Friday, January 30, 2015

No Posterity? Buy Some!

I regularly get chided for my failure to proofread. I guess I’m not the only one blind to my own typos. A friend forwarded this email to me.

Typo: Only 100 kids available!

Gosh! I’ll say that’s miraculous!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Personal Message from Tim Sullivan

2015 New Year's message from's Tim SullivanI logged into my account recently and received a personal greeting from Tim Sullivan, sent just to me and 2.7 million of his closest friends.

To the Ancestry community,

You had an incredible year in 2014, showing more commitment and passion than ever for discovering your family story.

Here at Ancestry, we worked hard this past year to make our service even more useful, rewarding, and fun for you. Last year, we launched more than 2 billion new global records, helping fuel discoveries in over 67 countries. Nearly half a million people took an AncestryDNA test to learn about their unique ethnic mix and to connect to hundreds … or even thousands of newfound genetic cousins. And more people than ever enjoyed the convenience of discovering and sharing their stories on the go with the Ancestry mobile app.

Good News: 2015 promises to be one of the most exciting in our own family history.

In the coming months, we’ll be introducing features that let you tell richer, more personal life stories about your ancestors, adding historical context around the times and events that shaped their lives. You’ll also see a new way to engage with other Ancestry members around a shared ancestor, helping you make new discoveries and collaborate like never before. If you’ve taken a DNA test, you’ll experience some new types of discoveries made possible by the groundbreaking DNA science and research teams. And everyone who visits Ancestry will find a simplified, easier-to-use site that puts important information front and center to make family stories the focus.

Most importantly, we will continue to add to the world’s largest online collection of family history records and content. Look for exciting additions like 170 million searchable images of probate records and wills that might reveal your ancestor’s dying wishes, all vital records from Virginia since 1900, substantial releases from Germany, and a milestone collection of almost 80 million Mexico Civil Birth, Marriage and Death records spanning from 1860 to modern day.

At Ancestry, we’re proud of all that we do to help you bring your family story to life. We think that this year’s new content and features are going to make the world’s leading online family history service even better.

Best wishes for the year ahead,

Tim Sullivan

Dear Tim,

Thanks for the message. Hope you and I and all subscribers have a great year.

---The Ancestry Insider

Monday, January 26, 2015

Attention Impulse Buyers: End of #FGS2015 and #RootsTech Discounts

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

If you’re an impulse buyer who has been waffling over attending either the FGS or RootsTech conferences, I’ve got news.

Today is the last day to obtain early registration discounts! Both conferences extended their deadlines from last Friday until today, 26 January 2015. Both conferences are being held at the same time (February 12th to 14th) in Salt Lake City, Utah.

For FGS conference registration, today’s discounted price of $159 will save you $30 over registering tomorrow and $80 over registering at the conference. (That’s an important point for you procrastinators. If you decide to attend at the last minute, you can show up and register at the conference.) FGS also offers a one day pass for $89.

For RootsTech registration, today’s discounted price of $159 for a 3-day pass is an $80 savings over registering later. I’m sad to report that the popular—and free—RootsTech Family Discover Day is sold out. (Family Discover Day is a program for members of FamilySearch’s sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) RootsTech offers other registration options, such as a $19 one-day pass for a “Getting Started” track. See a table of offerings on the RootsTech website.

Which conference should you attend? Consult the class schedules to see what topics each conference offers. You can download preliminary (meaning a few things may have changed) class lists in PDF format for either the FGS conference or RootsTech. You can read current schedules online. The RootsTech schedule page is capable of showing both RootsTech and FGS classes, although I would consult the FGS conference schedule page as the final authority. And you can read the schedules on the FGS app (iOS or Android) or the RootsTech 2015 app (smartphone or laptop).

Special topics may inform your choice of conferences. If you are an officer of a genealogical society, consider attending the FGS conference’s society day. (FGS stands for Federation of Genealogical Societies.) If you are a librarian, consider attending the FGS conference’s librarians’ day. If you are a technologist or businessman, consider attending the RootsTech Innovators’ Summit. If you are a beginner wanting an inexpensive option, consider RootsTech’s Getting Started track. The Getting Started pass is also the way to go if you’re only interested in attending the keynote sessions and the RootsTech evening entertainment. (All FGS and RootsTech attendees can attend the keynote sessions and the RootsTech evening entertainment.)

If you can’t decide between the conferences, you can sign up for both by paying an extra $39.

The keynote speakers are Tan Le on Thursday, Laura W. Bush and daughter Jenna Hager on Friday, and Donny Osmond and A.J. Jacobs on Saturday. The evening entertainers are Alex Boye, One Voice Children’s Choir, the cast of BYUtv’s Studio C, and American Idol runner-up David Archuleta.

