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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Eliminating projecting our preconceived prejudices into the past

When I was in graduate school in Linguistics at the University of Utah,  the Anthropology Department hired a new secretary. At the time, the Linguistics Department was associated with Anthropology. This new secretary had an interesting accent, especially to linguists, because she was from South Africa. Shortly after her employment, the head of the Linguistics Department, Wick Miller, and a few of the graduate students were talking in the area near her desk. The conversation turned to the Zulu language. Zulu is spoken by about ten million people and about a fourth of the population of South Africa. The new secretary listened to the conversation for a few minutes and then asked a question.

"Why are you studying Zulu. Everyone knows that those people have no language and can only speak a few dozen words?" Her question stopped the conversation cold. I seem to recall that we all just stared at her. Finally, Wick asked her a couple of questions in response. It became painfully apparent that she actually believed what she had said. Let's just say, she did not have a job in Anthropology Department by the next day.

Understand that this was back in the 1970s. Long before the end of apartheid and long before the revolution in South Africa. But I would venture to guess that I could find people who believe the same thing about other groups of "primitive" people in the world. If you don't understand our reaction to her question, maybe you have some of the same prejudices. Let me clarify the issue by stating a known fact, all natural human languages have essentially the same degree of complexity.

My point is this, we acquire a world view through our own experiences and background. As genealogists, we are hampered in our investigation of the past to the extent that we impose our personal preconceived prejudices into the past. But how do we even know we have such prejudices? That is the question.

Overcoming these ingrained notions of propriety and reality can only be accomplished through a constant process of expanding our knowledge with a mind open, not only to new information, but also to new interpretations of old information. The poor girl from South Africa was so caught up in her society's world view that the concept of studying a "primitive" language was beyond her comprehension. Especially a language which she did not consider to be human.

When does our world view interfere with our historical and genealogical research? Anytime we draw conclusions from the data based on our own experience and not based on the contextual experience of the time. I recently read an article in the Arizona Highways written by an "Archaeologist" who expressed the opinion that siege warfare did not exist among the early inhabitants of Arizona because they had not "discovered that concept." I will not dignify that opinion by giving the citation to it.

We all have the tendency to project simplicity into the past. Historically people didn't have (fill in the blank) therefore they lived much simpler lives than we do today. Remember, in a few years, what we say and do will be history.

There is also a fallacy which I call the fallacy of multiplicity. That more is some how more complicated than less. A statement incorporating the fallacy would say that, "we live in a modern society with millions of people, therefore and only because of the number of people, our society is more complex than an historical society with fewer people."

There are two fundamentally different issues here, disorganized complexity and organized complexity. Here is a statement hinting at the difference:
One of the problems in addressing complexity issues has been distinguishing conceptually between the large number of variances in relationships extant in random collections, and the sometimes large, but smaller, number of relationships between elements in systems where constraints (related to correlation of otherwise independent elements) simultaneously reduce the variations from element independence and create distinguishable regimes of more-uniform, or correlated, relationships, or interactions. Wikipedia
Let me give you a specific example of how this problem intrudes itself into genealogical research. Let's say I had a distant ancestor named John Smith, two of the most common names in the English language. I decided to do a search in for my ancestor. What do you suppose would be the results? Doing such a search produces over 1.8 million responses (a disorganized complexity), sorted by relevance. I may just throw up my hands and quit at this point, or I can begin to ignore my present world view of the commonality of the name and begin an investigation of the individual in his historical context. In my example, with that name, it is possible after placing the individual in the historical context that I would have more than one choice, but continued research of the associated time will at least drastically narrow the search (an issue of organized complexity).

What is it about my world view that prevents me from examining the contextual relationships and period history? I may simply believe that the effort is not worth the time involved. But from another standpoint, we may be afraid to explore the past because it will change our world view. As one friend expressed to me in a statement that he had discovered that one line of his ancestors were slaves in America. That discovery challenged his world view to the extent that, I am sure, he needed to evaluate whether or not he wanted to continue to do research.

I think I have not given enough analysis to the issues as yet and will probably continue this post in the future if just to clarify the references to complexity.

Friday, April 29, 2011

National Archives hires Wikipedian

The National Arichives Blog, NARAtions, announced the hiring of their first Wikipedian in Residence (WIR), Dominic McDevitt-Parks. He will be working with the National Archives to chart out a course of projects and cooperative ventures that will help make their records more publicly accessible than ever and increase the understanding between the archival and Wikipedian communities.

Wikipedia celebrated its 10th anniversary on January 15, 2011. According to a Pew Internet Report, 42% of all Americans now look to Wikipedia for information online which translates to 53% of adult Internet users. Today, Wikipedia reports 3,624,975 articles plus millions more in 279 different language editions.

The impact and growth of Wikipedia will have a lasting effect on nearly every aspect of online research. In the genealogical community, you can watch the daily increase in the similar FamilySearch Research Wiki.  As of this morning, there were 59,491 articles on genealogical research online. Although this pales in comparison to the millions of articles on Wikipedia, you have to remember that the Research Wiki is focused entirely on genealogy, a relatively narrow subject focus.

What will be the impact of having all of this combined experience and knowledge readily available? Wikipedia contains the good, the bad and the ugly of all the topics in the world. However, there is no danger that the FamilySearch Research Wiki will devolve into a morass of trivial or even objectionable issues. The structure of the Wiki allows the sponsoring organization to limit the type of article included, while at the same time, in a seeming contradiction, allow great freedom to add valuable resource and reference information.

The National Archives is apparent near the forefront in recognizing the value of the Wiki structure to organize and present information on complex topics. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The lessons from Amazon, Sony and Epsilon

During the past year or so there have been a number of genealogy blog posts, touting the advantages of “cloud computing.” Unfortunately, in the past week we have seen some of the extent of the downside to using online systems.

To begin to understand what is going on, there are several terms and concepts you need to be familiar with. First, of course, is the idea of cloud computing. Historically in the computer world, software programs and the data they create have been relatively local in nature. I bought a word processing program stored on a disk, loaded the program into my computer by inserting the disk into my computer’s disk drive and then running the program. If I wanted to save anything I wrote, I either had to have another disk drive or I had to switch a blank storage disk out for the one with the program. I might have to switch disks a dozen or more times to store the file. Then I had to do the same thing all over again in reverse to load the word processing file back into my computer.

As the capacity of storage devices and computer memory increased, this process became easier and faster. Eventually, the program and data were both copied onto a hard drive in the same case as the computer. The world of floppy disks is so far gone that younger or newer computer users may never have seen a 5 ¼ inch floppy disk.

Just as computer memory became really inexpensive and excessively large, the Internet came along. We had the same sort of growth pattern. First the connections were so slow, you could watch the information come into your computer pixel by pixel. Eventually, the connections got so fast that there was virtually no appreciable wait.

But at the same time, there was another interesting phenomenon. People began to sell “online” services. At first, there were mainly programs that did things like payrolls and such. But quickly, companies began to realize that they didn’t have to purchase an “expensive” computer, they could rent time on someone’s computer and save money. This was called “Timeshare.” As the technology changed, cheaper, faster, and more available, the number of online services grew.

What we call “cloud computing” is the logical descendent of these early online computer services. Only today, the average computer user can store data, run programs and work entirely on the Internet. When you use an Family Tree, you are involved in cloud computing. When you store you data on DropBox or whatever, you are using the cloud.

As genealogists we are sitting right in the middle of the online world. Although it is painfully apparent that not all of us are happy about computers and the Internet, there is no doubt that the world is becoming digitized online, whether we like it or not.

Now the stage is set to address the issues caused by the massive online failures of the past week or so. Here are the three things that happened:

When someone used computer skills to bypass or break into a secure computer without permission, their activity is commonly referred to as a “hack” and the person is referred to as a “hacker.” (I know, the term is not always used in the sense of a criminal activity).

