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

Monday, November 30, 2009

Shall I upgrade to Windows 7?

The best thing I can say about Windows 7 after a few weeks of working with the program is that it is rather ordinary. There are no outstanding issues. There are no glitches or bugs. It just does the job an operating system is supposed to do. Now, as a genealogist, I have some other questions to ask.

What about the price? It is rather expensive, the prices at the larger retailers runs close to $300 with a few prices below that. The one big drawback is the upgrade from Windows XP is supposed to require you re-install all of your programs. Unless you have the original packages and all of the software keys and such, you are probably going to have to purchase some new software also. The upgrade from Vista is priced much less than the complete package but still from $50 to over $100 depending on whether you purchase the home version or the ultimate version of the upgrade.

How do the programs run? The venerable old Personal Ancestral File runs normally. Everything else I have tried also seems to work. (Since I am running the program on an iMac, there are some issues, but they seem to be related more to the platform than the program.

Would I recommend an upgrade? Only if your computer is newer also. It is likely that the new operating system will push hardware sales, if only to take advantage of the features and newer software. Windows 7 is supports both 32 bit and 64 bit operating modes. You can download the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to determine if you computer hardware will run Windows 7 at all. But the program requires a 1 gigahertz or faster 32 or 64 bit processor with 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit), 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit) and a DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver. If you don't know what all this means, you probably need to run the Upgrade Advisor.

Summary: Don't upgrade unless you are ready to spend time and money upgrading other programs and perhaps getting a newer computer. None of the arguments and reasons given by the pundits about Windows Vista seem to apply. The program definitely works, but it is still a huge process to either upgrade or purchase the completely new program. Microsoft has a Windows 7 Compatibility List and interestingly, some of the programs that are not compatible are from Microsoft itself. Very few of the genealogy programs are listed by Microsoft and some notable programs have yet to be tested or marked as compatible.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The FHCWiki

In a recent announcement, Ohana Software, introduced its Wiki dedicated to serving the needs of Family History Centers. It appears that the Wiki is in a bare bones format, but has the potential to be of assistance to the vast network of Family History Centers scattered throughout the world. There are presently more than 4,500 centers worldwide. The Centers are staffed by volunteers who provide research help, training classes and access to the microfilm and microfiche resources of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The new FHCWiki will provide a place to go to find more extensive information about Family History Centers, not always easily obtainable in the past. In just a brief look at the few links already available, it is clear that there is already a lot of useful information.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Search strategy online for ancestors

What is the best strategy for searching online for your ancestors? Surprisingly, there are few simple rules that will lead to a dramatic increase in the reliability of the returns from a search with any search engine, be it Google, Yahoo, Ask, Alta Vista, Bing or whichever. These rules also work with nearly all of the online databases, including, WorldVitalRecords and many others.

Before getting into the search rules, you must first understand tiny bit about a very complex subject, that is, Boolean logic. From Wikipedia, "Boolean logic is a complete system for logical operations, used in many systems. It was named after George Boole, who first defined an algebraic system of logic in the mid 19th century. Boolean logic has many applications in electronics, computer hardware and software, and is the basis of all modern digital electronics. In 1938, Claude Shannon showed how electric circuits with relays were a model for Boolean logic. This fact soon proved enormously consequential with the emergence of the electronic computer."

Why do you need to know this? (and you might add, who cares?) Because relational databases, like the kinds mentioned above usually contain some form of Boolean logic to perform queries. Now, I said above that you only need to know a tiny little bit. Here is an example of the tiny little bit you need to know. Open Google on any browser. Look just to the right of the logo. There is a small link that says "Advanced Search." Click on that link and look at the results. Google search gives you three options, in Boolean terms they are "all these words," "this exact wording or phrase", "one or more of these words", and last, "any of these unwanted words." These options are Boolean operators.

One of the problems with the various search engines used by all the different databases is that some use Boolean operators and some don't. If the search function in the database does not have a Boolean capability, then your ability to find information is really limited. For example, the Family History Library Catalog has a keyword search link. However, there is no further way to modify a search, so if I search for the word "Arizona" and add the word pioneer, it does not give me a way to only search for results with only those two words, so I get results of any title having either "Arizona" or "pioneer" or both together or 235 matching titles. If I were doing the search in Google, I could narrow down the returns to only those with the term "Arizona" and the term "pioneer" or exclude the term pioneer or whatever.

So here are the rules:

Rule One: Know you search engine. Do a practice search or two and determine the results from including or excluding terms. Determine whether or not the search function supports some kind of Boolean operations. If so, you can immediately begin eliminating a lot of extraneous junk from your searches.

Rule Two: Always search from the least possible number of terms. For example, if I were looking for Henry Tanner in Arizona, I would put in only those three terms for my first search. Let's try that in Google. I search for "Henry Tanner Arizona." On this particular day, I got 62,200 returns and found the information I was looking for in the first item returned. I find that the same tactic works best with also. Sometimes, putting in too much information will not bring any results at all, particularly if you diligently fill all of the fields available in an search.

Rule Three. Vary the order of your search terms. If you are looking in Google for early settlers in Ohio, try searching for "Ohio early settlers" and then "settlers early Ohio." Notice how the total number of hits changes and the order of the hits also changes. Check to see if this rule affects the way your results are returned. Whether or not changing the order of the terms changes the results of the search tells you a lot about the search function in any particular program.

Rule Four. Always think geographically. Adding a geographic location to any genealogical search will help to focus the search. "Henry Tanner" is not very unique name. A Google search for "Henry Tanner" will return into the hundreds of thousands, including the African American Artist Henry Ossawa Tanner. If my Henry Tanner came from Arizona, then the rule is to add that to any search. This is one reason to be familiar with the methodology of the search function used by the program you are using. Adding a term like Arizona to the Family History Catalog search will just add more hits, rather than limiting the hits like it does in Google.

Rule Five. Try searching for related terms or usage. Henry might be Hank, Joseph might be Joe. Maybe the person lived in three different states. Why not search for the name with each or all of the three states? Try variations.

