Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Comments about the New Ancestry

Screen shot from the Facts page of a person in New AncestryThank you to everyone for your comments. I have gotten stricter on comments about other commenters. I’m no longer accepting comments that characterize groups of other people in a bad light. I have appreciated commenters helping other commenters. For example, having several of you share your experiences with Family Tree Maker gives other readers a wider sampling than my personal experience.

I realize some of you are dissuaded from commenting because I require that you have an account with one of several systems. I apologize but that is one of several methodologies I have had to employ to avoid a growing number of spam posters.

Some of you make comments by replying to my newsletter emails. I encourage you to leave a comment instead so that others can benefit from your wisdom. Click the title in the newsletter and scroll down to the comments. Or click the comments link near the bottom of the email.

I see in’s 19th September New Ancestry update that they have noticed several of the issues you’ve raised here. They have acted on one of them (contrast), plan to act on a couple more (member connect and linking multiple people to an image), and have acknowledged one other (oval profile pictures).

While I encourage you to continue to share your thoughts through this forum, I see that Ancestry now solicits feedback through their established suggestion box. For New Ancestry feedback, they are suggesting the “General Feedback” category:

Regarding the feedback that there is far too much whitespace: I yearn for the good old days of 24 lines by 80 characters. Screen real estate was so valuable, programmers packed features into every square inch. I feel like you got far more functionality in that itty bitty space than you do in one screen today. I’m afraid utilitarian programmers have been replaced by graphic designers. It is true that interfaces are prettier, and more importantly, intuitive and easier for beginners. But my hands used to fly across the keyboard much faster than moving back and forth to the mouse. And I remember printing 12 generation pedigrees from PAF on 9 sheets of paper. No way it can be done now, despite better printer technology. , Much has been gained, but much has been lost for the experienced person, those willing to get over that initial learning curve.

The motel replaced the heat lamp bulb with a cool florescent bulb.Not to change the subject, but I had an interesting experience over the weekend. I was staying in a motel and awoke to a crisp, cool, September morning. As I left my warm bed, I looked forward to the bathroom heat lamp. The first switch turned on the regular light. When I flipped the second switch I was disappointed, but amused. The motel had replaced the heat lamp bulb with an energy efficient, long lasting, cool-to-the touch florescent bulb.

In our rush to improve upon the past, do we sometimes overlook why things were the way they were?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How to Navigate Around the Internet Archive Search Bug

There is a bug in Internet Archive’s “Search Inside” a book feature. Don’t trust it. Let me tell you what to do instead.

Let’s say you found your way to a book on Internet Archive (IA). It is A Complete History of Fairfield County, Ohio (at by Hervey Scott. You want to see if Jonas Messerly is mentioned in it. You select the search magnifying glass up in the upper-right corner.

Internet Archive's title search icon

You search for “Messerly” and, oops, you just searched IA for titles rather than searching inside that single title.

Internet Archive's title search results

Wait, don’t cuss me out yet; that’s not the bug. That’s just user error and a user interface annoyance.

You find another search magnifying glass icon on the right-hand side about half way down the page. The context help popup says “search inside.” You select the icon.

Internet Archive's search inside icon

The page changes a bit and the search icon disappears.

The search inside icon is in a different place in the Internet Archive's full screen view.

Instead of instigating a search, what you’ve just done is switched from one book viewer to another. People  in the know tell me that this failure to search is not a bug. Because the design is supposed to do this, it is a WAD, “working as designed.” Fine. Let’s compromise and call it a user interface flaw. But this is still not the bug of which I speak.

The search inside icon has disappeared. The search-all-of-IA box is still up in the upper-right corner of the screen. You fell for that one once before. “Fool me once…” After looking in vain for another search icon, you notice that the search box you previously dismissed, the one that searched for book titles, is now labeled “Search inside”.

The search inside box is at the top in the Internet Archive's full screen view.

Also not the bug of which I speak. It’s another user error and user interface annoyance.

Now comes the bug. You search for “Messerly” and IA erroneously states “No matches were found.”

The Internet Archive's full screen view with no matches found message 

Rather than depend on just the “Search Inside” results, check the raw text. To do this, select the italic I—the “About this book” icon. In the popup, select Plain Text. That brings you to a page containing the raw text from the book. Now use your browser search (^F) to search for Messerly.

Some raw text from an Internet Archive book

There he is on page 73. Now back up to the book viewer and advance to page 73.

Mention of Jonas Messerly in a history of Fairfield County, Ohio

One of the distinct advantages of Internet Archive over Google Books is that downloaded PDF files are searchable. I tested the above book and found that Adobe Reader is not affected by the search bug. You can download from IA with the confidence that your offline study will not be affected.

Mention of Jonas Messerly in a history of Fairfield County, Ohio

Be aware that OCR errors are unaffected by any of this. If a word was not recognized when scanned, then all of these methods will fail to find it.

