Thursday, July 31, 2014

T. C. Christensen–“I Am Ready Now” #BYUFHGC

imageIn 1856, two Mormon pioneer handcart companies were caught in a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances that culminated in actual storms leaving two companies of pioneers—nearly 1,000 people—stranded and dying in deep snow on the high plains of Wyoming. They were without food, shelter, or sufficient clothing to survive. Over 200 would die before reaching the safety of Salt Lake City.

The tragedy and their heroic rescue has served as the subject matter for several movies by LDS movie maker, T. C. Christensen, who gave the Wednesday keynote at the BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. Most recently, Christensen wrote, directed, and produced the movie Ephraim’s Rescue. His past accomplishments include the movies 17 Miracles, Testaments, and The Work and the Glory. He has made several films about the Prophet Joseph Smith, including Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration. He also made a movie about another Church president, Gordon B. Hinckley: A Giant Among Men.

Christensen told about the pioneers and showed several movie clips. One depicted Elizabeth Bradshaw nearly drowning as she crossed the North Platte River. Christensen had to shoot the scene in the summer, even though it actually occurred in winter, in zero degree weather. It would have been too dangerous to shoot in the winter. Even in 90 degree weather, after several hours the medical staff advised getting the actress out of the water because she was in danger of hypothermia.

“We’re wimps!” he said. “We can’t do in a movie what they actually did.”

He showed a movie clip dramatizing events from the life of Ephraim Hanks. To quote from Ephraim’s own words:

I retired to rest quite early, and while I still lay wide awake in my bed I heard a voice calling me by name, and then saying: “The hand-cart people are in trouble and you are wanted; will you go and help them?” I turned instinctively in the direction from whence the voice came and beheld an ordinary sized man in the room. Without any hesitation I answered “Yes, I will go if I am called.” I then turned around to go to sleep, but had laid only a few minutes when the voice called a second time, repeating almost the same words as on the first occasion. My answer was the same as before. This was repeated a third time.

When I got up the next morning I said to Brother Brown, “The hand-cart people are in trouble, and I have promised to go out and help them;” but I did not tell him of my experience during the night.

I now hastened to Salt Lake City, and arrived there on the Saturday, preceding the Sunday on which the call was made for volunteers to go out and help the last hand-cart companies in. When some of the brethren responded by explaining that they could get ready to start in a few days; I spoke out at once saying, “I am ready now!” (See Ephraim Hanks, “Ephraim K. Hanks' Narrative,” Pioneer Overland Travel [ : accessed 30 July 2014]; citing Andrew Jenson, “Church Emigration,” Contributor, 14 (Mar. 1893): 202-5.)

Christensen said that Ephraim’s whole life had prepared him for that moment. “Great things can happen when opportunity meets preparation,” Christensen said. Those moments can happen in our own lives. Ephraim did great things, even though he knew he was not a perfect man, just as we are not perfect. Yet he said, “I try.”

In paying tribute to those who suffered so much in the Willie and Martin handcart companies, Christensen asked their descendants, and the descendants of the rescuers, to stand. I think about a fourth to a third of us stood. He said that that happens even far away from Utah, in places like Massachusetts and Honolulu. He said that their faith has seemed to sink deeply into their souls, the souls of their children, and their children’s children. “We still benefit from these people who survived such hard things.”

I thought of my own ancestor, Elizabeth Robinson. It’s true. I still benefit from my knowledge that members of my family have, and still can, survive hard things.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Koelliker Says, Think of Family History More Broadly #BYUFHGC

Elder Paul E. Koelliker of the SeventyWe need to think about family history more broadly than just ancestral research, said Elder Paul E. Koelliker. Elder Koelliker gave the keynote address Tuesday morning to open the BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. Elder Koelliker is an emeritus member of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has previously served as an assistant executive director in the Church’s Family History Department, which I think made him a board member of FamilySearch International.

Note: Elder Koelliker addressed members of the Church. His remarks, and this article, express the doctrines of the Church and may not be of interest to those who are not members.

Love is the deep driving force in our relationship with others, said Elder Koelliker. He quoted from the Bible: “As I have loved you,…love one another.” Church president, Thomas S. Monson, said: “May we begin now, this very day, to express love to all of God’s children, whether they be our family members, our friends, mere acquaintances, or total strangers. As we arise each morning, let us determine to respond with love and kindness to whatever might come our way.” Our love for others should include both the living and the dead.

Think of family history in a forward direction. Think about the rising generations. We have been asked to learn the stories that will foster a feeling of love. It is important to write them down and share them with your children. Think beyond the charts and gather the stories for turning the hearts.

Recognize that counsel given by Church leaders will increase your temple experience. Elder Koelliker said he had a concern today. At RootsTech Elder Allan Packer put it in a positive manner, but Elder Koelliker was shocked. Said Elder Packer:

I am happy to report we are making progress. In the last year the number of members submitting names for temple ordinances is up 17% over last year. It has gone from 2.4 to 2.7 percent of the members. While normally a 17% improvement is thought of as impressive it also says that there are over 97% of members who are not regularly submitting names for temple ordinances.

In the kindest of ways, Elder Packer is inviting us to repent, said Elder Koelliker. What will it take to move a majority of the members of the Church to bring our names to the temple? At the heart of our desire to change is our love for our family.

Families are an essential organization on Earth and in heaven. In 1995, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” This proclamation defines the position of the Church regarding marriage and family. Elder Koelliker quoted former Church president, Gordon B. Hinckley:

God is the designer of the family. He intended that the greatest of happiness, the most satisfying aspects of life, the deepest joys should come in our associations together and our concerns one for another as fathers and mothers and children. (“What God Hath Joined Together,” Ensign, May 1991, 74.)

