RootsTech 2014

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 now support multilingual profiles, with nearly 80 million profiles, is now supporting multilingual profiles. As explained in an email message to me:

This means you can enter names and biographies in multiple languages, and Geni will store them separately, and display them in your preferred language. The World Family Tree is a global initiative by that shows how everyone in the world is related. 
One of the greatest challenges of building the definitive family tree of the world is accommodating the multitude of languages spoken by our international community. With branches extending all around the globe, Geni profiles are now multilingual and users can enter profile names and biographies separately in any of the 75 languages that are actively used on Geni. 
Now everyone can enjoy this rich content in their native language, without having to scroll through the similar information in foreign languages or see a messy mix of names in various languages on their relatives' profiles. Names can be entered in any language on any profile, and through a clever system of fallbacks, only the best information available will be displayed. We've updated all of Geni's functionality to take advantage of this new feature, including searching, tree matching, family charts, data exports and more. 
This means that if a profile name exists in the language you’ve selected for, you will see that name in your own language. has also designed a sophisticated fallback mechanism for choosing which name to display when a name is not available in your chosen language. For a more extensive explanation of these new features, see "New on Geni: Multilingual Profiles."

What constitutes genealogical evidence? Part Three: The Rocky Trail to Proof

The genealogical literature is rife with references to such legal terms as "burden of proof," "standard of proof," clear and convincing evidence," "beyond a reasonable doubt" and many more. On the other hand, there is also a significant segment of the genealogical community that are devoted to the "scientific method" as applied to genealogy. Those promoting scientific genealogical research speak in terms of proposing an hypothesis, developing a theory and examining the evidence to support the theory. This last step breaks down because of the inability of an historical researcher to create experiments to support their theories. There are even those who would support a middle ground that incorporates terminology and methodology from both science and law.

Back in the very early 1930s, the very influential U.S. genealogist, Donald Lines Jacobus, published an influential book that helped begin, what many consider, the modern view of genealogical research. Those who followed Jacobus came to be called the "Jacobus School" of genealogy.

Jacobus, Donald Lines. Genealogy As Pastime and Profession. New Haven, Conn: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Co, 1930.

Jacobus, along with other prominent genealogists of his day, promoted their viewpoints about genealogical research in a publication that Jacobus founded in 1922 called the New Haven Genealogical Magazine which later became The American Genealogist. The title of the journal was not original as it had been used since the 1860s for a bibliographic compilation of genealogical monographs published in the United States by the genealogist William Henry Whitmore. See

Whitmore, William Henry. The American Genealogist Being a Catalogue of Family Histories and Publications Containing Genealogical Information Issued in the United States, Arranged Chronologically. Albany: J. Munsell, 1868. 

There are an almost vanishingly small number of genealogists who are aware of the history of their persuasion. One of the very few sources for an overview of this history is the book:

Weil, François. Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America. 2013.

One of the major contributions of the Jacobus School of genealogy was the emphasis on providing source documentation for any derived genealogical conclusion. This is an area of genealogy that we are still struggling with today. 

Before anyone becomes embroiled in the issues regarding genealogical proof or the lack thereof, I would strongly suggest that they gain an historical perspective by reading Weil's book (available in ebook format). A good summary, without much commentary, of the status of genealogical proof (if it exists at all) is also contained in the section of Elizabeth Shown Mills' book called "Fundamentals of Evidence Analysis." See

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2007.

In considering these and many more discussions on the issue of genealogical proof, of course, I have my own views on the subject. In this series, I have raised a very few of the complex issues involved. Fundamental to understanding the subject of genealogy is a recognition that the use of the word "proof" does not imply either the finality of legal proof or the experimental necessity of scientific proof. Proof, in the historical sense, is never a final destination. It is always a continuing journey. Those who crave finality in their genealogical research will never be satisfied. I would suggest that using the word "proof" is inappropriate. Genealogists can reach conclusions based on the available documentation, but to say that they have proved any particular fact decries the reality of historical research.

