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

Saturday, June 23, 2018

An Update on Organizing Your Genealogy

A couple of years ago, I did a couple of popular webinars for the Brigham Young University Family History Library called "Organizing Genealogy Files" and "What's in that Pile? Organization for the Disorganized Genealogist." Since that time, I have had a number of questions about organizing personal genealogy files. So, I thought I would be a good idea to revisit the topic.

I can summarize organization in a number of steps as follows:

  1. Choose one main family history database program to use as your primary organizational tool. This can be an online program such as the Family Tree or or or some other program or it can be a desktop program such as Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree, or Ancestral Quest. Use this primary program to enter all of your information about your family. 
  2. Digitize all of your documents, photos, slides, everything. You can buy an inexpensive, very usable flatbed scanner for less than $300. As you scan your documents, attach the scanned images as sources to all the individuals in your primary database program. 
  3. Organize your paper records by creating an accession system. You number the first document #1, the second document #2 and etc. Then the computerized database has a list of all the documents with a short title/description. This description could also be the formal citation to the document if you want to have that information available. The documents are then filed using either file folders or boxes. You can then easily find a document by its number and by searching the database. 
  4. Keep your research logs, notes, and timelines etc. online in a general purpose program such as Google Docs or another easily accessible program. You can also keep a copy of your database list of documents online in Google Drive or some other accessible program and have it available when you add new documents or need to find or refer to a document. 
  5. You can use a dedicated photo program such as Adobe Lightroom to organize the photos or you can just keep all of them in one huge folder and keep the record numbers and or dates as part of the title of photo/file. 
If you have a digital copy of the document or photo attached to your primary family history or genealogy database program, you will find that you do not need to refer to your overall list very often, if at all. 

If you think of this as an overwhelming task, then it will be an overwhelming task. But if you just start numbering or attaching and digitizing, you will soon see the results in being able to find most of the information you are really interested in finding. 

Please, please, always preserve the original documents. You can find a lot of information about document preservation from the Library of Congress Preservation Directorate. By the way, this system is essentially exactly the one used by many Archives. Sometimes their classifications and physical storage are more complicated, but essentially, they number the items and put them in storage boxes or on shelves and create a catalog of the documents showing location and ID number. 

If you like, you can color code, cross-reference, add comments or make scrapbooks or whatever, but none of that really adds anything to the storage method described. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Digital Public Library of America Launches Open Bookshel

I have written about the Digital Public Library of America or DPLA quite a few times. Their free online images, texts, videos, and sounds have grown to 22,361,822. They have many valuable family history resources and lot more. Recently, they launched a new online resource, the Open Bookshelf. Here is a quote from their announcement.
The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is pleased to announce the launch of Open Bookshelf, a digital library collection of popular books free to download and handpicked by librarians across the US. The collection currently has more than 1,000 books, with new titles added daily. Open Bookshelf is designed both for libraries and for readers: it is currently available to libraries through the DPLA Exchange and to readers via the SimplyE mobile app. 
Open Bookshelf contains an exciting, diverse collection of titles spanning a myriad of genres. Readers will find: the classics they know and love, from Austen to Twain, updated for EPUB 3.0 format with beautiful covers; the best Creative-Commons licensed works from innovative authors like Cory Doctorow; freely available textbooks and academic titles representing the push for open scholarship; and an exciting multicultural children’s collection.

“With Open Bookshelf, free-licensed ebook content will no longer be a second class citizen in libraries,” said Eric Hellman, president of the Free Ebook Foundation. “The Free Ebook Foundation is thrilled to be contributing feeds from to the project." 
Open Bookshelf titles are selected by DPLA’s Curation Corps, a team of librarians and information professionals representing communities across the US. They have built the collection on a title-by-title basis, using their expertise to add books readers will enjoy.
Here is a screenshot of the information about the Open Bookshelf.

MyHeritage Offers Free DNA Tests to Help Reunite Separated Migrant Children with their Parents

Quoting from an announcement by dated 21 June 2018:
We have just announced that, following the recent separation of immigrant parents and children in the United States, MyHeritage is expanding its pro bono initiative, DNA Quest — which helps reunite adoptees with their biological families through DNA testing — to help those parents who were detained at the US border reunite with their children. We are pledging 5,000 additional free DNA tests for separated parents and children who are interested in this opportunity. 
For the DNA kits to reach the affected people, MyHeritage has begun contacting relevant government agencies and NGOs that are able to provide assistance with distribution of the DNA kits — to parents in detainment facilities and to their children placed in temporary custody. MyHeritage is also calling the public to assist — anyone who can help with the distribution of the DNA kits and is in touch with the separated families is requested to contact The DNA results will be processed by MyHeritage and not shared with any third parties.
To read more about this interesting offer, see

MyHeritage Offers Free DNA Tests to Help Reunite Separated Migrant Children with their Parents

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Genealogy in Transition and Transformation: The Old and the New

If you have been doing genealogical research for many years or have just started, it may not be obvious that genealogy as a persuasion is in a state of rapid transition and transformation. From my perspective working on digitizing records in a major state archive, over the short time we have been here, I have seen some dramatic changes. Those changes involve some of the following issues and many others:
  • Our ability to access records around the world is increasing dramatically
  • Time restraints on finding and accessing those records are decreasing
  • The time from acquiring the record to when that record is digitized and available online is decreasing 
  • The time it takes for individual researchers to publish genealogical findings and make them available around the world is collapsing into being almost instantaneous
  • The ability of individuals to collaborate and share research tasks is becoming ubiquitous
  • DNA is adding a scientific twist to the old process of identifying and locating relatives
What does all this really mean to those who are still in the paper/search the records stage of genealogical development? It means that the vision of the future expressed by's CEO Gilad Japhet is rapidly becoming a reality. Here is the video for reference.

