Thursday, October 31, 2013

Darned Black Cat

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 Say the Darnedest Things.

Records Say the Darnedest Things: Darned Black Cat

Any cat owner can tell you that cats do not recognize humans as the dominant species. Rather, it is cats that keep humans as pets (or servants).

It’s Halloween so it should be no surprise that black cats would find their way into the census. Not long ago alerted us to Bobs the Black Cat, owner of the Ladbrook family of Mistley, England.

Bobs the Black Cat

As you can see, Bobs has attempted to preserve his anonymity (no doubt to hide his nefarious plans) by having his name stricken from the enumeration.

I was able to verify that Bobs’s plan was successful on He does not appear there. I was able to verify this with a high degree of confidence using’s keyword field to search for all the residents living on Bramford Road in Ipswich.'s keyword field

I was not able to achieve the same level of confidence on Their search engine lacks this advanced feature, their index of the 1911 England Census lacks even basic fields (let alone the street address), and their website doesn’t include images of that census.

Credit with uncovering this insidious plot to infiltrate a fundamental human institution, the census.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hotel Rooms for NGS Conference Quickly Selling Out

2014 Conference of the National Genealogical SocietyThe National Genealogical Society announced recently in their What’s Happening newsletter that hotel rooms are selling out quickly for their upcoming 2014 conference in Richmond, Virginia.

The full text text of the announcement follows:

The Latest News about the NGS 2014 Family History Conference

7–10 May 2014 in Richmond, Virginia

Have you made your hotel reservations to attend the NGS 2014 Family History Conference next year in Richmond, Virginia? Over 3,000 hotel nights have already been booked. If you have procrastinated, we have good news: the DoubleTree Hotel, 301 West Franklin St., Richmond, Virginia 23220, has been added to the list of conference hotels. Shuttle service will be provided from the DoubleTree to the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Hotel rates and contact information for the DoubleTree, as well as the most up-to-date information about the hotels, can be found at

The NGS 2014 Family History Conference Registration Brochure will be posted on the conference website,, on 15 November 2014. Conference registration will open on 1 December 2014.

Two conference events with limited seating will sell out quickly: the BCG Education Fund Workshop and the Virginia Genealogical Society Host Event at the Library of Virginia. If you plan to attend either event described below, we encourage you to register as soon as registration opens.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

FamilySearch Announces Source Contest, Sunset of is scheduled for Read-only status at the end of this year,” Ron Tanner recently posted on Tanner is Family Tree product manager. “With the capabilities the Family Tree has, we are excited to migrate all of our users to this unified, collaborative platform. There are so many advantages for users to make the move to Family Tree, it makes sense for everyone.”

Read-only status means that those with access to (NFS) will be able to view information but not make changes. Total closure is scheduled for the end of 2014.

Since the introduction of FamilySearch Family Tree, new features have not been added to NFS. Consequently, many features exist only in Family Tree, like

  • photos, documents, and stories
  • the ability to delete erroneous information
  • easier sourcing
  • transfer of sources to desktop tree programs
  • integration with Historical Record Search
  • availability to the general public
  • printable fan chart
  • printable family group chart with sources
  • easier tree navigation
  • change logs with undo functionality

However, NFS retains features not available in Family Tree, such as

  • multiple values for conflicting birth, marriage, and death records
  • sources for particular values (If one source says 1830, you want it attached to the value 1830. If another source says 1834, you want it attached to the value 1834. With Family Tree, it is possible to attach both sources to 1834, making it appear that there is more support for that value than there actually is.)
  • sources added through NFS
  • legacy source identification by batch and FHL film number
  • access to LDS membership records (via combined records view)
  • timelines

Perhaps this is why NFS is becoming read-only for a while, rather than completely going away.

FamilySearch Major Milestone

FamilySearch has also announced a major milestone brought about by Family Tree.

“And I’m excited to tell you that sometime around the end of 2013, the 12-millionth source will be added to FamilySearch,” FamilySearch CEO, Dennis Brimhall, recently announced. “We’ll be watching closely to see who that user will be who submits that 12-millionth milestone.” FamilySearch will award that person with ten hours of research by the FamilySearch VIP research staff.

