RootsTech 2015

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Moving Beyond Myths

Some issues just keep making the rounds. I can't even begin to imagine how inexperienced genealogical researchers can know so little about sources and repositories and yet can repeat, verbatim, every one of the genealogical myths. Of course, I have written about this subject before, but since during the past couple of weeks I have heard a reference to a good handful of myths, so I decided it was time to fire up the jets and take on the issues one more time.

Why do people believe myths? Why is it so much easier to believe something such as the three brothers story, than it is to examine the historical facts from reliable sources and determine a more probable course of events? I'm not talking about the complex belief systems such as Greek Mythology, but the just the ordinary false ideas that seem to get passed around as facts. Genealogy is not at all unique in this regard. I would guess that every human activity has its core of myths. It is just amazing to me how the genealogical ones seems to persevere despite the lack of any rational support.

I guess a stranger question is why don't I believe the genealogical myths? No one had to tell me that the descent from an Indian Princess was a myth. But is is true that some myths are so persistent because they either have or once had a basis in fact. Take the burnt courthouse story for example. It is a historical fact that courthouses do burn down. What is not necessarily true is the conclusion drawn from that fact. Not every courthouse fire occasioned the loss of every record in the county and some of the destroyed records had to be reconstructed as rapidly as possible after the fire. What is frustrating is when a researcher substitutes the myth for the reality and uses the myth as an excuse to stop searching. What is even worse than that is when the myth is accepted as reality without a shred of evidence to support that conclusion.

Some myths are not universal. Every family seems to have a story or tradition that defies verification. Some of these stories when proved inaccurate or even false, defy refutation. They persist in face of overwhelming evidence that the claimed event or document is not accurate. I have such a myth in my own family involving a photographs of a remote ancestors.

Here is a screenshot showing the first of the myths:


This image shows the Memories page for John Tanner (b. 1788, d. 1850) in the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. The arrows show three identical copies of a daguerreotype purportedly showing John Tanner seated on the far left. My daughter Amy and I examined this photo and reported our findings in an extensive analysis published on TheAncestorFiles Blog. By the way, there are five more copies of the same photo attached to the same Memories page in FamilySearch.org's Family Tree. The analysis boils down to historical facts but the myth persists.

Here are a few historical facts about the daguerrotype process and the life of John Tanner.

1778: John Tanner born in Hopkinton, Washington, Rhode Island.
1837: Louis Daguerre invents the Daguerreotype process in France. At this time John Tanner is 59 years old.
1838: After joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, John Tanner moves to Far West, Missouri. John Tanner is now 60 years old. John Tanner is mobbed in Missouri. Here is the account:
The mob had come up to Father Tanner in his wagon, and Captain O'Dell pointed his gun at him and pulled the trigger twice, but it refused to go off. This enraged him, and with a fearful oath, he took hold of the muzzle and struck Elder Tanner over the head with the breech of the gun. This blow would probably have killed him had it not been for his heavy felt hat, the double thickness of which saved his life, but he had a large, ugly gash on his head which bled profusely. "His skull was laid bare to the width of a man's hand" above the temple, and "from the bleeding of his wounds he was besmeared from head to foot," and "the blood ran into his boots" according to various accounts (this incident was mentioned in several affidavits which the Saints wrote up of the wrongs which they had suffered in Missouri, and submitted to government officials. They emphasized Father Tanner's age, that he was an unarmed farmer simply returning home from the mill, and that he was hit over the head for no reason at all). See Troubles in Missouri from the RootCellar.us
1839: John Tanner and family reach Illinois after being driven from Missouri.
1841: Albert Sand Southworth opens the first daguerreotype studio in Boston, Massachusetts. John Tanner is now 63 years old.
1841: The Tanners are living in Montrose, Iowa across the river from Nauvoo, Illinois.
1844: John Tanner is called on a mission for the Church to the Eastern States.
1845: John Tanner returns to Nauvoo. He is now 67 years old.
1846: John Tanner and his family begin the Exodus from Nauvoo, ultimately to the Salt Lake Valley where he dies in 1850.

So the real questions are when did daguerreotype studios open in Western Illinois and more importantly, is the man in the proposed daguerreotype about 65 to 67 years old? Here is a link to our conclusions concerning this issue: The Tanner Family Daguerreotype: Conclusion.

Notwithstanding our conclusions, the daguerreotype will continue to proliferate as a photo of John Tanner.

Now to the second photo.


This is another photograph attached to David Shepherd (b. 1760, d. 1832). This is even more interesting since the supposed subject of the photo died almost seven years before photography was invented and the photo is of a child.

