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

Friday, August 31, 2012

Kindle vs. iPad --- Impressions

I have gone to some of the stores that carry a whole line of tablet computers, such as Best Buy, and hefted each of them and sort-of looked them over. But yesterday was the first day that I had time to actually work on an Amazon Kindle Fire. Now before I go on, I have to warn you that these are my personal preferences, prejudices and impressions. If you have read my blog posts for any length of time, you likely realize that we are an Apple based family, with several computers, an iPhone, two iPads and etc. I got the hand-me-down iPad from when my wife upgraded from an iPad to an iPad2, so I am not using the new thinner iPad3 or anything like that. My comparison of the Kindle Fire is to the old original iPad, purchased shortly after introduction. I also use a touch pad with my iMac, so I use the same type of input device for my iPhone, my iPad and my iMac.

Now on to working with the Kindle Fire. I realize that cost is a huge issue. But when I work with a tool, I have found, over my long life, that most of the time you get what you pay for. If you buy a cheap hammer or cheap chisel, your work will suffer. Some cheap tools can be more dangerous than helpful. So my toolbox is full of some junk and a lot of Stanley, Craftsman and other high quality tools, which are the ones I use all the time. I will keep a junk screwdriver, for example, to use to pound holes in something or to dig with. If I need a real screwdriver, I use the higher quality for the job.

Let's not beat around the bush. I will put it simply. As a tool, there is no real comparison between the Kindle Fire and an iPad. I am not saying that the Kindle Fire is junk, but if you appreciate elegance of design and simplicity of use, you will be more than willing to pay the extra few bucks for an iPad. Let's just say that I don't have a lot of manual dexterity, but I am really used to working on computers, especially with touch pads and gestures. I found the Kindle unacceptable. I would not buy one. Period.

I warned you at the beginning that I was opinionated in this regard. There is a reason that Apple still sells more than 60% of the tablet computers in the world and it has nothing to do with patents or the lawsuits against Samsung. It has to do with elegance of design and utility. After spending a frustrating half hour or so working on the Kindle Fire, I was not a happy camper. I do not like clunky MSDOS type command machines. Apple's real competition is from Google, not from Amazon and, as I may venture a guess, Microsoft either.

You may ask, and rightly so, what was the real difference? The Kindle has several different virtual buttons for different functions. Each button had to be pushed in a sequence to do different tasks. Not acceptable. It was not just a case of my being familiar with the iPad and unfamiliar with the Kindle. I constantly work on Windows based computers at my office, at the FamilySearch Library, at Church and with friends. Working with these operating systems is why I have now become almost exclusively an Apple user. It is simply a matter of having a better tool.

Transitioning from online to paper research

At some point in your genealogical research, you are going to find out that you have exhausted the online resources pertaining to your ancestor or ancestors. In talking to many researchers over the past year or so, I find that few of them know where to go next. It seems there is a huge gulf between looking online and moving on to research in books and other paper records. Of course, the main obstacle to paper research is the inconvenience of traveling to where the documents are stored. But there are intermediate places to continue your search without the time and expense of traveling.

The first resource is your own local library system. I find many people have a rather negative view of using a local city, county or state library for research, but I can say from my own experience, that these resources can be valuable. For example, I needed an obituary of my uncle. It was no where to be found online, but I found a microfilm copy in my local public library. I have also found the university libraries to be helpful with collections of historical documents. In one case, I found a diary of a neighbor of my Great-grandfather, that talked about my Great-grandfather and his family. This gem was in the Special Collections library of Northern Arizona University.

Many of the local libraries are now connected to online genealogical resources, such as NewsBank, that are unavailable in FamilySearch Centers and only available through the libraries unless you subscribe to One of our local libraries is presenting a series of classes on genealogy. You may find kindred spirits in your local library.

It is also a good idea to plan a trip to your local historical society or museum. You might be surprised at what you will find. If you don't live anywhere near where your ancestors did, you can try getting on the telephone and calling libraries and historical societies in the area to see if there are people locally who might help you with your research. You can also look online to find a professional researcher in the area you are interested in. Some of us do have resources to spend on genealogical research and you might find some valuable information by hiring a professional.

In the end, if you have a good idea about the records that might be available in a particular area, there is no substitute for travel to the location and doing the research. If can be very interesting and challenging to try to find documents in the field, but the challenge is often rewarded by valuable information. I remember sitting a cemetery office outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and asking for documents about my family buried in the cemetery. The lady in charge of the records insisted on producing them one page at a time, rather than letting me see the file and choose what I needed. She must have gone back into her storage area ten or more times before I got what I thought might be all the records.

