Thursday, September 29, 2016

Find A Grave Global Cemetery Meetups Planned

Find A Grave global cemetery meetupsAs they did last year, Ancestry is organizing Find A Grave cemetery meetups this year, for 7-9 October 2016. Attend one of the locations already on the calendar, or organize your own at a local cemetery that needs photographs. As I write this, the map already shows 119 events at cemeteries in the United States, 13 in Europe, 8 in Australia/New Zealand, and one in Manila. (I wonder if anyone has organized one for the cemetery at Haunted Mansion, Disneyland? Sign me up!)

Don’t forget that after bought Find A Grave, they created an iPhone app. Ancestry has prepared a PDF download with tips on finding your ancestors’ cemeteries.

For connecting via social media, use the hashtag #FGDay. For more information, visit

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Ancestry Insider is a #RootsTech Ambassador

RootsTech 2017 is February 8-11, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I’m pleased to accept the invitation to be a RootsTech 2017 Ambassador.

Registration is now open for RootsTech 2017. According to the message from RootsTech:

Registration is now open for RootsTech, the world’s largest genealogy and technology conference in the world. Happening February 8–11, 2017, at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, RootsTech 2017 will empower you to celebrate your family across generations using the newest technologies available.

For a limited time, the full RootsTech conference pass is available at a discounted price of $159. Regularly priced at $269, that’s over $100 in savings!

The Ancestry Insider is a RootsTech 2017 ambassador.The RootsTech session schedule is available to help you make your decision regarding attendance. There are over 200 choices. Unfortunately, RootsTech hasn’t yet released the lineup of keynote speakers. They tend to space those announcements out. I’m not certain if it is because they are still arranging speakers or if they do it just to get more press coverage. My experience is that people tune you out when you do that. I’ll try to wait and combine two or three announcements together so you don’t start tuning them out. In that spirit:

Registration is also open for the Innovator Summit and Family Discover Day. All combined, the three conferences, last year had 28,000 attendees.

Family Discover Day is for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It takes place on Saturday, 11 February  2017. It is free but registration is required. It includes talks from Church leaders; classes for families, youth, and young single adults; and evening entertainment. Event details, including speakers and classes, will be made available soon.

Innovator Summit is a one day conference designed for entrepreneurs and software developers. Associated with the summit is the Innovator Showdown, a contest to see who can come up with the best app or device that solves a real world family history industry need, or uses family history data or services to solve a need in another industry. The showdown awards $100,000 in cash and prizes. The submission deadline is 1 December 2016. The winners will present onstage and be selected by judges and live audience voting at RootsTech 2017 on Friday, 10 February 2017. Go to for more information.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Linda K. Gulbrandsen and FamilySearch Partners – #BYUFHGC

Linda Gulbrandsen addresses the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyThis article will be of interest mostly to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Linda K. Gulbrandsen of FamilySearch gave a presentation titled “New Possibilities with FamilySearch Partners” at the recent 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. She is an executive account manager for FamilySearch in the Partner Services Division.

“Partners are very important to us,” Linda said. She talked about how consultants could use tools from FamilySearch partners to help get Church members interested in family history and temple work. She referenced Mike Sandberg’s talk at RootsTech 2016 (see “Begin at the Beginning: Helping Others to Love Family History”) and showed how his approach can be augmented with the inclusion of partner offerings.

The question arises as to when to introduce partner offerings. That depends, she said. Perhaps the person or family needs to start right into For others, the proper approach may be different. In some cases, the consultant may wish to use the app prior to visiting the member. The app gallery (at has over 120 apps for desktop, mobile, and web. Any of these may be helpful.

Linda presented several scenarios, each with an applicable partner app. For a family with young children, she showed Little Family Tree. For other scenarios she showed Relative Finder, MooseRoots, and Hope Chest.

“We have these partner tools that can be helpful in so many ways,” Linda said.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

John Huff and FamilySearch Family Tree – #BYUFHGC

John Huff at the BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyJohn Huff of FamilySearch gave a presentation titled “Making Data Decisions in Family Tree” at the recent 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.

The goals and principles behind New FamilySearch (NFS) were to improve the accuracy, quality, and pace of genealogy work; to reduce duplication of data and effort; to preserve all contributions; to allow only the contributor to change their information; and to encourage addition of sources.

