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

Sunday, July 22, 2018

10,832 Blog Posts: A Retrospective

I recently totaled up the number of posts on my three main blogs and the number came out to 10,832. I have a few hundred more posted in now abandoned blogs, but this is the main number. In addition, I have written or co-authored more than 25 books, mostly on genealogy and hundreds of other published and unpublished articles and newsletters. Of course, that number will change after today and every day thereafter.

As technology changes and as the attention of the masses shifts from social network to social network, I still see blog posts as the most substantial and content-rich method of online communication. I do post all my blog posts on a number of other social networking programs, but that is only a concession to the reality of where the people are viewing content. I do have a Facebook page for Genealogy's Star and I suppose I ought to post there more often.

When I was younger and writing mainly with a pencil or pen and paper, the whole process was tedious and painful. When I learned to type in high school, the process was not much better. I could type but made so many errors that correcting my writing took more time than writing. When I finally got computers and word processing, they were liberating. I could finally type almost as fast as I could think and make corrections on the fly with a minimum of effort.

As time passed, I realized that I would not be very proficient in many of my interests. I was not talented or coordinated enough to play sports, I couldn't make things with my hands unless I wanted to spend more time correcting my mistakes than actually making things. One day, I finally realized that the things I could do involved speaking and writing. I tried to write some fiction but decided that what I wrote was most pretty sappy and not at all satisfying. Meanwhile, I kept writing technical, legal, and special interest material in a constant stream. When I became overwhelmingly interested in genealogy, it was only natural that I would start to write and talk about genealogy.

Now, I spend a lot of time writing and preparing presentations and classes. People ask how I come up with the ideas. That has never been a problem. I usually have a list of topics to write about and by reading and listening and working with people, I come up with plenty of ideas. It is always surprising to me that anyone likes or reads what I write or listens to what I have to say. But I would probably talk and write to myself if no one cared to listen.

My main creative outlet has turned out to be photography. This is something else I have done nearly all my life. Again, I take photos for my own satisfaction and the fact that anyone likes them is still surprising.

Will I stop writing? No. Will I stop taking photos? No. Well, someday I will have to stop simply because I will wear out. But meanwhile, I will keep on keeping on. Oh, one more thing. I do sleep.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Adam Smith and Modern Genealogy

Adam Smith. Etching created by Cadell and Davies (1811), John Horsburgh (1828) or R.C. Bell (1872). -, Public Domain,
Adam Smith in his seminal work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) observed that a division of labor represents a substantial increase in productivity. He was one of the early proponents of what may seem obvious today; that complex tasks can best be done by breaking them down into small, incremental components. In addition, he realized that these tasks could be done by many individuals working in combination to achieve a common goal. His observations were based on the manufacture of pins. These concepts are generally recognized as a basis for modern industrialization.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of industrialization has always been the disorientation and dislocation of the labor force. The industrialization faced by the world back in the 18th and 19th centuries is minor compared to the effects of the second (or third or whatever) industrial revolution going on today, usually referred to as the Information Revolution. Reaction to the historical industrial changes was sometimes violent. From 1811 to about 1816, bands of English workers destroyed machinery in the cotton and woolen mills that they thought was threatening their jobs. These opponents to industrialization have been called "Luddites" named after Ned Ludd, an apprentice who smashed two stocking frames in 1779 and became identified with the movement.

As a result of the disorientation and dislocation caused by the rapid advances in technology today and its impact on the practice of genealogy, we are today faced with our own genealogical Luddites.

As I have written several times in the past, genealogy has traditionally been a solitary and labor-intensive pursuit. The reaction of many has been to withdraw into their traditional methodology and decry and even oppose the transformation of genealogy from a solitary pursuit into its complex reality of a systematic division of labor. The mechanism for this change is not any one machine or process but an accumulation of processes focusing on online family trees.

Just as Adam Smith foresaw changes in the way physical items are made, we are now facing a change in the way historical research proceeds. The most obvious examples of this change are the beginning of universal family tree programs and the implementation of automatic searching illustrated by record hints. Combined, they are transforming the way genealogy is done far more completely than the mechanization of cotton or woolen mills.

The resistance to these changes is just a radical as that done by Luddites in the 19th Century. The threats to these advances come from concerns about privacy, maintaining individual autonomy, and isolationism.  The extreme manifestation of this opposition to technology is the refusal of some genealogical researchers to share "their" research despite a common ancestry with thousands of people. But the most insidious attacks come from those who cannot understand the need for collaboration and cooperation. Common examples of this attitude are referring to an online family tree as "my tree" and the information as  "my research."

Presently, the most prominent example of the changes is the Family Tree. This universal, automatic record hint driven family tree is the object of intense criticism merely because it implements the best of the effects of the division of labor espoused by Adam Smith. Almost uniformly, the criticism of the Family Tree arises from the actions taken by "other people." There are few admissions that the problems associated with the division of labor arise from the individual not doing his or her own part of the process. The results closely resemble a playground fight between rivals.

How do we manage to navigate these huge informational changes? I believe the first step is that the level of sophistication and knowledge of genealogists needs to increase. We also need to recognize that genealogy is inherently a cooperative and collaborative effort, not just an individual hobby. As we collectively begin to understand that when we begin working on a family tree we are likely duplicating the work of hundreds or even thousands of others who are related to the same ancestors, we will begin to see the importance of finding our place in the human family.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Most Popular Browsers, Search Engines and Operating Systems

It has been quite a while since I wrote about browsers, search engines, and operating systems. During the past few years, there have been significant changes in the way we access our computing devices. There have been significant changes in the market percentages of the different programs. Time to see what is going on out there on the internet.

