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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

1000s of Apps, the life a smartphone user

We arrived in Colorado Springs for the Family History Expo and the first thing we did after getting a car was to use my iPhone to find driving instructions to the hotel. I think my memory of the pre-smartphone world is growing awfully dim. It seems like I have always been able to use my telephone to watch movies, read books, find directions on maps, answer questions, check the stock market, read the latest trashy news, look up the status of the weather around the world, find a restaurant, check the prices in the store to see if I can get it cheaper, take a high resolution digital photo, look up a friend's phone number, compare car models, read about everything, anything and all in the palm of my hand, instantly and without fuss or bother. Oh, did I mention carrying around thirty years of genealogical research and having an instant connection to FamilySearch or Oh, and of course, the most basic use of all, finding my wife in Costco by calling her phone. And calling and talking to my children, my office, clients, friends and anyone else in the known universe whenever the fancy strikes me whether I am dangling my feet over the edge of the Grand Canyon or sitting at the top of a mountain.

Yes, it is addictive. It is almost impossible to believe what would happen to my life if I lost my phone. There is, for a fact, a new disease in that regard, nomophobia, and no I did not make that up, but I wish I had. I am certainly one one of those with a severe case.

I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I had had access to computers, particularly smartphones and such, in my youth. I fantasize about making much higher grades in school, but likely, I would have done much worse because of the distraction of having the entire knowledge of the world at my finger tips. I can say one thing for sure, I would have a lot weirder than I was and that might have been a real problem.

The one thing that computers ala smartphones have done for me is to liberate me from the thraldom of my office and work. I can literally and without guilt, work from almost anyplace and at almost any time of the day or night. I can carry on a conversation with one of my law partners while sitting in the airport waiting for my baggage. I can do research on a case sitting by pool or while traveling as a passenger in a car. Locations become irrelevant to activities.

We are working today from Colorado, but I may as well be in Mesa or anywhere else. I still have location based activities and commitments, but the need to be in one location for all purposes has disappeared.

My most used apps are legion and they change almost daily. Because of who I am, many of the apps are Church related and genealogy related, but I use some of the same apps on my computer. The one main difference between my desktop/laptop world and my smartphone world is writing. Writing on a smartphone is still slow and relatively painful, but if that one issue were solved, I would probably substitute my smartphone for almost everything.  We have stopped using cable TV almost entirely, and will probably drop our cable subscription in favor of obtaining all our movies, news and weather through our computers. I have written a couple of articles on TechTips about using a smartphone for genealogy and now I use the phone for collecting information.

Do I recommend this way of life to anyone else? Hmm, not really. You may find that the information flow will cause you head to burst.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Off to Colorado Springs

The next two days, I will either be in meetings or traveling to Colorado Springs for the Family History Expo June 01, 2012 from 1:00 pm and June 02, 2012  until 4:30 pm.  The Expo is being held at the Crowne Plaza Colorado Springs, 2886 South Circle Drive,  Colorado Springs, Colorado - 80906. I will be presenting four classes. I hope to get some reporting done in between everything, but I will see how things turn out. I will be helping at the Ask-the-Experts booth all that I can, so drop by and say hello.

Community or Communities? That is the Question.

In a recent post What is the Genealogical Community?, Marian Pierre-Louis discussed the apparent fragmentation of the genealogical community. She also pointed out some of the limitations of the blogging community's representation of genealogists a whole. Randy Seaver and many others commented on the ideas raised in the post.

As it turns out, strategic management, community associations such as the Chambers of Commerce and many other national and local organizations have been discussing this issue at various levels for many years. The current discussion centers around the concept of "self forming non-directed groups." There are various proposed explanations including Reed's Law which states:
[T]he utility of large networks, particularly social networks, can scale exponentially with the size of the network.
The reason for this is that the number of possible sub-groups of network participants is 2N − N − 1, where N is the number of participants. This grows much more rapidly than either
  • the number of participants, N, or
  • the number of possible pair connections, N(N − 1)/2 (which follows Metcalfe's law).
so that even if the utility of groups available to be joined is very small on a peer-group basis, eventually the network effect of potential group membership can dominate the overall economics of the system.
Metcalf's law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2). These "Laws" set the upper limits for the number of groups that can be formed and their size in any defined pool of participants.

What all this boils down to is that groups of affinity interested individuals are forming and disintegrating all the time. Genealogy is mere one of the almost infinite number of affinity group possibilities. We all belong to a number of these self-forming groups all the time, whether we are aware of their existence or not. For example, the moment I decide to visit a Family History Center, I become a member of a huge group of people who have visited Family History Centers. We cannot identify all of them as "genealogists" as some of them may have merely come in from the cold or to use the restrooms, but they are automatically included in a sociologically defined group.  

The Internet has created a virtual basis for the formation of groups. Understand that the formation of groups is a natural consequence of human nature. Remember the groups that formed spontaneously in classes at school or the social clubs that form in any group of people. This idea of affinity extends from a global to a very local level. Nations are built on the idea of a shared affinity. Genealogy is not immune from these fundamental sociological forces. The Internet has merely provided another avenue for the creation of groups.

Once individuals begin to identify themselves as members of a group, there is an immediate accommodation of organization. Eventually, if there is time, availability and interest, the group will codify and form an organization. People develop a concept of self worth dependent on their participation in groups and status within the group. Whether virtual or physical, this internal structure becomes stratified with the leader of the group, tribe, corporation, or whatever achieving status because of the position within the group. We see this happening throughout society and it is mirrored in the so-called genealogical community.

Virtual groups merely make it a whole lot easier to join and feel a part of a group. For example, all I have to do is click to "join" a group on Facebook or Google+. No commitment, not even any participation. So the bottom line is this; there are practical limits to the size of groups and sub-groups but the upper limit to the number of sub-groups that can be formed is only limited by absolute number of potential members.

So we have genealogists who do not consider themselves as members of any group. We have genealogists who consider themselves as members of a group. We have informal virtual groups of genealogists such as the genealogical bloggers. We have formal genealogical groups or societies and other organizations. Where is the community? If you define a "community" as a group of genealogists that interact in some way either virtually or physically, then there are as many communities as there are there are people who consider themselves part of a "group." Any one person can be a member of an unlimited number of other sociologically defined groups. 

More later.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Hero in Peace and in Wartime

Here is a link to a lovely story about one of my relatives, Phil Richey. Phil and his wife, Anna Peterson, were at my parent's wedding. Here is a photo of my parents, Wallace and Maxine Tanner with my uncle Marion Peter Overson and Anna Richey.

Here is a picture of Phil and Anna Richey's Wedding:

What Online Software/Services Do I Use the Most?

A while ago, I wrote about the desktop software I most frequently use. In that process, I differentiated between the software that resides primarily on my computer and those "programs" or services that are cloud or Internet based. This is becoming more and more of an artificial distinction. For example, I recently upgraded to Adobe CS6 programs. In the now distant past, I would have had purchased a physical disk and box, installed the software on my computer and purchased an "upgrade" box and disk to "upgrade" the software. I have used Adobe products since their creation and their predecessor programs like Aldus Pagemaker.

