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

Monday, June 24, 2019

Understanding MyHeritage's Smart Matching™ Technology

As I teach classes about, I find a lot of confusion about the differences between the website's Smart Matching™technology and the Record Matches. Once users understand the differences, they begin to see the tremendous power in both technologies. Here is a quote from Help Center that begins to explain this amazing technology.
Smart Matching™ is a specialized powerful genealogy technology that matches people that you have defined in your family tree with people in other family trees that members all over the world have created on
It works by comparing names, facts, and connections intelligently to the millions of family trees contributed by other users, to find out if your family tree intersects with any other trees and indicates matches. The sophisticated technology behind Smart Matches™ bridges across differences in spelling, phonetics, and relationships that may exist between the trees to offer a large quantity of highly accurate matches. 
With billions of family tree profiles on MyHeritage, you have an excellent chance of getting Smart Matches™ that reveal valuable new information about your family.
I usually explain this technology by pointing out that has over 102 million (yes, million), users worldwide and that the Smart Matching™technology allows you to connect with relative around the world that you could not imagine existed. All of these potential contacts are people who are interested in their genealogy and who live the countries, speak the language, and likely know about the records that exist in their country. Contacting these people is entirely optional but if your family comes from a place where obtaining records is difficult, such as some places in Eastern Europe or other countries on other continents, then contacting these Smart Matching™people may be the only practical way you have to do additional research.

It is important to understand that Smart Matching™is not a simple "name matching" technology. It is highly sophisticated and an indication of a match indicates that you are very likely related. I have talked to lots of people over the years I have been using and teaching the website that have found their relatives in other countries, made contact with them, and even traveled to meet them and learn more about their families.

If you come from a part of the world where there has been a lot of genealogical research, you might have a flood of potential relatives. For example, I have thousands and it may not be practical to think about contacting them all. In this case, it is important to evaluate these potential contacts to see if they might provide information about the specific parts of your family you are researching.

Of course, in some instances, the information in a relative's family tree may be identical to your own information. You may still wish to contact the potential relative for personal reasons. But if there are differences between your information and that in another family tree, you may wish to spend some time evaluating the differences and determining if there are documents that might indicate if you need to add to or change the information you have in your family tree. However, you need to be aware that MyHeritage's Record Matching technology is constantly searching every record in their collection and matching them to every individual in every family tree on the website at a very high level of accuracy. Where the information you see in another person's family tree might be most useful is if the information is about currently living people or those who have only recently died. Current information may be difficult to otherwise obtain.

Another major help in evaluating Smart Matching™matches is to use the results from DNA testing. If you obtain a DNA test from MyHeritage or upload the results from another company, you will be provided with DNA matches. If another user of the website shows up as a DNA match and a Smart Match, you have a greater degree of assurance that a relationship exists and that the information in the other person's family tree might be helpful.

You may wish to review the entire section of the Help Center about the Smart Matching™technology. Here is the link.

This Help Center section will provide information about how to reject Smart Matches that are not correct, ignore specific Smart Matches, and disable Smart Matches altogether if you wish to do that. is a complex website with fabulous resources, but it where there is great benefit, there is usually an equal measure of effort required. You need to learn about the program. As will all current technology, the website will continue to become more useful and probably have more features in the future. Part of the challenge of working on our family's genealogy today is keeping up with all that new technology. But presently, you can take advantage of the helpful tools provided by MyHeritage to expand your family research in ways that were impossible just a few short years ago.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Obituaries and Copyright Issues

From a recent anonymous comment:
What kind of legal text can a person include in their own or their family member's obituary or its signed publication agreement to preclude the funeral home, newspaper, or any other entities from claiming copyright? Has anyone ever tried to copyleft their own or their family member's obituary under GNU GPL or Creative Commons CC0? There should be an ironclad way to put your own or close family member's obituary in the Public Domain in perpetuity, regardless of where the obituary is subsequently published and copied.
Of course, the content of all newspapers is covered by the current copyright laws in the United States of America and the copyright laws of all of the other countries of the world. Subsequent to the U.S.'s adoption of the Berne Convention Treaty. The Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988 is a copyright act that became law in the United States on March 1, 1989, making the U.S. a party to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

