Monday, December 28, 2015

Why Buy Family Tree Maker While You Can?

Family Tree Maker sells flatline this week.I’m interupting my vacation again for a post that can’t wait.

When I heard that would no longer sell Family Tree Maker after 31 December 2015 (yes, this Thursday), I went right out and got a copy. Mind you, I don’t have to pay the $69.99 to download the product, but let me tell you why you may wish to consider buying a copy for yourself.

If you keep your genealogy in an Ancestry Member Tree and you plan on keeping it there, you should rush out and buy Family Tree Maker while you can. If you keep your genealogy in an Ancestry Member Tree and you plan on abandoning Ancestry’s trees because of the recent changes, you should rush out and buy Family Tree Maker while you can. Why?

I had bunches of valuable, digital photos on, a photo storage website. When my external harddrive failed, I lost my local copies. I knew of no way to get the photos back from ofoto. When ofoto sold out to Kodak, Kodak implemented a policy of deleting your photos if you didn’t continuously purchase stuff. That I didn’t know about this policy until after they deleted my photos is tragic.

There was a day when the website was so important to Ancestry, they changed their name to It was inconceivable that wouldn’t live in inperpetuity. There was discussion, I imagine, about shutting down, but not When they shut down, many people lost lots of important stuff.

So whether you are planning on getting off or staying on, it is important that you have a local copy of your tree and all the source documents. And you can’t do the source documents by downloading a GEDCOM. If you have attached records from and records and photos uploaded by other users, then it may well be worth $69.99 to download your sources to your local computer. Can you imagine manually downloading all those census images for each family in your tree? That alone overwhelms me.

So if you have an Ancestry Member Tree, you should strongly consider buying Family Tree Maker. But do it no later than Thursday.

If you decide to buy Family Tree Maker, don’t bother going to the website. Ancestry seems to have removed all the purchase links from that website. Instead, go to Or use the links provided on Click “Extras” on the navigation bar, then “Family Tree Maker Software.”

Now, I’m back to my vacation. Happy News Years, everyone.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas - #ASaviorIsBorn

Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays to all of you!

Click to see a short vide, "A Savior Is Born."As is my tradition, I offer as a gift a short (2 minute) video from my church. Click on the photo to the right, or go to

If you’d also enjoy some secular Christmas carols, check out these videos with the Morman Tabernacle Choir:

Sesame Street’s Count von Count enjoys “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with the Tabernacle Choir’s organist.Sesame Street’s Count von Count enjoys “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with the choir’s organist.

”We Need a Little Christmas” - Angela Lansbury and the choir.”We Need a Little Christmas” - Angela Lansbury and the choir.

"Jingle  Bells" and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir”Jingle Bells” – the choir

Merry Christmas - #ASaviorIsBorn

Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays to all of you!

Click to see a short vide, "A Savior Is Born."As is my tradition, I offer as a gift a short (2 minute) video from my church. Click on the photo to the right, or go to

If you’d also enjoy some secular Christmas carols, check out these videos with the Morman Tabernacle Choir:

Sesame Street’s Count von Count enjoys “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with the Tabernacle Choir’s organist.Sesame Street’s Count von Count enjoys “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with the choir’s organist.

”We Need a Little Christmas” - Angela Lansbury and the choir.”We Need a Little Christmas” - Angela Lansbury and the choir.

"Jingle  Bells" and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir”Jingle Bells” – the choir

Monday, December 14, 2015 Announces Retirement of Family Tree Maker Family Tree Maker 2012Each year I take December off. Each year without fail or FamilySearch makes a major announcement that needs to be covered. It’s like clockwork. I wonder if they do this because of the seasonal drop off in site usage?

Ancestry is discontinuing sales of its popular Family Tree Maker desktop tree management software. Ancestry will discontinue sales at the end of the month (31 December 2015). It will continue to support the software for one year (31 December 2016). That includes the ability to synch your New Ancestry online tree with your Family Tree Maker offline tree. “You will be able to use the software, exactly as you do now, including TreeSync, for at least the next year,” said Ancestry’s Kendall Hulet. Family Tree Maker will continue to function to some degree past that date.

Ancestry is exploring the possibility of letting other desktop tree software integrate with Member Trees. This has been a major strength that FamilySearch has had over Ancestry. Ancestry is not looking to sell off Family Tree Maker to another company. They are just letting it die. They are looking at adding report functionality to Member Trees. Users will lose substantial report capability with Ancestry’s abandonment of Family Tree Maker.

The timing of the announcement is interesting. The days leading up to Christmas have the lowest usage rate of online genealogy websites. And the announcement was made just days before the shutdown of the Old Ancestry online tree user interface. (That happens tomorrow, by the way.)

Why should you care that Family Tree Maker is going away? How is that bad news? Why did I immediately go out to procure a copy? What do I think about the New Ancestry online tree interface? I’ll try to answer these questions and more in January when I return from my hiatus.

In the meantime, for more information:

Friday, December 4, 2015

Jo Duffy's Darned Confusing Birth

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about the past. Yet sometimes records have anomalies. Some are amusing or humorous. Some are interesting or weird. Some are peculiar or suspicious. Some are infuriating, or downright laughable.

Records are the darnedest things!

(This article is based an Larry Martin’s winning entry to my RootsTech 2016 contest. Congratulations, Larry!)

Josephine Demerris Duffy is Larry’s wife’s late mother who has a darned confusing birth. She and her family always celebrated her birthday on May 17th. But birth records disagree as to the date and place of the birth.

Chicago, Cook County recorded her birth as 17 June 1912, on East Oak Street in Chicago, of Irish parents.

Birth certificate of Josephine Demerris Duffy, Cook County, Illinois, 1912
Josephine Demerris Duffy birth certificate1

According to published abstracts, Cook County recorded her birth a second time, specifying the same date and parents, but with a different birthplace and ethnicity: Cullom and Canadian.

Abstract of birth record of Josephine D Duffy, Cook County, 1912
Josephine D Duffy birth record on Ancestry.com2

There is no town named Cullom in Cook County but there is a Cullom Avenue in Chicago. The 1910 Census shows Josephine’s parents lived on East Oak Street (above their grocery store), however, and not on Cullom Avenue.

John Duffy in 1910 United States Census3

Like any good genealogist, Larry used the database as a finding aid. He has ordered the cited microfilm. When it arrives he will see this:

Josephine D Duffy in birth register4

It is apparent the indexer took “Cullom Avenue” from the wrong line, but where he got “Canadian” from is anyone’s guess. The information in the register matches the certificate. I haven’t shown enough to see, but all surnames on the page start with the letter D and the entries are not strictly chronological. While the opposite page contains additional information, the certificate contains even more.

The Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago, recorded her baptism of 2 June 1912, noting her birthdate as 17 May 1912, with her parents listed properly.

Josephine Duffy baptism record
Josephine Duffy in baptismal register5

The baptismal dates are in strict chronological order for several pages before and after this page.

What do you think? When was Josephine born?

Yes, records are the darnedest things!


     1.  Cook County, Illinois, birth certificate no. 3659 (1912), Josephine Demerris Duffy, County Clerk, Chicago; FHL microfilm 1,288,245. Birth year is not specified, but determined by previous certificate.
     2. Detail from screen image, “Cook County, Illinois, Birth Certificates Index, 1871-1922,” database, Ancestry ( : accessed 27 November 2015), Josephine D Duffy, 1912; from "Illinois, Cook County Birth Registers, 1871-1915," database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 27 November 2015); citing p. 75, no. 3659, County Clerk, Chicago; FHL microfilm 1,287,756.
     3. Clips assembled from "United States Census, 1910," image, FamilySearch ( : accessed 26 November 2015), path: Illinois > Cook > Chicago Ward 21 > ED 913 > image 24 of 57; citing NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.). Don’t snip up your images in real life. It is a violation of Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards: 50th Anniversary Edition, Kindle Edition (Nashville, Tennessee:, 2014), no. 28.
     4. Clips from an image of Cook County, Illinois, “Apr – July 1912, Register of Births, A to Z,” 66:75, no. 3659, Josephine D Duffy, County Clerk, Chicago; FHL microfilm 1,287,756.
     5. Holy Name Cathedral (Chicago, Illinois), baptisms, 1908-1915, Josephine Duffy, Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago; digital image,"Illinois, Chicago, Catholic Church Records, 1833-1925," FamilySearch ( : accessed 27 November 2015), path: Holy Name Cathedral Parish (Chicago: State St) > Baptisms 1908-1915 > image 150 of 246; FHL microfilm 1,578,586.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Pre-Holiday Ketchup

Ancestry Insider KetchupEach year I try to take off the month of December (from blogging). You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re both busy. But before I go, it’s time to catch up.


RootsTech 2016 has announced to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that Family Discovery Day 2016 will feature newly called apostle, Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Ruth. Other speakers include Rosemary M. Wixom, Primary general president and Stephen W. Owen, Young Men general president.

Family Discovery Day 2016 speakers

FamilySearch tree bullet

To speed the publication of newly scanned microfilm, FamilySearch has released a new feature. Soon after scanning a roll of microfilm, FamilySearch will show a camera icon next to the film number in the catalog. Click the icon to see the images from the film. Since films will be published before FamilySearch has added waypoints to facilitate browsing the images, FamilySearch has also implemented a thumbnail view. This allows quick visual identification of volume covers, indexes, probate packets, and the like. Catalog icons also allow searching a single film (once indexed) and ordering the roll for viewing in a local FamilySearch center. Digitized films will not appear in the list of historical record collections until after they have been waypointed, so be certain to check the catalog if you don’t find a collection you need in the collection list. (I’m a big proponent of the catalog. The collection list can’t scale to tens of thousands of collections.)

As before, some images are restricted. Restrictions vary. At their simplest, you must sign in before being granted access. However, many restricted images are viewable only at a FamilySearch family history center unless you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For more information, see “News Flash! Digitized Microfilm: From the Drawer to Your Computer” on the FamilySearch blog.

FamilySearch tree bulletFamilySearch recently announced they are revamping the Memories section of their website. They are adding a Gallery that enhances the ability to add, organize, and view photos, stories, documents, and audio recordings. For more information, see “Coming to FamilySearch! A Memories Gallery to Enrich Your Family Tree” on the FamilySearch blog.

New FamilySearch Memories Gallery

Bullet Ancestry.comAncestry announced the results of their annual Find a Grave Community Weekend. Hundreds of volunteers worked in upwards of 70 cemeteries. They

  • Added 320,935 new photos
  • Fulfilled 10,899 photos requests
  • Added 242,793 new memorials
  • Grew the number of registered users by 3,308

Congratulations and thank you, everyone. For more information, see “Members Fulfill 10,000 Photo Requests During Find a Grave Community Weekend” on the Ancestry Blog.

FamilySearch tree bulletYou know I needed to write a catch-up article when you see news items that are weeks old. I don’t recall ever pointing out the user-to-user messaging system FamilySearch introduced back in August. One of the most frustrating aspects of a collaborative tree such as FamilySearch Family Tree has been the inability to collaborate with users who chose not to make their email addresses accessible. There’s nothing like someone messing up your tree and having no way to discuss with them their changes. Now users can send messages to other users without using email. For more information, see “FamilySearch Messaging on” on the FamilySearch blog. To read about features released in October, see “What’s New on FamilySearch—November, 2015.”

BulletTreeRootsTech has announced that Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kerns Goodwin will be the keynote speaker at RootsTech 2016 on Saturday, 6 February at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Steven Spielberg based the movie Lincoln, in part on her book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. She received her Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. She’s also authored biographies of several other U.S. presidents.

“Goodwin will share her insights into the personal and family lives of past presidential leaders and the influence their ancestors had on their personalities, behavior, decisions, and careers,” said Paul Nauta, FamilySearch spokesperson. “She will also share anecdotes about her own family and experiences which have shaped and influenced her life.” For more information, see “Pulitzer Prize Winning Biographer, Historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, to Keynote RootsTech 2016” on the FamilySearch blog.

That’s all the time I have. See you in January!

Friday, November 27, 2015

AncestryDNA Lowest Price Ever is offering AncestryDNA for only $69 from now until the end of day (EST), 30 November 2015. The promotional e-mail reads:

Only $69

The best sale of the year and the lowest price ever for the most popular DNA test on the market

Have you wanted to incorporate DNA testing into your genealogy and family history research?  There has never been a better time to do so, especially this weekend!

AncestryDNA just announced its best sale EVER! For just $69 (the normal price is $99), you get the most popular DNA test on the market. The sale is going on right now and expires on Monday, November 30 at 11:59 p.m. EST. Click here to start saving!

