Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ancestry and Family Tree Maker Synchronization Announcement

Ancestry Member Trees will synchronize with Family Tree Maker.Last week Ancestry announced that Ancestry editions of Family Tree Maker will cease to synchronize with Ancestry Member Trees as of 29 March 2017. Instead, synchronization will be available in Software MacKiev’s Family Tree Maker 2017 edition, which will be released on 31 March 2017. Said Ancestry:

In the new [Software MacKiev Family Tree Maker 2017] FamilySync, Ancestry’s search, merge, and Ancestry hints will all work as they do now for users who sync with their Ancestry trees and you can also look forward to more exciting new improvements.

You can upgrade to Software MacKiev’s Family Tree Maker 2017 edition for free if you purchased it since 1 March 2016. According to the Ancestry announcement:

Those with previous Ancestry editions, or who got a free copy of Family Tree Maker 2014.1 or Mac 3.1, are eligible for discounted upgrades. The pre-order upgrade is $29.95 for those who sign up for Software MacKiev’s mailing list before March 29 and the upgrade will continue to be a discounted price ($39.95) for a limited time after March 29.

You will recall that Ancestry discontinued Family Tree Maker back in December 2015. (See “Ancestry to Retire Family Tree Maker Software” on the Ancestry blog.) In a 9 December 2015 clarification, they said they would continue to support synchronization with Member Trees through at least the end of 2016. (See “More Information on Family Tree Maker Desktop Software” on the Ancestry blog.) At that point in time they planned to allow other tree software to synchronize with Member Trees, but had no plans to sell Family Tree Maker to another vendor.

Public response was intense and a month later, Ancestry announced the sell of Family Tree Maker to Software MacKiev. (See “Family Tree Maker to Live On” on my blog.) They also announced that RootsMagic would be able to synchronize with Member Trees by the end of 2016.

In March 2016, Software MacKiev published their first edition of Family Tree Maker 2014. They gave free updates to users of Ancestry Family Tree Maker 2014. (See “Family Tree Maker Is Updated and Shipping” on the Ancestry blog.)

The Ancestry announcement did not mention when RootsMagic will be able to sync with Ancestry Member Trees. Earlier this month, RootsMagic announced that they are still in development. (See “A Sneak Peek from the Underground Labs” on the RootsMagic blog.) They are calling their synchronization TreeShare. They did not give a release date but it was demonstrated at the RootsTech RootsMagic booth by Michael Booth.

For more information about the Ancestry announcement, see “Software MacKiev introduces FamilySync™” on the Ancestry blog.


Image credit: pixabay.com.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday Mailbox: Preservation of Photos and Stories on FamilySearch

The Ancestry Insider's Monday Mailbox

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I have been using FamilySearch Memories as my main repository for family history-related photographs and documents, with the hopes that this material will be preserved “forever.”  Do you think there is a chance that the LDS Church could abandon the FamilySearch Family Tree and Memories projects, with all of this material being lost?

Thanks,
Thomas Abbott

Dear Thomas,

There is always a chance your scanned images of photographs and documents could be lost. Elder D. Todd Christofferson, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently reaffirmed the Church’s belief that it will endure forever and one of its duties is offering ordinances to both the living and the dead. If he is correct ((and I believe he is), then your images are not in danger for reasons of the Church ceasing to exist or losing interest in family history work. However, there are other reasons to consider. Storing those images is very expensive and preserving them is more difficult than you might think. One can argue that preserving them is not essential to offering ordinances to the dead. There is always the possibility that the Church would divest that portion of their family history efforts to one of the many other companies offering that service. Failure of that 3rd party then becomes a possibility. There are no plans to do this, but one can not rule out the possibility that it could someday happen. And there is always the possibility of catastrophic failure that inadvertently destroys all the Church’s copies of your images. I think that would be nearly impossible, but stranger things happen.

Similar arguments can be applied to FamilySearch Family Tree. I believe there is an additional risk for Family Tree. If FamilySearch can’t find a way for non-genealogists and competent genealogists to coexist in the same tree, then Family Tree might collapse under its own weight.

I believe the lesson here is the same one we talked about last week: many copies of images and information increase the possibility that they will survive.

Signed,
The Ancestry Insider

Saturday, March 25, 2017

NGS 2017 Conference Early Bird Registration Deadline is MONDAY (#NGS2017GEN)

Monday is the early bird deadline for the National Genealogical Society 2017 Family History Conference! Gak! I should have warned you earlier!

This year the conference is in Raleigh, North Carolina on the 10th through the 13th of May 2017 at the Raleigh Convention Center, 500 S. Salisbury Street. There are more than 175 lectures and workshops to choose from. Classes are organized in tracks, although you can move about classes without regard to the tracks:

  • African American
  • DNA
  • family stories
  • historical context
  • international
  • maps and locations
  • methodology
  • military
  • Native American
  • North Carolina research
  • organizing research
  • problem solving
  • records and repositories
  • regional movement
  • religion
  • research in the states
  • research planning
  • skill building
  • technology
  • tips and techniques
  • working with records

For more information, check out the registration brochure and visit the conference website.

I am honored to again be accepted as an official social media contributor for the conference!

The Ancestry Insider is a member of the official social media press for the the National Genealogical Society 2017 Family History Conference.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The New and Improved Find A Grave Shown at #RootsTech

Peter Drinkwater at RootsTech 2017At RootsTech 2017 Peter Drinkwater showed off a late-alpha prototype for a new Find A Grave website. Fearing the worst, he was quite happy when the presentation didn’t devolve into a lynching. Find A Grave diehards are that passionate. Peter asked for a show of hands of those who use Find A Grave. Every hand went up except for one older gentleman who had, apparently, fallen asleep. He asked for a show of hands of those who have contributed to Find A Grave. I think up to half of the attendees raised a hand. This was a crowd to be feared.

