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

Saturday, January 31, 2015

DNA Wiki -- Find out what the experts think about DNA

Thanks to a comment by a reader, I got a link to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) Wiki. This resource is billed as a "free genetic genealogy encyclopedia." Quoting from the website,
The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) was founded in 2005 by DNA project administrators who shared a common vision: the promotion and education of genetic genealogy. The society's stated mission is "to advocate for and educate about the use of genetics as a tool for genealogical research, and promote a supportive network for genetic genealogists". The society is a non-commercial non-profit organization, and there are no membership fees/dues. ISOGG publishes an occasional newsletter. As of January 2013 ISOGG has over 8,000 members from 69 countries.
The ISOGG Wiki appears to be an extraordinarily valuable website for those investigating the DNA testing as a tool to extend their genealogical research. The website is current and constantly changing with new material and corrections to existing articles. Here is a list of some sample articles:
Thanks for the valuable website. 

25,000 Early English Books Online from the University of Michigan

Thanks to a post by John D. Reid on his Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections blog, I learned about the books printed between 1473 and 1700 now online curtesy of the University of Michigan libraries. These are not digitized books, but the full text transcriptions of the contents. Here is a description of the newly added text files from the University of Michigan Library:
The texts of the first printed editions of Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Milton as well as lesser-known titles from the early modern era can now be freely read by anyone with an Internet connection. The University of Michigan Library, the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries and ProQuest have made public more than 25,000 manually transcribed texts from the first 200 years of the printed book (1473-1700). These texts represent a significant portion of the estimated total output of English-language work published during the first two centuries of printing in England. 
The release (via Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication) marks the completion of the first phase in the Early English Books Online-Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP). An anticipated 40,000 additional texts are planned for release into the public domain by the end of the decade. 
Full-text public access to the transcribed EEBO-TCP texts is hosted by the U-M Library at The Bodleian offers individual text downloads in several formats, including ePUB files.
The contents of the new offerings on both the Oxford University and ProQuest offerings are only available to registered users. Fortunately, the list of the books is available without registration on the Oxford University website and the list and the contents can be searched on the University of Michigan website.

If you have been hoping to push your genealogical efforts back to the 1600s and even the 1500s, you can get a good idea of what would be entailed in such an effort from looking at a few of these books. You can also search online for digitized copies of these books or other text transcriptions.

Ancestry to Build New Headquarters in Lehi, Utah

A press release from the Nasdaq GlobalNewswire entitled, "Ancestry to Build New Headquarters in Lehi, Utah" is as follows:
PROVO, Utah, Jan. 28, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Ancestry, the world's largest online family history resource, today announced its plans to build a new company headquarters at The Corporate Center at Traverse Mountain in Lehi, Utah. 
"We're excited about our new Utah headquarters," said Tim Sullivan, Chief Executive Officer of Ancestry. "We're proud of everything our employees have accomplished in recent years, and we're looking forward to a new facility that is going to be an awesome place to work." 
For the past three decades Ancestry has been headquartered in Provo, Utah, and has focused on making family history more accessible to millions of people around the world. Today, the company has grown to more than 1,400 employees globally, 1,000 of whom are based in Utah. The new location, located 25 minutes south of Salt Lake City, between Salt Lake City and Provo, will help the company broaden its footprint in attracting and retaining top talent throughout the Wasatch Front. 
The new $35 million facility, located just a few miles off Interstate15, will sit on 10.5 acres with a sleek modern design that incorporates floor to ceiling windows to take in more light and phenomenal views of Mount Timpanogos and the surrounding valley. 
Ancestry is represented by Frank Matheson and Jeff Rossi of Cushman & Wakefield | Commerce Real Estate Solutions. Ancestry is also continuing its long-standing relationship with Rapt Studio, an award-winning design studio, who also designed the Ancestry San Francisco office. Rapt will be developing the interior design to represent both the company's passion for family history and their collaborative culture. Employees will also benefit from a covered parking structure, an outdoor patio, and access to surrounding outdoor biking trails and Lehi's retail shops. 
Pre-construction work started in January, and the campus is projected to be completed and ready for occupants mid-year 2016. Ancestry expects to initially occupy approximately 135,000 square feet on location, positioning the company for the decades of growth and success to come. 
About is the world's largest online family history resource with more than 2 million paying subscribers across all its websites. More than 15 billion records have been added to the sites and users have created more than 60 million family trees containing more than 6 billion profiles. In addition to its flagship site, the company operates several global Ancestry international websites along with a suite of online family history brands, including,,, and offers the AncestryDNA product, sold by its subsidiary, DNA, LLC, all of which are designed to empower people to discover, preserve and share their family history.
I only live a few minutes from the present offices of here in Provo, Utah. The area where is moving is further north near the north-end of the Utah Valley. The new area is the site of many new high tech developments including and many other fast growing businesses. I am sure Provo will be sad to lose their current facility.

