Friday, February 28, 2014

Darned Saddle Stitched Booklets

Records say the darnedest thingsWe 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.”

In the 1800 U.S. census of Oneida County, New York, the enumerator had stitched some sheets of paper together (or were they sold that way?) to form a little booklet that kept the sheets together. He proceeded to enumerate the seven towns in the county. When it came time for the National Archives to microfilm the booklet, they took it apart (or maybe it had fallen apart on its own). The images below (borrowed from David Rencher’s RootsTech presentation) demonstrate how hopelessly entangled pages can become.

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Notice page 1 numbered on the front.

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In this 6 sheet example, the middle sheet is numbered pages 6 and 7.

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The first sheet has pages 6 and 7 on the front and pages 8 and 5 on the back.

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Rencher showed one sheet that had one page of the Rome enumeration on one half of the sheet and one page of the Mexico enumeration on the other half. Online, all the names have been enumerator as being in Mexico. For an example on FamilySearch.org, see Silas Wadsworth from the Rome side of the page, but indexed as from Mexico. Likewise on Ancestry.com.

(For a detailed exploration of the pages of this booklet, see Robert Raymond, Bill Smith’s 1800 Oneida County Enumeration District, web-book (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~raymondfamily/Oneida1800/ : accessed 9 February 2014).

The point Rencher made is that sometimes accessing the record online (or on microfilm), may not be sufficient. Sometimes one must access the original to truly understand a record.

Darned saddle-stitched booklets.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

#RootsTech – Cowan’s Highlights

Highlights from RootsTech 2014 by Ancestry.com's Crista CowanThanks, Crista, for your Ancestry Insider callouts in your “Highlights from RootsTech 2014YouTube video.

Crista Cowan, Ancestry.com’s Barefoot Genealogist, posts YouTube videos on the Ancestry.com channel every Tuesday and Thursday. On 11 February 2014 she talked about RootsTech.

“RootsTech is a genealogy conference that combines the best of technology and genealogy into a four day event. Join Crista Cowan as she shares some of her favorite moments from the conference. She'll also share with you how you can access some of the best classes from the event in RootsTech video archives.”

She also gives information about a few upcoming Ancestry.com events in Florida and Pennsylvania. If you are in neighborhood, these may be good opportunities for you to learn more about Ancestry.com.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

#RootsTech – Stephanie Nielson’s Saturday Keynote

Stephanie Nielson addresses RootsTech 2014So, I haven’t had the best attitude about the non-genealogist keynote speakers at RootsTech. I had a small change of heart when someone explained to me that having speakers like Ree Drummond brought in people who would never otherwise attend RootsTech. They would pay money just to see her. And once they were in the door, some would look more into this thing called genealogy.

But all that attitude changed with Stephanie Nielson’s keynote Saturday morning. I am forever changed. Her’s was a story of such horrific magnitude, it compels me to be a better person. More patient. More humble. More courageous. More optimistic. More devoted to my family.

“All I wanted to be was a mother,” Nielson began her talk. She appeared to have it all, a happy family, a loving husband. All of that changed in an instant in 2008 when she was in a devastating plane crash. She was burned over 80% of her body.

The pain was unbearable. She was kept in a medically-induced coma for three and a half months. She went through months of grueling, skin ripping physical therapy, sometimes passing out because of the pain.

The depression mounted. “My dream of being that mother that I always wanted to be my entire life was disappearing,” she related. She seriously doubted her children would ever want to see her again.

The missing skin, sores, and scars were gruesome. She was skinny and frail. “I felt like a monster,” she said. Five and a half months after the accident she saw her kids again for the first time. That first meeting was horrible. As much as they had been prepared, they couldn’t be prepared for what they saw. Her daughter was so frightened, she refused to look at her again for three months.

But that meeting galvanized her. “I knew that I wanted to be a mother again, that I needed to work at it,” she said. “I was going to own this trial. I wanted my family back.”

I can’t do it justice. You need to hear Stephanie tell the story in her own words. Go to https://rootstech.org/about/videos/?id=3172446082001 on the RootsTech website and fast forward to 35:40 to get to her place in the program.

It is a story of perseverance, hope, and redemption for a woman who wanted nothing more than to be a mother.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

#RootsTech – Developer Challenge 2014

Click this image to see a short video about Saving Memories ForeverRootsTech was born partly out of a conference for software engineers. It retains that aspect today, including a contest, the Developer Challenge.

“The annual RootsTech Developer Challenge rewards developers who introduce the most innovative, new concepts to family history,” according to the RootsTech website. The challenge is to “create an application or service that introduces a compelling new concept or innovation to family history.” Winners were announced at the end of the keynote session Friday.

First prize went to “Saving Memories Forever,” a smart phone app by Harvey and Jane Baker, of St. Louis, Missouri.

“The Bakers saw that smart phones could serve as a mobile recording studio and as a tool to upload stories seamlessly to a private website,” wrote FamilySearch’s Thom Reed. “The app provides prompts and questions to encourage recording life stories and make them available for generations. It creates an easy way to connect families through the richness of voice and the warmth of storytelling.”

I ate dinner with the Bakers on Wednesday and found them to be very nice people. The Bakers won $2,000 cash and a Dell laptop computer. Click the picture above to view a 100 second introductory video of Saving Memories Forever.

Click to see a short introductory video to Find-A-Record.Second prize went to “Find-A-Record,” a creation of John Clark and Justin York of Genealogy Systems LLC in Provo, Utah. They won $1,000.

“Find-A-Record is a searchable worldwide index of records collections,” wrote Reed. “A family history researcher can enter available information about where and when their ancestors lived and discover the various record collections available. The search is integrated with popular online trees through a browser extension.” Click the picture to see a 90 second video.

Click to see a short video about PhotoFaceMatch, a technology shown at RootsTech 2014.Third prize went to PhotoFaceMatch, a technology developed by Charley Smart and Steve Miller of Eclipse Identity Recognition Corporation. PhotoFaceMatch uses facial recognition technology to compare a set of photographs of a known person against a photograph of an unidentified person and determines if there is a potential match. Third prize was $500. Click the picture to see a 90 second introductory video.

Congratulations to all who participated in this year’s Developers’ Challenge.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ancestry Insider Accepted as NGS Official Social Media Press

The Ancestry Insider is a member of the Official Social Media Press for NGS 2014I’m excited to announce that I have been accepted as a member of the Official Social Media Press for the NGS 2014 Family History Conference. The National Genealogical Society (NGS) has coined the phrase “social media press” to be inclusive of bloggers, micro-bloggers, and other social media writers. They still allow use of the old designation, “Official Blogger,” if desired.

The 2014 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society will be held from the 7th to the 10th of May in Richmond, Virginia. Pre-conference buzz has been high. The original conference hotels sold out and more were added. Those sold out as well. NGS recently announced it had booked additional blocks of rooms with hotels near the Richmond airport. It warned, however, that there is no shuttle service from those hotels to the conference center. To accommodate this need, NGS has arranged discounted car rentals and encourages attendees to share a ride to the Greater Richmond Convention Center downtown each day.

