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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Travel Days to Genealogy Conferences

After a considerable hiatus, we are off to travel the United States to present at a genealogy conference. When we moved to Provo, Utah, it apparently took some time to get settled in, but lately, we have been receiving regular invitations to present and help at conferences around Utah and in other parts of the country. When I say "we," since my wife has started to teach a lot of classes and present online classes on the Brigham Young University Family History Library YouTube Channel, she is being asked to teach also.

This next week or so, we will be traveling to Florida to present at the North Florida Genealogy Conference, March 4, 2017 at 461 Blanding Blvd, Orange Park, FL 32073.

We will also be visiting some of our children and grandchildren who live in the area. You can expect some disruption in my posts during our travel days.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

My DNA: I did a webinar to explain my DNA test and other things

Rather than just write about the DNA test I recently took, I decided to do a webinar on the subject for the BYU Family History Library.

Can a DNA Test Help You Find Your Ancestors or Relatives? - Part 1 - James Tanner

There are actually two parts to this webinar because of a technical glitch, but the second part is quite short. I still had a cold from getting sick after RootsTech 2017 so you might also hear an occasional cough. Sorry. But I thought was a good idea to keep commenting on this very interesting subject.

Remember to subscribe to the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel so you can get notified of any new videos.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Genealogy as a Business

Here are a few news headlines:
Back in 2012, I even wrote a blog post entitled, "Big Genealogy is Big Business." Although, I should be fair and quote myself from that post:
Considering the recent acquisitions and alliances among the various large genealogy companies and entities, it is clear that big genealogy is big business. Although the amounts of money involved may not be overly significant in the greater business community, it is certain that the economic stakes will continue to increase as these larger companies maneuver to gain market share and influence. [emphasis added].
The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is the present standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy. See The United States Census Bureau, Business and Industry, North American Industry CClassification System. There are probably less than a dozen very large and valuable genealogy companies in the world but the truth is that genealogy businesses do not show up in any business reports as a category. Genealogy as a category is incorporated into several different categories including software publishers, data processing, and other information services. Although some of the news accounts cited above refer to a "genealogy industry," there is really no such category.

If you look at the news stories about RootsTech for the past two years, in 2016 the news reports set the attendance at "more than 25,000 attendees" and this year, 2017, the attendance is being reported as about half that at 13,000 attendees. See "RootsTech 2016 draws family history enthusiasts from all over" and "RootsTech 2017 Was a Huge Hit; Expands the perception of family history." What is interesting is that the online attendance for 2017 was estimated at over 100,000.

What has changed since my blog post in 2012? Actually, from a business standpoint, some of the biggest genealogy oriented companies have gotten larger and there have been a few startups. The biggest change has been the addition of genealogical DNA testing as an adjunct to the larger company's profit centers. For example, there were 12 semi-finalists for the RootsTech 2016 Innovator Showdown and 10 semi-finalists for the RootsTech 2017 Innovator Showdown. There was one company that competed at this level in both years,, the People's Choice winner in 2017. Of the companies from 2016, some were and still are established genealogy companies, but as it the case with all small businesses, some of them did not last until 2017.

Genealogy as a pursuit is alive and well and always will be, but genealogy as a business is a very small niche market and only a few large players and some very aggressive smaller businesses are going to survive long term. Can you start a small genealogy business and make money? Well, yes, but running a small business is business not genealogy and as I have found out after running small businesses for over thirty years, you have to make a choice between your passion and what actually sells in the marketplace.

Perhaps we need to be thankful that some people want to make a living from genealogy and leave it at that. How about focusing on improving the entire genealogical experience rather than promoting it as a dynamic expanding business opportunity? Just some of my thoughts on a cloudy and snowy day.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Researching Your Revolutionary War Ancestors -- Part One

In the United States, much of the original activity in genealogical research began as a result of interest in lineage societies. Lineage societies owe their origin to this desire to commemorate or honor a particular ancestral heritage or event. There are thousands of such organizations throughout the world and some date back into antiquity. The attraction of these societies is based on social exclusivity through the establishment of a common social bond. Most of these organizations require some sort of genealogical proof of relationship to an ancestor whose participation in the event confers membership on his or her descendants.

