Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Contest for Free RootsTech Full Admission

You’ll recall that I get to give away a free pass for full 3-day admission to RootsTech 2015 ($239 value). I solicited ideas for how to do so. I’m going to go with the suggestion from reader Larissa. (Thanks, Larissa.)

Write a short essay/article about how or assisted in an unusual find or a unique way to use a feature on one of the sites.

Additional Content Rules:

  1. Your submission must be submitted by email. Posting a comment to the blog does not count.
  2. The email title must contain the words “Contest for Free RootsTech Full Admission.”
  3. I must receive your email on 5 December 2014, Mountain Standard Time.
  4. By submitting an entry, you give permission for me to publish it, with any changes I see fit.
  5. I reserve the right to choose whichever submission I like, for any reason whatsoever. I might consider the following factors: well written, interesting, instructive, entertaining.

For more information about RootsTech, visit

David Archuleta and Studio C to perform at RootsTech 2015In other RootsTech news, RootsTech and FGS have announced that American Idol finalist David Archuleta and BYUtv’s Studio C will perform at the closing event of the FGS and RootsTech 2015 conferences. The two talents will be performing for the Closing Event at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Both will be featuring new original pieces for the event, including a new song written by David Archuleta and a never-before-seen comedy sketch by Studio C.

For more information or to register for one of these conferences, visit the FGS Conference website or the RootsTech website.

The Ancestry Insider is an official RootsTech ambassador The Ancestry Insider is an official FGS Conferrence Ambassador

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

AncestryDNA and DNA Circles announced last week an improvement and an addition to its DNA product: enhanced DNA matching and a beta of DNA Circles.

Improved Matches improved DNA matching so that there are fewer distant, inaccurate relatives. says these distant cousins are 70 times as likely to be actual relatives. If I understand correctly, as the number of people who have taken an DNA test increases, the better can determine DNA segments that are common among a large number of people and are not useful in determining kinship.

The table below shows how the number of my results changed. The number of distant cousins dropped dramatically, from over 13,000 to over 3,000.

  New Number of Matches Old Number of Matches
Parent/Child 1 1
Close family 1 1
1st cousin 2 3
2nd cousin 5 4
3rd cousin 10 14
4th cousin 150 162
Distant cousin 3,150 13,018

If you are an existing customer, you will enjoy the improved matches immediately. Temporarily, you can download your old list of matches via the Settings tab on the DNA home page. The download is in the form of a spreadsheet.

DNA Circles has also added a feature called DNA Circles. A Circle contains all the AncestryDNA customers that has determined are descendants of a common ancestor. The group share DNA and share an ancestor in their Ancestry Member Trees.

AncestryDNA releases beta: DNA Circles

Before I go on, let me warn you that this feature is reserved for DNA customers who are also paying for an subscription. Businesses like annuity-type revenue. Microsoft would rather you buy a subscription to Microsoft Office and pay year-in and year-out, rather than buying a DVD every four or five years. I used to buy a CD of the Chicago Manual of Style. Now, to get electronic access I have to buy a subscription. Businesses like annuity-type revenue. And while is used to that for its website subscriptions, it hasn’t enjoyed that with its DNA offering. You pay for a kit once, and you’re done. With DNA circles, gets a chance for recurring revenues. But I digress… spokesperson, Anna Swayne, says “DNA Circles can potentially uncover new relatives that DNA matching alone would not have found.” I need someone to help me understand that. According to the AncestryDNA website,

Members of this group have a family tree that includes a direct ancestral line relationship to [the common ancestor].

If there is already a paper trail using Member Trees that shows a common ancestor, how do you uncover new relatives? Can’t you use shaky leaf tree hints to see all the trees that share a common ancestor? I’m guessing that Swayne is referencing future functionality, but I’ll ask and see what I can learn.

What is interesting with DNA circles is that some members of the circle are designated tree matches but not DNA matches. (See L.S. in the screen shot below.)

DNA Circle members don't have to match your DNA.

The AncestryDNA website states

Each DNA circle member shares DNA with at least one other member of the circle. These DNA connections create a network of related people and provides genetic evidence of shared ancestry.

