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

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

BYU Family History Library starts series of webinars

There are two links on the home page for the Brigham Young University Family History Library that take you to the new online series of free live webinars from the Library itself. If you tune in you can hear the webinar, ask questions and benefit from a wide selection of topics and presenters. Here is the page that shows the three types of classes: webinars, videos and in-person classes.

Each of the links takes you to a schedule of upcoming classes. Here is the current webinar schedule. New webinars will be posted on a monthly basis. We are planning on having two or three a week. All of the completed webinars are also posted here. Some of the shorter presentations are recorded but not broadcast live.

You will probably note that both my wife and I will be adding webinars to the collection. This list of resources will grow rather rapidly because of the huge pool of available presenters we have at the Brigham Young University.

By the way, if you clicked fast enough just as this post was published, you could catch the end of Terry Dahlin's presentation.

The Fate of Family Tree Maker - Relives at MacKiev

Family Tree Maker, the program abandoned by has found a new home with and it looks like a few old standby programs have also. The programs listed on their website include the following:

If you have been around computers and especially Apple computers as long as I have, you will undoubtedly recognize some or all of these programs. 

So, who is MacKiev? According to Wikipedia: Software MacKiev:
Software MacKiev is a company specialized in consumer and educational software development and publishing for Macintosh, Windows, and mobile platforms. Headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, Software MacKiev has its main workshop in Kiev, Ukraine.
The company's products are described as follows:

In addition to developing Macintosh, Windows, iOS, and Android software under contract for other software companies, Software MacKiev publishes its own consumer and education software titles including HyperStudio (Acquired from Sunburst Technologies in 2007) and KID PIX (Acquired from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2011). The company also publishes selected titles under license from World Book, Inc. and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 
Additional titles:
  • The Print Shop for Mac - a desktop publishing software package
  • Kid Pix Deluxe 3D - a drawing, painting and presentation program for kids (Mac and Windows editions)
  • Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing - Ultimate Mac Edition - a touch typing tutor for QWERTY and DVORAK keyboards
  • Roger Wagner's HyperStudio 5 - a multimedia authoring tool (Mac and Windows editions)
  • World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia (Mac/Win hybrid)
  • ClueFinders Adventures - math, logic and problem-solving for 3rd-6th grade students, presented like a Saturday morning cartoon adventure series. (Mac/Win hybrid)
  • Edmark Thinkin' Things - logic and music skills for children 4–8 years old
  • Dr. Seuss's ABC
  • Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham
  • Dr. Seuss's The Cat
In 2016, Software MacKiev acquired the Family Tree Maker brand from[
According to, the company was established in 1997 and incorporated in Massachusetts. Current estimates show that Software MacKiev has an annual revenue of $1,400,000 and employs a staff of approximately 12.

What is interesting is that Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing Version 18 is in and is listed as being sold by Encore Select Holdings, LLC, a sports collectibles company. Kid Pix 3d is being sold at by MacKiev, but it is also being sold by Encore. Interesting. Apparently, these companies license the software and keep it alive and for sale. Good idea. also has a long list of Frequently Asked Questions about Family Tree Maker. I would strongly suggest that if you have the program, you review this page. It will likely answer most of your concerns.

Why are Vital Records Vital to Genealogists? Part Seven -- Strategies for Locating “End of Marriage” Records

By Jennifer Pahlka from Oakland, CA, sfo - LOL Just divorced. And no, that's not my car., CC BY-SA 2.0,
It is unfortunate but some marriages end in annulment, divorce or dissolution. While searching for an ancestor's marriage records, you may run across information that seems to point to the fact that the ancestor was married more than once and it appears that the spouse or spouses in the first marriages did not die. In these cases, you can suspect a divorce.

Locating records concerning a divorce, separation or annulments is one of the more challenging aspects of genealogical research. As is the case with any formal court proceeding such as bankruptcy, probate, and lawsuits of any kind, the records of the action are mainly found in the civil courts but in some cases and more frequently in the past, these records may also be found in churches.

When beginning your search for divorce records it is important to understand that the terminology may change from location to location. In Arizona, for example, there are no "divorce" laws. All of the references to divorce are referred to as "marital dissolution" laws and procedures. So searching for a "divorce" court in Arizona may be complicated.

