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

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Finding Your Mayflower Ancestors and Mayflower 2020
I recently wrote about the completion of the Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700 to 1880 that is on the website. However, the main connection to the database is on the commemorative portion of the website commemorating 400 years of Mayflower history. Here is the direct link.

If you go to the New England Historic Genealogical Society website, you will find a prominent link to the Mayflower database.

So, how do you find out if you have ancestors who were Mayflower passengers? The real answer is by doing exactly what genealogists have been doing for quite some time: you do the research necessary to connect to one of the descendants of the original passengers. The advantage of having the database online is that once you get back into the mid-1800s with your research, you could check the database to see if any of your ancestors show up as descendants. If they do, then you could apply for membership in the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, commonly called the Mayflower Society.

If one of your relatives has already become a member of the Mayflower Society, you may be able to find a more recent connection and speed up the process of applying for membership. An explanation of the process is found on the Society's website on a page entitled, "Join GSMD." There are annual fees for membership in both the New England Historic Genealogical Society and the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

Because of my own New England ancestors and other ancestors such as Mormon Pioneers, I am aware of several lineage societies I could join. Specifically, I have at least three documented original Mayflower passengers. My Fourth Great-Grandmother, Thankful Tefft, is already a documented descendant.

The significance of the database to me personally is that it provides documentation for probably thousands of people in my ancestral family. Now that it is searchable, assuming I pay the subscription price to NEGHS, I can search for specific ancestors and save a huge amount of time documenting known lines. I will likely find that I am also related to additional Mayflower passengers.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Whats Wrong with these Dates?

These dates come directly out of the Northiam Parish Register and they are correct. So how is that possible? If you are a very experienced genealogist with a lot of time doing English research, you may know the answer immediately. But if not, you may have to spend some time doing some historical research before you can resolve what seems to be conflicting dates.

The answer turns out to be both simple and complicated. Before 1752 in England and most of its colonies, the New Year was on March 25th. Here is the explanation from The Connecticut State Library, Colonial Records and Topics article, "The 1752 Calendar Change."
In accordance with a 1750 act of Parliament, England and its colonies changed calendars in 1752. By that time, the discrepancy between a solar year and the Julian Calendar had grown by an additional day, so that the calendar used in England and its colonies was 11 days out-of-sync with the Gregorian Calendar in use in most other parts of Europe.

England's calendar change included three major components. The Julian Calendar was replaced by the Gregorian Calendar, changing the formula for calculating leap years. The beginning of the legal new year was moved from March 25 to January 1. Finally, 11 days were dropped from the month of September 1752.
Learning about the calendar changes will help explain many other seemingly difficult dating issues. 

Mayflower Families Descendants to the Fifth Generation is now Complete

Quoting from the AmericanAncestors DataBase News from the New England Historic Genealogical Society post dated May14, 2018 and entitled, "Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700 -1880 is now complete:"
We are extremely happy to announce that we have added our final volume to the Mayflower genealogies, and this database is now complete! This project started over a year ago, and our volunteers have invested over six thousand hours of work to scan and index this invaluable information. 
Overall the Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants database contains 31 volumes, 10,155 pages, and over 575,000 searchable names. The word cloud image presented above, shows the 100 most common surnames found in the database. 
Today’s addition, part three of Henry Samson volume 20, is the final part the searchable database of authenticated Mayflower Pilgrim genealogies, Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880. This addition adds 726 pages, over 16,000 records and over 50,000 searchable names related to the descendants of Henry Samson. This database index includes birth, baptism, marriage, death, and deed records, and where available, the names of parents and spouses.
Estimates of the number of people around the world who are descendants of the original, verified, Mayflower passengers who arrived in America in 1620 run into the tens of millions. For many years, I have been using the "Silver Books," which are the basis for this project, to help with my own research into my New England Ancestors, including at least three passengers on the Mayflower who survived. In fact, I may have several more connections.

I first wrote about this database back in 2017. Since then I have written about some of the problems that accompany trying to maintain an entry for a Mayflower Passenger on the Family Tree. See the following" The Saga of Francis Cooke on the FamilySearch Family Tree.

My hope is that this new database will help to disentangle my own New England ancestors. By the way, access to this database and many others on the website requires a paid membership, the "free" membership given to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not work.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

MyHeritage Presents FootballDNA
8 legendary football (soccer) players reunite on the pitch to discuss national rivalries, reminisce and laugh together — and see their ethnicity breakdowns revealed through the MyHeritage DNA test. Having lived through quite a few World Cup tournaments over the years, I am aware that these players' names will not be familiar to many people in the United States but this is a fabulous promotion for those in the rest of the world. See this video for more of the story. This is one of the best Genealogy/DNA promotions I have yet seen.

8 Football Legends Uncover Their Origins with MyHeritage DNA

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Reclaim the Records frees the NYC marriage license index for 1996-2017

Another big win for genealogists and others needing records from New York. Reclaim the Records has won a lawsuit and now has the NYC marriage license index for 1996-2017, 1.5 million records, free online, searchable and downloadable.

Here is the link to the newly acquired records:
Please take the time to go to the Reclaim the Records' website and see all of the records that have been liberated.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

All Burned Up: Fires and Genealogical Research

Because most of the world's genealogically significant records have been created and stored on paper or a paper-like substitute (parchment etc.) our collective history has always been subject to loss from a variety of natural causes. One of the most common is fire. There have been some notable documentary losses due to fire stretching back almost to prehistoric times. More recently, there have been several large fires that have had an impact on our ability to do genealogical research. I decided to list a few of the more prominent fires. But before I do the list, it is absolutely important to understand that although records are lost in a fire, that does not mean that every record about our ancestors was lost. Loss from fires may make a research objective more difficult but rarely impossible.