What ended up happening was frustration over duplicates that couldn’t be combined, confusion over using the system, continuation of the “mine” versus “ours” mindset, limits on what could be fixed, collaboration difficulties, and problems introduced by centralized, automated changes.

There were data issues. Some of the records came from Ancestral File and the merge algorithms used back in its time had “splinched” persons [think “Frankenstein monsters”]. There was overwhelming duplication which led to IOUSes (individuals of unusual size). These were terrible for the system. [You may recall when NFS was deployed in Arizona the IOUSes caused the system to continually crash.]

Combines caused problems. There was no attribution for who did the combine. It was much easier to combine than to separate. [I think it could take 10 hours to undo a bad 10 second combine.] Combining multiple persons into one created merge magnets that attracted further combines. FamilySearch found one with more than 50 persons combined together.

FamilySearch had to sit down and decide what to do. They decided to change some of the goals and mindset. The principles of Family Tree are similar to NFS, but FamilySearch really wants sources. And rather than keep every alternative value for an event, they would keep only one conclusion. They would provide better tools for the community to provide evidence and clean up the data. They would allow errors to be fixed and bad changes to be fixed as easily as it was to introduce them. They wanted to provide attribution of changes and impede bad ones.

To build a better tree, you need to act as a community. Be courteous, kind, cheerful, and patient. Be respectful of others. Leave things in a better state than you found them. Communicate and collaborate. Add an email and make it visible. Use the messaging system. If contributors won’t respond to messages, after making efforts to contact them, go ahead and make changes—based on evidence.

Only make changes that you know. Knowing means the best conclusion of the community. If you don’t know something, don’t add, edit, or delete. [I would add to that, if you don’t have evidence and proof.] Before making changes, review the reason statements, sources, discussions, notes, and memories. Contact contributors. Don’t mark persons as dead unless you know they are dead. Don’t add persons you aren’t sure existed. Put them in a personal tree. Keep notes of relevant person IDs when making merges; have the end in mind before starting the merge.

If you want to help people not make changes to your stuff, the best defense is a good offense. Provide good reason statements. There is a great article: “Reason statements for adding, editing, and deleting information” in the FamilySearch Help Center. [I half-way disagree with John’s appraisal. The first half is great. The second half is a great collection of unhelpful reason statements “I attached this birth certificate because it provides evidence about his birth.” As an alternative, I would direct you to a similar article in the wiki: “How to Write Effective "Reason" Statement in the FamilySearch Family Tree.” Or see this article in the FamilySearch blog: “Tips and Tricks: Writing a Good Reason Statement for Changing a Record.” But I digress…]

Search records, including partner websites. FamilySearch provides hints. They work very hard to make the hints good. John thought the accuracy to be about 99%.

Use the watch list. You can filter your watch list by name or ID or location. Search for “DEL” to see all the deletions. You can sort in all sorts of ways. The watch list can also show the changes that were made, including hiding those made by yourself. You can filter to those made by a particular user. You can filter by anything on the page because it actually does a word search.

Use the Possible Duplicates feature. If you indicate a person is not a match, Family Tree will no longer show it as a possibility, but it can be seen under the Not a Match link. Use Dismiss Suggestions and Dismiss Problems. If you see exact duplicate conclusions (such as alternate name), delete all but one.

FamilySearch doesn’t yet have a good answer for how to solve edit wars. They are going to come up with a solution, but there are other things that must be done first. If someone gets abusive, contact support. If you desire to change a read-only person, contact support and request a change. If you find living persons marked deceased, contact support to fix it.

We are working on a way to allow you to share a group of private persons, John said.

It is rare that you need to delete persons. Delete only those who truly never existed. [You can delete persons you create that haven’t been changed by others. Otherwise, contact support.] If you find a person wrongly deleted, it can be found in the change history of the surviving record or if you have the ID.

Deleting relationships is the secret weapon to fixing up family messes. Delete relationships instead of persons. Clean up after yourself. Don’t orphan the persons or they’ll never show up again.

There are a set of cases where you can’t merge. The most common are persons with unknown sex, persons who would have too many things like comments, a few IOUSes, or restricted persons, like Read Only persons.

Remember that the only thing that will be available 100 years from now will be the data, not the system.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

MyHeritage Provides FamilySearch Source Button

Click to view an infographic
Click to view an infographic

FamilySearch announced last week that MyHeritage is providing a button to create a source in FamilySearch’s Family Tree. When viewing a MyHeritage historical record the button is available below the record details.

