Friday, May 29, 2015

Ancestry Insider Caught at #NGS2015GEN

Someone snapped a picture of the Ancestry Insider at the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. I was investigating the “Preserve the Pensions” money raising campaign. Someone caught me reading their brochure:

The Ancestry Insider supports preseving the pension applications of the war of 1812.

The Federal of Genealogical Societies is raising money from genealogists like you and me to have pension applications from the War of 1812 digitized and published for free access online.

Heavy use threatens to destroy fragile pension documents from the War of 1812

It’s a worthy cause. Check it out at

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Searching for Sources at FamilySearch at #NGS2015GEN (Part 2)

I barely got started telling you about Robert Kehrer’s luncheon presentation at the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. Today I get to the meat of his presentation: Record Hints. [As I warned last time, my memory is getting fuzzy and what you’re getting here is a mixture of Robert’s material and my own interpolations.]

Robert contrasted FamilySearch searching versus hinting.

Searching Hinting
You enter data into the search form. Behind the scenes, FamilySearch’s hinting system takes data from Family Tree.
The search form limits the number and type of parameters you can enter. The hinting system uses a rich data cloud (described below).
Searching is “on demand.” The search occurs when you click the search button. Hints are pre-calculated. If your ancestors are in the tree, then you probably have hints just waiting for you.
The risk of false positives is high. In other words, many of the search results are not what you’re searching for. The risk of false positives is low. Record Hints are correct about 98.5-99% of the time. The real magic is how thorough the results are. For the record collections searched by the hinting system, the system finds about 60-70% of the records pertaining to the person in Family Tree.
The user controls the search. You can iterate, fine-tune, and tweak search parameters to find those elusive records. The system is in control.

The hinting system searches using the name, gender, all events with dates and places, all one-hop relatives (parents, spouse, children) and their names, dates, and places. The more information available, the more accurate the results are.

Hints are accessible in four places:

Click the brown icon on the pedigree view.
Record hint icons on the pedigree view
Click the brown icon on the descendancy view.
Record hint icons on the descendancy view
Check the upper right corner of the person page.
Record hints on the person page
Or in the Record Hints box, click Show Details.
Show Details link in Record Hints box

Robert made a quick aside about icons of different colors. See my article “#NGS2015GEN and FamilySearch (Part 1)” for more information.

When you click a hint, a box pops up with the information from the record. Examine the data. If the hint is incorrect, click Not a Match. If it might be correct, click the blue button, Review and Attach.

image displays the SourceLinker attach tool. SourceLinker:

  • Helps you decide on matches.
  • Links names in records to persons in Family Tree.
  • Adds information from records to Family Tree.
  • Adds relatives to Family Tree.
  • Creates sources and citations in Family Tree.

SourceLinker displays information from the record and from Family Tree side-by-side. It automatically lines up family members. FamilySearch’s experience is that when you can see the whole family in context, you can better decide if the record pertains to a person in Family Tree.

George Winn example of SourceLinker

Robert gave us a tour of SourceLinker. I’ve labeled sections of the tool in the George Winn example, above. Click Open (or Details) in the section header to open a section and Close to hide it.

SourceLinker displays information from the record in the left column. Above the column it indicates the record collection name. Click Record or Image to popup the indexed text or the original image.

SourceLinker displays information from Family Tree in the right column. When you clicked the blue button to attach a record, SourceLinker matched the whole of Family Tree against this record to find the best match. Then it checked the last 50 persons you looked at. If the person found was also in your history list, it made that person the focus person. If not, SourceLinker brought in a panel and let you choose the focus person from a list of matches, your history list, or explicit ID. For hints, the system previously selected the focus person. If SourceLinker displays the wrong person, click Find Your Family. In the example above, it is a Winn-Winn situation.

Section 1 – Parents. In the first section, SourceLinker displays information about the parents. In this example, no parents are identified in the record, so the section is closed.

Section 2 – Focus Person and Spouse. In the second section, SourceLinker displays information about the focus person and spouse. In the first part of the section, SourceLinker lines up vital information from the record with the information in the tree. Compare the two when deciding if the person in the record matches the person in Family Tree. The second part of the person section displays information present in the record that is not present in the tree. Click Add to copy it into the tree.

In the third part of the person section, select boxes to indicate what vital information is supplied by the record. You can also add the Source to your Source Box. Specify a reason as to why you are attaching this record. Why do you think the record pertains to the person? I want them to know what I was thinking when I added this source, Robert said. In the George Winn example, my reason is

I believe this record matches George Thomas Winn because of matches in: name, gender, birth year (albeit off by one in this census record), birth state, he is residing at his birth place, and the given name and birth year of the wife and children match (again, within one for a census record).

Before clicking the Attach button, compare the names and vitals of the spouse (in the last part of section 2), children (section 3), and siblings (section 4). Click Details on the right hand side to reveal more information about each person. If these play a part of your reasoning, note that in your reason statement.

If FamilySearch presented an incorrect hint, click Not a Match. FamilySearch removes it from the hint list. If you can’t tell if it is or isn’t a match, click Cancel.

To attach other persons in the record, click on the Attach arrow between the left and right columns. Attached persons are highlighted in green. Once one person has been attached, subsequent attachments can be done rapid fire, without waiting for each to turn green. Jennie and Mozelle are ready in the George Winn example, above. An exclamation icon separates Ruth instead of an attach arrow because Ruth is still living and records can not be attached to living persons.

If there is no matching person in Family Tree, click the Add arrow to add them. The Add arrow can be seen, above for Evelyn.

SourceLinker does its best to line up persons in the record and the tree. If it fails, click the up/down arrows on the person on the left and drag them to line up with the person on the right. This is shown for Evelyn, above.

There may be others in the record who are related to someone other than the focus person, Change the focus person in the record and tree, accordingly. It will then be possible to attach the others in the record. In the header of section 2, click the Change options. In the Winn example, Johanna Nielsen is George’s mother-in-law, so she might be Jennie’s mother. Jennie’s mother in Family Tree is Kirsten Johanne Johansen, so she is, in fact, Jennie’s mother (as opposed to an earlier wife’s). Change the focus person of the record to be Jennie. Change the focus person in Family Tree to be Jennie. SourceLinker will display Jennie’s parents instead of George’s and will line up Johanne with Kirsten Johanne. Click the Attach arrow between the two.

