Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Today Last Day to Preregister (#NGS2015GEN)

The Ancestry Insider is an official blogger for #NGS2015GEN

Today is the last day to preregister for this year’s national conference of the National Genealogical Society (NGS). The conference is to be held in the St. Charles, Missouri convention center, just ten miles from the St. Louis International Airport. It will be 13-16 May 2015. (That’s three days after Mother’s Day. Maybe you should start dropping hints to your husband.)

Many conference hotels are completely sold out. Two no longer have rooms for the special conference rate: the Embassy Suites St. Charles and the Fairfield Inn. That leaves the Ameristar Casino St. Charles as the remaining official hotel. Not to worry. The conference center offers free parking. See the conference website for more information about accommodations.

As a volunteer of NGS, I’m not totally unbiased. But I am a strong advocate of ongoing education. I’m blessed to be able to attend several national, regional, and local conferences each year. I’m always learning something new. A glance at the lecture schedule shows four lectures by Thomas W. Jones, four by Elizabeth Shown Mills, three by David Rencher, and one by Josh Taylor. There are 17 lectures by fellows of NGS and fellows of the prestigious American Society of Genealogists. There are 28 by fellows of the Utah Genealogical Society. Of course, it goes without saying that one doesn’t need initials after one’s name to be a topic expert and an excellent teacher and lecturer. There are a total of 164 lectures organized into nine subject areas each day. Check out the lecture schedule online. Then sign up today.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Review: The FAN Principle QuickSheet

Elizabeth Shown Mills’s _QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle)_Has it been three years since Genealogical Publishing sent me a bunch of publications for review? I apologize; if I’m going to accept publications, I need to follow through. Today, I’m reviewing Elizabeth Shown Mills’s QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle).

Elizabeth Shown Mills uses the acronym FAN to help people remember the meaning of cluster research. “To prove identity, origin, and parentage, study individuals in the context of their FAN Club: Family, Associates, and Neighbors.”

I’d always considered cluster research to be something used solely to break through brick-walls. This QuickSheet has convinced me otherwise. Genealogy—family history, if you prefer—is more than vital facts. It is understanding a person’s story in context. Where did they live throughout their life? Who did they associate with? What was the legal environment? What was their character? Only when we have this depth of understanding can we be confident that the assembled sources all refer to the same person.

On page one, Mills gives six basic questions to apply as a starting point. She reviews seven major problems and work-arounds. On page two, she gives 16 record types with extremely helpful hints on how to apply them to cluster research. Page three consists of “the Problem-solving Spiral,” with guidance on how to structure a research project. Page four gives a simple bull’s eye illustration with some general guidance.

In each of my reviews I feel obligated to say something negative, so here it is. I wasn’t certain the flow of information was the most natural. I’m pretty familiar with Mills’s teaching skills—which are exceptional—so I doubt this is the fault of the author. Authors are constrained by editors, graphic designers, layout, and the size of the subject matter. But this nit pic hardly matters; with only four pages of information, the order does not affect the value.

QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle
8.5" x 11", 4 pp., folded and laminated. 2012.
ISBN 978-0-8063-1894-3
Genealogical Publishing Company
$8.95 plus shipping.

Also available as a digital publication from the author.

Monday, April 27, 2015

AncestryDNA $79 Sale Today

imageTo celebrate DNA day, AncestryDNA is offering its $99 DNA kit for $79 today. With AncestryDNA it’s always a good idea to wait for their $79 sale. Their other sale price is $89. I’ve never seen anything less than $79, although they apparently have done limited price testing for as low as $49 (according to the Genealogy Junkie). So if you’ve been waiting for the best price to come around, unless they drop their list price, $79 is probably the best you can hope for. The sale ends today, 27 April 2015.

In addition to your own autosomal test, it’s a good idea to have your oldest (generationally) )living progenitors tested as well. For more information, see “AncestryDNA is a Team Sport,” a recent article on the Ancestry Blog.

For more information about AncestryDNA and to see the whole sales pitch, visit

For a comparison of the genealogy DNA tests from the various companies, see “Autosomal DNA testing comparison chart” on the ISOGG wiki.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

FamilySearch Worldwide Indexing (Arbitration) Event

FamilySearch Indexing's arbitration program looks like thisFamilySearch currently uses a double-blind methodology for indexing. (They’ve indicated that this could change for some projects. See “FamilySearch Considers Alternatives to Double-Blind Indexing.”) In double-blind indexing, two indexers independently abstract information from an image of a record. FamilySearch compares the values and if the indexers disagreed in any way on anything on the image, it is routed to a third person called an arbitrator. The arbitrator is something like a trusted, master indexer. As a minimum, the arbitrator must provide values for any mismatched fields. But the arbitrator can review and correct any field, even those for which the indexers agreed. The arbitrator has the responsibility to specify the final values that FamilySearch will subsequently publish.

