Friday, January 31, 2014

Darned Mole Skin Marriage Certificate

Mole skin in the pension application of Charity SniderKimberly A. Savage is the winner of my RootsTech 2014 Free Pass Context. This is my edited version of her contest entry. Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

Darned Mole Skin Marriage Certificate

By Kimberly A. Savage

Have you every struggled with documenting a marriage record?  Consider Military Records for hard to find marriage evidence.

Finding marriage records for certain times in history can be difficult, but it might be done by thinking outside the box.  Here is an example of a strange way to prove a marriage: using a mole skin.

Charity Snider, who was born in 1837, found a creative way to prove she had been married to her late husband.  In 1900, living in Long Rapids, Alpena, Michigan, she began the application process for a Civil War widow’s pension.  One of the requirements for obtaining a widow’s pension was proof of marriage.  Having no official marriage record to her late husband, James J. Van Liew, a Union solider, she explored alternative ways to establish her relationship. 

During the war James had caught a mole in his tent and had sent the skin to her. The original letter was addressed to “Dear Wife.” She searched for the long-lost letter. It must have been frustrating for her; she found the envelope but not the letter.

And she found the mole skin.

She sent the mole skin to the Pension Bureau with the following letter.

            Long Rapids July 28, 1900


The letter from James I cannot find.  I found the envelope and a mole skin he sent me in the letter telling me he caught it in his tent.  some one has destroyed it for me.  I enclose four old letters from friends at that time which will show you of the circumstances.  that he wrote me from the army. that I was with him at Adrian. and of his going away the last time. also the letter from Harrit Taber.  I trust these will prove satisfactory please return them to me. 

Charity Snider

Charity received her pension. The mole remains in her application file.

Yes, “Records Are the Darnedest Things.”

Military records can be found online (at,,, etc.), on microfilm, and at the National Archives. To learn more, visit


Mary Ryan, “Mole in Place at the Archives,” The National Archives, Prologue: Pieces of History ( : posted 21 December 2010).

Thursday, January 30, 2014

RootsTech for Free

Saturday I announced a contest to award a RootsTech free full access pass. Today I am pleased to announce that the winner is Kimberly A. Savage for her article about a marriage certificate substitute: a mole skin. Read Kimberly’s article tomorrow. Kimberly will receive a special registration code that will allow her to register for RootsTech and claim her free pass.

RootsTech - Connect your family: past, present, and future

If you want to attend RootsTech for free, I have a little bit of good news for you.

The Ancestry Insider is an official RootsTech 2014 bloggerFree Expo Hall Stuff

The RootsTech Expo Hall is free to the general public. Come and hear presentations about products and services. Get special product discounts. In many cases you can meet the people who create the products and give them a piece of your mind. Some vendors give out really cheap free stuff, too, like post-it notes, candy, and the like. I’m never one to pass by free stuff.

Some of the best free stuff is coming from FamilySearch. They are sponsoring a new Family Discovery Exhibit in the expo hall. The following statement is from them:

Photo Scanning Area

Make digital copies of family photos that you can preserve, share, and even upload directly to your FamilySearch Family Tree. There are also plenty of high-capacity scanners that make great digital copies quickly. 

What to do: Bring the photos you want to scan and a flash drive. 

Recording Booth - Record Your Story

Video or audio record your favorite family story in one of our enclosed sound booths. Your private recording session includes ten minutes of recording time and you'll get a copy of it on a flash drive. Enjoy sharing the memory for many years to come. 

What to do: Think of a family story or memory that you want to capture and preserve. Story helps will be provided on-site.

Record a Call - With Someone Who Inspires You

Make a phone call that will last a lifetime. Simply call a parent, grandparent, or someone who inspires you and find out more about their life. Our app will record the conversation and you can take it and treasure the memory for years. 

What to do: Bring a phone number of a person you want to call and interview, as well as an email address you'd like to send the recorded file to.

See Yourself in History

How would you look as a cowboy or as one of the pretty maids all in a row? Have your face (and the faces of your friends) added to one of several fun antique photos and e-mail yourself a digital copy you can share. 

What to do: Have an email address to send your new photo to.

FamilySearch Free Book Scanning

FamilySearch is again featuring a book scanning booth. Says FamilySearch, “Get your family book scanned for free. We'll make a digital copy, you keep the original and a searchable PDF copy for yourself. You can also donate personal works, books that are copyright protected, and books that are in the public domain. Questions?

The Ancestry Insider is speaking at RootsTech 2014RootsTech Free From Home

FamilySearch announced yesterday the RootsTech sessions that will be streamed for free viewing over the Internet. FamilySearch is expecting 20,000 online viewers in addition to the 10,000 registered to attend the event in person. Yours truly is one of the scheduled sessions! My session will be broadcast Friday, 7 February at 5:00 p.m. MST. Don’t worry; I’ll be wearing my looks-like-a-real-person mask so I don’t scare anyone.

For the full schedule, see “Global RootsTech Conference Announces Free Online Broadcast Schedule.”

The countdown is on. Kimberly and I hope to see you next week at RootsTech 2014!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Year of the Obituaries

2014 is FamilySearch's Year of the ObituariesFamilySearch has proclaimed 2014 as “The Year of the Obituaries.”