Here are a few of the fires.

1. The 1890 U.S. Federal Census

It is commonly repeated that the 1890 U.S. Federal Census was lost in a fire. That is only partially true. The entire story about the loss of the 1890 Census is more complicated. The U.S. National Archives has a three-part series outlining the real story. You can read the series starting with Part One, "The Fate of the 1890 Population Census, Part 1." You will discover that the census was lost through bureaucratic incompetence in addition to some fire damage.

2. The 1973 National Personnel Records Center Fire.

Quoting from the National Archives website article entitled, "The 1973 Fire, National Personnel Records Center,"
On July 12, 1973, a disastrous fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) destroyed approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF). The records affected: 
Branch -- Personnel and Period Affected -- Estimated Loss 
Army Personnel discharged November 1, 1912 to January 1, 1960 80% 
Air Force Personnel discharged September 25, 1947 to January 1, 1964 (with names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E.) 75% 
No duplicate copies of these records were ever maintained, nor were microfilm copies produced. Neither were any indexes created prior to the fire. In addition, millions of documents had been lent to the Department of Veterans Affairs before the fire occurred. Therefore, a complete listing of the records that were lost is not available. However, in the years following the fire, the NPRC collected numerous series of records (referred to as Auxiliary Records) that are used to reconstruct basic service information.
The fire was in the St. Louis, Missouri NPRC Military Building.

3. The Chicago Fire of 1871

Claiming that the records were lost in the Chicago Fire is almost a universal genealogical excuse for not doing more research. I have found people using this as an excuse even when they did not know for sure that their ancestors or their ancestors' records were in Chicago in 1871. However, the real loss was catastrophic. Here is one place to start reading about the loss of records; The Losses by the Fire.

4. The Irish Public Records Office Explosion and Fire of 1922

With this fire, it is a good idea to start out with some online research. Here is a good article from the website: "All Irish genealogical records were destroyed in the 1922 fire': Myth or fact?"

Irish research is difficult enough, but the loss of the Public Record Office (PRO) records makes the task even more difficult. Here is a summary of lost records from the above article.
The PRO housed many genealogical treasures including Irish census returns, originals wills dating to the 16th century, and more than 1,000 Church of Ireland parish registers filled with baptism, marriage and burial records.
The suggestions contained in this article apply to all of your research in all parts of the world.

5. Burned Counties Research

Another common excuse for discontinuing genealogical research is the claim that all the records were burned in a courthouse fire. This loss of records is generally referred to as "Burned Counties Research." A good place to start is with the Research Wiki article on Burned Counties. There is a chart showing a partial list of the burned counties and an explanation of the steps needed to overcome some of the loss. There is a more complete explanation about burned counties research in the following book written by Holly T. Hansen, Arlene H. Eakle, Ph.D and me.

Eakle, Arlene H, and James L Tanner. Virginia: Bypassing the Burned Counties Research Guide. Morgan, UT: Family History Expos, 2015.

The book is available on

If you believe that some records have been lost to a courthouse fire, do your research and find out exactly when and what was lost.

6. San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906

I have to admit that I have not had many people claim their records were lost in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but it is possible I suppose. This in no way is intended to minimize the huge destruction that occurred, but in some cases, the post-earthquake claims and other records are valuable for research.

7. New York State Library Fire of 1911

With this note, I am probably getting beyond the commonly referred to fires. Quoting from the New York Genealogical Biographical Society website article entitled, "Fire at the New York State Library,"
In 1911, a fire in New York's State Capitol, Albany, destroyed an enormous amount of crucial historical and genealogical records. Read on to learn about the fire, see some of the astounding pictures, and learn about what was destroyed. We'll also detail two heroes of the fire, who saved countless precious historical resources from destruction in the days after.

Harry Macy Jr. wrote about this event and its impact on New York genealogy in the Spring 1999 issue of the NYG&B Newsletter (later renamed the New York Researcher) - this blog is based on that article, The 1911 State Library Fire And Its Effect On New York Genealogy, which is available for NYG&B members to read in the New York Knowledge Base.
This quote illustrates the fact that complete research in any given area may include joining a local or state genealogical society.

Well that is enough of my list for now. I suggest that if you suspect a fire, look for the smoke. In other words, take the time to do your research about the real effects of the fire before giving up on your research. 

MyHeritage Promptly Responds to Data Breach
I recently wrote about a cybersecurity incident reported by The company has been rapidly responding after learning about the incident and has issued an update. Here is an outline that was sent to me in an email of the steps they have taken to respond.
Steps We’ve Taken
  • Immediately upon learning about the incident, we set up an Information Security Incident Response Team to investigate the incident. We have engaged a leading, independent cybersecurity firm to conduct comprehensive forensic reviews to determine the scope of the intrusion; and to conduct an assessment and provide recommendations on steps that can be taken to help prevent such an incident from occurring in the future.
  • We have notified relevant authorities as per GDPR.
  • We set up a 24/7 security customer support team to assist customers who have concerns or questions about the incident.
  • We started a process to expire all passwords on MyHeritage, requiring our users to set a new password. You can read more about this in the follow up announcement we issued on June 5, 2018.
  • We added support for Two-Factor Authentication.
MyHeritage also outlined what the users of the program should do. Here is that outline.

What You Should Do 
1. Change your password on MyHeritage. 
Changing your password is a prudent and recommended practice. After doing this, you’ll be safer, because even if someone else has your password they will not be able to access your MyHeritage account from now on.