Elder Koelliker quoted from Chapter 1 of the Members Guide to Temple and Family History (which he recommended we study):

Temple and family history work unites families. Husbands and wives, parents and children can be sealed through sacred temple ordinances. The goal of this process is that “the whole chain of God’s family shall be welded together into one chain, and they shall all become the family of God and His Christ” (Joseph F. Smith, Millennial Star, Oct. 4, 1906, 629).

This image is a mockup of what Elder Koelliker's book might have looked likeElder Koelliker told a couple of stories about his extended family. One was a story of serendipity that I told here in my column back in February 2012. (See “Serendipitous Doppelgänger.”) He provided a little more detail than I related. The story began in 1973 in Salt Lake City. He received a phone call from a Paul Koelliker from Switzerland who said he would like to meet him. Elder Koelliker picked up his father and the three went to lunch. Paul of Switzerland gave him a list of names and some dates and then returned to Switzerland. The list went into a drawer, along with an intent to get back to it. In 1996 Elder Koelliker went to pick up his son from a mission. In Glarus, Switzerland they were disappointed that their hotel had lost their reservation. The hotel owner felt bad and helped them find another hotel. The owner of the second hotel said he knew another fellow in Glarus named Paul Koelliker. The next thing he knew, the owner was on the phone. The man on the other end asked if he was from Salt Lake City. It was the same Paul who had met Elder Koelliker years before. They agreed to meet the next morning. It just so happened that he was the director of archives for the canton of Glarus. He showed a book with the names of Elder Koelliker’s ancestors. However, Elder Koelliker was not allowed to photocopy them, so for the next seven hours he and members of his family wrote as fast as they could, capturing 350 names of his ancestors. He figured there were probably 1,800 more.

The sequel to this story of serendipity came in 2004. Elder Koelliker’s son (whose name I didn’t jot down) was on his way to Spain when he stopped in Glarus to visit the other Paul Koelliker. During the visit he learned that there were two copies of the Koelliker book. The younger Koelliker asked if he could have one of them, but Paul declined. The younger Koelliker’s wife went into negotiation mode. “You have two copies. My sons have no copies.” She was successful. That copy is now available in the Family History Library where many can benefit from its treasures.

Telling and retelling the stories of our families bears fruit in generation after generation. What written testimony and experiences have you written down for your posterity? Write down your stories under the inspiration of the Spirit and let the Holy Ghost teach generations to come.

Image Source: The book image is a mockup I created of what Elder Koelliker’s book might have looked like. I combined two images. The text is from J. P. Zwicky, Genealogie der Familien Kölliger (Thalwil-Zürich: Familiengeschichtlicher Verlag, 1933), 7; images, FamilySearch Family History Books ( : accessed 29 July 2014). The page image is from Utah Semi-Centennial Commission, “The Book of the Pioneers,” 2 vols. (bound certificates, 1897, Utah State Archives and Records Service, Salt Lake City, Utah), 1: end paper verso; images, Utah Department of Administrative Services, Division of Archives & Records Service ( : accessed 29 July 2014).

Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday Mailbox: Our Tree and Your Tree on FamilySearch

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Sir (or Ma'am?  I've never been able to figure out if you're male or female),

I had heard that we shouldn't upload our trees to because anyone can go in and change the info we've entered. Do you know if this is true or not? If it's true, this new feature isn't very applicable to those of us who are just keeping our trees on and our own software because we don't want others messing with our information. But if it's not true, this would be an excellent reason to upload our trees to FamilySearch, and I would start promoting it to my students.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

Katherine Willson (Ann Arbor, MI)

Dear Katherine,

Gosh, where to start. First, yes I am male or female.

Next, the rumor you’ve heard that you shouldn’t upload your tree to is pretty much false. I’m hedging a little bit. Let me go through the steps and you’ll see why.

Save a copy of your tree in GEDCOM format. You’ll upload this copy to FamilySearch, Go to You’ll need to register (it’s free) before uploading your tree. Click on “Join For Free” near the top-right corner of the page and complete the registration. Click or hover over Search on the menu bar, then select Genealogies. On this page you can upload your GEDCOM tree or search the GEDCOM trees of others. This collection of trees is called the Pedigree Resource File. Your GEDCOM tree is your tree and no one can change it but you (by uploading a new GEDCOM over the top of it). Scroll down to the bottom and click on the button “Submit Tree.” Click on Add GEDCOM. Select your GEDCOM file, give it a title, and enter a description that might be helpful to others.

After it has finished uploading it will show up in your tree list at

Pedigree Resource File list of your uploaded GEDCOM files

From the list you can Compare your tree to FamilySearch Family Tree, you can download a copy of your GEDCOM file, or you can delete it. As opposed to your tree, where you just uploaded, FamilySearch Family Tree is our tree. It is all of us building the family tree of all mankind. If you wish to be a part of this ambitious project, you can start by comparing your tree to Family Tree. Your tree remains unchanged in this process. To start, click Compare. tells you they will do the compare and send you an email.

You will get an email when the PRF compare is finished

When FamilySearch completes the comparison, the Compare button changes to View.

Pedigree Resource File list of your uploaded GEDCOM files, with View button

Click on View and shows the results of the comparison.

Pedigree Resource File results of GEDCOM comparison to FamilySearch Family Tree

The people in your tree fall into four categories. “Potential Matches” might already be in Family Tree, but FamilySearch computers defer to you, a human being, to decide. “Add to Family Tree” are not in Family Tree, at least as far as the FamilySearch computers can tell. “Already in Family Tree” are in Family Tree already (duh). and “Invalid and Living” can not be added to Family Tree for whatever reason, including the potential of being alive. Click Review Results.

