Tuesday, March 31, 2015

NARA Suspends Ancestry.com Scanning Operation

A NARA staff member retrieves documents at the Lee's Summit, Missouri location.On 16 March 2015, Twitter user “RM Cooper” posted, “Ancestry’s doing a digitization project with our WW2 records. Person caught ‘improperly handling/attempting to destroy’ attachments to WW2 registration records. Ancestry canned them and they’ve been barred from NARA. So they’ve suspended those projects while they attempt to assess what’s been done and how/if they can fix it…I just hope it was an isolated incident and the person didn’t really get to destroy anything.”

In a copyrighted story on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website, Tim O’Neil reported that the Ancestry.com employee was behind in productivity and attempted to catch up by throwing away some records. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) staff recovered all the lost records. NARA suspended Ancestry.com projects at five sites, including the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, where the incident occurred. NARA has since allowed Ancestry.com to resume operations at two sites.

You can read O’Neil’s entire article on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Last Day for #NGS2015GEN Discount

Don’t forget. Today is the last day to get a discount for this year’s annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. The conference is 13-16 May 2015 in St. Charles, Missouri. Early bird registration saves money. For more information see page 15 of the registration brochure.

The AncestryInsider is an official blogger for the NGS 2015 Family History Conference.

Monday Mailbox: Home Access to HeritageQuest

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

We can no longer get Heritage Quest at home on our computer.  We must go to the Library to check Heritage Quest.  That is a real loss for those who are homebound.

Gwen Boyer Bjorkman

Dear Gwen,

This may have been a misunderstanding by your library. Have them check with ProQuest and they will find they can still offer HeritageQuest for home access. Only the Ancestry Library Edition is prohibited from home access.

Or this may have been a temporary problem.

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, March 27, 2015

Darned Wonderful Color Images

A scanner company recently published an interview with FamilySearch’s Michael Benson, an imaging services operations Manager in their Record Division. Some interesting tidbits:

  • The Genealogical Society of Utah, as FamilySearch used to be called, helped pioneer standards in the microfilm industry.
  • They are using nextScan FlexScan microfilm scanners when they can digitize microfilm on site in archives.
  • In one case FamilySearch is utilizing a volunteer who uses his motorhome as a mobile scanning center.
  • They recently adopted the Nikon D800 digital camera for taking color images.

Read the entire article on the nextScan website.

I’m glad that FamilySearch is moving towards color. Color is an important part of genealogical record analysis. Take this marriage license from FamilySearch.org. (Click to see a larger image.)


What can be learned from the colors in this certificate that would have been lost if this had been photographed in black and white?

As long as we’re in analysis mode, what parts of Percival and Alberta’s story does this record tell that could easily be overlooked? As with any record, the more you understand about a place, the more you can pull out of its records.

Ancestry.com is also using color cameras. Take a look at this example. What can be learned from the colors?

Color image from Ancestry.com collection "U.S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963"

Can you imagine how awesome it would be if FamilySearch, or Ancestry.com, or NARA went back to the early, extant Federal Censuses and re-photographed them in color? All those out-of-focus, or overwritten names brought back to life in vivid color? Wow. How can I convince one of you to do this?

But I digress…

Darned, wonderful color images!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

NGS 2015 Conference Official Blogger (#NGS2015GEN)

imageI’m pleased to announce that I get to help promote the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society as an official blogger! The conference is 13-16 May 2015 in St. Charles, Missouri. The early bird registration deadline is fast approaching: this Monday, 30 March 2015. Early bird registration saves money. For more information see page 15 of the registration brochure.

It looks to me like even more urgent than the early bird registration deadline is accommodations. Eight of nine conference hotels are sold out (at conference rate). I don’t know how many rooms were available at each property, but I surmise that a lot of people have already registered for the conference. I’d get registered while the registerin’s good.

For more information, visit http://conference.ngsgenealogy.org.

P.S. Another official blogger, Jen Baldwin, has done something cool. She’s put together a Flipboard “magazine” which aggregates posts about the conference (flagged with #NGS2015GEN). See it at https://flipboard.com/@jenbaldwin90/ngs-conference-news-l5t2pbkgy.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Does Your Tree Software Care?

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

When you commented parenthetically, "Let’s see how your tree program likes a marriage date after a death date! Or maybe you use one of those programs that doesn’t care, no matter how bad your data is," I immediately thought, "Yes, like FamilySearch Family Tree, which accepts all dates no matter how ridiculous." Just to make sure I wasn't falsely accusing FSFT of such practice, I logged on, found a relative with no marriage date entered and entered a date after the death of the wife. It accepted it, no questions asked.

This has always bugged me. I am not a professional programmer, but I do have some experience writing programs that my chemistry students used. It was easy to program checks for impossible answers that notified the student of the problem. I suspect it would be just as easy for FamilySearch software engineers to do the same for the Family Tree software. Why don't they do it? Do you have any idea?

It really gnarls me that FamilySearch Family Tree is one of "those programs that doesn't care". Oh, and in case you are wondering, I deleted the false marriage date after seeing it was accepted uncritically.


