Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday Mailbox: Downloading Your Member Tree

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

How do I retrieve my family trees? I have many. If possible, how do I get them added to a GEDCOM file? Can you help at all?

june marie carter mrs milner

Dear June,

There are two ways I know of.

1. Click Tree Pages. > Tree Settings > Export Tree. This gives you a GEDCOM. Unfortunately, the GEDCOM standard does not support the transfer of document images or photos, so you won’t receive any of the documents and photos you attached or uploaded to your tree. Don’t blame for that. FamilySearch is the author of the GEDCOM standard and seems unwilling to update the GEDCOM file format with the ability to do so.

2. Buy Family Tree Maker. This gives you an FTM file, which can be exported as a GEDCOM file. It also gives you copies of all your photos. And it gives you copies of all's document images that you have attached to your tree. This is a tremendous value if you think at some time you will not renew a subscription to

Remember, I don’t work for I don’t benefit in any way if you buy Family Tree Maker.

The Ancestry Insider

Friday, June 27, 2014

Serendipity and a Grandmother Named David

Virginia David O'CullIt is as though our ancestors want to be found. Uncanny coincidences. Olympian luck. Phenomenal fate. Tremendous intuition. Remarkable miracles. We call It, “Serendipity in Genealogy.”

David Harrison—a man—had problems finding the grave of David O’Cull, his grandmother.

“Our grandmother, born Virginia David O’Cull, must have had a unique childhood,” wrote David Harrison. “As discovered on census records and her first marriage certificate, she regularly went by her middle name, David.”

Compounding the confusion, Virginia David was known by six different surnames during her life. Due to death and divorce, she had had five different husbands.

On top of these challenges, Virginia David was buried in the poorly mapped, older section of a large cemetery.

The sexton’s records indicated she had been buried as Virginia Lanier, the surname of her last husband. The sexton provided a map and David went out looking. When he was unable to find the grave, the sexton sent a cemetery worker to help them. The worker was also unable to find the grave. It was not where the map indicated. After half an hour, the worker sought out a more experienced coworker. For nearly an hour the three looked for the grave, but with no success. David gradually widened his search.

“Approximately 200 feet from the designated site I felt inspired to pray,” wrote David. “As I raised my eyes I found—not six feet from me—her grave with a headstone engraved, Virginia Harrison, the surname of her first husband.” Birth and death dates confirmed the identity of his grandmother’s resting place.

David had never met his grandmother. But standing before her grave at that moment, under those circumstances, he felt especially close to her.

That is what we call, “Serendipity in Genealogy.”


R. David Harrison, “A Closeness Never Before Realized,” Deseret News ( : accessed 7 June 2014).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

FamilySearch Shaky Leaf Hints

Overshadowed by’s denial of service attack, last week FamilySearch quietly released its version of the shaky leaf hinting. I’ve been asked to encourage experienced users to use this new feature to help new users get excited about genealogy. Don’t scarf up all the hints yourself.

FamilySearch has compared all the records in its historical records collections to every person in the Tree. In those cases where it found a possible match, it displays a record hint on the person page in the right hand column.

Hints are found in the right hand column

I say possible matches because the records aren’t guaranteed. That is why they are called hints. FamilySearch has tried to be correct 95% of the time. I think I could probably chug through 100 records in a sitting. I would expect to find five bad hints during that time. Unlike the Possible Duplicates feature, I didn’t see a way to indicate that a particular hint was not a match.

If there are too many hints, Family Tree may not display all of them in the margin. Click Show all to move to a page that shows them all.

Use a dedicated page to see all the hints when there are too many to show in the right column.

Click the hint in the right column of the person page or click the Review button on the hint page. Family Tree displays the enhanced attach records page. Use it to attach the record to everyone mentioned therein.

Attach records for everyone mentioned in the record from the enhanced attach records page.

Family Tree displays on the left hand side the information from the record. On the right, it shows the information from the tree. If the fact is new (such as the marriage in the example above), click Add to copy it into the tree. Don’t forget to specify the reason you think the record matches the tree. (In the example above, I might say something like: “The bride’s and groom’s names match as does the marriage date and place.”) After specifying a reason, click the Attach button. Repeat for each person in the record to prevent errors that computers make when they automatically make matching decisions.

Remember: use this feature to engage new genealogists when possible.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 Attacked by Zombies, Part 2

DDoS diagramMonday of last week, 16 June 2014, zombies attacked the website as I explained last week. (See “ Attacked by Zombies.”) Zombie is the term used to describe an unwitting computer, perhaps the one on your desktop, that was forced to send untold numbers of requests to the target website. Because the attack comes from many computers, and because it is designed to prevent the target from providing normal services to its users, the attack is called a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack.