That responsibility can be scary. Perhaps that is why FamilySearch is falling behind in arbitration. There is a backlog of 6.5 million images, according to FamilySearch’s Spencer Ngatuvai. (See “A Clarion Call for Arbitrators: Worldwide Arbitration Event” on the FamilySearch blog.)

To help remedy this, FamilySearch is sponsoring a “Worldwide Arbitration Event.” The event is being held over eight days, from 1 May 2015 to 8 May 2015. FamilySearch hopes to reduce the backlog during the event by two million.

A side effect of the event may be an increase in the number of arbitrators. Arbitrating doesn’t have to be scary. “Preparation is key,” said Ngatuvai. If you are not currently an arbitrator, start preparing now by reading “How to Become an Arbitrator.” It takes some time to qualify, so now is the time to begin.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ancestry Academy's Laura Prescott launches Ancestry AcademyWow. This is’s second big announcement while I’m on this road trip. They need to do a better job of coordinating with my schedule. <smile>

Last week launched Ancestry Academy, a new, educational website. I don’t have time to write about it. Again, you’re on your own. For more information, see these resources:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Insight Into FamilySearch’s Record Acquisition and Indexing

FamilySearch's Jake GehringRecently, FamilySearch’s Jake Gehring disclosed details on how FamilySearch decides what to acquire and what to index. Here’s a synopsis of the information from two articles from the FamilySearch blog: “Where Do Indexing Projects Come From?” and “The Inside Story: What Determines the Pace of an Indexing Project?

Of course, FamilySearch can’t acquire and publish a record that it doesn’t know about. “FamilySearch representatives often discover collections of value by talking to archivists, librarians, county clerks, and genealogists who know their local records well. Preferred are records that describe family relationships, contain vital information (births, marriages, and deaths), and cover a broad section of the population,” said Gehring.

FamilySearch can’t just show up at an archive, take pictures, and publish records. First, the record owners must give permission. Usually, that involves a value swap: FamilySearch digitizes the records for the owner in exchange for permission to publish it. FamilySearch has over 275 crews across the world photographing records. The images are sent back to Salt Lake on hard disk drives, or via the Internet.

FamilySearch must decide what to do with the images once they are received. Options include cataloging, publishing images only, and indexing. Projects must be scheduled for available resources. Indexing projects require special setup “with project instructions, sample images, field helps, and a variety of special instructions.”

At any given time there are about 150 indexing projects under way. Predicting how quickly a project will take is challenging. Projects that finish quickly generally are easy, personally appealing, or have tremendous genealogical value. The 1940 U.S. census shared all three of these attributes and finished in record time.

FamilySearch takes steps to move projects along. If you’ve indexed, you know a project may be listed in red as the suggested, highest priority project. FamilySearch also promotes groups of projects, such as it is currently doing with obituaries. FamilySearch may provide special training to volunteers or societies.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Civil War Docs Free on Fold3 Through End of April

Fold3 Free Civil War Documents in April 2015Fold3 is offering free access to its Civil War collection of documents. The offer goes through the end of April 2015. See for more information.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Hidden Treasures at (#RootsTech #FGS2015 #RTATEAM)

At RootsTech last month, Crista Cowan and Juliana Szucs presented a session titled “Getting the Most Out of” Unfortunately for me, the session was absolutely packed. Every seat was taken in a very large conference hall. Apparently, everyone wanted to attend, including the fire marshal who stood alongside another hundred people lining the walls and jamming the doorways. I was unable to get in.

“Getting the Most Out of” was packed

Fortunately for you, the session was recorded and is available for viewing on the RootsTech website at

Crista Cowan and Juliana Szucs presented "Getting the Most Out of"

Fortunately for me, I was able to attend most of Michelle Ercanbrack’s FGS session, “Hidden Treasures at” Michelle filled in for Loretto Dennis “Lou” Szucs. (Lou! We missed you!) Afterwards she passed out Valentine’s Day chocolates! I’m at the point in my RootsTech/FGS conference reporting where all you’re going to get is pretty much a dump of my notes. Sorry, Michelle. Bribing me with chocolate usually gets you uncommonly good coverage. has many databases that are hidden treasures.