Eight Semi-Finalists Named for #RootsTech Innovator Challenge

A FamilySearch Blog post by Thom Reed entitled "Announcing the Eight Semifinalists for the $25,000 RootsTech Innovator Challenge" has been posted. The announcement states:
RootsTech, the world’s largest family history and technology conference, is pleased to announce the eight semifinalists in the annual Innovator Challenge. The Innovator Challenge is a first of its kind global competition to encourage developers to create apps and technology based experiences that will shape the future of the family history industry. Out of 51 total entries, these eight we selected by a panel of independent judges as worthy of moving forward in the competition.
One year, I participated as a judge in the competition and that was a very interesting and challenging experience. Here is the list of the Semi-Finalists:

Argus Search
Google-like full text search in historic and handwritten documents without prior referencing.

Find experts for your specific family history needs with Dutch auction pricing.
An instant biography for any ancestor: Explore the lifestyles, places and events that impacted their lives.

Legacy Stories
Your stories making history.

Where Everyone Makes History.

Bring your family history to life with interactive stories that let your family discover their ancestors.

The easiest way to record your family stories.

Personalized health through genealogy, health histories, & genetics to help families minimize risks & live well.

As the blog post points out:
These eight semifinalists are competing for 4 final spots to be judged during the live Innovator Showdown at RootsTech. New to RootsTech in 2015, the Innovator Showdown is a live event featuring the 4 Innovator Challenge finalists, 5 renowned judges, and $25,000* to be awarded among the finalist. The audience can tip the scales in favor of one entry as part of the People’s Choice award. 
To witness these top innovations, see these finalists in action and make your voice heard, register for RootsTech today and be sure to join us for the Innovator Showdown in Hall D at the Salt Palace Convention Center on Friday, February 13 at 10:30 a.m. 
* The $25,000 in total cash prizes is offered by MyHeritage (platinum sponsor), and Grow Utah Ventures, Hero Partners, IPOP Foundation, Sprint, STG, Utah Technology Council.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Blizzard of Spam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In contrast, here are some simple rules.

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

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

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Required Genealogical Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do I go for accurate information on DNA testing?

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Inconsequential Records?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is an image of a sextant:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Genealogical Research Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BYU Family History Technology Workshop

For an interesting introduction to the huge RootsTech 2015 Conference, Brigham Young University is holding a Family History Technology Workshop on the BYU campus the day before the big conference on February 10, 2015. This one day conference is described as:
The Family History Technology Workshop has been held for 15 years, at both BYU and at RootsTech in Salt Lake City. Attendees include researchers, software developers, and professionals, brought together by their shared passion for improving family history technology.
The 2015 Family History Technology Workshop will bring together developers, researchers, technology professionals, and users to discuss the future of family history technology and genealogical research. The workshop will feature developer sessions, lightning talks, technical presentations, panels, and demos to showcase emerging and future technologies.
 The program and schedule will be announced on February 1, 2015. Registration is now open and costs $60 which apparently includes a light breakfast and lunch.