You may add those not already in Family Tree and view those considered invalid or living. For potential matches, you may specify if the person from your tree (on the left) is the same person as the potential match from Family Tree (on the right).

PRF GEDCOM potential matches to FamilySearch Family Tree

For those already in Family Tree, you have the option of copying facts from your tree (on the left) to Family Tree (on the right).

PRF GEDCOM person already in FamilySearch Family Tree

This can get rather tedious, as new people must be added to Family Tree one at a time and new facts about old people must be added one at a time. FamilySearch says this is by design. In the early days of New FamilySearch it was slammed with boatloads of duplicate people that gummed up the gears something fierce.

I won’t go into it here, but another, perhaps easier, way to contribute to Family Tree is to use a tree manager that supports direct synchronization with your tree on your home computer.

Let sum up. You should upload your tree to FamilySearch Pedigree Resource File. No one can change Pedigree Resource File trees but the contributor. You can also contribute to Family Tree. Anyone can change anything in Family Tree. Discussing the pros and cons of that model is beyond the scope of this article (which has already grown too long).

Thanks for your letter,
---The Ancestry Insider

Thursday, July 24, 2014

FamilySearch Releases Mormon Migration Record Collection

FamilySearch adds collection linked to the Mormon Migration website of BYUJust in time for Utah Pioneer Day (24 July), FamilySearch has released the “Mormon Migration Database, 1840-1932.” This collection contains basic information obtained from the Brigham Young University (BYU) Mormon Migration website. It contains links to the BYU website for additional information, such as ships’ rosters, ship photos, passenger journals, autobiographies, and letters. The collection contains information about international converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who crossed the oceans to gather in America from 1840 to 1932. Think of the Mormon Migration website as the successor to the FamilySearch Mormon Immigration Index CD, both of which were compiled by Dr. Fred E. Woods of BYU (and other contributors).

You’ll recall that FamilySearch recently provided a gateway to the “Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847-1868” database of the Church History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (See my article, “FamilySearch and Utah Pioneers.”) You may know this database by its old name, the Melvin L. Bashore “Crossing the Plains Index.” This database lists the names of all known immigrants travelling overland (overland as opposed to what?) to the Utah Territory for the years 1847 to 1868. FamilySearch is only providing a gateway to this resource, rather than an integrated record collection like the Mormon Migration collection.

A search of the Mormon Migration BYU website for “Elizabeth Robinson” found 17 passengers. The BYU site also performs a keyword search of personal accounts. It found seven, but because these are OCR indexes, none of them were actual matches. It found 19 voyages associated with the 17 passengers and 7 accounts. You can also search the BYU site by date or ship name.

The same search on gave 39 passengers. Because I didn’t do an exact search, included matches for nicknames Eliza, Lizzie, Elisa, and Betsy; abbreviations Eliz. and E.; missing given name; and surname Robertson. Results were sorted with exact matches at the top. Unfortunately, FamilySearch has not consistently included basic information from the BYU site. For example, the result for Elizabeth Robinson—the “pistol filer”—did not include port of origin (Liverpool), port of arrival (New York), or voyage date (8 Sep 1840 - 12 Oct 1840). Without voyage date, FamilySearch was not able to estimate birth year (1835). Without this basic information, it makes it difficult to pick a desired immigrant from among the results. An advantage of searching on the FamilySearch website is that names are fielded, so there are no false matches. A major advantage is that results can be linked to FamilySearch Family Tree.

I’ve hoped for a long time that FamilySearch would provide this collection, so I’m happy to see it. Hopefully, they can rework it to include the information from the BYU site that they have left out.

Pedigree Charts in Wikipedia

A coworker, Fran Jensen, pointed out to me that some biographical articles in Wikipedia include a pedigree chart showing the person’s ancestry. For an example, check out the pedigree of Francis Scott Key:

Wikipedia pedigree of Francis Scott Key

Click the Show button beneath the box labeled “Ancestors of Francis Scott Key” to show the pedigree.

Thanks, Fran.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

FamilySearch Releases Two Mobile Apps

FamilySearch has released two mobile apps: “FamilySearch – Tree” and “FamilySearch – Memories.”

FamilySearch – Tree is a mobile tree viewer for FamilySearch Family Tree. It is available for both Apple iOS 7+ and Android 2.3+ devices. You can view the tree no matter where you’re at. You can download several generations of your pedigree for offline viewing. (I want to say six generations, but I don’t remember for certain.) You can add photos, stories, and audio recordings. The app does not allow changing information in the tree, but FamilySearch says that ability is in the works.

Pedigree view of the FamilySearch - Tree app  Person view of the FamilySearch - Tree app

FamilySearch – Memories is available only for Apple iOS 7+. You can add photos, stories, and audio recordings. Sounds a lot like the FamilySearch – Tree app, doesn’t it? It appears that the Memories app works like the Memories section of and the Tree app works like the Family Tree section. (Go figure.) The Memories app allows tagging people in photos, just like that section of the website.

My Photos view of the FamilySearch - Memories app  Photo view of the FamilySearch - Memories app

You can contribute a photo by taking one with the phone camera or from photos already on the camera. Photos are supposed to be “appropriate… relevant… heart-turning (a scriptural reference)…[and] noncommercial. Every photo is screened before it is published. When you contribute a photo (or photo of a document), anyone can view it. Photos can be .jpg, .tif, .gif, and .png up to 15 MB in size. Tiff support is new. I knew they were working on it, but I hadn’t heard they had released it.

You can record audio up to 15 minutes in length. I’m not certain where they are stored. I don’t see them on the web version of Family Tree. Am I missing it, somewhere? It must not be available yet.

Both apps are free and require a free FamilySearch account.

