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

Thursday, November 26, 2020

BYU Family History Library keeps making instructional videos during pandemic

In March of 2020, the Brigham Young University Family History Library closed down due to the worldwide pandemic of the COVID-19 virus. My wife and I were part of the about 140 Church Service missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were furloughed from physically serving in the Library. For the past 6 years or so, both my wife and I and many other missionaries have been contributing our time to producing webinars and instructional videos which are then posted to the BYU Family History Library Channel and to the BYU Family History Library's website

When the pandemic hit, it took the Library staff and missionaries some time to adapt to the new circumstances that involved no actual physical presence in the university's Harold B. Lee Library where the Family History Library is located. As time passed, Students and Faculty of the university were allowed back into the Library and we began the process of organizing online support for non-student patrons of the Family History Library. However, the production of webinars and instructional videos never skipped a beat. Since March, the Family History Library has posted, and as of the date of this post, 57 videos to the BYU Family History Library Channel. 

The only real change for those of us producing the videos except for those videos produced by the Library staff is that we are not physically inside of the Library. This has all been made possible by the combined efforts of the missionaries and the Library staff headed and directed by Joseph B. Everett MLS, AG, the Family History, Local History, and Microforms Librarian. You can also view the webinars produced by Joe Everett on the BYU Family History Library Channel. The missionary effort is coordinated by two pairs of full-time missionaries who have served faithfully through the difficulties imposed by the pandemic and kept all of us organized and in touch with the Library. 

Of course, I am thankful that I have been able to continue doing periodic webinars and other presentations for not only the BYU Family History Library but for other organizations such as and The Family History Guide. #GiveThanks I don't keep track of the number of videos I have done so far during the pandemic but between making videos for webinars, live class presentations, and the Show Me videos for The Family History Guide, I know there have been quite a few. 

The BYU Family History Library's first video posted to the YouTube Channel was uploaded on February 3, 2014. My first video was posted in September 2014 when we moved to Provo, Utah from Mesa, Arizona. Since that time, the list of subjects covered by the videos is more than impressive. If you are wondering if there is some organization to the videos, you need to go to the BYU Family History Library Website and look at the Webinar Recording Index. Here is a screenshot.

According to that list, I have posted 162 webinar videos since 2014 and 48 shorter instructional videos. You also need to look at the Instructional Video list.

My wife, Ann, has posted 24 instructional videos and one webinar. Many other people at the Library have also contributed a huge number of videos. For example, Kathryn Grant, a remarkable and hugely popular teacher, has posted 73 webinars and 10 instructional videos. Over the years, others have contributed fantastic educational videos. Numbers are not as important as quality and Kathryn Grant and others have produced some of the best educational videos you can find online today, not just for genealogy but as a model for educational videos of all kinds. 

Kathryn Grant has her own archive on the BYU Family History Website. Here is a screenshot.

Kathryn Grant is also a prolific writer. You can see a partial list of her publications on the website page, "Light for My Path." Here is a screenshot.

Some of the most popular videos about Family History Basics have been produced by Judy Sharp. You can see her Family History Basic Tutorials on the YouTube Channel. 

Will we run out of topics? Not likely. Right now, the BYU Family History Library has Sunday Live Classes, Thursday classes, and webinars planned through March of 2021. 

By the way, there are a lot of other genealogy resources on the BYU Family History Library website. #GiveThanks

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Learning New Digital Skills with free


Google Grow

Every so often, I see a new website or program that provides value for free. Grow with Google or is one of those programs. The website provides free training, tools, and resources to help you grow your skills, career, or business. It is essentially a sequenced set of video lessons that help you learn the basic skills of presentation software, word processing, and spreadsheets primarily using Google online products. If you are a teacher, a parent, or someone needing to improve your digital skills for a job or simply wanting to know more about computing, this is a great free opportunity to learn. 

Just click here to get started.

You Can Read Handwritten Documents! -- Looking at the 1920 US Census Post #6

"United States Census, 1920," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 9 September 2019), Arizona > Navajo > St Joseph > ED 91 > image 4 of 6; citing NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

 Note: This is not really a series although reading all the posts with this topic are useful. If you want to find additional topics, do a Google search for the first part of the post name and add the term "Genealogy's Star, like this "you can read handwritten documents! genealogy's star"]

As I go step-by-step back through the U.S. Federal Census records, I chose to highlight the census from a small town in Arizona where some of my ancestors lived. There are a total of six pages in this particular census enumeration district. Because the town is so small, I can see everyone who is related to me in a short review. In 1920, a fair percentage of the people living in the town were directly related to me. But of course, this post and the other related posts are about handwriting. 