Since I live less than five minutes away from the BYU Convention Center where the conference is being held, I decided to attend. This will make for a lot of blog posting and a longer RootsTech week.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Understanding Real Property Legal Descriptions for Genealogy: Metes and Bounds

English: Broadwater Farm: detail of the 1619 map of the Parish of Tottenham, Middlesex (now in the London Borough of Haringey)
One of the keys to accurate and complete genealogical research is finding the exact location of some event associated with an ancestor. Real property rental or ownership is one very good way to determine an exact location associated with your ancestor's life. Some of the documents you may find that might contain a property description, often referred to as the legal description (or even the "legal"), include:
  • deeds
  • rental or lease agreements
  • probate documents
  • gifts or bequests
  • sales contracts
  • tax documents
  • mortgages
  • deeds of trust
  • land warrants
  • trust documents
  • wills
and many other documents. Historically, land has been described in three different ways:

  • Metes and Bounds
  • Rectangular Survey
  • Subdivision Lot and Block

Sometimes, the differences between these systems are blurred and a legal description may contain elements of two or all three of the methods. The important thing to understand is that the legal description is a method of representing the boundary of the property in words. These legal description methods are not confined to the United States, they are used around the world.

The original method of establishing the boundaries of piece of real property was by reference to physical objects such as trees, rivers, lakes, rocks, or other such objects. For example, a prominent tree or rock outcropping would be chosen as the starting point and then measuring the distance to other physical objects. This type of description is what is meant by the terms "metes and bounds." Here is the definition of the terms from Wikipedia:
  • Metes. The term "metes" refers to a boundary defined by the measurement of each straight run, specified by a distance between the terminal points, and an orientation or direction. A direction may be a simple compass bearing, or a precise orientation determined by accurate survey methods.
  • Bounds. The term "bounds" refers to a more general boundary description, such as along a certain watercourse, a stone wall, an adjoining public road way, or an existing building.
Here is a commonly referred to example of a metes and bounds description:
Commencing at a heap of stones about a stone’s throw from a certain small clump of alders, near a brook running down off from a rather high part of the ridge, thence by a straight line to a certain marked white birch tree about two or three times as far from a jog in the fence going around said ledge and the “Great Swamp” so called, then in a line of said lot in part and in part by another piece of fence which joins onto said line, and by an extension of the general run of said fence to a heap of stones near a surface rock, thence aforesaid to the “Horn” so called and passing around the same aforesaid, as far as possible, to the “Great Bend” so called, and from thence to a squarish sort of jog in another fence so on to a marked black oak tree with stones around it and thence by another straight line in about a contrary direction and somewhere about parallel with the line around by the “Great Swamp” to a stake and stone mounds not far off from an old Indian trail, thence by another straight line on a course diagonally parallel, or nearly so, with “Fox Hollow” run, so called, to a certain marked yellow oak tree on the off side of a knoll with flat stones laid against it, thence after turning around in another direction and by a sloping straight line to a certain heap of stones which is by pacing just 18 rods more from the stump of the big hemlock tree where Philo Blake killed the bear, thence to the corner begun at by two straight lines of about equal length which are to be run in by some skilled and competent surveyor so as to include the area and acreage as herein set forth.
Unfortunately, I cannot find where this particular description originated. It may be made up for illustration purposes, but it is often referred to by those talking about boundary descriptions. The main problem with such descriptions is that the physical objects chosen to describe the property often are destroyed or move over time. For genealogists, trying to locate property from such a description can be a nightmare. Current property boundaries that were historically based on metes and bounds descriptions may have been supplanted by another, more recent survey method. However, even today when the waypoints (Waypoints are sets of coordinates that identify a point in physical space) for a description may have been established by exact survey points, unless the survey is tied into a rectangular survey, the description may still be referred to as a metes and bounds description.

Early in the European settlement of America, land descriptions might refer to adjacent property owners. If the genealogical researcher expands the scope of his or her inquiry, sometimes the land descriptions can give the names of other members of a the extended family or even the maiden names of married women. 

In subsequent posts, I will talk more about legal descriptions and their impact on genealogical research. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Where did your ancestors live? -- An Introduction to parcel maps

Sanborn Insurance Map of Provo Utah, 1908
My recently post on cadastral mapping points out an interesting fact: local tax records usually indicate where and when people lived in a particular place. Since determining the exact location of an event in an ancestor's life is often crucial in determining his or her identity, any resource that can give an exact location is invaluable.

My early experience with these important records was in researching town records in Rhode Island. I found that most of the documents associated with land or land transfers were in these records. In a quick search on, I find only six collections of digitized town records. So most of these records, at least on, are still available only on microfilm. A search on shows more town related documents, with over 600 falling in this category.