Epsilon is a company that specializes in sending permission based e-mail marketing for large corporate customers. Its database was hacked in the last week and a huge number of names, e-mails addresses and associated information was stolen and/or compromised. Although this story probably was way under the radar of most people, it was one of the most serious breaches in recent time affecting customers of JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, the College Board, Walgreens, TiVo and many other companies.

Amazon had a different issue. Its North Virginia facility went down, taking down many online services, including FamilySearch Forums for up to three days. This wasn’t a hack but some sort of equipment and/or programming failure.

Then the big one hit. Sony’s PlayStation Network, consisting of the accounts of 77 million users, was hacked. This hack got credit card numbers and the associated data. The information stolen included complete data; names, addresses, credit card numbers, and personal information.

This is the equivalent of a world war on the Internet.

Now back to the issue of cloud computing. These events point out the fact that putting all of your data and using the Internet to store your information is not as secure or dependable as those selling the services would like you to believe. There is a risk involved and if you are going to put your genealogy online or store your photos and files online, then you need to understand those risks and take steps to avoid losing everything.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  I am not advocating that anyone stop using online services. Just don’t think that they are invulnerable or overly secure. Always, always, backup to more than one media device, i.e. a hard drive, flash drive, another computer, CDs or DVDs. Do not depend on one method of storage.

What else can you do? Change you passwords from time to time. Make sure you have back up copies of your data in different locations as well as different media. Use online services with the knowledge that they may be lost or compromised. Don’t include personal information about living people in anything you post online.

Be proactive, not reactive.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cite your sources -- What is a Citation?

While participating in the FamilySearch Forums on the subject of the Research Wiki, it dawned on me that some of the participants apparently did not know what a citation was. Sometimes as genealogists we are so familiar with a subject we think everyone understands what we are talking about. That issue was brought home to me again when I spent an hour or so trying to explain to a patron at the Mesa Regional Family History Center, the difference between a source and an event or fact. She had listed all of her source citations as facts in RootsMagic.

I think some of the terminology may have gotten confused as used by different programs or websites but the basic ideas are usually very close to the same.

First, a source is a person, document or artifact that provides information. If your mother tells you her birth date and place and you then record the date and place in your genealogy program, then your mother is the source of the information. The actual information is the date and place. The wording about where you got the information that you put in your genealogy program or on a Family Group Record (paper) is what is meant by the "citation."

The relationship between fact - source- citation is that the fact or event is recorded, the source is a record of where the information came from, and the citation is the format or content of the recorded source. 

So why do we record the "source?" There are  quite a few reasons. The most important reason is to allow others who want to use the information to have some idea of validity of the information. For example, let's suppose my mother tells me her birth date, 27 April 1920. I could just say nothing. Then the next person who looks at that date will always have a question about where the information came from. To make things interesting, suppose that I do a little research about my mother and find a copy of her birth certificate. The birth certificate says that she was born on 30 April 1920. Which date should I choose? The real answer is choose both, but record the source of each date. You may also wish to add a comment or two about which one you think is correct and why. Let's further suppose that future research comes up with yet another date, 29 April 1920. Once again, you record where you got the information, such as a Social Security Application for Benefits. Once again, you should record all of these different sources as citations to the event, even if (or because) they disagree.

What would happen if you didn't record where you got the information? Failing to record the source (note where the information came from) means that sometime in the future, either you or one of your relatives will have to go back and do all the research over again, especially if your records show the three dates. Why not simply ignore the conflicting dates and pick the one you like? That does happen but if you ask the question you probably have a few things to learn about genealogy and genealogists.

But let's assume you put the 27 April 1920 date in your records and you choose the inaccurate date because that is what your mother told you. But, she was really born on the 30th of April. Why do I care? In truth, it may make no difference at all. But there are plenty of circumstances when the date of birth is crucial for identifying an individual, such as where others with the same name are born in the same place around the same time. I purposely choose a trivial difference, in real research situations the difference may and can be significant.

Now, what do I need to record so I can find the source again? Elizabeth Shown Mills wrote an 885 page book about how to write citations to sources. You may ask, are you trying to tell me that I need to read an 885 page book just to write down where my information came from? Well, the answer is that it depends on how the information may be used.

Let's go back to the mother's birth date. I record the source as, "She told me herself." What will that do for future researchers? Almost nothing. Both the reference to "She" and the reference to "me" are ambiguous. I may know who I am talking about but no one else will. Let's look at Evidence Explained (Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2007.) page 45. Mills states that "the minimal identifying information [from a living person] should be name, city, and state." (Italics in the original). Once a person has died, then further information concerning the contact could be properly included. I would also record the date the information was obtained and any surrounding facts that might be important, like she was in a care center for memory disorders.

Now here is the next question. Is your mother a valid source for the information? Moving on to page 49 of Evidence Explained, we learn that "A citation to "Personal knowledge of So-and -So" is a valid citation only if that person has primary (firsthand) knowledge of the event or circumstance." People do not generally have firsthand knowledge of their own birth. As to the birth certificate, the informant may or may not have had the direct information, depending on circumstances.

There is a whole other world out there that appreciates clear, concise and accurate citations. They are all the people who come after you and have to read or try to interpret your work. Any work left without a citation will have to be redone at some point in time.

So the answer to the question in the title of this post is not really very simple. But it can be answered by stating that a citation is a way of recording the source of genealogical (or any other) information in a way that the information can be found again by someone else.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

New Blog called Heritage Paper Dolls

My daughter started a new Blog called Heritage Paper Dolls. You will like it a lot.

Who do they think we are?

Years ago, I used to watch the hour long episodes of Perry Mason starring Raymond Burr. By today's standards, the shows are tacky and poorly produced, but none-the-less I found them intriguing. Foremost in the series was the fact that Perry always solved the case in one hour. There were never any continuances, no one got sick and couldn't make it to Court, the Court never had to continue the case because of calendar problems. In short, Perry Mason was pure fantasy.

But guess what, in 37 years of law practice, I had to live with Perry Mason almost every day. Because of Perry and a host of other television lawyers and murder mystery cases, my clients had a universally inaccurate and twisted view of the U.S. Court system and how lawyers practiced their profession. In today's world we have Monk and Judge Judy to thank for perpetuating the myth of the easy solution to legal problems. I have one case that has gone on in one form or another for over 12 years. Try and condense that into an hour long TV show!

Now the genealogical world has its Perry Mason. A riveting show that solves all genealogical problems in an hour. I hesitated to write down my feelings about the show because of the almost uniform and enthusiastic press the show has received from the Bloggers. Recently, however, there has been a blizzard of opinions about making money from genealogy. Some of the articles have pointed out the realities of representing clients and billing for hours spent doing research. What I fear is that in the end, shows like Who Do You Think You Are? will do more damage to the practice of genealogy than many other issues in today's world.

One of the consistent depictions of the show is the star jumping on an airplane or driving to some distant location to find a record. The record is always found by a convenient librarian/researcher who just happens to stumble across the solution to the star's questions about his/her ancestor. What chance do you think you would have if you were looking for a record in some remote location of finding the record on the first day of your visit? Do you think that some helpful researcher or librarian would automatically be there to solve your research problem? By hiding the actual work that goes into genealogy, the show gives the impression that magically the records will appear. Granted, it is possible to find some records rather quickly and easily. But do I need to jump into my Lexus or limousine and drive to where the person was born/died/got married?

Yes, I may wish to travel to the ancestral home, but if I am doing genealogical research, I will have spent a lot of time preparing for the visit. Arranging accommodations, verifying access to the records, hiring researchers and taking care of the multitude of issues. On the TV program where were the star's flash drives? Driving to a location and finding a record is like having Perry Mason's witness confess on the stand.

We actually have people come into the Mesa Regional Family History Center and ask to see their genealogy. They expect their ancestry to be stored there in Mesa I guess. But that brings up another observation, none of the WDYTYA stars ever set foot inside of a Family History Center. During some of the shows I had my laptop open and checked, the same records the star had just traveled half-way across the country to see, were available at a local Family History Center on microfilm! I wouldn't mind traveling all over the world to find my ancestors, but I certainly don't have to do so, besides not being able to afford the trips.