“We look forward to rewarding one of you for being the one who adds the 12-millionth source to FamilySearch. So, let the challenge begin!” said Brimhall.

Saturday, October 26, 2013 Halloween Contest

Poet and novelist, Thomas is giving away an iPad and three other prizes this Halloween season, starting this weekend, Saturday, 26 October 2013.

The website has this teaser about the contest:

Put on your detective hat, the Ancestry Death Record Challenge is back. Search our vast collection of death records to for a chance to win prizes — even an iPad! And while you’re at it, uncover missing details in your own family mystery.

There are three challenges, each with a prize. According to the official rules, you can only enter once (per email address) for the entire promotion. The iPad is the grand prize. The prizes are

  • Challenge 1, 26 October – FTM and Companion Guide (ARV - $69.98)
  • Challenge 2, 28 October – DNA test (ARV - $99.00)
  • Challenge 3, 30 October – WE year membership (either gift substitution or extension of existing membership) (ARV - $299.00)

Technically, no purchase is necessary to enter or win. Practically, it is much easier if you have access to the records on

Visit for more information and to enter the contest.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Story of Serendipity from the LineageKeeper

From the LineageKeeper to Randy Seaver to David Adams to me, here’s a story of Serendipity.

“There are times when you are a participant in a genealogy story so full of serendipity that the storyline is hard to believe even though it is happening to you.”

See “Ancestral Stories ~ You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” by the LineageKeeper.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

AncestryDNA Gets Big Update

Last week released a new, upgraded experience for their autosomal DNA tests. Not only will new purchasers get the enhanced results, the results from past purchasers has been upgraded as well.

Dr. Catherine Ball, Vice President of Genomics and Bioinformatics for AncestryDNA said, “Today, the AncestryDNA science team has examined more than 700,000 DNA markers to create a genetic portrait for groups of people around the world. By comparing someone’s DNA to this core reference set, we can calculate an ethnicity estimate based on 26 global populations.”

The 26 global regions increases the number of regions from the previously identified 22. African ethnicity has expanded to a total of ten African regions, including six different countries/regions within Western Africa, including Benin/Togo, Cameroon/Congo, Ivory/Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal. The British Isles is now divided into Great Britain and Ireland. Southern Europe is separated into the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and Italy/Greece. 

The Autosomal DNA testing used in AncestryDNA’s test has been received with much more skepticism than the familiar Y-chromosome and Mitochondrial DNA tests. It has been a lot harder for me to understand. While Y-chromosomes and mitochondrial DNA are most often passed unchanged from parent to child, Y-chromosome tests are a reliable way of determining that two males share a common ancestor.

Autosomal DNA is a random recombination of DNA from both parents. I assume an ancestors DNA might be totally displaced, leaving no DNA evidence of that ancestor’s existence. Consequently, Autosomal DNA testing works best in determining broad, ethnic origins because the larger the group of ancestors, the more likely their genes are to have survived in you.

With the imminent release of these enhanced test results, I finally bit the bullet and purchased a test. Before the new results were released, A cousin and I were disappointed that our Native American ancestry was not indicated in the AncestryDNA results. My cousin subsequently did the 23-and-Me test and was pleased to see the expected 2% Native American ancestry.

Consequently, I was pleased to see the Native American ancestry in the new AncestryDNA results.

AncestryDNA new ethnicity report

The Irish ancestry, 21%, is larger than my pedigree would predict, which is 6.25%. This can be explained in a couple ways.

Just because an ancestor on your pedigree chart was born in England with an English surname doesn’t mean all their ancestors were “genetically pure Englishmen” (whatever that means). Some of my English ancestors most probably had intermarried with Irish persons.

AncestryDNA range of uncertaintyThe other explanation has to do with the science and math involved in the predictions. I won’t go into it here, but you can read more on the AncestryDNA website. (Oops. is doing one of those stupid popups that doesn’t have a URL, so I can’t send you to the explanation. This link will show the text but not the diagrams.) Suffice it to say that the percentages given are only averages. The actual value can be anywhere in a range that can be seen by clicking on the result.