Just recently, my daughter called me from the middle of a cemetery in Rhode Island to say hello and tell me the grave markers she could see around her. Genealogy may seem sedentary, but it can be an active and exciting pursuit. If you get off your chair and go looking for your ancestors. 

The changing face of FamilySearch Family Tree

The Family Tree program continues to build interest among family history researchers. My weekly classes at the Mesa FamilySearch Library have grown from one or two participants to over twenty per class in the past few weeks. Additionally, the program itself is changing rapidly. Just before my class yesterday, I noticed that a newer version of the Reference Guide had been added to the Help Menu which now has 19 items addressing issues in Family Tree. Here is a list of the Help Menu items:
Family Tree
As you can see the documentation is getting rather extensive. I was not able to attend the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference, but The Ancestry Insider was there and reported on the presentations by FamilySearch. I highly recommend reading his reports, which I will not reproduce here. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I told you so! Mergers, Acquisitions and Partnerships

At the current Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Birmingham, Alabama, there is more going on that just the presentations and exhibitors. In a blog post news release from the Conference announced a partnership with the Federation of Genealogical Societies. The announcement says in part:, an international leader in online family history research, today announced a national partnership with Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) to preserve, digitize and provide access to local records from genealogical societies across the country.
The announcement further says:
“As we aggressively grow our business in the U.S., we are looking to form partnerships that benefit both the genealogical community and,” said Chris van der Kuyl, CEO of brightsolid, the parent company for findmypast. “This partnership will benefit our customers by giving them access to records that can’t be found anywhere else and participating societies will receive royalties for record images viewed.”
In one of my recent posts, I noted that the large genealogical database companies (LGDC) are not really in competition with one another. But that does not mean that they are not aggressively expanding and trying to grow their revenue stream. The value in these companies is the impression of users and potential users that they have unique records that will assist in the user's genealogical research. Anytime one of these companies can significantly expand their holdings, they will begin to attract more customers. did this recently by acquiring and adding millions of records as did when they announced a new partnership with 1000memories, the creators of ShoeBox, a free mobile app for iOS and Android.

I can safely predict that we will see further such announcements in the coming months. 

Digitized Books Explode at

No, I didn't mean that the books exploded, just that the number of scanned and online books is increasing dramatically. Recently, representatives from FamilySearch showed up at the Mesa FamilySearch Library to instruct our staff on the procedures to integrate the Mesa catalog with the Family History Library Catalog. If you were not aware, or hadn't been looking lately, you might have missed the fact that entries in the Catalog are being expanded to include the holdings of the FamilySearch Centers, including the Mesa FamilySearch Library. In addition, thousands of books scanned from the Mesa FamilySearch Library will begin to appear as online digitized copies and will be listed in the Catalog. I have been following this issue for years, ever since scanning began at the then Mesa Regional Family History Center (now Mesa FamilySearch Library).

Apparently, there have been a number of technical issues that had to be resolved before the books scanned in Mesa would start appearing in the Catalog and online on Those issues included cataloging the books and integrating them into the Catalog. Those issues are getting resolved and so there is some movement of books into the Catalog and online. 

Now here is a blog post from FamilySearch about the same issue called "New Digital Family History Books – June 2012 Report." I might say something about the fact that the article refers to the June report and is now appearing in August, but I won't. :-)

Quoting from the article:
FamilySearch is undergoing a massive project to digitize the family history book collections at the Family History Library (Salt Lake City, Utah), the Allen County Public Library (Ft. Wayne, Indiana), the Houston Public Library – Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research (Houston, Texas), and the Mid-Continent Public Library – Midwest Genealogy Center (Independence, Missouri) among others. In the month of June 2012 alone, more than 1,500 books were added to Family History Books.
Lists of new digital family history books:
The blog post goes on to explain:
At present, the bulk of the books being digitized are English-language compiled genealogies that are out of copyright or whose authors have granted permission for the books to be placed online. Other notable additions in June 2012 include Lineage Books of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (Volumes 1-166), Volumes 1-11 of the periodical Genealogy: A Journal of American Ancestry, a large collection of indexes to Indiana local histories, many Missouri and Texas local histories, and Houston, Texas death certificates (1876, 1889, 1896-1900).
This effort will enable these valuable books to be more easily accessible around the globe for free through the Internet. The highly-accurate OCR system we are using permits each book to be keyword searched for any word in the text. This post will be the first of several updates to help you keep up-to-date with the new books being added to Family History Books.
You might not think that 1,500 books constitutes an explosion, especially if you think about the number of books that are available now in the Library, 356,000 books, but you can see that adding that many more in a month is certainly a good sign. I will be really happy when the book I had scanned more than a year ago, shows up in the Catalog as a scanned book. I suggest that the numbers will continue to grow rapidly and that you should check the Family History Library Catalog for new entries. When a book becomes available, it will show as digitized in the Catalog with a link to the digital online copy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Demise of the Floppy Disk