Myths are basically irrational, emotional and almost impossible to disprove or eradicate. Good luck if you have one in your family. You might as well enjoy the story and ignore the facts.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

David Archuleta and Studio C to appear at #RootsTech 2015 Closing Event

One of my most popular online attractions is the BYUtv.org comedy show called Studio C. I first learned of this show from my grandchildren who were huge fans. Since then, to my wife's sometimes dismay, I have become another of their huge fans. Studio C is now in its fifth season and show all the signs of continuing their zany antics off into the future. Most of their routines are on YouTube.com on the BYUtv channel. Some of the short sketches have garnered more than a million views. One of the latest, has over a million views in just five days.

I am guessing that seating for the closing of the #RootsTech 2015 Conference will be at a premium.

The second big draw for another group of fans will be the Season 7 American Idol runner-up, David Archuleta. Originally a local Utah celebrity, he is now popular world-wide. Here is the announcement of the event from David Archuleta's website:
David Archuleta is teaming up with popular comedy sketch group Studio C from BYUtv to perform at RootsTech 2015. RootsTech is the largest family history conference in the world and will be happening on February 12–14, 2015. 
Both talents will be launching original pieces at the RootsTech Closing Event at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on February 14. David will perform 4 songs, including a new song written by himself that is sung in Spanish and Portuguese. The accompanying music video was filmed in Costa Rica in 2014 and will also have its debut appearance. What’s more, the event will feature a never-before-seen sketch by Studio C. For more information, go to RootsTech.org
According to David, his family’s heritage and history helped craft his musical style, and being part of RootsTech gives him a chance to celebrate his family and the influence they have had on his music. “Music was always a part of my life growing up. My mother was also big on dancing and would teach my older sister and me to dance to traditional music,” he recalls. “I can’t think about celebrating my family without thinking about celebrating music.” 
The comedy sketch group Studio C from BYUtv is a household name for people of all ages across the nation. Since its launch in October 2012, its loyal fan base has helped grow the show’s online presence to more than 70 million YouTube views to date. 
David Archuleta and Studio C will perform for thousands of attendees at the RootsTech Closing Event on the final day of RootsTech 2015, February 14. To reserve your ticket to see them, visit rootstech.org.
With the present line up of Utah-based celebrities, it is certain that the Conference will attract greater numbers than last year, although I suspect that many will come to see the celebrities and not the genealogy conference.

Beyond the U.S. Census -- Expanding Your Frontiers

Many years ago when I was first starting to research my family, I visited the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had some specific questions about some of my ancestors and was working from a handout called a Genealogical Checklist. It looked something like this:

This particular version of the checklist came from the Capital Area Genealogical Society in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. There are dozens of variations of this form. I have a different paper copy of the form sitting on my desk
Of course, I had no idea what some of the listed records were and I had even less of an idea where to find them. One of the first records that came to my attention was the U.S. Census records. At that time, the only copy of the Census was on microfilm (ancient pre-computer days). I got some help finding a copy of the microfilm for the place where my ancestors lived and got on one of the old microfilm viewers and started looking. I was entirely dismayed. The images were terrible and virtually unreadable. After a short time of searching, I gave up and, to my knowledge, never looked at another U.S. Census record until they were digitized and put online. Meanwhile, I researched all sorts of records, mainly books, and slowly started learning about the other sources on the list.

Now we fast forward to today. All of the U.S. Census records are online in multiple copies and freely accessible. In addition, many of the types of records listed in my original source checklist are also readily available online. Because of my early negative experience with the Census, I was, in a sense, forced to look at a broader selection of records. What do I find today with new researchers? I find a fixation with the U.S. Census and little more. But the tragedy of the easy availability of a core of records centered around the U.S. Census, is that today's researchers are blinded by the bright sun of the U.S. Census and cannot see any of the other useful records. They are spoon fed the U.S. Census and cannot get past that record.

One of the most common symptoms of this lack of vision is the common complaint that they cannot find a relative in a certain U.S. Census year. The dialogue goes something like this:

Q. (Researcher or someone helping the researcher) Can I ask a question?

A. (Me) Sure, go ahead.

Q. We (I) have been looking for this particular ancestor and we find (him or her) in the 1910 and 1930 U.S. Census but cannot find the family in the 1920 U.S. Census. What should we do? We are completely stumped.

Now there are multiple layers of problems with this particular question. The simple answer is that the family is there in the Census but the index is faulty and they need to go look at the Census location page by page. But the issue is much deeper than that rather simple answer. The real question is what do they think they are going to find in the 1920 Census that they cannot find from other readily available sources of the same time period? At this juncture, I should point out that the Genealogical Source Checklist above, while helpful, is far from exhaustive.