It is always a good idea to be aware of the existence of copyright protection. That said, when we get into the issue of the coverage of a very specific article, the law becomes vague and highly controversial. Obituaries fall into the vague and controversial category. I have never seen or heard of a copyright lawsuit concerning an obituary even after searching online. Most obituaries are written by a relative of the deceased so the copyright would be owned by the author or writer. But in many cases, when the obituary is submitted to a newspaper, the newspaper not only charges the relatives for printing the obituary but also has them agree to transfer the rights of the obituary to the newspaper's publisher.

There actually are entities that collect and publish obituaries about prominent people for profit but they are businesses and I would assume that they obtain the rights to publish their obituaries or write them themselves. In the case of an obituary about a relative that is published without an author's name, post-1989 every work published or created in the U.S. is automatically covered by the copyright law in the U.S. So I can't tell you what to do in any specific instance.

You can observe large collections of obituaries online. See United States, GenealogyBank Historical Newspaper Obituaries, 1815-2011 on for example. Also, bear in mind that in the United States, most works published before 1924 are now in the public domain. See Cornell University Library, Copyright Information Center, Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States for a complete summary.

In short, I can't be much help and neither can anyone else. The copyright law in the United States is a hopeless mess and tracking down the copyright holder to a specific obituary would be a nightmare unless the obituary happens to make a specific note of the copyright holder.

Do you have a Research Plan?

Do you feel your genealogical research is like a random walk in the park? Perhaps, you should think through your objectives and come up with a research plan. There is always a measure of uncertainty in any research effort. But a research plan is not a fixed document, it evolves as the research progresses. What is important is to specifically identify the questions you wish to answer and then determine the documents you need to find to answer those questions.

During the past year or so, I have been involved in helping with some "brick wall" research projects. In most of those projects, I find that the target "brick wall" ancestor is really unconnected to the pedigree several generations forward in time. It is also often the case that there has been some research from an even more remote desired ancestor's descendants. For example, there may be a family tradition of an ancestor who fought in the United States Revolutionary War or who came to America on the Mayflower, however, this tradition is based on similar surnames or some other imaginary basis. In many cases, I have seen over the years, the would-be descendant lacks that one link connecting the ancestors to the target's descendants. A sound research plan can help to overcome the inaccuracies that may have crept in over the years.

When I am listening to someone tell me about a problem they have encountered in their research, I have to ask a lot of questions to get to the core of the issues that need to be resolved. When you are doing your own plan, you also need to ask yourself a series of questions particularly about the research that has already been done. A research plan starts with one or two very clearly defined and specific goals. Overcoming a research problem is a goal. The questions I ask clarifying the issues become the steps to solving the problems expressed by the goal.

A research plan needs to be based on a firm foundation of information supported by critically evaluated sources. Source supported genealogical research proceeds incrementally. It is all too common for those starting out on a research project to choose a goal of finding a blank spot on a pedigree or fan chart. Commonly, this is done without spending the time and effort to determine that all of the generational links back to a remote ancestor are adequately and reasonably supported. This lack of a generational link usually turns out to be the actual brick wall. To mix metaphors, you can't build a bridge in the air. You need to proceed step-by-step and make sure you have an adequate base for moving back one more generation.

The most important part of successful genealogical research is identifying an accurate chain of physical locations where events in your ancestors' lives actually occurred. If your ancestors moved or stayed in the same place, you must have documents that show their location over time. Valid historical documents are created at or near the place where an event occurred by someone who had an interest in the event or a duty to report the event. The main activities of genealogical research involve identifying these pertinent records, locating them, and then carefully extracting the information and recording it in an organized way.