The early bird discount ends 24 March 2014. See the conference brochure for session titles and presenters, pricing, and other information.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Correction to Thursday's Story

Thursday's story has been corrected to say:

To be fair, I should point out that AncestryDNA’s number does not include those acquired from Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (over which I am still sorely displeased that Sorenson could sell my DNA and accompanying pedigree).

Friday, February 21, 2014

Family Tree Rhapsody

This video appeared on YouTube Wednesday. This is funny, must see genealogy.

Family Tree Rhapsody by Randy Wilson and family

If you like Bohemian Rhapsody, so much the better.

Scene from "Family Tree Rhapsody" by Randy Wilson and family

Hat’s off to FamilySearch engineer, Randy Wilson, and his talented family.

Scene from "Family Tree Rhapsody" by Randy Wilson and family

Thursday, February 20, 2014

#RootsTech – Ancestry DNA Saturday

AncestryDNA's Ken ChahineSaturday, Dr. Ken Chahine introduced the final keynote speaker. Chahine is a senior vice president at Ancestry.com and general manager of AncestryDNA. Chahine made some brief remarks with some cool information for DNA fans.

He mentioned that AncestryDNA’s database is up to 300,000 profiles. That’s pretty impressive when one compares it to the National Geographic’s GenoGraphic project, which has just over 660,000 samples after the many years it has been in operation. Coincidentally, Family Tree DNA also has just over 660,000. (Both figures coming from their respective home pages.) To be fair, I should point out that AncestryDNA’s number does not include those acquired from Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (over which I am still sorely displeased that Sorenson could sell my DNA and accompanying pedigree).

Chahine told us that AncestryDNA has additional advancements in ethnicity estimates in the works for later this year. You’ll recall they just barely upgraded their ethnicity regions in October 2013 from 22 to 26. (See “AncestryDNA Gets Big Update.”)

Chahine said that one day advancements might allow placement of ethnicity down to a particular town of ancestry. They one day may be able to show you the migration patterns of your ancestors. They might be able to tell you the slave trading market in South Carolina where an ancestor might likely have been sold. They may be able to identify physical characteristics of ancestors like hair and eye color.

That’s pretty amazing stuff.

Ancestry.com also sponsored a luncheon Saturday where AncestryDNA had a small panel of people. Kenny Freestone I know from my days at Ancestry.com. He is the DNA product manager. Ken Chahine chaired the panel. My apologies to the other guy on the panel; I didn’t catch his name.

In introductory slides we learned that when you submit your DNA sample, it and the derived information travel all over the country. AncestryDNA sends your sample to the Illumina DNA lab in San Diego. The lab is almost fully automated, which minimizes handling errors. They extract the DNA from your saliva sample and put it on a processing chip. The chip can do 12 people simultaneously. It reads 700,000 markers.

The data is then sent to San Francisco for analysis. There they compare your DNA to reference samples that allow placement of your ethnicity to 26 global regions. For the upgrade that will occur this year, they don’t know yet how many regions they will be able to further break down.

They are also expecting a dramatic increase in accuracy of their cousin estimates.

They then took questions from the audience. For lack of a wireless microphone, they utilized Crista Cowan. :-) She’d move around the floor, listen to a question, and then repeat it so everyone in the large room could easily hear. Good job, Crista! Can I use Cristaphone the next time I speak in a large hall?

I only captured a few questions before I had to leave early. (I discovered I had left my cell phone someplace. And I had to prep for a lab right after lunch.) Here’s what I’ve got:

  • When you upgrade your system, will I have to submit a new sample? No. We will rerun your results automatically, for free.
  • Is there a way to narrow down the list of possible relatives? To filter your list, there is a search field at the top right of the match page where you can enter a surname and location.
  • Is there anything that can be done in the cases where matches have private trees? Ancestry.com will create tools to make people feel more comfortable with sharing some information with related persons. Maybe they’ll let you reveal part of a private tree.
  • Why do I get different ethnicities from different companies? We can't address that but we can tell you that we use a lot of rigor. The results depend on the samples used for deep reference. Europe is much more difficult because of recent interactions. That’s where the error bars become important. There’s very little difference between Great Britain and Europe. That's why the error bars are so important. The assets of Sorenson’s DNA sampling program give lots of confidence to AncestryDNA’s results and gives them power to figure things out.
  • Why spitting and not swabbing? Saliva gives higher quality DNA samples. They would have liked to stay with swabs, but went with the higher quality.

 

UPDATE: AncestryDNA's sample count does not include the samples obtained from Sorenson.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

#RootsTech – New FamilySearch Indexing Program

Some of the new FamilySearch Indexing features are already liveDuring RootsTech 2014 I attended “Introducing the New FamilySearch Indexing Program,” by Scott Flinders, senior product manager responsible for FamilySearch indexing.

The new indexing program is still a work in progress, said Flinders. He gave us a walk through like you do with a home during construction. Imagine a program where partners (like archives and societies) create and manage their own indexing projects. Imagine users being able to share an image with other indexers to ask opinions on what is written. And the system knows when you’ve got enough experience to serve as an arbitrator and invites you to become one. Imagine a user who finds a record on FamilySearch.org being able to send a thank you note to the indexers. I wasn’t certain if Flinders was saying that the new program would be able to do all these things, or if he was just getting our creative juices flowing.

The new program will have a number of key improvements according to Flinders.

  • It is a browser based tool.
  • It is part of the Familysearch.org website.
  • It has mobile device support.
  • You can join multiple groups.
  • For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it knows what ward (congregation) and stake you are in, even if you move.
  • It supports achievements and recognition.
  • It has social media integration, primarily Facebook, but others will be introduced. This will allow you to, for example, see who else is an indexer.
  • It allows external project administrators. That is, societies and archives can administer their own projects.
  • It allows multiple values per field. Today, the A keyer, B keyer, and arbitrator could all have specified different values, but only the arbitrator’s is saved. The new system allows all three opinions to be saved, and when searching, any of the values will match. [This was met with applause.]
  • It persists highlights to be used later on. When you do a search, wouldn’t it be nice to have highlights on the image? Eventually that will be part of the search experience.
  • New volunteer training is integrated into the real indexing tool. Today a replica is used that doesn’t completely replicate the real tool. Real record images with known values are used.
  • It has improved training and help.
  • It has enhanced project selection.
  • It has improved workflow and quality. With today’s system, every batch is indexed twice, and then differences are reviewed by an arbitrator. FamilySearch has a new workflow that they believe will produce equal quality, but will produce more records for the same amount of work.
  • It has better reports for administrators and group leaders.
  • It uses cloud technology which allows it to scale better to handle more users.
  • It has performance testing. (I don’t recall what that means.)
  • It has a formal API. I think that means other companies can write their own indexing programs that utilize the guts of FamilySearch indexing. But I didn’t ask.

Some of the new features are already live, said Flinders. On FamilySearch.org click on Indexing. There you can see real-time statistics and enhanced tools for finding an indexing project.

The upcoming FamilySearch Indexing browser integrated indexing toolFlinders gave us a tour of a beta of the program.

  • Sample images will be from the project. Today, sample images might be from a different project!
  • While it won’t be available for all projects, sometimes you’ll be able to select batches from a location within a project. For example, you could pick the county from a project to index records of a state.
  • Today, there is a choice of form or table data entry. In the new system, the form entry sub-window can be moved around. The new system also has other entry modes: column entry, row entry, and Inline. I’m afraid I didn’t notice these well enough to describe how they work or appear.
  • A filmstrip of images gives access to more than just the next and previous images.
  • After submitting a batch, the system will recommend batches for you to do next, including some from the same project, from a new project, or from those you’ve checked out.

