Monday, February 29, 2016

Monday Mailbox: The USS Farragut

USS Farragut (TB-11) off Mare Island Navy Yard circa 1899Dear readers,

I received this letter Friday in response to my article and photos of Leavenworth prisoners wearing hats.

---The Insider


Dear Ancestry Insider,

What is of interest to me is Mr. Ames' hat and the ribbon.  It says U.S.S. Farragut.

W. H. Ames, Inmate Number 8757, at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary

USS Farragut may refer to:

With his conviction being in 1913, he must (assuming the picture was taken before his sentencing and not some years after) have served on the torpedo boat.

Enjoy looking at the different ships; they are found by entering the ship's name, clicking on the most recent and then clicking on the link at the top to show all ships bearing the name.

Howland Davis

Dear Howland,

I love it! This is why genealogy is so fun. What other hobby or vocation bids you learn about prisons, uniforms, ships, militaries, histories (personal and macro), and photo examination, all in one afternoon? Thanks for sharing.

---The Insider

P.S. Happy Leap Day, everyone!

Friday, February 26, 2016

RootsWeb Update: Still Down and No Known Resolution Date

RootsWeb error messageRootsWeb has now been down for over two days. It went down before 4pm MST on Wednesday, 24 February 2016. I asked’s spokesperson, Matt Deighton for information and he issued this statement:

Our development and web operations teams are working on the problem and will have it resolved as quickly as possible. We do not currently have an estimated time that this issue will be resolved, but we will update the site as new information becomes public.

The unavailability of RootsWeb may not seem related to the New Ancestry, but in a way it is. While we think of digital information, including systems like websites, lasting forever, in reality they don’t.

  • File formats are replaced. When the software programs that read the files are gone, you’re toast.
  • Software programs becomes obsolete. When the operating systems that run the software programs are gone, you’re toast.
  • Operating systems become obsolete. When the hardware that runs the operating systems is gone, you’re toast.
  • Manufacturers create incompatible hardware and stop making old models. When obsolete hardware dies, you’re toast.

A computer website has to be rejuvenated every decade or less or it will die. That may be one reason why Ancestry produced the New Ancestry. However, there are times that companies transition a website—under the covers—so seamlessly, users don’t know anything has occurred. Ancestry obviously should have done that with New Ancestry and then introduced improvements gradually. (I once programmed a system that made millions of dollars [none of which went into my pocket] because people will pay good money to avoid change. But I digress…)

Since hasn’t invested any money (visibly, at least), in RootsWeb in very many years, it is now a ticking time bomb. Or rather, it was a ticking time bomb. It has exploded and we wait nervously now to hear how much damage ensued.

NARA’s Darned Hat Collection

Thank you to all who responded to my article last week, “Darned Hat Collection.” The question as to why NARA has a hat collection was a trick question. These photographs were not from a NARA hat collection, but a collection of prison records from the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. I “conveniently” left off the right profile of each mugshot.

W. H. Ames, Inmate Number 8757, at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary
W. H. Ames, Inmate Number 8757, at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary
“Convicted of white slavery in 1913, W. H. Ames specifically was found guilty of Transporting in Interstate Commerce a Woman for Immoral purposes. He was sentenced to one year and one day.”1


Roan Horse, Inmate Number 5881, at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary
Roan Horse, Inmate Number 5881, at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary
“Roan Horse was sentenced to one year for larceny in 1907. When asked to give a history of his crime he said, Sold a horse for $25 and as the man to whom I sold it did not give me the money as agreed in a weeks time I took the horse back and sold it to another party, was arrested in Deadwood S.D. and plead guilty to the charge of larceny.”2


Photograph of John L. McMonigle
Photograph of John L. McMonigle
“McMonigle spent nearly a year in prison for violating the Oleomargarine Act of August 2, 1886.”3 In other words, he was a margarine bootlegger.


Prisoner at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Lizzie Cardish
Prisoner at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Lizzie Cardish
“Fifteen years old; convicted of arson. Received a life sentence.”4 The Office of Indian Affairs in Washington had decided that “however distastetful such action may have been it was found necessary to make an example of those concerned in these unlawful acts.”5 The sentence was commuted at age 21.


Inmate File of Murray Pennell
Inmate File of Murray Pennell
“Crime: Conspiracy for Transporting Explosives.”6 Murray was convicted for his role in the ironworkers’ dynamite campaign.7


Inmate File of Mary Grayson
Inmate File of Mary Grayson
“Grayson was nineteen years old when convicted of larceny.”8


Prisoner at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Mary Snowdon
Prisoner at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Mary Snowdon
“21 year old Indian; convicted of assualt [sic] with intent to kill.”9


Inmate File of Francisco Salinas
Inmate File of Francisco Salinas
”Crime: Concealing Smuggled Property”10

Criminal records can be a rich source of information. These Leavenworth prisoner forms call for names and nativities of parents, wives, and inmates. The files contain records of letters sent, indicating addressee and relationship to the prisoner. Further, the stories behind these records are fascinating. Thank you, Judy, for teaching me about criminal records in general and leading me to this collection in particular.

Yes, records say the darnedest things!