A single click or tap of the button creates a source in Family Tree. To associate the source with the correct person in Family Tree, you must have initiated the search from the person’s Family Tree page. features similar functionality: Attach the record to a person in an Ancestry Member Tree, link that person to a person in FamilySearch Family Tree, and transfer the source. This feature is available only to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

For more information about the MyHeritage button, see “Family History Easy Button: Create New Sources in Family Tree from MyHeritage” on the FamilySearch blog.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The White Mormon and the Black Muslim – A Tale of Serendipity

Kente (Batik) Cloth in Market - Kumasi - GhanaThis story, written by Lee Davidson, originally appeared in the Deseret News in Salt Lake City in 1997.

The woman seemed as different from me as possible when she entered the branch LDS Church Family History Center where I volunteer in suburban Maryland.

I am a white, male Mormon who was wearing a business suit. She is black American and wore Kente cloth (in colorful African tribal designs) with a veil that showed she is Muslim.

But we would soon find that we have everything important in common. And maybe, just maybe, we even tripped into an overlooked key on how America can better overcome racial tension.

To read the rest of the story, see Lee Davidson, “Startling Encounter is Reminder We Are All Family,” Deseret News (18 June 1997), p. A9, cols. 1-5; (,4479081&hl=en : accessed 20 August 2016).

Credit David Rencher for pointing me to this story.
Image credit: Adam Jones, “File:Kente Kumasi 2010-06-30.jpg,” image, Wikimedia Commons ( : 9 November 2014). CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

#FGS2016 Ends – More Conferences Coming Soon

In my FGS conference bag was information about NGS 2017 and FGS 2017 (and beyond) conferences. In my mailbox, was a message about yet another: RootsTech 2017.

RootsTech 2017 will begin Wednesday, 8 February 2017 at 1:30. Two classes will be held that afternoon. It will end with two class sessions on Saturday, 11 February. Registration opens 15 September. Book your room soon. Click here to visit the RootsTech website for more information.

Volunteers prepare for the 2016 RootsTech conference.

The 2017 conference of the National Genealogical Society will be in Raleigh, North Carolina from 10 May 2016 to 13 May. Click here to see the 4-page announcement brochure from our FGS conference bag.

NGS 2017 Announcement brochure

The 2017 conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies will be in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 30 August 2017 to 2 September. Two Pittsburgh hotels are now taking reservations. The conference will be held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The Westin Convention Center and the Omni William Penn Hotel are offering reduced rates from Wednesday, 23 August to Friday, 8 September (subject to availability). Both hotels are conveniently located near the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Westin Convention Center (Main Conference Hotel)
1000 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Omni William Penn Hotel
530 William Penn Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Full details and links for FGS discounted reservations can be found on the FGS website.

FGS 2017 will be in Pittsburgh, PA

FGS 2018 will be 22 August 2018 to 25 August in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

FGS 2018 will be in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

FGS 2019 and FGS 2020 will be held in Washington, DC and Kansas City, Missouri, respectively.

FGS 2019 and FGS 2020 will be held in Washington, DC and Kansas City, Missouri, respectively.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

FGS Next Project – #FGS2016

FGS and NPS Palo Alto Battlefield U.S.-Mexican War soldier indexing projectAt their 2016 conference the Federation of Genealogical Societies announced both the completion of their Preserve the Pensions project and the beginning of a new one. FGS is teaming up with the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park of the National Park System to build a database of more than 130,000 soldiers of the U.S.-Mexican War. Efforts will be made to also include unit histories, digitized documents, and Mexican soldiers.

“FGS is thrilled to partner with the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park for this important preservation project,” said FGS President D. Joshua Taylor. “"“We look forward to working with our member societies and volunteers to provide new access to records for those researching the Mexican War.”

The Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Park Service partnered together in 1999 for the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database project where FGS volunteers completed data entry for more than five million names. The efforts of the CWSS project can now be experienced on the NPS Civil War website.

