RootsTech 2014

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

First RootsTech Keynote Speaker Announced

In following the trend started last year, RootsTech has gone outside of the traditional genealogy or technology venue to select a celebrity Keynote Speaker. This year's first announcement is singer, actor, triple-threat television series host (talk show, game show, variety show), best-selling author (his autobiography entered the UK bestseller chart at #1), commercial spokesman, motivational speaker, and even a race car driver, Donny Osmond. It also helps that he is from Utah Valley and a local celebrity also. Here is the rest of the announcement:
Throughout his illustrious career, Donny earned 33 gold records; selling roughly 120 million albums. In 2011, he and Marie released their first studio album “Donny and Marie” in over two decades. The single “A Beautiful Life” became #1 on the US Country Charts. 
Within the last few years, Donny has entertained an array of audiences. In 2007, he starred on Broadway as Gaston in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast; hosted two television series on British network television; was a special correspondent for Entertainment Tonight; and in 2009 was crowned Dancing with the Stars champion. 
Today, Donny performs at the Flamingo Las Vegas alongside his sister, Marie, in their show “The Donny & Marie Show” which earned “Best of Las Vegas” by the Las Vegas Review Journal three years in a row.
It will be interesting to see how the rest of the lineup appears. I guess the days of the genealogy company CEOs giving keynotes is over.

Genealogy and The British Horseracing Board Ltd and Others v William Hill Organization Ltd.

I recently wrote about the status of copyright law as it was applied in the U.K. to databases. My post was really about the application of copyright law to facts, but the discussion turned around the issue of the application of the law to database. The law known as Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997 (the "Regulations") was extraordinarily vague and just as broad in its scope. In my opinion, after reading through the law as passed, it would only be a matter of time before the law was challenged in court. I was right because there was case called The British Horseracing Board Ltd and Others v William Hill Organization Ltd. that severely limited the application of the statute. 

The reason this issue came up is because of a claim by a reader of my blog that the U.K. statute established that facts were covered by the copyright law. Of course, if this were true, it would be very significant for those who claim that their "genealogy had been stolen" by someone or some entity. My opinion in the earlier post was that there was little possibility of a genealogical breach of copyright case ever coming before the U.K. or E.U. courts for the same reasons that there have yet to be any genealogically inspired family tree copyright cases in the United States. In my opinion, the main reason is that no one can show damages statutory or actual.

I indicated at the time I wrote the first blog post that I would be turning my attention to the law case. So here are my thoughts on the case. The opinion in the case is 42 pages long, which in my experience, is a little longer than many but not as long as some. In order to understand the impact of the decision in the case, it is necessary to have a copy of the legislation along side the opinion because the judge in writing the opinion only makes notes on the original legislation and does proceed in a narrative fashion as is common in the United States. It is also important to first read the Judgment in the case to understand the opinion. Here is the explanation of the case from the Judgement:
This reference for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of Article 7 and Article 10(3) of Directive 96/9/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 1996 on the legal protection of databases (OJ 1996 L 77, p. 20, 'the directive'). 
The reference was made in the course of proceedings brought by The British Horseracing Board Ltd, the Jockey Club and Weatherbys Group Ltd ('the BHB and Others') against William Hill Organization Ltd ('William Hill'). The litigation arose over the use by William Hill, for the purpose of organising betting on horse racing, of information taken from the BHB database.
Let's just say the ruling is rather complicated but it would seem from the Court's ruling that the possibility of the law being extended to a privately compiled family tree is slim to none. The database in question in the lawsuit is further described as follows:
The BHB database contains essential information not only for those directly involved in horse racing but also for radio and television broadcasters and for bookmakers and their clients. The cost of running the BHB database is approximately £4 million per annum. The fees charged to third parties for the use of the information in the database cover about a quarter of that amount.
After reading the case and examining the statute (legislation, law whatever), I believe even more firmly that a privately compiled database such as a genealogical family tree, that was compiled from sources readily available to the public would not be covered by the law. One of the main differences between the genealogical case and the one decided by the court is that relatives have the same relationship to the data (family tree), If genealogical family trees could be copyrighted, then the first person to do the research would have an absolute right to prevent anyone else related to the same people from using that database. But then how would you prove that I copied your database if I independently did the research and came up with exactly the same tree except for those people who were not mutual relatives? Ultimately, how is anyone harmed when someone else is proven to be a relative in a family tree?