Read our FAQ article explaining how to change your password on MyHeritage. If you are using our mobile app or the Family Tree Builder genealogy software, first change the password on the website and then set the same new password on the mobile app and/or Family Tree Builder. 
For maximum security, change passwords often and avoid using the same password on different services and websites, so if your password is ever compromised on one of them it will not be used to access the others. 
2. Add Two-Factor Authentication (optional). 
Two-Factor Authentication is an extra layer of security for your account, designed to ensure that you’re the only person who can access your account, even if someone knows your password. Two-Factor Authentication allows you to authenticate yourself using a mobile phone in addition to a password, which further hardens your MyHeritage account against illegitimate access, because others don’t have access to your mobile phone. For more details, see our blog post
For now, there are no other actions that you need to take as a result of this incident.
All of these suggestions really apply to your general use of the internet. They are good suggestions for all websites where there are passwords. Some people suggest using a password service in the form of an online company that stores or encrypts your passwords. The problem with this concept is what if that service is compromised? But, you can control the situation by using good online practices and changing your passwords from time to time.

The real challenge is for those of us who have hundreds of passwords. Managing those can be a real challenge.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

FamilyHistoryExpos 2018 International Virtual Expo
Quoting from the website:
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.
Visit the website at for details about the schedule, presenters, exhibits and door prizes.

The Virtual Conference will be held October 15, 2018, at 8:00 am to October 20, 2018, at 5:00 pm MDT. I will be presenting as well as many other well-known genealogists from around the world.

Genealogical Research Hazards

We could go blithely along for years with our genealogical research and never be aware of the hazards that lurk just beneath our awareness. The main issues involve doing the math and checking the places where events were supposed to occur. As I examine existing pedigrees, I find the same hazards over and over again. The consequences of ignoring these hazards are the high probability that you have left your family line and are researching or working on the wrong, usually unrelated, people.

Here are some of the most common and most dangerous hazards.

Hazard #1

Failing to do the math. 

This example of a flight of fancy is a good illustration of failing to do the math as well as several other hazards. This is a real entry in the Family Tree. The Father in this example is 65 years old when the two children were supposed to be born. His wife, Alice, however, is only six years old when William and Ralph are born. The father could have had children but Alice is not the mother. Notice also that the grandparent William Malbon also had two children the same year.

If you think this is a ridiculous example, I suggest you start using your calculator to check the ages of those people you have in your own extended pedigree.

Hazard #2

Failing to check the places.

This is one of my most common themes in writing about genealogical research. This Malbon line is an excellent example of the kind of fuzzy thinking that ignores geography and history when doing genealogy. Here is an example

If you were to look at this part of a pedigree and didn't examine the locations listed, you might not catch the problem. Here are the people and their locations.

John Rogers b. 1612 in Breage, Cornwall, England and his son,
John Rogers b. 1636 in Trescowe, Cornwall, England and his daughter
Mary Rogers b. 1667 in England (no location listed) who marries
John Hovenden who was b. 1663 in Northiam, Sussex, England

Here's what that all looks like on a map.

The dates here are in the early 1600s. Absent an explanation about how this family in Cornwall had a daughter that married a man from Sussex, this is not at all defensible or likely.

Hazard #3 

Choosing a similar name or whatever.

The short list above has a person named Mary Rogers who was listed like this:

She is supposed to have 6 sources which show that she was christened in Ticehurst, Sussex, England. However, her parents are shown as being from Cornwall. Actually, there are two sets of listed parents, one family is from Sussex. Which is correct? A quick check of the number of people named Mary Rogers in Sussex at that time shows the following from

There are over 6,000 people shown in the records of Sussex County with the name of Mary Rogers. How many are there in Ticehurst? Only one.

She is not the Mary Rogers who was born in a family in Cornwall. Now, if you started to do the research on the Cornwall line, you would be off on an unrelated line.

There are a lot more hazards but these three cover the majority of the errors in many online family trees.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Have you lost contact with the Earth?

I was recently helping one of my friends to find one of his direct-line grandfathers. The family lived in North Carolina and his initial research had the ancestor located in North Carolina and born in 1838. Well, that was the problem. He was stuck. So we began the process of looking at the earth.

I commonly find that people in online family trees have birth, marriage, and death locations listed as a county, a state or even a country. Here is an example:

This person has no contact with the earth and neither do the people who have recorded these ancestors.  This is further illustrated by this same person who has one marriage listed in 1763 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and another marriage in County Down, Ireland in 1766. He also has a child born in Derry, Ireland in 1768 and another who died in Virginia in 1851. Descendants of this person are born in Tyrone, Ireland in 1801 while others were dying in 1818 in Pennsylvania.

When I talk to people about this kind of situation, I consistently hear the claim that it could have happened that way. At this point, I always go back to The First Rule of Genealogy: When the baby was born, the mother was there. This rule is a reminder to stay on the earth and not float off into outer space while doing your genealogical research.

Anytime you cannot connect a person to an exact location on the surface of the earth, you are speculating about any proposed relationship. In the Linton line above, the connection to the earth was lost when someone added a parent born in 1775 supposedly in County Down, Ireland to someone born in 1801 in County Tyrone, Ireland. Given the time frame, is possible? Like I said, I always get the argument that it was possible. But in this case, there are no records showing exactly where the person born in Tyrone, Ireland was born. The information about his birth was "passed down" through the family. So anything showing a birthplace for his parents is pure speculation.

A point of explanation: We start our genealogical research by moving from what we know and then finding documents and records that fill in what we do not know. When we look at these connections, the geographic locations have to match up exactly.

In the United States and many other countries in order to sell real estate, you need to prove ownership by establishing a "chain of title" between the original owner and the present buyer. In some cases, the original owner may have acquired the property hundreds of years earlier. The chain of title documents all of the transfers from the original owner to the present. This is what we need to do in genealogy. There needs to be an unbroken chain of geographic locations showing that you have the right person in every step.