In my own personal experience, there has always been a background of my relatives' participation in various lineage societies. Two of the most prominent of these organizations in the United States are the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). Here are some links to lists of other such organizations.
It is sometimes difficult to distinguish such organizations from family organizations and genealogical societies in general. Rather than focus exclusively on the particular requirements for joining such organizations, I decided to write about the process of establishing an ancestral link to a veteran of the American Revolutionary War and use as an example some of the requirements for membership established by the DAR. 

The first step in establishing a connection is to define the event. In this case, the American Revolution has been defined by the DAR as that period of time between the Battle of Lexington, Massachusetts on 19 April 1775 and the withdrawal of the British Troops from New York on 26 November 1783. Participation in the War effort has been extensively defined by the DAR in the following list:
  • Signers of the Declaration of Independence
  • Military Service, such as participation in one of the following: Army and Navy of the Continental Establishment, State Navy, State and Local Militia, Privateers, Military or Naval Service performed by French nationals in the American theater of war
  • Civil Service, under the authority of Provisional or new State Governments: State Officials, County and Town Officials (Town Clerk, Selectman, Juror, Town Treasurer, Judge, Sheriff, Constable, Jailer, Surveyor of Highways, Justice of the Peace, etc.)
  • Patriotic Service, which includes: Members of the Continental Congress, State Conventions, and Assemblies, Membership in committees made necessary by the War, including service on committees which furthered the cause of the Colonies from April 1774, such as Committees of Correspondence, Inspection, and Safety, committees to care for soldier's families, etc., Signer of Oath of Fidelity and Support, Oath of Allegiance, etc., Members of the Boston Tea Party, Defenders of Forts and Frontiers, and Signers of petitions addressed to and recognizing the authority of the Provisional and new State Governments, Doctors, nurses, and others rendering aid to the wounded (other than their immediate families), Ministers who gave patriotic sermons and encouraged patriotic activity, Furnishing a substitute for military service, Prisoners of war or refugees from occupying forces, Prisoners on the British ship Old Jersey or other prison ships, Service in the Spanish Troops under Galvez or the Louisiana Militia after 24 December 1776, Service performed by French nationals within the colonies or in Europe in support of the American cause, Those who rendered material aid, in Spanish America, by supplying cattle for Galvez's forces after 24 December 1776, Those who applied in Virginia for Certificates of Rights to land for settlement and those who were entitled to and were granted preemption rights, Those who took the Oath of Fidelity to the Commonwealth of Virginia from October 1779 to 26 November 1783, Those who rendered material aid such as furnishing supplies with or without remuneration, lending money to the Colonies, munitions makers, gunsmiths, etc.
In some cases, interest in establishing a relationship to an individual who falls into one of these rather broad categories and originates with a family tradition. Unfortunately, such a motivation often leads to frustration because the neophyte genealogical researcher begins his or her research by attempting to "prove" the traditional family relationship when the supposed connection is sometimes based on nothing more than a common surname. 

All genealogical research should be carefully and thoughtfully documented with as many source documents as can be found by working back in time from the most reliable known information. Sometimes, this involves documenting one's own immediate family and then carefully researching each succeeding generation. 

Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Genealogy as a social phenomenon

My recent attendance at the very large genealogy conference called RootsTech 2017 gave me pause to reflect on the interesting social consequences of such a gathering. As was expected and as it is commonly perceived, genealogy attracts a decidedly older segment of the population. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living, Administration on Aging concerning the population of the United States:
The older population—persons 65 years or older—numbered 46.2 million in 2014 (the latest year for which data is available). They represented 14.5% of the U.S. population, about one in every seven Americans. By 2060, there will be about 98 million older persons, more than twice their number in 2014. People 65+ represented 14.5% of the population in the year 2014 but are expected to grow to be 21.7% of the population by 2040.
If we look at this statistic alone, there should be a significant growth potential for an interest in genealogy. Perhaps focusing on youth is a bad marketing decision for those who are investing in the future of genealogy? The assumption that is being made when the genealogical community focuses on youth is that the older genealogist will need to be replaced by younger ones, but the statistical reality is that the pool of potential oldsters is rapidly increasing and there is no expected shortage of old folks to go to huge genealogy conferences and spend their retirement years doing genealogy and spending money on genealogical products. Additionally, the present situation where the "older" population of the United States is relatively electronically unsophisticated will be solved by the simple fact that the aging population will have grown up with computers.

