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

Monday, October 23, 2017

Free MyHeritage Online Genealogy Seminar

Here is an announcement from You might remember that MyHeritage purchased both the Legacy Family Tree program and the Legacy Webinar series. This is apparently one of the first offerings directly from MyHeritage. Here is the text of the announcement.
I'm happy to invite you to attend MyHeritage's first One-Day Genealogy Seminar, to be held on October 29, 2017 from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. EDT. Learn from experts in the fields of DNA, Jewish genealogy, general research techniques, and technological trends in genealogy. MyHeritage will broadcast the lectures from our headquarters in Israel, and the public is invited to participate via Legacy Family Tree Webinars from anywhere in the world for FREE. Recordings of the lectures will later be available to view on demand for free. To register, click here
Please share this with your friends and followers. 
Best regards
Daniel Horowitz

Modern Europeans Have Twice as Much Neanderthal DNA as Previously Reported

This is the kind of story that you might usually expect on the cover of a supermarket tabloid, but apparently, there is some support for this updated disclosure. Some genealogists who have taken popular DNA tests have been getting results showing a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA for some time now. A search on results in over 1200 books and other publications on the subject of Neanderthal DNA. Checking on the website of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), there are two companies that represent providing Neanderthal DNA percentages: and the National Geographic, Genographic Project, Geno 2.0 Next Generation Test.

The headlines apparently come from findings at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany back in 2013 when the entire Neandertal (Neanderthal) genome was decoded. See "Entire Neandertal Genome Decoded." Although the news article does not give a citation to the source, the article that opened the issue to the discussion was published in the journal "Science" as "A high-coverage Neandertal genome from Vindija Cave in Croatia," by Dr. Kay Prüfer and others. Here is a copy of the abstract of the article:
To date the only Neandertal genome that has been sequenced to high quality is from an individual found in Southern Siberia. We sequenced the genome of a female Neandertal from ~50 thousand years ago from Vindija Cave, Croatia to ~30-fold genomic coverage. She carried 1.6 differences per ten thousand base pairs between the two copies of her genome, fewer than present-day humans, suggesting that Neandertal populations were of small size. Our analyses indicate that she was more closely related to the Neandertals that mixed with the ancestors of present-day humans living outside of sub-Saharan Africa than the previously sequenced Neandertal from Siberia, allowing 10-20% more Neandertal DNA to be identified in present-day humans, including variants involved in LDL cholesterol levels, schizophrenia and other diseases.
Perhaps this type of finding gives genealogists a little more accurate assessment of the value of the ethnicity estimates that are now popularly provided with genealogical DNA tests.

More about this later.

The Sonny Bono Memorial Collection on

I found an article recently entitled, "An obscure copyright law is letting the Internet Archive distribute books published 1923-1941" on Here is an explanation of the issue:
Section 108(h) of the Copyright Act gives libraries the power to scan and serve copies of out-of-print books published between 1923 and 1941; it's never been used before but now the mighty Internet Archive is giving it a serious workout, adding them to their brilliantly named Sonny Bono Memorial Collection (when Bono was a Congressman, he tried to pass a law that would extend copyright to "forever less a day" and was instrumental in moving millions of works from the public domain back into copyright, "orphaning" them so that no one could preserve them and no one knew who the copyrights belonged to).
Here is the Internet Archive's description of the collection:
We believe the works in this collection are eligible for free public access under 17 U.S.C. Section 108(h) which allows for non-profit libraries and archives to reproduce, distribute, display and publicly perform a work if it meets the criteria of: a published work in the last twenty years of copyright, and after conducting a reasonable investigation, no commercial exploitation or copy at a reasonable price could be found. This provision was enacted at the same time as the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. This collection has been named for Sonny Bono to acknowledge this valuable exemption specifically granted to libraries that was put into the law. 
Please be aware that subsequent uses may not be permitted under US copyright such as reproduction, distribution, display or public performance.

Works may be in the public domain already, in which case, these restrictions do not apply.
Section 108 (h) of the Copyright Act reads as follows:
(h)(1) For purposes of this section, during the last 20 years of any term of copyright of a published work, a library or archives, including a nonprofit educational institution that functions as such, may reproduce, distribute, display, or perform in facsimile or digital form a copy or phonorecord of such work, or portions thereof, for purposes of preservation, scholarship, or research, if such library or archives has first determined, on the basis of a reasonable investigation, that none of the conditions set forth in subparagraphs (A), (B), and (C) of paragraph (2) apply. 
(2) No reproduction, distribution, display, or performance is authorized under this subsection if— 
(A) the work is subject to normal commercial exploitation;
(B) a copy or phonorecord of the work can be obtained at a reasonable price; or
(C) the copyright owner or its agent provides notice pursuant to regulations promulgated by the Register of Copyrights that either of the conditions set forth in subparagraphs (A) and (B) applies. 
(3) The exemption provided in this subsection does not apply to any subsequent uses by users other than such library or archives. 
(i) The rights of reproduction and distribution under this section do not apply to a musical work, a pictorial, graphic or sculptural work, or a motion picture or other audiovisual work other than an audiovisual work dealing with news, except that no such limitation shall apply with respect to rights granted by subsections (b), (c), and (h), or with respect to pictorial or graphic works published as illustrations, diagrams, or similar adjuncts to works of which copies are reproduced or distributed in accordance with subsections (d) and (e).
If you can read that and understand what it is saying, you can also understand why copyright law in the United States is such a disaster. 

