Thursday, October 30, 2014

Two Days Later Would Have Been Too Late

imageIt 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.”

Judy Russell, “The Legal Genealogist,” shared a simple story of serendipity recently. See “Legal Serendipity.”

A couple of days prior to that she shared a touching story she titled “Finding Evan.” Recommended reading.

Monday, October 27, 2014

NARA Online Genealogy Fair

imageThis week the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) is holding a three day genealogy conference, of sorts, on the internet. If you’ve ever watched a YouTube video, you have enough technical smarts to attend.

Day 1: Tuesday, October 28
Watch live video stream on YouTube
Captioning on Streamtext 

Day 2: Wednesday, October 29
Watch live video stream on YouTube
Captioning on Streamtext

Day 3: video stream: Thursday, October 30
Watch live video stream on YouTube
Captioning on Streamtext

If you wish to ask questions (which you can do since this is a live event), you’ll have to get a Twitter account and learn how to send messages to @USNatArchives with hashtag #genfair2014. (I wonder if NARA checked that hashtag beforehand. Oh well. A little Indonesian music really livens up a genealogy fair.)

Sessions teach about Federal records, including citizenship, immigration, Indian, military, Federal land records, and the NARA website. There are two general interest sessions: introduction to genealogy and preserving your own records. Wednesday at noon (Eastern Time) Quinton Atkinson will teach about and at 2 pm Carol Petranek will present about FamilySearch.

The schedule and handouts are and will be available online. More information is available on the NARA website.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Alaska’s Darned October 1867

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.”

Alaska’s Darned October 1867

Most genealogists know that in 1752 the calendar changed from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar. Most also know that the calendar change occurred in different years in different countries. “Julian and Gregorian Calendars,” in the FamilySearch Wiki lists the years for several countries.

Most genealogists may not know about the oddity that is Alaska.

Stephen Morse, creator of the famous One-Step Website, wrote an excellent article titled “The Julian Calendar and Why We Need to Know About It.” It appeared in the March 2014 issue of the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly on pages 36-42. Along with a general discussion on the conversion to the Gregorian Calendar, Morse wrote about the weird situation that occurred in Alaska when it was transferred from Russia to the United States.

The day before the transfer was Friday, 6 October 1867 in Russia. Russia was still on the Julian Calendar. The day of the transfer was Saturday, 7 October 1867, in Russia. That date corresponds with Saturday, 19 October 1867, Gregorian Calendar.

However, like a modern day traveller who gains a day flying from Russia to America, Alaska gained another day! It had two Fridays in a row. That made the official transfer day Friday, 18 October 1867, Gregorian Calendar. 

This is the Alaskan Calendar for October 1867:

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6  
          18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31    

Darned Alaskan October 1867!

Other Sources

“State of Alaska.” Alaska TourSaver. : accessed 24 May 2014.

Wikipedia contributors. "Alaska Purchase." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. : accessed 26 May 2014.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

ICAPGEN Conference Coming 1 November 2014

ICAPGEN provided the following press release about their upcoming conference. (I’m not doing very well on my two article goal this week, am I.)

The annual family history conference co-sponsored by ICAPGen and the Center for Family History and Genealogy at Brigham Young University will be held on Saturday, November 1, 2014 in the Joseph F. Smith building on the BYU campus. Come celebrate 50 years of genealogical credentialing with some amazing classes on accreditation, professional research, methodology, technology and DNA research. The luncheon speaker will be David Rencher. Lunch is included in the low price of the conference. It will be a great day! Go to to see the conference schedule. Sign up for the conference online here:

Or to view the conference schedule go here:

About ICAPGen:  The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists, internationally recognized as ICAPGen, is a professional credentialing organization dedicated to testing an individual’s competence in genealogical research. The organization is administered by a board of qualified Commissioners with many years of experience. Professional credentials with ICAPGen provide numerous benefits. For additional information go to

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Free Genealogy Toolkit Family History ToolkitThis last week, released a free genealogy toolkit. It is simply a PDF file containing a list of (and links to) free resources offered by I’m all over free. Some may lead to free resources that lead to subscription resources, such as state resource guides. But that should be surprising to no one. Any credible guide to genealogy today is going to end up, sooner or later, pointing you to resources on’s subscription website.