“New U.S. obituary indexing projects have appeared over the past few months and more are coming,” wrote FamilySearch’s Katie Gale. “As continues to focus on modern records that connect recent generations, these obituary records are going to be invaluable.”

I think focusing on recent records is a good way to engage new genealogists. Often a new, potential genealogist begins their search by typing in their own name and then their parents’ names. Providing recent records increases the chance that they will find something in these first searches. Obituaries, in particular, may have details beyond vital facts, and these details may have a greater ability to catch their interest.

Obituaries may also document recent vital events for which government records are not yet available. As concerns about privacy increase, government records are becoming less and less accessible.

But I must confess that I’m not sure FamilySearch’s indexing tool is optimal for indexing all the names in an obituary. It looks to me as though they are trying to apply a tool, built for structured information, to a record without formal structure. To accomplish the task, FamilySearch is indexing each name in the obituary as a separate record and indexers are expected to insert additional lines or mark extra lines blank to accommodate the variable number of names.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that they are indexing most names. I just worry that the change in paradigm may be confusing to indexers trying to move between structured records and obituaries.

“indexing obituaries can be a bit tricky,” wrote Gale. “They can be deceptively difficult to index,” states project instructions. In addition to the standard training materials for indexers, FamilySearch has produced additional training materials.

Without a specialized tool, users must learn complex rules. For example, “Mrs. Dan (Terry) Archer” is indexed one way, “Dan (Terry) Archer” is indexed a different way, and “Marvin (Tiny) Beers” is indexed a third way. Consequently, not everyone mentioned in the obituary is indexed, but handling all the nuances is beyond the ability of a generic indexing tool.

When youth groups come to my family history center to learn indexing, without exception their adult leaders object to giving any training before throwing youth into the fray. “We have adults to help them.”

“Have the adults been through the training?”

“I don’t think so.”

Last Wednesday’s group could not find any easy indexing projects, so well-meaning leaders directed several to obituary projects before we could tell them otherwise. I winced.

I’m also disappointed that FamilySearch is not indexing most death dates. “Most obituaries don’t include an exact death date,” wrote Gale. “Don’t try to determine which date is meant by statements like, ‘He died last Wednesday.’ If a death date is not specifically indicated, use the most recent date on the document, which is often stamped on the card.”

That’s a severe limitation that robs the resulting historical records with the most critical piece of information. FamilySearch should have indexers enter exactly what is said about the date (such as “the 14th, inst.”) and afterwards calculate the date.

I did like the fact that the indexing tool provided a different set of fields to index for the deceased than for others named in the document. This would be a central feature in any indexing tool specifically designed for obituaries and other non-structured records. And the lack of an exact death date may not be all that bad. FamilySearch’s search system is incapable of searching exact dates anyways.

Obituaries are a great record and FamilySearch’s English speaking indexing volunteers are optimal for indexing unstructured English records. Neither OCR nor non-English indexers are up to the task. This is a great campaign and I’m glad FamilySearch is taking it on. We should all pitch in and help make 2014 “the Year of the Obituary.”

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday Mailbox: Another Danger for FamilySearch Family Tree

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Readers,

Robert Ernest Werner sent this message to FamilySearch on their public feedback forum:

Limit the users ability to delete just any record.

Please change the delete function so that only the patron that added an ancestor can delete it. Recently, someone went in and deleted an entire branch of my pedigree. Their reasoning was that they did not want people changing "their" Family Tree.

I’m afraid there’s bad news for both Robert and bad news for all Family Tree users.

The bad news for Robert is that no tree user is special. This is a community tree and no one gets treated differently than anyone else. There’s no way around that. The tree doesn’t know a competent user from an idiot. Idiot users are adding garbage ancestors to the tree. Do you want competent people to be unable to delete garbage from the tree?

The bad news for all users is a danger that hadn’t occurred to me before: users who delete people from the tree because they don’t want “their” ancestors in the tree.

Some people feel ownership for information about their relatives. They feel they have the right to delete their relatives. But no person in Family Tree is exclusively mine or exclusively yours. You can’t delete a relative of yours without deleting a relative of mine.

Some people feel ownership for the information they contribute. They feel they have the right to delete information that they contributed. But it’s impossible to tell if a contribution is exclusive to one person or another. Other people may have intended to contribute the same information but it was already in the tree.

Some people feel ownership for the results of their own research. Extending a family line is often difficult and expensive. If someone posts the results of your work without your permission, don’t you have the right to delete it?

Some people may feel they have priority in the decision to have a relative’s information in the tree. If I don’t want my deceased mother or wife or daughter in the tree, don’t I have the right to delete them? What right does a more distant relative or even a random person have to place my immediate family member in the tree?

Some people feel that the tree needs to represent some absolute truth, no matter how unsavory. Doesn’t a victim of rape or incest have a right to delete information about their victimization from the tree?

Some people or groups might object to the beliefs and practices of FamilySearch’s sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or some other group’s participation in the tree. Are there cases where someone has a moral or religious right to delete a family member or associate from the tree?