If the focus person had multiple spouses, select other spouses by clicking the small, sideways carot next to the spouse.

Before hints, users were adding thousands of sources per day. Now they add a quarter-million sources each day! Hints have allowed new users to have initial successes, allowing them to make meaningful contributions and the very start.

To see a short interview of Robert, view DearMYRTLE’s “AmbushCAM FamilySearch.”

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Searching for Sources at FamilySearch at #NGS2015GEN (Part 1)

Robert Kehrer's grandfather, Howard Franklin AllorFamilySearch’s Robert Kehrer, search product manager, presented a luncheon session at the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. It was titled “FamilySearch Hinting: Making Difficult Research Easy.” Like shaky leaf record hints in personal member trees, FamilySearch’s record hints are indicators in Family Tree that a record exists that might pertain to a person in the tree.

[Since we are days past the conference, I must worn again that my recollections fail me. Some of the information below comes directly from my notes. Some are interpolations.]

Users can create sources in Family Tree in four different ways:

  1. By creating a Memory source. (Family Tree sometimes calls these documents.)
  2. By explicitly creating a new source. The source can be from anywhere on [or off] the Internet.
  3. Through searching for a record. This is done with an attach tool that Robert called the Source Linker.
  4. Via hinting. This also utilizes the attach tool.

Howard Franklin Allor is Robert’s grandfather.

Discharge papers of Howard Franklin AllorRobert found his grandfather’s naval discharge paper and uploaded it to To add a document, click on Memories, then Add Document, and then drag and drop the file. Robert didn’t show it, but a document can also be attached to a source in the Sources section of the person page. As this document contains strong evidence regarding an event in Howard’s life, I would do so. The evidence of birth is weaker, but I would still tag it as a source for the birth information.

From the discharge papers, Robert learned that his grandfather had served on the USS Stokes, so he searched the web and found a website dedicated to the Stokes.

On the website, Robert found a photo of the crew during the commissioning ceremony. Because a crew list showed his grandfather was present, and because of his grandfather’s glasses and moustache, he was able to locate him in the photo! He downloaded it and uploaded it to

Robert demonstrated how to create a source to any arbitrary page on the Internet. As an example, he created a source for Howard’s SSDI record on That’s a good example, because it demonstrates copy and paste of a source citation. To create the source, go to the person page, scroll down to the sources section, and click Create a New Source. Make up a title. This is the title that will be displayed in the source list. Copy and paste the URL. Copy and paste the citation. Put whatever you feel appropriate in the Notes field. Some people copy and paste the record values. Robert copied and pasted some of the database description.

USS Stokes commissioning crew on 4 November 1944I thought it would have been interesting if he had created a source for the commissioning photo. Having seen a couple of misidentified photographs in Family Tree, I am increasingly aware of the need to specify the provenance of historical photos. Robert has a high confidence in the photo because he knows the provenance. But how can other people judge? A source and citation would go a long way. Your citation might look different than mine and still be just fine, but I would have tinkered with a citation looking a bit like this one:

Ken Brown, “Crew Photos,” text and digital images, USS Stokes (AKA-68), website ( : accessed 19 May 2015), third of four photographs labeled “The above photos of the USS Stokes commissioning crew were taken on 4 November 1944”; provided by Steve Carver, son of F2c George R. Carver.

If I knew something about George R. Carver, I might add that. Was he there? Was he an official who would have known the subject of the photograph? (But I digress…)

A source can be created through searching a record. has records containing about 5.2 billion names. The records are very heavily weighted towards civil (vital) records, church records, and census records—records that help bridge the generations. One way to begin a search is by clicking Search Records on the person page:

Howard Franklin Allor's person page on FamilySearch Family Tree starts a search, using the name, birthplace, and a birth year range of two years on either side of the birth year. (See the left side of the screen shot, below.)

Search results for Howard Franklin Allor, search initiated from FamilySearch Family Tree

Notice the difference between starting a search from an Ancestry Member Tree and FamilySearch Family Tree. loads the search with every known fact about the person, including names of some relatives. FamilySearch is nearly the opposite, specifying just birth information. The result will become apparent in part 2 of this article.

Click on a result and review it. If it pertains to your search subject, click the big blue button on the right hand side labeled “Attach to Family Tree.”

Find a grave record of Howard Franklin Allor, search initiated from FamilySearch Family Tree

Next time I’ll talk about number four on the list of ways to create a source: hinting.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Owners of Hoping to Sell

Stock image of a rubber auction mallet hitting a stack of money
Image credit: Keerati /
It seems will soon be on the auction block, according to “people familiar with the matter.” Reuters broke the story last Wednesday, citing sources that did not wish to be identified. Ancestry’s owner, Permira Advisers LLC, has hired an investment bank to perform the auction.

Permira is a private equity firm. Let me see if I can remember how they work. I’m not an expert, so I may not have this completely right. But here’s how I think it works: A private equity firm is a company with expertise in buying and selling stock in privately owned companies. It invites people to give them money with the anticipation that ten years later they will get their money back, plus a profit. The pile of money is called a private equity fund. The firm takes the funds and buys multiple private companies. At the end of the ten years, the people want their money back, plus a profit. If the firm can’t deliver, people get awfully cranky. And they don’t want private shares of; they want cold, hard cash.

So when Permira bought back in 2012, it was expected that several years later they would want to unload it. I’ve been told that in the private equity world, three years is a long time. Well, we’re coming up on three years for

How much money will Permira make? It is hard to say, but let’s look at one, simplistic measure. In 2012 sold $334.6 million in subscriptions and was sold for $1.6 billion. That put the value of the company at 4.8 times its subscription revenues. Last year they sold $553.8 in subscriptions. The same ratio would put their present value at $2.6 billion. Like I said, that’s pretty simplistic. Lot’s of other factors will be considered. But the Reuters “people” predicted a valuation of between $2.5 and $3 billion, so my napkin math is reasonable.

