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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Distance -- a misunderstood concept

Genealogists sometimes forget that political subdivisions are largely arbitrary or follow only major geographic features like rivers and mountain ranges. But have you noticed how many straight lines there are on maps? Last time I checked, there were no straight lines in nature. (I know, this is particularly true, but generally speaking, the boundaries between U.S. states are  straighter than any naturally occurring physical phenomena).

A common example, is that of two towns located closely to each other on a map, but in reality separated by a high range of mountain. Looking at a map without topographical features, will obscure physical realities which may limit travel between apparently proximate communities.

But there is a more subtle factor that influences genealogical research in a dramatic way but is seldom recognized by researchers. That is the effect of the lack of modern transportation modes on family relationships in the not-too-distant past. For example, I can get in my car and drive to Apache County, Arizona in about 3 1/2 hours. A hundred years ago, the trip would've taken the better part of a week on a fast horse. Only fifty years before that, such a trip would've taken a week in a fast buggy or two weeks depending on whether or not the group traveling had adequate transportation. So, the real distance between two points on a map is not measured in miles or kilometers but in the time it takes to travel the distance between the two points.

Ignoring these historical facts, brings about a misunderstanding of the relationships between the various parts of any family organization. Another example, if a family left Germany in the 1850s to move to the United States, it was entirely possible that they would never see any of their relatives left in Europe during their lifetimes. Even on a smaller scale, inside the United States, a movement across state or even further across the country, could isolate members of families from each other permanently.  It is nearly impossible to imagine this kind of condition existing today when I have members of my own family commuting across the United States every week. My brother-in-law, just contacted us that he was driving a truck from California to Texas and would pass through Phoenix. This kind of mobility was entirely impossible just a few years ago.

An obvious result of this historical fact is that movements by families was not taken lightly or on a whim. There was always a reason, for any movement. In addition, most familial movements were undertaken following established settlement routes or in response to economic or social conditions. Unlike today, young people when leaving their family, usually did not have a job offer halfway across the country. The most common circumstances were when rural workers migrated to the cities looking for better working conditions.

In doing genealogical research, it is absolutely necessary to broaden your search for family members throughout any particular geographical area. For example, in U.S. census records always look for family members on adjacent census sheets. Census enumerations were done in a systematic way geographically and it was not uncommon for family members to be physically located close to each other. The same principle, can be extended to practically any research in any type of documents. Another example, collections of World War II and World War I draft registration cards should be searched to see if other family members registered at or near the same time. In smaller towns, it is always a good idea to search the entire census record for the locality for each year in which the census was taken. Many smaller enumeration districts had less than 20 total census sheets.

Failure to take into account the time it took for people to travel between two areas is often at fault for making unsupported claims to relationship. If you found a family name of an ancestor in Rhode Island, it would be illogical to assume that a family with the same name living in Georgia was related without some very specific evidence to support such a conclusion. But I have seen just such conclusions made on virtually no evidence. On the other hand, many genealogical researchers seem to feel that their families lived in a vacuum because they seldom search for related families in each of the geographical places where the family lived.

Both maps and timelines are valuable helps in resolving realistic distance issues. If someone lived in county in Virginia shortly before they got married, it is unlikely that the marriage took place in Maine or Vermont. Not impossible, just highly unlikely. In looking for your ancestors, the absolute first step is to try to put them on a map. That is, look for any and all know places on maps to see how they are related and whether or not the places fit logically into the physical reality of the areas in question. At every step in your research never leave the map for very long. Keep the geographical perspective.

Reader Appreciation Day

Being as this is February 29, 2012, I decided that it would be an appropriate reader appreciation day (a really arbitrary decision). Thanks to all those of you out there who have put up with my rambling style of commentary and my bad jokes (mostly too obscure for anyone to detect). I have seen a steady and dramatic increase in readership especially over the past year. To give you an idea of how Genealogy's Star is fairing out in the wild jungle of the Internet, here are a few statistics for whatever they are worth (not a whole lot, I presume). This blog post is beginning to remind me of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

On Alexa, (the link probably won't work) Genealogy's Star enjoys a rank today of 73,217 in the U.S. which means absolutely nothing to me but it sounds impressive. Hmm, lets see, the definitely mommy blog posted by

Where is FamilySearch today?

Its that time again. Time to review the status of FamilySearch. I do this for a variety of reasons. First, because I have an almost vested interest in seeing that it grows and succeeds. The reason? I am actively involved on the Support Team for the FamilySearch Research Wiki and Moderator for Arizona and Utah and I have several other FamilySearch related activities. Plus, I teach and do presentations on FamilySearch all the time and last, I wrote the book The Guide to FamilySearch Online.

These alone are good reasons to be fussy about what goes on with the vast websites of

The main changing feature about FamilySearch will continue to be the huge number of digitized records going into the Historical Record Collections.  As of the date of this post, there are 1067 collections comprising millions upon millions of records. I note that multiple collections are being added almost every day of the week except Sunday. If you are doing any research at all, you need to periodically check to see if there have been any records added in your area of interest. I realize that there are a few blogs out there that periodically update the list of Historical Record Collections, but since new collections are added every day, this is a pretty easy topic. I do appreciate the reminder however and there does need to be a mechanism for finding out when a database helpful to your own research shows up. Right now, all we can do is check back frequently.

One item, mostly of interest to those on, is that this controversial online database will be entirely replaced by an updated product called Family Tree sometime, possibly before the end of 2012. A live version of the program is in circulation among a restricted number of users. Look here in my blog for a review of the new Family Tree program shortly. I might say that my first impressions are that the program will end the pain and suffering of the present New FamilySearch users but may create a whole new set of concerns. But all in all, things are generally looking up.

Another part of the website that is now growing rapidly, after a long period of stagnation, is the online digitized books comprised of volumes from the Family History Libraries collections as well as books from the various Family History Centers around the world. I understand that just before RootsTech 2012, FamilySearch added about 40,000 books to the online collection. You can access the books by searching directly or you can use the Family History Library catalog. If you find a book you want in the catalog, the entry for the book will tell you if the book has already been digitized. This is also an ongoing process and the number of books scanned will increase regularly.

The big news is the 1940 U.S. Census project enlisting volunteers to index the census records. I have already posted about this subject but it bears repeating. There are approximately 132,000,000 people in the 1940 U.S. Census. They can have one person index 132,000,000 names or some larger number do fewer names. Right now with an estimate of 100,000 indexers working, each one would have to do about 1320 names to finish the job. There is a direct relationship between the number of indexers and the time it takes to finish. The question is simple: Would you like an index to the 1940 U.S. Census? If your answer is yes, then you need to get busy and learn how to Index between now and the release date on April 2, 2012.

The FamilySearch Research Wiki continues to grow unabated. There are several statewide projects going on all the time to increase the content and make it more accessible to the user. Again, as with the other now vast collections on, the Research Wiki grows incrementally and the addition of new pages happens all day long 24/7. It is like traffic on a freeway, always there and sometime more than others.

