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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Is there an ultrathin in your future?

Asus' UX21 will be one of the first Ultrabooks to appear later this year.
(Credit: Asus)

Given the popularity of the Apple iPads and other tablet devices, it is inevitable that the computer industry will try to take advantage of the trend and produce lighter, more powerful and yes, thinner devices. Some of you may have been following the development of the Apple MacBook Air, a really light and thin laptop computer. Now, Intel is setting some standards for ultra-thin computers. The thickness cut-off for these devices will be 20 millimeters or about 0.8 inches. In an article in The Washington Post/Bloomberg News, an Intel executive is quoted as saying that the new computers will have days of battery life on standby, start up in just seconds and retail for less than $1,000, all with a size and weight advantage.

One of the limitations of these devices has been the lack of connectivity. There just isn't a lot of space for connectors. That problem is being rapidly marginalized with WiFi and Bluetooth. Now you can print directly to a Bluetooth printer without a physical wire attached to a computer. (As an aside, you can print to most new HP Printers with an iPad using Bluetooth). With WiFi, you can backup to an external hard drive, also without have a physical wire connection of any type. It also used to be important to have a CD/DVD player for movies and such. The days of using DVDs are also numbered, think Netflix. Apple is about to announce a new service it is calling iCloud. So the movement to non-physical connections will continue unabated.

Another problem of the ultralights has been computing power, however Intel has developed its new Sandy Bridge  chips to run the next generation of laptops. Quoting from the Washington Post article, "Intel, based in Santa Clara, California, expects to have 35 tablets based on its chips on sale by the end of the year. It will demonstrate 10 of them during Maloney’s speech, which happens today at the Computex industry show in Taiwan." The fastest of the new chips, the Core i7 and the Core i7 Extreme will reportedly be the basis for the new ultralight computers.

Would I buy another new computer? Will the sun come up in the east tomorrow? Would I buy an ultralight? Good question. We have been using an iPad for some time now and recently purchased a combination protective case and keyboard. The Bluetooth keyboard, although a little smaller than normal, is quite usable and really extends the usefulness of the iPad. It is a lot more convenient than the Apple keyboard for the iPad. But is the iPad a full blown computer? Yes and no. I will have to see what comes with the new light weight computers. I was not persuaded to purchase a MacBook Air over a MacBook Pro for a number of reasons, including connectors. But the world is changing and ultralights might be in my and your future.

An extensive comment on New FamilySearch

My daughter Amy is a world class blogger. Her blog, is a model of genealogical and historical methodology. Here is a comment she made to my last blog post, which I thought was important enough to emphasize by reproducing here. Quoting from Amy:
It might help people to step back and think about why the Church puts so much effort into family history and genealogy work. Some of the basic doctrines and beliefs of the church involve doing proxy ordinances for departed ancestors. The New Testament says, for example, "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?"

Members of the Church have a responsibility to do proxy baptisms and other ordinances in their many beautiful temples. Genealogists, particularly those who have spent time in Salt Lake City, may have seen the Salt Lake Temple and may have taken a tour of the adjacent Visitors Centers and had the purposes of temples explained to them.

The Church has used various systems to organize the proxy work of the temples. Previously, there was a computerized system called Temple Ready. It was complicated and hard to use. Now, the church has (NFS) which allows members of the church to enter the names of their ancestors, check if the temple work has already been done for them, and submit names to the temples to have the work done.

Besides facilitating the temple work, NFS is also a major source of genealogical information. I use NFS regularly in a project involving the immigration of German members of the Church into Brooklyn, New York, and Utah during the period between World War I and World War II. I can use immigration records elsewhere (usually on Ancestry) to track down the dates of immigration, and I can use NFS to track down the dates when the immigrants joined the Church in Germany.

As has been mentioned in the original post and other posts here and elsewhere, NFS is currently in a developmental stage. There are numerous glitches to be worked out. For instance, all data is currently treated equally and any user can choose which names, dates, and places show up in the main page for any given person, regardless of the user's familiarity with the family lines and actual data on the ancestor.

So, it may sound condescending (although I hope it doesn't!), but if you remember the purpose of NFS, and realize that many technical glitches and conceptual details have been worked out over the past few years and many more are currently being worked out, it may not be quite so frustrating to not yet have access to the program, particularly since you can usually find the very same genealogical information in FamilySearch, Ancestry, and RootsWeb.
Thanks to Amy for a very concise and insightful analysis and commentary. 

Monday, May 30, 2011 is NOT New FamilySearch!!!

Let's get some definitions down. OK here we go.

FamilySearch is a trademark of Intellectual Reserve, Inc. Intellectual Reserve, Inc (abbreviated IRI) is a non-profit corporation based in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. It is separate from, but wholly owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It holds the church's intellectual property, including copyrights, and trademarks. See Wikipedia and the sources listed there.

FamilySearch International Inc. is a non-profit Utah corporation, wholly owned and run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. FamilySearch was historically known as the Genealogical Society of Utah. FamilySearch is also the present tradename of the Genealogical Society of Utah, Inc. an Utah corporation. See also Genealogical Society of Utah.

 FamilySearch (the entity) is the largest genealogy organization in the world. FamilySearch consists of a collection of records, resources, and services designed to help people learn more about their family history. FamilySearch gathers, preserves, and shares genealogical records worldwide. FamilySearch offers free access to its resources and service online at, one of the most heavily used genealogy sites on the Internet. In addition, FamilySearch offers personal assistance at more than 4,500 Family History Centers in 70 countries, including the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Wikipedia.

I fully understand anyone's confusion at this point. I guess the best way to put it is that FamilySearch is the organization and the name "FamilySearch" is both a trademark and a tradename.

Now, FamilySearch (any time I mention FamilySearch without further qualification, I mean the organization, corporation) has a chief executive officer, officers, directors (I assume) and employees.

FamilySearch does lots of things. Here is a list of some of them:
  • The Granite Vault genealogical storage in Little Cottonwood Canyon outside of Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • The microfilm/digitizing of records projects going on all over the world.
  • Several large websites on the Internet.
The main website is This site is entirely free and open to the public. It contains millions of digitized records, the FamilySearch Research Wiki, the FamilySearch Indexing program, the FamilySearch Forums, FamilySearch TechTips, the Family History Library catalog, scanned books and lots, lots more.

Most of the FamilySearch websites are presently integrated into or shortly will be.

There is also a website called "New FamilySearch" See This site is a huge family tree program. It is also completely free, but is still under development and access to the program has been limited all during its development. At first, the program was limited to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in certain geographic areas. It was very slowly released to additional areas until recently it was available to all of the members of the Church throughout the world. Now the same thing is happening with the release to those who are not members of the Church. It is being released in stages. During this protracted release, there have been several delays as the program had to be altered for different reasons. It presently has a substantial challenge because of the data that was included originally in the program.  Just take my word for it, New FamilySearch still has need of substantial changes (or not, depending on your viewpoint).

Please feel free to go to and explore to your heart's content. It is a fabulous resource and getting better everyday. Meanwhile do not feel left out of New FamilySearch, even members of the Church, who have complete access to the program, don't know what it is or what it will become.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A very disturbing comment

I got a very disturbing comment from a reader to my last post. My last post outlined recent changes and statistics to the FamilySearch websites. The reader said essentially that none of the comments on FamilySearch meant anything because he was not a member of the Church and did not have access to the program. Under no circumstances am I trying to be exclusive of anyone on this Blog. I have to admit, I have commented extensively on New FamilySearch, however, the program is rapidly (in the computer developers sense) becoming available to the general public and I wrote most of my commentaries for that very reason. That is feedback to FamilySearch and the present users of the program.