These are pretty simple rules. If you really want to get more proficient at searching on a computer you have to begin to think like a programmer. But, you say, I don't want to think like a programmer. Well, then, at least try some of the rules and see if you can improve your results. I am sure that you will. But I am also sure that the more you learn about computers and programs, the better you can become in searching the Internet. This is a situation where knowledge is power and more knowledge is more powerful searches. You may hate math (or love it) but there is no way to escape the fact that underneath all the graphic whiz of the computer age, lies some pretty complex logic. If you begin to understand even a tiny bit of that logic you will begin to increase your ability to find things on the Internet.

More later on the Boolean operators.

Friday, November 27, 2009

See your world (and history) in a new way

Many of the newer versions of genealogical database programs now contain some form of a mapping program. But the world of maps has changed and unless you have investigated the possibilities lately, you cannot imagine how interesting and dramatic the mapping world has become and you have missed the boat unless you know about 360 degree spherical views of places around the world.

First of all, there are several mapping programs on the Internet that provide ultra-detailed maps of the entire world, both from a street map format and from satellite photographs and even from topographical maps. The two most popular places to go for these maps are Google Maps and MapQuest. Both will give you aerial views of the entire world in detail. The amount of detail depends, to some extent, on the density of population and the economic level of activity, but the whole world is now available.

Times Square in New York City

But what if I want to look at the house where I lived when I was in grade school or the house my great-grandfather built in Pennsylvania (0r where ever)? Yes, you can go right down to the ground level and look at a vast number of streets, from St. Johns, Arizona to Paris, France and millions of locations around the world. This feature in Google Maps is called "Street View" and is available on any Google map view. In Google Maps you look for the little outlined yellow person in the zoom bar and drag it onto the map. If the roads turn to blue outlines, you can drop the little person on any road and the map will zoom into street view. Arrows let you drive down the streets and turn corners.

But wait, there is a lot more. You may also be familiar with a program called Google Earth. This is free program from Google you can download to your computer. You get the same zooming kinds of maps that are in Google Maps but with a twist. The program is loaded with on site photographs submitted by users. It is these photographs you want to see. When you are using Google Earth there are choices called "Layers." When you open the program, some of these layers are immediately available by default. The one layer you want to check is called "Gallery." It is not usually checked by default. In the Gallery layer are all the different photographic options. Embedded in this post is one from 360Cities. The photograph of Times Square in this post comes from 360Cities. You may want to go to each of the other Web sites and see the photographs from around the world. It will give you a whole new perspective into the possibilities for viewing familiar and unfamiliar places. You may wish to incorporate some of these fabulous new kinds of views in your blogs and Websites.

Think of doing a 360 degree tour of your old family home, or the place you grew up, or your grandfather's farm. Think of the possibilities!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Indexes are hearsay

If a witness were testifying in court and began to relate a conversation they had outside of the court, the attorney for the opposing party would immediately object to the testimony on the basis of the hearsay rule of evidence. Almost uniformly in the U.S. court system testimony about what someone said, with a few specific exceptions, if inadmissible and objectionable. If the witness manages to say something about their conversation before the attorney can object, the Judge can order the testimony stricken from the court record. In the genealogy world, we not only accept hearsay, but many people think that hearsay is real evidence.

Let me give a some examples. Let's suppose we examine the U.S. Census. A census worker (enumerator) visits the houses in his or her district asking a list of questions. The person responding relates the answers from memory, often giving information the person heard from others (second hand). The census worker then writes the information down on the form and turns it in to the supervisor. Eventually, the information is tabulated and the results published by the U.S. Census Bureau. Some years later, other workers examine the census sheets and make a list of the names (an index). The index is now, at least, two or three steps away from the source of the original information. Could the index be used in court? Well, possibly, there is an exception for various kinds of records, such as government records and records compiled in the course of a business. But depending on the circumstances, the trier of fact (a jury for example) may be instructed to consider the reliability of the information before using it to make a decision.

Another example, suppose the government requires people to fill out a form, such as the World War I Draft Registration forms. Years later, other people look at the forms and make a list of the names and some of the information on the forms. The list is then alphabetized and some years later put into a computer. How reliable is the index and would it be considered hearsay in a court? Yes, by any definition the index is hearsay. The index might be admissible in a court, depending on the circumstances, but again, likely there would be qualifications about its reliability.

Unfortunately, there is no judge or attorney standing next to genealogical researchers telling them that the information they are looking at is hearsay and unreliable. Many of the large compilations of genealogical information indiscriminately mix digitized images of original documents with lists or indexes without qualifying either record. Unsophisticated researchers will look at the index of the records and assume that whatever they find there is "correct" and dutifully copy down the information without qualifying it at all. Many researchers confuse the indexes with the actual records and because the index is printed and more readable, it is for that reason, more reliable.

A couple of days ago, I sat with a researcher who was looking for information about the death of a relative. He first asked if he could find an obituary. Since the relative lived in Texas, we suggested the Texas death index as a starting point for research. We found the relative's name in about five minutes (the computers were slow). The reaction of the researcher was interesting. For him, the search was over. Since he found the name listed in an index, that is all he needed. I suggested he may wish to look at the death certificate or continue to look for an obituary, but he was now on to the next level, having accepted the index record as the truth.

Indexes are not primary source information. They are often wrong, as anyone who has worked with the U.S. Census records will know. But seeing information on a computer screen or in print does strange things to most people. There is an immediate assumption that the task of searching is over, even though if the evidence were being presented in court, an attorney would have immediately objected to the reliability of the evidence.

Finding a name in an index is just the beginning of the research process, not the end. In every case, where possible, the original record should be examined. In the case of census records, the original record is the census form. In some cases, the original record is the list, such as tax rolls or enlistment records, but any time you are looking at what someone copied from the original record there is a possibility of error. It is the possibility of error, not just the error itself, that makes for the hearsay rule in court. It should also be the underlying rule for genealogical research, always look to the original source of the information, as much as possible.

The Genealogical Proof Standard consists of five elements. The first element requires a reasonably exhaustive search. Relying solely on an index violates this first element meriting confidence in the reliability of the proof. Looking only at an index, even if that index is published in a major online resource, it does not provide credible evidence, merely a suggestion that credible evidence may exist. An index should always lead to other, more reliable, records.

