RootsTech 2015

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

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Blizzard of Spam

The last few hours, I have been processing well over two hundred email messages. This is in addition to the two hundred or so I usually get every day. Many of these come from scheduled and known sources. However, there seems to be a creeping menace that has swollen to noticeable proportions and that is unsolicited network communications or spam. The most egregious of these messages are thinly disguised ads for inappropriate websites. It seems that the pornography industry and certain types of movements in the Middle East are beginning to saturate Google+ and send out requests to include links to their websites in my "circles." The requests do not contain anything objectionable, but the "people" making the requested link do not have any other friends on Google+ or even an identifiable profile. No friends, no profile, no followers, equates to spam.

This undercurrent of "fake" requests from "fake" people is rather easy to filter out. I have begun checking every request for inclusion in the Google+ circles carefully and declining the majority of them now and all of them where the requesting party seems to have no other contacts and has somehow mysteriously chosen to become a friend with me out of the billions of people on the earth. This is not a problem with Google+ or any of the other media. It is a consequence of the undesirable elements of out global society pushing to expand their nefarious purposes.

The next level of spam is the phishing scam, trying to get me involved. I regularly get "official" looking email requests from all sorts of financial institutions, most prominently from "PayPal"  that there is something wrong with my account and I need to immediate reply to the email or my account will be closed. My response is uniform. I delete the message. Interesting. My account is never closed and I can always go to the real account and sign in as usual. These types of messages have been disguised as valid inquiries from my bank, my credit card companies and all sorts of other businesses. They look valid, with a logo and official language.

As a variation on the financial institution, another phishing scam (where they are trying to verify my email for ulterior purposes or plant some sort of malware on my computer) is when I get an unidentified document or message to click on a link from a known friend. These seem to appear randomly and remind of a previous contact I never had and ask me to click on the link or open the document in response. I am particularly offended by these bogus requests because I know that there are many people, even those younger than I am, whose memories are not intact and who will fall prey to this type of message.

The next type of spam is also growing in popularity with the gutter people on the Web. This is a "fake" comment to one of my blog posts. The comments are formulaic. They always compliment the post and say how impressed they are with my writing. However, the comments never say anything substantive and end with a link to a website. I am not adverse to including legitimate links in comments, but I these bogus comments are extraordinarily easy to detect and uniformly get deleted. Don't add these comments to your blogs, you are only assisting in spreading this type of garbage on the Web.

Just recently, I have started to get circle requests on Google+ from legitimate businesses, not individuals. These are spam also. They are the equivalent of the now diminishing flood of unsolicited physical mail we used to receive. It seems that these requests have increased in proportion to the tapering off of the physical pile of junk mail we used to get. Of course, online, I can block these businesses as I could with all of the other spammers, but that is not an effective method of curing the problem because they will just use a different originating address the next time they send out a spam message.

With the old physical snail-mail junk mail, we are used to having a garbage can right next to where we processed our mail. The junk mail goes into the can (now a decorator container) without even being opened. This is same technique I am using on the computer. In fact, everything I get goes into the trash and only comes out if I mark it to be saved. In other words, I do not have to throw this garbage in the trash, it is all, every single message, sent directly to the trash and if I delete the message, it is permanently deleted.

Do I lose some valid and important messages? Yes, from time to time, I do. But so what? If someone wants to contact me, they should be persistent. I get so many bogus messages each day, it is inevitable that a few real ones will get lost. The analogy is that I very seldom answer my phone at all. I answer voice mails and text messages and emails and yes I do get a high level of unsolicited telephone calls. If I happen to answer one of these, I simply hang up. My life on the Web and in the modern world is extremely complicated.

In contrast, here are some simple rules.

  • Do not open unsolicited emails or requests. If you have any questions, contact the sender directly to verify the request before opening any message. Hang up. Delete it. 
  • Do not respond to unsolicited requests of any kind until they have been verified.
  • Review all mail of any kind before it is opened and permanently delete anything that is unsolicited.
  • Carefully review requests from known contacts to make sure they are not bogus. If they are suspicious notify the sender by separate message of the bogus message. 