Finally, the Internet Archive is a non-profit organization that accomplishes amazing things with very little money. No one should be surprised that there are flaws in their software. We are all in their debt. They accept contributions at

Monday, September 28, 2015

Monday Mailbox: FamilySearch Family Tree Questions

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

Can one delete their submission [to FamilySearch] and resubmit a Gedcom file to start all over? I went through the processes for over 3500 individuals only to see a very small and difficult-to-edit/maintain tree. After numerous go-rounds with various levels of support I finally gave up on FT as a 'free' source and replacement for the expensive Thus my opening question.


Dear Ancestry Insider,

[“My Family is All Messed Up on Family Tree.”] I found that out right away.  All my 20 yrs. of research went right down the drain the min. I uploaded to Family Search.  Is there a way to take that tree off of there?  It sure doesn't benefit Family Search, now that it's all catywompus with the wrong information!!  Arggggggggggh!

Brownie MacKie

Dear Zeke and Brownie,

Can you provide me some more information? Perhaps you can send me a URL of a person in your tree. I can then figure out which type of tree you are talking about. The approach to FamilySearch Family Tree is 180 degrees different than for Pedigree Resource File.

---The Ancestry Insider

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I wish there was a tutorial I could read before I begin. I don't see one. I do see that they give directions 'as you work' but I want to know the procedure before hand to determine if I even want to start. I'm concerned that I read somewhere that notes and sources in your GEDCOM won't be added to the tree. So now wondering how one decides between conflicting data if there are no sources to determine validity. If this is spelled out somewhere on the site, pls point me to it.

Can one upload a GEDCOM to FamilyTree and then merge any potential matches? I love the idea of a collaborative tree, but sure wouldn't bother to upload my whole database one person at a time.


Dear Janiejac,

There are no problems with notes and sources if you import your GEDCOM file into a certified software program like RootsMagic or Ancestral Quest and then upload individual persons—one at a time—into FamilySearch Family Tree. For a list of certified programs, search the FamilySearch App Gallery.

The problem of notes and sources lies with using Pedigree Resource File (PRF) as an intermediate step in uploading information to Family Tree. You can upload your entire GEDCOM to PRF and notes and sources are preserved. If you wish to subsequently push your information into Family Tree, you must do that one at a time and sources and notes are not preserved. A FamilySearch Help article titled “Uploading GEDCOM files and copying the information to Family Tree” states that “you cannot currently add the notes, sources, and multimedia links that are in your GEDCOM file to Family Tree.”

Family Tree is in desperate need of an overall manual for Family Tree, but FamilySearch finds themselves in the same boat as its users. FamilySearch is changing things so fast, it is impractical to try and write a manual, only to change it every couple of weeks. There is a third party that has attempted the feat and has apparent endorsement from FamilySearch. His name is Leland Moon. To read the information he has provided, click here or do the following:

  1. In the upper-right corner of, select Get Help.
  2. Near the  top of the page, select “Learning Center” or go to
  3. Search for [“Family Tree Training Lessons and Videos”]. Include the quotes " "; don’t include the square brackets [ ].

Leland has the same problem FamilySearch does; after a couple of weeks, the information is out of date. However, it looks like there is some attempt to keep the information current.

You can upload your

Good luck,
---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, September 25, 2015

Darned Double Records on

Records say the darnedest things.

People have noticed that duplicates exist for some records on There are good reasons. As the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints upgraded their computer systems, information was migrated from one to another. In some instances, information was migrated to multiple places for multiple reasons. Records might be shuttled off to the online International Genealogical Index database. Independently, they might be sent to the British Vital Records Index CD-ROMS. Judging from what FamilySearch has published online, it appears that sometimes information was lost during migrations. And sometimes it wasn’t always the same information. FamilySearch appears to have done the conservative thing and published duplicate records, just in case.

Here’s an example. There is a record of the marriage of Nicholas Chatterton to Joan Aault on FHL microfilm 496,705. It was indexed in batch M05442-2. It has been published twice.

One is at

One of two of a duplicate record on

It made its way to via “England-ODM,” as indicated by the “System Origin.” I think that is the equivalent of “England IGI.” (See the FamilySearch Help Center for more information about system origin.) Notice that the event date (why doesn’t FamilySearch call it a marriage date like Ancestry does? Why confuse people?) is 1 August 1568. Notice that the event place is Longford, Derbyshire, England. We’ll learn later that that is the wrong location. This first record has the complete date and the wrong location.

Another copy is

One of two of a duplicate record on

It made its way to via “England-VR,” which I think means the British Vital Records CD-ROMs. Notice that the event date is 1568. FamilySearch has lost the month and day, 1 August. Notice that the event place is Etwall, not Longford, in Derbyshire. This second record has an incomplete date, but the correct location.