Oh, about the issue of facts being protected, the court rules as follows:
Against that background, the expression 'investment in ... the obtaining ... of the contents' of a database must, as William Hill and the Belgian, German and Portuguese Governments point out, be understood to refer to the resources used to seek out existing independent materials and collect them in the database, and not to the resources used for the creation as such of independent materials. The purpose of the protection by the sui generis right provided for by the directive is to promote the establishment of storage and processing systems for existing information and not the creation of materials capable of being collected subsequently in a database.
Here the term "creation of materials" refers to the gathering of facts. The ruling very arguably states that facts are not covered by the statute.

It is also apparent from the Judgment, that the objective of the Court was to protect the economic interests of the maker of the database. It further appears that the maker of the database has to take some steps to benefit monetarily from the creation, correction and maintenance of the database.  This is stated in the Judgment as follows:
Of course, the maker of a database can reserve exclusive access to his database to himself or reserve access to specific people. However, if he himself makes the contents of his database or a part of it accessible to the public, his sui generis right does not allow him to prevent third parties from consulting that base.
 It appears to me that the case turns on the issue of whether or not the maker of the database is harmed by failing to recoup the investment made in the database. Unless a genealogist could prove that they undertook the research in creating their family tree for the express purpose of making money on the project, I doubt that any court would impose sanctions under the statute.

It would be interesting to see if there have been any subsequent cases regarding this statute.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

23andMe and MyHeritage Announce Strategic Collaboration and Product Integration

One of the challenges of doing genealogical research using DNA analysis is the difficulty of finding relatives willing and able to share their DNA. I have commented on this subject in the past. Today, 23andMe and MyHeritage announced a strategic collaboration and product integration that will make finding DNA collaboration as easy as MyHeritage's Smart Matches. Here is a quote from the press release on the blog:
23andMe pioneered autosomal DNA analysis which can find relatives across all ancestral lines, and have built the largest autosomal DNA ancestry service in the world. 23andMe helps people access and benefit from the human genome, offering them a deeper understanding of how their genes relate to their ancestry. 
DNA analysis can provide new information about your ancestors and your geographic and ethnic origins. It can also connect you with unknown relatives descending from common ancestors who lived centuries ago, who you may not have discovered otherwise. 
MyHeritage's 5.5 billion global historical records, 1.5 billion family tree profiles in 27 million family trees and innovative matching technologies, combined with 23andMe's DNA analysis, will provide users with an integrated and enhanced experience to uncover their family history. Combining documented genealogy - family trees, family stories and family memories - with DNA-based ancestry is the next evolution in family history research. While DNA testing can find relatives from shared ancestors, it's the family trees and historical records that are critical to fully map and understand these connections.
This development adds a significant value to a subscription.

What about Copyright in Australia and New Zealand?

Well, both Australia and New Zealand have their own copyright laws. Australia has been a contracting party of the Berne Convention since 1928. New Zealand has also been a contracting party since 1928. To contrast, the United States only ratified the Berne Convention in 1988 and it did not go into effect until 1989. The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, usually known as the Berne Convention, is an international agreement governing copyright, which was first accepted in Berne,Switzerland, in 1886. As outlined in Wikipedia:
The Berne Convention requires its signatories to recognize the copyright of works of authors from other signatory countries (known as members of the Berne Union) in the same way as it recognizes the copyright of its own nationals. For example, French copyright law applies to anything published or performed in France, regardless of where it was originally created. 
In addition to establishing a system of equal treatment that internationalized copyright amongst signatories, the agreement also required member states to provide strong minimum standards for copyright law. 
Copyright under the Berne Convention must be automatic; it is prohibited to require formal registration (note however that when the United States joined the Convention in 1988, it continued to make statutory damages and attorney's fees only available for registered works).
Quoting from the Intellectual Property Australia website:
Copyright protection is free and automatic in Australia and protects the original expression of ideas, and not the ideas themselves. 
Common works protected by copyright are:
  • books
  • films
  • music
  • sound recordings
  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • artwork
Copyright also protects originally created:
  • typographical arrangements
  • databases
  • media broadcasts
  • computer programs
  • compositions of other people's work such as academic journals or CD compilations
Australian copyright is administered by the Attorney-General's Department.
The duration of Australian copyrights is:
Depending on the material, copyright for literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works generally lasts 70 years from the year of the author's death or from the year of first publication after the author's death. 
Copyright for films and sound recordings lasts 70 years from their publication and for broadcasts, 70 years from the year in which they were made.
Some other helpful websites include:
In New Zealand, copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, sound recordings, films, communication works and the typographical arrangement of published editions.
For more information, see our information sheet An introduction to copyright in New Zealand prepared by the Copyright Council of New Zealand.