From my own perspective, if I were starting a genealogy-related business today, I would concentrate on making my programs attractive to the mature user. The dichotomy here is that the developers and programmers today are younger and have a socially induced blind spot when it comes to relating to the older population. Here are some more statistics from the Administration on Aging:
  • The population age 65 and over numbered 46.2 million in 2014, an increase 10 million or 28% since 2004.
  • Between 2004 and 2014 the population age 60 and over increased 32.5% from 48.9 million to 64.8 million.
  • The number of Americans aged 45-64 – who will reach 65 over the next two decades—increased by 17.8% between 2004 and 2014.
  • About one in every seven, or 14.5%, of the population, is an older American.
  • Persons reaching age 65 have an average life expectancy of an additional 19.3 years (20.5 years for females and 18 years for males).
  • There were 72,197 persons aged 100 or more in 2014 (0.2% of the total 65+ population).
  • Older women outnumber older men at 25.9 million older women to 20.4 million older men.
You just might want to think this through if you are running a genealogy business. I recall at RootsTech 2017 the long lines of people purchasing DNA testing kits at a reduced price from Maybe the huge demand for these "less expensive" kits also says something about the population. It did not appear to me that the lines were unrepresentative of the bulk of those attending the conference. 

On Saturday at the Conference, it was "Family Discovery Day." The mixture of the crowd tilted slightly towards younger families with children. However, my observations on the Exhibit Floor were unchanged. The people who were talking to and buying from the vendors were the old folks. The youth really had no reference point to take any interested in what the vendors were selling. 

Aren't the genealogically oriented companies ignoring reality? We should be focusing on the 20-year-old+ segment of the population who are going to be the old people of the future. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Genealogy and the use of the word Legacy

Certain words get overused and thereby lose the meaning. In the genealogical community, the word "legacy" is used in a variety of ways to both name software products and to describe other software products. Mind you, I am not picking on any particular product or service. I am commenting on the way that certain words are adopted by communities and used in a variety of particular ways that dramatically change the original meaning or meanings of the words. Because of my background in linguistics, I am always interested when I see the meaning of a word evolving rapidly.

The word "legacy" comes from the late Middle English denoting the function or office of a deputy, especially a papal legate. A papal legate or Apostolic legate (from the Ancient Roman title legatus) is a personal representative of the pope to foreign nations, or to some part of the Catholic Church. He is empowered on matters of Catholic Faith and for the settlement of ecclesiastical matters. See Wikipedia: papal legate.

A woodcut showing Henry II of England greeting the pope's legate
Modern usage of the term has evolved into an entirely different meaning. The most common meaning is as a noun used to describe an amount of money or property left to someone in a will. See The word has been generalized to mean something left or handed down by a predecessor. Interestingly, none of the current genealogical uses of the word come close to any of these three meanings.

Quoting from one product advertisement, "We believe that a Legacy is made from the moments that matter most." The idea is that our personal records are somehow being transformed into a "legacy" to our heirs. Loosely speaking, I guess the third definition of something left or handed down from a predecessor has now been particularized into a "product" that is being sold. This concept is becoming so broad that it now encompasses a DNA test. Perhaps, in one sense our DNA is a legacy but how does that generalize to a DNA test being a legacy? The idea of a will was to provide a way to allow a person some control over the recipients of the legacy. We certainly do not have any choice in the way our DNA is or is not preserved by our descendants.

Most of the "legacy" denoted products are involved in some aspect of digitization. The idea that has become attached to this digitization is preservation as in "preserve your legacy." In this use of the word, it has assumed a degree of autonomy that was not implied in the context of a will and the subsequent probate of an estate. The idea of a legacy in a will was to give the interest in the property to another person, not preserve any particular other interest of the deceased. There were ways to exert control over the use or disposal of the property subsequent to the death of the testator, but the idea of preserving one's information (i.e. life story) was not a primary concern.

Perhaps the idea that "information" is now a form of property that can be owned and inherited is a byproduct of our information age and the transformation of the narrow, legal term into a broad, all inclusive transmittal of information was inevitable.

