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

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Storm over the Salt Flats, Utah


There are a few places in the world where the sky dominates your view. The Salt Flats in the Western Desert of Utah is one of those places. I live on the side of a mountain and, of course, the mountains dominate any view I have from my house. But, from time to time, I like to visit those places where you can see the real majesty of the sky. In this image, there is not a single tree or plant to detract from the sky. I contrast this with the view out my office window at the forest on the side of the bench where I can only see the trees. Try to find a view like this where you live where you cannot see one plant growing and I don't mean inside in a closet.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Cactus and Succulants


Moving from the low desert to the mountains, one thing I miss is the cactus. Technically, cactus, particularly opuntia can grow all the way north to Canada, but the real cactus areas are warmer and drier or cooler and wetter or cool and dry or warm and wet or... you get the idea. Cactus originated in the Americas and only one species is found in Africa (probably an import). It is interesting to watch movies made about ancient times in the Middle East or Mediterranean areas and see cactus growing. All of the cactus in Europe and the Middle East are imports. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Expanded Commentary on the Rules of Genealogy: Rule Ten


I have slowly been going back to the list of the Rules of Genealogy and writing about each individual rule. There are presently 12 Rules. Here is the current list from my blog post of 19 July 2019.
  • Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.
  • Rule Two: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive.
  • Rule Three: Every person who ever lived has a unique birth order and a unique set of biological parents.
  • Rule Four: There are always more records.
  • Rule Five: You cannot get blood out of a turnip. 
  • Rule Six: Records move. 
  • Rule Seven: Water and genealogical information flow downhill
  • Rule Eight: Everything in genealogy is connected (butterfly)
  • Rule Nine: There are patterns everywhere
  • Rule Ten: Read the fine print
  • Rule Eleven: Even a perfect fit can be wrong
  • Rule Twelve: The end is always there
In this post, I am expanding on Rule Ten: Read the fine print

As an attorney for about 39 years, I know quite a bit about fine print. The phrase "read the fine print" from The Free Dictionary means:
To make oneself aware of the specific terms, conditions, restrictions, limitations, etc., of an agreement, contract, or other document, which are often printed in very small type and thus easy to miss.
However, the phrase has been generalized into a statement about looking for details. Where is the fine print in genealogical research? The fine print is in all those documents you don't read and review carefully. Some of those documents, such as probate files, are potential goldmines of information about families, others such as census records may look rather ordinary and even mundane, but both types of records can provide valuable insight into how, when, and where your ancestors lived.  Of course, as with my example of reading a probate file, we are all faced with documents that contain specialized language or even documents in a language we do not read or speak.

Here is an example of how one letter can change the meaning of an entire document. Let's suppose that in reading a document in Spanish you run across the given name "Julia." In another place, you find a reference to a very similar name spelled "Julio." Are these two names the same? Is there possibly a spelling error? The answer in Spanish is simple. Julia is the feminine form of the name and Julio is the masculine form of the name.  They are probably references to two different people. This is what I mean by reading the fine print. We need to read and study the documents so that we avoid glossing over the details that may make all the difference in the ultimate meaning of the document.

Granted, my example implies that you might have to learn how to read some Spanish. Yes, that is exactly what the Rule means. You have to gain enough knowledge about the history, the language, and the specialized terminology or jargon of the documents to understand and correctly interpret the details. To do this, you may have to live with dictionaries and other reference materials. Personally, I use Google to quickly verify the meaning of any term I do not understand completely but in some cases, I have to dig deeper to find the meaning of obscure or archaic terms.

Fortunately, there are extensive reference books online such as Black's Law Dictionary and other similar treatises that will help you sort out complex legal documents and other specialized complex documents. The good news is you do not have to become a lawyer or other type of professional to do genealogy but you do have to learn a lot about law and other topics to do an adequate job of reading old or complex documents.

Do not ignore any term or reference that you do not completely understand. This is what is meant by reading the fine print. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Apple OS X Update Knocks Out Several Genealogy Programs


The new Apple macOS Catalina operating system is apparently a major upgrade and will disable and/or require upgrades from several popular genealogy programs including RootsMagic, Ancestral Quest, and Family Tree Builder. Since I am a really early adopter, I usually upgrade when the new systems become available. I immediately noticed about a dozen programs on my iMac that will no longer work. Most of these programs were utilities that I can simply dump in the trash. But some, are programs I will need to upgrade if I wish to use them again.