Dear John,

FamilySearch flags a bunch of, what I call, pedigree analysis errors. In the FamilySearch help system, see “Fixing Data Problems in Family Tree.” It says it checks for death year before marriage. I tried the same experiment on the FamilySearch Beta tree that you tried in the real tree. I got the same result. I checked the tree view and found that it does report the error after the fact: “Death Year before Marriage.”

FamilySearch detects a number of pedigree analysis errors.

Bottom line: FamilySearch does not check for errors while you enter information. It does not report the errors in person view. It does report the errors in pedigree view.

Doing this experiment I discovered two other bugs, or perhaps “design flaws.”

The Change Log is advertised as a place to undo erroneous changes. When I entered the bad death date, I subsequently went to the Change Log to undo the change. However, there was no undo button, just the word “Current” (as shown at #1 in the screen capture, below). You must wade through perhaps thousands of changes until you find the second to last time the value was changed. There you will find a “Restore” button (#2, below). What if the value had never, ever, been changed before? There will be no button to undo the change.

These may be bugs in the Family Tree Change Log

Another issue I found, and I don’t know if this is just because I was on the Beta tree, is that my real name was displayed in the change log instead of my display name (as shown by the arrow, #3, above). Why give me a check box to keep my real name private, if you are going to ignore my wishes?

Seems like a bug to me.

Thanks for your question, John.

The Ancestry Insider

Friday, March 20, 2015

Darned Posthumous Marriage

Weber County, District Court, Utah, judicial declaration of common law marriage, civil no. 104900910, Kenneth J. Vanderwerff and Janetta J. Gardiner, 13 September 2010.We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

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

Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

I’m no lawyer, but even I can see there is something really weird about the marriage of Kenneth J. Vanderwerff and Janetta J. Gardiner. Here’s the story as my non-lawyer mind understands it.

Vanderwerff and Gardiner moved in together in 2007, but never married.1 Utah law doesn’t recognize common law marriages without a judicial decree.2 Vanderwerff died on 22 April 2010. Their “relationship was not solemnized as a marriage in any state during Mr. Vanderwerff’s lifetime.”3 As of 22 April 2010, they had never been married.

Gardiner filed a petition asking the court to grant a decree of marriage. The petition was granted on 13 September 2010, making them legally and lawfully wedded. The court can “back date” the marriage to before the decedent’s death. I suppose back dating is needed when the petitioner is seeking survivor benefits or the like and the marriage needs to be effective prior to the death. In this case, that field is blank.4 They became married after Vanderwerff’s death. (Let’s see how your tree program likes a marriage date after a death date! Or maybe you use one of those programs that doesn’t care, no matter how bad your data is.) As of 13 September 2010, they were married.

Relatives of Vanderwerff’s filed various motions with the court, and on 27 February 2012 the court “provisionally set aside the declaration of marriage.”5 As of 27 February 2012, they had never been married.

On 15 March 2012, the court officially set aside the declaration of marriage.6 As of 15 March 2012, they had never been married.

Gardiner challenged and the case went to the Utah State Supreme Court. On 9 December 2014, the court reinstated the 13 September 2010 marriage declaration.7 As of 9 December 2014, they have been married since 13 September 2010.

Darned if records aren’t absolutely necessary to untangle the sometimes complicated knots of our lives.


     1.  Janetta J. Gardiner v. Nedra V. Taufer, et. al., 2014 UT 56, ¶ 2; PDF document, Utah Courts (http://www.utcourts.gov : accessed 7 March 2014), path: Appellate Opinions and Cases > Supreme Court Opinions > 2014 > Gardiner v. Vanderwerff.
     2.  “Utah Code,” database, Utah State Legislature (http://le.utah.gov : accessed 7 March 2014), § 30-1-4.5.
     3.  Gardiner v. Taufer, 2014 UT 56, ¶ 2.
     4.  Weber County, District Court, Utah, judicial declaration of common law marriage, civil no. 104900910, Kenneth J. Vanderwerff and Janetta J. Gardiner, 13 September 2010, District Court’s Office, Ogden.
     5.  Gardiner v. Taufer, 2014 UT 56, ¶ 9.
     6.  Ibid., ¶ 10.
     a.  Ibid., ¶ 34.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Enhancements to FamilySearch’s Personal Trees

Robert Kehrer, senior product manager for search, recently announced enhancements to FamilySearch Genealogies, its personal tree feature previous called Community Trees. FamilySearch Genealogies are searched or submitted from https://familysearch.org/family-trees. To reach that page, click on Search and then on Genealogies.


There are four tree collections in FamilySearch Genealogies:

  • Ancestral File
  • Pedigree Resource File
  • International Genealogical Index from LDS Church member submissions
  • Community Trees

You already know what the first three are. Anyone can upload a tree to the Pedigree Resource File. The ability to have a personal tree on FamilySearch is often overshadowed by FamilySearch Family Tree. You can upload a GEDCOM. If desired, you can then move new persons into Family Tree.

Community Trees is a new addition to FamilySearch Genealogies. They previously resided on the FamilySearch Labs website. It is “s collection of sourced genealogies from specific times and places that have been linked according to family lineages and relations.” See my article, “FamilySearch Community Trees” for more information.

The new search form allows searching all or any one of the four collections. The form has been updated to with the familiar feel of the historical records search form.