Here’s a sampling of the available offerings listed in the toolkit:

  • Free Charts & Forms
  • Ancestry Red Book: American State, County & Town Sources (Online reference)
  • Irish Research in the U.S. and Ireland (Free downloadable PDF guide)
  • 5-minute Finds (Short videos)
  • County Look-up

Download your free genealogy toolkit from


P.S. Earlier this month I decided that I need to re-balance my weekends. That means less time writing this column and more time in other aspects of my life. The goal is to write no more than two articles each week. There is always so much to write about and I like writing this column so much, we’ll see how well I do.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Monday Mailbox: Ancestry Library Edition

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

My wife and I have been asked to teach a class of newbies “How to use AncestryLibrary” and while doing a little research on the difference between the library version and,  I looked in the card catalog for each and found that claims 32,396 collections (25,698 of these are USA) while the CC for the library version claims 9,853 collections (3,872 are USA).

The Library version also has this “Ancestry Library Edition is available in the U.S., the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland and Norway, and provides access to billions of historical documents, millions of historical photos, plus local narratives, oral histories, indexes and other resources in over 30,000 databases that span from the 1500s to the 2000s.”

Which of these is really true and which is just hype?  Seems to me that the last statement is a form of “bait and switch” if the CC is correct.  If the CC is not correct, then there must be a lot of databases NOT cataloged in the library version–why?

Harry Dell

Dear Harry,

I asked’s Kim Harrison to answer your questions. Her response follows. (I’ve edited it slightly, so blame me for the english erors.)

---The Ancestry Insider

From Kim:

Ancestry comes in all sizes and shapes to fit our customer needs. Here is the break out of the different types of Ancestry being delivered.

Ancestry Library Edition:

This is offered by ProQuest to libraries. The content is U.S. and International. It has some limitations and restrictions:

  • You cannot build online trees.
  • The Ancestry Library Edition cannot be accessed remotely (at home). [You must visit the library.]
  • There are some U.S. Content exclusions. These are titles that are already offered in the library setting by other library vendors. For example: 70 Genealogical Publishing Company titles (these titles usually are abstract or indexes affecting some of the east coast states), some county histories (these are offered by ProQuest in HeritageQuest), Gale (now known as Cengage) titles (Filby’s Ship & Passenger List and Biography & Genealogy Master Index [BGMI]), and some newspaper content that we licensed from ProQuest (such as their ProQuest Obituary database).
  • Community features are not available, such as sending messages to other members, posting on message boards, buying DNA products, and so on. Most of the message boards are read only.

Ancestry Institution Edition:

This edition is offered in places that have a special relationship with Ancestry such as the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), FamilySearch, and state archives. There is no content exclusion in this offering. However, this offering can be restricted by regional interest. In the U.S. this offering is restricted to U.S. only for K12 schools.

As with the Ancestry Library Edition, it cannot be accessed remotely (at home). You cannot build online trees. And there are the same restrictions on community features.

This is offered to the individual for at home use. Content offerings can be purchased by region of interest such as the U.S. The World Explorer subscription includes all international content. offers the most robust of what I call the “connection” features:

  • Share and build online trees
  • Use message boards
  • Interact with company experts using social media sites
  • Explore your DNA ethnicity and matches with others that share your DNA makeup

All these editions have:

  • the same search functions, including filters
  • the same ability to print, cut & paste, save to jump drive, or e-mail home
  • the same Learning Center

Friday, October 10, 2014

Serendipity in Genealogy from NEHGS Readers

NEHGS asked readers about their tales of serendipityIt 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 its Weekly Genealogist newsletter, the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) asked recently if readers had had an experience of sheer luck or serendipity which had allowed them to break through a brick wall. They gave the results In the 1 October 2014 issue. About 4,000 readers responded to the survey. Of those, 72% said yes, 23% said no, and 5% said they didn’t believe in luck (which is another way of saying no).

Several readers emailed their stories or posted them on the NEHGS Facebook page. Newsletter editor, Lynn Betlock, shared some of them. One was researching one ancestor at the National Archives and found a document—misfiled—for a brick wall ancestor. In similar fashion, another reader was researching one ancestor only to find a brick-wall ancestor as a witness to a wedding far away from where they were known to be.

Read these short accounts for yourself in the newsletter and on the Facebook page.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

FamilySearch Search Page Changes Cause Consternation

In recent months FamilySearch has been experimenting with different designs for the historical records search page. These changes have led to confusion and frustration on the part of some users. (For example, see feedback to a Facebook post by Pat Richley-Erickson.)