It is time for a hypothetical. Let's suppose that I am trying to determine the birth date of a remote ancestor. After an "exhaustive" search (whatever that means), I find two documents. Both of these documents seem to be original sources and have exactly the same degree of reliability. But they contradict each other. The birth dates contained in the two documents are off by a significant number of years. Now, I could speculate for ever about the contradiction. I could propose that the documents referred to two different people or that one or the other was incorrect. I could resort to further documentation to try and determine the correct date. In fact, until I found some more conclusive documentation, the question of the exact year of this particular ancestor's birth must remain undecided. 

What does it take to convince you that any particular genealogical fact is either true or subject to further documentation? What if you believed your birthdate to be a fact and you had a "birth certificate" to "prove" when you were born? What if you then found out that you were adopted and that your "birth certificate" had been changed by the court and that the day of your birth had also been changed?

In both situations, you could talk of the evidence and you could argue the application of direct, indirect, circumstantial and all others sorts of evidence, but the fact remains that historical investigations are limited to and by the documents preserved in the record. Any and all conclusions drawn by genealogical (or historical) researchers depends on the documents examined and the opinion of the researcher concerning those documents. 

Let's suppose that I go online and find a family tree uploaded by someone who shares a common ancestor with me. Let's further suppose that I copy all of those portions of the family tree that fit into my own ancestry. I do this without verifying or questioning the information in the family tree at all. Most experienced genealogists today would condemn this type of "research" out of hand. But, think about it for a minute. That same experienced genealogist will find a census record or some other historical record and copy it out in second without ever questioning the validity of their conclusions. 

What is missing from the common genealogical statements about proof, evidence etc. is the need for methodological skepticism, that is, the need to approach all claims or facts to intense scrutiny in order to sort out what is true or believable from what is false. 

In all my years of legal trial practice, most, if not all, of my clients were absolutely convinced that they were right and that the opposing side was wrong. Usually, in my experience, both were wrong even though a trial of the facts and issues was decided in favor of one or the other. Let's not think we are moving beyond personal opinion merely because we use legal or scientific terminology. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Legacy Family Tree to support The Master Genealogist (TMG) Files

Some time ago we got the following notice from Wholly Genes Software:
The Master Genealogist (TMG) has been discontinued. Official technical support will be discontinued on 31 Dec 2014 but user-to-user support will remain available on the Community Forum and TMG-L discussion list, among other online resources
For the time being, the product and updates will remain available in the interest of researchers who want to communicate their data to family members or upgrade to the latest version. It is made available with the understanding that, while there may be additional bug fixes before the end of the year, there will be no more development of new features. 
See the newsletter for more information.
As a follow-up to this announcement, I received a newsletter from Millennia's Legacy Family Tree program as follows:
Legacy Family Tree will soon import files from The Master Genealogist software

Recently Bob Velke, producer of The Master Genealogist software, announced that his software would be discontinued. TMG, as it is known, was one of the first genealogy software programs I personally used before switching to Legacy Family Tree. We wish Bob and family the very best. 
We have been working really hard and are getting close to releasing an update to Legacy that will directly import TMG files (no GEDCOM necessary). We are working hard to make the import to Legacy as seamless as possible to limit the amount of post-import cleanup that may be necessary. If you are a TMG user looking for new software, give our free edition a try at Import your GEDCOM and see what you think of Legacy. We think you will enjoy both the simplicity and the power of Legacy. Then watch for our upcoming announcement of the free update to Legacy we will issue which will provide the direct import.
This is very good news for the former TMG users.

What are the sources before 1550 A.D.?

England, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Auct. F.4.32 See
If you look through the list of sources on any of the larger online genealogical database programs such as, or, you will soon discover that there are temporal limits to the coverage of their collections of records. For example, if you go to the Card Catalog on, you will see that the earliest dates in the Filter are the 1600s. See this screenshot below:

There are a total of 6,160 collections that include records in the 1600s, as of the date of this post, But you can also see from looking down the list that there are very few that go back into the early 1500s and almost no records earlier than 1500 A.D. Here are a few of the exceptions:
[Note: the links are to and you will need to login to see the databases]. Here is a page from the Lübeck, Deutschland, genealogisches Register, 1200-1910:

There are other records, of course, but what are the chances that your ancestors end up in any one of these records? Before I try to answer that question, let me review some of the linguistic and record keeping history in Europe. I might note that there are places where family lines can be traced back much, much further such as China, where some genealogies go back as far as 200 B.C. or so. But even in these cases, it depends on whether or not you can trace your own ancestry to one of these ancient lines. For a useful explanatory summary of the extant English records, for an example, see

If you are attempting research back into the 1500s or earlier, you will certainly find that the modern languages spoken today are not the same as those spoken and written in these earlier times. You will also find many of the records written in some form of Latin. In England, because the first printed books did not appear until the end of the 1400s, most of the records and books before that time are comparatively rare, especially those written in the common language and not in Latin. This is true in other European countries also.

The further you research into the Middle Ages, you will find that from 900 A.D. until after 1300 A.D., Latin in various forms was the predominant and official language of the Catholic Church and was used for all forms of scholarship. Before the age of printing, introduced by Johannes Gutenberg around 1439, all books and other manuscripts were handwritten and the number of copies of any one book or record was very limited.

The challenge of this early research is not only learning to read Latin, but also learning to decipher earlier forms of handwriting such as Carolinian script used from 800 A.D. to 1200 A.D. Here is an example of Carolinian in the variation called Beneventan:

Greetham, D.C. Textual Scholarship: An Introduction. New York: Garland Publishing 1994, 184
Here is another example called Irish Minuscule:

Bischoff, Bernhard. Latin Paleography; antiquity and the Middle Ages. Great Britain: Cambridge Univeristy Press 1990, 85-86
The following images are a few illustrations of manuscripts starting with the 1600s and going backwards in time. Mind you, all these are examples of English books:

England, Durham Diocese Bishop's Transcripts, 1639-1919
Now, jumping back about 100 years to 1538:

England, Cornwall and Devon Parish Registers, 1538-2010
Another 100 years takes us to a will written in about 1440:

England, Kent, Wills and Probate, 1440-1881
Going back yet another 100 years begins to be very difficult. The 1300s are well into the Middle Ages and all of the modern languages have changed considerably since that time. To read the manuscripts, you will have to learn at least Latin and perhaps other languages. 

[Officia beatae Mariae virginis et defunctorum]: Book of Hours. ca. 1390 
Now we are really launching off into the past. The 13th Century begins to be even before the Middle Ages. 

[Liber quatuor evangelistarum] Bible N.T. Gospels Latin ca. 1270.
Let's go back another 100 years. I am doing this to illustrate what is really involved in producing a pedigree that goes back before 1500 A.D.  Here is a manuscript from the 12th Century:

[The four gospels in Greek : Codex Torontonensis]. Bible N.T. Gospels Greek ca. 1100.
This last manuscript is in Greek. I am not trying to discourage anyone from doing research back into the Middle Ages and beyond, I am just suggesting that unless you have these skills and can read these manuscripts, you are probably copying and not doing research. When someone mentions to me that their genealogy "goes back to Charlemagne" or even "back to Adam" I always think about these examples of the script and language necessary to do that kind of research even assuming it was possible to construct such a pedigree. I fully realize that there are people who can read these manuscripts, but if you read what they say, you will quickly realize that pushing your pedigree back before about 1550 A.D. would require years of study and hard work.