Two years ago I complained that this area of FamilySearch.org didn’t have a pedigree view, even though it contained lineage-linked trees. See “Ancestral File Tree View.” This new release fixes that deficiency, as shown above. Like New FamilySearch and Family Tree, it uses the new-fangled couple pedigree instead of an individual pedigree. In my opinion, lines joining four parents to two children is initially ambiguous and confusing. (See the image, below.) But you get used to it.

Lines joining four parents to two children is initially confusing.

A separate person page is avoided by including a panel along the left side. (See the first image of this article). Unlike the classic FamilySearch.org website, which displayed four generations with rich details, this pedigree shows only names and birth and death years.

But overall, this release is a big win.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Librarians Express Concern Over HeritageQuest Changes

The old HeritageQuest interfaceOn 4 March 2015, Ancestry.com took over operation of the HeritageQuest website on behalf of its owner, ProQuest. (See yesterday’s article, “Ancestry.com Did Not Buy HeritageQuest.”) Many parts of the HeritageQuest website were replaced with Ancestry.com technology, including its search engine. These parts including an expanded U.S. Federal census, an expanded book collection, an expanded revolutionary war collection, and Freedman’s Bank records. PERSI and the U.S. Serial Set remain on the old HeritageQuest search engine.

Some librarians have expressed disappointment in the adoption of the Ancestry.com search engine. I took the following quotes from the Librarians Serving Genealogists mailing list

“I taught an intro gen class to archivists last week and when I mentioned the upcoming change there were moans throughout the room. I tried to be upbeat! …I hope that I won't spend a lot of time in the coming days saying ‘what were they thinking.’ It breaks my heart, plain and simple.” —Mary Mannix. “Patrons are now calling in and complaining about the census search.” —Mary Mannix.

The index is a concern: “Personally I always thought HeritageQuest Online did more careful indexing than Ancestry.” —Irene Hansen

“I liked Heritage Quest the way it was, knowing and understanding its limitations, it was powerful in its own ways for census research, not the least of which were (1) indexing that was different than Ancestry’s, and (2) getting results for exactly what I asked, and nothing more.” —Claire Klusens.

“I loved the searches and could never understand why Ancestry for all it costs gives you way to many hits that are of no use and just a huge waste of time.” —Janice Healy

I used to think that enabling exact search was all that was necessary to solve the problem of too many results. As I watch genealogists work, though, I’ve found another important difference between old and new searches: grouping and sorting: “Now one can no longer do a search for, as an example, the number of individuals age 20-29 born in Denmark, Kentucky, etc. who were living in county X in 1880 (which one could do easily with no names in the old version), and then see a nice alphabetical listing of the individuals that fit those parameters - a great way to find those misspelled foreign surnames!” —Michele McNabb

HeritageQuest could change the sort order of the results by any column: “I do wonder why Ancestry can't at the very least allow different sorting functions (by county, date, etc.).”—Martha Grenzeback

And HeritageQuest grouped census results by state and county: “The old method was so much better. I use both Ancestry and HQ when I have difficulty in locating someone. In the old HQ you could search for a surname and it would give you everyone by that surname living in each county of the state. I have found many people this way. Due to the problems with legibility of census takers writing and with transcription errors, this method was very helpful.” —Carla Mellott

On one hand, HeritageQuest had a simple search system: “We had patrons who could not master Ancestry that could search HeritageQuest on their own.” —Susan Scouras

On the other, it was more powerful than the Ancestry.com search system: “I just wish they had left open an area or some way for those who are comfortable with Boolean searches to use them!  Their current search methods are awkward approximations of a correctly structured Boolean search.” —Nancy Ross

One librarian reported why PERSI and the serial set were still on the old system: “I watched a Proquest webinar on the new HQ yesterday. According to that, the only reason those two sections have not been changed was because, in the case of PERSI, Proquest's contract with the Allen Co. Public Library will not give Ancestry access to the data, and, in the case of the U.S. Serial Set, the PDF format is not a format the Ancestry database mode can currently "ingest."  They are working on that one....” —Martha Grenzeback

Most people without complaints, or even pleased with a change, don’t tend to come online and register that opinion. But there are a few positive comments.

“From the customer perspective they are thrilled to bits to have free remote access to the census records.” —James Jeffrey

“I have found an improvement from the old HQ.  The Map Guide to U.S. Federal Censuses 1790-1920, by Thorndale and Dollarhide is no longer buried, but is top center beside Search and Research Aids. Those maps change lives...at least for genealogists.” —Laura Wickstead.   (Amen to that.)

“I tried the name Zachariah Blankenbeckler which I usually use when I demo in our class. …I got…hits [from] agricultural censuses I had not seen.” —Nancy Calhoun

So there it is, good and bad. What do you think? An overall win, or loss?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ancestry.com Did Not Buy HeritageQuest

HeritageQuest is now powered by Ancestry.comHeritageQuest is a genealogical website available through many local libraries which usually let you access it from home. In the state of Utah, you can access it through the Utah Pioneer Library. Connect at http://pioneer.utah.gov/research/databases/heritagequest.html using your library card number.

Yesterday I mentioned that I first heard from a reader that something was afoot with HeritageQuest and Ancestry.com. Sure enough, the footer on the HeritageQuest website now sports an Ancestry copyright.