Monday, July 21, 2014

FamilySearch Indexing Event is in-progress

The FamilySearch Worldwide Indexing Event started last evening and runs until this evening, 21 July 2014, at 5:59 pm Mountain Daylight Time (7:59 EDT, 6:59 CDT, 4:59 PDT).

Participate at .

FamilySearch 2014 Worldwide Indexing Event

Read more in the FamilySearch blog article, “Join the Worldwide Indexing Event.”

Sunday, July 20, 2014

FamilySearch World Wide Indexing Event

imageFamilySearch has announced that they are sponsoring an indexing challenge beginning this evening (Sunday, 20 July 2014) and running for 24 hours. The challenge is to exceed 50,000 indexers in a single day. The previous record was 49,025, set during the 1940 census. It is indeed a stretch goal to exceed that number. Whether you’ve indexed before or not, your help is needed.

If you don’t like old handwriting, try indexing an obituary. (Be sure to carefully read the instructions before doing obituaries.)

To contribute toward the goal, you only need to index one batch.

Hours for the event run from 6:00 pm mountain daylight time (8 pm EDT, 7 pm CDT, 5 pm PDT) Sunday evening to 24 hours later on Monday. This evening may be your best bet if you wish to participate.

Visit to get started.

Read more in the FamilySearch blog article, “Join the Worldwide Indexing Event.”

Friday, July 18, 2014

Serendipity in a Log Cabin Bed and Breakfast

Photo of a log cabin porch
Image credit: kai4107 /
It 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.”

In July 1993 Carol Willoughby visited Picton, Ontario to research her great-great-grandfather, Wilson Bentley. She stayed at the Log Cabin Bed and Breakfast. She went all over town, doing the usual genealogy stuff: visiting the library, the local archive, and every cemetery she could find. The trip proved successful. After some searching, she found Wilson’s grave in the Cherry Valley Cemetery. And at the local archive, workers found the records of three previously unknown children of Wilson Bentley and his wife, Miriam Jackson.

Flash forward more than a year. Richard Bentley visited Picton, Ontario to research his great-great-grandfather, Wilson Bentley. Don’t get ahead of me. Can you guess where he stayed? The Log Cabin Bed and Breakfast. There the owner remembered that some lady had come to town more than a year before, also looking for Bentleys. I confess I’ve passed up many an invitation to sign those bed and breakfast guest books. Never again. The owner looked through the book and recognized Carol’s name. She had signed her address and phone number.

Richard called Carol. They learned that he was a descendent of Wilson’s son, Samuel, and Carol was a descendent of Wilson’s son, Henry. Because of this chance coincidence, the two were able to exchange information and share a photograph dating to 1854!

That is serendipity in genealogy.


     Carol Bentley Willoughby, “Family history moments: 'Not a coincidence,' ” Church News: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ( : accessed 13 July 2014).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

FamilySearch and Utah Pioneers

Just in time for Utah’s Pioneer Day (24 July 2014), FamilySearch has created a special page for descendants of Utah Pioneers:

FamilySearch has connected the page to the “Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel” database of the Church History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Click on “Your Pioneer Ancestors” to see a list of your ancestors that FamilySearch found in the database. (It found 22 of mine.)

The page of Mormon Pioneers and companies

Click on an Ancestor’s name to jump to him or her in FamilySearch Family Tree. Click on the name of a company to see information about that company, links to journal accounts, and a link to a list of everyone in that company. Click on “Trail Experiences (Stories)” to jump to a page on the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel website that contains a list of sources and links to journal transcriptions and biographies telling the story of your ancestor and his pioneer company.

The database contains all identified Mormon immigrants who travelled to the Utah territory between 1847 and 1868 (the last year before the railroad made it all the way to Utah). Most travelled the Mormon Trail, which paralleled or coincided with the Oregon-California Trail until Fort Bridger. As I recall, the Oregon-California Trail ran along the South side of the North Platte River and the Mormon Trail ran along the North.

For lists of travellers on the Oregon-California Trail, see the website, Paper Trail: A Guide to Overland Pioneer Names and Documents. (A subscription is required.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Give Your Junk to the Family Genealogist

Photo of an old trunk, courtesy featurePicsI was amused at the quote my wife read from an article1 about baby boomers trying to dejunk their homes.

Bamlett is a proponent of “guilt-free” organizing. “If you’re holding onto something because you feel you should, don’t. Give it to a charity that speaks to your heart. Or find another relative, someone who’s interested in family genealogy.”

A closer look at the article had me singing a different tune. The article highlights the problem people face when parents die. Their descendants are often left with a large amount of stuff. Just when they are burdened with grief, they are burdened with the task of sifting and sorting through the evidence of their loved one’s existence. Some possessions were of value only to the deceased. Some are valued by multiple descendants who must navigate through fragile feelings. Inevitably, someone without the time to do so is left to sort all the belongings in-between.

That’s when priceless genealogical treasures often hit the trash heap.

After a bit of reading I found myself in complete agreement with the funny-sounding statement. Before you throw everything out, let the family genealogist have a shot at that old trunk of dusty documents and ancient photographs with unfamiliar names written on the backs.

The article also made a suggestion we should all take to heart. Gather together before their (or your own) death. Dejunk, divvy, and divide. Decreasing the amount of stuff that must be sifted afterwards decreases inadvertent losses. Identifying and locating genealogical gold nuggets beforehand increases the likelihood that they will pass to loving hands.

Read the entire article on the Sacramento Bee website.


