Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, July 22, 2018

10,832 Blog Posts: A Retrospective

I recently totaled up the number of posts on my three main blogs and the number came out to 10,832. I have a few hundred more posted in now abandoned blogs, but this is the main number. In addition, I have written or co-authored more than 25 books, mostly on genealogy and hundreds of other published and unpublished articles and newsletters. Of course, that number will change after today and every day thereafter.

As technology changes and as the attention of the masses shifts from social network to social network, I still see blog posts as the most substantial and content-rich method of online communication. I do post all my blog posts on a number of other social networking programs, but that is only a concession to the reality of where the people are viewing content. I do have a Facebook page for Genealogy's Star and I suppose I ought to post there more often.

When I was younger and writing mainly with a pencil or pen and paper, the whole process was tedious and painful. When I learned to type in high school, the process was not much better. I could type but made so many errors that correcting my writing took more time than writing. When I finally got computers and word processing, they were liberating. I could finally type almost as fast as I could think and make corrections on the fly with a minimum of effort.

As time passed, I realized that I would not be very proficient in many of my interests. I was not talented or coordinated enough to play sports, I couldn't make things with my hands unless I wanted to spend more time correcting my mistakes than actually making things. One day, I finally realized that the things I could do involved speaking and writing. I tried to write some fiction but decided that what I wrote was most pretty sappy and not at all satisfying. Meanwhile, I kept writing technical, legal, and special interest material in a constant stream. When I became overwhelmingly interested in genealogy, it was only natural that I would start to write and talk about genealogy.

Now, I spend a lot of time writing and preparing presentations and classes. People ask how I come up with the ideas. That has never been a problem. I usually have a list of topics to write about and by reading and listening and working with people, I come up with plenty of ideas. It is always surprising to me that anyone likes or reads what I write or listens to what I have to say. But I would probably talk and write to myself if no one cared to listen.

My main creative outlet has turned out to be photography. This is something else I have done nearly all my life. Again, I take photos for my own satisfaction and the fact that anyone likes them is still surprising.

Will I stop writing? No. Will I stop taking photos? No. Well, someday I will have to stop simply because I will wear out. But meanwhile, I will keep on keeping on. Oh, one more thing. I do sleep.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Adam Smith and Modern Genealogy

Adam Smith. Etching created by Cadell and Davies (1811), John Horsburgh (1828) or R.C. Bell (1872). -, Public Domain,
Adam Smith in his seminal work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) observed that a division of labor represents a substantial increase in productivity. He was one of the early proponents of what may seem obvious today; that complex tasks can best be done by breaking them down into small, incremental components. In addition, he realized that these tasks could be done by many individuals working in combination to achieve a common goal. His observations were based on the manufacture of pins. These concepts are generally recognized as a basis for modern industrialization.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of industrialization has always been the disorientation and dislocation of the labor force. The industrialization faced by the world back in the 18th and 19th centuries is minor compared to the effects of the second (or third or whatever) industrial revolution going on today, usually referred to as the Information Revolution. Reaction to the historical industrial changes was sometimes violent. From 1811 to about 1816, bands of English workers destroyed machinery in the cotton and woolen mills that they thought was threatening their jobs. These opponents to industrialization have been called "Luddites" named after Ned Ludd, an apprentice who smashed two stocking frames in 1779 and became identified with the movement.

As a result of the disorientation and dislocation caused by the rapid advances in technology today and its impact on the practice of genealogy, we are today faced with our own genealogical Luddites.

As I have written several times in the past, genealogy has traditionally been a solitary and labor-intensive pursuit. The reaction of many has been to withdraw into their traditional methodology and decry and even oppose the transformation of genealogy from a solitary pursuit into its complex reality of a systematic division of labor. The mechanism for this change is not any one machine or process but an accumulation of processes focusing on online family trees.

Just as Adam Smith foresaw changes in the way physical items are made, we are now facing a change in the way historical research proceeds. The most obvious examples of this change are the beginning of universal family tree programs and the implementation of automatic searching illustrated by record hints. Combined, they are transforming the way genealogy is done far more completely than the mechanization of cotton or woolen mills.

The resistance to these changes is just a radical as that done by Luddites in the 19th Century. The threats to these advances come from concerns about privacy, maintaining individual autonomy, and isolationism.  The extreme manifestation of this opposition to technology is the refusal of some genealogical researchers to share "their" research despite a common ancestry with thousands of people. But the most insidious attacks come from those who cannot understand the need for collaboration and cooperation. Common examples of this attitude are referring to an online family tree as "my tree" and the information as  "my research."