I posed several questions about the situation to Ancestry.com’s and received the following replies from Kim Harrison, senior account executive for the Ancestry Library Team.

What happened between Ancestry.com and HeritageQuest?

Last Jun. 2014 at the American Library Association ProQuest and Ancestry announced the renewal of our contract to have ProQuest remain our license vendor in the non-consumer market.  This would be selling Ancestry Library Edition to public libraries, academic, corporate and non-profits.  With this contract renewal ProQuest will also be able to offer Fold3 (in May 2015) and Newspapers.com (coming 2015) to these markets as well.  The upside for ProQuest is that Ancestry will help to expand and update the Heritage Quest Online (now co-branded but not sold to Ancestry). 

Did ProQuest sell something to Ancestry.com?

There was no sale of anything.

Will the databases available on the old HeritageQuest website continue to be available on the new website?

The Heritage Quest Online database does have all the same components but expanded.  The census now includes every year index, plus added the non-pop and the Indian Census.  The Freedman Bank Records and the American Revolutionary Collections are now the full set, not a sub-set.  The Local History & Genealogy books now have a more robust search interface.  PERSI and the Serial Set is there on Heritage Quest Online in their current format.  So, yes all the content from the Heritage Quest Online is on the new interface, but expanded.

Some people have expressed concerns about a change in the underlying search technology. Does the new website utilize the old HeritageQuest search technology or the Ancestry.com search technology? Will HeritageQuest searches return the same results as before or can users expect changes?

The new interface is based on the Ancestry search form platform/technology.

Because the HeritageQuest census images were different scans than the Ancestry.com images, there were times when one company's scans showed more information than the other's. Is there a way to access the old HeritageQuest census images?

Because of the new Ancestry technology there is not a way to host the old census images or to access them.

Dollarhide's The Census Book, was available on the old website. Is it still available?

[Yes.] The new interface also makes the wonderful Dollarhide Census Maps easier to find. [Comment frome me: Dollarhide’s census book with its maps is an indispensible resource that sits on many serious genealogists’ bookcases. Now, to have it basically free, online, is a tremendous value. To find it, click Maps on the reddish header. The chapters can be found underneath the U.S. map.]

Harrison also proffered some links to further information.

She welcomes further questions and asks that I let you know that your public library librarians are more than happy to help you understand these changes.

However, not all librarians are welcoming the change. Tomorrow I’ll share some of their concerns.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Monday Mailbox: History, Ancestry.com, and HeritageQuest

The Ancestry Insider's Monday Mailbox

Dear Ancestry Insider,

What a disappointment. Ancestry.com again is taking over a well built website, HeritageQuest.  HeritageQuest was the best website to verify census records in a straight forward format.

I’ve been doing research since 1978. It was difficult because it was a lot of letter writing and then waiting for an answer. Then we could order them from Everton Publishing. Then we had RootsWeb and Fold3, which Ancestry took over and swore nothing was going to change. Hum. They have not been true to their word.

The different websites they have purchased and destroyed is many. They want us to only use their website to do research and it’s way too expensive and hard to navigate. They have too many incorrect family trees.

They don't care how many sites they destroy as long as they get our money and continuously have to stumble through their bad website.

Leanne Elliott

Dear Leanne,

Wow, Leanne. You’ve brought back a lot of memories.

I’ve often thought that someone needs to write the genealogy of genealogy products and companies. Remember GenForums? Remember Genealogy.com? That’s another website that Ancestry.com bought. I disagree with your assessment about Ancestry.com not keeping their word. I think their intentions were good when they acquired RootsWeb and Genealogy.com, but they soon came to regard these websites as distractions. In the end, they kept their word too literally, leaving these websites unchanged.

You also made me remember film rental. I was never one to have a microfilm reader and rent microfilms. I remember websites that rented the U.S. census on microfilm back when I was just getting serious about using original records. Purchasing the census on CD-ROMs was displacing film rental and I had moved close enough to the Family History Library that the idea of buying a microfilm reader seemed a bit, well, overkill.

I have wispy memories of HeritageQuest and microfilm rentals, but I can’t pull them into focus. The Encyclopedia of Genealogy website says that HeritageQuest acquired the American Genealogical Lending Library back in 1998. I can’t remember how HeritageQuest made its way into ProQuest.

Your email was the first I had heard of Ancestry.com taking over HeritageQuest. If Ancestry.com had purchased HeritageQuest, surely I would have heard. I posed a set of questions about it to Ancestry.com. I’ll share their answers tomorrow.

The Ancestry Insider

Saturday, March 14, 2015

AncestryDNA $89 Sale Through 17 March 2015

Melanie Nelson models for AncestryDNA's St. Patrick's Day promo

Several times a year AncestryDNA runs an $89 sale. That is happening right now, through 17 March 2015. In the past, at least once a year, they run a $79 sale. Whether that will continue to occur, I cannot say.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

It’s Almost Friday the 13th and I am Behind!

