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

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Genealogists circle the law without understanding it


Legal records of all kinds are often listed as genealogically valuable but without a significant effort to learn the language used by legal practitioners, such as lawyers, judges, and court personnel: genealogists find it difficult to use these valuable legal resources. 

One of the comments made about attending law school in the United States is that you go to school for three years to learn how to make a noise like a lawyer. Part of this statement is generally true. One of my early experiences after being admitted to law school revolved around the fact that I started to work as a reference librarian in the law school library three months before classes started. During the first few days as the semester began, I worked at the reference desk and had a clear view of the stack of reference books that included the law dictionaries. As each hour's class ended, there was a stampede of students into the library to grab the dictionaries to try and understand what the law professors had just said in class. I had a good laugh. I grew up in a home where my father was an attorney and I ended up in a Boy Scout sponsored legal Explorer Post. With additional trips to court with my father, I thought I knew more than most of the students.

The idea that I knew something more than anyone around me soon evaporated in the overload of unfamiliar legal terms. I learned to live with one important book: Black's Law Dictionary. Here is a link to an online version of that extremely valuable book.

Reading a legal document, at first, is exactly like trying to read something in a language you do not speak such a German to an English speaker. Learning all the vocabulary can be overwhelming. But in addition to the vocabulary itself, there are concepts that are utterly foreign to those who do not speak the language. Now we fast forward almost 40 years and guess what? I still have a copy of Black's Law Dictionary sitting on my desk or behind my desk within arm's reach. 

Now, what about the genealogist who has no legal training? What can they do to acquire the language and the concepts that allow them to understand historical legal documents that may also be handwritten and even more difficult to decipher? They can do what those first-year law students did. Run, not walk, to the law dictionaries and start learning this, to them, foreign language. 

Today, besides the specific legal language websites, we have Google. I can now take a legal term such as "assumpsit" and type "define assumpsit" and almost instantly get an answer, which is, by the way, as follows:

Assumpsit, or more fully, action in assumpsit, was a form of action at common law used to enforce what are now called obligations arising in tort and contract; and in some common law jurisdictions, unjust enrichment. 

Of course, this definition will lead you to define some of the other terms also, such as "common law, tort, contract, and unjust enrichment." Do you have to become an attorney to understand the language? Only if you want to represent people in court. Genealogists need to learn the terms used in historical, genealogically valuable documents which include legal documents. If you do not understand what is written in a will, for example, don't guess at what it says. Either take the time to learn or ask for help from someone who can help. 

Genealogy is not simple. It is not easy. It is not something everyone can do in five minutes. Keep learning and don't give up. It is worth the effort. 

Remember the BYU Virtual Help Desk is available to help. See

Friday, January 27, 2023

One Free Pass to RootsTech 2023

 I can give away one complimentary IN-PERSON RootsTech 2023 3-day pass ($98 value) to RootsTech 2023 at the Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah March 2nd through the 4th. If you send me an email at genealogyarizona at, I will pick a winner out a hat from any emails I might receive. All entries must be received before 12:00 pm on January 31, 2023 to qualify as an entry. Thanks for coming to RootsTech 2023 if you win and be sure an look me up. Also, please do not enter if you are not coming IN PERSON to RootsTech this year. Thanks.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

RootsTech Announces Jordin Sparks as a Keynote Speaker

 RootsTech 2023 announced its first Keynote Speaker; Jordin Sparks. See

This year's conference will be held from March 2nd to the 4th at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah and online. You can register by going to the RootsTech 2023 website at

We have had some considerable discussion about what we can expect with the live, in-person part of the conference after a two year hiatus. The discussion centers mostly about how many people will attend in person when the conference will also be broadcast. Most of the live classes will not be broadcast and in addition, those who attend online will not be participating in the Exhibit Hall and will likely miss the unique offers that are usually made at the conference. Personally, I am looking forward to seeing a few people I have missed seeing for the past two years or so. I will be teaching a live class and will also have six online videos. I will also be presenting at the MyHeritage booth all three days of the conference. In addition, I will be in attendance at the GEDCOM events and probably a few other activities that have yet to be announced or determined. You can also look for me at The Family History Guide booth and the Ambassador area in the Exhibit Hall. I think this is the first RootsTech conference where I will be a speaker, an exhibitor, and an ambassador. 

Hope to see you there. 

Friday, January 13, 2023

Family History Centers all become FamilySearch Centers and more


By Beneathtimp - Own work, CC0,

Years ago, when we lived in Mesa, Arizona, I worked at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. Yes, the library was "branded" as a FamilySearch Library. It no longer exists. It was closed down completely when reconstruction started on the Mesa, Arizona Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There have been discussions and rumors for a long time that Family History Centers would become FamilySearch Centers. Well, the official announcement of the change finally came in a letter and email dated January 10, 2023. Quoting from the letter announcement:

To better align the identity of family history centers with, the Church’s free online family history resource, all centers are being renamed “FamilySearch Centers.” The Church’s Family History Library, located in Salt Lake City, Utah, will be renamed the “FamilySearch Library.”