     1. “W. H. Ames, Inmate Number 8757, at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, 1913,” front and right profile booking photograph; Inmate Case Files, 7/3/1895 - 11/5/1957; Record Group 129: Records of the Bureau of Prisons, 1870 – 2009; National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri; digital image, National Archives ( : accessed 18 January 2016), NAID 5756503. The quoted text is from the catalog entry.
     2. “Roan Horse, Inmate Number 5881, at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, 1907,” front and right profile booking photograph; ibid.; digital image ( : accessed 18 January 2016), NAID 5756495. The quoted text is from the catalog entry.
     3. “Photograph of John L. McMonigle,” front and right profile booking photograph, undated; ibid.; digital image ( : accessed 18 January 2016), NAID 596101. The quoted text is from the catalog entry.
     4. “Prisoner at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Lizzie Cardish., 1906,” front and right profile booking photograph; ibid.; digital image ( : accessed 18 January 2016), NAID 292115. The quoted text is from the catalog entry.
     5. “Fires of Incendiary Origin,” The Native American: Devoted to Indian Education 7 (7 July 1906): 220; digital images ( : accessed 18 January 2016).
     6. Murray Pennell front and right profile booking photograph, about 1 January 1913; “Inmate File of Murray Pennell”; Inmate Case Files, 7/3/1895 - 11/5/1957; Record Group 129: Records of the Bureau of Prisons, 1870 – 2009; National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri; digital image, National Archives ( : accessed 18 January 2016), NAID 24725822. The quoted text is from the prisoner record document in the same file.
     7. “The Dynamite Conspiracy” American Industries: The Manufacturers’ Magazine 13 (January 1913): 8-12, especially 9; digital images ( : accessed 18 January 2016). See also “Dynamite Plot at Work,” Boston Evening Transcript, 16 February 1912, p. 6, cols. 4-5; digital image ( : accessed 18 January 2016).
     8. Mary Grayson front and right profile booking photograph, about 26 Febuary 1900; “Inmate File of Mary Grayson”; Inmate Case Files, 7/3/1895 - 11/5/1957; Record Group 129: Records of the Bureau of Prisons, 1870 – 2009; National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri; digital image, National Archives ( : accessed 18 January 2016), NAID 12013774. The quoted text is from the prisoner record document in the same file..
     9. “Prisoner at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Mary Snowdon, 1900,” front and right profile booking photograph; ibid.; digital image ( : accessed 18 January 2016), NAID 292113. The quoted text is from the catalog entry.
     10. Francisco Salinas front and right profile booking photograph, about 26 Febuary 1900; “Inmate File of Francisco Salinas”; Inmate Case Files, 7/3/1895 - 11/5/1957; Record Group 129: Records of the Bureau of Prisons, 1870 – 2009; National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri; digital image, National Archives ( : accessed 18 January 2016), NAID 7496904. The quoted text is from form 14-1000 in the same file.

RootsWeb Outage

imageRootsWeb has been offline for more than 24 hours now. I’ve got a message in to to find out if any more information is available. I’ll let you know what I find.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Another Genealogy TV Show: Relative Race

Relative Race on BYUtvIt sounds like The Amazing Race meets Who Do You Think You Are meets AncestryDNA. Relative Race is a new family history television show, but with a twist: it’s a competition. Cameras follow four married couples as they travel across the US in search of long lost relatives, armed with only paper maps, a rental car, a $25 per diem and a flip phone.

The couples embark on a journey that starts in San Francisco and ends in New York City, driving more than 4,500 miles in just ten days, stopping each day in a new city to complete a challenge, and find and stay with a newly discovered relative. At the end of each day, the team that finishes last receives a strike. After three strikes, you’re out. The remaining teams travel on towards New York City for the grand finale, where a $25,000 grand prize awaits the winning couple.

As with the use of in the Ancestry-sponsored Who Do You Think You Are, AncestryDNA technology plays a role in this AncestryDNA sponsored television show.

The show premiers on BYUtv on Sunday, 28 February 2016 at 8pm ET, 6pm MT, and 5pm PT. (Do you ever stop to wonder why television show times are never given for Central Time? Do television executives believe no one lives in… well, whatever those states are in the Central Time Zone? Or maybe they think people there are good at math. So what do they think about people in the Mountain Time zone?)

You can view BYUtv through just about any media format: cable, web, smartphone, and (where I live) good old fashion rabbit ears. Except cable, all are free. Watch the official trailer on YouTube.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Tim Sullivan Looks Back at 2015

When I wrote “ and FamilySearch Look Back, then Forward” I hadn’t noticed an article titled “Celebrating 2015 and Welcoming 2016” by Tim Sullivan on the Ancestry blog. Here’s some additional insights:

In 2015 Ancestry enjoyed double-digit revenue growth and a net increase in the number of subscribers by 150,000.

Sample cover from the Cincinnati Enquirer - Sinking of the signed a partnership deal in August 2015 wtih Gannett to digitize, index, and publish over 100 million newspaper pages from 80 U.S. newspapers. Publication is using technology from The Cincinnati Enquirer is the first archive to be published.

In 2015 Ancestry rolled out:

Worldwide, Ancestry increased the size of their workforce by 200.