Ancestry Insider KetchupI have no time. I’m way behind on articles. That’s unlucky. Time to ketchup…

Ancestry.com Has New Head of Product Management

I briefly mentioned before that the former lead, Eric Shoup, had left Ancestry.com. Last week, Ancestry.com announced that Kendall Hulet was their new Senior Vice President of Product Management. Rather than go outside as they did with Eric, they hired Kendall from within. I worked with Kendall and I think they’ve made a good choice. One memory is having a discussion about One World Tree. Ancestry.com had preloaded One World Tree with a bunch of junk and then found customers didn’t like it. Small wonder. I advocated starting the tree from scratch. He explained that they had done the market research and found that customers didn’t want a single, shared tree. From thence, Ancestry.com member trees were born. History has proven he was right.

Read the entire press release on Ancestry.com.

Ancestry.com and HeritageQuest

The search on HeritageQuest now uses the sometimes abhorred search engine from Ancestry.com. On a librarian’s mailing list, Cynthia Steinhoff wrote, “The latest flavor of a search engine in Ancestry is more frustrating than the ones that have come before it.  I am sorry to see that [one] has been added to Heritage Quest.”

I need to dig in a bit more on this story than I have time now. I’ll revisit this later.

AARP Discount

Ancestry.com’s Matt Deighton asked that I clarify the AARP/Ancestry.com situation. I didn’t know there was an AARP/Ancestry.com situation. I guess I don’t know AARP. Here’s the information from Matt:

There has been some confusion recently concerning the AARP discount. I wanted to reach out and clarify a few things. Part of the confusion is the difference between the agreement with Ancestry and AARP expiring and an individual account expiring. For simplicity I’ve listed the facts:

AARP Agreement with Ancestry.com

  • The original agreement with AARP was for one-year and we are working to renew that contract now
  • The current agreement with AARP will expire March 31st but we are almost certain we will have the new contact signed by then so members will see no lapse in opportunity to sign up for the discount
  • The contract with AARP does not affect ancestry’s agreement with our members in offering the discount. Even if the agreement was not renewed with AARP, we will still be offering the discount to our members who already signed up for the time agreed upon

Personal Use of the AARP Discount

  • You can only use the AARP discount of 30% one time (the discount only works for Word Explorer)
  • Regardless of what duration of membership you have, the discount will last up to 1-year
  • After receiving a year of the discount, you will be billed at the normal rate
  • If you are already an Ancestry member, simply call into our customer support line no more than 1 month before the end of your contract and we can migrate you over to the AARP discount (if you are monthly we can change you over at any time)
  • You can move over at any point but you will lose the remainder of your current subscription…so better to just wait until it runs out.

RootsTech 2015 Videos

The RootsTech 2015 videos are now online for free watching. See http://www.rootstech.org/video/4050134760001. Family Discover Day videos for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are available at https://www.lds.org/topics/family-history/familydiscoveryday

What’s New on FamilySearch

Each month FamilySearch plans to publish a list of what’s new on FamilySearch. They’ve got one on their blog (see https://familysearch.org/blog/en/whats-familysearchjanuary-2015/) and one in their help center (see http://broadcast2.lds.org/elearning/fhd/help-center/whats-new/whats-new-public-latest.pdf).

Ancestry.com Financial Results

If you can’t sleep, you may wish to try to wade through the 4th quarter financial statement from Ancestry.com. Two stats jumped out at me: the amount of debt and the decline in the number of subscribers.

They have $884.5 million in long-term debt.

The number of subscribers at the end of 2014 was about 2,115,000, down from about 2,140,000 a year earlier.

See http://ir.ancestry.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=894453

Coverage Maps

FamilySearch has done some amazing maps showing coverage of some of its U.S. county marriage record collections. Check out a map of California showing coverage of FamilySearch marriage records. I found a link to this map in the FamilySearch wiki. From there, I found what appears to be the home page of the maps. Only a few states are done. it would be cool if they did (although it will enable competitors to target counties for acquisition, locking the records up behind pay walls).


Inmates Volunteer for Family History Indexing

“Inside county jails across Utah, Arizona and Idaho, nearly 2,300 inmates voluntarily meet as family history indexing teams to help organize genealogical records around the world,” wrote Megan Marsden Christensen of KSL.com. The inmates are participating in FamilySearch Indexing. I wonder if boredom is a constant plague suffered by inmates. I bet indexing is very fulfilling for them, allowing them to fill their time with something meaningful.

To read the entire article, visit http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=33131183

Monday, March 9, 2015

Ancestry Insider on FamilySearch Blog

FamilySearch blog quotes the Ancestry InsiderAn Internet marketing firm recently interviewed me for an article to be posted on the FamilySearch blog. I would be quoted along with a link to my blog. The firm does this with the idea that I would probably write an article about it and post a link back to the FamilySearch blog. I guess this is that article.

I feel honored that the firm would choose me. You, my readers, are important enough to drive to the FamilySearch blog. However, because of my editorial focus, I publish a half dozen links to FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com every week. Will this story make a difference?

The article is titled “5  Strategies to Inspire Relatives to Share Family Stories.” Five people give insights on how to elicit family stories from relatives. The four bloggers are DearMyrtleAmy Johnson Crow, Randy Seaver, and myself.

