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

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Learning and tracking what you actually know about genealogical research online with The Family History Guide Tracker


The Family History Guide website is a free, educational, structured training and reference website. No matter what level of genealogical research you have obtained during your lifetime from beginner to expert, The Family History Guide website can help you increase your knowledge and skills. I have been working with The Family History Guide for many years now and I have seen it continue to increase in its resources. When an "expert" reaches a certain level of expertise, he or she usually feels like their time for intensive learning is over. That is not the case in today's rapidly evolving world of genealogy. We all need to keep learning. But how do we know where we stand in our overall learning?

The Family History Guide has directly addressed the issue of determining your individual level of competence and knowledge through an extensive online Project Tracker system of support for your learning activities. Here is a screenshot of the starting page for this valuable resource. 

What is the Online Project Tracker?

The Family History Guide website is organized into Learning Paths, Projects, Goals, and Choices. For example, if you need to learn about the website, you can choose the FamilySearch Learning Path. This screenshot highlights the various parts of a page on the website. 

If this seems confusing, there are several video options on the website to introduce and explain how the website works. Here is a screenshot of the startup page. 

Now, the purpose of the Online Project Tracker is to give you a place to record your progress in learning the information contained on the website. For example, here is a screenshot of the Tracker page for the FamilySearch Learning Path, Project 1, Goal 1 shown above. 

The link to the Online Project Tracker is located in the main menu bar. 

Each entry in the Online Project Tracker is sequenced to take you through every Goal on the website. As you finish each goal in each Project, you will find a link to an exercise that will help you review and evaluate your progress in learning the concepts presented.

Here is a screenshot of this particular Exercise section. 

You can then go to the Online Project Tracker and keep a record of your progress. I have spent many hours and days working through The Family History Guide page by page and line by line and I can attest to the fact that by working through the website, you can learn a lot of things you did not know despite your assumed level of expertise. 

Now, what about learning about the Online Project Tracker? Of course, the website has a Help Section with detailed, step-by-step instructions about how the Tracker works to help you learn. 

Here is another example from the Online Project Tracker that shows your potential progress for learning about the Project for Scandinavia: Denmark. 

If you are trying to teach someone about genealogical research, there is no better way than to help them get started learning in a systematic and step-by-step. You might also start to see other genealogy companies copying and using this same system to teach their own users. 

The Family History Guide is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) public charity organization that depends entirely upon donations to continue its work of support and education to the genealogical community. The website is supported by The Family History Guide Association. You may wish to read about our website and consider donating to keep this great work going on into the future.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

A Name, a Date, and a Place


Diego Homem Black Sea Map 1559

What does it take to accurately identify one individual? Let's start with this example from the Family Tree. 

Is this person adequately identified? If you look closely at this entry (you can click on the image to enlarge it), you will see that there are no sources cited. The date is a year indicating that no exact birth record has been discovered. Without a source, the accuracy of the date and place are also called into question. Where did this name come from? If we go to the family for Sarah Pain, we see the following;

Again, if you are aware of what is going on with the Family Tree, you will see some interesting things immediately. 

Just as a quick check, there are no sources for the child shown, Henry Norman, that show Henry's parents.  I could just detach these parents of Henry Norman especially, as the warning icon shows, he is supposedly born after his father's death. If we continue to look at what is actually documented in the Family Tree, we will also notice that none of the records listed for Henry Norman contain any information about his birth or death. Should I detach the record for the parents? I presently do not have any information showing that the names of the parents are wrong. For this reason, I usually leave the information attached in the Family Tree until I have more information that clarifies the record. 

Now, if we are going to adequately verify Sarah Pain, we need to do some more research. A quick check using finds 22,053 records for people with the name "Pain" or "Paine" in England within two years of 1676, the date recorded for Sarah Pain's birth. There are 1,108 records for people named Sarah Pain in the same time period. But once we add the place, the number drops dramatically to only 14 records. There is one record for Sarah Pain christened at Bury St. Edmunds in 1677. This record also has the names of both of her parents. Interestingly, this record came from FamilySearch. 

The name, date, and place all agree and are consistent with the information and sources already in FamilySearch. So I believe I can attach this record. But there is still nothing showing a child or a husband. Looking further, There are four people named "Sarah Pain" who died in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England about the same time. The dates are 1726, 1732, 1734, and 1765. None of these four records show a spouse or children. There is not enough information to decide which, if any, of these records is our Sarah Pain. However, searching on I find the following record with her parents identified. 

The only valid way of moving back one more generation is to find a source record that identifies the parents of an ancestor. 

So now, if I keep working on this line either I will find enough information to establish this generation or I will not. As long as there are no records showing births (christenings), marriages, and deaths that have consistent locations, the information here is incomplete. 

Over 26 million Australian Passenger Records on Findmypast


Quoting from an email announcement from

Did your ancestors travel to, from or around Australia? To help you uncover details of their voyage, Findmypast has merged their vast collection of Australian passenger lists into one simple search and added over 9 million new entries.

