Thursday, June 30, 2016

New Ancestry Academy Courses

Ancestry Academy Short, Hosted VideosEarlier this month released a new kind of course on its Ancestry Academy product: free quicktips. Each are five minutes are less. The initial set talk about basics on the U.S. Federal Census:

They also have new courses for several states. See “New on Ancestry Academy: Short Courses and State Classes” on the Ancestry blog for more information.

FGS Early Bird Discount's Good Through July 1st

"The FGS conference early bird registration discounts are good through July 1." ---Paula Stuart-Warren,FGS board member.

Sorry about getting that wrong. The good news is, you still have a tiny bit of time to sign up.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Plan Now to Attend a National Genealogical Conference

FGS 2016 Annual ConferenceRegistration for this year’s (2016) annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies is open and the early-bird pricing ends today! The FGS conference will be 31 August 2016 to 3 September in Springfield, Illinois. “FGS 2016 brings you sessions with a wide array of offerings from many of the nation's leading family history experts, along with top international speakers from Scotland and Australia,” said a conference email.

I’ve heard someone complain (perhaps it was at RootsTech) that there were too many session choices. Well, step up and complain some more because FGS offers 160 sessions. There are sessions for all skill levels. Many Tracks (which are loose collections of related sessions) are offered, although you don’t have to attend all the sessions of a track. Tracks include DNA, British Isles and Commonwealth, continental European, military, religion, occupation, Midwest resources, migration patterns, and more.

Keynote speakers are Mary Tedesco, J. Mark Lowe, and CeCe Moore.

While the conference audience is all genealogists, special sessions are targeted at genealogical society officers. Visit for more information.


Registrations for conference hotels for next year’s (2017) annual conference of the National Genealogical Society opened on the 15th and the main hotel sold out in a couple of hours. If you wish to attend in Raleigh, North Carolina on 10-13 May 2017, don’t delay. Discounted rooms are still available at the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel or the Holiday Inn Raleigh Downtown Capital. Visit for more information.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

AncestryDNA Database Reaches Two Million

AncestryDNA Reaches Two Million announced last week that their DNA database has reached two million test results. “We are excited to announce that AncestryDNA has just reached the 2-million-tested milestone,” said Anna Swayne, AncestryDNA product manager. “It was just a little over 11 months ago that we reached the 1 million mark, so the AncestryDNA database has doubled in just short of one year.”

Through their DNA product Ancestry has found 7.4 million probable cousins of 3rd degree or closer. They have estimated 7.7 new “Ancestor” Discoveries. (More correctly, those are “Relative” Discoveries. See my article, “AncestryDNA New Ancestor Discoveries.” The have established 5.1 million DNA circles.

AncestryDNA is now available in 37 countries. has 70 million trees and 17 billion records.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Monday Mailbox: RootsMagic to Sync with This December

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Readers,

Last week’s mailbox drew good responses. I invite you to read them at “Monday Mailbox: Replacing Family Tree Maker.” Two of particular note reveal information that may not be available elsewhere. You will recall that is allowing RootsMagic tree synchronization in addition to Family Tree Maker. See my article, “Family Tree Maker to Live On.”

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Christa Cowan from spoke in Las Vegas yesterday, June 19th, and she said Roots Magic would be fully functional to sync with Ancestry in December, but I don't remember if she gave the exact day.

Linda Coble

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Thank you--I did find that Rootsmagic is not quite ready with this and they did not give a time frame on the site I found BUT it did say that if you upload the current version, 7 if I recall, that the upgrade will be free once it is ready.


Dear commenters,

Thank you all.

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, June 24, 2016

Serendipity in Genealogy: Luckiest Researcher in the World

Obituary of Mrs. M. J. AlexanderIn 1997 David Rencher attended the Federation of Genealogical Society’s conference in Dallas, Texas. While there he was doing research in some surrounding counties. One place he wanted to go to was a small, little community called Mount Calm in Hill County.

“Mount Calm does have a stop sign, but It has no stoplight,” David jokes. “It does have a small public library.” Small town public libraries are good places to find local genealogical information.

Conference badges identify the attendees’ names and home towns.  A colleague, Dean Hunter, happened to see one with a home town of “Mount Calm.” He told David that he needed to find her, but with eighteen hundred people at the conference, that was not going to happen. Instead, they went to dinner.

At the restaurant, the person in line in front of them turned around and David clearly saw her name badge: “Nancy Franklin, Mount Calm, Texas.” They started talking.