Beginning in 1867, the Sanborn Map Company began publishing insurance maps of cities in the United States. There are various collections online. The map above comes from a collection at the University of Utah, J. Willard Marriott Library. There are over 660,000 of these maps available, many online. The largest collections of these maps are in the Library of Congress and online. Search for "fire insurance maps" on Google.

The corresponding maps for the rural part of the United States are on "county atlases." These maps can be quite detailed and show individual parcels and ownership. For example, the Map Collection of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum CommissionBureau of Archives and History, Pennsylvania State Archives contains Pennsylvania County Atlases and Maps from the 1850s-1870s.  Here is an example showing the individual property owners:

Map #334 - Map of Bradford County, Pennsylvania, 1858 Published by Wm. J. Barker, Philadelphia. J. M. Edsall, Assistant Publisher
You can download these maps and zoom in and see the individual lot owners.

Another way to approach this research is by searching in the online records maintained by individual counties. These are usually maintained by county recorders and/or assessors. There is a portal to these records maintained by Nationwide Environmental Title Research, LLC. For example, using their Public Records Online Directory, I clicked on Utah, then Utah County and found the website for the Utah County Recorder online. Within seconds, I found the chain of title to my own property in Provo. These records contained a legal description of the entire subdivision development. Here is an example of a legal description from that source:
Legal Description: COM N 40'48"W 1063.12 FT & E 405.72 FT FR SW COR SEC 29, T6S, R3E, SLM; 60.98 FT ALONG ARC OF 402.60 FT RAD CUR L (CHD N 6 DEG 54'33"E 60.92 FT); N 2 DEG 34'12"E 18.48 FT; ALON ARC 300 FT R CUR T L (CHD N 5 DEG 36'08"W 85.29 FT); ALONG ARC 20 FT RAD CUR TO R (CHD N 28 DEG 43'08"E 27.02 FT); ALONG ARC 269.5 FT RAD CUR TO R (CHD N 71 DEG 33'17"E 3.22 FT); ALONG ARC 269.5 FT RAD CUR TO R (CHD N 80 DEG 37'02"E 81.64 FT); N 89 DEG 19'12"E 186.9 FT; S 40'48"E 182.35 FT; N 88 DEG 27'42"E 199.63 FT; S 40'48"E 21.34 FT; S 89 DEG 19'12"W 485.31 FT TO BEG. AREA 1.36 ACRES.
This brings up another issue. In many cases, to interpret the land records you find, you will need to know how to read the legal descriptions and further, how to place those descriptions on a larger map. Very often, the county will include a way to look at the parcels and ownership. Here is an example from the Utah County Parcel Map:

Early land acquisition records in the United States are also a valuable genealogical source. In future posts, I will explain how to read the above legal description and others both recent and historical. I will also explore some of the other detailed land records in the United States dating back to the times of the earliest settlers. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

The European Library Online

January: a man warming himself (at a fire)
Dutch collections Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts
Citing from The European Library website:
What is The European Library?
The European Library is an online portal that offers easy access to the collections of Europe's national libraries and an expanding range of research libraries. It aims to meet the needs of researchers worldwide by providing the ability to:
  • Search over 200 million records
  • Access over 24 million pages of full-text content and more than 7 million digital objects
  • Find a wide range of material, including rare books, manuscripts, images and video
  • Export records to reference management services such as Mendeley and Zotero
  • Download metadata free of charge for data mining and exploitation 
What is the relationship between The European Library and Europeana?
The European Library is the aggregator of digital content from national libraries for Europeana. We deliver digital content from our member libraries on a monthly basis to Europeana. Some human and technical resources are also shared between the two organisations.
The majority of the items in the Library are free to access. Users can cross-search and reuse over 25,188,714 digital items and 165,471,423 bibliographic records.

I find that this type of online resource is virtually unknown among genealogists.