This growing collection now contains over 26 million of records from multiple sources covering all corners of Australia, including;

  • Australian National Passenger Lists 1898-1972
  • New South Wales passenger lists (assisted & unassisted)
  • 1881 British census crew and passengers on ships arriving in New South Wales
  • Queensland customs house shipping passengers and crew 1852-1885
  •  South Australia passenger lists 1847-1886
  • Passengers to South Australia on board Buffalo 1836
  • Tasmania Departures 1817-1863
  • Victoria inward passenger lists 1839-1923
  • Victoria outward passenger lists 1852-1915
  • Victoria coastal passenger lists 1852-1924

Each record includes a transcript and many also include an image of the original record. Passenger lists vary widely in size, length, and level of detail, as there was no standardised format.

Some record only a minimum of information about the passengers, while others are quite detailed. As well as revealing the dates and location of arrival and departure, many records will also reveal a variety of useful biographical details such as ages, occupations, nationalities, marital status, places of birth or residence.

I have three of my family lines that come from Australia and my ancestors were immigrants and I have been able to find some of their passenger records. These records are a great way to confirm the identity of an ancestor with a common name. 

Here is an example of one of the records for my ancestor James Parkinson.

In some cases, the records may also have copies of the original record. 


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Genealogists are not immune to scams


One of the underlying issues I have confronted over the years both as an individual and as a practicing attorney has been the constant background of fraud both in-person and online. Fraud is commonly defined as wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain. One type of fraud has been a part of genealogy since ancient times and that is the promotion of false pedigrees. But recently, many of us constantly suffer from the bombardment of our lives with fraudulent claims through email, robot telephone calls, and regular paper mail. 

If you have a cell phone, then robocalls or random calls trying to promote false claims are a part of your life. The most common one I get recently tries to sell me a warranty on my car. The caller claims that my warranty is about to expire which is interesting because I owned the same car for the past ten years and the warranty ran out long ago. I recently bought a brand new car and I am still getting the calls about my expired warranty. 

One email I got recently, claimed that I had been automatically charged over $200 to "renew" my subscription to a virus protection program called "Norton." There actually is a Norton program but the pricing does not approach the $200 figure claimed in the email. The email came with no official-looking logos, misspelled words, and very poor formatting. 

Of course, you can report scams and frauds to the Federal government and to some state agencies but with the proliferation of robocalls, email, and regular mail scams even the governments cannot keep up. Here are a few fairly easy ways to minimize the impact of this tidal wave of scams. 

The first rule is don't go paranoid. They aren't out to get just you, they are out to get everybody. If you receive any kind of offer, warning, award, plea for help, or anything that doesn't seem to make any sense, just delete it. Don't even think about it, just delete it. This includes throwing it away if it came by paper mail. 

If you get a solicitation for some kind of charity, DO NOT RESPOND until you check the charity out using the website. Then go directly to the website and review the entire program BEFORE YOU SEND ANY MONEY.

One of the most common scams involves a practice called phishing. All they want is for you to respond by clicking on the link they send to you. This will automatically put you on the "suckers" list and you will be inundated by additional scams. Do not open an email that you cannot identify in advance. If you do happen to open the email, immediately close it and delete it. 

Almost all the "junk email" I get is actually a scam. Some unsolicited emails involve legitimate advertising but if you get an email like this one, it is a scam. 

CONGRATULATIONS! You are the lucky online winner of a brand new Sweepstakes Macbook Pro entry!

In fact, it is a phishing email and there is no prize and you will be asked to send in an amount for shipping or insurance or whatever and you will never receive the product. If your first thought is this is too good to be true, then it is a scam. 

Let me go back to the calls about automobile warranties. If you own a car, think for a moment. How old is your car? Did you buy the car new or used? Did you purchase a warranty or extended warranty at the time of your initial purchase? If so, do you still know the length of the warranty? How much is your car really worth? You can quickly check the value of your car by going to the Kelly Blue Book or Most people vastly overestimate the value of their cars. But you also need to remember, if you obtain the value of your car from one of these online services, you will probably get a lot of junk email offering to buy your car or offering to sell you a new one. Now, depending on the actual value of your car, what are you willing to pay every month or year for insurance? Most cars are still drivable and safe even after their value has essentially dropped to a very low amount. 

If you do get sucked into a scam, swallow your pride and report the details to the State or Federal government in your area. Try not to be scammed again. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Free Online Presentations from the Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group (UVTAGG)


I have been an active member of the Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group or UVTAGG for many years. This is likely one of the oldest computer-oriented genealogy organizations still active in the world. It began as the Utah Valley PAF Users Group and has a presentation library that goes back to 1991. 

The UVTAGG meets monthly and during the pandemic has been meeting online. This month's meeting is as follows:

UVTAGG Meeting (Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group) Saturday, 08 May 2021, 10:00am-Noon MDT - Free online on Facebook and Zoom



DESCRIPTION:  The Family History Guide can be likened to an iceberg - most of it may not be obvious at first glance. There are menus, pictures and instructions, but when you take time to explore the website you will find thousands of articles and videos to expand your research skills, for yourself or to help others as a Consultant. Whether you need to learn new skills or need an idea of where to look next, or you have someone who needs help with research in Albania or any other location, learn how and why The Family History Guide should be your "go-to" site. Ann Tanner and her husband, James Tanner, teach family history classes and webinars at the BYU Family History Library in Provo, Utah. They lived in Arizona for many years before moving to Provo. They recently returned from a Family History Mission to Maryland where they were microfilming old records from the Maryland State Archives for FamilySearch.