If FamilySearch removes one of these duplicates—whichever one—they lose information not present in the other. Now do you see why there are duplicate records on I know people who, when finding duplicate hints, accept one and mark the other as not-a-match. Don’t do that. In the first place, that damages the hinting system. In the second, you may be throwing away information.

By now you’re wondering how I knew which location was the correct one. That is an excellent question. First, I looked up the film number in the catalog, expecting it to list one of the two parishes. It listed both. That left the batch number as my only hope. Here you’ll have to go old school: look up the batch number in the PVRL (Parish and Vital Records Listing) on microfiche. I’m disappointed that FamilySearch hasn’t published the PVRL online. You’ll have to find a family history center that has kept their PVRL microfiche—and kept a fiche reader. Go to the center and look up the batch number to check the name of the parish, hoping the batch wasn’t extracted after the fiche was published. When you complete this exercise, you find that Etwall is correct.

By now you’re also wondering how prevalent blatant place errors are in FamilySearch’s records. There is something you can do to get a feeling as to the quality of a collection. From the collection’s main page, select “Learn More.” That takes you to a wiki article about the collection. Scroll down looking for the section titled “Known Issues with This Collection.” Click the icon to get to the wiki article about the errors in the collection. The “England Marriages, 1538-1973” collection has four screens of errors. One line addresses our error:

Film 0496705, Batch M05442-2: The correct event place as Longford, Derbyshire, not Etwall, Derbyshire.

That’s opposite of my conclusion. Going back to the PVRL, I looked up Etwall and Longford. The batch number for Etwall is M05442-2. The batch number for Longford is M05549-2. Either the PVRL is wrong or the wiki is wrong. My guess is that the wiki has it backwards. But who can tell?

There are a couple of things to learn here. Don’t assume that a computer file is copied exactly when migrated from place to another. In this example, database programmers introduced the errors, not non-English speaking indexers. And never, never trust a derivative record. Always, always find and look at the original or a trustworthy image of it.

Yes, records say the darnedest things.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ancestry Insider Named One of Family Tree Magazine’s Top Blogs

The Ancestry Insider is one of Family Tree Magazine's top 5 blogs.I learned last week that Family Tree Magazine has named me one of the top five genealogy blogs. Thank you, Family Tree Magazine. I am grateful to your editorial’s staff’s encouragement that I stick with blogging even though I’m a poor writer. Hopefully, I make up for it by presenting useful content.

Speaking of which, enough about me. Let me give you something actually useful. The other four genealogy blogs are

Family Tree Magazine honored YouTube as a sixth choice. I’ve discovered the same thing of late. Here’s just some of the useful channels I’ve looked at:

Read David A. Fryxell’s take on these blogs at

Read his comments about the other “101 Best Websites,” 2015 at and:


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

RootsTech Open for Registration

The Ancestry Insider is a RootsTech 2016 AmbassadorI am honored that RootsTech has asked me to be an Ambassador for another year. Thank you, RootsTech.

RootsTech opened their doors for registration last week. I got registered and immediately went to get a hotel registration. I was disappointed that my favorite hotel is already sold out! If you plan on coming, you better grab up lodging quickly, or you may find yourself facing a little inconvenience. Salt Lake hosts conferences that are plenty bigger than RootsTech, so there are plenty of rooms around the city, but the official conference hotels, give discounts and are within easy walking distance of both the Salt Palace and the Family History Library. See for more information.

Each year I see RootsTech drawing in more national level speakers, and that’s true again this year. I don’t mean to dis the local experts. As you might guess, the Salt Lake area is full of genealogical expertise, many of which can’t travel to the other national conferences, so they aren’t well known. But my point is that RootsTech continues to grow in national prominence. For more information about speakers, see

Hopefully, by the time you read this they will have fixed the color rendering bugs affecting the course descriptions. Here (below, left) is a snippet as it was last weekend when I wrote this. Long time readers know that I harp constantly on the shortcomings of websites that try to use low contrast color schemes. Graphic artists seem to be constantly drawn in by pretty instead of utility. If they haven’t fixed it by the time you read it, the workaround is to select the text. Here (below right) is what it looks like if you select it.

image image

Come to RootsTech and say hello. The Ancestry Insider isn’t teaching any sessions this year, so it may be hard for you to pick me out. Look for the guy in the blue shirt, glasses, bushy eyebrows, and suspenders. My hair has thinned out and grayed since my last photograph (below), and my employer makes me wear a collar, but you should still be able to pick me out of the 10,000 people in attendance.

Portrait of the Ancestry Insider

See you there!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Getting Your Stuff Off

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Readers,

My article “Soon the New Ancestry Will be the Only Ancestry” drew lots of response. Thank you for sharing your feelings about and experiences with the New Most of you who don’t like the New Ancestry shared particular grievances; good job! Some of you chipped in with solutions to some of the problems expressed. There’s another advantage of being particular. Thank you!