This time, I did not have a physical product. I had purchased Photoshop CS4 and then upgraded to Photoshop CS5 by downloading copies of the program from online. In the past, I would have been mildly hysterical about losing the software, but due to my registration with Adobe, I could download another copy any time and use my registration number to, in a sense, backup the program without having a physical disk.

So, now it was time to upgrade to CS6. I looked at the price of upgrading my two main programs, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign and that started a family discussion about how to do this. The reason is simple, upgrading the two programs would be hundreds of dollars. For example, right now, the best price I could find on CS6 Creative Suite upgrade (includes more than Photoshop and InDesign) is over $350. But it turned out to be much more complicated than that based on the dates and versions of our existing programs.

I won't go through all of the calculations we looked at, but suffice it to say, it was going to be a major expense. So we dilly-dallied around until we had a major computer crash. One factor in the decision was that some of our older versions of Adobe programs would not run on the new Apple OS X Lion operating system. But talking about upgrades in another subject, for another time. This problem was solved by Adobe's Creative Cloud program. We pay one price per month for downloading any or all of the major Adobe products. The cost of paying a monthly fee was less than the cost of upgrading all the products we use and need and we could get products we never dreamed we could afford.

Now, this explanation has a whole lot to do with my selection of programs that are cloud based. Even though they reside, in part, on my computer, I use them only with the Internet and not as "standalone" programs. Now, as you can see with my explanation of the Adobe products, this distinction is blurring considerably.

My number one program is very complicated. It is Google. Here is a list of the Google programs that I use exhaustively:
  • Google Picasa
  • Google Books
  • Google Maps
  • Google Translate
  • Google Shopping
  • Google Reader
  • Gmail
  • YouTube
  • Google Images
  • Google Drive
  • Blogger
  • Google Earth
  • Google News
  • Google Chrome
  • Google Play
  • Panoramio
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Talk
  • Google+
  • Google Reader
OK, you get the point. My online world revolves around Google products. But wait, as they say on TV, for only $19.99, oh, sorry I got carried away.

Now what is in second place?

Three programs are changing the way I do work on various computers. They are Dropbox, Google Drive (listed above) and Microsoft's Sky Drive. Each of these programs have some "free" storage space online. Since I move from computer to computer throughout the week, I can store commonly used files in the cloud and access the updated files from any computer or even my iPhone. This way of working has fundamentally changed my interaction with the computer.

I use some really sophisticated photo editing programs that I didn't mention in my last go around, but they are so narrowly used that I hesitate to mention them. If you need them, you will find them.

Listing the variety of websites I use online would be endless. But special mention has to go to FamilySearch's Family Tree. You will hear more about my online storage and genealogy programs in another post, as well as the Apps I use on my iPhone.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mystery Photo of the Week

I have hundreds, perhaps thousands of mystery photos from the collection of Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson and her father Charles Godfrey Jarvis [De Friez]. I have had some small success in posting them online for identification. This photo was taken in the early 1920s judging from accompanying photos. It was most likely taken in St. Johns, Apache, Arizona.

Attribution vs. Copyright

Attribution does not excuse or justify copyright infringement. My wife ran across a blog post recently that said, "The following is copied from..." with a link to another blog. The "quote" was the entire blog post. Now, I am unaware if the originator of the work would be pleased or outraged because their entire blog post was copied, but it is a commonly mistaken believe that simply telling where you got the material (attribution) absolves you from problems with copyright. Copying an entire work, is always a violation of the originator's or publisher's copyright.

There are some notable exceptions. What about press releases for example? Such and such a company or entity issues a statement about a new product, upgrade or whatever. Isn't the company expecting people to copy the notice? Yes, pretty obviously. In fact, they would probably like to have the entire press release reproduced and not just abstracted or excerpted. But that is far from the common situation.

You cannot copyright facts. If I read that the temperature in Phoenix is 110 degrees, that is a fact and not covered by copyright. Be careful in how you reproduce those fact however, the wording of the original is copyrighted. 

Another exception is fair use. The Wikipedia definition is pretty good, here it is:
Fair use is a limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law to the author of a creative work. In United States copyright law, fair use is a doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. Examples of fair use include commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. It provides for the legal, unlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work under a four-factor balancing test.
 While I am at it, Wikipedia is governed by the Creative Commons, another exception to the Copyright Law.  This particular quote is covered by the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License License.

Another exception is the use of United States Federal Government documents. Not State documents, not county etc. but only US Government documents. However, there may be copyrighted material in a government document and you need to read carefully to see if any rights have been reserved.

Now back to fair use. There is a balancing criteria. Here is the quote from 17 United States Code Section 107:
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:
  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors
Got it? If not, you are not alone. Unfortunately, most of the law is vague and difficult to understand. The simple answer, always attribute any copy. The second part, never copy an entire work even if the work is only one paragraph or one sentence long. Rewrite in your own words.

Last, you can always ask permission to reproduce a work.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Chopping cotton

Years ago, I learned how to chop cotton. The first step is getting a hoe that works. Those sissy little hoes they have in most hardware stores are more for looks than utility. You have to get a substantial, well balanced and sharp hoe. Have you ever sharpened a hoe? I have many times. Next, you have to learn to tell the difference between the cotton plants and the weeds. The idea of chopping cotton is to remove the weeds, not the cotton. You might think this is easy, but do you know what a baby cotton plant looks like? Neither did I at first. Weeding without know which are the weeds and which are the cotton plants is a disaster. Then, despite all your equipment and all your newly acquired horticultural knowledge, you have to get busy and start hoeing.

Do you have any idea how long one row of cotton can be? Have you ever stood in the middle of cotton field that covered a quarter section? Perhaps mentioning that a quarter section is 1/2 mile on a side helps? Anyway, standing there, at the beginning of your quarter section, you can almost, I say almost, see the other end of the row. Oh, did I mention that they grow cotton in the Gila and Salt River valleys in the summer? Maybe that doesn't mean anything to you, but it means that the temperature at 6:00 am is 95 degrees. OK, get the picture. You have your really good hoe. You have learned the difference between cotton plants and weeds. You are up at 4:00 am to get to the cotton field. You are standing at the head of a row of cotton a half a mile long and there are hundreds of rows to chop and it is almost 100 degrees. Oh, I almost forgot, although you are there to "chop cotton" you are really there to remove the weeds, not chop the cotton. Get the picture?

Now. Start chopping. Hmm. I forgot one more thing. Hopefully, they watered the field a few days before you start or your lovely hoe will most just bounce off of the ground. But, if they watered the field only a few days before, you are now bogged down in mud above your ankles. In any event, you immediately find out that the humidity in a cotton field is way higher than it is in surrounding desert.

If you got this far and you read my blog posts, you are ready for me to tie this into genealogy. Here are the lessons to be learned from chopping cotton that apply to life, genealogy and your future happiness:

1. Work is hard. Hard work is really hard. Chopping cotton is not as hard as laying concrete but it ranks up there with jack hammering and digging ditches by hand.
2. Once you have done something really hard, nothing else seems quite so hard. Think about chopping two or four rows at a time. Sometimes we took four rows each.
3. I didn't make this up. I really did chop cotton and long enough to more than learn how to do it.
4. Genealogy is hard work. It is harder than chopping cotton. It is harder than laying concrete. It is harder that jackhammering out a driveway. Anyone who tries to tell you differently is lying.
5. It takes a while to learn how to chop cotton. It is not fun. It is not easy. It may be spiritually fulfilling but I doubt it.
6. Genealogy takes a lot longer to learn than chopping cotton. Sometimes genealogy is fun, but most of the time it is not. Most of the time it is spiritually fulfilling and it is a lot more spiritually fulfilling than chopping cotton.
7. Both chopping cotton and doing genealogy are useful, productive, and helpful to mankind type activities.
8. I would rather do genealogy than chop cotton.
9. You will not see ads on TV telling you how easy and fun it is to chop cotton.