Formulating a research plan depends entirely on what research has already been done. As you begin, you need to focus on the specific information that needs to be acquired and evaluate the types of records that would provide that information and would also be useful for answering the questions and achieving the ultimate goals. Here is where your level of research experience becomes crucial. If you are a relative novice to research, you may need to seek some help in identifying the types of records you need to examine. As your research skills increase, your ability to identify the types of records you need to search will also increase. For example, you could determine that an ancestor's will might provide information about the ancestor's family members and thereby establish a connection between the two generations. To proceed, you will need to know where to go to find a copy of the will if it exists at all. You will also need to know how to understand and read the will if one is found. It is usually a good idea for the research goals to include acknowledging the need to learn specific skills, such as reading old handwriting or understanding legal documents.

The research plan should include a list of all of the potential documents that may be of assistance in providing the information to answer the questions and achieve the goals. Part of preparing the plan includes identifying the location and availability of those documents. As you can probably guess, this step is not only crucial to making any progress but also the core of the whole process.

Obviously, the huge number of digitized records that have been made available online has revolutionized the way we conduct our research. But I am still finding people who come to me for help that have not done an adequate online search or who are even aware of the records that are easily available online. Commonly, I speak to people who have superficially searched on or but have never investigated or Each of these large online database websites has a detailed catalog or listing of the documents in their collection and each has unique documents not otherwise available online. For example,, a free website, has billions of records primarily organized by location (country) many of which are digitized and available on the website but I am continually talking to potential researchers who do not know that the website even has a catalog and I regularly encounter "experienced" genealogists that are completely unaware of the website.

As I mentioned previously, working with a research plan is an evolving activity. You may readily find the information you are seeking or you may spend years searching, but either way, it is important to keep modifying your plan or when resolved, choosing a new topic for research.

Here are two helpful links that illustrate a formal research plan in detail.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

A DNA Experience: Switched at Birth

It was bound to happen. I had my first direct experience with a genealogist who found out through a DNA test that he/she was switched at birth. I have no intention of providing any details of this situation because of the delicate nature of the discovery. The genealogist had been researching his/her family for many years without the slightest hint that there could have been a problem. Someone else took a DNA test and contacted the genealogist saying that they were related. The genealogist did not recognize any of the proffered surnames and assumed there was some kind of mistake but the party with the DNA test insisted there was a relationship. Finally, the genealogist got his/her own test and it showed that he/she was not related to anyone in the family he/she had been living with for a lifetime.

The genealogist came to me when he/she needed to start doing all of the research on the newly discovered family from scratch. I got her/him started on where she/he immediately got swamped with Record Matches; over 2000 in about an hour or so. This was what happened when he/she had to "start all over again."

As long as genealogists continue to view DNA tests through the filter of ethnicity they will continue to be surprised by those findings that are outside of what you would like to expect. Although finding out that you have been researching an unrelated family for years can happen with DNA testing, it can also happen with careful research.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The History of the Development of Genealogical DNA: Part Ten: The Advance of DNA Testing

Popular TV shows about crime scene investigation techniques, including DNA tests, pushed DNA into the public view. The first such show was named "Pilot" and aired on October 6, 2000, as the season premiere of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. In 2003 NCIS began its 16 season run and added to the public awareness of DNA testing.

Quoting from Wikipedia: Genealogical DNA test,
The first company to provide direct-to-consumer genetic DNA testing was the now defunct GeneTree. However, it did not offer multi-generational genealogy tests. In fall 2001, GeneTree sold its assets to Salt Lake City-based Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) which originated in 1999. While in operation, SMGF provided free Y-Chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests to thousands. Later, GeneTree returned to genetic testing for genealogy in conjunction with the Sorenson parent company and eventually was part of the assets acquired in the buyout of SMGF in 2012. 
In 2000, Family Tree DNA, founded by Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld, was the first company dedicated to direct-to-consumer testing for genealogy research. They initially offered eleven marker Y-Chromosome STR tests and HVR1 mitochondrial DNA tests. They originally tested in partnership with the University of Arizona. 
In 2007, 23andMe was the first company to offer a saliva-based direct-to-consumer genetic testing. It was also the first to implement using autosomal DNA for ancestry testing, which all other major companies now use.
It is not a coincidence that consumer genealogical DNA testing closely parallels the popularization of DNA testing portrayed on nationally popular TV shows. It took some time following the publicity of the double helix beginning in 1953, the Nobel Prize given to Watson, Crick, and Wilkins in 1962, and the sequencing of the genome from 1990 to 2003 for DNA to move from an esoteric scientific study to the mainstream of our existence as humans. As you can see from the very short summary above, genealogists were and are at the forefront of those incorporating DNA test results into their interest in inheritance and the identity of individuals.