If you don’t have virus protection and if your computer runs much slower than it did when it was new, your computer might be compromised. Wouldn’t that be ironic if one of the people complaining loudly about the outage was partly responsible?

If you don’t have virus protection, get it now.

And don’t click on email attachments from people you don’t know or attached to suspicious messages.

Harkening back to the boys shooting peas at you, the boys learned none of the secrets you might have harbored. Quite to the contrarily, in your overwhelmed state, you couldn’t have told them anything. Information about you on remained safe.’s chief technology officer confirmed this. “Your data was not compromised by this attack. This attack overloaded our servers with massive amounts of traffic but did not impact or access the data within those servers. No data was impacted in any way.”

I don’t know the identity of the attacker and hasn’t said. They probably don’t know since the attacker employs compromised computers—zombies—to perform the attack. I also don’t know the attacker’s motive. Given the timing of the attack, perhaps the attacker was disgruntled with’s recent service cancellations. MyCanvas, MyFamily, and RootsWeb were still down on Saturday when I wrote this article. About 1pm Saturday tweeted “We will extend the retirement date on MyFamily, MyCanvas, Mundia, Y-DNA & mtDNA & will have details once websites are brought back online.”

Or given that Find a Grave was also affected, the attacker might have been disgruntled with Find a Grave’s owner selling out to I don’t think this is the case. I think it more likely that Find a Grave was collateral damage. It may share equipment with the website and disabling one disabled both.

In all likelihood, the attacker was not disgruntled with at all. Move, Inc., owner of and associated sites, was also hit with a DDoS attack at about the same time as A day after making an initial press release about the attack, Move, Inc. announced that they had received a ransom demand. According to bits, the New York Times blog, many companies have recently been hit with a DDoS attack and a ransom demand. These include Evernote,, Shutterstock, MailChimp, Feedly, Moz, Vimeo, Meetup, and Basecamp. Ransom demands have been in the $300 to $2,000 range, cheap enough that some companies have paid the ransom. According to another article on bits, other companies have refused to pay, afraid that doing so would result in follow-up demands of larger amounts. has not mentioned if a ransom demand has been made by its zombie-wielding attacker.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday Mailbox: Consolidates Find-a-Grave Collections

The Ancestry Insider's Monday Mailbox

My comment recently about software designers and genealogical correctness resonated with reader BUWTBlog.

Dear Ancestry Insider,

[You wrote:] "These are trivialities but I bring them up because they show that software designers at and FamilySearch often don’t do genealogy themselves and sometimes don’t consult with genealogists as they implement their products."

I've actually had Ancestry employees try to convince me otherwise when I've stated something similar on their Facebook page. I'm pleasantly surprised that they've come up with something useful.

A friend posted a link to this and right below it another friend was complaining because Ancestry has consolidated the Find A Grave indices (previously they were indexed by state) and all her detailed citations are gone. Another friend said her citations were intact. I haven't checked my tree yet but if I have to reconnect all those F. A. G. citations they are going to have one ticked off customer on their hands :-P


Dear BUWTBlog,

When I was a software engineer at, I posted my pedigree chart on my cubicle wall. It was during March Madness and one of the engineering managers walked up to it and said, “Who did you pick for the Final Four?” I thought turnabout was fair play so I took a blank bracket form, filling in Tim Sullivan’s pedigree. I gave it to him with a message to the effect of, “You are the champion of your genealogy.”

Almost worse than those who do no genealogy at all are those who dabble a little, never crossing the chasm. (See “The Chasm.”) That leaves them with the mistaken impression that genealogy is always easy.

In fairness to software designers (including engineers and product managers), I meet some who do more genealogy than I do. In fairness to software engineers at FamilySearch, I have it on good authority that they have requested, and are preparing, genealogical training. I hope they all avail themselves of the opportunity.

Now, let me get to the original comment I sat down to write: Find-a-Grave links.

I tried one of the links I have to a Find-a-Grave record. Even though the collection (“Web: Utah, Find A Grave Index, 1847-2012”) has been removed from the catalog, the citation and URL to the record continue to work. I know from past experience that does its best to maintain old URLs. Sometimes contractual relationships make that impossible, but they do what they can.

This is an example of why sometimes a good citation includes a link to the record rather than just the collection or the home page. record URLs can be exceedingly long; shorten them by saving the record to your shoebox and then using the URL stored there.

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, June 20, 2014

#NGS2014GEN Simple Serendipity at the Library of Virginia

I intended to publish this as part of another article about the 2014 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society, but it never seemed to fit, and then I forgot about it.