The new program has a new workflow. I didn’t catch if it is a replacement, or an alternative to the current A/B/arbitrate flow. The new flow is called “A + Review.” One person indexes. A reviewer checks all fields, looking for and correcting errors. If they change less than a certain number of fields, it is allowed to go on, otherwise, it goes back to another indexer. The new flow is at least 30% more efficient, said Flinders.

The My Indexing page of the upcoming new FamilySearch Indexing programThe new program adds a My Indexing page. This is a replacement for the first screen of the current indexing app. It lists your open batches and their percentage completion. It has the system messages. Scroll down to see a progress graph, a list of groups that you belong to, and an activity feed. The feed looked a bit a Facebook or Twitter list of items, happenings, accomplishments, and the like.

Each group has its own home page, which also struck me to be a bit like Facebook pages. It would have a group progress graph, a list of group members, and I think their roles. (The term arbitrator has been replaced with reviewer.)

The system will have new roles. (indexer and arbitrator are example roles from the current system.) New roles are setup and linking. Those doing project setup identify non-indexable images and divide images into batches. Linking matches existing indexes to images.

Flinders told us the roadmap for the project. An alpha version of the core indexing experience is done. During the first half of the year they are finishing up the features shown today. (I might add a reminder that this was a “house under construction walk through.” I always take these feature lists with a degree of skepticism.) The current target is to have the new program in the second half of the year, perhaps August. There will be a period of time during which the two systems will coexist during project completion and indexer transition.

In a move to give subtle preparation to the appearance of the new system, FamilySearch will introduce a change at the end of February to the current indexing system. It will get a really minor facelift, including a new font in titles, the new FamilySearch logo, a new green bar with batch name, and other fine changes that are in line with the new indexing system.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

#Rootstech – Judy Russell Nails Friday Keynote

Judy Russell addresses RootsTech 2014I’m really making progress. I’ve finished reporting on Thursday at RootsTech 2014 and I’m on to Friday! If the past is any indication, it takes me so long to report on the entire event, I reach complete memory sterility prior to completion. I forget everything I heard and have no recollection whatsoever of what my notes mean. (“Tim Sullivan said that?”)Typically, Saturday and Ancestry.com are the worst fatalities. (“Someone must have said something at the Ancestry.com luncheon.”)

I hear it from everyone. Other bloggers. Other story tellers. Other genealogists. Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, did a terrific job with her Friday morning keynote address. I heard today (as I write this) that a group of non-English speaking journalists from another continent thought it was great and were eager to see it translated into their language. (All recorded sessions will be translated into Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, German, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean languages by 1 April 2014 according to the lds.org website.)

Her presentation was inspired by a quote by NARA archivist, Aaron Holt.

“It only takes three generations to lose a piece of oral family history. … It must be purposely and accurately repeated over and over again through the generations to be preserved for a genealogist today.” Russell illustrated with a Revolutionary War story of her ancestor David Baker and his forgotten little brother, Richard.

FamilySearch’s CEO, Dennis Brimhall is quoted as jokingly saying, “We’ve had [some number] of stories uploaded to FamilySearch, some of which are true.” Russell related some stories, some of which were true, from her own family and then posed a question.

“How do we get to purposefully and accurately pass down our family stories? The only real way I know is to follow the best practices of our field, the standards that all genealogists should work towards, standards that help us understand the genealogical proof standard.” She then taught some solid genealogical skills. It was a first for RootsTech keynotes. And it was unobtrusively woven into an address I felt was enjoyed by both genealogists and potential genealogists.

You can see the presentation yourself at https://rootstech.org/about/videos/?id=3168208970001. Don’t let the cover image warn you off. It may picture Dr. Spencer Wells, who shared the podium with Russell, but it is the correct URL.

Dr. Wells is a population geneticist for the National Geographic Genographic project. You’re probably familiar with the National Geographic Society. They’re the ones people always think of when you tell someone you are a member of the National Genealogical Society.

When I visited the King Tut exhibit of 1978, I was already, hopelessly engaged in technology and computers. When Wells attended, it sparked his interest in ancient history. He has married that interest with the puzzle solving of science, now studying the evolution of and migrations in human history.

Did you know that humans interacted with Neanderthals in early Europe? Wells found they contributed 1.7% of his DNA. Driving on the freeway to the conference, I found that some humans have more than others.

See Wells’s address in the video following Russell’s. After you’ve watched Russell’s address, read her tale of serendipity in “The Cousin Who Isn’t.”

Friday, February 14, 2014

Flowers, Family History, Temples, Serendipity

Dale Z. Kirby in Portland, Oregon Temple atriumTemples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have always been an important part of Dale Zollinger Kirby’s life. So has family history research. And so has gardening. Last month, two days before Christmas, the three came together in a miraculous way.

During his early childhood Dale could see the lighted temple on a hill in Logan, Utah. It always seemed special to him. As a teenager, his family would sometimes go there on Sunday afternoons to see the flowers. His parents had beautiful flower beds around the house and Dale gained an early interest in gardening and worked for a time in a nursery. He has kept a garden ever since, wherever he’s lived.

In 1958 as a newly called missionary he visited the temple. While there he was invited to speak with the temple president, A. George Raymond. President Raymond said to him, "So you've been called to the Swiss-Austrian Mission. There is now a new temple in Switzerland, the first in Europe. You may well have an opportunity to serve in that new temple." The words turned prophetic. A severe illness near the end of his proselyting service necessitated a change in assignment. He was called to serve at the Switzerland Temple instead. He worked in the temple and he greeted the thousands of tourists who came to see the temple and the beautiful gardens. The head gardener had previously been the gardener at Buckingham palace and each Monday Dale would help with the gardening.

In 1976 his job took him to Oregon. Before making the move, it hit him that no one had continued the family history research that his father had done painstakingly for many years. He gathered his siblings together and they organized to further their family history work.

After living many years away from a temple, in 1986 the Church announced that they would build one near Portland, Oregon. Dale was not only delighted, he was asked to assist as a volunteer with public relations for the temple open house. Before each new temple is dedicated, an open house is held allowing the general public to tour the building. After dedication, only Church members in good standing can enter the building. Dale spent countless hours in addition to his regular job. During his service he met with thousands of visitors, civic, educational, and community leaders, and clergy of many faiths.

In 2003 Dale offered his services as a volunteer gardener at the temple. His offer was accepted. Each Monday he would arise at 5:45 and drive 50 miles to work in the garden atrium of the temple. He found the atrium to be a fusion of sacred spaces, a garden of beautiful plants and flowers within a house dedicated to the Lord.

And Dale continued throughout his life to do extensive family history work, even training other family history consultants in his area.

The Monday before Christmas, Dale made his usual 50 mile trip to the Portland Temple. He spent four hours among the tropical plants in the atrium. As he was leaving, a lady stopped her car in front of the temple.