“Not only was she from Mount Calm,” David says, “she was the librarian in Mount Calm. Not only was she the librarian in Mount Calm, she was the genealogist in Mount Calm. She knew a lot about the families that I was looking for.”

David went to the library and shared what information he knew and what information he hoped to find. After returning home he received a package with information and a note.

“You must be the luckiest researcher in the world,” Nancy wrote. “The only loose obituary in the library and it belongs to the woman you are seeking.”

We call that Serendipity in Genealogy.

Adapted from “Faith in Finding,” David E. Rencher (fireside presentation, The Center for Family History and Genealogy, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 12 November 2004); online transcript ( : accessed 5 March 2016). Thank you, David, for permission to share your story.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

FamilySearch Announces Shutdown, Upgrade

imageUsers of FamilySearch started seeing a banner last week indicating the website would shutdown Monday, 27 June 2016 at midnight MDT (2:00am EDT). The banner warned that the shutdown could be as long as 24 hours. The banner stated that the reason was a “technical upgrade.” I assume that means the basic functionality will be unaffected.

This is big, folks. Nobody shuts their website down for up to 24 hours. Something really important must be in the works.

This announcement comes on the heels of a beta test of the system to break the link between New FamilySearch (NFS) and FamilySearch Family Tree (announced publicly by FamilySearch’s Joe Martel, “Preparing to Stop Synchronizing Between nFS and FamilyTree, on Beta” on the FamilySearch feedback system.) The test was held Friday, 17 June.

NFS is the legacy system that has been hobbling Family Tree from its inception. At RootsTech earlier this year, Ron Tanner explained that even though you can’t directly interact with it, NFS continues to inhibit system functionality. (See “#RootsTech: Ron Tanner – Family Tree in 2016 and Beyond” on my blog.) When the link between NFS and FamilySearch can be broken, a bunch of issues go away.

  • Because of the current interdiction of NFS, you cannot merge persons that, in NFS, are Individuals of Unusual Size (IOUS). In a list of possible duplicates, you sometimes see the message “Can’t Be Merged At This Time.” (Ron showed an example.) Once NFS is eliminated, you will be able to merge IOUS duplicates.
  • NFS was built so that gender could never be changed. Once NFS is eliminated you will be able to.
  • Today there are times when you delete a relationship and it “magically” reappears, with the change attributed to FamilySearch. This occurs when the NFS architecture prevents the deletion from NFS. When synchronization occurs between Family Tree and NFS, the deleted relationship comes back.
  • There is a tight relationship between NFS and “LDS Church Membership” which is causing issues. (See “'Barrage of Records' Causing Problems” on my blog.) When the link between NFS and Family Tree is broken, those issues go away. (See Ron Tanner’s response to “FamilySearch Managers are Treating Patrons with Disdain” on the FamilySearch feedback system.)
  • According to Ron Tanner, if a person is linked to an LDS Church Membership record, that person can not be merged into another person, although the reverse (merging a person into the person linked to the membership record) is possible.

It turns out that after the link between NFS and Family Tree is broken, there will still be fairly common times when two persons in Family Tree cannot be merged. (See “Preparing to Stop Synchronizing Between nFS and FamilyTree, on Beta” on the FamilySearch feedback system.)

  • The number of notes between the two persons exceeds 20.
  • One of the persons is read-only. For an example, see Sarah Royce (KND8-1SY). Or one of the persons is a child, parent, or spouse of a read-only person.

It will be great if next week we finally rid ourselves of NFS.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Monday Mailbox: Replacing Family Tree Maker

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

My Wife is FAR from happy with what has happened and is continuing to happen with a Program she is TOTALLY dependent on for her "obsession" with Genealogy!! After almost 50 yrs "on the Job" so to speak she is worried!-its the only thing keeping her sane!( remember she has ME to contend with!!)

As with the changes with Family Tree Maker i.e. being discontinued by Ancestry at the end of this year with no apparent advice as to locate a alternative program a she is not been able to find someone to help her? plus the Ladies in the local Library that she gives Classes to will be mortified and may well "storm the Offices"!!


Dear John,

All is not lost regarding Family Tree Maker. It is not being discontinued entirely. Ancestry has sold it and your wife can continue to keep it as her tree manager. See "Family Tree Maker to Live On" on my blog. See for more information from MacKiev.

---The Ancestry Insider

Monday Mailbox: Change Your Email Address

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

Hi--love to read your newsletter.  I have a new email address and can't find anyplace on your site to "change my profile." 

Lin Hines

Dear Lin,

Thank you. You are very kind.