I am appalled that I still regularly hear about genealogical data sitting on floppy disks. The earliest floppy disk memory storage systems were developed by IBM beginning back in 1967, long before the computer revolution began. The first read-write floppy disk was shipped in 1973 with the expressed purpose of replacing the punch card as a storage media. See Wikipedia:History of the floppy disk. The earliest microcomputers, in the 1970s, used cassette tapes. I can remember using a cassette tape drive on a computer.

The first floppy disks for consumer level computers were 8 inch and the drives cost more than the computer. The old 8 inch disks did not last long, because by 1976, Wang introduced the 5.25 inch floppy. Old CPM based computers converted to the 5.25 inch drives. This was my introduction to the world of microcomputing. In 1978 Apple introduced the 5.25 inch Disk II for the Apple II computer and I began entering data into an Apple II in a big way.

The original 5.25 floppy disk drives recorded information on only one side of the disk. So to use both sides, you had to remove the disk and turn it over to record on the other side. Even though double sided drives were introduced in this early time period, they were considered an expensive upgrade. But as it is with all computer developments, today's upgrade is tomorrows standard. By the 1980s we had huge piles of floppy disks.

The break-through came with the introduction of 3.5 inch floppy disks. There was some confusion in calling the new disks "floppy" because they came in a hard plastic cover so we were continually explaining to people that the term "floppy disk" referred to the Mylar plastic disk with the iron oxide coating inside the plastic holder. As the 3.5 inch disks gained in popularity, 5.25 inch disks faded into obscurity.

Genealogy did not become big on computers until well into the introduction of 3.5 inch floppy disks. So we didn't have a lot of issues transferring data from the 5.25 inch floppies over to the newer 3.5 inch ones.

During those early years, we did thousands of transfers of genealogical data from CPM and MSDOS formats to Apple OS and from Apple to MSDOS. Our store was right down the street from the Family History Center and many times a week, people would show up with disks for us to migrate or retrieve data.

On my own computers, my genealogical data quickly exceeded the capacity of even double-sided double density 3.5 inch floppy disks, but by using Personal Ancestral File, I could spread the data over several disks.

When Apple introduced the Macintosh computer in 1984, it had an internal 3.5 inch floppy drive. But the memory requirements of the graphic interface of the Macintosh soon exceeded the capacity of floppy drives and we began the process of using mechanical hard disk drives, now commonly called spinning media.

It has now been years since I owned a computer with a floppy disk drive.

But unfortunately, there are still large numbers of people out there in the genealogical community with data stored on 3.5 inch floppy disks. There are now two challenges to retrieving that data; finding a working 3.5 inch floppy drive and find a program that can read the file formats of the floppy disk.

Fortunately, you can still buy an external USB 3.5 inch floppy disk drive for under $20. But it will not be long before the last of the programs are available on anyone's computer that will read the file formats on the old data on the drives. If you know anyone who still has data on a 3.5 inch drive, now is the time to help them migrate that data to a flash drive or some other storage device. Time is running out.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Speaking at RootsTech!

I have been confirmed as a speaker at the upcoming RootsTech 2013 Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah on the 21st to 23rd of March. My topic will be "Finding the Obscure and the Ellusive: Geographic Information on the Web." Since I don't want to spoil the presentation, I will let you guess the subject until I get the syllabus materials posted which should take place pretty soon.

This will be my second year presenting at RootsTech. I proposed topics including Copyright both introduction and advanced, but I guess they had some one else for that topic this year. I have been involved extensively with maps in a variety of circumstances, beginning with Boy Scouts and Army to finding very obscure historical locations. I will really enjoy presenting this topic.