Peter Drinkwater is the general manager for Find A Grave, a website owned by Ancestry. While the session was titled “Getting to Know the New Find A Grave,” Peter first helped us get to know the old Find A Grave. Find A Grave was created in 1995 by Jim Tipton. “Jim Tipton lived here in Salt Lake and he had a hobby of collecting dirt from famous people’s graves,” Peter said. “He created Find A Grave as a place to document that and let other people share the locations of [famous] graves.” In 2000 he added the ability to document the graves of ordinary people. In January 2017 there were 157 million graves. For all those years, the website looked almost the same.

“It is with great trepidation that I even think about touching this,” he said. Why would we make a change, he asked? The code is quite old and there aren’t many developers who are comfortable in it. Modernizing the code will make it more secure, easier to work on, and make it possible to use new tools to improve the site.

The second reason to change it is to make it usable via a mobile device. More than 30% of visits to the site are on a tablet or phone. The ability of a webpage to adapt to smaller screen sizes is called responsive design.

The third reason to change the site is to internationalize it, making it available in a variety of languages.

The goal of the initial project is to convert Find A Grave to new code, not to add new features. That effort is well along and Peter showed off the new site to us. Peter expressed gratitude that there were no pitchforks and flames.

The new Find A Grave home page appearance

It can be found at www.gravestage.com, although a password is required to see it. Peter shared the password with us, but I didn’t get permission to share it with you. What say you, Peter? Can I share it with people?

The biggest change is immediately obvious: the search form is available on the home page. I think that is a great change. Entering the location has been simplified. Rather than selecting state then county, you start typing the name of the location (cemetery, city, county, state, or country) and select it from the list.

Search results look as shown below and can be sorted in various ways.

Search results on the new Find A Grave alpha site look like this.

An individual result looks like this:

An individual grave record in the new Find My Past website will look like this.

Peter told us the rollout plan is to follow these stages:

  1. Let people play with the beta of the new website. It operates like a sandbox. You can do anything you want, but everything you do will be thrown away. Nothing you do will effect the real Find A Grave website.
  2. Once it is ready, launch the new website as an option. Users can choose which one to use. FindAGrave.com will take you to the old website. Both show the same data and changes in one appear in the other.
  3. Once users are ready, switch and make FindAGrave.com take you to the new website. The goal is to be to this point by the end of April.
  4. I can’t remember what he said about end-of-life for the old website. Perhaps it will be kept online for a little while after the new website becomes the main site.

Any bookmarks or copies of URLs (website addresses) to the old website will still work with the new. However, going forward all new URLs will be simpler.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

AncestryDNA Personal Discoveries Project

AncestryDNA Personal DiscoveriesI visited my DNA page last Saturday to see if the new Genetic Communities feature has launched yet. It hasn’t. But I did see something new. Ancestry gave me the opportunity to take a survey. It is part of the “Personal Discoveries Project.”

They posed the question, “Can we discover more from your DNA?” They invited me to take a survey to learn things about me that I might share with my genetic relatives. Participation is optional.

They gave several possible motives. “If we launch a new AncestryDNA project or feature inspired by your responses, you will be the first to know,” they said. They warned that they would combine the data—reasonably hiding your identity—for study and possible sharing on social media or used in advertisements, emails, or promotional offers. The FAQ page states

Learning more about our customers and what you may have in common with your genetic relatives and other AncestryDNA customers will help us provide a better user experience as we develop new products and features. Your feedback can help us identify patterns within groups of people connected by DNA so that we may enhance your AncestryDNA experience.

When I interviewed Kendall Hulet at RootsTech, he talked about Ancestry’s desire to open up the DNA experience more to non-genealogists. My guess is that this is part of that effort.

The survey asked about a dozen questions in each of eight different categories: personality, life story, lifestyle and behavior, travel and culture, traits and characteristics, family details, hobbies and interests, and fun and entertainment. They asked if I was a cat or dog person (dog), if I wore glasses (yes), if I snore (not anymore), what my favorite kind of car is (one that still runs), if I preferred coffee or tea (neither), if my earlobes are attached (no), if I was born in the same country as my grandparents (I lied), if I had ever been to a rodeo (yes), and would I sit it out or dance (dance).

I don’t know if this is a random-sampled survey, but I suspect they want as much data as they can get, to correlate against DNA data. I suspect if you go to your DNA page, you will see the invitation also.

For more information, see the FAQ page at https://support.ancestry.com/s/surveysFAQ.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Don’t Let Your Research Be Flushed Down the Toilet

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxThe Monday Mailbox, “17 Years of Research Being Flushed Down the Toilet,” drew lots of great suggestions on ways Larry—or anyone else—can preserve your research before you are gone.

Doris Wheeler suggested the many copies approach to sharing your tree online:

I still advocate also using GEDCOM to post my tree (without images) to Wikitree, RootsWeb WorldConnect, Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, and any other place I can. The thought of losing the fruits of all that hard work is unbearable.

(Sarah V offered to help out if you wish to go the Wikitree route. Just reply to her message.) I said in my article that no one could see your Ancestry tree but subscribers. Barry M Spinner reminded me that Ancestry is available in many libraries, whose patrons will also be able to see your tree.

While some people are concerned about sharing, Carol Yocom said, “I've always shared my work gladly. There are mistakes, but most of it is well sourced.” She said posting several thousand images is “labor intensive, but I'll be damned if 45+ years of work ends up in a dumpster.” She hopes “it proves useful to others after I've collected my ticket outta town!”

Proofreader said, “It's hard to beat good old fashioned paper.” Plenty of people agreed, and again advocated the many copies approach. Mary Chamberlain said,

I think it's important to get hard copies of the tree and any source documents to as many libraries, historical societies, and genealogical societies as possible. Not just those in the area where Larry lives now, but those in areas where branches of the family once lived.

Jim Culbert said that some societies accept paper, some electronic, and some will not be interested at all.

Cat fan said,

If you can create a report with all your family research information and images,and save the document (MS Word or PDF); you can send it to the Allen County Library in Fort Wayne IN. They will print a copy for reference at the library and send you a copy.

For more information, see http://www.genealogycenter.org/Donate.aspx.

