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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Post Microfilm Genealogy

How many of you out there have used a microfilm reader in the past year? I am sure that the number of people using these devices has dropped precipitously over the past few years. I have seen the number of microfilm readers in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, drop year after year and the number of people hunched over the images have now been replaced by people using computers.

My first introduction to doing research on microfilmed records was over thirty years ago. Recently, I have been using microfilmed record directly from the microfilm consistently since the records I need to search are not yet available digitally online. I just counted the order slips in my pile and I have ordered 32 rolls of microfilm since I started doing research at the Brigham Young University Family History Library in addition to looking at the rolls that were already in the Library. I would guess that this is an exception to the rule.

Microfilm, like reel-to-reel tape decks, cassettes, and eight-track tapes is just another obsolete recording media. Despite its central role for genealogical researchers over the years, its time has passed. By the way, CDs and DVDs are on their way out also. We will accommodate the changes and very quickly forget these media formats even existed. The apparent impact on genealogists is more of a reflection on the genealogical communities overwhelming reactionary attitude rather than the change will have over time. The increased immediate availability of digitized records will have a much greater immediate impact on genealogical research than all of the microfilm has had since its inception.

Rather than worry about the fact that microfilm is disappearing, perhaps we should focus more on the millions upon millions of records that are appearing online daily, weekly and monthly.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Official FamilySearch Press Release re: Discontinuing Microfilm Shipments

In an official press release dated June 26, 2017, announced that it would be discontinuing the shipment of microfilm to users as of September 1, 2017. The last day for ordering microfilm will be August 31, 2017. Here is the text of the Press Release.
FamilySearch, a world genealogy leader and nonprofit, announced today its plans to discontinue its 80-year-old microfilm distribution service. The transition is the result of significant progress made in FamilySearch’s microfilm digitization efforts and the obsolescence of microfilm technology. The last day for ordering microfilm will be August 31, 2017. Online access to digital images of the world's historic records allows FamilySearch to service more people around the globe, faster and more efficiently. See Finding Digital Images of Records on and Frequently Asked Questions.

A global leader in historic records preservation and access, FamilySearch and its predecessors began using microfilm in 1938, amassing billions of the world’s genealogical records in its collections from over 200 countries. Why the shift from microfilm to digital? Diane Loosle, Director of the Patron Services Division said, "Preserving historic records is only one half of the equation. Making them easily accessible to family historians and researchers worldwide when they need them is the other crucial component." 
Loosle noted that FamilySearch will continue to preserve the master copies of its original microfilms in its Granite Mountain Records Vault as added backup to the digital copies online. 
As the Internet has become more accessible to people worldwide over the past two decades, FamilySearch made the decision to convert its preservation and access strategy to digital. No small task for an organization with 2.4 million rolls of microfilm in inventory and a distribution network of over 5,000 family history centers and affiliate libraries worldwide. 
It began the transition to digital preservation years ago. It not only focused on converting its massive microfilm collection, but also in replacing its microfilm cameras in the field. All microfilm cameras have been replaced with over 300 specialized digital cameras that significantly decrease the time required to make historic records images accessible online. 
FamilySearch has now digitally reproduced the bulk of its microfilm collection—over 1.5 billion images so far—including the most requested collections based on microfilm loan records worldwide. The remaining microfilms should be digitized by the end of 2020, and all new records from its ongoing global efforts are already using digital camera equipment. 
Digital image collections can be accessed today in three places at Using the Search feature, you can find them in Records (check out the Browse all published collections link), Books, and the Catalog. For additional help, see Finding Digital Images of Records on
Transitioning from microfilm to digital creates a fun opportunity for FamilySearch's family history center network. Centers will focus on simplified, one-on-one experiences for patrons, and continue to provide access to relevant technology, popular premium subscription services, and restricted digital record collections not available to patrons from home. 
Centers and affiliate libraries will coordinate with local leaders and administrators to manage their current microfilm collections on loan from FamilySearch, and determine when to return films that are already published online. For more information, see Digital Records Access Replacing Microfilm.