I have quoted this before, but it bears repeating from time to time first printed in the Ensign magazine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February 1984. I suggest you read the entire article if you think your pedigree can go back to Adam,
Robert C. Gunderson, Senior Royalty Research Specialist, Church Genealogical Department. The simplest answer to both questions is No. Let me explain. In thirty-five years of genealogical research, I have yet to see a pedigree back to Adam that can be documented. By assignment, I have reviewed hundreds of pedigrees over the years. I have not found one where each connection on the pedigree can be justified by evidence from contemporary documents. In my opinion it is not even possible to verify historically a connected European pedigree earlier than the time of the Merovingian Kings (c. A.D. 450–A.D. 752). 
Every pedigree I have seen which attempts to bridge the gap between that time and the biblical pedigree appears to be based on questionable tradition, or at worst, plain fabrication. Generally these pedigrees offer no evidence as to the origin of the information, or they cite a vague source.
If you are interested in doing research in Europe during the Middle Ages, I suggest that you start early and begin by taking a course in Latin.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Genealogy: Fact or Fiction?

Does historical fiction have a place in the world of genealogy? In the movie screen of genealogical life does the statement "This movie is based on a true story" have a place? Can we countenance adding unsupported and imaginary pedigrees extending into the dim past? Do we encourage embellishments in stories about our own ancestors and claims of relationships with famous people of the past? What about altering historical photos to suit our present ideals and prejudices? Is our genealogy really nothing more or less than a historical novel? Is all this really an acceptable part of genealogy?

I recently watched a newer movie based on the adventures of the Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl. The movie was a remake of an earlier adventure film made 1951 that won an Academy award. I remember seeing the original film in small theater as a child. I saw the newest version of the adventure made in 2012. I understand this movie was the highest grossing film of 2012 in Norway. See Wikipedia: Kon-Tiki. I also have a copy of the book written by Thor Heyerdahl about the entire expedition. See Heyerdahl, Thor. Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft. New York: Buccaneer Books, 1948. My copy of the book is dated 1951 and would be this edition in the 10th printing: Heyerdahl, Thor. Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1951.

We have no doubt that Heyerdahl and his crew made it across the Pacific on a raft. That could be considered to be an historical fact. The original book and movie were essentially documentary accounts of the journey. But what about the movie made in 2012? Are all of the incidents depicted in the movie historical facts?

I remember when I got home from watching the movie Lawrence of Arabia made in 1962. I immediately went to our old edition of the Encyclopedia Americana to see if anything I had just watched really happened and if Thomas Edward Lawrence really existed and did all those things. As I was to find out, his accomplishments were much more impressive than those depicted in the movie.

Of course this has everything to do with genealogy. We tell stories. We recreate the lives of our ancestors, not just with names and dates as is popularly depicted, but with documentation, journals, diaries and other memorabilia. But how does historical fact and a concept of "Truth" fit into all this?

In an analogous situation, as a trial attorney, I learned that there were three "truths" in a trial: my client's testimony, the opposing client's testimony and the decisions made by the judge. In most cases, any resemblance between the three was purely coincidental.

How much of genealogy is based on reality and could be considered true? One of the most common challenges in determining the truth in genealogical research is the tendency for families to "cover up" unfortunate incidents deemed "private" and not shared with anyone outside the family. This can be anything from extreme criminal activity to a minor disagreement between family members. At best, some of these types of incidents, including illegitimate children and adoptions, can be documented from sources outside of the family circle. At worst, they pass into obscurity and become the mysteries of genealogical research.

What is more important to the integrity of the pursuit of genealogy is our tolerance for fiction. We certainly tolerate enough fiction in the form of unsubstantiated pedigrees (i.e. back to Adam) that we are seldom taken seriously by traditional historians, but on the other hand, it does not take adoption of bogus pedigree to make unbelievable claims. I have regularly run across applications for admittance to various ancestral societies that verge on historical fiction. Is there a core of truth in our research or are we, in essence, compiling historical fiction?