Monday, May 25, 2015

In Memoriam: Software Friends at and FamilySearch

My thoughts and prayers today are with our military families who have lost cherished family members. I am also cognizant of others mourning loved ones. A recent death of a friend at saddened me deeply. This Memorial Day, I’d like to honor him and several other software friends who have passed away at and FamilySearch.

Frank Edward Briscoe (1953-2015)

Frank Edward Briscoe
December 11, 1953 - April 26, 2015

Our husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend, Frank Edward Briscoe, graduated from this life on April 26, 2015 at his home in Orem, UT after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 61. We will miss him.

Frank was born on December 11, 1953, to Lewis Samuel Briscoe and Catherine Rose Frustaci, in Denver, Colorado. He attended schools in Denver all throughout his growing up years. He attended Brigham Young University where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography, and later earned a Master’s in Public Administration. He worked for BYU Food Services for 7 years, then later began his career with computer technology, where he remained for 23 years.   At the time of his passing, he was employed with, where he had worked for the past 11 years. (More…)

Scott William Pathakis (1960-2014)Scott William Pathakis
May 10, 1960 – April 26, 2014

We had to say goodbye too soon to our outrageously talented and lovable husband and dad, Scott William Pathakis. He was born on May 10, 1960 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to the late Ted William & Carlene B. Schlegel Pathakis. Scott was the most perfect husband to Lori Allred Pathakis and they have four wonderful children, Erin Tracy (Christopher), Andra Staley (Davis), Clark and Brooke.…Following a hike with Lori, Clark and Brooke in Capitol Reef National Park he suddenly became sick and collapsed into the arms of his sweetheart.  He left this world suddenly and painlessly, and his family finds comfort knowing that he is now with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ.…

He was a software engineer with the Family History Department for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints …His expertise in database and search technologies has greatly contributed to the success of (More…)

imageNolan Kay Larsen
June 6, 1958 - February 14, 2013

Nolan Kay Larsen, beloved son, husband, father, brother, uncle, and grandfather, passed away unexpectedly on February 14, 2013. He was born June 6, 1958 to Lee Larsen and Dawn Larsen in Provo, Utah.

He grew up in Bountiful with his 2 sisters and 2 brothers. He graduated from BYU with a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science. While attending school, he met his sweetheart, Denise Norton, and made her his eternal companion on November 24, 1984 in the Mesa Arizona Temple.

He excelled in his career as a software programmer working on a variety of platforms. He enjoyed photography, technology, problem solving, genealogy, and traveling. (More…)

imageBrian Collings Cooper
February 14, 1953 - January 19, 2010

Brian Collings Cooper of Orem, Utah, passed away on 19 January 2010 at age 56 after struggling with cancer. He was born 14 February 1953 in Pocatello, Idaho, to Lindell and Blanche Collings Cooper. After serving a mission for the LDS Church in Colombia, Bogotá and Cali Missions, Brian married Janet Johnson of Rexburg, Idaho, on 20 August 1976 in the LDS Idaho Falls Temple. They are the parents of eight children: Jared (Sue Ann), Joseph (Amanda), Nancy, Nathan (Stephanie), Rebecca (Jeffrey Tucker), Elder Robert Cooper (California San Jose Mission), Jason, and Janelle (deceased). …

Brian [earned] his Bachelors Degree and Masters Degree from Brigham Young University in computer science. He has been employed as a computer programmer by Eyring Research, WordPerfect, Novell, Celio, and the LDS Church Family History Department. (More…)

Gone, but not forgotten.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Smiths and Joneses at #NGS2015GEN

Details from the old TV show: Alias Smith and JonesAt the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society, Elizabeth Shown Mills presented a session titled “Smiths and Joneses: How to Cope with Families of Common Names.”

She taught a research process model, research analysis model, and identity triangulation model. These are covered in her QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to the Research Process. I reviewed this product recently. (See “Review: Research Process QuickSheet.”) She taught her Problem Solving Spiral, taken from her QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle). (You can see a diagram of the spiral on her blog.) Unlike some product-hawking presenters, she never mentioned the existence of these products. Quite the opposite. If you went to the NGS conference, you can print a copy of her handout (pp. 441-4) and you’ll have half the information from these two products.

Elizabeth states that when dealing with common names, the chance of erroneously linking a record to a person is greatened. I loved Elizabeth’s terminology: “identity theft” and “former ancestors.” Committing the first, results in the second.

One thing she taught was that we need to finish extracting information, analyzing documents, and correlating findings while we are still onsite with the records. I recently suffered the results of not doing so. I was on an expensive, cross-continental research trip. I thought my pristine photographs of a business ledger would suffice. No need to extract them on the spot. When I got home I found that while the photographs were pristine, the handwriting was not. How I wished I could examine additional pages to assist deciphering. Oops.

“Research is not trolling the internet for names.” Dealing with common surnames doesn’t change the rules of sound research. “Working with common names requires that every source and every piece of information be critically appraised from every possible angle.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Searching for at #NGS2015GEN (Part 2)

I attended Crista Cowan’s class at the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. The class was titled “Maximizing Your Search on” Last time I wrote about the first three things she does to maximize her search for records:

1.  Start by looking at hints.
2.  Next, look at suggested records.
3.  Then, initiate a search from your tree.

Today, we cover the fourth and final approach.

4.  Use the card catalog.

The fastest, easiest way to find what records are online is to use the card catalog. (I don’t think everyone at FamilySearch appreciates the role the card catalog can and should play in helping people find collections. But I digress.) At, hover over Search on the menu bar. On the popup menu, click Card Catalog. (I’m glad they still call it a card catalog. I know that bugs some people. If they won’t say card when no card is present, why do they say dashboard when there is no board present and it no longer prevents dashing? They don’t have a clue, so to speak. But I digress…)

Crista likes to sort the catalog in two ways. One is alphabetically. Another is by date added. That makes it easy to see what is new. (As she sorted it, “Oregon, Motor Vehicle Registrations, 1911-1946” popped up near the top. That reminded her that Ancestry is working on driver registrations. Since they include traffic violations, she can’t wait to look up her uncle who has a propensity for speed. That was just one of many comments throughout her presentation that had us all laughing. But I digress… Wait a minute. It was Crista who digressed this time.)