Good Luck. I view all this activity the same way I view billboards on the Freeway and other unsolicited messages: I ignore them and process them quickly out of my life.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Required Genealogical Reading

As I work in various genealogy libraries, I find an interesting phenomena. Very few of the patrons use the books. Even in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, very few of the patrons actually use the book collection as compared to those who are busily involved with computers. I also find it interesting that young people are being told to do genealogy (or family history) without any attempt being made to provide them with instruction. As I was working in the Brigham Young University Family History Library yesterday, there was an entire class of family history students who were searching for resource material. It was not that they were going to use the material in any way they were simply being given an assignment to look for and find certain books and other reference materials. After a very short time, they all disappeared from the library.

I had another experience along the same lines. In a class I was teaching, I was using the following book as an example of one of the best beginning reference works about genealogical research.

Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Publishing Co, 2000.

One of the class participants observed that the book was published in the year 2000. He questioned whether the book was still relevant because it was so "old." I pointed out that the book referred to historical records for the most part, and they were unlikely to go out of date. The fact that there were few references to online or computerized searches was unimportant.

Started me thinking about the books that I would suggest to anyone who wishes to become truly involved in genealogy and achieve some measure of competency. I've tried to do some of these lists in the past but I feel that there is a need for an update. Whether or not you are a beginner or an expert, you need to have a basic understanding of the history of genealogy. I am aware of only one book that covers the subject from an academic, and mostly impartial standpoint. This book is as follows:

Weil, François. Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America. 2013.

Although the topic of the book is American genealogy, there are enough references to work done in Europe to give a good idea of the history on the Continent. You may be surprised and even offended by what was passed off as genealogy in the United States previously.

Another essential book for an understanding of the complex processes that preceded the modern giant online resource known as is the following book:

Allen, James B., Jessie L. Embry, and Kahlile B. Mehr. Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894-1994. Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, Brigham Young University, 1995.

In my opinion, this book should be required reading for anyone associated with FamilySearch. Actually, in reading the book I'm surprised that it was ever written. However, the value of the book is not confined to understanding FamilySearch, it is also a valuable reference for an understanding of the current large online databases and how they came to be. The book is available online from and in various libraries.

My list of "essential" books is substantially shorter than a suggested reading list. Of course, most genealogical books fall into the category of reference material. One could hardly be expected to sit down and read a reference book from cover to cover. But I would strongly suggest reading the latest addition of the following book:

Szucs, Loretto Dennis, and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006.

I have found a number of books written about genealogical research in specific countries that I feel are extremely valuable. So, if you are involved in research in a specific country I would search out books on doing research in that particular country. I feel that many people believe that books have been marginalized by the Internet. Of course, I do seek out digitized copies of the books I read one available, simply because I can access the books from my computer or mobile device and can read them at my leisure rather than carting around a book. But I still suggest that referring to books is an essential part of genealogical research.

I've been focusing lately on the selective collection of reference books in the Brigham Young University Family History Library. I feel it is a tragedy that these books are largely ignored by most the patrons of the library. You may have your own list of essential genealogy books. If you like, make a comment and add additional books you think are essential. Then, if you are reading this post, don't forget to read the comments.

Where do I go for accurate information on DNA testing?

I received the following question in a reader's comment:
Is there some reference you could give that will allow us to find accurate information on DNA testing that can show us how this testing can be of help to genealogist? I am especially interested it the mtDNA testing.
There is a flood of information online about both DNA testing as such and its use in genealogical research. I also did a search in my local Provo City Library and found over 1200 books on the subject of DNA. I would certainly suggest a visit to the library. My personal method of answering this type of question for myself, is to read all the books I can find on the subject. Usually, that gives me a good idea about both the details and the perspective of what is and is not accurate information. By the way, I also did a search on and found 400 books on "dna genealogy." It looks like I would be spending a lot of time to investigate DNA Genealogy in depth.

There are 327 classes listed for the upcoming Conference combined with the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference (FGS). There are 14 classes that mention DNA as a topic.

There are three very large DNA companies that specialize in DNA testing for genealogists. They are:

 Each of these websites have lists of resources for understanding DNA testing. Of course, they are each commercial enterprises and would like to have you use their services, but they are all three well respected in the genealogical community.

I am afraid that anyone investigating this area will be overwhelmed with the amount of information available. But I would suggest just making a start and dive into the subject. has a recommended reading list that might help sort out where to start.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Inconsequential Records?

I have been reading an interesting and, to me, challenging book. Here is the citation:

Allen, James B., Jessie L. Embry, and Kahlile B. Mehr. Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894-1994. Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, Brigham Young University, 1995.