Nothing earthshattering here, just a simple instance of serendipity in genealogy:

today at #ngs2014gen, a man met a new cousin when their last name was called for microfilm readers here at the LVA--#happycoincidence!

Thursday, June 19, 2014 Attacked by Zombies

DDoS users have been from annoyed to outraged the past several days because has been in and out of commission. On their Facebook page disclosed that they are under a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. Imagine a little boy with a pea shooter. Every couple of seconds he hits you with a pea. It would be distracting, but life would go on. Now image someone organizing a thousand little boys to each shoot a pea at you every second. Doing genealogy would be difficult or nearly impossible. Now image each little boy could shoot 10 megapeas per second at you. You would cease to function. That’s what’s been happening to since around 12:30pm PT on Monday, only with bits instead of peas, and with bigger numbers, and with zombies instead of little boys.

Seriously. Zombies. Let me explain…

Oops. I’m out of time. I’ll explain more when I get a chance—probably next week.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Appy Applauds Ancestry App

Ancestry mobile appMediaPost Publications announced the 2014 annual Appy Award winners last month in New York City and’s mobile app won—again—in the Reference App category. The Ancestry Mobile App won the same award last year.

“The APPY Awards, part of Internet Week New York, honor applications on all platforms and is dedicated to acknowledging creativity and excellence in app design,” says the MediaPost website. There are 40 categories, including Books, Cooking, Education, three gaming categories, two mapping categories, Medical, Music, Photography, Travel, and Weather. The Reference Category is for apps that provide reference information, guides, or reviews to the public. earned best in show. It allows you to virtually try on glasses before buying. It is super cool. You have got to try it. Check out the app or the videos on

But I digress…


Tuesday, June 17, 2014 Not Dropping Autosomal DNA Test’s recent announcement that they were discontinuing some of their DNA tests confused some people. (See “ Announces Retirement of Several Websites.”) In the blog AncestryDNA’s Ken Chahine clarified the announcement.

Autosomal DNA test results for the Ancestry Insider

“We are not retiring our autosomal AncestryDNA test that we launched in May 2012,” he wrote. “We are only retiring the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests that we launched in 2007.”

If your test results look like mine, above (I told you I’m a descendant of an Indian princess!), then you have the new autosomal test. Your results are not going away and your sample is not being destroyed.

Y-DNA test results for the Ancestry InsiderOn the other hand, if your results look like my Y-DNA test results, shown to the right or below, they are going away and the original sample will be destroyed.

“As part of the decision to retire Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, we were faced with another difficult decision of what to do with the customer samples,” wrote Chahine.

We take customer privacy seriously and, regrettably, the legal framework used to collect these samples does not allow us to retest or transfer those samples. Practically speaking, many of these samples are also no longer useable. For example, many of the swabs were exhausted of genetic material during our testing or the sample may be past its shelf life. In the end we made the difficult decision to destroy the samples and are committed to trying to find solutions to these roadblocks for future products.

Some of you may feel abandoned by this. You may recall I felt violated when purchased Sorenson Genetic’s DNA samples. I was a Sorenson contributor. I’m glad to see that, perhaps, my Sorenson contributed DNA will no longer be exploited.

Y-DNA and mtDNA Tests

The Y-DNA test looks at the Y-chromosome carried by men. The Y-chromosome is passed from father to son, changing infrequently due to random mutation. The mtDNA test looks at the mitochondrial DNA passed from mothers to all their children, again, largely unchanged.

DNA comparison from Ouimette NGSQ articleAccompanied by conventional research, these tests can provide important evidence in proof arguments. For an example, see David Ouimette’s article in the September 2010 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. It is titled, “Proving the Parentage of John Bettis: Immigrant Ancestor of Bettis Families in Vermont.” Indirect evidence indicated John Bettis was the son of Joseph Perrin. Ouimette obtained DNA samples from several descendants of each man. An exact match existed between a Bettis descendent and a Perrin descendent. Several more differed by just one marker, all in fast mutators. This Y-DNA test confirmed the possible relationship between two men that conventional evidence showed to be father and son.

Autosomal tests are not capable of such lineage-specific results. Today they provide generalized information, such as “you and he are related to such-and-such a degree” and “your ancestors had such-and-such ethnicity.” I don’t know if it will ever be possible to say, “here are the DNA markers associated with ancestor number 17 on your pedigree.”

Chahine wrote, “We understand that many of you have spent years using the Y-DNA and mtDNA products for genealogy and no amount of justification will offer you comfort in our decision. It is our hope that our future products will convince you that the autosomal test is a powerful and useful tool for family history.” (For the full text of his message, see “Comments on Y-DNA and mtDNA Tests.”)