Non-population schedules

To get a list of state censuses, Michelle uses Google and searches for [list of state censuses]. (Don’t enter the square brackets.) Check the list for the state and year of interest. Then go to and see if they have it. Another approach is to search Google for [State Census]. Database descriptions are important because some censuses are missing some counties. Michelle showed an Iowa census as an example of a census that contains lots of information.

New York, Census of Inmates in Almshouses and Poorhouses, 1830-1920

TVA Family Removal case file for Jim Henry DavisU.S., Tennessee Valley, Family Removal and Population Readjustment Case Files, 1934-1953. Dams to control flooding forced some families to move. More than Tennessee families were affected. An example is Jim Henry Davis. The form shows the miles from school and store. It asks for information about employment, religion, expenses of running farm, wages, names and ages of children, and how they feel about moving.

A closely related collection is the Tennessee Valley Cemetery Relocation Files, 1933-1990. Don’t forget to check the back, as some have additional notes.

Some passenger lists are overlooked. has 133 collections, including border crossings. They have databases for all major U.S. ports.

Naturalization records

Naturalization Indexes. Michelle showed an example from Lou Szuc’s family. They found a William Huggins naturalization record. They are pretty sure it is for their ancestor because the witness, Michael Meehan, was also sponsor for several of his children’s baptisms. The witnesses knew the people well.

U.S Passport Applications, 1795-1925

Military Records

1890 Veterans Schedules – This is an incomplete collection. It contains only parts from Kentucky through Wyoming, and select U.S. vessels. If there is something circled, it means there is additional information elsewhere. (I didn’t catch where.) In some cases, confederates were included, but some will be found crossed out. Widows sometimes reported her husband’s service, even though soldier had died.

U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970. Contains only those applications that were accepted. Basically, an application contains their genealogies. Consider it the equivalent to an online tree. Some included sources, but there could be errors. They didn’t have the wealth of sources we have today.

Civil War Prisoner of War Records, 1861-1865. Michelle showed an example with a note that had interesting details.

U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938

U.S., Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900. Often took the land and turned it. There are 80,000 application files for pensions for service, disabilities, or widows.

US Records

US City Directories, 1821-1989. Make sure to check city’s year ranges. These have OCR indexes, so sometimes you can get some “funky stuff” (indexing errors). They are basically a phone book, so Michelle accesses them like that. She doesn’t rely on search. Some pages are out of order. Some also have local histories, business directories, church lists, and fraternal society lists.

U.S. School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 is another fun collection. Look for your grandparents. Michelle loves those pictures because it is not how she knew them. There are almost 300 million records in this collection.

Quaker collection – This is the largest online collection of Quaker records. There are multiple databases. See

U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 – 6.4 million records in this one collection.

On the search page, scroll to the bottom right corner for links to ethnic pages such as African-American Collections. The Jewish Family History Collection is a result of a half-dozen different organizations coming together with lots of volunteers indexing.

International Records

Some people have not noticed the tabs above the map on the search page. These allowing browsing to country pages.

Know the Records: Search for any name, look at a record, and see what is included and what is indexed. Form a search strategy based on that. How are the records organized? Watch for notices, such as the one reminding you that Swedish birth records are in Swedish.

London, England, Clandestine Marriage and Baptism Registers, 1667-1754 – there are some very old, awesome stuff in this database. Spend some time within these databases to see what is available.

Educational Treasures

The Learning Center – There is a link to it on the top menu bar. Among other resources are research guides for many of the states and 30 guides on reference topics.

Five Minute Finds – These are short, instructional videos. There are links to them on the learning center page. Or you can go directly to YouTube and find them there. There are also hour long videos.

Access resources on social networks.

  • Facebook is a great place to ask questions.
  • Follow on Twitter for content alerts and education opportunities.
  • Follow the Ancestry Blog for the latest updates.
  • Crista Cowan does bi-weekly half-hour videos that can be viewed on Livestream or later on YouTube.

The Ancestry Wiki is accessible via the Learning Center. It contains the contents of the Red Book and The Source. “This is my Bible,” Michelle said. “Combine this with database descriptions and it is unstoppable.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Contrast AncestryDNA and Oxford Study Maps

Here’s an interesting contrast. A recent study by Oxford University showed regional pockets of DNA in England. A recent article on the Ancestry Blog showed estimated Irish ethnicity throughout the U.K. and Ireland.