The Pan-European Newspaper Digitalization Projectākās Ziņas/1915/1/23 and The European Library have been involved in an historic cultural project, from the website, here is an explanation of the project;
Our project is:
  • Funded under the European Commission’s CIP 2007 – 2013 programme;
  • A three-year project, running until January 2015;
  • Aggregating 18 million historic newspaper pages for Europeana and The European Library;
  • Converting 10 million newspaper pages to full text. This will help users quickly search for specific articles, people and locations mentioned within the newspaper;
  • Creating a special content viewer to improve online newspaper browsing.Try the prototype;
  • Building tools that will allow professionals to better assess the quality of newspaper digitisation in relation to level of detail, speed and costs.
On the 22-23 January 2015 an international meeting was held in the National Library of Estonia which concluded the pan-European newspaper digitalization project. About 40 specialists of digital libraries from 23 countries were expected to participate. Here is an outline of what the project accomplished from the National Library of Estonia:
As part of the Europeana Newspapers project, The European Library developed a historic newspapers browser that enables users to perform full-text searches in millions of historic newspaper pages. The browser contains around 30 million newspaper pages from 25 libraries in 23 European countries. Users are able to search:
  • full text of more than 10 million historic newspaper pages
  • named entity recognition in Dutch, German and French to enable searches of names of people and geographic places
  • metadata records of over 20 million historic newspaper pages.
You can see the results of the project on The European Library's Historic Newspaper Browser.

I am continually amazed at the huge number of digitalization projects going on around the world almost continually.

Don't Ignore Migration Patterns and Routes

Areas with greatest proportion of reported Scotch-Irish ancestry
One of the most ignored areas of genealogical research is the issue of migration routes. All too often I will see an online family tree record with a person listed as living in a certain location and then moving to another location that does not make any sense. Usually, it turns out that the second person is in fact a different person. If you find information about an ancestor that runs counter to the normal migration pattern, this is an invitation to do more intensive research into the history surrounding the family.

In the map above, you can see the concentrations of Scotch-Irish immigration in the United States. Contrast this with following map of Lithuanian immigrants:

Distribution of Lithuanian Americans according to the 2000 census.
Of course, maps such as these do not tell the entire story. Here is a description of the distribution of Lithuanian immigrants from Wikipedia:
Chicago, Illinois, is home to the second largest population of Lithuanians in the world, and the old "Lithuanian Downtown" in Bridgeport was once the center of Lithuanian political activity for the whole United States. Another large Lithuanian community can be found in the Coal Region of northeastern Pennsylvania, particularly in Schuylkill County where the small borough of New Philadelphia has the largest percentage of Lithuanian Americans (20.8%) in the United States. There is also a large community of Lithuanian descent in the coal mining regions of Western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia Panhandle and Northeastern Ohio tri-state area. Grand County, Colorado's Lithuanian-American community has the unusual distinction in that it is the only sizable immigrant population in an otherwise fairly homogeneous population in a rural, mountainous community. There is also a small but vibrant Lithuanian community in Presque Isle, Maine. Many Lithuanian refugees settled in Southern California after World War II; they constitute a community in Los Angeles.
To begin to understand how populations move both across international boundaries and inside specific countries, it is necessary to do both general and very specific historical research. But the real question is how is this going to help me find my ancestors? Inexperienced genealogists focus on names and dates. As we gain experience, we expand our searches to include the social, political and economic backgrounds of our ancestor's surroundings.

Since people tend to congregate into areas that have similar social, economic, racial, cultural and religious backgrounds. As we learn about and analyze these factors, we can explain seemingly random movements.  For example, why did I move from Mesa, Arizona with a high concentration of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Provo, Utah, another place with a high concentration of members of the same Church? The more you know about my background and values, the easier it would be to understand the move.