In some cases, the argument that people move from one place to another is valid. For example, at one time or another from birth, I have lived in seven or eight different states. But this type of situation changes as you go back in time. The especially true in the 1700s when travel was extremely difficult and limited. If you have ancestors who lived in one part of the world and you think they showed up in another part of the world, then you are under the obligation to show how that happened with documentation.

Of course, I have ancestors that came from England to America. I also have ancestors that went from England to Australia and then to America. I have ancestors who came from Denmark to America. Those movements are well documented. But could those same ancestral families have moved around in Denmark, England, Austraila and so forth? All of the movements from country to country occurred in the 1800s. Going back into the 1700s all of the documented locations for my families begin to focus on specific locations. If there is a possible movement or marriage from separate counties, then this raises an issue of accuracy and the burden is on me to show documentation how this movement might have occurred.

Remember, don't lose contact with the earth.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

MyHeritage Cybersecurity Incident

Quoting from the Blog article entitled "MyHeritage Statement About a Cybersecurity Incident,"
Today, June 4, 2018 at approximately 1pm EST, MyHeritage’s Chief Information Security Officer received a message from a security researcher that he had found a file named myheritage containing email addresses and hashed passwords, on a private server outside of MyHeritage. Our Information Security Team received the file from the security researcher, reviewed it, and confirmed that its contents originated from MyHeritage and included all the email addresses of users who signed up to MyHeritage up to October 26, 2017, and their hashed passwords.
If you are registered with MyHeritage, please read the entire article. Here is the scope of the breach,
We believe the intrusion is limited to the user email addresses. We have no reason to believe that any other MyHeritage systems were compromised. As an example, credit card information is not stored on MyHeritage to begin with, but only on trusted third-party billing providers (e.g. BlueSnap, PayPal) utilized by MyHeritage. Other types of sensitive data such as family trees and DNA data are stored by MyHeritage on segregated systems, separate from those that store the email addresses, and they include added layers of security. We have no reason to believe those systems have been compromised.
Please follow the instruction in the blog post to change your password. See

Monday, June 4, 2018

What is Genealogy? Reflections on an ongoing issue

Is genealogy a populist hobby or a serious academic pursuit? Can it be both or is it something else altogether? Why am I asking these questions and who even cares if there either questions or answers? In the past, genealogy served as both a political and cultural tool to both aggrandize the rich and grind the faces of the poor and disenfranchised. Its current billing as a popular and diversional pastime obscures its ragged and rather unsavory past. Its amalgamation with DNA testing does nothing to reduce the impact of its past uses and abuses.

Those of us who have a clear, religiously oriented motivation for searching out our ancestry have a way to separate ourselves from the dichotomy for we do not have to justify it as a valid leisure activity or as a valid adjunct to historical research. Genealogy has always been, to a great extent, the ugly duckling of the academic world. Despite some recent advances as an accepted academic degree in a very few universities, it still is largely ignored by universities and colleges in the United States and only partially accepted in Europe and other areas of the world.

When the subject of my interests and background come up in casual conversation, there is always a pause and then occasionally a responding commentary on the enquirers family heritage. But I seldom get the questions or comments I got while I was an actively practicing attorney. Among those I associate with the most, I am politely and sometimes not so politely ignored. I have surrounded myself with those who are advocates of genealogical research, but outside of the libraries, societies, and family history centers, mentioning family history is a way to terminate almost any conversation. Although it is a relief that I am no longer hated by the vast majority of the population of the United States as a practicing attorney. Genealogists do not appear on popularity lists or surveys.

I now have just over 5,000 DNA matches on one of my DNA tests and the vast majority of those people have a family tree comprised of less than ten people. In many cases, those who are listed as matching my DNA are not even identified or have marked their family tree as private. There is no way to determine why or how we might be related. For DNA to become a way to validate genealogical relationships, those relationships need to be documented and available but current news topics if widely spread and accepted could discourage most people from expanding on their curiosity satisfying ethnicity results.

From my standpoint, I do not feel that I need to validate my motivation for being a genealogical fanatic. After now more than 36 years of intense involvement in genealogy, I figure what difference does it make why I am motivated. Long ago, I realized that there were no real monetary inducements and I don't get any fame or glory to speak of. Like I have said many times, being famous in genealogy is like being the mayor of Nutrioso, Arizona and my statement is not intended to cast aspersions on the mayor if there is one.

Meanwhile, I will just keep doing research, writing blog posts, co-suthoring books, broadcasting webinars, attending some few conferences, teaching and helping in Family History Centers, helping anyone who wants to listen to find their ancestral heritage and otherwise trying to document as many relatives as I possibly can before I die. I do not need a justification for doing this and I don't need validation or popularity. I am perfectly happy sitting in a library doing research and helping an occasional patron.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Farewell to the Mesa FamilySearch Library

It is a sad day in Mesa and for me here in Annapolis, Maryland. We will lose one of Mesa's great institutions, The Mesa FamilySearch Library previously the Mesa Regional Family History Library and the Mesa Family History Library. I spent 10 years volunteering at the Mesa FSL and they were wonderful years. I loved the volunteers and directors over the years and had a great time with the patrons. We know that there will be a new Discovery Center in the future but the books, the microfilm, the staff and the atmosphere will be all gone. Again, it is a sad day and a great loss to great genealogy instruction and assistance.

Click Your Way Genealogical Success Online - Part Five

Moving Past Traditional Genealogical Research

If you started working on your own family history by reading about genealogical research or attending classes in a seminar or at a conference, someone probably mentioned the "Research Cycle." Here is a common iconic depiction of the Research Cycle.