First browsers. A browser, also known as a web browser, is a program that runs on your device (using the term to include anything attached to the internet) that enables the user to navigate the World Wide Web to access and display data of all kinds. You might be surprised at what are now the most commonly used programs. Here is the lineup from for 2018.

  • Chrome for Android 27.62%
  • Chrome 63.0 13.76%
  • Chrome 64.0 11.55%
  • Safari iPhone 9.58%
  • Firefox 58.0 3.41%
Here is another list from
  • Chrome 44.5%
  • Safari 25.4%
  • Various versions of Internet Explorer 15.5%
  • Firefox 7.4%
  • Edge 3.5%
Here is another website with statistics: This is where some of the information about usage comes from. There are many other sources.

Now, what about search engines? Here is another list from But really, the answer is there is Google and everybody else. Google has 63.5 percent of the overall search inquiries in the U.S., but on mobile devices, it has 93% of the market share. Worldwide, Google has an 86.3 percent market share. No other search engine has even close to 10% of the market. 

Next, on to operating systems. Here we have two divisions: desktop and mobile. There are probably not many surprises here. It is back to

  • Windows 82.55%
  • MacOS is about 12%
The rest share what's left. 

Mobile again from
  • Android 30.5%
  • iOS 23.8%
  • Microsoft 2.6%
  • RIM (Blackberry) 6.8
Many others with very small percentages.

If you can remember what was popular back a few years, you can see that there has been a huge change in the way computers are used and the programs that are the most used. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What Are Special Collections?

Most of the larger libraries and archives of the world have a storage area set apart from the regular books and other materials where they keep items that are either very monetarily valuable, in a delicate condition or are extremely rare. These sections of the libraries are usually called "Special Collections." In most cases, access to the items in these areas is restricted in some way. The Special Collections are not the same as libraries that have "closed stacks" restricting patron access to the books and other materials and requiring all of the patrons to request items for retrieval by library staff. Some libraries and archives even have the items in their special collections separately cataloged.

Smaller local libraries may also have a section of books or other items that are restricted from circulation and not kept on the regular shelves.

In my experience, most of the genealogists I talk to have little or no experience in researching in a special collections library. The first challenge is finding it. There may or may not be a designation or sign acknowledging that a special collections library exists. For example, the Library of Congress has most of its collection in closed stacks, but the Special Collections part of the Library is ent

Another example, the state of North Carolina has over 80 colleges and universities. Nearly all of these entities have libraries and special collections. Think about it. If you had ancestors in North Carolina, have you check the catalogs of all these libraries? Now, there is a North Carolina Digital Heritage Center that has a huge online collection of some of these items but this is only a small part of these valuable collections.

I have written about this experience previously, but while I was researching my great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner, I found a collection of records from one of his sons in the University of Utah Special Collections Library consisting of 21.25 linear feet of records. These records contained information about almost all the people who had lived in the small Arizona town where Henry lived. I also found most of the same collection in the Northern Arizona University Special Collections Library.

Since the items in the special collections libraries do not circulate, you may have to plan on spending the time at the location of the library looking at the items in a special reading room like the one shown above in the Library of Congress.

To find a special collections library simply do an online search for the location, i.e. the state or county, with the words "special collections." You may be surprised at what you will find.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Busy Week at Conference in Pennsylvania

My wife and I are busy this week assisting FamilySearch at the Registers of Wills and Clerks of Orphan's Court Association of Pennsylvania's 91st annual conference. We were asked to support the FamilySearch representative and help to promote the idea of using FamilySearch to help digitize their records. The Conference is being held in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. So we have taken a short drive through the beautiful countryside to help out.

We are there to relate our experiences in digitizing records for Maryland State Archives. I may have to catch up with posts once we get back.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

MyHeritage Adds 25 Million New Records

The new additions include millions of records from Ellis Island, West Virginia, and Sweden and hundreds of thousands of records from Denmark. The new records bring the total number of records on the website to 9,145,401,868. Yes, that's over 9 billion records.

You can read about the new records on the MyHeritage Blog. See New Historical Records Added in June 2018. If you have Swedish ancestors, you should take note. Here is the explanation of the new Swedish records from the blog post.
Sweden Household Examination Books 1860-1930 Update 
This 3,662,252 million historical record collection update to the Swedish Household Examination Books marks the final installment of this collection which now totals 87,401,340 records. 
The Swedish Household Examination Books serves as the primary source for researching the lives of individuals and families throughout the parishes of Sweden, from the late 1600’s until modern times. The books were arranged by the Swedish Lutheran Church who maintained the official records of the Swedish population until 1991. Each year until 1894, the parish priest would visit each home, first testing each individual’s knowledge of the catechism, and then collecting information about birth dates, marriages, deaths, changes in residence, etc. After 1894, the parish priests continued their visits but tended to be less focused on the doctrinal exams and more focused on collecting population information. These post 1894 records came to be known as the Församlingsbok. 
This June installment is comprised of the records of those who were away from home at the time of the original collection.
 This was particularly interesting to my wife who has Swedish ancestry.

Returning to the Challenges of Francis Cooke

Week after week as I receive an email generated from the Family Tree about those whom I am watching, I see almost constant changes to people such as the Mayflower passenger Francis Cooke. Insanity is often defined as extreme foolishness or irrationality. I think this definition applies to those who feel that they need to keep editing a prominent person. It boggles my mind to think that there are so many people out there in the greater genealogical community that know so little about history and particularly about New England history to think that they have "discovered" some new information for a person such as a Mayflower passenger.