AncestryDNA Canada Sale

The sale above is good only for US residents. For our Canadian readers, Ancestry DNA Canada is having a sale where you can save 30%. The DNA test is now only $119 CDN through Monday November 30th. Click here for AncestryDNA Canada sale info!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

New Ancestry Soon to be the Only Ancestry

On 15 December 2015 the new Ancestry will be the only Ancestry.

On 16 November 2015 I received notification that “on December 15, the new Ancestry will be the only Ancestry.” This caught me by surprise. went many years tweaking New Search before shutting down Old Search. They spoke often with customers, trying to understand the ways in which Old Search was better. They made numerous tweaks to New Search, as well as all out additions to make it possible for genealogists to continue their old workflow. They didn’t please everyone. And eventually they closed down Old Search. Now, after only months, Ancestry has announced they are cutting off users of Old Ancestry. This is a sad commentary on Ancestry’s ability to service its customers. The comparison of their current practices and their past practices is stark.

Here’s another sad commentary:

Back in 2012 politicians started talking about closing down the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). Because the United States lacks national civil registration, the SSDI is an important tool for genealogists. Long used as a tool to combat fraud, criminals had discovered that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was failing to use it. The IRS failure allowed criminals to file fraudulent tax returns. In the most convoluted logic ever, congressmen started rumbling, “If the IRS is too incompetent to use the SSDI to fight fraud, then we won’t let anyone use it!” To stave off loss of the SSDI, the genealogical community mobilized a petition drive. The goal was to present the White House a petition of 25,000 signatures asking that the IRS start using the SSDI to prevent fraudulent returns. Barely 5,000 genealogists signed it and the government closed access to the most recent three years of this important tool.

Today, has redesigned the tree pages of its website. Customers are unhappy and have mobilized the community to sign a petition to present to Ancestry CEO, Tim Sullivan. Signers proclaim “We, the undersigned, hereby sign this petition to acknowledge that we, do not like the look, style, color, and format [of the New Ancestry.]” Nearly 4,000 genealogists have signed the petition to date and the number is likely to exceed the number signing the SSDI petition.

If all this sad commentary is getting you down, I encourage you to check out a blog post by Kerry Scott that is sure to lift your spirits, at least if you are willing to laugh at yourself. See “14 Reasons the New Ancestry is the Worst Thing Since Unsliced Bread” on her Clue Wagon blog. HILARIOUS!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Monday Mailbox: When an FHC is Not an FHC

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

Recently, a search of the FamilySearch Book Catalog of digital images resulted in the "restricted Image" pop-up message which directed me to a Family History Center to view these images. So I visited the FHC in the Mid-County Library at Port Charlotte, FL. I have used this FHC in the past to order film from FamilySearch & the Library of Virginia.I started with the local volunteer who knew knew nothing about the FamilySearch site, except that film could be ordered by someone else at the library. Next, I spoke to the library film ordering expert; however, she knew nothing about the digitized book access capability at FamilySearch. So I gave them a demo and we received the same "restricted image" pop-up that I had received at my home. Both she & I agreed that the FS server probably was not recognizing their FHC IP address, but she said she would look into the situation. A week has past & I have not heard from the library.

I searched the FS site for some help. By browsing around, I found a document called the "Family History Center Affiliate Agreement" in a section about how libraries could become FHCs. This document clearly states that "restricted images" are not accessible at affiliate FHCs. So I sent all of this conflicting story (including cut & pasted images of the pop-up & Affilliate doc) to the FamilySearch Help center. I have not received a response, but I can no longer find the "Family History Center Affiliate Agreement" at FS.

This conflicting information from FS is quite tedious & frustrating. That I have not received a reply from the Help center is very surprising to me, but I really have only one interest. That interest is this: Should my local FHC be able to access "restricted images"or not? If the answer is no, why does the pop-up direct me to go to a FHC to see these images?

Dave Woody

Dear Dave,

Among many genealogists, “Family History Center,” refers specifically to a family history center owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is especially true of employees and volunteers of FamilySearch. These are different from public and institutional libraries who have established an affiliate relationship with FamilySearch (AKA the Genealogical Society of Utah) giving them film-loaning privilege. These public libraries are not considered “Family History Centers,” even though it is possible to rent films there from the Salt Lake City Family History Library.

A topic in the help system mentions the document you referred to, and answers the question you had:

The authorized agent of a public facility is sent the Genealogical Society of Utah Affiliate Library Agreement. … Patrons of approved affiliate organizations can order unrestricted microfilm and microfiche on loan to view at the affiliate organization. Books and CDs do not circulate from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Access to additional family history websites is not part of the affiliate agreement. Additional access to restricted images on is not part of the agreement.

(See “Public Libraries, Archives, or Genealogical Societies Requesting Affiliate Status,” FamilySearch [ : accessed 22 November 2015], search help system for “affiliated libraries.”)

I recently learned that FamilySearch does not officially claim the name “Family History Center” as a trademark. I guess it is because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will not allow trademarks of such generic phrases. In officially reviewed communications, FamilySearch does not use “Family History Centers” (uppercase) as a proper noun, but “family history centers” (lowercase) as a common noun. Unfortunately, that leaves Church owned family history centers without a name that distinguishes them from family history centers owned by other organizations. FamilySearch should create a new name and use it throughout its products, to prevent the confusion you’ve experienced.

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, November 20, 2015

Darned Federal Birth Certificates

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about the past. Yet sometimes records have anomalies. Some are amusing or humorous. Some are interesting or weird. Some are peculiar or suspicious. Some are infuriating, or downright laughable.

Records are the darnedest things!

Notification of Birth Registration for David Hankins McCauley

Some time ago I came across an interesting blog post by Linda McCauley: “Did the U. S. Federal Government Register Births?” Linda has in her possession an official certificate from the Bureau of the Census (shown above) that documents the birth of her father. It gives his name, the date and place of birth, and it names his parents. It is signed by official authorities.

How do you feel about using this source as evidence for this birth?

  • Source (original or derivative): Is this an original, government document?
  • Information (primary or secondary): Did the informants have primary (first hand) information?
  • Evidence (direct or indirect): Does it provide direct evidence concerning the birth?

The more we learn and understand the records we use, the better our conclusions will be. As part of her evaluation, Linda took the time to understand this source. What is this darned record? Why was it created? Who created it? Where was it created? When was it created? How did they get their information?