The underlying problem faced by this researcher is the inability to view the family in the historical context of the time and visualize the cloud of possible records that might accompany the family. The technique here is to examine the two extant census records and begin the process of discovering other records that might exist depending on exactly where the family lived. At this point, my answer is usually a series of questions:

  • Where did the family live?
  • What was the occupation?
  • Were they renting or owners of their property?
  • Did they speak and write English?
  • Have you tried searching for each family member separately?
The questions can go on almost indefinitely. At some point, the idea that there might be other important records to examine finally occurs to the researcher and off they go to look for a record they had not thought of previously, mainly because they were fixated on the U.S. Census. 

Back to the checklist example I have included above. Here is a sample list of links to different online forms following the same pattern:
Guess what? We have online sources that give us exactly the same type of information. That is, they guide us to various sources. The most valuable of these, of course, is the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki. Basically, this is whole website is nothing more or less than an enormous expansion of the checklist I used to used in the Family History Library. 

I used the example of the U.S. Census in this post to illustrate the point that there are so many types of records available that no one can really claim to have searched everywhere for one particular family. On the other hand, it is also a good idea to milk the records you do find for all that they are worth, especially as suggestions as to where to find additional records. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Remaining issues with FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part Four, the rest of the story

This is the fourth in a series of posts on the issues remaining to be resolved with FamilySearch.org's Family Tree program. You may wish to review the first in this series if you haven't already done so, otherwise, the comments here might be difficult to understand. Here is the first post in the series:
Remaining issues with FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part Three, the wiki word

This post and the preceding one are based on a recent blog post by FamilySearch. The FamilySearch Blog post outlined some of the remaining steps necessary to make FamilySearch Family Tree fully functional. You may also be interested in a related blog post entitled, "120 Years of Pioneering Genealogy" where FamilySearch explains some of the additional history behind the current developments.

Assuming that the FamilySearch.org Family Tree program reaches the goal of allowing the IOUS issue to be resolved through merging the duplicates, then there are still other issues to be resolved. These are listed by FamilySearch as follows:
  • Highlighting and fixing other data issues, such as: individuals who are married before they are born, child older than a parent, child who is a spouse of a parent or grandparent, and such.
  • Ability for users to edit the gender of an ancestor.
  • Ability to see current spouse’s line by default.
Why do these three items remain issues after the initial problem of separating Family Tree from its predecessor program, New.FamilySearch.org (NFS) has been solved? The answer lies in a statement made in the original FamilySearch blog post. Here is what they had to say needed to happen before NFS was "completely retired":
However, there are still many tasks that our engineers will continue to work on, such as migrating and synchronizing datasets to Family Tree, as well as verifying and validating all data. Because of the enormity of the task and the desire to not lose any data, we can only give an estimate as to how long it will take to complete these final tasks. We believe it will take a year, possibly more, before we can reach the final milestone.
The key here is the idea that the process of transferring "datasets" from NFS to FamilySearch Family Tree is ongoing. Changes continue to be made to the individuals in the Family Tree by FamilySearch. This is likely evidence that data is still being synchronized with NFS. Here is a recent example from one of my own ancestors:


Many users of the program complain that FamilySearch is making changes to their family members when the information is already been corrected. However, the changes are not coming "from FamilySearch" they are coming from the data accumulated over the past 150 years and poured into NFS that is now being transferred to Family Tree. Until all this data gets processed, Family Tree will remain in a state of flux.

Now the next issue is the statement made by FamilySearch that the data needs to be "verified and validated." The three issues remaining as set forth above, give a good idea of the kinds of verification and validation that is necessary. Right now, it is not hard to find ridiculously incorrect data in the Family Tree. I have said many times that I can examine anyones pedigree as shown in FamilySearch Family Tree and find some totally inconsistent data in a matter of a few minutes. As time goes on, and if the tasks outlined by FamilySearch are addressed, then my claim will become harder and harder to maintain.

Currently, because of the influx of data from NFS and because of the inability to accurately merge some of the individuals in the program, there is a substantial risk in "correcting" the data in Family Tree, especially those containing IOUSs. You may "correct" the information and find that it has been changed by FamilySearch or that some completely unsourced and unsupported data has been substituted. These are two separate problems.

