Friday, April 29, 2016

Darned Sketchy Death Certificate

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about the past. 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. Records say the darnedest things!

Donna Hoskins Backus was excited when Texas death certificates went online. Her paternal brick wall ancestor died in Texas.

“It took us several decades to find my grandfather’s family,” Donna says.  “Why? His parents divorced before 1902, when he was very young, and his mother moved them to New Mexico from Texas and remarried.”

She was able to locate her great-grandfather’s death certificate. But the information was sketchy:

M B Hoskins death certificate, Crowell, Texas, 21 October 1913

He was known in town only as M.B. (Family lore has it that he went by his initials so as to give more prestige to his position as a lawyer.) His age was unknown. His birthplace was unknown. No information was known about his parents.

The information was so sketchy, the informant seemed compelled to explain why in a marginal notation: “Was a Recluse. No Relatives here.” The informant was the undertaker. Sadly, the only thing that seemed to define M.B. to his fellow citizens was his divorce.

He died alone.

Now in my opinion, the information is not only sketchy, it is sketchy. The date of death has obviously been “corrected” and the date of the doctor’s signature may have been as well.

The cause of death is “Don’t know.” The signature of the town doctor, Hines Clark appears sketchy:

Signature of Hines Clark as it appears on the M B Hoskins death certificate, 21 October 1913.

On other certificates from around this time it appears like this:

Signature of Dr. Hines Clark, Virgina Jineveel Campbell death certificate, signed 29 September 1913

Signature of Dr. Hines Clark, Cora Washburn death certificate, signed 18 March 1913

Signature of Dr. Hines Clark, Mary Belle Allie death certificate, signed about 19 January 1913

Donna’s grandfather was just a teenager when his father, M.B., died. “He was sent by train to attend to his estate, finding on arrival other relatives had come and gone,” Donna says. “Yes, all of the money and negotiables were gone.”

Darned, sketchy records!

Thank you, Donna Hoskins Backus, for sharing this record.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

FamilySearch Search Tip: Exact Search

FamilySearch Historical Records search form with the Exact boxes checkedFamilySearch recently tuned the Exact setting of its search system. Next to each text field in the FamilySearch search is a little square. Checking that box invokes exact mode. But what does that mean? The question is not as simple as you might think. Ostensibly, searchers want records that exactly match what they type. But when asked the following questions, most changed their minds about how the exact mode should work.

1. If you enter Howard as the first name, do you want exact search to match records with first name HOWARD as often occurs in electronic databases? What about O’brian and O’Brian? What about “de la Vega” and “De la Vega”? When quizzed specifically, most searchers want exact, except for case.

2. If you enter “de la Vega” as the last name, do you want exact search to match records keyed as “Dela Vega” or Delavega? Most searchers with European ancestry want exact to also ignore spaces in names.

3. If you enter José, do you want exact search to match records without the accent (Jose)? Most searchers say yes.

4. If you enter O’Brian, do you want it to match records keyed as OBrian? Most searchers say yes.

With these changes, FamilySearch exact mode now returns exactly what you enter, with those four allowances: case is ignored, spaces are ignored, diacritical marks are ignored, and punctuation is ignored.

Previously, FamilySearch allowed three more exceptions.

5. If you enter first names “Mark John,” should it match just Mark? Just John? It used to.

6. Should “Mark John” match “Mark John or Jack”? It used to.

7. Should “Mark John” match “John Mark”? It used to. I talked to a researcher recently who found that to be a common practice in a certain area he was researching in.

Why did FamilySearch make the change? I asked Robert Kehrer, FamilySearch product manager.

“We were trying to be too smart and guess what would be most valuable to the user,” said Robert, “and that unfortunately took power away from the user and caused a lot of confusion about what ‘Exactly’ the system was doing.”

With these changes, FamilySearch expects the behavior of the system will match the expectations of most searchers.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Legit or Phishing Scheme?

Phishing Magnifier Represents Malware Hacker And HackedSeveral readers have alerted me to a possible phishing scheme masquerading as an email from Reader “T” reported that he received the following message:

Hi Removed,

Ancestry has moved to a brand new support platform. By doing so we have created a more powerful set of tools as well as added some key features to aid you with any of your future support needs. To take part in this new experience; you will need to reset your password by clicking on the following link: [he removed the rest of the link].

Your Username is: Removed

Ancestry Support

I assume he substituted the word “Removed” for his username, but for illustration, let’s assume it actually said “Removed.” Darlene in Lakeview reported that her email really did contain an incorrect username.

Sandra Gwilliam reported that the email came from “ via”

There are a number of red flags that rightly trigger suspicion about an email. (This example contains several.)