I realize that it is sometimes discouraging for a novice researcher, or any researcher, for that matter, to realize that having found the ancestor's birth date in a list, they still have to keep searching. But as in court, genealogy can only move forward with reliable information when a reasonably exhaustive search is made and it is always reasonable to seek out the original source and not rely solely on the index.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Swiss records digitized online

Although Switzerland is one of the smaller countries in Europe, many people in the U.S. can trace their ancestry to Swiss immigrants. Except for collections of individual Swiss family files, there have been very few actual Swiss source documents online and especially those with free access. Now in its worldwide reach, FamilySearch's Record Search announces the first online Swiss records. In an announcement dated November 24, 2009 Record Search added Switzerland, Schaffhausen Church Records image collection containing images of church records (births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths). The original records are located at Schaffhausen Stadtarchiv, Fronwagplatz 24, CH 8200 Shaffhausen, Switzerland.

This addition to Record Search highlights an important issue in genealogical collections, most online collections, even the larger subscription services, are tightly focused on one or a very small group of countries. Record Search is beginning to be the exception with its now, 158 collections. The database contains record collections from countries such as Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Italy that have been very under represented in genealogical online collections, particularly those available to English speaking researchers.

The world wide reach of the Record Search collections can be seen through entry screen format showing a map of the world with clickable regions. Granted, at the present time some clicks will return only one or two collections, like Asia and the Middle East presently only have Russian and Philippine records, but the potential is great especially given the vast number of records housed in the Family History Library's collection. Record Search is the product of the efforts of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to make its entire collection microfilms digitally available online.

In my posts, I have focused on these collections for a number of reasons, first and foremost because they are high quality and offered free online and obviously, my own connection with the LDS Church makes me more aware of the Church's genealogical activities. But also, the commercial databases, particularly those with subscription fees, have huge advertising budgets and pay for advertising. Record Search is all but unmentioned and unknown by the genealogical community. To get an idea of the scope of the Church's record activity, you only need to look at the list of the current FamilySearch Indexing Projects.

FamilySearch Indexing is a non-denominational volunteer project to index the records on microfilm from the Family History Library's collection. Here is the description from the Indexing Website:

The key life events of billions of people are being preserved and shared through the efforts of people like you. Using our online indexing system, volunteers from around the world are able to quickly and easily transcribe the records—all from the convenience of their homes. The indexes are then posted for FREE at

Millions of rolls of microfilm provide census, vital, probate, and church records from over 100 countries for indexing projects. Governments, churches, societies, and commercial companies are also working to make more records available.

Anyone can volunteer to help.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hundreds of thousands of new records online

With the winding down of the introduction of New FamilySearch to U.S. Temple Districts, FamilySearch has apparently turned some of its resources towards increasing the number of records available on Record Search. An announcement on November 23, 2009 indicates that Record Search has just added over 250,000 images to the Brazil Catholic Church Records collection. Here is a description of the records from the FamilySearch Wiki:
The Catholic Church parish records are an excellent source for genealogical research in Brazil. These may also be the only available records before the implementation of the civil registration in about 1888. These records may include other family information that will help in the research for other generations. In order to find an entry in this collection it is necessary to know first the place where the ancestors lived, a year, and his/her name.
Record Search also published the Brazil, Sao Paulo Burial Registry which covers the burial records from the municipality of Sao Paulo for the years 1870 to 1984. Other recently released records include the 1885 Minnesota State Census, the Mexico, Distrito Federal, Catholic Church Records from 1886 to 1933, and Massachusetts Marriage Records from 1842 to 1915.

Watching these records be put online is sort of like standing out in the rain waiting to be hit by lightning. You never know when the records you need might show up.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Kreative Blogger Award

Thanks to Heather Rojo at Nutfield Genealogy, Angela at What Was Their Story and Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings for nominating me for the Kreative Blogger award. Apparently, this is sort-of a chain letter kind of thing but I'll go along for the ride. Here is my list of seven things about myself:

1. I have only two of the Mayflower Passengers as my ancestors, so far.
2. My great-grandfather arrived in Arizona in 1877 in a wagon and never left.
3. I trace my Tanner family line back to 1680 in Rhode Island.
4. One of my ancestors, John Tanner, just had a feature movie made about his life.
5. I have been working on my genealogy for over 27 years.
6. I still work full time as an attorney.
7. I have 28 grandchildren and one on the way.

Here are my nominations for Kreative Blogger:

1. Amy with TheAncestorFiles.
2. Lisa Burks I love Headstones Adventures in grave hunting.
3. John D. Reid Anglo-Celtic Connections.
4. Lorine with Olive Tree Genealogy Blog. Hope the surgery goes well.
5. Renee Zamora Renee's Genealogy Blog.
6. Taneya Koonce Taneya's Genealogy Blog.
7. Janet Hovorka The Chart Chick.

There are really a lot of good blogs out there, but these are a few I find helpful and interesting.

A disaster averted

During the recent upgrade of my operating system from Windows XP to Windows 7, I began transferring files from my old computer to a new one. As part of the transfer, I checked one of my old journal files. Now, there needs to be a little bit of an explanation here. I started writing a weekly/daily journal about 35 years ago. The first few years the entries were handwritten, but over time, I changed to keeping my journal on the computer. Printed out, my journal would be thousands of pages. A few years ago I found that my old journal entries were unreadable. The reason at that time was that they were in an old Apple MacWrite program format. It was only through using some of our old computers, which were still hiding in closets and storage, that we could resurrect the old files.

You would think that I had learned my lesson. Years passed. Now I am upgrading yet again. Guess what? Even though the files had been transferred to Microsoft Word, they were no longer recognized by any of the current programs, including an older version of Word and Open Office. After a degree of panic, I began opening the files in a generic text editor, this one is TextEdit from Apple. Fortunately I could get all of the text. Unfortunately, not all of the files were still on the computer. Various sections had disappeared over the years.

Fortunately, I had a print out of the missing sections and could scan the text back into the computer and use an optical character recognition program to reconstruct the files. Unfortunately, this took about two full days of work. Now the files are once again complete, including those portions in handwriting.