Previously, a “Browse All Published Collections” link sat just beneath the search button. It led to a list of all collections. The list is used extensively by experienced genealogists. Underneath it was a list of links leading to the collection list filtered to a particular region of the world. An inert world map sat just to the right.

The FamilySearch historical records search page earlier this year

In an effort to make it more visible, FamilySearch moved the “Browse All Published Collections” link up and to the right of the search form. (I don’t have a screen shot of that.) This placed it “above the fold,” meaning there was no need to scroll down to see it. The inert map moved with it, although I can’t remember if it sat above or beneath.

FamilySearch next made the world map interactive. Click on a region of the world and FamilySearch displays a list of countries in that region. Click on a country and FamilySearch displays summary information about its collection. A third click takes you to a page specific to that country or U.S. state. (See “FamilySearch Offers an Interactive World Map for Searches” on the FamilySearch Blog.) When the world map became interactive, the browse-all link remained just underneath it:

The FamilySearch historical records search page, mid-September

Recently, FamilySearch moved the browse-all link back down underneath the search button and added some search tips underneath it. This change hid the link from many users. The interactive map stayed to the right of the search form.

The FamilySearch historical records search page today

To further confuse the situation, the website is designed to respond to different size screens. This is most helpful for mobile devices, but also affects laptop and desktop computers. As window size gets smaller, elements of the website move around. For example, if the screen width is a little too small, FamilySearch swaps the location of the search tips and the world map:

Responsive web design of causes elements to shift in a sometimes confusing fashion

In all these machinations, the browse-all link remains where it usually was: underneath the search button.


One element lost in the redesign was a list of links to the collection list filtered to world regions. This has led to confusion when users use the interactive map as a substitute. Take the United States as an example. The filtered collection list for the U.S. has camera icons indicating collections with images. It has record counts indicating collections with indexed records. There are three possible combinations: images only, records only, or both.

The collection list

In comparison, the country-specific search page for the United States is… well… incomparable. It’s apples and oranges. It’s not designed to be a list of collections. Instead, it is a more holistic reflection of genealogists’ focus on location-based research.

Country specific page for the United States

The page is dominated by a search form for searching indexed historical records. Beneath that is a list of image-only record collections. The idea is to make the existence of these collections more visible to the less-experienced user. In the right column are three boxes. The Learning Center box advertises the existence of the Learning Center, highlights two of its online courses, and links to the complete list of courses about the target country. The FamilySearch Catalog box links to the catalog with the country (in this case, the United States) already entered into the place field. The FamilySearch Wiki box links to the wiki article about the target country.

Set unobtrusively above the Search button is a link to show a list of the indexed collections. Its purpose is to enable a search of a subset of all collections. While the list was not designed to fill the same role as the collection list, the addition of camera icons would be a major improvement. Indexed collections with images are far more valuable than those without. To effectively select a subset of collections, a user needs to be able to distinguish the two.


There is another weakness to both the collection list and the country pages. Some collections are only partially indexed. To completely search the collection, you must browse images in addition to searching the index. FamilySearch does nothing to inform users of partially indexed collections (other than an occasional hint dropped in a collection description or a Wiki article). Ideally, FamilySearch should show what percentage of the posted images have been indexed. If calculating a percentage is beyond FamilySearch’s technology, users would still appreciate a little icon indicating the presence of unindexed images. If that too exceeds FamilySearch’s abilities, FamilySearch should show three columns: collection name, record count, and image count. Comparison of the two will often signal the lack of a complete index.


The collection list is still available and the link is still just beneath the search button. I use the collection list constantly, so I have it prominently bookmarked in the middle of my bookmark toolbar. Here’s the URL to bookmark:

Since I don’t like how long it takes to load that page, I also bookmark the collection list filtered to the United States:

FamilySearch should consider restoring the links it removed from the search page:

If they don’t, you can filter the collection list yourself. Click the browse-all link beneath the search button. Then click the place filters to the left of the collection list.


In what seems like just a single month, FamilySearch’s numerous changes to the Search page have left users confused. Obscuring the location of the Browse All Published Collections link and removing the other location links effectively removed the collection list page. Country-specific pages appeared to be an inadequate replacement. The indexed collection list is hidden and lacks camera icons.