Genealogy is a complex and challenging avocation and profession. Although publicity and raising awareness are laudable goals, we will all live with the stereotypes created by TV shows for a long time.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A current assessment of New FamilySearch

It has been some time since I reviewed the status of New FamilySearch. It has now been since February, 2011 that FamilySearch announced the incorporation of public users, outside the membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The most recent announcement, albeit unofficial, was quoted by The Ancestry Insider in his post on FamilySearch Plans for Attaching Sources to New FamilySearch. I am afraid my response to this announcement was less than enthusiastic. Other that the discussion at RootsTech during the Devotional with Elder Richard G. Scott, there has been little about the program in the Blogs or from FamilySearch itself.

I note that the home page has changed to eliminate a link to What's New. That link has moved to the links available after signing into the program. Also, the link on the home page to the website goes directly to the updated site, leaving the users to find the older site, if they can.

So, where are we with program. First of all, I work with people every week with a broad spectrum of experience and sophistication with both genealogy and computers. New FamilySearch serves its basic function very well. I is a marvelous tool for the new or nearly new genealogist to start recording their information online. In addition, New FamilySearch by and large does what it is supposed to do to allow the members of the LDS Church to submit their family names for Temple ordinance work. The program gets high marks for simplicity, usability and convenience.

There are, of course, limitations in the scope of the present program. One of the avowed goals of the program was to avoid duplication of ordinance submissions. From my perspective, the program has a very limited impact and only mixed success in this regard. There are still people "harvesting" the green arrows and failing to either look for duplicates when the duplicates are obvious. People are also submitting duplicate files and names without checking to see if their submissions are already in the file. So far I haven't seen any reduction in obvious duplicates. However, overall, there may be some impact which is not apparent. I do know of a few people who have mined out the green arrows and have stopped doing duplicate ordinance work.

Is New FamilySearch progressing towards becoming a valuable resource for either storing genealogical information or research into family lines? Again, my personal experience would be that it is neither no better nor no worse than any other online family tree program such as's Family Trees or

Have any of the problems with the database caused by the original duplication of files been resolved? No. Is there yet a workable way for users to correct blatantly inaccurate information? No. Is there a sensible and usable way to source individual events or facts? No. Is there a way to incorporate media items in the database? No.

Will any of these limitations be resolved in the future? Maybe. But for now, it appears that the program will remain in the status quo for some extended period of time. Will I continue to have people complain to me about the inaccurate and incorrect information in the database. Decidedly yes. Is that a problem? Not really. I think the program is mostly doing what it was intended to do and I am purely guessing, but I would think that revamping the program to help out people like me with 10 to 15 generations or more of family lines, is not a very high priority any more.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Reliability of the Cloud? FamilySearch Forums still down

Whether for reasons related to the collapse of the Amazon EC2 or otherwise, the FamilySearch Forums site has now been down for three days. Here is a screen shot showing the status with a link to the Amazon site:

Clicking on the Amazon link shows the following screen:

You can see the two arrows indicate that the hosting site for the Forums is still down as of April 23, 2011.  Although there are reports that the outage was only hours long, it is apparent that after three days the problem persists.

What would I do if my computer were down for three days? Well, the last time my laptop crashed, by that afternoon I had purchased a new laptop. My time and data are way too valuable to me to put up with simple hardware issues. Of course, the issue with Amazon is much more complex than simply replacing a laptop computer but the principle is the same.

I see the problem all of the time. Genealogists with all of their data on one flash drive or only on one computer's hard drive. This might be understandable in terms of economics if either computers or flash drives constituted major purchases in today's market. I didn't spend a couple of hundred dollars buying a new laptop but I could have. The purchase may have made a dent in my Social Security retirement income, if that were the only thing keeping me going. But even for lower income individuals, a new flash drive is the equivalent of meal at a fast food restaurant or less than a month of Netflix. A new computer may take a little more planning but if you cannot afford a $300 laptop then your problems are not confined to backups of your data.

I do not intend to berate or even make light of the fact that many genealogists (and in our society, people in general) find themselves in desperate economic conditions. That is not the point, the point is that for the average person in the U.S. backing up your data is not a major expense, no matter what your economic condition.

Now, back to the issue. Do I want to rely on storing my data online? Not if that is the only thing I am relying on. Storing your data online may give you an illusion of backing up your data, just like using a flash drive or a single hard drive can give the same illusion. As a responsible genealogist and technologist, I cannot recommend any ONE method of backup. I can only recommend using every possible and reasonable method available, ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

Do I use flash drives as backup?  Yes
Do I use multiple hard drives as backup? Yes
Do I use multiple computers as backup? Yes
Do I use the Internet as backup? Yes
Do I use CDs and DVDs for backup? Not any more.

Do I still worry about losing thirty years of research? Yes

This incident with Amazon should not just be shrugged off. I should be a wake up call to all of us to diversify our data storage.

Don't rely on icons and stereotypes in historical research

An article in the latest edition of the Family Tree Magazine called, "Hazards of Histories" by John Philip Colletta got me thinking about some of the historical icons and stereotypes that affect my own area of the world and directly or indirectly the way I perceive history. As the Family Tree Magazine article points out, some of the icons and stereotypes have become so ingrained in our cultural context, we may not even be aware that they are icons and stereotypes.

Some of my grandchildren got an African Safari Camp for a present. When I was young, we got barns and farm animals or perhaps a fort with cowboys and Indians. But going with new world wide awareness, they got this elaborate "toy" camp complete with lions, elephants and a giraffe. Interestingly, they are got a large Saguaro cactus. The Saguaro cactus has become an icon of the West and by analogy anything wild and untamed. There is just one major problem, there are no Saguaro cactus in Africa. In fact, they only grow in the southern part of Arizona, a tiny bit of California and Northern Sonora, Mexico. How may times have you seen movies, pictures, cartoons or whatever, depicting the "desert" and including the iconic Saguaro? As a matter of fact, cactus are native to the Americas and there is only one species of cactus that has somehow migrated to Africa. In essence, there are no cactus in Africa.

Another icon of the West is the tumbleweed. There are even cartoon and movie characters named "Tumbleweed." Guess what? Tumbleweeds are a non-indigenous invasive plant from Russia! The first tumbleweed species, Salsola of the Amaranthaceae family, were likely imported from Asia late in the 19th Century. Wikipedia. Your ancestors in the 1800s would not have ever seen a tumbleweed.

One last example, this one from North America going East. It is extremely common to see Prickly Pear cactus (also called Beaver Tail cactus) in pictures of the Middle East. Opuntia (Prickly Pear and its relatives) are cactus and therefore native to the American continents. All of the cactus in the Middle East are new comers and now, invasive plants.

How does this relate to genealogy? We all come with a set of cultural stereotypes and icons. Things that we just "know" are true about the past. Sometimes it takes a lot of study and reading to break through this screen and haze of preconceived notions and really begin to understand someone who lived a hundred or two hundred or more years ago. Sometimes it is only through knowing your ancestors that you can find them. How did they live? How did they provide for themselves and their families? How did they worship? How did they survive hardship, oppression, disease or other troubles? What did they do for fun or entertainment? When you know the answers to these and hundreds of other questions, you will begin to lose yourself in the past and you will find the past will answer its own questions.

Genealogists talk of brick walls. Many times those brick walls are in our own minds because we don't know the people we are seeking. Can I imagine a Northern Arizona desert without tumbleweeds? or Tamarisk? or Computers? Do I see Saguaro cactus in Monument Valley? Do I see my ancestors doing things that they could not have done and saying things they could not have said? Just as children are not small adults, the past is not just a simplified extension of the present. We need to overcome our fixation on the present to understand and live in the past. Sometimes it is only by living in the past that we can find out what the past has to say to us today.