If you look closely at the photo above from the WikiMedia Commons dated 2 May 2020, you will see that FamilySearch is prominently displayed on the front of the building so changing the name shouldn't be much of a surprise. What will take a lot of time is converting all the over 5000 local family history centers to FamilySearch Centers.

Additional information online from the FamilySearch Newsroom states the following:

In addition to FamilySearch centers, there are over 1,700 FamilySearch affiliate libraries (public libraries, museums, universities, and archives) that have privileges to limited-access FamilySearch databases. There will be no name change for a FamilySearch affiliate library.

This makes sense since they are called "FamilySearch Affiliate Libraries" already. For most of us, the change has been known and a long time coming. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Important Exclusive New Israel Immigration Collection from MyHeritage

 Quoting from a blog post, dated 8 January 2023, entitled "MyHeritage Publishes Exclusive Huge Collection of Israel Immigration Records:"

We are delighted to announce sensationally good news: MyHeritage just published a huge new collection covering immigration to Israel from 1919 onwards, with 1.7 million records! And the best news is that we’ve made it completely FREE! This collection is the Israeli equivalent of the famous “Ellis Island” immigration database for the United States. This is probably the biggest news in Israeli genealogy in the last decade! For a period of more than a year, MyHeritage painstakingly indexed thousands of public domain images made available by the Israel State Archives that include all surviving records of all those who immigrated to Israel by ships and by planes from all over the world starting in 1919. MyHeritage is the first organization to create a searchable index for this valuable collection and associate it with the scanned images. The collection is available for all to search and view for FREE, without even having to sign up, making the information more accessible than ever before for anyone researching their Jewish roots in Israel. Almost every genealogist in Israel is expected to find direct ancestors and other relatives in this valuable collection and to know for the first time the precise circumstances of their arrival to Israel.

There is a lot more information about this collection in the blog article linked above. It looks like is off to a great start adding to the over 2.5 billion records they added in 2022.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

What You Probably Do Not Know About the FamilySearch Catalog and About Catalogs in General: A basic introductory survival guide


I have spent a great portion of my life both working and as a patron in libraries. I started going to the Phoenix Public Library in Phoenix, Arizona when I was about 8 years old and was a constant patron of that and other libraries as I grew up. Much later, during my years at the University of Utah, I worked as a bibliographer and later at the Arizona State University Law School as a Reference Desk Librarian. Beginning in about 2004, I began serving at the Mesa FamilySearch Library (Formerly the Mesa Regional Family History Library and now abandoned) in Mesa, Arizona and now serve at the BYU Family History Library in the main Harold B. Lee Library on the campus of Brigham Young University. For one year, in 2018, my wife and I served as FamilySearch Acquisition Missionaries digitizing documents at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, Maryland which are now mostly on the FamilySearch website. My working life was mostly spent as a trial attorney in Arizona and doing extensive research in law libraries and ultimately online. I only go through this short summary of some of my background to give you an idea that I just might know what I am talking about. 

I have written about this before, but it is time to get back into the heart of library research and once again write about catalogs, especially the catalogs used by the major online genealogy websites with a focus on the website catalog. 

First of all, library catalogs are organized finding aids. Once a collection of books, documents, and other items goes beyond a level it is indispensable to have some sort of organization. Rather than go through the long history of library cataloging systems and such, I would point you to a dozen or so videos on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel. Simply click on the tab to the videos and do a simple search for "catalog." You will see a list of videos such as "How does the FamilySearch Catalog work?"

Now let's look at the FamilySearch Catalog. First of all, not all the resources on the website are cataloged in the same way. The main FamilySearch Catalog is based on the original 3 x 5-inch paper catalog in the original Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah like the one shown in the image above. However, the website has a section called Genealogies that is not included in a search of the Catalog. In addition, huge collections of documents and records are cataloged (organized) into individual collections, i.e. catalogs within the main catalog. One example is the Family Group Records Collection, Archives Section, 1942-1969 containing 5,337,178 images. You can see an extensive discussion of this and other similar collections in the FamilySearch Research Wiki article, "Family Group Records Collection." If you would like to start to understand what I am writing about, go to the website and using the Catalog, try and find these collections. If you read the Research Wiki article, you will see that the main collection is said to be only on microfilm. Contrary to this statement, the main collection is digitized but not searchable except by looking at the sheets in a sort-of alphabetical order. 

I could write an entire book about just what is and what is not in the FamilySearch Catalog. It is far easier to do a Google search of the website as long as you happen to know that a collection exists that using the Catalog. But this is not the real reason for this particular post. 