Some people object to political or social systems of communal ownership. Such a person may disagree with the underlying concept of Family Tree altogether and delete their relatives as a matter of principle.

Is it reasonable for FamilySearch to expect communal behavior in the genealogy community?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Win a RootsTech Full Access Pass

RootsTech 2014I’m giving away a free, full access pass to RootsTech! Ready to win? More about that in a minute.

RootsTech is the biggest genealogy and family history conference in the United States. (See “RootsTech Proclaims Itself Largest US Conference.”) I could be wrong, but I think that is paid attendance. There are doubtlessly thousands more who have signed up for the free Saturday youth and family discovery day. The atmosphere there will be electric!

RootsTech is February 6th-8th in Salt Lake City, Utah at the Salt Palace Convention Center, just down the street from the famous Salt Lake Family History Library, the largest family history and genealogical library in the world.

There are RootsTech sessions for everyone. (See “Insider Speaking at RootsTech 2014.”) If you’re interested in winning the free pass, you should understand the flavor of information you’ll learn at RootsTech. It’s light on hardcore genealogy. Some of the focused sessions at this year’s NGS Conference are “The Scotch-Irish from Pennsylvania to Virginia and Onward,” “War-Time Damages & the Claims They Generated,” and “Irish Emigration to North America: Before, During, and After the Famine.” NGS and FGS conferences also have beginner and technology sessions, mind you, but my point is that they teach a lot of core genealogical skills.

RootsTech is not that kind of conference. RootsTech sessions are more apt to have titles like

  • Top Ten Things I Learned About My Family from My Couch: Beginning Internet Genealogy
  • Genetic Genealogy Demystified: Reading and Understanding Your Family Tree DNA Results
  • Digitize Your Memories on a Budget
  • Accessing Land Records Using New Technology
  • Do it Yourself Photo Restoration (that’s my session) 
  • Connecting Past, Present, and Future Generations through Stories and Photos

You can see the complete list of sessions on the RootsTech website.

The Ancestry Insider is an official RootsTech 2014 bloggerSo, how do you win a free pass from the Ancestry Insider? Here’s the rules:

  • Send me an example of a darned record. What is a darned record? See examples from my past articles. Darned records are funny, weird, or unique. Extra credit is given if the example is instructional.
  • I’ve published many funny names from censuses, so that get’s a little old. If you submit a funny name from the census, it better be really interesting. Darned records of other types might catch my interest better. 
  • Write up an article about the record, ready for publication on my blog. By submitting your idea, record, or article, you give me permission to publish it, but it wouldn’t hurt for you to explicitly state that you are giving me permission.
  • I will list your name at the top of the article, “By So-And-So.” Tell me how you would like your name to appear.
  • Attach an image of the record. If the record is online, also send the URL.
  • Include a citation for the record and any other sources used.
  • Begin the subject line of your email with “Contest Entry: ” followed by a good title for the article.
  • Submit your entry to before 3:00 AM Mountain Standard Time, Wednesday morning, 29 January 2014. Since I won’t be awake at that time, I will use the time stamp shown by gmail, even if they don’t adjust for the time difference correctly.
  • If you’ve previously submitted a record and I have published it, you can still enter that record into the contest. Instead of writing an article, point out the URL of the published article. You won’t be given credit for writing the article, but your record will still be considered.
  • If you’ve previously submitted a record and I have not published it, submit it again, following all the instructions above.
  • I will choose the winner by how awesome the record is, how well I like your article, and how well you followed the instructions.
  • I reserve the right to change the rules if a situation comes up that I didn’t foresee.

If I have time to review and make the decision Wednesday evening, I’ll announce the winner Thursday. May the best record win!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Serendipity in Genealogy: Hurricane Katrina

imageHurricane Katrina was one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. “At least 1,833 people died in the hurricane and subsequent floods,” according to Wikipedia.1 “The most significant number of deaths occurred in New Orleans, Louisiana, which flooded as the levee system catastrophically failed, in many cases hours after the storm had moved inland.” The failure of the levee system is considered one of the worst civil engineering disasters in U.S. history. “Eventually 80% of the city and large tracts of neighboring parishes became flooded, and the floodwaters lingered for weeks.” This delayed the return of people to their homes and businesses.

“More than ten days after what will probably become the greatest natural disaster in the United States… archivists have NOT BEEN ALLOWED into their collections — not for a day, an afternoon, even an hour,” wrote Shelly Henley Kelly, then immediate past president of the Society of Southwest Archivists.2 Archivists were beginning to panic. In one attempt to access their collections, archivists were turned away by Federal troops.

Two-hundred and fifty years of birth, marriage, death, and other records dating back to 1769 were in storage in the second lower level of the New Orleans Public Library.3 The library was thought to be inundated, the basement flooded. When the hurricane hit, FamilySearch (Genealogical Society of Utah) camera operator, Charles Banz, had been in the middle of an extensive project to photograph these irreplaceable records. For almost three weeks he waited to see what had happened to them.

“He studied aerial photos of the building, talked to state archivists, and stayed glued to the television,” said one account. “All indications suggested utter destruction of…the records. Finally, he received word from New Orleans archivists that they had been allowed into the building, checked his project and found most of the library, including the second lower level, to be dry and sound. Building engineers said the waters rose to within about 2 inches of entering the library. Other archivists could hardly believe it. Some even called it a miracle.”