For my 21% Irish ancestry, the actual value could be anywhere in the range of 6 to 36%, as shown in the diagram to the right. That covers the 6.25% value predicted by my pedigree.

Besides showing broad ancestral ethnicity, autosomal DNA can identity close, modern relatives. My results showed a close family member (actually, my uncle), one 1st-2nd cousin (roninsider55, who is actually my 1st cousins), two 2nd-3rd cousins (cooperjh and orchardgordon1, whom I don’t recognize by their codenames), three 3rd-4th cousins, over 70 4th-6th cousins, and a 110 pages of distant cousins. Your mileage may vary. I’m a descendent of early members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which heavily encourages members to do genealogy, so I am not surprised.

AncestryDNA list of possible relatives

As you can see, codenames give some level of privacy to participants. If you don’t want them known, don’t include your first or last names in your codename.

To the right of the codename is a number indicating the number of persons your relative has in their member tree. A shakey leaf next to that indicates that has used your tree and his and identified your common ancestor. Clicking Review Match shows the exact relationship (see below).

AncestryDNA common ancestor chart

Beneath this is the relative’s pedigree. (See the example, below.) Despite the anonymity enjoyed by using codenames, seeing that person in the context of their tree, you can see their surname and their deceased parents’ names. In many cases, particularly for closer relatives, this allows exact identification, despite the codenames. If you have good relatives, that’s not so bad. If you don’t,… well, that’s another story.

AncestryDNA relative's pedigree chart

As I mentioned, you may not see the number of close relatives that I did. One criticism often directed at AncestryDNA is the size of the pool of participants. According to, the pool has grown to 200,000 customers. Not long ago dropped the price from $199 to $99 to encourage participation. Additional information can be found in the press release and at

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Mailbox: Free Remains Free

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

I am very upset about the changes in! Now I will not have access to the same level of free information I had in the past. I am on a disability pension and cannot afford to pay

dale *

Dear dale,

You will have the same free access to the same level of free information that you did before. In response to the FindMyPast announcement, Paul Nauta, FamilySearch spokesperson said, “In general, all of the new records from FamilySearch that will be accessible from within will continue to be available online at…Records that are indexed by FamilySearch volunteers will continue to be available for free to all visitors of” (Okay, I worry a tiny bit about the “in general” phrase.)

In response to the MyHeritage announcement, he said, “All of the new records from FamilySearch that will be accessible from within MyHeritage products will continue to be available online at”

Contrary to having records removed from, I seem to recall a couple of the press releases said that the companies would engage in joint projects to acquire, digitize, and publish additional records. Hopefully none of these new acquisitions will include those obnoxious arrangements where you get the index for free on but have to go to a partner site and pay to see the images. I suppose I shouldn’t complain about that; even a new, free, index is cheaper than a plane ticket to the archive. Still, I hope that doesn’t happen.

I’m aware of records that have been removed from for other reasons, such as the recent removal of images of Cook County vitals. (See this article in the FamilySearch wiki for more information.) That happens because of changing laws, rules, policies, and agreements with archives.

We don’t lose anything already free in these agreements and we get additional free stuff. That’s sweet.

The Ancestry Insider

Friday, October 18, 2013

FamilySearch/FindMyPast Announce Agreement

DC Thomson Family History and FamilySearch logosFamilySearch and FindMyPast owner, DC Thomson Family History, announced yesterday the family history strategic agreement du jour. More than 13 million records from launched yesterday on, including major collections of births, marriages and deaths covering America, Australia, and Ireland. Around 600 additional collections, containing millions of records, will follow.

“The convenience of searching many treasures from along with our own extensive collections will provide rich new insights for our customers,” said Annelies van den Belt, the new CEO of DC Thomson Family History. “This partnership with FamilySearch will accelerate the momentum of our next phase of global growth into new non-English-speaking markets.”

Unlike the MyHeritage announcement earlier this week, which explicitly identified the value each organization received, this announcement was vague on the value to be received by FamilySearch. The press release says the two will collaborate “to deliver a wide range of projects including digital preservation, records search, technological development and the means to allow family historians to share their discoveries.”