In beginning any research it is important to understand that divorce is a relatively recent phenomena. In England, for example, from 1552 when the first divorce in England occurred until 1857, there had been only 324 divorces in the entire country. The reason why such few divorces were granted is found in this explanation from the Wikipedia article, "Divorce in England and Wales."
Prior to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, divorce was governed by the ecclesiastical Court of Arches and the canon law of the Church of England. As such, it was not administered by the barristers who practised in the common law courts but by the "advocates" and "proctors" who practised civil law from Doctors' Commons, adding to the obscurity of the proceedings. Divorce was de facto restricted to the very wealthy as it demanded either a complex annulment process or a private bill, either at great cost. The latter entailed sometimes lengthy debates about a couple's intimate marital relationship in public in the House of Commons.
The first divorce granted in the English Colonies in America was in 1643 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Before the 20th Century, divorces were rare and in some areas illegal. In areas predominated by a single religion, it is possible that even with civil consent, marriages could still be prohibited by the church. There are still entire countries today that prohibit divorces.

The earliest divorce records in America could be found in the legislative record due to the fact that to obtain a divorce the petitioners had to appeal to that body. Due to, in part, to the difficulty of obtaining a divorce it was not uncommon for either the husband or the wife to abandon the family. From time to time I encounter ancestors who moved out of the family home with no evident arrangements being made. The ancestor then appears in a different place or country with a new "spouse."

As I mentioned above, marriage records can either be maintained by civil authorities or by ecclesiastical (church) authorities or both. Even though divorces have both civil and ecclesiastical aspects, the records will be found primarily in court records. From time to time and for some religious organizations you may find divorce records among the other records of the churches, but divorce has been primarily considered a civil action.

In order to find divorce records, it is important to understand the court system of the area where the divorce may have occurred. Throughout the United States divorce laws were highly restrictive until well into the 20th Century. So called "no-fault" divorces were introduced in Russia shortly after the Russian Revolution beginning in 1918. In the United States, California was the first state to enact "no-fault" divorce laws in 1969. I was in law school in Arizona when the law was enacted in 1973. You can find a list of the states and the dates when no-fault divorces were allowed by legislative action in an article from the National Council on Family Relations entitled, "The Effective Dates of No-Fault Divorce Laws in the 50 States."

Prior to the enactment of no-fault divorce laws, the various states had vastly differing rules and laws concerning divorces. One of most common was a lengthy residence requirement. For this reason, many couples who wished to obtain a divorce traveled to states or countries with more liberal divorce laws such as Nevada or Mexico. Even then, there were individual states that did not recognize divorces obtained in Nevada or Mexico. Recognition of divorce judgements among the states in the United States is matter of the application of the "full faith and credit" clause of Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution, but this provision does not apply to divorces obtained in other countries. Whether or not a divorce in one country is recognized in another country, such as the frequently used Mexican divorces, were governed by the treaties that existed at the time between the country granting the divorce and the country where the people obtaining the divorce were residents. In the United States, it also depended on the state where the couple lived.

Divorce is usually governed by the laws of the place where the couple resides at the time the divorce is filed in the court. Each state in the United States and every other country that recognizes divorce actions has its own very specific rules and laws. Genealogists who find the need to investigate divorce records will need to become familiar with the law in the specific area where they are researching. Whether or not a divorce action is commenced in a "fault" or "no-fault" state, there are specific "grounds" or reasons for the divorce that have to be met. These grounds differ from state to state and from country to country. Here is a summary of the possible grounds for a divorce from Wikipedia: Grounds for divorce (United States):
A no fault divorce can be granted on grounds such as irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, irreconcilable differences, incompatibility, or after a period of separation, depending on the state. Neither party is hold responsible for the failure of the marriage. On the other hand, in fault divorces one party is asking for a divorce because they claim the other party did something wrong that justifies ending the marriage. Several grounds for fault divorce include adultery, cruelty, abandonment, mental illness, and criminal conviction. There are, however, additional grounds that are acceptable in some states such as drug abuse, impotency, and religious reasons.
Genealogical researchers must also consider the fact that a court action for obtaining a divorce can be either contested or non-contested. This means that the parties to the divorce can either agree that a divorce is necessary or not. Even before a divorce is granted, some states require reconciliation efforts including formal counseling or arbitration. All of these procedures create records that can be searched. 