For example, Kenny Freestone may share enough DNA segments with P.F. to solidify their kinship through William Grey. And while Kenny may not share matching segments with L.S., P.F. and L.S. may share enough to establish their kinship through William. (Remember that through the generations an ancestor’s autosomal DNA is gradually displaced and the particular portions are different in each child. See “#FGS2014 Conference: Autosomal DNA.”)

This presents an interesting scenario. AncestryDNA can build a bigger picture of William Grey’s DNA. Imagine one day an adoptee takes an AncestryDNA test and AncestryDNA tells him that William Grey is his great grandfather. No tree necessary.

That’s heady stuff. Now if they would only allow you to download the matching segment data…

For more information see

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday Mailbox: FamilySearch Family Tree Manual

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Readers,

Last Monday I told you that I would inquire about the apparently retired FamilySearch Family Tree manual. Here’s my email exchange with product manager, Ron Tanner:

Dear Ron,

Are there any plans for a new Family Tree manual?

--- The Ancestry Insider

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Not as far as I am aware. The manual is being split into various help articles that can be found through the help system.


Other readers also chimed in.

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I believe the FS Powers that Be have decided to put a lot of the FT material into the well-hidden and difficult to use query system that has mostly replaced the Knowledge Document system for which there was no accessible table of contents. The query system results are largely lists of links which, if used, take one away from the main page. This system needs to be broadly revamped to have text right there on the page and arranged in sensible contents outlines instead of more or less randomly accessed by searches.


Dear Ancestry Insider,

I agree with Lucy Whitehead. The manual is very helpful and several of our patrons prefer using the manual compared with spending the time watching a video.

Thanks, Arleen

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Here are the steps to find the FamilySearch Family Tree Reference Guide

1. Sign-in to FamilySearch

2. Click on Get Help > FAQ

3. In the Frequently Asked Questions Box type “user guide” and click on the magnifying glass

4. Ciick on “Family Tree Reference Guide”

The query returns…

The FamilySearch Family Tree Reference guide can be found at:

Additional Information is given for Members (this only appears if the patron signs-in with an LDS Account username and password).

The Reference Guide hasn’t been update since 18 October 2013. The patron is generally better off searching for task specific knowledge articles which are maintained regularly.

Allen Forsyth

My thanks to all who helped.

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dumbfinding Census Enumerator

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.”

In 2000 the census showed that 12% of Chautauqua County, New York was Swedish. Fortunately, 93.0% of the county spoke English.1 The census enumerator wasn’t so lucky in 1870.2

Swedes Can't Talk and More Swedes Can't Talk

Obviously, the enumerator didn’t understand patronymics. The children of Swedes Can’t Talk should have had surname Swedeson and Swedesdotter. The neighbor’s children would have been Moreswedeson and Moreswedesdotter.

You are dumb if you can’t speak. You’re not dumb or dumb if you can’t speak another’s language. But if the enumerator finds you can’t speak his language, are you dumbfounded?

Darned dumbfinding enumerator.


     1.  Various authors, “Chautauqua County, New York,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia (,_New_York&oldid=624976731 : 10 September 2014, 18:21).
     2. 1870 U.S. Census, Chautauqua County, population schedule, Busti, p. 36, dwellings 341-2, families 309-310; digital image, FamilySearch ( : accessed 4 October 2014), New York > Chautauqua > Busti > Image 36 of 48.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ancestry Insider Ketchup: 20 November 2014

Ancestry Insider KetchupLot’s of things to write about. No time to do it. Time to ketchup…

The MyHeritage Library Edition is now available for free at family history centers. See the announcement on the FamilySearch blog.

I love the full color records has started publishing on their website. Look at this example. I see nine different colors of penciling or ink on it. They can give lots of hints about how a record was processed. These are absolutely beautiful., you’re awesome.

A full color gravestone application on

For Veteran’s Day, republished a great infographic from Fold3. The posting said:

With Veteran’s Day approaching, it is a good time to take a look at your tree and identify those who served. Our infographic from Fold3 gives you a handy guide to for possible birth years of veterans and what wars they might have served in.


Last week, told me that they were releasing something new this week for AncestryDNA. Unfortunately, this week’s articles had to go “to press” before they released the information. Next week I’ll have to let you know what they said. Or check the DNA articles on the Blog.

