessions out to 16 satellite locations in seven countries, with translations into native languages. The expected reach is another 4,000 people.

RootsTech 2013 Satellite Locations

If the experiment is successful, next year FamilySearch will expand that to 600 locations with an expected reach of 120,000 people!

Proposed RootsTech 2014 Satellite Locations

That is a wow moment.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Saturday Keynotes: The Pit is Always Smaller than the Plum

RootsTech’s Saturday keynote session featured the last two of seven keynote speakers. Maybe that word—keynote—doesn’t mean what I think it means. Actually, with my short attention span, I think I like having more, but shorter keynotes. Now, what was I talking about? Oh, right. Saturday’s keynote speakers were David Pogue and James Tanner.

David Pogue was a RootsTech keynote speakerWhat do RootsTech, HOGs (Harley Owners Group), and a Tattoo convention all have in common? David Pogue pointed out they were all being held at the Salt Palace Convention Center at the same time.

Pogue is the weekly personal-technology columnist for The New York Times and a monthly columnist for Scientific American. He is also an Emmy Award-winning tech correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning and the current host of NOVA ScienceNow.

He also noticed that the theme for the conference, “Find, Organize, Preserve, and Share,” form the acronym FOPS. Perhaps RootsTech organizers hadn’t thought that one through…

Pogue spoke—humorously—about disruptive technologies. Disruptive technologies change everything.

Web 2.0 is a disruptive technology. “Web 1.0” refers to websites where the website creator supplies the content. FamilySearch Historical Record Collections is an example of Web 1.0. “Web 2.0” refers to sites where users supply the content. FamilySearch Family Tree is an example. Twitter is another.

Pogue asked Twitter users several questions for a book he was writing. One was, “Invent a Chinese Proverb that sounds authentic.” He got some really great responses like, “a pig with a cold still makes good bacon.”

“App phones” (iPhones and such) are another disruptive technology. With a toolbox of components in an app phone, app writers can be incredibly creative. Pogue showed us the Ocarina app. It turns your iPhone into a flute-like instrument that you play by blowing into the end and placing your fingers on the stops on the touch screen. I have an app that measures your heart beat using the light and the camera. He pointed out the Word Lens app. Point it at a sign in Spanish and the screen will display the same sign in English!

To sum up his presentation, “the pit is always smaller than the plum.”

James Tanner was a RootsTech keynote presenterThe scheduled speaker from MyHeritage, Gilad Japhet, founder and CEO, was unable to come to RootsTech because of a death in the family. Our hearts and prayers are with them.

Ori Soen, chief marketing officer of MyHeritage, spoke for a moment and then introduced someone to give Japhet’s presentation.

That someone was fellow blogger, James Tanner of the Genealogy’s Star blog! James did a great job, making all us bloggers proud. Now we can say that a genealogy blogger has given a keynote presentation at a national genealogical conference.

I’ll defer on reviewing the presentation, since it was MyHeritage specific. I’m snowed under trying to cover and FamilySearch presentations and my mind can only fit so much inside at a time. It’s true. The pit really is smaller than the plum.

Friday, March 22, 2013

From RootsTech: Partnering with FamilySearch for Probates

Tim Sullivan Keynote at RootsTechRootsTech’s opening session on Friday featured two keynote speakers, Jyl Pattee and Tim Sullivan.

“It’s exciting for me to stand on this stage at this conference and announce our largest and most ambitious collaboration with FamilySearch ever,” said Sullivan, president and CEO of “Over the next three years FamilySearch and Ancestry are going to work together to digitize and index over 140 million pages of U.S. probate records spanning from 1800 to 1930.”

At this announcement the audience interrupted with applause. “It’s alright,” Sullivan said. “I’m excited too.”

Tim acknowledged FamilySearch’s decades of work filming these documents. Efforts are underway to secure rights from administrators and archives to publish these records online, and the progress is positive.

“We are very excited about working with FamilySearch on this project.”

Sullivan committed to spend over $100 million over the next five years to digitize and index new content for publication on, Fold3, and “We’re investing aggressively in new content,” he said. This past year Ancestry published over 1.7 billion records, including over 1 billion names from city directories using the new technology they demonstrated last year. (See “Tim Sullivan: A Fantastic Era in Family History,” and “Data Extraction Technology at”)

Sullivan also announced a new price point, $99, for Ancestry’s DNA test. They are improving their ethnicity estimation and cousin matching. They currently have a database of 120,000 customer samples and have made two million 4th cousin matches. I think one of the best ways to increase the value of their database and the effectiveness of their ethnicity determination algorithms is to increase the pool of samples. I believe for that reason, they are decreasing the price. Since they regularly upgrade the results for all previous testees, everyone benefits from a larger sample pool. The new price applies to both subscribers and non-subscribers.