“I have here,” she said, “two major volumes of family names that I would like to donate to some responsible person in the LDS Church.” After attending the open house of the Boise, Idaho Temple, and the open house of the Portland Temple—the same open house that Dale had helped publicize—the woman had felt a strong desire to donate the books to the Church’s Family History Library. She gave the books to Dale, along with a big hug, and left without even telling him her name.

Within the 1,285 pages of the two books, Dale found information that tied into the Zollinger family line!

He submitted one of the books to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Because the library already had the other book, he gave it to an accredited genealogist. That genealogist is currently doing a project on one of the families in that book!

If Dale didn’t have a love for flowers, and if he didn’t have a love for temples, he would not have been in a position to receive two volumes of genealogy with additional information about his ancestors.

We call that, “serendipity in genealogy.”


Sources

Kirby, Dale Zollinger. Dale Z. Kirby, My Life and Labors, an Autobiography. Salem, Oregon: self published, 2009. Digital images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : 2014.

———. “Family History Moment: Special Delivery.” Deseret News: LDS Church News. 19 January 2014. Online edition. http://www.ldschurchnews.com : 18 January 2014 [sic].

Thursday, February 13, 2014

#RootsTech Brimhall Town Meeting

Dennis Brimhall, president of FamilySearch, InternationalThursday at RootsTech I attended a question and answer session with Dennis Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch. Here’s some of what was said. Sorry about my English. I could take notes only so fast, so I am sometimes quoting and sometimes paraphrasing. That raises the possibility of misquotes, so take everything with a little caution.

Q. Can you clarify the contract with ancestry.com [and FindMyPast and MyHeritage]?

A. We have limits on how much we can do and we realize there are other companies that are also good at what we do. We approached them and they said, “We’d like access to your records, on our site. We don’t want them to leave our site to go to yours.” The deal: “We’ll let you have access to our records on your site. In return, we’d like to have access for our members [of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] who paid for our records with their tithing. It will be on their site. [I didn’t give FamilySearch an opportunity to edit this before I published it, but I’m sure they would point out at this point, that FamilySearch will give the general public access to these sites at FamilySearch’s family history centers.]

The other part of the deal is to coordinate in more acquisition. They image and we index, or we image and they index. In some cases, they pay to have the records indexed. After some embargo, the records would be opened up to everyone.

Q. When does it start?

A. The complicated part is how do you log into one account and end up being logged onto another site. The engineers are working it out to allow you to log on to their site with your LDS account. It might be 2nd quarter of this year. In the future, you’ll be able to search their records on our site.

Q. [Some question about using family history with missionary work.]

A. Many people who don’t know much about the Church know that the Church is interested in family history. What we’ve found is that it is kind of wonderful to ask people about their ancestors. We’ve found the My Family booklet, we’ve tested what happens when instead of talking about the doctrines of the Church, you spark an interest in family and then their interest might grow from there.

Q. What is the purpose of photos and the stories regarding the living?

A. We don’t share this often, but here is an interesting fact. Every member of Church members pays for FamilySearch.org, but only a fraction use it. “Every organization is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” If we want to get more people to use it, something has to change. I’m going to offend some people but I have to say it. Who was the website designed for? The genealogists. So we begin to see what invites people in. You go to a cemetery and see two dates. What’s between the two dates? The dash. We’ve got to start concentrating on the dash. Do you know that until a year ago April, you could not add the story of an ancestor on FamilySearch.org?

Here’s an aside from the Ancestry Insider: You’re right. That does offend me. Now I’m going to offend some people, but I have to say it.

Let me quote from the BCG Genealogical Standards Manual, millennium edition, p. 18:  “Descriptive biographical information is provided for individuals in the lineage, pedigree, or genealogy. In addition to vital statistics, the compilation includes sufficient information about each person’s activities, residences, circumstances, contributions, and lifestyle to place them within the context of their historical era, society, and geographic place.”

That sounds a little clinical. Standards usually do. Nationally recognized genealogist, John Colletta, says it pretty well. “Creating a family tree is only half the goal. The other half is learning about your ancestors as men and women with personalities, character traits, motives and aspirations, joys and disappointments, just like you.”

Do you know that until a year ago April, you could not add the story of an ancestor on FamilySearch.org?

Back to your question, how do we address the living. We’re addressing the problem of not being able to see your spouse. You’re going to be able to see that before long.

We’re going to have an app available in the 2nd quarter where you can go to grandma and ask her a question and then post the recording online.

Outside North America many members of the Church haven’t entered both parents into Family Tree. Many more haven’t entered grandparents, and even more haven’t entered all their great-grandparents. The My Family booklet is trying to capture that living memory. That then becomes the basis for the family history research that is to come.

The good news is, its working. We’re seeing significant improvements in the number of people using the website.

Q. Oral histories. Is there a vision or a goal? Native Americans?

A. We are setting up in the family history centers recording booths to record oral histories. In St. George we have a green screen and you can show photos as you talk about your history.

We’ve been capturing histories in Africa for a number of years now, but it is very expensive to do it. We probably will not expand beyond Africa what we are doing there. It is not scalable. We don’t have enough missionaries to make it work.

We have some good collections for native Americans. I’ve met with five tribes in the last six months. They are good at cultural history, but how can we help them preserve their family histories? We’ll meet with them over the coming months to see how best to do this.

Q. [There was a long exposition. I kept waiting for the question, so I wasn’t writing anything. It was something about members finding information in the tree and assuming it must be true because it is an official Church website.]

A. We’re trying to answer this question. How are we going to address this issue of data integrity? People often write and complains to me that someone has changed their ancestor’s data. I don’t know what is the truth. So how do we solve the problem? The only way to deal with this is to create an expectation in the minds of people that you need to check. The first expectation is that you need to source it. The second expectation is that members check for duplication before you submit a name to the temple. The duplication rate has gone down from around 30% to under 10% in the last several years.

We’re beginning to see very gradually that the database is going to clean itself up. The number one complaint used to be, “I cant fix the information.” Now the number one complaint is that someone is changing my information.

We think we’ve bottomed out. We’ve seen a decrease in duplication and an increase in sourcing.

Q. How do you decide what records to obtain?

A. We have a whole team that looks at this. They look at where the greatest demand is for records and where the records are available. We have a deal to acquire 400 million records in Italy. We have 267 camera crews with a goal to increase that to 500. We do a million images a day around the world. A significant portion is imaging records from out of the vault. There are 80 GB of images of the whole [didn’t hear this part]. In seven years we’ll be done with imaging all the records in the vault. Then how do we make up for no longer getting records out of the vault? [The increase in cameras.]

Q. Just finished serving a mission in Taiwan. There is a need for genealogy resources.

A. We have a robust strategy for dealing with Chinese. It is part of our ten core languages. This is not an announcement. We’ve had some discussions on how we might collaborate with records. We’ve had lots of dialog. [Something I didn’t catch], but it is on our radar.

In India they take a census every ten years. It results in 35 linear miles of shelf space. Seven years later they destroy it all to make room for the next one. Our first break in india, one state is allowing us to come in and image records. We’re in this for a long time. We’re in for the very long haul.

Q. [Some question about sources?]

There’s something that will be on the website very, very quickly. When you attach a census record to the tree, we have a feature that will be coming out, maybe next quarter, that when you attach a child from the census, it will present all the other people in the household and allow you to attach them. [Big applause.]