To show us how to use the catalog, she typed [Arkansas] into the title box and clicked Search. That returned 56 titles. Beneath the search button are various ways to filter the list. She clicked “Birth, Marriage, & Death.” That dropped the number of titles to 13. She filtered to marriage and divorce. That dropped the number of results to ten. has ten databases covering marriages in Arkansas.

[It has been several days since Crista’s presentation, so I’ve forgotten some of what she said between what I noted. Consequently, some of what you’ll see from this point forward are my own interpolations.]

Some people wonder why Ancestry would have ten Arkansas marriage databases. Why not just combine them? We now have worked with the state of Arkansas, Crista said. But some Ancestry databases are extracted by private individuals, some from original records and some from FamilySearch microfilm. Some of the original records might have subsequently perished and the records in these extra databases may now be the only place they are recorded. So Ancestry keeps these databases, but keeps them separate so you can see the source of the records and understand the database.

As she had done before, she held down Ctrl while clicking a title so that it would open in a new browser tab. When you get to a particular database, the search forms are customized for the particular database. Global search is generalized for most records. We know what we indexed, she said, so we create a customized search form. Death date is not listed on this search form because death date doesn’t appear on the marriage record.

An example database-specific search form.

But before you search, scroll down below the search form and read the information. In the case of Crista’s ancestor, she needed Carroll County, but the description told her the database didn’t include it.

An example showing source information and description for an database
One last thing to think about is the Place field. All have a type-ahead list. (See the Carroll County example in the search form, above.) Choose from that list and Ancestry knows exactly where the location is on a map and can perform searches in proximity to that place. If you type just anything, then it is treated like any other field that must match what is typed.

Here’s my counsel to you, Crista said. Do the other things first, but also use that card catalog.

To see a short, two minute interview of Crista Cowan, view DearMYRTLE’s “AmbushCAM - Ancestry's Card Catalog Crista Cowan.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Searching for at #NGS2015GEN (Part 1)

The Woodrow Wilson Junior High School Elementary Band, 1932Friday morning at the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society I attended “Maximizing Your Search on,” taught by Ancestry’s corporate genealogist, Crista Cowan. She told us that, the website, has 16 billion records online. Some years ago Crista supervised Ancestry’s indexing. At that time, they were publishing one to two million records per month. Today, that number has grown to one to two million records per day. They have been doing that for the last two years.

When looking at a person's hints, the first one is for member trees, followed by the record hints.One challenge we have as genealogists is that we have become searchers, not researchers, Crista said. A researcher thinks about what they are searching for and then takes steps to find that thing. Another mistake is that we think we are looking for people. But we are not searching for people; we are looking for records about people.

1. Crista’s search strategy begins with hints.

Ancestry provides hints for the top 10% of its record collections. The presence of hints are indicated on a pedigree chart with a leaf icon that shakes momentarily. Crista said, “It used to shake forever, but you didn’t like it so we stopped it.” (I don’t hear any laughter. Crista is a masterful presenter and the way she said it, people laughed. I guess she speaks better than I write. :-) Go to the person whose records you seek. Then examine the record hints for that person.

Hints are not provided for every database. That is intentional. “We want to get you started,” she said. “We grab that low hanging fruit so that you experience that aha moment.” The collections that are hinted include vital records, census records, cemetery records, and draft records. “Remember that hints are just hints.” You need to look and decide if a record should be attached to a person in your tree. Concentrate on record hints. Member Trees are the first hint. Below that are the record hints. (See example to the right.)

When viewing a record, suggested records are listed to the right.2. After examining hints, Crista next moves to suggested records.

Suggested records are those along the right side of records about your person. “These are suggested by you,” she said, referring to all Ancestry users. She had us think about Amazon’s “People who bought this, also bought this.” Suggested records are records attached to persons in member trees that were attached alongside the record you are looking at. “I’ve found some real gems,” she said. If you find no suggested records, it means you are breaking virgin ground. “I get giddy when there are suggested records and I get giddy when there are not!”

To search for records about a person in your tree, click Search Records.3. After utilizing hints and suggested records, Crista performs a search starting from the tree.

Go to the person whose records you seek. Underneath their portrait, click on Search Records. This switches to the search page and loads the search form with information about the person, including names of parents, spouses, siblings, and children. (For an example, see the parameters along the left side of the screen shot, below.)

“The computer returns what we call our ranked search results,” Crista said. For example, suppose the tree loaded up 22 pieces of information for the search. Will any record match all 22? No. But the record matching the most fields, say 18, would be listed first. Results are sorted in the order of the number of matching fields. (It might be a touch more sophisticated. Some fields may have more weight than others.) Go far enough down the list and you’ll see records that might not match the name at all, but match several other fields.

Crista scans through the result list, opening ones of interest in new tabs. To open a page in a new tab, hold down the Ctrl key while clicking the link. She stops scanning the list somewhere along the first page. For me, that is typically when the matches start to get less than helpful. Only after clicking all the records of interest does she come back and start looking at each tab. Examining the results in this manner has several benefits. When the Internet is being slow, other tabs load while you examine one tab. The search results page is still available in the first tab. Tabs can be reordered using drag-and-drop, perhaps to arrange them chronologically or some other desired order.

The default view for search results is the ranked record view:

The default view for search results is ranked records. Click Categories (circled in red) to switch to category view.

Click on Categories (circled in red, above) to switch to category view: search results can also be displayed in category view.

“I can go directly to a particular section that might have a database with the information I’m searching for,” Crista said. It also helps identify record collections you may not have thought of.

“One of my favorite collections is our yearbook collection,” she said. One day she was working in the Ancestry booth in the exhibit hall at a conference. A man walked up, “clearly his wife’s designated driver.” He asked what was being done at the computers. Crista told him she was helping people search for their ancestors. She added, “Would you like to search for yours?”

“Can you find me"?” he queried.

We won’t have much of any interest about you, she told him. “Tell me about your Dad.”

“No. Search for me.”