The good news is that the collection list isn’t really gone and it remains unchanged. The link to it still sits underneath the search button. And the new, country-specific pages add functionality previously unavailable.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

FamilySearch Adds Audio File Upload

[Update: Since I previewed this article last Saturday, FamilySearch removed the reference to the inaccessible list of OS/browser combinations that don’t work. They have also enhanced the announcement to more fully describe the new feature.]

FamilySearch advertizes preservation of family memories.Last Friday FamilySearch announced that it now supports upload of audio files to the Memories section of the FamilySearch website. The section already supports photos, stories, and documents. FamilySearch spokesperson, Brad Young, said:

FamilySearch is pleased to announce the new audio files upload feature as part of the Memories tab options in Family Tree. Patrons can now add audio files to FamilySearch, and attach them to their ancestors for others to discover and enjoy.

Audio recordings are handled much the same way as photos. Recordings can be uploaded, tagged to memory persons, attached to tree persons, titled, described, and stored in albums.

The FamilySearch website says “Your priceless family memories are accessible to you and your family online, and will be preserved in our state-of-the-art archive facilities.” Underneath this is a picture of the Granite Mountain Record Vault. I wonder if FamilySearch is going to shoulder the expense of keeping your photos and recordings accessible as file formats become obsolete. Photos and audio recordings are accepted in formants that may be difficult to sustain. (See “Sustainability of Digital Formats Planning for Library of Congress Collections.”) Already, some recordings are inaccessible in some situations. For example, m4a files are inaccessible using Firefox on Apple and Android devices. The article links to a list of supported browser/OS combinations, but that list is also inaccessible. [Note: FamilySearch has since removed this link.]

If FamilySearch means what they say, I highly recommend utilizing their offer to keep your memories accessible. But to be safe, I think you should also archive your own copies and plan on bearing the burden of conversion from technology to technology.

To read the entire FamilySearch announcement, see “Audio File Upload Feature Now Available on Family Tree.” (As I write this, ironically, that article is inaccessible. If the link still doesn’t work when you read this, try

Friday, October 3, 2014 Organizing Find A Grave Community Event

Find A Grave Global Cemetery MeetupFresh on the heels of FamilySearch’s troubled but successful world-wide indexing event, is organizing one of its own. “We love the enthusiasm and support of the Find A Grave community. Thanks to you, we just surpassed 100 million photos on the site,” said Kristie Wells, Ancestry's Head of Global Social Media and Customer Engagement. “We are going to host a global meetup to see how many more we can secure.” The Global Cemetery Meetup will be held Saturday, 18 October 2014. On that day, hopes to fulfill many of the hundreds of thousands of outstanding requests for gravestone photographs.

“While we started with a few locations in the USA, we hope to inspire meetups all around the world and expect [the list of participating cities] to grow quite large over the coming weeks. These events are all volunteer run and are easy to set up. We hope you will be inspired to host an event in your local town,” said Wells. She has provided detailed instructions on setting up an event in your local community. As of last weekend when I wrote this article, volunteers have already established a 33 meetups.

The FamilySearch event goal was 50,000 indexers in a 24 hour period. A total of 66,511 people indexed at least one batch. The number could have been much higher but many who tried to participate ran into technical glitches. “We are grateful for the patience and persistence of many volunteers who faced technical difficulties due to an overwhelming response.” seems to have taken a cue from FamilySearch’s problems. Having advanced registration will help them know how many additional servers to add to their system.

More information about cemetery etiquette and the Find A Grave world-wide indexing event can be found at

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

RootsTech Expects to Fill Up Quickly

The RootsTech ConferenceI received an email from RootsTech last week. They say they “expect this years’ event to fill up quickly, so please make sure to register early.” Pricing is currently $159 for a 3-day pass, a savings of $80 off the regular price of $239. A discount is available to registered family history consultants of FamilySearch sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In your regular training email, “My Family History Calling,” is the discount code for a pricing of $99.

If the conference doesn’t fill quickly, the hotels certainly will. The conference is colocated with the 2015 annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS). The conference hotels are the Salt Lake Marriott Downtown at City Creek, the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel, the Hilton Salt Lake City Center, and the Radisson Hotel Salt Lake City Downtown. Discount pricing is the same for attendees of RootsTech or FGS. Alternatives to the conference hotels are within the Utah Transit Authority’s free fair zone. Pick hotels near the Trax light rail stops for added convenience. The Little America is just outside the free fair zone, but within walking distance of the free fare Courthouse Station.

More information about RootsTech is available on the RootsTech website, and more information about the FGS conference is available on the FGS conference website.