On the Black Friday to Cyber Monday shopping weekend, their DNA sales were up 205%. On one of those days, they sold 60,000 test kits.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Power of Story at #RootsTech: Michael Leavitt and Doris Kearns Goodwin

Shipley Munson closed RootsTech 2016’s last keynote session with the statement: “It is about the power of story, the power of family, the power of story to strengthen family.” This statement seems to have been the mantra guiding the choice of keynote speakers.

One Saturday keynote consisted of stories told by a public servant. The other consisted of stories told about public servants.

Michael Leavitt spoke at RootsTech 2016.Michael Leavitt served in the cabinet of President George W. Bush as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and as Secretary of Health and Human Services. He was elected for three-terms as governor of Utah, the last cut short by the presidential appointment.

He started with a story that I’m still not certain whether to believe or not. As governor, he honored the state’s centenarians each year. One man reported he and his 99-year old wife had been married for 77 years. After Governor Leavitt congratulated him, the man said they were getting divorced. “Why now?” Governor Leavitt asked. The aged gentleman replied, “Wanted to wait until the kids were dead.”

Michael told us something he did that might be useful for us as well. When he wrote his autobiography, he didn’t start out to write an autobiography. One day he tried to see how long it would take him to write a list of 100 story ideas from his life—not writing the full story, just jotting down several words about it. The list grew to 1,000 stories. Later he thought he should gather them into buckets. Before he knew it, he had a two volume autobiography. He was delighted to hear that it was a grandson’s favorite bedtime story book.

Michael engaged the audience with a cell-phone survey. He presented a list of ten experiences from his life that he could tell. Attendees voted and he told us the selected stories. If you’re interested, watch and listen to the stories in the Michael Leavitt keynote on YouTube.

Doris Kearns Goodwin spoke at RootsTech 2016.Doris Kearns Goodwin is a world-renowned presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize–winning author. She has written biographies of several presidents. She related stories of triumph and defeat about Kennedy, Johnson, Roosevelts, and Lincoln.

Researching our ancestry allows us to see our ancestors’ struggles and gives us strength to live through our own, she said. “By studying the lives of others we can learn from their triumphs and struggles.” One example she gave was Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor. As a young man, Franklin was a confident, self-assured lawyer who had already planned his rise to the highest office in the land. Then came polio. He was paralyzed from the waist down. But with paralysis he became more warm hearted and gained humility of spirit. He came to empathize with the poor and those who had had great suffering.

Eleanor Roosevelt also suffered greatly when young. Her mother was emotionally abusive and her father was an alcoholic. Her mother died of diphtheria when she was nine. Shortly thereafter, her father jumped from the window of the sanitarium where he had been confined. He died soon afterwards.

The adversities they both suffered prepared them to lead us when the nation needed their leadership so desperately.

Most of us will not be famous enough to have our own story widely sold. But, Doris said, the private people we have loved and lost in our families really can live on so long as we tell and retell the stories of their lives.

No recording of Doris’s talk was made available. To read other articles about it, see the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News,, and a short interview on YouTube.

This concludes my coverage of RootsTech keynote sessions. The dates for RootsTech 2017 are 8-11 February 2016. It will be held again in the Salt Palace just down the street from the Salt Lake City FamilySearch Family History Library. Start planning now!

Daily RootsTech summary videos:

I still hope to write articles about individual classes, luncheons, and an interview with Kendall Hulet, so stay tuned.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Monday Mailbox: Your Local Library

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

Do take the time at least once in a while to go visit your local libraries that have genealogy collections. You no doubt will be astounded by the treasures you will find. Here is just a summary of what is available the Louisiana Division of the New Orleans Public Library (main library downtown).

There are indexes to death notices from the late 18th century up through most the latter part of the 20th century that are on 3 X 5 index cards in numerous file cabinets. There are cabinets and cabinets of microfilms of local newspapers dating back to the early 19th century. The LDS came in the 1980s and microfilmed the entire historical collection of original successions from the New Orleans municipal court. Of course there are the microfilms of Louisiana censuses (some have printed indexes, some have soundex on microfilm). Print-outs of anything on microfilm can be made.

Other treasures include the photo collection (WPA, historical, 19th century prison mug shot cards, glass slides), blueprints (schools, buildings), and portfolios of actual property surveys made without the help of aerial and satellite photos.

So, plan on making that visit downtown or wherever your local genealogy collection may happen to be. One trip will never be enough! Good hunting!

Judith Martin

Dear Readers,

I heartily endorse Judith. I’ve made fabulous finds in local genealogy collections as I’ve had occasion to visit towns where my ancestors lived. In one Massachusetts town the genealogy collection included registration forms for historic houses. I learned that the Insider Manson built in the 1600s still existed. What was called a mansion in those days qualified today as a small, multi-room home! The current owner let me see an original beam and original hearth brickwork.

Librarians will be quick to point out that their collections often cover geographies throughout their state and beyond.

At a BYU conference, Barbara Renick suggested another reason to make those visits. Some libraries offer library cards for non-residents that might give you access to research databases not available where you live.

Thank you for your suggestion, Judith.

The Ancestry Insider

Friday, February 19, 2016

Darned Hat Collection

Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, showed me something recently that led me to discover the NARA hat collection.

From NARA's hat collection  From NARA's hat collectionFrom NARA's hat collection From NARA's hat collection  From NARA's hat collection From NARA's hat collection From NARA's hat collection  From NARA's hat collection

Can anybody out there identify each hat type? Why, do you suppose, does NARA have a hat collection? How would you cite it?