Sullivan said a new version (4.1) of their iPhone/iPad app will soon be available. It will enhance the ability to share on Facebook and Twitter. It will provide photo hints and pair your tree with someone else’s tree. Over one-third of their new registrants come via their mobile app. My notes here are a little cryptic, but he said something about 50% of them are younger than the average age. That’s a law of mathematics, isn’t it? There must be something wrong with my notes. Anyway, the point was that “this is a whole new generation of family historians.”

Sullivan began his presentation with an appeal (but not in so many words) that experienced genealogists open up their private Ancestry Member Trees.

“I’m here today to make a confession about Ancestry family trees,” Sullivan said in mock seriousness. “They are not always 100% accurate all the time. I know that’s a shocking revelation.”

In my opinion, both Ancestry and FamilySearch have a big problem. In my experience, the greater the expertise of the genealogist, the less likely they are to make their Ancestry Member Tree public and the less likely they are to participate in FamilySearch’s unified Family Tree.

According to Sullivan, both beginner and expert alike benefit from collaboration. Beginners sometimes give experts good advice. (See, for example, Crista Cowen’s “Lessons in Genealogy Collaboration.”) Also, more people than ever are combing through online records from multiple websites and adding sources to online trees. More people are scanning one-of-a-kind documents and photos and adding them to their trees. More people are using digital cameras to capture grave markers and other valuable photographs.

“To take advantage, you’ve really got to take the plunge to share and collaborate.”

From RootsTech: Wow Moments

Jyl Pattee addresses the RootsTech ConferenceRootsTech’s opening session on Friday featured two more keynote speakers, (that’s five total, for those of you not keeping track), Jyl Pattee and Tim Sullivan.

Jyl quoted Hilary Cooper as saying, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

“We don’t take the time to think about the small, wow moments that take our breath away on a daily basis,” Jyl said. However, we should.

Jyl is a social media expert with a focus on women and mothers. She is the founder of Mom It Forward Media, a digital agency and “network of social media influencers.”

She gave RootsTech attendees a recipe for Wow moments:

  1. Create the WOW
  2. Capture the WOW
  3. Archive the WOW
  4. Share the WOW

Jyl Pattee jumping in the state of IowaJyl once created a bunch of wow moments through a goal to jump in each state. She’s pictured to the right at the final state, Iowa.

Twelve years ago Jyl took the time to capture some small wow moments from the life of her grandmother. She taped a microphone to a telephone, called her up on a regular basis, and got her to talk about her life.

“The stories may not have been wow moments for her, but they definitely were for me.” Her grandmother has since passed away. Jyl has added photographs to the audio and created a YouTube video for sharing with her cousins.

In parting, Jyl told us, “Go make it a wow weekend!”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

RootsTech Opening Session Theme: Stories

Josh Taylor keynote at RootsTechThe 2013 RootsTech Conference opened this (Thursday) morning with keynotes by Dennis Brimhall, Syd Lieberman, and Josh Taylor. There seemed to be a common theme among all three: stories.

“I have grown up in this community,” said Josh Taylor, “so I thought I would start by telling a story.” Taylor is Business Development Manager—North America for Brightsolid, owner of,, and other websites. (I’ve listed them in a previous article. )

Taylor began by telling us his own story, “the story of me.” 

His Aunt Carol was one of the first genealogists he encountered. She loved to tend Josh. All she had to do was drop him off at the Carbon County Courthouse and he would entertain himself for hours.

“What I’m really good at is libraries and archives and books,” he said. “Don’t ever get me on a football field. It’s slightly awkward.” In school when they asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, he always said, “I want to be a genealogist!” People would look at him like he was crazy.

“The first genealogical mistake I made was not with a record,” he said. He discovered that his grandmother was born a year before her parents were married. He was about 11 or 12. “I did not understand the complexities of what I was about to reveal to my grandmother,” he said.

“Grandmother! Guess what I discovered!”

D Joshua Taylor of“I do believe in telling the stories about our families,” he said, “because if we don’t, all we’ve done is fill out a pedigree and a family group record and left it somewhere on a shelf hoping that one of our children or grandchildren will make a discovery.”

There are amazing technologies that the genealogy community is not yet using. “We must make learning about family history a visual and interactive experience. We need to make genealogical adventures accessible to the rising generation.”

“We need to bring gaming into family history now,” he said. (Private message to Josh: Is this a pre-announcement of a brightsolid product!?) We need to make genealogical engagement fun.

“If we tell the stories that are so important to our families we have absolutely endless possibilities as a community.”

From RootsTech: When I Tell Their Stories, I’m With My Ancestors Again

Syd Liberman speaks at RootsTechThe 2013 RootsTech Conference opened this (Thursday) morning with keynotes by Dennis Brimhall, Syd Lieberman, and Josh Taylor. It looks like each day’s keynotes feature a RootsTech presenter and a Story@Home presenter. Lieberman was Thursday’s Story@Home presenter. Syd is a nationally acclaimed story teller, author, and teacher. He was awesome. When the videos are posted. He is a must see.