If you check with them beforehand, the FamilySearch Family History Library in Salt Lake City also accepts donations of books you’ve written. However, they are very picky. Books must be readable, very well organized family history books, rich in standard, genealogical information about people. The preferred format is electronic: a Word or PDF file. Next best is unbound, double sided printed pages. You must be the copyright holder and sign a document giving FamilySearch permission to freely make copies of your book. (I’m pretty sure this includes digital copies posted for free use on the Internet.) They do not accept family tree databases, nor collections of pedigree charts and family group sheets. (I assume that these can be elements of your well-written family history book.) Don’t think you can print out your GEDCOM, throw a hard cover on it, and send it to the Library.) Before donating, contact the donation staff at bookdonations@familysearch.org or call 1-801-240-1855.

I think if you produce a book of Family History Library quality, you should have no problem placing copies in several libraries of various types and town, county, and state genealogical and historical societies. Nancy Smith Gibson warned not to forget your local genealogical society:

I would suggest donating your research, both your tree(s) and back-up information to your local genealogical library or organization. Our local genealogical library benefits greatly from donated research, books, pictures, etc. Sooner or later, somebody either comes in, calls, or emails looking for information and we are so happy to be able to provide some detail that gets overlooked when the majority of information is digitalized. We have many volunteers who work one, two, or more days a month to organize and file. Don't forget your local organizations.

Nancy Smith Gibson
The Melting Pot Genealogical Society and Library
Hot Springs and Garland County, Arkansas

Joseph Martin additionally sent his books to some 65 family members and published about 30 articles in various genealogy magazines, “trying to assure that my 45 years of research will be preserved.”

Connie Moretti pointed out that if you qualify for membership in a lineage or heritage society like the DAR, SAR, Mayflower, and Jamestowne societies, they will preserve your application and all the documentation.

 

Regarding saving your photos and document images to FamilySearch.org: I had asked Legacy, “Does Legacy allow uploading source images to FamilySearch Family Tree?” Legacy responded: 

We would LOVE to see this but FamilySearch does not allow this, at least not yet.  We can only do what FamilySearch allows (they call the shots on what features we can have).  As soon as they give us the go ahead our programmers will make it happen.  For now, you have to upload photos manually on FamilySearch itself.

Signed,
Michele
Enhancement Requests
Legacy Family Tree

According to P Walker, Ancestral Quest is already doing it:

I imported my RootsMagic gedcom into Ancestral Quest (wasn't happy with how images were treated during the import, however, but maybe other imports, such as from Legacy and PAF would do better) and then synched those with FamilySearch Family Tree and it's really going quickly getting images up into FS and also downloading any new ones anyone has added.

It's taking longer for RootsMagic and Legacy to add this as it's not a priority of theirs right now…

The Ancestral Quest page on FamilySearch.org indicates P. Walker is correct.

As I reported last Monday, RootsFinder will soon (if they don’t already) have the capability to upload to FamilySearch Memories the photos associated with a GEDCOM.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Insider Ketchup for 17 March 2017

Insider KetchupLot’s of stories I didn’t get to this week. Time to ketchup.

Bullet Ancestry.com I received my March 2017 newsletter from Ancestry. The newsletter linked to an Ancestry sponsored three minute YouTube video from the Photo Detective, Maureen Taylor. Maureen explains how to care for your old photos and relates some of her experience identifying people in old photos. The newsletter pointed out that Ancestry will be at the NGS Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, 10-13 May 2017 and invited readers to register. Finally, the newsletter pointed to an article/advertisement that you might find interesting. AncestryDNA product manager, Anna Swayne, compares her Irish-ness to that of her sisters.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!

FamilySearch tree bullet FamilySearch posted “How to Add Sources” on their blog. It explains three ways to add sources to FamilySearch Family Tree. You might find it helpful if you are a Family Tree user.

 

Gak! Out of time.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Watch #RootsTech 2017 Videos

RootsTech 2017 was in the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City.I’ve written a lot about RootsTech 2017. Whew! That was quite the conference. According to FamilySearch, RootsTech reached 180,000 people around the world. More than 13,000 from most U.S. states and 43 countries gathered in person. More than 100,000 watched live via the Internet. On Saturday, 20,000 more gathered for the free Family Discovery Day. The Expo Hall had 170 vendors. There were more than 300 sessions.

Many of those sessions and classes are now available to watch online. Here are some of them:

Next year RootsTech will be a little later in the year, 28 February 2018 to 3 March 2018. Planning is already underway! Start your plans as well.

 

Some additional videos are available for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

New Additions to Ancestry Management

Ancestry announced recently the addition of two members to their executive management team:

  • Nat Natarajan, from Intuit, Executive Vice President of Product and Technology
  • Vineet Mehra, from Johnson & Johnson, Executive Vice President and
    Chief Marketing Officer

Ancestry wrote:

Nat Natarajan, named Ancestry’s Executive Vice President of Product and TechnologyNat Natarajan, named Ancestry’s Executive Vice President of Product and Technology, comes from Intuit where he recently served as senior vice president and chief information security and fraud officer. His tenure at Intuit also included holding the position of chief technology officer and senior vice president of product and engineering for the Consumer Tax Group, which serves a customer base of more than 30 million.
Vineet Mehra joins Ancestry as Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing OfficerVineet Mehra joins Ancestry as Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for the company. He joins Ancestry from Johnson & Johnson where he was Global President of J&J’s multi-billion dollar flagship Baby Care business. His tenure at J&J also included holding the position of President for J&J’s Global Marketing Services organization, where he led J&J’s core consumer marketing functions across the globe including Consumer Insights, Business Analytics, Digital Marketing, and J&J’s Media organization, where he managed more than $2 billion USD in spend around the world.

Both Natarajan and Mehra will be based in Ancestry's San Francisco office.

For more information, read the Ancestry press release.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Future of Family History Center Microfilm

Microfilm readers and cabinets at the Riverton FamilySearch Center. Photograph by the Ancestry Insider.FamilySearch Family History Center staff are increasingly having hard times keeping their microfilm readers operational. Parts are becoming hard to obtain. On a Yahoo discussion group, one staff member reported using O rings from a local machine shop to replace belts. Another staffer reported being quite concerned last October when FamilySearch support indicated that “Film ordering will be going away eventually and now is a great time to start removing unneeded readers.” This startled her because she understood it would be decades before all the microfilms that could be digitized would be posted on FamilySearch. Another staffer reported hearing at RootsTech that only 7% of the records had been digitized. Another reported that some microfilm would never be digitized because of “copyright.” (It’s actually not a copyright issue, but other legal impediments.)