With a little poking, Linda learned about notifications of birth registration. According to the Census Bureau:

The “Notification of Birth Registration” form, issued by the U.S. Census Bureau during the first half of the twentieth century, is not a birth certificate. The U.S. Census Bureau designed this form in 1924, at the request of various state vital statistics offices, to promote the accurate registration of births in the United States. The notification was completed and sent to parents of newborns when the state office of vital records received information on the birth and made up a birth registration record. If parents found errors in the information shown on the form, they were asked to correct them and return the form so the state’s record could be corrected accordingly. The notification was used until the late 1940s and then discontinued once states were keeping satisfactory birth records. The U.S. Census Bureau does not maintain these records.1

Now, how do you feel about using this source as evidence?

Linda pursued acquisition of the original from the state. However, instead of a facsimile of the original, the state sent her a so-called “short form” abstract.

Now, how would you feel about using this source as evidence? How would you compare the strength of these two sources? Are the two independent? Is there any advantage to having both? What can be learned by comparing the two?

Yes, records are the darnedest things!



     1.  “Open Government and FOIA: Birth Records,” United States Census Bureau ( : accessed 14 November 2015), search for “Birth Records.”
     Image credit: Linda McCauley, “Did the U. S. Federal Government Register Births?” Documenting the Details, 27 April 2011 ( : accessed 14 November 2015), digital image of Bureau of the Census, “Notification of Birth Registration,” David Hankins McCauley, 1926, privately held by Linda McCauley, 2011.

Thank you, Linda, for your permission to share your record.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

RootsTech Contest Deadline

Click for more information about RootsTech.Remember that tomorrow is the contest deadline for the Insider’s RootsTech 2016 Giveaway. Send me an example of a darned record. Darned records are funny, weird, unique, cool, or awesome. Extra credit is given if the example is instructional. I must receive it before the end of the day, Friday, 20 November 2015, Mountain Standard Time.

The prize is a $249 three-day pass. RootsTech 2016 will be held 3-6 February 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

For complete contest rules, see “RootsTech 2016 Free Pass Contest.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bad Merges in Family Tree

Two cars merge badly in an intersection.I was affected again by a bad merge in FamilySearch Family Tree. Someone had merged a Tilford in Virginia with a Telford in Ireland to produce a monstrosity of a person with a gaggle of children. Mysteriously, this man bounced back and forth between Virginia and Ireland, using the Tilford spelling for all children born in Virginia and the Telford spelling for all kids born in Ireland. Hmmm. What an odd fellow.

I can’t watch all my relatives so I didn’t know the merge had occurred until it was too late. Rather than undo the merge, people had come in and made various repairs. It was no longer possible to undo.

I have often spoken of the indiscretions of FamilySearch’s past, accusing them of bad automated merges. Perhaps because of this I’ve received a message on the topic from one of FamilySearch’s engineers, Randy Wilson.

“Machine merging was done very carefully [when the New FamilySearch tree was created],” he said. “[There is] a lot of empirical evidence showing that errors were less than 0.5%. There have been a lot of bad merges done in the system, to be sure. But almost all of the bad merges I have seen (and I've seen a lot of them) have been caused by users, not the machine.”

I hope he’s right. He’s one of the brightest fellows I know. (And he’s a relative and I’d like to believe intelligence runs in the family.) But there’s something that gives me pause: Ancestral File.

My perception was that Ancestral File was a mess. I thought the first release was especially messy. No one can be blamed besides FamilySearch. Users couldn’t make any changes, good or bad. Only FamilySearch can be blamed.  I think my perception was shared by many genealogists.

“Yes, AF had some bad merges, too,” Randy said. “The actual number wasn't as bad as the user perception, because common ancestors happened more and got merged more and common ancestors also get seen by users more, because, well, they're common. So you get a ‘squaring effect’ of the bad merges being especially visible there.”

Are the software engineers of today somehow smarter than the engineers of the 1990s? Randy Wilson said

There was, in fact, a big difference between the merging algorithms used for Ancestral File…and those used in New FamilySearch. The former used "probabilistic record linkage" with simple field-based features, using parameters derived from statistics on a few hundred labeled pairs of records. The latter used far more advanced neural networks with 80,000 labeled pairs of records, with 20,000 more used to verify accuracy and select thresholds. I don't know if the engineers are "smarter" than in the 1990s, but the algorithms used sure are, and the engineers did have more extensive training in machine learning than before. In particular, we had a few Ph.Ds with a background in machine learning and neural networks working on it this time (me, Dallan Quass and Spencer Kohler).

Frankenstein genealogy results from incorrectly combining recordsIs there something about genealogical data that inherently leads to incorrect merges? Perhaps the ramifications of a merge depend on how clean the data is to begin with.

I can imagine two identical pedigrees, each sprinkled with Frankenstein monsters or extra generations or random pedigree errors. (See my article, “Frankenstein Genealogy.”) A machine algorithm is let loose on the two pedigrees. I can image the machine could become confused or react in unexpected ways.

At the very best, the machine cocks the gun. Then some naïve genealogist comes along and pulls the trigger.

Image credits:
       shuets udono, photograph of auto accident of two cars in an intersection in Japan, Flickr ( : accessed 18 October 2015). Used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.
       “Frankenstein Genealogy,” The Ancestry Insider ( : 23 March 2011).

Monday, November 16, 2015

Monday Mailbox: What is a Record?

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

When Ancestry or FamilySearch says they added "100 million new 'records'" what are they really describing?

As an example, you have one census sheet.  It has six households, of twenty-four rows of names, with eight columns of personal background for a total of one hundred and ninety-two cells of raw data.

So does that census sheet represent 1, 6, 24, or 192 "records" according to Ancestry and FamilySearch?

amiable 160

Dear amiable 160,

You’ve hit upon an amazingly complex question and a particularly confusing case.

When FamilySearch first published its U.S. census collections, the published record counts (found on were quite a bit smaller than its competitors. That raised questions as to whether they had published the entire census, or were they still indexing it, or had they accidentally missed some of the microfilms. A comparison of the record counts showed they were similar to the record counts of the old censuses from way back when Ancestry published just the names of the heads-of-households. So had FamilySearch published just the heads of households? I helped index for FamilySearch, so I was very much aware that we had indexed all the names.

Apparently, FamilySearch defined a census record as a household, while Ancestry defined it as a single row.

Well, overnight the FamilySearch numbers all jumped up to the same neighborhood as Ancestry’s. For your example, the answer is 24—if every row is used. As a side question, why are the record counts on the two sites not exactly the same? How does a website go about losing persons? I can only imagine that both organization do it. If so, there are some records on each that are not present on the other.