     1.  Claudia Buck, “Personal Finance: Parents’ ‘Stuff’ Can Be a Burden for Boomers,” Sacramento Bee ( : accessed 12 July 2014).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Correction: LDS Member Accounts Don’t Include all Collections

imageSometime ago someone asked me about the special subscriptions to,, and that are offered to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as part of the partnerships with FamilySearch. I was asked if they included all the websites’ contents and I said I had heard they did. Now I learn they do not. does not refund existing subscriptions and they don’t include all their content. I contacted Find My Past’s support organization, asking what the policy was concerning refunds. This is what Michael Ancell of their support team told me:

Having checked your account, you have the 12 months World subscription, which is paid up to the 13th of September 2014.…You have also recently activated a FamilySearch subscription on the 9th of July 2014.

If you buy a subscription or PayAsYouGo credits, you can contact us and cancel within seven days of receipt of our confirmation email and we will happily give you a full refund as long as you have not viewed any records.

Therefore, as my colleague has advised, I'm afraid we are unable to offer a refund of the 12 months World subscription, your current membership will run until 13 September 2014 then your FamilySearch subscription will run until the 9th of July 2015.

Also, there are records, such as the Newspaper and Periodical records, which are not covered by the FamilySearch subscription, which you will be able continue accessing using the World subscription prior to this expiring in September.

This surprised me in two ways. I believe automatically gave refunds (my subscription was gratis, so I don’t know for certain), so I was surprised and disappointed that Find My Past did not. (I know I’m not getting any sympathy from those of you who have to pay for a subscription. But you all already know I’m a whiner. :-) I was also surprised to learn my subscription did not include all their content.

I contacted FamilySearch support and asked for a list of what FindMyPast content was included and what was not. I was told that there is no list. The official statement is

Due to specific agreements with records custodians, some records collections may not be available to access using your account regardless of whether you have a free or paid account. Other than that, all features of the site will be unrestricted.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, as some of FamilySearch’s content is not available to everyone and some of’s content is not available via their library edition. My apologies to the person I misinformed. Now I’m wondering about and LDS subscriptions.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Mailbox: Tree Size

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

I am loving with the shaking leaves! I have created one ENORMOUS family tree. Will the big size become some disadvantage??? Should I have created four trees, one for each of my grandparents???

Kath Baker

Dear Kath,

That’s an excellent question. I see pros and cons.

I personally share an Ancestry member tree with my siblings. It contains 8,500 ancestors and their descendants. It is convenient to have it all in one place. But if we ever have to split it, we will pay the piper plentifully.

We also have 1,300 photos and document images in the tree and that is a big problem.’s photo management is in the honey bucket. Dealing with that number of photos is near impossible. I’ve uploaded a bunch over the years that I meant to go back and attach to a person. Now it’s impossible to find them. You have to manually scan through 53 pages of thumbnails. I’d like to sort them at times by title, upload date, event date, event location, person attached to, or geolocation. I’d like to search and filter them by any field or by specific fields. All I want are the basic management operations we’re used to from iTunes, Windows folders, Outlook, or photo management programs. I’ll gladly jump ship to FamilySearch or stay with Ancestry Member Trees if one would add some decent photo management. But I digress… The photo management problem would have been one-fourth the size had I used the four tree approach.

When I bought Family Tree Maker (actually, provided me a review copy), I found it took a considerable amount of time to do the first synchronize between my desktop and online trees. Breaking that chore into four may have helped more. But that only needs to be done once. Having the result all in one file is nice if you have to search for something. For example, when I went to a conference in Springfield, I found nearby research opportunities by searching for family that died in Illinois. And may I say that I’m crazy happy that I keep a backup of my Ancestry Member Tree on my laptop. You never know when will find it can make more money renting out puppies and shuts down next September. But I digress…

While I’m collaborating mostly with siblings, I’ve shared the tree at times with more distant relatives. That’s been a bit awkward. Having four trees would make it more natural to grant access to first and second cousins. I also have almost a dozen project trees. These are small, private trees where I’m working on research not ready for prime time. Separate trees make it possible to share select information with select people.

All that said, I’m not feeling particularly well qualified to make a recommendation one way or the other.

Dear Readers,

Can you help Kath out? What is your experience? One tree? Four trees? More?

The Ancestry Insider

Friday, July 11, 2014

Darned Twins Born 29 Days Apart

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.”

Darned Twins Born Weeks Apart

“Pedigree analysis” easily uncovers typos and misinformation in a family tree. But sometimes reality overshadows common sense. Take for example, Alexandre and Ronaldo, twin sons of Ronaldo Antunes and Lindalva Pinheiro da Silva. Alexandre was born 2 March 2014 and Ronaldo was born 26 March 2014. For more information, see “Boston Twins Born 24 Days Apart” and “Preemie Twins Born 24 Days Apart Headed Home After Rare Delivery.”

Topping that were Carl and David Cowan, twin sons of David and Elene Cowan, born 39 days apart. Carl was born on 20 January 2014 and David was born 28 February 2014. For more of their story, see “Kansas City Twins Born 39 Days Apart” and “'Miracles Happen': Preemie Twins Born 39 Days Apart.” (The latter article misreported David’s birth month as March.)

David Cowan was born 28 February, 39 days after his borther

Maybe such large spreads will be increasingly common in the future. But maybe Alexandre, Ronaldo, Carl, and David will have some very, very confused great-great-grandchildren.

Yes, records do say the darnedest things.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

FamilySearch Catalog Improvement. Help Center Changes.

After my article last week on the new FamilySearch catalog, I was pleased to see a new feature that addresses one of my concerns. I’ve complained several times about FamilySearch’s use of inline expansion. I’m happy to report that the engineers on the records search team have addressed one of the problems. Let me illustrate the problem with an example from the help system.

Start on the record search main page. Click on “Get Help” at the top-right corner of the page. The FamilySearch help system displays a menu. (See Image 1 to the right). FamilySearch has improved their help system. It now displays context sensitive help. In other words, the menu changes depending on what page you are on.