However, I am saddened if someone thinks that New FamilySearch should be ignored until it is generally available to the public. All of the FamilySearch websites except New FamilySearch are available to everyone free and with no "you will have to pay later" to get all of the functions and features. The family of websites is already a potent force in doing online research in genealogy. Look at how much there is available, not the one program that is still in Beta and not fully available. New FamilySearch and and the other sites are not the same thing at all despite the confusion from the names. The statistics I gave did not pertain at all to New FamilySearch. This misunderstanding is tragic.

The New FamilySearch program will become a monumentally important database once it is fully functional. This will happen in spite of any perceived flaws in the data. As has been pointed out many times, even bad data is sometimes better than no data, even if some haystacks don't even have a needle. Right now, I wouldn't spend too much time wringing my hands over the fact that I did not have access to New FamilySearch.

Where are we with FamilySearch?

Let me start off with some observations and statistics both good and bad:
  • The Historical Record Collections now have 633 collections with untold millions (if not billions) of records. Nine were added on 27 May 2011 alone, with millions more being added almost every work day of the week.
  • As of 29 May 2011, there are 58,768 articles in the FamilySearch Research Wiki with about a thousand more being added each week.
  • FamilySearch added a huge collection of United States Civil War Records which includes links to FamilySearch Research Wiki articles and Research Courses.
  • The number of Research Courses was increased to over 140 online courses with new courses being added regularly.
  • Information on FamilySearch centers is being added daily to the Research Wiki, with the goal to include all of them from around the world. 
  • The entire set of websites is being continually more integrated and works better than ever.
  • As a negative, the BYU Family History Archives seems stuck on 17,777 items and there is no sign that new items have been or will be added even though scanning continues.
  • FamilySearch Indexing was down and offline for a few days, but seems to be back and running, with millions of records being indexed each month.
  • hasn't been officially updated since February, 2011, but access has been given to a limited number of people outside of Church membership.
  • You can now do a search on the updated website for IGI Batch numbers.
  • was updated and new categories added for the Wiki. Unfortunately, it is still stuck in obscurity.
You can see from this list that the FamilySearch folks have had their hands full. The combination of the Research Wiki, the Historical Record Collections, the Forums, the Research Courses and Family History Library Catalog make this the most valuable genealogical resource in existence.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Wikitext and HTML

Hypertext is one of the underlying concepts that defines the structure of the World Wide Web. It is the main reason the Web is easy to use and can share information in a flexible format. Hypetext is defined as "text displayed on a computer or other electronic device with references (hyperlinks) to other text that the reader can immediately access, usually by a mouse click or keypress sequence. Apart from running text, hypertext may contain tables, images and other presentational devices. See Wikipedia.

You are using hypertext as you read this Blog post. All of the Bloggers are using a modified form of hypertext to write their posts and link to other websites. If you are using Blogger as your blog host, then you will always see a selection for Edit HTML as a choice when editing your posts. Clicking on that selection, puts your post into a modified form of HTML that can be edited directly in the Blogger editing box. Obviously, it is not necessary to learn HTML to write a blog. But learning a little bit about HTML and thereby learning about hypertext is a useful tool to extend the capabilities of your blog posts.

Wikitext language or wiki markup is "a lightweight markup language used to write pages in wiki websites, such as Wikipedia, and is a simplified alternative/intermediate to HTML. Its ultimate purpose is to be converted by wiki software into HTML, which in turn is served to web browsers." See Wikipedia. Since the FamilySearch Research Wiki is a derivative of MediaWiki, nearly all of the commands and features of wikis such as Wikipedia, are implemented in the Research Wiki. If you would like to see a selection of the wikitext implemented in the Research Wiki, click here. In addition, many HTML tags can be used in wikitext.

Don't worry, if you never learn anything about wikitext or HTML other than the most simple commands contained in the Blogger editor or in the Rich Text Editor on the Research Wiki, you can still add information to the Research Wiki. But if you have a desire to get deeper into the programming aspects of both blogging and contributing to the Research Wiki, you can follow all the links from the pages I have cited above.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Adam, Occam and Nasca, an unlikely trio

In a February, 1984 Ensign article entitled, "I’ve heard that some people have extended their ancestral lines back to Adam. Is this possible? If so, is it necessary for all of us to extend our pedigrees back to Adam"Robert C. Gunderson stated, in part, "In my opinion it is not even possible to verify historically a connected European pedigree earlier than the time of the Merovingian Kings (c. a.d. 450–a.d. 752). Every pedigree I have seen which attempts to bridge the gap between that time and the biblical pedigree appears to be based on questionable tradition, or at worst, plain fabrication. Generally these pedigrees offer no evidence as to the origin of the information, or they cite a vague source"

Occasionally, I hear the comment that tracing your royal line back to (_____ fill in the blank) is really good because it gets people interested in genealogy. Hogwash. People who are trying to trace their genealogy back to royalty are copying questionable records, not doing genealogy.  I know people exist who have the research skills to actually do research before 1500 A.D., I just haven't had the opportunity to meet one yet in person. I have had commentators claim accurate pedigrees back to the Merovingian Kings, but have never seen a sourced pedigree, that uses anything but published genealogies. Nothing at all where each connection can be verified by contemporary documents.

Now, that I have repeated myself from earlier posts, I will get on with my discussion of Adam, Occam and Nasca. In my last post, I briefly recounted the current state of research on the Nasca lines in Peru. The point of that discussion is simple, look to existing sources. In the case of the lines, the researchers should have been asking the people who lived in the area first, before coming up with wild theories with no basis in fact. The same principle holds true for genealogical research, look to the contemporary sources, don't rely on a $3.95 chart with no citations to authority. Along this line, I was appalled to find the chart "The Royal Line" by Albert F. Schmuhl, cited as an authority in the England Historical Overview page of the FamilySearch Research Wiki. Let's get some sources and citations going there.

In my opinion, this whole thing about tracing your genealogy back to Adam is the biggest boat anchor in genealogy. If that is what people think we are all about, then why bother?

The entire concept of tracing your lineage "back to Adam" buys into the calculations made by James Ussher (or Usser) the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh which is a county in Northern Ireland. Now how many of you who adhere to his timeline have actually read his book? Here is a link to the book in English (sort of): Annales Veteris Testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti, una cum rerum Asiaticarum et Aegyptiacarum chronico, a temporis historici principio usque ad Maccabaicorum initia producto. Or how about in the original Latin: Annales Veteris Testamenti

 So where does Occam come into all this? Bertrand Russell said it well, albeit in another context, in his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy: “The method of ‘postulating’ what we want has many advantages; they are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil. Let us leave them to others and proceed with our honest toil.” (1919, p. 71). See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Russell also paraphrased Occam's Razor with the statement, "Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for inferences to unknown entities" from Linsky, Bernard, "Logical Constructions", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)"

So here we have a proposition, that there is an unbroken line of descent from Adam in approximately 4000 B.C. to the present. The problem is, where is the empirical data? In this I am not taking sides in any religious or anti-religious arguments (although I will side with the religious if asked), what I am saying is where are your sources in the genealogical sense? How can you even postulate a theory (i.e. that Adam lived in 4000 B.C.) with no supporting contemporary documentation? Usser's book is not a source and neither is The Royal Line.  Don't come back to me with a citation to a compilation made by someone else that you haven't personally verified, where is the documentation? Have you ever watched the movie Inherit the Wind? The 1960 version? The point of the movie is not whether or not you believe in creationism, the point is lack of documentation.