Quoting from the Copyright Council of New Zealand concerning the duration of copyright protection:
Copyright in literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works continues for 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which the author died.

Copyright in sound recordings and films continues for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which they were made. However, if the work is made available to the public before the end of that 50 year period, copyright continues for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was first made available. 
Copyright in a communication work continues for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was first communicated to the public. Copyright in a repeated communication work expires at the same time as copyright in the initial communication work expires. 
A publisher's copyright in the typography of a published edition lasts for 25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first published.
The text of the New Zealand Copyright Act can be found at

As I mentioned above, as is the case with the law in all contracting parties to the Berne Convention, there is no requirement for a copyright notice.

A Dearth of History Knowledge

I write about the subject from time to time because I an constantly reminded about the dismal state of history education in the United States. I very recently had the opportunity to review the history textbook used by one of my granddaughters in her junior high school history class. I can remember my own American History class from high school and recall that we never got past the U.S. Civil War. In my high school, the American History class was one semester and Economics was the second semester of the school year. I guess for that reason, I was not too surprised that my granddaughter's history book did not include anything about World Wars I and II, the Korean Conflict (aka the Korean War), or any war since the Korean War, including the war in Vietnam. The entire westward expansion of the United States was covered in four pages. I guess the teachers and educators (two different categories) decided since they never got past the Civil War, there was no need to include those chapters in future textbooks.

Unfortunately, I find this same lack of historical awareness to be rampant among many of the members of our genealogical community. This is likely through no fault of their own, since they may have had the same experience I had in high school and earlier.

If you want to test your historical awareness, just consider the following list of dates and tell me what they all have in common? Unlike many published quizzes, I will not publish the answers at the bottom of the page. But I would suggest that if your ancestors lived in that part of America that became the United States, you may want to do a historical background check and determine if you need to search for information about your ancestors that pertains to the event's dates listed here.

  • 1675-1676
  • 1689-1697
  • 1702-1713
  • 1744-1748
  • 1756-1763
  • 1759-1761
  • 1775-1783
  • 1798-1800
  • 1801-1805, 1815
  • 1812-1815
  • 1813-1814
  • 1836
  • 1846-1848
  • 1861-1865
  • 1898
  • 1914-1918
  • 1939-1945
  • 1950-1953
  • 1960-1975
  • 1961
  • 1983
  • 1989
  • 1990-1991
  • 1995-1996
  • 2001
  • 2003

After looking through this list, if the dates don't start to look familiar, then you really do need to spend some time with a good U.S. History book and not one used in a junior high school. As I talk to patrons and volunteers and those who attend my classes, I sometimes feel like they believe that their ancestors lived in an isolated cocoon.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Genealogical Noise

At some levels, genealogy is all about acquiring and processing information. Whether you are searching online or sitting in a church or library reading old parish registers, or involved in some other activity, you are either gathering, organizing, evaluating or recording information. But if you attempt to define "information" in some type of formal way, you soon find out that the standard definitions are slippery and circular. You end up with a hodgepodge of words that include; data, facts, intelligence, knowledge etc. that all seem to be defined by the same set of words. For example, here is one definition of information:

facts provided or learned about something or someone

Now here is a definition of the word "fact:"

a piece of information used as evidence

Notwithstanding our collective inability to adequately define exactly what we are seeking, as genealogists, we diligently pursue our task of searching out facts or information about our family. Back in 1948, an engineer/mathematician/cryptographer named Claude Shannon published an article in the Bell System Technical Journal entitled, "A Mathematical Theory of Communication." In this article and later publications, Shannon developed what is known as "Information Theory" and laid the foundation for digital computer design. One of the concepts to come out of these early developments is the idea of a "signal-to-noise ratio" or a way to analyze the amount of meaningful information (the signal) as compared to the background noise (the unwanted signal). 

As genealogists were are almost continually overwhelmed with unwanted signals or noise or in other words, the amount of useful information we find as opposed to false or irrelevant information or data. Some researchers are almost paralyzed with the amount of unwanted data they receive. The difficulty comes from not only the complexity of the data but the amount of data or information received. This is not necessarily a new situation, for example, if you are searching a microfilm for specific information about an ancestor, you have to process a lot of "noise" or unwanted data before finding the one or two facts you are searching for. Unfortunately, this kind of "noise" was relatively easy to handle, but today's levels of noise have become overwhelming. 