We heard stories of his grandchildren. We heard stories of his children. We heard stories of his parents. We heard stories of his grandparents. I hesitate to try and retell any. I could not do them justice. And I felt like Syd was sharing an intimate part of himself. “All of these stories together are the story of my life,” he said.

OK. I’ll attempt just one.

Syd said at the conference last year he was a little uppity, a story teller among genealogists. “What did genealogists have to offer me”?” Then he met Mike Hall of FamilySearch.

Syd’s grandparents were Jews living in Russian controlled Lithuania. Conscripted into a 25 year term in the Russian army, with Syd’s grandmother pregnant, they fled to America. Syd’s father was born as they crossed the Atlantic. “I didn’t know if I was American or not,” he used to say. He claimed he was born on the 4th of July. What could be more American than that?

Mike Hall pulled up information from about this family. Upon their arrival in America, they claimed the United States as their birthplace and English as their native language. In successive censuses, Mike and Syd witnessed a change. Eventually Syd’s family acknowledged their true nativity and true native language. The facts reinforced and helped tell the story.

“It’s a wonderful way to remember your ancestors,” Syd said of stories. “When I tell their stories, I am with them again.”

“Why are we here?” Syd asked conference attendees. “Because we love our family stories…We’re here to record our stories… We’re here to rejoice in this improbable and wonderful thing called life.”

From RootsTech: It’s More than Names—It’s Their Stories

Dennis Brimhall Keynote at RootsTechThe 2013 RootsTech Conference opened this morning with keynotes by Dennis Brimhall, Syd Lieberman, and Josh Taylor.

“We need to get a lot more people engaged in genealogy,” said Dennis Brimhall, CEO and president of FamilySearch. There are some things we need need to do. “Technology is an enabling tool. What we really want is to turn hearts to our ancestors,” said Dennis. “Technology plus stories and photos equals family history for everyone.”

Dennis was indexing immigration records recently when he came across the record of a small boy. Under the country of origin was a single word, “stowaway.” Dennis said that there was a story there. There might be descendants of that young boy sitting in the room today. Wouldn’t they like to know that story?

A year ago Dennis was the brand new leader of FamilySearch just trying to learn the role. Now, a year later, he can confidently spell genealogy. He thought as a new leader that he would spend a lot of his time thinking about the past, acquiring records, and such. But he’s found he’s spending most of his time thinking about the future. What will we be doing 20, 50, 100 years from now? Will our great-grandchildren look back at us in the same way that we look back at our great-grandparents?

“What will our great-grandchildren wish we had done?” he asked. “Will they be happy, joyful, or frustrated?” They will wish we had recorded the richness, the fabric of our lives. They’ll want much more than names, dates, and places.

Dennis related a compelling story of his father’s experiences in the Army Air Corp during World Ward II. His plane was shot down over Germany. Only two of the crew survived. Dennis’s father didn’t talk about his experiences much, but one of Dennis’s daughters felt compelled to learn and tell the story. In the forward to the resulting book she wrote, “I feel it is my duty and honor to make sure his life experiences have been captured and preserved for his posterity to read. I want his grandchildren to know this man, so they can discover and come to realize their honorable heritage.”

Dennis Brimhall's Father: My Mission to Fulfill

Photographs behind him illustrated Dennis’s story. Then he told us that the plane being shot down in one photograph was THE plane; his father’s plane. His family had the photographs through a remarkable coincidence. One day at the grocery store, his father noticed a man wearing the patch for his unit. He approached the man and found they were both on that ill fated mission. This man’s assignment was to document the mission via photography. He had taken photographs of the plane going down. He figured no one had survived. Both men lived in the same town and shopped in the same grocery store. Through this serendipitous meeting, Dennis’s father obtained precious photographs of his plane going down in flames over southern Germany. They are a treasure to his family.

“It’s more than names,” said Dennis. “It’s their stories.”

RootsTech Opens Today! Drop by for Free Stuff

The Ancestry Insidere is an official RootsTech blogger

If you’re in the Salt Lake area, don’t pass up the opportunity to see the RootsTech Expo Hall. It is free and open to all. There’s a small stage with demonstrations going every 30 minutes. (The online schedule, “subject to change,” was blank as of the time I wrote this article.) With 125 vendors, there’s a lot to see. Several vendors are offering free stuff (see below). You’ll be able to get special pricing on some products. Many genealogy company presidents and product owners will be present to answer questions and take your suggestions. The CyberCafe will have Family History Library computers. (I assume that means library electronic resources and websites will be available as in years past.)

RootsTech 2013 Expo Hall

For a chance to win an iPad, drop by the RootsMagic booth and enter the RootsMagic RootsTech Treasure Hunt. They’ve partnered with 14 of “the best and brightest genealogy bloggers” (and me). We’re each posting a clue on our websites. Visit and click on the treasure chest for more information. A second chance drawing is open to everyone, whether at the conference or not.