Unfortunately, I think the help system has big problems. They haven’t separated the links between “Help about this page” and “Help in general.” And in some menus (like the one in Image 1), there is no link to the Help Center. That’s necessary in case you aren’t on the page associated with your question. There’s also no menu option for infrequently asked questions. What if my question is “How do I change a person’s portrait in Family Tree?” That won’t be in the FAQs (frequently asked questions). Nor does it warrant an answer among the Tips and Tricks. FamilySearch has hidden the place to get such questions answered. (You must click on FAQs and use a search box above the list of frequently asked questions.)

But I digress…

FamilySearch help system menu
Image 1 – Get Help drop down menu for Search pages

All the links in the Self Help section go to the same Help page. The difference is that a different section of the Help page is expanded inline. Using inline expansion has several problems. The expanded page often can’t be bookmarked, the URL can’t be shared, the expanded section can’t be separately printed, and the browser’s Find function sometimes malfunctions.

As an example, go to the historical records search page on and click the Get Help link in the upper-right corner. FamilySearch displays the drop-down menu shown in Image 1. Click on FAQs and the FamilySearch help system opens the help page and opens up the FAQs section as shown in Image 2, below-left. Click on the Learning Center Video Courses section title and the page opens up that section as shown in Image 3, below-right.

FamilySearch help page with FAQs expanded
Image 2 – Help page showing FAQs, expanded inline

FamilySearch help page with Learning Center section expanded
Image 3 – Same page, only with Learning Center section expanded inline

Now bookmark the page. If you try the bookmark, you will find it fails. Instead of the page view in Image 3, you get the page view in Image 2. Likewise, if you wish to share the list of video courses with a friend by copying the URL (which is, your friend may be lost and confused. Type Control-F and search for “browse” and you too may be lost and confused when your browser indicates it has found a match, but the word is nowhere to be found. (It occurs in one of the unexpanded sections.)

Click on Tips and Tricks and then click FamilySearch Tips and Tricks. This popup view is impossible to bookmark or share.

And that is what the search system engineers have fixed in the new FamilySearch Catalog. If I expand a subject to show the titles, and I bookmark the page or send a URL to a friend, they will see the same thing I see—the subject titles expanded inline. Click this link to see an example with the Archives and Libraries section expanded inline. Maybe the search system engineers can teach the help system engineers how to implement this in the help system.

The good news is that FamilySearch has fixed the FAQs, which previously revealed answers via inline expansion. Now each question and answer opens a new page.

As long as I’ve ragged a bit on FamilySearch help, let me rag a bit more.

  • FamilySearch still hides the Family Tree manual amidst the Learning Center Video Courses.
  • If you do find it, it is two years out of date.
  • The search box in the FAQs section is inconsistent with the rest of It uses red highlighting to indicate the box is selected and the red changes to blue once the user begins typing.
  • The search doesn’t always work. For example, there is an article that explains how to change the preferred portrait in Family Tree. However, the search function can not find it.

Hat’s off to the Record Search engineers for fixing one of the problems I had with the new catalog. Time is ticking. Get your suggestions in before it is too late.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014 Delays Retirement is retiring, mycanvas,, and mundia.Due to the recent Denial of Service attack, has delayed retirement of several of their services. (See “ Announces Retirement of Several Websites.”)

Said spokesperson, Heather Erickson, “Due to recent site issues, we will be extending the period that MyFamily, MyCanvas,, Mundia and the Y-DNA and mtDNA websites will be available. These sites will not retire until September 30, 2014.” The shutdown was previously scheduled for 5 September 2014.

Many users have expressed disappointment that is discontinuing these services. Janice commented:

We have used (and my Dad has paid for) just about since its inception. My family consists of 28+ members now and we are spread out around the country in 8 states and over 11 cities. At times, some members were overseas. We have used the site to update support, and navigate each other through cancer, major illnesses, surgeries, adoption, marriage, birthdays, holidays, travel, college and other milestones, and up to and including death. We use the site to reminisce and remember people who are now gone. I am really sorry it's not going to be there for us. I know there are postings on the site I need to print. I wish they would reconsider.

My article was very critical of’s decision to retire Y-DNA and mt-DNA testing. Within hours contacted me to discuss the situation. I sent them a couple of examples where Y-DNA testing proved crucial. One disproved a theorized relationship. The other added additional evidence to an indirect proof. I look forward to their response.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

War of 1812 Project. Drops BillionGraves.

War of 1812 pension digitization projectI was going to lead this article with an invitation to photograph the grave marker of a veteran of the War of 1812 and have it indexed on both and It seems that is no longer possible. But first, let me speak of the War of 1812 project.

The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and BillionGraves have invited the public to honor veterans of the War of 1812.

BillionGraves and The Federation of Genealogical Societies are asking anyone with knowledge of a cemetery marker for a War of 1812 veteran to upload the image of the marker to the BillionGraves website ( using their free mobile application during the month of July to honor and remember the service of those who served in the “Second Revolution.”

The grave marker project is closely aligned with the War of 1812 pension digitization project, which also honors veterans of the war and makes available important documents to their descendants and all historians. There are 7.2 million pages of documents in 180,000 pension files. None are available on microfilm. Heavy use presents a danger to these fragile documents. FGS, NARA, Fold3, and are collaborating on this project which is funded by your donations. FGS is leading the effort to raise the funds necessary. NARA is archiving these valuable documents. Fold3 is hosting the digitized images for free to the general public. (I think they are also digitizing them.) is matching donations. Fold3 is posting the digitized and indexed images as they become available. The files are being digitized in alphabetical order. If your veteran’s name is before Ha, then his file may already be online.