For example, I recorded the number of Historical Records available on the MyHeritage.eom website about ten days ago. That number was exactly 9,067,418,625. Now, ten days later that number has grown to exactly 9,078,987,922. has added 11,569,297 records in ten days. At that rate, they could add over 400 million records in one year (about 422,279,340.5). This is just one of the companies digitizing and adding records online.

The number of genealogists who have to spend hours and hours in obscure repositories is diminishing rapidly. My experience recently helping people from Latin America find their ancestors online is an excellent example. Let's suppose that you come from Colombia in South America. The website has digitized, online, free Catholic Church records for the country from 1600 to 2012. These records contain 12,555,984 images.

What do these numbers actually mean? They are simply part of a trend that will continue to provide more and more records which will ultimately feed the record hints of the large online database programs and coupled with DNA will make finding relatives and ancestors in ever larger areas of the world more tied to online family tree programs. So, if you were to start your family tree today and you were from someplace in America or Europe, as time passes, you will be more and more likely to have the process fully or partially automated.

Where does that leave the library/archive bound researcher? Here is one example. The New England Historic Genealogical Society has just added the Mayflower passengers and five generations of their ancestors to their online database. This means millions of people around the world will now have a verified and extensively documented source for some of their ancestors. How many more such databases will there be in the future? As we get millions of sources added to the Family Tree, to family trees, to family trees and's family trees, and's family trees, and's family tree, and so forth. Then we add in millions of DNA tests and what do we get? Now I am back to the beginning of this post.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Thanks to MyHeritage, Father and Daughter Reunited on The Today Show

Father and Daughter reunited on The Today Show thanks to MyHeritage DNA

Quoting from an email announcement from
Sarah, from Fort Wayne, Indiana (now living in the Netherlands) was placed in adoptive care as young child by her mother. To try and find her biological family, she took a MyHeritage DNA test that her husband purchased for her. She was shocked when she got a match to her biological father, Arland, who didn't even know she existed. 
Sarah and Arland then spoke on the phone numerous times, but today was the first time they met.
These types of reunions are going to become more common as and the other DNA testing and matching companies keep growing. I am glad this one turned out so well. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Christening Date is not the Birth Date (Usually)

Many of the genealogy database programs, both online and desktop, show entries for a birth date and a christening date. The christening date is a church recorded date of the baptism. In many countries, particularly those with Catholic or Protestant heritages, birth dates may not be recorded as frequently as the christening date. Frequently, the christening was performed shortly after birth, but there are a lot of exceptions. For example, it is not unusual to find some or all of the children in a family with the same christening date. It is also not unusual to see a christening or baptism date when the person was much older or even as an adult.

The example above shows a common practice of estimating the birth date the same as or the same year as the christening date. In the case above, this might be accurate, but since there are no records of the birth date, the date should either be shown as estimated or calculated. I prefer to leave the date blank unless I have a record that actually provides a birth date. In the case of this John Sutton, a marriage record shows he was married at age 22 in 1705, so the christening date is consistent. The marriage date could also be used to estimate a birth date.

The issue of the unsupported birthdate is made more serious due to the very common name of the person. There may be a "John Sutton" born in Winwick, Lancashire in 1683, but it might not be the one married to Elizabeth Robinson or the father of the listed children.

Genealogy is not a "fill in the blanks" pursuit. You do not get a prize or more credit for filling in all the blank spaces. The information used to make the detailed entries should be entirely supported by the source records. Speculation may help with research but it should never become the basis for entering data in your database unless clearly understood and clearly marked to be speculation, especially if your family tree is online.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Finding Your Mayflower Ancestors and Mayflower 2020
I recently wrote about the completion of the Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700 to 1880 that is on the website. However, the main connection to the database is on the commemorative portion of the website commemorating 400 years of Mayflower history. Here is the direct link.

If you go to the New England Historic Genealogical Society website, you will find a prominent link to the Mayflower database.

So, how do you find out if you have ancestors who were Mayflower passengers? The real answer is by doing exactly what genealogists have been doing for quite some time: you do the research necessary to connect to one of the descendants of the original passengers. The advantage of having the database online is that once you get back into the mid-1800s with your research, you could check the database to see if any of your ancestors show up as descendants. If they do, then you could apply for membership in the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, commonly called the Mayflower Society.

If one of your relatives has already become a member of the Mayflower Society, you may be able to find a more recent connection and speed up the process of applying for membership. An explanation of the process is found on the Society's website on a page entitled, "Join GSMD." There are annual fees for membership in both the New England Historic Genealogical Society and the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

Because of my own New England ancestors and other ancestors such as Mormon Pioneers, I am aware of several lineage societies I could join. Specifically, I have at least three documented original Mayflower passengers. My Fourth Great-Grandmother, Thankful Tefft, is already a documented descendant.

The significance of the database to me personally is that it provides documentation for probably thousands of people in my ancestral family. Now that it is searchable, assuming I pay the subscription price to NEGHS, I can search for specific ancestors and save a huge amount of time documenting known lines. I will likely find that I am also related to additional Mayflower passengers.