Another counting anomaly practiced by FamilySearch is that when they announce the total size of their collection the number is about two billion larger than the number arrived at by adding up all the record counts on the collection list. You have to listen very closely to what they say to understand the discrepancy. When they want the size of their collection to sound big, they announce the number of names, not the number of records.

I’ve spoken before about my dislike for name counts. (See “Unbelievable Name Count Claims” and “Name counts in table-style databases” for examples.) Name counts can miscommunicate in so many ways. After several of my editorials against Ancestry’s use of name counts, Ancestry stopped using them prior to going public. Bravo, Ancestry.

Someone recently noticed that their record counts for their “Select” series of databases obtained from FamilySearch are quite a bit higher than the record counts reported by FamilySearch. Presumably, they have reverted to name counts for these databases. Or perhaps Ancestry or FamilySearch created a database record for each indexed name.

That brings me back to your question. What is a record?

I’ve explained before how Ancestry defines them. It varies by collection type. See “What is a record?” for details.

For FamilySearch, you must read the announcement wording carefully. The most recent example is “New FamilySearch Collections Update: November 9, 2015.” It has a column titled “indexed records” and one titled “digital records.” I believe the latter is actually images of genealogical records. In early announcements, that is how that column was titled. (See an example on the FamilySearch website.) An image is a digital record. But it isn’t a record of a single genealogical event. Sometimes there are multiple records on an image (such as two marriage licenses on a page).

I don’t know for certain what “indexed records” on that announcement means, but I have a theory. FamilySearch’s announcement for the week of 13 July 2015 (see “New FamilySearch Collections: Week of July 13, 2015” on Dick Eastman’s blog), stated they added 47 million indexed records to “United States GenealogyBank Obituaries 1980-2014” collection. Yet the collection list states that the collection has just 16 million records. I don’t have internal knowledge explaining the discrepancy, but I think it lies around the odd way that obituaries are indexed. When you index an obituary, you index each name in a separate row, which I think results in a separate database record. My theory is that the number on the announcement is just what it says it is, “indexed records,” while the number on the collection list is what you would expect it to be: number of obituaries.

Short question. Long answer.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015 Releases Mexico Collection has a new website for Mexicans and Mexican Americans.During last month’s Dia de los Muertos celebration, released a major new collection: “Mexico Civil Registrations of Death.” There are 87 new databases thus far in the new collection. Ancestry’s announcement reads, in part:

We are pleased to announce the launch of new online services that will help Mexicans and the estimated 34 million Mexican Americans* research their family history.

More than 220 million searchable historical records from Mexico, including new birth, marriage, and death records dating back to the 1500s are now available on the Ancestry site, many of them important historical records never before available online.

Civil registration began in Mexico in 1859. Like vital records in the United States, compliance took a few years. Registration was strictly enforced starting in 1867.

These new records are being made available in part through collaboration with the Mexican Academy of Genealogy and Heraldry based in Mexico City and FamilySearch International.

I believe it has existed for some time, but Ancestry also debuted the Ancestry Mexico site.

In another first, the new Ancestry Mexico site will provide a Spanish language experience tailored specifically to Mexicans and Mexican Americans…

Ancestry has been working hard over the past few years to help people of Hispanic and Latino origins discover, preserve and share their family history by making important collections from Mexico searchable online to get them started.

“The new service really unlocks for the first time online, family history research for Mexicans and Mexican Americans, whether you prefer to speak English or Spanish,” said Todd Godfrey, Vice President of Global Content at Ancestry.

For more information, read

Monday, November 9, 2015

Monday Mailbox: SSDI

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

Wondering if you have any information on when the SSDI might be updated. It’s almost a year behind, and that’s creating many problem.


Dear Unknown,

I hate to be the bearer of bad news. So, I’ll let Judy Russell do it. See “SSDI access now limited” and her blog.

Bottom line: The SSDI will continue to fall further and further behind until the first quarter of 2017, when it will be three years and up to three months behind. It will then plateau and we will start to see updates, but it will always stay that far behind. Then at some future point our beloved congress will take it completely away from us.

The Ancestry Insider

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Water Bottle Dream

I had a dream that my dishwasher deformed my water bottle. Do you believe in dreams?

2015-10-31 11.17.00_thumb[6]

Thursday, November 5, 2015

RootsTech 2016 Free Pass Contest

RootsTech 2016 will be 3-6 February 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah.RootsTech 2016 will be held at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 3-6 February 2016. Some of the hotels have already sold out, so I thought I better have my contest for a free, 3-day pass sooner than later so one of you lucky readers can make your plans early. Seating in computer labs is more limited than hotel rooms, so these sell out extremely quickly. Sponsored lunches sell out as well. They are a bit pricy ($29), but you get to hear a speaker in a relaxed atmosphere and you get to chat with other attendees at your table. At a conference luncheon earlier this year someone volunteered to help me with my Vermont brick wall, so the lunch was well worth the price.

With a 3-day pass to RootsTech you get access to

(There are extra charges for add ons: sponsored lunches, computer labs, and the Wednesday networking event. Family Discovery Day requires separate registration.)

Here are the rules for my free pass contest:

  • Send me an example of a darned record. What is a darned record? See examples from my past articles. Darned records are funny, weird, unique, cool, or awesome. Extra credit is given if the example is instructional. For example, two birth certificates for the same person, each with a different date, instructs us that no record, no matter how trustworthy the class of record, is beyond examination.
  • I’ve published many funny names from censuses, so that get’s a little old. If you submit a funny name from the census, it better be really interesting. Darned records of other types might catch my interest better. 
  • Write up an article about the record, ready for publication on my blog. By submitting your idea, record, or article, you give me permission to publish it, but it wouldn’t hurt for you to explicitly state that you are giving me permission.
  • I might edit (“rewrite”) the article to match my style. (That offends some people.)
  • I will list your name at the top of the article, “By So-And-So.” Tell me how you would like your name to appear.
  • Attach an image of the record. If the record is online, also send the URL.
  • Include a citation for the record and any other sources used. Don’t worry about it being encyclopediacticly correct.
  • Begin the subject line of your email with “Contest Entry: ” followed by a good title for the article.
  • Submit your entry to I must receive it before the end of Friday the 20th, November 2015, Mountain Standard Time. The gmail timestamp will be the official time of receipt.
  • If you’ve previously submitted a record and I have published it, you can still enter that record into the contest. Instead of writing an article, point out the URL of the published article. You will be eligible only if I can find your original email.
  • If you’ve previously submitted a record and I have not published it, submit it again, following all the instructions above.
  • Employees of FamilySearch are not eligible.
  • I will choose the winner by how awesome I think the record is, how well I like your article, and how well you followed these instructions.
  • I reserve the right to change the rules if a situation comes up that I didn’t foresee.