We call it “Serendipity in Genealogy.”


     1.  Wikipedia contributors, “Hurricane Katrina,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia ( : revision 2 January 2014, 04:19).
     2.  Rebecca Traister, “History is Being Flooded Too,” Salon ( : 10 September 2005).
     3.  John L. Hart, “Family History Moments: New Orleans Records,” Church News: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ( : accessed 12 January 2014).
     4.  The photograph is by Jocelyn Augustino, “File:Katrina-14512.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons ( : revision 7 September 2005, 15:46); citing Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The link cited on the FEMA website is not currently valid.

Thursday, January 23, 2014 State Research Guides New York state research guideI learned last week about new, free state research guides available from The guides are PDF files which can be downloaded and kept on your own computer or mobile device.

“Our state research guide series includes historical background, a chronology, helpful information on census and vital record availability, highlighted collection[s] for that place on, and links to important resources beyond,” reads the research guide website.

I looked at the New York state guide. It does indeed contain the elements mentioned above. Besides links to all the New York collections on, it contains links to other helpful websites such as the New York State Archives, the New York State Library, and the Italian Genealogical Group’s New York City Vital Records Indexes. Conspicuously absent were links to and’s own wiki. While it had a link to the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America online newspaper collection, I didn’t see links to the larger New York newspaper collections on Old Fulton NY Post Cards and Northern New York Historical Newspapers websites.

Currently available guides are

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Genealogy Gem’s Evernote for Genealogists

Lisa Louise Cooke's Evernote for Windows for genealogistsI recently received an offer to review one of those folded and laminated 11"x17" reference sheets. I’ve reviewed some of and been quite enamored with Genealogical Publishing’s QuickSheets featuring citation reference information from Elizabeth Shown Mills.

I’ve reviewed some of and been generally disappointed with their “Genealogy at a Glance” series, although I haven’t seen them all, so I can’t speak unilaterally. (Funny story: I had their editor approach me at RootsTech a couple of years ago asking if I would be interested in authoring one. I gave him my card and told him I would, but he should know that I was the guy giving them generally negative reviews. For some reason, he never called me. :-)

The difference has been whether or not the material was of a reference nature—would you need it often enough to want a laminated sheet sitting close by your computer.

I hear more and more frequently about genealogists using Evernote. I don’t use it much at all, and certainly not for genealogy. So when the opportunity came along to review Lisa Louise Cooke’s Evernote for Genealogists quick reference guide, I was intrigued.

As an inexperienced Evernote user, for me the reference guide passes the “reference nature, often need” test. I’m at that stage in life where remembering things takes many iterations before they are committed to memory. I will use the two lengthy lists of keyboard shortcuts constantly until I commit them to memory. I will use the short list of steps for several tasks, such as capturing information for a citation or creating a saved search.

I thought the production values of the sheet fell slightly below those from Genealogical Publishing Company (GPC) reference guides. There are tiny bubbles in the lamination. The edge had little bits of fraying plastic. The plastic did not extend uniformly in all directions. And the fold in the paper was uneven. But those are just cosmetic problems and the thickness of the paper and lamination equals those from GPC and these reference guides should last just as long.

The information density falls below the GPC citation QuickSheets. The text size is larger, which may or may not be a bad thing for older eyes. The “Free vs. Premium” comparison table wastes a complete column of valuable space.

The graphic design is nice and bright (matching Cooke’s Genealogy Gems website) and the layout is visually interesting. The guide is available for both Windows and Mac. I reviewed the Windows version. The guides are also available for PDF download.

Evernote for Windows for Genealogists
Evernote for Windows for Genealogists (PDF)
Evernote for Mac for Genealogists (PDF)
8.5" x 11", 4 pp., folded, laminated. [2013?].
ISBN: None?
Genealogy Gems Publishing
1-925-272-4021 *
$7.95 + $2.00 shipping
$5.95 PDF download

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

RootsTech Proclaims Itself Largest US Conference

The Ancestry Insider is an official RootsTech 2014 blogger“The RootsTech 2014 conference, hosted by FamilySearch, has become the largest conference of its kind in the U.S., with attendees from 49 states and 21 countries,” reads an announcement from RootsTech. “Over 10,000 attendees are anticipated at the conference held February 6-8, 2014, in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the Salt Palace Convention Center.”

Local television station, KSL 5, interviewed Jen Allen of RootsTech. They published a $20 discount promo code on their website.

“Dan Martinez, RootsTech conference director, explained that most everyone, whether they realize it or not, is actually engaged in family history—sharing family stories, taking pictures, writing journal moments, capturing key events from the lives of individual family members, or doing research.”

FamilySearch and sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are promoting the event heavily to the public and to its members. “Family Discover Day” and “Family Discovery Day for Youth” are free tracks focused on the LDS member audience. The cast of BYUtv’s popular Studio C will take part in the youth activities Saturday as will popular LDS youth speaker, John Bytheway. Elder Neil L. Andersen, an apostle of the Church, will keynote a devotional for youth.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Darned All American Family

Records say the darnedest things

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

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

Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

Records Say the Darnedest Things: An All American Family

Utah Crosen may not have started life spelling his name Utah. In 1880 his parents (or at least the census enumerator) spells it Eutaw.

