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

Monday, February 8, 2016

Why are Vital Records Vital to Genealogists? Part Six -- More About Death, Internment and Burial

This post is a continuation of a series on vital records. You can see the other posts in the series at the end of this post. has a database of over 400,000 cemeteries in 200 countries around the world. is a newer website with the goal to have over 1,000,000,000 graves in their database. It is a good idea to search both websites. For military graves, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration maintains a Nationwide Gravesite Locator. Here are some additional websites with information about graves and cemeteries.
Event with all the cemetery records online, sometimes there is no substitute for actually visiting an ancestor's burial site. The information gained from finding and exploring the cemetery may be just a perspective on the ancestor's life, but in some cases serious genealogical issues may be resolved by the placement of the graves and the information gained from adjacent gravestones. I hear a lot of accounts of genealogists tramping around looking for and examining cemeteries sometimes with surprising results. Gaining access to a cemetery can be an adventure and searching a cemetery can lead to encounters with dogs, angry bulls, snakes and other hazards. Almost every dedicated genealogical researcher can relate a few good cemetery stories.

If you are going to go graveyard hunting, it is good idea to know a little bit about the best practices for preserving the gravestones and the cemeteries themselves. Many well meaning researchers damage the cemeteries in their zeal to find their ancestors' graves. Here is a selection of books on graveyard or cemetery preservation.

Association for Gravestone Studies, and Association for Gravestone Studies. AGS Field Guide ... Greenfield, Mass.: Association for Gravestone Studies, 2003.
Baker, F. Joanne, Daniel L Farber, Anne G Giesecke, and Association for Gravestone Studies. Recording Cemetery Data. Greenfield, MA: Association for Gravestone Studies, 2003.
Carter, Thomas A, Jason Ferber, Dale Moore, Leslie Wyman, Jeff Michel, Jim Baker, Ozarks Public Television, and Missouri State University. Graveyard Restoration and Preservation. [Springfield, Mo.]: Ozarks Public Television, Missouri State University, 2010.
Chicora Foundation. Grave Matters: The Preservation of African-American Cemeteries. Columbia, S.C.: Chicora Foundation, 1996.
Maxwell, Ingval, Ratish Nanda, Dennis Urquhart, Historic Scotland, and Technical Conservation Research and Education Division. Conservation of Historic Graveyards. Edinburgh: Historic Scotland, 2001.
Strangstad, Lynette, and Association for Gravestone Studies. A Graveyard Preservation Primer. Nashville, TN: AASLH Press in cooperation with the Association for Gravestone Studies, 1988.

One of the first places to look for information about the death of a relative or ancestor is in the local newspapers. If your ancestor was a prominent citizen or died in a particularly unusual way, you might also search newspapers of more general circulation. In some cases, accounts of your ancestor's death may be found in newspapers scattered across the entire country. Obviously, obituaries are a good source of death information and usually contain more about the family of the deceased. But if your ancestor died as a result of an illness, accident or violence there may also be a news account of the incident. There are hundreds of newspaper archives and online repositories from huge sources such as, and the Library of Congress' Chronicling America to local websites with one newspaper series. You can do a search for newspapers by using the search terms "digital newspaper collections online" and find many websites. Some of these websites are subscription websites that charge a fee, but others, such as the Library of Congress are free. Some of the large online genealogical database companies, such as and have very large collections of newspapers included in their subscriptions. In some cases, the newspaper collections may be an add-on at an addition subscription price.

Finding mortuary records can be a challenge. It is not unusual for funeral parlors or mortuaries to keep detailed records. In the event the mortuary or funeral home goes out of business, the records were commonly transferred to another local, similar business. Some of these presently operating businesses have records dating back over a hundred years or more. Unfortunately, few of these records have made it online. The only way to find the records may be to call or pay a visit to every local mortuary in the area where your ancestor may have died.