As in the past, the developers may or may not decide to upgrade their programs. If you a using any of these programs and you want to continue using these programs DO NOT UPGRADE YOUR SYSTEM until you see if the program will be upgraded to the operating system. Each new operating system upgrade reflects new hardware technological advances. Yes, your computer is now one more operating system obsolete. Because I have been involved in this process since about 1982, I am used to buying a new computer every few years (or even sooner). I am also used to having my programs stop working. But it is like leaves that fall in the Autumn. You may hate to rake leaves, but if you live where the trees drop their leaves, you have to rake leaves. By the way, even when we lived in Mesa, Arizona, we had to rake leaves.

You can rant, tear your hair, scream, curse the world, or whatever you want to do but technology will continue to require upgrades and your programs will eventually stop working as you upgrade. People who develop software programs (including apps) buy into this upgrade world. In the past, the developers would decide they didn't want to support Apple so they would stop upgrading their programs. From a genealogical standpoint, this happened when Personal Ancestral File for the Mac was discontinued and it continues to happen with other programs that still run on some older PCs but were never released for the Apple computers.

It is pretty simple to find out that your program needs to be upgraded. All you have to do is click on it and if it comes up with a message that says it needs to be upgraded, it needs to be upgraded. If your computer is not compatible with the new operating system when you try to upgrade an error message will say that your computer is not compatible. Hmm. You could just keep using your old computer and your old programs but eventually, that will come around to bite you and you will lose your data. You might as well adopt my philosophy: life is tough and then you die. From time to time, I still get people bringing me floppy disks with all their old genealogy data and I can no longer help them.

If you have any questions about a particular program, call the developer is they are still answering their phone.


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Logins and Passwords -- The bane of genealogists


I recently spent another session ostensibly teaching genealogy skills and ending up using almost the whole time helping people who had trouble with their logins and passwords. In one case, we had to abandon using the person's computer entirely because the programs we needed were double pass-protected and the person could not access her email account.

Granted, passwords and logins play an important part in computer security and those users with some degree of experience have either a password organization program or some other method of managing their passwords. However, less experienced or casual users seldom think through the process of getting on to their various devices and rely on the device remembering all of the logins and passwords via Google or some other program. They are immediately stopped when they bring their device to a library or other location. The problems I encountered were due to both forgetting a login and password and needing to respond to a two-stage pass-protection that sent a key to an email account that wasn't available. None of these problems were earth-shatteringly difficult, but they did stop the person from receiving the help they needed with their genealogical database programs.

I am also finding that some people give up trying to do anything with genealogy because they can't get into their machines. I have to admit that my own list of passwords finally got out of hand and I needed to restructure the way I kept my accounts but they are back under control and less annoying.

The news regularly tells of some large organizations being hacked and millions of passwords being compromised. Because of this, some organizations require a regular change of passwords. Of course, this challenges the memories of some of us and we have to adapt by using a pattern of passwords. It is also surprising how few people avail themselves of a piece of paper and a pencil or a printer to keep a list of passwords. This form of keeping track of information has been around a long time and is obviously impervious to online attacks. I use the paper method, but I also keep the information in my own private code so that a casual look at the paper will not give anyone the complete password. I also change some passwords frequently.

What about commercial password protection programs? Well, you still have to remember your password to the password program and you still have to manage the list as passwords are updated but, for some, it is a good solution. If a patron at the Brigham Young University Family History Library cannot remember his or her password to a commonly used website such as FamilySearch.org, then I know something about the patron's level of involvement with family history online. However, this insight isn't conclusive since they may work only on their home computer and all the passwords are kept in the computer's memory and not the patron's memory.

One way to help remember passwords is to use a passphrase. That is a sentence about something you like or do. Unfortunately, passphrases are not popular because they can easily exceed the number of characters allowed by the particular website but they are helpful for some people.

My most common rule is that when you first enter your password, write it down and remember to be aware of your passwords before you come to the Library for help with your genealogy.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Expanded Commentary on the Rules of Genealogy: Rule Nine


I have slowly been going back to the list of the Rules of Genealogy and writing about each individual rule. There are presently 12 Rules. Here is the current list from my blog post of 19 July 2019.
  • Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.
  • Rule Two: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive.
  • Rule Three: Every person who ever lived has a unique birth order and a unique set of biological parents.
  • Rule Four: There are always more records.
  • Rule Five: You cannot get blood out of a turnip. 
  • Rule Six: Records move. 
  • Rule Seven: Water and genealogical information flow downhill
  • Rule Eight: Everything in genealogy is connected (butterfly)
  • Rule Nine: There are patterns everywhere
  • Rule Ten: Read the fine print
  • Rule Eleven: Even a perfect fit can be wrong
  • Rule Twelve: The end is always there
In this post, I am expanding on Rule Nine: There are patterns everywhere.


