RootsTech 2015

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

Friday, November 28, 2014

Reactions (My own and others) to the MyHeritage and RootsMagic Announcement

It is interesting that the announcement between RootsMagic.com and MyHeritage.com took place over the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. That gave me, and I suppose other bloggers, a challenge to balance time with family (over 60 people to Thanksgiving dinner) and the interest in the events transpiring. I did take time to get myself up-to-date with RootsMagic 7 and begin the process of investigating various aspects and implications of this development. I read two blog posts by Susan Maxwell with interest and commented on them in my other blog, Rejoice, and be exceeding glad...

Here are links to Susan's posts:
New RootsMagic 7 COMPARE FILES Feature - My Way!
Joint Announcement Between MyHeritage network and RootsMagic software

Today, I read a very interesting commentary by Louis Kessler who speaks from a developer's standpoint. His post on Behold Genealogy is entitled, "Genealogy Software is Transforming." I can say that I have observed some of the same attitudes from the large online genealogy companies that are the subject of his commentary. I would take this a little further however. I would refer to a link Louis gives to his previous post entitled, "My Analysis of RootsTech 2014." I would also refer to my own article, written earlier this year and linked by Louis, entitled, "MyHeritage -- The Vision to Become the Leading Genealogy Company #RootsTech 2014."

I would point out, however, that comparing FamilySearch.org, a non-profit corporation, with the other commercial genealogy companies, would seem to always put FamilySearch in a unfavorable light. But the fact is that FamilySearch.org has an entirely different motivation and dramatically different goals than do the other large genealogical data suppliers. FamilySearch's major contribution is the accumulation of so many records from around the world. This core of records is now being made available to the other large genealogy companies, including, of course, MyHeritage.com. This basic difference in FamilySearch's objectives, which have a decidedly religious motivation, could easily be interpreted by developers, as Louis expressed it, as a "ho-hum" attitude towards adding partner programs. The agreement between RootsMagic.com and MyHeritage.com seems to create an obvious advantage for each. That sort of advantage is not the primary motivation of FamilySearch, therefore the reaction of FamilySearch to a commercially oriented business proposal cannot be viewed in the same light as the other companies' reactions.

At the core of this entire issue is the need for genealogists to provide adequate and where warranted, extensive and even exhaustive source information concerning their research. The time for compiling lists of names, dates and perhaps places is now past. We can think about the history of genealogy and its rather rocky beginnings, but we are most certainly in a time of transformation. Genealogy is rapidly evolving into something entirely different. Whose vision of the future of genealogy will prevail? My best guess is a blend of FamilySearch and Gilad Japeth's MyHeritage.com. We will all be the beneficiaries of these advancements. In no way to I wish to denigrate the contributions of the many other genealogy companies. We are witnesses unprecedented advances from many other companies, but I am merely being consistent with my views expressed earlier this year. 

The Ins and Outs of Probate for Genealogists - Part One In the Beginning

Probate is a set of court or government procedures established for the orderly transfer of property from a deceased person to his or her heirs and/or assigns. Records kept in the course of a probate action are valuable sources for information for genealogists about the deceased and the deceased's family. As an editorial comment, unfortunately, in recent years, probate has become overlaid with so-called "estate planning" which, for all but the very rich, is an excuse for selling either an insurance product or associated services. Since the most ancient times, the motivation for some kind of court or government involvement has been the issue of taxes or other restrictions imposed on the transfer of property occurring at the time of death.

As I mentioned, at each stage of the probate process, there are records made of the proceedings that have become extremely valuable to genealogical researchers. However, there is a basic limitation to probate: no property, no probate. In addition, probate deals with the concept of individual ownership or rights to property both real and personal. So the concept of probate evolves as property laws evolve. In more modern times, this involvement of property laws with probate, tax laws with probate and court procedures with probate all create a huge challenge for genealogists. There is no need for a genealogist to become a legal practitioner, but the jargon and the concepts involved in probate, property law and court procedures are important adjuncts to understanding these areas of research.

I remember that one of the major challenges of becoming an attorney was the obstacle of not knowing or understanding the terminology. The simple solution is to use the Internet or a good legal dictionary to look up every word you do not fully understand. If you are like me, you will also have to look up most of the words in the definitions for a while until they become familiar.