If that question does not seem important to you, then you are missing one of the most basic of genealogical research issues; the forces behind the movements of your ancestors. Those forces can be said to push people to move and also pull them. For example, one branch of my family came from Northern Ireland. The ancestor that immigrated with his family was William Linton (b. 1799 in Northern Ireland, d. 1851 in Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) From the dates and places where his children were born, I can determine that he moved from Northern Ireland to New Brunswick, Canada in about 1835. Why then? Even a very modest investigation into the history of Ireland in the 1800s will give one very good answer: from 1801, Ireland had been on the verge of disaster. Here is a brief description of the conditions from Wikipedia: Great Famine (Ireland):
Starting in 1801, Ireland had been directly governed, under the Act of Union, as part of the United Kingdom. Executive power lay in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Chief Secretary for Ireland, both of whom were appointed by the British government. Ireland sent 105 members of parliament to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, and Irish representative peers elected 28 of their own number to sit for life in the House of Lords. Between 1832 and 1859, 70% of Irish representatives were landowners or the sons of landowners.[10] 
In the 40 years that followed the union, successive British governments grappled with the problems of governing a country which had, as Benjamin Disraeli put it in 1844, "a starving population, an absentee aristocracy, and an alien Church, and in addition the weakest executive in the world."[11] One historian calculated that between 1801 and 1845, there had been 114 commissions and 61 special committees enquiring into the state of Ireland and that "without exception their findings prophesied disaster; Ireland was on the verge of starvation, her population rapidly increasing, three-quarters of her labourers unemployed, housing conditions appalling and the standard of living unbelievably low."[12] (footnotes left in on purpose).
 Could there have been better reasons for moving to America?

On the other hand, migrants may be pulled to a new land. Examples in the United States are numerous; the 1849 gold rush to California, the Oklahoma land rush of 1889 and many other examples. Many of my own ancestors came to America because they joined the LDS Church.

If you are not aware of the factors that affected your ancestors' movements, you will lose them in the shuffle. Many times, when searching for the next ancestor, the researcher ignores the factors that placed the family where it was. We always point out that we begin the search for an immigrant in the country of arrival, but we always need to look to the reasons that made the immigrant move in the first place.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

#RootsTech Week-at-a-Glance

I got a comment stating that that the person was having trouble finding an overall schedule for #RootsTech 2015. My wife and I had the same problem, but she found that the mobile app has a document attached called RootsTech Week-at-a-Glance. The link is to a PDF file that has an outline showing the times for registration and closing. It doesn't answer specific questions but it does give you the information you need to plan when to arrive and when you might be leaving. I thought this link might be useful to some who have not yet downloaded the apps for their tablets, iPad or smartphones.

Some Comments on Upgrades -- Windows 10 is coming soon

From time to time, I have written about the need to backup your data and upgrade both programs and operating systems. A recent online news item caught my eye, will no longer support OS X 10.5 or older starting May 18th. See Help Center, "Ending support for OS X Tiger 10.4 and 10.5 Leopard." This announcement may seem innocuous and just part of the background news that you patiently (or impatiently) ignore, but it is another example of the very rapid movement in technology. Genealogists are not immune to these changes. I am still talking to people who have massive amounts of their personal genealogical research locked up in Personal Ancestral File, a program that was discontinued in 2002!

Apple's OS X operating systems were first introduced with Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah in 2001. Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger was introduced in 2004 and Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard was introduced in 2006. I have an iMac sitting dormant in my office because the processor in the iMac cannot take an operating system later than OS X 10.5 and there are very few things left I can do with the computer. The most recent Apple OS X is OS X 10.10 Yosemite introduced in 2014.

There is a direct correlation between the release of a new operating system and changes in the microprocessor used in your computer. New processors equal new operating systems in most cases. You may think that your old computer is merely a little out-of-date and slow, but the effects of technological change are much more serious than mere inconvenience. Some programs are abandoned as the new technology changes. Most developers bite the bullet and upgrade their programs constantly. Sometimes these upgrades result in a cost to upgrade to a new version. Most of the time, the new version has features that make it more useful, although with some upgrades it may seem that the developer is going in the other direction.

Now we come to Window 10 from Microsoft. estimates that 56.26% of the world's computers are running Windows 7. Mac OS X 10.10 has 3.21% of the market and older versions of both operating systems or other operating systems make up the balance. There are supposedly 18.26% of the market still using Windows XP. Windows XP had a long run, it was introduced in 2001 and replaced by Windows Vista in 2007.

At the core of the issue here is that when Windows 10 comes out, it will have features that will require the most recent computer processors. If you look at the list of Intel Chipsets in the past few years, you can see a rough correspondence with the changes in operating systems. Intel released new Pentium chips in 1999 and 2001. See Wikipedia: List of Intel chipsets. Pentium 4 Chipsets began coming out in 2000 and continued until 2003. Newer Pentium 4 chips came out in 2004, 2005 and 2006. 2004 to 2006 saw the introduction of the Core/Core 2 Chipsets. New series of chips are coming out in 2015 and 2016.