One of the best places to start when searching for divorce records is to search by state in the Research Wiki. For each state there is an article addressing which court may have the records. Research into divorce records is essentially research into court records. The process can be broken down into several steps.

Step One: Determine where the divorce was likely to have been obtained. This requires some additional research into other states or countries where the parties may have gone to obtain the divorce.

Step Two: Research which court had jurisdiction over divorce actions in the particular area where the divorce action may have been filed. The court handling divorce cases may have changed over time.

Step Three: Search any indices that may exist or in the alternative search the court files for the time period in which the matter may have been heard. It is important to realize that the action may have been contested and spread out over a period of months or even years.

Step Four: Be sure and search any land and property records for the filing of post-decree land transfers or sales.

It is also a good idea to search the large online genealogical database companies' records also. Each state has a different way of accessing old court records, in some cases, they are still maintained on paper in the various court houses but statewide digital records are becoming more common.

Now it is important to write about annulments and separations. A marriage annulment is retroactive. This means that it is considered to determine that the marriage never took place. However, this is another area where investigation of the specific laws of the place in force at the time is necessary. In some cases, the annulment may only apply to the marriage from the date of the action. This is an important distinction and may affect the status of property owned, bought or sold during the interim when the annulment was not applicable.

One of the most common grounds (reasons) for an annulment is that one or the other of the parties was already married at the time of the marriage. This means that the marriage was prohibited as a matter of law. Other reasons for annulment overlap with those which can be a basis for a divorce. They include forced consent where one of the parties maintains that the marriage was entered into by fraud, threats or duress. In some cases annulments are granted for underage marriages. Other situations that can be the basis for an annulment include mental incapacity or illness or the physical incapacity to consummate the marriage or impotence.

In many annulment cases, the question is whether or not the marriage is void as a matter of law or merely voidable. If the marriage was void, it was not legally valid in the first instance. Whereas a voidable marriage is one where the reason for the annulment is not evident until after the marriage. It is important to understand that an annulment whether done through the courts or through the church, is a formal procedure that is recorded by the court or church. As is the case with divorce laws, the laws and procedures governing annulments differ from state to state, country to country and from one religious denomination to another.

Separation is a middle ground in a divorce proceeding. A marital separation can be informal or formal. There are usually no records of informal marital separations unless the parties make some written record in personal papers, letters or diaries. On the other hand, a formal separation is a step towards divorce (marital dissolution). In the course of divorce proceeding it is possible that the court can order any degree of separation and/or require one of the parties to refrain from contacting the other party except under certain circumstances.

Here are the previous installments of this series.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Handwriting Recognition, OCR and Genealogy

By No machine-readable author provided. GJo assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0,
One of the hot topics of genealogy today is the development of an adequate system to computerize handwriting recognition. At the 17th Annual Brigham Young University Family History Technology Workshop in Provo which I attended the day before going to Salt Lake for #RootsTech 2016, there were some extensive reviews of the progress being made towards this ultimate goal.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) has come a long way from its sketchy beginnings nearly 200 years ago. The first developments involved systems for aiding the blind to read developed in the early 1800s. Here are some references to this history of OCR that you might find helpful.

Cheriet, M. Character Recognition Systems: A Guide for Students and Practioners. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley-Interscience, 2007.

International Conference and Exhibition on Multi-lingual Computing (Arabic and Roman Script), University of Durham, Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, and Documentation Unit, eds. Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference and Exhibition on Multi-Lingual Computing (Arabic and Roman Script). [Durham]: Documentation Unit, CMEIS, University of Durham, 1992.

Netherlands Historical Data Archive, and Nijmeegs Instituut voor Cognitie en Informatie, eds. Optical Character Recognition in the Historical Discipline: Proceedings of an International Workshop. St. Katharinen: Max-Planck-Institut für Geschichte In Kommission bei Scripta Mercaturae Verlag, 1993.

Schantz, Herbert F. The History of OCR, Optical Character Recognition. [Manchester Center, Vt.]: Recognition Technologies Users Association, 1982.