The first step is commonly called the Survey Step or identifying what you know and what has already been done. From my own experience in working with newly minted genealogists over the years, I am certain that they are frequently plowing the field that has been plowed for generations before they started investigating their family. It is possible that the newcomer is the first in his or her family to take an interest in genealogy, but that may only be the case in the very first few generations.

Some cultures around the world have long-standing family history traditions. In Asian countries, family histories may have been kept for hundreds, even thousands of years. Large percentages of those currently living in the United States are descendants of European immigrants and there are a lot of records to search before you can truly claim any originality. As I have written before, my own survey took about fifteen years of research in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah before I could begin to find people who had not been recorded previously. Much of what I found turned out to be inaccurate, but rather than spend my time making the same mistakes, it was necessary to see what had already been recorded.

The huge online family tree program has a feature called Instant Discoveries™. When you first sign into the program, depending on the country of your origin, this feature may produce information about more than 50 people for your new family tree. But this is only one of the technological advancements that have dramatically changed the way people should be approaching genealogy today. There are literally millions of individual family trees online with billions of entries showing relationships all around the world. Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to help a lady from Vietnam begin her family history. She was astounded to find that other members of her family had already entered s significant amount of information into the Family Tree. She had no idea that anyone else was aware of her ancestry. This experience is becoming more and more common.  

The process of doing a survey is much more accessible than it was at the time I did my original survey. But unfortunately, it is also fragmented on websites from around the world. The goal of the Family Tree is shared with some other large online family tree websites: to unify and gather together all of the information known about the ancestry of the entire world. After all is said and done in genealogy, we are one large family and we all share a common heritage. What is happening today online is making it possible to realize that goal.

Meanwhile, any beginning point for genealogical research must start with an online survey. The simplest way to do that is to begin putting your own family tree online. The Family Tree is free and open to all and will always remain free. has a free component. Here is a quote from the website:
MyHeritage family sites are based on subscriptions. Basic sites are free. If you are a member of a Basic site (a non-paying member), the limit of people that can be entered in the tree is 250 and the limit of storage space is 500 MB. This includes all family trees on the site, whether they were created online or in Family Tree Builder and published to the site afterward.
I spent a substantial amount of time and money doing my original survey. With either of these programs and an expenditure of far less time and money, I could now find much more information than I did many years ago. But with this technological advantage come some substantial challenges. I must still sift through a lot of wrong, inaccurate, and incomplete information to find the kernels of accuracy. 

Stay tuned for future installments. 

You can read the previous posts in this series here:

Part Three:
Part Two:
Part One:

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Let's Call It Diligent Digging

I encountered some interesting contrasts this week. As I work digitizing documents in the Maryland State Archives, I see the same lady sitting at the same desk doing research day after day. She spends most of the day looking. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I talked to another lady who came into the Annapolis Family History Center who came in "for a few minutes" to look for a brick wall ancestor who she "had been looking for for years." Hmm. I wonder if genealogy can be done in 5-minute increments or if it takes a little more time than a quick search online?

I have a photo of the card catalog at the Maryland State Archives Reading Room for a purpose. This set of 3 x 5 cards is the catalog for the Archives. I started looking is this vast collection of cards and decided to ask if the contents of the catalog were online. No such luck. Some of the cards have been digitized but the process of finding the records in all the subject categories involves a card by card search through multiple divisions of the catalog in several cabinet sections. When I first looked at the card catalog, I saw that the drawers had surnames in alphabetical order. But then I realized that each of the multiple sections started a new set of alphabetized cards. There are about thirty or so sections. What this means is that if you want to find a document relating to your ancestor, you would have to look through each of the multiple catalog sections individually.

Now, what if you were searching for an ancestor in Maryland? Since we are digitizing the probate records, some of the most valuable records in existence, you are not going to find these records online for a while. But we are digitizing only the probate records for this project and it is taking years with multiple cameras and dozens of volunteers to work on the process. As I was sitting and looking at the books, the card catalog, and the massive shelves of archival material in my view, I became overwhelmed with all the information that was available and the relatively short time I have left in my life to do research.

I am pretty sure that those people who promote genealogy as a "pass time" or a fun activity have ever spent 8 hours a day, five or six days a week looking at microfilm or pulling books off the shelf of a large library. Genealogy is work. It is captivating, challenging, interesting, and rewarding but it is still a lot of repetitious work.

As I talked to the lady in the FHC who ended up spending more than an hour, I outlined some of the records she could start to look at. She was actually far from a dead end or brick wall. She hadn't even looked at every applicable census record much less all of the other possible records that might be readily available. She had no idea of the existence of all the other records that might take time or a trip to find.

Why are we afraid to promote genealogy as work? Why does it have to be easy and fun? Maybe we need to emphasize the rewards that come from persistent dedication and searching for a long time rather than the quick and easy part of the work.

Friday, June 1, 2018

AmericanAncestors Introduces a Family Tree Program

The New England Historic Genealogical Society aka has introduced a free online family tree program called AmericanAncesTREES. I received an email invitation to join the new program but, as yet, I do not see anything on their website about the new offering. The program is apparently in "preview" mode.

One of the options for starting the family tree was to import information from my Family Tree. Here is the promo about the features of the tree from my email.
About AmericanAncesTREES 
American AncesTREES is a FREE, easy-to-use, online family tree that keeps your family history data safe and secure. AmericanAncesTREES offers many features to help you organize and advance your genealogical research, including options to:
  • Choose with whom and how to share your tree
  • Grow your tree with record hints from AmericanAncestors, FamilySearch, FindMyPast, NewspaperArchive, and BillionGraves, and search hints from Ancestry and MyHeritage.
  • Use research logs to track your findings
  • Make and share videos of your family stories
  • Import an existing tree from Family Search, or import a GEDCOM
It certainly looks like an interesting option for a family tree program. I chose to import 4 generations of my information from the Family Tree. That went smoothly and I got the following. 