RootsTech/FGS speakers and entertainers include Laura Bush, Jenna Hager, Donny Osmond, David Archuleta, and the cast of Studio C.

Other News

I have other news for FGS conference attendees. FGS has fixed the problem that prevented some registrants from using the Plan Your Sessions option on the account page. Look for the button underneath the list of purchased items. And the FGS syllabus is already available for download. Look for the button above the list of purchased items.

Location of buttons for syllabus download and session planner

The WDYTYA Live conference in London has been the biggest family history conference in the world, with onsite attendance of up to 15,000 attendees. Last year, FamilySearch said there were 13,000 people in attendance onsite at RootsTech 2014, over 10,000 more online, and an anticipated 130,000 additional attendees at local, RootsTech-affiliated conferences. Add FGS conference attendees, and this year will be the largest family history event of all time!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Darned Records: Mickey Mouse’s Vitals

If you thought Mickey Mouse was born at the Disney Studios in California in 1928, the Disneyland Hospital in Chicago, Illinois may beg to differ. He was born there in 1918. And who knew that he’s dating a mouse with the same name as his mother. The registrar, perhaps fearing his job, chose to remain anonymous. (Thank you, Sarah Stoddard, for providing this birth certificate.)

A parody of a birth certificate of Mickey Mouse

Next is Mickey’s obituary. Mickey Mouse is very much alive, so’s record of his obituary is very much in error. has erroneously posted an obituary of Mickey Mouse.

You might ask yourself how this happened.

Over the years, companies have tried to develop automated algorithms that allowed machines to read and understand text. This is more than OCR. It is more than Word putting blue wavy lines under common grammatical errors. It is called natural language processing. And it is really, really difficult. Mickey’s obituary is a case in point. The software took an obituary of Ralph Kent and turned it into an obituary of Mickey Mouse. I would have provided a hotlink to the botched obituary, but, as I’ve pointed out before, many of the links in the United States Obituary Collection are broken.

Lessons learned:

  • You can’t safely use a record unless you understand it. In this case, knowing that a machine used natural language processing to extract information from free form text is key in understanding its evidentiary value.
  • Record abstracts are suspect. Like any derivative, consult the original.

Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things!”


     Birth certificate image: Cook County, Illinois, birth certificate no. 6153 (1 January 1918), Mickey Mouse, County Clerk, Chicago; image provided by Sarah Stoddard. This birth certificate is a parody of Mickey Mouse. See “Fair Use,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia ( : 8 January 2015, 16:06 revision), “Fair Use and Parody.”
     Obituary image: “United States Obituary Collection,” automated extract, Ancestry ( : accessed 10 January 2015), search for Mickey Mouse; citing Boston Herald, online edition ( : 16 September 2007); the link did not work on 10 January 2015.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

FamilySearch Releases More Record Hints

FamilySearch releases new record hints

On 23 December 2014 FamilySearch released new record hints. “Users of the Family Tree may wish to visit their ancestor pages again and see if any new hints are displayed,” said Robert Kehrer, FamilySearch product manager. Unlike’s system which continuously updates record hints (its shaky leaves), FamilySearch record hints are calculated at one point in time and then released to the public. The new release includes 14 million new hints reflecting:

  • new or updated persons in FamilySearch Family Tree
  • new or updated record collections
  • improved algorithms

“In the days since this data release, users have set new daily highs in the number of sources they have attached to the Family Tree and the number of new persons added to the tree from historical records. With the vast number of daily additions to the Family Tree tied to historical documents, the Family Tree is becoming one of the largest and most accurate genealogical trees in the world,” said Kehrer.

For more information, see “More Names Now Available with Family Tree Hinting Updates” on the FamilySearch Blog.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

FamilySearch Clarifies? Shutdown

Some of you are aware that FamilySearch Family Tree has a predecessor: (NFS). NFS is not used much, as it was never available to the general public and has been read-only for more than a year. Last November, FamilySearch announced it would turn off NFS on 1 February 2015. (See my blog article, “FamilySearch Announces Retirement of”)

Consequently, I was surprised when FamilySearch announced last week that “the website was recently closed down.” I checked the URL ( and found that was not true. It was still there and still bore the announcement of a 1 February 2015 shutdown:

Message currently on

I thought last week’s announcement was confusing in another way, as well. The Q & A portion of the announcement starts with this:

Q: Why have the engineers decided to shut down before it and Family Tree are separated[?]