Genealogy should really have nothing to say about the age of the Earth, it is a question far beyond any credible genealogical evidence. I suggest moving on to real genealogy with sources and evidence and getting away from unsupported and unsupportable theories.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

To Adam and Back with Occam's Razor

Down in the arid coastal deserts of Peru between the towns of Nasca and Palpa, the ancient Nasca Indians constructed a huge complex of intricate figures in the desert. The images, stretching over 50 miles, were made my removing the reddish-brown iron oxide coated pebbles that cover the surface thereby showing the lighter colored earth beneath. Early theories included claims that the lines were runways of an ancient airfield that was used by extraterrestrials mistaken by the natives to be their gods. Other theories claimed that the lines were a complex method of calculating star declinations. My interest in the lines began with the book, Däniken, Erich von. Chariots of the Gods?: Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. New York: Putnam, 1970.

Subsequent archaeological investigations in the area dated the lines to between 400 and 650 AD. Even among the scholars, particularly those from the United States, theories abounded with connections to solar and stellar events. During the flurry of theories about the lines, apparently no one bothered to ask the local inhabitants what they knew about the lines. Finally, in about 1985 European archaeologists did some ethnographic studies and heard the local versions of the reasons for the lines. Despite the fact that similar geoglyphs exist in other parts of the world, even here in my own state of Arizona, the fantastic theories of the lines origin continue to dominate both the popular culture and the academic world.

In 1639 John Ponce from Cork, Ireland wrote the most popular version of Occam's Razor, Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate, “Plurality must never be posited without necessity." Although this statement is commonly and inaccurately summarized as "the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one" (See Wikipedia) essentially the statement means that we should tend towards simpler theories. (The "Razor" part of the name is a mistranslation of the German word messer or knife in English). The idea is that we cut through or shave away unnecessary assumptions. If you would like to read Occam's book, Summa Totius Logicae, it is on Google Books, see Summa totius Logicae By Guilelmus de Ockham

The principle of Occam's Razor certainly applies to the fantastic theories propounded in conjunction with the Nasca lines. But as genealogists, we are subject to similar fantastic theories and unsupported assumptions. One of these theories that keeps poking its head into our world is that of the creation of the world in 4000 B.C. How does that theory impact genealogists? Simple. Those early pedigrees that purport to provide a pedigree line "Back to Adam" are all based on the presumption that Adam lived in approximately 4000 B.C. This particular theory is complicated by its obvious religious connotations and involvement with the controversy between Evolutionists and Creationists.

What do Nasca lines and Occam's Razor have to do with genealogy? Bear with me and I will explain in detail, although it might take me a few posts to do so.

The lesson from the Nasca lines is that the easiest way to discover the best possible information is to go to the source or in other words, if you want to know what is going on in the neighborhood, ask your neighbors. None of the fantastically contrived theories about the origin of the lines took into account what the locals knew about their origin and purpose. Positing alien intervention for a purely local and explainable phenomenon is a gross violation of the principle that we should tend towards simpler theories. Extending a pedigree line back to Adam invites the inclusion of the same kinds of fantastic theories.

I will keep going on this in the next installment and I will get around to talking about Bishop Ussher.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Back to Adam

I had another interesting conversation with a friend over the question of whether or not it was possible to trace your genealogy "back to Adam." I guess I am a little surprised at the lack of history background that would make someone believe that this was even possible. But given some of the things people believe, thinking that you can trace your genealogy back to Adam is relatively harmless and inoffensive.

This whole issue is so circular. No matter where you start the discussion you end up with the same issues being repeated over and over. My friend's comments centered around the possibility that you could trace your genealogy back to some known king or whatever that would then link into the Biblical New and Old Testament lines and hence, back to Adam. I don't think you have to disbelieve the Bible to come to the conclusion that the genealogies in the Bible are entirely unsupported with any documents or facts outside of the scriptures themselves. Some of the Biblical personalities are not mentioned elsewhere and any genealogy using those pedigrees assumes a belief in the reliability of the Biblical lineages as well as acceptance of the post-Biblical lines, some of which are very dubious.

Here is an example of a line that claims to be based on "many years of research documentation" that the writer laments "does exist" but which he says, "I personally do not have in my hands." See Joe Orgill's Genealogy Back to Adam. This particular genealogy also claims to have been "Copied from a chart prepared for the New York Stake Genealogical Board by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, for the Centennial Exhibition, March, 1936."

OK, let's see if any of this can be authenticated.  That source is listed in another site as follows:

The royal line : chart prepared for the New York Stake Genealogical Board, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints centennial exhibition, March, 1936, Schmuhl, Albert F. 

Mr. Schmuhl seems to be a popular figure with the "Back to Adam" genealogists. He is cited 11,100 times in a Google search. Deseret Book in Salt Lake City, Utah has two "products" by Mr. Schmuhl, Through the Loins of Joseph, Folded Chart and Royal Line Chart, Folded. Neither these or any other books or materials by Mr. Schmuhl appear in a search of thousands of libraries however. The description of the Royal Line Chart is given by Deseret Book as follows:

17"x25" This chart shows lines back to Adam for the following: Heber J. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George A. Smith, Prophet Joseph Smith, George Washington, Daniel H. Wells, Orson F. Whitney, Lyman, etc. Folded to fit a 14" binder.
I never thought of it that way, since Roosevelt and I share a common ancestor, I suppose I could claim this Royal Line pedigree also! However, I seem to have hit the jackpot with this Royal Line Chart. I find 1850 references to the chart in Google. However, most of the citations are as follows:

Albert F. Schmuhl, The Royal Line chart, 1929, 1980 revised, Deseret Book Store, Salt Lake City, UT.

Apparently, there is some confusion over whether the Chart was prepared for a 1936 centennial exhibition or earlier in 1929. Hmm. It further appears from reading all the sites that talk about the lineage, that the who thing is premised on the fact that Adam was born in 4000 B.C. (or was it 4004 B.C. or about 4000 B.C.).  By the way, here is another pedigree showing descent from Adam.

OK, who was Albert F. Schmuhl? I can't find a word about this august authority on the ancient lines anywhere on the Web. Some one has been profitably selling this chart for a long time. Anyone know Mr. Schmuhl?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Computers for Father's Day? -- Think About It

I got the usual flyers in the mail for Father's Day bargains, including several from computer retailers. Every model offered had a retail price stated and the amount of the "discount." Is there really a bargain in computer sales? Let's look at the facts of computer prices today. I propose several rules for computer purchase.

Rule #1: Computers are very nearly a commodity and the price of any particular computer is reflected in its components.

If you take two computer models by different manufacturers and compare them side by side, feature by feature, assuming you can find two similarly configured computers, you will find them priced almost exactly the same. The manufacturer's price, often referred to as the "retail" price, is a complete fiction. Let me take a newer laptop computer for an example. I will use some real models and some prices from the Internet, but they may not be the "best" deal available, but will illustrate my point. Without searching at all, I decided on a laptop with a 14" or 15" screen, a Core i5 Intel processor and at least 4GB of Ram. I also want at least a 500GB hard drive. Here is the first one from Google Shopping sorted by price: $388.00. Interestingly, the lowest priced model in the ads I got today in a free newspaper dropped on my driveway was $550 and it was a Core i3 processor.

The next model in the list on Google was about $530. Why the difference? Was the first computer a really good deal? The $388 model did not have an optical drive. The laptops starting at $530 or so, all had DVD+/-RW Drives. Hmm. Looks to me like I had better pay attention to the components. Slight differences in price are insignificant but look closely at the specifications. There might be a difference in the configuration of the memory or something else.  Note the "standard" online price for an Core i5, it is less than the "special Father's Day" price on the flyer for an Core i3.