Post your answers. I’ll give mine in a future article. (If you attended Judy’s SLIG course, please keep your answers private.)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Power of DNA – Kendall Hulet at #RootsTech Luncheon

Part 3 of 3

Kendall Hulet is’s senior vice president of product management. He spoke at a Saturday luncheon titled “Things to Look Forward to on Ancestry in 2016.”

Ancestry sold a million DNA tests last year. This is good, because the larger the size of their DNA database, the more powerful things they can do. In 2015 they rolled out the product in the UK, Canada, and Australia. They are going to roll out a lot more countries in 2016.

Ethnicity estimates will improve. Ethnicity calculations are based on a group of people whose ethnicity is thought to be accurately known. Their trees go back four generations or more and all lines are from a particular place. This group of people—a reference panel—is growing from 3,000 to 9,000 people. As the panel gets bigger and Ancestry’s data gets better, their ethnicity estimates will improve. They may change what they report about your ethnicity. A larger database also allows them to divide ethnicity regions into smaller localities.

Ancestry is clustering people who share DNA. They can analyze the information from test subjects’ trees and ethnicity to see commonalities. They might be able to tell what geography the cluster originated from, or what religion they might believe in. “So imagine a time when we could actually tell John, ‘Based on your DNA, John, we think you are actually from Cork, Ireland.’ And he never even did a family tree.” That’s a direction that Ancestry is trying to go, but it’s going to take a while to develop.

Lorenzo and Elizabeth Jane (Russell) Day with unidentified childKendall closed by showing us his great-grandmother, Elizabeth Jane Russell, in New Ancestry. With the new ability to show events from other family members on the timeline, Kendall noticed that she had a daughter die on the 15th of July, a son die nine days later, and another die four days after that. In two weeks’ time she lost three of her children. Kendall researched and found there had been a diphtheria epidemic. Then he noticed the next event on her timeline. She gave birth just seven months later. That child lived only two days.

“This didn’t jump out at me at first,” Kendall said. “But for some reason seeing it this way, it jumped out at me differently. Now, my view of Elizabeth Jane Russell is very different. I think of her as this amazing heroine in my family tree. And the struggles she went through—what a strong, amazing, woman.”

It is true that her person page takes more scrolling now, but that can be a good thing.

There is a way to turn off the display of events from other family members for the times you don’t want them. At the top-right of the timeline, select Show and uncheck Family Events. Similarly, historical insights (or “hysterical insights,” as one person called them) can be shown or hidden.

Another New Ancestry tip is the display of the tools so easily available in the old Ancestry. In the upper-right corner, select Tools, and then Show Research Tools.

Kendall pointed out tutorials. There is a tutorials button that floats in the bottom-right corner of the person page. Select it to see a collection of training videos, all about a minute in length.

His last tip was directed at those who don’t like Life Story. Ancestry wanted to jump start the story of your ancestor. What they present isn’t fixed in stone. It’s easy to edit. “But if you don’t like that tab, …just don’t go to [it]. … It’s an easy answer. Select the Facts tab; it will stay sticky.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Genealogy Life Blood at Kendall Hulet #RootsTech Luncheon

Part 2 of 3

Kendall Hulet is’s senior vice president of product management. He spoke at a Saturday luncheon titled “Things to Look Forward to on Ancestry in 2016.”

Ancestry is expanding internationally. About a third of Americans claim German heritage. They are relaunching their German language website in a big way. They are doing television advertising in Germany for the first time. An increased involvement by users in Germany, adding content and uploading photos and things, helps everyone. They have 300 million German records and will have 400 by the end of the year.

“Content unlocks the family history story,” Kendall said. “Content is the lifeblood of the things we do.”

Recent German civil registry deals at Ancestry

Ancestry is adding millions of German civil registration records each month. They have deals with the state archives of Berlin and Hessen, including records from East and West Prussia, Silesia, Bohemia, and Moravia.

They have a German national directories project that will add 500 million records from 5.5 million images of 30,000 volumes of the German Reich from 1910 to 1955.

In collaboration with FamilySearch, they are publishing Lutheran Church records. They have published 19.2 million with another 100 million on the way.

They will soon publish the World War II young-men’s draft cards.

They are also launching a full index of the Irish Catholic parish records. It has 10 million records from 1740 to 1900. An official announcement will be coming out in the weeks after RootsTech. It will give more details.

Add New People to Index Feature for US Probates on in 2016

Kendall announced that they are working on the ability to let users add additional names to the US Probate Records collection. They’ve already released that collection, which was done in collaboration with FamilySearch. It required adding a new user experience because of the packet nature of probate records. Ancestry didn’t index all individuals named in the records, so allowing users to add names and relationships will make it possible to search for, receive hints about, and attach to your tree, others in the records.

“Mobile is taking over the world,” Kendall said. “At Ancestry 50% of our visitors come in on a mobile device the first time they are visiting.” Over time Ancestry has been pulling features available on the web into the mobile app. They are going to improve the search experience. They are going to provide a better way to capture content and put it online. They are adding the ability to capture audio and video capture of stories, both in the app and on the website. They will incorporate audio and video into Life Story. “Go interview people before they pass on,” Kendall recommended.