For a free, blank fan chart, visit the booth, #631.

FamilySearch is offering free scanning of books. If the book is under copyright, the copyright owner must provide signed permission before the book can be scanned. Pick up your book and flash drive (provided by FamilySearch) containing the digital copy at the FamilySearch Scanning booth at the end of the day. Reservations are required:

Mocavo (booth #513) is offering free document and photo scanning to get them online. You can bring any paper documents, photocopies of original records, paper family trees, or other historical documents, and they will scan them for free! Within only 30 days of the conference you will be able to download your digitized record from their website.

Drop off your documents at booth #513 on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday and they will contact you when your document is ready to be picked up. Click here to find out more details about Mocavo's free scanning and what kind of documents they can and cannot accept.

Story@Home is offering a free personal consultation and video/audio recording session to preserve your personal family story.  You will receive a copy on a flash drive for your personal use. Reservations are required and you must arrive on time:

In the Bring Your Stories to Life booth, receive a free, 10 minute session with Maureen Taylor, the photo detective, to help you identify information from a photograph. Reservations are required. Please arrive on time and bring one or two photographs.

Drop by the booth to be immortalized in the newspaper. Pose with props in their newspaper photo-booth and see your name in the headlines. Enter their scavenger hunt for a chance to win an iPad Mini, a subscription, and other prizes. 

I’ll be in the Media Center every so often. Drop by and say hello.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

FamilySearch Gives RootsTech Bloggers Sneak Peak new website design new website design new website design new website design new website design utilizes warm color palette, photographs, simple icons.

“If we can get you to fall in love with your ancestors then we’ve succeeded,” said Dennis Brimhall about FamilySearch. Brimhall, president and CEO of FamilySearch, International made the remarks Wednesday evening to RootsTech official bloggers. Only a small percentage of the world does genealogy. Even among members of FamilySearch sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, participation falls below 10%. FamilySearch aims to increase that tremendously. Brimhall said that FamilySearch plans to appeal to a wider number of people by engaging users in a richer experience of stories and photographs, not just names, dates, and places.

And he announced big plans for RootsTech. This year’s event has about 4,000 attendees, plus about 2,000 family history consultants, plus another 1,000 young people in activities just for them. (See my article, “RootsTech 2013 Genealogy Conference.”) This year FamilySearch is experimenting broadcasting sessions out to 16 satellite locations in seven countries, with translations into native languages. (See my article, “Sort-of RootsTech Kansas City.”) The expected reach is another 4,000 people. If the experiment is successful, next year FamilySearch will expand that to 600 locations with an expected reach of 120,000 people!

Ben Bennett of FamilySearch characterized current FamilySearch efforts as inviting more people into the tent. He showed a new FamilySearch website design that is expected to be available in coming weeks and months. The new website uses warmer colors and a photo carousel to draw users in. (See images, above).

New FamilySearch fan chartThe new website will consist of six main areas. One is interactive fan charts. (Click on the image to the right for a larger view.)

Another is photos and stories. (See my article, “FamilySearch Photos.”)

A third is Family Tree. For those already in the tree, selecting this option opens the tree directly. Those not yet in the tree are prompted for information about themselves, their parents, and so on and the information is automatically added to the tree

The final three areas are: Family Records (formerly Historical Record Collections), Indexing, and Live Help. Live Help encompasses everything from the Learn and Help areas of the current website.

Additionally, the website will be available in 10 languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

Finally, Bennett disclosed that FamilySearch has designed a new logo. And while we were shown it, we were asked not to publish it until after Dennis Brimhall had introduced it publicly Thursday morning.

Bennett promised that we would not be waiting for and talking about these new features next RootsTech. These features will be here in the next weeks—and months.

Can’t Make It to #RootsTech? Attend From Home!

You don’t have to attend RootsTech to attend RootsTech. An entire array of presentations will be available for viewing live online, syllabus handouts included.

Tim Sullivan heads an panel at the 2012 RootsTech Conference

Here’s the schedule. Click for more information and for the syllabus handout.

  Live Streaming Schedule (Mountain Time)
8:30 AM Keynote – Dennis Brimhall, Syd Lieberman, Josh Taylor
11:00 AM The Future of Genealogy - Thomas MacEntee and panel
1:45 PM Tell it Again (Story@Home) - Kim Weitkamp
3:00 PM The Genealogists Gadget Bag - Jill Ball and panel
4:15 PM Finding the Obscure and Elusive: Geographic Information on the Web - James Tanner
8:30 AM Keynote - Jyl Pattee and Tim Sullivan
9:45 AM Researching Ancestors Online - Laura Prescott
11:00 AM FamilySearch Family Tree - Ron Tanner
1:45 PM Google Search… and Beyond - Dave Barney
3:00 PM From Paper Piles to Digital Files - Valerie Elkins
8:30 AM Keynote - David Pogue and Gilad Japhet
9:45 AM Using Technology Effectively to Solve Research Problems - Karen Clifford
11:00 AM Digital Storytelling: More than Bullet Points - Denise Olson

Clear your schedule. If you can’t see these live, last year RootsTech posted sessions online a couple of weeks after the conference. Perhaps they’ll do the same this year.