Rule #2: New models of computers do not go on "sale" until they are ready to be replaced.

If you have any knowledge about computers at all, you know that over time they get faster, have more memory and come down in price. For example, if you want to move up to a Core i7 laptop, the price jumps to a bottom of $740.00. Computers are like Chinese menus, take one component from each category with lists and lists of categories. If you want to see what is the latest and greatest, sort the list on Google by price from high to low rather than the other way around. What do you get for your $3000 at the high end? High-grade aluminum and carbon fiber. Light weight with higher performance. Is there any real difference other than a few pounds? Not really.

Rule #3: Components are no different than computers, they vary in price by model, introduction date and measurable specifications.

If you examine every component of a computer from the mother board to the DVD drive, you will see the same almost exact relationship between its price and its features and specifications. You can count on it. If a component drops in price, there is a newer faster model or one with more capacity. Hard drives are a good example. The capacity and speed of the drives keeps increasing as the price decreases. Manufacturers have to discount the older models because they intend to sell the newer ones at the same price or lower than the models they replace.

Rule #4: New technology always costs more until the demand equals the supply.

Apple computers always command a premium price that people are willing to pay because Apple always has the latest technology. People were willing to by iPads at any price, but are not running out to buy the newer lower priced tablet computers because now the technology has already changed again and tablets are old news. Apple has already come out with an iPad 2. Pundits endlessly theorize whether or not Apple can keep ahead in the game. Whether it is Apple or some other company's product, the winner is the innovator at the edge of the technology. Will people keep buying new technology for its own sake? No, tech history is littered with failures that were innovations in their time. But whatever it is, the new technology will command a premium for as long as it is new.

Rule #5: Buying a computer is not like buying a tie for Father's Day, make sure you know what you are buying.

This rule does not apply, of course, to the fathers who buy their own Father's Day gifts.  It is dangerous to buy someone a computer. They may be insulted or amused but not likely pleased.  If your gift recipient is at all computer savvy, you will likely have to take them to the store with you or get online with him to buy the product. Any other course will result in an immediate return. If you fall for one of the sale promotions, you had better make sure there is a return policy. Buying a computer as a gift might work if you have written specifications from the intended.

Rule #6: Anyone who actually needs a computer, likely already has one.

There is the old dichotomy between needs and wants. There always seems to be a gap between what you think you need and what you already have. I find that new computers always seem faster and better than the older ones. Eventually, the new computer starts to feel slow and unresponsive. Then it is time to start looking at the manufacturers production cycle. When will the new chips be out? When will the new operating systems come out? This has nothing to do with holidays or sales, it has to do with the upgrade cycle. If you buy a computer because it is on sale, you will almost always be buying down from where you need to be.

I am not against holidays as a concept. I just think they have little to do with work and productivity in genealogy.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Non-traditional Genealogical Data Sources

My experience of attending university and teaching a community college leads me to believe that only a very small percentage of the students who attend and graduate from a university or college ever use the resources available in the schools' libraries. I can remember when I worked at the library at the University of Utah, the entire library would be empty on non-school days. I used to think, what are all of these students doing here at a university, if they don't come to the library?

The libraries of the world also constitute a vast resource of information that is totally ignored by genealogists. I have come to believe this because the sources are never mentioned in any of the genealogically connected sites. I also find that very, very few of the patrons at the Mesa Regional Family History Center have ever visited any other research site. Few of them have even been to the Mesa Public Library, which is only about 2 miles away.

Even though many of the larger libraries have extensive online sources, even these more available resources are seldom used by genealogists. There are exceptions but my impression is that very, very few people outside of academic researchers and professionals ever use these databases. I am certain that many college and university graduates can get all the way through their school experience without ever doing any real research and without using hardly any online database resources.

This dismal view of genealogical researchers comes from years of my experience in helping both professional and non-professionals. Genealogists, even professional ones, think along very traditional and repetitive lines when it comes to research. Usually, when I suggest looking at a university library's special collections, I get blank stares. Few people, outside of academia, even know they exist. Part of the reason for this lack of awareness stems from the barriers academic institutions have created around their collections.

For example, the Arizona State University Library has huge special collections library, including hundreds of online databases available only to the students and faculty of the University. Under some circumstances, if you are a sponsored by a faculty member, you can get a User name and password. In this regard, ASU is no different than any other major university. If you are persistent, you can find indexes to much of the information and access to most all. A visit to the library or research center may also gain you access to the collection. When was the last time you visited a university library for genealogical research?

In addition to the huge collections of genealogically and historically valuable material locked up in university libraries, there are also huge commercial databases that cater only to these institutions. In my last post, I talked about There are literally dozens, if not hundreds of similar online databases that have huge accumulations of data about people, such as or Have you even even heard of these resources?  Have you ever used them for genealogical purposes? If you want some idea of what is available, go to the website for any major university, take the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill website for an example and click on the link to Libraries. Take a look at UNC's Digital Collections. Were you aware of these resources? You can find the same kinds of resources available from each and every other university in the world.

The resources available to anyone with the knowledge and perseverance to find them are almost inexhaustible. There is no way you can ever run out of places to look. The trick is knowing that the resources exist, having the knowledge and research experience to take advantage of the resources and the perseverance to hurdle the barriers placed in your way by the academic institutions themselves. In some cases, you may have to pay a friend or two for access to their database. For example, if you have an attorney friend who has access to WestLaw, you may be able to pay him or her for the time to look around and see if there is information that might help you.

Access to these huge databases is not limited to university libraries. Some of the larger public libraries also have huge collections. Take the New York Public Library for example. The NYPL has over 600 articles and databases including 141 genealogy related online databases. What is the hitch? You must apply in person for a library card, you must also work, attend school, or pay property taxes in New York State. However, visitors from out-of-state can obtain a temporary access card with an expiration date consistent with the length of their stay. But you don't need to go to New York, why not try your own state library system?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Book and Newspaper Dilemma

Some of the Genealogy Bloggers noted Google's announcement that it was discontinuing its newspaper archiving efforts. The announcement was also all over the tech sites online. The original project was launched in 2006. However, the main issues turned out to be the rights to republish freelance content from the pre-internet era. See The Telegraph.

How many of you even knew the project existed or had used the digitized resources? Have you ever done a Google News search for archived information? That was the real problem. Lack of demand.

What wasn't noted, was the comment by ProQuest. ProQuest formed a partnership with Google back in 2008 to help digitize the newspapers.  Are you aware of the ProQuest's newspaper holdings? Have you used ProQuest in your genealogical research? Back in 2008 ProQuest held more than 10,000 newspaper titles as pristine master film copies. Quoting from ProQuest:
ProQuest creates specialized information resources and technologies that propel successful research, discovery, and lifelong learning. A global leader in serving libraries of all types, ProQuest offers the expertise of such respected brands as Chadwyck-Healey™, UMI®, SIRS®, and eLibrary®. With Serials Solutions®, Ulrich's™, RefWorks®, COS™, Dialog® and now Bowker® part of the ProQuest brand family, the company supports the breadth of the information community with innovative discovery solutions that power the business of books and the best in research experience.
More than a content provider or aggregator, ProQuest is an information partner, creating indispensable research solutions that connect people and information. Through innovative, user-centered discovery technology, ProQuest offers billions of pages of global content that includes historical newspapers, dissertations, and uniquely relevant resources for researchers of any age and sophistication—including content not likely to be digitized by others. Inspired by its customers and their end users, ProQuest is working toward a future that blends information accessibility with community to further enhance learning and encourage lifelong enrichment.
For more information, visit or the ProQuest parent company website,
In response to the Google announcement, ProQuest is quoted as saying:
ProQuest is willing to work further with publishers to secure and archive their files that Google digitized and indexed. ProQuest is working now with publishers to build more value for their historical content. The Google News Archive has been an ambitious undertaking; and the company looks forward to expanding its foundation to increase opportunities for researchers and publishers alike.
Publishers are invited to contact ProQuest for further information. Visit the company at
The Google Newspapers will remain online and ProQuest will continue to digitize and make available its huge collections online just as it has for the last 70 years.