In 1920, the handwriting was still predominantly following the Palmer Method. Here is a screenshot of the first example. 

For reference, here is an alphabet showing the ideal Palmer letter shapes. 

You can see some radical departures in the characters such as the "T" for Henry M. Tanner and Teresea Clossey and also the "F" in Lorana F Richards. You can also see that some of the single letters are not written completely such as the "M" in Henry M Tanner. You might also note that many of the lower case "e" letters are closed and look more like an "i." You need to look carefully for the cross strokes for "t" and the dots for "i" to help distinguish these letters from others that are similarly written. 

It is important to recognize these variations in letters and use a standard alphabet for comparison. Also, if you look down the list giving the head of household and other relationships, you will see a lot of variations from the same enumerator for the letter "H." 

All in all, this example of 1920 style handwriting is fairly accurate and easily readable. Perhaps it would be a good idea to give another example for the same year with handwriting that is not quite as easily read. 

"United States Census, 1920," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 13 September 2019), Rhode Island > Washington > South Kingstown > ED 356 > image 1 of 30; citing NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

This is from across the country in Rhode Island. Here is an example of some of the difficulties found in this census sheet. 

You can immediately see that there is a much greater variation in this example from the standard Palmer Method alphabet example. The name "Julian" would be harder to read if the dot over the "i" were not obvious. Coming down the page, the next name circled looks like "Geaber." This turns out to be probable. There is a name "Geaber" found in other census records and in Rhode Island. See "Where is the Geaber family from?" But the "b" could easily be mistaken for an "f." 

The last example on this page shows a problem with an entry that was written over for a correction. One advantage of digital images is that you can zoom in and look closely at a single name. 

The last name is likely Bannister but the first name is a real problem. This person is 60 years old and it is possible that he could be found in a previous or subsequent census record. Identifying this person's from just this record will take some research. If you look over in the census record, you will see that this person is reported to have been born in Ireland. This name was indexed as "Annie." The name is much easier to read in the 1930 census.

One reason to begin your handwriting study with the census records is this opportunity to verify your guesses and that of the indexer. 

See you next time.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Give the gift of family history: MyHeritage Gift Membership


Introducing the MyHeritage Gift Membership

Just in time for the holidays, MyHeritage has announced the launch of the new MyHeritage gift membership! You can now give someone special the MyHeritage Complete plan, the best plan for family history research. To celebrate the launch, gift memberships are now available with a 50% introductory discount.

You can choose to give either a 1-year or 6-month gift membership. Gift memberships are one-time and do not renew.

The gift membership includes the following benefits of the Complete plan:

  •       Unlimited family tree size and unlimited photo storage 
  •       Access to MyHeritage’s 12.7 billion historical records
  •       Automatic Record Matches for the family tree 
  •       Automatic Smart Matches™ to millions of family trees
  •       Instant Discoveries™ consisting of Person Discoveries and Photo Discoveries
  •       Tree Consistency Checker that identifies mistakes and inconsistencies in the family tree
  •       Unlimited use of MyHeritage In Color™ and the MyHeritage Photo Enhancer
For more information see the following video and the linked blog post.

Here is the link to the blog post: Introducing the MyHeritage Gift Membership

Here is some additional important information from the blog post.

At the end of the gift membership period, the recipient will retain access to their MyHeritage account and all family tree data and nothing will be deleted. If they wish to continue enjoying the full benefits of a membership, it will be up to them to extend their plan (or you can decide to be kind to them and give them another gift membership — it’s up to you).

If you gifted someone and they don’t want the gift, don’t worry! You can ask our customer support to transfer it to someone else. If you gifted someone and it turns out they already have a paid account on MyHeritage, you can also transfer it to someone else. Until a gift is activated by the recipient, the membership period doesn’t begin so no time is lost. The gift needs to be activated within 6 months of its delivery to the recipient, and then it will start.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Free Virtual Family History Classes, Webinars, and Videos from the BYU Family History Library

Although the Brigham Young University Family History Library is closed to both volunteer/missionaries and patrons, we are hosting a broad offering of free online classes, webinars, and videos. All of the present offerings are outlined on our "Classes and Webinars" webpage.

The classes and webinars include:

In addition, for the students and faculty who still have access to the Library, we have a virtual consultant video station in the Library with live, online missionary volunteers every weekday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. The students and faculty simply have to walk up to the video monitor and start asking questions. 