There are regularly articles on backing up your work. Actually, I had four or five copies of the files, all of which were readily available. However, there is a more insidious problem, technical obsolescence. Think about it. What if you had a huge collection of 8 track tapes. If your last tape player died, how would you get the music off of the tapes? In that case there are probably services out there in the world that could transfer the music. But it gets a little more complicated in the computer world.

I suppose I could have seen if my last old Macintosh computer would still work and see if I could find a printer to print out the files. In this case, I used a more direct method. Text files. Fortunately, almost all word processing programs use a common text file as the basis for their editing options. Even though none of the formatting, other than line breaks and sometimes paragraph breaks, is preserved, a text editing program can usually open an old file.

In the case of my journal, it is the information that is important, not the formatting, so I was more than happy to have the text files, I can always go back and reformat the text.

This problem happens frequently with genealogy files. From time to time, someone approaches me with an old floppy disk with Personal Ancestral File 2.3 files or something similar. As time goes on, it gets harder and harder to find computers, disk drives and other compatible systems to read these old files.

The rule is simple: if you have old files, regularly convert them (the term is migrate) to newer programs and operating systems. If you are going to do work in a particular program, make sure all of the information can be accessed with each upgrade. Don't assume because you have a file in some program like Microsoft Word that future versions of the program will continue to read the old files. In the case of genealogy files, make sure that the information is moved to newer programs, through GEDCOM or otherwise, on a regular basis.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Comments on RootsMagic Essentials -- free genealogy program

If you already have a copy of RootsMagic 4 on your computer and you try to download the new RootsMagic Essentials, you will end up with an update to your existing program but not a separate copy of the program. So if you want to see how the program runs, you left looking at the feature's list. I guess I will have to find someone without the program, since this is what happened to me when I tried to look at the new program for evaluation.

From the features list, it looks like the program is a real winner. Of course there are significant differences between the free version and the for sale version. It appears that the reports are limited, you cannot make a sharable CD, no wall charts, and limited multi-media support are the main differences. There are many other features of the full version that are missing including the research features and many of the tools like place name standardization and geocoding.

Since the full version of the program is offered for only $29.95, I cannot imagine why anyone interested in the program would not buy the full version rather than using a "free" version solely for the reason to save $30. But for the die hard Personal Ancestral File (PAF) users, here is a really viable free alternative.

The two main reasons why people need to migrate from PAF are sources and New FamilySearch. Surprisingly, the free version of RootsMagic 4 apparently contains all of the New FamilySearch features of the full version. Although the features for recording sources are not as extensive as the full version, the feature set is much more useful than the PAF program. Maybe a richer set of source features will encourage users to actually record sources?

Wiki FamilySearch Barn Raising Projects

In the Beta version of the FamilySearch start page there is a link entitled "Learn." The link takes you to a new "Learning & How To's" page. I am impressed with the links provided on that page which lead to the FamilySearch Research Wiki. Although I am well aware of the huge amount of information pouring into the Wiki, it is apparent that FamilySearch is finally getting to the point where all of this information will become more accessible.

Especially notable are the Wiki Barn Raising projects outlined at the bottom of the Learning & How-To's page. Unfortunately, the projects outlined were supposed to occur many months ago, but are apparently still projects that could be worked on by volunteers. The projects include the following:

North Carolina Project. Quoting from their description: "Welcome to the North Carolina barn raising page! A wiki barn raising is a short, focused community effort to create or revise content relating to a single topic such as "genealogical research in North Carolina." The tasks listed below need to be accomplished during the North Carolina barn raising which will end the end of June 2009. Please volunteer to complete one or more tasks by first registering."

England Project. Supposed to be ended by February, 2009. Similar to the scope of the North Carolina Project.

Germany Project. Supposed to be completed by the end of March, 2009.

West Virginia Project. Not listed as a project in the Wiki, the link takes you directly to the Portal:West Virginia.

Maryland Project. Barn raising was to have been completed in January, 2009.

Czech Republic Project. Not listed as a project in the Wiki, the link takes you directly to the Portal:Czech Republic.

The Web traffic on FamilySearch is vastly greater than that for the Wiki. These projects probably languished primarily because of the lack of visibility of the Wiki FamilySearch Website. Hopefully, this new emphasis on the Wiki through direct links from FamilySearch will spark a major amount of interest in completing these projects as well as others. Meanwhile, the fact that there are links from the Beta version of the redesigned Web page is major step in the right direction.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

FamilySearch Alpha is now Beta

For some time now, on Labs.FamilySearch, there has been an alpha version of the new homepage for FamilySearch. An announcement on November 17, 2009 introduced the beta version of the new homepage. The announcement was made on the FamilySearch Labs Blog. As explained in the announcement:
The FamilySearch Beta is a project that will eventually replace the current website with a new site at the same address that integrates all of the new technologies and record sets we’ve been working on (like Record Search, Family Tree, Research Wiki, etc.) into one easy to use experience. Instead of using these tools individually, you will simply go to to work on your family history.
This first version of the FamilySearch beta is limited, The search feature does not currently search Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File, the International Genealogical Index or new FamilySearch. The Family History Center Locator is not yet implemented. The Family History Library Catalog is not yet implemented. And last, the FamilySearch Wiki is not yet integrated although it can be accessed through the FamilySearch Beta through the Learning section.

FamilySearch invites everyone to visit the site from time to time to see the changes and to make comments.

The integration of the various Websites is long overdue. Comparatively few people use or know about the FamilySearch Wiki mainly because there are no links to the site from any of the more popular FamilySearch Websites. Although there has been some progress in listing the items in the Record Search Pilot on the FamilySearch Wiki site, the implementation is less than complete. Additionally, very few users of the New FamilySearch Website have any idea about the relationship of the other sites and what they offer. Except for the link to the original FamilySeach Website on the startup screen of New FamilySearch, there is no mention of the other Websites or what they do or can do for the users.

Let's hope that the integration continues more rapidly than expressed in the Blog.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thanksgiving -- the end of New FamilySearch

Well, not really the end, just the end of the longest software introduction in the history of computers. The Salt Lake Temple District will be completely given access to New FamilySearch on November 23, 2009. They should probably declare a national holiday. Oh, they did. Only it is three days later on Thursday, November 26, 2009.