To change your email address, add your new one and unsubscribe your old one. To add your new email address, use the "Subscribe via email" box at the top of the right column at To cancel your old email address, use the "Unsubscribe now" link at the bottom of any newsletter.

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, June 17, 2016

Serendipity and the Old White Plow Horse

Serendipity and the Old White Plow HorseIn 1970 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had no temples in Washington state, so groups would make the long trips to Idaho Falls or Oakland, California. On one such trip to Oakland, Bill Ward discovered, to his delight, that there was a genealogy library (what we call a FamilySearch Family History Center, today) adjacent to the temple. So while the rest of the group went over to visit Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, Bill was going to take advantage of the opportunity to research his family. His good friend, Paul, had looked forward to the side excursion to the wharf, so wondered why Bill was not going. When Bill told him he was going to the genealogy library, Paul felt prompted to do the same. But that would mean not visiting Fisherman’s Wharf, as he had planned.

The prompting came again, “Go with Bill.”

Bill wasn’t all that excited about Paul joining him. Bill was pretty new at genealogy himself. If he had to help Paul, he really wouldn’t be able to do any of his own research. This was years before computers made simple census searches lightning fast. Finding just one name in the census could take hours. But doing the right thing, he said, “Sure. Come along.”

As they entered the center, Bill noticed the consultants at the reference desk. He seized the opportunity and pointing Paul in the direction of one of them, said, “Go over to that woman and tell her what you want to find and she’ll help you.” Then he slipped off into the book stacks.

So Paul did exactly as he was told. He walked over to this woman and he said, “You know, I really don’t know why I’m here. I really don’t know what I’m going to work on.”

She said, “Well, what do you know about your family?”

He said, “Well, you know, we have a family tradition in our family that my grandfather rode into town on an old white plow horse at about age ten and would never, never talk about where he came from.”

The woman sat straight up in her chair and she said, “We have a family tradition in our family that when he was ten years old, our uncle took the old white plow horse, rode out of town and was never seen again.”

Bill found absolutely nothing new at the library that day, which is poetic justice. But Paul and this woman indeed were cousins and she extended his line considerably. It was a great find for Paul.

We call that Serendipity in Genealogy.

Thank you, Bill, for sharing your story with me. Adapted in part from “Faith in Finding,” David E. Rencher (fireside presentation, The Center for Family History and Genealogy, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 12 November 2004); online transcript ( : accessed 5 March 2016).

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

“Barrage of Records” Causing Problems

People pulling a jetplaneDear Ancestry Insider,

Could you report on the recent dumping of duplicate records into the FamilySearch Family Tree? Where did they come from? Why can't we merge them? Why does FamilySearch continue to dump duplicate data into a tree while at the same time begging us to stop doing the same?

In case you're wondering what I'm talking about, see [titled “Barrage of Records Attributed to LDS Membership Creating Problematic Situations”] and other issues linked in the comments.

Some say the data came from Ancestral File or other data sets FamilySearch has (and that they might dump even more duplicate data). I don't understand why they would keep dumping that into nFS. I thought nFS was pre-populated with that data from the beginning?

Please enlighten us.

Justin York

PS. It would also be nice to know when nFS is really going to die. It's been slated to be disconnected "in the next 6-12 months" for years now.

Dear Justin,

I’ve searched around and can’t find any public comment by FamilySearch about the events you’re referring to. But I think I can answer your question with information FamilySearch has previously made public.

First, it helps to understand some history.

The New FamilySearch tree (NFS) had a unique, advanced architecture. The architecture allowed you to extract information about a person from an historical record. That extract was called an inner person. The architecture allowed these historical extracts to be combined into what was called an outer person. Brilliant architecture: one inner person per historical record extract, one outer person per historical person. Inner persons could be compared and contrasted as required in the genealogical proof standard before reaching a conclusion. It was both a research tree and a conclusion tree.

Special inner persons were created and linked to records in a database kept by the Membership Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (These database records are not membership records, although they are commonly called that. But I digress…) When changes are made to that database, the changes are reflected in the inner person. It is as though you are looking at a church record, glance away, and the writing has changed when you look back. The effects of this unusual source behavior are mitigated by the separation of inner and outer persons.

While the NFS architecture was brilliant, the implementation was not. FamilySearch didn’t distinguish between inner and outer persons in the user interface. They created inner persons from low-quality records like Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource Files. They didn’t require sources in an architecture that required sources (how do you create an inner person when there is no source to extract?), so they had to blur the distinction between inner and outer persons. Everything went downhill from there. The implementation of NFS proved unstable.