Utah Crosen in 1880
Source: "United States Census, 1880," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 27 Dec 2013), Eutaw Crosen in household of Mortimore Crosen, Gainesborough, Frederick, Virginia, United States; citing sheet 381D, family 4, NARA microfilm publication T9-1367. Image viewing restrictions may apply to this and subsequent images.

By at least 1900 he spells it Utah.

Utah Crosen in 1900
Source: "United States Census, 1900," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 27 Dec 2013), Utah Crosen in household of Mortimer Crosen, Gainesboro District (Ashton & Dolan Precincts), Frederick, Virginia, United States; citing sheet 10A, family 186, NARA microfilm publication T623, FHL microfilm 1241709.

If your given name is Utah, obviously you find and marry someone named Rhode Island.

Utah Crosen married Rhode Island Place
Source: "Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940," index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 27 December 2013), Utah Crosen and Rhode Island Place, 11 November 1907; FHL microfilm 31,459.

And if you’re living in Virginia, then it’s only natural you name a daughter Virginia.

Utah and Rhodeisland Crosen
Source: "United States Census, 1910," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 27 Dec 2013), Utah Crosen, Gainesboro, Frederick, Virginia, United States; citing sheet 5B, family 95, NARA microfilm publication T624, FHL microfilm 1,375,642.

At first glance it appears they give their oldest child a weird name: Esther. However, we learn from the census ten years later (1920) the oldest child is actually a son named Vermont. Silly enumerator. Utah, Rhodisland, Vermont, and Virginia have been joined by Minnesoda, Georgia, Maryland, Florida, and Montanna.

Utah and Rhode Island Crosen family in 1920
Source: "United States Census, 1920," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 27 Dec 2013), Utah Crosen, Gainesboro, Frederick, Virginia, United States; citing sheet 4A, family 71, NARA microfilm publication T625, FHL microfilm 1,821,890.

In the next ten years they add Montana, Kansas, and Tennessee to the union.

Utah and Rhode Island Crosen family in 1930
Source: "United States Census, 1930," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 27 Dec 2013), Utch Crosen, Gainesboro, Frederick, Virginia, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 0003, sheet 1B, family 20, NARA microfilm publication T626.

Ten years after that (1940), Minnesota and Maryland are still living at home with Utah and Rhodeisland. In the intervening years, Montana, Kansas, and Tennessee join the all American family.

Utah and Rhode Island Crosen family in 1940
Source: "United States Census, 1940," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 27 Dec 2013), Utah Crosen, Gainesboro Magisterial District, Frederick, Virginia, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 35-3, sheet 2B, family 30, NARA digital publication of T627, roll 4,264.

It should be of no surprise that a family member serves his country in World War II. Montana enlists 30 June 1942. (Source: "United States World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946," index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 27 Dec 2013), Montana Crosen, 30 Jun 1942; citing “Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, ca. 1938-1946,” NARA ARC ID 1263923.)

Hats off to this all American, patriotic family and the darned records they leave behind.


Thanks, Barbara Algaze, for sharing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 Featured on RootsTech Commercial

RootsTech is fast approaching and they are ramping up publicity. Last week I saw a commercial on local TV.’s website garnered two seconds of the ad, with a mother pointing out her pedigree to her daughter

RootsTech 2014 TV ad’s Tim Sullivan also got his two seconds of fame. Interestingly, they got him backwards. (Look at the text in the slide behind him.) No matter that he is the wealthiest man who appears in the commercial. However, if you view the image in a mirror, you can easily see that it is, indeed, Tim Sullivan.

Tim Sullivan addresses 2013 RootsTech conference

On a more serious note, RootsTech has announced that they have extended early-bird pricing until Monday, 27 January 2014. “You can still register for RootsTech 2014 and get a Full Access pass for just $159, instead of the full price of $239,” the announcement said.

Have I mentioned the RootsTech Mobile App? Whether you are registered for the conference yet, or not, you can download it. It’s a great way to check out the available classes so you can decide if you want to attend. It is available for both iOS and Android. Or you can view the schedule online.

For more information about RootsTech, visit

The Ancestry Insider is an official RootsTech 2014 blogger

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Medieval IOUSes in FamilySearch Family Tree

Wedding of John of Luxemburg and Elise of Premyslid in Speyer 1310I am told that some of the worst IOUSes in New FamilySearch (NFS) are European medieval royalty.

An IOUS is an Individual Of Unusual Size. IOUSes are individuals in NFS that were formed by combining many like people from multiple trees. NFS retains all the separate contributions inside the individual, so the more the matches, the larger the size of the combined individual. If an IOUS becomes too large, it can crash NFS, so FamilySearch caps their size and does not allow them to be combined with other duplicates.

That some of the worst IOUSes in New FamilySearch (NFS) are European medieval royalty makes sense, as thousands of submitters to Pedigree Resource File are descendants of them.