Volunteers are needed for three different aspects of the project:

  1. Indexers and arbitrators are needed to index the compiled military service Records of Federal soldiers and the pension Index files. This will be a closed project using the FamilySearch indexing program. You will need a free FamilySearch account and we will have to give you authorization. If you want to participate, please send your FamilySearch username so that we can add you to the project and give you access to the images. I may be prejudiced, but I think the FamilySearch indexing software is easy to use. However, if you are not familiar with the system, FGS will be glad to train you. While the pension index records are available now on the FamilySearch website, FamilySearch didn’t index the military unit. (That appears on the surface to be a failure on FamilySearch’s account, but they did it with good reason. I will try to remember to explain why in a future article. But I digress.) This indexing project will add the missing information.
  2. Indexers are needed to enter information from various typed military documents into Excel spreadsheets.
    FGS will try to allow you to work with the states you are interested in. Each company has about 100 names.
  3. Researchers are needed to locate rosters and other reliable sources for units that are missing soldier names. It may help if you are familiar with research in particular states.

If you are interested in helping out, contact with your name, email, and FamilySearch username (if applicable). Indicate which particular part of the project you are interested in working on.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Anna Swayne’s Cracking the Case with DNA – #FGS2016

Anna Swayne at FGS 2016Anna Swayne, a ten-year veteran of AncestryDNA presented “Cracking the Case with DNA” at the 2016 conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

Most attendees had attended her introductory morning session, but she did a short review of DNA basics for those who hadn’t. For that review, I invite you to see my article “”

“How do I use DNA to solve my research questions?” Anna asked. She illustrated with several scenarios. One was the hard-core kind of example I like. Her friend Nancy (name changed) had figured out all her great-grandparents except for her paternal-line great-grandfather. And all she knew about his spouse was a given name: Rachel.

Nancy went about finding and testing descendants of the known great-grandparents. She pursued traditional research techniques for her paternal grandparents, David Walker and Ellie Roth. She learned that family lore stated that David was named after his father.

And then she waited. (This is why it is important to convince everyone you know to be tested.)

A couple of months later Nancy got a 3rd cousin match with a man named Brent (name changed). His location was promising. The presumed common ancestor would be Thomas Morgan. On the census, one of Thomas’s children was named David.

They found a 1st cousin of Brent and a 1st cousin of Nancy. All proved to be 3rd cousins. Nancy’s cousins through other lines were not.

“There were no fireworks,” Anna said, noting that so far Nancy doesn’t have enough evidence to make a conclusion. But now she has a candidate and a direction to go.

To see AncestryDNA’s brochure from the FGS conference bag, click here and here.

AncestryDNA Brochure from FGS 2016 conference  AncestryDNA Brochure from FGS 2016 conference

Friday, September 9, 2016

Serendipity in Denmark in the Middle of Nowhere

Margaret Abildskov
Margaret Abildskov
Uploaded by Frances Gardner Watkins to

It is as though our ancestors want to be found. Uncanny coincidences. Olympian luck. Phenomenal fate. Tremendous intuition. Remarkable miracles. We call It, “Serendipity in Genealogy.”

Frances Gardner Watkins doesn’t speak Danish. When the bus driver told her to get off the bus on the side of the freeway, somewhere in the middle of Denmark, there was no way to discuss it. And while it was pretty obvious they had not arrived at the bed and breakfast, he insisted.

Subsequent events created a great tale of serendipity.

To read Frances’s story, see “Family History Moment: Miracle in Denmark” on the Deseret News: LDS Church News website.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Coming to America by Juliana Szucs – #FGS2016

Juliana Szucs speaking at FGS 2016Juliana Szucs, social community manager at presented “Coming to America: Finding Your Ancestor’s Arrival Record on Ancestry” at the recent 2016 conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

Juliana remembers when you couldn’t get immigration records online. You had to wade through lots of microfilm. People weren’t very excited about using them. As I recall, the films were organized by arrival date, so if you didn’t know the date, you had to scroll through every name on every page on every ship on every day of every year until you found your guy—or started looking at another port. Having just an approximate date saved days of work.

Look for stories when researching migrations. Juliana had found the arrival record of her ancestors, William and Mary Ann Huggins, in New York in 1844. But they were missing their three children. It wasn’t uncommon for some family members to come before others. It’s called chain migration. Juliana finally found the record of the three coming in 1849 on the Liverpool.

Put your ancestor’s trip in the context of history. In 1849, it took one or two months to cross the ocean. Most of the Liverpool’s journey had been in January and February. This was in the middle of the potato famine. If starvation was driving the Liverpool’s passengers from Ireland, many may have been ill prepared for the journey.