Venn diagram which may help understand precision and recallMaking search results and hinting (Shaky Leaf) results right is difficult. Kendall showed a diagram similar to the one I’ve put together to the right. The circle represents all the Shaky Leaves Ancestry returned about your ancestor. Some were good and some were bad. The percentage that were good is defined as precision. “Precision is finding the right stuff,” he said. The rectangle represents all the records about your ancestor. Ancestry missed some of them (the portion of the rectangle outside the circle). The percentage that Ancestry found is defined as recall. The challenge is that if you try to increase one, it makes the other worse. “[If] you cast a wide enough net [to] catch all the good fish…you’re going to bring back a lot of other weird stuff with it,” he said.

For hints, Ancestry concentrates on keeping the precision high. For search, Ancestry concentrates on recall. They want you to be able to find “the needle in the haystack.” Some people are frustrated by the number of search results not about their ancestor. They want higher precision. “This is the constant challenge we’re dealing with,” he said.

“How are we going to go and make search and hints better?” Kendall asked rhetorically. “This is a big focus that I want to go after in 2016.” There is a concept in computer science called machine learning. If you can supply enough examples to the machine of results that you want and results you don’t want, the machine can learn how to return just the results you want. The more “training data” you can give the machine, the smarter it will become. “We have been working on a bunch of machine learning algorithms and we’re excited because we’re seeing higher precision and better recall from these machine learned algorithms,” Kendall said. This has an interesting side-effect. “What you’ll see over time is subtle changes to the results that you’ll get. They will be better.”

There is a problem with hints: users are receiving too many! It would help if they didn’t show you as many hints and if they made it easier to find the most valuable ones. They are focused on this challenge. They have a machine learned algorithm that increases both precision and recall, that anticipates where you were working in your tree, what your interests are, which hints are new, and which ones might add new information or people to your tree.

Stay tuned. Next time I will cover the last part of Kendall’s presentation.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Elephants in the Room - Kendall Hulet at #RootsTech

Kendall Hulet, senior vice president of product managementPart 1 of 3

Kendall Hulet is’s senior vice president of product management. He spoke at a Saturday luncheon titled “Things to Look Forward to on Ancestry in 2016.” And to be clear, he was not the elephant in the room. Whoever wrote that headline was… But I digress.

Kendall told us a little about the work he’s done at Ancestry. I (the Insider) was working at Ancestry when they decided to move their strategy away from One World Tree to the present way of doing things: independent trees for each user. I thought it was a big mistake and sat down with Kendall to tell him so. He assured me that he had talked to a lot of genealogists and discovered that they didn’t want to share one tree with other people. He was confident in his decision. I was not. History has proven him to be correct.

At the luncheon Kendall shared a few observations that led to the decision. The first thing he observed is that users would search for the same ancestor over and over, looking for new content. The second thing he noticed is that new users always started by searching for themselves. “That didn’t work out so great,” Kendall said. “We specialize in dead people.” The last thing he saw is that the more information users added to the Ancestry relevance ranked search engine, the better their results.

With Ancestry member trees, the first thing you enter is yourself, which caters to that customer behavior. He added the Shaky Leaf feature so users would not need to search over and over. Users would be notified when new content was added. (If I recall correctly, notification was first rendered as popup toast. Fortunately, that imagery didn’t survive.)

Kendall addressed the New Ancestry Experience. “We rolled this out after receiving lots of customer feedback,” he said. When releasing new products they get lots of user feedback along the way to guide the product. They perform alpha and beta testing. New Ancestry was a two year project. Most customers are happy with the results, although some customers are not. The intention was to allow people to better tell their families’ stories, to make their source citations better, to make the gallery easier to use, and to simplify the user experience.

What’s Next for the New Ancestry in 2016

Ancestry is still trying to address the concerns dissatisfied people have with New Ancestry. There used to be a continue search button and users really want it back. Ancestry has or will soon do so. People have complained about the depressing colors. “We’re rolling out themes, where you will be able to pick your own color scheme to personalize your tree experience so that it will work for you,” he said. (That brought lots of applause.) They are adding the ability to pick standardized dates and places when you enter them. They are adding drag-and-drop support for uploading media. “We’re going to continue to make improvements and we’re still listening to feedback,” Kendall said. “We’re not done.”

Kendall said there’s “another elephant in the room: Family Tree Maker.” When they announced the discontinuation of Family Tree Maker at the end of 2016 “a lot of people felt like they had just lost a good friend,” he said. It was a tough decision, and one that generated a huge response. He received 10,000 comments on the announcement, which spurred the negotiations that were occurring in the background. Just a couple of days before RootsTech, Ancestry announced partnerships with Software MacKiev and RootsMagic. (See “Family Tree Maker to Live On” on my blog.) Software MacKiev will continue to produce and sell Family Tree Maker. “That best friend that you thought you might have lost will still be with you,” Kendall said. And in addition to Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic will be able to

  • integrate with the Ancestry API (although they are going to change how that works, a little bit)
  • sync your desktop tree with your Ancestry tree
  • search Ancestry content and view Ancestry hints

(I was glad to see Ancestry open up their API to another desktop product. FamilySearch has held the competitive advantage there with dozens and dozens of partners. Come to think of it, date and place standardization has also been a FamilySearch advantage, as well as drag-and-drop media upload and a more sophisticated gallery. I like having two players in competition. It’s improving the user experience on both.)