I need to note, however, that Internet Archive or now has over 14 million books online plus a lot of other stuff. For genealogists, many huge databases are going online on and not yet on any other website. It is time to begin regularly using this website for genealogical research.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Genealogy Cures the Common Cold and 43 Other Diseases

Note: After contacting my unnamed sources in the desert outside of Mesa, Arizona, I was able to obtain this top secret report from the American Advanced Genealogical Study Institute reporting a recent study about the effects of doing genealogy for 14 hours a day, seven days a week for 15 years. Please be aware that I am not responsible for this reports contents. Any use of this report's contents is strictly the responsibility of the individual. I must also report that my source has since disappeared into the Superstition Wilderness Area looking for the Lost Dutchman Mine.



22 October 2017. The AAGSI has today concluded a study that it has been secretly conducting for the past 15 years on the effects of doing genealogy for 14 hours a day, seven days a week. The study was concluded when the study subject succumbed to the 45th disease in the study. However, the promising conclusions of the study were verified just before the study subject expired. Yes, the study strongly supports the findings that the study subject, a white male approximately 70 years old, had actually been cured of 44 previously incurable diseases.

Before this study can be released to the public, it is necessary to substantiate the findings by doing another 15-year study using a group of grade school children. But because it will take approximately thirty years to train the children in genealogical research, the actual results of the follow-up study will not be available for approximately 45 years. Meanwhile, the AAGSI is secretly recruiting older test subjects who are already able to do research 14 hours a day, seven days a week. Participants will only be charged $1000 a month to participate in the study.

Subsequent Note: Unfortunately, it was almost 100 degrees outside when I met the informant out in the desert and by the time I was able to return to my air-conditioned car, I lost the rest of the report. All I was able to retrieve was this partial list of diseases from which the study subject was cured:

STUDY SUBJECT DISEASE CURES (in alphabetical order)

bladder in the throat
bone shave
crop sickness
eel thing
green fever
hectical complaint

This is where the document ends.

Your Local Library as a Genealogical Resource
If you take the time to look at your local library's website, you might be pleasantly surprised to find out that the library has a number of genealogically related services. This screenshot is a somewhat random page from a county in Florida. Granted, the resources are somewhat limited, but you should note that the main subject is a heritage collection of local photos. Here is a further screenshot of the collection page:*&by=KW&sort=PD&limit=TOM=dmc&query=&page=0&searchid=1
The genealogical resources that are available in local libraries often include local histories, photos, newspapers, and even journals, diaries, family bibles and other items of more than local interest. In addition, the librarians can be a source of valuable local information. I write about this topic from time to time because it is important that as we do research across the world to remember to check with the local libraries. By the way, I phone call does not constitute a visit. Sometimes phone calls will provide some information, but usually, a visit and taking the time to look at what is available will result in far more information.

Finding a local library is as simple as doing a search for a place and adding a search term such as the word "library." While you are searching for the local library, how about searching for a historical or genealogical society:
Here is the Alachua County Museum page.
Now you have three places to visit in this same county. Be sure to check on operating hours and services before attempting a visit.

Also, don't forget the county websites. Many of them have leads to further information about the county's history.

While you are doing research in the county, make time to visit and research in the court records and talk to local newspapers and mortuaries about their archives and records.

Targeted Advertising: Is it really targeted?

So-called targeted advertising is now part of our online world thanks to Google and all those who think that it is an effective way to reach consumers. Even genealogists are affected when we start seeing ads for genealogically related products initiated by our searches for data on different websites.

There are a lot of doomsayers and hand-wringers who predict the end of the world as we know it caused by Google trying to sell us products, but does targeted advertising really accomplish what they think it does?

Many years ago, my wife and I started the tradition of opening our mail next to a garbage can. Most of the obvious junk mail goes directly into the garbage without even being opened. When the unsolicited or junk mail is opened, we generally do this in order to shred the contents that might contain information we do not wish disseminated. In addition, we have junk filters on our computers that filter out almost all the spam. But what about display ads?

The idea behind targeted advertising is that as you do searches online, the information about you and your searches is used to match you up to products you would be interested in purchasing. Actually, this is not a new idea at all. Advertising companies have been targeting mailings for a long time. The reason the issue has become a concern is mainly based on the fact that Google and other search engines can gather so much more detailed information about us as users of their search services. This data is seen as a "threat" to our "privacy" and the unauthorized use of our personal information for profit.

The reality falls way short of the imagined effect of this targeted advertising. Here are some examples of why I find this to be the case:

1. Suppose I buy a replacement part for something that needs repair. I use the part to make the repair. Immediately, I start to get a series of online ads for the same part or related parts. I do not need the part again and I may never need the part again. The ads are mere noise and I am not induced in any way to buy the same part again that I only needed one time. This "one-time" issue goes for other items that I only purchase once a year or so. If I buy a new car, I am not likely to buy another new car for a long time so immediate ads for cars are simply noise and have no interest for me at all.

2. Again, let's suppose I search for a general topic such as "genealogy." On Google, my results will have one or more paid advertisements for genealogy-related websites. Here is an example.

If I happened to click on one or more of these paid advertisements, Google would directly or indirectly make a very small amount of money. But if I had actually wanted to find any one of these four websites, I would have searched for the website directly. Google has no real way of determining my motivation for searching for a general term. In this case, I used the search term as an example in this blog (Note: if you are in to self-referential statements, this blog post is fast becoming one).

3. So-called targeted advertising is entirely subject driven. If I search for clothes, I get clothes ads and so forth. But my searches do not always fall into the category of an interest in purchasing products. Targeted advertising makes an invalid assumption that I am a constant and single-minded consumer when nearly all my decision to purchase items falls into categories that are not addressed by advertising. For example, I periodically need to maintain my cars including oil changes, tires, windshield wipers, etc. When I search for these items online, I have a specific item or service in mind. Suggestions of other products are merely noise. This is particularly evident when the ads are trying to sell me products I already use or purchase. The products I really need or want seldom, if ever, appear in the targeted advertising.