Friday, April 22, 2011

FamilySearch Forums affected by Amazon Cloud Collapse

To quote a news report from TechCrunch, "Cloud computing is all very well until someone trips over a wire and the whole thing goes dark." Yesterday I noticed an error message when I tried to log into the FamilySearch Forums website. Here is a screen shot of the error message:

At first I thought this might be a local problem with FamilySearch, but after an E-mail to one of the FamilySearch Forum support team, I learned of the greater problem. There has been a major collapse of what is called the Amazon EC2 or Elastic Compute Cloud hosted in Amazon's North Virginia data center. made the following note in an article entitled, Will Amazon EC2 Outage Negatively Affect Attitudes Toward Cloud? Nah: "News analysis: No site on the Internet is sacrosanct or immune from power shutoffs or a major service denial attack. Just make sure you manage your own cloud service closely and provide your own backup."

In the genealogical community, there have been a lot of Blog posts on the subject of "Cloud Computing." The term "cloud computing" is used to refer to transferring computing tasks that were done locally to online services. For example, if you keep your genealogy on your computer using your own program you are not using cloud computing, but it you take the same file and load it onto a website and store you information there either for backup or collaboration, you are participating in cloud computing on a very limited scale. When you rely on network services you are subject to anything that happens to the network from someone crashing their car into your cable connection box, to having a remote server in another part of the world crash for whatever reason. As the author of the E-Week articles says, "You might get shut down [at any time] using the cloud. Just manage it."

So where is your sense of security because you are using or Just remember that online storage is merely another way of backing up your data and is not a panacea for all of the storage problems. It is still necessary for you to use multiple backup methods; CDs, DVDs, hard drives, flash drives and also to put the storage in multiple locations.

More on money and genealogy? How can that happen?

There is still a virtual storm of comments out there in the genealogy Blog community about the subject of money. Well, it does have the ability to hold one's interest on occasion. As one of the commentators to my post yesterday noted, my math may have not been as clear as it could have been. I was estimating rather than adding and dividing.  Sorry about the fuzzy math. But I do have some followup thoughts on the subject. My point is that people only have so much disposable income. As we say from time to time, you can't get blood out of a turnip. People might go into debt for a big screen HD TV but they are probably not going to hock the farm for genealogy.

So, if you are going to make money as a genealogist, you have to have a product or a service and a market for the product or service. No matter what you are selling.

Genealogy is a both a product and a service. There is a market for genealogy products and services or companies like would not exist. Apparently, 1,066,000 people are willing to spend money to find out about their ancestors. See Inc. Reports 17% Subscriber Growth in 2009 Fourth Quarter, January 6, 2010. But what is it that genealogists are selling? I know attorneys that charge over $400 an hour, some a lot more. Do you know any genealogists that are being paid $400 an hour? Wikipedia notes that the range of fees charged by lawyers varies widely from one city to the next. Most large law firms in the United States bill between $200 and $1,000 per hour for their lawyers' time, though fees charged by smaller firms are much lower. Does this sound like genealogists? Why?

How many customers do you think I would have for my genealogical services in Mesa, Arizona or anywhere else in the World, if I were charging $300 an hour? Here is an assessment from the FamilySearch Research Wiki on How Genealogists Are Paid:
Three things affect the rate a genealogist charges:
  • Competence. Rates charged by genealogists vary widely. Genealogists who charge higher rates do not necessarily do better research. Many charge to afford the ongoing training needed to provide better service. Be aware that reputable genealogists should not guarantee to find the specific information you want; it may be missing, destroyed, or otherwise nonexistent.
  • The nature of the work. The complexity of research jobs varies. For example, record search may be less complex than a consultation. Consequently, a record searcher may charge less than a genealogist. Some jobs are more time-consuming than others. For example, if the census taker missed your great-grandfather's house, even the best genealogist would not be able to find his name in the census, but the genealogist would have to search thoroughly to make sure.
  • Market conditions. The area of expertise as well as the physical location of a professional genealogist may affect charges. For example, a researcher specializing in an area that not many researchers are competent in may charge more than researchers whose expertise is relatively common. Similarly, genealogists who are aware of the market rate for their type of work in the area where they lie may adjust their charges accordingly.
 The Wiki article goes on to say rates may be as low as $15.00 per hour but that the "average rate charged by most competent genealogists ranges from $25.00 to $50.00 per hour."

What does this indicate? It shows that you can have a market, you can have a product or service, but to make money you also have to have a perceived value. TV shows like "Who Do You Think You Are" create a false sense of value. Did you see any of the stars of the show ask about how much all this was going to cost? Did they even question what it would cost to log onto The appearance was that all of these people did their "jobs" out of love for genealogy not for money.  Do you thing the genealogists on the TV show were working for $15 per hour?

Let's assume for argument purposes, that I am the most competent genealogical researcher in the entire State of Arizona. Will someone pay me more than $50 an hour (if that is the average) just because I am the most competent? Why not? Who would know and who would care?

The reason why it is unlikely anyone would pay me more than the going rate can be boiled down to sales. Didn't I mention sales before? Well, here it goes. You need a market, you need a product or service, you need competence, but after all that, you need to sell your product or service to the market. The genealogists that are making money from genealogy are not just good genealogists, they are good sales people. They know what it takes to sell their product or service and they are good a doing the selling part. Do you think that the attorneys making $1000 an hour are always better attorneys than those making $200 an hour? No, not always but they are better at sales.

The genealogists who are making money are better at sales than the rest of us who are not.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

When is a source not a source? In New FamilySearch?

Thanks to the Ancestry Insider for going to the Riverton Saturday Seminars to report on a presentation from FamilySearch. Obviously the presentation and the report leave a lot of questions unanswered. To quote the post, "Cross said that even though they will be called sources, they might be understood better as source links. Source links will allow you to create links in Family Tree to sources found on or other websites such as The URL is optional so the system will replace the tree’s existing source system." So I guess the answer to my question in the title to this post is that a source is not a source when it is a link and when that link is apparently optional.

For the past few months I have been waiting to see which direction I will take in building an online family tree. I have tried a few of the different programs and have definitely decided against using a commercial online program for the simple reason that no matter how large they are, I have little faith in their permanence. I also have no faith that my descendants will pay the rental fees. That leaves me with the suggestions made by's Brester Kahle, that the next best choice is a non-profit website run by some sort of foundation. I have been waiting for New FamilySearch to resolve some key features before trying to make any more changes or whatever and work with that program. has the potential to be a superb online resource but it has some fatal flaws. The first fatal flaw is the inability to make corrections or changes to information online submitted by others, even if those who submitted the information are now long dead. There is a limited ability to become a legacy owner of some of the information, but the process only works if you have only one or two dead contributors, not hundreds. The second fatal flaw is the lack of sources. It now looks like that problem will not be solved in the near term and maybe never. I might be wrong, but it doesn't sound like a solution from The Ancestry Insider's comments. Theoretically, there are already sources built into the program, but it is impossible to tell which fact the source belongs to and whether or not what is there is actually a source or merely an acknowledgement that the information was copied from someone else.

The other major issue with New FamilySearch is the amount of duplication and the potential for that duplication to continue. There is an extremely low threshold for submitting information and I am still seeing duplication increase in my immediate family lines. In one instance that I talked about recently, someone or more than one person, added more than 17 generations of duplicate names to the end of my Tanner line.

The source and duplications issues are major.'s Family Trees also have source capability, but sample a few dozen trees and see how many actually have source citations. The answer is almost none. Other online family tree collections, such as or provide for sourcing but have problems with duplication and lack of sources, plus, to put on as much data as I presently have would require an annual fee. I recently received an invitation from an erstwhile family member to join a family tree on The problem was that the invitation cited the common ancestor's information incorrectly. That was not a great incentive to join.

So, contemplating the options, I had determined to wait for New FamilySearch to solve some of the issues. As soon as FamilySearch solved some of the problems, my plan was to go in an work through the information, making corrections and adding source citations. The bonus would be that I might be able to add digitized documents and photographs. It now looks like that the anticipated changes may be a long time in coming or may never come.