By the way, Dick Eastman figured out that the Radisson had their reservation system messed up and were reserving rooms for RootsTech without telling any of us about the rooms. I managed to get a reservation after all. Anyway, I still think it would be a good idea to reserve early, I suspect the later date for the Conference may have more people attending.

Mesa FamilySearch Library starts Webinars

The Mesa FamilySearch Library has scheduled it first webinar for Monday, 17 September, 2012, from 10:00 am to 11:00 am. Pre-registration is required at

The webinars represent classes that are presented live in the FamilySearch Training Center. Lynn Melville will be taking the historic step with his presentation, "Ways and Tools for Documentation." Lynn will show the "hows" and "whys" of source documentation; including a power-point lecture, and a demonstration of appending "real-life" source documentation to commonly used personal research databases. Presentation materials will be available to download from the Mesa FSL website ( the day preceeding the webinar.

Register early because the number of attendees is limited. We are still waiting for the webcasts to begin, but we now have five webcasts coming in the lineup.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Check Out Books from an Online Library?

As more and more books become available in digital format, libraries are beginning to offer books in digital format. The libraries have a system of loaning the books for a specified period of time, usually two weeks. When you find a book to check out, you download a copy to your digital bookshelf and then at the end of the loan period, the book simply disappears. One popular program for contacting almost any library in the world is a program called Overdrive Media, available for desktop computers, Android devices and iOS devices. So you can check out a book for your Kindle, your iPad or even your iPhone or Android phone. You can use Overdrive Media to search for a local library with online books to lend in almost any country of the world.

The catch to whole program is that you have to have a library card for an affiliate library. For example, in my case, I have a library card for the Maricopa County Public Library. This library is affiliated with the Greater Phoenix Digital Library which uses Overdrive Media to check out books. It is possible that your own public library may use a different program, but the key is that the program gives you access to the online books and allows you to download copies for loan. In the case of the Greater Phoenix Digital Library, they have PDF ePub books, Open ePub books, MP3 Audio books, WMA Audio books, ePub books and Kindle books. The program also gives you the option of buying the book, rather than checking it out.

On addition, there are libraries of downloadable books that are entirely on the Internet and have no physical location. Probably one of the larger of these online lending libraries is the Open Library with over a million books available.

One of the limitations of the online lending system is that, in most cases, the library has to have as many physical copies of books as it has for lending online and the books can only be checked out, like a physical book, one at a time. So, if you are looking for a popular book, you may find that many people have already put the book on reserve. In my case, I am used to that, since many of the books I try to check out at the library already have a waiting list.

The Search Engine is the Core of the Program

The Internet is driven by search engines. Programs such as Google, Bing, and similar programs easily dominate all other programs. Despite the huge reach of Google and other search engines, the content of proprietary databases, with all of their purported source documents, are only as accessible to their own individual search engines. This is true of all of the online commercial genealogical databases. You cannot use Google huge searching capabilities to find an individual document on or The only exceptions are those documents that have been copied off onto other websites. The proprietary databases are generally closed to the Google webcrawlers.

So, to find something on one of the genealogical database sites, you must depend on their individual search engines. Needless to say, few of them are as easy to use and effective as Google. Most of them are also dependent on the accuracy of the various indexing programs that have been employed to open the digitized documents to searching. A digitized scan of a document is an image. The information on the image is essentially locked away until someone comes along and transcribes all or part of the information into a text format that can be searched by a computer. Of course, the image can be named or given metadata that will make it searchable, but whether the document in the image is indexed or the image itself is provided with sufficient metadata including a title, to be found depends on those providing the indexing.

Assuming the documents in the genealogical database are fully described through an indexing program, finding those documents still depends on the programming of the search function (i.e. search engine) created to search through the documents. So, in effect, the usefulness of the database rises and falls on the ability of its search engine. It does not matter how many millions or billions of records the website claims to have, if those documents or records are inaccessible due to a limited search engine capability.

Since the utility of a genealogical database depends so heavily on its search capabilities, you would think that much of the effort of the commercial databases would be concentrated into making their records as accessible as possible through development of effective search engines. At the threshold of effectiveness is finding a document that is known to be in the database through a relatively simple search. Now, who should I pick on? How about the four following databases:
 Just to remind you, is owned by FamilySearch, is, but is now owned by and is owned by

In all fairness, was only very recently acquired by and any results of an examination of their search engine certainly is not yet a reflection on has had a relatively short time to work on the site but both and have had a long time to develop their own search engines.