Q. When I add sources to the tree and then you image and index those records, will those be merged?

A. If one is digital and one is image, they will not be matched up. There is no way electronically to match them up.

There is something we’re going to try, one of the things we’ve been toying with. You know we’re coming out with a new indexing system. One of the things we’re considering is called indexing on the fly. If you find information in a record, why wouldn’t we allow you to index that record?

Q. I wrote a story and scanned some photos and I can’t get the photos into the story?

A. [Answer from David Burggraaf] Put them together in a PDF and upload them together.

Q. [Question about trees]

A. We are not generally promoting alternatives to the public tree. We are trying to get a common family tree. FindMyPast has agreed to use our Family Tree. [Answer from David Burggraaf:] Going forward we intend to continue to capture separate trees, but it is our intent that [users] merge and link [them] into the main tree.

Q. When President Hinckley announced the New FamilySearch software he said it was to reduce duplication and increase collaboration. But many people are not sharing their email address, so it is impossible to collaborate.

A. We have been toying with—and we don’t want to be too heavy handed—but one thing we’ve been discussing is that you have to give a valid email address. But half the church doesn’t have them.

Q. [Didn’t write it down.]

A. There’s a fine line between informing and not informing people. We think it would be nice if when anyone added a photo, we notified you. It starts to become spam very quickly. We might take 3% of registered users and turn that feature on and test it.

Q. [Didn’t write it down.]

A. We probably make three or four changes to the site every day. It’s the only way we get better.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

#RootsTech – Rencher Warns: What Must Not Change

David E Rencher, FamilySearch CGOThursday I attended the FamilySearch luncheon where David Rencher, FamilySearch chief genealogical officer, spoke to the topic, “With Dramatically Changing Technologies – what must not change!” Rencher expressed his love for technology but gave the warning: with the advancement of technology we must be careful. There are things about genealogy that remain unchanged. Indeed, they must not change.

One involves the use of DNA. “DNA testing should augment, but never replace sound genealogical research,” Rencher said.

Another is citations provided by online record publishers. Many provide information about the online derivative but not the offline original. (I keep meaning to write an article complaining about FamilySearch’s practice of doing this, but never get around to it. I have some insider information explaining why they do this and what they hope to do to fix it.) I think we have to expect to take the citations provided online and fix them up to be complete. “Copying and pasting the citation of an online record doesn’t free you of the responsibility to provide an adequate citation,” he said.

Access to records online doesn’t always replace the need to access the originals. Sometimes filming or publication messed up the record. Rencher gave as an example a situation that I had also come across. I’ll share it next week as part of my “Darned Records” series.

Providing provenance for artifacts, stories, and information about them (metadata as technical people like to put it) is important, and in particular, the identification of persons in photographs. Rencher showed an example from FamilySearch.org that has been proven to be a misidentified. (That would make a good “Darned Record,” also.) He pointed out how his mother had labeled photographs of people she knew. If that fact is not propagated, how will we know how much confidence to give the identification of the persons in those photographs?

He warned us that looking at a digital index is not good enough. Always consult the original (or an image of it). Indexes are incomplete. (And they are sometimes wrong.) This requires that you learn the handwriting and the language.

Online trees have made it infinity easier to incorporate information from one tree to extend the pedigree of another. “The inexperienced researcher simply misidentifies the wrong candidate as soon as they spot a record with the name of the correct spouse or a closely associated name,” said Rencher. “Before you merge, examine the evidence and analyze the possibilities.” He said, “Online pedigrees are no more trustworthy than those in print.” Online or off, the credibility of a conclusion is only as good as analysis proves it to be.

“So, with all of the changing technologies – there’s still a lot that we should do to leave a lasting legacy of quality research,” said Rencher.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

#RootsTech - FindMyPast’s Annelies van den Belt Encourages Participation

Annelies van den BeltFindMyPast.com is owned by DC Thomson Family History (formerly brightsolid) and Annelies van den Belt is its CEO. She was one of the three keynote speakers on Thursday, along with FamilySearch’s Dennis Brimhall and Ree Drummond. Drummond is a popular (non-genealogical) blogger known as the Pioneer Woman for her adventures married to a cowboy on a ranch out in the sticks. She shared her history, including her growing family. (See her blog article, “Love, Mama of Four.”) RootsTech has a penchant for bringing in non-genealogical bloggers, I think to attract potential, new genealogists. Drummond was one of them.

She spoke about blogging, her family, photography, her cookbooks, her cooking show, and her new series of children’s books. I had blogger envy. I wish I could take photos like she does. (My familial tremors prevent it.) I wish I had interesting stories from my life to share. I suppose I could write about food—recipes using chocolate or reviews of chocolate desserts at restaurants around town. No one is likely to publish a cookbook from my blog posts. I suppose my blog could be the basis of a series of children’s books. (Careful what you say. I suppose I set myself up for that.)

Watch Drummon’s address on the RootsTech website.

Van den Belt has big expectations for the growth potential of the genealogical community. She’d like to grow the industry to 89 million people. She quoted the figure that 99.9% of people say they are interested in genealogy and 25% of people say they want to know where they’ve come from. When I was an executive of a private company, I learned that market potential was a big factor in determining what a company was worth. Stating it a little simplistically, if you currently have 2 million customers with the potential of growing it to 80 million, you are looking at a company valuation multiplier of 40. That makes even a small company worth a lot to potential investors or buyers. When I was at Ancestry.com, there was unusually high pressure (in my opinion) on employees to acquire new users. I felt it was at the expense of current customers. I think it was precisely to grow the valuation of company value. (Thank goodness Tim Sullivan came along with added emphasis on retaining current customers.) In my experience, you’re not going to get market growth of tens of percentages, but fractions of one percent. Investors don’t want to hear that. Nevertheless, I believe it is true.

I applaud efforts to grow the size of the industry. Ancestry.com’s Who Do You Think You Are, FamilySearch’s RootsTech Conference, FamilySearch efforts within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and FindMyPast’s Lives of the First World War memorial website have no doubt reached new individuals who catch the bug, who are here to stay. But in some ways involvement in genealogy feels more like a calling, like the feeling that drives some to become clergy. We all look for that individual in our families; someone we can pass our research down to, lest it be lost.

She noted that Facebook timelines are today’s personal histories. That’s a neat observation. (Maybe FindMyPast will provide a way to externally capture and preserve that story of our lives, lest Facebook lose it or dismiss it.)

Van den Belt announced that FindMyPast is working on three new mobile apps. She emphasized the importance of partnerships. Like FamilySearch, they are creating APIs that allow partners to utilize their resources and technologies. They are working on a new partnership with the Imperial War Museum to produce a website, Lives of the First World War.

She pointed out the power of wider involvement in stories and photographs. Scour your attic, she challenged us. The more people who are engaged, uploading, and sharing, the more we find records about our own ancestors. That’s another great observation. These activities will surely attract a wider audience. We should all join FindMyPast’s efforts to involve more people in genealogy.

Monday, February 10, 2014

#RootsTech – Find A Grave App Coming Soon, FamilySearch to Follow

“Mobile computing is the fastest-spreading consumer technology in history,” according to the MIT Technology Review. Estimates project that the amount of web traffic from mobile devices will surpass that of regular computers by 2015.