  • Purports to be from one address when it comes from a different one. (In this example, the email claimed to be from but was actually from That’s suspicious.)
  • Does not state your username. That’s a big, big red flag. Genuine phishing emails generally don’t know your username. Purporting to know your username, but stating it incorrectly should throw perhaps an even bigger red flag.
  • The email seeks confidential information, such as username, password, birthdate, address, social security number, or other financial information. Be careful. I investigated one phishing website that sent off your information as you typed it. It didn’t wait for you to submit the information. The first question was pretty safe: email address. The second seemed so as well: First and Last name. Next, address. Somewhere down the page it asked for credit card. Finally, it asked for the number at the bottom of your checks. By the time you became suspicious, they had already stolen valuable information about you. You didn’t have to click Submit or Send or anything. (This example seeks your password, making it suspicious. No one told me what happened when they clicked the link.)
  • The email is unexpected, or isn’t logical. In this example, you might have tested the situation by typing into your browser and try logging in. If you are not prompted to change your password, then the email doesn’t make sense.
  • Your email program indicates that the link goes to someplace different than what is shown. This is another big, big red flag. Never click a link in an unexpected email without comparing the two addresses. More on that in a minute. (I don’t know if that was the case in this example.)

Let me teach you how to do the last one. You should have received an article on Sunday titled “Suspicious Links.” It contains one suspicious link and three non-suspicious links. I sent it separately because some of you may have email systems that blocked the email. (Kudos to those email systems.)

Hover over each link and look for a little help box that shows where the link will actually go. (See the screen image, below, from Gmail.) If what is displayed in the email and what is displayed in the little help box are different, that is a big red flag. Don’t click the link. The link is not what it claims to be. The email sender may be trying to deceive you. The link may show the address of your bank but send you to a malicious imposter site that tricks you into giving up your username and password. Go ahead and click “” Did you end up on 

Hover over a link in a browser-based email program to see the actual destination in the bottom corner.

Some programs popup the actual link somewhere other than the lower corner. Current versions of Microsoft mail programs place it near the link itself:

Hover over a link in some email programs to see the actual destination near the link.

Be careful. The two addresses may look very similar. Take for example, these addresses:


Links 5 and 6 are not the same. Don’t trust the link.

If you are confused, stop here. If not, let me get into additional details. The absence of http:// is not a concern. And http:// versus https:// is not a problem. Some addresses work equally well with or without them. Links 7-9 are all equivalent.


No Address Displayed

Sometimes an email may not display an address at all. It may say “Click here to change your password.” How do you evaluate the safety of the link? Hover over the link and look at the address. If the domain shown by the email popup ends with a website you trust, then you can trust the link.

Recognizing the domain can be tricky. The domain is the part between the double slash and the next slash. The domain of link 3 is The domain of link 5 is The domain of link 6 is

Assuming the only websites you trust are and, if you found the following URLs in an email, which can you assume to be safe?

       10. – No. The domain ends with .org, not .com.
       11. – No. Doesn’t end with (Yes, in real life we may know this domain forwards to, but some people may not know that before clicking. For purposes of this exercise, we are only clicking domains ending in or
       12. – Yes. Domain ends in
       13.*Vj – No. BTW, this is the old Ancestry Help system.
       14. – No. The domain is
       15. – No.
       16. – Yes, according to the rules we’ve defined here. Actually, this URL is bad because it exploits an Ancestry security hole. But I won’t get into that.
       17. – No. This is a FamilySearch book, but it is hosted on a website outside our trust list (for this exercise).
       18. – No.
       19. – Yes.
       20. – No. Domain is

Legit or Phishing Scheme?

While you were right to be suspicious of these emails, actually, they are legit. Ancestry is switching to a new help system that doesn’t integrate with your Ancestry username and password. You have to create a new password on the new system. Link 12 leads to this help message:

Hello Thomas,

Just to clarify, this is not a phising attack or scam. We have sent out emails to notify our members of the new Ancestry Support page as it requires our members to reset their password. Let us know if you have any further questions, and we hope you enjoy!

Karlie B.
Ancestry Community Moderator

I tried out the new system and it was a hunk of junk. I registered and it sent me a verification email—the one you all have been getting—that sent me to a webpage that sent me a verification email that sent me to a webpage that sent me a verification email… There was no link to get help. “Contact your administrator.” Fail.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ancestry DNA $79 Sale

Ancestry DNA $79 is running their periodic $79 sale for their DNA test kits. They list at $99 and regularly go on sale for $89. The $79 sale price comes just a couple times a year. Today’s sale is celebrating National DNA Day (in the United States), 25 April 2016 and runs through Tuesday, 26 April 2016 at 11:59 EDT. The offer excludes taxes and shipping. Order at

To learn more about the science behind Ancestry’s interpretation of your DNA results, watch the free Ancestry Academy class “Behind the Scenes: The Science Behind AncestryDNA Results” by Dr. Catherine Ball, VP Genomics & Bioinformatics at Ancestry. Watch this class for free at

This is Ancestry’s description of the class:

Methods behind ancestry estimation, DNA matching, and other AncestryDNA features are at the forefront of human genetics research – with many unresolved questions and issues. We walk through the scientific process upon which your AncestryDNA results are built, primarily focusing on DNA matching as a case study. Using the scientific method, we look at the development of a new version of DNA matching: from our hypothesis and suspicion of false positive matches, to results from extensive research and data exploration, and finally to the development and evaluation of new algorithms. We discuss the advantage of our large database, which has led to, and will continue to lead to, other influential findings powering new AncestryDNA features.