Notes, life sketches, memories, documents, and dozens of source do not seem to make an impact on the waves of changes. Of course, all of these "changes" also fail to be supported by even one source. Fortunately, there is a small group of people who ardently defend the reality of the entries and change everything entered back to conform with the more than well established and sourced information.

For example, there is some who added a birth date for Francis Cooke of 1 October 1577 and further shows he was born in Gides Hall, Essex, England. In fact, no new sources have been added to his entries for at least a year and there are no records showing a birth or christening record for Francis Cooke. The Gides Hall records date from the 1700s and show a person named Francis Cooke marrying a woman named Hester on 2 November 1766. Remember, the Mayflower arrived in America in 1620.

These few entries in my Family Tree take up an inordinate amount of time and effort just to maintain the status quo. Over the years, there has been some discussion about making such entries read-only or locked, but that presupposes that the information is complete and correct at the time the entries are locked.

There are presently 1357 people in the Family Tree with the name of Francis Cooke.

As an example, one of them was born in England in 1566 and supposedly died in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States in 1675.

He apparently lived to be 109 years old. There are no sources listed for this person. By the way, the actual entry and the search listing do not agree. The entry is for Francis Cooks KGS8-47J.

Usually, when I write a post like this one, I get several suggestions to make my views known in GetSatisfaction. There are presently 4929 topics on just the Family Tree in GetSatisfaction. The total number of topics is 12,209. Am I supposed to search through all these topics to see if this issue has already been raised? Should I start a new topic?

Well, I did search and, as I already knew, found that this topic has been around for at least five years or more. It also turns out that one of the people who commented on this problem is the same person who is cleaning up Francis Cooke today. So some of us have been working on this same issue for many years.

By the way, the response here outlines several options for limiting these irrational changes. This is only one of the many similar topics.

Now, short of requiring a psych evaluation for potential users of the program are there any other ways that the number of changes to these prominent people can be reduced?

I don't have an answer that is any different than all the different responses in GetSatisfaction. But I do know that I will outlast those who are making irrational changes and I already have assistance from a 2nd generation and will now start working on the third generation of those who will defend the integrity of the Family Tree.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Where are we with social networking?

What is happing in the world of blogs? What is happening on Facebook? What about Google+? And what about Twitter and Pinterest and Instagram? Not to mention, what is going on in the hundreds of other social networking websites. Last, of all, what does this have to do with genealogy?

Here is a graphic display of some of the more prominent social networking websites. How many do you recognize?

I am only on about nine of them. What do I know?

I have observed many times in the past few years that genealogical blogs are on the decline both in content and number. I have been going through lists of genealogy blogs online and continually find blogs listed that haven't posted for years. Some have been abandoned altogether. For example, out of ten blogs I checked, only three still had viable and updated posts. Many of these were abandoned as long as three or more years ago. Even though some of them had postings in 2018, the posts were outdated by many months. As I continued to search, I looked at posted "best genealogy blogs" and "genealogy blogs worth reading." Interestingly, my blog was seldom listed but most of the ones recommended hadn't published in years.

My reality is that one of my most popular venues is I get more visits on than I do in almost all my other blogs.

One interesting development is the invitation I received from RootsTech 2019 ( inviting me to apply to be a RootsTech Ambassador. There was no mention of blogs or bloggers in the invitation.

Where have all the bloggers gone? To flowers every one? has a lot of current genealogical activity but it is not immediately evident from a common news stream. Even if you subscribe to a lot of Facebook genealogy posts, you will probably lose them in the stream of viral videos.

What about Pinterest? I have no idea how to focus on genealogy on Pinterest. Everything goes by in huge streams of photos.

Instagram? I limit my friends to my family to keep from seeing everything that goes on everywhere.

I could go on but my impression is that genealogical information of the kind sent out regularly by experienced genealogists is getting harder and harder to find.

Are you aware of the Veridian Newspaper Collections?
It has been some time since I last wrote about Veridian is a company called DL Consulting located in Hamilton, New Zealand. Here is a quote from their website about the company.
Since 2002 DL Consulting has been helping libraries around the world retain their position as critical and important community resources. We understand that libraries are responding to an increasing demand for online access to content. Our Veridian digitization services give libraries the ability to preserve archives of historic material and deliver the content as a digital collection to their communities. 
DL Consulting has proven experience delivering large projects for prestigious university libraries, large state and public libraries, and national libraries in the U.S. and abroad. Our staff is highly skilled in managing complex digital collections and is always responsive to issues large and small. DL Consulting is based in Hamilton, New Zealand, with an office in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The company maintains a huge search engine called that searches more than 149 million items from more than 2,700 historical newspapers around the world. Some of the collections include:

  • 2017/06 Purdue University Library new Done
  • 2017/07 Catholic News Archive new Done
  • 2017/08 The Vassar College Digital Newspaper Archives new Done
  • Kent State University Done
  • 2017/09 Colorado Historic Newspapers Done
  • Digital Michigan Newspaper – Central Michigan University Done
  • 2017/10 Hudson River Valley Heritage Newspapers new Done
  • 2017/11 Stanford Daily – Stanford University new Done
  • 2017/12 Eastview/Hoover Hoji Shinbun new Done

Here is a link to the complete list:

Once you begin to recognize that there are an overwhelming number of online resources to search, it will change the way you do your genealogical research.