For a change, I will choose a more obscure relative for the comparison and analysis, Adeline Springthorpe Sparks Thomas (b. 1826 d. 1891). She was born in Colston, Leicester, England and died in Manti, Sanpete, Utah. Choosing any one person for a trial such as this is really not fair because some of the databases may not have any records at all about the target person. A real feel for the sufficiency of the search engine can only come from repeated searches over a period of time. But despite that acknowledged limitation, I am forging ahead basically to show a methodology for comparison.

Now, let's establish a baseline for comparison. Death records were not mandatory in Utah before 1898. But at the beginning of this post, I added a photo of Adeline Thomas' gravemarker. So we have some very limited information about her to start with. Also, I had no preconceived idea as to what was in the various databases about my ancestor.

Does she appear in any of the four online databases? I will start with a very simple search in each one. The first search using her entire name resulted in hundreds of thousands of returns. By entering a residence in Manti, Sanpete, Utah, the second search brought up her family living in Kanosh, Millard County, Utah. Here is a copy of the U.S. Census record:

Now let's see what happens with the others. The only thing I added to the search was her gender. The only document produced was a reference to However, this link gives a lot more possible information. Here is a screen shot of the entry for Adeline:

So both and immediately led to further information. On to the other two. What will I find in their claimed over two billion records? The first search produced over 3,000 records. Too many to look at. I added more information by adding Utah as a place. I immediately got the same 1870 U.S. Census record and many other suggested records. I added a birth date to cut down on the number of results and could have kept going for quite a while. No results after changing the search terms by varying the place and dates and name.

You might like to make your own comparison. Some of these programs are available for free at the FamilySearch Centers.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mystery Photos of the Week

These are more in the never ending series of early 20th Century photos taken by Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson. These date from about 1920 and are likely taken in or around St. Johns, Apache, Arizona. Mixed in with these photos are ones of familiar family members. Any thoughts?

Exploring WorldVitalRecords

Recently, kindly sent me a complimentary subscription. I have used this website for the past few years off and on, but found, like other sites that the search engine was so poor that rarely did I find anything productive. So, in response to the free offer, I decided to explore the website with a few searches. To my surprise, since purchased the site, it has been redesigned and functions much more efficiently.

My first search turned up links to records that I immediately added to my ancestor in's Family Tree program. The sources were not unknown to me, but having them organized in a list, gave me the incentive to add them to my Source Box. By the way, I am finding having the Source Box a great way to gather information off of the Internet without using an intermediary program like or

Back to (WVR). I began searching for my immediate known relatives. The purpose was to see what kinds of records I might find compared to those I already knew existed on the Internet. First, WVR has a convenient link to and my first efforts had links to that website for the people whose names I searched. The program found both the headstones for my Grandfather, LeRoy Parkinson Tanner. I also had a link to 9 Family Trees, including my own, most of the others turned out to private and gave no further sources.

Moving back two generations to my Great-great-grandfather, Sidney Tanner, was more productive with a reference to an obituary in the Salt Lake Tribune from 1895. Unfortunately, the image of the page never did load. I could get the references from the Utah Digital Newspaper project, but I have no explanation for the lack of images. The newspaper images in are supposed to be coming from the had a link to Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah, including a photo. I was already aware of all of these sources, but if I hadn't been familiar with them, they would have given a fairly good start with some valuable sources.

Both of the searches I did were of people with a lot of online presence. So I decided to move to someone from my family with few records online or at least, few that I am aware of. I moved to searching for Margaret Jarvis born in 1857 in Boston, Massachusetts. With such a common name and location, it was evident that the results, although voluminous, were inapplicable. The program did identify her in family trees, but none of the remaining results were pertinent. By specifying the location in Arizona, I was able to get more pertinent information.

It looks like WVR is a valuable resource withe a huge potential, but it will take some work to find the documents you are looking for.

Saturday, August 25, 2012 Programming Errors

Programming errors are commonly referred to as bugs. They occur for a huge number of reasons, but basically come from the complexity of programming code. They are a bother to the user and bedevil the programmers. is usually quite error free but it is apparent that adding new features constantly is taking its toll on the programmers. Some very bothersome bugs now show up regularly. Currently, there is a bug that cancels out your sign in at very random times. The effect is uniform across most of the website. I have been adding content to the Research Wiki and had the program kick me out at random times, losing my work to that point. The same thing has been happening in Family Tree, I will be adding a source and suddenly the program is asking me to log in again and I have lost my work.