Look at your ancestor’s passenger list as a whole. The Liverpool’s passenger list indicates that of the 416 passengers who boarded the ship, 37 would die before reaching America.

Juliana said there were three eras of passenger lists. The 1820-1890 era followed the Steerage Act of 1819. Very little information was listed about passengers: name, age, gender, occupation, and nationality. In 1891 responsibility for passenger lists was transferred to the Office of Immigration which instituted standardized forms that collected much more information.

Before 1820 there were no laws requiring passenger lists. Of the few that exist, some have been published. An example is Directory of Scots in the Carolinas, 1680-1830 which is available on Another is the Great Migration series, also on Find published passenger lists on through the card catalog using the filters along the left side of the page. Select the immigration and travel category and the USA location. Further filter down to passenger lists and the desired state. The results include databases and published books.

When searching for immigrants on, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • When dealing with non-English speakers, check ethnic name variations. is a good site for given name variations. Juliana gave an example list of variants for a surname: Mekalski, Mekala, Mensalski, Menkala, Menkalska. And this for a place name: Wyszk√≥w, Wiszkow, Vyszkov, Wischkow.
  • Remember wildcards when searching. Me*kal*a will match many variations of the surname, above. W*zk*w will match many variations of the place name.
  • Utilize the ability to add plus-or-minus values to dates.
  • Don’t confuse country of origin with port of departure.
  • Place the name of the ship in the keyword field when the search form doesn’t have an explicit ship’s name field.

Remember that Ancestry also has non-U.S. passenger lists, including “UK Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960”; “Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934”; and “Gothenburg, Sweden, Passenger Lists, 1869-1951.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

From Content to Discovery on – #FGS2016

Quinton Atkinson of at the FGS 2016 conferenceSaturday morning at the 2016 conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies I was honored to attend the  breakfast presented by The speaker was Quinton Atkinson, senior director of content acquisition and partner development at Ancestry. Quinton’s topic was “From Content to Discovery on Ancestry.” Quinton began by acknowledging Lou Szucs. Ancestry’s content would not be what it is without Lou, he said. He was able to work with many archives because the archivists knew Lou. Honoring that trust was always in his mind.

Ancestry recently moved to their new building in Lehi, Utah. Worldwide, they have grown to 1,400 employees. They have tripled their revenues in the last six years. (That was about the time I left. I feel bad now for holding them back.) They had $225 million in revenues in 2009 and $680 in 2015. Last year they received another round of money, a $2.6 billion investment. They have 2.4 million paying customers to core Ancestry sites. They have over 2 million genotyped customers. They have 18 billion digitized records from 80 countries. They have 8 billion profiles in 80 million user trees. (I think those 8 billion are counted in the 18 billion records.) Users have contributed 300 million sharable photos, documents, and stories. All of this totals to over 10 petabytes of data.

Quinton related his fascination with the Olympics. He watches sports he doesn’t normally watch. “Why am I enthralled with ping pong?” he’s asked himself. As he’s thought about it, he realized it was because the network has done such a good job framing their stories, their backgrounds, their struggles, and what has brought them to the Olympics. Because of their stories he feels connected and roots for them. (I only just now caught the double meaning of “roots.”)

“That is what we are trying to do at Ancestry,” he said. As they decide what records to acquire, as they decide what fields to index, as they publish more and more content, the challenge is to bring out those stories. “What will bring out the most meaningful discoveries?” he said. “This is what drives our business: helping people make those discoveries.”

How has Ancestry managed to get so many records? They begin by trying to understand the motivations of the archive. For the Library and Archives Canada, it’s access and preservation; for The National Archives of the United Kingdom, it is access and financial terms; for the National Archives of Australia, it is exposure and web traffic. Ancestry tries to be flexible, balancing the archive’s needs, the customers’ desires to have index and images in one place, and Ancestry’s financial goals.

Quinton told us a story that describes their situation in regards to the project to preserve the pension files from the War of 1812. A young boy was in a tie nearing the end of a wrestling match. His opponent had him in a hold and he found himself unable to get out. In this dire circumstance he noticed out of the corner of one eye his father in the stands, vigorously urging him on. What could he do? Then he noticed out of the corner of his other eye a big toe. His father, watching, saw his son suddenly escape the grip and quickly pin his opponent. After the match his father asked him, “How did you do it?” His son replied, “It is amazing what you can do when you bite your own toe.”