Therefore, the initial challenge for the researcher is learning the probate, property law and court jargon. The first and most important term is the idea of an "estate." In order to have an "estate" the law, at the time, must recognize individual property rights and the ability to alienate or transfer those rights to a spouse or other family members collectively called the deceased person's heirs. For a much more extensive discussion of this topic see Wikipedia: Legal history of wills. The estate is considered to be the residual property previously owned by the deceased person. Therefore, the  "estate" is an abstract concept that evolved to account for the rights in property that were preserved after death. As a result of the differences in property law from country to country, the laws governing the transfer of property upon death reflect those differences and each country has its own brand of law. These types of differences have continued to recent times and, for example, each state in the United States has probate laws that differ from every other state and what would seem to be minor differences in probate laws can have a considerable effect on the disposition of property.

As individual property rights were recognized from ancient times, the idea of a "will" developed contemporaneously. The will was a document created by a person before death that attempted to influence the distribution of that person's property after death. Of course, there had to be some congruence between the desires of the person contemplating death and what the law would allow at the time the person died and again, since ancient times, governments of all kinds have imposed formal restrictions on the making of a will. Most commonly, the restrictions require that a will be created with some level of formality and in many instances had to be either written and witnessed or if made orally, had to be written down at the time or shortly thereafter. This is a boon to genealogists because many of those documents were and are preserved.

When I say that a will is a an attempt to dispose of property, I mean that the heirs may or may not observe or comply with the provisions of the will. In addition, the government may declare all or portions of the will unenforceable for a huge variety of reasons. It is the interplay between the desires of the deceased and the government and heirs that turns probate into the huge resource for research. In many cases, genealogists profit from the arguments and fights between the heirs' interests and the governments' interests.

Because of probate's very nature, it has proved to be highly conservative. The forms and language of probate has persisted over the centuries. Modern attempts to reform probate language have usually, only resulted in other terms being substituted for the more archaic terms. At the same time, as property laws change, there has also been a concomitant change in probate terminology.

Here are a few websites to get you started with the concepts of probate and wills:

This is an ongoing series in which I will discuss many of the aspects of probate law. Stay tuned. 


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Searching for a Surname

Very frequently, I am asked if I am related to someone who has the same surname. Although Tanner has gained great popularity in the last few years as a given name, it is a relatively less common surname. Most genealogical researchers tend to focus on an ancestor's name rather than location or other historical details. This limited focus often brings a great deal of frustration and ends up with the so-called "brick wall" situation. Understand some basic facts about names and naming patterns is a prerequisite to doing effective research.

Since, outside of science fiction, a person can only be in one place at one time, researchers should actually be focusing more on where events occurred than the particular form of the names of the ancestors involved. This is not to say that names should be disregarded, it is just more important to associate and individual with a particular location than it is a particular name.

That said, there is a rather extensive and persistent area of genealogical research known as "one name studies." One example is the Guild of One-Name Studies. This organization has the goal of research into the genealogy and history of all persons with the same surname and its variants. Here is a brief quote from the Guild's website that talks about their goal:
This is distinct from family history, in that it is the surname that is of interest, rather than the family tree of members of the same family with several different surnames. However, it does involve many of the same research skills and techniques as family history, and most one-namers are actively researching both their own family and their one-name study.
In a sense, this approach is similar to what has been done by many genealogists in the past and is still being done presently. When a researcher encounters a situation where the records are sparse, particularly in a small area such as a location in Europe or elsewhere, they sometimes focus on the surname and simply "extract" all of the people in the location with the same surname. This is sort of a shotgun approach to genealogy. The supposition is that by extracting all of the people of the same name, the researcher will inevitably have located the ancestor. When I have encountered this type of research, I usually find that when the decision has been made to extract names, the research quits trying to differentiate the people with the same or similar surname into family groups and considers each as a separate individual.

My earliest encounter with this type of research was when I was reviewing and recording a great deal of genealogical research records obtained from one of my Great-grandmothers. She had a tendency to research a particular line, but if she could not find specific records about the individuals, she would just copy out anyone in a particular parish or other area with the same surname. This activity of name-gathering was very confusing for me for a considerable period of time since I could not figure out how these people in her files were related. The simple answer was that they were not related through blood lines.