I’ll try to review the entries over the weekend and promptly inform the winner, but I make no guarantees. If you’ve already decided to attend RootsTech, go ahead and buy the pass, labs, and luncheons now. If the winner has already paid for RootsTech, I can arrange for you to get a refund.

I think there were no more than a dozen entries last year, so your chances of winning are extremely good.

I hope to hear from you!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

RootsTech Announces 2016 Opening Keynote Speakers

Last week RootsTech announced the keynote speakers for the opening session of RootsTech 2016, to be held February 3rd through the 6th at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’ve warmed up considerably to non-genealogist speakers. They have been informative, funny, moving, and inspiring. They’ve brought in perspectives we sometimes don’t get when we draw exclusively from within our community. And they draw into our community, attendees that might otherwise have had no contact with genealogy.

Paula Williams Madison - author, filmmaker, and retired NBC executivePaula Williams Madison
Author, Filmmaker, and Retired NBC Executive

Paula Madison is chairman and CEO of Madison Media Management, a retired NBCUniversal executive, and the author and filmmaker of Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China.

Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China, is a compelling documentary that chronicles her journey to her maternal grandfather’s homeland in China and the reconnection of her family with his 300 descendants. HarperCollins published a memoir on the journey, Finding Samuel Lowe: China, Jamaica, Harlem in April 2015.

Honored for corporate leadership and community outreach, Madison was named one of the “75 Most Powerful African Americans in Corporate America” by Black Enterprise magazine in 2005 and included in the Hollywood Reporter’s “Power 100.” She’s also been honored by Asian organizations, having been recognized in 2014 as one of the “Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business.”

Bruce Feiler -  best-selling author and New York Times columnistBruce Feiler
Best-selling Author and New York Times Columnist

Bruce Feiler is a New York Times best-selling author, columnist, and frequent contributor to NPR, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. His most recent book, The Secrets of Happy Families, is the result of a personal three-year journey to find the smartest and most novel solutions to make his own family happier.

Bruce Feiler’s New York Times article, “The Stories That Bind Us,” is quoted more by speakers from both and FamilySearch than any other article I’m aware of. In the article he reports on the positive effects a knowledge of family’s history has on children.

The Secrets of Happy Families, is a bold playbook for families today. It collects best practices for busy parents from some of the country’s most creative minds.

Stephen T. Rockwood - President and CEO of FamilySearch International Stephen T. Rockwood
President and CEO of FamilySearch International

Steve Rockwood is the newly appointed president and CEO of FamilySearch International, the largest genealogy organization in the world and host of RootsTech 2016. Prior to working with FamilySearch, Steve was a successful entrepreneur, creating unique services for worldwide customers such as MasterCard International, AT&T, Disney, Office Depot, and Citibank among others.

Most recently, Steve served as director of the international division at FamilySearch. More than half of the members of FamilySearch’s sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, live outside the United States. All of us involved in international aspects of FamilySearch’s services have loved his leadership and what he has accomplished for international Church members.
Tune in tomorrow to learn about my contest to give away a free, 3-day pass to RootsTech 2016.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Monday Mailbox: vs. Census Search

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

I am trying to create a specialized research project on African-Americans in 1910 of Precinct 8, Saint Lucie County, Florida. I have tried several ways to search through Ancestry. The results are very strange and sometimes I get 157,000+ from all over the U.S. I used the "Lived In" search. It appears that although they use Precinct 8 as a town, it does not recognize it in the search function. Is there a better way? I also changed it from Black to Mulatto to Colored, etc.

Thank you
Pam Cooper

Dear Pam,

I think you’ve hit upon the source of the problem. When you select a location from the drop down list, you get what is sometimes called a standardized location. As you’ve seen, Ancestry’s standardized locations don’t identify locations down to the precinct level. When a non-standardized location is specified, they fallback to a different way of handling locations. Back when I was at Ancestry, the fall back was exact search. “Precinct 8, Saint Lucie, Florida” would have worked in this situation. “Precinct 8, Saint Lucie County, Florida” would have failed. Back then, “Exact” meant exact. Today, an exact search for “Precinct 8, Saint Lucie, Florida” matches anything, anywhere with an “8” in it! How helpful is that?!

Your only choice is to avoid their fallout—oops, I mean fallback—methodology. That means you are forced to select “Saint Lucie County, Florida, USA” from the standardized locations. How then do you limit results to Precinct 8? Fortunately, there is a way. has a cool feature that does not. It has often helped me out of pickles like this. It is called Keyword search. I specified “Precinct 8” (including the quotes) In the keyword field and I selected Exact. This search appears to have worked, returning just 105 blacks. You’ll want to compare the results with the images to see if there are other values of race that you want to include.

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if you could just download the results into a spreadsheet? has a cool feature that does not: download results. The equivalent search on returns 107 blacks. On FamilySearch, doing an exact search on location worked the way I expected. Why 107 results instead of 102? On FamilySearch I had to select a standardized value for race. Perhaps mulatto or colored was standardized as black. Or, since FamilySearch and Ancestry use different record processing and different search engines, Ancestry may have lost two records.

To use the download results feature, you must first create a free account and login. Once logged in, you can click the Export button and FamilySearch opens a spreadsheet containing the results. Probably to prevent piracy, you must repeat this step on each page of results. Crank up the number of results to 75 before you begin. Unexpectedly and unfortunately, the results don’t contain all the fields that indexers extracted. That’s a shame. Despite the download, you’ll still have to go record by record to get all values, such as race, that you need.

Lessons learned:

  • Whenever possible, select locations from’s standardized list.
  • Remember Ancestry’s exclusive keyword search feature.
  • Try FamilySearch’s handling of place names when Ancestry fails.
  • Utilize FamilySearch’s exclusive result download feature.
  • When you can’t find a result on one of these websites, try the other.

The Ancestry Insider

Friday, October 30, 2015

Darned Pitfalls in Records

Genealogy can be scarry.Tom Jones shared a quote in his NGS 2015 conference presentation that I liked and thought I would share. Helen Hinchliff said,

The reconstruction of families and ancestral lineages is an intellectual exercise far more complex than any inspired novice can imagine. … [There are] pitfalls into which the cautious can stumble and the more trusting can drown.