Syllabus handouts are not just online for the broadcast sessions. Check for handouts for any interesting session on the RootsTech website. Simply click on the desired day and then on the desired session.

Stay tuned for more RootsTech coverage…

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

#NGS2013 Downside of Vegas

Don’t forget, today’s the last day to register for the Early Bird price. Register at

The Las Vegas Paris Hotel by nightWhile I’m excited to go to Las Vegas for the 2013 National Genealogical Society Family History Conference, I’m not so excited about Vegas itself. Twenty years ago I could have given you lots of advice about Vegas because I annually attended a technology conference there. But it has been that long since I’ve been in downtown Vegas, so my information is no longer current. Keep in mind, also, that I have very conservative moral values. Vegas may not be as offensive to you as it is to me.

There was cigarette smoke everywhere. There were more slot machines than there were people. Billboards, particularly on the taxis, included severely undressed individuals. Ill kept individuals hung out on street corners handing out advertisements for providers of sexual entertainment. I learned not to accept anything extended my direction.

However, most of the inappropriate sides of Vegas were easy to avoid if you didn’t go seeking them. 

The Las Vegas Hilton (now the LVH) was off the strip and didn’t offer any offensive entertainment. Since it is the site of all conference sessions, I think it makes sense to stay there. The conference rate of $119 single/double seems very competitive. (Advertised rates for $69 are never going to apply to the nights you wish to stay. Neither do AAA or senior discounts.)

There were no fast food within quick walking distance of the Hilton back then. The LVH offers 13 restaurants and eateries, from Pizza Hut Express to Benihana. If you can afford the food, you could spend the whole conference there and avoid everything Vegas has to offer. 

But why would you want to? Even with my very conservative morals, Vegas has something to offer.

There are world class restaurants. There are fun shopping areas like the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace and the indoor version of Venice at The Grand Canal Shoppes. There are shows like Cirque du Soleil (avoid the adult version), Blue Man Group, and (if your timing is good) performers like David Copperfield, Celine Dion, and Donny and Marie. (I avoid the comedians, as I don’t know which ones tell dirty jokes.)

Back in the day, my coworkers and I bent over backwards to see the shortest, but free entertainment. The Mirage Volcano was just new. There was a short pirate ship show in front of Treasure Island. There was the Luxor laser light show. There were the flashing lights and neon of the Strip at night. Now there is the Fountains at Bellagio. Are there other such free mini-spectaculars?

Check out the conservative, convenient Las Vegas area tours that NGS has put together for Tuesday, the day before the show begins.

For more information, check out Frommer’s online guide to Las Vegas.

Help me out. Tell me what’s changed. Are there more freebies like the Mirage Volcano? Is smoking still prevalent? How do I tell if a show will be offensive? What is this new monorail? What role can it play for the NGS conference? Leave me a comment.

Monday, March 18, 2013

You Know You Want To. Buy It Now.

Sports cars
Image credit: Ben
Hate those high pressure “used-car sales tactics?” Well today’s your lucky day ‘cause I’ve got a deal for you! Two spectacular, new vehicles! But they’re available for a limited time only.

However, I’m not talking automotive vehicles. I’m talking vehicles for learning: RootsTech and the 2013 conference of the National Genealogical Society (NGS).

Why do you need to decide immediately? How is it that these terrific deals are going away?

RootsTech 2013 begins Thursday. the 21st of March and runs through Saturday, the 23rd. if you’re going, now would be a good time to decide.

NGS 2013 early-bird registration ends Tuesday (that’s tomorrow), the 19th of March. Register now and save $35. Register now if you want a printed syllabus. (Everyone receives a copy of the syllabus as a PDF file on a flash drive.) The conference runs 8-11 May 2013.

Let me tell you a little about both conferences, should you need to choose one or the other. See the other two articles I published today.

#RootsTech 2013 #Genealogy Conference

The Ancestry Insidere is an official RootsTech bloggerRootsTech 2013 begins Thursday. the 21st of March and runs through Saturday, the 23rd. It is being held in Salt Lake City, Utah in the Salt Palace conference center across the street to the south of the world famous Family History Library.

RootsTech is a large (about 4,000 attendees this year), vibrant, young conference. The Expo Hall has over 200 vendors. If you can go, you really should. I checked late last week and could still get a hotel room along Salt Lake’s Trax, a light commuter rail within the free fare zone.

RootsTech has two target audiences:

  • The main target is genealogists that use technology. Yup; that’s pretty much everybody. Classes run all three days, 21-23 March 2013. All tracks for all target audiences are open to registrants. Registration is either $219 or $179; it’s hard to tell from the website (which never seems to be up-to-date this year). Single day passes cost $89.
  • The Getting Started track was added this year for beginners. There is a special price point and unique classes offered. Four or more topics are available per hour. Some are hands-on workshops. This Getting Started track costs $39 or $49 (it’s hard to tell from the website) for all three days or $19 for a single day.