You might notice that these references are to fairly old books and articles. OCR has been very slow in developing and advances in the technology are incremental rather than revolutionary. In the genealogical world of today, we are almost saturated with OCR produced information in the form of newspapers, books and other printed documents. There are millions upon millions of documents online that have been fully scanned and read by OCR programs. Every time you look at one of the digital book or newspaper websites you are benefiting from OCR. Many of our most common activities such as sending a letter through the U.S. Post Office are supported by OCR technology.

Despite all of the improvements in the standard OCR technology, for many years the goal of handwriting recognition has been elusive. Here is a statement from the University of Southern California in an article entitled Optical Character Recognition written several years ago.
The next hurdle for optical recognition is handwriting. Currently, OCR technology works at its optimum level with clean, standardized text documents (i.e., typewritten, first-generation). This is what allows the recognition mechanism to work best. Handwriting is another matter altogether — the individuality of handwriting makes it indecipherable by standard OCR software.
Here is an idea of the challenges facing those who are trying to implement handwritten OCR software:

"Puerto Rico, registros parroquiales, 1645-1969," images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 9 February 2016), Cataño > Nuestra Señora del Carmen > Bautismos 1779-1862 > image 4 of 333; paróquias Católicas, Puerto Rico (Catholic Church parishes, Puerto Rico).
If you would like to get a perspective of what is currently being done, you can review the Archive on the Brigham Young University Family History Technology Workshop. The papers from 2016 will likely be published in the Archive some time soon, but meanwhile you can read the papers under the Program tab. I was particularly fascinated by the progress being made in the area of handwriting recognition.

100 Million Profiles now on Geni's World Family Tree is described as follows in a recent blog post:
The World Family Tree is the definitive family tree for the entire world. It connects millions of relatives in over 160 countries and across all seven continents. It is a truly global endeavor as millions of genealogists and family historians from all around the world collaborate on the family tree, continuously working to improve, enhance and preserve our shared ancestry.
On January 26, 2016, announced that the program now had 100 million profiles. The actial number at the time of this post was 100, 448, 101. The World Family Tree is a unified, curated family tree with an emphasis on accuracy and a lack of duplication. Here is an explanation of the process uses to increase accuracy and decrease or eliminate duplication.
When visiting other genealogy websites, you will often find a seemingly endless number of duplicate family trees. A simple search for Apple co-founder Steve Jobs can result in hundreds of entries. However, when searched on Geni, you will find only one clean and accurate entry for Steve Jobs. Since the profile is designated a Master Profile, all subsequent duplicates that may be created will be merged into the Master Profile, ensuring all of the best information is collected in one place. Photographs, documents and sources can be added to the same profile for all to share and review. 
A common pitfall of other online family trees is the perpetuation of errors that seem impossible to rectify as they are copied across duplicate trees. What makes working in Geni’s World Family Tree extraordinary is that when a mistake is found, it can be corrected quickly and without the worry that the error will be repeated across multiple family trees, which can create a false sense of accuracy. As more people work together, the World Family Tree gets better and better as mistakes are corrected, existing profiles are enhanced and new information is found. 
To further ensure the accurate preservation of our shared ancestry, we introduced our team of volunteer Curators to act as stewards of the World Family Tree. Since 2010, Curators have helped protect and maintain the accuracy of the tree. These are users who are not only actively contributing to the World Family Tree, but are also well regarded by the Geni community for their helpfulness and genealogical expertise. In the years since we first introduced this role, our team of Curators has grown to over 190 volunteers from all around the world. Each curator brings with them a strong passion for genealogy and collaboration in the quest to connect all of humanity. Not only has their hard work helped to make Geni’s World Family Tree one of the most accurate online family trees around, but their boundless enthusiasm to help others has become a cornerstone of Geni’s collaborative community. Our Curators have been instrumental in helping to shape the World Family Tree into what it is today by spending countless hours merging duplicates, making corrections and assisting Geni users with both genealogical and technical inquiries.
In 2012 was acquired by and records in the Geni World Family Tree appear in's family trees as Record Matches.