The entire course runs about 30 minutes, but you can choose which of nine segments to listen to.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Suspicious Links

Links 1 and 2 both go to Links 3 and 4 both go to See Tuesday’s article (once Tuesday comes) for an explanation and lessons to learn.


Friday, April 22, 2016

Kindergarten Serendipity

Shelley Hallman shared with me this story of serendipity.

Illustration of a school bus courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.netMy family always tease me about my habit of questioning people I meet who share the names of ancestors on our family tree. I guess that the habit has been ingrained as my daughter was the instrument of this piece of serendipity:

She recently moved to another state. Her oldest child started kindergarten and about a month later an e-mail listing of the contacts of the children in her child’s class was mistakenly posted. My daughter called me excitedly and said “MOM! You will never believe this…. There is a child named Hallman in the Kindergarten class! I contacted the Mom and here is her e-mail. But she said she’s just moving in so will contact me as soon as they are settled.” I sent the mother an e-mail and explained who I was and that I’d soon be visiting and would love to compare and share what info I had on the family name with her. Several weeks later while visiting with my daughter I again contacted her explaining I was in the area and gave my daughter’s phone number. She called and we settled on a time to visit and exchanged directions to each other’s homes. THEY LIVE JUST TWO BLOCKS APART!

She shared several pictures of the family and there is definitely a resemblance. We discovered that there are several traits shared by family members as well. She is in possession of an out of print family book and it turns out that our fathers-in-law are 2nd cousins. Amazing!

Thank you, Shelley, for sharing. That is what we call, Serendipity in Genealogy.

Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

AncestryDNA Improvements Coming announced recently that it will be making improvements to AncestryDNA. The refinements will result in a better list of those you are related to, and how closely you are related. These refinements are made possible by the growing size of the AncestryDNA databank.

“Your DNA match list will automatically show the new results when the update is available in the coming weeks,” Ancestry said. “You’ll receive an email letting you know when it’s ready.” Some results may not be as good as previously postulated, so they will be removed from your list. (Ancestry will make it possible to access any that you had marked or added comments to.

These improvements will be made available free for all existing customers. Read the PDF provided by Ancestry to see this information in Ancestry’s own words.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

NGS Conference Approaching Quickly - #NGS2016GEN

The Ancestry Insider is a member of the NGS 2016 Family History Conference social media press.This year’s National Genealogical Society Family History Conference, 4-7 May 2016, is bearing down quickly upon us. It will be held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the Greater Ft. Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center. And it’s not too late to come. You can pre-register up through this Friday, 22 April 2016. Or you can just show up and register onsite starting Tuesday, 3 May 2016 at noon. Hotel rooms are still available (as I write this) at the conference hotel, the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, or at the nearby Embassy Suites Fort Lauderdale. Rooms start at $143 a night through

You don’t need to pre-register for regular sessions, so don’t worry about deciding at the last minute to attend. You’ll get to choose from around 190 absolutely amazing classes on all aspects of genealogy. See the session list in the registration brochure or the program page of the conference website. Instructors include famous genealogists like Elizabeth Shown Mills, Tom Jones, Judy Russell, Josh Taylor, Mary Tedesco, Barbara Vines Little, David Rencher, and dozens more.

Live Streaming

If you can’t attend in person, you can still watch up to ten sessions, live or recorded. Living streaming registration deadline is 22 April 2016, so don’t delay. Read the session offerings and schedule on the NGS Conference website.

Mobile App

A mobile app is available. Use it to access the conference schedule, class syllabi, and conference center maps. Watch Twitter, take notes, and more. For more information, visit Download it from the Apple or Google app stores, or use it through any browser online at If you already have it installed from last year, you need to switch out of last year’s program and into this year’s. Go to the home screen, select the gear icon, and select “Exit to Show List.”

Student Rate

NGS is offering an extremely low rate for current students. You can attend all four days of the conference for $50 if you are an NGS member, or $60 if you are not.

To qualify, students must submit a letter on college or university letterhead signed by the dean or department chair confirming the student’s current admittance, good standing, and full-time status in an undergraduate or graduate degree-seeking program at a regionally accredited institution of higher learning. Students who are enrolled in diploma or certificate programs, continuing education programs, lifetime learning programs, or at institutions not regionally accredited do not qualify.