The First Ever MyHeritage International User Conference, in Norway

I will still be in Annapolis digitizing records, but it is interesting to learn that is holding its first ever MyHeritage User Conference in Oslo, Norway from the 2nd to the 4th of November, 2018. Here is a summary of the upcoming conference from the announcement I received.
The conference will be open to anyone from anywhere in the world who would like to learn more about MyHeritage, including subscribers, DNA customers, those with free basic accounts, and even people who haven't used MyHeritage yet but would like to find out more. 
Come and learn about MyHeritage's current and future products directly from senior MyHeritage staff. Gilad Japhet, CEO of MyHeritage, will give a keynote address and there will be classes covering a range of subjects — including genealogy and DNA — as well as hands-on workshops. There will also be presentations from leading genealogists and DNA experts, and a chance to meet and exchange tips with other MyHeritage users.
I am sure there will be more information available shortly. By the way, the weather is not too bad in Oslo in November.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Is Genealogy an Elephant?

By Illustrator unknown - From Charles Maurice Stebbins & Mary H. Coolidge, Golden Treasury Readers: Primer, American Book Co. (New York), p. 89., Public Domain,
I am sure I am one of the blind men feeling the genealogical elephant. But I am also certain that there are many other blind men out there in the greater genealogical community. Why do we have such differing opinions about the nature of genealogy and its methodology? Could it be that the subject itself is the answer to that question? Genealogy is really a very personal endeavor. Each of us begins and becomes interested in our ancestral heritage in a different way and how we proceed depends as much on our own personal background and interests as it does on any objective approach to the subject.

Unfortunately, genealogy is fragmented by those who believe that their way of doing research and recording the results is the only way. They are certain that their opinion of the elephant is correct and the others are all wrong. This week, I had two experiences giving me an insight into two of the very divergent views of genealogy. One of the experiences involved a group of teenagers who were brought to the local Family History Center for a "family history experience." The second was attending a meeting of a local genealogical society where we listened to a presentation about the resources of the Maryland State Archives. The two experiences were certainly at different ends of the elephant.

My elephant reality includes a large number of such disparate experiences. For example, there is a major emphasis in some parts of the greater genealogical community on citations and proper report writing. Neither of my recent experiences could have possibly viewed the genealogical elephant through touching on either citations or reports.

I spend a huge amount of time with online family tree programs. But I also do research in libraries, archives and other large and small repositories. You only have to think of the difference between beginning a family tree on an online genealogy program and sitting in an archive looking at original records to understand the disparity between these two experiences.

When I work with people who have a real desire to find and connect with their ancestors and they struggle with technology, I feel their frustration and can certainly understand that not everyone has "grown up" computers. I guess I am still trying to completely identify and quantify the genealogical elephant and perhaps harmonize all of the disparate impressions and beliefs about the subject. I had one person who I spoke to recently say, "I need to hire a professional genealogist. I have been doing genealogy for more than thirty years and I just can't resolve some of my research problems." He was seeing his part of the elephant quite clearly.

Maybe we all need to start seeing our own part of the genealogical elephant.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Making Your Way Through a Fog of Names

A quick search on the website for the surname "Smith" shows over 15 million results and of those results, about 1.4 million of those results have the name "John Smith." Of course, not all English names are as common as Smith or Jones, but every language of the world has its "commonly used" names. My own name has over 52,000 results. Fighting your way through record searches when your ancestor has a relatively common name is like walking into a dense fog.

Unfortunately, many genealogists never get past the "name search" level of genealogy. This issue is often referred to as the "same name = same person" problem. Separating two or more people with the same or very similar names can be overwhelmingly difficult. I have found people with the same name, living in the same small area, with the same birth and death dates. The only distinguishing features seemed to be their occupations.

If you don't care if you are related to a person and are simply trying to fill in all the empty spaces on your pedigree, then this post is obviously not directed at you. But if you care about your relationship to the people you are researching, then you need to be aware of the methodology used to separate commonly named individuals.

I use because I have a huge number of English ancestors. I also use the program because their particular search engine allows me to focus on the number of people with the same or similar name in a decreasingly smaller geographic area. For example, take the search for "John Smith." Here is a screenshot of the results.

Now let's add some qualifiers or filters. First, let's limit the area under consideration from England in general to a specific county.

Here, I put in Kent County and got a significant reduction in the number of results. By the way, you can use almost any search engine to do this, but is particularly well suited for this kind of analysis. Now, let's add a time period, say from 1820 to 1825.

Although there is a drop in the number, the reduction isn't much help. This points up a basic issue with all genealogical research: We have to know where an event in the person's life occurred. I will take a look at a specific parish: Tenterden.

Now we are getting somewhere. We have only 42 results and some of them are not specific to Tenterden. If we go down the list, some of them also have middle names. Now we have to begin looking at each of the entries to see if the details match those implied from looking at the rest of the family.

The main challenge in using this type of analysis is knowing where the people lived and being consistent in looking in the same area. For example, in this list, there are two locations Wittersham and Appledore. How far apart are these two towns?

They are quite close together and we will definitely have to find more information before we determine which of these two is the one we are looking for. The first record that came up is from the 1851 England, Wales, and Scotland Census. We can start there to see the occupation that is listed and so we start the journey into more and more specific research.

In some cases, with my own ancestors, I have multiple people with the same names in the same places and have yet to find my way through the fog. The danger here is that you make an arbitrary choice.

Monday, July 9, 2018

FamilyHistoryExpos Presents an Online Virtual Genealogy Conference
Some of my readers might recall that Family History Expos used to hold well attended, in-person, conferences around the U.S. Over time, however, the cost of traveling to various locations and the increased costs for renting the facilities finally mandated the end of onsite conferences. Since that time we have been holding webinars, online workshops and other activities. Of course, we have been publishing a lot of books. By the way, you can find our books on Just look for the names of the authors: Holly Hansen, James L. Tanner, Arlene H. Eakle, Ph.D. There are also additional authors of some of the books. Here is one of the books as an example.