Steve Fox, manager of cataloging and metadata services at FamilySearch International, stepped in to clarify the situation. Steve said the 7% number is incorrect. You’ll recall my report from RootsTech that FamilySearch executives said 50% of the vault has been scanned.

Steve said, “The more critical issue is that raw microfilm used for making copies for distribution is no longer available at an affordable cost. In fact, it will soon be unavailable at any cost.” He said, “I can’t give an exact time frame, but microfilm circulation will go away in the near future, regardless.”

He acknowledged the “copyright” issues and said, “Creative solutions to these issues are in review.”

Steve went on to disclose that some films have been digitized that are not available in historical record collections. These contain 100s of millions of images and are accessible only through the FamilySearch catalog. Including the images available through historical record collections, there are nearly 2 billion images accessible through the catalog. To access images through the catalog, look up a film as you usually would. Then look for a camera icon in the column to the right of the film number. Click the camera icon to access the images. “Images viewed this way are not structured like the browse collections, but mimic the microfilm roll experience,” Steve said. “If something is on Item 3, you need to scroll down through the thumbnails looking for Item 3, like cranking through a roll of film.”

Images accessed through the catalog are subject to the same conditions as those in historical record collections. Some require that you login. Some will require that you be at a FamilySearch family history center, or even the Salt Lake library.

Monday, March 13, 2017

No, They Can’t Change Your FamilySearch Genealogies File

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxI responded to a question about preserving genealogies in my article “17 Years of Research Being Flushed Down the Toilet.” I pointed out FamilySearch Genealogies. Among the responses were several that clarified FamilySearch Genealogies. (There were a lot of suggestions on other ways to preserve. I’ll share those next week.)

Dear Ancestry Insider,

My problem, quite honestly, with FamilySearch trees, is that anyone can add (or delete) members of your tree.  FamilySearch needs to have some method to "lock down trees" so that only the tree owner, or someone that has edit privileges, can change the tree.  I won't put my tree on FamilySearch until the trees are locked down.

Brenda Hare

Dear Readers,

I responded privately to Brenda and she pointed out a big flaw in my article. I failed to point out that FamilySearch Genealogies, the kind I explained in that article, are “locked down.” No one else can modify your tree. FamilySearch offers both systems: personal trees that no one can modify, and a public tree that everyone can modify. Read the article for instructions on how to upload your GEDCOM to FamilySearch Genealogies.

The downside is that you cannot edit your FamilySearch Genealogies online and you can’t give edit privileges to anyone else. To update your tree you must replace it with a new GEDCOM.

Signed,
The Ancestry Insider

 

Dear Ancestry Insider,

RootsFinder might be a good solution for this.

It is a new free service that lets you upload a GEDCOM, and then work on your personal tree from there. It supports “publishing” your RootsFinder tree to FamilySearch Genealogies and keeping it up to date. So instead of blowing away your previous upload (thus breaking long-lived links) and re-uploading, RootsFinder sends deltas to keep your Genealogy on FamilySearch up to date (with no user interaction required—it’s kept as an up-to-date copy).

By the end of this month, they will have an app you can download (for Windows and Mac) that will take your GEDCOM and the pictures it references on your local hard drive and upload them all to RootsFinder.

They’re also working towards being able to preserve images in RootsFinder as Memories in FamilySearch, linked from Genealogies. (I don’t have a due date for that feature).

At that point, you should be able to use the RootsFinder app to upload your GEDCOM + images to RootsFinder, indicate that you want to publish it on FamilySearch, and the GEDCOM and images should all be preserved.

Signed,
Randy Wilson

Dear Randy,

Thanks for alerting us to this new FamilySearch partner. We also heard from RootsFinder directly.

Signed,
The Ancestry Insider

 

Dear Ancestry Insider,

We also have a free new online family tree you might want to check out at rootsfinder.com. It allows you to upload a GEDCOM and preserve your data in FamilySearch's free Genealogies long-term preservation service, and we’re working with FamilySearch to give you the option to preserve your RootsFinder pictures as well.

As has been pointed out, GEDCOM only transfers data, not images. But by the end of the month we will have a media transfer utility which will allow you to upload your GEDCOM along with the media from your computer so you won't have to upload your media later; it will all import everything at once and everything will stay attached.

We're still new and getting the word out about this; in fact we were semifinalists at the RootsTech Innovator Showdown. If you want to check it out we appreciate your feedback!

Signed,
RootsFinder

Dear RootsFinder,

Thanks for letting us know! (What’s up with these people who identify themselves only via pseudonym? Don’t you hate that?)

Signed,
The, um, Ancestry Insider

Friday, March 10, 2017

Legassick Serendipity

The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad train, "The Prospector," traveled Salt Lake City to Denver back in the 50s.Christine Edwards submitted this tale of serendipity to my RootsTech contest. Thank you, Christine!

I was staying for a week at a small hotel in downtown Salt Lake City and spending my days at the Family History Library. On Friday I came down for breakfast late, considering what I wanted to work on that day. In walked a stranger who sat down in the next booth. We chatted for a few minutes and it was obvious the woman had an English accent. Joy had been in Mexico and was on her way to Denver by a series of trains. She decided to stop over for only one night at a youth hostel in Salt Lake. She didn’t like the looks of it, so she had the taxi operator drive her around downtown Salt Lake City looking for a hotel that appealed to her. She finally checked into my hotel about midnight the night before.

Here comes the serendipity. Since I was born in England, I mentioned her accent and asked what part of England she came from. “Totnes,” was her answer. “Oh, I’ve been there,” I responded. “I have distant relatives close by. In fact, I have relatives and ancestors from all over Devonshire.”

“Oh, really,” she responded. “What are their names?”

“Windsor, Luscombe, Pulliblank and Legassick,” was my response.

She didn’t say anything, just bowed her head. Then she spoke softly, “I’m a Legassick.”