The GPO and Genealogy

The United States Government is a prolific publisher. Here is a short description of their operations from the website.
The U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) is the Federal Government’s official, digital, secure resource for producing, procuring, cataloging, indexing, authenticating, disseminating, and preserving the official information products of the U.S. Government. The GPO is responsible for the production and distribution of information products and services for all three branches of the Federal Government, including U.S. passports for the Department of State as well as the official publications of Congress, the White House, and other Federal agencies in digital and print formats. GPO provides for permanent public access to Federal Government information at no charge through our govinfo (, partnerships with approximately 1,150 libraries nationwide participating in the Federal Depository Library Program, and our secure online bookstore.
Originally, the bulk of the information available from the GPO was published in paper form and deposited in the various Federal Depository Libraries. It may never have occurred to you, even if you are very familiar with the large libraries, that all these government documents may be a source for genealogical information. You may also be unaware that the Federal Government operates a Genealogy Program. Here is the description from the following:

§103.38 Genealogy Program. (Added effective 8/13/08; 73 FR 28026
(a) Purpose . The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Genealogy Program is a fee-for-service program designed to provide genealogical and historical records and reference services to genealogists, historians, and others seeking documents maintained within the historical record systems.

(b) Scope and limitations . Sections 103.38 through 103.41 comprise the regulations of the Genealogy Program. These regulations apply only to searches for and retrieval of records from the file series described as historical records in 8 CFR 103.39 . These regulations set forth the procedures by which individuals may request searches for historical records and, if responsive records are located, obtain copies of those records.
The Historical Records that are most requested are listed in Section 103.39:
§103.39 Historical Records.

Historical Records are files, forms, and documents now located within the following records series:
(a) Naturalization Certificate Files (C-Files), from September 27, 1906 to April 1, 1956 . Copies of records relating to all U.S. naturalizations in Federal, State, county, or municipal courts, overseas military naturalizations, replacement of old law naturalization certificates, and the issuance of Certificates of Citizenship in derivative, repatriation, and resumption cases. The majority of C-Files exist only on microfilm. Standard C-Files generally contain at least one application form (Declaration of Intention and/or Petition for Naturalization, or other application) and a duplicate certifi cate of naturalization or certificate of citizenship. Many files contain additional documents, including correspondence, affidavits, or other records. Only C-Files dating from 1929 onward include photographs.
(b) Microfilmed Alien Registration Forms, from August 1, 1940 to March 31, 1944 . Microfilmed copies of 5.5 million Alien Registration Forms (Form AR-2) completed by all aliens age 14 and older, residing in or entering the United States between August 1, 1940 and March 31, 1944. The two-page form called for the following information: Name; name at arrival; other names used; street address; post-office address; date of birth; place of birth; citizenship; sex; marital status; race; height; weight; hair and eye color; date, place, vessel, and class of admission of last arrival in United S tates; date of first arrival in United States; number of years in United States; usual occupation; present occupation; name, address, and business of present employer; membership in clubs, organizations, or societies; dates and nature of military or naval service; whether citizenship papers filed, and if so date, place, and court for declaration or petition; number of relatives living in the United States; arrest record, including date, place, and disposition of each arrest; whether or not affiliated with a foreign government; signature; and fingerprint.
(c) Visa Files, from July 1, 1924 to March 31, 1944 . Original arrival records of immigrants admitted for permanent residence under provisions of the Immigration Act of 1924. Visa forms contain all information normally found on a ship passenger list of the period, as well as the immigrant's places of residence for 5 years prior to emigration, names of both the immigrant's parents, and other data. In most cases, birth records or affidavits are attached to the visa, and in some cases, marriage, military, or police records may also be attached to the visa.
(d) Registry Files, from March 2, 1929 to March 31, 1944 . Original records documenting the creation of immigrant arrival records for persons who entered the United States prior to July 1, 1924, and for whom no arrival record could later be found. Most files also include documents supporting the immigrant's claims regarding arrival and residence (e.g., proofs of residence, receipts, and employment records).
(e) Alien-Files numbered below 8 million (A8000000), and documents therein dated prior to May 1, 1951 . Individual alien case files (A-files) became the official file for all immigration records created or consolidated after April 1, 1944. The United States issued A-numbers ranging up to approximately 6 million to aliens and immigrants who were within or entered the United States between 1940 and 1945. The United States entered the 6 million and 7 million series of A-numbers between circa 1944 and May 1, 1951. Any documents dated after May 1, 1951, though found in an A-File numbered below 8 million, will re main subject to FOIA/PA restrictions.
As is the case with many of the Government's websites, you have to be especially persistent to work your way through all the verbiage. Here are the instructions for ordering historical documents.
§103.40 Genealogical Research Requests.