We have nearly 500 videos online on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel. Here is a screenshot of the Channel.

If you have a question or a suggestion for a new video, please let us know. The contact information for the Library is on our webpage. Here is the link:

Thursday, November 19, 2020

You Can Read Handwritten Documents! -- Looking at the 1930 US Census Post #5


"United States Census, 1930," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 8 December 2015), Arizona > Navajo > Holbrook > ED 7 > image 13 of 20; citing NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002).

Note: This is not really a series although reading all the posts with this topic are useful. If you want to find additional topics, do a Google search for the first part of the post name and add the term "Genealogy's Star, like this "you can read handwritten documents! genealogy's star"]

I am working backward in time looking at the handwriting of each year of the U.S. Federal Census. Handwriting is one of the major challenges in reading old documents. Although the first mechanical writing machines were first used in the 1500s, typewriters did not become common until the 1900s. As genealogists, this means that research back just a few generations will depend almost entirely on handwritten documents. See the following for the history of typewriters.

Weller, Charles Edward. 1918. The early history of the typewriter. La Porte, Ind: Chase & Shepard, printers. Ebook

Vrooman, J. W., Herkimer County Historical Society. (1923). The Story of the typewriter, 1873-1923. Herkimer, N.Y.: Herkimer County Historical Society. Ebook

Handwriting in the 1930s is not much of a change from the 1940s. The major difficulty is usually the handwriting skill of the enumerator. The example above from Joseph City, Arizona is quite readable but if you compare the style to the predominately used Palmer Method of Handwriting, you will see some significant differences. Here is a chart of the Palmer Method characters. 

The Palmer Method of Business Writing. A.N. Palmer Published New York, etc., 1901. Page 29

Here are some of the major departures on the census record.

In this example, the letter variations do not interfere much with the readability. Although some of the other letters, especially letter pairs may cause indexing problems. Here are some of the letter pairs that could cause confusion.

The first example, starting at the top, is "Tanner." In some indexes the name has been indexed as "Tamer." The next example is "Beulah." If the indexer was not familiar with this name, the writing could cause some difficulty. This is the same problem caused by "Reed" and the last example, "Henry." 

The way to avoid problems with these names is to spend the time reading the census and if in doubt about a name, take the time to do some quick research about the person while making the assumption that you can read what has been written. For example, the first name circled above is most likely Clifford Tanner. A search on brought up the name of the individual in the Family Tree. 

You can match the name and his wife's name and the chldren's names. This illustrates an important point, you need to be familiar with the possible names of your ancestors and relatives. If I go a short way down the page, I will find another Tanner, this time, it is my Great-grandfather and his wife. 

The name is written the same way. You may also need to look at more than one census year for the specific location to get alternative spellings of the names. I must admit that years ago when I started looking at the census records, I could not find some of my Tanner relatives in some of the census years because they had been wrongly indexed and it wasn't until I learned to read the entire town's records that I was able to sort out my ancestors from the indexing mistakes

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Geni’s World Family Tree now connects over 150 million profiles


News from the Family Tree blog post:

We’re excited to announce that Geni’s World Family Tree now connects over 150 million profiles! 

This milestone was possible thanks to the collaboration of over 13 million users and over 200 volunteer Curators from all over the world. The World Family Tree has grown faster than ever with over 11 million profiles added in the last year. 

The definitive family tree for the entire world, Geni’s World Family Tree allows millions of people to work together to research and preserve their shared ancestry for future generations. By combining research into a single shared family tree, users are able to concentrate on pursuing new leads instead of repeating the same research over and over again. Over time, the quality and accuracy of the tree continues to improve as new information is discovered, errors are corrected, and new connections are found. 

With more and more profiles added every day and overlapping branches merged, Geni has become one of the premier go-to reference sites for global genealogy. 

Quoting from the website,

Geni is solving the problem of genealogy by inviting the world to build the definitive online family tree. Using the basic free service at, users add and invite their close relatives to join their family tree. All Geni users can share photos, videos, and documents with their families. Geni’s Pro subscription service allows users to find matching trees and merge those into the single world family tree, which currently contains over 100 million living users and their ancestors. Additional pay services include enhanced research tools and premium support. Geni welcomes casual genealogists and experts who wish to discover new relatives and stay in touch with family. Geni is privately held and based in Los Angeles, California.

In November 2012, Geni was acquired by MyHeritage Ltd. and is now a MyHeritage company.