Thursday, March 10, 2016

#RootsTech: Robert Kehrer – #FamilySearch and a Famous Curse

Robert Kehrer presented at RootsTech 2016.“This is an industry in transformation,” Robert Kehrer said.

Robert Kehrer presented the FamilySearch sponsored luncheon on Thursday at RootsTech. Robert is the product manager for Search. He talked about transformations. I’ve reported before on this presentation (see “Kehrer Talks FamilySearch Transformations – #BYUFHGC,” 29 July 2015) so I’ll skip some of what he said.

Robert has witnessed transformations in two previous careers: DNA and Apple. Now at FamilySearch, he’s witnessing another. “My goal is to give you a taste of the transformation that’s been happening,” he said.

The transformation in records:

  PAST PRESENT (Jan 2016)
Record collections 1,033 in Jan 2012 2,062
Indexed names in collections 750 million in 2010 5.42 billion
Countries with records 72 in Jan 2012 91
Camera teams in archives 209 in Jan 2012 318
Records   3.15 billion
Document images   1.12 billion
Catalog titles   1.63 million
Microfilms   3.4 million
Names in Genealogies (GEDCOMs)   975 million
Scanned genealogy books   260,000

The transformation in memories—photos, stories, and digitized documents—started in 2013. Since then users have uploaded over 13 million artifacts. Approximately 20,000 are added per day, of which 76% get attached to Family Tree. Robert showed a story he entered, “Franklin Bernard Allor in Car Accident Dec 7 1941,” about an ancestor.

The FamilySearch Memories team is planning on releasing a gallery view. Robert’s prototype looked like the image below, left (please excuse my shaky photography). It looks like a list view of the gallery view now being rolled out, which looks like the image below, right.

Wireframe of a future FamilySearch memories gallery  User interface of the FamilySearch gallery view currently being rolled out

The transformation in indexing:

  • 1.34 billion records indexed
  • 68,569,328 records indexed in 2015
  • 213,184 total contributors
  • 15,795,814 records awaiting arbitration
  • 450 current projects


The new, web-based indexing program is being rolled out even while it is still being worked on. Someone asked when it would finally be available and everyone laughed. Robert declined to answer, since he is not the indexing product manager. Jason Pierson is the product manager.

FamilySearch is contemplating tools that would speed up certain aspects of indexing. Robert showed a wireframe of a tool where the indexer would be given one, simple task that required just a tap. The user would look at the image and tap to indicate the record type: birth, marriage, death, or other. (Below, left.) With as little information as record type, geography, and date range, blocks of images could be suggested alongside search results of indexed records.

User driven image characterization  Wireframe of image search user interface

Robert showed another wireframe (above, right) that allowed quick perusal of images. As you moved a slider along the bottom you would see popup thumbnails and basic date and place information. The slider might also include date and place ranges. If you found a name you wanted indexed, you immediately indexed it. Robert called it indexing on the fly.

The transformation in hinting:

  • ~98% precision. Out of every 100 hints shown to you, 2 are incorrect.
  • ~65-70% recall. Out of every 100 records in a collection that have your ancestor, the hinting system shows you 65 to 70 of them.
  • ~340,000+ hints attached daily
  • ~34,000+ names added to Family Tree daily
  • 60% of records attached to Family Tree were found via hints


The transformation in Family Tree:

  • 1.1 billion names in the tree
  • 500,000 names added each week
  • 567 million sources attached to Family Tree
  • 2.3 million+ new sources attached weekly
  • 2.8 million+ daily edits to Family Tree persons
  • 30% edits by users who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


The transformation in mobile apps:

  • 1.1 million total app downloads
  • 73,000 avg active users
  • 2 million ancestors added
  • 605,000 photos added
  • 41,000 stories added
  • 6.89 million artifacts viewed


The transformation in partnering:

  • 20% of new names added to Family Tree come from partner records
  • 5 out of 10 indexed names on FamilySearch.org come from partners
  • 30 yrs of indexing with partners versus 300 yrs with current volunteers to index what we currently have
  • 75+ software products integrate with FamilySearch (See familysearch.org/apps)


The future of partnering is bringing hundreds of millions of new records (774 million).

  • Ancestry:
  •      Mexico Catholic Church Records: 260M
  •      Mexico Civil Records: 77M
  •      US Probate Project: 73M
  • findmypast
  •      Ireland Court Registers 22M
  •      UK WWI Service Records 4.3M
  •      UK Census Republication: 168M
  •      US Passenger Lists: 91M
  • MyHeritage
  •      Danish Census Records: 32M
  •      Danish Church Records: 25M
  •      Swedish Household Names: 22M


“You know the old curse that says ‘May you live in interesting times’?” Robert asked. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. These are the most interesting times we’ve ever seen in the genealogy market.”

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