She typed in his name, expecting nothing more than perhaps an address from the U.S. Public Records collection. One of the first things that came up was a junior high band photo. He just stood there, fascinated. He got really quiet. Then a little teary.

“Don’t move,” he said. “I’ve got to go find my wife.” He brought his wife back and began relating stories about his youth. He spoke eagerly for about 15 minutes. Crista says his wife looked over his head at her and mouthed the words, “Thank you!”

Stay tuned to learn what Crista does next to maximize search effectiveness…

Monday, May 18, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Retail Liquor Dealer

Dear Ancestry Insider,

What does  R.L.D. stand for on IRS Annual Lists 1866? I saw this in Georgia. It is some sort of occupation, and possibly a merchant of some kind?

Virginia Crilley

Dear Virginia,

Retail Liquor Dealer.

You might wonder how I discovered this. I first glanced through the NARA descriptive information found at the beginning of the microfilm. Read it on, starting at United States Internal Revenue Assessment Lists, 1862-1874 > Georgia (M762) > A guide for all counties > Image 2. While the answer to this specific question was not there, it is always a good idea to read the descriptive information at the beginning of a NARA microfilm. The description noted that these records were photographed from bound volumes.

I examined a volume from 1866. I wanted to see what instructions might exist in the first pages of the volume. In the volume I examined, some “helpful” camera operator had skipped the cover and the first pages of the volume. I suppose he figured they were of no historical value. It was impossible to tell if he had skipped something significant. (This practice is sometimes practiced by “helpful” websites as well, dropping images of no apparent genealogical value.) I noted on the first photographed page of the volume that the column heading for occupation is “Article or Occupation.”

Like the occupation codes found in census enumerator instructions, I figured there were instructions for tax assessors that listed these abbreviations. I did various Google searches, some involving the exact column heading. The one that did the trick was [internal revenue assessment lists occupation "r.l.d."]. The fourth result was:

Google result for _Internal Revenue Laws in Force January 1, 1900"

I selected this result and searched for [r. l. d.] in the file and found this:


Retail dealers in malt liquors can not retail spirituous liquors
or wines without paying special tax as retail liquor dealers.

No refund of a tax to a R. M. L. D. who becomes a R. L. D. (33
Int. Rev. Rec, 397.)

It was a fun challenge. But seriously, poking around the laws surrounding these documents might shed light on other meaning and nuance. Look for books showing the laws in effect at the time the record was created.

Have fun.

The Ancestry Insider

Friday, May 15, 2015

Thursday at #NGS2015GEN, Thinking of Dad

I’ve just completed Thursday at the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society (NGS). I’ve expended 99% of my energies and the conference is only 50% complete! Oh, oh.

In the morning I learned about a couple of libraries here in the Midwest.

Midwest Genealogy Center of the Mid-Continental Public LibraryCheryl Lang introduced the Midwest Genealogy Center of the Mid-Continental Public Library. It bills itself as the largest free-standing public genealogy library in the United States. It has 52,000 square feet, welcomes 10,000 visitors a month, has 200,000 print volumes (I think 20,000 of them can circulate), and sports 2,000 periodical titles.

I think it was Barbara Renick who, years ago, taught me that when visiting libraries in far off places, one might want to acquire a library card so that you can continue to access their online databases when you return home. Many libraries require that you be present to obtain your card, but let you renew from a distance. Some are free. You’ll want to look into the cost and benefits of obtaining a card when visiting libraries away from home. The rules and costs for obtaining a library card at the Midwestern Genealogy Center confused me a bit. (If you live in such-and-such counties, except for this school district, or if your Kansas City library has a borrowing agreement with us, or if you own land in such-and-such places, or if you live outside Missouri or Kansas and obtained your current card before May 2010…) Their website offers some help. If I understand correctly, any citizen of the United States living in the United States can get a Research Card. It provides access to most of their online databases (Ancestry Library Edition and Fold3 Library Edition being the notable, albeit usual, exceptions). It must be obtained in person, costs $20, and expires in six months.

The Midwest Genealogy Center has a partnership with FamilySearch, allowing FamilySearch to digitize books which have passed into the public domain. (That is to say, their copyright has expired.) FamilySearch missionaries are working eight hours a day, five days a week in this endeavor. (Go, missionaries!) Thank you, Midwest for allowing this. Midwest has donated 4,000 volumes so far. Midwest also has a partnership with Ancestry spent two to three years digitizing their yearbook collection.

For more information about the Midwest Genealogy Center of the Mid-Continental Public Library, visit their website.

Larry Franke introduced the History and Genealogy Department of the St. Louis County Library. They used to answer the phone saying “Special Collections.” People would ask to be transferred to the genealogy department. They got tired of explaining that that is basically who they were, so they changed their name.

Their most well-known collection to national genealogists is the NGS book collection. Twenty-thousand books arrived from NGS in two tractor trailers. Accessioning the collection was monumental, partly because NGS used the LC numbering system and St. Louis uses Dewey and partly because of the sheer size. The St. Louis Genealogical Society came to the rescue (go StLGS!), providing many hours of labor. The size of the collection has grown to 30,000 items, as authors donate additional titles to NGS. One stipulation of the donation to St. Louis was that the books be available for circulation. To learn how you can check out titles via interlibrary loan, watch “NGS Book Loan Collection” in the FamilySearch Learning center.

Lessor known collections include the St. Louis Genealogical Society Collection (12,000 unique titles) and the Louis Bunker Rohrbach Collection (11,000 items). See a list of additional collections on their website.

They will make copies of items from some of their vital records microfilms. If you request specifically, and receive the copy electronically, they will provide the service at no charge. See a list of their microfilms. Send requests to

For more information, visit the History and Genealogy Department section of the St. Louis County Library website.