Well, now that I think about it, there are four target audiences.

  • This year the Story@Home conference is being held as an extra RootsTech track. It is for story tellers. Again, that includes all of us. There are two or three choices offered each class period. Registration is $89.
  • The Developer Track, is a one day event just for software engineers. There are about five choices per class period. There are both regular sessions and Unconference sessions. The cost is $89.

The conference is held in the North addition to the Salt Palace Convention Center, which has a definite downside. Most staircases are long and elevators are inadequate for the number of motorized wheelchairs typically present at a genealogy conference. Buyer beware.

After further contemplation, there seems to be seven target audiences. The last three are free and are expected to draw another two thousand attendees. They are targeted to members of FamilySearch sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

  • Family history consultants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The consultant track consists of two classes. It requires separate registration from RootsTech. This is a one day event, but is repeated Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. See to register.
  • Priesthood leaders and Church members. Classes are taught by general authorities and leaders of the Church starting with Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventies at 9:45 Saturday morning in Hall 2 at the North end of the Salt Palace Convention Center. For more information visit
  • Young Men and Young Women of the Church. On Saturday, 23 March, classes, activities, and a devotional will be available for youth, ages 11-18 to attend with parents or youth leaders. Classes will be held for merit badge, Personal Progress, and other fun activities. A youth devotional will be held at 6:00 pm with Sister Elaine S. Dalton, Young Women general president. The devotional will be in the Conference Center Theater. For more information, visit

If you come, watch for me. My wife made me a shirt that makes me a little more identifiable. See you all there!

#NGS2013 – National Genealogical Society Conference

NGS 2013 Official BloggerThe 2013 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society (NGS) will be held this year 8-11 May 2013 in Las Vegas. It will be held at the LVH Hotel adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center.

While RootsTech concentrates on technology, the NGS Conference concentrates on records, regions, and research. To coin a phrase, NGS is a genealogist’s genealogy conference.

Skill levels from beginner to advanced are accommodated. There is something for everyone at this conference, including two presentations by me! I’m really excited to present “Do It Yourself Photo Restoration” and a luncheon presentation, “The Future of Family History—According to You!” Both are on Saturday so that I can be nervous for the whole conference.

Other than me, lecturers are often the best in their fields. I hate to mention names because I’m not an expert in every field, but I will name drop Tom Jones and Elizabeth Shown Mills. Their classes fill regardless of room size. (I understand they’re scheduled for even larger rooms than last time.)

Sessions are loosely organized into nine tracks each day. The tracks are:

Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Skill building Skill building Skill building Skill building
Methodology & Research   Methodology & Research Methodology & Research
Records Working with Records   Records
  Migration Migration Immigration
  Ethnic: African American Ethnic: Native American Ethnic Research
Technology Technology Technology Technology
Essentials California The West  
Military Religion Religion The Law
Family Women DNA  
Records Access   New York Writing & Other Topics
Vendor Presentations Vendor Presentations   Vendor Presentations

Skill levels from beginner to advanced are accommodated. There is something for everyone at this conference. Including two presentations by me! I’m really excited to present “Do It Yourself Photo Restoration” and a luncheon presentation, “The Future of Family History—According to You!” Both are on Saturday so that I can be nervous for the whole conference.

Lecturers are often the best in their fields. I hate to mention names because I’m not an expert in every field, but I will name drop Tom Jones and Elizabeth Shown Mills. Their classes fill regardless of room size. (I understand they’re scheduled for even larger rooms than last time.)

Luncheons sell out fast. Early bird registration, including the opportunity to order a printed syllabus ends tomorrow, Tuesday, 19 March 2013.

Go to and register today!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Capturing Sources in FamilySearch Family Tree

Remember the Ancestry Toolbar? It was an add-on for Internet Explorer and Firefox that allowed easy linking of a web page to a person in your Ancestry tree. Last November, deactivated the service. I was sorry to see it go. I loved that thing.

Now a company has introduced a similar tool for attaching a web source to a person in your FamilySearch tree. RecordSeek a browser add in (bookmarklet) that adds the address of a webpage, record, or document as a source in the FamilySearch Family Tree source box.

Installation is a drag… er, I mean easy. Go to Drag the Tree Connect button to your bookmark bar. (After installation it changes from a big green button, to a regular looking bookmark.)

Install RecordSeek by dragging the button onto your bookmark bar

To create a source from a web page, visit the webpage. Highlight any text you wish to appear in the source notes. Click the bookmark. A window pops up that allows you to login to FamilySearch. Tree connect then creates a source and fills in the title, citation, and description. Select a source box folder, click Save and you’re ready to attach the source from your source box to someone in your tree.