You say you are not familiar with ProQuest? Here is a partial list of their genealogy products, which, by the way is a only a very small portion of what they do:

ProQuest - HeritageQuest Online

ProQuest - Ancestry Library Edition
ProQuest - Digital Sanborn Maps, 1867-1970
ProQuest - ProQuest Sanborn Maps Geo Edition
ProQuest - ProQuest Research Library
ProQuest - ProQuest African American Heritage
ProQuest - Educational Reform in the Age of Enlightenment
ProQuest - State Census
ProQuest - ProQuest Civil War Era
ProQuest - ProQuest Obituaries

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Response to Dick Eastman -- Water isn't Free in Arizona

I have been thinking for a while about a recent Blog post by Dick Eastman entitled "I have a Complaint Concerning Many Genealogists." On example from his post caught my eye. He compares free information to water. I quote, "Let me draw an analogy: water is free. If I want water, I can go to the local river or lake with a bucket and get all the water I want at no charge." It is obvious that Dick doesn't live in Arizona. In Arizona there is no such thing as "free" water. Every drop of water in the state is owned by someone who will charge you for it or take you to court or call the police if you try to take it without payment. But what does this have to do with information?

Even though I am nit picking about the water example, I really do agree with Dick's basic ideas.  But he seems to have as a premise that free information exists. If he believes that free information exists, I disagree, I believe there is really no such thing as free information, The Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, As Amended By Public Law No. 104-231, 110 Stat. 3048 to the contrary. The name of the act is entirely misleading, what the act does is to allow public access to government records subject to "reasonable standard charges for document search, duplication, and review..." Dick is and I am responding to an irrational idea that has no basis in reality. However, I take the position that there is no such thing as free information and that those who claim that there is, are deluded.

In our society we are so wrapped up in things that are supposed to be free, that we lose our perspective on the cost of that freedom. All freedom has a cost. All systems are closed. There is no free lunch. Every human activity as a cost associated with it.

But the problem, as I see it, is not so much that people want everything free, the problem is mainly a perception of value. The people who are outraged by charging for access to the U.S. Census have probably never been to a library and tried to read the Census on microfilm. Those same people who are criticizing companies for charging a fee to access "free" information are paying for computers, modems, routers and Internet access to express their opinions about free information.  Those same people are free to to go to a Family History Center or public library and use for "free." Complaining about the cost of providing genealogical services in not really an issue, it is an excuse for ignorance.

My example, is the free public library. Who pays for that freedom? Everyone living in the city or state where the library is open through taxes and assessments. Dick makes a good example of the cost he had previously to travel to libraries and other repositories. I have the same experience. I used to spend much of my time as an attorney in libraries doing research, then we got this wonderful service called WestLaw and I didn't have to step into a library again. Was the service free? Far from it. WestLaw is very expensive. Was it less expensive than having me travel to a library and do research? You bet your bottom dollar. Did our clients beg me to give up WestLaw and go back to the free public library? No, of course not.

Expecting things to be free when there is an obvious cost involved is simply stealing. It is dishonest. Just as in Arizona, taking water out of a lake or canal is theft, so is taking information developed by someone into a specific format theft. It is called copyright violation. But the answer comes back, what about all the "information" that is out of copyright? Shouldn't that be free? Here I agree with Dick, it is free. Go get it. Travel to the National Archives and sit there and copy out all you want. But ignore the cost in time, travel and pencils if you still want to believe that the information is free.

Nearly all my life I have been charging for information. To me, information is a commodity. It is not free at all. The same people who want free genealogical information are the same people who want me to work for them for free because all I did was give them some information. My ideas are my stock in trade. I sell information every day in the form of legal billing. Information is not free. There is no free information and you need to get over thinking there is.

Writing for FamilySearch TechTips and other activities

Writing a Blog, any Blog, separates the compulsive writers from the not-so-compulsive writers. Writing two Blogs is really the hallmark of the terminally possessed. When the number passes three, the whole activity begins to take over your life. I once had six different Blogs going at one time. Not even I have that much to say every day. It didn't take long before some of the Blogs began to wither on the vine. I started to throw baggage overboard, as I could see the storms of life coming and, as they say, the handwriting was on the wall (or in my case the Blog).

Genealogy's Star now has well over 1000 posts and I feel comfortable with the idea that I will probably keep writing until the grim reaper comes or I kick the bucket. The fascinating thing about genealogy is that it is the cat's meow. I can keep going on because the topic is as fascinating as snake charming.  (If you are still reading this, congratulations, you now know what it takes to write a Blog, day after day, sometimes your mind starts to wander and you begin to imagine life without words pouring out of your finger tips)

On the other hand, not being satisfied and seeing the green grass on the other side of the fence, I kept my Walking Arizona Blog going. Mainly because of the dream I had, that I would some day retire as an attorney and go back to graphic design, this time in the form of working full time as a photographer. Walking Arizona began to evolve into my sporadic photography Blog. Let's just say, if the number of people who read that Blog is any indication, I will have heart break hotel time being a photographer, post-law.

So time passed, the scene now changes to the time when my retirement from law is a reality. But meantime, I make a lot of new friends and acquaintances in the genealogy world. Some of them include people who actually work at genealogy including a few at FamilySearch. The folks at FamilySearch throw me a curve ball, they want me to write for a new website which turns out to have a series of names but has a fascinating idea, promote technology among genealogists. I agree and suddenly I am writing post after post for a website that doesn't really exist. Eventually, the world turns, and the site goes public with a mention at RootsTech. I would like to say that it took off from there, but guess what, it is like living a double life now, writing for my daytime job at Genealogy's Star and Walking Arizona and then sneaking out late at night to write for this underground Blog disguised as a website.

Finally, FamilySearch decides that the site will have a real name and calls it FamilySearch TechTips. Still tucked down in the corner, fighting for menu bar space, it is the unknown stepchild, but I am still writing post after post about all this techy stuff and having it posted online which is what compulsion is all about.

Did you catch the fact that I was back up to three Blogs? Retirement has its attraction, no more clients, no more time keeping, no more 100 e-mails a day, no more judges, no more courts, no more lots of things I can certainly do without. But what is retirement? Writing three Blogs? This reality brought me back to the dream of photography. I decided to bite the bullet and start another Blog. This time I am serious, this will be the basis for my photography business. I start PhotoArizona360 which promptly sits there for months without any activity because I am still going to court and returning calls from clients.

Time flies, I am finally at the cusp of retirement from law and I activate my connection with Google Earth and and go into photography or is it blogography with four Blogs now?

Will our hero survive writing four Blogs? Will he keep turning out tech stuff? We he have time to do anything else? Turn in for next exciting installment whenever.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Scanned books go into the black hole of Family History Archives

More than a year ago, I had a book scanned by the Mesa Regional Family History Center. The Mesa FHC is scanning books in conjunction with the FamilySearch/BYU Family History Archives to scan its collection for inclusion in that of FamilySearch. No one seems to know where the scans end up and why none of the scans appear online.