A side note. My own genealogical situation, although not unique, is not a major issue with online family tree programs, including New FamilySearch. Almost none of these online programs cater to the advanced genealogist with tens of thousands of names. New FamilySearch is a wonderful program for someone starting out to research their genealogy for the first time. It simply doesn't presently work as a repository for huge databases and perhaps never will.

Meanwhile, I am turning my attention elsewhere. I will continue to support New FamilySearch, and certainly teach and encourage people to use it, but for my information, I am looking at the online family tree wiki programs, such as, as a solution to my online storage.

Money, Money, Money and Genealogy

I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay
Ain't it sad
And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me
That's too bad
In my dreams I have a plan
If I got me a wealthy man
I wouldn't have to work at all, I'd fool around and have a ball

Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man's world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man's world
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
It's a rich man's world

All of the posts lately about making money or spending it on genealogy reminded me of the 1976 ABBA song. The song became a number-one chart hit in Australia, Belgium, France, West Germany, The Netherlands and New Zealand, while reaching the top three in Austria, Great Britain, Ireland, Norway and Switzerland. This was ABBA's fifth consecutive number-one single in Australia. Wikipedia.  The words don't fit the discussion much but, hey, it was a catchy song.

Now, down to business. Just a short time ago I did a post on the demographics of those who read genealogy Blogs and mine in particular. I might note that that demographic group is not known for spending a lot of money. Why do genealogists think they can differentiate their services from any other group in the market place?

Here is an example. Back in the early 90s, I had a Web Design/Graphic Design company. Yes, I was one of the first in my neighborhood to design web pages. We could make money charging people to put up websites. Then, what happened. As the Web matured, everyone got on the bandwagon. I would talk to a potential customer about a website, show some ideas and quote a price. Eventually, I always got the same answer. "Oh, my sixteen year old neighbor knows all about computers and he is doing a site for me." So how does this apply to genealogy?

Have you seen any of the ads on TV for lately? What is the one thing that they are selling? It can be summarized in one word: EASY. They repeat over and over how easy it is to do genealogy. If it is so easy to do genealogy, then why would any sane person pay big bucks to hire me or anyone else to do the work?

In other words, we have been so successful in convincing the public that what we do is easy, we haven't left anything we can charge for. Genealogists are no different than any other service, most of the customers think the product is too expensive. Genealogy is definitely discretionary spending. No one loses weight from not getting enough genealogy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American spends only about 1.8 percent of their income on miscellaneous expenditures. See That comes out to be roughly about $1000 a year or so depending on age. Everything else comes first.

To be a little bit serious, the issue has three components; the spending habits of the demographic group who would even consider genealogical services, the amount of income that group has to spend on a purely discretionary service, and last, the perceived value of that service as depicted in the media.

In order to make money at genealogy you need to produce a product or service that has a perceived value to the customer. Good Luck, you have an uphill battle.

That said, can you make money? Yes, definitely. Look at the list of specialties on the website of the Association of Professional Genealogists and you will get a good idea of how people are doing just that, differentiating their services to produce a perceived value.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Family History Centers' Resources in the Wiki

All 4500 plus Family History Centers around the world are being encouraged to have pages in the FamilySearch Research Wiki. Many of the Centers have unique resources and those resources may be listed on the Centers' pages. For example, the Mesa Regional Family History Center has a section on unique resources and has links to its Obituary search records and Interment records. The Center also has a link to its online collection of digital books. Most of the Centers have their class schedule and other valuable information.

Simply type in the name of Center near you to find in depth information about the facility, staff and equipment available.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How do Genealogy Blogs compare to Mommy Blogs

The discussion in the genealogy Blogging community about "making money from Blogging" brings up an interesting issue. It the genealogical community even large enough for any number of Blogs dedicated solely to genealogy to make money? You will note that I use the word "solely" on purpose. In this case, I am not talking about genealogy Bloggers that use their Blog posts to promote their other activities like lecturing, teaching or selling some kind of product. Of course, a Blog is now a recognized factor in any advertising or promotional campaign, but can you make money writing Blog posts? In the interests of full disclosure,  you can easily note that my Blog is "monetized" to use the Google term. I can tell you that the amount of money, total, that I have earned from Blogging would not pay for two tanks of gas for my truck.

But, the question remains, can genealogists make money at genealogy? Apart from the Blogging world, the answer is a very qualified yes. Unfortunately, the market for genealogists is extremely small. A search on for genealogy showed 43 jobs. Unfortunately, 22 of those job openings were for a start-up Website asking for writers on general instructional topics, not specifically genealogy. Two were for Web designers for the LDS Church. Two were for and seven were from As a comparison, a search under "Law" brought up 1000+ jobs. The Association of Professional Genealogists has about 2000 members world wide. As a comparison, Arizona alone has the Attorney State Bar numbers listed into the 20,000s. I mention these to show that if there is a market for genealogy related services and products, those markets are relatively small.

What about the Blogging sites? How do genealogists stack up to Mommy Blogs? I would guess that Dick Eastman has the most popular individual genealogy Blog. ranks websites on traffic. Today, his Blog ranks #151,616. This is really good considering the database considers over 4 million websites. Genealogy's Star, on the other hand, is ranked #834,610 today. Now, let's go to a typical Mommy Blog. Take for example, this site is ranked #415,515 today. But also consider ranked today at #35,614. If you think any of the genealogy websites are monetized, take a look at No one out there in the genealogy Blogging community even comes close to monetizing their site like the Mommy Blogs.

I mentioned Dick Eastman, what about Tom MacEntee? Tom's Geneabloggers site comes closest to a monetized site. His rank today is #451,689. In this market, the lower the number, the higher the ranking and the more traffic. Advertising on  a website (including Blogs) is all about numbers. So how many people a day visit these sites?

For some of that information we go to ranks Dick Eastman's Newsletter at #38,947 in the U.S. and shows about 4.5K people a day. Actually, pretty good. Geneabloggers ranks #326,153 and shows about 3.7K per month (not day).  What about has at #47,456 with about 34.1K per month. Next, back to Her traffic is "hidden by owner" but is estimated at 47.5K per month. Back to the baseline, Genealogy's Star (and Walking Arizona) is ranked #412,463 and has about 3.2K people per month.

But here is the real difference, the number of Mommy Blogs is estimated at close to 4 million! I just chose two at random, but what about the really popular ones? Take a look at has this site at #20,217. By the way, there is a huge difference in traffic as your ranking increases towards the top ranks. To give you an idea, is ranked at #980 today, is at #3,994 and is ranked at #9,091. So, you talk all you want about making money, the real issue is traffic. Can you get the numbers up to a level where advertising on your site will actually be attractive to someone selling a product?

Theoretically, there should be a market. If can attract the numbers, then why not a genealogy Blog? But you have to recognize that genealogy is a far smaller and less online area than many, many others.

A Few Thoughts on the Radical Shift in Information Technology and how it Affects Genealogy Blogs

It seems like every so often, the genealogy Blogging community has to wake up and shake itself to realize that it is actually there. Joan Miller's Luxegen Genealogy Blog entitled, "Genea-Bodies: The New Somebodies" along with a post by Kerry Scott in the Clue Wagon Blog, "In Which We (Finally) Discuss Taboo Stuff" and her citations to many other Blog posts are all discussing essentially the same issue; the radical shift in the nature of information technology away from the more traditional and established structure and into the online instant information world. I have written about this topic several times, but other posts by Geniaus including Genea-Bodies and "Who reads all these genealogy blogs anyway?" also brought up similar subjects. There were also several more comments and posts on similar subjects including Genealogy Blogging - For Fun or Profit by Thomas MacEntee and comments by Randy Seaver also on the same topic in Genealogy Blogging - for Fun or Profit? Although it appears to be a different issue, making money as opposed to recognition, the issues are the same.