FamilySearch Mobile Apps

Thursday I attended “FamilySearch's Mobile Family Tree Apps,” presented by Todd Powell, FamilySearch senior product manager. While there has been a small bit of research on using SMS messaging (“texting”) to add to the Family Tree, FamilySearch’s emphasis is on smart phones, iOS and Android.

The FamilySearch.org website is now being designed using a principle called Responsive Web Design (RWD), a design approach aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience regardless of the size of the viewing device. FamilySearch’s approach to mobile apps is to provide functionality that doesn’t duplicate what can be done using the FamilySearch.org website. “What can I do on a mobile device that I can’t do anywhere else?” Since mobile devices aren’t always connected to the Internet, a lot of work is going into the disconnected experience.

FamilySearch is working on two mobile apps.

FamilySearch's upcoming FamilySearch Memories appOne is Family Memories. It can be used to takes photos, write stories, and record audio. One day it may support video, but for now it is too difficult to screen them for appropriate content. You’ll be able to do all this while you are offline. Once you get to a place where you can connect, the app uploads it to your Memories page on FamilySearch.org. The app allows you to tag people in photos, but not attach them to the tree. That will come later.

Family Memories is being developed on iOS, but it will be extended to Android later. Powell showed a slide with the planned release schedule, but I couldn’t make sense of it quickly enough. Did anybody else out there catch what the schedule was?

Todd Powell shows FamilySearch's upcoming Family Tree Viewer appThe other FamilySearch app is Family Tree Viewer. Family Tree Viewer allows viewing a portrait pedigree, ancestor details, parents and siblings, spouses and children, sources, and photos and stories. You can tap a source to get to the image. (I can’t remember for sure, but I think your browser is activated to view the image.) You can generate and print PDF copies of the same four chart types as Family Tree. Some number of generations—maybe the first six?—will be downloaded to the device and stored there for offline viewing.

Family Tree Viewer is close to alpha release for Android phones and will go beta at the end of March. (An alpha release typically occurs internally when a product is feature complete and development is shifting to testing and bug fixes. Beta release occurs when the product is fairly stable and needs to be tested by a larger number of people in more situations than the organization can provide internally.) The Android version is a couple of months ahead of the iOS version.

Soon you will be able to add the photo of a source to Family Tree. You’ll be able to choose a photo or take one, and then add a source title. It will be added as a source to the selected individual.

By the end of the year it is hoped that the app will support adding to the tree while disconnected, and then later synchronized. Photos are not geo-tagged, but that is a feature they would like to add.

There are no current plans to provide an app for FamilySearch indexing. Indexing will be supported through the regular browser and only when connected to the Internet. (Has the pendulum swung too far?)

Ancestry.com Mobile Apps

So there I was, sitting at a luncheon with a kind couple from Michigan. (No, they didn’t hold up their hands and point to where they live. However, the luncheon presenter did.) We were talking Sweden when the conversation veered over the border. “I have one Norwegian line,” I said. “Oh, really? What county?” I haven’t looked at that line in a decade. Hang on one moment. I pulled out my smart phone. I clicked on the Ancestry App. I downloaded my tree, and voila, I knew the county of my Norwegian line.

Friday I attended “Take Your Research Anywhere with Ancestry.com's Mobile App,” by Jason Butterfield, Ancestry.com, director of product management.

An appalling photograph of Ancestry.com's upcoming Find-a-Grave appAncestry.com is set to release a Find-A-Grave mobile app very soon. Emails to beta testers went out Thursday. To the right is a photograph of the new app. (What did you expect? I was sitting in the back of the room and I suffer from familial tremors. You get what you get.) The app will search the 112 million memorials and 90 million photographs on FindAGrave.com. You can search for cemeteries. You can take photographs and create memorials. You can make and fulfill photo requests. And you can mark the GPS location of a grave. The initial version will be iOS only. (The Android app available today is not an official, Ancestry.com app.)

Ancestry.com currently has two mobile apps, Shoebox and the Ancestry app.

The Shoebox app allows you to take photographs of documents or photographs and automatically upload them to your Ancestry Tree. For my review of the app, see “Shoebox From Ancestry.” There’s a couple of features I noticed Friday that I didn’t mention in my review. When tagging a person, start typing and the app will show you matching names from your Ancestry Tree. When entering location, start typing the location and the app will show you a list of matching locations. Select a location and the app will show it on a map.

The Ancestry App allows you to view and make changes to your Ancestry Tree. When you download the app, you can login with your Ancestry user id, but you don’t have to have a subscription to create a tree.

The Ancestry App family view and individual timeline

Butterfield said the family view is so good, people have written him to say they sit their iPad with the family view next to their computer as they work on their tree on their computer.

Ancestry.com inserts world events into your ancestors’ timelines to give context to their lives. For example in the screen shot above, the small event between 1817 and 1850 indicates that in 1837 “the French inventor, Daguerre, invented the daguerreotype. Tap on the event to see additional events of that decade.

To add a photograph to an event in the timeline, first tap on the event and then tap “Add Photo.” You can take a new photograph, or select from the existing photographs on your camera. Photos attached to an event will show on the timeline.

Any changes you make will show up on your Ancestry Tree on Ancestry.com.

The main difference in features between the app and the website is the lack of historical record search on the app. However, it is possible to launch a search for an ancestor in your tree. Switch to the person’s gallery and tap Find Sources. This will launch a browser with the search parameters set.

Most of the information from your tree is downloaded when you first select the tree, but not photos and source images. If you are going away and want particular photos or source images on your device, view each one once on the device. They will be downloaded and cached on your device.

You can connect your tree (or is it your account?) to Facebook to help you pull in living people to your tree. If you connect a tree to your Facebook account, Ancestry.com will not post to your Facebook wall. They just look at your connections, looking for family members. They look at more than your friends. They will also look at the friends of your friends.

Friday, February 7, 2014

#RootsTech Thursday’s Opening Session

Teaching and prepping has kept me busier at this conference than most, so I’m at least one day behind in writing. Here’s some thoughts from Thursday’s opening session.

At the opening keynote Dennis Brimhall, FamilySearch CEO thanked conference chairperson, Dan Martinez. Dan was avoiding the limelight, busy helping in the trenches. I thought about a study I read recently. Event planners have the 6th most stressful job in America. I sat behind him and his family at the evening program by BYU’s Vocal Point. Dan did not have particularly good seats. They were the best he could find after helping direct things down front until the last minute. I’m sure those sitting around him didn’t realize who they were sitting next to. It was so cute to see his daughters standing and dancing to the amazing a cappella music of Vocal Point. Hat’s off to Dan Martinez.

This is the RootsTech lecture hall where I taught

This is a much larger venue than previous years, thank goodness. I just saw a lady walk by keeping touch with her husband using a walkie-talkie!

I taught my session in a hall that seats 4,000 people. That’s intimidating. Fortunately, everyone fit in a small section down front. I was put in the large hall because they were video taping me for later broadcast. They already have the equipment set up for larger purposes and can’t move it to the regular classrooms.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Having three keynote speakers in a keynote session is too many. Each speaker goes over time making the whole session go late. For the opening keynote session on Thursday, the RootsTech host company, FamilySearch, had to get their time in. The platinum daily sponsor, Find My Past, had to get their time in. That puts quite the time crunch on the 3rd speaker, in this case blogger, cookbook author, and food channel personality, Ree Drummond.