Quinton told us that for the past year they have faced challenge after challenge at the National Archives and Records Administration digitizing the pension files. But with the completion of the fundraising, it is a bit like biting your own toe. They are going to go back rejuvenated to get it done.

In the future, Ancestry will have to scrutinize record acquisition more carefully because they have already acquired most of the “low hanging fruit.” (That refers to the records that can be acquired and published that have lots of information for an inexpensive price.) In the future they will capture more fields to tell the narrative of the story. “There’s a lot more stories to be told,” he said. They’ve added more fields because more fields means a better story and a better story means more connections. And they will increase the use of automation in the extraction (indexing, as FamilySearch calls it) of information. There is another balance that must be struck, and that is the number of records that can be published versus the number of fields that are done.

In closing, Quinton showed the Momondo DNA video that I’ve highlighted before. (See “DNA Versus Extremism.”) He said that considering the conflicts we’re having in the world, this [video] drives home the importance of what we’re doing. “We love what we do.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

1812 Pension Files Campaign is Complete - #FGS2016

 Photograph of slide: Preserve the Pension: paid in full. Credit Ed Donakay.
Credit: Ed Donakey

In a stunning announcement at the opening session of the 2016 conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), Curt Witcher announced that the fund raising goal of the Preserve the Pensions campaign has been met! The FGS project to raise $3.7 million dollars has been going on since 2010. The War of 1812 pension files are among the most frequently requested materials at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and have never been microfilmed or digitized. Since handling the files damages them, they needed to be digitized to prevent further damage.

An anonymous donor made a contribution of $500,000, which matched. FGS also acknowledged the individual conference attendees who included a donation along with their conference payment. All told, over 4,000 individuals and 115 genealogical and lineage societies contributed money to the effort. Ancestry matched each donation.

“We are humbled and grateful for the generosity of the genealogical community and those outside of our community who are dedicated to the preservation of records. Thank you!” said D. Joshua Taylor, FGS President. “This historic gift, in-tandem with the thousands of contributions from individual genealogists and societies, illustrates the incredible power of the genealogical community; together we can make a difference.”

With ongoing cooperation from the project’s partners and major supporters, NARA, Ancestry, Fold3, and FamilySearch, these important documents will be made available free, forever to the general public.

“It’s gratifying to see the fundraising portion of this project completed after five years, and now we look forward to ensuring these important records are preserved,” said Ancestry President and CEO, Tim Sullivan. “This is a fantastic moment for FGS, the genealogical community, and future generations who will benefit from the perseveration of these rich pension records.”

Several minutes earlier, FGS had announced some awards given in recognition of service to the Preserve the Pensions project. Both are good friends of mine.

Judy Russell from New Jersey, also known as “The Legal Genealogist,” was presented with the Directors Award for her role as a leader within the genealogical community in helping to raise awareness and funds for the Preserve the Pensions project. I’ve been in more than one luncheon or class where Judy passed around the plate and raised amazing amounts of money. She sponsored money raising events on her blog. She’s amazing.

Mike Hall from FamilySearch in Utah was presented with a Presidential Citation for his constant dedication and support of FGS’s Preserve the Pensions project. Mike hand crafted several limited edition figurines depicting soldiers and sailors of the War of 1812 and made them available to donors of $100 or more. Mike also earned donations by gathering pledges for his 1812 mile personal triathlon. Mike was not able to be present to accept the award. He recently donated a kidney to the wife of FamilySearch’s David Rencher. It was Judy who relayed his request for donations to Preserve the Pensions in place of flowers. (See “Today, in the West…” on Judy’s blog, The Legal Genealogist.)

Congratulations, Judy and Mike!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Monday Mailbox: Public/Private Tree Indexes

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxThis news is a bit old (17 August 2016), but things have been hectic the past four weeks, so I’ve only now been able to publish it.

Dear Ancestry Insider,

After watching closely for months and noticing that the individuals in my public tree on with attached records and sources were still not showing up in the public tree search results, I called the customer-service line.  I was very disappointed to learn that has not updated the index to the public trees since February 2nd.  This is completely unacceptable.  Many subscribers have over six months of research that is not accessible to others. emphasizes the importance of collaborating and sharing with others.  Thus, I do not understand why the public tree index has not been updated.