Friday, May 25, 2012

News and Updates from FamilySearch

FamilySearch likes to send out its announcements of new features to and Family Tree in batches. We can go for a week or two without any updates and then all at once, there are two or more significant announcements. Here is the latest, in no particular order:

FamilySearch extends its Relationship with BillionGraves
This is interesting and significant in more ways than one. First, to get the comment out of the way, I will have to do an updated analysis of the partnerships and ownerships in the genealogical community. Not to be outdone by, and brightsolid, FamilySearch is right in there making strategic alliances and expanding into new areas of the online genealogical community.

Here is a quote from the press release (disguised as a blog):
On our FamilySearch blog we have been providing our readers with a lot of information about a website called which is owned and operated by AppTime, LLC. We like what they have to offer to the public and feel that they have a bright future in the field of genealogy and family history research. BillionGraves aims to provide an expansive family history database for records and images from cemeteries located around the world by engaging volunteers using BillionGraves mobile applications. Digitized images of each gravestone will be tagged with GPS coordinates to make finding an ancestor’s graves a very simple matter of using a mobile cell phone. Their database is growing every day as volunteers gather images of headstones from around the world. Their goal is to collect images and GPS coordinates of one billion graves, which we feel is a very realistic goal.

With that in mind, effective immediately, FamilySearch would like to announce that we will be adding to FamilySearch the growing indexes of BillionGraves’ database. This new arrangement will be a great benefit to both organizations. Indexed photos of tombstones provided by the BillionGraves website can now be found by searching records on the BillionGraves search page of the website and is available to the public at no cost. This will be the case from now into the indefinite future. To learn more about BillionGraves and see what they are all about, visit the BillionGraves website.

The BillionGraves Index has been added as one of the collections in the Historical Records Collections list, searchable from the links on the startup page. The record count shows that is about 999 million graves short of its goal. Here is a screen shot of the BillionGraves link page:

New FamilySearch Feature -- IGI
Don't be mislead by this title. What they mean is that there is a new feature in, not a "New FamilySearch" feature. Oh well, so much for ambiguity. Maybe they should be a little more circumspect in using the term "new." Well, this feature is not really new but it is being presented in a "new" way. The International Genealogical Index (IGI) has been around since I started doing genealogy. The format has changed several times and this is another format change. The IGI is now being included in the Historical Record Collections in two formats. Quoting from the press release (actually I think formal press releases are a dead as a dodo. Blogs are the present. Who knows the future):
  • Community Indexed IGI: This collection consists of sources that were indexed by the genealogical community from collections of vital and Church records. They are considered an excellent source of primary genealogical information. Unlike the old IGI, which put these sources all in one collection, on the new site each record has been organized into their respective collections (ex. England, Births and Christenings, 1538-1975).This sentence is not clear to me. I don’t follow what a respective collection is.
  • Community Contributed IGI: This collection consists of personal family information submitted by individuals to the LDS Church. Some of these are source-like,What is source-like? but the collection they were extracted from is no longer known. Many represent conclusions of the submitter. The quality of this information varies. Duplicate entries, conclusions from secondary sources, and inconsistent information are common. Always verify contributed entries against sources of primary information.
The collections will be separately searchable.

New FamilySearch Feature - My Source Box
Here we go with ambiguity again. Maybe they really don't realize how much confusion there is in the genealogical community over the overuse of the word "new" in conjunction with FamilySearch? Anyway, this is another not-so-new change. What has been added to the Family Tree program (not is the ability to create and organize folders for sources. As it turns out, this is really useful function because you can organize sources and add them to folders before you actually need to use them. In effect, Family Tree becomes a way to organize your research activities and maintain a research log. Very good idea folks.

That's all for now from FamilySearch. It looks like Family Tree is developing rapidly into an even more dynamic and useful program. We are still looking for a way to print reports however.

Confusing the beginner or dumbing down genealogy?

Advanced warning: This is one of my periodic rants, I thought you might want to know,  just so you don't try to read this while eating or doing any other activity. 

Do we really want to dumb down genealogy? It seems like there is a significant movement to make genealogy easier, faster, and simple enough for anyone to do. Is this even possible? Or desirable? Can we cater to the "instant satisfaction" generation in the complicated and challenging area of genealogy? Is genealogy a product that has to be "improved" so it can compete in the marketplace? Take a look at this page and tell me how you are going to simplify this for a beginning genealogist?

This happens to be a copy of the Italy, Civil Registration, 1805-1940 from Bologna. Tell me how you are going to convince a novice beginner that getting to the point of reading and using this record is painless and simple? Not to mention fun and exciting? Let's get real. Genealogy is a complicated and challenging pursuit. Sugar coating the difficulties does not help anyone. I would venture to say that many (if not nearly all) the people who are reading this post did not start out in genealogy because someone told them how easy and fun it would be.

I had no allusions about genealogy whatsoever when I started out. I recognized immediately that it took real work to get to the records and sometimes money, travel, and a lot of effort. Just because a huge number of records are now more readily available does not diminish the effort needed to get to the answers in genealogy. Don't trivialize my passion by telling me that what I am doing can be done by a high school student on an iPad. That is simply not true.

I do agree that, as a community, we need to be open and supportive of those starting out. But I don't agree that we need splashy media ads telling the world that doing genealogy is as easy as playing video games. When we concentrate on the beginner, sometimes we marginalize the experts. I am really tired of being considered an expert in genealogy simply because I know how to do a Google search. Genealogy is so much more than filling in blanks in a variety of search engines.

OK, so what got me started on this topic? I guess it was partly the cartoon introduction to the U.S. Census records and the 5 minute genealogy series. Why does everything in the world have to be simplified? Some things are only attractive and desirable if they are complicated and challenging. Do we all want genealogy to be over in an hour long TV show?

Underused and unknown?

Quoting, in part, from a Press Release of Governor Rick Perry of Texas, "The ownership of land is in many ways the culmination of the American Dream..." It was and is this American Dream that creates a body of records that is commonly characterized by genealogical conference presenters as "vastly underused and misunderstood." Well, in my opinion, that could as easily be said about many, many other classes of records besides those pertaining to land. Claiming that such and such a record is "vastly underused" has become a cliche in genealogy circles and a standard conference topic.

Those types of records listed online as underused, besides land records, include:
The list could go on and on. So my question is why are so many different classes of records, including obviously useful records such as land records, classed as "underused?" Who doesn't use them?

As an aside, suppose I am a beginning genealogist and go to my local Family History Center and use their computers to look up my family on Except for the public library, aren't I essentially using all of those types of records? Checking the Card Catalog, the listing of all of their collections, I find every single one of those categories. So aren't the millions of users daily using those "vastly underused" records?