It seems that is conceding the Y-DNA/mtDNA market to other companies. Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) is promptly jumping on the opportunity. Just five days after the announcement, I received an email from FTDNA inviting me to transfer my Y-DNA test results to them. (How did they get my e-mail address?) They offer various costing options, starting from $19. In any case, you must download your data from before 5 September 2014.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday Mailbox: FamilySearch Partnerships and Effect on Family History Centers

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

This week I received notice that LDS FamilySearch users now have the ability to subscribe to at no cost.  This no-cost policy apparently at least two other subscription-based services as well.  What does this mean for the future of the Family History Center? 

And, do you know the motivation behind the change?


Dear Bob,

As far as I know, the agreements with, FindMyPast and MyHeritage don't change the future of Family History Centers, other than the fact that these three websites will be available to the general public at the centers.

FamilySearch and the three companies have announced the reasons for the change. (See “FamilySearch Gives Further Details on Partnerships.”) Basically, the accounts are part of wider scoped agreements for a variety of exchanges and joint projects. FamilySearch is providing record and image collections for the partners to publish on their websites. Partners are providing record and image collections to FamilySearch through subscription access to LDS members and family history centers for public access. FamilySearch might scan microfilms from their vault, photograph new documents in the field, or index new collections. Partners might provide new indexes or images to FamilySearch. 

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, June 13, 2014

Serendipity in Genealogy: The Name Was Plainly Displayed

imageThe Extraction Program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the forerunner to today’s FamilySearch Indexing. Thirty years ago an indexer (extractor) in Camp Verde, Arizona was working on christenings in a 500 year old Spanish parish record. In those days indexers worked from microfilm, using readers located in Church buildings and family history centers.

The indexer came across one particular name that was impossible to read. The date, February nineteenth, had been easy to read. The father and mother took more careful scrutiny. But the name of the child eluded the most careful examination. “The page was faded and yellowed, and jagged, uneven holes punctuated the spidery script.”

After the indexer went home for the night, she prayed for help. The following day the indexer was disappointed to find the name no more legible than the day before. Yet she returned to it throughout her indexing session, each time with no success. Having decided to give up after one last try, the indexer turned the microfilm to the page.

“As she turned the microfilm knob, the name almost leapt off the page. She stared unbelieving at the clearly formed letters.” She called aloud and several nearby indexers, aware of the issue, came and saw the name: Elena Gallegos.

When it came time to double check her work, she returned again to the page. Once again the name had dissolved into illegibility.

That is what we call “Serendipity in Genealogy.”


Rodriguez, Derin Head. “More Than Names.” Ensign, January 1987, 12-7.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Find-a-Record Location Search

I recently wrote about a new companion product to FamilySearch Family Tree: Find-a-Record. (See “New FamilySearch Add On: Find-a-Record.”) In addition to the Research Assistant feature I described last time, Find-a-Record contains a Search feature that is like an ├╝ber-catalog.

The Search feature finds and displays a list of record collections from multiple websites and repositories, with particular record types, about a particular place, and for a particular time period. Filter the search results for free sources, paid sources, online records, and offline records. Click on a result to see an online collection on its respective website or to see the catalog entry for an offline collection.

Search results from Find-a-Record

I performed a search for Oswego County, New York, for 1850-1950, free and paid, online and offline, and death records. Table 2 at the end of this article presents some results Find-a-Record returned. Find-a-Record labels each result as paid or free and online or offline. Note that Find-a-Record returned many results for wrong locations. Instead of Oswego County, some of the results were from New York City, Pennsylvania, Maine, and the Panama Canal Zone. While these are errors, other seemingly erroneous results are expected. You must expect results for wider areas inclusive of Oswego County, such as “World Miscellaneous Deaths…”

Find-a-Record is creating a catalog of the genealogical collections of major research websites and repositories. Table 1 lists those currently included. I don’t envy them. Getting the proper geographic coverage set for each collection is going to be Herculean. Trying to keep up with new collections is going to be Sisyphean.

I wish them luck.


Table 1. Repositories Currently Cataloged by Find-a-Record.
Data from the Find-a-Record website current as of 27 May 2014.

Name Indexed Notes 2,565 of 9,864 collections (26%) 344 of 417 collections (82%) Not indexing collections from Archives that also exist in Ancestry or FamilySearch.
BillionGraves   Planned for the future.
FamilySearch 1,716 of 1,731 collections (99%)  
FamilySearch Catalog 330,571 of 393,050 collections (84%) Indexed collections from the UK and the US. This may also include collections from other countries due to immigration and military service records.
Find-a-Grave   Planned for the future.
findmypast 144 of 922 collections (15%) Indexed instead of because the website is going to change soon.
Fold3 41 of 443 collections (9%)  
GenealogyBank 5,588 of 5,588 collections (100%)  
MyHeritage   Planned for the future.
NEHGS 467 of 669 collections (69%) 2,554 of 2,559 collections (99%)  
The National Archives of the UK   Planned for the future.
US National Archives   Planned for the future.
WorldVitalRecords 4,407 of 22,812 collections (19%)  


Table 2. A Find-a-Record search for Oswego County, New York returned these results and more.