OK, programming errors are common and part of life in the computer world. What is also a common part of life in the computer world is either denying the existence of the problem or ignoring it. Now, I am certain, from what has happened in the past that FamilySearch will fix the problem shortly, but it would be a nice idea and helpful to the community, if this type of bug were publicized so that we don't all think it is our own computers that are going wacky. I realize publicizing bugs runs counter to the secretive nature of the computer programmer and will likely never happen.

I realize that FamilySearch has a Feedback function where such things can be reported, but I am also aware that this particular bug has already been reported a number of times. 

Free vs. the competition

The Internet has magnified a long standing advertising ploy; giving away free samples. During the World War II the cigarette manufacturers negotiated a coup by putting cigarettes in every ration pack given to the soldiers. They were still at when I was a teenager, with pretty girls standing on the street corners in downtown Phoenix handing out free packages of cigarettes. Now, I don't want to compare the genealogy service providers to the cigarette companies, but the Internet has become the new venue for "free" services and software. Everything from books to computer games are offered by someone for free. Free has become the norm with paid as the exception.

Huge websites, such as Google, thrive on "free" programs and services. You might wonder how they stay in business until you use one of Google's free services and become aware of its total saturation with advertising. Giving away something free is still a form of advertising. Turning to genealogy, we find the same methods of advertising. has several "free" databases as to do many of the other commercial websites. The unspoken, yet obvious, conclusion is that if you use their "free" services you will be enticed to use their subscription ones. This is also the basis for the collection of "free" commercial subscription websites available at the FamilySearch Centers (formerly referred to as Family History Centers).

Of course, the free government websites are anything but free. They subsist on taxpayer dollars. But what about the privately operated "free" websites such as and Are they truly free? And if they are free, what are they promoting? In the case of, the answer is both complex and quite simple. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is promoting family history as a tenant of their (our) religion. Again, the site and the records are only free because they (we) choose not to make make money from the site. But when there is a considerable expense to provide a service the Church will charge, as shown by the cost of renting microfilm copies of the records from the Family History Library.

In the case of, the free nature of the site comes as a result of the philosophy of the owner/innovator Brewster Kahle. There is a particularly telling quote from Wikipedia, referring to Kahle:
He states the digital transition, thus far, has gone from local control to central control, non-profit to for-profit, diverse to homogeneous, and from "ruled by law" to "ruled by contract". Kahle states that even public-domain material published before 1923, and not bound by copyright law, is still bound by contracts and requires a permission-based system from Google to be distributed or copied. Kahle reasons that this trend has emerged for a number of reasons: distribution of information favoring centralization, the economic cost of digitizing books, the issue of staffing at libraries not having the technical knowledge to build these services, and the decision of the administrators to outsource information services. See Wikipedia:Brewster Kahle.
 In response, the Internet Archive or has started the Open Library which has pages for over 20 million books and over 1 million of those give access to a full-text downloadable version.

So does free compete with the subscription based companies' offerings? That is a complex question and one I come back to from time to time. The answer is yes and no. It is hard to find an analogous situation outside of the Internet, but let me try. Let's say I want to go to a park. I can do that anytime I want to for free (courtesy of my local government). Should my park wanting desires be fulfilled by visiting one of the free parks, then I guess I am satisfied. I might add that we have some pretty elaborate free parks in the area. But does the existence of a free local park keep me from visiting Disneyland or Universal Studios? No, but distance and expense do. Can the local park be said to compete with Disneyland? Not really. If I wanted the Disneyland experience, I would pay the price notwithstanding the distance, travel time, lodging cost, entrance fee and food cost.

Do Disneyland and Universal Studios compete with each other? Do and compete? On one level they could be considered competitors, but usually the reason for choosing one over the other is not a matter of competition as it is a matter of personal needs, personal interests and personal preference.

Should all genealogical information be "free" as a matter of principle? Much of what we have today from all of the online services would then be unavailable. It is only because some people can make a profit selling genealogical services that those services are made available. The system we have now, for all of the criticism which could be leveled at it, works tolerably well for a large number of people.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Thoughts on the Jury Award in favor of Apple for $1 B

Apple v. Samsung verdict form

I have been following the lawsuit by Apple against Samsung with some interest based on my long history as an Apple dealer and user of Apple products. If this decision is a surprise to you, then you are likely not familiar with how patent law cases and other statutory-based lawsuits can turn on the wording of the patent and the wording of the supporting statutes.