Jim Mosher, who is with Ancestry Product Management, posted about this on May 5th.  Still nothing has been done to update the public trees index.

I am hoping you can help with this significant problem.

Thank you,
Debbie Duay

Dear Debbie,

This is Ancestry’s response:

We've been working hard to make Ancestry Member Trees better for everyone by updating its underlying systems. Because of this, the privacy status of trees that have changed from public to private (or vice versa) may not be shown correctly in the index at this time. 

We expect to have this issue fixed by early September. Be aware that regardless of how a tree appears in the index, private trees are available only to owners and those they invite to view their trees.

Read more about how we protect family tree privacy.

“Updating its underlying systems” seems to be the key phrase here. Ancestry doesn’t publish the size of their public tree database, but I assume it is two to four billion records. We shouldn’t be surprised that it is bursting at the seams and needs to be replaced.

The Ancestry Insider

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Congratulations, Lou Szucs - #FGS2016

Lou Szucs with the Ancestry Insider
Me (left) and Lou (center) at the FGS Gala

Just a few days ago I mentioned that the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) was founded in Juliana Szuc’s mother’s dining room back in Illinois in 1975. Actually, I’m not certain if the dining room meeting was December 1975 or January 1976. In any event, the State of Illinois issued the FGS charter in January, so this year is FGS’s 40th! Congratulation, FGS! But I digress…

When I walked into the opening session of the FGS 2016 conference, I was delighted to see that Juliana ‘s mother—Lou Szucs—was in attendance. I knew her and worked with her for years at She is the nicest lady. She hopped up and gave me a big hug. Just minutes later, still in the glow of that wonderful hug, Paula Stuart-Warren announced the winner of the Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern Humanitarian Award. She explained that

A plaque [is] presented to recognize the lifetime contributions of a rare individual whose positive personal influence and example have fostered unity in the genealogical community, provided leadership to its individual members, and helped make family history a vital force in the community at large.

The recipient this year is no stranger to the genealogical community. Throughout their entire lifetime, this individual has carried the torch for the genealogical community.

Lou is this year’s winner of the Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern Humanitarian Award.

A founding leader of FGS, Lou has represented FGS for nearly every year of its 40 year history. Her work for, for many years, worked to foster collaboration and growth amongst the genealogical community. Her humanitarian efforts towards genealogy and family history have forever impacted the field and will continue to be seen for generations to come.

We gave her a standing ovation.

But the best was yet to come.

They then announced the creation of a new award category:

The Lou D. Szucs Service Award will be presented to recognize the contributions of an individual whose positive, personal influence and extraordinary service to FGS and the genealogy industry have gone above and beyond the norm, impacting the overall benefit to the genealogical community at-large and spreading the awareness of family history to the general public.

FGS President D. Joshua Taylor said, “Lou was one of the first leaders I met as a young genealogist. Her commitment to FGS and the genealogical community is truly awe-inspiring. The creation of this award is a true testament to her lasting legacy in the field of genealogy.”

Congratulations, Lou. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person.

Friday, September 2, 2016

#Genealogy Past, Present, and Future – #FGS2016

Credit: Ed Donakey

J. Mark Lowe, Mary M. Tedesco, and CeCe Moore presented the opening keynote at the 2016 Conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies in Springfield, Illinois. They spoke to the theme “Genealogy: Past, Present, and Future.”

Mark represented the past. He is a full-time professional researcher and educator, and a former APG president and FGS officer.

He took us back 120 years to 1 September 1896 in the persona of Robert Wilson Patterson, Jr., business manager of the Chicago Tribune. “Robert” regaled us with genealogy-related stories taken from his newspaper. The Mexican government pays a pension to hundreds of the descendants of Montezuma II. (“Too bad we jus’ can’t test their blood to see if they qualify.”) The Marquis of Alba had a fake pedigree. (“You can’t believe in everything you hear. You can only believe what you read in the Tribune.”)

Mary represented the present. Mary M. Tedesco is a professional genealogist, cohost of Genealogy Roadshow (PBS), and founder of Origins Italy.