Title Website Paid/ Free Online/ Offline
New York Deaths and Burials, 1795-1952 FamilySearch free online
United States Deaths and Burials, 1867-1961 FamilySearch free online
World Miscellaneous Deaths and Burials, 1767-1950 FamilySearch free online
United States Social Security Death Index FamilySearch free online
United States, Panama Canal Zone, Index to the Gorgas Hospital Mortuary Registers, 1906-1991 FamilySearch free online
United States, Obituaries, American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 1899-2012 FamilySearch free online
New Rochelle, New York deaths, 1853-1881 paid online
New York, Hebrew Burial Records (HFBA), Silver Lake and Mount Richmond Cemeteries, 1899-1991 paid online
Menands, New York, Albany Rural Cemetery Burial Cards, 1791-2011 paid online
New York, Veteran Burial Cards, 1861-1898 paid online
Index to Marriages and Deaths in the New York Herald, Vol. I: 1835-1855 paid online
New York Times, Obituaries & Marriage Notices, 1889 paid online
New York City, Deaths, 1892-1902 paid online
New York, Death Newspaper Extracts, 1801-1890 (Barber Collection) paid online
New York, New York, Death Index, 1862-1948 paid online
New York City Death Records paid online
Death Notices from the New York Evening Post, 1801-1890 NEHGS paid online
New York: Death Notices from the New York Evening Post , 1801-1890 NEHGS paid online
Proceedings of the Senate and Assembly of the State of New York in Relation to the Death of Chester A. Arthur, April 20, 1887 WorldVitalRecords paid online
Index to Marriages and Deaths in the New York Herald, Volume 1, 1835 - 1855 WorldVitalRecords paid online
Annual Obituary Notices of Eminent Persons Who Have Died in the United States. For 1858 WorldVitalRecords paid online
Pennsylvania deaths and marriages as published in The Christian Intelligencer of the Reformed Dutch Church, 1830-1870 FamilySearch Catalog free offline
Mortality schedules of the United States census, 1850 - 1880 (New York State): New York City, ward 19, dist. 20, p. 775 - New York City deaths May 1870, p. 1704 1870 FamilySearch Catalog free offline
Stanley I. Reynolds collection: Vol. 1-6 Seneca County Newspapers Deaths Marriages, 1817-1963 FamilySearch Catalog free offline
Maine military records, 1700-1940: Civil War obituary files, Cummings, Woodbury - Haskell, Cyrus V., 1862-1938 FamilySearch Catalog free offline
Maine military records, 1700-1940: Civil War obituary files, Haskell, George F. - Mansfield, William, 1862-1932 FamilySearch Catalog free offline

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

New FamilySearch Add On: Find-a-Record

I recently received an email from Justin York of Genealogy Systems alerting me to their new product, Find-a-Record.

Ancestry Insider,

We recently released a free tool called the Find-A-Record Research Assistant which connects to your tree on FamilySearch and tells you where work can be done. It generates different types of research opportunities such as finding missing information, finding missing people, finding sources, and fixing problems. You can read more about it on our blog, watch the demo video, and try it yourself at

Our goal is to help beginners know where to start and guide them through the research process. We have found that it is also useful for experienced genealogists by telling them what areas of their tree need attention or suggesting something quick to do when they're unsure of where to work next.

We would love to have your feedback on the Research Assistant. How could it be better?

Justin York

I gave their website a try and here’s what I learned.

Login with your free FamilySearch account at the Find-a-Record website and it examines your ancestors in the FamilySearch Family Tree. It then displays a list of opportunities of different types: Person, Relationship, Sources, Problems, and Cleanup.

Find-a-Record research opportunities

The website can filter which types of opportunities it will display. One type is problems that need to be fixed.

Find-a-Record research opportunities: problems

It can filter opportunities to those needing cleanup.

Find-a-Record research opportunities: cleanup

Click on a problem or cleanup opportunity and the website will show a corresponding information page.

Find-a-Record information page about a problem or cleanup opportunity

The website can show opportunities of persons missing information about vital events.

Find-a-Record research opportunities: persons missing information

It can show opportunities of missing information about relationships.

Find-a-Record research opportunities: relationships missing information

Click on a missing information opportunity and the website will show an information page that includes links to genealogy research websites.