Historically, Apple has tried to enforce patent claims based on the idea of "look and feel" both with and without success.  This is one of the more dramatic successes. What effect will this have on the so-called smartphone and tablet markets? Probably none of the dire predictions coming from the Samsung camp and probably not the benefit Apple thinks it will have. Likely, the technology will continue to change dramatically and this whole issue will become a footnote in the history of computers.

Good Luck with Reservations for Hotels for RootsTech

I have been sort-of watching for when the RootsTech 2013 info was going online. I have several proposals for presentations, but haven't heard anything yet. Then I noticed that the hotels were listed. Wow, I should have been watching more carefully. The Radisson is already sold out for one of the days and the others in the area also reported sold out. I did get a reservation at the Plaza, but I imagine that won't be open for long either. Be advised.

International Genealogical Index back online announced today that the International Genealogical Index (IGI) is now completely back online. Here is the statement from the FamilySearch Blog:
We mentioned in an earlier FamilySearch blog post that work has now been completed for the International Genealogical Index (IGI). This final addition to the IGI consists of records submitted by the community. The IGI and all the records from the FamilySearch record collection can be searched from the main page of The IGI can also be searched by going to the Historical Record Collections page and typing IGI in the search box.
The IGI is listed as having 669,118,251 records with the following instructions:
For a short period of time duplication in the IGI was reduced by removing records from the indexed data when these records were submitted by the community. To do an exhaustive search for your ancestor you should choose to search the Community Contributed IGI and follow the process outlined on this page to determine if the record you find was part of an indexed collection.
Some of the duplication present in the program came from incorporating the records from the IGI where there was already considerable duplication.  For example, a search on my Great-grandfather's name, Henry Martin Tanner, in the IGI yields over 700 results, most of which are duplicate entries of him or relatives with the same or similar name. Because this new addition is a set of user contributed records with little or no documentation, any information obtained should be verified through other records. Be sure to carefully consider the disclaimer that comes on each record searched:
The International Genealogical Index (IGI) is a computer file created by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was first published in 1973 and continued to grow through December 2008. It contains several hundred million entries, each recording one event, such as a birth, baptism (christening), marriage, or death. The information has not been verified against any official records, Duplicate entries and inconsistent information are common. Always verify contributed entries against sources of primary information.

Mesa FamilySearch Library goes online with Webinars

Keeping up with the changes in technology, the Mesa FamilySearch Library (formerly called the Mesa Regional Family History Center) is moving into the production of a series of online webinars. The first releases are in the process of preparation and should be ready within the next week or so. Included in the initial offerings are the following:

DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) Danna Koelling 1 Aug 2012
Family History Research in the State of AZ Archives Dr. Melanie Sturgeon     Jan 2012 
FamilySearch Family Tree James L. Tanner     Aug 2012
History of the 1940 Census Dr. Michael Snow     Apr 2012 
Online Resources James L. Tanner     Jun 2012 

These will be my first official webinars as a presenter with both audio and video. I am very interested to see how these will come out. My August presentation had over 200 people in attendance so we will have to see how the background noise comes across. Right now, the titles are online but the webinars do not load properly. Looking forward to these coming online.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

More about competition in the genealogy community

From an abstract standpoint, genealogy competes with all of other goods and services in the marketplace. If you view life as having an economic basis, then you will judge every human activity in terms of choices between various options in the marketplace of life. Every time I make a choice to do or not do something, I have essentially allocated my resources to that activity. From that perspective, genealogy competes with eating, sleeping and all other human activities. But, and this is a big exception, my comments are aimed at the narrow choices available in the context of genealogy. If you choose to do genealogy, what choices do you have?

If your goal is to invest nothing more than time, then you have some limitations in what kinds of research you can do and how complete or effective you can be. On the other hand, there are very few people who have unlimited time and unlimited resources to spend on just genealogy. My question, framed as narrowly as possible, concerns whether or not the providers of goods and services in the context of the genealogical community are in competition with each other. There is, of course, no completely free service or product. You must have a computer, access to the Internet and the time to spend regardless of which product or service you use.

Assuming for the purposes of this discussion that the cost of a computer and connection to the Internet is discounted from any consideration, can any of the participants in the community be said to "compete" with each other? Many genealogical records are available for free, either on the Internet or from providers that have no charges other than access to the Internet. How can anyone be said to compete by offering free records.