On the home front, we are noticing a distinct slowdown of the New FamilySearch system as the minions of Utah join the rest of us online. I have started to receive E-mails from my relatives in Utah also, usually asking me to remove my disputes. I never realized how many disputes I had put into New FamilySearch. I have been removing them for the past year, since I am convinced that disputes do not accomplish what they were originally intended to accomplish. Yes, I said that right, I am removing all of my disputes.

As I have mentioned before, my family lines are so convoluted and inaccurate on New FamilySearch I see absolutely no way to untangle the mess, which, by the way, continues to grow every time I log on to the program. Until there is a way to correct really obviously wrong information, it is very discouraging to try to work with huge family lines on New FamilySearch.

On the other hand, if you have very limited information about your family and only a few generations, you have clear sailing and very little, if anything to complain about. Unfortunately, the program is also full of unintended consequences, but probably, the less said about that subject the better so as not to give people ideas on how to misuse the program.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New collections in Record Search go into Wiki FamilySearch -- sort of

Record Search added a new collection of Massachusetts Marriage Records from 1842 to 1915. The collection is presently (November 15, 2009) only 19% complete. The collection includes the name index and images of Massachusetts statewide marriage registers. The marriage registers are in numbered volumes arranged by year then by individual town. Currently only marriages for the years 1906-1915 are available.

Now here is an interesting problem. When you view the record search screen, there is a link to "About this Collection." Clicking on that link takes you to a page in the Wiki FamilySearch. That is the good news because the Wiki page has a lot more information about the collection including the sources of information. However, if you go directly to the Wiki FamilySearch Website, and click on the link to the United States, then to Massachusetts, you can search the Massachusetts page in vain for any reference or link to the newly added collection and its link in the Wiki. Apparently, the Massachusetts reference page is an orphan.

It looks like there are going to be a lot more orphans in Wiki FamilySearch shortly, as long as the new pages are added without any links from the parent pages for the state or country.

Friday, November 13, 2009

New FamilySearch -- the end is in sight

Members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Salt Lake Temple District will have their first official access to the New FamilySearch program on November 16, 2009. Thirty Stakes will gain access on that date leaving approximately 38 remaining Stakes for a future date. This may well end one of the longest, if not the longest, software introductions in the history of computers. It has been over two years since the first Stake received authorization to log onto to the huge online database.

At the same time, many users were notified of another Beta test of New FamilySearch. There have been several significant changes to the program recently, even though the last official list of new features dates back to August of 2009. The newest feature changes involve the process of preparing names for Family Ordinance Requests. It is now mandatory to check for duplicates, the whole process is no longer optional.

It is interesting to watch the data on the program. From time to time I get on New FamilySearch and check my ancestor's files. I can actually see changes from day to day and week to week and people duplicate ordinances and add more copies of birth, death and burial variations. It is sort of like watching weeds grow in the your front yard. If the program was supposed to help avoid duplication, it hasn't gotten there yet. I see duplicate ordinance dates for individual ancestors long after the introduction of New FamilySearch. It is a lot easier to see all the additional changes by using one of the third-party database programs like Ancestral Quest or RootsMagic.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Personal Ancestral File -- only mostly dead

I recently had a discussion with a patron at the Mesa Regional Family History Center who was trying to learn more about genealogy to help others with their research. She indicated that she was sort of serving by default as the Ward Family History Consultant in her LDS Ward. During the discussion she mentioned that a member of her Ward was teaching classes and insisting that everyone had to use Personal Ancestral File. Apparently, as I have mentioned in the past, some people think their is a religious mandate from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to use "the Church's genealogy program." This sent me back to do some research on current statements concerning Personal Ancestral File (PAF).

First of all, the program is still available as a free download from, where it is described as follows:
Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is a free genealogy and family history program. PAF allows you to quickly and easily collect, organize and share your family history and genealogy information.
Second, it is still being supported and featured in classes at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and at many regional and local family history centers maintained by the LDS Church. In fact, on November 20, 2009 there are two classes at the Family History Library scheduled.

As a side note, I have loaded PAF into my new Windows 7 operating system and it seems to work normally.

So where are we going with PAF? In a fairly recent article in Mormon Times, David E. Rencher, FamilySearch's Chief Genealogical Officer is quoted as saying as follows:
One of the most popular products being phased out is Personal Ancestral File (PAF), a free family history program that was introduced in 1997. FamilySearch is moving to an Internet-based system, usually referred to as the New FamilySearch. People will still be able to use PAF on their computer and export their data to the New FamilySearch. An additional software program will enable PAF users to import information from the New FamilySearch back to PAF.
Although it is not clear from the article, the "additional software program" referred to is likely FamilyInsight from Ohana Software.

Up to this point in the development of LDS genealogy software the Church has consistently indicated that New FamilySearch is not intended to replace PAF. To quote a recent FamilySearch help item:
To use FamilySearch, you do not need to use Personal Ancestral File or a similar computer program. FamilySearch, however, is not intended to replace these programs if you already use them.
There is the very suspicious phrase however, "if you already use them." Does this mean that if you do not have PAF or another program, that you are supposed to use New FamilySearch for your primary database program?

What is clear is that there is no future for Personal Ancestral File. Users of the program are living on borrowed time. Eventually, the program may not run on future versions of operating systems, the old Apple version is long since inoperable. The Microsoft Windows version may lose it viability with future changes. For the time being, there is no emergency, but it is time to change and use any one of the many commercially available programs.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

FamilySearch Record Search additions

More new collections and additions to existing collections highlight this week's additions to FamilySearch's Record Search. The two new collections are: [Descriptive quotes from Website]

Minnesota Will Records from 1849 to 1918. This collection is sponsored by the Minnesota Historical Society State Archives, ( the National Association of Government Archivists and Records Administrations (, and FamilySearch ( Name indexes of the Probate Court will books for the counties of the state and territory of Minnesota. Some testators who resided outside of Minnesota recorded their wills in these Probate Courts. Four Minnesota counties are not in this collection: Hennepin, Marshall, St. Louis, and Wadena. Currently, data is only available for the following counties: Brown, Dakota, Freeborn, and Ramsey.