Now, we are going to return to having conferences, but these will be entirely online. The first of these events is the Pirates of the Pedigree, 2018 International Family History Expo, A Virtual Event. We will be online from October 15th through the 20th. Here is a description of the upcoming conference.
Join Family History Expos and researchers from around the world as we celebrate 15 years of service to the genealogy community! 
We have chosen "Pirates of the Pedigree" as our theme for this amazing event. With the advent of the internet and digital documents, we are surrounded in a virtual sea of opportunity. But too often the ancestor you are seeking is lost in the records. At this Expo, we will share experiences, resources, and techniques that will assist you in discovering which records may hold the clues to locating the correct ancestor from all the rest. 
After attending this event, you will know how to recognize those "Pirates" that would steal your treasured lineage. Let the internet connect family historians from distant lands to tackle the challenges we all face. 
This is a totally online event. Classes will be broadcast. Sponsor and Vendor links allow you to visit their website or special event page quickly. Visit websites, blogs, and social media sites where you can learn about the resources and services available to help you successfully and accurately research your family history. 
Paid registered attendees receive the following with their registration:
  • Registration gift packet of digital fun and educational items donated by our Sponsors and Vendors
  • Access to view and print class handouts
  • Access to view recorded classes after the Expo is over
  • Eligible to win door prizes
Public viewing of some classes will be available at no cost. Those attending free classes offered without registration will enjoy the slideshow presentation of the presenter only. To view classes at no cost, simply click the link provided in the Agenda (check in early to assure yourself a spot in the broadcast). The Agenda is in process. 
We hope you will all attend this innovative event. We also note that several other organizations are starting up the idea of a virtual conference. I guess our good ideas have spread across the industry. 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Using Voice Recognition in Genealogy: Names and dates and places

Over the years, I have used voice recognition software off and on, always hoping that it would become the solution to quickly entering information so that I could avoid typing. Most recently, voice recognition software has become ubiquitous with smartphones and apps such as Siri and Google Assistant or one of the many other such programs. For example, when I get a phone message on my iPhone, the message is automatically transcribed into text.

Significantly, all three of the major operating systems from Microsoft, Apple, and Google include a voice recognition program. Unfortunately, the availability of more sophisticated voice recognition software is limited to only one major program called Dragon Naturally Speaking for Windows and Dragon Dictate for Apple OS X both from I say unfortunately because the operating systems programs lack any significant editing capabilities and there appear to be no other programs competing with the expensive programs from

Because I see a distinct advantage in using voice recognition for a lot of reasons, I keep upgrading my copy of Dragon Dictate even though the upgrade prices seem outrageous.

Now, supposing that you have spent your money on purchasing a voice recognition program such as the ones from Nuance, how well do they work? This has been the issue since the beginning of the development of voice recognition software by IBM many years ago. In fact, is the present developer of the voice recognition software originally developed by IBM. However, IBM is still in the market and is selling Watson Speech to Text as an API add-on for software developers.

Two factors severely limit voice recognition: words that sound the same but are spelled differently and background noise. For genealogists, the real challenges are names and places. Most of the text that we deal with contains a fair amount of both. The programs usually get dates correct.

How well does an expensive commercial program such as my version of Dragon Dictate do with names? Here are some examples. Here is a list of five names from my ancestors:
  • Samuel Linton
  • Marinus Christensen
  • Adeline Springthorpe
  • Margaret Turner
  • Sarah Foscue
Here is what I get when I read these names using Dragon Dictate:

  • Samuel Benton
  • Marina's Christiansen
  • Adeline spring Thorpe
  • Margaret Turner
  • Sarah Foster you
There is a way to train the program but it would be extremely tedious to try to enter thousands of names. Switching to places, here are five place names, again, from my ancestors.
  • San Bernardino, Los Angeles, California, United States
  • Ramsey, Huntingdonshire, England, United Kingdom
  • Brookfield, New South Wales, Australia
  • Whittlesey St Mary & St Andrew, Cambridgeshire, England
  • Toquerville, Washington, Utah, United States
Here are the same place names entered using the voice recognition software:
  • San Bernardino, Los Angeles, California, United States
  • Ramsey, Lincolnshire, England, United Kingdom
  • Brookfield, New South Wales, Australia
  • Whittlesey St. Mary and St. Andrew, Cambridgeshire, England
  • Tocqueville, Washington, Utah, United States
The second best looks superficially correct. However, the errors are not so noticeable and would take more time to correct than it would take to retype the list. Here is what I get up I try to say Huntingdonshire several times.
  • Lincolnshire
  • Huntington Shire
  • Huntingdon Shire
  • Huntington
All in all, the place names come out much better than the names of the people. Even though the text has a high degree of accuracy using voice recognition, it is imperative that any text dictated be carefully edited. Here is an example of some text from a biography. I will mark the typos after I dictate the text.
Thomas Parkinson was born on December 11, 1830, in Cambridge Shire, England, the second son of James Parkinson and Elizabeth chattel. His father, James, was born in the not-too-distant hamlet aforesaid, Huntington Shire England and was also a farmer, as was his father before him. Students of English history no way to wealthy economic struggle in the 1830s and 40s, especially for the tenant farmer. Until that time agriculture have been the nation's mainstay, but with industrialization the best a man could hope for was steady work.
Here is the edited version of the same text.
Thomas Parkinson was born on December 11, 1830, in Cambridgeshire, England, the second son of James Parkinson and Elizabeth Chattle. His father, James, was born in the not-too-distant hamlet of Farcet, Huntingdonshire, England, and was also a farmer, as was his father before him. Students of English history know only too well the economic struggle in the 1830's and 40's, especially for the tenant farmer. Until that time agriculture had been the nation's mainstay, but with industrialization the best a man could hope for was steady work. 
When I am dictating using voice recognition, I usually watch what is entered very carefully and make corrections as I go along. However, you can see why some would conclude that using the program is not worth the effort to train and edit it. 