You may wonder what in the world the new Windows 10 features have to do with genealogy. So do I as a matter of fact, but the reality of the upgrade is that programs will have to be upgraded to function with the new system. Once a developer moves to a new version of their program, they almost always phase out support for older versions over a matter of time. So you may not be attracted to the new Windows 10 features and conclude that you will just stay with your old XP system for a while longer, but inevitably your computer will stop functioning and you will start looking for a new computer and find out that the new computers all come with a much newer operating system and that your old programs need to be upgraded. If you are forced to upgrade all of your programs at once, the cost can exceed the cost of the new computer by three or four times.

My wife and I use Adobe products constantly. I use Photoshop, Bridge, Lightroom, InDesign and Adobe Acrobat Pro almost every day. She uses InDesign, Photoshop and Acrobat Pro very regularly. We upgraded our iMacs and the cost of upgrading just one of those programs, Photoshop, was close to $800. We have since gone onto the Adobe Creative Cloud program and have access to all of the programs for a monthly fee. The concept here is that you can pay a large sum from time to time or a smaller amount for periodic upgrades.

Computer systems and online connections have a definite cost. As genealogists this cost and the time spent to do the upgrades is a "cost of doing business." Change is the reality. Railing against the change is futile.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

#RootTech Ramp Up

My wife and I got busy recently in figuring out the logistics of traveling from Provo, Utah to Salt Lake City, Utah each day to attend the #RootsTech Conference from February 11th through the 14th. My participation starts off with the Innovators Summit on Wednesday, the 11th, and then continues with various meetings, luncheons and dinners on subsequent days until my presentation the last class hour on Saturday afternoon. My wife has some of her own meetings and dinners to attend also. We have considered staying somewhere in Salt Lake for the duration of the conference, but train fare on the FrontRunner train is only about $6 each round-trip for us seniors. I have attended three conferences now in Salt Lake in the past few weeks and ridden the train each time. I do have to get up early, but I am used to that.

The first RootsTech Conference was a completely different experience. I had no idea what to expect. FamilySearch was overly solicitous of us a Bloggers, probably because they were relying on us to get the word out about the Conference. We had tours, dinner, special considerations etc. With each succeeding conference, the amount of involvement and "hype" diminished. Mind you, I am not complaining. I think the fact that RootsTech has quickly evolved into a huge media-related event is an overall benefit for the genealogical community as a whole. During the succeeding conferences, my role as a "blogger" has changed considerably, from class presentations to participating as one of the keynote speakers. For me, the highlight of the conference has been and will be, the opportunity to talk to and mingle with people in the genealogical community from all over the world and especially for renewing acquaintanceships and friendships with bloggers, developers and others associated with the genealogical community. Every year, I have had some extraordinary experiences in talking to people at the conference. In fact, last year, except for the Innovators Summit, I attended very few classes, I was too busy writing and talking.

#RootsTech is marvelous opportunity for me to carry on my online conversation with the world with actual people in person instead of sitting at a computer most of the day and staring at the screen.

Through all of this, FamilySearch has been extremely supportive and friendly to boot. Whereas, at the beginning, bloggers were a big deal, today, we are merely one of hundreds of activities going on in a complex and highly organized production. I am honored that they have invited me to be an International Ambassador to the Conference. Maybe I can top my own record for the number of posts I put up online? That will be hard to do because I will be limited in not being able to use Voice Recognition software because of the ambient noise. Don't worry, you will probably hear from me all during the conference.