She came onstage as her 1999 self. It was 31 December 1999 at 11:57pm. She started to login to Americano Online. Her modem started shrieking as modems of the 1990s did. Then Y2K struck. Mary’s email went berserk. Suddenly she had messages from 2016. Reading them she learned a lot about our present. A February message from the DAR stated that they now accept Y-DNA evidence alongside other documentation. A March message from GenGuru Genealogy & Technology talked about smart phone and iPad genealogy apps. It mentioned doing genealogy with social media, crowdsourcing, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. An April message from Juliana Szucs mentioned tens of billions of genealogical records online. “Wait,” she said. “You can’t be serious?” An April message complimented her on doing a great job co-hosting Genealogy Roadshow. “Genealogy is a TV show genre?” Mary exclaimed.

CeCe Moore represented the future. She is the DNA consultant for Finding Your Roots and Genealogy Roadshow, both on PBS. She is the founder of TheDNADetectives and co-founder of the Institute for Genetic Genealogy.

CeCe came onstage dressed like Doc Brown exiting a DeLorean. She asked an audience member if she could sample his DNA and promptly bounced a laser off him. (Maybe it was a woman; I couldn’t see from my seat.) CeCe took her computer out of her pocket and started giving it voice commands. In a matter of moments, the computer had sequenced the DNA, found several of his ancestral towns, and reconstructed the DNA of his 4th great grandmother. Using the DNA, it reconstructed the woman’s physical appearance. The computer analyzed the woman’s genetic memory, allowing CeCe to ask the woman questions like “What is your maiden name?” and “How did you feel when you came to America?” CeCe announced she had to run. “I’ve got an adoptee I need to work with and it’s going to take five or ten minutes to fill in their whole tree.”


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Schedule for Booth Presentations at #FGS2016

As promised:


Societies Day at #FGS2016

 Jenn Baldwin (@ancestryjourney) photograph of Curt Witcher at FGS Focus on Societies Day, 2016
Credit: Jen Baldwin, @ancestryjourney

Wednesday was Focus on Societies Day at the 2016 Conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. The theme of the plenary session was “To Survive and Thrive: Successfully Embracing Change.” Curt B. Witcher, Teri E. Flack, and Ed Donakey shared the podium.

Curt B. Witcher talked about being a successful change agent. Curt is the manager of The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library.

Curt quoted the third phrase of the serenity prayer: “Courage to change the things I can.” The qualities of a change agent are a bias toward action, accountability, and the ability to prioritize and deliver. Remember your foci. Societies are businesses with customers and products. Society members must have fun, enjoyment, and success. Utilize technology to be everywhere and to have “high touch.” Collaborate. FamilySearch is an excellent collaborator. They don’t count widgets, carefully measuring that they get their fair share from a collaboration. When they collaborate, they are “all in” with their partners.

Teri E. Flack talked about “Leading Change in a Multi-Generational World.” Teri is an FGS director and a genealogical and historical researcher, consultant, and lecturer.

Societies have been the backbone of genealogy for 50 years. Things have changed during those 50 years. In the 80s we had a technology revolution that allows us to do genealogy in ways we could only dream of. Bill Gates and Steve Job drove this revolution. “Our generation drove change, so don’t tell me we can’t change. We just don’t want to be told to change.” There are generational differences among Millennials, Gen Xers, Boomers, and Matures. It helps to understand these generational groups so that we can embrace them in our societies. One example is the desire of Millennials to give back to their communities. As a group, Millennials volunteer more than other generations. They want to give back. They want to serve their communities. That’s what societies have been doing for decades.

Ed Donakey talked about “Who Moved My Society?” Ed is FGS vice president of development and a FamilySearch deputy chief genealogical officer.

Ed hates it when people said, “We’ve always done it that way.” Several years ago one of his employees shared a book with him about adapting to change. It is titled Who Moved My Cheese? We should ask ourselves, “Who moved my society?” Has your society changed? The key to responding to change is to look at the richness we have in our societies and embrace it. A society can be seen as a business. If you want your society to be successful, you have to ask questions. You have to have a business plan, a mission, and a purpose. You have to make decisions. There are a number of societies Ed would like to be part of, but the number of ways to be involved is limited. Ask yourself if you could benefit by using innovations such as text messaging or webinars.

Changes in the genealogy community are putting pressures on genealogical societies. Curt, Teri, and Ed got attendees thinking about how not to just survive, but thrive.