What does this have to do with genealogy? Here is a targeted ad from one of our commonly used genealogy websites:

Once I sign in to, my screen changes into a series of "targeted" ads for different features or products. Obviously, FamilySearch is not trying to get me to buy something, but they are trying to motivate me as a "consumer" of their services. Yes, I am presently a "Temple and Family History Consultant" but the repeated ad does not take into account that I have already extensively "learned about my calling." Likewise, I am abundantly aware of Record Hints (i.e. the blue icon list on the right side of the page). In fact, all I really want to do is use the catalog or go to the Family Tree, this constant reminder of the services is nothing more or less than noise.

FamilySearch is certainly not alone in this practice of targeted advertising. Here is another example.

Here again is a list of "Product and Services," most of which are merely redundant listings of the items in the menu bar. This list does not take into account that I already have purchased a DNA test from and has "Learn about AncestryDNA" at the top of the list. In short, their targeted list includes nothing I am interested in when I go to to do research or update my family tree. I know I can "customize" my Ancestry startup page, but I hardly notice this page as I continue to use the program. I am certain that there is a whole legion of Ancestry employees who agonize over what to put on this list and how to present it. Their entire effort is simply lost on me.

What seems to be lost on most, if not all, of these online advertisers is that we ignore them. When the level of advertising reaches a certain point we also stop using their services. One common question I get from those who use is what are they supposed to do with the stuff that appears on their personalized startup page and my response is always to just ignore it unless there is something they are really interested in doing right at the moment. Yes, there are websites and services I will not use, simply because they saturate their online environment with advertising. Here is an example.

There is nothing that will make me use I do not want and will not look at the stuff on this website.

Friday, October 20, 2017

MyHeritage on Good Morning Britain

Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid Discover Their DNA Origins | Good Morning Britain

Aaron Godfrey - VP of Marketing for appeared on ITV's Good Morning Britain. MyHeritage also recently appeared on Russell Brand's popular radio show which you can watch here.

Here is the United States, MyHeritage has not had a high-level media presence, especially when compared to another of the huge online genealogy companies. But recently, I have been seeing some video ads on so I am guessing that the company is finally making a move into a higher level of marketing visibility here in the U.S. as well as in Great Britain. 

The Catholic Heritage Archive from Findmypast is making a huge effort to build what will become the largest online archive of Catholic Church Records from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. The archive will ultimately have approximately 100 million online, digitized records. 

Quoting from the website's description of the collection:
An introduction to the collection 
The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the world. Despite popular belief that it has few adherents in Britain and the US, it has always been a significant component (up to 25%) of the population. It has some of the oldest and best preserved genealogical records ever created, however they have never been easy to use. Until now.

Findmypast has launched a ground breaking initiative to digitize these historic records of the Catholic Church. Millions of Irish records are already online, and they're being joined by the sacramental registers of England, Scotland and the US. Our first three Archdioceses alone (Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore) contain 30 million records, and that is just a part of this collection.

The sorts of records you are likely to find include:
  • Baptisms
  • Marriages
  • Deaths & Burials
  • Census and more 
We are commencing this project with the Registers for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in the USA and the Archdioceses of Birmingham and Westminster in England. The Philadelphia records start back in 1757, while those for Westminster and Birmingham in 1657. 
Most of these records have never been accessible before by the public - either offline or online. We have developed a close collaboration with the Catholic Church to bring these millions of centuries-old records and images to your fingertips for the first time ever.
These records have already begun to appear online and will ultimately provide an insight into records that have not previously been available. 

My Last Conference (for a while)
As I write this post, I am in Mesa, Arizona to attend and present at the Mesa FamilySearch Library's Annual Family History Conference. My wife and I will both be participating in this conference and during one hour of the conference, we will both be teaching at the same time. We enjoy coming down to Mesa from our relatively new home in Provo, Utah to attend the conference and renew old friendships. In years past, I have taught every hour of the conference, but this year, I will have a couple of breaks in between classes to answer questions and talk to my friends.

In a larger sense, this particular conference marks a turning point in our participation in the genealogical community. This will be the last scheduled conference we will attend before leaving to go on a full-time, one year, mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We will be serving as record preservation specialists in the Washington, D.C. North Mission. We are presently assigned to work at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, Maryland.

We are looking forward to this opportunity to do some of the "real" work of genealogy, the preservation of records.

Many of my friends and associates have asked about my continued participation in the international genealogical community particularly whether or not I will keep writing my blogs. Right now, that is an unanswered question. We will have to wait and see the extent of our involvement and responsibilities during the coming year. But, I will still keep writing and probably taking photographs. Whether that includes the time to post those online: we will have to wait and see. But I doubt that we will be attending any conferences during the coming year although we may get the opportunity to teach some classes and do some other presentations.

We plan to be back after a year.

The Continuing History of RootsMagic
For many years now, has been a mainstay of the genealogy software market. Last year, was the official 39th Anniversary of the company that ultimately developed the product we have today. In a series of continuing blog posts, Bruce Buzbee, the developer of the program, relates the history of the ultimate development of the product. 

As Bruce notes, it is appropriate for a company that specializes in genealogy to have a recorded history. What I think is even more important is the fact that the history of many of the major genealogy programs and companies is extremely difficult to find if such histories exist at all. Wikipedia is about the only really available source for the history of companies such as and I speculate that many of these companies are so focused on "proprietary" and internal information that they do not want to publicize their own history. 