In the end, do we excuse all forms of fiction under the guise that these fictional accounts in the form of movies, books and photographs attract people to genealogy and are therefore necessary? My own interest in genealogy began as a result of discovering that some of the stories told to me in my youth had no basis in historical fact. But what of those who never come to that realization? Are we really promoting family history and genealogy if we encourage fiction? How far can we stray from historical fact before the entire pursuit of genealogy becomes nothing more than an historical novel?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Missisquoi County Canada Genealogy Research Volunteer Group

I received the following from the Missisquoi County Canada Genealogy Research Volunteer Group announcing a 10,000 record transcription milestone. Here is the post:
We at the Missisquoi Rootsweb group ( * Missiquoi was an historical county located in Quebec / Lower Canada / Eastern Townships along the US border) have been for the last 10 years quietly transcribing and publishing records much needed for research in our area. The Missisquoi historic county area,  although located in Quebec was heavily Protestant & English speaking with many immigrants from Great Britain and US. ( Vermont)

This week we reached the 10,000 image milestone on our transcription  project of Quebec, Non-Catholic Parish Registers, 1763-1967 from Family . The 10k mark is for the number of images transcribed,  the number of actual  individual parish records of births, marriages and burials is closer to 15,000.
We make them all freely available and searchable on our blogs.

We haven’t limited our projects to Family Search digital records- we have also  transcribed Library and Archives Canada microfilm Notary records, Google newspapers, Internet Archive eBooks of local directories and posted images and burials to Find-A-Grave.

We use an innovated volunteer sign-up sheet system through Sign up genius,  this enables volunteers to work together on projects even though they actually live all over the world.

We believe strongly in paying it forward in genealogy and think this is a little way we can give back for all the help we’ve been given by others in the past.
If anyone has folks that once lived in our area,  we’d love for them to search our records and maybe get involved with our group on Rootsweb.
Don’t forget how great Rootsweb ( mailing lists and message boards)  is and it’s FREE – check the groups in your areas of research- they may be doing great stuff too!

Blog group
Very interesting and very useful.

What constitutes genealogical evidence? Part Two: Proof and evidence

Do we really want genealogists to be lawyers and judges? Some genealogists seem bound and determined to convert what is essentially a historical investigation into a branch of the law. If you are one of those concerned about "proving" your ancestry, I might point out that one of the hardest lessons to learn as an attorney is that facts alone are not evidence and that proving your case is never the certain conclusion to a trial. But because of the historical involvement of attorneys with genealogy, legal jargon has permeated the genealogical community to the extent that terms such as "proof" and "evidence" are ingrained and likely inseparable, permanent fixtures.

In an attempt to illustrate the differences between law and genealogy that make the use of legal jargon inappropriate, I need to discuss some basic legal concepts.

In order to protect and preserve evidence and to see that only evidence is used in a trial, attorneys in the United States have to abide by certain Rules of Evidence. The facts that are presented at a trial conducted according to the Rules of Evidence must undergo scrutiny before being admitted. For example, if a document (source) is offered into evidence, it is only admitted after the attorney offering the document has laid a proper testimonial foundation. Is there an analogy to this legal system of evidence in the genealogical community? Do we really want to impose such an elaborate and arcane set of rules and considerations on our genealogical research?

For a further example, the ability to lay a proper foundation for the admission of evidence during a trial is a skill that is learned, usually by trial and error, after years of trial practice. Sometimes, the admission of testimonial evidence depends on the way an attorney asks the questions of a witness. I have seen an attorney break down and cry during a trial because she could not ask a question in a way to overcome my objections. Presenting competent evidence in a trial is a serious business and can be a matter of life or death. As genealogists, do we really want to incur these unnecessary burdens?

I am frequently disturbed at the way genealogists blithely use the terms "proof" and "evidence." Put into the context of genealogy, I would say that sources, in themselves, are also not evidence. In the past, I have written about my disagreement with the use of legal terminology as applied to genealogy and I am not so naive as to think that anything I say will change the genealogical landscape. But I will continue to maintain that any analogy between the practice of trial law and genealogical research is ultimately faulty. The reason this is the case is based on a fundamental difference between the two systems. Law is adversarial. Genealogy is not adversarial. In law, there is always a judge, whatever that person is called in practical reality, who decides any controversy. There are no genealogical judges. Without a decision maker (judge) there can be no "proof." Using the words does not create a reality. I can claim all I want that I have "proved" a certain ancestral relationship, but in fact, the claim still and always will remain an argument and always open to refutation by the discovery of additional sources with conflicting facts.