Source: Helen Hinchliff, “Pitfalls in Genealogical Research: Michael Mumper Reexamined,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 82 (March 1994): 50.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Ancestry Maelstrom

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Readers,

My article “ at Banking Conference – Part 2” elicited some pretty deep felt emotions. I reported on a presentation by’s Howard Hochhauser. His assertion that New Ancestry had not alienated their core base drew sharp rebuttals from several of you. (See the comments to the article.)

Here’s a comment from Amy Fitzgerald:

The report about new ancestry is total hogwash. Maybe the insider should start reading the ancestry blogs and facebook comments posted by real customers. This is a one-sided, ancestry influenced report. Pretty transparent.

I appreciate Charmaine Ortega Getz coming to my defense:

The Insider's report is just about what Ancestry claims, not what anyone else does or does not know to be true. It's what Ancestry is claiming at a meeting at which it obviously hopes to look good to people it wishes to impress. Which is not long-time customers. It's the kind of thing I'd expect a company to say that is short-changing its customers but wants to reassure potential investors that all is well.

Thanks, Charmaine. As the old saying goes, “Don’t shoot the messenger.”

Keep the comments coming, just avoid personal attacks. It’s probably healthy to vent a little steam. I hope at the same time you’re also giving actionable critiques. One of you pointed out how Notes used to work, how they work now, and the result: lower visibility and increased click count. Bravo. That is actionable. Keep those comments coming. And just in case Ancestry product managers are too busy to read your comments here, make certain you also submit them through Ancestry’s official channel.

Ancestry Is In It For the Money

When interpreting the ratio of negative comments to positive comments, remember that satisfied people rarely, rarely come out and state such. While I can't remember ratios, as an insider I've witnessed the phenomena. For each dissatisfied comment you're seeing, there may be 500, 1,000, perhaps 10,000 satisfied customers who remain quiet. Believe me that Ancestry is watching renewal rates very, very closely. I have no doubt there are people cancelling or failing to renew. I have no doubt they can tell you the change in revenues down to the penny.

They're in this for the money. If the radical changes of New Ancestry increases their profits, they will adopt them wholesale. If radical changes decrease profits, they will back off some. But folks, the switch to New Ancestry is going to happen.

It’s Going to Happen

They have aging infrastructure that has to be replaced at some point. Their suppliers quit supporting old operating systems. (Ever tried to get a bug fixed in Windows 3.1 lately?). Tool vendors abandon old products. (When was the last upgrade to the Lattice C compiler?) Hardware manufacturers stop providing replacement parts. (Ever tried to get replacement parts for your 5-1/4 inch floppy drive?) Software engineers retire. (Have you ever tried to make bug fixes to a decrepit, bandaged Cobol program?) Cheaper alternatives become available. (Are you availing yourself of any free cloud storage?) Technologies advance. (Have you priced handling peak website loads with Amazon Web Services?)

Non-actionable complaints may push off the inevitable. But I say again, folks, this switch is going to happen whether you like it or not. Now is the time to get New Ancestry working more closely to the way you want.

But remember, eventually they have no choice.

The Ancestry Insider

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review: Unofficial Guide to

Unofficial Guide to by Dana McCulloughWhen I first heard about the book, Unofficial Guide to, I expected I wouldn’t like it. That was many weeks ago and I don’t even remember why. As it turns out, I like it. A lot. I consider myself pretty familiar with, but even I learned from this book.

I received a PDF copy for review, which is part of what I really like about this book. I’m converting more and more of my library to digital format so I can carry it with me where ever I go. I’ve marked it up extensively using the annotation features of Adobe Reader. I hope the PDF available to the general public doesn’t require Adobe Digital Editions. Adobe Reader has more natural reading control and has much more sophistical markup capabilities.

One weakness of a book about a website under current development (as is), is the shifting sand upon which it is built. In the short months since the book’s release has changed a dozen or more, mostly minor, features explained in the book. The book’s instructions on deleting a person from FamilySearch Family Tree no longer apply. (FamilySearch no longer allows users to delete persons. They want users to merge instead. Only imaginary persons should be deleted and this must be done for you by a support representative. But I digress…) As another example, the book does not explain user-to-user messaging. I’m hoping the publisher, Family Tree Books, finds a way to offer free updates to purchasers of the eBook editions. I think that is one of the powerful opportunities made possible by eBook publication.

Perhaps the biggest reason I like this book is because author Dana McCullough does more than explain how to use She does so in the context of teaching how to do genealogy. For example, the “Getting Started” chapter briefly introduces the features of, but then immediately launches into genealogy basics. She counsels readers to start by recording what they already know about parents, grandparents, and so forth. She then instructs readers to start looking for documents, beginning in their own home. The first chapter continues with information on organizing your records, creating a research plan and research log, and citing your sources. At that point she returns to the topic of, with specific instructions on establishing a user account.

Dana closes the first chapter, as she does all chapters, with a short “keys to success” list and a helpful checklist to use when applying the principles taught in the chapter.

In the second chapter, “The FamilySearch Family Tree,” I was uncomfortable with her treatment of the one, shared tree concept. In her paragraph introducing Family Tree she states that “whether you’re viewing a family tree you created or one someone else posted, the information you can view on each person remains consistent across all family trees.” Does that sound like one, shared tree to you? She later explains that “you can search for family trees others have posted on the website by going to the Family Tree tab.” Again, this sounds like multiple trees.

She’s eight pages into the chapter before she obliquely addresses the one, shared tree concept. After she says “you can post your family tree for free on” she warns that “as you create your tree, keep in mind that anyone can change anything in any family tree on this website. So if you create an ancestor listing in your tree, someone else researching the same family could go in and update or change the information for each ancestor.” Nowhere did she try to teach the concept that this is a single tree representation of, someday perhaps, all recorded mankind.

Author Dana McCullough really understands the FamilySearch ecosystem. FamilySearch enables other companies to extend the capabilities of FamilySearch Family Tree. On p. 20 she explains the Tree Connect bookmarklet from The bookmarklet automates creation of Family Tree sources. This level of detail shows that Dana has done extensive research so that her book is the best it can be.

As I mentioned, Dana goes beyond teaching about She teaches about genealogy. Starting with chapter 5, she teaches about different, albeit mostly US, record types: census, vitals, immigration, naturalization, military, probate, court, and more. She even suggests some key, databases. As I also mentioned, a challenge of writing about a constantly changing website is currency. Dana provides lists of available record collections, but these are quickly becoming out-dated.

I have a bunch of nitpicks. This is a review, after all.