I hope Bruce does continue his company's history and I would also hope that such a history becomes an example and at the same time an incentive to other companies to compile and tell their own stories. My own software roots go back to the very first programs developed for the Apple II computers back in the 1980s so for me, this is not only the history of genealogy software companies, but it is in part, my own history.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

AccessGenealogy -- An aggregator portal and search website is an aggregator website that acts as a portal to a sizable collection of genealogy-related links. It is owned and operated by Dennis N. Partridge, a long-time genealogy website developer. He owns and operates quite a number of other websites. See
These types of websites help you to understand the variety of records available online. In this regard, this website operates as a catalog of other websites you might want to search. Having a central location for finding these other websites by topic or geographic area was more of an advantage in the early years of the internet when search engines such as Google did not dominate every aspect of searching on the internet. However, even with a search engine such as Google, you still have to know something about the subject you are searching to find anything helpful. This website and other similar websites help you to learn how to find additional information by making you aware of the huge number of options that are available and presenting an organized offering of websites.

Aggregator websites are not usually as useful and legitimate as Sometimes, they simply aggregate a limited list of other websites or copy information from other websites automatically for the purpose of getting hits on advertising. They are close cousins to the "vampire websites" that prey on people who mistype the address of a popular website. For example, don't try this" but if you type "" instead of, you will get a vampire website. is a useful and well-presented website. It should not be judged by its annoying online cousins.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

501 (c) (3) Status Approval for The Family History Guide

The official FamilySearch training partner, The Family History Guide, has achieved IRS 501 (c) (3) status. This means that anyone donating money to support this fabulous, genealogical training and now, charitable resource, can get a corresponding deduction from their Federal income taxes.

By keeping the website free, the developers hope to fulfill their mission to get more people involved in family history by providing training and research guidance on a major scale with a free website. Up to this point, the website has been self-funded with all the support coming from the people who have developed and maintained the website so far.

The Family History Guide has been vetted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and made available to over 5,000 Family History Centers throughout the world and on The Family History Guide already has users in over 150 countries and most recently released training paths for,, and, as well as maintaining its support for This week they are rolling out a national pilot project to recruit, train and utilize Regional Training Specialists to serve in specific geographic regions throughout the United States (initially). These individuals will extend the reach and facilitate quality training and presentations for the website.

The actual entity that supports the website is The Family History Guide Association
There are links on the Association's website to an explanation about how to donate.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Revisiting Search Engines for Genealogy

Over the years, I have from time to time examined the relative search capabilities of the various search engines available to genealogists and the rest of the world for that matter. I have varied the methodology and search criteria and without fail have always come up with similar results. But since I had not done this for quite a while, I decided it was time to check and see if I might get any different results.

During that same time period, the dominance of Google Searches has increased dramatically. As I noted in a recent post, Google presently has about an 86% market share worldwide. Here is a graph showing that dominance.
One reason that this is an interesting statistic is that many of the computers sold come with preloaded software and give a preference to another search engine, most commonly, Microsoft's Bing. Apparently, users switch to Google. There are four search engines in the above graph. The fourth one is Baidu,  a Chinese search engine. However, if we look at the statistics for the United States, the differences are not quite so dramatic.
I think that if this particular study targeted genealogists, my impression is that the differences would be even less. I find a significant number of genealogists using search engines other than Google. Product selection is based on a huge number of criteria. Why people use a certain product is often based merely on the fact that it was the first product that they used. It is also a question as to why one product so dramatically dominates an entire market. This is the case with Google. From my perspective, I use Google almost exclusively because I get the most pertinent results from my searches. For example, already this morning while writing I have done around 70 searches.

I am fully aware that some people who use other search engines have specific reasons why they choose to do so. But I'm also aware that most people I deal with simply do not think about it. I'm also aware that many people would not know how to change their search engine even if they wanted to do so. By the way, you can find instructions about changing your search engine by doing a search. For example, searching for "change my search engine to Google" or some other search.

One problem with trying to show different search capabilities that developed during my past attempts was the fact that Google records all of the searches made and if I repeat a search I will get different results than if I make a search that has not been made previously. If you do a search repeatedly, Google will note the fact and provide results that are more targeted each time you do the search.

If you have difficulty finding the results of your searches, perhaps you need to learn different search techniques.

But I am going to do a search on the name of an ancestor that I commonly use as an example. Here are the results:

  • Google: 498 results in .5 seconds
  • Bing: 759,000 results with no time specified
  • Yahoo: 767,000 results with no time specified
  • AOL: 746,000 results with no time specified 
  • Ask: 9 results with time specified