FamilySearch raised the cost of renting a microfilm from $5 to $7.50, probably a needed increase due to increased costs of just about everything else in the world. The good news is that as the microfilm is digitized, access becomes free online.

RootsTech 2012 was a huge success and as I have posted previously, many of the presentations are available either on the RootsTech 2012 website or on YouTube (search for RootsTech).

Internally, FamilySearch had a recent change in CEOs from Jay Verkler to Dennis Brimhall. This change will become more than superficial as time goes on. I understand from talking to FamilySearch employees that nearly every department has undergone some sort of restructuring. Many of the faces are changing and projects and programs presently given precedence may change. Will some programs be cut or reduced? Time will tell.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Nokia heats up the Megapixel race

One of the big features touted by Apple with the introduction of the iPhone 4S was a "new" 8 Megapixel camera. Nokia, running well behind both Apple and Samsung in sales, has upped the ante by introducing a 41 Megapixel smartphone camera. Yes, you read that right a 41 Megapixel camera. Presently, the very high-end professional imaging systems costing $30,000 or more have sensors with 50 Megapixels. The top-of-the-line Nikon and Canon cameras boast sensors with about 21 or so Megapixels but still cost over $5000. The Nokia 808 pureview smartphone is advertised as follows:
BARCELONA, Spain – Today we announce the Nokia 808 PureView. This is our first smartphone to feature our exclusive new PureView technology, which completely blows away any prior expectations about the quality of camera phone photography.
The Nokia 808 PureView features a 41-megapixel sensor with our highest performance Carl Zeiss optics to date and Nokia’s brand-new pixel oversampling technology.
 The description goes on to say:
The excellent camera performance also extends to video. The camera allows for 1080p recording at 30fps, with 4X lossless zoom thanks to the big sensor and powerful image processing which handles over 1 billion pixels per second. At lower resolutions, the capabilities of the zoom increase, with 6X at 720p and up to 12X lossless zoom in nHD (640 x 360) recordings. Of course great video is nothing without great audio. 
Here the Nokia 808 PureView also sets a new standard. The Nokia 808 PureView is the world’s first video recording device to allow recording without distortion at audio levels beyond the capability of human hearing. This allows you to even in the harshest of environment capture stereo CD-like audio quality.
 The resulting photos can be uploaded to Facebook with two clicks. Want some more, here is the intro video:

Now, there are dozens of videos highlighting the Nokia 808 on YouTube that are sprouting like weeds after a rain storm. It looks like the expensive professional level camera I have may be obsolete?

More comments later. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

MyHeritage Blog posts my post

MyHeritage has a blog. Some time ago, right after RootsTech 2012, I was invited by Daniel Horowitz of MyHeritage to submit an article for their Blog. I was so busy with other writing and the St. George Expo that I forgot all about sending in an article and suddenly it appeared. It is called Photographs: Enrich your family history. Thanks to for their support of genealogy and especially for coming to the Family History Expo in St. George.

Helping with the 1940 US Census

Here is a flyer I received from FamilySearch on the 1940 US Census:

1940 US Census Project Update
The launch of the 1940 US Census Community Project is now less than 40 days away! Thousands of people and hundreds of genealogy societies and other organizations have signed up to help provide free and open access to this amazing collection by indexing the census images to make them searchable online.

The indexing infrastructure has undergone a significant upgrade just this week as we make final preparations for the launch of this monumental effort.

Get Ready Now

Many indexing projects are now available to help you learn how the indexing software works and to help you train for the release of the 1940 US federal census on April 2. These projects include the following:
Iowa 1895 State Census
New York 1855 State Census
WWI Draft Registration Cards (multiple states)
WWII Draft Registration Cards (multiple states)
US Passenger Lists (multiple states)
1890 Census of Union Veterans and Widows
Texas Births and Deaths
UK 1871 Census
If you haven’t already had a chance, you can download the indexing software and get started today.

The 1940 census includes those who have been called “the Greatest Generation.” Get ready to index these records to ensure that everyone can be found, every connection can be made, and every legacy can be preserved.

Spread the Word

You can help us spread the word, even if you can’t find time to participate in indexing right now. Getting others involved will make the indexing effort go more quickly.
Here are a few ways to let others know about this nationwide opportunity for service:

Tell your friends to join the cause by registering at
Are you in a society? Index census records as a society.
Do you blog or have a website? Become an ambassador to spread the word.
Are you on Facebook? Like our page on Facebook.
Are you on Twitter? Follow @The1940Census and join the conversation using #1940census.
Who Will You Find?

If you are interested in finding a specific individual in the 1940 US Census, we want to hear from you. Please tell us who you are hoping to find and why. Send a message to

Thanks for your ongoing support.

The 1940 US Census Community Project Team

1940 US Census and RootsTech on YouTube

I have always been leery of YouTube, thinking it was domain of the weird and objectionable, it is, but it also has some fabulous genealogical content. If you watch the above 1940 U.S. Census video on YouTube, you should get a lot of links to other content, including some of the RootsTech 2012 presentations.

Here are some links to the RootsTech 2012 videos:
  • RootsTech Genealogy Conference 2012
  • At RootsTech 2012, Thomas Macentee, consultant and blogger, tells us why everyone should come to Rootstech.
  • Jay Verkler, former president of, talks about the future of family history at RootsTech 2012. He says the best way to predict the future is to invent it.
  • Julie Hill, from, talks about how they are bringing genealogy to the world.
  • Rootstech 2012 provides an in depth video about Cloud Computing and how it is used.
I think you get the idea. Do a search on YouTube for "RootsTech" and you will be able to see a great deal of the Conference content.

If you want even more videos, be sure and watch Lisa Louise Cooke's interviews on Genealogy Gems. Here is one video with Curt Witcher to get you started. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mystery Photo

This is another in the never ending series of mystery photos. It was taken about 1920 in St. Johns, Arizona by Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson (b. 22 November 1878, St. George, Washington, Utah Territory, d. 8 December 1968, Phoenix, Maricopa, Arizona). Anyone have any ideas? 

You are not alone

During the past month or so, I have presented at about ten conferences, webinars and classes. I am struck by the impact these events can have on the individual genealogical researcher. Here are some of the effects I find among the participants:

You are not alone. 
You share a common interest with similar frustrations and problems. Genealogy is a particularly solitary activity. You can spend hours and hours at the computer, sitting in libraries and scanning documents. It is comforting to know that others share the same activities.

Your questions and challenges are not unique.
It is amazing how many times I am asked the same or very similar questions. I think the most common question starts out, "I have been looking for (fill in the blank) for some time and..."