Stay tuned for information about Germany, new records, mobile apps, better hints, DNA, and New Ancestry.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Serendipity at #RootsTech

imageHere’s an Instagram post by Risa Terburg Baker about a serendipitous friend she made last week at RootsTech. Thanks, Risa, for letting me share this.

When you go to Roots Tech, and meet a friend named Stacy Julian. You like her so much that you eat lunch with her 2 days in a row. Then you go to the class she is teaching, and she speaks to your creative family oriented craft loving mama heart. During class she starts talking about her great great great great grandpa, Alexander Hill. The story is familiar. You think Wait a minute... That's my great great great great grandpa too! You think, "I was drawn to her for a reason." Happy day at RootsTech! #RootsTech #RootsTech2016 #rootstechforever #FamilyIsEverything #FamilyHistory

Thanks, Risa, for letting me share.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

#RootsTech: David Isay – Only 40 Minutes Left to Live

2016 RootsTech Friday Keynote: David Isay “If I had 40 minutes left to live, what would I say to this person sitting across from me?” That’s how David Isay explained the essence of a StoryCorp interview. David was a Friday keynote speaker at RootsTech 2016.

David founded StoryCorps about a dozen years ago. He put a booth in Grand Central Terminal where you could bring a loved one—a parent, a grandparent, a child—or someone else you respect. The StoryCorps facilitator sits the two of you in the booth, opposite one another. For 40 minutes you pose questions to your loved one and listen to the answers. At the end of the 40 minutes, one copy of the recording goes home with you, and a second copy is preserved at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. Your great-great-great-great-grandchildren will be able to learn about your grandmother, hearing her own words and in her own voice. So far, 65,000 interviews have been archived. “It is the largest collection of human voice ever gathered,” David said. Weekly, millions of listeners experience a few of these stories on NPR’s Morning Edition.

David said that the setting gives you license to say things you don’t normally get to say. “A lot of tissue gets used up in the booth,” he told us. David shared clips from several examples. It was true. A lot of tissues were used (or at least needed) in the audience.

Carly Dreher interviewed her grandfather Lyle Link, who was 90, about growing up on his family’s farm. “I’m terribly, terribly lonesome.”

“Because of the nature of what happens in the StoryCorp booth, I feel like we’re collecting the wisdom of humanity,” David told us.

Lynn Weaver was interviewed by his daughter Kimberly and honored his father, Ted. Ted Weaver was a janitor in Knoxville, Tennessee. But he was a brilliant, kind parent. Lynn went on to become chairman of surgery, Morehouse School of Medicine, in Atlanta, Georgia.

After this interview, David quoted a scripture: “And he shall turn the heart of the father to the children, and the children to their fathers.” (As an aside, the importance of this verse of scripture to Mormons is attested by its appearance in all four volumes of scripture canonized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is, perhaps, the only verse having this distinction.)

Wil Smith and his daughter Olivia. Wil remembers college as a single Dad.

Wil had just been diagnosed with cancer at the time of the interview and has since passed away.

Marine Corporal Zach Skiles was deployed to Iraq in 2003 at the start of the United States invasion. When he returned home, Zach found it difficult to hold down a job and soon after found himself homeless. He was interviewed by his father, Scott.

The StoryCorps website has what David called a question generator, where you can find questions that, in their experience, lead to successful interviews. I thought perhaps any of us could utilize it for doing our own interviewing. You could use the FamilySearch Memories app to save the recording on Or you could utilize upcoming features of Or do a video interview.

Later, David told us about the StoryCorps app. It is available from the Apple App Store and Google Play. If you go with StoryCorp, you can have the recording sent to the Library of Congress and shared online with the world.

Mary Johnson spoke with Oshea Israel, the man who murdered her son.

Twelve year old Josh has Asperger’s Syndrome. Like many children with Asperger’s, he has an obsession. He is obsessed with bugs. He interviewed his mother, Sarah. “Did I turn out to be the son you wanted when I was born? Did I meet your expectations?”

David closed with a quote from Mary Lou Canacki, a nun in Philadelphia. “It’s impossible not to love someone whose stories you’ve heard.”

To learn more about StoryCorp, visit To watch David’s keynote on YouTube, visit

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

#RootsTech Friday: Taza, Huzzah, Extravaganza, Advertize

Josh and Naomi Davis (Love Taza)The first Friday keynote was presented by husband and wife team, Josh and Naomi Davis. Naomi Davis, known by millions of readers online as “Taza,” started her blog Love Taza in 2007, writing about their newlywed life in New York City while finishing her BFA at the Juilliard School. The blog started as her digital diary. Naomi and Josh told attendees that each of us has a story. Inspiring stories are not just from the past; they are happening today. If we share our stories with the world, we will uplift others and others will uplift us.

A recording of Josh and Naomi’s presentation was not made available. To read some articles about it, see the FamilySearch Blog, the Deseret News,, and Bernice Bennett’s YouTube interview.

RootsTech announced that registrations had exceeded 26,000 from a record 37 countries, including Myanmar and Afghanistan. RootsTech also announced the results of Thursday night’s Freedmen’s Bureau Index-A-Thon. The event’s goal was to index 900 batches in 90 minutes. In the end, a total of 1,937 batches were indexed! These records are not easy to index, so congratulations to all who participated! Huzzah!