In the past, the results showed a clear advantage in using Google for doing searches. But now, because of the targeted searches returned by Google, the differences are more in the quality of the items returned rather than sheer numbers. I think all of us could agree that having hundreds of thousands of results is really not very helpful. What I do suggest is that individuals review their ability to produce any results from searching online and get help if they feel frustrated in their ability to find meaningful results. I also suggest trying a variety of search engines to get a feel for their responses. You can do searches in various search engines by simply searching for the names and going to their individual websites. For example, if you search for "" you can make a search using Bing.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Genealogy in the Abstract
In our cloistered world of "family history" and genealogy, we seldom realize that from an academic and philosophical standpoint, genealogy is a rather controversial and far-reaching concept and discipline. Shown above is an online an open access journal published by The journal is described as follows from its website:
Genealogy (ISSN 2313-5778) is an international, scholarly, open access journal devoted to the analysis of genealogical narratives (with applications for family, race/ethnic, gender, migration and science studies) and scholarship that uses genealogical theory and methodologies to examine historical processes. 
Open Access - free for readers, free publication for well-prepared manuscripts submitted in 2017.
Rapid publication: manuscripts are peer-reviewed and a first decision provided to authors approximately 34 days after submission; acceptance to publication is undertaken in 7 days (median values for papers published in this journal in first half of 2017).
It is published online by MDPI. Here is a short summary of that publishing company:
MDPI (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute) is an academic open-access publisher with headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. Additional offices are located in Beijing and Wuhan (China), Barcelona (Spain) as well as in Belgrade (Serbia). MDPI publishes 182 diverse peer-reviewed, scientific, open access, electronic journals, including Molecules (launched in 1996; Impact Factor 2.861), the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (launched in 2000; Impact Factor 3.226), Sensors (launched in 2001; Impact Factor 2.677), Marine Drugs (launched in 2003; Impact Factor 3.503), Energies (launched in 2008; Impact Factor 2.262), the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (launched in 2004; Impact Factor 2.101), Viruses(launched in 2009; Impact Factor 3.465), Remote Sensing (launched in 2009; Impact Factor 3.244), Toxins (launched in 2009; Impact Factor 3.030) and Nutrients (launched in 2009; Impact Factor 3.550). Our publishing activities are supported by more than 15,700 active scientists and academic editors on our journals' international editorial boards, including several Nobelists. More than 263,500 individual authors have already published with MDPI. receives more than 8.4 million monthly webpage views.
These articles would only be of interest to those who are concerned about the position of genealogy in the larger academic community. I have written on this subject a number of times in the past but not recently. A good introduction to the subject and the scope of the articles is the article entitled,  "What is Genealogy? Introduction to the Inaugural Issue of Genealogy" by Phillip Kretsedemas, Department of Sociology, University of Massachusetts, 100 Morrissey Blvd., Boston, MA 02125-3393, USA. Here is a quote from his article:
As a result, the genealogical method can be used to dissolve standards of truth that have been posited as timeless and universal (this is its non-teleological moment). And after it has established the fluid and contingent nature of truth it can go on to fashion narratives that are told from a specific cultural-historical locus (the point at which it re-engages teleology, with a small “t”). But again, this is where genealogies get into trouble with the modern paradigm of knowledge; because they draw attention to another disturbing truth. It’s not possible to cleanly separate the analysis of historical processes from the creative work that is used to steer history in new directions. The genealogist is always, at some level, participating in making the histories on which they are reporting.
If you would like to spend some time thinking about genealogy as a concept and as an academic subject you may find many of these articles interesting. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Refine Your Searches with Google Search Operators

Searching online using Google Search becomes almost automatic over time. But unless you become aware of some of the additional tools available from Google, you may be driving in first gear without knowing how to shift gears.

Searching is the lifeblood of genealogists. Every time we sit down to find our ancestors or relatives, we are searching. How we search changes as we learn more about what we are trying to accomplish, but we can get to the point where we are stalled in our search efforts both by the availability of records and by our own limitations in understanding more effective ways to search. Online searching is a learned skill. No one is born with online searching skills. Everyone has to learn how to do effective searches.

First a word (really lots of words) about browsers and search engines. Browsers are the programs that run on your computer or other devices that connect you to the internet. Some common browsers include Chrome, Internet Explorer (now obsolete), Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Edge. There are dozens of other browsers out there. See Wikipedia: List of web browsers. Google's Chrome browser has well over half of all the market share for browsers worldwide. None of the others garner more than about 12% with Safari in second place and the other down in very low percentages. See Brower Market Share Worldwide. If you purchased a Windows-based computer, you probably inherited a Microsoft browser and have never changed. I usually have four browser programs on my computer and can switch between them if I encounter an issue with a website not functioning or displaying properly. There is a good reason for Chrome's popularity: it works and has a huge number of add-ons and extensions.

What about search engines? A search engine is a web-based program that uses your browser to search for information from websites on the internet. Search engines are browser independent so you can use any browser with any search engine. Google Search is the most popular browser in the world and has about an 87% market share in 2017. See Worldwide desktop market share of leading search engines from January 2010 to July 2017. There is always a reason for this kind of dominance. Microsoft's Bing, the second most popular search engine has a 5.7% market share. If you are using one of the other search engines, such as Bing, Yahoo, AOL or whatever, you might consider doing your serious genealogical searches using Chrome with Google. Enough said at this point, but I do think it is time I came back to this subject. In the past, I have done test searches and reported the results to show what happens with several search engines. I will do that again when I finish this post.

Google has several "search operators" which include special typographical symbols or commands that enhance or focus your searches. Google Search Help has a web page called "Refine web searches" that lists some of the commands and symbols available. I suggest looking through the list and selecting a few such operators to add to your search arsenal. I frequently use phrases in quotes to search for individal's names. Some people frequently use wildcards. I also use the command define: to define words and phrases.

There is also a list of search operators, power tips and other useful information on the MIT Libraries website in an article entitled, "Google Search Tips: Getting Started." One comment, however, is that the "+" or plus sign has been removed from Google's search operators. It has been deemed unnecessary.

I use very few search operators because I rarely need them. I have noted in several posts and presentations, that I can usually make a number of searches and find what I need in the time it takes to construct special formulaic searches.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Returning to the subject of searches

In a previous blog post, I focused on the idea of searching in the large online genealogy database programs using a rather complete entry. But what happens when the details about the person we are searching for are missing or scanty? That presents another more troublesome aspect of genealogical research: finding the information when you are not sure what documents might contain those records.