The End of Microfilm Distribution from FamilySearch

For some time now I have been "writing around" the topic of the end of microfilm distribution from Well, the day has finally been announced when the distribution will end. The above message appeared in the Family History section of Here is the text of the announcement:
Family History Microfilm Discontinuation 
On September 1, 2017, FamilySearch will discontinue its microfilm distribution services. (The last day to order microfilm will be on August 31, 2017.) 
The change is the result of significant progress made in FamilySearch’s microfilm digitization efforts and the obsolescence of microfilm technology.
  • Online access to digital images of records allows FamilySearch to reach many more people, faster and more efficiently.
  • FamilySearch is a global leader in historic records preservation and access, with billions of the world’s genealogical records in its collections.
  • Over 1.5 million microfilms (ca. 1.5 billion images) have been digitized by FamilySearch, including the most requested collections based on microfilm loan records worldwide.
  • The remaining microfilms should be digitized by the end of 2020, and all new records from its ongoing global efforts are already using digital camera equipment.
  • Family history centers will continue to provide access to relevant technology, premium subscription services, and digital records, including restricted content not available at home.
Digital images of historical records can be accessed today in 3 places on under Search.
  • Records include historical records indexed by name or organized with an image browse.
  • Books include digital copies of books from the Family History Library and other libraries.
  • Catalog includes a description of genealogical materials (including books, online materials, microfilm, microfiche, etc.) in the FamilySearch collection.
When approved by priesthood leaders, centers may continue to maintain microfilm collections already on loan from FamilySearch after microfilm ordering ends. Centers have the option to return microfilm that is available online or otherwise not needed. As more images are published online, centers may reevaluate whether to retain microfilm holdings.
From talking to some Family History Center Directors, I know that some centers have been told to return all of their microfilm to Salt Lake City. Unanswered questions include the following:

  • What about the availability of microfilmed records that are not presently digitized and will not be digitized until some time in the next three years?
  • What happens to the present availability of the microfilm collection at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah?
  • How much longer will microfilm readers be available in the Family History Centers?
There are probably a lot more questions. I have also been writing for some time about the future of Family History Centers given that the research done in the Centers will "all be online" in the future. But that is a post for another day. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

LInk to Obituary for Ruth Ellen Maness

Here is the link to the obituary for Ruth Ellen Maness.

Race, Ethnic Communities, Genealogy and DNA

Throughout history, racial and ethnic disagreements have been a driving force in starting wars. During my lifetime, millions of people around the world have lost their lives as a result of "ethnic cleansing" and racial strife. In the United States, racial conflict is a constant and ongoing theme. Underlying this racial tension are beliefs based on supposition, speculation, and incomplete and inaccurate oral tradition. One outstanding fact that is starting to emerge from the widespread genealogical DNA testing procedures is that for almost everyone, both racial and ethnic purity are illusions.

The above chart has nothing at all to do with DNA testing. It is a chart showing the composition of my ancestors by country of origin taken from the Family Tree. Am I Engish? Am I Irish? Am I Danish? Or am I something else entirely? I can claim to be partly American back to the beginnings of European settlement, but does that make me a native American? What happens when I add DNA to the mix from

How much "Italian blood" do I need to claim to be Italian? How did I get Italian DNA? Who are my Middle Eastern ancestors? What happened to my ethnic purity? If there is a racial conflict between any of these groups, whose side am I on? I have "white" friends who would have been subjected to intense segregation in the southern part of the United States if their DNA testing results had been known showing that they had more than "one drop of Black blood." Because I have Middle Eastern ancestors will I be subject "ethnic profiling" and questioned when I board and airplane in the United States?

Does the fact that I share over 98% of my DNA with chimpanzees make me a monkey? See "Animals That Share Human DNA Sequences" Perhaps the 90% of my DNA that I share with mice makes me a mouse.