Friday night was the MyHeritage Extravaganza. (Okay, I admit it. MyHeritage called it a party. But party doesn’t contain a “z.”) MyHeritage invited team members, bloggers, partners, and friends. They shared this slide show with me and invited me to share it with you. Click to view:

The MyHeritage RootsTech 2016 party

Friday Findmypast made an announcement during the keynote session. 

Findmypast and FamilySearch are collaborating on a U.S. marriage collection.Findmypast and FamilySearch are collaborating to publish the most comprehensive collection of U.S. marriages available online. They will cover 2,800 counties and go back as far as 1650. When completed, the collection will contain 100 million records and more than 450 million names. Findmypast has launched the collection with 33 million records. I didn’t catch a timeline for when the remaining 67 million will be complete.

The collection is free from now until Valentine’s Day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

#RootsTech: Bruce Feiler – Understand the Desert

Author Bruce Feiler addresses RootsTech 2016“You can’t understand the Biblical story, I’ve come to realize, without understanding the desert,” said Bruce Feiler. Bruce was one of the Thursday morning keynote presenters at RootsTech 2016. Bruce Feiler is a New York Times best-selling author, columnist, and frequent contributor to NPR, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. His most recent book is The Secrets of Happy Families.

“The greatest breakthroughs [of people in the Bible] occur, not when they are comfortable, not in the best of times, but when they are in the wilderness, in the worst of times,” he said. The writers of the Bible elected to include the stories of hard times and we should do the same.

Bruce said that “the one secret ingredient that high functioning families have in common is: they talk—a lot. … They talk about what it means to be part of a family.”

Tell your family history to your children. Bruce wrote about that in the New York Times story titled “The Stories that Bind Us.” ( : 15 March 2013.)

The article told about researchers at Emory University—Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush—who gave children a series of tests. They asked them questions like: “Do you know where your grandparents were born? Do you know an aunt or uncle who had an illness they overcame? Do you know where your parents went to high school? What was happening in your parents’ lives around the time that you were born?”

They found that doing well on this test “was the number one predictor of a child’s emotional well-being and the belief that they could affect the world around them. It was the number one predictor of a child’s happiness.”

Marshall Duke told Bruce that “these children have a sense that they are part of an intergenerational self, a narrative that goes back deep in time, so that when they have difficulties, they know that someone in their family also had difficulties.”

Bruce characterized family stories into three types. Ascending: He came to America with nothing, worked hard, and became successful. Descending: He was well off, the stock market crashed, and he lost everything. Oscillating: Things were good. They went bad. She overcame and things were good again.

“The children who understand that they come from an oscillating narrative know that when they hit hardships—and they will hit hardships—they know that they can get through them, that they can push through—not because of what they saw in a movie or a book—because of people in their own family.”

It made me think of a two minute video from RootsTech 2014. Watch it with Bruce’s words in mind.

Click to watch "Every Family Has A Story, Discover Yours"

Monday, February 8, 2016

From #RootsTech to @pamadison

Paula Williams Madison speaks to regular and social media writers at RootsTech 2016.Paula,

I wanted to drop you this private note (although, all things considered, it may not be so private).

Thank you for speaking with me in the media center at RootsTech last week. You shared the special closeness you felt, even when young, with a grandfather whom you had never met and for whom you knew little about. I wanted to say, “Yes! We genealogists get it! We hear them too!”

Thank you for sharing your documentary with us at the media dinner. You told us afterwards that your coworkers would readily say that you were a woman who does not cry. That gave greater impact to two scenes. When you traveled to Jamaica and found your grandfather’s shop, and stood in the room where he would have held your mother before they were separated forever, you began to cry. I did too. I wanted to jump up and say, “Yes! We genealogists get it! We feel sacred spaces too!”

When you moved heaven and earth to track down your Grandpa Lowe, and stood before his final resting place, you sobbed. I wanted to put my arms around you and whisper quietly, “yes, we understand. We have been here too.”

And I wanted to say, “Welcome, my sister. You didn’t find yourself just one family; you found yourself two.”


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Watch the Final Day of #RootsTech and Family Discovery Day

clip_image002 Dear friends,

I just wanted to remind you of the final day of live streaming from RootsTech. Streaming begins at 8:30 am MST (10:30 EST, 7:30 PST).

Today is also Family Discovery Day for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Live streaming begins at 1:00 pm MST (3:00 EST, 12:00 PST).

Look for further RootsTech reports next week, starting Tuesday. Have a great weekend!

Friday, February 5, 2016

#RootsTech is a Gathering of Heart Specialists

RootsTech is a gathering of heart specialists“RootsTech is a gathering of heart specialists,” said Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch.

Steve was one of the opening day’s keynote speakers at RootsTech 2016. He began by asking each of us to think of a family story. He told us what we just did was family history. He then gave us 60 seconds to share the story with the person sitting next to us.