Presently, the most prominent example of the changes is the Family Tree. This universal, automatic record hint driven family tree is the object of intense criticism merely because it implements the best of the effects of the division of labor espoused by Adam Smith. Almost uniformly, the criticism of the Family Tree arises from the actions taken by "other people." There are few admissions that the problems associated with the division of labor arise from the individual not doing his or her own part of the process. The results closely resemble a playground fight between rivals.

How do we manage to navigate these huge informational changes? I believe the first step is that the level of sophistication and knowledge of genealogists needs to increase. We also need to recognize that genealogy is inherently a cooperative and collaborative effort, not just an individual hobby. As we collectively begin to understand that when we begin working on a family tree we are likely duplicating the work of hundreds or even thousands of others who are related to the same ancestors, we will begin to see the importance of finding our place in the human family.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Most Popular Browsers, Search Engines and Operating Systems

It has been quite a while since I wrote about browsers, search engines, and operating systems. During the past few years, there have been significant changes in the way we access our computing devices. There have been significant changes in the market percentages of the different programs. Time to see what is going on out there on the internet.

First browsers. A browser, also known as a web browser, is a program that runs on your device (using the term to include anything attached to the internet) that enables the user to navigate the World Wide Web to access and display data of all kinds. You might be surprised at what are now the most commonly used programs. Here is the lineup from for 2018.

  • Chrome for Android 27.62%
  • Chrome 63.0 13.76%
  • Chrome 64.0 11.55%
  • Safari iPhone 9.58%
  • Firefox 58.0 3.41%
Here is another list from
  • Chrome 44.5%
  • Safari 25.4%
  • Various versions of Internet Explorer 15.5%
  • Firefox 7.4%
  • Edge 3.5%
Here is another website with statistics: This is where some of the information about usage comes from. There are many other sources.

Now, what about search engines? Here is another list from But really, the answer is there is Google and everybody else. Google has 63.5 percent of the overall search inquiries in the U.S., but on mobile devices, it has 93% of the market share. Worldwide, Google has an 86.3 percent market share. No other search engine has even close to 10% of the market. 

Next, on to operating systems. Here we have two divisions: desktop and mobile. There are probably not many surprises here. It is back to

  • Windows 82.55%
  • MacOS is about 12%
The rest share what's left. 

Mobile again from
  • Android 30.5%
  • iOS 23.8%
  • Microsoft 2.6%
  • RIM (Blackberry) 6.8
Many others with very small percentages.

If you can remember what was popular back a few years, you can see that there has been a huge change in the way computers are used and the programs that are the most used. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What Are Special Collections?

Most of the larger libraries and archives of the world have a storage area set apart from the regular books and other materials where they keep items that are either very monetarily valuable, in a delicate condition or are extremely rare. These sections of the libraries are usually called "Special Collections." In most cases, access to the items in these areas is restricted in some way. The Special Collections are not the same as libraries that have "closed stacks" restricting patron access to the books and other materials and requiring all of the patrons to request items for retrieval by library staff. Some libraries and archives even have the items in their special collections separately cataloged.

Smaller local libraries may also have a section of books or other items that are restricted from circulation and not kept on the regular shelves.

In my experience, most of the genealogists I talk to have little or no experience in researching in a special collections library. The first challenge is finding it. There may or may not be a designation or sign acknowledging that a special collections library exists. For example, the Library of Congress has most of its collection in closed stacks, but the Special Collections part of the Library is ent

Another example, the state of North Carolina has over 80 colleges and universities. Nearly all of these entities have libraries and special collections. Think about it. If you had ancestors in North Carolina, have you check the catalogs of all these libraries? Now, there is a North Carolina Digital Heritage Center that has a huge online collection of some of these items but this is only a small part of these valuable collections.

I have written about this experience previously, but while I was researching my great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner, I found a collection of records from one of his sons in the University of Utah Special Collections Library consisting of 21.25 linear feet of records. These records contained information about almost all the people who had lived in the small Arizona town where Henry lived. I also found most of the same collection in the Northern Arizona University Special Collections Library.

Since the items in the special collections libraries do not circulate, you may have to plan on spending the time at the location of the library looking at the items in a special reading room like the one shown above in the Library of Congress.