I am not so naive as to fail to recognize what most of the "experts" mean when they classify some type of record as underused. The fundamental issue is not underuse but lack of awareness of the existence of the various types of records. When I was getting serious about genealogy, I read the instruction manuals including such classics as:
  • Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 1990.  
  • Szucs, Loretto Dennis, and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006. 
  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2001. 
and many, many others which I consider to be essential to the understanding of how to do genealogical research. Most recently, I read

 Jacobus, Donald Lines. Genealogy As Pastime and Profession. New Haven, Conn: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Co, 1930

and dozens and dozens of others. I did not just purchase these books and pile them up or put them on shelves, I read and re-read them from cover to cover. I also spent five years taking distance learning courses from BYU and finished all of the courses except one I dropped because I didn't care for the instructor.

You wouldn't walk into a law office, with no experience or education and expect to practice law, would you? Or a doctors office? or any involved and complicated activity? If I gave you a hammer and a box of nails, could you frame a house? Install plumbing? Lay floor tile?

We all acknowledge that most complicated and specialized activities take some degree of education and experience before we have any ability at all. And yet we expect rank novices in genealogy to find their ancestors? We show catchy little videos that say you can do your genealogy in five minutes?

My point is that of course there are "underused" resources because there is a perception that you can do genealogy without any education or training or only with a minimal orientation in a Family History Center. Until we get over the common representation that genealogy is "easy" and our fixation with "beginners" there will always be underused records. How about handing a beginner Val Greenwood's book and saying "Read this and come back for questions when you finish?"

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Genealogists are victims of propaganda on a large scale

I was listening to a National Public Radio broadcast about the "theft" of children's Social Security Numbers and how this is such a problem. The commentator interviewed someone whose child's Social Security Number had been used by someone else. This was not situation where the child was deceased but living. One key statement by the interviewee was that she had absolutely no response or help from the Social Security Administration (SSA). In other words, the implication was, that the SSA apparently will do nothing to verify ownership of a Social Security Number. My problem with this situation is that it is identified as "Identity Theft." In actuality, it is a breakdown in the Social Security System. See Identity Theft: Kids Don't Know They're Victims.

This story on the radio was propaganda. As genealogists, we are aware that the U.S. Congress is in the process of passing extreme limitations on the use of the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) based on allegations of misuse of the information to claim fraudulent tax refunds. See the latest announcement dated 8 May 2012 from the Committee on Ways and Means. The House Ways and Means Committee solution is to severely limit access to the SSDI.

The SSDI is one of the most valuable records for ancestral research because it helps bridge the gap between the present and other genealogical records such as the 1940 U.S. Federal Census.  Loss of use of this record would be a tragedy to the genealogical community.

The solution to the problem is readily apparent to anyone who thinks about it for more than five minutes but seems to elude those in Congress and in the national media. What is needed is improved internal security in the SSA to verify the identity of users of Social Security Numbers. Did I say "improved?" Apparently, no effort is made whatsoever to verify Social Security Number usage. As I have pointed out in the past, my Social Security Number was also my military ID number and my student number while attending the University of Utah. In addition, as we all know, doctors, lawyers and others routinely record the Social Security Numbers of their clients and patients. In effect, Social Security Numbers are being used for identity purposes when there are no safeguards in place to assure that the person using the number is the owner of that number. If someone "stole" my Social Security Number, they could do so from hundreds of sources almost with impunity.

Unlike a driver's license, Social Security Cards have no further identifying information. No photograph, no fingerprint, no bar code, nothing at all. Just a piece of cardboard.

At the heart of this problem is the often repeated assertion that "Identity Theft" is rampant in the United States and that it is the "fastest growing crime in America." Both these statements were made in the recent radio broadcast.  The National Public Radio broadcast referenced an article published by the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) entitled, "Identity theft is America's fastest growing crime." However, the USPIS article contains no further references and is undated. The USPIS article goes on to state:
Last year alone, more than 9.9 million Americans were victims of identity theft, a crime that cost them roughly $5 billion.

The number of ID theft victims and their total losses are probably much higher. It's hard to pin down, because law enforcement agencies may classify ID theft differently--it can involve credit card fraud, Internet fraud, or mail theft, among other crimes.
Unfortunately, and significantly, the date of the "last year" is not identified. The source of the assertion concerning victims is not identified and there are no links to any additional information. 

Propaganda is defined as information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view. As genealogists we are victims of propaganda on a national scale.

At the heart of this issue is the definition of "Identity Theft." This term is being used as a bugaboo to scare the uninformed. The fact is, as stated by the USPIS, there is NO COMMONLY ACCEPTED DEFINITION OF THE TERM.

If you spend the time to research the Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, you will search in vain for any mention of the term "Identity Theft" or any way to correlate the statistics with the alleged activities. You can go to another source, the United States Census Bureau, Abstract on Law Enforcement, Courts, & Prisons: Crimes and Crime Rates. There is a category for Fraud and Identity Theft--Consumer Complaints by State: 2010. As those figures show and state, they are based on unverified complaints reported by consumers. The Census Bureau figures are based on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, for January–December 2010, March 2011.

So maybe, if you keep going with this string of borrowed sources, you will ultimately find some support for the USPIS figure? Well, the total crime figure from the U.S. Census, including frauds of all kinds show a total of 1,088,411 for the entire country in 2010 and only 250,854 Identity Theft victims. Where are the 9.9 million Americans?

So, what does the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) say? The most recent report on their site for Identity Theft is 2006 and the figure quoted is 246,035 complaints, not prosecuted crimes and this is a decrease from the 2005 figure of 255,613. What does the FTC include in Identity Theft?
  • Credit Card Fraud
  • Phone or Utilities Fraud
  • Bank Fraud
  • Employment Related Fraud
  • Government Documents/Benefits Fraud
  • Loan Fraud
  • Other Identity Theft
  • Attempted Identity Theft
Government Documents and Benefits Fraud constitutes only 10% of the total. In other words, less than 25,000 cases of government documents fraud reported in the U.S. in 2006 and showing a decline and no figures for later years.

My conclusion? Where are the statistics to support the claims about Identity Theft? It looks like to me that there is nothing to support the claims and we, as genealogists are victims of systematic propaganda.

One Week to Colorado Family History Expos!

 A few weeks ago, I was all scheduled to attend the Houston, Oklahoma City and Albuquerque Family History Expos and had some issues that came up preventing me from going. But now I am scheduled to fly up to Colorado Springs for the 4th Annual Expo. Here is a clip from Holly Hansen about the upcoming Expo:

Family History Expos is returning to Colorado for our 4th Annual Expo. This year it will be held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, June 1-2, 2012 at the Crowne Plaza. Many of you are already registered and we look forward to seeing you there. We have a fantastic program prepared for you. Details available online at

If you have not taken time to register yet, I recommend you do so now in order to save money, as the price will go up at the door.