There are copies of this book available in libraries and for sale on In reporting the history of the Genealogical Society of Utah and its successors such as the most recent one, FamilySearch, the authors discuss the history of the worldwide microfilm project that culminates today in the records being digitized and put online in the Historical Record Collections. There is one quote from the book that caught my attention. This section of the book talks about the period extending from the 1940s to 1961 when the Genealogical Society was struggling with deciding what and where to film records. The book states, at page 233:
At the same time, George Fudge toured operations in the United States. To his dismay, he found some filmers photographing inconsequential records such as full runs of newspapers. See George Fudge, oral history interview by Bruce Blumell, 1976, typescript, JMOHP [James Moyle Oral History Program].
In citing this, I am in no way criticizing either the Society or George Fudge, who was one of the Assistant Directors of the Society in 1961. What caught my eye was the reference characterizing the "full runs" of newspapers as inconsequential records.

What are inconsequential records and do newspapers fall into that category? I would guess that what was meant at the time was that he did not feel that spending the Society's money to copy newspapers was important. He was likely faced with many more records that he considered to be more "valuable."

However, I think we make the same kinds of distinctions even if we are not directly involved in the acquisition of microfilm or digital copies of various documents. I have found myself pre-judging a record and deciding, just from the title, that it has nothing to do with my research. I would certainly never put newspapers in this category, but there are other records that I may consciously or unconsciously categorize as inconsequential, unimportant or not worth the effort.

In this blog, I am, from time to time, talking about record collections around the world. I also focus on unusual or little consulted records such as my recent post on cadastral mapping. I can only wonder how many of those who even bothered to read the post dismissed it without a further thought, concluding that "none of their ancestors would be found on cadastral maps." In doing this, they fail to even verify their conclusion by examining the maps themselves.

No matter how valuable or important a record or source may seem to be, it is only valuable if it has the information you are seeking. As to newspapers, there are presently a large number of digitization projects going on right now to digitize as many newspaper runs as are possible to do. These are hardly inconsequential records and of vital interest and use by genealogists.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Understanding Real Property Legal Descriptions for Genealogy: Rectangular Survey, Part One

Elements and units of the US Public Land Survey System: A) townships, B) sections, C) aliquot parts.
By Gretarsson (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
You may be familiar with the history of the first president of the United States, George Washington, but you may not be familiar with his early career as a surveyor and lifelong interest in maps, geography and cartography. See George Washington: Surveyor and Mapmaker from the Library of Congress. Quoting from this interesting article:
The George Washington Atlas, initially published in 1932 by the George Washington Bicentennial Committee, was the first attempt to compile a bibliography of maps drawn or annotated by George Washington. The atlas was conceived as part of the nationwide observance of the two hundredth anniversary of Washington's birth and identified 110 extant maps or surveys drawn or annotated by Washington.2 The editor, Colonel Lawrence Martin, chief of the Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress, attempted to list all known Washington maps and brought more than twenty new items to light. These range from Washington's first survey exercise in 1747 to his last survey of the Mount Vernon lands and include pencil sketches, pen and ink drawings, roughly drawn field surveys, and finished survey plats. Recent research has uncovered additional items not included in the 1932 inventory.3
Surveying and surveyors have been an integral part of our cultures and legal systems since ancient times. The current Public Land Survey System (PLSS), as illustrated above, is merely the most recent method of systematically mapping out land using a rectangular survey. Most recently, the system has been combined with GPS (Global Positioning System) to achieve a very high degree of accuracy. See "A History of the Rectangular Survey System, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management."

From a genealogical standpoint, understanding rectangular surveys is extremely important. As I mentioned in my previous post on metes and bounds, genealogists are likely to find valuable information about the location of their ancestors from the following:
  • deeds
  • rental or lease agreements
  • probate documents
  • gifts or bequests
  • sales contracts
  • tax documents
  • mortgages
  • deeds of trust
  • land warrants
  • trust documents
  • wills
and many other documents. 