Yes, she is my third cousin! We ran to a computer and found ourselves on the same family website. I spent most of that day with her and took her to the train station at night so she could continue her journey to Denver. Since then I’ve visited her in Plymouth and she has introduced me to other cousins.

I called it serendipity.  My sister called it a blessing.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

It Keeps Ancestry’s Kendall Hulet Up At Nights -- #RootsTech

The Ancestry Insider and Kendall Hulet at RootsTech 2017I had a chance to speak with Ancestry’s Kendall Hulet at RootsTech 2017. Kendall has been with Ancestry since about 2003 and has risen to the position of senior vice president of product management.

I asked Kendall what keeps him up at nights. “Protecting people’s privacy and the security of their data,” he said. Ancestry is making massive investments in this area. He said it will probably always keep him up. He warned us as well. “Be super careful with your data because it is your DNA and you just need to be thoughtful about it.” Privacy is one reason Kendall gave for the lack of an AncestryDNA chromosome browser. (He warned that he would probably butcher technical information about DNA. I know less than he does, so please add comments to correct me. Anyway…) He said a chromosome browser exposes actual SNPs (“snips”) for your matches. Ancestry has to be really thoughtful about doing that. They have to decide if that makes sense. Ultimately, people’s privacy is more important than a chromosome browser, he said.

According to Kendall, another reason Ancestry doesn’t offer a chromosome browser is something called pileups. You share 50% of your DNA with a banana, so obviously you share a ton of DNA with other people. Kendall said some people are attempting to triangulate on places that are pileups where a lot of people match. “It’s not because they are really amazing matches; it’s actually just because you are humans or you both happen to be from the same rough area of the world,” he said. So while Ancestry has had extensive discussions internally about such tools, users may inadvertently focus on pileups and not know it. “You think it is telling you something interesting and it’s not,” he said. “You really have to know what you’re doing.”

Kendall said Ancestry offers two alternatives. He explained that since they have 3 million people in their database, they can analyze across millions of people to determine what are pileups and what are not. They then identify matches in common with you. When you view a DNA match, select Shared Matches to see a list of users who share SNPs with you and that DNA match. The other alternative is DNA Circles. Circles have diagrams showing matches between your matches.

[Below is an example from the Insider’s DNA. I share DNA with DF and our common ancestor, Julia Ann Hammer. Ancestry doesn’t disclose the particulars other than indicating we share 8.9 centimorgans on one DNA segment. You can see that DF and BJ do not match because there is no line between them. ]

An AncestryDNA circle indicates what triangulations exist among the ancestor's descendants.

The other thing that keeps Kendall up at nights is “somebody we don’t see coming, from a business perspective, with a disruptive approach to things.”

Kendall said that DNA could have been that thing, but Ancestry has successfully turned it into a “massive, positive thing.” They are poised to release Genetic Communities (see Tim Sullivan’s announcement). The feature shows migration patterns for groups of people at a much finer level than gross ethnic origins. “It is very rich in telling the story of these people and how you connect into them and how they’ve moved over time,” Kendall said. “I think it is going to be a game changer for DNA and family history.”

They hope to accomplish another game changer for the casual DNA test taker. Kendall said that while lists of matches are great for the family historian, Ancestry wants to make DNA more fun. A lot of people they talk to just want to see a bunch of photographs of cousins to see how much they look alike. “Ultimately, what we want to do is have a more social experience where people can connect to each other,” he said.

“If you could achieve great handwriting recognition, it’d be a game changer for the industry,” Kendall said. “That’s the kind of disruptive thing that could be crazy interesting.” [I know FamilySearch has said it would take 300 years to index their collection using human volunteers.] Kendall said that handwriting recognition would be incredible. “It’s the holy grail.”

Kendall said that if enough descendants of a deceased person were to take a DNA test, Ancestry may eventually be able to reconstruct a significant portion of that person’s DNA. That might tell you all sorts of interesting things, like eye color or if they suffered from male pattern baldness. “Who knows. Maybe you could try and figure out what they looked like,” he said. “That’s like crazy way out there.”

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Family Tree Futures Presented at #RootsTech

Ron Tanner at RootsTech 2017At RootsTech 2017 Ron Tanner, group product manager for FamilySearch, presented a session titled “FamilySearch: Family Tree Futures.” Ron pointed out that when we teach our kids to fish, we do the hard parts because we want them to have a great experience. Then they’ll want to do it again, learning the hard parts over time. When we teach others to do family history, we want to do the same. Don’t send them to the end of the line and expect them to like family history. Sit down with them and FamilySearch Family Tree. Help them understand that this is a shared tree. Don’t make changes that shouldn’t be made.

Take them to a hint. Take them to the record. Show them how to attach it. Expose them to various aspects of family history and watch their faces. Look for their eyes to sparkle. Note what they are doing at that moment and help them do more of that, be it photos or stories or whatever.

Ron presented some Family Tree accomplishments for 2016:

  • An average of 2.5 million persons were added to Family Tree per month, bringing the total to over 1.1 billion. [Was it Ron who said that that was a drop from 1.2 billion, indicating duplicate persons are being cleaned up, now that that is possible?]
  • An average of 8 million sources were added each month, bringing the total to over 708 million.
  • FamilySearch decommissioned NFS. Now you can combine anyone and you don’t have relationships coming back after being deleted. There are still limitations on merging if the resulting persons would look ridiculous in the number of things like spouses. More on that in a minute.
  • FamilySearch added a warning at the time you make a change to a person. It lets you know the number of people watching that person.
  • FamilySearch added the ability to see how you are related to a person in the tree. The computer searches for the relationship, going up and down the branches of the tree 15 generations in each direction. [Let me think. How distant a relationship will that find? 13th cousins?] It shows the shortest path, even if it is not a biological relationship. This is an expensive feature. The software to do this runs on the largest computer they could get.

The limits on merging prevent creation of persons having more than:

  • 200 spouses
  • 100 parents
  • 400 children
  • 1,000 memories
  • 200 sources
  • 50 discussions
  • 50 notes

These limitation will be reviewed regularly.