  • The PDF was a bit wonky in organization. When I opened this book, I looked for publication, copyright, and printing information on the back of the title page, but it wasn’t there. After reading the book for days I happened across it inside the back cover.
  • It also seems from the PDF version that the book begins chapters on left-hand pages. Is that true of the print edition? It feels weird.
  • My “go to” test for polish in a PDF book is page numbers. Has the publisher gone to the extra effort of making the logical page numbers (the ones in the box up on the toolbar), match the page numbers printed on the pages? That’s the kind of finishing touch that a truly professional publisher makes. This book’s publisher did not. If I want to jump to page 100 and I enter 100 in the page number box, I land on another page.
  • I think FamilySearch doesn’t do a good enough job explaining how users could use the Reason Statement field offered whenever users make a change. On p. 44 in the illustration of adding a source, Dana’s answer to the question “Reason this source is attached[?]” is “Listed in record.” I think we’re missing an opportunity to supply a proof statements or short proof summary. I think the question being asked is really “Why do you think this record applies to this person?” This decision is the atomic conclusion upon which all correct genealogies are built. If the source provides direct evidence with no contradictory evidence, the answer may be a simple sentence or two. “The name, birth info, and parents’ names on the record match what is in the tree.” Again, I lay the blame for this shortcoming on FamilySearch, not Dana. She addresses this concept admirably on p. 67.
  • On p. 65 I’d like to have seen more hints on how to find records in unindexed collections.
  • On p. 81 I think she missed the point that the Indexed IGI results are actually regular, old historical records that can be accessed via the normal historical records search.
  • Unfortunately, when acknowledging the contributions of FamilySearch’s Robert Kehrer, she calls him Richard.

Yikes! I’ve run way too long and still have so much I could say about this book.

The author, Dana McCullough (Milwaukee, WI,, is a former assistant editor at Family Tree Magazine. She currently is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes and edits content on genealogy and higher education topics. She has written or edited content for twenty magazines and has contributed to the editing of eight books. Her writing has been published in Family Tree Magazine, The Artist's Magazine, Family Circle, Brain Child, Better Homes and Gardens' Simply Creative Weddings, My College Guide, The Iowan, Wisconsin Woman, and Scrapbooks, etc., among other national and regional consumer magazines. Dana has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Iowa State University..

This book is available for review on Google Books and for purchase on Google Play.  It is available in paperback and Kindle formats on Amazon. It is available in paperback and PDF formats on ShopFamilyTree, brought to you by Family Tree Magazine.

Unofficial Guide to How to Find Your Family History on the Largest Free Genealogy Website
9.1 x 0.6 x 7 inches, 240 pp., paperback. 2015.
ISBN 1440343284
Family Tree Books
$12.99 Kindle
$15.33 Google eBook
$25.99 Paperback/PDF list price, plus shipping.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015 at Banking Conference – Part 2

On 30 September 2015’s Howard Hochhauser gave a presentation at the Deutsche Bank Leveraged Finance Conference. This is the second part of my report. I reported the first part last week.


Content is KingWhile helping acquire new customers, new content is also what it takes to retain existing customers. About 70% of Ancestry’s content is unique to them. That content is divided between content under exclusive contract and content that has been contributed by subscribers. They have 70 million trees with seven billion nodes and a million DNA profiles. This year Ancestry will spend $30 to 35 million to digitize new content. They digitize the content and put it on servers in Salt Lake City. Ancestry has spent $10 million on the probate and wills collection to digitize and index it.

Today they are digitizing content in Mexico and Germany. The content they digitize there (Germany? both?) is exclusive to them for 40 (14?) years, creating a huge barrier to entry for other companies.They’ve invested $30 million in content there.

Other Offerings

They have acquired or built adjacent properties: (acquired), (built), fold3 (acquired), and Ancestry ProGenealogists (acquired). About 5 to 6% of their subscribers buy a super-subscription including the first three for an incremental cost of about $10. They bought ProGen for just a million dollars but have grown it into a $10 million business.

He estimates that is about 80 to 85% of their business, but it depends on how you calculate the other business units.

New Ancestry

New Ancestry took about a year and a half to build and is designed to add value, retain existing subscribers, and get more people into the service. The old site appealed to genealogists. The new site is more visually appealing. The old site was, essentially, a spreadsheet of the facts about an ancestor. Using machine learning, the new site is essentially a story about an ancestor. When you radical change your product, you run the risk of aliening your core base and that hasn’t happened. Test data shows that it has increased retention among their core base.

About half of their subscribers are using New Ancestry. They have tried forcing people into the New Ancestry to see if cancel rates change and have seen it doesn’t. They will not force a hard cutoff [near term]. Eventually they will. There have been complaints, but overall it’s been a net positive.

People are uploading photos and accepting more hints in a dramatically higher fashion with New Ancestry. They think that will increase the amount of bill through.

Health and DNA

Ancestry built their DNA offering from scratch. This year it will roughly be a $70 million business. It will be profitable this year. Roughly 10% of kit sales convert into an Ancestry subscription. That will be 60 to 70 thousand new subscribers.

They also want to launch a health product and a licensing business for research companies to mine the DNA data without personally identifiable information. (Doesn’t our DNA uniquely identify us? Hmmm.) This provides a new avenue of growth for Ancestry. They signed their first licensing deal this year. It is a multi-million dollar contract.

They launched a family health history beta website this year ( From the beta site they will learn if customers will trust them with their health history. The customer will be able to store their family’s health history for free.

That’s it for my report. Listen to the presentation for yourself at

Image collage originals accessed 3 October 2015: Douglas County, Nevada birth certificate (, false colored. Weber County, Utah marriage certificate ( Sacramento County, California death certificate (

Monday, October 19, 2015

Monday Mailbox: RootsTech 2016 Conference Class Schedule

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I can't seem to find a [RootsTech 2016 class] schedule online. I'm wondering if there's anything I'd want to attend on Wednesday.

Heidi C.

Dear Heidi,

This is a case where they’ve hidden the link to the schedule in plain sight. Go to In the middle of the page are three pictures. For a year my brain dismissed these as window dressing, but I finally noticed they are clickable. Click the one on the left labeled “2016 Classes” (marked by the yellow arrow, below).

The three photos in the middle are clickable.

Or you can click Schedule at the top of the page. Here the challenge is the wording in the box on the left. Click “Browse & Search.”

Or just click here.

Remember, today’s the last day to register for the early bird discount.

---The Ancestry Insider