For more information or to make a donation, visit the Preserve the Pensions website. Read the full text of the FGS/BillionGraves announcement online. Drops BillionGraves

Now back to and BillionGraves. There seems to be a growing rift between and FamilySearch over support for grave marker websites. Previously, hosted both a Find a Grave index and a BillionGraves index. (See “BillionGraves Teams Up with Ancestry” on the BillionGraves website.) However, BillionGraves is a Find a Grave competitor and is growing fast. Sometime between January 2013 and April 2014, coincident with acquiring Find a Grave, dropped the BillionGraves database.

The URL to the BillionGraves database on new returns a general, unhelpful error message. error message for BillionGraves database
Please Search Again
The search request could not be completed because insufficient information was provided to …
Search for your ancestors at, or click here to return to the previous page.

If you happened to have bookmarked a URL to search results from the BillionGraves database, you can still revise your search and get new results. search results for BillionGraves database

However, clicking on a result or a bookmarked URL to a BillionGrave record returns an error message. error message for BillionGraves records
Collection Not Available
Our apologies for the inconvenience, but unfortunately the record you are trying to view is no longer available on Ancestry. You can visit directly to find the record.
Or try conducting a search for other death records on Ancestry below.

This is pretty extraordinary for to invalidate links to records. As we saw when combined all its Find a Grave state collections into one, it preserved all the old links. When a user complained about a broken link to a BillionGraves record, support personnel provided a link to the same grave marker in the Find a Grave database and Cara L, Support Community Manager provided this explanation:

Thank you for your comment. We have been evaluating similar cemetery content collections available through and have determined that the records found on BillionGraves are also available through FindAGrave. To reduce duplication, we are removing the BillionGraves database from our website and are also working to remove all of the links to BillionGraves. That however, might take some time, so in the meantime, please go ahead and disregard any BillionGraves links you come across.

Given MyHeritage’s recent endorsement of BillionGraves, the statement may not be true outside the United States. About 25% of BillionGraves records are outside the United States. is walking away from a potential goldmine. Within the United States, however, the statement is most likely true. The “U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1700s-Current” index on boasts 105 million records while BillionGraves has a mere 6 million United States deaths.

While sits with a Find a Grave index and without a BillionGraves index, FamilySearch has a BillionGraves index and no Find a Grave index. Has FamilySearch lined up behind BillionGraves in opposition to and Find a Grave? Or is FamilySearch unable to acquire a Find a Grave index? Neither side has commented publicly. However, about the time acquired Find a Grave, the Find a Grave terms and conditions changed with the addition of the clause: “Bots, crawlers, spiders, scraping and other automatic access tools are prohibited.” If FamilySearch wishes to obtain a Find a Grave index, they can’t sneak it out the backdoor.

BillionGraves has started well but it remains to be seen how successful they will be. Out of the its starting block, BillionGraves boasted a smart phone app, giving it a significant technological advantage over Find a Grave. BillionGraves quickly grew from nothing in May of 2011 to 8 million records today. It took Find a Grave 10 years to garner its first 8 million. However, recently released a Find a Grave app, muting the BillionGraves advantage. And while BillionGraves has averaged about 2.7 million new records a year, Find a Grave has averaged 12.9 million a year since their start in 1995, accumulating 116 million records. Further, Find a Grave is entirely free, funded completely by advertisements. BillionGraves’s revenue model is offering premium upgrades to its free service, plus advertising revenues. Find a Grave also has a mechanism for requesting a marker photograph by a volunteer. BillionGraves has not yet released a similar service.

But if you want to participate in the 1812 veterans’ grave marker project, is the place to go.


Disclaimer: I have close associations with two BillionGraves executives.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday Mailbox: Dear Ancestry Insider, Please Change My Email Address

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Please change my email address. It is

Thank you,
Shirley Lancaster Hobden

Dear Shirley,

I am not able to change the email address of your subscription. You must do that yourself.

Unsubscribing your old address is optional. Click the Unsubscribe Now link at the bottom of the email.


Then click on the article title. This takes you to In the top corner, enter your new email address.


---The Ancestry Insider

Thursday, July 3, 2014

FamilySearch Publishes Billionth Image

Collage of FamilySearch recordsFamilySearch announced last week that they have published over a billion images. “Although a few social sites like Flickr and Facebook can boast over a billion photos contributed by users, there is no site like that has published over one billion images of historic records," said Rod DeGiulio in a press release. DeGiulio is the director of FamilySearch’s Records Division. That is quite the accomplishment when one considers the head start enjoyed by or the size of the record collections of the national archives of various nations. The billionth image was published in a Peru civil registration (vital records) collection. See the entire press release on

The local paper, the Deseret News, published two articles about the accomplishment. See “FamilySearch Reaches Milestone of One Billionth Published Digital Image” and “Ancestors, Actors and Arachnids: Interesting Things Found in 1 Billion Historic Images” by Trent Toone. The latter references the Ancestry Insider’s collection of famous people pictured in “Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Immigration Cards, 1900-1965.” In addition to the photographs from my article, the Deseret News article features records of some other famous Americans. These include a draft registration card where Harry Houdini signed “Handcuff” as his middle name, and census schedules for Thomas Edison and Walt Disney. The article includes passport applications for Ernest Hemingway, Babe Ruth, Alexander Graham Bell, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. (I may or may not have had something to do with these additional records.)

FamilySearch, under its alternate name, the Genealogical Society of Utah, began collecting records on microfilm in 1938 and by 1996 had amassed two billion images, viewable only on microfilm at its network of family history centers and select public libraries. FamilySearch in just seven years has published one billion images online, viewable by anyone, anytime, anywhere with Internet access.

About 70% of those came from digitizing parts of its microfilm collection and about 25% from its current army of 275 digital cameras in 45 countries. While it used to take about 18 months from camera click to microfilm availability, with digital technology it takes just two to four weeks. The remaining 5% of the published billion images came from partnerships, an increasingly important part of FamilySearch’s strategy.