In order for a DNA test to be useful for genealogical research, it needs to be coupled with an extensive, existing family tree program. The only way to match individuals is when they take related DNA tests and there is some mechanism for those taking the test to see the connections. The question still remains as to the level of technical details the genealogist needs to know to make substantiated and supported genealogical conclusions. To push on towards a resolution of this question, I need to take a short step back and write further about the development of forensic DNA testing and what is called the "DNA fingerprint."

The first paternity testing relied on blood typing between the child and the alleged parent. See Wikipedia: DNA paternity testing. Here is a short summary of the history from the same article.
The first form of any kind of parental testing was blood typing, or matching blood types between the child and alleged parent, which became available in the 1920s, after scientists recognized that blood types, which had been discovered in the early 1900s, were genetically inherited. Under this form of testing, the blood types of the child and parents are compared, and it can be determined whether there is any possibility of a parental link. For example, two O blood type parents can only produce a child with an O blood type, and two parents with a B blood type can produce a child with either a B or O blood type. This most often led to inconclusive results, as only 30% of the entire population can be excluded from being the possible parent under this form of testing. In the 1930s, a new form of blood testing, serological testing, which tests certain proteins in the blood, became available, with a 40% exclusion rate. 
In the 1960s, highly accurate genetic paternity testing became a possibility when HLA typing was developed, which compares the genetic fingerprints on white blood cells between the child and alleged parent. HLA tests could be done with 80% accuracy, but could not distinguish between close relatives. Genetic parental testing technology advanced further with the isolation of the first restriction enzyme in 1970. Highly accurate DNA parental testing became available in the 1980s with the development of RFLP. In the 1990s, PCR, developed in 1983, became the standard method for DNA parental testing. A simpler, faster, and more accurate method of testing than RFLP, it has an exclusion rate of 99.99% or higher.
This summary type of history omits the real issue involved in paternity testing: whether or not the courts would accept the paternity tests, at whatever level, as evidence in a paternity lawsuit. Again referring to the Wikipedia article above,
The DNA parentage test that follows strict chain of custody can generate legally admissible results that are used for child support, inheritance, social welfare benefits, immigration, or adoption purposes. To satisfy the chain-of-custody legal requirements, all tested parties have to be properly identified and their specimens collected by a third-party professional who is not related to any of the tested parties and has no interest in the outcome of the test. 
The quantum of evidence needed is clear and convincing evidence; that is, more evidence than an ordinary case in civil litigation, but much less than beyond a reasonable doubt required to convict a defendant in a criminal case. 
In recent years, immigration authorities in various countries, such as United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, and others may accept DNA parentage test results from immigration petitioners and beneficiaries in a family-based immigration case when primary documents, such as birth certificates, that prove biological relationship are missing or inadequate. 
The discovery of the blood groups by Karl Landsteiner in 1900 resulted in his being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1930. Here is a short explanation of the history from Wikipedia: Karl Landsteiner.
Karl Landsteiner, ForMemRS, (14 June 1868 – 26 June 1943) was an Austrian biologist, physician, and immunologist. He distinguished the main blood groups in 1900, having developed the modern system of classification of blood groups from his identification of the presence of agglutinins in the blood, and identified, with Alexander S. Wiener, the Rhesus factor, in 1937, thus enabling physicians to transfuse blood without endangering the patient's life. With Constantin Levaditi and Erwin Popper, he discovered the polio virus in 1909. He received the Aronson Prize in 1926. In 1930, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He was posthumously awarded the Lasker Award in 1946, and has been described as the father of transfusion medicine.
For a detailed analysis of the history of paternity testing see the following.