In the past, genealogy has been used to "prove" racial purity. What we are learning today is that any idea that someone is "racially pure" is an illusion. We are all one huge human family and we only differ from our animal and plant cousins by very small percentages of our DNA. If there is one thing that comes out of the extensive genealogical DNA testing is should be that the concept of "race" is destroyed.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A tribute to a genealogical giant: Ruth Ellen Maness

The genealogical community has lost one of its giants. Ruth Ellen Maness was one of those whose expertise and dedication to the highest levels of genealogical research was unequaled.  Ruth passed away unexpectedly on June 22, 2017. It was my privilege to work with her as part of Family History Expos. My friend, Holly Hansen, wrote a memorial to Ruth in her latest Family History Expos Newsletter. Here is a quote from Holly telling about Ruth:
It is my privilege and honor to call Ruth a friend. She has been my friend for many years. I have watched her befriend and help so many others as well. I can’t remember when we first met, but I'm sure it was at the Family History Library, where she spent so many hours, weeks, months, and years. Even after retirement, she continued to volunteer there, to help patrons with their research questions. Ruth was the testing administrator for The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists. She held accreditation for multiple countries as well.

Ruth was a huge support for and encouragement to us as we contemplated holding that first Expo in St. George, Utah, so many years ago. She always supported family history events and the opportunity to share her knowledge with others.

Since retiring from FamilySearch a few years ago, she has traveled with us extensively throughout the United States. She has written and contributed to several Research Guide books for the benefit of researchers for years to come. Ruth was a pillar in the genealogy community and will be sorely missed.
There are always a few visible and highly acclaimed individuals in every profession and avocation. Ruth was quiet and modest but she spent almost her entire life helping others find their ancestors. Her knowledge of German and Scandinavian resources was encyclopedic. She was truly one of the greatest researchers I have every met or worked with. She will be sorely missed by those of us who knew of her greatness. I have found, over the years, that the real heroes of genealogy are usually the quiet, unassuming people who go about helping others without recognition. Ruth was certainly one of the greatest of these.

Genealogy and the Narrative Fallacy

The Flat Earth Model
One of the most important and influential books of our age was published in 2007. Here is the citation to my copy:

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. 2010. The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.

Quoting from the book:
The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.
Genealogists are particularly susceptible to the narrative fallacy. The distinguishing feature of a narrative fallacy is its believability. Even without realizing it, genealogists tend to be selective in the sources they accept and reject those that do not fit within their preconceived narrative. Once the genealogist has made his or her selection of the facts, the narrative becomes the new reality and any other interpretations of the same factual background are rejected.

In the course of writing this post, I received an email containing an extended and classical example of the effect of the narrative fallacy in the form of a narrative justifying an erroneous conclusion about one of my own family lines. I am not going to repeat the entire email which I received, but here is one statement that illustrates the thought process:
Yes, I know there is a written record for Nathan Tanner showing Elizabeth as his mother. Also in his will, he mentions Elizabeth as "my beloved mother." This is obviously wrong and I might add, is a very common occurrence in the very early colonial records.
The writer of this email is trying to justify rejecting both a birth record and a written will in an attempt to establish a different mother for Nathan Tanner. In effect, the writer is ignoring two separate and independently maintained historical records in order to justify a preconceived conclusion. This is, in essence, the narrative fallacy.

How do we avoid being caught in the narrative fallacy? I suggest that this may be one of the most difficult intellectual attainments. Our worldview is to a great extent determined by our cumulative experiences. While doing genealogical research, we have a tendency to place more emphasis on the documents and records we find supporting our preconceived viewpoints and therefore use those to reinforce our ongoing narrative. Interestingly, the email writer cited above derives support by quoting from a book which he/she acknowledges has no supporting sources and wish exactly contradicts his/her conclusions.

We find ourselves in this predicament whenever we try to justify a continued support of a cherished family tradition when the narrative is contradicted by historical records and documents.

I will be coming back to this topic from time to time as I discover examples supplied by accommodating genealogical researchers.