There are programs, products and services that can help you in your pursuit.
My sister-in-law went to her first genealogical conference at the St. George Family History Expo. She was extremely impressed and even though she attended only the opening event and saw the exhibitors, she is much more likely to come back to another conference. In addition, my wife was able to get her started on FamilySearch Indexing. Conferences have that effect on people, their vision of what can be done expands and their interest is piqued.

Genealogy is not a pursuit only for the aged and infirm. 
Those of us who are participating constantly in genealogical activities, know that interest in your family knows no bounds. Neither is it restricted to any age. Unfortunately, that is not the general perception. In talking to the full-time genealogists, most of us got our start at a much younger age. Although the tone and attendance at conferences is decidedly those who are more mature (lets just say it -- old guys) occasionally a younger participant realizes that talking and mingling with old folks isn't all that bad.

Learning about genealogy is possible at any age.
One of the life changing incidents in my life has been overcoming the association I had with old age and disability. My body certainly functions at a different age than my mind and I find many really older people with fantastic mental abilities. I am awed by the amount of experience and knowledge that come out of some of the most unlikely looking bodies. This is entirely counter to a society that does all that it can to marginalize and warehouse the old, rather than using their experience and depth of understanding. Genealogy conferences, like the Family History Expo, graphically demonstrate that great things can be accomplished in second, third and even fourth or more careers.

Participating in a conference can be hard work.
Even though our minds are willing, some of us are physically challenged and going to a conference can be hard work. Despite the work involved, it is evident that the effort is worth the time and expense. We come away invigorated and ready to start again to find those elusive relatives. We need to do hard things in our lives to keep alive. We all need to feel challenged and motivated. Going to conferences does it all.

We get real answers to real and sometimes hard questions.
Conference participants are at the stage in their understanding of genealogy that gives them the humility to accept suggestions and advice. Sometimes it is enough simply to have a forum where you can air your concerns. You really aren't looking for answers, you are looking for sympathy. Sympathy abounds in shared experiences and conferences give you that kind of shared experience.

You learn that genealogy isn't all that expensive an interest and pursuit.
Genealogy does take time. But when you compare the cost of a genealogy conference with other activities, it comes out quite inexpensive. I was struck by a sign on the road to St. George, Utah that advertised a round of golf for $45 dollars as a bargain. Our local Mesa golf courses charge $70 to $80 or much more for a round of golf. If you have ever owned a boat for water skiing, you know what the word expensive means. There a dozens of popular activities, including entertainment events, that cost much more than a two day or even a three day genealogy conference.

Genealogy can be an incentive and a reason to travel. 
We combined our trip to St. George with a visit to relatives, who took us on a private tour of the entire area. I am not a great fan of traveling. If I have a goal, like finding a grave site, I will travel to the ends of the earth. Otherwise, I will stay home on my computer and write.

Just a few thoughts. Get going. Sign up for an upcoming conference. Make plans today.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

More photos from St. George Family History Expo

I realized that I was carrying around a camera in the form of my iPhone and so I decided to take some pictures (what a novel idea). I guess I am still in the mode of having a telephone to talk to people and a camera to take pictures, not both at the same time. In the photo right above, you might recognize Renee Zamora, one of the outstanding genealogical bloggers.

Family History Expos Day Two

A nice bright, warm sunny day in St. George, Utah. The first day was a rousing success. I enjoyed the classes and especially the discussion in between the classes. Now we are back for day two, the final day of the Expo. Saturday starts out for me helping at the Ask-a-Pro booth for while and then popping off to classes. The first class I attended was "What do I do now? Tools for effective family tree analysis" by Ruth Ellen Maness, AG. Always interesting, always thought provoking.

Too narrow a focus

Yesterday, I spent considerable time answering questions. I usually start a class where a number of people show up before the scheduled start time by asking for questions. I use the phrase, "about anything in the known or unknown universe." I can take that position because the questions I get are predictable and very, very repetitive. Yesterday, I did get one question about copyright which was a breath of fresh air, I might add.

Over the years, there has been a plethora of writing by genealogists about overcoming the so-called "brickwall" problem. Part of understanding the solution is refusing to label any one research goal as a "problem." Invariably, most of the questions I receive both in and out of the classroom involve a focus on a specific individual. It is this focus that is the main contributor to the whole issue of finding genealogical information. John Donne coined a phrase that says "no man is an island." Genealogists should remember this more than attaching any sentimental or philosophical implications to the concept. Truly, in genealogy every person is connected to every other person in their social network.

Almost without exception, those researchers with a brickwall, have that condition because they have failed to put the narrow fact they are seeking into a political, social or religious context and then asked the question in a more general way, including the entire family and social, political and religious structure in the process.

One researcher yesterday had a very credible list of records she had searched looking for the death date and place of an ancestor. But when I asked what religion he had, she did not know. The ancestor was a German immigrant and she did not know if he was a Lutheran or a Catholic or some other religion. She was not very receptive when I suggested that looking at the person's children might help. In addition, her ancestor lived in the western United States in the mid- to late 1800s and she was looking for a death certificate. When that type of issue comes up, I immediately understand the problem, this person does not know the context. Death certificates were not common in most far western U.S. states until the 1900s. In addition, many of the states she mentioned were not even states at the times she was searching.

By focusing on one problem, i.e. a death date and place, she and many, many other or her fellow researchers spend an inordinate amount of time fishing in a bucket. Instead of spending more time searching for a death record, she might step back and read a little western history. Another example, from what she said, it is was apparent to me that the person she sought was following various mining activities. The locations she listed for residence in different years were mining towns. Why not look in the next chronologically important mining town for the ancestor? In the late 1800s he may have ended up in Arizona or Alaska.

Not to criticize, but to demonstrate a fundamental issue. You will always reach a point of frustration if you are looking in the wrong place, at the wrong time or even for the wrong person.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Photos of the St. George Family History Expo

I am sitting here at the St. George Family History Expo and I realize I have my iPhone and could take some pictures. The Conference is well attended and the key note address by Professor Susan Easton Black was outstanding. The weather is lovely and the whole thing is going very well. I had some really interesting discussions with some of the attendees.  More as we go along.

Family Tree makes its appearance

At RootsTech 2012, Ron Tanner, the product manager for, introduced Family Tree which he characterized as the ultimate replacement for New FamilySearch. He indicated that the new program would be introduced before the end of the year. Well, I got an email from Ron Tanner sending a link to the new program. I now have access to the new program. Ron's email does not mention a general introduction date, nor does it mention a schedule for any updates to the program.

When I clicked on the link to the sign in, the Family Tree link showed up on the menu of I have just begun to look at the new program and you will have to wait for any further information. But the program does look and operate just a demoed by Ron Tanner.

Obviously, more later.

Mystery Photo

This is another in a huge series of photos I inherited from my Great-grandmother Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson. Any ideas of the identity of this couple? By the way, the square shadow on the image came from an adhesive label attached to the outside of plastic slip the glass negative was stored in. It goes to show that somethings can harm old photos even if it is not touching the negative.