An interesting side note: This article says “Sign up for a free family tree maker account at FamilySearch.” The link doesn’t go to Ancestry.com’s Family Tree Maker website and you most definitely don’t get Family Tree Maker for free. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen marketing copy written by someone unfamiliar with our industry. I’m guessing within an hour of Ancestry.com reading my article, FamilySearch will have reworded this.

Now are you curious enough to visit the article? Be right back

Thursday, March 5, 2015

FamilySearch Family Tree 2014 and beyond (#RootsTech #RTATEAM)

Ron Tanner at RootsTech 2015At RootsTech last month Ron Tanner spoke about FamilySearch Family Tree and its future. Tanner is a product manager for FamilySearch.

Tanner first gave some history of Family Tree. In 2007 Tanner took part in a tiger team discussing what could be done different than New FamilySearch. They analyzed feedback and put together the “genealogy workflow.” He showed us a very detailed chart of the results of their research.

Ron Tanner's genealogy workflow chart

In March 2008 at the BYU Family History Technology Conference Tanner discussed the concept of an “Open Edit and Source Centric User Model for Family History.” You can see the paper and slides he presented here:

By April 2010 they had an internal prototype working. In February 2011 they launched an initial Family Tree pilot and invited selected sets of people to try it out. In October 2012 they released Family Tree to New FamilySearch users and in March 2013 they released it to the public.

Congratulations, Family Tree. You’re two years old, Tanner said. He then joked about user complaints that they change Family Tree too often. “We release Family Tree three times every day, so you better stay on your toes!”

Tanner said he doesn’t normally show the following numbers, but wanted us to know where things are at.

  • 2.5 million persons are added per month
  • 2.6 million conclusions are written per month
  • 4.5 million sources added each month
  • 1.1 billion persons in the tree
  • 89 million+ sources

FamilySearch 2014 Accomplishments

  • Two mobile applications
  • Descendancy view
  • Hinting [Tanner said 3.5% of images have been indexed.]
  • Quick attach
  • Research & data issues & hinting indicators
  • Private spaces for living [Family Tree was previously a window into living persons in New FamilySearch. If the user was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they, in turn, were linked to membership records. That is why you couldn’t make changes to the living persons within your purview.]
  • Memories attach/detach, change log
  • Add memory to existing source
  • Inline record data on search results
  • Record hint card
  • History list filtering
  • Preselect to move sources on merge
  • Source note size increased to 10,000 characters
  • New memories tab
  • Migrated user sources
  • Brightness/contrast in image viewer
  • Interactive world map
  • Catalog updates
  • Starting PID [sets the home person]
  • Descendancy expand/collapse
  • Re-root fan chart
  • Read-only banners [locked persons]
  • Portrait pedigree spousal carousel
  • Switch person during a merge
  • NFS PID forwarding
  • History list remove item
  • Delete legacy dispute discussion
  • Optional add to source box

Ron Tanner at RootsTech 20152015 Goals

  • Decommission new family search
    - You’ll be able to merge IOUSes
    - Also won’t get random changes attributed to FamilySearch
  • We’re going to go to every person in the tree and attach sources from IGI, AF, and PRF
  • We’re going to update the pedigree traditional view. That change is just a few weeks away.
    - Will no longer have to hover to get links to see parents, etc.
    - Scroll bars
    - Research suggestion, data problems, and hint icons
    - Dark, light versions
  • User to user messaging
    - Click to send message, even if there is no email address.
    - Little icon at top showing number of messages waiting
  • Data and research icons on person page
  • Links to easily unlink wrong child, parent, spouse

For more information, watch the presentation yourself on the RootsTech website. The URL is currently http://rootstech.org/video/4054729365001.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Partnership Town Hall with FamilySearch Executives: Partnerships (#RootsTech #RTATEAM)

Rod DeGiulio
Craig Miller
Don Anderson

At RootsTech three executives from FamilySearch answered questions about partnerships. Bruce Brand was the moderator. Don Anderson is over the partner and patron services divisions, Rod DeGiulio is over the records division, and Craig Miller is over the product management and engineering divisions.

I’m at the point in my RootsTech reporting that I can’t understand all my notes, so I’m presenting them pretty much as-is. Text in square brackets [like this] are my editorial insertions or supplements not contained in my notes.

Brand asked a question about the original iPhone 2007. What was missing the first year? There were no apps. The next year they opened it up to third parties. A year ago, they had over 1,000,000 apps. [What about FamilySearch?] “Our core strategy is partnering and collaboration.”

Q; Why don’t you offer an API to allow uploading trees?

A; We have one for Family Tree, now. We will later have an API to upload a single tree.

Q; Why does Family Tree Maker not sync to FamilySearch Family Tree?

Don; That’s a question for them, rather than me. I’m hopeful they will soon sync.

Q; Are there any plans for those who have forgotten where we’ve searched?

Craig: That’s a ways out. Our priority list this year is

1. Plumbing
2. Make hints more real-time. Pretty much when you put people in you’ll see hints updated.

Don: Attach your sources. You’ll have a sense of where you have been. There are some 3rd party products.

Bruce; If you go to Person, you’ll see the last 20 persons you touched.

Don: It wouldn’t show the searches you’ve done.

Q; In my Ancestry.com tree and in FamilySearch Family Tree I have different records attached. Is there a way to synchronize them?