The number of famous keynote speakers and entertainers keeps growing. Here is a quote from the latest FamilySearch Blog post:
RootsTech 2015, already the largest family history conference in the world, is on track to surpass last year’s record of 13,000 attendees—more than 18,000 are expected this year with over 50,000 joining online. The success can be attributed to the growing popularity of family history with people of all ages and a star-studded lineup of speakers and entertainers who will share their personal family stories, including former First Lady Laura Bush, tech visionary Tan Le, and entertainer Donny Osmond. RootsTech is hosted by FamilySearch and held at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, February 12–14. Go to to register or to see the full schedule of keynotes, performers, and speakers.
How can a mere blogger compete with that for attention? The newest addition to the line up is as follows:
Fanning the popularity of genealogy worldwide are technologies that connect and strengthen families through discovering and sharing their past. RootsTech also creates an environment for innovators and entrepreneurs developing new applications for family history to showcase their latest innovations. Technologist and entrepreneur Tan Le will help kick off RootsTech on Thursday, February 12, as she shares her personal heroic immigrant story as she fled Vietnam with her mother and sister at a very young age. 
The Vietnamese refugee was named Young Australian of the Year and recognized by Fast Company as one of the most influential women in technology and by Forbes as one of the 50 names you need to know. “I consider it a privilege any time I can share my experiences with others who have personal trials but desire to rise above them as my mother and grandmother inspired me to do,” Le said of her opportunity to speak at RootsTech 2015.
 The first year of RootsTech, the Conference got very little media attention outside of a few bloggers. Even the local newspapers and other media outlets virtually ignored the entire conference. Lately, however, the local news media has been running almost constant stories or ads for the event. I still find a lot of people here in Provo, just a few miles away from Salt Lake City, that have never heard of the event or have absolutely no interest, but I do not doubt that the numbers predicted above will very likely be understated.

As usual, the bloggers (read International Ambassadors) will be ensconced in the Media Hub at the center of the Exhibition Floor. Take some time to say hello if you see me and maybe we can talk for a minute.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Crossing the Border

It may well be that political boundaries have always existed since the very first human organizations. It is a certainty that, at least, for the last one hundred years, individuals had to obtain some sort of permission to move across an international boundary or even internal political boundaries within a single country. At times, some countries imposed and still impose travel restrictions on their own citizens and even the process of moving from one city to another to work, requires documentation. That need for permission generates a whole slew of documents that genealogists can use to identify and track individuals. Even if permission was not necessary, there are still documents that track the movements of individuals and families.

The list of documents that record the efforts of your ancestors to cross a border is extensive. The list includes some of these categories of documents:

  • Ship manifests or passenger lists
  • Border crossing records
  • Passports
  • Visas
  • Work permits
  • Travel permits
  • Exit permits
  • Immigration and emigration documents
  • Church records
  • Business records
  • Police Records
  • Military Records and/or Failure to report for service records
  • Citizenship records including, but not limited to naturalization records
  • Port of departure records
  • Approval to emigrate before departure
  • Published announcements of emigration
  • Pre-departure records
  • Consular records
  • Home town censuses and emigrant lists
  • Illegal and extralegal emigration
A common challenge for genealogical researchers in the United States is determining the place of origin of the immigrant. Any of the above record categories and many more types of records can contain that sort of information. I recently identified the birth place of a Great-great-grandfather from a church record. So where would I begin?

The first step, as is commonly taught to budding genealogists, is to start with the records your family has preserved. Any surviving records should be carefully examined to determine if the record contains information about the place of origin of the ancestor. But if these home sources have been exhausted, then there are many websites containing vast amounts of information about international and even local travelers. 

The first place I would look for ancestors' movements would be the Immigrant Ancestors Project. Here is the description of the project from the website:
Immigrant Ancestors is a project sponsored by Brigham Young University's Center for Family History and Genealogy. To create the database, images of emigrant records are transmitted over the Web to volunteers who extract their contents and send them back to the project team at Brigham Young University (BYU). BYU students are hired as part of the project team to supervise the volunteers and edit their work before adding it to the database.
This database already contains hundreds of thousands of records from France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom. You can see a list of the archives that have been used to create the lists by clicking here. See the information on Records and Laws on this website.

Next, I would recommend following the links contained in the Research Wiki on United States Emigration and Immigration. In addition to links for each state in the United States, the Research Wiki contains the following list of resources:

See also United States Immigration and Naturalization Online Resources. Of course, you should search the large online genealogy websites, including,, and Here are a few other very useful websites to get you started:
This is only the barest beginning of a list of place to search. I included the Australian records because I have two lines of ancestors who came to the Unites States from Australia and also we are coming up on the celebration of Australia Day on the 26th of January. See #AustraliaDay.