The book I had scanned was a large book compiled by my Great-grandmother on her family and on my Great-grandfather's family. Although the book lacks many sources, it has photos and histories very much worth preserving and valuable to the family. I also happen to personally possess the copyright for the book. There are absolutely no copyright issues in making a copy available online. This is the book:

Overson, Margaret Godfrey Jarvis. George Jarvis And Joseph George De Friez Genealogy. Mesa, Ariz: M.J. Overson, 1957.

A link to the Archives recently showed up on the startup page for entitled "Books."  The Archives has a counter on its main page that has been stuck at 17,777 now for almost a year. If you search for the Jarvis book it does not show as in the collection. Also if you do an advanced search for the Jarvis book, you also get no results but if you click "search again"  you are taken to the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University's Digital Collections page. That page used to list the Family History Archive with more than 34,000 scanned books and documents. However, that number has now disappeared with revisions of the Digital Collections page.

Now, for over a year, books continue to be scanned by the Mesa FHC and vanish into the Family History Archives black hole. At RootsTech in February, I spoke with several representatives of FamilySearch who acknowledged that there was a huge problem but assured me that the whole thing would be straightened out by June. Well, here we are at the middle of May. I guess I can wait until June.

The Jarvis family is planning a huge family reunion and is anxious to have family history materials available. Many members of the family have never had access to the book due to its age and lack of availability. It would be nice if we knew what happened to the scanned images and whether or not they will ever be available online. Just wondering.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Understanding the FamilySearch Wiki -- Namespaces

In computer programming, a namespace, sometimes called a name scope, is a term used to refer to an abstract container or environment created to hold a logical grouping of unique identifiers or symbols. In the wiki world, the term is used to refer to a collection of pages, which have content with a similar purpose or where the intended use is the same. Namespaces are essentially partitions of different types of information within the same wiki. All of the wiki pages exist within a namespace and this can be distinguished by using the namespace prefix of a page that forms part of the title of a page, separated with a colon.

Taking my example from the FamilySearch Research Wiki, there are a number of different namespaces including the “Talk” pages. A Talk page is a separate page associated with a main page that is provided to make a place where a discussion or talk can occur about the content of the main page. Here is a list of some of the namespaces in the Wiki:
  • Main
  • Talk
  • User
  • User Talk
  • Project
  • Project Talk
  • File
  • File Talk
  • Template
  • Template Talk
  • Help
  • Help Talk
  • Category
  • Category Talk
You can see how it goes. Learning the functions of each of the namespaces is part of the challenge of learning about a Wiki. The namespaces become part of the names of different pages in the Wiki. 

You do not need to know any of this to merely use the Research Wiki to look up information, but if you start contributing to the Wiki, you will see the need to understand these pages. But if you are searching for information on the Research Wiki, you can choose which of the namespaces you wish to search or search all of them.

More information can be found in the Help:Namespaces page in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Impressions of New FamilySearch -- A Commentary

In a major development, New FamilySearch (NFS) has extended its availability to those outside the membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Recently, Randy Seaver of the Genea-Musings Blog gained access to the program and began a series of Blog posts relating to his experiences. He has opened up a discussion about NFS and invited comments. I suggest that comments are in order. Please visit Randy's Blog post to see his original comments.

In this Part 2 of this series, Randy goes to the heart of the issues genealogists have with NFS; the lack of documentation of sources, the duplication of entries and the inaccuracy of the information. He has already, after just a few days, realized that there is not adequate way to correct obviously inaccurate information. All of the entries for a single individual are listed with equal priority and equal validity.

Taking an example from my own line, my Great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner KWC2-8DC, is shown as born in Lakeside, Arizona in about 1859, an historical impossibility, while at the same time the accurate information, that he was born on 11 June 1852 in San Bernardino, Los Angeles, California is also listed. There are nine different birth date entries and only one of them is correct.

A commentator to Randy's Blog identified as MilesMeyer, points out that you can "correct" the data by added even more data to the file and then choose the "correct" information in the "Summary Screen." Although technically correct, this explanation begs the entire issue raised by Randy in his post. I believe that his major concern is not that additional information cannot be added, but that there be some way to "fix the erroneous data." It is not enough to merely have a way to point out what one person believes to be the correct data from a list of clearly inaccurate information, there needs to be a way to remove (or at least segregate) inaccurate information in way as prevent it from being duplicated.

After documenting a number of inaccurate duplicate entries for his ancestor, Isaac Seaver, Randy notes:
It appears that there are at least six entries for my Isaac Seaver in the New FamilySearch Family Tree.  None of them have the correct birth, marriage or death data for Isaac Seaver, although there are some entries that are correct.  The one entry with a death date is wrong, and that entry has a wrong spouse (the person named is actually Isaac's mother!).
Randy asks three questions:
*  How did all of these entries occur?
*  How do we merge the different entries into an entry with documented and sourced information? 
*  How does someone with the correct information for my great-great-grandfather fix the erroneous data? 
The answer to the first question is fairly easy. NFS is a conglomeration of several large databases; the Ancestral File, the Pedigree Resource File, the International Genealogical Index, the Church's membership records and Temple records. Some of these databases already had a large number of duplicate entries when they were combined. Add to those databases the user added duplicates and you have an explanation for the duplication. The inaccuracies come about as a consequence of poor genealogy, carelessness, lack of concern, and just plain ignorance.

Answering the next two questions is much more difficult. There is presently no way to merge the different entries into "an entry with documented and sourced information." As I stated above, that is one of the main problems with NFS. The answer to the last question is that you ignore the problem until NFS gives you the tools to do something about it.

It is apparent that some of the commentators to Randy's Blog have not yet experienced making additions and changes many times only to have them revert back to inaccurate information many times. For some entries, there is no point in making additional changes because it is now impossible to select the correct information. I will explain why in my next post.

Randy's experiences with NFS are consistent with those of nearly every experienced genealogist I know. I hope FamilySearch is really ready for the additional commentary.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Understanding the FamilySearch Wiki -- Part Two Introduction to Wikis

This introduction to wikis is intended to explore how wikis operate in the context of the FamilySearch Research Wiki. Underneath a rather simple looking exterior, wikis have a complex understructure that creates a cooperative community of volunteers willing to support the structure and provide the information. There are literally hundreds of wikis spread across the Web. Why do some of them grow into Internet giants and other languish in obscurity? I can answer in one word: content. In order for a wiki to grow and develop a devoted cadre of volunteers, it must demonstrate the ability to attract useful content.

In the case of the FamilySearch Research Wiki, the initial content came from the employees and volunteers who work for FamilySearch. To quote
FamilySearch is the largest genealogy organization in the world. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. For over 100 years, FamilySearch has been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide. Patrons may freely access our resources and service online at, or through over 4,500 family history centers in 70 countries, including the renowned Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Research Wiki was initially seeded with hundreds of pages of useful reference material from FamilySearch's paper publications. But the real impetus for the growth of the website was the connection with the every growing Historical Record Collections on the updated website. As the millions of records are added, each of those collections has a link to the Wiki. As the collections grow in importance and quantity, the links to the Wiki will become more and more important and then crucial to an understanding of the Record Collections.

But how will all this happen? To understand, I need to start with the the individual's contact with the Wiki and that brings up the subject of namespaces. A namespace is a logical grouping of the names used within a program. In the Wiki, namespaces are used to define pages that serve different functions. Quoting from the Wiki, "A namespace is a high-level category in which articles or pages are created. Namespaces help segregate articles about genealogical research from administrative types of articles, such as those that explain how the Wiki software works."