In recent weeks FamilySearch has entered into strategic agreements with, MyHeritage, and DC Thompson Family History, giving each access to millions or billions of FamilySearch’s records. FamilySearch CEO, Dennis Brimhall, said that “expanding online access to historical records through this type of collaboration can help millions more people discover and share their family’s history.”

DC Thomson Family History was formerly known as BrightSolid Online Publishing and owns both Genes Reunited and the FindMyPast family of websites.

For more information on the DC Thompson Family History agreement, see the full press release. and frequently asked questions.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

MyHeritage Announces Partnership With FamilySearch

MyHeritage announces strategic agreement with FamilySearch“We've entered into a strategic partnership with FamilySearch which will add billions of historical records to MyHeritage,” said Aaron Godfrey, public relations manager at MyHeritage. “MyHeritage will receive more than 2 billion global historical records from FamilySearch, spanning hundreds of years.” The collections include censuses, vital records (birth, marriage, and death), and hundreds of other collections from all over the world. The records will be available to MyHeritage users for searching using MyHeritage’s SuperSearch technology and matching using their Smart Matching and Record Matching technologies. This will occur in the next few months.

In return, MyHeritage will provide FamilySearch with the Smart Matching and Record Matching technologies for users on the FamilySearch website. This will be available sometime during 2014.

User contributions to the FamilySearch Tree will be included in the records given to MyHeritage. However, information will not be flowing back the opposite direction. “Content uploaded by MyHeritage users will stay only on MyHeritage and this content is never licensed, shared, sold or given to any third party,” said MyHeritage.

This announcement follows on the heels of a similar announcement made by back in September. (See “More Information on Agreement.”) This announcement may have been alluded to by FamilySearch’s Don Anderson at the organization’s annual business meeting. In my article, “FamilySearch Annual Business Meeting,” I reported that,

Anderson said that sharing FamilySearch records with partners results in more people using the records and the more FamilySearch shares with partners, the more the partners share with FamilySearch. Anderson added that FamilySearch is working with partners to facilitate growth of FamilySearch Family Tree. Brimhall reported that more information would be forthcoming.

For more information about the MyHeritage/FamilySearch agreement, see the MyHeritage blog and the official press release.

Darned If They Do, Darned If They Don’t

FamilySearch recently made a change to its display of pedigrees for unmarried users. FamilySearch had received complaints from some who were not married. Kristine Reynolds wrote,

Bias against single members

Default view on "Family Pedigree with Details" shows my name and then my husbands. Only I'm 42 and not married and already feel completely alienated and isolated in the church. Since there is a growing number of adult singles in the church MAYBE you should consider changing this.


Gladys Charlene Gillespie wrote,


I think I single persons should be able to view their own pedigree without being reminded they are single. It is a disservice to them and degrading to see a pedigree chart 1/2 empty. They are being penalized for being single. I also think it is unnecessary for divorced people to have to see their ex partner's pedigree still linked to their own. Sometimes people remarry and sometimes they do not. In either case it would be nice to not have to be reminded each time I log in, that I am divorced.

I believe this is a valid concern. Apparently, FamilySearch did also. They changed the display so that the single person is displayed in the child position. This creates a full pedigree.

Unfortunately, singles then felt demoted. Audrey Lu Stradling wrote

Single people in main position

I am a single sister over 18 years of age. I have never been married. I do not understand why I am not in the first person when I sign in it goes to my parents; and I DO NOT LIKE IT!!!!!!! I deserve to be in the first place as do all the single never been married people!! PLEASE CHANGE THIS BACK. Thank you for your time

(Note her follow up post as well.)

Brandon Lee Baird wrote

Change the Family Tree view for singles back to its original.

The new Family Tree view for single people is not very good. It will no longer place me in the principal position and it makes it harder to print my own four generation pedigree chart. It is also confusing when I enter Family Tree because I am accustomed to looking at the principal position instead of the children.