I recently spoke with the patron of the BYU Family History Library. She was getting back into genealogical research after a long absence and was asking for some direction as to areas she might pursue. The main issue was that she did not know what she did not know. She started asking about doing some research for missing German ancestors in the early 1800s. We were looking at the Family Tree and found that a considerable amount of research it been done on one German line. Her approach was similar to that of many others, i.e. looking at a fan chart and choosing to research a missing ancestor without knowing anything about the connection between the present and the past.

A basic component of genealogical research is moving from the known to the unknown. Obviously, this methodology implies that you know something. In the case of my patron of the BYU Family History Library, she had no knowledge whatsoever of the individuals, their history, the geography of Europe, or any other subject that would assist in doing research into German-speaking people. There is really no difference between this patron and anyone who starts to do research beginning with an entry in a genealogical database program that has little or no data.

It is axiomatic that a family tree is a network of interrelated individuals. Starting with you or me, we did not spring into existence out of nothing. The more we know about the events that occurred in our own lives the easier it will be to determine who our parents are. Likewise, extensive knowledge about her parents will lead to our grandparents. This concept is fundamental. Here is a quote from the Bible in Luke 15:8:
8 ¶ Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
This is a perfect metaphor for genealogical research. First of all, the woman has 10 pieces of silver. From our standpoint, we have known relatives. The woman knows that she is missing one of the coins. If we organize our genealogy into a family tree we can easily see what is missing. But it is important to focus on what the woman did when she discovered that a coin was missing. She did not begin looking for the coin, she began by lighting a candle, i.e. learning about the environment where the item was lost and then began cleaning the entire house. The point here is simple. We need to clean our genealogical house before we do the search or while we are searching.

My BYU Family History Library patron was a perfect example of failing to understand this basic principle. She knew little or nothing about her family and yet she wanted to begin searching even though she was unaware of what was "lost."

Here is a classic example of a lack of information:

I take this example from the Family Tree because it is so easy to find them. According to the Family Tree, his father was Charles Peterson Garoutte, (b. 1810, d. 1896) who was both born and died in Adell, Dallas, Iowa. Garoutte was supposedly married to one of my cousins, Sarah Adeline Shepherd, (b. 1821 in Vermont, d. 1905 in Adel, Dallas, Iowa. Because of the dates of the places, it would seem to be reasonable to begin searching immediately for this individual. They should appear in a US Census record. But in doing so, we are ignoring the parable. First, we need to clean our house. There is the entry showing the family:

We can begin by looking at where each of the family members is recorded as being born and dying. With only two exceptions, every one of the family members was born and died in Iowa. But there is also a very evident duplicate entry. We have a child with exactly the same name. Are these the same person?

This is a very simple example. Cleaning up this family by adding in all the available records should resolve this issue immediately. In this case, the lost person will probably be found by merging him with the duplicate. Meanwhile, adding in all of the available records will clarify and verify each of the family members providing a basis for continuing research into their descendants.

Remember to clean your house before you search.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Using the Library of Congress for Genealogy

Don't underestimate the resources of the largest library in the world, the Library of Congress. Here are a few statistics:
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with more than 164 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 38 million books and other printed materials, 3.6 million recordings, 14 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 8.1 million pieces of sheet music and 70 million manuscripts.

The Library receives some 15,000 items each working day and adds approximately 12,000 items to the collections daily. The majority of the collections are received through the Copyright registration process, as the Library is home to the U.S. Copyright Office. Materials are also acquired through gift, purchase, other government agencies (state, local and federal), Cataloging in Publication (a pre-publication arrangement with publishers) and exchange with libraries in the United States and abroad. Items not selected for the collections or other internal purposes are used in the Library’s national and international exchange programs. Through these exchanges the Library acquires material that would not be available otherwise. The remaining items are made available to other federal agencies and are then available for donation to educational institutions, public bodies and nonprofit tax-exempt organizations in the United States.
Here is a breakdown by category:

24,189,688 cataloged books in the Library of Congress classification system

14,660,079 items in the nonclassified print collections, including books in large type and raised characters, incunabula (books printed before 1501), monographs and serials, bound newspapers, pamphlets, technical reports, and other printed material

125,553,352 items in the nonclassified (special) collections, including:
  • 3,670,573 audio materials, (discs, tapes, talking books, other recorded formats)
  • 70,685,319 manuscripts
  • 5,581,756 maps
  • 17,153,167 microforms
  • 1,809,351 moving images
  • 8,189,340 items of sheet music
15,071,355 visual materials including:
  • 14,290,385 photographs
  • 107,825 posters
  • 673,145 prints and drawings
3,392,491 other items, (including machine-readable items)

The biggest draw for genealogists is the Local History and Genealogy Reference Services
If you don't live close enough to Washington, D.C. to visit the Library of Congress, then you can access its digital collections online. But I might add that only a very small percentage of the entire library's content has been digitized.
If you are fortunate enough to live close to the library were able to travel, you can do research in the library. Unless you are just a tourist, you probably need to prepare for your visit to do research in the collections. Here is the page with links with information for researchers using the Library of Congress.
 Here is an explanation about reader registration. Those who do research in the library are called "Readers."
Users of the Library's research areas, including Computer Catalog Centers, and Copyright Office public service areas are each required to have a Reader Identification Card issued by the Library. Cards are free and can be obtained by completing a registration process and presenting a valid driver's license, state-issued identification card, or passport. Researchers must be 16 and above years of age at time of registration. Questions should be directed to 202-707-5278.
A Reader Identification Card is a permanent card which remains valid for two years. To ensure patron information has remained unchanged, at the end of the two year period, each reader must renew their card in person by returning to the Reader Registration Station and presenting a valid form of identification.
One area I am always interested in is the policy on copying records. Here is a screenshot of the explanation of copying and printing services with a link to the page.