I read about the Oxford study on The Telegraph website, in the 18 March 2015 story, “Britons Still Live in Anglo-Saxon Tribal Kingdoms, Oxford University Finds.” Science Editor Sarah Knapton wrote, “Britons are still living in the same 'tribes' that they did in the 7th Century, Oxford University has found after an astonishing study into our genetic make-up. Archaeologists and geneticists were amazed to find that genetically similar individuals inhabit the same areas they did following the Anglo-Saxon invasion, following the fall of the Roman Empire.”

This is a map from the Oxford study:

Map of genetic clusters found in Oxford studySource: Stephen Leslie, et. al, “The fine-scale genetic structure of the British population,” article preview, Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science ( : accessed 21 March 2015), figure 1; preview from Nature 519 (19 March 2015): 309-314.

For St. Patrick’s Day, Mike Mulligan wrote “What does our DNA tell us about being Irish?” on 16 March 2015 in the Ancestry Blog. “As the first results of UK & Ireland tests come through we can start to build up a picture of ethnicity estimates not just for individuals but averaged across all those born in the UK or Ireland. What is particularly fascinating about the map below is that it has been compiled using just AncestryDNA results.”

This map from the AncestryDNA study shows the average amount of estimated Irish ethnicity in regions of the U.K. and Ireland.

Map of estimated Irish ethnicity from AncestryDNA studySource: Mike Mulligan, “What does our DNA tell us about being Irish?” 16 March 2015 ( : accessed 21 March 2016), first figure.

Without seeing the point map from the AncestryDNA study, it is a little bit simplistic to make many conclusions. This map merely shows averages. But I thought it interesting that the multiple counties with red dots in the Oxford study corresponded with multiple counties in the AncestryDNA study having the same amount of Irish DNA.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Big AncestryDNA Announcement

New Ancestor DiscoveriesI confess. What you’ve been reading the past two weeks and what you will read next week were written back in March. I’m on the road at the moment with no time to write. So of course picks this time frame to make a big announcement. They’ve announced a new feature called “New Ancestor Discoveries.” They pre-announced the feature at RootsTech during their luncheon. You can read about it here: Ooops. I guess I never got my notes of that presentation written up for an article.

Well, as I say, I don’t have time to write, so I’ll just point you in the direction of the official AncestryDNA marketing stuff:

I haven’t had time to look at much of this. I assume the basic marketing message is repeated in every one of these, but I would expect a little different new information in each.

In generic AncestryDNA news, see

Meanwhile, I’m running out of the articles I pre-wrote before I got busy. So if you don’t hear much from me, you’ll know why…

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Short Lesson on Research Reports

An article on the Ancestry blog makes a good lesson on research reports.I recently read “Branch Out Contest Winner: Alison Marcoff” on the Ancestry Blog. It is basically a research report created by a professional genealogist. It provides great insight into how a very experienced genealogist works. Understanding its form and parts would be a good lesson for product designers at FamilySearch,, or any other company wishing to help their customers solve difficult genealogical problems. For that matter, it’s a good lesson for all of us non-professional genealogists.

Why create a research report? Isn’t that overkill? Imagine you work a difficult problem for several months, then set it aside and work on something else. You come back to it in a couple of years later when more records are online or you can visit the Family History Library in Salt Lake, or you receive answers back from inquiries sent to record custodians

Begin your research—and your research report—with a question. Look at this article and find the research question.

Next, write down what you know. Look at the next paragraph of this article. The research question is followed by a paragraph of what you know at the start of the research project.

Reference or include information gathered from previous research. In the article, notice what records Alison provided.

Although it was too lengthy for to include in a blog article, keep a log of the sources searched and what was learned from each. Don’t forget to make your citations complete enough that when you come back to this thorny problem in the future, you can pick up the source again, or at least see from the citation what the quality of the source was.

What is the purpose of the two bulleted items in the article? You should do the same at the conclusion of your research report.

There is another lesson we can learn from this article: cluster research. Elizabeth Shown Mills uses the acronym FAN club, meaning Family, Associates, and Neighbors.1 After hitting a brick wall in records about James himself, the researchers in this example branched out to records about other people.

Thank you,, for this nice little tutorial on how to tackle a difficult genealogical problem.


     1.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage ( : accessed 7 March 2015).