The Pioneers

I am here in St. George, Utah (actually Washington, Utah, a smaller city just to the north) for the St. George Family History Expo which starts today, 24 February 2012. I am certainly looking forward to the presentations, but even more to meeting new friends and renewing friendships.

St. George is particularly significant to me since at least two of my family lines lived and were pioneers in the area. My 3rd Great-grandfather, George Jarvis and his wife Ann Prior Jarvis lived most of their lives here in St. George. In addition, my Great-great-grandfather, Charles De Friez (who later changed his name to Jarvis) also lived here in St. George. He later married one of George and Ann's daughters, Margaret Jarvis and moved to Arizona. Charles and Margaret Jarvis were the parents of my Great-grandmother, Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson. Grandmother Overson helped raise my father after his mother died when my father was eight years old. She was a frequent visitor in our household while I was a child and my wife and I had the fortunate experience to drive her to St. Johns, Arizona from Mesa, where she lived to attend a family reunion.

Some of my other relatives, such as my Great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner and his wives and family also had connections to St. George and some of the surrounding communities such as Toquerville, Utah where Henry's second wife, Emma Ellen Stapley lived.

As you can probably guess, St. George is vastly different than it was during the pioneer days. This area was so difficult to settle, that the early pioneers had to be subsidized by surrounding communities for many years. This is a spectacular area for scenery but until there was a tourism industry you couldn't live on scenery.

Hopefully, I will get time to put up a few posts. Check in again.

In the interest of disclosure, I have become associated with Family History Expos as their Social Media Representative. 


I recently received the following comment. I might mention beforehand that I have not edited this remark in any way:
I think World Traveller is on to something. Deep down the LDS church uses the geneolgy information they gather to posthumously baptize people who were not LDS during their life time. They do this to artificially increase their membership numbers (they say they don't but they do) and can steal that information from and other sites they are associated with. It raises deep ethical problems. Another big problem is having to spend your own money on membership to update and complete their database with zero compensation. So they get free research labor. Another ethical problem. on Who owns the genealogy companies?
Of course the people who write this kind of drivel never sign their own name. In this case the comment was signed "anonymous." This is a response to an earlier comment by someone signing "World Traveler."

Let me examine this statement sentence by sentence.

I think World Traveller is on to something. Ignoring the misspelling, I originally thought this referred to me. That is what you get for writing in the middle of the night. But it refers to the earlier comment from World Traveller that said:
So, does the Mormon church have a stake in it or not? That's the biggest question to me. So, for example, as collects all this information from people, is it going to lead to guys in suits knocking on the door and trying to convert them to Mormonism?
I can say with certainty, that I have never found any ownership connection between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Whether or not the Church owns any of's publicly traded stock is totally irrelevant to the issue raised. As I said in a comment below, I have never heard of anyone getting a visit from missionaries merely as a result of signing up for

Deep down the LDS church uses the geneolgy information they gather to posthumously baptize people who were not LDS during their life time. Again ignoring the misspelling, I was not aware that the doctrine of the Church was "deep down." I thought that the doctrine of proxy baptisms for deceased relatives was pretty well publicized and discussed extensively in the press, especially recently. In case you happen to have missed this point, I would refer you to Why We Build Temples.

They do this to artificially increase their membership numbers (they say they don't but they do) and can steal that information from and other sites they are associated with. I am not certain where this person go information that the membership numbers of the Church include deceased persons. I am personally familiar with the Church procedures and as soon as the death of a member comes to the attention of the Church, the name is removed from the records reflecting church membership. I am interested in how the Church can "steal" information from when anyone paying an subscription fee can copy all the information they want from or any other subscription site. The last time I checked, that was the reason for the sites. I have never been able to show any kind of connection between the Church and other than agreements to share some database information.

It raises deep ethical problems. I am not sure what raises deep ethical problems. Certainly none have been raised by this commentator. I find it hard to reconcile deeply held religious beliefs with an accusation of ethical problems.

Another big problem is having to spend your own money on membership to update and complete their database with zero compensation. This is the most puzzling comment of all. Who is spending their own money on membership with FamilySearch when all of the resources are free online? Who expects to be compensated for doing their own genealogy? I suppose you can do you own genealogy and keep it entirely to yourself, but then what is the point? If you don't freely share your genealogy with other members of your family, who will ever know what you did or care? If you don't like any of the FamilySearch products, you can certainly avoid them at your own loss, I suppose.

So they get free research labor. Another ethical problem. (I know this is two sentences) I am not sure who gets the free research labor? I have been researching now for over thirty years on my own and other people's lines and I don't recall being paid for any of it. Even though I am a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, I do not charge for genealogical research. I choose who I help and what I do. I also do not understand why doing free research raises any ethical problems. I certainly have no expectation of any compensation whether I contribute my research to, or any other organization. I contribute for my benefit and that of my family, not theirs anyway.

This type of comment shows a gross lack of understanding of genealogy, of the relationship of online databases to the genealogical community and of the world in general. This comment may have originated as a result of some of the news coverage of the dishonest and unethical use of the program, but I cannot see any clear connection.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On being online - thoughts at 4:00 am

I suppose things could have been worse, rather than become a 24 hour-a-day genealogist, I could have gone into computer games. I really don't have an antidote for waking up in the middle of the night with blog posts running around in my brain, other than to write them down to get rid of them. This is probably at least one of the reasons why I am very commonly asked whether I ever sleep. Yes, I sleep but unfortunately my brain doesn't.

This week I taught a class at one of the huge mobile home parks here in Mesa. I may have already mentioned this in a previous post, but there were some additional interesting observations. First of all, this was a genealogy club meeting. You have to understand that mobile home parks and retirement communities in Mesa are really big and I mean huge. Some of them have thousands and thousands of residents. Anyway, it was interesting to see that the shuffleboard generation has taken up computers and some of them have taken up genealogy. This park had a large computer lab with 30 or so computers for the resident's use where the class was held. The class was a sign-up in advance affair and the participants paid $2 each for the class. Now the observations.

There were 28 people in the class. The class was on using Google for genealogy. At each stage of the class, I asked for a show of hands if anyone had used any of the resources I was going to introduce. Most of the time there were no hands or maybe one or at most two. Some of the resources, like Google Maps, got some response. Was I surprised? No. Because I get the same response from volunteers at the Mesa Family History Center. Even though people are parked in front of a computer does not mean they know how to use it or what is available online. So why do I know anything at all (assuming I do, of course) about what's online? In other words, why was I teaching the class?

When it comes to research, I assume the answer is online and all I have to do is find the combination of search terms that will take me to the source. It is a matter of attitude more than any innate knowledge of what is online. It is also a matter of practice. I have been using computers a good part of almost every work day for the past thirty years. It is also a matter of interest. I am interested in research and computers, as such. I have been doing research since I was very young and so the process of formulating a question and finding a source for answering the question comes instinctively.