FamilySearch decided to abandon it in favor of a more traditional conclusion tree, FamilySearch Family Tree. There are no inner persons. Sources are handled in the usual way as attachments.

Ron Tanner talks about replacing an airplane’s engine while inflight. The analogy should be extended. FamilySearch has rebuilt the entire aircraft inflight, with the final step being the replacement of the engine. The problem is that the new aircraft is designed for the new engine. An elaborate set of springs, pulleys, cables, gears, bailing wire, and a lot of duct tape are required to synchronize the old engine with the new aircraft. The synchronization has unfortunate consequences. Luggage is sporadically soiled, crushed, torn open, mashed together, destroyed, or sucked out of holes in the fuselage.

Most of the changes have been attributed to LDS Church Membership.With that history in mind, let me come back to your questions. Most of the deluge reports I’m reading attribute the added and changed persons to “LDS Church Membership.” The unorthodox behavior of the LDS Membership inner person, the blurring of inner and outer persons, and the jury-rigging of the old engine to the new aircraft cause the changes and additions you see in Family Tree that are attributed to “LDS Church Membership.”

In most of the cases I’m reading about, persons created by “LDS Church Membership” cannot be merged into other duplicates. That would delete the ones created by LDS Church Membership. However, those duplicates can be merged into the LDS Church Membership persons. If they can’t be merged either way, see “Cannot Merge Duplicate Records in Family Tree” in the FamilySearch help system.

I think even the FamilySearch software engineers would like to know when NFS will be shut down. Software engineering time estimates are famously wrong. The last official pronouncement I remember seeing said the shutdown will occur “in 2016.” New people keep appearing on the plane and the old engine is barely keeping it in the air. Each Sunday the plane is clipping the trees. Family Tree will either switch over to the new engine soon, or it will crash and burn.

Airplane image copyright 2011, Joe Loong. Used under license.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

RootsWeb Hardware Upgrade

image“We are currently working to move the entirety of RootsWeb to new machinery that can handle the load and be backed up in a consistent and reliable manner,” says’s Anne Mitchell. Ancestry is making the switchover this week. During that time, you may notice short periods when RootsWeb is unavailable.

This is great news. There’s a good chance that the advertisements shown on RootsWeb are not generating enough revenue to pay for this upgrade. Certainly it is not generating the profit margin that Ancestry’s DNA business is generating. From a good business standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to update RootsWeb. I believe they are making this upgrade to generate good will. After the RootsWeb crash back in February, you, the RootsWeb community, expressed yourselves effectively and they are responding. When they gobbled up RootsWeb, they said they would keep it running. No one should expect that means forever. But thanks to them and thanks to you, they are making good on that statement.

Users are complaining that new additions to RootsWeb are not being index. This includes GEDCOMs uploaded to WorldConnect, Obituary Daily Times, and mail archives. Once this upgrade is finished, Ancestry will work to fix that.

You may have experienced some data loss the last time RootsWeb went down. That will not be happening during the outages this week, as these are planned, controlled, outages.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Monday Mailbox: BillionGraves

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxHi Ancestry Insider,

I want to help with some gravestones as I have many, but they weren't done on a cell phone.  I have them as jpgs.  Does billiongraves use them as well or only with my cell app?


Dear Sonja,

I checked the BillionGraves FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page and found this:

If I have pictures on my computer of a cemetery, can I upload them to BillionGraves?

One of the core ideas of the BillionGraves project is to record these pictures with their GPS location so that others will be able to find it again and so that researchers can search for others buried nearby. Pictures with a digital camera won't have the GPS location attached so we recommend simply retaking those pictures the next time you are in the cemetery.

On rare occasions we will accommodate photos of headstones from other devices. If you have pictures of cemeteries that are difficult to locate, travel to, or of headstones that have since been damaged, destroyed, or removed, please contact us at and we are happy to review your request and make appropriate arrangements.

Hope that helps,

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, June 10, 2016

Basketball versus Serendipity

Several years ago David Rencher was on business in Atlanta, Georgia and took the opportunity to drive to Montgomery, Alabama where he hoped to visit some cemeteries the following day. The Utah Jazz were doing exceptionally well in the play-offs that year. When he checked into the hotel he checked that they had the right television station to watch the game. He turned on the TV and, lo and behold, the game had already started. He stood there with the remote in his hand when the feeling came: “Go to the cemeteries now.”

“I was impressed and had the TV turned off before, I think, I consciously had finished the thought,” David says. “I put the remote down, left the hotel and headed for the cemetery.”