For more information, visit

NGS Annual Meeting and Election

Immediately after the last session of the conference, NGS will convene their annual meeting, most of which will be the election of new officers and some board positions. The election tends to be more of a ratification of candidates nominated by the nomination committee. Nominations can be made by any member of the society, but must be made in advance, according to society bylaws. Get your nomination and petition to NGS before this Saturday, 23 April 2016. For more information, visit

Monday, April 18, 2016

Monday Mailbox: Ancestry Tree Indexing Follow-Up

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxReader JudyBG was concerned about the news that was not indexing all persons in Ancestry Member Trees. (See “Monday Mailbox: Ancestry Tree Search Broken.”)

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Oh, that is going to be popular! I have thousands of people on my tree. If I ever could not find it, I don't know what I would do. but it would not be pretty. My tree is extensive because I have sought to make connections others cannot or have not been able to make--I have lots of UK information for families in the US and Canada--and vice versa. I find I enjoy solving the puzzles more than the really in-depth archaeology some people like to do. I am careful and accurate, and I think very helpful, but it does mean my tree is huge and has many very distantly connected people on it.

But what is their criteria? I can see those with only a name--not as sure about those without sources, since that doesn't always mean that tree doesn't have useful information, which they may have gotten out of, say, the family Bible and not sourced it. But to remove trees with lots of names and sources seems INSANE.

I mean as in legally defined insanity.

JudyBG - April 4, 2016 at 12:10 PM

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I feel confused. I think this requires more clarification. Just exactly what will or will not be indexed, and how will this affect the average user? Geolover says it will just be individuals that are unsourced that will not be indexed, but what does that mean--what would that look like on one's tree or trees? Can you write a column explaining this more fully? What does it mean to "index" an individual--or not?

JudyBG - April 5, 2016 at 1:58 PM

Dear Ancestry Insider,

But I am asking a far more basic question. What does it mean to "index" an individual? Or a tree? When they do these upgrades, precisely what are they doing?

JudyBG - April 6, 2016 at 1:02 PM

Dear JudyBG,

You said, “I find I enjoy solving the puzzles more than the really in-depth archaeology some people like to do. I am careful and accurate, and I think very helpful, but it does mean my tree is huge.” Judy, what do you regard as “archaeology”? I trust you have at least two sources for each fact in your tree. Without adequate sources—sources that will stand up to scrutiny—then the accuracy is unknown.

You asked, “What does it mean to ‘index’ an individual or a tree?”

Like a book index, a computer index allows one to easily locate a person in a tree. And just as every name in a book may not appear in the index, every name in a tree may not be in the index. Computer code produces the indexes that uses to find persons in trees.

When you are working in your tree, you can search for persons by clicking the magnifying glass to the right of the tree name on a person page,


or in the upper-right corner of the tree view.


I’m guessing this tree index is unaffected by the change in Ancestry’s indexing code. While working in your own tree, you won’t see any differences.

Ancestry also has code that builds an index that is used to search all Ancestry Member Trees simultaneously. The code that builds the index previously looked at every person in every tree. Obviously, the more persons, the longer the process takes. Ancestry claims more than 6 billion persons in their member trees. (See “Company Facts” on the Ancestry Corporate website as of 9 April 2016.) Each of these persons has a number of facts and relatives associated with them, which are incorporated into the index. If each person had eight facts (such as first name, last name, birth date, birth place, death date, death place, spouse first name, spouse last name, etc.), then the index would incorporate 48 billion facts. All of this, apparently and not surprisingly, overwhelms the Ancestry indexing system.

Ancestry apparently has to decrease the amount of work the code has to do, so that it doesn’t implode. Ancestry creates a list that doesn’t contain as many persons as the full tree. They try to leave out the least valuable names. According to an Ancestry spokesperson’s message board post, they leave out

  • “unusually large people (those with thousands of events or hundreds of immediate family members);
  • those without any sources; and
  • those with only a name.”

How does that affect you? You may see fewer search results when you search across all Ancestry Member trees. And the results that you see will always have sources.

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, April 15, 2016

Serendipity: Big on Genealogy

Cover of the History of Davis County, IowaMembers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Mormons—are known to be “big on genealogy.” So when a Florida family had to dispose of their deceased parent’s genealogy books, they naturally thought of the Mormon neighbor. However, not all Mormons are “big on genealogy.” So the neighbor hauled the small stack of books in to the local FamilySearch Family History Center at a Church meetinghouse. Kirk Lovenbury, thanked the woman, and then set the books aside while he continued working on another project.

About an hour later another woman showed up. She had never been to one of the Church’s meetinghouses before, but thought the Mormons might be able to help her with her genealogy. She outlined her ancestry back to a rural Iowa county where her research was stuck. As she spoke, Kirk kept saying to himself, “Where have I heard that name before?” Then it hit him: the new stack of books.

The fourth book down was a history of the visitor’s Iowa county. It not only gave information about her ancestors, but it outlined their ancestors back to colonial times.