Find-a-Record information page about an opportunity to find missing information

Click a link to one of the websites and Find-a-Record will start a search on that website, complete with information about your ancestor. Unfortunately, there is no indication which websites require subscriptions. search results

Be prepared to adjust search parameters once you see the search results on these websites. and have fundamentally different approaches to searching. Removing parameters will decrease the number of results on and increase the number of results on

I assume that “Sources” are events and relationships that lack source documentation.

Find-a-Record research opportunities: sources are needed

Click on a Sources opportunity and Find-a-Record goes beyond giving links to general searches. It consults a list of the record collections on genealogy research websites and suggests searching specific collections.

Find-a-Record information page about an opportunity to find missing sources

I’ll write more about another feature of Find-a-Record later.

This is a great website. My chief request is a dismiss or ignore feature. Once I determine that I don’t want to pursue an opportunity, I’d like to hide it from future reports.

The Find-a-Record website has been certified by FamilySearch for read access to Family Tree. Find-a-Record is another rich addition to the growing community of products extending the capabilities of FamilySearch Family Tree.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Monday Mailbox: Collect, Collect, and Collect

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Insider,

I heard Tom Jones speak at RootsTech2014 and I had the same "aha" moment. [See “Using Case Studies to Learn.”] And now you've reminded me that I was going to subscribe to get the NGS journal for just that reason - to learn from the case studies. I sure did enjoy him.  

He also said three things that future generations will not be able to have unless we do something about it right now. Our emphasis as genealogists and family historians should be to: 

1. Collect and harvest (and share) oral history from living relatives. The stories disappear in three generations.

2. Collect and harvest (and share) photos and artifacts. Scan, make copies, label, and add what you know about the pictures. 

3. Collect living people's DNA.  “Collect as much as you can afford,” he said.

I have resisted the whole DNA thing for years, but he made the case that really made me think about it.  And, I will report to you, last week when I went to visit my parents (ages 96 & 93) in Nebraska (I live in Utah), I had in tow 2 Ancestry DNA kits. Didn't think I was going to pull it off, my Mom really resisted the whole spitting thing, but I got them both and they are submitted.  Now, if I get the dreaded call tomorrow, I don't have to bop my head about not getting the DNA. Thank you Tom Jones!

Thanks again, Insider, for all the reporting (and making me think) that you do!

Clytee Gold

Dear Clytee,

I’m sure Tom will be delighted to hear about the positive effects his lecture had on you. And what a great reminder to gather stories, photos, and DNA before it is too late. All too often, by the time we are bitten by the genealogy bug, it is already too late in many instances.

Thanks for sharing.

The Ancestry Insider


Note: Email to the Ancestry Insider may be edited for content, length, and editorial style.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Darned White House

President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson, White House South LawnWe 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.”

Darned White House

Last November marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of the United States. Many of us remember exactly where we were when we heard the news.

Some of us also remember the address of the house where he lived and served. Apparently, President Kennedy’s personal secretary, whose office adjoined his, did not. Evelyn Lincoln is listed as the informant on President Kennedy’s death certificate. Note the handwritten correction.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy death certificate

Whether Lincoln’s lapse or a typographical error, the lesson is still the same: death is a stressful time. Death certificates can contain errors. Even the president of the United States is not immune.

Darned historical records!

Thursday, June 5, 2014 Announces Retirement of Several Websites announced this morning at 10:00 MT that it is retiring several of its websites. The websites are is trying to soften the blow of these shutdowns. Users will be told the retirement timeline and how to export their data.

Of much greater portent, in my mind, is that is eliminating their Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests. This is big. I’m surprised isn’t more aware of how genealogists utilize DNA in indirect proofs. Apparently, they don’t read the National Genealogical Society Quarterly or other genealogical journals. This will cause a massive exodus of serious users of DNA to other companies, such as Family Tree DNA. I was just about to pay for several family member tests. I’m looking at going elsewhere now.

It’s hard to believe they would commit such a major blunder. I must be missing something. Maybe they’ll fold these test results into their autosomal test.

Customers can download their raw results from

I’ve not been paying attention to any of the four websites for a long time, so I can’t say definitively that they have long languished from neglect. But I think that’s probably the case. created the website and from its inception, was one of the hottest websites on the web. It was one of the first social media websites. It was groundbreaking.

This was in the early days of the Internet. No websites were making money and company valuations were based on the number of users, not profitability. I heard a rumor around town that at one point in time they were offering to pay people a couple bucks to create a free family site on (Does anybody know if that was true?) They could increase their valuation by perhaps hundreds of dollars by paying customers a few dollars. According to Wikipedia,

The website launched in December 1998, with additional free sites beginning in March 1999. The site generated one million registered users within its first 140 days. The company raised more than US$90 million in venture capital from investors.