Some of you seem pretty intent on leaving Ancestry. If you are serious about carrying through on the threat, the answer to Charmaine Ortega Getz’s question may be of use.

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I have only recently discovered this excellent blog and am slowly getting up to speed. I apologize if this question has been asked before: Is there a good way to remove information from one's own Tree on Ancestry to one's own computer?

Charmaine Ortega Getz

Dear Charmaine,

A good way to copy information from’s member trees is to purchase Family Tree Maker. You can download all your information, including document images of the database images attached to your tree.

I use FTM as a backup to my tree, should the unthinkable happen. I think it is something we should all do, where ever we keep our tree. (Now, I just need to track down my disks to reload it on my new computer. Or did I download it?)

The Ancestry Insider

Friday, September 18, 2015

Darned Roaming Basket Makers

A coworker alerted me to a funny Facebook post by Deidre Denton of Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches of Genealogy.

You probably think you have some ancestors that just dropped onto the planet from outer space. Well, there’s another explanation:

They were roaming basket makers living in the woods.

Daniel Hinkle was a roaming basket maker in 1870 Virginia.

The enumerator added this note about this band of nomads:

These People live in
the woods and you
can hardly Tell whether
they are Human or

These people live in the woods and you can hardly tell whether they are human or brutes.

Yes, records say the darnedest things.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

News Ketchup for 17 September 2015

Ancestry Insider Ketchup

I’ve got a zillion article ideas I don’t have time to act upon. Time to ketchup.

FamilySearch tree bulletFamilySearch recently announced a partnership with the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records to digitize their 5,000 genealogy book collection. Like other books on the website, they will be available for use 24 x 7. Scanning is expected to take six months. For more information, see “State Library, FamilySearch Partner to Make Genealogy Records Accessible” on the FamilySearch Blog.

Leaf bulletRootsTech has announced that the prize package for the 2016 RootsTech Innovator Showdown will total $100,000! “Innovator Showdown seeks to support, foster, and inspire innovation within the family history marketplace,” said the press release. For more information, see “2016 RootsTech Innovator Showdown Offering $100,000 in Prizes!” on the FamilySearch Blog.

As an aside, I was amused that Gmail warned me that the Innovator Showdown press release might be a phishing scheme. They thought someone might be trying to scam me with an offer of $100,000. <smile>

Gmail warning of suspicious message

FamilySearch tree bulletA reader alerted me that she received an email from a sender named “big foot pilot” concerning the FamilySearch Pilot indexing tool. You’ll recall Jake Gehring introduced the FamilySearch Pilot indexing tool at the 2015 BYU conference. (See “FamilySearch Should Increase Indexing Efficiency and Utilize Partnerships” on my blog.) This email invited the reader to share information about the tool with anyone, so I’m sharing with you. A new update has added the following features to the tool:

  • Search – the Family Search Pilot tool database
  • Instant publication – of data entered into the Family Search Pilot tool database
  • Download – your own data
  • User Edits – on the individual record page
  • Direct link – to the Family Search Records Search webpage

It will be exciting to see where this pilot goes, if anywhere. That’s the nature of pilots, afterall.

FamilySearch tree bulletThis next feature really deserves an article all its own, but I just don’t have time. It just kills me. FamilySearch has released a feature allowing you to send messages to those scoundrels who are changing your ancestors! Prior to this feature, you could discuss changes only with persons who disclosed their email addresses. Now, you can send a message to anyone who changes anything. To read more about this new feature, see “FamilySearch Messaging on” on the FamilySearch blog.

FamilySearch tree bulletFamilySearch recently published a list of the new features released in August. They are:

  • Added 300,000 places to the list of places known by Family Tree.
  • Updated the Family Members section of the person page.
  • Added ability to add a child from the Landscape Pedigree view of Family Tree.
  • Added some features previously missing from the mobile app.
  • Added ability in mobile app to “receive notifications from when a photo, story, or audio file is uploaded or updated for people in your scope of interest. (The scope of interest is 4 generations of ancestors and 1 generation of their descendants.)”
  • Updated the Memories Person page (not to be confused with the Tree Person page).
  • Added true thumbnails for historical record images.
  • Created a web page containing some of the functionality available at FamilySearch Discovery Centers, such as meaning of surname, and so forth. (See

For more information, see “What’s New on FamilySearch—August, 2015” on the FamilySearch blog.

Bullet shared a little more information about Cathy Petti, their new Chief Health Officer (CHO) and posted a link to a Fortune article about her. See the short posting, “Cathy Petti Joins Ancestry Leadership,” on the Ancestry Tech Roots Blog and “Meet the Woman Leading Into the World of Personal Genetics” on the Fortune website. There are clues in the article, for sure, about what Ancestry may have up its DNA sleeve.