Brimhall gave a top ten list on reasons people came to RootsTech. #9 – It’s almost as big as an Osmond Family Reunion. #7 – It was cheaper than Sochi. #6 – I had a long layover at the Salt Lake Delta hub and had nothing else to do. #5 – The winter air is so good in Utah, you can taste it. #4 – I’m a cowboy and I thought it was BootsTech. #2 – I’m going to have a chat with the arbitrator who dinged my indexing score. And #1 – I came to be part of the largest genealogy gathering of its kind in the world.

Every state in the Union was represented except one. (If you’ve got a friend in South Dakota, twist their arm next year.)

Brimhall repeated a lot of the information I’ve already told you from the partnership announcement before the show and the FamilySearch blogger dinner, so I won’t repeat it here.

He said that a large number of people FamilySearch is trying to reach don’t have computers. To meet that challenge, they created the My Family booklet. (See “FamilySearch Announced My Family Booklet.”) They’ve now shipped 1.7 million copies of the booklet in 21 languages. After filling out the booklet, they or someone else for them, can go online and enter the information into the tree. “We think this is a tremendous starting place for people around the world,” he said.

While many people throughout the world don’t have access to computers, cell phones are becoming common. FamilySearch is looking for ways to capitalize on that. He doesn’t know yet if anything will become of it. “Come back next year,” he joked.

As predicted, Capt’n Jack Starling made an appearance, and made the same plea (do pirates plea? maybe, demand) for volunteers to index obituaries. There can soon be millions of obituaries on FamilySearch.org, but volunteers are necessary. Capt’n Jack warned us, “Those obituaries be tricky business. Be sure to read them instructions before setting your indexing sails.” Brimhall said that obituaries are pure gold. Not only do they tell the story of a person’s life, they often include a photo.

(In a town-hall style meeting later in the day, Brimhall was asked to explain more about the obituary campaign. “We think obituaries are a gold mind but people haven’t been using them because it is too much work to find them…We’ve been meeting with several large companies with newspapers who can get the obituaries but they can’t get them indexed…Hundreds of millions of these are available…We’ve been casting these [index projects] out as a little trial. People love them because there is no handwriting and because there is a story in every one. We think they are pure gold.”)

Map of worldwide FamilySearch camerasHe showed a map indicating where FamilySearch has 250-ish cameras (I didn’t quite catch the exact number) photographing records across the world. He said FamilySearch is fighting a battle against time and the loss of records.

While talking about partnerships, Brimhall mentioned smaller partners in addition to the large ones getting all the attention.

“We work with partners and they use their creative minds to create cool tools,” he said.

Among others, he mentioned Ancestral Quest, Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic, the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

FamilyMapFamilyMap is a way to see where your ancestors were located. Pins drop down. You can click on a pin to see an ancestor.”
Puzzilla.org descendency chart“We’ve struggled in how to show descendencies. The folks at puzzilla.org have found a way to do that.” Brimhall said. Start with your pedigree. Click on an ancestor. Puzzilla then draws a chart showing that person’s descendants. The chart can be used to identify possible holes for descendency research. Hover over a node to see information about that person. Click on the person to open and view that person in FamilySearch Family Tree.

Cool beans. Several weeks ago I had planned on writing an article about these programs and didn’t get around to it. The point I was going to make is that the ecosystem growing around the FamilySearch API is a compelling reason to register for a FamilySearch account and add your data to Family Tree.

More RootsTech later…

Thursday, February 6, 2014

#RootsTech Ancestry.com Blogger Breakfast

The Ancestry.com Leaf LogoWhile the FamilySearch dinner was a huge affair, Ancestry.com kept their blogger meeting very intimate. Just a few of us gathered around a breakfast table. That gave us an opportunity to ask some questions and give some feedback. It was pretty low key. Three people from Ancestry.com hosted: Tim Sullivan, Ancestry.com president and CEO; Eric Shoup, executive vice president of product; and Heather Erickson, senior director of corporate communications.

Ancestry.com has an embarrassment of riches. They have so many records, it’s amazing. Tim talked a little about the content sharing agreement with FamilySearch. He said they have pitched the idea for many years and are happy to see it come to pass. Ancestry.com is not very concerned with FindMyPast and MyHeritage also getting copies of the data. He said it is great what FMP and MH are doing. Because of the amount of data Ancestry.com holds exclusively, FMP and MH are not affecting Ancestry.com’s growth. I think it shows just how big the market is. Heather added that as part of the FamilySearch agreement, Ancestry.com will be publishing a billion records from the FamilySearch vault. My notes are unclear—and my memory’s even worse, but I think she said Ancestry.com will have that content exclusive of FindMyPast and MyHeritage. Tim was also excited with a joint project with FamilySearch to index and publish millions of records from Mexico. And they are excited about the probate project announced at RootsTech last year.

Ancestry.com has Mexico and Germany high and their list for market expansion. Tim made the point that before you can start marketing, you must first have the site features and the content.

Following up on one of Don Anderson’s comments at the FamilySearch dinner, I asked about integration between Ancestry.com member trees and the FamilySearch Family Tree. Eric said that the integration will allow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to transfer information between their Ancestry.com tree and the FamilySearch tree. Tim said that for some of this, Ancestry.com will simply pop up a window from FamilySearch. Eric said that Family Tree Maker would eventually support the same integration, but he had no dates for either project.

Tim said that Ancestry.com has thought about implementing a single-tree like FamilySearch uses for New FamilySearch and for Family Tree. They’ve decided that the data model is too problematic. Of course, they have some actual experience with One World Tree (OWT), which has quietly disappeared. Frankly, they could have done it loudly and no one would have cared, except maybe to applaud. The challenge, Tim said, is to build something that exists under the covers that aggregates in some fashion member trees. It would be a dynamic model in which they didn’t do any merging in a permanent way. By “under the covers” I assume that means it wouldn’t be exposed to users. If they can make that work, it could be a great dataset to marry with their DNA data. And it could be used to calculate relationships between you and famous people. (“Did you know you are related to President Obama? You are the third cousin seven times removed to the spouse of his second cousin, six times removed!” OK. That doesn’t sound as cool as it did in my head.)

Tim said that integrating DNA results into the main search experience is a big area of focus, but won’t be ready in 2014.

There was a lot of discussion about degree of confidence and the challenge of measuring the quality of a tree. Ancestry.com is in the early stages of a pilot on education and site training to the masses at scale. He differentiated between training, which is focused at site usage, and education, which is designed to help people learn how to do genealogy.

It was a great, productive meeting. Thank you, Ancestry.com.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

#RootsTech FamilySearch Blogger Dinner Report

imageRootsTech began for me last evening, with the FamilySearch blogger dinner. I should have taken a count. This was the largest group I’ve ever seen at this event. FamilySearch pulled out all the stops this time. Dennis Brimhall, FamilySearch president and CEO, spoke briefly to us. During the socializing before the dinner we got to chat with FamilySearch board members, Elder Allan F. Packer and Elder Bradley D. Foster. Both are presiding authorities with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns, operates, and funds FamilySearch.