Hartshorne, Susan Vipont, Proof of  Paternity: The History, University of Manchester School of Law, 2912.

Paternity lawsuits are seldom appealed and the evidentiary issues are similar to any type of evidence involving testimony by an expert witness.  In Arizona, for example, proof of paternity relies upon four presumptions. See Paternity Establishment by Presumption of Paternity quoting A.R.S. § 25-814.
In Arizona law, in general, a man is presumed to be the child’s father if:
  1. He was married to the mother during the 10 months immediately preceding the child’s birth. Or the child was born within 10 months after their marriage ended by death, annulment, divorce, or legal separation.
  2. Genetic testing affirms paternity by a 95% or more probability.
  3. They are unmarried and both sign the birth certificate.
  4. They are unmarried and both sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity.
Those presumptions are rebuttable with clear and convincing evidence, so they may be challenged. Additionally, if a court decree established another man’s paternity of the child, then the presumption of paternity is rebutted. A.R.S. § 25-814.
Genealogists, for the most part, ignore the technical, legal requirement for establishing a valid relationship and jump past all of the custodial and testing requirements and formulate their opinions based on the findings of unsubstantiated DNA tests that do not provide for verification.

Stay tuned for the next installment

See these previous posts:

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:
Part Five:
Part Six:
Part Seven:
Part Eight:
Part Nine:

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Ultimate Digital Preservation Guide, Part Three -- The Dawn of the Digital Image Age

Some of the first consumer-level digital cameras were the Casio QV-10 and the Apple QuickTake 100 and 150.

Casio QV-10 had a resolution of 320 x 240 (no Megapixels) compared to a currently available Canon EOS 5DS R with a 50.6 Megapixel sensor. The Casio QB-10 cost $750.00.
CC BY-SA 3.0,

Apple QuickTake 100 launched in 1994 with a .31 Megapixel sensor and could store only eight photos at a time.
By Picto - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Apple QuickTake 200

By The original uploader was Redjar at English Wikipedia. - Photograph taken by Jared C. Benedict on 06 March 2004., CC BY-SA 3.0,
Here is a link to some of the photos taken by these original digital cameras:

The very first portable digital camera sold was probably the Dycam Model 1 sold beginning in 1990. Digital cameras, such as those in smartphones, have become ubiquitous. On average, on Facebook alone approximately 350 million photos are uploaded every day.

Digitization involves making an image of a document or object with a digital camera. A digital camera is an electronic device that records and stores digital images. Here is a YouTube video that shows how a digital camera captures anHow a Digital Camera Works image.

How a Digital Camera Works

An image sensor is a solid-state device or the part of the camera that reacts to light and converts the light that enters the camera through the lens into an image.

The Science of Camera Sensors

So one step in digital preservation is the process of making a digital image of the document or physical item you wish to preserve. The digital image is then stored for use. But digital preservation goes well beyond the first step and includes steps before and after an image is captured.

Whether you organize digital images by organizing the documents before the images are made or organize the digital images after they are made depends on how you decide to proceed. In either case, you should rely on the computer to do the organizing. Let the computer do what it does best and you do the rest. Here is a video that will help you understand this principle.

What's in that Pile? Organization for the Disorganized Genealogist

Stay tuned for the next installment.

See the previous posts in this series here:

Part One:
Part Two:

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Incremental Help for Non-Profit Charitable Organization: The Family History Guide Association

If you are making any purchases through Amazon, you can provide a small benefit to a charity without any pain or even an impact on the prices you pay for your Amazon purchases. As you can see from the notice I received above, if you simply make your purchases through, Amazon donates a small percentage of your purchase to the charity of your choice. In this case, I am suggesting a donation to The Family History Guide Association, the 501 (c) 3 charitable corporation that supports The Family History Guide.
Of course, you can donate directly to The Family History Guide Association, but by adding it to your Amazon account through, you won't have to worry about writing out a check or whatever. If you don't know about The Family History Guide, I suggest looking at the website and watching a few videos on their YouTube Channel and on my YouTube Channel. Here are some helpful links.