For those of you who are members of societies, genealogy clubs, library groups, historical associations, and other interested groups please share this announcement with your membership. We want to be sure everyone who may benefit from this event has a chance to hear about it and attend if they’d like to. So, please take time to tell your family history friends and neighbors about this event.
Here are a few more highlights:

Family Roots Publishing – Leland K. Meitzler : Founder of Heritage Quest in 1985, Managing Editor of “Heritage Quest Magazine” until 2006, and Managing Editor of “Everton’s Genealogical Helper 2006-2009.” Leland writes a daily blog at and runs Family Roots Publishing Co. He is a popular tour conductor and entertaining lecturer, having given over 2,000 genealogical presentations.

Over 2000 great genealogy guidebooks can be found on the Family Roots Publishing website. Regional guidebooks for most countries, American states, and Canadian provinces are located here! Guides on writing, and recording genealogy, photography, DNA research, genealogy dictionaries, computer use, immigration, migration, and on & on are found here!

Creative Continuum – Tom Underhill : Publisher, senior designer and author of nine books at Creative Continuum, a book design and publishing company specializing in high-quality, short-run books, Tom and his company have recently produced more than 400 family history heirloom books, printed more than 10.5 million pages and scanned more than 13,000 photographs.

A family owned and operated business that’s been around for more than 13 years, Creative Continuum specializes in short run books, family history book publishing, calendars and other publications, typically printing and binding fewer than 500 books. You’ll find the Creative Continuum website filled with answers to your questions about publishing your family history and other short run books, calendars and publications.

Colorado Genealogical Society Computer Interest Group – The mission of the Computer Interest Group: To inform and update members as well as the larger genealogical community about the use of technology, especially software computer programs and emerging resources, in genealogical research.
There will be additional vendors with a variety of products and services. To check out all exhibitors visit our website at:
If you have questions don’t hesitate to contact us. We look forward to seeing you in Colorado Springs June 1-2, 2012.

Holly T. Hansen

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Understanding the Jargon of Genealogy

I was helping a friend with setting up her iMac computer yesterday for genealogy and she said something that caught my attention. She said, "I have to learn what all the genealogy terms mean." That brought home a common problem with all specializations; learning the jargon.

Jargon is a really a technical term I became acquainted with during my graduate studies in Linguistics at the University of Utah. It is defined as special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand. The main problem with jargon is that we often do not even know we are using it.

Take for example, the word "genealogy" itself, as in "I am doing my genealogy" or "I am working on my genealogy." What does that statement communicate to a non-genealogist? And sometimes we wonder why we get blank stares. The challenge is that there is really no way to avoid jargon. It is present in every (I mean every) activity and profession and interest in the entire world from skydiving to sewing. Every human activity has its own special set of insider terms.

Jargon can be very exclusionary. If you are the outsider, trying to understand what the "insiders" are talking about can be a formidable challenge. An extreme type of jargon is called an argot. Sometimes the word argot is associated with criminal activities so using the word jargon is more appropriate. Usually term "argot" is used to identify an extreme jargon specifically designed to exclude outsiders. What is more difficult is that the people who are using the jargon are usually not even aware that they are using specialized words and terminology.

I have noticed that many people who are new to genealogy are put off immediately by genealogists using terms they don't immediately understand. For example, they are asked if they have a pedigree chart or family group record. Although these terms seem so simple and fundamental, they are in fact very specialized uses of common words. If you add in the jargon associated with computers and computer use, coming into the world of genealogy can be formidable.

By the way, it often doesn't help to try to explain or define our "jargon" terms because we end up using even more jargon to define the terms. I suggest that when you are talking to non-genealogists, you think carefully about the terms you are using and ask frequent questions to see if those you are speaking to understand what you are saying.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An Update to the Update for FamilySearch

On the same day as a previous message, here is another update of the numbers of indexed records for the 1940 U.S. Census:
  • 60,660,160 records indexed and arbitrated (43.2% of the entire census collection!)
  • 9 states published and searchable on These states include Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Oregon, New Hampshire, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.   
  • 11 additional states 100% indexed and arbitrated
  • 4 additional states that are 90% or more complete
  • Only 18 states at or below 40% indexed.
  • 115,576 indexers have signed up and indexing the 1940 US Census
What can I say, the night is still young and I may receive yet another update from FamilySearch.

Several Significant Updates from FamilySearch

FamilySearch made a number of significant updates recently including a 1940 U.S. Census Indexing update. First from FamilySearch dated 22 May 2012 regarding the Census:
  • More than 112,000 indexers have signed up to help index this census collection.
  • After only 8 weeks, more than 40 percent of the project was fully indexed. 
  • To date, 18 states have been completely indexed.  
  • Another 4 states are more than 90 percent complete.
  • Of the 18 states that have been fully indexed, 6 states have been posted as searchable indexes on
  • So far, after 8 weeks, more than 54 million records have been indexed. 
A new blog format for the Family History Consultant and Leader Newsletter and several new additions to the FamilySearch Family Tree program on track to replace Here are the updates quoting from the Blog about changes to the Source Box:
  • Folders. You can now use folders to organize the sources in your Source Box. Folders are listed alphabetically, with the number of sources in each folder shown in parentheses.
  • All Sources folder. The default folder in the Source Box is the All Sources folder. The All Sources folder shows every source in your Source Box, even the ones that you moved into folders. In a few weeks, the Source Box will have a column that indicates which folder a source is in.
  • Attached link. The Source Box now indicates which sources are attached to the ancestor that you are working on. If the source is attached to the ancestor, it has an icon that looks like two interlinked ovals.
  • Attach. When your Source Box is open, you can attach any source in it to the ancestor that you have been working on. Simply click the title of the source that you want to attach. If the source has not been attached to the ancestor you are working on, you see an Attach link. Click it to attach it to that ancestor. We are interested in your feedback on attaching sources. Do you like this change? Opening the source before attaching it lets you see the citation and notes, which can help you decide whether to attach it.
  • Remove. Many of you asked for a way to remove a source from your Source Box and leave it attached to the ancestors that you attached it to. Now you can. Click the title of any source, and you can remove it from your Source Box. Now you might ask, “If I remove a source, how do I put it back into my Source Box if I need it again?” We will soon introduce a new feature that lets you add any source, no matter who created it, to your Source Box. With this new feature, you can add a source you created back into your Source Box. You can also add anyone else’s sources to your Source Box.
Look for more updates in the near future. 

Recorded Webinars Now Available from Family History Expos

The Family History Expos webinars have had a fantastic response and have been filled to capacity for every session. So that everyone has an opportunity to hear the webinars, they are being recorded and are now available online.

The first webinar, Getting Started with Heritage Collector – Part #1 is already online. Click here for a link to the webinar page. You can also see links to our upcoming offerings. Be sure and register early, space is limited and they are filling up well in advance.

Content or Technology?

I often see comments about the impact of technology on our lives. Today there was an announcement that Google had purchased Motorola Mobility. For many years, I lived a few blocks from one of Motorola's plants in Scottsdale, Arizona and many of my friends were either Motorola employees or former employees. A comment by Larry Page, CEO of Google caught my eye, "It’s a well known fact that people tend to overestimate the impact technology will have in the short term, but underestimate its significance in the longer term. Many users coming online today may never use a desktop machine, and the impact of that transition will be profound--as will the ability to just tap and pay with your phone."

If you read the announcements, you will realize that Google is now a serious competitor to Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover.