Military records that include death records are maintained primarily by the National Archives or Very few records are available on the website, but large numbers of records are located on the website owned by

It is also possible, if your ancestor died in a work related accident, that information concerning the death could be preserved in the company records. This is more likely to be true for a railroad or mining or other heavy industry accident. Many of the trade magazines of the various industries also tend to publish accounts of serious accidents resulting in death. Likewise, if your ancestor was a sailor or merchant marine, you may be able to find a record from the newspaper or the ancestor's employer.

As we go back in time the job of researching death records becomes more difficult. The key to finding more records is determining your ancestors' church affiliation. Many denominations kept a record of burials and a some of those records even mention the date of death. The most complete and available of these church records come from the parish registers maintained by the Catholic and Protestant churches of Europe and to some extent in the Catholic portions of the United States. In some countries, such as those in Latin America, Catholic Church records are the primary source of vital record information. In the United States the availability and coverage of any such records that have survived depends on the denomination. It may take some considerable searching to find the records. If you can't determine your ancestors' church affiliation, it is a good idea to search all of the denominations' records in the area where the ancestor may have died.

Here are the previous installments of this series.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Professional Level Genealogists and Computers
It is very difficult to make generalizations about computer usage and professional-level genealogists, but my own very personal observations on the subject lead me to believe that many professional-level genealogists do not not have an equal level of computer and online expertise. What is clear is that there is no mention of or requirement of computer competency in any of the accreditation or certification requirements. Many of the older "professionals" acquired their skills long before computers became a vital part of any research effort.

There is no direct relationship between computer literacy and computer research skills. Just because a person, no matter what age, can efficiently operate a computer does not necessarily mean they have any computer or online research skills. Likewise, a high level of traditional research competency does not mean that the person possesses any level of computerized research skills. In my own experience with attorneys, there were attorneys who had a very professional level of legal research skills who could not use a computer at all and totally lacked keyboarding ability. Likewise, I run into the same limitations with all types of professionals including university professors and other academically oriented individuals.

There are several essential skills that separate traditional research skills from those analogous activities that are computer-based. Some of the skills I learned in libraries over the years stand me in good stead and help me with my computer-based research. Here is my suggested breakdown of the two skill areas with a focus on humanities, not scientific, skills.

Traditional Research Skills
  • Formulate a research objective
  • Locate sources of information applicable to the objective
  • Investigate a variety of sources 
  • Analyze the information found and consider both positive and negative information about the objedtive
  • Organize and evaluate the information and include all pertinent information whether or not it supports the objective
  • Draw well reasoned and insightful conclusions 
  • Adequately communicate your conclusions with supporting citations to the origins of the information
At this point you could well maintain that all of these particular skills would be required for any historical or genealogical inquiry. But you can see how adding some simple qualifiers to each of the items on the list will considerably change the tasks.
  • Formulate a research objective on a computer
  • Locate sources of information applicable to the objective on the Internet
  • Investigate a variety of sources on the Internet
  • Analyze the information found and consider both positive and negative information about the objective in a computer program
  • Organize and evaluate the information and include all pertinent information whether or not it supports the objective in a computer program
  • Draw well reasoned and insightful conclusions 
  • Adequately communicate your conclusions with supporting citations to the origins of the information on a computer program
The immediate response is that none of this has to be done on a computer. But the fact is that among the university students I see almost every day, all of their work is computer-based. Another obvious response will come from genealogists who are already doing much of their work on a computer, that there are parts of their research processes that they "prefer" to do on paper and that they do not relate well to some tasks if they are done on a computer. This is likely true, but it is still evident that much of what we have available to us as genealogists for research is already computer based or will be in the future. 

We are in a transitionary time and this whole discussion will become moot as time passes. I am guessing that it will not be long before the idea of doing research, except with a residual of paper-based sources, without a computer will be so common that the contrary, doing research on paper will seem archaic. The image at the beginning of this post illustrates the huge difference between the concerns of educators about online research as opposed to what is considered traditional research. 