Bullet Ancestry.comAncestryDNA has released a new feature that lets you “See Your DNA Matches in a Whole New Way.” It is a tool called “Shared Matches.” I don’t have much time to research or write about it, but here’s what I know thus far. I checked out my list of matches and picked out one, PPatricia…, who hasn’t linked her results to a tree. Consequently, I don’t know how we are related. I selected the Shared Matches feature and AncestryDNA listed all the people who exist in both her list of matches and my list. One of them, cooperjh, had a shaky leaf, so I checked it out and found a probable common ancestor between cooperjh and myself. That ancestor was surnamed Pitcher. That common ancestor may or may not be a common ancestor between PPatricia… and myself. It’s an important clue. Even without a shaky leaf, standard triangulation techniques using surnames, locales, and time frames can help identify common ancestors.

I next utilized another feature I hadn’t noticed before. While PPatricia… had not linked her results to a tree, AncestryDNA showed that she has a tree. She just hasn’t linked to it. Guess what the name of the tree is? Yup, “Pitcher-something-or-another.”

AncestryDNA is utilizing the same technology to provide an additional filter for your match list: father/mother. If one or both of your parents have been tested, then AncestryDNA can filter your results according to the matches shared between your parent and yourself. (Here’s a private message for Ancestry: you provide both father and mother filters only if both have been tested. If only my mother has been tested, can you provide a “Not Your Mother” filter? Hmmm. Now that I think about it, it would be useful even if both parents have been tested.)

For more information, see “See Your DNA Matches in a Whole New Way” on the Ancestry Blog.


If you’ve ever considered working for Ancestry, you may be interested in a post by Ancestry’s Jeremy Johnson. He first joined Ancestry as a  software engineer in 2006. After leaving briefly, he came back in 2008. “Like many of my colleagues at Ancestry who pursue work elsewhere, I came back.” I know a couple of people that fall into that category. Jeremy’s post has an unabashed agenda. But if you’re thinking about it, check out “Insights on Culture and Events at Ancestry” on the Ancestry Tech Roots blog.

FamilySearch tree bulletFamilySearch announced the results of their “Fuel the Find” campaign. There were 82,039 people who contributed at least one batch during the weeklong event. There were 12,251,870 records indexed and 2,307,876 records arbitrated. There were 221 volunteers on the African continent. south America rang in with an amazing 12,571 volunteers. Polish language batches drew out 64 volunteers. English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French were the top four languages.

For more information, see “Thank You for Helping to Fuel the Find!” on the FamilySearch blog.

Bullet Ancestry.comWhen NARA was preparing to renew its partnership with Ancestry it solicited comments. The partnership agreement has several key changes:

  • The five year embargo period—that’s the period that NARA has to wait before publishing its records for free to the public—is effectively shortened by 12-24 months. NARA accomplishes this by starting the clock when Ancestry digitizes the records rather than publishes them. This incents Ancestry to publish quickly, perhaps not waiting for an entire collection to be digitized.
  • This makes it easier for NARA to know when it can publish. It doesn’t have to wait for Ancestry to say when the publication occurred.
  • NARA is given the ability to recover costs associated with supporting Ancestry, while allowing them the choice of not recovering costs.
  • Outlines procedures for protecting personably identifiable information.

There were 52 comments to a NARA blog post on the topic. You may find them interesting reading. See “ Partnership Agreement for Public Comment” on the NARAtions blog.

FamilySearch tree bulletI’ve noticed that FamilySearch URLs of records and images all contain “/ark:/61903/”. Wikipedia contains some information about this form of URL. See FamilySearch seems to be switching from PAL (persistent archival links) to ARK (archival resource key) URLs. I’ve tried a few old PAL URLs and they still work.

FamilySearch tree bullet

FamilySearch announced last month that they had opened a second discovery center. Its Seattle Discovery Center is located in Bellevue, Washington. At RootsTech earlier this year, Dennis Brimhall called discovery centers “a museum of you.” According to the announcement,

The Seattle Family Discovery Center is a free community attraction funded entirely by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which FamilySearch International is a nonprofit subsidiary.  “We believe our precious family relationships and experiences in this life do not end with death,” said Dennis Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch International and managing director of the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

For more information, read the press release on the Church’s news website.

Leaf bullet Jason Chaffetz is a congressman from Utah. Every year or two he introduces a bill to kill or damage the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). I think there is no doubt that there are more genealogists in Chaffetz’s district than in any other congressional district in the nation, per capita if not outright.