As I did more research on my own surname line, I found that the genealogy was pretty simple. The line went back to an early Rhode Island immigrant named William Tanner and stopped. Despite claims by some, no has yet demonstrated with documentation, a connection to England where this particular ancestor probably originated. As I continued doing genealogical research over the years, I encountered a lot of different "Tanner families" who were not related. One time, in the Hancock County Historical Society in Carthage, Illinois, I found a card catalog with the listing of a perhaps hundreds of Tanners, all who came from Switzerland. These and many other experiences have led me to the conclusion that searching for surnames is really somewhat antithetical to the pursuit of ancestry i.e. genealogy. They are two completely different goals. Although, there is some argument for the extraction method, if the researcher is willing to spend the time differentiating each of the individuals with the common surname and separating them into family units and then further identifying the unit that is the ancestral family of the researcher.

I have absolutely nothing against people who wish to pursue one-name studies. I have found, however, that the more the name, the less help the one-name study is in assisting genealogists and, of course, I identify myself as a genealogist.

One of the most common mistakes made by people interested in genealogy, but without any background or experience, is that people with the same name are related. I get this when people ask about a relationship by saying, "are you related to Bob Tanner in Nephi, Utah" or something like that. Because of my extensive family in the western part of the United States, this question usually elicits the same answer; if that person is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then the answer is probably yes. More knowledgeable individuals, who are somewhat aware of genealogy, usually ask the question differently, they say "what Tanner family are you from?"

I even have one uncle who married late in life and all of his wife's adult children who had the surname of his wife's first husband, for a lot of reasons, decided to become "Tanners" and changed their names. The more you become familiar with the limitations of focusing more on names than on places and other factors, the more you are likely to be successful in pursuing your own ancestry. But that is another topic for another time.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Spotlight on the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Sometimes we all need to be reminded that genealogy is really history. Although many try, genealogy cannot be pursued adequately without learning the history surrounding our ancestors. It is also the case that many of our ancestors played their individual parts in wars, revolutions, depressions, boom-times and other historical milestones. In a recent article in The Jewish Daily Forward, I read about the Gilder Lehman Institute of American History and that they have the largest private collection of original United States historical documents. Here is a description of the collection from their Featured Primary Sources:
The Gilder Lehrman Collection is a unique archive of primary sources in American history. Owned by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and located at the New-York Historical Society, the Collection includes more than 60,000 letters, diaries, maps, pamphlets, printed books, newspapers, photographs, and ephemera that document the political, social, and economic history of the United States. An extensive resource for educators, students, and scholars, the Collection ranges from 1493 through the twentieth century and is widely considered one of the nation’s great archives in the Revolutionary, early national, antebellum, and Civil War periods.
From my perspective, the amount of information available online and in libraries and other collections around the world is essentially limitless. I regularly discover vast new collections which were previously unknown to me. The trick is remembering that all these resources are actually there and making use of their contents.

You might wonder why I monitor a publication such as The Jewish Daily Forward. It is exactly for this reason. I see this publication and other similar ones, as windows into the rich resources just waiting for my exploration. Some people spend their time looking for gold, I find gold almost every day in the riches online.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

RootsMagic Part Two -- MyHeritage and FamilySearch

There is another aspect to today's announcement from MyHeritage.com and RootsMagic.com that you might have missed. Here is the rest of the story:

RootsMagic, first released in 2003, is an award winning genealogy program for documenting and preserving family history. Its latest version 7, released this week, includes among its highlights a new feature named WebHints powered by MyHeritage matching technologies that transforms the program into a powerful research tool. WebHints also include hints from genealogy website FamilySearch for authenticated users. Information sent by RootsMagic to MyHeritage for matching is never collected or shared, and is deleted after matching to ensure the complete privacy of RootsMagic users and their data.
I guess I will have an answer this week when someone asks me what's new.

Here is the entire press release:

RootsMagic Adds MyHeritage Matching Technologies for Powerful Automatic Research Capabilities

TEL AVIV, Israel & SPRINGVILLE, Utah – November 25, 2014: MyHeritage, the popular family history network, and RootsMagic, Inc., today jointly announced that MyHeritage’s Smart Matching™ and Record Matching technologies have been integrated into RootsMagic’s latest version of its popular genealogy software. This enables RootsMagic users to discover the life stories of their ancestors thanks to highly accurate matching between their family trees and millions of family trees and billions of global historical records available on MyHeritage.

RootsMagic, first released in 2003, is an award winning genealogy program for documenting and preserving family history. Its latest version 7, released this week, includes among its highlights a new feature named WebHints powered by MyHeritage matching technologies that transforms the program into a powerful research tool. WebHints also include hints from genealogy website FamilySearch for authenticated users. Information sent by RootsMagic to MyHeritage for matching is never collected or shared, and is deleted after matching to ensure the complete privacy of RootsMagic users and their data.