Friday, April 3, 2015

Insider Ketchup: 3 April 2015

Ancestry Insider KetchupThere’s too much to write about and I have no time! Time to ketchup…

What’s New on FamilySearch—March 2015

“Each month, FamilySearch publishes a list of new changes and updates to the FamilySearch website. This list includes changes to Family Tree as well as other parts of FamilySearch.” Many of the changes mentioned in the early March list related to adding consistency among photos, stories, documents, and audio. It also mentioned making the website and mobile applications more consistent. FamilySearch mentioned that images can now be up to 15 MB in size, and they have added TIF and BMP file types in addition to JPG and PNG. Read the entire March Part 1 article on the FamilySearch blog.

The “What’s New on—March 2015: Part 2” article mentions:

  • New landscape pedigree view, which is not being released to everyone at once. (This caused a little stir as I taught a class last week and one student’s screen looked differently than what I was demonstrating upfront.)
  • Updated Genealogies Pages. See my “Enhancements to FamilySearch’s Personal Trees.” I hadn’t noticed the rearrangable columns.
  • Dismiss suggestions and problem icons on Family Tree
  • Mark a Hint as “Not a Match”
  • Discussions are kept when persons are merged
  • was shut down

Read the entire March Part 2 article on the FamilySearch blog.

FamilySearch Indexing Numbers

A recent FamilySearch Indexing Newsletter shared these numbers:

  • 1,303,151,011 - Total Records Completed
  • 24,032,335 - Records Awaiting Arbitration
  • 380 - Current Projects
  • 31,800,258 - Total Records Completed in 2015
  • 113,550 - Total Contributors in 2015

Ack! I’m out of time!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Astonishing New iPhone App: Lick It DNA

Lick It DNA by Tongue in Cheek Swab“There’s an app for that.” Now there is an app that will perform a DNA test for you. It is free. It only takes seconds. And no additional hardware is needed. All you do is lick your phone. Really. I remember being similarly dismissive when someone told me there was an app to take your pulse. But that turned out to be true, too. Well, prepare to be astonished.

Lick It DNA is a recently released iPhone 6 app from Tongue In Cheek Swab, Inc. “It is easy to say that this is the most innovative app, ever,” said company president, Averyll Nabal. All you do is lick the screen, wait several moments, and the app gives you a view into your deep ancestry.

But you must have an iPhone 6. Nabal happened upon the idea when she started using the iPhone 6’s Retina HD Display with Apple’s new ResearchKit. ResearchKit is an open source technology Apple developed to encourage the creation of medical apps on the iPhone. (See “Now Everybody Can Do Their Part to Advance Medical Research” at She realized the display could be used to read a person’s DNA.

The breakthrough is not so unbelievable once you understand the chemistry. Sequences of nucleotides in our DNA are programmed to produce proteins. While DNA nucleotides are too small to resolve without expensive lab equipment, proteins are much larger. Different protein molecules have fairly unique electromagnetic signatures because protein molecules are asymmetric. If you can identify the proteins, you can deduce the DNA that produced them.

That’s where the iPhone 6 HD Retina display comes in. When you touch a capacitive touch screen, the phone registers differences in electromagnetic fields at each pixel of the display. Previous displays lacked the resolution to accurately detect something as small as a protein molecule. But the iPhone 6 has the necessary resolution and ResearchKit provides access to pixel-by-pixel measurements of the electromagnetic field.

A big hurdle faced by Lick It DNA was starting its database from scratch. It takes a large database for a DNA company to accurately predict deep ethnicity. The app description warns, “During our beta phase, ethnicity estimates may change each time you run the app. Over time, your results will get better and better. Check back often. As an early adopter, your results will always be free.”

“We’re getting over 5,000 downloads a day so it won’t be long before we top a million samples,” said Nabal.

The app utilizes the phone’s built in GPS to determine the location of the person providing the sample. I’m guessing that they use that data to try and determine what DNA belongs with what place. If that’s true, they may have problems with highly mobile populations, mass migrations, and melting pot localities. And they are going to need a really large database from all over the world. But at the rate they are going, that just may happen.

I showed the app to a friend, Scott Ward, who knows a lot about biochemistry. He was not impressed.

“The resolution of these displays is still not enough to detect any but the longest of STRs (short tandem repeats),” Scott said. STRs are repeated sequences of DNA nucleotides called markers. Each marker has a value indicating the number of times the sequence is repeated. The closer two people are related, the more alike their markers are. “To be big enough to be detected, a marker would have to have a value of at least 20 and there are few genealogically useful markers that long. This will never be anything more than a toy.”

Still, you can’t beat free. Download the app from the Apple iTunes Store.