Here is a further explanation of how namespaces work in the Wiki:
If you are a user searching for articles that will help you with genealogical research, you will likely only search within the main namespace, and need to know little about most of the other namespaces. If, however, you are a contributor, moderator, or sysop, namespaces may be very helpful. For example, if you want to write an article that explains how to use the FamilySearch Research Wiki, you could create that article in the "Help:" namespace. If you wanted to search for an image to insert on a specific page, you could search the "Image:" namespace. Namespaces can also make it easy to search for specific types of articles or pages. You will be able to easily locate pages that have been created in a specific namespace because there is a colon ":" in the name. For example, "Image:Palafito," or "Help:How to add citations."
One of the first namespaces you may encounter in the Wiki is the User: namespace. Every user of a wiki automatically creates a User: page at sign in. However, these pages are not active unless the user adds content.

Next time User Pages.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Understanding the FamilySearch Wiki -- Introduction to wikis

Wikis can be amazingly valuable tools for compiling huge amounts of shared information and experience, but other than in an entirely superficial way, they can also be very intimidating. The essence of the idea of a wiki is to collaborate in sharing knowledge. From one aspect, it is fairly easy to add information, but once you enter the world of the wiki, you may find the experience very daunting. In my own experience with wikis, I liken the experience to learning a new language in a difficult graduate level course at a major university.

The FamilySearch Research Wiki is a hugely successful and valuable tool for genealogical research. As of the date of the post, it has 58,441 articles with approximately 1000 being added every week. The startup page has been accessed more than 253 million times.

I am presently working on adding a substantial amount of information to the FamilySearch Research Wiki, particularly in conjunction with Indians of Arizona. I am also a moderator for Arizona and one of the overall volunteer support Team Members for the entire Wiki. The Research Wiki has two substantially different levels of support. First, and foremost, it is sponsored by FamilySearch. So there are a number of FamilySearch employees and volunteers that are involved directly in the programming, engineering and maintenance of the Research Wiki. The Wiki is also supported by a number of employees and volunteers from the Family History Library. In addition, there are the contributors and volunteers from around the world who are not directly connected with FamilySearch.

One of the first questions that always come up in conjunction with discussions about wikis is how they keep from degenerating into piles of junk. The answer to this question is not simple. At the most basic level, wikis are collaborative, so anyone can correct inaccurate or inappropriate information. But in the case of the Research Wiki, the answer involves the various higher levels of support. The Research Wiki contains its own policies, procedures and instructions. For a current listing of all of the policy related articles go to the Category:FamilySearch Wiki policy page. This page connects to more specific topics from arbitration to neutral point of view and everything in between. Here are some representative samples of the types of policy pages that help establish the Wiki community:

FamilySearch Wiki:Arbitration
FamilySearch Wiki:Attack pages
FamilySearch Wiki:Avoid Edit Wars
FamilySearch Wiki:Avoid legal threats
FamilySearch Wiki:Blocking and Banning
FamilySearch Wiki:Civility and Polite Discourse
FamilySearch Wiki:Conditions of Use
FamilySearch Wiki:Copyright, Copyleft, and Intellectual Property
FamilySearch Wiki:Copyrights
FamilySearch Wiki:Neutral point of view
FamilySearch Wiki:No personal attacks
FamilySearch Wiki:Ownership of articles

 The list goes on and on. The effect of having a collaborative policy structure is that the Wiki becomes a community with a shared sense of values and goals. Actions taken by individuals that are not consistent with this shared community are dealt with by those community members who are interested in preserving the community. For example, if inappropriate material is posted to the Wiki, anyone can flag the material with a template marker advising the poster to remove the material. If the material is not removed then there is a procedure for deleting the improper information. Depending on the seriousness of the violation, the material can be removed summarily or over time, allowing the poster to edit or remove the information.

In addition, the Research Wiki is part of the larger world of WikiMedia and the Creative Commons.

This is just the beginning. The goal of the WikiMedia Foundation is to "Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That's our commitment." I suggest that the goal of the Research Wiki is to imagine a world where all of the combined knowledge and experience about genealogy is freely available in one resource. That is the Research Wiki.

During the next few posts, I will be discussing the function and structure of the Research Wiki in more detail. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Going Public with New FamilySearch

Since the announcement that (NFS) would be released to those who are not members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have been extremely interested to get some feedback from one of the users. I am delighted that Randy Seaver of the Genea-Musings Blog is one of the first, if not the first to start evaluating the program from an "outside" perspective. I really hate to talk in terms of inside and outside, but in the case of NFS the distinction was made by the fact that members of the Church were given access to the program to the exclusion of those outside the Church's membership.

I think Randy Seaver is really good place for the evaluation to start. He is an expert genealogist and very technologically sophisticated. He is a top-notch Blogger and a very good writer overall. He does an excellent job of analyzing genealogy programs and is more than familiar with most of the popular programs. His perspective will be valuable in the extreme.

Randy's first impressions are significant. He says, "Over the past four days, I've explored the New FamilySearch Family Tree a bit, and observed many of the problems that James has written about in significant detail.  I searched for some of my ancestors back five or more generations, and see some of the duplicate person and duplicate assertion problems.  I'll point out some of them in future posts as examples, and discuss the options for how to deal with them." I have wondered if my impressions of the program were too biased by my proximity to the problems. Lately, I have taken an entirely "wait and see" attitude based on assertions by FamilySearch representatives that many of the issues I have written about in the past will be resolved. For that reason alone, I will be interested to see the program through some relatively new eyes.

Randy Seaver and any others given recent access to the program have not had the experience of watching and living with the changes to the program over the past three years or so. They are coming into a fully developed version of the program with many of the initial issues partially or completely resolved. It is impossible for a newly signed on user to appreciate the initial problems, especially those that have been resolved. On the other hand, this lack of historical background will be an advantage in assessing where the program is functioning today.

Lately, NFS has blended into the background of the genealogy world. The program is functioning at a low level within the Church's genealogy community and is acting mostly as the entry level program for producing Family Ordinance Request forms for members of the Church. I have been teaching classes on NFS since it was introduced. For example, I had a class scheduled at the Mesa Regional Family History Center today and no one showed for the class. This is consistent with my experience during the past few months. I am surprised to even have one person show for regularly scheduled classes. When the program was introduced into the Church, there was a significant interest until the members figured out that they would actually have to do some genealogical research and then interest began to drop off dramatically. My impression was (and is) that the members of the Church initially thought it was a way around doing research. That some how or another the program was going to do their genealogy for them. Hence, the current lack of interest except for isolated individuals who decide to actually do some research.

Church members have the impetus to use the program to do Church ordinances for their ancestors. It is my impression that those who are new to genealogy really don't understand the program at more than a very basic level, sufficient to accomplish their purposes and nothing more. They hear that there are people like me and my family that have a lot of "problems" with the program but don't really understand the issues or the problems and don't want to. As such, members have gone back to their normal, disinterest in all things genealogical with isolated pockets of intense activity to the contrary.

Thanks to Randy Seaver for opening this dialog.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger back with explanation

The Blogger Team at Google posted this account of what happened to the Blogger program yesterday and this morning:
What a frustrating day. We’re very sorry that you’ve been unable to publish to Blogger for the past 20.5 hours. We’re nearly back to normal—you can publish again, and in the coming hours posts and comments that were temporarily removed should be restored. Thank you for your patience while we fix this situation. We use Blogger for our own blogs, so we’ve also felt your pain.