RecordSeek automates the creation of a FamilySearch Family Tree webpage source

In the notes (record description) is a Tree Connection advertisement. It is safe to delete it and enter a description of your own.

I have a concern about the citation. This is more than a nitpick. The URL is enclosed in angle brackets (< and >). Because these symbols have a special meaning on the web, they can cause problems in some situations and their use in a citation has been discontinued by the Chicago Manual of Style. Evidence Style also discourages their use. If it were me, I’d delete them. I could nitpick on the rest of the citation, but I won’t.

OK. Maybe I will nit a little bit. I encourage the use of Evidence Style for genealogists. Say what you will but it is the only citation style that addresses derivative sources, that cites both online derivative and offline original, and that characterizes the strength of the source. In Evidence Style, cite webpages like a book. (See “Citation Principles: Websites are Like a Book.”) OK. Enough said.

Now about saving records…

Citing a subscription website as a source is problematic; there is no way around it. People without a subscription won’t be able to see it. Tough. Just cite it. Of course, if a record is available on a free website as well, it might be worth the extra effort to cite the free source. After all, the day may come when you yourself won’t have access.

If you are at the Family History Library or a participating library it may be possible to take an URL someone saved in a source and view it without a subscription. Look near the beginning of the address, the part just before the .com. Change it as follows to indicate where you are trying to view the record:

An web address of a record can also be shortened quite a bit. Save the record to your shoebox. Click on the record in the shoebox. Now the URL is much shorter.

For example, is the shortened form of

Do this before using RecordSeek or copying the address to paste into another tree program.

RecordSeek is a definite addition to my toolbox. Go out and give it (and FamilySearch Family Tree) a try.

RecordSeek is a FamilySearch certified product from Real-Time Collaboration. Thank you, James Tanner, for alerting me to this tool.

Monday, March 11, 2013

NGS 2013 Conference Official Blogger

NGS 2013 Official BloggerI’m pleased to announce that I have been selected as an “Official Blogger, NGS 2013 Family History Conference.” The NGS Conference is being held 8–11 May 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Disclaimer: I have to tell you that I work as a volunteer for the National Genealogical Society, so I’m prejudiced. But I’ll try and give my usual, “tell it like it is,” the good, the bad, and the ugly. And ugly there is. I’ll address that later. First, the good stuff.

I love national conferences. These attract some of the best lecturers, some of the most knowledgeable people in the business. Other aspects of the conference may be good, but come for the lectures.

During each session (class period) you can choose a class from nine tracks (themes)! Wednesday there are four sessions (including an opening keynote speaker). Thursday, Friday, and Saturday there are five sessions each day. I’ll try and talk more about offerings later. If you have a particular instructor you are interested in, check the online conference program or the registration brochure.

There are two discounts you can receive over the regular $265 price: Early bird registration saves $35. Joining the National Genealogical Society saves another $35. (Annual membership dues are $65.)

But you’ve got to hurry. The early bird price expires next week, 19 March 2013.

Stay tuned for more details…

Friday, March 8, 2013

Mormon Tabernacle Choir Mini-Concert for RootsTech

The Ancestry Insidere is an official RootsTech bloggerThe Mormon Tabernacle Choir will perform a mini-concert, “Story and Song,” for RootsTech attendees on Thursday evening, 21 March 2013, from 8:45 to 9:30 p.m. in the historic Tabernacle on Temple Square. The concert will follow their regular weekly rehearsal, which the public is also invited to attend, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

The choir will perform numbers such as "High on a Mountaintop," "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," and Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." Special remarks will be provided by Elder Allan F. Packer, executive director of FamilySearch.

RootsTech for Family History Consultants

FamilySearch last week announced that several special opportunities will be available at RootsTech for family history consultants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Two free training classes will be held for consultants, FamilySearch center directors, and indexing directors. These can be attended in person, but will also be streamed live for viewing anywhere in the world. These sessions will cover working with priesthood leaders, helping members receive the blessings of the temple, and using resources available through FamilySearch. Register to attend in person at

Additionally, devotionals will be held featuring leaders of the Church, including Elder Allan F. Packer, First Quorum of the Seventy; Elder Paul E. Koelliker, First Quorum of the Seventy; Elder Bradley D. Foster, Second Quorum of the Seventy; David L. Beck, Young Men General President; and Elaine S. Dalton, Young Women General President. I imagine one or more of these will also be streamed live.

Consultants may wish to tell the youth of their wards the opportunities available for young people ages 11-18. For more information, see

The RootsTech Expo Hall is free and open to the general public. Consultants can talk to vendors and FamilySearch employees to learn the latest in technology and genealogy products and features.

See you at RootsTech!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sort-of RootsTech Kansas City

After last week’s article (“RootsTech Kansas City?”) The Ancestry Insidere is an official RootsTech bloggerI had lots of helpful people explain the Kansas City conference being held simultaneously with the RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City.