Gail Koch added

I agree. When I found I could not put me in the main position it made me feel like a second class person since I was not married. It was demeaning. My siblings I can put in the main position but not me. It makes me angry. There is no other genealogical program that I know of that I can't be in the main position. Change it back.

I believe this is also a valid concern.

The origin of this conundrum is a subtle change that FamilySearch has made to a standard pedigree. They have replaced each person in the pedigree with a couple: husband and wife. This must have seemed a good idea at the time, but the effect on unmarried individuals may not have been fully appreciated.

I don’t know how FamilySearch will—or even can—solve this problem. I leave it in their capable hands.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Serendipity from Three Semis

This story of serendipity comes from Leroy Kelly. I share it in his own words.

Back in 1976 I found myself in New Orleans for a conference. I started thinking. My father's family came through Louisiana in the 1800s. My great, great grandfather was born outside of Alexandria. At the same time my grandmother was born in Pea Ridge, Kemper County, Mississippi.

I realized that I was meant to be in the area to do some family history.

I rented a car and started to Alexandria. Due to three, very inconsiderate semis I was not able to make the necessary exit. I decided, what the heck, I'll just go to Mississippi instead.

Two hundred and thirty miles later I pulled into DeKalb, Mississippi. I went to the local library where a friendly librarian helped me. "Pea Ridge? Oh my goodness, it hasn't been called that since I was a girl. It's Cleveland now."

I drove out to Cleveland and discovered that it was not a town, but a country store, complete with local post office, feed store, one gasoline pump, and groceries.

I introduced myself and asked if they could tell me anything about the TERRY family who had once lived in the area. They thought for a while, and told me no. As I was nearly out the door one said, "Tell ya what, you go across the street to Miss Maudie's house. She's lived here all here life. If anyone could help you it's gonna be her."

I knocked and presently the door opened a crack. I heard a voice. "Yes?"

"Excuse me ma'am. I'm looking for information on the TERRY family who used to live in this area. I was wondering if you ever heard of them?"

"No, never did, I can't help you."

The door closed and then opened almost as fast. "Young man, there was a TERRY family in this area a long time ago. There was a church that they used to call Terry Hill on account of the Terry family. There's a house and there's an old burying ground just up the road a holler and a jump, on the right hand side, just past the big oak trees."

I thanked her and drove up the road. I found the old church and the house beside it. I stopped and talked to the inhabitants, asking them about the house, but they could tell me nothing. I drove back down the road and pulled off in front of a gate that guarded a patch of the greatest jungle of briars and weeds, guaranteed to be the abode of myriad snakes, spiders, and who knows what else. Amongst all that growth I could see tombstones.

I pushed, shoved, and pulled for the greater part of an hour finding full grown trees growing over graves, tombstones broken and littered all over the ground. I was looking for JOHN TERRY but found no TERRY graves at all. Finally, hot, tired and more than frustrated, I started back to the car. In my walk I stumbled and fell into the briars and vines of a very large and nasty bush. There I was on my bleeding hands and painful knees, when I saw a footstone with the initials JT. I couldn't believe my eyes.

I didn't get up, I couldn't have because of the vines and brush. I crawled around to the front of the grave. There it was: JOHN TERRY, 1825 - 16 May 1895. I found him! I have been doing this work now for years and have had some marvelous experiences but I can honestly say that was the first time I heard the sound of angels singing. Beside him I found MARY his wife and two of their children. I have to admit that I cried.

After taking pictures and gathering every inch of information I could, I started back into DeKalb. As I came back to Miss Maudie's home I stopped to thank her. She opened the door, a bit wider this time, and asked if I had found what I was looking for. I told her what I had discovered. She opened the door and invited me in for lemonade.

In the middle of our talk she suddenly stopped, looked at me and said, “Miss Louise was a TERRY.” A few minutes later I was talking to my grandmother's first cousin. I drove into DeKalb to meet her. In the middle of talking Miss Louise looked at her son and said, "Lee, why don't you take him out to grandpa Gideon's grave."

I left DeKalb, Mississippi with sixty eight names, copies of forty pages from family bibles, four generations of the TERRY family, a quilt that was made by and belonged to my great, great, great, grandmother, a whole mess of cousins and friends, and memories that are precious and sacred to me. Now how is that for serendipity and three trucks that wouldn't let me make the exit to Alexandria, Louisiana.