The first problem involves the changes made and tagged as done by "FamilySearch." In most cases this is just a reflection that all the data has yet to be moved over from NFS. The second issue is much more complicated. It involves the users' assumption that "their data is correct" despite any documentation or notes etc. in the Family Tree to the contrary. It is hard to say if this attitude will change over time or not. At some point, the users of the program have to start examining the sources and reading all the notes before making any changes. This may or may not ever happen. If the arbitrary changes keep occurring, then the program will lose all pretense of accuracy and will simply become a sidelined consideration in the greater genealogical community.

However, if the program uses the wiki structure and implements the available wiki resources such as moderators and the ability to lock entries once the information is sources and validated, then the potential exists that the program will become the gold standard for accuracy that it should become.

This is the end of this particular series, but not the end of the problems and challenges of Family Tree. Over the past few years I saw little or no attention to the individuals in my family lines on the Family Tree program. However, in the last few months, it appears that hundreds of people have begun contributing to the data and making changes. This is a good sign that the program is moving out of its infancy into early childhood. Let's just hope that it makes it to adulthood before the negligent class of users kill it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Free UGA Webinar Thursday - “Using Technology to See Things More Clearly” - presented by Peg Ivanyo

Thursday, November 20, 2014, the Utah Genealogical Association is presenting a free webinar at 7:00 pm MDT. This week's webinar is “Using Technology to See Things More Clearly” - presented by Peg Ivanyo. The webinar is described as follows:

Having difficulty figuring out exactly where you are in your research? Have you read through the records multiple times and still can’t see past the brick wall? Consider a more visual approach. There are many technical tools available to us today that can help us analyze problems, develop research plans, understand geographical and social context, and more. This presentation will review simple ways to utilize spreadsheets, mind-maps, geographical maps, census track overlays, timelines, historical photos, and interactive online products to help us see our research more clearly, and perhaps even break through a brick wall or two.

Click Here for more information and to register.

This UGA Virtual Chapter meeting is open to the public but requires registration. To Register for this FREE seminar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3992143464106431233
Can't attend? Remember that UGA Members can watch or re-watch previous webinars on the Virtual Chapter Members Archive.

The BookMan

One of the problems many of us face is the fact that old books tend to disintegrate especially if used extensively. I recently received some correspondence from a man in Green Bay, Wisconsin who specializes in restoring old books, especially Bibles. I am certainly not in a position to endorse his business, since I have not used it, but I thought his website was very informative. The website is appropriately called GBBookMan.biz. What is most interesting about this website is the step-by-step images with the explanation of how the work is done.

In his correspondence he outlines the process:
Most books need me to :
  • Remove covers
  • Remove all the old glue (they used hide glue years ago and after a few year it gets brittle and cracks). I use a VPA glue that doesn't get hard.
  • Remove the old mull (cheese cloth like material that holds the binding together)
  • On some books I will resew the signatures
  • Replace with a new, stronger mull and PVA glue
  • Split the cover just under the outside cloth/leather and fold back to expose the strawboard. I'll glue the new mull to this.
  • Re-use all of the original cover, closing any gaps and rips as much as possible.
 I am sure there are other book restoration companies around the U.S. but since this is a labor intensive activity and since even family heirlooms can lose their apparent value when in poor condition and may get thrown out, I thought it would be interesting to highlight this type of business, especially with the series of photos on his website.

I might put in one caution. If a book is rare or has intrinsic historical value, I would consult a competent rare book dealer to see what effect restoration of the book would have on its value. Sometimes, historical artifacts are best conserved in their original condition without an attempt to restore them. This would not apply to a family Bible however, since the book itself must be conserved and unless extremely rare should be repaired. Care should be taken to preserve any pages that contain inscriptions also.

For more information about book restoration see the Library of Congress. You may also wish to consult the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works

Remaining issues with FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part Three, the wiki word

This is the third in a series of posts on the issues remaining to be resolved with FamilySearch.org's Family Tree program. You may wish to review the first in this series if you haven't already done so, otherwise, the comments here might be difficult to understand. Here is the first post in the series:

Remaining issues with FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part One
Remaining issues with FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part Two, the merging issue

This post and the preceding one are based on a recent blog post by FamilySearch. The FamilySearch Blog post outlined some of the remaining steps necessary to make FamilySearch Family Tree fully functional. You may also be interested in a related blog post entitled, "120 Years of Pioneering Genealogy" where FamilySearch explains some of the additional history behind the current developments.