Spain Municipal Records. See

600,000 images have also been added to the Brazil Catholic Church Records.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Really look at photographs

My great-grandmother was a professional photographer. I have very few of her original photos, most of her work seems to have vanished into a family that had little concern for history, whether family or otherwise. Her major life's work went into a book of over 750 pages of stories, biographies and photographs. After spending a great part of my life involved in genealogy, I still cannot imagine the amount of work it took to compile and identify all of the people and all of the photographs.

I have been taking photographs since I was about nine or ten years old. Probably, to the discouragement of my descendants, I have 10s of thousands of photos, both mine and those acquired from relatives. Yesterday, I stopped while I was scanning some of the older photos and began to look at what I was scanning. I mean really look at the images. On the computer, the tiny little cheap photos show some amazing detail; cars, clothes, houses, landscapes, towns, people both young and old, relatives and others who I will never probably identify.

I know all about period dating to tell when the photo was taken by the hair styles, clothes and backgrounds, but yesterday, I was looking at faces and stories. My father and his brother as young boys. My great-grandmother on a picnic outing, sitting next to the old car. The house where my father lived being built on an empty lot surrounded by desert. Gardens full of flowers, with my great-grandfather standing in his ill-fitting work clothes looking older than his years.

I looked into the soul of my family and realized, once again, why I continue to search and record and look and photograph. I cannot let these images die their own death. I cannot let the stories go untold. I cannot let the eyes that have long passed from this earth, be entirely forgotten. It is time to really look at the photographs. It is time to really look and see the lives and stories.

Take a look at books

Having spent a goodly portion of my life in libraries, both as a patron and a library employee, I am aware that there are a lot of things about seeing books on shelves and having them to read that are lost when the books are digitized. The greatest loss is the synergy of having books grouped together. No catalog or index can give you the perspective of reading the shelves, that is, looking at each book in turn about a particular subject. Whatever the limitations of the Dewey Decimal System of cataloging books, the system did put the books into subject groupings that lead me to find interesting items I may otherwise have missed. While at the University, I used to spend my lunch hour walking up and down the shelves looking for anything interesting. No matter how good Google or other search engines become, that experience, of seeing the actual books and randomly looking at their content, is lost in the digital world.

My experiences at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, or any other genealogy library have been the same; I find more information that is unplanned and unanticipated by simply looking at each and every book in a subject heading. For example, looking at all the books on Massachusetts genealogy in the Family History Library. This activity of looking at each book may take a lot of time, but it is the one sure way not to miss something important. Its not that I don't trust catalogers, they do an adequate job, but they don't know what I am looking for. I am really glad that libraries will not go away completely during my lifetime.

Availability is an issue. There are certainly more books in the Family History Archive or on Google Books than I will ever look at in my lifetime, but relying solely on electronic catalogs and then giving up the search is losing the battle before it begins. The search needs to go to the actual books as long as they are still available.

Some researchers are so focused on minutia that they cannot see the trees for the forest. They think that if their surname is not in the book's index, then the book has nothing to offer and discard the book for another source. I find almost none of the researchers at the Mesa Regional Family History Center even look at the books for the state where their relatives lived. They come and go from the Center without even knowing that the books exist right there on the shelves.

Computers are great for answering some kinds of questions, but if you want a general background about a subject, you need a broader look. I read books on my computer and on my iPhone, but having a book in hand lends itself to jumping around and using the book as it was intended, not just reading it from front to back for the experience of doing so.

Take advantage of the availability of books before they disappear from the earth. They have a lot to offer.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

FamilyInsight and Windows 7 on an iMac

FamilyInsight is a highly useful add-on tool for Personal Ancestral File (PAF) users who want to do many of the things that PAF won't do, particularly with New FamilySearch. The features of the program give PAF real utility, but unfortunately you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. (Actually, you can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but the question is, who would want to?). PAF is not going to be supported in the future by FamilySearch and as time goes on and more and more information is obtained from online sources, PAF is being left further and further behind.

That brings us to FamilyInsight. This program does what it does so well, it makes me pause repeatedly in my dismissal of the PAF program. Ohana Software has created a really convenient interface and even the most computer illiterate of the PAF users can usually figure out what the program is offering. So, I was very interested to see what would happen when I loaded PAF on my new Windows 7 installation on my iMac. If you haven't read any of my previous posts, you will, of course, not know that I installed Windows 7, using Paralells Desktop, on my iMac. I also have a PC which I have used for years, but I really prefer working on a Macintosh computer.

If this experiment works out, and it seems like it is going to do so, then I will dump my desktop PC in favor of the new iMac.

The PAF program running on Windows 7 looks and acts in the normal PAF fashion. However, I have yet to get FamilyInsight to work with any PAF file. The first obstacle was to get FamilyInsight to open at all. The program could not find the FamilyInsight data file. I finally got the program to recognize the location of the data file for the program but I have still not gotten past the program's inability to locate the PAF data files, even when I open FamilyInsight from within PAF while the target data file is open in PAF. I am still working on the issue and haven't yet decided if the problem is with Windows 7, the way it works on the iMac or something in FamilyInsight.

As with any new operating system, I would not recommend jumping directly into an upgrade until I determined to my own satisfaction that the new system will work with all my existing programs. Stay tuned for further comments on Windows 7 and existing genealogy software.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

How do I do genealogy?

When I was young and had time to do things other than genealogy, I used to practice archery from time to time. I would set up various targets to shoot at in the yard, which was big enough to use for the activity. Inevitably, I would shoot all of my arrows and miss the target at least a couple of times. In targets, think cardboard box, not the nice straw kind with big circles. Anyway, there were a couple things I did know when I started to search for my lost arrows. First, the arrow could only go a certain distance and second, I instinctively knew that there was no use looking in the next lot or across the street, the arrow was somewhere in the general direction of the target and only at a limited distance. I would then systematically examine the ground in the direction of the arrows and would always find all my arrows.