Thanks, Leroy!

If you have a story you’d like to share, send it to

Source: Leroy Kelly, [e-mail address withheld for privacy,] to, e-mail, 13 September 2013, “Do I Have a Story?” privately held by the author.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

FamilySearch Family Tree Feature Updates

“The last couple of weeks have seen some changes to [FamilySearch] Family Tree,” wrote Steve Anderson in a recent blog article.

The Report Abuse link is in the Tools box
This and subsequent images
are credit FamilySearch

FamilySearch added the ability to report abuse on the person page. The feature is not intended for reporting incorrect data. Rather, the feature is to give users the ability to report violations of the site terms and conditions, including profanity or other abusive language, sensitive information about living individuals, links to inappropriate websites, and SPAM. To correct wrong data, users should utilize the existing features: changing the data and entering good reason statements, adding sources, participating in discussions, and contacting other users.

In the Print box, options exist for Pedigree, Family, and Family with SourcesUsers can print family group records without sources. I worry a bit about this one. I can imagine it was requested by users who don’t place any value on sources. I don’t recommend using this when sharing printouts with others, but for one’s own working files, if an occasion arises where it is warranted, it is possible.
Specifying the parents or spouse to show in a pedigree is now possible. If a person has multiple parents or spouses, scroll down to the Family Members section of the person page and click the Preferred box.

The Preferred check box is located in the Family Members section of the person page

Wanton merges and deletes can be a problem, even though they can be undone (to some degree). FamilySearch has added stronger warnings to these two operations.


Another “enhancement” was made to the pedigrees of single individuals. I’ve written about that in a separate article. You’ll probably see it next week.

Stay tuned…

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

FamilySearch Photos SEO

One of the holy grails of corporate websites is SEO: search engine optimization. Corporations like to have their website show up at the top of search results. When you have something to sell, you want people to hear about it. I recently searched Google for an ancestor’s name, "Henson Cole Whitlock" and was amazed to see how many hits were returned. Don’t count on being so lucky with your ancestors’ names. Searching for most names returns nothing about them.

I was surprised to see what websites garnered the top spots. (These are the rankings as of 14 September 2013. You should log out of your Google account prior to doing the search.)

1. A photograph on To be truthful, I knew the photograph existed. I just wanted to test FamilySearch’s SEO prowess. They garnered the top spot, outdoing other family history websites! The information under the link was a little generic, but number 1 is number 1.

Henson Cole Whitlock - Photos and Stories —‎
Publish and preserve your family history photos forever, free on FamilySearch.

2. An album containing the photograph on

Whitlock - Photos and Stories —
1938 Whitlock reunion Christmas in Arizona. Bonnie left and Bonnie right. Henson Cole Whitlock 1899 Dallas, Texas. Henson Cole Whitlock 1898 Dallas, Texas.

image3. A person page on! Wow. That’s impressive. It’s a bit of a chore for a subscription website to expose their protected content for Google to see. Somehow, has put together a set of—how many pages?—of the people in their trees. The page contains lots of enticing information, just enough to whet your appetite for a subscription, but not entirely filling.

Henson Cole Whitlock - Records -‎
10 Records - Born in Dallas, Texas, USA on 26 Jan 1875 to Samuel Whitlock and Mary M Davis. Henson Cole married Martha Baker and had 14 children.

4 through 8. Find a Grave photos, flowers, and memorials. ! They do so many things right. It’s not surprising they rank so high.

Henson Cole Whitlock (1875 - 1952) - Find A Grave Photos‎
May 15, 2012 - Henson Cole Whitlock. Memorial · Photos · Flowers · Edit · Share · Learn about upgrading this memorial... [Add A Photo] ...

9. Billion Graves. It is interesting to watch this Find-a-grave wanna-be grow. The information under the URL is better than Find-a-Grave.

Henson Cole Whitlock | Billion Graves Record‎
Headstone Record for Henson Cole Whitlock. Burial Place: Mesa, Arizona, United States. Birth: 1875. Death: 1952.