Here is a further copy of the portion of the list that qualifies the use of cameras.

For me, the most valuable collection on the Library of Congress website is the Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers.
Every genealogist should become familiar with this website. You will find a wealth of resources and hopefully an incentive to visit the library in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

FOIA Primer from Reclaim the Records' Efforts with the New Jersey Marriage Index, 1901-2016
The Freedom of Information Act or FOIA is a powerful but somewhat controversial tool in liberating documents from the recalcitrant bureaucracy of the United States government and similar laws also help in the various individual states. Reclaim the Records, a 501 (c) (3) organization, is taking the lead in using the various acts to obtain public domain copies of various records that have been locked up by governmental inefficiency and incompetence.

In conjunction with a volunteer, Reclaim the Records has recently obtained copies of the New Jersey Marriage Index, 1901-2016. In their 17th Newsletter, you can read what is essentially a primer on how the process works. You may even be inspired to participate in the process yourself. Here is an explanation of where the newly liberated records can be searched.
Introducing the NEW JERSEY MARRIAGE INDEX, 1901-2016! These records are now totally digital, and totally free -- forever! Now you can research anyone who got married in the Garden State right from your home, still in your pajamas. 
We've posted these images at our favorite online library, the Internet Archive ( You can skip right to any year you want and flip through all the images, or you can download the records to your hard drive as JPG's, PDF's, and/or other formats. Each file is listed year-by-year (or occasionally by a year range), and then the marriages are listed alphabetically by surname. 
Just to be clear: these are images of the index, so this isn't a real text-searchable marriage database just yet. But rest assured that the usual genealogy websites we all know are going to start indexing projects and will make that happen eventually. (Yes, the Internet Archive does run automatic OCR on the text contained in the images, but the recognition quality isn't that great, so you're probably better off just reading through the images instead of trying to text-search.)
 The FOIA is described as follows in the website:
Since 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.
Each state in the United States has its own version of the FOIA. Here is a link to a list giving a link to each of the states. State FOI Resources

Monday, October 9, 2017

Genealogy's Star and the future of blogging

Probably, by the time you read this post, I will have published over 5000 posts on my Genealogy's Star blog. If I include the number of posts on my other blogs, Rejoice, and be exceeding glad... and Walking Arizona, as of the date of this particular post, I have published 9,958 blog posts. If I include the number of posts of some of my short-lived other blogs, I have easily written over 10,000 blog posts. In addition, during the same time these blog posts have been written, I have authored or co-authored over 25 books on genealogical research. By the way, if I continue to write at my present rate, I will shortly have over 10,000 blog posts from just my three current blogs. You can also add in over 100 genealogy videos on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel and innumerable handouts for classes and presentations. 

Blogging does have a history. Here is a short overview of the Wikipedia article on the "History of blogging."
While the term "blog" was not coined until the late 1990s, the history of blogging starts with several digital precursors to it. Before "blogging" became popular, digital communities took many forms, including Usenet, commercial online services such as GEnie, BiX and the early CompuServe, e-mail lists[1][2] and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). In the 1990s, Internet forum software, such as WebEx, created running conversations with "threads". Threads are topical connections between messages on a metaphorical "corkboard". Some have likened blogging to the Mass-Observation project of the mid-20th century.
During the past couple of years, I have written about the decline in genealogy blog posting. Numbers don't tell everything. There is still a lot of information being put online by individual bloggers as opposed to institutional or commercial bloggers. There are some very active and very impressive new additions to the international blogging community. But notwithstanding those observations, much of the online communication is now going through Facebook and its subsidiary, Instagram.

This topic brings up my own present participation in the online community. As I mentioned recently in a blog post, my wife and I have been called as full-time FamilySearch missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve in the Washington D.C. area for one year beginning in December 2017. The calling process actually involves us volunteering to serve and then being officially "called" so it is not a surprise or anything like that. We will be serving as record preservation specialists helping to digitize original genealogically valuable records for FamilySearch.

There is some uncertainty about whether it will be possible to continue to write at my present level simply because of the time commitments of a full-time mission. But on the other hand, there is always the consideration of the time commitment to writing almost every day, day after day for years. Most recently, I have been relying on voice recognition software, Dragon Dictate on my iMac, to transcribe much of what I write. Although voice recognition software facilitates entering information, there is a trade-off in the increased number of typographical errors caused by the inaccuracies inherent in voice recognition. Additionally, I am accustomed to proofreading and rewriting as I go along. Right now, it is a matter of waiting to see exactly what the requirements will be in the future as to how much writing I will be able to if any at all.

One thing is certain, when I return to Provo I will have a lot to write about.

Cristoforo Colombo, Libraries, and Genealogy

Most of my "free time" as a child as I got older was spent reading. Consequently, I spent a great deal of time in libraries looking for books to read. It also seems inevitable to me now that I would end up working in a library. While I was both an undergraduate and a graduate student at the University of Utah, I was employed by the Marriott Library as a bibliographer so I spent, even more, time in the library. For one of my classes, I wrote a research paper on Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo). Because of what I had learned from working in the library, I extended my research to different physical areas within the library.

Now, this needs some explanation. As I worked in the library as a bibliographer, my job was to "verify" book orders from the university's professors. When a professor ordered a book, we had to verify the author, title, and publication information and then determine if the library had a copy of the book already. It was a challenging job because of the use of the old paper catalog and the usually vague information supplied by the professors. We were not supposed to contact the professors and so it was sort of a game to see if we could identify the books and other materials without making the obviously needed contact. We would commonly find a high percentage of the book orders already in the library's collections.