Some of the most common complaints I receive involve this unwanted genealogical background noise. Some of the newer programs have increased rather than decreased the amount of noise by providing automated systems that generate additional information when the receiver of the information, in this case the user of the program, has no idea of the relevancy of the information or how to process it. One example of this problem, I received today, was a notice that someone I did not know was having a birthday. In other instances, I get suggestions of family tree connections with others who are categorized as potential "relatives" in numbers that are overwhelming. In other programs, doing a search for information about an ancestor will produce numbers, sometimes large numbers, of matching family trees with repetitious entries of obviously wrong information.

All of these instances constitute genealogical noise i.e. unwanted signals that obscure the real or valuable information I really want to find. Several comments made to my recent posts expressed this frustration as it applied to the Family Tree program. Unwanted information, in the form of apparently random changes in the data, were viewed as a threat to the integrity of the researcher's own perception of the "facts." In this way, the changes were not viewed as attempts to conform differing opinions on the actual data, but merely as noise that destroyed or obscured the researchers "own" data which, in every case, was assumed to be correct. 

It is inevitable that the amount of genealogical noise will continue to increase. It will become increasing difficult to filter out the meaningful information from the unwanted signals. All you have to do to experience this phenomena is to watch the stream of information on for a few minutes or any other social networking website, and you will see what I mean about unwanted information. 

What many, if not most, of the genealogists who are overwhelmed with genealogical noise do not have is an efficient filtering system. Rather than continuing to view noise as an obstruction, they need to understand that noise, in some form or another, is always present in any system of communication. The genealogist facing an annoying or overwhelming amount of noise needs to think of ways to diminish the amount of noise or create mechanisms for handling the noise through a system of filters; either mental or actual physical. For example, if I do not want to receive notifications of the birthdays of remote relatives, I can usually turn that function off in the program by editing my preferences or settings. I can also develop ways to ignore any such messages. 

In my own case, I would be almost paralyzed if I did not develop adequate methods of filtering out unwanted signals or information. On a normal day, I can get well over 100 email messages and hundreds of other notifications. In my case, I have worked hard at managing that flow of information, especially when 90%+ of it is unwanted noise. The challenge is to filter out the unwanted noise without destroying the signal altogether. 

In the case of a program such as FamilySearch Family Tree, the noise comes from the nature of the program itself. Most genealogists are not at all used to the idea of instant and pervasive collaboration. They are so used to working by themselves, that information supplied by the users of the program in the form of "changes" are viewed as a threat to the integrity of the data rather than a normal function of the program. The researcher immediately jumps to the conclusion that "they are ruining my data" instead of viewing the changes for what they are; differing approaches to the same set of information. If the contributor changes "your information" you view this as a threat rather than merely another opinion about the data. The revelation that there are people out there who disagree with your own opinion is unsettling and threatening. Noise is not viewed as an inevitable component of the system, but as a personal threat. 

Many genealogists get into a situation where they are battling the noise rather than controlling it. For example, they view unsourced and unreliable family trees as a threat rather than simply ignoring them. With a shared data type of family tree, such as FamilySearch Family Tree, the genealogists become frustrated, angry, despondent, and finally condemn the system rather than working within a high noise situation. 

We all need to understand that we live in a world with a high noise content. We either learn to manage the noise or become incapacitated by it. I think I will need to return to this topic in the future because there is a lot to say about noise. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Yet again, another response about FamilySearch Family Tree

My dear friend Anonymous has once again chosen to leave a comment. This one is particularly aimed at FamilySearch Family Tree and leaves me wondering if all of my posts on the fact that "you don't own your ancestors" are going completely unread and unnoticed. Here is the comment:
Genealogy cannot be true genealogy unless it is based on true facts such as birth, marriage, death and other facts that can be proved. There is a lot of genealogy under Family Tree which is based on this basis, However, there is a lot genealogy based on factors such as 2nd opinions supported by Family Search which is destroying everyone's genealogy. I have worked on my genealogy for 55 years and have around 10000 files but Family Search is letting everyone into every other peoples genealogy to decimate, copy and destroy the genealogy. I have been trying for the past year and a half to save my genealogy but is a loosing battle with Family Search in charge. Now the only thing I am trying to do is get my genealogy off of Family Tree and save it.
I must say that this comment left me speechless for about 30 seconds (a long time for me). I am not quite sure what Anonymous's relationship is with's Family Tree. I sat there staring at this comment for some time, trying to gather my thoughts and come up with something coherent to say about this person's predicament. I must admit that I finally had to put this post aside for a while and think about what was written above. I even began to believe that it was a hoax. Hoax or not, it is an interesting quandary.