FamilySearch repeated several of the messages that they have communicated in recent weeks.

Pirate Capt’n Jack Starling made an appearance as part of FamilySearch’s campaign to index 100 million obituaries this year. “Dead men tell no tales…, but their obituaries do!” is the theme of the campaign. Obituaries are like locked up pirate treasure until they are indexed and published online.

Capt’n Jack will be popping up here and there during the conference. Attendees are invited to get their pictures taken with him, post it online with hashtags #ahoy, #FamilySearch, and #obits, and then claim a bit of treasure at the FamilySearch indexing booth. We were forewarned that he might just be interrupting Dennis Brimhall’s keynote this morning.

Don Anderson spoke about partnerships, reiterating the information released in the announcement I wrote about yesterday. (See “FamilySearch Gives Further Details on Partnerships.”) Regarding FamilySearch spreading its records around to Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com, and MyHeritage.com, Anderson said, “We want you to be able to go wherever you think gives you the best experience.” He reiterated that FamilySearch has negotiated to make these three websites free in FamilySearch family history centers. (MyHeritage is not currently available; it will be added later this year.)

And he clarified something for me. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will have full subscriptions to these websites. The announcement was vague as to whether it was access to all records, or just those obtained from FamilySearch. Anderson asked that we please inform Church members that access is not available today. Please don’t call! It will come later this year and announcements will be made at that time.

Anderson said that these partners are also working on a tree-integration technology that will make it possible to transfer information between a tree on their website and the FamilySearch Family Tree. That technology is expected to be available later this year.

“We’ve always been concerned about the quality of the data,” Dennis Brimhall said. They’re excited about the accelerating specification of sources. He said it took seven years for users to add the first 70,000 to the FamilySearch tree. Now users are adding 70,000 sources a week and the total has surpassed 12 million. Users are uploading 5,000 photos a day and 500 stories.

Brimhall characterized genealogy and family history this way: on a grave marker that separates birth and death dates with a dash, the dates are genealogy and the dash is family history. We need to pay attention to the dash in addition to the dates.

I have to pause here and blow a little steam. To become a certified genealogists or to just be a competent genealogist, one has always had to delve into the details of an ancestor’s life. Genealogists—real genealogists—have always been concerned about the whole story. It’s partly practical. Once you’ve crossed the chasm, full identification and differentiation of a person often requires identification of residences, businesses, church memberships, associates, migrations and naturalizations, court actions, military service, real and personal property ownership, appearance of handwriting and signatures, and any and all other details you can find. Do you know who is only concerned with name, birth date, and death date? “Name collectors.” Those are the people wrecking havoc blindly accepting tree-to-tree hints in Ancestry Member Trees and recklessly merging persons in FamilySearch’s Family Tree. They ignore the dash between the dates. I totally agree with the point Brimhall is making. I love the power of the illustration, the dash between the dates. But does he have to mischaracterize the word genealogy to make the point?

Shipley Munson shared some interesting statistics about the growth of RootsTech. RootsTech 2011 had 3,200 registrants. RootsTech 2012 had 4,000. 2013 had 6,700. This year, RootsTech has 8,000 registrants! In addition, this year they have 4,000 youth (teenagers) signed up and another 1,000 on a waiting list! Last year, the total of registrants, youth, and unique users viewing online was 20,800 people. This year they expect that number to hit 30,000.

Last year they tested the concept of having satellite sites utilize recordings of RootsTech sessions in local family history conferences. They tested 15 locations in three languages and had an average of 200 people attend at each location. They are expanding that program this year. They have 622 locations signed up across the world, covering ten languages. There’s even a genealogy cruise in the South Pacific that is broadcasting the sessions. (RootsTech in Tahiti? Sign me up!)

Adding on the remote locations, last year’s RootsTech had 24,300 attendees and this year’s is expected to surpass 150,000!

Well, its late and I have breakfast with Ancestry.com early in the morning. I spent too much time ranting and now have no time for proofreading. (I confess. I threw that last punctuation error in on purpose. Anything else really was because I’m not proofreading this article. Good night!)

FamilySearch Gives Further Details on Partnerships

FamilySearch commercial partnershipsFamilySearch has announced further details and motivation behind its recent partnership deals. In recent months FamilySearch partnerships have been announced with Ancestry.com (see “Ancestry.com Announces Extensive Partnership with FamilySearch” and “More Information on Ancestry.com/FamilySearch Agreement”), FamilyMyPast.com (see “FamilySearch/FindMyPast Announce Agreement”), and MyHeritage.com (See “MyHeritage Announces Partnership With FamilySearch”).

In the agreements the partners were given rights to publish record collections from FamilySearch.org. “Working with individual industry leaders such as Ancestry.com, Archives.com, findmypast, Fold3, and MyHeritage will also increase and broaden access to the records FamilySearch has already published online,” said the announcement. Publication of these records on multiple websites removes barriers to family history research. The records on Ancestry.com and FindMyPast.com are available free to the general public in the 4,715 local FamilySearch-owned family history centers worldwide. “They will be available…free on Ancestry.com, findmypast.com, or MyHeritage.com to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” FamilySearch said. “Additional details regarding expanded records access will be announced sometime in 2014.”

FamilySearch clarified that not all of its records will be shared with partners. They said that contractual obligations prevent it from sharing some of its records and indexes with partners or with the general public. (I’ve written before about restricted record access. See “FamilySearch Image Restrictions.”)

The agreements included partnerships in acquiring, indexing, and publishing new record collections. “This collaboration will carve centuries off the time needed to increase access to the world’s historical records,” FamilySearch said. These collaborations will bring more financial investment than the nonprofit community alone can provide. In addition to the 5.3 billion records already obtained by FamilySearch, there are an additional 70 billion records FamilySearch would like to acquire worldwide, according to a graphic accompanying the announcement. Ten billion of those are from the Americas and Europe. The graphic also said that FamilySearch Family Tree contains about one billion people and that another 27 billion born since 1500 A.D. still need to be identified and added.

image“For the top countries with the highest online research demand, using our existing resources and volunteers, it will take up to 300 years to index the 5.3 billion records that we already have,” Dennis Brimhall, FamilySearch CEO, said. “We can do significantly better by working together with other organizations and as a community.” A graphic accompanying the announcement said that collaboration would reduce that to 20 to 30 years.

Some users may view it as a downside that the indexes produced by these commercial organizations is generally done by offshore indexers. I think that is offset by accelerated access to the bulk of the records. FamillySearch.org already includes records indexed by other organizations. Most users have already come across records from Fold3 and FindMyPast with those annoying links to websites that require payment to view the images. According to FamilySearch wiki articles about their record collections, there are other indexes obtained from third parties.

FamilySearch said in April that volunteers hit the milestone of one billion records indexed with its current indexing program. This week’s announcement said that, including the earlier extraction program, volunteers had indexed over three billion records.

FamilySearch said these partnerships are but first installments removing barriers to family history research. “FamilySearch plans to involve many other interested organizations that will provide records, tools, and other resources to allow more people to build, preserve, and share their family trees online.”

To read the original announcement, see “FamilySearch Works to Put the World’s Historical Records Online in One Generation.”