This is not the case with most of the adult population of the U.S. Most people have not spent their lives in libraries or searching on the Internet. Those that do have found that the Internet really does have almost all the answers. For example, when I get sick now, I can go to the Internet and search on my symptoms and come awfully close to an accurate diagnosis before I get the confirmation from the doctor. This is pretty scary sometimes, because what if I am wrong or worse, what if I am really sick with something serious.

Genealogy lends itself naturally to the researcher type. It can be amazingly difficult for anyone who doesn't like to read, work on computers or look at old records. Being online is an extension of what I would be doing anyway. If I wasn't on the computer, I would be reading books. If I wasn't reading a book, I would be fidgeting about wasting time.

Do you have to be this type of person to do genealogy? No, not at all. It just helps if you are. OK, now it is time to go back to sleep.

Pinterest revisited

Since I only wrote about yesterday, it seems a little early to revisit the program, but I played around with it enough to finally get the idea of what was going on and by the way, I do see a future for genealogists in this type of program. The comments to my earlier post were also helpful in illustrating how people were using the program. Some of my initial impressions seem to be confirmed. The program is overwhelmingly used by women in the 20 to 40 year old range. In checking out the Pinterest pages of my daughters and some of my other younger acquaintances, I would conclude that they make up the bulk of the early users.

Not that there is anything wrong with this at all. In today's world, genealogy is about sources and source are about images, hence, Although genealogists are fond of stating that genealogy is one of the major hobbies or pastimes in the world, looking a social networking sites will quickly belie this unfounded claim. Food is far and beyond the more popular topic and genealogy doesn't appear on any general list of suggested topics for categories of pages in or any other major social networking site. Speaking of food, is not a good site to view on an empty stomach especially if you are watching your weight.

One thing I found annoying, was that automatically incorporated my entire list of "friends" from I realize now, too late it seems, that I did not have to do this and could have limited my selection of "friends" to a more manageable flow, but I can always unfriend people at the risk of being ostracized myself. I also find the timeline to be disturbing. Why do I want to know every time I change one photo from one page to another? Maybe I will find a way to turn this feature off or get used to having a running commentary on my mistakes.

One thing I plan to do is use as another way to help identify people in old photographs. The graphic interface seems ideal to this activity and probably quite a few others I will think of as time goes on.

Although it may not seem obvious at first, appears at least as useful as for cataloging links to websites, as long as you don't mind sharing everything with the whole world. Speaking of which, it also appears that privacy has become even more marginalized by this site. How private is your life, if I can go onto and see dozens of websites you have collected? I assume that this site (or something like it) will become more and more popular. It certainly appears to be the "next big thing" on the Internet.

The language of the law

One of my most vivid memories from law school (nightmares?) always happened on the first day of classes. Because of my library background, I got a job working in the law library three months before classes began for my first year of school and during the course of my years at school, I could watch each new class. Added to this, my father was an attorney and I had a passing acquaintanceship with at least the sound of legal terminology. Right after the first class in property law, there was always a mad dash to the library focused entirely on the law dictionaries. To almost every student, law was a foreign language that needed to be translated into something resembling English. I was working at the reference desk in the library and remember laughing as the entire first year class congregated around the dictionary shelves.

Genealogists have the same problem in deciphering legal documents but usually without the benefit of the law library or the library's reference section. But any library with even a modest reference section will very likely have the ultimate reference book of legal terminology; Black's Law Dictionary. What is even more convenient, this venerable reference book is mostly available in digital format. I say "mostly" because there are so many editions of this book, that it would be difficult to review all of them. The first edition was compiled in 1891. The latest edition, variously termed the 9th, 12th or even the 15th edition, was published in 2009. The book is also available in pocket editions, paperback, hardbound and iPhone app.

Garner, Bryan A., and Henry Campbell Black. Black's Law Dictionary. St. Paul, Minn: Thomson West, 2009.

If you haven't ever referred to Black's Law Dictionary, it is likely that you haven't reached that stage of your genealogical investigations that takes you into original deeds, wills, probate files and litigation. One of the most remarkable things about the legal profession as a whole is the absolute conservative nature of legal jargon. When I draft a will today, I use some of the same language contained in wills over 500 years old and it is not unusual for me to throw in a few Latin phrases when I write legal briefs.

Even though I mention (and recommend) Black's Law Dictionary to any researcher involved in legal documents, I do have make the qualification that the entries in the Dictionary sometimes need a dictionary to understand the definition. Now, with the Internet, I only very rarely resort to a printed paper edition of any law book, even Black's Law Dictionary, and I haven't been in a law library (except to use the restroom) in years. I do have a paper copy of one of the editions sitting by my desk however. Here is an example of the definition of the word seisen from an online source:

seisin (sees-in) n. an old feudal term for having both possession and title of real property. The word is found in some old deeds, meaning ownership in fee simple (full title to real property). (See: fee simple, seized) From The Free Dictionary by Farlex.

Well, that is not really the full meaning of the term. You have to a go a lot further into the history of land ownership before you begin to understand what was meant to be seized of a piece of property. In the earliest times of English law, part of the process of conveying real property consisted of handing an actual handful of the dirt to the new owner, who was then said to be seized of the property. If you keep following the terms, you can spend a long time learning before you grasp the entire concept conveyed by one term.

What about online resources other than Black's Law Dictionary? If you use Google, you can always look up a word's definition by typing "define [word]." This search form will produce references to multiple dictionaries.

One rule about law is absolutely essential to understanding any legal document, old or new, that is, do not assume a common meaning of any of the words used. Even terms that might seem familiar to you may have a strict legal meaning in the context of a legal document. After all, there has to be some reason to pay attorneys all that money.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pinterest - yet another social networking site? is reportedly one of the fastest growing websites in Internet history, however, there are those that claim as the actual fastest growing. For my part, since I play the roll as an "early adapter" it seems like I have missed both of these boats. I suspect it is because I actually spend time writing rather than watching what all my millions of "friends" are doing at every instant of the day. In short, I may not have a life but at least my life isn't social networking.

So why did I sign up for Good question. has been around for a couple of years (it came online officially in 2010) and is grabbing more and more media attention. My unvarnished opinion of the site is that it emulates one of those magazines I see in doctor's offices that I avoid reading. Initially, it is vastly different that Google+, which I feel is more focused and enables me to connect with genealogists rather than reading about what the cat threw up this morning.

Interestingly, one of my children (who will remain nameless) was on and responded to me within 3 minutes of when I signed in. I should have picked up a clue to the nature of the site when I signed in and it asked me to sign in with my Facebook account. By the way, virtually none of my dear Facebook "friends" have migrated over to Google+ while the whole gang seem to be on

So far, I find a significant percentage of the content on to be personally offensive. Unless I can find a way to filter out some of the junk, it appears that my sojourn there will be unproductive. The concept is interesting but it is sort of like walking through an mall. You might guess that I don't care for malls either besides the fact that I shop at very few of the stores that have mall locations. In fact, I probably haven't been in a mall for six months so why would I want one on my computer?