You have to understand that most FamilySearch Family History Centers have very small book collections. Even more rare is a Florida center with books about small Iowa counties. Even rarer still is a woman coming to a center an hour after the book she needs in particular has been donated to the center.

“A miracle had taken place right there in front of me,” Kirk says.

We call that, Serendipity in Genealogy.


Used with Kirk’s permission. First published in Kirk P. Lovenbury, “Family History Moments,” LDS Church News (28 November 2015); online publication ( : accessed 4 March 2016).

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

New, Free Ancestry Academy Course: War of 1812

Ancestry Academy free War of 1812 usually charges for Ancestry Academy courses (other than those about its own products). They’ve made an exception in the case of “Ancestors, Family, and Associates in the War of 1812 Records.” The course is taught by FamilySearch Chief Genealogical Officer, David Rencher, AG, CG, FUGA, FIGRS. The course consists of 12 video segments of about five minutes in length. David teaches these record types: the Congressional Record, pension records, bounty land records, state militia records, and prisoner of war records. The course requires a free Ancestry Academy account.

Ancestry may have made the decision to offer the course for free because the pension files are also free. Access them at “” The collection is not yet complete. Surnames “A” through “MO” have been posted.

Fold3 (now, Ancestry) partnered with the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) to bring these records to the public, free of charge. To do so, FGS is raising the money to pay for digitization. Fold3 has been good enough to match those contributions. I saw last week on Facebook that contributions are tax deductible. If you wish to contribute, go to

Another free course about the war and its records is “The War of 1812 Records - Preserving the Pensions” by Rebecca Whitman Koford. It is one of the Legacy Family Tree Webinar series.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Monday Mailbox: A Banns Date Does Not a Marriage Make

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

What is the difference between the third date of calling banns and a date of marriage? Nothing, according to the indexing projects at FamilySearch, the genealogy side of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

A few days ago, I downloaded a batch of marriage records to transcribe from the “UK, Cornwall-Pariah Registers, 1538-1900” project in FamilySearch Indexing. Upon looking at the register images, I immediately spotted that these were banns rather than marriage entries. The project expects the indexer to enter the third date of calling the banns as the date of marriage! Having transcribed many thousands of banns and marriages for parishes in Cornwall, I know that a number of these proposed marriages never actually took place at all—so how could FamilySearch allow this to happen?

I decided to email the support team at FamilySearch. The reply was not very helpful:

“…The completed index and links to digital images to this project will be freely accessible online to the general public when the collection is published.  Researchers will be able to pull up the image and see that the marriage date is actually the third banns date instead of the actual date of marriage.”

The inexperienced or those perhaps in a hurry to solve a problem may just take the marriage details as being exactly what FamilySearch indicates—a marriage—and not just the calling of banns for a proposed marriage. FamilySearch appears to be happy to accept incorrect and quite simply misleading indexing to appear on their website.

I’m interested in your views.


FamilySearch has made the decision that minor compromises in genealogical integrity allow it to publish a greater quantity of records and access to images offsets the decrease in integrity. By carefully making these compromises, the overall value delivered to the public is increased.

There is another ramification that FamilySearch may not have considered. FamilySearch provides hints in FamilySearch Family Tree to its historical records. When the record is attached, the user has the option of adding record information to the tree. The banns date is added to the tree as a marriage date. So while the FamilySearch Trees team is busy taking steps to improve the quality of data in Family Tree, the Records team is taking steps that degrade it.

---The Ancestry Insider

As is the usual practice, the Ancestry Insider edited Mark’s message before publication.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Random Document Serendipity

Lori SamuelsonApplicants for certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists are sent a photocopy of a random document for analysis, much as they might analyze a document provided by a client. Lori Samuelson, author of the Genealogy at Heart blog, received a document from a nearby county, less than three hours away. Since an actual document might yield more clues than a photocopy, Lori decided to drive over and check it out.

Like any wise genealogist, she called the courthouse before making the trip. And like any wise genealogist, she had to apply diplomacy and persistence.

“My first call was to the courthouse,” Lori said, “but I was told by the operator that they didn't have old records and I needed to call a different office.”  The next person told her that all the records were online. (I fear we’re going to run into that one more and more, even when not true.) Further, once the records had been digitized, the originals had been destroyed! (I’m even more fearful that we’re going to run into that one, and it will be true!) When Lori told her that the record she needed was not online, the staffer didn’t quite know what to say, but suggested checking with the local historical society.

“The first person I spoke with there said she had no idea where the record I needed was and she would have someone call me back.”  After waiting several hours, Lori called again. The woman she had spoken with had left for the day, so she started over with a different person. Fortunately, this person was more knowledgeable. While the society had the document on microfilm, the original was at the courthouse. One of the benefits a local society brings to the table is they know who is who, so Lori asked who she should speak with.