You can look at history from many different angles including examining the material culture or documenting the history of ideas. Older civilizations before written records, are known primarily by the remains left of their physical material cultural artifacts, including their buildings, leaving us to guess at the underlying meaning of those artifacts. On the other hand, the before writing, the cultures' language, religious beliefs, social structure and philosophy all have to be reconstructed from evidence in the physical remains. Without writing, history is mostly theory, supposition and guesswork.

Genealogy definitely falls heavily on the side of a cultural artifact that can only be investigated through written records. Since there are few of us left who live with an oral tradition, almost everything about our ancestors'  past must be written to be preserved. Investigation of those records has always been the purview of those with the means and/or the time to travel to where the records were kept. In a sense, the information contained in the written records was locked up and accessible only to a very few. This was not an unique or even unusual circumstance. All information was, and until recently continues to be, controlled by a relatively small number of individuals who by education, politics or economic conditions were in a position to have access. Those individuals who had that position could literally "sell" that information to those who did not have access.

For example, newspaper publishers traded their information for your money. Governments maintained control and dominance by their "ownership" of the means of communication. Probably one of the most dramatic examples of this principle was the martyrdom of John Wycliffe, who was killed because he presumed to give the Bible to the masses. The cry of his opponents was, "The jewel of the clergy has become the toy of the laity." Even in our present day, there are those organizations, be they commercial, political or religious, who claim ownership to information and who wish to profit from its sale and/or transmission.

So what is the Information Revolution? Why is Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, a true revolutionary when he espouses the idea that all information should be freely available to everyone? Simply put, that idea stands in opposition to the entire history of the management and control of information by the few for their own profit and benefit. The Internet/World Wide Web has put the means of creating, publishing and disseminating information into the hands of anyone who cares to participate. There are still those who control the "media" but their control is tenuous and based more on inertia than reality. In the genealogy Blogging world, any one of us can aspire to prominence. Nothing prevents someone from starting a Blog today that will become the dominant Blogging force in the future. Can we profit from our efforts? That is can we make money from Blogging? That issue moves outside of the world of genealogy. The real question there is numbers. Can genealogy, itself, generate the numbers necessary on the Web to make money from the Web? I will examine that issue in another post.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A mystery revisited -- Who was Ralph Carum Tanner?

Apparently, every year about this time I get back to the mystery of Ralph Carum Tanner. Today's episode of this ongoing saga begins with a look at the Family Tree Maker's suggestions from's Family Trees for the family of my Great-grand Father, the highly inaccurately documented, Henry Martin Tanner. A year ago, I noted that the elusive Ralph is chronicled in that most reliable of sources, the Ancestral File and thereby carried over into  In case you don't want to go back to my post of April 21, 2010, Ralph is shown as born in 1904, when Henry, his listed father was 52 years old and Eliza, his wife was 57 years old. Actually, the last child born to Eliza and Henry was Donnette Tanner in 1899. New FamilySearch show three more children; a Mary Tanner born in 1901, the elusive Ralph Carum Tanner born in 1904, and Paul Moroni Tanner born in 1906. None of the three show up in the Arizona Genealogy Birth and Death Certificates. But so much has changed since last year, maybe they have suddenly appeared in some record.

This year he shows up in The Sprague Project, as dead with a date unknown, but as a child of Henry Martin Tanner and Eliza Ellen Parkinson. This source has the cryptic note, "At least one living individual is linked to this note - Details withheld." A Google search shows only The Sprague Project citation and my own blog posts. Outside of Family Trees, New FamilySearch and the Ancestral File, there doesn't seem to be even on other reference to this individual on the Web. 

What about all the millions of records in both and I draw a complete blank in on Ralph and Paul. There are too many Marys to make a decision. I strike out again in So far I have still been unable to find even one record referring to Ralph Carum Tanner, other than the original Ancestral File record, now in However, he has manged to spread to dozens (perhaps hundreds) of family group records for the Henry Martin Tanner family by virtue of his inclusion in that record. One commentator last year called this an "incestuous narrative," one in which a number of people have fed off of one source generally without inquiring as to whether or not that source is substantiated.

But that leaves the mystery, where did this rather unique name come from? I not only do not find a "Ralph Carum Tanner" in a Google search, but I also do not find "Carum Tanner." In fact, "Carum" is a genus of the Apiaceae family and includes plants like caraway. There are about 120,000 results for Carum, which is understandable if it is a plant. The word "carum" also appears in some languages, like Latin. It is also a name in India. None of these uses of the word seem to be compatible with someone born in a very small town in Arizona in 1904. 

So we have any number of alternatives:

1. There really was a baby born in 1904 to Henry and Eliza named Ralph Carum Tanner.
2. The person with the name is misplaced and there is someone else with that name who was not a child of Henry and Eliza.
3. The name is made up entirely and the person does not exist.
4. The name is a misspelling of some other name. 

Since there is absolutely no evidence of a later born child to Henry and Eliza, it would seem that the possibility of the first option is remote. But which of the other options (or something else altogether) is the real possibilty?

The point of this post is that entering information about individuals into databases, without giving any source information creates the type of problem set forth above. Even if the person is legitimately included in a family, without documentation, there will always be a question as to the validity of the information.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Using a flash drive for genealogical research -- Part Two

In Part One of this series, I discussed some of the common problems people have with the file structure of computer operating systems. This is the heart of any of the issues in using a flash drive to transport files for research or for backing up files to a flash drive. In this post, I will cover some of the problems people encounter when they try to move files back and forth between a flash drive (or other external device for that matter) and their main computer.

One of the first problems, and the most serious, is losing track of which file is your latest working file. I commonly find people with multiple genealogy files on their hard drive and on their flash drive with no idea which of all of the files are the latest. Frequently, they have added data to all of the files independently and so the files are partial duplicates of each other. In the worst cases, they have lost data by overwriting a newer file with one that is older.

To summarize what I said in the first post, you begin to get control of this duplication problem when you start naming files in a way to tell which one is the last file you worked on. Central to this idea, is the concept of renaming a file with the current date, each time you work on a file or otherwise segregating the working file in way that tells you that you are looking at the file you last worked on.

To partially solve this problem, I suggest two things. Locate and look at each file on your hard drive. Many of the current genealogy programs have a way to search for all of the data files on your hard drive. Once the program has found the files, then note the names of the files. Write them down if you need to do so. Then physically locate every file on your hard drive. Create a folder on your desktop and move all of the files to one folder.  There is one caution, if your computer program requires a file to be in a certain location, then you must leave it there. You will know this when you try to open the program and it says that the file cannot be found. In a good genealogy program, the program will allow you search for the program or will ask you if you already know where the program is located. I do not like programs that will not allow you to put your data files where ever you wish to put them.

If you have a situation where you have multiple files and do not know which is the latest one, you can use some of the current genealogy programs to solve that problem. Both RootsMagic and Legacy Family Tree allow you to physically compare two files side by side in the program for differences. The FamilyInsight utility for Personal Ancestral File can do the same thing. If you can't figure this out, then you need to ask someone for help in sorting out your files.

Assuming you can finally sort out the latest files and/or consolidate the files. I strongly suggest you keep all of your files in one file folder. I prefer the desktop for this master file, but you can put it anywhere you want so long as you can easily find it again.

Microsoft Windows uses a default location for its data files in a folder called My Documents. The only problem with this is that the My Documents folder can be buried deep in the file structure. Also, many programs create an identically labeled file called "My Documents." If you do a search on your computer, you are likely to find a number of My Documents files. You can certainly use the My Documents file folder to store your files, as long as you know where it is located.

Moving on, once you know what files you are working with, you have to identify each one in a unique way which preferably includes a date the file was last used.

Next, rotating the files so that you always have a true backup and a current working file.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Welcome to the Genealogy Grand Prix

Announcer:  We would like to welcome all you folks out there to today's tenth running of the Genealogy Grand Prix. We are sitting here in the press box in beautiful downtown Dolan Springs, Arizona home of the Grand Prix. This has been an exciting day, watching the contestants come from all over the world to try to win the coveted Johannesen Cup. The Cup has been on display for the past week, at the Circle K out on the highway. We are proud to welcome our first Grand Prix Official Bloggers, this year they have come from as far away as Kingman to attend this prestigious event.