Here is an example of the legal description of a piece of property using the PLSS or rectangular survey system:
. . . the following described property, situated in the Parish of Vernon, Louisiana, to-wit:- Southwest quarter of Southwest quarter (SW ¼ of SW ¼) and West Half of Southeast quarter of Southwest quarter (W½ SE¼ SW¼) of Section Eleven (11), Township Four (4) North of Range Eight (8) West, containing sixty (60) acres of land, more or less, together with the residence, garage, barns and garden used by J. H. Kurth, Jr. for the past ten (10) years, and also the garage building now being used as a pipe storage room, but there is excepted from this sale all other buildings and improvements on said property which are expressly reserved by the vendor.
A rectangular survey begins with the establishment of a base point. From when I was much younger, I knew there was a sandstone marker on the corner of South Temple and Main Street in Salt Lake City, Utah that marked the base point for the rectangular survey in Utah. Here is a photo from the Salt Lake County Surveyors Office:
Salt Lake Base and Meridian Monument on the Southeast Corner of Temple Square
Salt Lake County Surveyor's Office 
Many communities in the United States have a road or highway named "baseline road." This road usually closely follows the original survey line running east and west. In effect, the rectangular survey is really an extension of the worldwide system of using latitude and longitude to determine exact locations on the earth's surface.

The definition of latitude (φ) and longitude (λ) on an ellipsoid of revolution (or spheroid). The graticule spacing is 10 degrees. The latitude is defined as the angle between the normal to the ellipsoid and the equatorial plane.
Historically, because of the limitations in the equipment being used, rectangular surveys did not do a good job of taking into account the curvature of the earth. Over long distances, the surveys would often start to drift. I am very familiar with a location in Arizona where two rectangular surveys meet and the section boundaries are off by nearly a quarter of a mile. 

The idea of the rectangular survey is that a baseline is surveyed running east and west starting at a base point established by observing the position of the stars or in other words, astronomical observations. Anciently, the instrument used to determine a person's position on the spherical earth was an astrolabe. The more modern instrument is called a sextant. Here is an image of an astrolabe:

A 16th-century astrolabe, showing a tulip rete and rule

Here is an image of a sextant:

Quintant Sextant or Lattice Sextant. Manufactured by Spencer, Browning & Rust. In the collection of the United States Geological Survey Museum.
Once a base point has been established, the initial survey line is made by using an instrument that tells the direction of the line. Historically, this was accomplished with a compass. In more modern times, that function is accomplished with the use of an instrument called a transit or theodolite. Here is an image of a transit:

By en:User:Rolypolyman - Photo taken and uploaded by contributor. [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The transit or theodolite is used to establish a straight line from a certain point to be used in the measurement of a map or land boundary. After a baseline in defined and mapped, another line is established at a right angle to the original baseline. This north/south line is called the Meridian. If you look at the first image above, you will see a diagram illustrating the baseline and meridian. All other measurements are taken from the point at which the two lines intersect.

In my next post in this series, I will explain how to read a legal description of a rectangular survey. Tune in again for more on this valuable subject for genealogists. 

Where did your ancestors live" -- An Introduction to City Directories

A Collection of the Names of the Merchants Living In and about the City of London, 1677,
New York Public Library:
One nearly constant feature of American life has been the mail order catalog and the city directory. Because of the availability of online searches and organization lists, the venerable telephone book has passed from common usage. But beginning in the 1700s or even much earlier, books that listed the names, addresses and ethnicity of all of the businesses and people in a town or city became very common. It was natural, when telephones were invented, to add the telephone number of residents.

These extensive directories are extremely valuable to locate and track the movements of your ancestors. Collections of old directories may be found in many archives, museums and libraries around the country. In addition, these types of directories were also published in many cities around the world. The image above shows the cover of a city directory from the City of London in 1677.

Here is a quote from the New York Public Library in an article entitled, "A History of City Directories in the United States and New York City" about the value of city directories to genealogists:
In New York City, city directories were printed between 1786 and 1934: the first telephone books began to appear in the late 1870s. Both forms of directory are interesting to researchers, historians and genealogists alike, for a number of reasons, not least because, like a census, directories tie an individual to a certain location at a particular point in time. Historical city directories are even more useful as a research tools than early telephone directories, because they are more inclusive: you don't need a telephone to be in a city directory. In addition to this, city directories offer up many more historical details. This post describes the history of city directories, how they might be useful to your research, and where you will find them at the New York Public Library.
Here is a list of useful references for finding city directories:

I have found collections of old city directories in some unexpected places. They even show up occasionally in used bookshops and thrift store sales of old books. There are hundreds of additional links on this subject. Just do a Google search on the terms "city directories historical" and you will find many, many more entries. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Genealogical Research Process