10. Someone’s family tree uploaded to rounds out the top ten. (Does still support uploading new trees?)

Baker Bible:Information about Henson Cole Whitlock -‎
Nov 26, 1975 - Home Page |Surname List |Index of Individuals |InterneTree |Sources. View Tree for Henson Cole Whitlock Henson Cole Whitlock (b.

There you have it. All genealogy websites!

Sorry about the search for your ancestors. Who knew there were 1,470 people on Facebook, 382 people on LinkedIn, and 14 people on Google+ with their name.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 Adds Related Content Pane to Image Viewer has added a new feature to their image viewer. Click Related Content to show a pane along the right side of the window that shows records that might pertain to the person named in the record you are viewing.'s related content pane in the image viewer

The pane also shows users who have linked the record to a person in their tree, along with links to their profiles and links to their trees.

I’ve never heard explain how they determine related records. The safest method, when the record has been attached to a person in a tree, as in the example above, would be to show other records attached to that person. doesn’t seem to be doing that. The example above shows the record of Stephen J. Sullivan in the 1940 census. Note that the first suggested, related record is for Semion S Sullivan. It is unlikely that Stephen was indexed twice in the 1940 census. That he was indexed once as Stephen and once as Semion, is extremely unlikely.

I conclude that is using a machine-matching algorithm, rather than depending on human created relationships. I dislike machine-matching algorithms—a lot. Remember FamilySearch’s Ancestral File? Remember’s One World Tree?

Machine matching has its place. I support its use as a means for suggesting to users possible matches that users then must manual review, accept, or reject. But as we’ve seen in’s member trees and FamilySearch’s NFS and Family Tree, a few users accept matches without question, wrecking havoc.

Organizations must take all possible measures to discourage bad user behavior. First, matches should not be suggested unless they are almost certain.

Second, products should warn users and impede (as Ron Tanner would say) incorrect merges.

Third, , organizations should inform users of the probability that a given match is correct. and have extensive datasets that could be used to calculate these.

  • What is the name frequency for the surname Smith?
  • What is the name frequency for given name John?
  • What percentage of the population is male?
  • What is the demographic probability that a person alive in 1940 was born about 1890?
  • What was the population of Salt Lake City in 1940?
  • How many John Smiths in Salt Lake City have been married to Elizabeth?
  • How many John and Elizabeth Smiths have children named John, James, Elizabeth, and Mary?
  • What percentage of adult males were employed in farming in 1940?
  • How many males from the state of Utah fought in WWII?

Mathematically combining these for two potentially matching records could yield a probability that the two people were the same person. That number should be presented to users so they understand the uncertainty of the match.

Then machine matching helps not only the newest subscriber, but the most seasoned researcher. Then machine matching makes sense. Until then, caveat emptor.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday Mailbox

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Readers,

I am trying an experiment, starting today. I have set up my publication schedule so that newsreader, Twitter, and Facebook posts occur at 9:00 AM, Mountain Time. Newsletters will be delivered starting at 11:00 AM, Mountain Time.

I hope this schedule proves more convenient for you.

--The Ancestry Insider

Dear FamilySearch,

I want you to know that I will continue to write the Ancestry Insider column only on my own time, which is primarily on weekends. I schedule publication in advance, which is why you’ll now receive emails during the middle of the work day. Don’t worry; those emails were authored prior to that time.

It also bears reiteration that I have established a Chinese wall between me, the FamilySearch employee, and me, the Ancestry Insider. The Insider only knows what has been stated publicly. This has confused coworkers a time or two, when the Insider appears to be clueless. Of course, the Insider is often clueless on his own accord.

--The Ancestry Insider

Thursday, October 3, 2013

FamilySearch Announces My Family Booklet

My Family: Stories That Bring Us Together

FamilySearch last week announced the introduction of a new family history tool for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who do not have ready access to computers or the Internet.

Said Dennis Brimhall, FamilySearch CEO, “This booklet is a way for [all Church members] to immediately reach out and start talking to parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends; to gather family photos and stories; and then have ward family history consultants help them enter this precious and priceless information in a place where it will be archived free and for generations to come.” Brimhall said that 95% of the grandparents of Church members have not been added to Family Tree.