It’s late, I’m tired. I better go to bed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Soon the New Ancestry Will be the Only Ancestry

Soon the new Ancestry will be the only Ancestry.In response to my article about’s new probate records, you, my readers, jumped on the chance to provide feedback about the New Ancestry website design. Good for you. I’m especially proud of those that mentioned specific dislikes. Those are actionable. The “I just don’t like it ” comments are largely ineffective.

Well done.

Ancestry continues to give regular updates on what they’ve done to fix or improve things. Here are some recent updates:

Most of the items mentioned revolve around missing features, so I’m not certain they are going to fix things like color schemes. They are not likely to fix that unless they hire a color expert that tells them that light and airy designs sell 20% more subscriptions than dark and dreary ones.

Some of the responses to these posts make me wonder if the commenters know that there is both a LifeStory view (below, left) and a Facts view (below, center) The facts view with alternate facts, family events, and historical insights turned off most nearly mirrors the timeline view of the old Ancestry (below, right).

The New Ancestry LifeStory viewThe New Ancestry Facts viewThe old Ancestry person timeline view

They are very similar. There are still differences, to be sure, so there are still specific changes that users can report they dislike. But the facts view configured this way eliminates many of the problems that users are complaining about.

I think the much disliked circular portraits are another example of designers and decision makers who haven’t done a lot of their own genealogy. You don’t have to go terribly far back before you reach ancestors who lived before the ubiquitous use of photography. At that point, many people make use of a grave marker or document image as a substitute they associate with an ancestor. While the human face is oval, these objects are rectangular. Imposing circular portraits causes clipping or unsightly juxtaposition of circles over rectangles.

Example of Ancestry imposing an oval shape to a rectangular object Example of Ancestry imposing an oval shape to a rectangular object Example of Ancestry imposing an oval shape to a rectangular object

Ancestry is planning to implement clipping and scaling of portraits. Perhaps at the same time they could allow users to opt for rectangular display. While you’re at it, use face recognition software to default to circles for faces and rectangles otherwise.

Here are a couple of other suggestion for clipping and scaling. The Ancestry mockup imposes a circular shape. Since the human face is oval, allow ovals if desired. Also, FamilySearch Family Tree doesn’t allow the circle control points to be outside the bounds of the photograph. When a face is close to a photograph edge, it’s impossible to get the circle centered on the face. This is especially true for group photographs. Hopefully, Ancestry and FamilySearch will both allow control points off the edge of a photograph.

You know the drill, people. Ancestry is going to retire the old Ancestry whether you like it or not. That’s the reality of aging technology infrastructure. While they are making the transition, they will respond—more or less—to user feedback. After the transition, there is very little chance they will pull an engineer off another project to respond to you. Make your voice heard now. Make it actionable, such as “The old timeline had a link in each event that…, and the new site does not. You could fix this by…” I’m thinking that leaving your feedback on one of the weekly updates might get the most notice.

Now’s the time. Let your voice be heard.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Research Guidance and Ownership

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

I thought Ancestry was sponsored by the LDS [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] and was a church non-profit.

Judith Martin

Dear Judith,

This is a common misconception. The Church owns FamilySearch, not is a for-profit company and FamilySearch is a non-profit company. For more information, see my article “ Sold for $1.6 Billion.”

---The Ancestry Insider

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Was it you who published a list of guides on how to research Blacks, Irish, English, etc.?

If so, how do I access them?

Bob Hardiman

Dear Bob,

It might have been me. I know I’ve pointed out the extensive set published by These have a tendency to be biased towards’s offerings, but that is to be expected.

The Family History Library used to publish excellent research guides. To prevent them from falling into the wrong hands, they’ve cut them up into little pieces and hid them in the FamilySearch Wiki. Unlike paper research guides, which have a well defined reading sequence, the wiki is a “maze of twisty little passages, all different.” Seriously though, if you can get past the non-sequential nature of a wiki, the research guides—for some topics—are almost beyond compare.

  1. Start at
  2. Select Search. It is near the top of the page.
  3. Select Wiki. It is in the next row down.
  4. For help with a geographic related topic, like Irish and English, click on the map. See “England Genealogy” for an example converted from paper.
  5. For help with a non-geographic research interest, search for it. See “Jewish Genealogy Research” and “African American Genealogy” for examples converted from paper research guides.

The old, paper guides were decidedly biased towards Family History Library books and microfilm. But since the wiki can be edited by anyone, it embraces a much wider set of resources, including databases from and other websites.

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, September 11, 2015

Darned Records: “Published Errors Are Immortal”

Records say the darnedest thingsWe 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, or downright laughable.

Yes, Records say the Darnedest Things.”

Robert Charles Anderson is the eminent genealogist who has been director of the Great Migration Study Project at NEHGS since 1988. He made an interesting statement recently regarding The Great Migration Directory. The directory lists all New England immigrants from 1620 through 1640. If there was any question of an immigrant having arrived early enough, Robert’s philosophy was to exclude them.