If you would like to get an insight into what young people are being taught today about doing research, see the following websites.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Rss, and Blogs. “Research Skill Development for Curriculum Design and Assessment.” Accessed February 8, 2016.
Manager, Academic Skills & Learning Centre. “Research Skills - Academic Skills & Learning Centre - ANU - Academic Skills & Learning Centre - ANU.” Accessed February 8, 2016.
O’hanlon, Leslie Harris. “Teaching Students Better Online Research Skills - Education Week.” Education Week, May 22, 2013.
“The 6 Online Research Skills Your Students Need |” Scholastic Teachers. Accessed February 8, 2016.

#RootsTech 2016 Still more videos

This video might give you some idea of what it is like to be in the crowds at the Salt Palace. You have to really focus on what you are doing. Every years it takes a while to get used to the layout and the noise level. Let's just say, if you haven't been to #RootsTech you have no idea what genealogy or family history is today.

Genealogy at Warp Speed

I had to pretend that I was out camping in Canyonlands during the week I was at #RootsTech and far away from the Internet. I felt like there was so little time to talk to the people that were there, that if I took the time to write, I would miss something important. That turned out to be all too true. I learned some of the most interesting things in the last few minutes of the Conference and the rest was jammed packed to overflowing with information and experiences. At times, I was completely overwhelmed at the vision of the future that was opening up in the world of genealogy and family history.

During the next few days and probably weeks, I will try to translate all those feelings and impressions into some semblance of order and put them into words.

Here is where I will start. Genealogy is undergoing some fundamental changes. The changes have to do with not only the way that genealogy is done (methodology), but also the way people maintain their records. What I saw at the Conference was that most of the people were focused on fragments of the future and largely unaware of the developments that were coming. The people with the vision of how the future was unfolding were few but their understanding and vision was revolutionary. You cannot stop an idea. The future of genealogy will change, whether you want it to or not or even if you are completely ignorant of the changes.

Genealogy involves information. We basically search historical records for information about our families. Even when we employ a tool like DNA testing, we are trying to unravel what happened in the past. Our main activities involve spending time trying to discover the existence and location of records and then gaining access to those records. Once we have the records, we have to spend a huge amount of time evaluating what we have found and putting the largely fragmented historical record into some semblance of a narrative. We structure the narrative on pedigrees. Without the structure, all we have are fragmented stories. Bits and pieces of history that may pique our interest but have no structure or coherence. Now, what was there at RootsTech that addressed this flow of information.

First, of course, there was the flood of information about the past. One example was the announcement from about its cooperative effort with to make available millions of U.S. Marriage records. Here is an excerpt from a blog post by Frederick Wertz entitled, "A sneak peak at the marriage that made America."
Our brand new U.S. marriage collection contains a wealth of genealogical information and will allow you to commemorate the acts of unity that forever changed your family tree. 
Containing over 450 million names from 1650 to 2010, these are truly the marriages that made America. The US Marriages collection will, when complete, include over 100 million records, 60 per cent of which have never been published online before. From today, you can already explore 33 million records, which will offer you the chance to add a whole new congregation to your family tree - including the bride and groom, and their proud parents! 
We want you to enjoy this first release of US Marriages as much as possible, so we're offering you the chance to explore the collection for free from today until the 15th.
You can access the collection by clicking here.

Meanwhile, during the Conference, there were several large areas packed with scanners of all kinds. Some, like the book scanning booth had employees and volunteers scanning books and other documents for attendees. Other huge collections of scanning devices were open to the attendees and people were scanning huge boxes of photos and slides. Imagine the amount of information being digitally added just during the Conference. 