Changes in #RootsTech 2016 Conference from previous years

This is the sixth year of the #RootsTech Conference. I have attended all six of these events. During the Conference, I was reflecting on the contrast between the first Conference and the one held in 2016. The differences are very complicated and involve more than merely the number of attendees, classes, vendors and space in the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah. In many respects, the changes to the Conference reflect actual changes in the genealogical methodology and in the composition of the genealogical community.

The most remarkable differences involve the tremendous technological changes that have occurred in the last six years. Six years ago, was still using and the Family Tree was still under consideration and construction. was just beginning to make an impact on the North American market and the idea of Record Matches and SmartMatches was still in future. In 2009, The Generations Network, changed its name to

I am not going to dwell on the physical facility or organizational differences. The very first RootsTech Conference was fairly laid back and I had plenty of time to go to classes and mingle with the other bloggers. In this way, the contrast with the most recent Conference is dramatic.

The real differences begin with the involvement of the companies with FamilySearch. In contrast to earlier years, the booths occupied by the large company vendors are high tech with large display screens and extensive provisions for presenting classes. The vendors previously relied on give-aways to attract visitors. The main attraction to the attendees presently is the opportunity to ask questions and receive training. Support dominated the entire Conference. By the way, the years that RootsTech has been held encompass almost the entire history of plasma TVs. They were introduced shortly before 2009, peaked in their sales and now have been discontinued by almost all manufacturers. Whole technologies have come and gone during the six years of RootsTech.

The early Developer's Day activities in the early RootsTech Conferences is a far cry from the high level of involvement and interest in the Innovator Summit and the Innovator Showdown. The results of this increased emphasis was a marked increase in the sophistication and utility of the products on display. A couple of years ago, I was one of the judges for the competition. The prizes were nominal and the programs we considered, with a few notable exceptions, were mostly proposals rather than finished programs. This year's competition was fierce and involved fully developed programs with huge potential. As a side note, despite the finished state of the programs, it still appeared that some of the developers had not done much market research and did not have very robust marketing plans. They were still in the "if you build it, they will come" level of marketing and this was similar to past years.

Back to technology. Many of the technologies that were of the most use to the attendees did not even exist at the time of the first RootsTech Conference. One of most notable changes over the six years of RootsTech was the development of mobile technology. The iPhone had only been in production for two years and Android smartphones were first released just one year before the first RootsTech in 2008 but did not gain in popularity until 2010.  See Wikipedia: Smartphone. This year, smartphones used as cameras were everywhere and most of the venders with computer programs were touting their mobile apps.

Social networking played a huge part in the products and conduct of the Conference. Just so you can get some perspective of where we were back in 2099, look at the date that these three popular programs were introduced:

  • Instagram 2010
  • Facebook 2004 (in 2009 it had 300 million users, today is has over 1.3 billion)
  • Twitter 2007

The Pew Research Center in an article entitled, "Social Media Usage: 2005-2015" shows that Adult usage of social media was only at 38% of all Americans in 2009. By RootsTech 2015, social media usage among all adults had grown to 65%. This made a tremendous difference in the conduct and atmosphere of the conferences. For example, this year my wife and I kept track of each other using text messages for the first time. My wife has only become immersed in the text world in the last year or so.

My involvement in the Conference has become more intense every year. Blogging, per se, has probably decreased in its influence and importance, but the other social media outlets have increased considerably. I find it interesting that in LinkedIn, my highest ratings are for social media. I now commonly receive messages by voice telephone, text, Facebook, and blog comments. One dramatic changes is the fact that FamilySearch has seen it necessary to include non-genealogists as media Ambassadors.

In future blog posts, I will be discussing the tremendous changes that are going to occur in the world of genealogy during the coming year. I can say with certainty that RootsTech 2017 will be even more intense and reflect more changes than anything we have seen yet.

Highlights of the MyHeritage Party at #RootsTech 2016

Click Here for a slide show of the party.

My wife and I were invited to an exclusive party on Friday night at #RootsTech 2016. We stayed until about 10:00 pm but it looks like the party went on for quite a while after we left. We are most grateful for the hospitality and friendship of the staff. We had a good time at the party and enjoyed the good company and good food. Thanks to MyHeritage and all those who participated.