New FamilySearch indicates IOUSes with an icon adjacent to the name.IOUSes are identified in NFS with an icon to the right of the name. (See the graphic to the right.) In FamilySearch Family Tree, there is no such thing as an IOUS. However, because the Family Tree database is synchronized with the NFS database, the combine limitation in NFS is imposed on merging in Family Tree. Effectively, there are IOUSes in Family Tree. As far as I know, there is no indication in Family Tree that the individual is an IOUS in NFS.

One IOUS of European medieval royalty is King Hroar Half Frodasson. According to NSF, he is the combination of 383 records. He is identified as the son of Halfdon Frodasson. I’ve done no work with patronymic names, but even I can see there is something suspicious about Hroar Frodasson being the son of Halfdon Frodasson.

Fortunately, the FamilySearch Royal and Noble Houses of Europe tree comes to the rescue. His name is actually Hroar Halfdansson. The Royal and Noble… tree has been carefully researched and is fully sourced. Want to see evidence that Hroar Halfdansson is the correct name? Check the sources.

  • [S1167] #11565 The Viking Age: the Early History, Manners, and Customs of the Ancestors of the English-speaking Nations: Illustrated from the Antiquiites Discovered in Mounds, Cairns, and Bogs as Well as from the Ancient Sagas and Eddas, Du Chaillu, Paul B. (Paul Belloni), (2 volumes. London : John Murray, 1889), FHL book 948 H2d; FHL film 1440113 items 1-2., p. 68.
  • [S713] #11577 Ættartolurbækur Jóns Espólíns Sysslumanns (1980-), Espólín, Jón, (Reykjavík: Samskipti, 1980-), FHL book 949.12 D2e v. 6; FHL microfilms 73,257-73., p. 5, FHL microfilm 73257.
  • [S283] #2 Der Europäischen käyser- und königlichen Häuser historische und genealogische Erläuterung (1730-1731), Lohmeier, Georg von, und Johann Ludwig Levin Gebhardi, (3 volumes in 1. Luneburg: Sternischen Buchdruckerei, 1730-1731), FHL microfilm 1,051,694, items 4-6., pt. 1 p. 126-127.

There are 339,786 people currently in the Royal and Noble… Tree. No doubt all those individuals are also in Family Tree at least once, and some perhaps a dozen times. That’s easily a million people in Family Tree that need to be cleaned up. How long will that take? If you do the math, it would take one person working full-time for 40 years. More likely would be a thousand people spending a couple of hours a week. It would take them over 10 months.

(The math: Assuming it takes 5 minutes to clean up facts, relationships, and duplicates for each of the million people, that’s 5 million minutes, divided by 60 minutes per hour is 83,333 hours, divided by 40 hours per week is 2,083 work weeks, divided by 52 weeks per year is 40 years. 83,333 hours divided by 1,000 people would be 83 hours a piece, divided by two hours a week is 42 weeks, divided by 4 weeks a month is over 10 months.)

Remember that there are hundreds or even thousands of incorrect trees on people’s desktop computers that are regularly being synchronized with these people in Family Tree. I’m trying to keep just one person clean in Family Tree and every month or so I have to spend a half hour repairing damage and communicating back and forth with the person(s) to prevent immediate reversion.

If you do the math it will take 118 people working full time, 24x7, to keep these people clean.

(The math: 339,786 people times 30 minutes every two months divided by two months is  5,096,790 minutes a month, which divided by 60 minutes an hour is 85,000 hours a month, which divided by 24 hours is 3,500 days a month, which divided by 30 days is 118 man months per month.)

One can argue the assumptions of these calculations, but I think it is clear that it will take significant effort to clean and keep clean royal and noble medieval Europe. If you want to see clean data, consult the FamilySearch Royal and Noble Houses of Europe tree.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Monday Mailbox: OCLC

The Ancestry Insider's Monday Mailbox

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Yesterday I used the links from FamilySearch to WorldCat for the "find in a library" link

It's somewhat buried near the bottom of the catalog entry in FamilySearch as "OCLC Number" and clicking on that number takes you to the WorldCat entry... so the system is working both ways

Connie Moretti

Dear readers,

I’m grateful to Connie for pointing this out. The links are present in the classic catalog but not the new, beta catalog.

For an example, see the classic catalog entry for George W. Sullivan’s The Sullivans and Allied Families. Scroll down to the bottom. Above Subject Class it says OCLC Number. Click the number, 56768106. The link takes you to the WorldCat catalog where you can see a list of libraries with the title. Enter your zip code to see a list, sorted by distance, of nearby libraries that have the book.

The Ancestry Insider

Friday, January 10, 2014

Darned Short Enumerators

Rose Cecil O'Neill's "His Full Name"We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

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

Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

Records Say the Darnedest Things: Darned Short Enumerators

Maybe this is why the census enumerator had to ask the neighbors about your ancestor.

“In this illustration by Rose Cecil O'Neill (1874-1944), a timid census-taker queries Mrs. Grogan, the overbearing, pipe-smoking lady of the house, in her husband's absence. Asked for her husband's full name, she mocks Mr. Grogan's claim as head of household. Her ample size visually reinforces the point. A pioneering woman illustrator and author, known best as the creator of the Kewpie Doll, O'Neill produced hundreds of illustrations for Puck, some of which, including this scene, made fun of the magazine's largely male readership.”