In response, changed their name to When reality finally came to the Internet, focus shifted from back to The company name eventually followed. took a stab at making the website profitable. They hired a team in Bellevue, Washington, and did away with the free-account business model. The attempt did not succeed. The Bellevue office was closed in 2010 and the development team was dissolved. Since then, I don’t think has given any serious attention to other than using it to host DNA groups. will refund money to active site subscribers. Refunds will be prorated as of today, 5 June 2014. will export data by request. I’m not certain what format will make sense; we’ll have to wait and see.

MyCanvas will continue to accept and produce orders until 4 September 2014. At that time, all projects will be deleted.

This is one website I can speak to definitively. From the time that bought there has been no upgrades to it. I don’t believe I ever saw it advertised. copied every website they could over to (I think there has been some unique content that was never moved over. Can anybody vouch for that?) They had a grand opportunity to do then what they’re trying to do now with now. It could have been their Dodge to their Chrysler, their Luvs to their Pampers. users will be able to log into their accounts and export their data until 5 September 2014. While subscriptions to will no longer be available, some of its content will be kept around in read-only fashion. will preserve the old GenForums message boards (although new posts will not be possible), Family Tree Maker home pages, and the most popular articles. I appreciate this. I don’t know the cost to retain these portions of the site, but they have long-term value and I’m glad they are keeping them around.

I’ve never quite understood Mundia. My best guess is that it was an attempt to enter new markets with a tree product and no accompanying historical records. It is available in English, French, German, Italian, Swedish and Spanish. Members can download their family trees until 5 September 2014. I believe Mundia trees were always visible on and vice-versa. Mundia trees will continue free via

Except for the Y-DNA and mtDNA retirements, none of these surprise me. Well, maybe surprises me a little. It’s a brand just wanting to happen. But these websites have been a distraction and probably haven’t been generating any profits. has plenty of other brands it is actively working: Find-a-Grave,, Family Tree Maker, ProGenealogists, Fold3,, and RootsWeb. (OK, “active” may be an overstatement for that last one.) Hopefully these will be more successful than the former.

For more information, see the article on the blog and—if you are a user of any of these sites—an email in your inbox and a banner on the website.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

FamilySearch Enhanced Attach Feature

During the National Genealogical Society 2014 Conference (#NGS2014GEN) I briefly mentioned FamilySearch’s new enhanced attach feature. Today I want to write a little more.

Users have complained for some time that it is too difficult on to attach a census record to an entire family in FamilySearch Family Tree. Users wanted to reuse a source, attaching it to each member of the family. This is at odds with the way FamilySearch cites census records. FamilySearch cites the individual, not the family or page.

Notice this record of Rebecca Winn from the 1870 census.

There is a different page title and citation for each person named on a record.

Ignore for a minute the terrible job FamilySearch has done with the 1870 census, leaving off the town and county. Ignore for a minute that this record was misindexed and FamilySearch doesn’t allow corrections. Ignore for a minute the mislabeling and formatting problem of the FHL film number. Ignore for a minute how these problems cascade into the citation, making it inadequate.

Instead, notice that the title specifies that this is the record of Rebecca Winn, not the entire Winn household. The citation makes the same distinction. It would be incorrect to save this record to the source box and repeatedly attach it to the other four members of the household.

Click the names of each member of the household and the title and citation change accordingly.

To those who complained that it was too much work to save this record to their source box and repeatedly attach it to family members, I have bad news. It was worse than that. You needed to save off a different record for each family member, and go and attach a different record to each different person in the Tree.

Now I have good news. The enhanced attach feature comes to our rescue.

Start as normal, clicking the big blue attach button.

A historical record on not yet attached to the tree

Because this record was misindexed, I prepared for this step by first visiting this person in my tree. Then she showed up in the history list during the attach process. Select the matching person, either from the Possible Matches tab or the History List tab.

A panel slides in showing matching people and your history list

Compare the information and enter the reason you are attaching the record to the person. My reason statement in this example was

The surname was incorrectly enumerated. Rebecca's given name and birth info match. Jackson's name and birth info match. The same is true for the children listed in the household.

I selected and copied (Control-C) the reason statement for subsequent use. When you are satisfied with the match and the reason statement, select Attach.

The slide in panel shows information about a person from the tree.

If thinks there may be matching family members, it asks if you wish to review them. Click Review.

Popup allowing review and attachment of other people on the record lists on the left the people from the record and lists on the right the people related to the just-matched person. It highlights the just-matched person in green (along with any other persons already attached). It then does its best to line up other matching individuals. Because of the indexing error in my case, it found no additional matches.