First Winter Snow by James Tanner
The first question I would ask is this: what is the goal of genealogical research? Next, what does it mean that a person is a genealogist or family historian? (Note: In this post, as I have in past, I use both the terms "genealogy" and "family history" as synonyms). If we were to conform with the common definition of a genealogist from the Mirriam-Webster Online Dictionary: "a person who traces or studies the descent of persons or families," most of us would find ourselves severely confined. I would use a much broader definition: "one who researches and investigates, records and organizes family relationships and history." We are certainly not limited to a particular line of descent or, in other words, limited to investigating descendants only. The vast majority of genealogical researchers investigate their ancestry going back in time, although those who trace the descendants of a specific ancestor are quite common.

My questions above go beyond a definition of genealogists or genealogy. What are our goals? If someone handed you your entire documented genealogy going back 12 generations, would you consider your "job" to be finished? Why or why not? I would submit that some of the reasons genealogical research has any attraction at all is because it is open-ended and difficult. From my perspective, if genealogy were easy, I would have no interest in it at all. So making genealogy "easy" is one way to substantially lessen its appeal. My mental analogy is comparing genealogy to mountain climbing. When George Mallory was asked why he want to climb Mount Everest, he responded, "Because its there." (From an interview "Climbing Mount Everest is work for Supermen", The New York Times(18 March 1923). In this sense, I agree with Mallory; I do genealogy because it is there. It is both a mental and a physical challenge. Since I can no longer climb the high physical mountains of my youth, I look to the infinitely higher mountains of genealogy in my old age.

When I climbed a mountain, the goal was easily defined: to reach the top. The goal in being involved in genealogy is more amorphous. It is even more difficult to define when you have reached your goal.

No one is born with the skill of doing research. It is true that we may be born with certain skills that endow us with qualities that make learning the things that are necessary to do research easier. But, nevertheless, research is a skill that must be acquired by practice. However, the analogy is better understood if you view climbing as an activity and the individual mountains as waypoints. I climbed my first mountain when I about seven years old. We were driving by a volcanic cinder cone on the Colorado Plateau called appropriately, Cinder Knoll,  and I asked if I could climb to the top. My father let me go and I ran up to the top of the hill. I can still remember standing on top and look out across the Plateau. I could see for miles. That process of opening up my view of the world changed my life. From that point on, a lot of what I did involved climbing and mountains.

I had a similar experience with genealogy. When I first began to investigate my ancestry, it opened up a new vista. I was transported from being time-bound individual into a part of the seemingly endless stream of family extending back into the past for generations. Just like with mountain climbing, I spent much of my time from that point on investigating my family. In fact, now genealogy has largely replaced mountain climbing. Although, I did spend an afternoon with my brother-in-law last weekend, walking in the canyon and talking about the cliffs and climbing.

There are many skills in mountain climbing. I began the process of really learning those skills when I found a book called the freedom of the hills. Here is the reference to the 50th anniversary edition:

Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills : 50th Anniversary 1960-2010. Shrewsbury: Quiller, 2010.
In genealogy, my beginning in really learning the skills of genealogy began with a book. That book was:

Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. 2013.
Of course, my introduction was with a much earlier edition of the book. As this book points out, one of the most prominent activities in doing one's genealogy is that of research. Research is the equivalent of the physical activity involved in climbing.

In high school, or some equivalent educational experience, many of us were introduced to the world of "research" by doing a "research paper." This activity consisted mostly of taking notes on 3" x 5" cards and turning those notes into a short essay on some subject we selected, either from a list supplied by the teacher or from topics we made up and got "approved." As a result, many students (perhaps most) were soured on the whole concept of research. I find that very few people, outside of professions requiring research, voluntarily do research just because it is there.

But both climbing and genealogy share this same activity if we substitute the word "explore" for the word "research." Both involve the systematic investigation of the unknown. When we research our ancestors, we investigate, study, inquire, analyze, scrutinize and review what we do know and then move on to investigate etc. what we do not know with the expectation that we will learn more. As we climb the foothills of genealogy, we keep seeing glimpses of the elusive peak, just beyond view, and we keep going. The goal of genealogy is the process of learning and our increasing understanding of our own lives and how we fit into the stream of history. In this sense, we are climbing a mountain whose top we will never reach.