Our work frequently entailed physically searching the shelves in the library to find the book to make sure we had the right book. Our searches also included the books in the basement of the library that were waiting to be cataloged. After a couple of years of working in the library added to my years of searching for books to read, I had a pretty good idea about how to find almost anything.

Back to my research paper on Christopher Columbus. In looking for books about the "discovery" of America, I found several different places in the library where there were books about Columbus. I realized that the people who had cataloged the books and other publications had made individual decisions about categorizing books that were ultimately had the same topic. As I continued to search, I continued to find more information in different parts of the library.

This was probably my pivotal research experience. This experience prepared me for doing searches online that were not even imaginable at the time I was working in the library. In essence, I learned that the more you look, the more you find. When you think you have exhausted your search, you are really just beginning to find all the information that is likely available.

Looking back on the University of Utah library, I now realize how limited it actually was compared to the wealth of information now available on my home computer. But the concepts learned in working and doing research in the library are still helping me today to find things that seem to be impossible to find.

What does this have to do with genealogy? If you have to ask this question, you need to spend some time doing research in a library or online. Not browsing. Not looking at Facebook. But actual research with a definite goal in mind. Not giving up when your first few searches are unproductive. But real, extra effort searching that includes a broad spectrum of places and topics.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

More Unanswered Questions

Some years ago, I posted a short list of some of my unanswered questions. I am here to report that over the intervening years a few of those questions have become irrelevant or outdated, but the rest are still unanswered. Since that blog post, as they say, a lot of water and few other things have gone under the bridge and now I have a lot more unanswered questions.

I am still starting my classes by asking those in attendance if they have any questions about the known or unknown universe and I am still getting the same blank looks from those in the class. I am not sure now if they are weighing my sanity or just don't have any questions. But usually, after a few minutes of thought, there are a few questions. I do have a lot of questions and, as I mentioned in the old post, some are serious and others not so serious. Here go the questions for today. But in this post, I am going to expand on these questions somewhat.

1. Why am I still writing this and my other blogs?

Comments: I am still observing a decided change in the amount and content of blog posts about genealogy. I have decided that there is only a limited number of new and interesting topics to write about and most bloggers seem to get discouraged in coming up with new material to write about. As you can probably guess, I don't seem to have that problem, but some ideas and topics do get recycled regularly. Genealogy is rapidly changing with the technology and the times and there aren't a lot of things you can say on Instagram or Twitter that are going to maintain the interest of those now becoming more interested in the topic.

2. How many genealogists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Comment: With many things in our world, technology is affecting lightbulbs. I am pretty certain that my grandchildren will not get this question at all for the reason that they may never see a lightbulb replaced.

3. What happens to all the microfilm in the world when there are no microfilm readers?

Comment: See. I told you that some of these questions were serious. Unfortunately, you will have to figure out which ones are and which ones aren't. Microfilm needs a specialized machine to be read. If you have visited the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, you may have noticed that the number of microfilm readers has dropped considerably and their use has also dropped considerably. Microfilm readers are mechanical devices and they will ultimately break down. I have been hearing reports for some time now about the lack of replacement parts. How will we access the microfilm that never gets digitized without readers?

4. Where is Carmen Sandiego and who were her parents?

Comment: You can probably guess that most of my real questions revolve around the impact that technology has had and will continue to have on genealogy and genealogical research. Perhaps, as those who grew up with computers, get older, the issue of the effect of technology will become about as obvious as the effect of automobiles on American culture. You might not be aware but Netflix is considering releasing a Carmen Sandiego series. Perhaps Netflix will do a series on genealogy?

5. When was the last time you went to a major genealogy conference?

Comment: OK, I realize that this question does not really follow the rules of my own game. But it is a serious question and not a silly one. With another session of #RootsTech 2018 coming online, I might note that for every major genealogy conference still being held, there are dozens (perhaps hundreds) of online webinars. It is not a trivial observation that some of my own webinars from the BYU Family History Library have more views than the entire attendance at a major genealogy conference. There are still a number of good reasons to go to a major genealogy conference but maybe no longer a need to go. I think the promoters of the larger conferences are struggling with that reality.

6. How does genealogy compete with cats and dogs?

Comment: This is another really serious question but rather obscure at the same time. We have been doing presentations at the BYU Family History Library and posting them on for some time now. We have garnered some respectable numbers of views compared to the rest of the online and video producing genealogical community but compared to many of the "popular" videos on YouTube, we are definitely small potatoes. An instructional video about how to fix a faucet can get more views in a few weeks than all of our 300+ BYU videos in three years. The reality is that genealogy is a pretty obscure subject. 

7. Can genealogy survive online family trees?

Comment: No comment.

8. Why do governments keep trying to protect the privacy of dead people?

Comments: One of the recurring topics in the genealogical community is the actions taken by various governments and governmental agencies to restrict access to genealogically important records. In some cases, this is an attempt to rewrite history, but mostly it is a ploy to get more revenue from selling us back our own family's information.

9. If I reach a brick wall, can't I just make up the rest?

Comment: At this point, I realized that my questions really were all serious. I guess I don't have much silliness in me today.

10. If a genealogical record falls in a forest, does it make a sound?

Comment: Here is the answer to the question from Wikipedia:
Albert Einstein is reported to have asked his fellow physicist and friend Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, whether he realistically believed that 'the moon does not exist if nobody is looking at it.' To this Bohr replied that however hard he (Einstein) may try, he would not be able to prove that it does, thus giving the entire riddle the status of a kind of an infallible conjecture—one that cannot be either proved or disproved.
That is enough for today.