This time Lori called the records department. The records clerk didn’t know what to make of the request and had to speak to a more senior staffer. “The older employee wanted to know why a fortune teller wanted the record.  Huh?!” Apparently, the first staffer didn’t know what a genealogist was. (I think Elizabeth Shown Mills identifies herself as a historical biographer to set a higher expectation of professionalism and to avoid such misunderstandings.) “Clearly I'm not a fortune teller or I would have knowledge of where I'd find this record!” Lori said. They both had a good laugh. The staffer told Lori to come Monday morning at 8:00 AM, but to be prepared to be disappointed.

It was mid-morning on Saturday when Lori got an unexpected call. The historical society had found the record; it was in their library. And while they would not be open on Monday, they would be open until 5:00. “I was running errands but dropped everything to drive the 2+ hours to get there before they closed,” Lori said.  “I am so glad I did!”

When she arrived, there were only two people there, an employee and a volunteer. After examining and digitizing the document, Lori started chatting with the volunteer. She hadn’t originally planned on being there that day, but had just switched her hours. As they talked, they happened to learn that they were both from the same state.

“Turns out we're related in three lines (Lamphere, Kuhn, and Duer) through our great grandfathers!” Lori says. “I wasn't close to my Dad's side growing up and have never met any of his relatives, so this meeting was especially sweet.”

When I got the call on Saturday that the record was available I couldn't believe it. That alone would have made my day but to meet a relative who just happened to switch her volunteer hours due to the holidays, well, I think this was meant to be.”

That’s what we call a lot of hard work, and a little serendipity in genealogy.


Thank you, Lori, for permission to retell your story. To read Lori’s story, complete and in her own words, see “A Transcription Treat” on her blog, Genealogy At Heart.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

RootsWeb FreePages Data Loss

Logo of RootsWeb by AncestryWhen the RootsWeb servers crashed, I warned that some later loss was possible. Companies run backups periodically. Any information added to RootsWeb after the last backup would be lost. It turns out, in the case of RootsTech FreePages, that loss is rather dramatic. On 28 March 2016 sent the following email out to RootsWeb users:

As you may know, the RootsWeb site was recently unavailable as the result of a hardware failure in our datacenter. Our development and web operations teams worked diligently and carefully to address the issues, and as a result, the site is now available again.  

Regretfully, despite their best efforts, our teams were not able to retrieve all of the data associated with the site. Specifically, we were unable to retrieve content from FreePages added after the summer of 2015. We understand these pages are important to you and are very sorry that we are not able to recover the data that was lost as a result of the hardware failure. Going forward, we are adding additional technical resources to support the site and ensure such an issue does not occur again.

If you have a backup of your own please upload it to the site so that you have the most current version of your pages.

If you have any concerns, please contact our Member Services through our support form.

While Ancestry didn’t offer further explanation as to why no backups were available after the summer of 2015, several possibilities come to mind. A best practice in technology is to test your backups. It doesn’t matter if you religiously backup your files if, when the time comes, you are unable to restore the files. It is possible that Ancestry has been backing up the disks, but the tapes they were using were bad. Or their backup automation software wasn’t working correctly. Or Ancestry had inadvertently left one or more disks off the list and they weren’t being backed up at all.

One FreePages user, Wayne Brown, posted a message on the RootsWeb message boards, lamenting that his website at was completely lost. He created it after summer 2015, so as far as RootsWeb is concerned, his website never existed. To make matters worse, he didn’t have a backup. If you’ve lost information and don’t have a backup, there may be a way to recover some of the lost information.

  1. Go to the Internet Archive at They have archives of 472 billion web pages. They may have yours.
  2. Enter the URL into the WayBack Machine search box.
  3. The Internet Archive shows if and when it archived that page:
  4. If the page has been archived, shows a bar graph of sorts, indicating months in which backups were made. Select the year of interest.
  5. Underneath the bar graph displays a calendar with blue circles over dates when the page was archived.
  6. With some luck, your page was archived. Click the most recent date.
  7. Click the X to remove the WayBack Machine header from your page.
  8. Copy and paste missing information.
  9. While you can use the Save function of your browser, be warned that the RootsWeb and Internet Archive web servers add lots of goop to your pages. You will find they have added lots of complex HTML that you don’t want. But, if you scan down through the page, you’ll eventually find the HTML you wrote.

Good luck!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mocavo’s Free Forever Promise No Longer

Mocavo has now moved to Findmypast.On 10 October 2013 Mocavo founder Cliff Shaw announced that his website would remain free forever.

When Mocavo brings content online, it becomes free forever. Let me be clear – I didn’t just say free for now, I said free forever.

How can I trust that content on Mocavo will be free forever?