However, the first time I went back to look at the family tree I imported, I got the following message:

The message says:
This tree is LockedWe're sorry - your tree has been locked. You have 6.0 gigabytes of media in your trees, which is more than the maximum allowed media storage for this plan. To unlock your tree, either remove some of the media from your trees, or upgrade to a PRO plan by clicking on your user name in the upper-right corner, then on Account.
I was not asked to limit or otherwise determine the amount of "media" I wanted to import so this is a surprise. In looking at the media, it looks like they imported a whole bunch of stuff for every person. I can certainly eliminate some of it, but then why would I want to do that. They mention a "pro" version of the program and this is what is displayed.

1 GB of storage is hardly anything. Even 2 GBs or for that matter 10 GBs is hardly enough to contain even 4 generations of media from the Family Tree. If I added any generations, I would easily go over 10 GBs. I guess I will wait a while and see what happens. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Is the Story of and DNA Untold?
This recent article from reviews some of the issues raised by the recent interest in genealogical DNA testing. It also reviews some of the history of  The article is quite long for a news story and contains some interesting information sprinkled with a few questionable and unsupported "facts." First of all, the issues raised by this article are far from new. I expect that very few genealogists are aware of the dark part genealogy has played in our collective history. Let's start with this:
Here is a quote from the beginning of this article.
The United States has an imperfect history. Some of our darker chapters include slavery, the decimation of Native American populations, and atrocities committed during our various wars. A quick survey will reveal that most Americans have learned about or at least heard of these events. However, ask the average person about the “ eugenics movement” and you are likely to get blank stares. We at Genetics Generation believe it is time to raise awareness of this tragic time in our country’s history.
As a side note, the publishers of this post seem to have no idea how to moderate the comments left on their post. But that is another issue I deal with almost every day.

One thing not emphasized in the short article about eugenics was that originally before genetic testing became available, this movement was based on genealogy. What is not noted in either article is the fact that some genealogists, mostly those with a legal background, have been the ones to raise the alarm. For example, here are links to posts by blogger Judy Russell entitled, "The price of sharing" and "The ethics of DNA testing."

Here is a short list of articles that relate to this topic. Can you tell which of these articles are based on substantiated facts and which include scare tactics and misrepresentation?
If you want an in-depth look at the history of DNA testing and the ethical and social issues involved that go way beyond the issue of privacy, here is a short list of books you might want to read.

Mayflower, James. Genealogy: DNA and the Family Tree, 2015.
Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Gene: An Intimate History, 2017.
Ollhoff, Jim. DNA: Window to the Past. Edina, Minn.: ABDO Pub. Co., 2011.
Wailoo, Keith, Alondra Nelson, and Catherine Lee. Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2012.

If you need a good resource for information about genealogical DNA testing, I suggest the websites maintained by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy or

For the past few years, I have been reading and studying about the subject of DNA testing and genealogy and will continue to read and study more. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Search for the Cluster

I seldom hear references from the genealogical community to the concept of cluster research. There is a lot more written about research logs, citations, writing reports, and the mechanics of recording than what you find written about the actual process of researching records. I view all those issues as a "grade school" level of genealogy.  They are certainly things that you need to know and learn, but they don't produce information. They are like learning about the operation, function, and maintenance of an automobile, but never learning how to drive.

Anyway, since real research is seldom taught in the United States at the grade school or high school level, it is important that anyone getting involved in genealogy realize that there is a lot more to learn about the subject than the mechanics of processing information. You have to find it first.

There is a superficial resemblance between scientific research and historical research. But the difference between scientific and historical research is so fundamental as to make them entirely different pursuits. Unfortunately, the terminology used in referring to both is the same. Unless we branch out into archeology, historical research is basically the examination of the human written record. Overlaying this process of examining the written record is a significant amount of the personal interpretation and analysis that boils down to the opinion of the researcher.

One thing that all forms of "research" have in common is the need to determine whether or not someone else has already done the research you are planning to do. Since prestige in the scientific community is often based on the priority of a discovery, scientists quickly learn the need to do an exhaustive survey before beginning their research. Unfortunately, few genealogists feel compelled to survey what has and what has not been done and recorded previously. This subject reminds me of an experience I had one day while serving in the Brigham Young University Family History Library, I had a patron ask for assistance. She explained that she was in the last stages of certification from one of the two major certification organizations (which I will not specify) and she needed to know how to register for I do not make this stuff up.

Genealogical DNA testing is seen as a way to make genealogical research more scientific and in some cases, when supported by adequate historical research, it may well dramatically influence the conclusions we make from purely historical research. DNA tests may also correct inaccurately recorded history. But long before DNA became a hot topic in genealogy, tools already existed to provide assistance in increasing the accuracy of our genealogical conclusions. Those tools are referred to as locality and cluster research.

Let's suppose you obtain a DNA test and as a result, you get a list of people who share some percentage of your DNA gene segments. We would have to further assume that many of your relatives had the same DNA test. Let's further assume that all of these relatives have their family tree online on the same website that sponsored the DNA tests. Does this begin to sound familiar? It should if you have been following the genealogy news. The CEO of, Gilad Japhet, has been speaking about this possibility for some time now. What you would likely see with an integration of DNA testing, historical research, and plotting together on a pedigree-like relationship chart, would be a cluster of people around you. If that chart also incorporated geographical and other information, you would begin to see patterns.

Cluster research, joined with locality research can produce similar results. As expressed by the Wikipedia article on Cluster genealogy:
Cluster genealogy is a research technique employed by genealogists to learn more about an ancestor by examining records left by the ancestor's cluster. A person's cluster consists of the extended family, friends, neighbors, and other associates such as business partners. Researching the lives of an ancestor's cluster leads to a more complete and more accurate picture of the ancestor's life.
I would disagree with the article's definition in that cluster research is not a technique, it is a fundamental part of the research process. Presently, depending on the time depth, DNA testing may or may not help in this process.