FamilySearch is developing Family Tree lite for areas of the world where feature phones are how people connect to the Internet and Internet access is very slow. Here is a complete person page (left) and a family page (right). The family page lists ancestors up through the four sets of great-grandparents. It replaces the pedigree view.

Family Tree Lite family pageFamily Tree Lite person page

Family Tree Lite focuses on sending the least amount of data possible, at the expense of features. The regular Family Tree requires the transfer of three megabytes of data, obtained by requesting data 263 times. Family Tree Lite makes only three requests and transfers only 31 kilobytes. That’s a hundred times more efficient. Facebook is trying to provide free Internet to developing countries of the world but they require websites be as efficient as Family Tree Lite.

There are a lot of things you can’t do with Family Tree Lite. It is designed mainly to allow new users to enter the first several generations of their ancestry. Family Tree Lite does not include

  • Other facts
  • Memories (documents, photos, etc.)
  • Notes
  • Discussions
  • Life Sketch
  • Pedigree Views
  • Lists
  • Merge
  • Change Log

FamilySearch is making great progress with their mobile app, FamilyTree. It can do almost everything that can be done through the full web version of Family Tree. More features will be added this year.

FamilySearch is researching how to do a system to allow sources to be attached to living persons, but kept private until they are deceased. Some people don’t want personal information about themselves to be visible to the general public. Today, all documents—including those attached to living persons—can be viewed by anyone with the URL. That is why FamilySearch doesn’t allow sources on living persons today. FamilySearch is considering putting together a personal vault where you upload your birth certificate and it becomes public after you die. Ron says he thinks it is crazy to make your descendants research you.

FamilySearch is researching how to share living persons. People want to share memories and avoid duplication. Today, each of us has an individual, private space. The plan is to allow a shared area where you can copy only the information you want to share. It will be copies of the persons in your private space. This allows putting living persons into multiple shared spaces. Private duplication is okay. Public duplication is not okay.

FamilySearch is also thinking about other shared features, like group messaging, shared to-do list, and a group-notification feed where you can see what other group members are contributing.

FamilySearch is developing faster change notification. Today you are notified weekly about changes to the persons you are watching. Ron mentioned different frequencies: immediately, daily, weekly,

FamilySearch is investigating some improvements to the Watch List. It sounds like you would get reports of changes to your watch list persons but not their relatives. Click the contributor’s name to see their contact information. Click the description of the change to see the change log. A new tab would show all your changes over the past 30 days.

FamilySearch is researching a feature to detect when someone brings back a presumably bad value. For example, if someone specified a non-existent birthplace, and you came through and fixed it, and then someone came back through and changed it back to the non-existent place, the system would throw up a warning, show the reason you gave for deleting it in the first place, and allow cancelling the change.

FamilySearch is researching giving you notification when someone changes a value you’ve contributed, even if you are not watching the associated person.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What’s New on FamilySearch and Ancestry

imageFamilySearch and Ancestry regularly report about changes on their websites.

Ancestry

Ancestry uploads a “What’s New at Ancestry” YouTube video every month. By the time you read this article, Ancestry’s Crista Cowan will have uploaded the video for March. Here’s some of what was new in February:

Ancestry will be present at several upcoming conferences: NGS in  Raleigh, NC on 10-13 May 2017; Southern California Genealogy Jamboree in Burbank on 9-11 June 2017; IAJGS in Orlando, FL on 23-28 July 2017; and FGS in Pittsburgh, PA on 30 August-2 September 2017.

Ancestry added 11 million records in January. Crista showed an example “image first” collection, “Province of Gerona, Spain, Municipal Records, 1566-1956.” These are collections for which Ancestry has images but may not have an index for several years. However, they wanted to get the images out to you as soon as possible so you could start using them. Instead of searching, look for the Browse option on the right-hand side of the page.

Ancestry added several million Prussian records. They have added several databases of Isle of Jersey records from the Church of England, several Belgium civil registration databases, and some Delaware marriage records. In the previous month Ancestry added about 80 million records, mostly U.S. marriage records. These Delaware records were a continuation of that effort.

FamilySearch

In a recent blog article, FamilySearch reported on several new features.

Notification message of attachment icon feature

FamilySearch reported that search results of historical records will now indicate which records have already been attached to FamilySearch Family Tree. To see the icon you must have a free FamilySearch account and you must login.
FamilySearch has added an action menu for photographs and document images, shown on the left in the image below.
New action menu for photos and document images

Gallery view now has an option to display just photos and document images that are not in albums.

The article indicates that you will soon be able to upload photographs directly from your social media accounts. That feature is now present and supports Instagram and Facebook.
Options to upload from Instagram and Facebook

Monday, March 6, 2017

17 Years of Research Being Flushed Down the Toilet

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxOne of my #RootsTech reports drew this comment from a reader:

Dear Ancestry Insider

The last paragraph on data innovation really struck home with me. I am 68 years old and have 5 family trees with the largest one having over 90,800 names, 15,400 obits, and numerous wedding announcements and anniversaries, etc. No one in my family has any interest in genealogy. I can see my 17 years of research being “flushed down the toilet” when I am incapable of maintaining my trees. I have basically quit my research because it seems pointless.

Couldn’t FamilySearch create something so trees on programs such as Legacy could be donated to them so that if, in the future, they have a use for that data it is there and hasn’t been destroyed?

I would gladly pay for a website that allowed my tree to be updated and stored online with sharing opportunities. I have an Ancestry tree but find their program not well thought out and pretty much useless for maintaining an online tree.

Signed,
Larry Blanchard

Dear Larry,

FAMILYSEARCH

FamilySearch does, indeed, accept tree donations. And it is free. It is not an online tree management program like Ancestry Member Trees. It is merely a repository to preserve and share your life’s work.

  1. Export a copy of your tree from Legacy as a GEDCOM.
  2. Go to FamilySearch.org.
  3. Select Free Account in the upper-right corner and create an account. Or if you already have an account, sign in.
  4. Select Search > Genealogies.
  5. Scroll to the bottom.
  6. Underneath “Contribute Your Research to the FamilySearch Community,” select Submit Tree.
  7. Follow the instructions to add your tree.