We are committed to free genealogy unlike any other company – it’s part of our history. When I founded GenForum in 1997, I said the site would be free forever. To this day, it’s still free. Everything else I’ve done in the industry is now free (GenCircles, Family Tree Legends, BackupMyTree).1

Less than a year later, Cliff announced the Findmypast acquisition of Mocavo, reiterating the “free forever” promise:

Today is an exciting day for genealogists everywhere as we’re announcing that Mocavo has been acquired by Findmypast/DC Thomson Family History. This is a groundbreaking development for the industry and a major turning point in Mocavo’s quest to bring all the world’s historical information online for free. The wonderful folks at DC Thomson Family History share our vision of the future of family history, and we couldn’t be more excited to join them. …

In October of last year, we decided to do something audacious and bold – something never before tried in the industry. We launched our Free Forever revolution and this became the day when Mocavo’s soul was born. Everything turned around once we put a stake in the ground and stood for free genealogy (and now Mocavo is growing rapidly, putting more than 1,000 free databases online every single day and more users discovering us than ever). We have our loyal and supportive users to thank more than anyone!

One of the immediate benefits of the acquisition is that we’re putting the complete US Census index online for free (forever!), making us the first commercial provider in history to ever do this. Search the United States Federal Census Now.

The next few months are going to be incredibly exciting as we bring together two companies with enormous resources, content, and technology to bring you more of what you love. Nothing on either site will be going away – just getting better (and quickly!).2

He also wrote,

[Findmypast and Mocavo] both remain committed to delivering on Mocavo’s promise to provide free access to family history records on an individual database level forever. Toward that commitment, Findmypast is announcing today that the full indexes to the US Census from 1790 to 1940 are available for free at

For some time the two websites continued to operate separately and Mocavo continued to be free. Earlier this year the Mocavo blog announced,

We wanted you to be the first to know that in the coming months Mocavo will be coming together with its sister site, Findmypast. This will create a single experience for our US customers in a move that aims to deliver a more focused, efficient and comprehensive service to US family historians.…We are now in the process of moving all Mocavo site content to Findmypast so you’ll soon be able to enjoy everything currently available on Mocavo and more. As part of our ‘Free Forever’ promise, Mocavo subscribers will continue to enjoy free access to all of the same records that were previously published for free on Mocavo.4

It appeared the forever-free promise would apply just to those who had subscribed.

On 29 March 2016 Mocavo sent me an email announcing that the move had taken place. Visitors to the website are now automatically forwarded to I tried to see if the US census is available there for free for everyone, as it was on Mocavo. I was not able to tell for certain one way or the other, but it appears it is no longer available for free to just anyone. I’ve asked Findmypast for clarification. Unfortunately, the business hours of the Ancestry Insider run from 7:00am to 4:00pm on Saturday. So even though you will be reading this on Wednesday, I don’t expect to receive a reply until it’s too late. Next week I’ll let you know what I learn.

I share this article as a reminder to everyone. Whether free or not, always store a local copy of any online source you cite. You never know when your access to that source will go away. And never consider a naked URL to be a citation. In fact, a citation to an online source is never complete until you include enough information to find the source of the source.


     1. Cliff Shaw, “Mocavo Introduces Free Forever – Join us in the revolution!” Mocavo Genealogy Blog ( : 10 October 2013); archived at WayBack Machine ( : accessed 2 April 2016). Emphasis in the original.
     2. Cliff Shaw, “A New Chapter for Mocavo,” Mocavo Genealogy Blog ( : 23 June 2014); archived at WayBack Machine ( : accessed 2 April 2016).
     3. Cliff Shaw, “Mocavo Acquired By Findmypast: A New Chapter Begins,” Mocavo Genealogy Blog ( : 23 June 2014); archived at WayBack Machine ( : accessed 2 April 2016).
     4. “Mocavo and Findmypast are coming together,” Mocavo Genealogy Blog ( : 18 Jan 2016); archived at WayBack Machine ( : accessed 2 April 2016).

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Silver Lake Buys Part of

Silver Lake Buys Part of LLC announced last Friday that an investment firm, Silver Lake, has purchased some of Ancestry. You and I can’t buy shares in Ancestry—at least not directly—because Ancestry is not a public company. But that doesn’t mean that no one can buy shares. Firms with many millions of dollars sometimes can buy portions of Ancestry. To facilitate the transaction, the parties involved have to come to agreement as to the value of the company so that the value of the shares can be established.

This sale established the current value at about $2.6 billion dollars. You may recall that is the value I calculated last year when rumors began to circulate that Ancestry’s investors were hoping to sell portions of the company. (See “Owners of Hoping to Sell.”) That is up quite a bit from the valuation in 2012 when Ancestry was valued at $1.6 billion. That valuation occurred when Permira bought a majority share of Ancestry. (See my story, “ Sold for $1.6 Billion.”)

Ownership of Ancestry is now shared among several large shareholders. The amounts sound like a story problem. After the sell, Silver Lake will own the same amount as GIC, an existing owner. Added together, they own less than 50% of the company. However, when GIC’s shares are added to other existing owners, Permira funds, Spectrum Equity, Tim Sullivan, and Howard Hochhauser, this group of investors owns more than 50%.