A: The new.FamilySearch database and Family Tree have always been separate databases. We cannot shut down one and start the other, especially when they are so different. To address this issue, we’ve allowed a period of time where the two databases are synchronized. This means that data can be entered in one and it will show up in both databases…

I think FamilySearch is really trying to answer two questions at once. Here’s what I think they are trying to say:

Q: Why have the engineers decided to shut down before it and Family Tree have separate databases?

A: and Family Tree already have separate databases. However, the two databases are synchronized. This means that data can be entered in one and it will show up in both databases.

Q: Why are the two synchronized?

A: Using Family Tree is very different from using We could not shut down and start the other without confusing users, especially since the two are so different…

I wish the Q & A had several more questions and answers.

Q: Will shutting down remove the limitations that synchronization has imposed upon Family Tree?

According to the message currently on, the answer is “no.”

In early 2016, will be completely shut down.

It is important to note that many highly desired features of FamilySearch Family Tree cannot begin to be developed until has reached the final milestone and is completely shut-off. Once that has happened, work can begin on features such as:

  1. Merging of gateway ancestors and other people with large records. [The public calls such a person an IOUS.
  2. Highlighting and fixing other data eccentricities, such as when a person appears to have been married before birth, a child older than a parent, a child who is the spouse of parent or grandparent, and so on.
  3. The ability for users to change the gender of an ancestor.
  4. The ability to see a spouse’s ancestral line by default.

That leads me to ask another question:

Q: What is the difference between shutting down and completely shutting down

The message currently on again provides the answer:

On February 1, [2015] all public … interfaces…will be turned off, as will be the ability to access the program. [In other words, isn’t going away, just public access to it.] This step is necessary as we enter the final phase, which is to transfer and synchronize all of the remaining data from to FamilySearch Family Tree. It is anticipated that this final phase of data testing, transfer, and retesting will require a year to complete. Once this phase is completed in early 2016, will be completely shut down.

That leads me to my final question:

Q: What is the “remaining data” to be transferred and synchronized?

The answer might be this information from the Q & A and a comment posted online by Ron Tanner.

To help users identify the actual individuals who were combined in new.FamilySearch, we are planning to create sources on each person in Family Tree that refer to the original AF, PRF, and IGI records. (Q & A.)

We will be migrating the IGI sources from NFS over into Family Tree. These sources will link over to the records which contain the film and batch numbers. (Ron Tanner.)

That’s exciting. I can’t wait for these sources to be added to Family Tree, as well as the ability to clean up the problems in Family Tree.

To see the remaining questions and answers, see “Why Was Turned Off: Frequently Asked Questions.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

FGS/RootsTech Conference Preparation

RootsTech App ImageSmart phone apps are available now to help you plan your time at the 2015 FGS and RootsTech family history conferences, 11-14 February, in Salt Lake City.

According to FamilySearch,

The new RootsTech 2015 conference app is now available to download, giving you access to all of the conference information, including classes, exhibitors, speakers, and more.

With the conference app, you can:

  • Create a personalized class schedule.
  • Find speaker information.
  • Discover exhibitor details
  • Connect with other conference attendees.
  • Tweet and post your favorite quotes and pictures at RootsTech.
  • And more!

Plan for RootsTech 2015, and download the RootsTech 2015 conference app today at the [Apple] App Store and Google Play.1

I tried out the app with good success. They need to increase the resolution of the map of the exhibition hall; as is, it is illegible. Last year the app was also available via HTML, which was nice for laptops or Windows mobile phones. I didn’t see any mention of that this year.

View the entire announcement on the FamilySearch blog.

There’s been no announcement about the conference section of the FGS app, although it does exist. But it may not be ready for prime time. As I write this, the app has a couple of problems. The session schedule doesn’t show Saturday. And the session planner locked up. The app is available for iOS and Android.

The lock up was probably because I added the FGS conference to my RootsTech registration. I asked FGS about not being able to use Plan My Sessions in this situation. The conference registrar informed me that she can do nothing for me.

If you plan to attend the FGS 2015 conference (remember it is co-located with RootsTech this year), now’s the time to register. FGS recently reminded us that

The early registration discount for the 2015 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference ends January 23. Early registrants pay $159 for the full four days. The online registration price increases to $189 after January 23. The cost to add-on RootsTech remains $39. Register now to pay the lowest registration price.2

That’s this Friday, so don’t delay. As you make your travel arrangements, be aware that the FGS classes on Wednesday are genealogical society related. View the entire press release on the FGS conference website.

Genealogical conferences are an important education opportunity and these are two of the best. I hope to see you there!