It is true, to some extent, that the technology itself has an impact. But as a genealogist, my view of the changes is that the technology is only a way to facilitate access to content. What good is super technology without a reason to use it? Most of the content accessed by the growing smartphone population consists of impersonal texting and entertainment including video games. Many of the young people of today who are growing up with this so-called revolutionary technology can't even carry on an intelligent conversation and with only a few exceptions, few of them use the technology to access our literary heritage or learn valuable skills.

The same thing could be said for genealogists. I have a friend who immediately buys every new gadget and iteration of computer that comes out but doesn't have time to do anything else. How many of us are so involved in the gadgetry that we forget the substance of our research. I worked with two notable exceptions yesterday. Two of the patrons at the FHC who were seriously involved in research and had substantive questions, but were only using the technology to do their research, not as substitute for research.

As we watch the new devices fly by, we need to remember and focus on our core values and our goals and dreams about our genealogy and not become distracted by the gadgetry.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What software do I use the most?

I use a huge variety of software. I write, take photos, enter genealogical information, teach classes, and participate in conferences. In course of a day, I use the Internet almost continually, for doing my own writing, for teaching classes and individually helping patrons at the Mesa Family History Center and elsewhere. So I thought it might be interesting to list the software I use most frequently. Notably, almost none of the programs I use the most could be classified as genealogy programs although they are used for genealogical purposes. The software is listed in the order of my most frequent use, not the total time using the program and for the purposes of this list, I am excluding any online programs, such as Google, which would top the list because it is the host for this blog. I am also excluding those programs I use on my iPhone/iPad. I will make separate lists for online, mobile and other programs at a later date.

Here it goes. You might see some surprises and you might not. Oh, one more qualification, these are the program I use today, they may have changed since last week. I am continually finding and using new programs.

This is an obvious number one. You might think of a browser as an online program, but it resides on my computer and I use it all the time, almost constantly. Right now, I am using it to write this blog post.

This is an email program and I have moved over to using Sparrow quite recently when all my other programs essentially stopped working. The reason this is number two is because I have such a heavy influx of email. I would guess over 50+ an average day. I review email many times during the day, partly because I receive updates from my law office also.

This comes near the top because it is like Sparrow, used for daily communication. I have a constant stream of posts most of the day and into the night. I hesitated to mention this program here because technically it is an online program. But it resides on my computer, so I am classifying it as a local program. It is interesting that all three of my most used programs as for communication. I must do a bit of that.

I find this to be a hugely useful program for keeping all kinds of notes to myself and copying websites and many other uses. 

I am not sure what comes next, I think there is pretty much a tie for the next few programs.

Adobe Photoshop CS6
I doubt that there is a day that goes by that I am working on my computer that I do not use Photoshop. The current version CS6 is much better than previous versions. I really like the program and enjoy editing photos. Photoshop includes Adobe Bridge and Camera Raw. I am including their use in with Photoshop

Microsoft Word
This is probably one of the most used programs that I do not really like all that well. Microsoft has managed to add so many features to the program as to make it almost impossible to use. I use it in a real basic way and do a minimum of formatting. I am fully aware of alternatives, but I like PowerPoint and Excel, even though I don't use them all that often and so I have Microsoft Office for the Mac 2011.

This Apple program is my calendar and I have it synced with my iPhone. I think I could understand how to use it somewhat better than I do now. 

Remote Desktop Connection
I used to use this more frequently when I was working remotely from my office, but I still use this program to enter time and respond to emails from my office computer.

This is a screen grabber program that I use constantly.

Now I do use various genealogy programs but in keeping with my policy not to endorse one over an other, I do not mention them by name. Next I will talk about the online programs I use most frequently. Some of those programs might also be considered to be local, but I will separate them from local by their nature.

Why Genealogical Data Standards?

When I was a whole lot younger, I was interested in model trains. I still am, but like many of my interests, I have to choose between genealogy and other time consuming passions. One thing I learned about almost immediately, were model train scale standards. These came designated by letters such as O, OO, HO, N and NN. That was only the beginning. Now there are dozens of different standards. Here's the rub. It is like the old saying about driving on dirt roads; choose your rut because you will be in it for a long time. The cost and availability of accessories depended heavily on the scale standard you chose. I still have a box or two of trains that I just might get to some time in my life.

How does this apply to genealogy? I think the comparison is transparent. Some manufacturers or developers, either by government mandate or by overwhelming market forces, have managed to establish standards. In the computer industry, standards have been evanescent, witness SCSI and such. But still there are some standards that make life a whole lot easier. For example, USB connectors. You don't have to try to match cables or buy special adapters because all of the major manufacturers of computers have caved in and used USB. Not that some don't try different standards, witness the new Intel Thunderbolt.

In the software industry, the battle of standards is over file types. There are literally hundreds of different file types. It is extremely common to get a message when trying to load a file that the file type is not recognized. This has carried over into the genealogical software industry and virtually every single program has it proprietary, locked up, perfectly incompatible file type designated by its unique extension. This has been carried so far, as an example, the Mac version of Family Tree Maker creates files that are not compatible with the Windows version of the same program from the same company!

Recognizing this issue years and years ago, FamilySearch developed a standard for exchanging genealogical information between programs. We all know about this standard called GEDCOM or Genealogical Data Communication. Fortunately, GEDCOM opened up a pathway to share data from different programs with their own proprietary format. That was the good news. The bad news is that even though there was a "standard" hardly any of the software developers observed that standard completely and when you exchanged information, you frequently got a little message telling you what parts of your file were not included in the transfer.

So who cares about standards? Mostly genealogists who want to share their information with others. Who doesn't care about standards? Mostly any one who wants to sell their own genealogy program. Why is this? Because why would you want to make it easy for people to switch to another program. If you lock up your file formats, then when people try to move from one program to another, they will have to start all over again. Lack of standards promote brand loyalty.

Without picking on any one developer or company, some developers have created ways for competitor's files to be imported or exported into their programs out of self preservation. It is interesting that some of the most popular programs are those that support file imports from other databases. Although this is not necessarily the reason for popularity.

One other issue is the rapidly changing technology. To be quite frank, GEDCOM no longer supports the current technology.

Recently I wrote a post about FamilySearch, and MyHeritage concerning their recent positions with regard to possibly "new" standards. Back when GEDCOM was first established, FamilySearch (then operating under a different name) was the big kid on the block. Now, FamilySearch is only one of many big kids on the block and there are other big kids waiting on the next block over.

Will the genealogy program developers all magically agree on a common standard? Very, very unlikely. In all the discussion of GEDCOM X, BetterGEDCOM and etc. the developers, for the most part, have been conspicuously absent. Sure, there are some very progressive companies out there (again without naming anyone in particular) but by and large, there are popular genealogy programs for which the developers have never even appeared at a genealogy conference!

It is all well and good to talk about a data exchange standard, but even if and FamilySearch and MyHeritage and brightsolid and others were to agree, why would that change the proprietary, unique file type mentality of the developers? Remember my comment above,'s Mac and Windows versions of Family Tree Maker are not file exchange compatible without a translation program that is only partially successful.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What would you tell a budding genealogist first?

I deal with a lot of people who are interested in learning about genealogy but have absolutely no background or understanding of what it is about. Although you might say that about many people in the general public, the people I refer to are those who show up in my classes or during the times I am helping patrons at the Mesa Family History Center. So if you were in my shoes and talking to someone who was a very first time genealogical neophyte, what would you say?