In my last post in this series, I discussed the present status of FamilySearch.org's Family Tree with all of the duplicate entries. Where this issue is the greatest problem is with those individuals who have been called "Individuals of Unusual Size" or IOUSs. The problem arose in New.FamilySearch.org (NFS) when the vast number of duplicates for some individuals apparently exceeded the capacity of the program. As a result, there was an artificial cap placed on the number of these duplicates that could be combined. The cap left many individuals with duplicates that exceeded the allowed number and were left as "orphan" duplicates in the program. When the data from NFS was transferred over to Family Tree, the same limitation applied to merging the records in Family Tree. This left some thousands of individuals with huge numbers of duplicates that could not be combined. Here is a screenshot showing the error message in Family Tree when the user tries to combine an obvious duplicate:


This occurs in each case where the individual is an IOUS. I have heard estimates that there may be as many as 25,000 of these individuals in the Family Tree. I suspect the number is much higher. But either way, in my own lines, there are so many of these individuals that I cannot make any progress in cleaning up the entries.

There are other reasons why individuals cannot presently be combined inFamily Tree. In the "Using the FamilySearch Family Tree: A Reference Guide (18 October 2013)," on page 146, it lists the reasons valid at that time, over a year ago:
Some records in Family Tree cannot be merged.
You cannot merge records in the following situations:
  • The gender on one record is male, and the other is female.
  • One record indicates the person is alive; the other is deceased.
  • Both records come from the membership records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • One of the records came from new.familysearch.org, where it has been combined with too many other records.
  • The duplicate record has already been deleted due to another merge.
  • One of the records has restrictions that would prevent it from being changed.
Because the Guide is now outdated and has not been updated for over a year, some of these reasons may no longer be valid. The fourth item on the list refers to the IOUS problem.

An additional problem is that each of these IOUSs are not just a single individual but can be an entire pedigree, perhaps with thousands of duplicate ancestors. This is what Family Search is talking about when they set forth a goal of "merging of gateway ancestors and other famous people (also known as IOUSs)". It is important to understand that before this obvious data problem can begin to be solved, Family Search has to completely divest itself of the NFS program. As stated by Family Search in the blog post:
We believe it will take a year, possibly more, before we can reach the final milestone.
Following that statement they make an estimate that work on the IOUS problem could begin in 2016.

What is the greater impact of these issues? Unfortunately, we on the outside are not given much of that information (even if I were given the information, I would likely be asked not to disclose it). But there are some obvious problems with the merge function as long as this situation exists. On problem is that presently, the merge search function cannot find some of the obvious duplicates forcing the users who are diligent to "merge by ID number" instead of using the search function. Even with an ID number there are still occasions when the merge function finds the wrong person with a wrong ID number. As long as the merge function fails to operate properly, the program will allow duplicate entries and for the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints potential duplicate ordinances.

Now what has this to do with the wiki word as mentioned in the title. Since Family Tree is a wiki, based on the open-source, free wiki program from WikiMedia, it is a serious issue when merging of duplicate entries either fails to work or works inconsistently. The real question is whether or not the merge function would work if someone tried to add the same IOUS into the program yet another time. If the IOUS cannot be merged at this time, what happens when someone adds the person to the program? I am not going to try this just to see what will happen, but it is an interesting problem.

Ultimately, the problem is with any changes made (as is common with a wiki) to individuals further back in time on the pedigree than the IOUS. When the IOUS is finally resolved, which of the pedigrees will be preserved and how much of the current work will be lost when users have modified the deleted IOUS individuals. For example, with my ancestor Sidney Tanner shown in the image above, which of the two Sidney Tanners will survive and what if I have chosen the "wrong" Sidney Tanner line for all my sources and changes. This may seem trivial with two options, but remember how fast this person's ancestors increase. What about a situation that exists with another direct line ancestor, Phillip Taber (b. 1646, d. 1693)? In this case there are over twenty apparent duplicates, each with a different PID number.

Presently, there are users of the program that are making additions and changes to Phillip Taber, apparently without realizing that there are numerous possible duplicates. The interesting issue with Phillip Taber is that he was married to Mary Cooke, the daughter and Grand-daughter of Mayflower passengers.

Now back to the wiki issue. In addition, for a long time after the Family Tree program was introduced, no one seemed to want to associate the program with the wiki program. It was not that anyone denied that it was a wiki, but there was nothing in the discussions about the program pointing this out. I am of the opinion that this was the case because of the substantial amount of unnecessary negative press involving wikis and the many common misconceptions.

The idea of using a wiki program to ultimately resolve the issues with Family Tree is a very, very good idea. The Family Tree program, because it is a wiki, is ultimately the solution for the problems. But the issues need to be faced directly. It does not help to try and minimize the impact of the merging problems when the problems have such a serious impact on the correct functioning of this wiki-based program.

Well, I still have some additional issues to address, so there will be another post in this series.