I guess I will take it a bite at a time.

Genealogy cannot be true genealogy unless it is based on true facts such as birth, marriage, death and other facts that can be proved.
Given all the posts I have written about defining genealogy, facts, proof and all that, I was puzzled about this comment. I think what Anonymous wants to say is that it is necessary to provide a source for entries in your family tree. I would certainly agree with that. I am not too sure about what I would consider "true facts" if those facts were based on documentary evidence. I would not be so sure that any given document provided "true facts" however. Every one of the types of documents named can be wrong in some cases.

There is a lot of genealogy under Family Tree which is based on this basis,
I am not sure what is "under" the Family Tree, but I assume the reference is to the fact that more of the entries on the Family Tree are being sourced all the time.

However, there is a lot genealogy based on factors such as 2nd opinions supported by Family Search which is destroying everyone's genealogy
I am not sure I understand what Anonymous thinks is going on here. I am also not certain how my genealogy is being destroyed. FamilySearch Family Tree incorporates over 150 years of combined research. Admittedly, some of the entries are wrong, however the structure of the Family Tree (a wiki) allows everyone to make corrections and enter supporting sources. None of these changes come from "Family Search" and FamilySearch is entirely neutral on the content unless it is objectionable in some way. It is up to those members families on the tree to correct the information. Apparently this concept is lost on Anonymous. There is nothing on the Family Tree that can destroy anyone's genealogy. It is very wise to have your own copy of your own files if you can't understand why and how the entries on a wiki will continue to change.

I have worked on my genealogy for 55 years and have around 10000 files but Family Search is letting everyone into every other peoples genealogy to decimate, copy and destroy the genealogy.
This statement seems to be a repetition of the previous one. I am not sure what 10,000 file means, but I assume that means that the person has 10,000 people in his or her database file (I always suspect round numbers since they are inevitably wrong). Since the Family Tree is unified, technically everyone in the world has their entire known family on Family Tree. Actually, it is still under construction and will be as long as there is any information left to add, but the actions of the contributors are not decimating or destroying anything. The serious issue I see here is the mention of the word "copy." Apparently, Anonymous is one of those people who do not want to share his or her research. Well, after 55 years, I suppose it could all be lost anytime now. One thing I can say for certain, if you or anyone else fails to share their "genealogy" with others, all their work will be lost. I hope Anonymous has a family member that will still talk to him or her and is willing to preserve all of the 55 year's worth of research.

I have been trying for the past year and a half to save my genealogy but is a loosing battle with Family Search in charge.
This statement assumes two false premises, one that FamilySearch is "in charge" of the data in the Family Tree and second, that there is some issue here with saving Anonymous's genealogy. I find that many people using the tree think their conclusions are right and everyone else is wrong. I wonder if Anonymous is putting sources with all 10,000 of the entries on the Family Tree? I am also wondering how he or she got all that information into the Family Tree in the first place and how many duplicates were made in the process? The users of the program, including Anonymous, are "in charge" of the data. I also wonder how many other family members Anonymous has contacted about helping maintain and correct the Family Tree? I might also point out that the Family Tree is still a work in progress and more information is still coming into the tree from the 150 years of accumulated research that is sitting out there to be corrected and merged. I hope Anonymous has his or her own copy of all that 55 year's worth of work or it may really be lost.

Now the only thing I am trying to do is get my genealogy off of Family Tree and save it.
This is the most puzzling statement of the entire comment. How does one go about getting their genealogy out of Family Tree? Short of manually copying the entries or using a program such as,, Ancestral Quest or Legacy Family Tree, I am not presently aware of a method of getting information out of the Family Tree. Once again, here is another claim of ownership which I see as the root of the problems expressed by Anonymous. It does not sound to me as if this person has heard of the word cooperation before.

I continue to be amazed every day at the attitudes expressed by some in the genealogical community, but I am glad for the comments because they keep me thinking and writing.