Genealogy KC is a Family History & Technology Conference being held in Kansas City. It is officially affiliated with RootsTech. Like FamilySearch, it is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is being held at a Church meeting house. It is free and open to the public. It mixes presentations by local experts, pre-recorded sessions, and a few broadcast presentations from RootsTech. Among the sessions I see presenters from the National Archives, the Midwest Genealogical Society, the Midwest Genealogy Center and the Mid-Continent Public Library, Ron Tanner, Laura Prescott, Tom MacEntee, James Tanner, Karen Clifford, and Elder David A. Bednar.

According to officials of Genealogy KC, this is a pilot test offered to several locations. Local FamilySearch Centers (family history centers) and associated Church congregations often sponsor annual family history fairs. The idea is to strengthen and expand the local offerings with sessions and devotionals from Salt Lake City.

If you want more information about the Kansas City event, check out their website at and their Twitter feed at

Genealogy KC logo

My thanks to the kind readers who reported this information.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Short History of FamilySearch Family Tree

Nearly ten years ago FamilySearch began an audacious project to construct a single pedigree to be shared by the entire world. After many false starts and stops, that process has now resulted in FamilySearch Family Tree, an experiment destined to make history, for better or worse.

FamilySearch Family Tree


In September 2005 I sat in the opening session of the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. I don’t remember what else Jay Verkler said, but I remember the demonstration he and Craig Miller made of Common Pedigree, a product that came to be known as “new FamilySearch.” It was electrifying. Verkler and Miller, on different computers, simultaneously edited a common pedigree file, each building on the work of the other in real time. This file was to be a single view of all mankind, shared and improved by all. Collaboration would prevent duplication and improve data quality.

Attendees were told that the program would soon be available to the general public. One blogger was told that it would be the following year. (See “FGS Conference Keynote Address – Jay Verkler.”)


It wasn’t for twenty months, in May 2007, that the rollout began to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was to be released to the public once it had been released to Church members in all areas across the world. The rollout proceeded slow but steady until the end of 2008. It was then that a fatal flaw was discovered in the product. One hallmark of the product had become its undoing: no one could delete anyone else’s contributions.

If an individual was added multiple times by multiple people, the duplicate individuals could be tied together (“combined”), but not eliminated. Imagine George Washington crossing the Delaware. Now image five hundred clones of George, all tied together, trying to share the same boat. FamilySearch servers were sinking like overcrowded rowboats.

The rollout was suspended in mid-November. FamilySearch addressed the flaw in two ways: it built bigger boats and it imposed a strict limit on the number of passengers allowed in each.


While the rollout resumed in mid-April 2009, plans were already under way for a new system to replace New FamilySearch. In July of that year Ron Tanner, New FamilySearch product manager, disclosed that work was underway on a new system code named SCOE (Source Centric, Open Edit). This project would become Family Tree.

Rollout of New FamilySearch to Church members completed near the end of 2009.


In early 2010 Tanner said, “We have a goal of getting the general public in by the end of the year.” (However, he did give his oft-repeated disclaimer that he was a product manager and he wasn’t making any promises. :-)


The end of the year came and went, but shortly thereafter, in February 2011, FamilySearch began beta testing public access to New FamilySearch.

Meanwhile, users chaffed at the continued inability to delete anyone else’s contributions. Bad data abounded and while it could be augmented with correct data, the bad data could never be eliminated. (You remember: no one can ever delete anyone else’s contributions.) On the opposite extreme, the new SCOE system allows anyone to change or delete anything.


At RootsTech in 2012 Tanner showed Family Tree and said that they were taking NFS data and moving it over to Family Tree and opening it up to everyone, including the general public by the end of the year.

The end of the year came and went.


Yesterday, someone noticed that anyone could get to Family Tree. There was no formal announcement from FamilySearch. I’ve seen this before. It is called a soft launch. It allows an organization to float a new product without being flooded with so many users that the system collapses.

And so it has come. Eight years after the general public got its first taste, FamilySearch has delivered its common pedigree.

“Our goal in the Family Tree is to document the genealogy of mankind, accurately,” said Ron Tanner, “and preserve it for generations to come.”

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

FamilySearch Family Tree Released to the General Public

Earlier today (Tuesday, 5 March 2013), news started spreading on the Internet that FamilySearch Family Tree is now available to the general public. I first read it on Randy Seaver’s Genea-Musings. He had seen it on  Larry Cragun Family and Genealogy blog.

FamilySearch Family Tree

To access Family Tree, go to and click on the Family Tree link just to the right of the FamilySearch logo.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Darned July 52nd!

Records say the darnedest things

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, Records are the Darnedest Things.”

Records Are the Darnedest Things: July 52nd

I came across this newspaper recently:

The Pulaski Democrat, July 52, 1906

July 52, 1906No. 47 of volume LVI of the Pulaski Democrat of Oswego County, New York, was published on 52 July 1906!

Nineteen-o-six. It was one of the longest Julys on record.