Commentator: Yes, Bob, this is truly an impressive sight. This tenth year we have contestants from all over world who come to compete. We believe that the Chinese team will have the best chance at taking the cup this year, their records are really impressive going back almost a thousand years, but there is the outside chance they could be beaten by the team from England, we understand they have linked Aake Akselinpoika, Lord of Göksholm, baron of Iijoki definitely to his father, Axel Johansson, Lord of Göksholm. That Johansson name has to be able to go a lot further.

Announcer: Yes, Greg, but don't count out the Swedish Team. They have new uniforms this year and every one of them is carry an iPad 2. That could give them the edge in this tight competition. They have a lead on the descendants of Margaretha Axelsdotter Natt Och Dag and that could tip the Judges in their favor. By the way, this year's Grand Prix is sponsored by the Dolan Springs Genealogy Club. They were able to move the shuffleboard tournament just in time to schedule this year's Grand Prix.

Commentator: Don't sell short the home court advantage. Last year, when the Grand Prix was held in Whangarei, the New Zealand team pulled off an upset by extending their line back to Aitu-whakatika in the Second Century.

Announcer: How could I ever forget that impressive win. We would also like to thank Ralph's Auto Service for sponsoring this year's Porta Johns. Well, Bob, it looks like the contestants are starting to arrive. We also need to thank this year's team from Provo, Utah. They were able to round up enough AT&T iPhones to give us WiFi connections for the competition and thanks to Harvey's Pretty Good Pizza, we will actually have some food at this year's event.

Commentator: Back to the Chinese Team. I was just handed a Press Release, looks like this one is dated August 8, 2000 announcing the English version of their website. Wait, before you start to count the Chinese advantage, it looks like that site went off the Web, but they still have the Chinese Surnames site on RootsWeb.

Announcer: And don't forget the Chinese Roots Wiki, that could always tip the scale. Let's get back to that impressive Swedish Team. Do you think those iPad 2s will make the difference Bob? Unless there is a loss of power in the closest Cell Phone tower, they will certainly have a distinct advantage. But don't rule out an upset. The Luxembourg team may take the lead since they finally have records on

Commentator: That's true Greg. But remember that last year their star competitor was disqualified for using an Android phone. That was deemed an unfair advantage. Right now, we need to announce that the competition will be suspended for an hour this evening to allow all our visitors and contestants to watch the latest episode of Who Do You Think You Are.

Announcer: Well, we hate to disappoint all those who have traveled here from Las Vegas to see this event, but it looks like our satellite reception went south and we will miss that show.

BZZZ -- CClick  [Sorry for the interruption, but it looks like I have lost contact with the Grand Prix. I'll let you know if I can get my system to come up again meanwhile you can always to to NBC and watch re-runs of Who Do You Think You Are].

Using a flash drive for genealogical research -- Part One

The file system of a computer operating system is one of the most difficult things for many people to understand. Genealogists are no different than others in their lack of understanding. Files, folders, partitions and drive designations are a huge mystery. When you add in using an external device, like a flash drive, then things seem to get even more complicated. The graphical user interface (GUI) was developed to be an intuitive method for managing files and documents on a computer. But current operating systems and file structures are extremely complex both in the PC world and on Macintosh computers. This is especially true if you happen to be running both operating systems on the same computer. Add in the fact that there are now dozens of different versions of each of the operating systems going back only a few years, and you have a recipe for disaster.

I frequently find genealogists who have multiple data files all over their computers and have no idea which of them is the most current file. Other users are so concerned about having a "clean" desktop that they file away documents, or even throw them in the trash, and can never find the information again. All of this happens even though the operating systems will tell you, almost always, exactly where on your computer any given file is stored.

As a side note, if I were to choose one feature, above all others, that works better on the Macintosh operating systems than on Microsoft based Windows systems, I would choose the Finder. On my Mac, I can click on the desktop and hit Command-F and in seconds I can find almost any file on my computer. Not only is the Windows find function slow, it seldom finds what you are looking for, even when you know the exact name of the file.

So how do you keep from losing files and how can you make sure you are using the most current version of your genealogical data file? Don't worry, all this is leading up to using a flash drive.

First, you need to be careful in the way you name files. If you are going to use a file on both your computer and carry it around on a flash drive to use on other computers in a remote location, then the name of the file must have some identifying information. Use a name that makes sense. Routinely, naming a file "my genealogy" may seem to make sense to you, but what happens when you have five files with the same name? At the same time, don't use overly long file names so that the name will be cut off in a file listing. I suggest names that tell the subject matter of the file, such as Tanner genealogy, and then include the date the file was created, such as "Tanner genealogy 041411."

Next, store the file in an obvious location, like right out on the desktop. Almost all genealogy programs have a way to designate where the data files will be stored. For example, in the old Personal Ancestral File (PAF) program, there is a "Tools" menu item that has a pull-down menu with a Preferences selection. One of the Preferences is "Folders." This selection lets you choose where your files are stored. You can designate a folder or where ever you choose. Allowing the programs to make this choice without intervention, will result in data files all over the computer's operating system. Every program will use a different location. In PAF, the buttons on the Folders selection page take you to the operating systems file selections and you can designate where a file will be stored.  For the record, Ancestral Quest, Legacy Family Tree, Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic all allow you to designate the location for your data files.

There are, however, some programs that are a problem in this regard. They require that their data files be stored in a particular location and attempts to store them elsewhere will result in lost files or error messages from the program. If this is the case, you either have to get more sophisticated about using your programs and learning where the files are stored, or you need a new program.

If you don't like to have your files naked out there on the desktop and feel compelled to hide them away, create one folder on the desktop for all your data files. I usually have one file, easily identified, where all of the data files from all of my programs, are stored. I mean all of my programs, not just the genealogy programs. Having all of my data files in one folder simplifies making a backup, I just have one folder to backup. But I will get to that in another post.

Once you have control of naming and locating your files, using a flash drive becomes much less intimidating. In my next installment, I will talk about some relatively simple procedures for using the flash drive, not only to backup files, but to work with them at a remote location.

By the way, if you want to read more of my posts, please check out

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

FamilySearch Forums has facelift

FamilySearch Forums has a new look and more integration into the family of websites. The new URL is One of the changes involves incorporating the consolidated sign-in procedure for the site making it compatible with the other FamilySearch and LDS websites. You can now login with either your LDS Account or your FamilySearch account. The transition is designed to allow you to merge your old sign-in account with the new one, thereby preserving your history of posts. One benefit of the change over is that you no longer have to sign in separately for the Forums site.

Hopefully, this step towards greater integration of the site with the rest of the websites will result in a higher profile for Forums. Here is a screen shot of the Forums startup page:

You can see that the program is still called FamilySearch Forums (beta), but it has a new look. Of course, if you haven't visited the site before, you won't know that it has changed. Even though the URL has changed the old link still works. Currently, although the site is linked to, it is literally buried in the FamilySearch Research Wiki. The only link is under the Community link which comes up closed. Although some of the users of are becoming acquainted with the Research Wiki, it is unlikely that many have made their way to the Forums unless they randomly click on links to see what happens. Even if you are lucky enough to find the link, clicking takes you to the Wiki Sub-forums as shown in the following screen shot:

From there, you have to know that the rest of the Forums exist and click on the link in the upper left-hand corner.

The Forums are divided into two main areas: FamilySearch Support and Research Advice. The site presently has 1,719 active members with 12,200 total members. It could be a valuable tool for all of the users of the FamilySearch websites, but hidden, like it is, it will have a low profile. There has been some discussion about raising the site's prominence but apparently those steps have yet to be taken.