That brings up the next question, is there any possible way can have valid and helpful genealogical content? And do I really want to collect pictures of cars and crafts? Well, I guess we shall see.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lessons in Genealogy from 1915 Part Two

At the time the Lessons in Genealogy book was written the big event of the year was the International Congress of Genealogy held in July, 1915 in conjunction with the San Francisco World's Fair. The Utah delegation made up nearly half of the delegates to the Congress. The proceedings of the Congress are digitized online on

By this time, the Utah Genealogical Society (UGS) was also printing the Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine which began publication in 1910.
Copies of the Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine are on Google Books in their entirety. They make for some interesting reading. The real question is whether the monumental changes in technology since that time have fundamentally altered the methodology of genealogy or are merely facilitating what is a fundamental way of doing the research?

Back to the Lessons book. Page 9 of the Lessons book talks about some of the resources that were available at the time, albeit in the east and a long way by train from Utah. Here is another excerpt from the Lessons book:
The librarian of the Newberry Library of Chicago tells us that they have in that library about 6,000 volumes upon genealogy proper, besides about 3,000 volumes of town history, many of which contain genealogical matter; and about 600 volumes on heraldry and peerage. They have a wonderfully complete index in this library which contains approximately 1,000,000 names. The Library of Congress contains about 4,500 genealogical volumes, besides a large number of works bearing on genealogical matters.
The first American work on genealogy was published in 1771. The second in 1787. The third in 1813. In 1874 a total of 400 genealogical works was listed. From that time to the present this class of publications has greatly increased. Every year sees a large number added to the list. The New England society has been instrumental in having printed 137 volumes of vital records of towns in the state of Massachusetts, and this good work is still going on. Other American societies are actively gathering, preserving, and publishing genealogical matter. Thousands of individuals have been moved upon to spend much money and years of time to gather \ their family records and issue them in printed form.
 There is no question that record availability is a major factor in the changes since 1915. For example, the Newberry Library now has over 17,000 published genealogies and extensive collections of local histories, census records, military records, and periodicals. The collection in the Library of Congress has grown enormously with has more than 50,000 genealogies and 100,000 local histories. The collections are especially strong in North American, British Isles, and German sources.

Much of this increased reference material is being made available online. But does record availability really change the way you do genealogy? For example, the Library of Congress has all of these thousands of records, when was the last time you used the resources of the Library of Congress?

In 1915, the UGS, the past predecessor of FamilySearch had a library of 3,000 volumes. Today the Family History Library, in its modern building in Salt Lake City, Utah, is the home of a collection that includes over 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 727,000 microfiche; 356,000 books, serials, and other formats; over 4,500 periodicals and 3,725 electronic resources.

When was the last time you used the resources of the Family History Library? The point is simple. Record availability will not affect the way you do genealogy if you do not use the records.

More about the Lessons in Genealogy from 1915 in future posts. 

Lesson in Genealogy from 1915 Part One

In 1915 the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) in Salt Lake City, Utah published a 76 page book (including the paper cover) called "Lessons in Genealogy." The copy that I found online on is the Third Edition. shows only one copy of this Lessons book in any library across the world and I would assume that this would qualify as a "rare" book.

Back in 1915 the GSU was a subscription organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church). Today, the GSU uses the tradename "FamilySearch" but is still operating as a separate entity from the corporation, FamilySearch, International. For all practical purposes to those outside of the the staff and employees of the two organizations, even though the two separate entities exist, they are essentially the same. 

Some time ago, I finished reading Jacobus, Donald Lines. Genealogy As Pastime and Profession. New Haven, Conn: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Co, 1930. I was very much interested in the point of view expressed by Jacobus concerning the methodology and practice of genealogy. This small pamphlet from the GSU is another generation earlier than Jacobus' book and expresses another, even earlier, view of the process of genealogical research. I think those of us who live in the computer age tend to improperly discount work done by researchers in much earlier times. Although some of the genealogies produced back in the 1800s and before are less than helpful to us today, there was a considerable amount of work done by careful and accurate researchers based on the records available at the time. We also have to remember that many of today's less careful researchers copy the old compiled books on genealogy wholesale into the present online mass of family trees.

If we ignore the past, we will never understand the present and will have no ability to see into the future. In the United States, there has always been, since the foundation of the Church, an undercurrent of anti-Mormon sentiment as evidenced by the current political contest for a presidential nominee. It is not unusual for genealogists to be affected by this 150 year old controversy. Even among the blog writers of today, there are those with a decided anti-Mormon and anti-Church sentiment. The fact that different genealogists have distinct and sometimes contradictory motivations for doing their genealogy should not limit us from putting aside those differences and cooperating at the level of investigators of the past.

Back to the 1915 Lessons book, a lifetime membership in the UGS was $10, no small sum back in those days. Adjusted for inflation the cost in today's funds would be over $200.

To even begin to understand the content of this Lessons book, it is necessary to recognize that genealogy is a basic tenant of the teachings of the Church and that genealogy is looked upon, not just as a pastime, but as a solemn religious duty of every member. The introductory paragraph of the Lessons is illustrative:
Every well-informed, consistent Latter-day Saint should believe in genealogy as much as he believes in faith, repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins ; and this belief should be manifested in works, the same as belief in baptism, tithing or any other gospel principle is shown to be genuine by its fulfillment in actual practice. This statement, that every Latter-day Saint should be a genealogist, may at first thought, seem a little extreme. It will be necessary, therefore, to establish the proposition by briefly pointing out what the Latter-day Saints believe regarding the salvation of the human race. [typographic and spelling errors in the original have been corrected].
As a side note, this statement is essentially applicable to the members of the Church today and may help to explain many of their attitudes and motivations. I am not going to indulge in a doctrinal treatise because my purpose is to examine the genealogical practices at the time. By the way, there have been few changes, if any, in the fundamental doctrinal basis for doing genealogical research since 1915 but it is highly unlikely that modern writers and teachers in the Church would make reference to some of the content of the Lessons.

Beginning at page 8 of the book there is a very interesting summary of the status of genealogical societies as the existed at the time. The most notable of these from the book's standpoint, was the New England Historic Genealogical Society which by the way, is still flourishing and was a prominent participant in the recent RootsTech 2012 Conference. Here is an interesting quote from the then librarian of the Society quoted from a letter dated 19 August 1911:
No one knows how many volumes of genealogy we have in our library. We have never taken the trouble to ascertain either how many volumes of genealogy or how many titles. Our chief concern has been to secure everything possible in this line in order that we might show any American genealogy called for. We are striving to make this the court of last resort. We have paid prices ranging from $5 to $150 each for pamphlets and broadsides which really have but little use except to make our collections complete. As to this library's rank, it is unquestionably first of its kind anywhere, for three reasons : first, its completeness in printed works : second, its manuscript collections ; third, its duplicate copies.
 I think the goals of the Society have changed somewhat over the years, but it is still an extremely valuable organization. Interestingly, at the time the UGS had only a few dozens of books and other materials in its own collection.