Have you heard yet about the “Global Family Reunion” scheduled for 6 June 2015 in New York City? The founder, A. J. Jacobs, is coming to Salt Lake City as a keynote speaker at RootsTech and FGS 2015 conferences. Jacobs is a best-selling author, Esquire magazine editor, and an intelligent, laugh-out loud speaker. See the RootsTech website for more information.

I don’t generally deviate from my editorial focus of and FamilySearch. But I am drawn to free stuff. To see the latest free databases from the New England Historical and Genealogical Society (, visit Included in the usual list are several databases available for free only temporarily:

FamilySearch has been making some significant changes at the Family History Library. Reference desks have been removed. In their place is a comfortable welcome area and space for consultation stations. FamilySearch will give those buzzer/pager thingies to users awaiting consultations. This allows users to continue their research while waiting for help. FamilySearch has also added Discovery Areas containing scanners, recording booths, and children's’ area (where you’re not supposed to leave your children :-).

New welcome area replaces reference desk

For more information, see “Exciting New Changes at the Family History Library” on the FamilySearch blog.

I’m out of time… Stay tuned…

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Happy Birthday, FamilySearch

Photograph of candles on a birthday cake
Credit: tiverylucky,
Last week FamilySearch hit an impressive milestone. The 13th of November 2014 was the 120th anniversary of the founding of FamilySearch International, previously known as the Genealogical Society of Utah.

Congratulations, FamilySearch!

For more information, see “120 Years of Pioneering Genealogy” on the FamilySearch blog.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

FamilySearch Announces Retirement of

Photograph of a street sign pointing to either work or retirement
Credit: Stuart Miles,
Last week FamilySearch announced that starting 1 February 2015 FamilySearch would cut access to (NFS). Instead, users will have to access the information through FamilySearch Family Tree. This is a step toward the eventual retirement of FamilySearch thinks that may occur in early 2016. (My experience is that software always takes longer than anticipated.) At that time, FamilySearch will break the link between NFS and Family Tree.

Users are looking forward to that day because Family Tree suffers from some limitations imposed on it by the link to NFS:

Reaction to the announcement has been mixed. One commenter, Christy Satfield, said “Goodbye nFS. You served us well! Many thanks to your creators!”

Another commenter, Alan Tennuchi, said “What a blow this is as NFS is FAR easier to read than the FS site. Even though you cannot add or change anything on the NFS site, I prefer to search it to find information.”

Users expressed a second reason to keep access to NFS. It gives a window into incorrectly combined records. Since NFS doesn’t have a Change Log like Family Tree, users depend on a special page in NFS, the combined records screen, to see what the two records looked like before they were combined. This allows users to manually recreate the two records in Family Tree with the correct information for both their own ancestor as well as the other historical person.

A third reason to use NFS is to identify the sources for a particular fact. If that source was an extracted record from a high quality source, then the film and batch numbers could be used to identify it.

I’ve had a fourth reason why I’ve used access to NFS. It is the only way to see the vital records stored in the membership records of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Regarding the first concern, my experience is that FamilySearch (and respond well to specific, well articulated, detailed descriptions of how an old and a new system differ and why the old system is better.

FamilySearch employees and other users responded to the second concern. We have to remember that NFS was built largely on second-hand information from the Ancestral File, International Genealogical Index (IGI), and Pedigree Resource File. A user, Heather McPhie, said that “instead of going to the combined records screen of NFS, why don't we go to the original sources of NFS…As genealogists, we are always taught to go to the original source.” Ron Tanner, FamilySearch product manager for NFS and Family Tree, echoed the suggestion. “Research your ancestor, then you know what the data should be. Then put that data into that person [in Family Tree].”

According to Ron Tanner, FamilySearch will address the third concern by migrating IGI sources to Family Tree. FamilySearch has already migrated user attached sources.

I found an answer to my own concern. In FamilySearch’s “Dealing With Duplicate Records of People in Family Tree, A FamilySearch White Paper,” dated 21 June 2012, and (as of this writing) available at, FamilySearch says:

If someone changes a record after it is combined, the system stores the change on one of the involved records. The system can [arbitrarily] choose any of the records: the combined record or any of the records inside of it. There is no way to specify where the system should store the change.