Think about your ancestors. Searching for them is exactly like searching for my lost arrows. You can only find them in a certain place and time. They have to be there. You were born, therefore they exist. This simple fact seems lost on many who are looking for their ancestors. Expressed another way, you research from the known to the unknown. This basic principle of research means you don't jump back to search for your great-grandfather until you know all of the ground between where you are now and where you think he was. There is even a scriptural admonition, which says, “Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall..." (See Jacob 4:14). So, what do you know about your parents?

I acknowledge that there are those people who cannot find their own parents. Some arrows do get lost. But it is amazing to me how many people skip the middle to get to the ending without even knowing they are doing so. To repeat the question, what do you know about your parents (or the person you are looking for)? I am talking about research in depth. To use another analogy, you can't build a bridge without a pier. You need to be firmly sure of the ground on which you stand before you reach out across the void and try and find your family.

Let's say you want to find your great-grandparents wedding date. Start with their children, your grandparents. What do you know about your grandparents? When was the first child born? Where was the first child born? What was going on at the time? What kind of record might contain information on a marriage date? An insurance application? A medical record? A newspaper story? A journal? Letters to relatives? A draft registration form? A Social Security application form? Where would these records be kept?

This topic has been brought to my mind repeatedly by questions asked at the Mesa Regional Family History Center. Every time I help answer a question, the answer usually lies in re-examining what the person knows and not what he or she doesn't yet know. Do not look beyond the mark, look for people only where and when they might be found.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Genealogist's view of Windows 7

I have been running Windows XP since shortly after its release. After reading many reviews, I elected not to upgrade my home computer to Windows Vista but some time ago, our office computers were all upgraded. So I have been running both Windows Vista and my older versions of Windows XP for a considerable time. During the past week, I have been working with Windows 7 installed on my iMac using Parallels Desktop. I feel that I have a pretty good level of experience with both Vista and XP to adequately compare them to Windows 7.

As a beginning statement, Windows 7 is still Windows. It is not radically different than either Windows XP or Vista. Since I was using a new install of the program to an essentially blank disk, I was spared the painful upgrade process from XP. To upgrade from Windows XP to 7, the user is urged to run Windows Upgrade Advisor to see whether there are software issues that might affect installation and whether to install the 32-bit or 64-bit version. The user is also told to back up all of their data to an external hard drive. You then save your files and settings to the external drive using Windows Easy Transfer. Both the Windows Upgrade Advisor and the Windows Easy Transfer are supposed to be downloaded from Microsoft's Website since they apparently do not come with the Windows 7 software package.

So before you even think about upgrading, you need, at the very least, external storage large enough to back up your entire data files and the two downloaded programs from Microsoft. this may mean a trip to a store and the purchase of a new hard drive. Next come the clincher, you will wipe your primary disk clean when you install Windows 7 and will have to re-install your programs. That is all of your programs. Good luck. Just hope that you still have all of the access keys and passwords necessary to re-install anything you actually need and that the programs will actuall work with Windows 7.

After installing Windows 7, the user is instructed to use Windows Easy Transfer to restore your files and settings but not your programs. If any of your programs just don't happen to be compatible with Windows 7, it is just too bad. No solution is offered for this inevitable problem.

The online discussion about Windows 7 appears to be uniformly favorable. As a matter of fact, the program runs quite well on my iMac. I have successfully installed Personal Ancestral File, Roots Magic 4, Ancestral Quest 12.1 and Animap without any issues at all. I finally got Legacy 7 to install with the Geo feature. It took several tries and I am not really sure the program is running correctly. I tried to install FamilyInsight but so far, I have not gotten the program to run at all. The FamilyInsight program will not find the data file nor will it properly open any of the PAF files I have on the Windows 7 program portion of the iMac disk.

One problem I can foresee about upgrading, is that there is an unspoken assumption from Microsoft that you can download the extra programs you need to complete your upgrade. However, that assumes you can get your upgraded computer to see your network and get online. This is not necessarily a valid assumption. I found in installing Windows 7 that it took me two days to figure out how to get the Windows 7 program to see the network so I could copy my files over to the computer. Granted, I may be asking for more complication by using Windows 7 on an iMac, but hey, what is life without challenges.

There will probably be a lot more to write about and I probably will. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

New FamilySearch -- Down to the last two Temple Districts

With the Jordan River Temple District gaining full access to New FamilySearch by November 9, 2009, there are only two more Temple Districts left until the introduction process is complete in all of the Temple Districts in the United States. There may still be areas where the program will still have to be developed in non-Roman alphabet languages, like Chinese, but it looks like the introduction is essentially over for the time being. The last two Temple Districts, still waiting for an introduction date, are the Salt Lake Temple and Oquirrh Mountain Temple Districts.

The last announced upgrade to the program was in August of 2009. Since that time, it is notable that there have been changes and adjustments to the program, especially with the ordinance reserving and Family Ordinance Request printing process, but none of these changes have been officially announced. Some of the changes make a significant impact on the issue of duplication of ordinance work, although it remains to be seen if the efforts will have a practical effect in dissuading people from entering duplicate information and re-doing the Temple ordinances.

Latest update to FamilySearch Record Search

As of November 3, 2009, FamilySearch Record Search has added a number of new collections. These updated records include the following: [Descriptions from Website]

Indiana Marriages from 18811 to 1959 -- Indexed in partnership with the Indiana Genealogical Society. Name index of marriages recorded in the Indiana Territory and in the State of Indiana between 1811 and 1959. This collection includes marriage returns and licenses for the following counties: Adams, Blackford, Decatur, Franklin, Henry, Huntington, Owen, Rush, and Sullivan. Microfilm copies of original records are available at the Family History Library and at family history centers. 11% complete and no images.

Massachusetts State Census, 1865 -- This project was indexed in partnership with the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS). Name index and images of population schedules listing inhabitants of the State of Massachusetts in 1865.

Minnesota Will Records from 1849 to 1918 -- This collection is sponsored by the Minnesota Historical Society State Archives, ( the National Association of Government Archivists and Records Administrations (, and FamilySearch ( Name indexes of the Probate Court will books for the counties of the state and territory of Minnesota. Some testators who resided outside of Minnesota recorded their wills in these Probate Courts. Four Minnesota counties are not in this collection: Hennepin, Marshall, St. Louis, and Wadena. Currently, data is only available for the following counties: Brown, Dakota, Freeborn, and Ramsey. 9% complete and no images.