Here’s what happened: during scheduled maintenance work Wednesday night, we experienced some data corruption that impacted Blogger’s behavior. Since then, bloggers and readers may have experienced a variety of anomalies including intermittent outages, disappearing posts, and arriving at unintended blogs or error pages. A small subset of Blogger users (we estimate 0.16%) may have encountered additional problems specific to their accounts. Yesterday we returned Blogger to a pre-maintenance state and placed the service in read-only mode while we worked on restoring all content: that’s why you haven’t been able to publish. We rolled back to a version of Blogger as of Wednesday May 11, so your posts since then were temporarily removed. Those are the posts that we’re in the progress of restoring.

Again, we are very sorry for the impact to our authors and readers. We try hard to ensure Blogger is always available for you to share your thoughts and opinions with the world, and we’ll do our best to prevent this from happening again.
A word to the wise. If the lights go out, what happens to your genealogy?

Blogger down, Blogs stopped

What was portrayed as a temporary outage, turned into a major interruption in Google’s Blogger program on May 12th and 13th.

Clicking on the link to sign in to your Blog account brought up the following screen:

Further clicking on the link showed the following screen:

Apparently, the problem is more complicated than they anticipated. Here is a quote from
This morning there was another news report about data compromise. Arts-and-crafts retailer Michaels Stores Inc. said Thursday that some customer debit and credit card information has been compromised by PIN pad tampering in its Chicago-area stores.

Authorities have confirmed that thieves have plundered some victims bank accounts, often for hundreds of dollars each.

Consumers who have bought items from a Michaels store with a debit or credit card are encouraged to monitor their statements, report suspicious account activity and change debit-card PIN numbers and other account security settings.
As genealogists we are also part of the larger commercial online world and subject to its challenges and problems. Whether the problem is the physical equipment or the online programs, the effect may be the same to those of us who use the Internet daily. Despite a lot of hoopla about working on the Internet in the form of "Cloud Computing" we all need to be aware that this is still a maturing technology and subject to constant adjustments. Adjustments that might mean loss of personal or genealogical data.

In the case of Michaels, the problem was using a debit card rather than a credit card, because the liability for losses is greater with a debit card than with a credit card.

So how do you use the Web for your genealogy? If a major program like Blogger can go down for an unanticipated time, nearly all other online applications probably have the same vulnerability. Whether you are storing data online or merely using the Web for information and communication, you need to have a backup that is separate from the unpredictability of the Web.

Considering the contemplated Microsoft purchase of Skype. If you are using Skype as your primary telephone service provider, you might want to have a backup system in the form of a limited use cell phone with another provider. If you are using one of the many online backup services, you may wish to have your own backup on a local external hard drive or flash drive. If you are posting your genealogy to an online service, you may wish to have your own genealogy files in a local on-your-own-computer copy.

Just some thoughts.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Where to start -- so many things going on

It was an interesting week for us old die-hard Apple guys, Apple was rated the No. 1 technology company in the world last year and then became the second largest company in the world by market value after Exxon Mobile. For the first time in 2011, Apple passed Microsoft in profit. Despite all the predictions to the contrary, iPad, iPod and iPhone sales continue to climb. How big does Apple have to get before PCs become the also rans?

I guess to strike back Microsoft announced the acquisition of Skype for $8.5 billion dollars. If you haven't heard of Skype, don't feel too bad, there are only millions of people around the world using this online telephone service. Here is a video about the acquisition:

Not to be left out, Google fought back with a new laptop powered by Google software that takes aim at Microsoft's dominant Windows and Apple's OSX operating systems. Here we go with a video about the new Google Chrome OS and CR-48 laptop: (skip the ad)

Not to be outdone, Apple became the most expensive brand in the world. 

Now with all this tech stuff going on, the genealogy community had to jump in. FamilySearch announced more millions of records online, including huge U.S. Civil War collections. Here is the news announcement:
As its contribution to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the LDS Church-sponsored organization,, has released millions of online records from the Confederate and Union armies.
FamilySearch disclosed the move this week at the National Genealogical Society’s Family History Conference in Charleston, S.C.
“These records are significant because nearly every family in the United States at that time was impacted either directly or indirectly by the war,” FamilySearch project manager Ken Nelson said in a news release. “Each soldier has a story to tell based on what his unique experience was during the war. Each family has their own story to tell. This is the paper trail that tells the stories about that period in our nation’s history.”
The collection includes thousands of enlistment or pension records that can provide key family data, including age, birthplace or spouse’s name, the release said. Other collections, such as census records, are more focused on “ordinary civilians who lived during that turbulent time.”
 The news went on and on and I spent more time reading that I did writing. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

FamilySearch FamilyTech becomes FamilySearch TechTips

FamilySearch announced today a new name for the previously called FamilySearch FamilyTech website. The site will now be called FamilySearch TechTips. This most recent name change is intended to be permanent. Here is an excerpt from the announcement:
We are happy to announce that we now have a new name for the FamilyTech website. This name is not only new, but is also permanent. The new name is TechTips. The site will be known as FamilySearch TechTips. Work is underway to make all of the necessary changes, including moving the site to the new URL. The new URL will be
 I have been contributing tech Blog posts to the site for some time. You can access my posts under the Viewpoint link or simply find one of my posts and click on my name. I think you will find the articles very helpful.

With the new name, the site will now be added to the other FamilySearch websites with access from the FamilySearch site. I will keep you posted as there are further changes.

Monday, May 9, 2011

New Idea for Genealogy Conferences from Google

Google is spearheading a new type of media event, the Ignite. Here is an explanation about how the event works:

From the Google Code blog: "Geeks like to share. At Ignite events, we've found that a speaker can impart a lot of information to a curious audience in just five minutes. So we went out and found ten geeks to each share some slice of their life. The talks are going to range from life hacks and online experiments to histories of technology. They each get 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds for a total of five minutes on stage. We find that the constraints make the event a lot more energetic than you'd expect."

It seems to me that an Ignite event isn't just limited to geeks and computer stuff, it would work very well as a special event for a computer conference, highlighting the speakers at the conference or giving a lot of others the opportunity to talk.  Just an Idea.

Going back in time -- handwritten records

When does pushing genealogical research into the past become more than an interest and become a full-time job? About the time you have to learn a new language or handwriting system? I have discussed this topic from time to time in the past, but there is always more to say. Although it is probably subjective, every 100 years into the past adds a measurable degree of difficulty. As I pointed out on my last post, printed books in Europe date from the middle of the 15th Century. But if you are doing genealogical research, the reality of the existing records mandates recourse to handwritten records, in most cases, much later than the mid-1400s.

Besides people with notoriously bad handwriting, going back in time adds challenges from the changes in styles. There is no substitute for actually trying to decipher the old documents. Fortunately, there is an abundance of resources for learning about old handwriting. I would start with the British National Archives. They have a practical online tutorial for reading old handwriting. The study of old handwriting is called paleography or palaeography in England. The online course was developed in partnership with the School of Library, Archive and Information Studies, University College, London.  Of course, this particular course is limited to English records, but there are a lot of other resources available. A lot of what is online is simple drivel and of no real help, but like the The National Archives site, there are some notable exceptions.

OK, now if you really want to know about handwriting, you go to and click on the Learn tab at the top of the page. There is a listing for Research Courses. FamilySearch has courses in Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Latin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Scandanvian Gothic and Spanish. Most of the languages are broken down into a series of 1/2 hour classes. The courses include PDF handouts and handwriting practice sheets. I am certain that there is nothing else this extensive online on this subject.

If you want practice reading old documents, there are plenty of them on's Historical Record Collections. Just go to the country and time period you are studying and open any of the images. Chances are the documents will be right at the level you are studying.