Consequently, if a record is combined, and then someone changes it, the system chooses one of
the records and stores the changed information on it.

So while I thought I was looking at pristine membership records in NFS, the information may have been inadvertently changed. I shouldn’t have been using NFS for this reason in the first place. (The same is true for any of the records shown on the combined records screen. If you use NFS to fix incorrectly combined records, you are basing your corrections on information that may no longer reflect the source.)

While users made various rebuttals, I think FamilySearch can address the concerns.

RootsTech, FGS, NGS Program Announcements

I’m a big proponent of genealogical education through attendance at conferences. That’s why I’ve accepted the invitation to be an ambassador for both RootsTech and the FGS annual conferences. And while I strive to keep this blog non-commercial, for RootsTech I am required to give away a free registration ($239 value) as part of a promotional contest. Oh, darn. As you know, I’m into free, big time. If you have ideas for the contest, let me know.

Alex Boye and One Voice Children's Choir are collaborating for the RootsTech/FGS Thursday evening socialRootsTech and FGS have announced the entertainment for the 12 February 2015 evening social event. Alex Boye is teaming up with One Voice Children’s Choir, the stars of his popular “Let It Go” YouTube cover.

Meanwhile, the National Genealogical Society has announced the program for its 2015 conference. The sixteen-page registration brochure is downloadable as a PDF file. The online version of the St. Charles NGS Family History Conference program is also available on the conference website at Registration opens on 1 December 2014.

I know you’re sick of “Let it Go,” but check out Boye’s “Africanized” version. It mixes the song with African rhythms, voices, and instruments. Other examples of Boye collaborations of Africanized numbers include Coldplay’s “Paradise” with the Piano Guys, Pharrell William’s “Happy,” also with the One Voice Children’s Choir. Another example of Boye’s Africanized covers is Lorde’s “Royals.

The One Voice Children’s Choir received national exposure over the summer as quarter-finalists on the NBC hit show, America’s Got Talent. The choir has received numerous awards, including the John Lennon International Music Award, presented by Yoko Ono and George Martin, producer of The Beatles.

For more information or to register for one of these conferences, visit the FGS Conference website, the RootsTech website, or the NGS conference website.

The Ancestry Insider is an official RootsTech ambassador  The Ancestry Insider is an official FGS Conferrence Ambassador

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday Mailbox: Family Tree Manual is No More

The Ancestry Insider's Monday Mailbox

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Is there any chance that FamilySearch will return the Tree manual to Help if lots of us complain?  I don’t want to watch a video when I just need to look something up.

Lucy Whitehead

Dear Lucy,

Interesting. I hadn’t noticed the manual was gone. However, last I’d looked, it was quite out of date.

I’ll try and find out if a new one is in the works.

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, November 14, 2014

Darned Census Enumerators: Harmonica Shea

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.”

Harmonica Shea

Dear Ancestry Insider,

My aunt was named Regina Monica Shea. She didn't use Regina and signed herself  “R. Monica.” The 1900 US Census for Lawrence, MA lists her as “HARMONICA SHEA.”


That’s funny. That poor census enumerator.  The informant probably said “R Monica” and the enumerator heard “Harmonica.”

Harmonica Shea in the 1900 U.S. census

Interestingly, there really is a “Harmonica Shea” (although it is a nickname). You can find him in the collection, “U.S. School Yearbooks, 1880-2012.”

Harmonica Shea in the Hudson, Wisconsin 1938 high school yearbook

Wednesday, November 12, 2014 Updating Search Form

Last week announced new changes are coming to its search form. The change to the basic search form is slight. is replacing the link “Advanced Search” with “Show More Options.” Changes to the advanced search form are more significant. They’re moving to a style more like Compare the top of the search form:


with the top of the form:


Both now use the same user interface for specifying life events and names of related persons.

Despite the similarities, it is important to remember that the two use radically different paradigms. provides an All search. They return results that match all of the search terms. provides an Any search (by default). They return results that match any of the search terms, listing first the records that match all of the search terms. This behavior can be altered by setting the “exactness” of each search term. You can make your search an “All” search or a hybrid, for maximum flexibility.