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


     1.  Chad K, Schumacher, “New Scheduling Tools are Now Available for RootsTech 2015,” FamilySearch ( : 9 January 2015).
     2.  “2015 FGS Conference Early Registration Discount Ends January 2,” PDF file, Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference 2015 ( : 9 January 2015) > press releases.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Actual Cause of Death

It is well understood that birth information on death certificates is secondary. But for death and burial information, they generally provide primary information. Does that mean they are always right?

Consider the case of William Henry Malloch, died 10 August 1920 in Milltown, Charlotte, New Brunswick. The death certificate specifies one cause of death. His burial date suggests quite another.

Death certificate of William Henry Malloch of New Brunswick

Which date is wrong? How do you know?

As Tom Jones has said, “Conclusions about whether evidence is or is not correct results from aggregated evidence, not source-by-source assessment… A source’s accuracy is unknown until the researcher has accumulated enough evidence for tests of correlation—the comparison and contrasting of sources and information to reveal points of agreement and disagreement.”1

Darned clerking errors! Yes, records say the darnedest things!

Thank you, William Romanski, for this example.


     Image: “New Brunswick Provincial Deaths, 1815-1938,” index and image, FamilySearch ( : accessed 1 January 2015), William Henry Malloch, 10 Aug 1920; citing Milltown, Charlotte, New Brunswick, death certificate 004641, Provincial Archives, Fredericton; FHL microfilm 2,134,614.
     1.  Thomas W. Jones, “Skillbuilding: Perils of Source Snobbery,” Board for Certification of Genealogists ( : accessed 1 January 2015); citing OnBoard 18 (May 2012): 9-10, 15. See also, “The Genealogical Proof Standard,” Board for Certification of Genealogists ( : accessed 1 January 2015).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Reconstructing the DNA Past

Reconstructing the Genome - AncestryDNAAs DNA becomes an ever more important tool, some of us are wishing we had a DNA sample from a long gone ancestor. But using DNA of enough of their descendants, it is possible to partial reconstruct their DNA. Ancestry.con recently talked about an example.

“By using genetic material of living people, AncestryDNA has reassembled pieces of the human genome from a man named David Speegle and his successive spouses…who lived in the early 1800's Alabama,” said the AncestryDNA press release. “The team was able to piece together fragments of genetic code from David Speegle and his spouses Winifred and Nancy for roughly 50 percent of the length of the human genome.”

To learn more, watch a video explanation by AncestryDNA’s Julie Granka and Catherine Ball.

Julie Granka explains identification of David Speelge DNA fragments

For more information about the science behind AncestryDNA, see a page on their website.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 Releases Android Find A Grave App

“We’re in the holiday spirit today so what better way to celebrate that spirit than to announce our official release of the 1.0 version of Find A Grave for Android, free in the Google Play store,” said Michael Lawless of “With nearly half of our users having a preference for Android devices, we hope this release will unleash your inner graver.”

Cemetery map from Find A Grave app for Android  Memorial photos from Find A Grave app for Android

Read the announcement yourself on the blog.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Darned Records: When You Let Gollum Index

imageYou remember Gollum, don't you?

“Yes, precious, we hates little hobbitses.”

That's the one.


This is what happens when you let Gollum index:
Source: “United States Census, 1880,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 1 January 2015), William L We-Hates, Virginia, Union, Dakota Territory; from p. 8 (handwritten), lines 26-32, NARA microfilm publication T9 (National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C.: n.d.), roll 115; FHL microfilm 1,254,115.

While this is an obvious indexing error, most are not so easily discernable. You’ve heard me say it before. Always check the image!


Darned Gollum!

Thank you, Larry Webster Turner, for sharing this example.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

FamilySearch Eliminates Photo Duplication Service

FamilySearch Family History LibraryFamilySearch recently announced that it has discontinued its Family History Library online photo duplication service. Users could previously request no charge copies of individual images from microfilm or fiche, copies of records, or pages in books. This was a great service and I am sad to see it go. FamilySearch cites the availability of online digitized films and books as the reason.

I think publication only increases the need. I’ve come across poorly digitized images on and I’ve had the luxury of running across the street to the Family History Library and copying single pages from microfilm. Most people can’t do that. They’ll have to pay for an entire roll of microfilm to be delivered to their local family history center when all they need is a couple of images. Some flawed logic also suggests another reason. As FamilySearch publishes more and more of its books and microfilm, more and more of what’s left can not be published for legal reasons. That increases the need for the photo duplication service. (The flaw in that logic is that the absolute number of unpublishable books and films doesn’t increase.)