For more details see the UVTAGG webpage -- These presentations can be viewed by anyone on Facebook by going to the UVTAGG Facebook Page. Members of UVTAGG can watch on Zoom, which is more interactive, by going to and waiting while your UVTAGG membership is verified. The broadcasts will be online only due to the Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. Many of the presentations and classes for the past couple of months are on Facebook for anyone to watch. We hope to be able to start in-person meetings, as well as on Zoom and Facebook, within the next few months.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

What is genealogical research?


A quote attributed to Confucius says: "To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge." A common genealogical saying similarly states that you should always begin your research by proceeding from what you know to what you do not know. I find that commonly, budding genealogists spend a lot more time worrying about the blank spots on their pedigrees than they do about making sure what they already have is accurate and correct. 

The word "research" when used by genealogists has a different meaning than when used in other disciplines. Often the process of investigating and drawing conclusions from historical records is inappropriately compared to scientific or even legal research. As long as we all recognize that genealogical research depends entirely on historical sources and that the conclusions we draw from those sources are opinions based, in part, on the accuracy of those records, we are safe in making assumptions. 

Let me illustrate this principle with a series of hypothetical situations. Let's suppose that you have been told your own birthdate and that your family celebrated your "birthday" every year on the same date. When you registered for school and filled in other forms over your lifetime, you always used your "known" birthdate. Now let's suppose that, following the popular trend, you take a DNA test and the results show that you are not related to your parents. Subsequently, you also discover that your "birth certificate" was in fact created during an adoption process and your real birthdate is unknown. Further investigation reveals that you were a foundling abandoned on the doorstep of a fire station and that your biological parents were never found at the time of the abandonment. Despite your lifelong tradition of celebrating your birthday on a specific day, your birthdate is actually unknown. You have been celebrating your adoption date all along. 

This first example illustrates some important aspects of historical research such as the idea that historical documents are inherently unreliable and even though we might have multiple documents showing the same information, all of these documents may still be unreliable and simply copies of the same inaccurate document. In the hypothetical above, you may have used your supposed "birthdate" to create a number of other documents throughout your life, but because all those documents were based on the first inaccurate document, they were all wrong. 

So who cares about whether or not a single date recorded on one or more documents is correct? Is there any point to historical or genealogical research when we can't completely rely on any single particular document? This lack of absolutes in historical/genealogical research is overwhelmingly frustrating to some and completely unknown to others who are involved in genealogy or family history. Given this uncertainty, genealogical research is technically never done as long as there is any possibility that additional historical documents or DNA information might be discovered.  

In the situation concerning the invalid birthdate, realistically, the birthdate used during the individual's lifetime is the "valid" date because the only real use of a birthdate is to help a researcher distinguish between people with the same or similar name who match the same location, and to establish birth order. Birth records also help establish parentage when the record identifies a parent or the parents of an individual. However, parentage may take the cultural form of adoption, guardianship, step-parents, and other types of relationships. 

Here is another hypothetical, although commonly occurring, situation. In this situation, let's suppose that despite extensive review of the available documents, no record containing birth information can be found. This is an example of Rule #2 of the Rules of Genealogy, "Rule Two: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive. The restatement is this rule is that absence of a birth record does not mean that the person never lived. 

So what is genealogical research? One simple definition is that genealogical research is the process of examining historical records and extracting and recording information about a particular relationship of individuals or families going back in time. The process becomes challenging when the historical record is incomplete or contradictory. In addition, genealogical research identifies patterns of relationships built upon naming practices, cultural practices, and kinship systems. 

Obviously, genealogical research depends on both the preservation and availability of historical records. I recently received a comment where an individual "discovered" relationships going back to Charlemange. Unfortunately, during most of the time when genealogies were being compiled, the main purpose of a pedigree was to add legitamcy to an ancestral line usually to establish a royal connection. Most of these pedigrees have no real basis. All valid genealogical research must be supported by a demonstrable parent/child relationship. If you choose to believe an extended pedigree connecting you to a royal family line, you can certainly believe what you want to believe but a careful examination of these pre-fabricated pedigrees always discloses gaps in the parent/child documentation. 

I have examined thousands of pedigrees over the past almost 40 or so years and I have seen only a very small number of pedigrees that unarguably connected a person back to royalty. 

To summarize; genealogical research is the process of examining historical records, extracting information about individuals and families, and then recording and documenting that information in an organized manner. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Jumpstart Your MyHeritage Family Tree with Instant Discoveries

This is my latest contribution to the website the MyHeritage Knowledge Base. The Knowledge Base contains articles, webinars, and how-to videos that will help you with both your use of the website but also increase your knowledge of genealogical research. New material is regularly added to this useful website.