For more information about the changes, see “Using the Updated Search Forms,” by Amy Crow, on the Blog.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Monday Mailbox: Identification of People in Photographs

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

My husband JOHN CRAGUN is a descendant of Elisha Cragun. It was interesting to know we are related to the Osmonds. But as I followed the links you provided, the picture of Elisha included is a different Elisha, son of James Cragun. I  know it is in Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah.

Elisha died in 1847. When was photography available?

Someone started identifying an incorrect Elisha (same name) to that photo.

Carolyn Cragun

Dear Carolyn,

Error correction in an “open edit” public community is a tricky thing. You can contact FamilySearch for instructions, but they don't have the resources necessary to investigate what is correct and then impose their decisions on the community. Nor in my opinion, should they. Remember Ancestral File? Corrections took months, years, or were never made. In my opinion, FamilySearch is doing the right thing by throwing the responsibility back to the community. It's the only way to make the system scalable worldwide, across all history. You'll have to follow whatever guidelines they provide for resolving the problem within the context of the community. I can't remember off the top of my head what those are when the disagreement concerns identification of persons in photographs.

Should FamilySearch allow anyone to change that? What if the person who originally provided the identification was a reliable eyewitness?

Unfortunately, FamilySearch allows informants to remain anonymous and to provide information without proof. In my opinion, this robs both current and future generations of any means of judging the reliability of information in Family Tree. I understand why they do this. They wish to lower the hurdles dissuading people from participation. It is a difficult balance to strike: the more people FamilySearch involves, the lower the quality of the Tree.

I think a generation from now, when government records are unavailable in many areas of the world, FamilySearch will wish it had immutably captured information provided by eyewitnesses and captured the identity of the informant. That’s necessary for future generations to judge the reliability of the information and prevent eyewitness information from being replaced with erroneous, second-hand information.

---The Ancestry Insider

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Darned Alien Ancestors

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: Darned Alien Ancestors

Are you one of those people who feel like your ancestor must have come from another planet? One of my readers found evidence of his alien ancestry in the 1940 census:

Alien Italian Man in 1940 U.S. Census

Darned alien ancestors!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Donny Osmond to Speak at RootsTech/FGS 2015

A young Ancestry Insider with Marie OsmondMy best friend, Donny Osmond, will be a keynote speaker at the RootsTech and FGS 2015 conferences. Fine. I admit I wasn’t friends with Donny. It was Marie. She was my best friend. To prove my claim. I proffer the evidence to the right. This was taken 1 April 1978, the day Marie and Donny were interviewed by Barbara Walters. Really. I stood behind the camera.

Okay. Maybe she wasn’t my best friend. Would you believe she was a good friend? No? How about a once-in-a-lifetime date? Still no? Would you believe she was a classmate? Alright, alright. She is the first cousin of my youth group leader. I met her once. But it actually was the day she was interviewed by Barbara Walters. And I really did stand distantly behind the camera for one segment. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

To be clear, Marie is not speaking at RootsTech/FGS 2015. But I have to show a picture of Marie because, while I did meet Donny that day, he wasn’t the one I had the insatiable crush on. But I digress…

Donny will be speaking on—Valentines Day—Saturday morning, 14 February 2015. He’s been an entertainer for more than 50 years. The Donny and Marie Show was a regular staple in our house. I loved him in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. (That casting was brilliant.)

It turns out he and his family are also genealogists. “I’m already looking forward to this exciting event,” Donny said. “Family and family stories are obviously very important to me. This is a chance to connect to something that is part of who I am.”

Donny’s genealogy includes two ancestors who served in the War of 1812. As part of their campaign to preserve the pension files from that war, the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ (FGS) have written about them. Donny’s 4th great grandfather, Elisha Cragun, served in the Battle of New Orleans and Samuel Beeler, served in the military in Ohio. (Visit the Preserve the Pensions website if you want to contribute money to the project.)

“Donny will kick off the final day of RootsTech 2015,” says FamilySearch, “taking the stage for what is expected to be the largest RootsTech audience ever.”

For more information visit the FGS blog or the FamilySearch blog. To register for FGS 2015, visit the FGS website. To register for RootsTech, visit the RootsTech website.