MyHeritage enables millions of families around the world to discover, share and preserve their family history on the MyHeritage website, mobile apps and desktop applications. In addition, MyHeritage is well known as a technology innovator. Its flagship technologies, Smart Matching™ and Record Matching, which generate automatic discoveries based on MyHeritage’s huge international database of family trees and historical records, are sought after within the family history space. Leading genealogy organizations are partnering with MyHeritage to integrate these technologies into their products.

“MyHeritage matches are a very exciting feature”, said RootsMagic, Inc.’s Vice President, Michael Booth. “It was like magic to me when the WebHints were first wired into RootsMagic and I opened my file and saw all the matches appear. I spent hours exploring and discovering newspaper articles, certificates, and records that I had never seen before. Our initial testers are also reporting that they have been having so much fun exploring the MyHeritage matches that they have had to pull themselves away to test the other features.”

“We’re thrilled to provide RootsMagic – an acclaimed genealogy software among the most popular in the USA – with our powerful matching technologies” said MyHeritage’s Founder & CEO Gilad Japhet. “This partnership will significantly accelerate discoveries for RootsMagic users and will expand the tremendous reach of MyHeritage.”

This announcement follows other integrations of MyHeritage matching technologies by British genealogy software, Family Historian and Dutch genealogy services Aldfaer and Coret Genealogie. Available on MyHeritage and through a wide set of partnerships, MyHeritage matching technologies have become the de facto standard for automatic discoveries for everyone interested in their family history

About MyHeritage

MyHeritage is the leading destination for discovering, sharing and preserving family history. As technology thought leaders and innovators, MyHeritage is transforming family history into an activity that’s accessible and instantly rewarding. Its global user community enjoys access to a massive database of historical records, the most internationally diverse collection of family trees, and ground-breaking search and matching technologies. MyHeritage is trusted by millions of families and provides them an easy way to share their story, past and present, and treasure it for generations to come. MyHeritage is available in 40 languages. www.myheritage.com

About RootsMagic, Inc.



For over 20 years, RootsMagic, Inc. has been creating computer software with a special purpose - to unite families. One of its earliest products, the popular Family Origins software, introduced thousands of people to the joy and excitement of family history.
That tradition continues today with RootsMagic, its award-winning genealogy software which makes researching, organizing, and sharing family history fun and easy.
www.rootsmagic.com

RootsMagic Adds MyHeritage Matching Technologies for Powerful Automatic Research Capabilities

A joint press release from RootsMagic.com and MyHeritage.com on the BusinessWire of Canada, today, 25 November 2014 announced an agreement between the two parties described as follows:
TEL AVIV, Israel & SPRINGVILLE, Utah--(BUSINESS WIRE)--MyHeritage, the popular family history network, and RootsMagic, Inc., today jointly announced that MyHeritage’s Smart Matching™ and Record Matching technologies have been integrated into RootsMagic’s latest version of its popular genealogy software. This enables RootsMagic users to discover the life stories of their ancestors thanks to highly accurate matching between their family trees and millions of family trees and billions of global historical records available on MyHeritage.
This is fabulous news for those users of FamilySearch.org's Family Tree because RootsMagic.com has a synchronization function that allows RootsMagic users to move sources into the Family Tree program. Now users of both RootsMagic and Family Tree have a potential pathway to moving sources from MyHeritage to Family Tree. I hope this works.

I must be losing my touch, because that same press release states as follows:
This announcement follows other integrations of MyHeritage matching technologies by British genealogy software, Family Historian and Dutch genealogy services Aldfaer and Coret Genealogie. Available on MyHeritage and through a wide set of partnerships, MyHeritage matching technologies have become the de facto standard for automatic discoveries for everyone interested in their family history. 
I caught the Dutch connection, but missed the British one. One of the things I have been writing about for the past year or so is the need for the genealogy software companies to be associated with a large online database. The revolution in genealogy is the automation of the search process by companies following MyHeritage.com's lead. The survival of the independent genealogical database companies will hinge on their ability to integrate this new technology. Good move RootsMagic and a terrific move for MyHeritage.com.

Swedish Research Tips



Many of those people I know personally, including my wife, have ancestors from Scandinavian countries and particularly Sweden. Recently my wife recorded a short introduction to Swedish research. This video is hosted on the Brigham Young University YouTube.com Channel along with many other both long and short videos. This growing inventory of instructional videos is fast becoming a valuable source of basic instruction.