However, as voice recognition software becomes more ubiquitous it is entirely possible that it will become more accurate and therefore more useful. Right now, but still has a ways to go.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Impact of the US Civil War on Genealogical Research

I continually find those who are researching their ancestors to be almost entirely unaware of the history of the time period when they lived. As I have noted several times previously, this is likely a result of the lack of real history being taught in U.S. public schools today. If your ancestors lived in the United States during the time period between 1861 and 1865, then their lives were probably dramatically influenced by the U.S. Civil War (aka War between the States).

Although the total number of casualties of the Civil War is subject to dispute, the most common estimates put the number at around 1.5 million. The 1860 U.S. Federal Census put the total population of the country at 31,443,321. According to some calculations, 2% of the country or 620,000 men lost their lives. Total casualties were over 1.08 million. But what is also pertinent to genealogical research is the vast movement of populations and the loss of records.

Here are some of the major actions in the war that might well affect your own ancestors:

1. Sherman's March to the Sea

Here is a map of the campaign that is known as Sherman's March to the Sea:

By Map by Hal Jespersen,, CC BY 3.0,
If your ancestors had property anywhere in the area covered by this map, they probably suffered some loss due to the Union Army's and more specifically by Major General William Tecumseh Sherman's "Scorched Earth" policy.

What are the genealogical consequences:

  • Loss of life
  • Loss of property
  • Displaced population
  • Loss of record through the burning of courthouses and other repositories

2 Shenandoah Valley Campaign

Here is a quote from General Philip Sheridan about the consequences of the battles for control of the Shenandoah Valley:
Sheridan proudly inventoried his takings from the Valley to Grant after the campaign, “435,802 bushels of wheat, 77,176 bushels of corn, 20,397 tons of hay, 10,918 beef cattle, 12,000 sheep, and 15,000 hogs”(6). This list doesn’t include the vast reduction in productivity in the area that would prevent the area from being self-sustaining and profitable for some time after the campaign. The Shenandoah Valley campaign represents the changing tide of the war when the Union army discovered the effectiveness of ravaging the land, which brought them much military success but absolutely devastated the landscape. 
See Brady, Lisa M.. Environmental History and the American South : War Upon the Land : Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes During the American Civil War. Athens, GA, USA: University of Georgia Press, 2012 quoted on

3. Overall damage done by individual war campaigns and battles

Here is a map showing the location, by county, of the major battles.

Public Domain,
A careful researcher will take all of these issues into account while research almost anyplace in America during wartime. My own ancestors, the Sidney Tanner family, were living in San Bernardino, California and moved to Beaver, Utah as a result of the Utah War or more commonly called the Utah Expedition of 1857-1858, shortly before the Civil War. One of the prominent future Confederate Generals, then a Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston led the U.S. Troops on their invasion of Utah. He was subsequently killed at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862.

These seemingly random ancestral moves sometimes turn out to be much less than random when put in historical perspective. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

What if the records are wrong? Another genealogical nightmare

For the past six months, I have been looking at historical documents for about eight hours a day. That is a lot of documents. One thing that I see is that those people who created all these records didn't get all the information right all the time. I see lots of inconsistencies, misspellings, and writing that defies being deciphered. I also see two records from the same source with different information about the same event.

The answer to the question in the title is that you should never rely entirely on one record. Just because you find one record about an ancestor does not mean that you are through looking. Granted, as you go back in time or do research in some countries, one record may be all you can possibly find, but for research in the 21st, 20th and most of the 19th Centuries, the number of records kept mandates that you have a high probability of finding more than one and usually a larger number of records about any one family.

When I talk to people who despair about finding any records or any more records, I almost always find that they have no idea how many different records could be available. For example, in the United States, I just noticed that Val D. Greenwood has published a fourth edition of his book, The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy.

You can buy a copy on or maybe find one in a library as soon as the libraries purchase new copies. I have mentioned this before, but reading the earlier edition of his book is what got me started in understanding genealogy and how to do research. One thing I can say about the book, even though as a missionary in Annapolis, Maryland, I will have to wait to buy a copy, if you read this book and understand what it is saying, you will be a much better genealogist.

In every country of the world, there are some records that help genealogical research even if those records are oral traditions passed on from generation to generation. The real work of a genealogist is finding those records and preserving the information. If you can't think of any more categories of records to search, then start reading a good handbook of genealogy such as the one highlighted above.

MyHeritage Introduces a DNA Matching Filtering System

New Filtering System for DNA Matches has taken a major step in helping those who take DNA tests for genealogical purposes to understand what the results mean. Here is a screenshot of my own results that shows part of the newly presented and organized information.

This is a clear step towards the goal of showing a suggested common ancestor. Unfortunately, on a few of the people who are classified as Extended Family have trees on MyHeritage that give me any idea how they might be related to me.

You can read about all the features added in this blog post, "New Filtering System for DNA Matches." The post also has step-by-step instructions.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Technology and Family History: A Perfect Match

James Tanner-Technology and Genealogy: A Perfect Match

Well, I am back doing webinars for the Brigham Young University Family History Library.  You can see my latest addition above. But the wonderful folks at the BYU FHL have been uploading videos all along while we have been digitizing records here in Annapolis, Maryland at the Maryland State Archive. If you want to read about our FamilySearch Mission, you can see my posts on my other blog, Rejoice, and be exceeding glad...