There are pages for self, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Most of each page is set aside for stories and memories. Space is also available for a photograph and basic vital information. The margin contains reminders to enter the information into Family Tree and to perform temple ordinances.

A web page will help consultants enter the information into Family Tree. A printable instruction page can help consultants use the Help Others feature.

The booklet is available in 24 languages. Additional copies of the booklet (item number 10974) may be ordered for a ward or branch from a Church distribution center or online at

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

FamilySearch Annual Business Meeting

“Elder Allan F. Packer and I recently met with Family History Department employees and missionaries in our annual department business meeting,” wrote Dennis Brimhall, FamilySearch CEO. The Family History Department is the family history arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Packer is the executive director of the department and serves as chairman of the board of FamilySearch. Brimhall reported on the meeting in a recent blog post.

“We…had several Family History Department leaders give a peek into some of the exciting new developments that will be coming in 2014,” wrote Brimhall.

Don Anderson, department director (and FamilySearch senior vice president) of Patron and Partner Services talked about working with partners. (See my article about the partnership, “More Information on Agreement.”) Anderson said that sharing FamilySearch records with partners results in more people using the records and the more FamilySearch shares with partners, the more the partners share with FamilySearch. Anderson added that FamilySearch is working with partners to facilitate growth of FamilySearch Family Tree. Brimhall reported that more information would be forthcoming.

Steve Rockwood, director of Worldwide Support Services (I don’t know his FamilySearch title) talked about the department’s efforts to service patrons worldwide. He also introduced a new booklet, My Family: Stories that Bring Us Together. I’ll talk about that more tomorrow.

Rod DeGiulio, director (and FamilySearch senior, executive vice president of records) showed a touching video illustrating the impact that volunteer indexing has. He said that in 2014 there will be a new indexing platform. The new platform should attract more indexers as well as increase quality and accuracy.

Craig Miller, director (and FamilySearch senior vice president) of product development announced that a mobile app is under development and will be available in 2014. He showed a video showing how it will work. He said that in the future you’ll be able to use the camera on your mobile device to capture photos and video and instantly add it directly to Family Tree. (Click the image below to see the video.)

Demonstration of the upcoming FamilySearch Family Tree mobile app

Miller announced the progress that Family Tree is making, collecting sources. New FamilySearch, in its eight years, gathered 56,000 sources. Since the introduction of Family Tree, users have contributed more than 6.4 million sources.

“I want to thank everyone for all their help and their dedication to this great work,” wrote Brimhall. “We couldn’t do it without you.”

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 Buys Find a Grave

Find a Grave purchased by Ancestry.comYesterday announced its purchase of the website. During the last 18 years users have contributed 75 million photographs of gravestones to the free website. Find A Grave will become a wholly owned subsidiary of, and will continue to be managed by its founder, Jim Tipton. Terms of the transaction were not released.

“We will maintain Find A Grave as a free website, will retain its existing policies and mode of operation,” said CEO, Tim Sullivan. plans to enhance Find A Grave by creating a new mobile app, improving customer support, and adding foreign-language support.

Find A Grave indexes have shown up recently on World Vital Records,, and I wonder if the following provision was added to the terms of service in response:

Republication or resale of any of the Content or other protected data is prohibited. Bots, crawlers, spiders, data miners, scraping and any other automatic access tool are expressly prohibited.

Feelings about Find A Grave run deep. I wrote an article once about cooperating with Find A Grave volunteers, removing illegally posted photographs. The article generated more responses than almost any other article I’ve written. Most supported free sharing of photographs. Some did not want to see their photographs posted to (See “Monday Mailbox: Ancestry Removing Find A Grave Photos?”)

I recently came across a photo request on Find A Grave that had been marked with a warning: “Photo volunteers-please be aware the requester adds photos from Find a Grave to”

Almost all user reaction on’s blog has said the same thing: This could be a good thing so long as keeps it free.

The complete press release can be read on their corporate website.