You will be given the opportunity to synch your tree with Family Tree. That step is unnecessary. I don’t know how long it takes to appear, but when others go to Search > Genealogies and search for a person in your tree, they will see results from your tree along with the other contributed trees.

Over the months and years, as you update your Legacy tree, upload it again, following the instructions to replace the last version uploaded.

GEDCOM does not support scanned images, so if you use this method to preserve your tree, it will not preserve your scanned images. FamilySearch provides a service for preserving those images, but you must manually upload each image. Legacy says that until FamilySearch allows them to interface with the memories system, Legacy is unable to build that function into their software.

ANCESTRY

You mention you don’t like Ancestry Member Trees. You can still use it as a place to store preservation copies of your tree. It reaches a different audience then FamilySearch. No one but paying Ancestry subscribers can see your tree. Ancestry will preserve your tree for free. In exchange, they benefit monetarily from the presence of your tree. Because you transfer your tree from Legacy using GEDCOM, again, your scanned images are lost.

To preserve your images, you could try an experiment. Buy Family Tree Maker and see if it will directly import your Legacy file. That might preserve your scanned images. Then create an Ancestry Member Tree and link it to the Family Tree Maker file. That might upload all your scanned images. But I don’t know if either of those “mights” will work.

A risk you take with either organization, Ancestry or FamilySearch, is that someday they lose interest in freely preserving your family tree. Ancestry is a for-profit company that has discontinued several previous tree products. FamilySearch is owned and bankrolled by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and while believers feel the Church will last forever and its doctrines concerning building family trees will never change, not everyone agrees. Pretty much everyone agrees that preserving your tree in multiple locations is a good idea.

 

Dear readers,

Do you have other suggestions for Larry? What have you done to preserve your research beyond your death?

Signed,
---The Ancestry Insider

Saturday, March 4, 2017

New Season of Relative Race Starts Tomorrow (#RelativeRace)

Relative Race, season 2, team black: Joe & Madison GreerThe new season of Relative Race starts tomorrow night, Sunday, 5 March 2017. I think it is a compelling television show. For more information, see “BYUtv’s Relative Race Returns March 5” on the FamilySearch blog.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Tale of the Haunted Treadmill and the Magic Box

Amy Floto submitted the winning entry to my #RootsTech free pass contest. Here is her tale of serendipity:

Treasures from the magic box. Photo provided by Amy Floto.One day, about two years ago, my sweet Mom and I were just watching TV while I was doing family history. All of the sudden, we heard a strange noise. “Thunk, thunk, thunk, …” We had no idea what it was. “Thunk, thunk, thunk,…” I thought perhaps a car had a loud bass, but Mom opened the door and it wasn't from outside. I stayed with my laptop on my lap (hey, it takes a lot for me to abandon my family history work!) while she went upstairs. We were worried something was amiss in the bonus room where a furnace is located in a closet.

I heard the door open. The noise got very loud. “Thunk, thunk, thunk, …” After a few seconds it stopped. Then my Mom came down the stairs and said, “You'll never guess what it was. The treadmill belt was running BY ITSELF WITH THE MACHINE TURNED OFF!” The safety key wasn't even inserted in it! She only got it to stop by pulling the plug out of the socket.

It really bugged us that the safety key wasn't in it and it spontaneously started, so we decided to look for the key. Eventually our search took us to a cabinet in the bonus room. We opened the cabinet and were greeted by an old box, now known in the family as the magic box.

We have lived in this house for 15 years and my parents have absolutely no memory of this box. Inside the box were large, colorized photos of my Dad as a kid, his mother as a child, and his dear sister who passed away when she was eight. My parents have no memory of these photos. Under those were pedigree charts. Under those were notebooks handwritten by my great-grandmother of genealogy she researched for years, 10 generation fan charts she created back in the 1950s, hand-drawings of manor homes and English county boundaries, pages and pages of stories and histories, names and dates, and certificates. Under the notebooks were important letters my Dad had received from LDS prophets and apostles, as well as key talks he and my mother had given. So precious to us, all of it. I wept.

The box seemed bottomless. It was AMAZING! Never-ending treasures and we would not have found it when we did if not for that dang treadmill deciding to start of its own accord. The notebooks actually had information on a line I was pursuing that very week. I like to joke that those ancestors were the ones running on that treadmill, alerting us to come find them in the magic box. I still can't tell the story without getting choked up and laughing at the same time!

The Ancestry Insider with RootsTech contest winner, Amy FlotoI thank Amy for sharing. That’s an amazing story. Amy approached me at RootsTech 2017 and personally thanked me for the free pass. It had allowed her to attend. She also sent a thank you note afterwards. The most gracious and grateful contest winner ever! No wonder treadmills treat her so kindly.

Thank you, Amy.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Changes to FHL, Microfilm Addressed at #RootsTech

Diane Loosle, RootsTech 2017At the FamilySearch luncheon at RootsTech 2017 Diane Loosle presented “Who Moved My Microfilm: The Truth Behind the Library You Have Always Loved.” Diane is the FamilySearch Salt Lake Family History Library director and is senior vice president of FamilySearch patron services.

Diane pointed out that old processes like mercury treatment, lobotomy, and bloodletting have died. Old products are displaced. As change happens we have to adapt. She showed a graph of the decrease over time of visitors to the Family History Library and observed that none of us want the library to die.

She has heard a number of rumors about the Family History Library:

  • You have to come to Salt Lake City.
  • You’re closing because everything is going digital.
  • You’re throwing out books.
  • You don’t have expertise in the library anymore.
  • You don’t care about researchers anymore.

“These are so not true,” Diane said. “Let me just share what really is going on.”

The library regularly seeks feedback from users and adjusts accordingly. They have added photo scanners, microfilm scanners, book scanners, and slide scanners. They provide services to visiting family history societies. (See Familysearch.org/locations/library_group_visits.) They have added rooms which societies, family reunions, and groups can reserve: five computer labs, a 60 or 120-seat auditorium, and a video conference room.