FamilySearch suggests that in place of using this service for microfilm that is not available online, order the microfilm in your local family history center. I endorse this as being a more sound research methodology. As I’ve highlighted recently, you need to view a record in context to see surrounding content.

For books, FamilySearch advises using the OCLC WorldCat link in the FamilySearch catalog to see what nearby library has the book you need. Some may be available via interlibrary loan. I think the NGS book collection is available via the St. Louis County Library. Otherwise, a library may be willing to copy a few pages for you. For hard to find family history books, I advise you check libraries with large genealogy collections. I know the Allen County Public Library has a photo duplication service and for a reasonable fee will copy a few pages for you. I don’t know about the DAR library in Washington, D.C. or the NEHGS library in Boston. The Library of Congress is also one to check.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

FamilySearch Considers Alternatives to Double-Blind Indexing

FamilySearch IndexingI don’t know how I missed this, but FamilySearch recently talked about alternatives it is considering to the double-blind indexing currently employed by FamilySearch Indexing.1 Currently, two indexers independently key the contents of a record. If there are differences, the record is sent to a third person—an arbitrator—who indexes the record after viewing the information provided by the two indexers.

Katie Gale, FamilySearch spokesperson, gave four alternatives:

  • For easy to index records, such as typewritten records, FamilySearch might employ single keying. Results would be audited and if the quality dropped below some threshold, peer review or arbitration would be added. “Research shows that using this process for easy projects produces an index of comparable quality to the traditional double-key-plus-arbitration process with less than half the work,” wrote Gale.
  • FamilySearch might use single keying with review. After indexing, a second, more experienced indexer will review the results. If he disagrees, he specifies what he thinks the information should be. Then, instead of sending the two values to an arbitrator, both values are saved. When published, the record could be found by searching for either value.
  • For easy to index fields, FamilySearch might single key particular fields. For example, indexers rarely disagree when indexing a sex field. Even when applied to just a few fields, when millions of records are involved, single keying yields substantial savings.
  • FamilySearch might allow exceptional indexers to index without second keying and without arbitration. I don’t wish to pat myself on the back, but I used to spend considerable time researching hard to read names. I’d look at the neighbors, find the neighborhood in another record set, and identify the illegible name. Then it hit me: the arbitrator wasn’t going to put in the same level of effort. My hard work was as likely to be discarded, as accepted by the arbitrator. “As volunteers gain significant experience and expertise, they sometimes reach a point where review or arbitration of their work actually increases the likelihood of introducing errors,” wrote Gale. (Italics in the original.) Audits would be employed to ensure quality.

Look for these advanced methods when FamilySearch releases its new indexing system, sometime next year.


     1.  Katie Gale, “Magnifying Volunteers’ Gifts: A Progress Report,” FamilySearch [Blog], 4 August 2014 ( : accessed 29 November 2014).
     Image credit: “Media Library,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, website ( : accessed 29 November 2014), search for “young woman indexing.” Copyright © by Intellectual Research, Inc. Used with permission: “You may post material from this site to another website or on a computer network for personal, church-related, noncommercial use unless otherwise indicated.” See “About the Media Library,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, website ( : accessed 29 November 2014). Also, “We encourage members to use the images on the Media Library on their blogs and personal websites.” (

Monday, January 5, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Share on Message Boards

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Readers,

In a submission to my RootsTech 2015 contest, Bettye Hutchinson Short shared an interesting contact that came about because she posts on message boards. Thanks, Bettye.

---The Ancestry Insider

Share on Message Boards

The most unusual contact I have ever made regarding my family came as a result of sharing frequent posts about my family on message boards and also entering memorials on Find-a-grave, now appearing on

An individual currently living in the family home in Illinois found me through these sources.  They advised me that they took the wallpaper down in the family home and found two signatures written in pencil under the wallpaper.  I was able to identify who these women were based on the approximate time the original wallpaper would have been put up

There is no way that this individual could have found me if I hadn't been making these postings because they were not actual family members.  I also found it extremely interesting that someone would go to that extent to get information about a family that was not directly related to them.  They also requested that I would endeavor to find a picture of the home when it was originally built in approximately 1860.  So far I have not been able to do this for them.

I have made a lot of contacts because of my willingness to post information on the boards, some others almost as interesting as this one. I would really encourage others to do this as well.  The information that you post when establishing a memorial is especially helpful because you can link other family member's gravesites to these memorials.  An individual could probably trace most of my family by using the links on the gravesites alone.

Bettye Hutchinson Short

The Ancestry Insider is an official RootsTech ambassadorFor more information about RootsTech, visit