Because published errors are immortal, an error of omission is always preferable to an error of commission. If someone who was not a Great Migration immigrant is included in this volume, that mistaken conclusion will live forever on library shelves.1

It’s a concept we all know. But having a noted genealogist state it so succinctly was cool. From this point on, I will quote Robert. “Published errors are immortal.”

It was once published that my cousin, Lucy Mack Smith, was the granddaughter of Sarah Cone, instead of the currently accepted conclusion that she was the granddaughter of Lydia Fuller.2 The error still persists.3

Anybody out there fighting a published error? An error in the Ancestral File or the International Genealogical Index, perhaps?




     1.  Robert Charles Anderson, “Documenting New England's Founders in the Great Migration Directory,” American Ancestors (Spring 2015): 27-8.
     2.  Audentia Smith Anderson, Ancestry and Posterity of Joseph Smith and Emma Hale (Independence, Missouri: Herald Publishing House, 1929), 201; citing Heman Hale Smith, Journal History (Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) 5:424.
     3.  Two examples can be found on RootsWeb’s WorldConnect.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015 Announces Landmark Probate Collection announces landmark probate collection.Last week announced a new, significant, collection of databases: U.S. Wills and Probates. The collection contains more than 170 million images covering all 50 states, and spanning years from 1668 to 2005. The documents mention more than 100 million people, including the deceased and others mentioned in the records. This is the first time there has been a will and probate collection of this scale for the United States online.

Ancestry has invested several years and $10 million to license and digitize these records! The effort will continue for several years to come. While Ancestry has been accused of pandering their new website design for beginners, in my opinion the choice to publish probate records demonstrates a dedication to experienced users as well. If you learn the handwriting, wills aren’t too bad for less experienced genealogists.

“Wills can offer an incredible view into the lives of your ancestors, going beyond names and dates, and providing insight into their personality, character, achievements, relationships, and more,” said Todd Godfrey, vice president of global content.

According to Ancestry’s Matt Deighton, this is the collection that Ancestry announced at RootsTech. In 2013 Ancestry’s Tim Sullivan said, “It’s exciting for me to stand on this stage at this conference and announce our largest and most ambitious collaboration with FamilySearch ever. Over the next three years FamilySearch and Ancestry are going to work together to digitize and index over 140 million pages of U.S. probate records spanning from 1800 to 1930.” Interestingly, Ancestry’s press release contains no mention that the collection was a collaborative effort. FamilySearch made no corresponding announcement so there is no information as to when or even if FamilySearch will publish the same collection.'s probate collection utilizes new probate packet website features.This collection utilizes new features of the New Ancestry website, which I believe to be support for packets of records. It includes a table of contents for the packet. This great new feature identifies the document types in the packet and gives the ability to jump directly to a particular document. Because it requires these new features, these databases can not be viewed with the old website.

For more information see

Monday, September 7, 2015

Monday Mailbox: When Will FamilySearch Post Italian Films?

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

Does anyone know when Family Search will digitize more of it's microfilms. I have hundreds of relatives from Sant' Angelo dei lombardi, Italy. Family Search put a few of that regions films online, not indexed. But the rest of the films for earlier dates have not been put on line. While indexing is nice to have, my main concern is that they put the rest of Sant' Angelo dei Lombardi's films online. Many of us cannot access a family history center. The films are just sitting there...Please Family Search put the films online.

Patricia Ann Kellner

Dear Patricia,

From what I’ve seen FamilySearch rarely publishes unindexed Italian records except for civil registration records. From all external indications, you’re out of luck. There might be something you can do. FamilySearch has a project to index Italian civil registration records. I’m guessing that the faster they get the project done, the faster they will move on to other records. For more information visit


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Artifact Citations

Sarah A. Skillin's SamplerI came across a beautiful sampler on the Smithsonian’s website. I thought it would make a great example for an artifact citation. One possible format for an artifact reference notea is

     1.  Creator, title or description, artifact type, creation date, archival identification; archive name, archive location. Optional explanatory notes.

For the Smithsonian sampler the corresponding citation is

     2.  Sarah A. Skillen, “Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler,” sampler, 1835, id number 1983.0617.03, American Samplers collection; Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C. Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Stephens.

One principle of citation writing is that redundant information can be eliminated if the citation remains clear. Notice in note 2 that the title identifies the artifact as a sampler. There is no need to repeat it as the artifact type.

      3.  Sarah A. Skillen, “Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler,” 1835, id number 1983.0617.03, American Samplers collection; Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C. Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Stephens.