Don: For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, there is a synchronize sources. It is not quite done but will be done in the next month or two. For the general public, it not available right now.

Q; When I link a record to Family Tree for a marriage, I don’t want to link to the parents.

Craig; We’re looking at having a specific template for those types of records. After we do the plumbing we’ll work towards templatizing that work.

Q; What’s an upcoming feature you’re excited about?

Rod: First of all, this year, sometime, we’ll have our new indexing platform. It will enable more flexibility for choosing projects, or even a county within a project. And more and more partnering allowing access of their records on our site; that will enable hinting.

Don: The most exciting to me is the new companies with apps. I think we’ll see the most growth in the app gallery. I’m particularly excited about family.me and [somebody else that I didn’t capture in my notes]. Lastly, I’m very excited that within the next six months we’ll have synch with Findmypast and MyHeritage trees.

Craig: My most exciting feature is what Don just mentioned, having all the trees coming to a common base. It’s staggering in vision. That’s mind blowing. Second Is real-time hinting. Another is a novelty coming sometime during the year. It’s the notion of how we’re related. There’s a number of privacy concerns that need to be worked out.

Q; in New FamilySearch we had the ability to uncombine. Is that going to be added back in?

Craig: The ability to unmerge currently exists. We’ll enhance it to take care of IOUSes. That will be in about a year and a half.

Q; is there a plan to require people who sign up to provide contact information?

Craig: We use the Church’s system of authentication. The Church’s membership system does not require an email address because many Church members across the world don’t have access to computers. That’s one of the hundreds of reasons why. If you’re not a member of the Church, you have to have an email. Later on this year we’ll have a system of internal messages [Instead of needing to send emails]. You’ll be able to send them a message and talk to them. Whether they get back to you is their choice. We hope that will open the doors of communication.

Q; Legacy Family Tree has a sharing mechanism. It is not working right now. And when will we be able to share…[I didn’t get this down. Sources?].

Don: It is possible to fully synchronize, including sources. The only area we haven’t fully released is the Memories area. The end of the 2nd quarter or so is the timeframe for that.

Q; On living people in Family Tree, changes are made that were attributed to FamilySearch, and odd changes to names [are being made].

Craig: A lot of our information about living [persons] comes from the [Church] Membership Department. Occasionally they make a change that pulls the person from Family Tree, and then puts it back. [Occasionally this causes the problem you’re seeing.] We’re having a terrible time figuring out this plumbing problem between the Tree and the Membership Department.

Q; Sometimes you can’t combine people because of a membership record…

Craig: The two most common reasons [you can’t combine is because the merge would create an IOUS and] because in the membership system there are two membership records.

Don: When that happens, you should have an option to shoot a message to support who can approach the Membership Department about getting it fixed.

Q; You mentioned the ability to find relationships. We recently used a tool from an employee within FamilySearch, I think. Lots of people in the ward turned in membership numbers and the system found a bunch of 4th cousins. Everyone got excited about family history.

Bruce: it is called Relative finder. It is from Brigham Young University. [See https://roots-fb.cs.byu.edu/. It requires a FamilySearch account. If multiple people join a group, the website can look for relationships among the group. For example, I am 10th cousins with Rod DeGuilio.]

Rod: That will be a fun capability once it is introduced. I found one of my direct reports was a 3rd cousin.

Q; There is a lot of talk about ideas about storing structured citations and reasoning. Programmers say it isn’t a priority. What is the long term strategy?

Craig: We have an ongoing standard called GEDCOM X. We’re using that as a standard to transfer information. The developer you talked to is right. We’re working on lots of plumbing problems. Once that is done, we’ll be able to work on these types of problems.

Don: We are watching the quality of the tree. […] It creates the right environment to have sticky conclusions. Sources are showing up more prominently. How do we [encourage quality] without discouraging new users. We actively monitor the tree for quality measures. We have a great deal of dialog and future roadmap.

Q; The portion of the tree I see has a lot of blocked records. What is the long term plan?

Don: Records are locked for a number of reasons: IOUSes, famous individuals, early church leaders, and those before 1500s. There are processes of getting changes by involving support.

Q; What about adding impedance changes in the future to discourage bad changes?

Don: [Sorry, Don. I missed so much of your reply, I can’t understand my notes.] 

Q; How are we doing getting rights to records that custodians won’t give us access to?

Rod: It is largely a matter of prioritization. We’ve been gathering records since 1894. We are adding about 450 million images a year. We’re anticipating being able to double that. It will take a few decades before we get to all the records that members need. The work we are doing with partners certainly […]. We signed 345 contracts last year for an additional nearly 1 billion records. The rate is accelerating.

Craig is fond of saying that on June 17th, 2014 the world changed. [That’s when FamilySearch released hinting.] I believe because of improvements to the Tree, getting records online will eventually become the bottleneck.

Don: We added about 500 million additional hints a couple of weeks ago. Currently they are about 98% accuracy. On top of that we’re continuing to improve that accuracy by getting better and better cross referencing algorithms. As well as that, we’re getting new records. i hope you’re enjoying it. I hope it is improving your research; it is helping mine.