I was able to attend a couple of classes from the New York track sponsored by the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society (NYG&B). I’m afraid I’m out of time, so I can’t tell you much about them. Remember that “towns” are not like towns out here in the west. Karen Mauer Jones likened them to western townships. For me, a Utahan, a township is a very large square of land without a known name. That’s not what a New York (or New England) town is like. For me, I think of what would happen if a group of western towns all expanded until they entirely consumed all the land in a county. Driving across New England it hit me one day: there’s no space between the towns. The other difference is record keeping. So many records are created at the town level instead of the county level, maybe I should think of towns as mini-counties—counties within a county. Jane Wilcox drove home the need to understand the place hierarchy and its effect on records by pointing out that New York has 1,472 government bodies with the potential of creating or holding vital records. That’s 22% of all that are in the United States. And they are all in New York. And records that you think ought to be archived at one level are sometimes found at another. It was easy to see why both Karen and Jane recommended NYG&B’s new book, the New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer.

Lunch was cool. In her luncheon presentation, Terry Koch-Bostic mentioned my Serendipity in Genealogy series! Thanks, Terry! Terry is such an awesome person, it was a great honor to have her mention me. I see Terry in action on a regular basis and, honestly, I don’t know how she accomplishes all she does for so many organizations and so many people in so short a time. (Go, Terry!)

Terry’s topic was “Intuition and Genealogy Success: A Sixth Sense, Chance, Coincidence, or Serendipity?” She told several touching stories. One rang especially true to me. She told a story in which a white dove brought her and her mother closer to her deceased father. I shed a tear because the exact same thing happened to me and my mother. But you have to understand my father’s humor and playful nature to understand my story. And you have to understand that in his final years, Dad had become an avid bird watcher. Terry experienced a solitary, noble, white dove. My mother and I were walking to a place we often frequented with my father before his passing. It was, perhaps, the first time we had done so. We were weeping a little over that very fact when we were buzzed by an exceptionally low-flying flock of mallards. They quickly settled at our feet onto a newly landscaped, lovely pond. Tears and sadness were startled away with surprise and amusement. It was the perfect mixture of humor and love. It was Dad.

Serendipity: “I Am Not a Son!”

A voice said, "I am not a son."El Stone was just finishing an indexing batch. She was just ready to click the submit button when she distinctly heard a voice.

Indexing is an important activity that anyone can do. Indexing a record makes it possible for a computer to generate record hints in FamilySearch Family Tree. Hints make it possible for you to document your family. Documenting your family makes it possible to find new ancestors in the records that someone, maybe you, indexed. See for more information.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

#NGS2015GEN Off to a Great Start

It was a great day yesterday at the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. J. Mark Lowe got the conference off to a great start. He spoke in period costume, telling stories from the point of view of several characters, such as Daniel Boone. Dear MYRT reminds me that another character was Charles Floyd of the Lewis and Clark company. He showed several paintings while he spoke, drawing a story or theme from each one. Louis, the Eagle capped off his presentation.

Click to enlarge this thumbnail of Louis the Eagle on the St. Charles Convention Center Facebook pageClick to enlarge this picture of
Louis the Eagle
on the convention center’s Facebook page.


Between other duties, I got to attend two regular sessions.

Peggy Baldwin gave a presentation about the Oregon Trail. You could tell she was passionate and knowledge about the subject. She did the Oregon Trail portion of the research for the Kelsey Grammer episode of WDYTYA and shared some clips with us, albeit without sound. It was not for lack of trying. I found her in the room 30 minutes early to get set up. Slide show and sound were working until it was time to begin. Then the technical gremlins took over!

Kelsey Grammer on the Oregon Trail - WDYTYA

I attended a class by Elizabeth Shown Mills. She had put together a whopper of a document—two actually—illustrating the kinds of things we have to know to decipher a document, accurately and completely. Laws, practices, geographies, jurisdictions, contemporary word definitions, and common sense. “I see what it says. But, what does it mean?!!” She taught us a lot. Genealogy is a great hobby if you like to learn and a dangerous one if you don’t!

Lunch with speaker Judy Russell. Shed a tear or two. Dinner barbeque buffet with the St. Louis Genealogical Society. They are awesome hosts.

I’m off to bed… Stay tuned for tomorrow…

#NGS2015GEN and FamilySearch (Part 2)

I’m here at the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Conference. This is part 2 of an article about FamilySearch. I’ve collected information from their booth, booth workers, and other recent, public pronouncements.

FamilySearch Indexing QR CodeFamilySearch is excited about its new indexing system. They haven’t released it yet, but it is “coming later this year.” Over 100,000 volunteers are indexing billions of records. Indexing is important and anyone can do it. It’s a good way to give back to the community and you decide how much time you wish to spend. And while you may not index your own ancestor’s records, you will index someone else’s ancestors and someone else will index yours.

As I looked at the booth card, I noticed five blue hyperlinks (“Click Indexing”). Hyperlinks? On a piece of paper?! I asked and was told that the words in blue match the terms to be clicked along the top of the website. Okay. That makes sense. Perhaps they should add QR codes as well.

FamilySearch is talking about the ongoing obituary indexing project. “Help unlock the treasure trove of information hidden within.” FamilySearch has published 23 obituary collections. The indexing project is adding to “United States, GenealogyBank Obituaries, 1980-2014,” which now has over 10 million obituaries. With the three year delay the government has built into the SSDI, it helps to have these obituaries covering recent deaths. I didn’t realize it, but these obituaries were “born digital.” GenealogyBank acquires these obituaries as digital text, rather than newspaper images. FamilySearch converts them to images for the purpose of indexing. Then publishes the text extracted by indexers.

To encourage use of its obituary collections, FamilySearch is sending select users an email inviting them to check out an obituary of an ancestor (below, left). The email links to a landing page showing all the obituaries found for their ancestors (right).
FamilySearch obituary marketing campaign email     FamilySearch obituary marketing campaign landing page

They are sending the email to a few users at a time because they don’t want a flood of people hitting The campaign utilizes just a few obituaries, so don’t expect an email unless you have ancestors in these record collections:

  • United States, Obituaries, American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 1899-2012
  • Idaho, Southeast Counties Obituaries, 1864-2007
  • Idaho, Southern Counties Obituaries, 1943-2013
  • ObitsUtah Obituary Index
  • Utah, Obituaries from Utah Newspapers, 1850-2005

I’ll continue tomorrow with more new features. Stay tuned…

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

#NGS2015GEN and FamilySearch (Part 1)

image[5]I’m here at the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. Typically you’re reading my story this morning about the Tuesday night FamilySearch blogger dinner. Only this year they didn’t have one, so I will have to wing it. I’ll try to guess what they would have said, if they had said it. (I’ve checked with booth workers to see what they are saying. I’ve checked their handouts and signage. I’ve checked their latest blog posts. And I’ve attended some recent presentations at smaller conferences.)