Locality research is simply the process of adding geographic information to your cluster research. Granted, cluster and locality research are more involved and more time consuming than searching for names and dates, but they are really the only valid way to extend research beyond the simple search for names. Interestingly, many of the commonly used records are adjuncts to cluster research. For example, a census record is not just a list of names with some added information, it is also a snapshot of a neighborhood and a community. For example, I can go through the Census record of a small town and find a whole "cluster" of related people. The records available from and about those extra people may shed light on information that is missing about my own ancestors.

The article above from Wikipedia cites a good example of cluster research. Here is the citation.

Lenzen, Connie. "Proving a Maternal Line: The Case of Frances B. Whitney". Originally published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 82, no. 1 (March 1994): 17–31.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The GDPR and Genealogy
If you have signed in or registered for a number of different websites and online services, you have probably received a number of email notifications about the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR. What is going on?

If you buy, sell or rent any service or goods in the United States or elsewhere, you probably have provided personal information to the provider in some form or another. For example, if you have a credit card, you filled out a signed application form to obtain the credit card. If you then used the credit card to buy goods or services, the number on the card was used to transfer money from you to the provider. As we all engage in these ever increasingly complicated transactions, especially now as many of these transactions take place online through the internet, we each accumulate a significant online information presence.

This online information is also gathered by websites that use your personal information for other purposes. For example, if you make a purchase on or any other online retail or wholesale sales website, detailed information about your purchase is recorded and used to target you with advertising. In addition, in recent times there have been numerous spectacular data breaches where information about individuals and companies has been accessed by illegal means.

In an attempt to control the flow of data about individuals, labeled "natural persons," the EU GDPR was created and became actively enforced on 23 May 2018. The Regulation applies to any entity doing business or storing information about "natural persons" living in the EU. Here is a short summary of the Regulation from Wikipedia: General Data Protection Regulation.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) 2016/679 is a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area(EEA). It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU and EEA. The GDPR aims primarily to give control to citizens and residents over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU.[1] 
Superseding the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC, the regulation contains provisions and requirements pertaining to the processing of personally identifiable information of data subjects inside the European Union, and applies to all enterprises, regardless of location, that are doing business with the European Economic Area. Business processes that handle personal data must be built with data protection by design and by default, meaning that personal data must be stored using pseudonymisation or full anonymisation, and use the highest-possible privacy settings by default, so that the data is not available publicly without explicit consent, and cannot be used to identify a subject without additional information stored separately. No personal data may be processed unless it is done under a lawful basis specified by the regulation, or if the data controller or processor has received explicit, opt-in consent from the data's owner. The data owner has the right to revoke this permission at any time.
I have included all the links and footnotes. From my perspective, given the data breaches constantly being reported in the media, it is strange that the United States Congress has not passed a similar law protecting personal information online. Those companies that had to scramble (over two years) to come into compliance because they are doing business in the EU, should have had these types of protections all along.

By the way, dead people are not included in this Regulation, so unless you are commercially storing or using personal information about living people, you probably will not be affected by this Regulation. That said, the Regulation is complicated, very detailed, long, and subject to all sorts of interpretation. It also imposes some huge fines for noncompliance. The Regulation also has some less restrictive requirements for businesses of less than 250 employees.

If you think you might fall under the provisions of the Regulation, I suggest you read the entire text including its 173 Recitals. You may also want to find a competent international attorney to help you interpret and make the proper adjustments to your business as required by the Regulation.  European Union's General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Shoe Boxes of Old Letters, Photos and Papers -- Part Six

Handling and Storing Old Photographs

Photography has a very short history. The first photographic process, the daguerreotype, was developed in about 1838. Old photographs are also more subject to changes over time and mishandling. Some of the old photos I have inherited over the years are in terrible condition. The worst have suffered water damage after being glued down to black paper album pages and are covered in mold. Even if the photos are stored properly and not piled in old shoeboxes, the images are subject to chemical changes and especially color photos and slides will fade over time. Digitizing these old photographs has the highest priority. Here is an example of a photo taken in the mid-1960s with poor film.

This is a 35mm slide and the color shift is due to degradation of the film not to a poor exposure. In some of these cases, you can correct the color shift using Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, but in other cases, the color is lost. In this case, you might be better off changing the photo to a black and white (grayscale) image.

Unlike paper documents, photographic documents need to be handled and stored with extreme care. There is only so much you can do both practically and ethically to restore an image. Turning to the Library of Congress, Preservation Directive, Care, Handling, and Storage of Photographs, here are the latest suggestions:
Taking care when handling any collection item is one of the more effective, cost-efficient, and easily achieved preservation measures. 
Take proper care when handling photographic materials by:
  • Having clean hands and wearing non-scratching, microfiber or nitrile gloves; having a clean work area
  • Keeping food and drink away
  • Not marking photographs, even on the back side
  • Not using paper clips or other fasteners to mark or organize prints
  • Not using rubber bands, self-adhesive tape, and/or glue on photographic materials
You might notice that, with photographs, there is a suggestion to use gloves when handling the photos. With slides, it is important to handle them only by the paper mounts. With other photos, absent gloves, you should handle them by the edges and avoid touching the surface of the photo.

Storage is another matter. I have saved several substantial collections of photographs from destruction by simply being willing to "store" them. Over the years, I have scanned tens of thousands of photos. These images are available to be uploaded to online family history websites, such as the Memories website. Probably the majority of the photos I have now are of living people and sharing those online or sending digital copies to relatives is another way to make sure the images are preserved. Here is a screenshot of some of the photos in the Memories section that have been uploaded by me and others in my family.