Craig: When we added the ½ billion hints, it added 100 million hints to people in the tree who had never had hints before. Go back and look in your tree, if you haven’t in the last couple of weeks. As we analyze the attached hints, we have found that one out of every ten hints extends the line.

Rod: You can tell we’re pretty excited about hints. I’ve yet to find anyone who through hinting we haven’t been able to add someone to the tree.

Craig: So please index!!

Q; Does the engineering department have enough to do, or do they accept requests? As a partner, can we make suggestions on API changes or request features?

Don: Absolutely. (Send it into Dev Support.) It will get prioritized. We love to hear the feedback.

Q; When hinting tells me it has a new person to add, it creates a duplicate that has to be merged.

Craig; What happens with the system now, when you add a person from a hint we don’t look for duplicates. In the future we will try to do that. Before you accept a hint, check for duplicates. I bring up two screens and before I add a person through record hint attach, I check to see what the situation is with that person.

Q; One of my friends found a PAF file for a Mac. She wants to add it to Family Tree. How can she do that?

Don: There is no such thing as PAF for Mac. [Someone mentioned there was a really old version.] What is my advice if you are using a MAC? Convert. There are lots of choices. Contact support. We have a team that can do conversions. Then almost any of the current programs can import that.

Q; Sometimes we’re the victims of our own success. Congratulations on dealing with the number of users. Is there a way to see how bad the latency of the system is?

Craig: Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 9 pm is the heaviest usage by far, probably by double. Then evenings. Hopefully in about a year and a half you wont even be thinking about this. [My notes don’t say it, but he may have mentioned the “plumbing changes” again.]

Q; What kind of contracts do we have [with partners for LDS memberships]? We’ve been hearing one year, five years?

Don: We don’t reveal those. Things are going very well. I don’t see any reason why the relationships won’t continue into the foreseeable future.

[I’m guessing the next and final question came from a member of the FamilySearch staff:]

Q; Will you comment on the need for camera crews?

Rod: We have a dire need for more camera volunteers. We could double the number of cameras if we had the volunteers. Go to the volunteer section of familysearch.org and it will give a number of ways you can help.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Studio C’s Handy Book for Genealogists (#RootsTech/#FGS2015)

When Studio C helped David Archuleta close off the RootsTech and FGS conferences this year, I’ll bet nobody in the audience knew they were watching a member of the genealogically-famous Everton family. The Everton name is well known among older genealogists. Walter M. Everton (1876-1950) was the original author of the genealogical staple, Handy Book for Genealogists. Everton also founded Everton Publishing, which published the magazine, Everton’s Genealogical Helper, for many, many years. I think four generations of the Everton family ran the business.

The Handy Book for Genealogists, 5th edition Everton's Genealogical Helper, Jan/Feb 1986

Which Studio C cast member, you ask? She was the one who did the amazing lip synch of Michael Jackson: Mallory Everton.

Mallory Everton lip synching Michael Jackson at RootsTech  Mallory Everton at RootsTech

Mallory is Walter Everton’s great-grandniece.

Which makes her my 3rd cousin. I know this thanks to the relationship-finder in the FamilySearch discovery booth in the Expo Hall.

The Ancestry Insider's Relationship to Mallory Everton

Speaking of Studio C, an observant reader caught the Ancestry Insider milling around the Studio C booth in the Expo Hall and clicked a quick pic.

Ancestry Insider with Studio C at RootsTech 2015

David Archuleta at #RootsTech/#FGS2015 Closing Social (#RTATEAM)

The Ancestry Insider with David Archuleta at RootsTechDavid Archuleta performed at the RootsTech/FGS2015 closing social and a host of amateur videographers caught virtually ever moment. His segment opened with a Spanish-language song and video commissioned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to inspire Latino youth to seek out their family history. I haven’t found it posted officially, but you can see it on YouTube. [3:30pm NOTE: FamilySearch is asking YouTube to remove the video, so I've removed the link. The Church will post an official version later on its Latin American websites. --TAI]

David Archuleta video premiered at RootsTech 2015

David also performed “Glorious,” a song he recorded for the Church’s feature length film, Meet the Mormons.

David Archuleta's "Glorius" vido

I got a picture backstage with David. You can see it above, right. I am (apparently, the only fat one) with David and Lynn Broderick, blogger at the Single Leaf blog and guest blogger at FamilySearch.org.

Read a recap of the evening’s performances in the Deseret News.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Donny Osmond Keynote at #RootsTech/#FGS

The Ancestry Insider with singer, entertainer Donny Osmond
Scott Fisher of the ExtremeGemes radio show
and Amy Urman of The Genealogy Search blog,
with me, hangin' with our good friend, Donny Osmond.
“When you discover more about your ancestors, you discover more about yourself,” Donny Osmond said. Donny was one of the keynote speakers at RootsTech. He told us that he loved that anyone can do family history. He, himself, received the family genealogy from his mother. (We all appreciate having someone interested in receiving our life’s work.) Donny said that in his spare time he worked on his family history while staring as Joseph in the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.

Donny told us that a lot of his life story has been captured on film and video, but that our life story is every bit as important as his, even more so, to our descendants. Don’t your children want to know what you are like? We need to document and record our family stories, both funny and inspirational stories. You never know when those will keep someone going when things get rough, he told us.