FamilySearch is sometimes surprised by how many people have not heard of it and its website. I’m preaching to a choir, here, that is well aware of FamilySearch. Suffice it to say that FamilySearch is a non-profit, volunteer-driven service of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It offers a free website with billions of records, a collaborative family tree, and free research help.

May I add that neither FamilySearch nor own the other. The fact that both are headquartered in Utah still seems to confuse people. Others want to believe that the Church is secretly controlling I’ve worked for both organizations and, believe me, that is not true. Ancestry is owned by a company far away in Germany. It is managed by owners, a board, and executives who are not members of the Church. Ancestry’s motive are commercial. FamilySearch’s motives are religious. And while the two highlight their public partnership, anyone can see that out in the field, they compete for access to records in churches and archives. (But I digress…)

FamilySearch has added improvements to Family Tree. There is a new landscape pedigree with icons encouraging cleanup of the tree. There is a relationship calculator. There are sources pointing to the extracted IGI records used to prepopulate Family Tree.

The landscape pedigree view contains various colored icons indicating several possible ways to clean up Family Tree. I’ve shown them below with the popups enlarged for legibility.

One icon type indicates that the computer has found sources that might be useful for documenting the information in the tree. These are like’s shaky leaves, so they should be considered carefully before attaching. FamilySearch Family Tree landscape pedigree record hints
Another icon type indicates a data problem exists, such as death previous to birth.FamilySearch Family Tree landscape pedigree data problems
A third icon type points out opportunities for research, such as possibly missing children or spouses. FamilySearch Family Tree landscape pedigree research suggestions

FamilySearch has added a relationship calculator for relatives within your scope of interest. Your scope of interest is defined as four generations of ancestors and their children. When viewing the person page of someone in your scope of interest, you can see a link to “View My Relationship.” Click the link to see a graphical representation of your relationship to that person. Again, this is only available for your ancestors up to your 3rd-great-grandparents and then down one from each of these ancestors.
FamilySearch Family Tree relationship calculator

Most people know that FamilySearch seeded Family Tree with information from older databases. However, they didn’t create any sources to indicate which database they got the information from. FamilySearch is rectifying that for persons in Family Tree that were created from the high quality extracted records of the International Genealogical Index (IGI). As of last report, they have created sources for 100 million of the 500 million planned. An IGI source looks no different from any other sources until the source is opened. Then you will see a message indicating the source is from the IGI.


I’ll continue tomorrow with information about FamilySearch Indexing. Stay tuned…

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Watch #NGS2015GEN From Home

The Ancestry Insider is an official blogger for the #NGS2015GEN conference.The 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society has arrived—or more accurately—I have arrived at the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society (NGS). Just because you didn’t come, doesn’t mean you can’t attend sessions from the comfort of your own home or office.

Once again, NGS is offering live streaming of some of the most popular sessions. Sessions can be viewed live or at a more convenient time. Access to the recorded sessions extends through 16 August 2015. Sessions can be purchased in two tracks. Each costs $65 for NGS members or $80 to non-members. Both can be purchased for $155 and $145, respectively.

For more information, and to sign up, visit

Track Details
Day One: The Immigration & Naturalization Process

Day one offers information on immigration and naturalization records, uncovering the immigrants story, and useful hints on how to discover their home town.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

8:00 a.m. T205 — The Journey to America: Federal Passenger Ship Records, Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG. As immigration legislation in the United States became more restrictive, the information on passenger-ship records became more robust.

9:30 a.m. T215 — Becoming an American: Naturalization Records, Julie Miller, CG. This lecture will examine naturalizations in the United States. It will discuss the naturalization process, records that were generated, and how to locate them.

11:00 a.m. T225 — Discovering the REAL Stories of Your Immigrant Ancestors, John P. Colletta, PhD, FUGA. Three 19th-century case studies demonstrate the original records and published materials available to discover the particular facts of each immigrant ancestor’s story.

2:30 p.m. T245 — Bads, Bergs, Burgs, and Bachs: Finding Locations in Germany, Warren Bittner, CG. German localities are tricky as many towns share similar names, or the name has changed, or the place no longer exists. Learn to find localities.

4:00 p.m. T255 — A Methodology for Irish Emigration to North America, David Rencher, AG, CG, FIGRS, FUGA. Lacking a location in Ireland to begin research may necessitate learning to use the sources and methodologies for solving the problem with Irish resources.

Day Two: Methodology Techniques

Day two includes learning methodology techniques for use with historical context, forensic genealogy, DNA, and problem solving using a combination of resources.

Friday, 15 May 2015

8:00 a.m. F302 – The Time of Cholera: A Case Study about Historical Context, Alison Hare, CG. A cholera epidemic in London, England, in 1854 is the backdrop for a memorable lesson in how to develop historical context.

9:30 a.m. F311 — The Problem-Solver’s Great Trifecta: GPS+FAN+DNA, Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS. Can you really “prove” a maternal line when, for four straight generations, absolutely no document identifies a parent or sibling? This session shows you how.

11:00 a.m. F321 — When Does Newfound Evidence Overturn a Proved Conclusion? Thomas W. Jones, CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS. Even thorough research can miss relevant sources. What are the options when useful information or DNA test results appear after a researcher establishes a conclusion?

2:30 p.m. F342 — Forensic Genealogy Meets the Genealogical Proof Standard, Michael Ramage, JD, CG. Learn how a $22 million estate case involving same name/age/place ancestors was solved using the Genealogical Proof Standard.

4:00 p.m. F352 — Using DNA as a Genealogical Record, Angie Bush. Using DNA testing as part of an exhaustive search in conjunction with traditional records can provide new evidence to answer genealogical questions.