Source: “His Full Name, 1900.
Published in Puck, August 8, 1900.
Ink brush and graphite.
Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature
Prints and Photographs Division
[Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]
LC-DIG-ppmsca-07919 (50).”
Digital image ( : accessed 15 December 2013), Digital Collections > Exhibitions from the Library > All Exhibitions > Cartoon America > Imaginary Worlds: Illustration.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

FamilySearch WorldCat Partnership

OCLCNearly a year ago FamilySearch and OCLC announced a partnership to exchange services. Search results from the OCLC catalog,, would include the holdings of the FamilySearch Salt Lake City Family History Library (FHL). Search results from the FamilySearch catalog (formerly the Family History Library Catalog) would included results from WorldCat.

FamilySearch catalog links to WorldCat and Archive GridI noticed several weeks ago that on the FamilySearch beta catalog search page FamilySearch had started showing links to OCLC’s WorldCat and Archive Grid websites.

Archive Grid is a research project by OCLC aimed at cataloging archival holdings. It includes entries from WorldCat as well as materials published on the Internet. (There’s a system called EAD tags that archives can use to make their archival finding aids discoverable on the Internet.) It currently catalogs over two million items from thousands of libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies.

A search for Oneida New York returned 1,194 items. Some were held by expected archives, like the Oneida Historical Society. But others were from less obvious archives. For example, while Royal H Loomis was born in Oneida County, New York, a collection of his papers is held by the University of California, Santa Barbara.

A little while ago James Tanner noticed that WorldCat had started returning results from the FamilySearch catalog. For example, I found a search for “Oneida County, New York deeds” returned items from the FamilySearch Family History Library as well as from other institutions.

A WorldCat item from the Family History Library

“FHL” is the WorldCat library code for the Family History Library, so adding “kw:FHL” to your WorldCat search will limit most results to those from the FHL.

WorldCat lacks the FamilySearch catalog’s special Surname search mode which returns family histories. To search for family histories about a particular surname, add “Family” after the surname. For example, to find family histories about the Brimhall family, search for “Brimhall Family.” This example not only finds 31 at the FHL, it finds another 300 at other institutions.

Because FamilySearch has added the holdings of some of its branch libraries into its catalog, WorldCat now returns results from those institutions as well. For example, WorldCat indicates that copies of Brimhall Family Story can be found both in Salt Lake and at the Mesa Arizona FamilySearch Library.

FamilySearch’s online book collection is not always treated as such by WorldCat. While FamilySearch catalogs all the books that it digitizes and publishes online, I’m not certain those scanned at partner institutions can be found by searching WorldCat. For example, Fort Wayne Gazette’s 1894 work, Art Souvenir of Representative Men… has been digitized, presumably at the Allen County Public Library, and is available on It is listed in the FamilySearch catalog, however I could not find on WorldCat the link to the FamilySearch catalog, which in turn would take me to the copy

The announced agreement provided for links going in both directions. I don’t believe the FamilySearch catalog is providing links for individual catalog entries yet, but I understand that is coming. It seems easy enough to support published materials, as those might be readily available at other libraries. But I’m curious to see if copies of FamilySearch microfilm at loaning institutions will be handled. Suppose for instance that copies of a FamilySearch microfilm are on permanent loan at various libraries around the country. Will a search of the FamilySearch catalog for that microfilm show a link to WorldCat? And will the WorldCat page list those libraries, indicating which one is closest to me?

It is exciting to see this partnership play out. I look forward to see the online integration.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014 Expands DNA Region Information recently expanded the historical information it gives to users about different regions of the world. When users click on a particular ethnicity, displays a map showing where in the world people of that ethnicity live.

Ancestry DNA map showing historic location of an ethnic group

Population History for Europe West ethnicity

Beneath that map has added historical information about that region and ethnicity. The information for the Europe West ethnicity is shown to the right. It includes information about prehistoric Western Europe, Celtic tribal expansion, Germanic incursions, Roman assimilation,  the Völkerwanderung (“migration of peoples”), and the Frankish Kingdom. It includes information about a couple of minorities.

While all of this information is freely available elsewhere, its inclusion here in the Ancestry DNA ethnicity report enhances its value by providing convenient access.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Monday Mailbox: Keep the Microfilm

The Ancestry Insider's Monday Mailbox

A FamilySearch patron posted this comment on FamilySearch’s public feedback website:

A big advantage to researching in the FHL is being able to use the microfilm, quickly find the volume and page without guessing the image numbers multiple times, enhance the images on the wonderful scanner/printers for better legibility, and choose the size of paper on which to print. Computers are great for accessing records for those who live away from the FHL, but I really hope the microfilms stay available for those of us who do serious research in original records. Please keep the microfilms available for research! The FHL is a treasure because of them.

Raquel Lindaas

Dear Readers,

I heartedly agree. Withdrawing microfilm from circulation or removing it from the Family History Library would be a major mistake.

Digitization and publication of microfilm is subject to error and usage is subject to extreme limitation.