Even though there is a facelift, it appears that the site maintains its functionality. When I logged in this morning responsiveness of the site seemed to be way slow but that could have been my connection.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Google Views enabled for Genealogy's Star

Google's Blogger has added a views feature that provides five dynamic templates that transform blogs into interactive apps. Just add /view to the URL of a blog that offers full feeds (for example: and you'll be able to try the new views: flipcard, mosaic, sidebar, snapshot and timeline. Blogger's templates offer features like infinite scrolling, progressive image loading, smart search, filtering posts by date, author or label. "These new views use the latest in web technology, including AJAX, HTML5 and CSS3," explains Google.

This feature is now enabled in Genealogy's Star. You might like it or not. I think it works best for photo sites, but that is just my opinion. 

Read genealogy books online -- a survey of sources

The world-wide digitizing projects have created a super-fast growing phenomenon, reading books online. I am just now finishing my first complete genealogy book online from Google Books. I have been reading Jacobus, Donald Lines. Genealogy As Pastime and Profession. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co, 1968. I believe I have mentioned before that I could not find the physical book for sale online. I went so far as to actually purchase a copy for sale, only to be notified that the order was cancelled. I suppose I could have tried harder to buy the book, but then I discovered I could buy the eBook for $5.51, quite a bit less than the physical book. I downloaded the book and have been reading it on my iPhone in off moments.

When I said that this was the first genealogy book I had read in eBook format, I meant the first genealogy book from cover to cover (if you can still say that with eBooks). I have read dozens, probably not yet a hundred books on my iPhone and its predecessors. So how does this impact genealogy? Well, for example, I did a search on Google eBooks only for genealogy and got 467,000 results. Try looking at your local library's offering for books on genealogy and see how that compares. Most of these books were on sale, that is, you would have to pay for the eBook copy. If you have a Google account all you have to do is log in to Google Books and open the "My Account" link to get started. But how many of these books were free? I did a search on Free Google eBooks for genealogy and got 330,000. That should keep anyone busy for a few days.

Now how are you going to read these books? I hear a lot of people say how they can't stand to read books online (I think they are some of the same people who are glued to Facebook and play video games) but I think that is a lame excuse. More and more people are reading online; news, weather, sports, everything. Why not books? They will sit and stare at a TV screen for a U.S. average of over 6 hours, but can't stand to read online?  See Television and Health. In addition, we now have a huge number of book readers out there, iPads, Kindles, Nooks and many smart phones. Some of which can be used to read the online books.

OK, so Google Books has a huge collection, where else can I go to get books online? How about your local library? I recently signed up to check out books from the Mesa Public Library. Our library uses Adobe Digital Editions, a program for downloading books from the library to read on my computer. The Mesa library has NetLibrary and the Greater Phoenix Digital Library. I got about 150 returns from a search on "genealogy" and most were pretty disappointing. But there this area of online library books is rapidly expanding both in scope and numbers of books. You might try some of the larger libraries in the country, such as the New York Public Library. Oh, and don't forget the Library of Congress.

Where else can I go to look for books? Well, there is always They have over a billion entries and for most books they show if a digital edition is available online. Some of the major sources of digital books are the Hathi Trust Digital Library which has 8,433,026 volumes with about 2,204,780 in the public domain. Project Gutenberg with about 100,000 or so free books online is a good source of older books. There is, of course, the Internet Archive with over 2,754,000 books.  In conjunction with the Internet Archive, there is the Open Library which lists over 20,000,000 books in its catalog presently and has provided access to over 1.7 million scanned versions of books. There is also the Family History Archive with over 34,000 genealogy books. You might want to look at kobo also.

In addition, nearly every university has some sort of collection of digitized books.  For example, Arizona State University has a number of online collections of eBooks. You can probably visit the websites of nearly every library in the U.S. and many other around the world and find millions of additional eBooks. Some of these resources will only be available to students and faculty of the university, but others are available to the public. Also, check out Cornell University's digital collections.

Of course, there is Europeana, the huge collection of digitized material from 1500 different institutions in Europe. 

Oh, and don't forget to do a search on line for "digitized books," "digitized genealogy books," and so forth.

Oh, and don't forget to come back with color in your cheeks. Green.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

How much genealogy can you stand? Part Seven on the limits of genealogy

Genealogy is a goal oriented activity. In some ways it is similar to a collectibles hobby such as stamps, coins, figurines and others. There is a finite number of items and variations and at some point you can consider your collection to be complete. For example, I can collect all of the First Day Covers of all of the U.S. Commemorative Stamps in existence. Although, in one sense, my collection may never be considered complete because of the variations in the stamps and the different publishers of first day covers. In genealogy, we are collecting names and information about people and for that reason alone, no genealogy can ever be considered complete. During the last few posts I have explored some of the issues with limits in genealogy. There are limits related to location as well as limits imposed by the passage of time.

If you were sailing across the ocean in a very small ship, like the Mayflower for example, you could almost believe that the trip would never end. But if you kept sailing on a particular bearing, you would always strike land, you might die first, but the trip was never endless. Genealogy is like a trip across the ocean. If you keep following a particular line, you will always reach a limit. It may be a lack of records at a certain place and time, or one of the many more difficult issues imposed by antiquity. You can always come forward from any given ancestor and in that sense the search never ends, but at some point you need to acknowledge that you have done what practically can be done to move back into the past.

Mortality itself provides the ultimate limit to our search. Many of us look forward to the time when we can mingle with our ancestors and ask all the hard questions that never got answered. But until that time comes, we just keep looking and hoping the next round of technological change will open the doors that have been closed to us for so long.

I literally can't believe it. I am in the middle of writing about the topic of limits and I have a member of a class I am teaching start to tell me about tracing her ancestors back to 800 AD. It reminds me of the time that I got tired of filling in the blanks in my stamp album and went out and purchased a set of all the U.S. Commemoratives in one fell swoop. Copying a long pedigree may be satisfying on one level but it begs the issue of limits. All it really does is move the limit to a different place and time and destroys the fun of collecting.

The whole premise of having certified or accredited genealogists assumes that competency in a given area or with a certain set of qualifications defines what it means to be a genealogist. I can claim to be more qualified than you are by virtue of the fact that I accomplished a certain arbitrary set of tasks imposed by the accrediting board. Accreditation is merely another way of looking at limits. In this case the limits are imposed by those who say you cannot play our game unless you follow our rules and by the way, we are the only valid game. In Arizona, you have certain legal rights if you are a licensed contractor. If you try to work as an unlicensed contractor and someone fails to pay your bill, in some cases, you cannot use the court system to collect the debt. Licensing and accreditation both impose very severe limits on their respective professions. Both imply that real work, whether it is contracting or genealogy, can only be done by the "professional" and that anyone else in intruding on the real work.

No where is this attitude more prevalent than with the "professions." Most of the states in the U.S. have so-called unauthorized practice statutes, some make it a criminal act to practice certain professions without a license. Arizona doesn't have an unauthorized practice of law statue, but none the less there is always a running battle going on between the Arizona State Bar Association and those individuals who try to "practice law." Many years ago I represented a client who was in jail. His crime? Operating a moving business without a license. Yes, he had a truck and the temerity to try to help people to move without being licensed.  To some extent, all professional organizations would like to be in that position. They would all like to impose limits to benefit their members and make membership more valuable.

Now, don't start sending me angry comments about how necessary it is to have professional organizations. I support professionalism, but still you have to recognize that in some cases, genealogical professional organizations impose limits.

I know that some would argue that limits are necessary and even beneficial. I suggest that unless we recognize the reality of limits, we cannot ever attain any degree of competency. Genealogy itself imposes its own limits on what we can and cannot do with our time. There are many who choose shuffleboard, cards, fishing, sports, or whatever instead of genealogy. Making those choices is a matter of limits. It is unlikely that you will be become a world class bass fisherman and still have time to be a genealogist. It might be done, but only by moving the limit on to some other area of interest.

Too many times, I have heard people say that they always wanted to investigate their family but had some excuse. Too old, too young, too many children at home, too much work, too little work, too many obligations, on and on and on. All of them are expressing limits.

Next time, looking at real vs. unreal limits.  Yep, this series is going on.