One of the worst things you can do is to dump the whole load. In other words, try to explain everything at once. So if that is true, what do you say?

May I suggest asking some questions. These are questions I have asked potential legal clients for years and I find them to be very useful in the area of genealogy.

The first question is, What do you want to accomplish here today?
This is an important question because you may assume they want to learn all about genealogy and all they really want to know is how to find their mother's death certificate. They really aren't interested in the rest of your long explanation about how wonderful it is to find your ancestors. They might not even care about ancestors. If they say something, such as, I am interested in learning about genealogy. Then you might have an opening.

Other questions depending on the reaction you get from the first question.

What do you already know about your family?
We commonly sit the person down with a copy of a blank pedigree form and ask them to fill in everything they know. This is very important because you may be faced with someone who already has done an extensive amount of research about their family and doesn't know that what they are doing could be called genealogy. I have found people who could fill in two and three generations for memory, including dates and places. I also find people who do not know their own parents. Don't assume people are ignorant until they prove it themselves.

What is your skill level with a computer?
You have to be tactful about how you ask this question, but it is important that before you start clicking all over the screen you understand the level of competence of the person with computers. I see a lot of people in the family history center who are highly skilled computer operators, some with advanced degrees in information management. On the other hand, I see people who don't know how to type and cannot use a mouse. Where you go with doing genealogy may depend on this skill level. Why show them a record on if they cannot understand how to open a program. How about showing them how to fill out a paper pedigree chart and family group records before you start dazzling them with your own computer skills.

Where did your family come from?
This is a good question to ask before you get going too far into an explanation about genealogy. I have talked to people from Tonga to South Africa and almost everywhere else you can imagine. You just might want to know what you are getting into before discovering the really doesn't have every genealogical record.

One side issue I often see is with the volunteers, as soon as the person says they are from some country outside of the U.S. or Europe, the volunteer assumes they they (the volunteer) knows nothing about South Africa and therefore the person can't be helped and our South African expert is out for the day. Genealogy is genealogy and you might want to spend a few minutes with the FamilySearch Research Wiki and Cyndi's List before you give up.

Don't assume because the person comes in without anything in their hands, that they are not serious about learning more. I have had patrons who didn't know a name or date, start calling relatives from their cell phone and writing down information. Don't assume an attitude that will discourage this person from searching further.

You might have other strategies, but what I see with a lot of people is that they want to show the new genealogist all that they know and how much they newbie doesn't know. This is a really bad tactic.

The Ethics of Photoediting Revisited

Here is a photo from the early 1920s. It has several obvious defects. If you want a better view of the defects, you will need to click on the image. This image was made from a negative and inverted by using Adobe Photoshop. Here is a copy of the original negative.

Do we want the original photo, fingerprints and all? What about the light leak at the bottom of the image? Should that stay or not. The issue is that anytime you alter an original photograph, even to "improve" the quality, you are essentially re-writing history. If you had a painting made by one of your ancestors would you feel justified in touching up the painting to suit your present tastes and values?

There is no clear cut answer to the question. So where do you draw the line? Here is version one of the photo with some "improvements."

The changes may not be too apparent unless you enlarge the photo by clicking on it. I removed most of the fingerprints and defects in the sky portion. I think very few people would be bothered by these relatively minor changes. But what if I exercise some "artistic" liberty and change the photo even further. Here is another copy:

All sorts of good arguments could be made that this image is also faithful to the original and well within the bounds of ethical alteration. But aren't I getting a little bit too close to changing the original photo in an unacceptable manner? But you say, as long as you preserve the original what difference does it make, my relatives will be a lot happier with the changes. But you are making that judgment, not your relatives or anyone else. What if your relatives would actually prefer the unaltered version?

Well, I come this far. What if I make a few other minor changes. For example, the woman on the left is really not supposed to be there. She was the former wife of the man in the white shirt who no one in the family liked. If I show this picture to my relatives, they will have a fit.  (I am making all this up, I have no idea as to the identity of the people in the photo). But you can see the point. Here is my next altered photo:

What would stop me from taking out all of the people? Nothing really except a little bit longer time with Photoshop. Now before you get all huffy, how about knowing that photographers made these types of changes all the time, long before Photoshop was a gleam in Adobe's eye. How do I know? I have a huge collection of early 1900s and late 1800s photo negatives. I find a very high percentage of them were altered in the dark room. This included dodging, burning, and masking the negatives and adding in different details from another photo. 

Before you take a class in photo manipulation and start "improving" on old photos, maybe you should take some time to think through exactly where you stand on destructive editing. Up until my last edit, there are extremely good arguments for improving the damaged and poorly maintained old negative, but maybe you will decide that the original, no matter how "bad" it is, best conveys the message intended by this photographer from the past. 


As you get older, practically no one asks you what you do. When I was younger and met a new person or had a casual conversation, one of the most common "ice breakers" was to talk about what that person did for a living. I realize that this was a mostly male cultural thing, but still, other than the weather, it was a way to get going with a conversation. Now, the opportunity to enter into these casual conversations has virtually vanished as I have passed into invisibility in the "elderly" category. Really, I have people pass me by who are decidedly younger, that don't even look at me because I am in the old category. Well, enough complaining for today. On with the subject.

Well, if the answer to a casual conversation opener is that you do "genealogy" that is a dead end. Period. Occasionally, if the opposite person is also in the elderly category, I will get a few polite comments, but no really wants to know what you do for your "genealogy."

So, I've been thinking of a more enticing way of getting into a conversation. Maybe I should tell people that I visit cemeteries, or that I research old death records. Maybe I could say I travel the country doing detective work on people's backgrounds or that I am a writer. Hmm. The last one doesn't help, because the obvious next question is what do you write about? Genealogy. Another dead end.

Another observation is that I have been writing this blog for years now and I would guess there are no more than a small handful of any of the people I know in real life, personally, who are even aware of my blog or my writing or anything else I do online. Some of my readers might have noticed my wife and daughters publish a food blog called Family Heritage Recipes. I republish most of the posts because I really like the food and my wife and daughters are fabulous cooks and I like them too. Anyway, I get far more comments about the food blog than I get about my own.

I might note, that I am not a recluse. I have a huge number of social and business contacts and friends. For example, I might go to a wedding reception and see fifty people that I know more or less personally. How many of them are aware of my present activities? Zero. In fact, in the last few months, I cannot remember more than two people who I have talked to that were even aware of this blog.

So, writing a blog, especially about a subject like genealogy, is a real online sort of thing. You don't get warm and fuzzies from your family or social friends (as opposed to online friends). What I am grateful for is all those people around the world who actually do read my blog. It is very interesting and rewarding to travel and visit different genealogy conferences and actually meet many of my readers and also meet those whose blogs I follow. Because of this blog, I now have a hugely expanded circle of real friends who not only understand what I do, but are sympathetic and interested. I may never meet some of you, but I consider you my friends in the real sense. If you are ever in Mesa, look me up and we can go out to dinner or something and share some of our mutual experiences. Thanks again for reading my blog.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Free of Charge?