The main issue with the FamilySearch Catalog and with other such catalogs is that the organization, although superficially appearing to be comprehensive, is arbitrary and capricious. Now to some concrete examples. 

This is a reference to an Images entry from Catalog.

Paris, Bourbon, Kentucky, United States
May 14, 1953–Dec 31, 197
Cemetery Records, Directories, Genealogy Records, History Records, Marriage Banns Records, Newspapers, Periodicals, Society Records
956 images
August 4, 2018

Here are some of the records that are actually included in this listed item.

Inventory of the County Archives of Indiana, Switzerland County, W.P.A.
Directories: 1976
Place: Fellsburg, Edwards, Kansas, United States
Record Type: Directories
Date 1976

The date of 1976 has nothing to do with the records, it is an acquisition date by the library. Here is another example from this same collection. 

Genealogy Records 1976
Place:  Painesville, Lake, Ohio, United States
Record Type: Genealogy Records
Date: 1976

Again, the date is not the date of the records, it is the date of acquisition. There are other records in this mis-cataloged collection. What I have found is that the catalog entry may or may not have anything to do with the content. In this collection, the only Paris County record is this:

History Records
Place: Paris, Bourbon, Kentucky, United States
Record Type: History Records

This record is actually a memoir entitled:

Paris and Bourbon County Of Early Pioneer Days Recalled in Romantic Detail by Mrs. W. B. Ardery Pub. Paris, Ky: The Kentucky Citizen, 1947,
Note the word romantic (this item is apparently a semi-fictional tribute).

This record is followed by Ward Records from Moore, Butte, County Idaho.
By the way, the Moore, Butte County, Idaho ward records are at
and in a book with the call number of 979.659 K2k

What is missing from the items in the original catalog entry are any cemetery records, directories, genealogy records, marriage bans records, newspapers, periodicals, society records or anything useful at all about Paris, Bourbon, Kentucky. 

The catalog and images are hopelessly confused so the only recourse is to search page by page on every catalog entry to see if the records even resemble the main catalog entry. Now, at this point, I have to say that this is normal. Every catalog in every library I have ever visited has exactly the same types of problems. After years of working with card catalogs and now online, I always assume the catalog is not complete or accurate. 

Now, let's suppose you have a way to put every word from every document and book into a huge searchable "index" of everything. Hmm sounds like Google. The FamilySearch Catalog is searchable by Google as is almost everything else on the website except the documents that have not been added to the catalog and are in the Images collections and information about living people. What if I do a Google search for "Paris, Bourbon, Kentucky history FamilySearch"? Will I find the romantic record?

The answer is complicated. Yes, I will find a huge number of records on FamilySearch for Bourbon County, but this doesn't help me much unless I want to click down through pages and pages of results and that one document is probably somewhere in the huge list of returns. 

Is there a solution? Yes, as a matter of fact and if I had the next two weeks or so to write everything you might need to know to solve the problem and find all the records, I could tell you what I already know. But the caveat is that I don't have any better way of finding the records than by going through each entry carefully page by page and seeing what records actually are available in any one collection or entry. In the old days, this was called "walking the shelves." Seeing what was in the library and not what was in the catalog. I have always done this since I was a child in the Phoenix Public Library and still do it while I am searching online. 

So, happy searching. I don't ever get tired of searching because I always seem to find more. 

If you are still at least partially interested in actually doing research, genealogical or otherwise, I also suggest my video as follows:

If you are even more interested, you can always contact me through the BYU Family History Library. We will be open again on January 9th, 2023, and follow the BYU academic schedule for when the library is open and available. 

An ending explanation. When the original records were microfilmed, the individual microfilm rolls had a catch-all of whatever was being digitized without any real organization. Almost all the original microfilm rolls had several "items" which may or may not be related. The FamilySearch Catalog has tried to itemize each of the items on each set of records, now digitized from the microfilm or originally digitized. But the catalogers do not always go through each item and topic on an entire microfilm, so you might have baptisms, deaths, marriages etc on an entry marked baptisms or marriages. This inconsistency is consistent that makes it expected and therefore part of the research process. This has been going on since antiquity and is the case for all libraries. Walk the shelves. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

MyHeritage's Big Year


The statistics on this infographic are overwhelming, especially adding 2.5 billion historical records. It is also interesting to see that my wife and I are still shown with the animated photos. Anonymous popularity is somewhat of a halmark of genealogy. There is no doubt that almost all of the innovation and increase in basic genealogical tools such as more indexed original records is taking place due to ended 2022 with more than 106 million users worldwide in 42 different languages, 90 million family trees, 18,916,419,826 historical records, and 6.3 people in its DNA database. 

The resources on the website are tremendously useful and some, such as the photo innovations are virally entertaining. For example, one of my friends used the AI Time Machine™ to do a series of activities for all of her grandchildren. 

I am looking forward to all of the new opportunities that we can expect from MyHeritage in 2023.