But what I saw at RootsTech was not just about more records being made available. What I saw went beyond access to records. What I saw was the way the records were being made available. I saw that much of the innovation of the conference had to do with connecting and processing the flood of digital information from the past and the streams of information being created in the present. There was a decided emphasis on preserving our own history for future generations. The new CEO of FamilySearch, Steve Rockwood summarized this process in his first official presentation to the Innovator Summit when he said the following:

His key points are as follows as quoted by Frederick Wertz in his post "FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood addresses #RootsTech innovators: lays out future vision:"

  • Discovery - Discovering ancestors and the joy of genealogy itself
  • Family trees - Innovative ways to share and catalog information
  • Searchable records - Bringing more searchable databases online and improving existing search technology
  • Memories - Turning momentous and everyday events in today's world into memories to share with future generations
  • Contextual help - Cultivating an educational structure not only for enthusiasts but for beginners as well.
This is just the beginning. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

MyHeritage releases Family Tree Builder Version 8.0 feels that the utility of a desktop genealogical database program is far from over. They have very recently released Version 8.0 of their very popular and free program for both Windows and Mac. Here is a quote from the release notice:
We're excited to announce the release of a new version of our popular free software, Family Tree Builder (FTB). New version 8.0 has all of the features that you know and love, with a totally rewritten internal infrastructure that adds support for very large family trees (up to 500,000 individuals), and delivers faster performance. 
Version 8.0 looks very similar to the previously-released version 7.0, but with a brand new engine under the hood. For a period of two years, we have worked hard to build a new framework for the software, designed to provide the best performance and experience for our users, and to support enhancements in the future. It includes all of Family Tree Builder's beloved features from previous versions such as Sync with MyHeritage, Smart Matches™, Record Matches, the consistency checker, charts, maps, book reports, and more. Version 8.0 is available for Windows, and a Mac Extension version will be provided for Mac users next month. [I downloaded the Mac version immediately and it loaded and works fine. No wait.
We've just completed a successful beta program of version 8.0 with a large pool of test users. Feedback was enthusiastic, and with help from the beta testers, we were able to complete final fine-tuning of the new version. 
The new version is much faster and more responsive: trees of up to hundreds of thousands of individuals are now supported, and they load very fast. The file format has changed: version 8.0 projects now use an .ftb extension instead of .zed and .uzed used by previous versions. Version 8.0 can load projects produced by earlier versions, and can also import GEDCOM and native genealogy files used by other programs (such as Family Tree Maker®). But note that project files created in version 8.0 cannot be opened by version 7.0 or earlier. When upgrading to version 8.0 from previous versions, Family Tree Builder will maintain a copy of your projects in the former format, just in case.
Family Tree Builder 8.0 delivers improved data integrity. This means that changes are now saved immediately and seamlessly upon making them, with no need to click on the "Save" button anymore. The chances of data loss while working on your family tree are now extremely small. 
Whereas in version 7.0 we loaded the entire database (all the project information) to memory when opening a project, version 8.0 uses a local database and loads to memory only what's currently necessary and not the entire database. This takes up less memory, making Family Tree Builder faster and more efficient. It also increases the program's scalability and the total size of the project it can handle is now much bigger. 
Our Family Tree Builder team will continue to enhance Family Tree Builder and evolve it in the future, adding new features and making improvements, based on the new infrastructure introduced in version 8.0. We will continue to provide users who like the power and convenience of desktop software with the ideal tool for growing their family tree and advancing their family history research, while the sync allows them to also benefit from having their data online and accessible in a mobile app. 
What's next? In our next release, we plan to add useful features such as undo/redo options, an even quicker sync with online sites, Instant Discoveries™ in Family Tree Builder, and more. 
We hope that you'll enjoy using the new version of Family Tree Builder. Download it today. If you encounter any issues, please tell us and we'll fix and improve.
MyHeritage team

#RootsTech 2016 Keynote Speaker Videos

Here are some more of the videos produced from the #RootsTech 2016 keynote address and interviews. I really liked some of these.

Here are a couple of more.

#RootsTech 2016 is now over

This was the most challenging and enlightening #RootsTech Conferences ever. During the entire three days of the official #RootsTech part of my week, I was so busy that I had little time to write, but I can assure you that I have blog topics galore to share during the coming weeks. Meanwhile here are a few of the videos that chronicle the event.

All I can say is that some of the Keynote addresses were outstanding and inspiring. I guess you will have to judge which ones they were.