On the way to the cemetery he passed another cemetery and felt like he should stop. He canvassed that cemetery and found a child of his family that he didn’t know was buried there.

Just getting back to his car, David suddenly heard a pickup truck with very loud pipes zooming down the back-country road. As the dual wheel, double axle pickup truck went flying past the cemetery, the driver looked up, saw David, and came to a screeching halt.

“Hi. What family are you looking for?” David told him and he said, “Oh, they’re not buried here. They’re buried over in Bethel. Why don’t you follow me over there. It’s kind of hard to find.” David gratefully accepted his invitation, not realizing just how fast he would need to drive to keep up.

At the cemetery, his guide knew right where the graves were, so we strode off in that direction.

The Bates family plot“I’m just trying to keep up,” David says. “But I stopped dead in my tracks on the way through the gate.” There, in a huge family plot, was a family he had sought for some time. “I had completely lost them,” David says. “I couldn’t find where they had gone. I couldn’t find them in the census. I couldn’t find what happened to them. Nothing was working. And here they were!”

Meanwhile, his guide was marching through the cemetery, talking as he went, unaware David had stopped. Only when he reached their destination did he turn. He came back and David told him this was a family he was looking for. He said, “Oh, are you related to the Bates? Well, then you’ll need to call Bill Bates.”

This gentleman waited while David captured photos and transcriptions at the cemetery and then took him over to his home. He had a complete transcription of the cemetery that he found David in, which he graciously provided. And then he called Bill Bates. They made arrangements to meet at 10:00 the next morning.

David visited Bill Bates the next morning and, of course, he knew all about the family. David was taking notes as madly as he possibly could. Bill stood up and said, “You know, the old homestead is here?” His sister had made a painting of it. Bill pulled a print of the painting off the shelf and gave it to him. Then Bill loaded him up in the truck and took me down to the old homestead.

Pictures of William Thomas and Emily (Rencher) Bates on the wall of the Bates homesteadThey walked in and there on the wall were the pictures of Emily Bates, Emily Rencher Bates, and her husband. Bill said, “Well you know, the Renchers married into the Harrises. You really ought to contact Martha Ray Harris.” They called Martha Ray who happened to be attending a genealogical society meeting in Greenville that afternoon at 2:00.

David met her at the meeting and she, of course, had with her enormous amounts of information about the Renchers and the Harrises. While they visited the society president walked over and introduced herself.

“This is our president, Mrs. Raybon,” said Martha Ray. “And this is David Rencher.”

“Rencher? Well, you know, the Raybons married into the Renchers,” Mrs. Raybon said. She had all the information and was willing to share it.

In just a couple of days, the wealth of material that came to David was overwhelming.

“I think many times how I stood there with that remote in my hand,” David says. “Had I not gone at that very moment, I wouldn’t have been in the cemetery when the truck drove by. I would have been sitting in Montgomery watching the Jazz lose a game.”

We call that Serendipity in Genealogy.

Adapted from “Faith in Finding,” David E. Rencher (fireside presentation, The Center for Family History and Genealogy, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 12 November 2004); online transcript ( : accessed 5 March 2016). Thank you, David, for permission to share your story and photographs.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

AncestryDNA New Ancestor Discoveries

Many view’s “New Ancestor Discoveries” as so much bunk. I’m one of them, or was one. Ancestry has presented me with 22 Discoveries that aren’t in my tree. Trouble is, my tree is full for 6+ generations. Granted, there could be some non-paternal events hiding in there somewhere. But 22 out of 31? Not a single one of the 22 shares a surname with anyone in my pedigree! Like I say; I have my doubts about New Ancestor Discoveries.

One of the New Ancestor Discoveries that has shown up since last I checked is Joseph F. Smith, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1901 until his death in 1918.

Four of the Ancestry Insider's 22 New Ancestor Discoveries

While I don’t think I am his descendant, I do happen to know we’re related. I’ve always known I’m a 2nd cousin of the mother of Joseph Smith, prophet and founder of the Church. That makes Joseph F. Smith my 4th cousin (5-times removed).

Relationship chart for The Ancestry Insider and Joseph F. Smith
This chart was produced by BYU’s Relative Finder.

I started to entertain the notion that Ancestry’s New Ancestor Discoveries was confusing cousins with ancestors. Then it hit me: read the fine print. Sure enough, the fine print reads, “These are potential new ancestors or relatives who are not already in your family tree.” (Emphasis added.)