Check out all the new videos on the BYU FHL YouTube Channel. Here is a screenshot of the Channel page with a link to the Channel.
I have webinars planned for July and August and on into the Fall. Check the BYU FHL website for the schedules. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Reclaim The Records Challenges the New York Department of Health Over Priority
In a somewhat complicated lawsuit involving a claim by Reclaim the Records ( against the New York State Department of Health, there are allegations that the state agency gave preferential or fast treatment to a request by for public records to add to Ancestry's database, while at the same time failing to provide the same service to the non-profit Reclaim the Records organization.

The lawsuit seeks to obtain records from the New York State Department of Health concerning the transaction with The link in the caption of the screenshot above is to a copy of the full petition. Essentially, the request for records under the Freedom of Information Law filed by Reclaim the Records took more than a year to process while the request made by produced the records in about 3 months.

Initially, the New York State Department of Health also told Reclaim the Records that they would need to pay $152,000 to obtain copies of the New York State Death Index. Here is a link to a detailed account of what Reclaim the Records did to obtain the Index to New York State Deaths (Outside of New York City) 1880-1956

It will be interesting to see how the request was handled.

The issues raised by this legal action extend into the area of the monetization of public records whereby government agencies around the world try to make money from the information they have collected from individuals and families. I suggest you may wish to subscribe to Reclaim the Records' newsletter and support them in their efforts.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

FamilySearch Adds 135 Million Records from Denmark, Finland, and Sweden

If you have ancestors from one of these three Scandinavian countries, you can benefit from this huge new collection of records. Here is a quote from the announcement from
SALT LAKE CITY (26 June 2018), FamilySearch announced today the availability of its newest record collections—135.4 million free digital historical records from Denmark, Finland, and Sweden. These new collections were digitized in partnership with MyHeritage and the National Archives of Denmark and Finland and can now be accessed at FamilySearch
The freely searchable collections are comprised of church records, including birth, marriage, and death records, confirmations, moving-in and moving-out records; court; tax lists; examination books; and more. 
“The new collections will provide a better research experience,” said Whitney Peterson, FamilySearch International collections specialist. “Uniquely identifying ancestors from these countries can be difficult due to the frequency of common names [the use of patronymics]. Before now, our vital indexes have provided broad but incomplete coverage. These new, complete collections will make it easier to find and track your ancestors.”

Again, quoting from the announcement, the new records include the following:
  • 55.1 million new records added
  • Census records (1834-1930).
  • Church records (1686–1941; record images only)
  • Land records of Denmark—deeds and mortgages (record images only)
  • Probate records—Denmark estate records (1436–1964; record images only); Probate indexes (1674–1851).
  • Denmark civil marriages (1851–1961)
  • Denmark, Copenhagen civil marriages (1739–1964; indexed 1877–1964)
33.4 million new records added
Finland church census and preconfirmation books (1657–1915)
Tax lists of Suomi-Henkikirjara (1819–1915).
  • 46.9 million new records added
  • Sweden household examination books (1880–1920).
  • Church books (Kyrkoböcker) from Kopparberg (1604–1860), Örebro (until 1860), and Östergötland (1555–1911).

Read the entire announcement here:

Monday, June 25, 2018

Click Your Way to Genealogical Success - Part Six

Finding Accurate Information

When I was in the very early stages of doing genealogical research, about thirty years ago, I got most of my information from the huge collection of family group records housed in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. This was long before FamilySearch came into existence and over the years, my extended family had submitted family group records to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and these records were stored on shelves in big binders in the Library. By the way, many of these records are now available in digital copies online. Here is a screenshot of the Collection page on
Here is a screenshot of one of the records.

I ended up with a pile of photocopies about three feet high. These records were stored alphabetically and searching for records involved pulling the huge binders off of the shelves and paging through them looking for relatives. If I found one I was interested in, I had to pull the record out of the binder and take to a copy machine and make a copy. Copies cost 25 cents each. So I had rolls of quarters for copies. That stack of copies represented hundreds of dollars of copy costs.

If you look closely at this family group record (FGR) you will see that there is a small section that asks, "Where was information shown on this family record obtained?"

Could you identify the source of the information from this citation? I learned that this was one of two books and here are the current, more accurate, citations to these two books.

Tanner, George C. William Tanner of North Kingstown, Rhode Island, and His Descendants. Minneapolis, Minn.: Pub. by the author, 1905.

———. William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and His Descendants: In Four Parts. Faribault, Minn.: G.C. Tanner, 1910.

Essentially, the information on this FGR was copied from one of two books published in 1905 or 1910. If you did not know about the books, how would you know that this citation referred to the books? The reference to "B4 B14" is the Family History Library catalog number used at the time and no longer is in use.

More importantly, how would I or anyone else know whether or not the information on the FGR was accurate? How would even know if the person submitting the FGR had copied the information accurately from the book? The FGR did have the name of the person who submitted the record, but I found that most of these people were no longer alive or had moved and could not be located.

The challenge is that nearly all this information was incorporated into the Family Tree. Yes, nearly all this information without regard to the origin or accuracy of the information. In some cases, the incorporated information reinforces inaccurate or incomplete family traditions about ancestors and their identity. Some of the information can be verified but it may take extensive research to "correct" the inherited information. In addition, many of your relatives may have incorporated the inaccurate information in their personal files and may never have taken the time to verify what has been passed down from generation to generation.

The Family Tree is not the only online family tree program that has incorporated unverified and unsupported information. For example, I commonly find people in family trees that have no supporting sources or just one or two. This is the case even though the program provides record hints for all its users. The same situation exists in many of the other online family tree programs.