Ancestry now has more than 2.2 million paying subscribers across all its websites. They include,,, and AncestryDNA. They contain more than 17 billion digitized historical records. They host 78 million family trees and have more than 1.5 million DNA samples.

Silver Lake owns $24 billion in assets. Among the companies they have invested in are Dell, GoDaddy, and Motorola Solutions. GIC manages the foreign investments of Singapore, amounting to over $100 billion US dollars. Permira owns $28 billion US dollars.

To read the 1 April 2016 Ancestry press release, see “Silver Lake and GIC Announce Strategic Investments in Ancestry” on the corporate website (

Monday, April 4, 2016

Monday Mailbox: Ancestry Tree Search Broken

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

Can anyone tell me why a tree I have at ancestry does not come up in a search for any of the names in it or even when I include the specific name of the tree in the box. I have much more documentation in my tree than any of the ones that are coming up. Is it because I'm not paid up?


Dear Miss, Mrs., or Mr. T,

An product manager, Jim Mosher, has revealed a situation that may explain your situation. On 16 February 2016 he posted the following message on the Ancestry Message Boards at Message Boards > Topics > > Ancestry Site Comments > Public Tree Search Results.

1. The index for our Public Member Trees has not been updated since mid-November [2015].

2. The current indexing rules do prune people from the index. These rules eliminate unusually large people (those with thousands of events or hundreds of immediate family members); those without any sources; and those with only a name. This makes the indexing more efficient (and it is still a big job to process the multiple billions of people in the trees system). THIS IS A CHANGE from what we used to do, …but it DOES reflect the current system.

HOWEVER, we are investigating to see if something has failed with part of the tree index, and we are in-process of re-indexing the public member trees.

When asked about the situation, Ancestry did not respond.

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, April 1, 2016


GEDCOM 2016 Official LogoFor many years users have hoped for a GEDCOM standard extension that would enable the reliable transfer among genealogy programs of sources, citations, and media. Users and vendors alike have looked to FamilySearch to spearhead a community effort to upgrade GEDCOM to do just those things. Several attempts by just the community, and several attempts by just FamilySearch, have failed. Now, after several missteps, FamilySearch and a team of vendors together have successfully extended the standard and it looks like it will finally succeed. FamilySearch and a small group of vendors will announce today (or may have already done so by the time you read this) the GEDCOM-2016 standard.

GEDCOM was created by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and released to the genealogical community in 1984. It was actively supported and updated for a number of years. After version 5.5 in January 1996 support waned. was abandoned and the GEDCOM specification was removed from FamilySearch discontinued testing and registering compliant products.

Since then, FamilySearch has made several missteps in trying to replace the GEDCOM standard. They attempted to produce GEDCOM 6.0 in 2001 and started pushing GEDCOM X in recent years. I think both were pretty much new standards in GEDCOM clothing. They were much more complicated than the original and were expensive to implement. Neither FamilySearch nor other vendors ever produced products that would import or export GEDCOM 6.0 or GEDCOM X files. Version 5.5 remains the de facto standard 20 years later.

That is, until now. With GEDCOM-2016, FamilySearch has returned to their roots (so to speak). It is totally downwards compatible.

“These extensions were so straight forward, Mike and I implemented them all last Wednesday," said Bruce Bush, developer and owner of Enchanted Roots. “By keeping the data model simple, they finally came up with something anyone can implement.”

GEDCOM has human-readable lines of information beginning with four letter keywords like BIRT, DEAT, CHIL, HUSB, and WIFE for birth, death, child, husband, and wife. The new standard adds to these, as well as bringing back the compatibility testing and vendor registration.

In addition to addressing the lack of standards regarding sources, citations, and media, GEDCOM-2016 adds support for DNA.

The author of the “Dear Aunt Pearl” website has been a driving force in user efforts to establish GEDCOM extensions to address these needs. When I asked her opinion on this newest attempt, she said, "This is great. This is the GEDCOM extension that genealogists have been waiting for for a long, long time. I am so grateful that FamilySearch has stepped up to make this happen. Inclusion of DNA results is icing on the cake. This is wonderful."

Some of the newly added four-character GEDCOM codes are:

  • CITE - citation using specified template compatible with Evidence Explained.
  • DNA – raw DNA data
  • DROP - link to shared multimedia file in Dropbox
  • GOO – link to shared multimedia file on Google
  • EVER - link to shared file in Evernote
  • AWS - link to shared file in the Amazon cloud
  • STRIP - remove source citations
  • FAKE – perform a bad merge
  • DUPL – add duplicate to FamilySearch Family Tree
  • FEES - send to external website where fees may apply
  • RT - register for RootsTech
  • JPEG - remove details from photographs
  • RAND - randomly change the user interface on
  • SSN - commit identity theft
  • SALT - change all locations to Salt Lake City
  • FOOL - change all dates to April 1

Are there other codes you’d like to see implemented?