Ancestry has found 18 Joseph F. Smith descendants (or tightly related family groups of descendants) who share enough DNA that Ancestry has called them a DNA Circle. As a cousin, I share significant amounts of DNA with 3 of the 18. But that doesn’t make me a descendant. I have a feeling the same thing applies to my other 21 “Ancestors.”

The Ancestry Insider and the Joseph F. Smith DNA Circle

Ancestry knows they have a problem.

“As DNA Circles get larger and more DNA matches are delivered, more people are connecting into the DNA Circles, which results in more New Ancestor Discoveries, but with a decrease in accuracy,” Ancestry said in a statement. “We are updating the criteria to make it more conservative and increase the accuracy of New Ancestor Discoveries.” The changes are said to “significantly decrease” the number of Discoveries while increasing the accuracy. Before, you had to match just two members of a DNA circle to be considered a “Descendant.” Now, you must match at least three. And for circles with more than 15 members, you must match 20% of them.

For more information, see “AncestryDNA: Improving Accuracy of New Ancestor Discoveries” on the Ancestry Blog.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

FHL Block Party This Saturday Ends at 2:00 PM

Family History Library Block PartyLooks like a case of my right hand not knowing what my left hand was doing. My article yesterday gave the wrong end time for the Family History Library block party. The correct hours are this Saturday from 9am to 2pm.

Sorry about that. Here is the corrected story:

The FamilySearch Family History Library is having a block party in Salt Lake City and you’re invited! They are blocking off the street in front of the library on 11 June 2016 from 10 AM to 2 PM. There will be free activities, live entertainment, Family Discovery activities, and Family history classes.

Free activities include face painting, a rock climbing wall and bounce houses. Snow cones are included on the list of freebies, but food trucks will charge as normal. Entertainment includes pioneers playing pioneer games, bagpipers, and Polynesian dancers. Family Discover activities include photo scanning (bring your photos with you), green screen photos, photos of you in your ancestors’ clothing, and the My Family Booklet, If you’ve added your relatives to FamilySearch Family Tree, you can see photos and stories you and your relatives have uploaded; you can see a map showing your ancestors migrations; and you can see what famous people you are related to (assuming there are no errors in Family Tree—hmmm). The two classes for the general public are Getting Started and Exploring FamilySearch apps.

More information can be found on a page in the FamilySearch Wiki.

AncestryDNA and Momundo Contest

Travel search website momundo contest: "Let's Open Our World"Travel search website has teamed up with (and 23andMe for Germany, Spain, and France) for an interesting two-phase contest. The first phase is a chance to win one of 500 free DNA test kits. Winners of the 500 kits are then eligible to enter the second phase: win a trip to all your ancestral countries.

To enter the first phase, submit a description in 250 characters or less how you will “open the world through travel.” Twenty or more winners will be selected from each of these countries: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and USA.

The deadline for the first phase is 16 August 2016. There will be a minimum of 9 winners per country awarded on 16 June, another 9 or more on 16 July, and another 5 or more on 16 August. So if you want three chances to win, enter before 16 June. You need enter only once to be eligible for subsequent awards. To increase your chances of winning, it also helps if you’re living in a small country. <smile>

The 500 winners of phase one then move on to phase two. They must record on video the first moments of learning their DNA test results. And they must post the video online. To be eligible, this must be the first time you’ve seen your results. A first prize winner will receive up to 15,000 EUR with which to fly to all their ancestral countries. Second prize is a return airline ticket from a destination of the winner’s choice. One person from each of the countries listed above will win a second prize. Third prize is another DNA test kit. There will be 85 to 90 kits evenly distributed among the countries.

Momundo is an interesting venture. While you can search for flights and accommodations on, it is not a travel agency and does not sell tickets. I’m not certain how they pay their bills. Their website says, “momondo was founded on the belief that everybody should be able to travel the world, to meet other people, and experience other cultures and religions. Travel opens our minds: when we experience something different, we begin to see things differently.” Of this DNA promotion they say, “Most of us are far more diverse and have much more in common with people from other countries than we would ever have thought. We have started The DNA Journey because we want people to understand that there are more things uniting us, than dividing us.”

You can read more about the DNA promotion, “Let’s Open Our World,” on the momundo website. You can enter the contest here. Ancestry has also posted a blog article, “The DNA Journey: powered by AncestryDNA.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

FamilySearch 2016 Summer Events

imageFamilySearch has announced two events for later this summer.

FamilySearch Indexing has announced their 2016 event is to be held 15 July at 12 AM to 17 July at 11:59 PM. Tapping into the concept of the Summer Olympics, the goal is not setting records, but preserving records. The goal is to involve 72,000 people—teammates—in a 72 hour period.