AncestryDNA Impressive Coverage

imageJulie Granka of AncestryDNA recently published a blog article with a world map showing the locations of the ancestors at the center of DNA Circles. (I’ll call them the subjects of the DNA Circles.) I took the DNA Circles map, zoomed in on the United States, and overlaid state boundaries. See the map to the right. The coverage of the Eastern United States is impressive. And coverage is to be expected down the “Mormon Corridor” from southern Idaho and extending along Utah’s Wasatch Front to St. George. Less expected might be the cluster in North-Central New Mexico around Santa Fe and the lack of coverage in California.

Granka provides information that explains some of the anomalies. The circles are placed at the locations of the subjects’ birthplaces. About half of the subjects were born between 1780 and 1820. I think that, consequently, the map is going to reflect population distributions of the 19th century. What follows are details taken from an 1870 population distribution map found on the U.S. Census Bureau website.

Detail of New Mexico from Francis A. Walker's 1870 population density map of the United States.Santa Fe, New Mexico has been continuously inhabited since 1607. As English speakers, we remember Jamestown and Plymouth. Sometimes we forget about Spanish-speaking settlements of the Southwest. Compare the Circles map with the detail of New Mexico from the 1870 population map, to the right.
Even as late as 1870, large portions of Texas and Florida were uninhabited. Compare the Circles map with Texas and Florida from the 1870 population map.

Detail of Texas from Francis A. Walker's 1870 population density map of the United States.     Detail of Florida from Francis A. Walker's 1870 population density map of the United States.

The holes in upper New York and Maine from the Circles map are reflected in the 1870 population map.

Detail of New York from Francis A. Walker's 1870 population density map of the United States.     Detail of Maine from Francis A. Walker's 1870 population density map of the United States.

Read Granka’s entire article, “Where in the World are the Ancestors of DNA Circles?” on the Ancestry Blog to see the entire world and read Granka’s thoughts about European coverage. (Notice the difference between France and Germany.)

Map Sources

     Julie Granka, “Where in the World are the Ancestors of DNA Circles?Ancestry [Blog], 25 April 2015 ( : accessed 11 May 2015), detail of the United States from DNA Circles map.
     “Mercator Projection,” DPlot ( : accessed 11 May 2015), map titled “Continental US Mercator Projection.” The author overlaid this map on the DNA Circles map.
     Francis A. Walker, Statistical Atlas of the United States Based on the Results of the Ninth Census 1870 ([New York]: Julius Bien, lith., 1874), plates 18-9; PDF file ( : accessed 11 May 2015), path: History > Reference > Maps > Population Distribution Over Time > 1870. The entire atlas is available as digital images ( : accessed 11 May 2015).

Monday, May 11, 2015

AncestryDNA Negative Publicity

There were two stories released last week that did not show AncestryDNA in a positive light.

On 1 May 2015, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published an article recalling an old news story published back in March. And while this is old news, I didn’t write about it back then, so let me do so now. The New Orleans Advocate published a story titled “New Orleans Filmmaker Cleared in Cold-Case Murder; False Positive Highlights Limitations of Familial DNA Searching.” That’s a mouthful, unlike the cheek swap police gave Michael Usry.

Idaho Falls police were investigating a murder. They searched the Y-DNA database of the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation for a match to DNA found at the scene of the murder.

Search page for the Y-DNA database of the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation

They found one.

This is a representative result from the Sorenson database, not Usry's.

They obtained a court order requiring, the current owner of the Sorenson database, to identify the subject of the test sample. That eventually led them to Michael Usry. Last December Idaho Falls police showed up at his door with a court order and a cheek swab. In January, he received word that he was not a match to the DNA found at the crime scene. But it was a nerve racking ordeal.

I’ll let you read the article for the complete story. It quotes our own Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, who expresses concern about the implications of this story. See her complete take, “Big Easy DNA: Not So Easy,” on her blog.

Let me offer one clarification to the story. I’m doubtful that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, called the Mormon Church in the article, sponsored a project to give DNA samples to Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. To be sure, there are numerous connections between the two. Sorenson Molecular was founded and financed by wealthy Church member, James L. Sorenson. It was started at Brigham Young University, which is owned by the Church. It was the subject of a news story in the Church News, an official publication of the Church. (See “Unlocking DNA.” The article states that “The foundation has no connection with the Church.”) I gave my sample to Sorenson at a meeting of a local genealogical society held monthly inside one of the Church’s buildings. Maybe there was support of Sorenson’s project by individual Church leaders, but it sounds uncharacteristic for the Church to have officially sponsored this project.

Let me return now to the May Day article resurrecting this story, “How Private DNA Data Led Idaho Cops on a Wild Goose Chase and Linked an Innocent Man to a 20-year-old Murder Case.” The article shouts “May Day! May Day!” over possible privacy issues surrounding DNA databases. This article contains additional detail not found in the Advocate article. I assume they did further research, including talking to Usry. But it also makes claims at odds with the Advocate article. Judy Russell addresses these discrepancies in her article, “Facts matter!

To be sure, there are privacy concerns. I’d like to see them addressed. I’m still upset that was able to buy my DNA sample from Sorenson. But it doesn’t constructively further the discussion to play loose with the facts.

The second negative story concerning AncestryDNA concerns its spit-test alternative to cheek swabs. Reuters ran a one paragraph story saying that is being sued by DNA Genotek, a provider of DNA test kits. They allege that reverse-engineered their test kits and created ones of their own, all this in breach of the agreements between the two. Reuters invites readers to read the complete story on their subscription website.

A PDF of the complaint on the RPX Corporation website contains additional information. DNA Genotek alleges violation of a DNA NDA AND patent infringement. (Sorry; I couldn’t resist acronym mania.) AncestryDNA bought more than 300,000 kits from DNA Genotek, starting in early 2012. The terms and conditions of the sales prevented AncestryDNA from reverse-engineering DNA Genotek’s kits or improving them without giving the improvements back to them. DNA Genotek alleges that AncestryDNA has done just that and has, additionally, infringed on DNA Genotek patents. DNA Genotek is asking the court to make AncestryDNA stop selling its kits and compensate DNA Genotek for actual damages. They are asking the court to award triple the normal damages because they think AncestryDNA has infringed their patents willfully.

Those charges are nothing to spit at.