“Currently, FamilySearch publishes about 200 million images of historic records online each year,” according to the press release. This is down about 40% from the 350 million achieved annually in 2012 and 2013, according to data published in the Deseret News. (See chart, below.) DeGiulio predicts it will take only three to five years to publish the next billion images.

Graph of images published by FamilySearch by year
Data from Deseret News

Asked by the Deseret News how valuable these records are, FamilySearch’s Paul Nauta described seeing a person at a computer, weeping.

“I would say the experience is priceless.”

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

FamilySearch Close to Retiring the Classic FHLC

It has been almost exactly two years since FamilySearch retired the original, website. (See “Classic FamilySearch is No More.”) I don’t remember them even giving a final warning specifying the exact date it would be shut down. Didn’t it just suddenly go away?

One piece of the classic site survived: the classic Family History Library Catalog, commonly referenced as the FHLC. Now that too is on the chopping block. We’ve known since the shutdown of the rest of the classic site that this day was coming. FamilySearch is replacing the classic catalog with the new FamilySearch catalog, designed and implemented as an integral piece of the latest website. The classic catalog was always a step-child of the classic site, with a different look and feel. Yet it still occupies a place in the heart of long-time users.

FamilySearch is giving signs that the shutdown is imminent. Recently FamilySearch removed the “beta” label from the new FamilySearch Catalog and added a message on the main page of the old:

This catalog will be retired soon.

As an insider I’ve seen several companies ask users for feedback before making a big change. In my experience, if you want your feedback acted upon, you have to give it before the change. Once the change is made, software engineers are moved on to new projects. If you wait to try out the new thing until you are forced to, and then give important feedback, it is rarely acted upon in a timely manner, if ever. Now we are in the last death throes of the classic catalog, you need to switch over immediately, discover the problems and inadequacies of the new catalog, and report them. A feedback button is prominently displayed on the home page of the classic catalog. You may or may not won’t get a final warning.

During the last two years FamilySearch has taken user feedback about the beta catalog, incorporated missing functionality, and fixed inadequacies. I made the switch more than a year ago. I found and complained about several problems—probably with many others—and FamilySearch fixed them. Now I prefer the new catalog.

One of the features FamilySearch proudly proclaims about the new catalog is that it has less pages. Instead, areas slide open, revealing additional detail. FamilySearch incorporates the philosophy across its website and I think it is a detriment, not an improvement. It makes it hard to bookmark, share a URL, or print a focused section of the website. I’ve complained before about FamilySearch’s stupid help system that expands a topic in place. When I’ve wanted to answer a reader’s question about by sending them to the answer in the help system, I can’t do it. There are no URLs to expanded topics. But I digress.

The expansion in place in the new catalog isn’t all bad. I find myself simultaneously expanding the vital records titles and vital record indexes titles. Since they are adjacent, I can see all the titles simultaneously. I’ve gotten quite used to that feature, something I can’t do in the old catalog. The same technique works with other record types as well. Here’s an example for probate records of Albany County, New York:

The new FamilySearch catalog allows expansion of titles in place

Another feature I like about the new catalog is the ability to specify two search criteria simultaneously. Let’s say you wanted to see what items the National Archives has produced about the War of 1812. With the old catalog this is nearly impossible. You could wade through 1,324 items matching the keyword “War of 1812.” Or you could search for author “National Archives.” That gives 68 authors. A couple dozen are variations of NARA current and past names, main and regional offices, and a few internal subdivisions. The others are national archives of other countries. Rifling through the couple dozen NARA authors, you would need to sort through 1,262 titles looking for the War of 1812. Or you could do a subject search of “War of 1812” and work some unknown number of titles associated with the resulting 13 subjects.

With the new catalog you simply search for “War of 1812” and “National Archives” at the same time. Wham, bam, done: 16 titles.

The new catalog also supports wildcards and quotation marks, although I’ve not had occasion to need them yet.

The classic Family History Library Catalog is going away. Switch now to the new FamilySearch catalog. Give feedback about it. And enjoy the new functionality.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014 and ProQuest Announce Generalities

imageLast Friday and ProQuest announced the expansion of their partnership. This week is the American Library Association 2014 annual conference in Las Vegas, so it’s an opportune time for library vendors like ProQuest to make announcements. The announcement was long on generalities and short on specifics, however. Perhaps they were hoping to announce something more substantial and it wasn’t ready in time. The announcement states

ProQuest will be distributor of both existing products, including Ancestry Library Edition, and future Ancestry products. The agreement also allows for significant content and feature improvements to ProQuest’s HeritageQuest Online. These enhancements will be developed in the coming months and powered by Ancestry.” (Italics added.)

The word both makes me think there was to be a second product distributed by ProQuest. The idea of adding content to HeritageQuest Online is interesting. I wonder what they would add that won’t conflict with the Ancestry Library Edition product.

The Ancestry Library Edition contains most of the content available on As I recall, the content not available is that which ProQuest charges for separately. (See my 2007 article, “The Ancestry Library Edition.”) It also lacks personal features such as member trees and DNA tests. If you don’t have an subscription, check your local library to see if they have the library edition.

I noticed in the press release that for the first time, called themselves just “Ancestry” instead of “” I wonder what that means. In December last year filed for a trademark with just the word “Ancestry” next to their trademark leaf design. They already have one for “” next to it. The United States Patent and Trademark Office tentatively rejected part of their request: they want to use it with their DNA test kits. But this doesn’t have anything to do with dropping “.com” from the way they speak of themselves. And I digress…

You can read the complete text of the Ancestry/ProQuest announcement on the ProQuest website.