Digitization is subject to optical error. Images might be blurred, out of focus, too light, too dark, backwards, or upside down. I recently came across an illegibly light image from the 1880 census. When I checked the original film, it was perfectly legible. A wiki article about errors in the “New York, Land Records, 1630-1975” says the collection has images that are backwards and upside down and recommends using microfilm to read them.

Digitization is subject to automation error. Algorithms can miss images or clip them.

Digitization is subject to human error. Operators can make mistakes during the digitization process.

Publication is subject to innocent error. I have come across several online publications where FamilySearch has left out images preceding and following record volumes. To the untrained eye, these appear useless. But what if they dropped the instructions for using a Russell or Cott Index? What if they dropped a volume guide or a sub-index? What if they dropped section dividers? What if they dropped title boards with coverage information? What if they dropped volume covers with citation information? There are lots of seemly useless images that are helpful or critical to utilize records.

imageThe thumbnails to the left demonstrate the utility of even the most innocuous images. When browsing thumbnails the break between these two volumes is clear. When FamilySearch published this film they eliminated these images, running the two volumes together. Less obvious, but also apparent in these thumbnails, is a section divider. When the North Carolina archives microfilmed this volume they dropped the sub-indexes following the section dividers. This is rather serious as common names in this index are not in alphabetical order.
Publication is subject to human error. Given that FamilySearch has the technology to purposefully leave out images, it might do so inadvertently. I came across a missing Texas vital record. The certificates were in numerical order and one number was missing. had published an index to the same records and the index showed that the missing certificate existed. Had FamilySearch inadvertently dropped or misfiled the image when they published the collection? Without access to the microfilm, I could not have answered that question.

Publication is subject to organizational errors. A wiki article about errors in the “New York, Land Records, 1630-1975” collection states that records about Broome county are misfiled under Tioga county, and records from Wayne county under Chautauqua. Records from Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga, and Tompkins are incorrectly filed under Chemung County. The list of problems continues for several pages.

Publication is subject to tonal error. When FamilySearch publishes images, it dramatically reduces tone resolution. Technically speaking, they reduce the scan depth from 8 bits to 4 bits. That reduces the number of shades of gray from 256 to 16. Remember the 1880 census image that was too light? I could have used Photoshop to restore legibility of the image had FamilySearch not reduced tone so aggressively.

Publication is subject to intended compression error. Compression speeds up how quickly an image loads in your browser. That’s good. But when legibility is at a premium, halo compression errors around pen strokes might render writing illegible.

Publication is subject to unintended compression error. Check out an example from Utah death certificates that is rife with compression errors.

Usage of digitized microfilm is subject to bandwidth limitations. Loading an image online usually takes me two to four seconds on a fast cable modem. It often takes five to ten seconds and not uncommonly takes longer. On a microfilm reader, viewing is instantaneous.

Usage of digitized microfilm eliminates slow scanning capabilities. With microfilm one can quickly scan for names while slowly cranking the wheel of a microfilm reader. This is not possible with current online viewers.

Usage of digitized microfilm eliminates fast scanning capabilities. With microfilm it is possible to pick out volume and section boundaries by scanning for brightness changes while quickly cranking the wheel of a microfilm reader. That is not possible with current online viewers.

Usage of digitized microfilm eliminates intuitive advancement through images. On a microfilm reader, one cranks the wheel several times and then stops to look to see how far one has advanced through the alphabet or through the page numbers. One intuitively can then crank the wheel numerous times to advance to the approximate location on the film. With current online viewers, this requires confusing arithmetic with image numbers that don’t match the page numbers.

In summary, the publication and usage of microfilm online is full of errors and limitations. I strongly recommend that FamilySearch not withdraw microfilm from circulation. And they should not remove the ready access to microfilm from their Salt Lake City Family History Library.

--The Ancestry Insider

Friday, January 3, 2014

Darned Twins Born a Year Apart

Twins Rory and Ronan Rosputni were born in separate years
Twins Rory and Ronan Rosputni were
born in different years.
Photo Credit: Charles Lewis/Buffalo News.

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

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

Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

Records Say the Darnedest Things: Twins Born a Year Apart

The next time you see a record of twins born a year apart, don’t be too dismissive. Ronan Rosputni was born in 2011. His twin brother, Rory, was born in 2012. To be more specific, Ronan was born at 11:37 PM on 31 December 2011 and Rory was born at 12:10 AM on 1 January 2012. Okay, okay. I admit to exaggerating a little bit. Being born in separate years doesn’t mean they were born a year apart. Still, we come across weird stuff in genealogy, and this is one of them.

That New Year’s Eve saw three sets of twins born in separate years. In addition to the Rosputnis in Buffalo, New York, there was Beckett and Freya Humenny in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Blake and Jocelyn Bear in Tampa, Florida. I haven’t heard yet if there were any this year.

Yes, records say the darnedest things.

          “3 Sets of Twins Born in Different Years,” ( : dated 3 January 2012, accessed 15 December 2013).
          Jay Tokasz, “Welcoming twins born a year apart Ronan closes out 2011, Rory kicks off 2012,” The Buffalo (New York) News, 2 January 2012; online edition ( : accessed 15 December 2013).