(a) Nature of requests . Genealogy requests are requests for searches and/or copies of historical records relating to a deceased person, usually for genealogy and family history research purposes.
(b) Manner of requesting genealogical searches and records . Requests must be submitted on Form G-1041, Genealogy Index Search Request, or Form G-1041A, Genealogy Records Request, and mailed to the address listed on the form. Beginning on August 13, 2008, USCIS will accept requests electronically through its Web site at . A separate request on Form G-1041 must be submitted for each individual searched, and that form will call for the name, aliases, and all alternate spellings relating to the one individual immigrant. Form G-1041A may be submitted to request one or more separate records relating to separate individuals.
(c) Information required to perform index search . As required on Form G-1041, all requests for index searches to identify records of individual immigrants must include the immigrant's full name (including variant spellings of the name and/or aliases, if any), date of birth, and place of birth. The date of birth must be at least as specific as a year, and the place of birth must be at least as specific as a country (preferably the country name as it existed at the time of the immigrant's immigration or naturalization). Additional information about the imm igrant's date of arrival in the United States, residence at time of naturalization, name of spouse, and names of children may be required to ensure a successful search.
(d) Information required to retrieve records . As required on Form G-1041A, requests for copies of historical records or files must identify the record by number or other specific data used by the Genealogy Program Office to retrieve the record. C-Files must be identified by a naturalization certificate number. Forms AR-2 and A-Files numbered below 8 million must be identified by Alien Registration Number. Visa Files must be identified by the Visa File Number. Registry Files must be identified by the Registry File Number (for example, R-12345).
(e) Information required for release of records . Subjects will be presumed deceased if their birth dates are more than 100 years prior to the date of the request. In other cases, the subject is presumed to be living until the requestor establishes to the satisfaction of the Genealogy Program Office that the subject is deceased. As required on
Form G-1041A, primary or secondary documentary evidence of the subject's death will be required (including but not limited to death records, published obituaries or eulogies, published death notices, church or bible records, photographs of gravestones, and/or copies of official documents relating to payment of death benefits). All documentary evidence must be attached to Form G-1041A or submitted in accordance with instructions provided on Form G-1041A.
(f) Processing of index search requests . This service is designed for customers who are unsure whether USCIS has any record of their ancestor, or who suspect a record exists but cannot identify that record by number. Each request for index search services will generate a search of the indices to determine the existence of responsive historical records. If no record is found, USCIS will notify the customer accordingly. If records are found, USCIS will provide the customer with the search results, including the type of record found and the file nu mber or other information identifying the record. The customer can use this information to request a copy of the record(s).
(g) Processing of record copy requests . This service is designed for customers who can identify a specific record or file to be retrieved, copied, reviewed, and released. Customers may identify one or more files in a single request. However, separate fees will apply to each file requested. Upon receipt of requests identifying specific records by number or other identifying information, USCIS will retrieve, review, duplicate, and then mail the record(s) to the requester. It is possible that USCIS will find a record that contains data that is not releasable to the customer. An example would be names and birth dates of persons who might be living. The FOIA/PA only permits release of this type of information when the affected individual submits a release authorization to USCIS. Therefore, the Genealogy Program Office will contact and inform the customer of this requirement. The customer will have the opportunity to submit the release authorization. The customer can also agree to the transfer of the document request to the FOIA/PA program for treatmen t as a FOIA/PA request as described in 6 CFR Part 5. Document retrieval charges will apply in all cases where documents are retrieved.

§ 6. Section 103.41 is added to read as follows:
§103.41 Genealogy request fees.

(a) Genealogy search fee . See 8 CFR 103.7(b)(1).
(b) Genealogy records fees . See 8 CFR 103.7(b)(1).
(c) Manner of submission . When a request is submitted online, credit card payments are required. These payments will be processed through the Treasury Department's Pay.Gov financial management system. Cashier's checks or money orders in the exact amount must be submitted for requests submitted with Form G-1041 or Form G-1041A in accordance with 8 CFR 103.7(a)(1). Personal Checks will not be accepted.
If all that doesn't discourage you, then you may be rewarded with some valuable information. You may also wish to browse the website for additional gems of information.