A promotion page for the event can be found on the FamilySearch website and on Facebook.

Family History Library Block Party

The FamilySearch Family History Library is having a block party in Salt Lake City and you’re invited! They are blocking off the street in front of the library on 11 June 2016 from 10 AM to 2 PM. There will be free activities, live entertainment, Family Discovery activities, and Family history classes.

Free activities include face painting, a rock climbing wall and bounce houses. Snow cones are included on the list of freebies, but food trucks will charge as normal. Entertainment includes pioneers playing pioneer games, bagpipers, and Polynesian dancers. Family Discover activities include photo scanning (bring your photos with you), green screen photos, photos of you in your ancestors’ clothing, and the My Family Booklet, If you’ve added your relatives to FamilySearch Family Tree, you can see photos and stories you and your relatives have uploaded; you can see a map showing your ancestors migrations; and you can see what famous people you are related to (assuming there are no errors in Family Tree—hmmm). The two classes for the general public are Getting Started and Exploring FamilySearch apps.

More information can be found on a page in the FamilySearch Wiki.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Monday Mailbox:’s Crista Cowan Podcasts

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

I love Crista Cowan and used to listen to her via podcast when I’d walk in the morning.  Then all of a sudden I couldn’t find her in my strings any more.  What happened?  Do you know?  Is there a way to get her YouTube videos back into my podcast list on my phone?   So sad….


Dear Marg,

I asked about this. Ancestry says Crista’s podcasts are only on YouTube now. YouTube used to allow automatic cross-posting to iTunes, but they had a fight and that is no longer possible. You could watch them using the YouTube iPhone app, but if you do that out walking, it will use up a considerable amount of data. If you pay for a YouTube Red subscription, some videos can be downloaded for viewing offline. However, not all videos can be downloaded and I don’t know if Ancestry allows theirs to be. In any case, using YouTube will not be as straightforward as iTunes podcasts.

There are other genealogy related podcasts to consider. Some iTunes general interest genealogy podcasts that I know about are:

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, June 3, 2016

Serendipity in Washington, D.C.

Daughters of Abraham RencherDavid Rencher had a haunting feeling that he had not accounted for all the daughters of Abraham Rencher, son of his immigrant ancestor. David says,

In fact, I was quite certain that there was a missing daughter. I had visited the graves of most of the family in Pittsboro, in Chatham County, North Carolina. They lined the walk of the Episcopal Church, and as I walked along and recorded each and every tombstone, I still had this haunting feeling that one was missing.

David was in Washington, DC in 1997 meeting with Eric Grundset, director of The Daughters of the American Revolution. About 8:00 David was dropping him at his home when Eric’s wife, Paula, arrived home from her work at the George Mason Regional Library in Annandale, Virginia. Paula and David said hello and David went on his way.

Several months later David received this note from Eric:

Hi, My wife’s library received a bible in the gift books the other day. They are holding onto it in case someone comes to retrieve it. She copied the family register pages and pointed out to me that the surname is Rencher. Realizing this is probably not your group, I still thought you might be interested.

imageDavid immediately recognized it was the family Bible of Abraham Rencher. Among the deaths was the missing daughter:

Mary Louisa Rencher, departed this life in the city of Washington on the 14th day of February 1849 at 11 Oclock in the morning and was buried in the Washington Cemetery No 126 in range M East. “She was taken of scarlet fever February 8th and at 11:00 on the 14th her spirit passed away. … Sweet lovely child, farewell.”

Abraham Rencher was a five-term congressman from North Carolina. Because they were living in Washington, this child was buried in the Washington Congressional Cemetery. David says,

I later went over to the cemetery and there amongst the tombstones, was a beautiful tombstone for Mary Louisa Rencher, not buried with her family in North Carolina, but buried in Washington DC.

What are the odds of that Bible coming into David’s hands? David says,

How many public libraries are there in this country? Is it coincidence that the person who goes through the gift box at the Annandale County Virginia Public library is the one person who knows me and who receives this Bible? Is that coincidence? I would submit to you that it is not.

We call that Serendipity in Genealogy.

Adapted from “Faith in Finding,” David E. Rencher (fireside presentation, The Center for Family History and Genealogy, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 12 November 2004); online transcript ( : accessed 5 March 2016). Thank you, David, for permission to share your story and these images. Thank you, Eric, for helping me with the details.