Rule Nine may very well be fundamentally the most important of all twelve of the rules. Each family in a family tree with all of its associated documents and information makes a pattern. Documents in an archive or library make a pattern. History is full of patterns. I first began to appreciate these patterns when I worked as a Bibliographer in the University of Utah Library many years ago. During my breaks, I decided to "walk" all the shelves in the library. I started on the top floor and ended up in the lowest basement and looked at every book on every shelf. Coupled with all the work I did in the old paper-based 3" by 5" card catalog, I gained a perspective of the overall organization and patterns of that library. It turns out that the same patterns exist in almost all record collections around the world. I soon began to see that everything else fits into a pattern.

Now we have the vast library of the internet. Guess what? More patterns. When you start looking at everything around you as falling into patterns, it makes learning about the world a lot more organized and easily understood. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people that never see the patterns. In fact, there are pattern breakers. Some pattern breakers are just ignorant others are intentional.

What is a family pattern? Every family unit has a unique pattern made up of cultural, social, religious, biological, economic, and traditional components. Each family blends, like puzzle pieces into the overall pattern of the historic family. Genealogy is essentially the task of fitting each individual into his or her family pattern. Genealogists generally think of families as collections of individuals. I often see this astigmatic view as researchers search for an individual or worse, search over and over again for a specific record such as a marriage, birth, or death record. By focusing on the detail, the researcher loses the perspective of the pattern of the family.

By stepping back and viewing the overall pattern, including the location of each event, you can begin to recognize the place each individual occupies in the family pattern. The identity of a missing piece of the pattern may be contained in adjoining pieces. Even if a particular piece turns up to have been lost or destroyed, the pattern is not broken until there are so many broken and missing pieces that the pattern is no longer discernable.

Those who do not see the patterns never get involved in the process of genealogical research. They are like people who go to an art museum and never look at the paintings or other artwork. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Expanded Commentary on the Rules of Genealogy: Rule Eight

I have slowly been going back to the list of the Rules of Genealogy and writing about each individual rule. There are presently 12 Rules. Here is the current list from my blog post of 19 July 2019.
  • Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.
  • Rule Two: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive.
  • Rule Three: Every person who ever lived has a unique birth order and a unique set of biological parents.
  • Rule Four: There are always more records.
  • Rule Five: You cannot get blood out of a turnip. 
  • Rule Six: Records move. 
  • Rule Seven: Water and genealogical information flow downhill
  • Rule Eight: Everything in genealogy is connected (butterfly)
  • Rule Nine: There are patterns everywhere
  • Rule Ten: Read the fine print
  • Rule Eleven: Even a perfect fit can be wrong
  • Rule Twelve: The end is always there
In this post, I am expanding on Rule Eight: Everything in Genealogy is Connected (butterfly)

We seldom think of genealogy as a process but the image above could have as easily been applied to genealogy as to manufacturing or computer programming. It is also intentional that the symbol for infinity is an eight on its side. Genealogical research is never finished.

You have probably heard of the Butterfly Effect. The flapping of a butterflies wings in one part of the world can cause a hurricane or typhoon in another part of the world. The idea with genealogy is that everyone on the earth is actually related to everyone else. I realize that there are differing views on the subject of the interrelatedness of all of the people on the earth, but the more we hear about deep DNA studies the more likely it seems that we are all related and that everyone has a unique place in the human family tree. For starts, how about this Wikipedia article: "Mitochondrial Eve."

But Rule Eight does not need to rely on speculative DNA testing or controversial religious beliefs, the simple way this Rule works is that we all live in the history of the world. We can trace our own ancestry back and connect through common events with everyone else who ever lived. Rather than DNA, this Rule deals with the idea of Six Degrees of Relation or the fact that all the people in the world are six, or fewer, social connections away from each other.

This Rule has even more implications than those pointing to universal relationships. It also implies that every kind of record has an interconnected relationship with every other record. All categories of records, from census records to vital records and every other category imaginable are all interrelated. This fact is further supported by Rule Four. The first requirement spoken of in the Genealogical Proof Standard is a "reasonably exhaustive research." See the following for an explanation: "Ten-Minute Methodology: “Reasonably Exhaustive”—How Do We Know We’re There?" However, Rule Eight goes well beyond this methodology. Rule Eight includes records that are unreasonably difficult to find. Rule Eight implies that genealogical research is never done. Of course, this point of view is not just difficult for many people to accept it is basically discouraging and in many cases, terrifying.

When we begin to understand that there is no practical end to the records that might be discovered, we also understand that when we discontinue research for any reason, there is always more that could have been done. The "reasonable" standard talked about by those who adhere to the Genealogical Proof Standard, is really just an objective excuse to find a place to stop doing research. I do agree that we must all stop sometime but when we do, we need to realize that we may have a "reasonable" reason for stopping but we have not explored all of the possible relationships, records, or other connections that are theoretically possible.