Enhanced attach record example with no matches lined up

I clicked on Jackson Winn (1835-) on the left and dragged him up opposite John Jackson Ewing on the right. I opened up the Children section and did the same with the children. This is only necessary when FamilySearch does not automatically line up the people.

For extended family members in the record, such as grandchildren or in-laws, the Change icon allows display of a different family from the tree.

Enhanced attach record example with matches manually aligned

A black icon warns when thinks you need to take special care before attaching that person from the record with that person in the Tree. Records can be attached or detached as indicated by the word between the two.

When you click the word Attach, shows details from the record and the tree.

Enhanced attach record comparison of person in record and person in tree

Compare the information to determine if the two match. Select the events you wish to tag with this source. You can specify the addition of the source to the Source Box, although I don’t know why you would want to. (Remember, you shouldn’t attach it to any other person in the tree.) Click Add if you wish to add a residence event for the census to the tree. (I wonder why I wasn’t given that same option when I attached the original person. Maybe when I’m done writing this article I’ll go back and try detaching and reattaching the original person.)

Give a reason for attaching this source and click Attach. In my case, I had copied the reason statement from the original person. Now I pasted it (Control-V) into this reason box. There are times it needs to be reworked; I didn’t need to in this case.

Repeat for each person mentioned in the record.

When you are all done… look endlessly for an All Done button. Then give up and click the back button of your browser or the Return to Record link above the title.

If you are like me, I attached all the censuses to my direct ancestors before FamilySearch released this new feature. You can go back and easily attach the other children in each family. Once a record is attached to someone in the tree, the big blue button on the record page is replaced with two links: “View in Family Tree” and “Review Attachments.”

A historical record on already attached to the tree

The latter link redisplays the enhanced attach records page where you can attach the remaining family members.

For more information about these basic steps, see “A New Way to Attach Sources to Family Tree: The New Source Feature—Part 1 of 2” on the FamilySearch Blog.

The enhanced attach record feature also allows addition of new people to Family Tree. For various reasons, sometimes records can’t be attached to people. For complex families, change the focus person as necessary to display a different person’s family from the tree. Or display a link to show different spouses. For more information about these topics, see “A New Way to Attach Sources to Family Tree: The New Source Feature—Part 2 of 2.”

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

FamilySearch Announces Plans to Release Hinting Feature

Hinting is coming soon to FamilySearch Family TreeFamilySearch will soon release a feature called ‘hinting,’” according to David Green, FamilySearch spokesperson. It sounds exactly like “shakey leaf” hints.

FamilySearch’s software is busy comparing all its indexed historical records to people in Family Tree. “When you go to an ancestor’s page we will show you what we have found just for that person amongst our vast collections of records,” wrote Green.

Users are concerned about false matches by hinting systems. New users of’s hinting feature have been known to accept hints indiscriminately. FamilySearch has said it will only show high quality matches. But hints are only as good as the information in the tree. Entering information about your ancestors and keeping it correct and up-to-date enables the hinting system to return good hints.

Used with the enhanced attach feature, hinting will make it easier to extend the tree by adding individuals mentioned in records for family members already in the tree. Simple clicks not only add them to the tree, but attaches the sources wherein they were located.

According to Green, the new feature will be available “in just a few weeks.”

To see all Green’s comments, see “Family History Research Keeps Getting Easier!” on the FamilySearch Blog.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Monday Mailbox: Linking Images to Tree

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear readers, responded with more information to my article about linking images to persons in your member tree (see “ Adds Linking Tool to FamilySearch Collection”).

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Thanks for highlighting one of our new features in your recent post. The ability to save non-indexed images to someone in your member tree has generally been well received.

As you note, the feature isn’t yet available for all non-indexed collections. The emphasis has been on supporting the new collections on which and have partnered. Until those collections are indexed and can be saved through the standard methods, we wanted to provide a way for them to be saved. As we process those collections, we do a bit of behind-the-scenes work to enable this feature. For some of our existing collections, we need to re-process the databases to enable this capability. We usually test these features out before rolling live across the site to give time to make tweaks in response to our member’s feedback.

However, the feature is enabled for many of our collections that have an OCR (optical character recognition) index, typically newspapers and the family histories. These collections usually did not save effectively to a person in your tree. We are also looking to expand this to other collection types that don’t always works well with the standard save process.

Thank you again for showcasing this feature. I am happy to answer questions about any Image Viewer or Search that you may have.

Jim Mosher Product Management

Dear Jim,

Thanks for your message. It’s good to hear that this cool feature will be extended to other collections,

---The Ancestry Insider