Thursday, June 2, 2016 New Support Center Explained

Ancestry Support CenterIn my bi-polar view of the world, sometimes a thing is either wonderful beyond belief, or an awful hunk of junk. Of the new help system, I recently placed it in the latter category. (See “Legit or Phishing Scheme?”) My sentiment arose out of frustration from a major bug in the registration system. The system sent me into an endless loop that prevented me from registering or logging in. Ancestry’s Crista Cowan recently gave a presentation about the new help system. One of the things she talked about was the login situation.

“The Ancestry support system is actually run on a completely different software platform than and so that means that the logins are entirely separate,” she said. “You can’t just login with your Ancestry username and password.” You have to register for a help system account and then login with the new account. “You can use the same username and password that you use on Ancestry for consistency sake and so you can remember it,” Crista said, “but it will not automatically pull your Ancestry username and password in to use it.”

Fortunately, as Crista explained, you don’t have to register or login at all if all you are doing is searching for help. You only have to login if you want to post a question or answer someone else’s. (Hopefully, Ancestry isn’t intending to implement a self-help community. I hate those. Although in fairness, fellow members of the Ancestry community sometimes know more than new help Ancestry has hired to answer the phones. But I digress…)

The help system contains two types of content, help articles and discussions. Articles are created by Ancestry to answer common questions about a wide range of topics, like the Ancestry website, mobile app, DNA, and billing questions. The Community Support forum is a discussion feature, allowing users to ask one another about anything. It could be some feature of the Ancestry website, or it could be a research problem, or a locality question. Someone could ask what the URL is for the Ancestry Insider. (I admit. Crista didn’t give that as an example. I just made that up.)

I have to point out the Ancestry already has a discussion board which they bought with RootsWeb. The Ancestry Message Boards have over 25 million posts logically arranged by surname, locality, or special topic. You can find them at You can register for an email or RSS alert if someone posts a new message in your areas of interest. It has been a long time since I visited them and their value lies in how many people frequent them, so we should all give them another look.

You can watch all of Crista’s ten minute presentation, “Exploring the Ancestry Support Center” on YouTube.

(And the hunk of junk still won’t register me. I guess I won’t be answering that question about the Insider’s URL.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

AncestryDNA Begins Using New Microchip

The Illumina Infinium OmniExpress-24 v1 .2 BeadChipThe Human Genome Project, which mapped out the complete human genome—three billion nucleotides—took 13 years to complete and cost $3-billion. According to Wikipedia, to do it they used “the selective incorporation of chain-terminating dideoxynucleotides by DNA polymerase during in vitro DNA replication.” (The what?!)

A dozen years has made things simpler, faster, and cheaper. Genetic genealogy testing technology now resides within a microchip. According to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, the big genealogy DNA testing companies all use some form of a chip (pictured to the right) made by Illumina. Illumina says the chip can complete thousands of samples a week, up from one every 13 years. The chip looks at an economical 700,000 of the three billion nucleotides.

Ancestry has announced testing of a customized chip. Tim Janzen spoke with Ancestry about the new chip. Tim is a medical doctor and an expert in genetic genealogy. He says Ancestry has maintained 400,000 nucleotides for cousin matching and 300,000 for ethnicity estimates.

Ancestry says the changes are backwards compatible with the old test. Comparisons show customers get about the same match list as before. From these statements I’m guessing  that the new and improved match algorithm recently released by Ancestry (see “AncestryDNA’s Cutting-Edge Science Gets Even Sharper” on the Ancestry blog) is designed to support both old and new chips.

Ancestry has added some nucleotides to help matching outside Europe. A few markers were added for health testing. Since Ancestry isn’t currently licensed to provide health test results, those results will remain unreported, at least for now. According to Ancestry, “We continue to explore the possibility of developing health products in the future, and may do so with proper regulatory and legal approval.” Ancestry states that “if you’ve already taken an AncestryDNA test, you don’t need to take a new test for the existing features of our service to continue to work.” (Emphasis added.)

I’m wondering if the new tested nucleotides are in addition to the ones previously tested or if they replace some. Illumina may have improved their chip technology, providing more nucleotide tests. Or Ancestry may have reallocated some. I’m guessing they have reallocated some for medical testing and improved ethnicity estimates outside Europe.

For more information, see “Customer Testing Begins on New AncestryDNA Chip” on the Ancestry Tech Blog and Tim Janzen’s 16 May 2016 email message, “Upcoming Changes to the AncestryDNA Test” on the RootsWeb AUTOSOMAL-DNA mailing list.

Image credit: “Infinium OmniExpress-24 v1.2 BeadChip,” PDF file, Illumina ( : accessed 28 May 2016), 1.