When you look at the world through genealogical glasses, the whole world seems like genealogy. Looking at the past helps in establishing a perspective in the present.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Card and name hoarders

Two seemingly unrelated events triggered my thoughts about similar problems. The first was an article in the local East Valley Tribune about hoarders. The article entitled, "Hoarders pile up danger for East Valley emergency crews" discusses the problems encountered by firemen and policemen when they try to enter hoarders' houses. Here is a quote from the article:
Dozens of animals housed in cages or boxes with waste accumulating. Stacks of newspapers and magazines that date back several years. Boxes of books blocking hallways.
Wads of plastic grocery bags, many filled with trash, by walls of crushed cardboard beer cases and empty cans that reach to the ceiling.
These are just a few of the items that firefighters from around the East Valley have encountered in the homes of hoarders, a term recently made more familiar through reality television shows such as "Hoarders" and "Buried Alive." It's an obsessive-compulsive mental disorder people live with as they accumulate and surround themselves with an overwhelming amount of stuff.
Looking at my piles of genealogy documents and other boxes of stored records from businesses, I can utterly relate to all this.

 The second event is the announcement of a new form for the Ordinance Cards used by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while doing proxy ordinances for deceased relatives in the Temples. How could these two events be related? It is not such a stretch as it might seem.

In my volunteering at the Mesa, Arizona Temple, I often see hundreds of Ordinance Cards a week.  Now, to understand, in small part, the issue, I have to go back a few years. Beginning in 2007, FamilySearch began to make the website available to members primarily for the purpose of preparing Ordinance Cards for the members' use in the Temple. This action replaced the earlier program called Temple Ready. The cards produced by the old, now completely abandoned, Temple Ready program are only slightly different than the ones produced by the New FamilySearch program. The detail is that the newer cards have a Person Identifier Number, a unique number for each individual in the New FamilySearch database. The Mesa, Arizona area started using New FamilySearch exclusively to prepare cards in early 2008. Temple Ready was discontinued and no further Temple Ready cards have been prepared now locally for about four years.

Elsewhere in the Church these older Temple Ready cards were still being used until about 2010 or so, but now, Temple Ready has been replaced everywhere in the Church. So what is the problem? I still see Temple Ready cards in use regularly at the Mesa, Arizona Temple. I have seen people with brief cases full of cards. In talking to members of the Church, I frequently hear about drawers full of cards. It appears that the hoarding instinct is alive and well in those doing genealogy. It just manifests itself in a slightly different way. The irony of the announcement concerning the new card form, a minor change in the format, is that it may well be that the Temple Ready cards will continue to surface for the rest of my lifetime.

This may seem like a minor problem, but it is symptomatic of a deeper problem with genealogists, that is, name hoarders. To those afflicted with this disorder, it is necessary to have tens of thousands of names in a database, regardless of whether or not the information is accurate or even plausible. I have written about this issue from time to time, but it keeps coming back to me every time I see someone with a huge stack of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of Ordinance Cards. I am also reminded of the problem when I listen to someone tell me how they have over 100,000 names in their genealogy file as if having the names was the ultimate goal of genealogy. I am not talking about mammoth files per se,  but about the acquisition of names for names' sake. I view this as the same insecurity that motivates the hoarders with their houses of used fast food containers.

The purpose of Ordinance Cards is to assist in the performance of the ordinances in the Temples. Once the ordinances are completed, the cards serve no other function since the record of the ordinances is kept automatically by the New FamilySearch program. In any event, whether the completed cards are kept or not is of little consequence. It is the issue of hoarding printed cards where the ordinance work has not been done that is the problem.

Now, I am a collector. I have been collecting things since I was a small child. I have collections of stamps, coins, books, records, sea shells, and quite a few other things. How is a collector different than a hoarder? There is a very fine line, but I think the difference is partly in the identity of the items collected. Hoarders cannot differentiate between useful, valuable items and junk. Collectors are looking for specific unique items with some intrinsic value. Here lies the difference between name hoarders and genealogists. Genealogists value each name, not just as a name, but as a gateway to individual's lives. Accumulating names has no real value and for the most part, the names accumulated by hoarders are equivalent to the used fast food cartons and crushed cans of the house hoarders.

I recognize that there is no way to address this problem with the hoarders themselves. But perhaps, if you or someone you know has this tendency, you might, through love and kindness, help them to overcome this challenging problem. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Traveling down the road

I have recently agreed to help Family History Expos with some of their online news and updates such as their Facebook page. As a result, I expect I will be attending most of the Family History Expos around the country. This next weekend I will be in St. George, Utah. One advantage is that I have family all around the country and some of the time I will get a bonus from all the traveling and get to visit relatives, mostly children and grandchildren.

In April, I will make the rounds of Family History Expos to Houston, Texas and then on to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and finally to the Family History Expo in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you live near any of these places, please come by and say hello.

At the St. George Family History Expo FamilySearch will be there scanning books. Here is the info on the book scanning:
Free Book Scanning Service at the St George Expo
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah is world renowned as the largest research collection under one roof anywhere in the world! You can access their collections through more than 3,000 FamilySearch Centers throughout the U.S.

At the St George Family History Expo FamilySearch is offering to scan your family history book and give you a digital copy on a flash drive provided by FamilySearch for your convenience. 

Benefits of scanning your book:
  • Share it with others easily and inexpensively
  • Have a copy of your book preserved by FamilySearch
  • Provide access to others who may share your ancestral lines by making the book available free of charge on

How it works:
  • Sign-up and reserve your time for your book to be scanned (300 page limit)
  • If your book is copyrighted, print out and have the copyright holder sign the permission form in order for scanning to be performed
  • Bring your book and signed permission form to the FamilySearch Scanning booth at the Expo on the day of your reservation. Please drop the book off before 10:00 am, if possible, to allow maximum time for scanning
  • Pick up your book and the digital copy on a flash drive provided by FamilySearch at the end of the day

Sign up online to reserve a day for your book to be scanned:
  It looks like I will also be presenting two classes, one on Google Treasures for Genealogists and the other on FamilySearch. I am looking forward to seeing some of my friends at the Conference and having a good time in sunny St. George.

The outline of classes and presenters looks outstanding. 

In all fairness, I have to disclose that I am actually going to be on the staff of the Family History Expos. But I am more than happy with the Expos I have been to in the past and look forward to the same kinds of experiences in the future. 