RootsTech attendees sharing stories with each otherHe then asked us to think about what we felt as we told our story. When we share stories we feel love, joy, peace—sometimes even sadness, “I believe you can be inspiring to your family members,” he told us. “Your family needs what you have.”
Steve told us that FamilySearch’s vision is to continuously improve these five experiences:

FamilySearch Five Focus Experiences

  1. Discovery. There have recently been a 482% increase in teens discovering their family history.
  2. Family Tree. Family Tree now has over 1 billion persons.
  3. Searchable records.
  4. Memories. There are now over 10 million memories in
  5. Contextual help. This needs to address the needs of the younger generations in the ways that work best for them. That is probably through their peers.

RootsTech attendees dawned surgeon's masks showing they are heart specialists.Steve advised us to reach out to people’s hearts. When he was an eight year old boy he had to have heart surgery. “You are, in a way, heart specialists.” We are the heart doctors in our families. Just as Steve’s doctor didn’t need to turn him into a heart doctor in order to fix his heart, we don’t need to turn our family members into genealogists in order to touch their hearts.

Start small. Steve told us to think about the story we thought of at the beginning of his presentation. He then asked us to think about a family member who needs to hear that story. “Go talk to them today.” Do it in person. Or call. Or Skype. But try to tell the story in less than a minute.

Then ask them to share a story.


Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch, addresses RootsTech opening session.RootsTech 2016 By the Numbers

  • 25,000 - people registered
  • 50 – states represented by attendees (RootsTech finally got all 50!)
  • 40 - countries
  • 4,000 – teenage attendees registered
  • 3,000 – registered 8 to 12 year olds
  • 360+ - exhibiters
  • 125,000 - expected live streaming audience
  • 1,500 - Family Discovery Days last year rebroadcasting some sessions from RootsTech
  • 250,000 – attendees to the Family Discovery Days

#RootsTech in #Hog Heaven


I suppose hog aficionados knew exactly what they were hearing the moment the growl roared from the back of the cavernous convention hall. A large Harley came rumbling down the aisle and up onto the stage. A rather large, scruffy looking biker dismounted and took the mic.

“Every American family has its own unique heritage.”

Every American Ride aficionado knew exactly who they were listening to: Stan Ellsworth, the biker turned history teacher, host of a BYUtv television show.

“Maybe your family’s like mine and came over in the 1600s,” he said. Or maybe your family came in the 1700s and gave their blood to create this nation. Or maybe your family came from China and helped build the west. He went on to mention a dozen other immigration scenarios.

And some are still coming, seeking freedom, he said. “It’s the hope of every human heart. And it’s the birthright of every American.”

Our families have had their own story to tell. “Stories of sacrifice, dedication, and perseverance.” And they want them told. They want them remembered. “You can find your heroes. You can find your own heritage. You can find your roots,” he said. “So kick a leg over and begin to discover your families own, unique, American ride.”

#RootsTech: Finding Samuel Lowe

Paula Williams Madison addresses RootsTech 2016.“One of the reasons I am here is to let you [genealogists] know, from one person’s experience, how you have changed my life,” said Paula Williams Madison during the opening keynote session at RootsTech 2016. Paula is a retired executive from NBCUniversal and parent company, General Electric. She was named one of the “75 Most Powerful African Americans in Corporate America” by Black Enterprise magazine in 2005.

When she says that what we do has changed her life, she is not exaggerating.

Not long after her retirement in 2011, Paula began to wonder about her Chinese ancestry. “Chinese family?!?” This obviously African American woman doesn’t look Chinese!

Paula had promised her mother, Nell Vera Lowe, to seek out her Chinese family. Nell’s parents, a Hakka Chinese shopkeeper in Jamaica named Samuel Lowe, and a black Jamaican woman named Albertha Campbell, had become estranged when Nell was only three.

To try and learn more about her grandfather and the Hakka people, Paula traveled to a Hakka reunion in Toronto in the spring of 2012. A genealogist there suggested she consult She went to the site, typed in all she knew about her grandfather, and up popped Samuel Lowe on a passenger list. There he was.

A search that she expected to take quite some time, started to move very quickly. In August of that same year, she was on her way to China to meet newly discovered aunts and uncles who had had no idea that Nell had even existed. Perhaps to steel her for disappointment, her husband asked her, “What do you expect to happen when they meet you?” She didn’t know what to say.

“You know you’re black,” he told her.

“I knew that I was a Lowe and they would want me as much as I wanted them.”

And so it was. Color didn’t matter. Nationality didn’t matter. Distance didn’t matter. She was family, and that was all that mattered.

“It never would have been possible, except for you,” she said, motioning to us in the audience. “You got the ball rolling and in less than six weeks I was no longer floating. When that happened, my mother was claimed.”

Paula Williams Madison introduces us to her mother, Nell.
Paula introduces us to her mother.


Paula has written a book and produced a documentary about her experience. For more information, visit Watch Paula’s keynote address on YouTube.

Live streaming of RootsTech sessions continues today at 8:30 am, MST. For more information, see “RootsTech Posts Syllabi, Streaming Schedule.”

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Help at Home Right Now! #RootsTech Freedmen’s Bureau Index-A-Thon

The Freedmen's Bureau Index-A-Thon

At half-past the hour (7:30 pm MST), about 10 minutes from now, you are invited to participate in the Freemen’s Bureau Project Index-A-Thon. The goal is to do 900 batches in 90 minutes.

While this is happening live at RootsTech (in the computer labs), you can help out wherever you are at!

Visit and the project website at