It is very easy for a genealogical researcher to claim that he or she had evidence that proves a particular claim. But as I have already written, the use of the term "evidence" does not, in its self, carry an probative value. In the past, genealogists have glossed over the use of quasi-legal terminology and have even resorted to the use of terminology from jury trials such as "burden of proof" and "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" to add a level of believability to their arguments. One commonly employed term is the word "reasonable" itself as in a "reasonably exhaustive search." This phrase has also been inappropriately borrowed from legal terminology. The concept comes from what is sometimes called "The Reasonable Man Doctrine" more recently modified by political correctness to "The Reasonable Person Doctrine." There are very likely tens (hundreds) of thousands of pages of legal writing discussing and debating this topic. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to find an adequate definition of this doctrine without a circular use of the term "reasonable" itself. Can you really find even two genealogists who agree on the definition of a reasonably exhaustive search?

The use of the legal and definitely adversarial terminology in the field of genealogical research has led to the mystification of pursuit and obfustication of genealogical jargon.

But in taking this position I am quite literally swimming upstream against a very swift current.

In genealogical research, evidence is nothing more or less than what the researcher believes. Using the term "evidence" in genealogical research adds nothing to the truth or falsity of the researcher's arguments and conclusions. Let me illustrate what I mean by using a hypothetical situation.

Let's suppose your father's name birth name was Frederick. How do you know that fact? What if he never once used that name and always answered an inquiry that his name was "Fred." In fact, as you begin to do research, you cannot find one document where he signed his name using anything but the name "Fred." Nevertheless, you dutifully record his name as Frederick. Now, there is a question. If you are wrapped up in applying legal terminology to genealogy, how do you go about proving that person who is always referred to as Fred is really the same person who you find named Frederick in a birth certificate? If you are a competent genealogist, you likely come to the conclusion that the name Fred was a shortened form or nickname for Frederick and do not give the matter a second thought. You do this, even though you have nothing actually connecting the two names. Of course, this example sounds ridiculous when it is applied to your father, but it can become a major issue if the relative lived in the 17th Century. How do you know which of the different name variations you find concerning individuals who lived in the same town and the same neighborhood were actually the same person and which were different people? Who decides? You do, of course. You make your choice and get on with your research.

What if another researcher comes along and disagrees with your choice? How do you prove you are right and they are wrong? Do you write a "Proof Statement" setting forth your "evidence?" Isn't this really an attempt to mimic the arguments made by an attorney in submitting a brief to the court to support his or her case? My point is that the legal analogy is faulty for this reason. There is no arbitrator, judge, mediator or whatever in genealogy who will make the decision. You can throw around all the legal terms you like, but doing so will not change that fact.

Historical investigation involves a fundamentally different process than does proving a case in a court of law. As genealogists, we search for sources. We draw our conclusions from those sources and should realize that any conclusion we make is open to revision with the discovery of another source. There is no one out there who can say we are right or wrong, there are only different conclusions. As genealogists we often despair because so many of our compatriots seem to base their conclusions on less than all the facts (which we inappropriately call evidence). Are we judges? Who gave us the authority to decide genealogical cases? Perhaps we can persuade others to our own conclusions, but that is not necessary. There will always be those in the genealogical community that set themselves up as judge and jury of the rest of the community and they will always be ignored by the vast majority of those in the greater community that do not even know they exist.

Now we get to the issue of scientific proof. Is genealogy science or history? What about DNA evidence? Oh, and you also point out that there are forensic genealogists who act as witnesses in court cases. What about this? That is another post on another day.

But how do we discuss genealogy if we don't use legally charged terms? How do we ever know if we are right or wrong in our conclusions? Remember this is a series.