Where did the idea come from that genealogical information had to be free? It is a difficult topic to research, but have governments ever provided "free" copies of their records? Last time I checked, for example, an original death certificate, at the time of death in Maricopa County, Arizona, was like $20 or more and we had to get a half a dozen copies. People who automatically think that public records are free apparently have never tried to obtain any. If you have to pay for one copy of a death certificate, you begin to see what a bargain really is.

Almost every repository I have ever been to, at least, charged for copies. Even at something ridiculous like 10 cents a copy, the number of copies I have retrieved from online sources such as would start to become a significant issue. I used to carry rolls of quarters with me to the Family History Library to make copies. Copies were 25 cents and I probably spent a few hundreds of dollars just in copies. I note that a photocopy of a death certificate in Florida costs $5.00. So if you divide that out, the current full World price for is about $300 so that is equal to 60 death certificates. Obviously, if you are an active genealogist, you will accumulate a lot more than that in mailing costs, certificate costs and expenses obtaining the documents directly from the repositories.

As I think about it, I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding between the idea of "freedom of information" and free genealogy documents. Freedom of information (FOI) is a misleading term. It has been used to address the issue of government secrecy, but free in that context does not mean that there is no charge for obtaining the information. Believing that you can obtain information from the government, or anyone else, without some kind of fee is extremely naive. Here is the FOI statement from The National Security Archive:
Actual search, review and duplication fees vary by agency. Search/Review fees can be anywhere $8.00 to $45.00 per hour and duplication fees can be from $.10 to $.35 per page. Agencies cannot require a requester to make an advance payment unless the agency estimates that the fee is likely to exceed $250 or the requester previously failed to pay proper fees.
Can you imagine what it costs in time and attorneys' fees to get to the point of making a request? You can't if you haven't ever tried.

Not to belabor the point, but have you looked at the fee schedule for the National Archives?  I would not suggest showing up there without a reasonably adequate budget for copies running into the hundreds of dollars.

Now lets address another issue. does not charge for any of its services. The only charge I am aware of at Family History Centers is a possible copy cost. Currently at the Mesa Family History Center, there is a 10 cents a copy charge for printouts and copies. If is a bargain, then what is A gift?

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Clash of the Genealogy Titans

Who will survive, or better yet, what will survive the clash of the titans in genealogy? We have three huge family history related organizations that are larger than all of the others combined. We have,, and All three have their own proprietary online user-contributed family tree databases. Except for a rather weak GEDCOM transfer capability, there is no real interaction or interchangeability between the three monolithic systems.

Some recent developments have highlighted the contrasting systems. continues to expand by acquiring and partnering with smaller companies. As's new web page explains they are developing a whole new area of DNA testing and partnering with Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation.
In March, DNA, LLC acquired access to an extensive collection of DNA assets from Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, a non-profit organization. Founded by molecular genealogy pioneer, James LeVoy Sorenson, this organization has been dedicated to building the world’s foremost collection of DNA samples and corresponding genealogical information. Over the last 12 years, the Sorenson Foundation collected a one-of-a-kind DNA database of tens of thousands of DNA samples with documented family histories in more than 100 countries on six continents. This DNA database gives AncestryDNA test-takers an expanded family history genetic resource, and should enable new levels of discovery about people’s family backgrounds
FamilySearch is in the process of expanding into a new product called Family Tree while at the same time making available millions upon millions of digitized source documents. FamilySearch has also recently released some information about a new website called Poindexter. has recently acquired and other acquisitions.

It is apparent that all three are expanding rapidly in both hosting of user generated family trees and in providing other websites and services.

Recently, there were some comments in the blog posts about a new organization called the Family History Information Standards Organization, Inc.  or FHISO. The entity was organized as a non-profit corporation in Arizona on March 5, 2012. The new organization's website has little information other than links to BetterGEDCOM. FHISO is described on its website as:
FHISO is community owned. The organization will not sell stock; rather, those in the community “join” and become members of FHISO. The membership elects officers and board members; members also approve changes to the FHISO bylaws and articles of incorporation.
The statements go on to say:
BetterGEDCOM has been, and will continue to be, an open forum for the exchange of ideas about different aspects of technology and standardization. Many of those ideas are at the stage where they will need a more structured and organised environment to come to fruition; FHISO will provide that environment.
The establishment of FHISO signals neither the replacement nor the end of BetterGEDCOM. FHISO will be the sponsor of the BetterGEDCOM wiki. The future role and function of the wiki will be determined as FHISO further documents its forum requirements.
At about this same time, FamilySearch formally announced its involvement with GEDCOM X at RootsTech 2012.

Concurrently with the announcement of the FHISO, apparently agreed to become a founding member of FHISO according to Dick Eastman.

So we have in the BetterGEDCOM camp and FamilySearch in the GEDCOM X corner of the ring. I have yet to see where weighs in on the issue.

What is at stake is the future of genealogists to move their information from one database to another. The open questions begin with whether or not the two different standards that are evolving will have any compatibility? Will you be able to move your genealogical data from an or format to FamiySearch and back?

An Ominous Silence

There is an ominous silence out there in the genealogical community about the upcoming transition from to the Family Tree program. I can only interpret the total lack of discussion to a strongly worded non-disclosure agreement between FamilySearch and any interested developers. You may be aware that FamilySearch has created a rather involved system of third-party products that are affiliates. Most of these products filled gaps and shortcomings in the program or provided secondary services such as charts. This has been administered through the FamilySearch Developer Network for Software Programmers.

Now FamilySearch has announced that will be abandoned for the new FamilySearch Family Tree program which is already online and actively being used.

The question of integration has arisen already in the context of people moving to Family Tree and wondering if they can enter their data from their own computer-based program. These users recognize the advantage of the links between their computer-based personal program and and are asking whether or not such a relationship will exist with Family Tree?

I notice on the Developer Network site the following:
Multiple RESTful Web Services with documentation and training
  • Family Tree API with over 600 million lineage-linked names of people
  • Authorities API with standardization for date
  • Code examples throughout all documentation
This appears to be a direct reference to the development of third-party integration with Family Tree. It is likely that discussion of the integration is taking place in a closed environment due to the as yet incomplete implementation of Family Tree. But I question the wisdom of developing integration with an absence of community input and involvement. I have no doubt that the developers and FamilySearch are trying hard to provide a unified experience for the Family Tree user, but what about the issues that have already arisen in conjunction with the data issues of It is likely that the community has some pretty developed opinions about how the carryover issues from to Family Tree should be handled.

I fully understand the huge investment in time and effort required to develop a new version of a software program. I further understand that those developers who have had less of a return on investment from their efforts with may not be enthusiastic about starting over with a new set of APIs. But if I were involved in the development of a genealogical database program, I would be anxious not only to satisfy the requirement imposed by the FamilySearch environment, I would also be anxious to involve those in the community who had worked with both my program and to find out what issues need to be addressed in any new implementation with Family Tree. It is likely that in the near future, whether or not a program thrives or fails may depend on its integration into the larger genealogical community and particularly, the way it handles an interchange between the program and Family Tree.

Knowing that development is going on in a consumer vacuum does not make me confident that the ultimate products will address the basic issues of the data set.

There is a related issue that will be the subject of another post shortly. That is, the over-all integration of data in the community at large.