If you have inherited ancestral information or have "borrowed" information from someone's family tree online, you should be extremely careful in accepting anything that is not supported by a source with a citation to the place where the information can be viewed and verified.

You can read the previous posts in this series here:

Part Three:
Part Two:
Part One:

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Here Comes RootsTech 2019

I am certainly looking forward to attending RootsTech 2019 this next year. After missing the Conference in 2018, I am primed to get back to see what is going on while I have been out here in Maryland.

I understand that there were a number of "issues" with the 2018 Conference and I have seen that RootsTech 2019 has implemented some major changes. You can see the changes on this page.
I think you will like the changes and what is changing will probably make your experience a lot more enjoyable. Keep tuned for updates on the Conference.

Genealogy and History: How do they relate?

If we look at a bare entry in a family tree program the person represented would not be real in any sense. The listing of a date and a place fails to transmit any information at all. Viewed in this way, genealogy can hardly be considered to be history. It is more akin to compiling directories or making lists of items to purchase on a shopping trip. I have used this quote before, but it bears repeating.
“If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree. ” Crichton, Michael. 2013. Timeline: a novel. New York: Ballantine Books. P. 73. 
An online family tree program such as the Family Tree provides a way for contributors to add memories to an individual entry.  But the context of these "Memories" is often missing. Here is an example from the Family Tree that illustrates the issues I am writing about.

Although this screenshot indicates that Mary Kadwel has "four sources" there is no other information about this person in the Family Tree. She apparently lived in a town in Kent County, England called "Rolvenden." This is always a good place to start understanding who this person was and what kind of a life she lived.

Here is a short summary of Rolvenden from Wikipedia: Rolvenden.
Rolvenden is a village and civil parish in the Ashford District of Kent, England. The village is centred on the A28 Ashford to Hastings road, 5 miles (8.0 km) south-west of Tenterden
The settlement of Rolvenden Layne, south of Rolvenden, is also part of the parish and shares in its shops and amenities.
This doesn't tell us much about the town that could apply to the individual, but the Wikipedia article goes on to relate some historical background of the place. But some of the information in this history is tremendously interesting to this particular family line. This person happens to be my Sixth-great-grandmother and her descendants, down to my Great-great-grandmother lived and were christened in Rolvenden. They left England for Australia in 1849. The Rolvenden article states the following:
The population declined between 1830 and 1850, when many people left during and after the Swing Riots. This was caused by the public vestry system of Rolvenden parish making the conscious decision to provide the poor with a single payment for assisted passages to the colonies, as opposed to large ongoing payments for parish relief.
These ancestors were certainly poor agricultural workers. The reference to the "Swing Riots" and the payment for assisted passages impacts this family directly. My Great-great-grandmother, a direct descendant of Mary Kadwel, left England with her family and emigrated to Australia in 1849. This historical background not only adds to an understanding of Mary Kadwel but it also helps to explain the subsequent emigration to Australia of two of my ancestral lines.

If you happen to have English ancestors and any of them emigrated from England from around 1830 to the 1850 or later, you may wish to read the article linked above about the Swing Riots. This may help explain why and how your ancestors came to America or to went to Australia. In my case, we may find more information in the Poor House or Poor Records.

History is not just wars and kings, it is real people living in their own times.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

An Update on Organizing Your Genealogy

A couple of years ago, I did a couple of popular webinars for the Brigham Young University Family History Library called "Organizing Genealogy Files" and "What's in that Pile? Organization for the Disorganized Genealogist." Since that time, I have had a number of questions about organizing personal genealogy files. So, I thought I would be a good idea to revisit the topic.

I can summarize organization in a number of steps as follows:

  1. Choose one main family history database program to use as your primary organizational tool. This can be an online program such as the Family Tree or or or some other program or it can be a desktop program such as Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree, or Ancestral Quest. Use this primary program to enter all of your information about your family. 
  2. Digitize all of your documents, photos, slides, everything. You can buy an inexpensive, very usable flatbed scanner for less than $300. As you scan your documents, attach the scanned images as sources to all the individuals in your primary database program. 
  3. Organize your paper records by creating an accession system. You number the first document #1, the second document #2 and etc. Then the computerized database has a list of all the documents with a short title/description. This description could also be the formal citation to the document if you want to have that information available. The documents are then filed using either file folders or boxes. You can then easily find a document by its number and by searching the database. 
  4. Keep your research logs, notes, and timelines etc. online in a general purpose program such as Google Docs or another easily accessible program. You can also keep a copy of your database list of documents online in Google Drive or some other accessible program and have it available when you add new documents or need to find or refer to a document. 
  5. You can use a dedicated photo program such as Adobe Lightroom to organize the photos or you can just keep all of them in one huge folder and keep the record numbers and or dates as part of the title of photo/file. 
If you have a digital copy of the document or photo attached to your primary family history or genealogy database program, you will find that you do not need to refer to your overall list very often, if at all. 

If you think of this as an overwhelming task, then it will be an overwhelming task. But if you just start numbering or attaching and digitizing, you will soon see the results in being able to find most of the information you are really interested in finding. 

Please, please, always preserve the original documents. You can find a lot of information about document preservation from the Library of Congress Preservation Directorate. By the way, this system is essentially exactly the one used by many Archives. Sometimes their classifications and physical storage are more complicated, but essentially, they number the items and put them in storage boxes or on shelves and create a catalog of the documents showing location and ID number. 

If you like, you can color code, cross-reference, add comments or make scrapbooks or whatever, but none of that really adds anything to the storage method described.