United States Census for 1920 -- Now 51% complete and no images, data currently available for the following: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.

Wisconsin State Census for 1855 -- Name index and images of the Wisconsin state population census taken in 1855. This census only identifies the head of family by name. The rest of the census is statistical.

Spain Municipal Records --- Images only, see Spain Civil Registration.

Italy, Napoli Province, Municipal Records, from 1809 to 1936 -- Images only. See Italy, Castellammare di Stabia Municipal Records

Netherlands, Limburg Parish Register Transcripts, from 1600 to 1822 -- See Netherlands, Limburg Catholic Church Parish Register Transcripts

Brazil, Catholic Church Record -- Images only. See Brazil Catholic Church Parish Records

Some of these records have never before been available online and especially not for free.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Parade of States -- online digital genealogy resources -- California

Everyone would expect California to have a lot of digital resources and they would be right, to a point. In actual numbers of records, they fall way short of Washington State, but they do have some very interesting collections which I have used in researching early California families. All in all, California is long on pictures and short on actual source documents given the large population and long history of the state. There are a lot of records and indexes online on the subscription Website, Here is a sample of the free online collections:

  • The Anne T. Kent California Room (Marin County Free Library) To quote the site, "The Anne T. Kent California History Room is an archive dedicated to collecting and preserving information on local, regional, and state history with a strong emphasis on the history and culture of Marin County. Resources include books, maps, photographs, oral histories, biography files, early Marin County voter registers, clippings and ephemera."

  • Calisphere (UC Libraries) Thousands of images and primary source documents from the 19th-20th centuries.

  • Digital Anaheim (Anaheim Public Library) A digital archive of nearly 2,000 photographs of the City of Anaheim.

  • Online Archive of California A collection of resources from a large number of California institutions, way too many to list here. The list alone is longer than most of my posts. Even though the list is impressive, it turns out that most of the records are only available offline and must be searched at the California State Archives.

  • Regional Oral History Office (University of California, Berkeley) An extensive collection of oral histories by category.

  • Sacramento History Online Sacramento History Online is a joint project of four Sacramento County institutions to digitize and catalog over 2000 items from their collections. The project's goal has been to document agriculture and transportation in the Sacramento region from the mid 19th to early 20th century.

  • San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection (SF Public Library) To quote from the Website, "The San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection contains photographs and works on papers of San Francisco and California scenes ranging from 1850 to the present. This collection includes views of San Francisco street scenes, buildings, and neighborhoods, as well as photographs of famous San Francisco personalities. The collection consists mostly of the photo morgue of the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin, a daily newspaper, ranging from 1920s to 1965. The collection also contains albums, slides, postcards, cabinet cards, stereoviews, and lantern slides of San Francisco and California subjects. "

Monday, November 2, 2009

USA, United States or nothing

One of the features of the newer genealogy database programs is the ability to regularize or standardize place names. But, the standardized place names are anything but standard between programs. For example, New FamilySearch, the huge database from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has a feature called Standard Finder and according to this source, the place names in the U.S. are appended with "United States." However, there are major database programs, like Legacy Family Tree, that add on "USA."

Now what do we do? Do we put anything after the entries in all of the various databases or do we just leave the designation of the country blank? Originally, with the paper forms of family group sheets there was an extremely limited space for entering the place names. It was a common practice for those using the forms to enter place names either partially or with a number of abbreviations. Early genealogical database programs also had a character limitation on the fields for geographic information. Early users of Personal Ancestral File commonly abbreviated most, if not all of the place designations. Unfortunately, the practice of abbreviation and shortening of place names has not gone completely away, even though there are now adequate spaces allocated for the complete geographic designation. Because of more than adequate space, it is no longer considered acceptable to use abbreviations.

This brings up the issue of the use of United States versus USA or whatever. It is interesting to note that although we commonly refer to our own country as the United States, there are other countries, such as Mexico, that are also properly known as "United States." The official name of the country of Mexico is United Mexican States or United States of Mexico depending on how you translate the name in Spanish. It is also interesting that the official name of the USA is, of course, The United States of America.

Usually there is no possibility of confusion. For that reason, it is common for the place names in the U.S. to end with the state. However, in our international community, there are multiple places with the same name as some of the U.S. states. A good example is Florida. A place name search in the Family History Library Catalogue on the place "Florida" will give you a list of 25 matching places, from such different geographic areas as the Philippines to Brazil. It quickly becomes apparent that in some cases it would be wise to specify the country as well as the state. So why not do so in all cases and make it a general rule? That is what is being done with standardized place names.

As a side note, my wife once flew to Panama City, Panama but almost ended up in Panama City, Florida. This is another reason why a more complete specification of place names is desirable. Sometimes at the country level but commonly at the city and county level, there can be massive confusion. As an example, nineteen states have a "Clay" county.

So which one of the two designations are we all going to use. I see no reason not to use USA. It is commonly recognized on products around the world and is an easy three letter designation. However, we do have to live with the designation "Unites States" even though there is a small measure of ambiguity on an international level. For the present, until there is some kind of international agreement, I will continue to use whatever the particular program thinks is the correct designation; either USA or United States. But I am going to add one or the other to all my place names. Nothing is not an option in our global age.

New FamilySearch comes to Jordan River Temple District

Many of the Stakes in the Jordan River Temple District will go online for access to New FamilySearch beginning November 2, 2009. This is one of the three last Salt Lake Valley Temple Districts to gain access. At the same time some of the Jordan River Temple Stakes go online, the last of the Draper Temple Stakes will also be given access to the program.

Because many of my relatives live in the Salt Lake area, I have already begun noticing changes made to my own family's records on New FamilySearch. Not all of this is good news. All of the record changes have been duplicative and some have perpetuated inaccuracies. It is amazing, some of the individuals in my line have hundreds of copies of their records and information in New FamilySearch. I cannot imagine what possesses these Utah relatives to think we need more copies of these individuals in New FamilySearch.