But this sampler is not available for public examination at the Smithsonian. Most of us can access it only via the high quality image on the Smithsonian website. Derivative copies (be they images or textual) of artifacts accessed via a website require a layered citation.b In the case of a textual derivative, the citation layer for the online item proceeds the citation layer of the original. In the case of a high-quality image derivative, the citation layer for the original typically proceeds that of the derivative:

     4.  Citation to the original; citation to the online item.

The citation to the online item—devoid of provenance—would follow the pattern for a separately-authored chapter of a published book.c

     5.  Item creator, item title, item type, website title (URL : accessed date), navigation instructions.

For our sampler in particular, the citation to the online item could look like this:

     6.  Smithsonian Museum of American History, “Sarah A. Skillen’s Sampler,” digital image, Smithsonian: The National Museum of American History ( : accessed 22 August 2015), click the thumbnail.

Put together, the citation looks as follows. I’ve color coded the layer containing the citation to the online item.

     7.  Sarah A. Skillen, “Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler,” 1835, id number 1983.0617.03, American Samplers collection; Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.; Smithsonian Museum of American History, “Sarah A. Skillen’s Sampler,” digital image, Smithsonian: The National Museum of American History ( : accessed 22 August 2015), click the thumbnail. Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Stephens.

Here we again invoke the principle of eliminating redundancy, again. The title of the artifact and the title of the online item are both “Sarah A. Skillin’s Sampler.” The latter can be dropped. The item creator, Smithsonian Museum of American History, is redundant with the title of the website, so the former can be dropped. That leaves:

     8.  Sarah A. Skillen, “Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler,” 1835, id number 1983.0617.03, American Samplers collection; Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.; digital image, Smithsonian: The National Museum of American History ( : accessed 22 August 2015), click the thumbnail. Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Stephens.

You’ll notice I didn’t drop the name of the artifact creator, Sarah A. Skillen, even though it appears in the artifact title. That was a judgment call. Does “Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler” mean Sarah created the sampler or merely owned it? I thought it ambiguous enough to warrant leaving Sarah’s name as artifact creator.

Reference note 8 uses the complete URL of the sampler. Citing the URL of the item versus citing the home page URL is another judgment call. Item URLs are often short lived. Home page URLs are typically valid longer. Another way to cite the image is to use the home page and instructions on how to navigate from the stated URL to the image. Here are some alternatives:

     9.  Sarah A. Skillen, “Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler,” 1835, id number 1983.0617.03, American Samplers collection; Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.; digital image, Smithsonian: The National Museum of American History ( : accessed 22 August 2015), search for “Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler.” Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Stephens.

   10.  Sarah A. Skillen, “Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler,” 1835, id number 1983.0617.03; Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.; digital image, Smithsonian: The National Museum of American History ( : accessed 22 August 2015), path: Collections > Object Groups > American Samplers > Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler.” Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Stephens.

   11.  Sarah A. Skillen, “Sarah A. Skillin's Sampler,” 1835, id number 1983.0617.0; Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.; digital image, Smithsonian: Seriously Amazing ( : accessed 22 August 2015), search for “American Samplers.” Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Stephens.

Note 9 cites the home page of the National Museum of American History and navigates via a search. Note 11 navigates from that same page, but using a click path. Note 11 cites the home page of the Smithsonian itself and navigates via a search. In this last case, interestingly, the title of the website changes. In all three notes, I dropped the instruction to “click the thumbnail.” This is another judgment call. Another principle of citation creation allows you to leave out information that is common knowledge. I decided that everyone knows that you click a thumbnail to get the full-size image.

One of the lessons to be learned here is that there is leeway in citation format.

What if this sampler was in a private collection? The basic citation format of note 1 can be adapted for private ownership. Without archival identification, the item must be described in greater detail. And describing the provenance is at least as important as an artifact under the control of a trusted archive. Since artifacts under private ownership are transitory, it is helpful to know what year the artifact was at the stated location.d

   12.  Creator, generic description, artifact type, creation date, collection identification; privately held by owner, owner’s location, access year. Explanatory notes including greater description and provenance.

If I owned the sampler and gave you access to it sometime in 2015, the note could look like this:

   13.  Sarah A. Skillen, Simeon and Nancy (Adams) Skillen family sampler, 1835, artifact collection; privately held by Ancestry Insider, [address for private use,] Salt Lake City, Utah, 2015. The names and birth dates of Simeon, Nancy, and children, and the death date of Silas are embroidered, framed by flowering vines wrapped around columns, on a linen cloth measuring 21 1/8 x 17 5/8 inches. The present owner obtained the sampler under dubious circumstances from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, which received it as a gift in 1982 from Mrs. Robert B. Stephens, Potomac, Maryland. It is unknown how Mrs. Stephens obtained it.

So, what do you think? Questions? Comments? How would you have cited it?


     a.  Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 3d ed. (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, 2015), 124-5.
     b.  Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources, 58. Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 19: Layered Citations Work like Layered Clothing,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage ( : accessed 22 August 2015).
     c.  Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources, 57.
     d.  Ibid., 138-9.