Realistic Record Availability

From time to time, I have someone ask me for help in finding a birth or death certificate. The problem is that the people they are looking for lived in the early 1800s. Rather than say anything, most of the time I will simply pull out either the Handy Book for Genealogists or the Red Book and show them the realistic dates for birth and death certificates in the state where they are looking. Most people are really surprised to find out that birth certificates are such a recent innovation.

Everton, George B., Sr. The Handy Book for Genealogist. Logan UT: Everton Publisher, Inc, 1981.
Eichholz, Alice. Redbook: American State, County & Town Sources. Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2004. 

These questions bring up a major research issue for genealogists; looking for records that could not and do not exist. I am not talking about missing or destroyed records, but records that logically and historically cannot exist in the time period being examined. My experience is that this is a common issue, especially with genealogists with a certain level of understanding of records.

Birth certificates from government agencies are a good example. The earliest birth certificates were created in England in 1853. According to the "UNICEF SOWC Report" ( accessed 18 February 2012 as many as 75% of the children in some developing countries are not registered even today. Historically, children who died shortly after child birth or who lived in rural areas were unlikely to be registered at birth. In is not uncommon, even today, to find people living in the United States who do not have a birth certificate. The Arizona data base of Vital Records,  has birth records from 1855, but from personal experience, I know that many records are simply not there. Arizona did not require birth records statewide until after 1900.

So where do you go for birth records? Try family bibles, newspapers, church records, family correspondence, photographs, census records, state census records, and so on and so forth.

So how do we solve this problem? First of all there is a dismal lack of understanding generally among genealogists about the scope of records available and where they might be found. For example, how many people do you know who have read either of these books:

Eakle, Arlene H., and Johni Cerny. The Source A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Pub. Co, 1984.

Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 1990.

Neither of these books are very recent, but then records haven't changed that much in the past thirty years or so. Just because records are online doesn't mean they are any different than those available around the country fifty or more years ago. After all we are looking for dead people, not usually for people who are living around us right now.

From time to time I write about records that no one seems to know about, including the major libraries. In this regard, cemetery records are a good example. I once sat in a sexton's office of a cemetery outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and asked for records about my family members buried just a short distance from where we sat. Every time I asked a question, the office worker would disappear into another room and come out with another piece of paper. I finally had, one by one, quite a stack of paper, but she refused to volunteer even one sheet. Knowing what I know about cemeteries now, I will have to go back and ask for more because I did not ask for the burial permits or any transportation documents. If you want an interesting experiment, search for burial permits on You will see what I saw when I did the search and then realize that it is very likely every municipal cemetery and many private cemeteries have a file of burial permits from the state, county or municipality. As I have mentioned previously in other posts, these documents can be extremely valuable. In case you don't have access to, searching over 30,000 collections for burial permits, brings up one collection from Kansas.

So what is realistic? If you spent a small percentage of the time you spend looking for names and instead looked for types of records and where they might be located, you would come out way ahead of the game. You also need to focus on the historical context of the records and exactly when and where the type of record may be found. It does no use to plumb a dry well. You need to look for records that exist at the time your people lived. Another example, the Library of Congress has a database called the US Newspaper Directory, 1690 to the present. You can search for any time period in any state or county of the U.S. and find out which newspapers were printed and where copies might be found. Part of the trick is learning enough about the sources to find the master sources that tell you what can be found and where. Part of that comes with experience and part of it comes with the realization that there are more records than any one person could examine in a lifetime so you have to search smart. Think about what kinds of records might have contained the information you are looking for at the time your ancestor lived and then try to find where those records were kept and where they might be now. But it is always a good idea to first ask if the type of record existed at the time in question.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Battle of the Giants -- Apple, Microsoft and Google

Apple's announcement of another new operating system, this one named "Mountain Lion" highlights the battle going on between the three huge software/computer companies. Microsoft has already previewed its "Windows 8" some time ago. Could Apple's announcement of another issue of OS X be a preemptive strike in the ongoing battle? Meanwhile, Google is far from standing at the sidelines. It takes some considerable effort to understand what Google is doing; here is a sample:
Google has announced the release of an experimental Chromium build that includes an integrated Dart language runtime. The browser, which Google calls Dartium, is being made available as a technical preview for the benefit of developers who want to see how the Dart virtual machine works in a browser.
Dart is a new programming language that Google is developing for client-side Web scripting. The language has a more conventional object model than JavaScript and optional support for static typing, features that Google claims will allow it to be faster, safer, and more conducive to tooling than JavaScript. Much like Microsoft's VBScript, Dart is a nonstandard client language that is developed and supported by a single vendor outside of the Web standards process.
 Google has moved decisively into the hardware side of the battle with its Google Chromebook computers. If I were to make a guess as to the direction the battle is taking, I would point out that both Apple and Google are developing products that directly compete with Microsoft and Microsoft does not seem to be responding in any way that will out flank either of its competitors.

It looks more and more like the operating system of the future is a browser and the browser of the future is an operating system. You have to remember that Apple is either the first, second or third company with the largest market capitalization, periodically trading places with Exxon Mobile and PetroChina. Apple didn't even get into the top ten until the fourth quarter of 2009 but passed Microsoft in the process of moving to number one. Microsoft is also in the top ten of companies with the largest market capitalization.

None of the three necessarily rank as the largest companies in the world, but large does not always mean profitable.

WHO WILL WIN? Cell phone or computer?

 There is a fundamental shift in computer technology. I believe there is a convergence between what we now call a "desktop" computer and the cellphone or tablet computers. The cellphone (computer) will become more and more powerful until, in a relatively short time frame, you will simply walk up to a keyboard and monitor and your cellphone computer will connect and you will use it like you now use a desktop. This will likely occur at the same time most software applications move to the Internet or the Cloud or whatever you want to call it.

For example, people ask me repeatedly which genealogy software program I use. The answer is I use several, but what will become my primary repository for genealogical data remains to be seen. Right now, the best candidate is, the online wiki from the Allen County Public Library. If and when FamilySearch's new product, Family Tree, goes online, it may become a candidate if it will accept images. This trend of using online programs will only continue to become more pervasive. I believe that software programs as we know them today, in a box at a store or ordered online, will disappear. All software will become distributive, that is, available as an online program.

So which of the companies will win? Apple is in the best position to take advantage of the movement of computers to cellphones and software to the Internet. They already sell iPhones and have agreements with cellphone providers and they already have an online store, the App Store. Google is in second place with the Android operating system and the Android Market. They also sell a network computer as i pointed out above. Microsoft? They seem to be left out in the cold dreary world of business and government. I do not yet see a future for Microsoft in the consumer world.

Should you move to a mobile device right now? The developments I am talking about will take a couple of years so you can stay with your desktop for a while. But you will see more and more online applications taking over the function of standalone software programs. In genealogy look at and for examples. If the other software companies don't move rather quickly over to an online integration, they will be left dead in the water.