Most of these are photos I would never have seen without this photo sharing option.

Storage of photos is a real issue. Historically, people pasted them down in albums. Later, there were a number of mounting options such as photo corners and others. One thing that becomes very important is to identify the people in the photos if at all possible. As time passes, the identity of the people becomes more and more of an issue.

Here are some storage suggestions from the Library of Congress.
Good storage is arguably the most important preservation measure for photographic prints and negatives:
  • A relatively dry* (30-40% relative humidity), cool** (room temperature or below), clean, and stable environment (avoid attics, basements, and other locations with high risk of leaks and environmental extremes)
  • Minimal exposure to all kinds of light; no exposure to direct or intense light; use duplicate slides in light projectors
  • Distance from radiators and vents
  • Minimal exposure to industrial (particularly sulfur-containing) atmospheric pollutants
  • Protective enclosures within a box
 **** Relative humidity is the single most important factor in preserving most photographic prints.
** For contemporary color photographs and for film negatives, however, temperature is the controlling factor affecting stability. Storage at low temperatures (40°F or below) is recommended. Appropriate enclosures for cold storage are available from various vendors. 
*** Suitable protective enclosures for photographic prints and negatives are made of plastic or paper that meet certain specifications:
  • Paper enclosures must be acid-free, lignin-free, and are available in both alkaline buffered (pH 8.5) and unbuffered (neutral, pH 7) stock. Storage materials must pass the ANSI Photographic Activity Test (PAT) which is noted in supplier's catalogs. Buffered paper enclosures are recommended for brittle prints that have been mounted onto poor quality secondary supports and for deteriorated film-base negatives. Buffered enclosures are not recommended for contemporary color materials. Paper enclosures minimize unnecessary light exposure; are porous; easy to label with pencil; and are relatively inexpensive.
  • Suitable plastic enclosures are made of uncoated polyester film, uncoated cellulose triacetate, polyethylene, and polypropylene. Note: Photographic emulsions may stick to the slick plastic surfaces of these storage materials at high relative humidity (RH). Plastic enclosures must not be used for glass plate, nitrate, or acetate-based negatives. 
Prints of historic value should be matted with acid-free rag or museum board for protection. Adhesives should not touch the print. Matting should be done by an experienced framer or under the direction of a conservator. 
Store all prints and negatives (whether matted or in paper or plastic enclosures) in acid-free boxes. If possible, keep negatives separate from print materials. Store color transparencies/slides in acid-free cardstock boxes or metal boxes with a baked-on enamel finish or in polypropylene slide pages. For more information about storage of negatives, see Motion Picture Film. 
Protect cased photographs (e.g., daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes) in acid-free paper envelopes and store flat; keep loose tintypes in polyester sleeves, or, if flaking is present, in paper enclosures. 
Storage of family photographs in albums is often desirable and many commercially available albums use archival-quality materials. Avoid albums with colored pages and "magnetic" or "no stick" albums.
As you can see, it is highly likely that the photo collections you will find in your research will not be preserved. In every case, as quickly as possible, digital images should be made of every photo. I also recommend making a digital image of complete album pages before digitizing individual images. This helps to preserve any relationships that might be discovered by looking at the arrangement of the photos.

Next, I will take on some suggestions for digitization.

See the previous posts in this series here:

Part Five:
Part Four:
Part Three:
Part Two:
Part One:

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Ethics of Photo Restoration

Photographers have been manipulating photos since photography was invented. For example, this photo of a fountain in downtown Washington, D.C. had some distracting elements. The people and the sign in the background pulled your eyes away from the swirling water and of course, the small and barely visible duck. Most of the attempts at photo manipulation in the past when the photographer or editor had to work with negatives and prints were painfully obvious. But improvements in technology have made them almost seamless.

I decided to take out the people and the sign. Here is the resultant photo.

I would classify this change as a "quick and dirty" edit of the original. But if you look more closely, more has changed than just the editing of the people and sign. Look at the contrast and the colors. If I were going to do a complete edit of the photo, I would have also removed the flagpole on the right side. I might also have removed the light fixtures on the building. If something is missing from a photo, how can you tell?

Years ago, there was a commonly used phrase that said, "photos don't lie." But today, with digital images, almost any photo is suspect. I could have put people into this photo as easily as it was, using Adobe Photoshop, to take them out.

When we modify an old photograph to "repair" the damage of age or to "mend" the scratches we are changing history. A photograph is a historical artifact and should be conserved but not changed. Since I took the photo and I am not trying to represent that it is accurate in any way, am I justified in altering the original for my own purposes? I am not representing that the edited photo is in any way "reality." I am can change the photo any way I want to. I would suggest that in today's world, virtually 100% of all the published photos you see have been manipulated in Photoshop or a similar program.

Does this view of "artistic license" extend to historical photos? I think not. But changing and editing photos is so common as to be ubiquitous. Here is an example of a page from the Memories section showing photos of George Jarvis and his wife. How many of these photos have been manipulated in some way?

What about this photo?

This photo has the notation that it was taken in 1911. Would it help you to evaluate the historical value of this photo to know that color film in sheets for cameras was first introduced in about 1938? You can see from the previous screenshot that this photo was originally in black and white. Where did the color come from? It was painted onto the image. You may like this color photo better than the black and white but is it historically accurate?

When I discuss this issue with those who are preserving photos of their ancestors, they often do not care at all whether or not the photo has been changed. They merely want a photo that looks good. Are genealogists historians? Are we entitled to rewrite our own history just as I can edit my own photos?

These are real issues but seldom discussed or emphasized by the usual genealogical discourse.