LDS Church Office Building“We love our books,” Diane said. Back 120 years ago as the Genealogical Society of Utah, FamilySearch started collecting books. The library continues to add books. In the past two years they have added 5,376 books, enough to fill 450 feet of shelf space. Stacked, that would be taller than the Church Office Building (the tall building a block East of the library). The library runs out of space and have to place books in long-term storage.

FamilySearch is digitizing the books you use at the library. They started with family histories. You should consult family histories to see what research has already been done. You can do every-word searches on digitized family histories, even if the original had no index. They are digitizing serials and periodicals Access the digitized books at Books.familysearch.org [although you must be at the library to access copyrighted books]. The online collection, which has grown to over 330,000 books, includes books from significant genealogical book collections from across the United States.

FamilySearch is digitizing the microfilm you use at the library. “Microfilm is a dying technology,” Diane said. “We’re going to have to make some changes there.” Access the digitized microfilm at FamilySearch.org. Search the FamilySearch catalog to find digitized microfilm.

The library has substantial expertise via paid and volunteer staff. (See slides, below.) To give you access to experts without wasting time waiting in line, the library has implemented a pager system. Average wait time is five minutes. Last year expert library staff presented 282 webinars. For more information or to watch a previous webinar, visit https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Family_History_Library_Classes_and_Webinars.

Lots of expertise of paid staff at FHL Lots of expertise of volunteer staff at FHL

“We feel responsible to make sure everyone can discover and find out about their heritage,” Diane said. “The expert in anything was once a beginner.” Consequently, the library has built a discovery floor designed to engage a new group of people in family history. (See my article, “FamilySearch Unveils Latest Discovery Center at RootsTech.”)

The library is planning future adjustments because of patron feedback. Expert patrons would like a quicker path to the library expert, so they are working on a fast path system (think Disneyland fast pass). Some patrons would like noise-free zones, so they will work to provide that.

“I don’t want you to ever have to come to Salt Lake because it’s the only place you can get a resource. I want to get that resource to you where ever you are,” Diane said. “But I want you to want to come to Salt Lake to the Family History Library…to have a really wonderful experience.”

 

Image credits:
Photograph of Diane Loosle – “Begin at the Beginning,” RootsTech, 2017.
LDS Church Office Building – Wikimedia contributor Ricardo630
Slides – Diane Loosle, photographed by the Ancestry Insider

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Todd Powell Goes Mobile at #RootsTech

Todd Powell presented at RootsTech 2017Todd Powell, senior product manager at FamilySearch, presented “Family History on the Go! –FamilySearch Mobile Applications” at the RootsTech 2017 conference.

Todd is used to presenting to youth. He challenges everyone to learn and then go teach someone else.

Everyone has a story and they want it told. What makes a story? Their vital information, their relationships, their jobs, military, immigration, etc. A simplified definition of family history is to discover events about ancestors, and to document and tell their life story.

There are five simple things that you can do each week. Todd calls them microtasks. They only take a couple of minutes at a time. The five microtasks are

  • Add persons and relationships
  • view and upload memories
  • find and attach sources
  • update life events or add new sources
  • share and teach others

The mobile app is the best way to share and teach others. It is difficult to get people to gather around a computer, but easy to pull out a phone.

As of January 2017:

  • 2.1 million people have installed the app.
  • Each week 100 K people use the app.
  • 4.3 million persons have been added through the app.

In the year 2016:

  • 2.2 million persons were added.
  • 4 million sources were attached.
  • 1,800 new accounts were created.
  • 2.1 million hints were reviewed.
  • 1.1 million photos were added.
  • 5.1 million photos were viewed.
  • 600 K stories were read.
  • 45,000 audio files were added.

Why is this important? Because FamilySearch Family Tree has been around for quite a while, but most people don’t know that there is a mobile app. Or they aren’t aware how much can be done with the mobile app. Can you use only the mobile app? Yes, for most things you do each week. FamilySearch does a release every two weeks and are adding new features and fixing bugs all the time. Last Tuesday (31 January 2017) they finished a development cycle and will release this week the ability to view PDF documents. Using the app you can do 95% of everything you can do on the web. There are several things you can’t do:

  • There is no source box.
  • There is no change log. They will be adding that in a couple of weeks.
  • You can’t have a large monitor.
  • You can’t have multiple tabs open like you do on a browser, although that is coming this year.

You can merge. That was released two or three weeks before RootsTech. To keep up on new features, look for a what’s new message that pops up each time you start the app. Do that every two weeks to see what new features were released during that development cycle.

The app does not look like the web, but using it should be similar enough that you don’t have much effort moving from one to the other.

Use your phone as a scanner. It takes a little practice to get the lighting right. We encourage people to use their phone as a scanner. If you see a photo and grandma’s wall, get the lighting right and take a photograph of it. [TAI here: I have problems with this cavalier attitude towards digitization. A cell phone does not do as well as a flat-bed scanner. It is better than nothing, so it has its place.]

As an assignment, Todd told us if we didn’t yet have our photograph in the tree, take one right now.

The photographs and stories you attach to yourself become visible when you are deceased. If you are not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, someone will have to contact support after you die to have your record in the tree made public.

The app allows attachment of photos that you already have on FamilySearch, or that you have on your camera roll, or you can take a new photograph.

To add people, use the + buttons on the tree. Alternatively, go to a person and add a spouse, parent, or child.

One features not available on the web is the Ancestors with Tasks list. The app makes a list of persons, starting with you, going up five generations, and adding children and spouses. This is called your scope of interest. Then it looks for hints or research opportunities pertaining to each of those persons and indicates it with icons.

Three little dots on the person page indicate there are more options. One option is to show descendants with tasks. The sweet spot is ancestors about 1800-1850.

Task #2. Find some tasks to do, such as attach a hint. Get with someone; don’t do it alone. That allows you to teach and share.

When you are connected to the Internet, when you make changes, they are automatically updated online. Photographs are the only thing you can do while you are not connected. If you are not connected, you can take photographs and they will upload the next time you are connected.

Todd showed us a prototype of a feature that may never happen. The feature is called “Are We Related.” Several people logged into the prototype and the app showed how they were related.