To find a special collections library simply do an online search for the location, i.e. the state or county, with the words "special collections." You may be surprised at what you will find.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Busy Week at Conference in Pennsylvania

My wife and I are busy this week assisting FamilySearch at the Registers of Wills and Clerks of Orphan's Court Association of Pennsylvania's 91st annual conference. We were asked to support the FamilySearch representative and help to promote the idea of using FamilySearch to help digitize their records. The Conference is being held in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. So we have taken a short drive through the beautiful countryside to help out.

We are there to relate our experiences in digitizing records for Maryland State Archives. I may have to catch up with posts once we get back.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

MyHeritage Adds 25 Million New Records

The new additions include millions of records from Ellis Island, West Virginia, and Sweden and hundreds of thousands of records from Denmark. The new records bring the total number of records on the website to 9,145,401,868. Yes, that's over 9 billion records.

You can read about the new records on the MyHeritage Blog. See New Historical Records Added in June 2018. If you have Swedish ancestors, you should take note. Here is the explanation of the new Swedish records from the blog post.
Sweden Household Examination Books 1860-1930 Update 
This 3,662,252 million historical record collection update to the Swedish Household Examination Books marks the final installment of this collection which now totals 87,401,340 records. 
The Swedish Household Examination Books serves as the primary source for researching the lives of individuals and families throughout the parishes of Sweden, from the late 1600’s until modern times. The books were arranged by the Swedish Lutheran Church who maintained the official records of the Swedish population until 1991. Each year until 1894, the parish priest would visit each home, first testing each individual’s knowledge of the catechism, and then collecting information about birth dates, marriages, deaths, changes in residence, etc. After 1894, the parish priests continued their visits but tended to be less focused on the doctrinal exams and more focused on collecting population information. These post 1894 records came to be known as the F√∂rsamlingsbok. 
This June installment is comprised of the records of those who were away from home at the time of the original collection.
 This was particularly interesting to my wife who has Swedish ancestry.

Returning to the Challenges of Francis Cooke

Week after week as I receive an email generated from the Family Tree about those whom I am watching, I see almost constant changes to people such as the Mayflower passenger Francis Cooke. Insanity is often defined as extreme foolishness or irrationality. I think this definition applies to those who feel that they need to keep editing a prominent person. It boggles my mind to think that there are so many people out there in the greater genealogical community that know so little about history and particularly about New England history to think that they have "discovered" some new information for a person such as a Mayflower passenger.

Notes, life sketches, memories, documents, and dozens of source do not seem to make an impact on the waves of changes. Of course, all of these "changes" also fail to be supported by even one source. Fortunately, there is a small group of people who ardently defend the reality of the entries and change everything entered back to conform with the more than well established and sourced information.

For example, there is some who added a birth date for Francis Cooke of 1 October 1577 and further shows he was born in Gides Hall, Essex, England. In fact, no new sources have been added to his entries for at least a year and there are no records showing a birth or christening record for Francis Cooke. The Gides Hall records date from the 1700s and show a person named Francis Cooke marrying a woman named Hester on 2 November 1766. Remember, the Mayflower arrived in America in 1620.

These few entries in my Family Tree take up an inordinate amount of time and effort just to maintain the status quo. Over the years, there has been some discussion about making such entries read-only or locked, but that presupposes that the information is complete and correct at the time the entries are locked.

There are presently 1357 people in the Family Tree with the name of Francis Cooke.

As an example, one of them was born in England in 1566 and supposedly died in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States in 1675.

He apparently lived to be 109 years old. There are no sources listed for this person. By the way, the actual entry and the search listing do not agree. The entry is for Francis Cooks KGS8-47J.

Usually, when I write a post like this one, I get several suggestions to make my views known in GetSatisfaction. There are presently 4929 topics on just the Family Tree in GetSatisfaction. The total number of topics is 12,209. Am I supposed to search through all these topics to see if this issue has already been raised? Should I start a new topic?

Well, I did search and, as I already knew, found that this topic has been around for at least five years or more. It also turns out that one of the people who commented on this problem is the same person who is cleaning up Francis Cooke today. So some of us have been working on this same issue for many years.

By the way, the response here outlines several options for limiting these irrational changes. This is only one of the many similar topics.

Now, short of requiring a psych evaluation for potential users of the program are there any other ways that the number of changes to these prominent people can be reduced?

I don't have an answer that is any different than all the different responses in GetSatisfaction. But I do know that I will outlast those who are making irrational changes and I already have assistance from a 2nd generation and will now start working on the third generation of those who will defend the integrity of the Family Tree.