I realize it is a little repetitious and perhaps redundant to remind the reader, that all activities compete for our time and interest. Discounting the basic issue of time and interest competition, the question is how do the participants in the genealogical community compete, if they do? Free is not competing. If a supplier or service offers its "product" for free, then how can it be said to compete? For example, if you are reading this blog post, you have made an economic decision to use my "free" information instead of paying some other entity for information or services. But, reading a free blog post or looking at free records online does not per se keep you from paying for other services at other times and places. I may read blogs, but I also pay for an subscription. As long as I pay, could care less about the actual time I spend with their product. So if I choose to read a blog rather than use my subscription, can the two activities be said to be in competition?

I guess you can likely see where this discussion is going. I don't view the various participants in providing goods and services in the genealogical community to be in competition. Decisions to buy a product or service are not made on the basis of a choice between competing products, but as an allocation of the consumer's interests and goals. I don't choose over on the basis of a decision that one service is "better" than the other, because there is no way to compare the two, I make that decision based on criteria that are completely indifferent to the relative merits of the two services. I make the decision based on my personal perception of the utility of the services. My choice comes from my personal perception of value to my own research. I may subscribe to one and not the other or both, but the choice is based on my personal evaluation not on competition among the two services. In both cases, I could always decide to go to a FamilySearch Center and use either or both services for free. That "free" option is what negates the competition.

Likewise, I may decide to go to a free local genealogy conference or not. But my decision will not determine whether or not I also go to a conference that cost money. I don't choose or not choose to go to a conference in the same way I choose one brand of camera to purchase over another. The purchase of a camera, like the purchase of a car, will likely preclude me from purchasing another camera, but my decision to attend a conference will not likely preclude me from attending another conference.

Are any of the genealogical goods or services absolutely essential to conducting research or organizing my genealogical data? The answer is no. I can refuse to go to any conferences, I can refuse to pay for any subscriptions and I could refuse to incur any costs for any other goods or services and rely entirely upon those with "free" access. My decisions can be made entirely for personal reasons. Likewise, I could refuse to purchase a car. But by living in Mesa, Arizona my choice would severely limit my ability to buy food, go to work and conduct many of my day-to-day activities.

That still leaves the question of whether any of the genealogical goods and services are free? I guess I will have to keep writing.

How much does genealogy cost?

In my last post, I talked a little bit about competition. Before getting back to that subject, I thought it would be a good idea to get some perspective on the cost of an enthusiastic genealogy involvement compared to some other pursuits. First, some comparisons with other activities you might be involved with individually or as a family.

What about that great American pastime, golf? A set of clubs can cost upwards of $2000 or more (although used garage-sale sets are probably a lot less). Golf balls run up to $60 a dozen, but again used or cheap balls can also be considerably less. Its not the equipment that gets to you in golf, its the green fees. The Salt River Valley is a haven for golf and green fees at a public golf course can run much over $100 (one round) in the months when the temperature isn't over 100 degrees). So realistically, an subscription is around three rounds of golf.

Water skiing is big in Valley. A ski boat can run over $100 an hour to rent. So three hours of ski boat rental is more than the cost of If you want to buy a boat, the sky is the limit on the purchase price but there are also many other expenses that you will need to consider before purchasing your boat such as depreciation, maintenance, storage, gas, insurance, towing, registration, taxes, launch fees and accessories. You could probably have a subscription to every large online database in the world for years before you spent the cost of buying a ski boat.

ATV? From $500 on up to thousands of dollars. But just like a boat, you have to take into consideration depreciation, maintenance, storage, gas, insurance, towing, registration, taxes  and accessories.

Horses anyone? Bass fishing? I guess my point is that there are a lot of popular pastimes out there in the world and genealogy, even with conventions and online databases, is way down in the cost category. So when we talk about competition in the genealogy community, we are really talking about economic small potatoes. Genealogy software is really inexpensive compared to many main-line production programs like Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Office. Genealogy is time intensive, but won't break the bank even if you count part of the cost of a computer system. 

But one factor is important, the demographics. Genealogists are older and more likely to live on a fixed income. They are not usually the same people buying ski boats and ATVs. But all in all, genealogy is not one of the more expensive activities, unless you count the time commitment. If time is money, then genealogy takes the cake. You can only play so much golf, but you can do genealogy all day long, every day.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Competition among genealogical service providers?

When you choose to buy a new car and you pick a particular model, it is clear that you have excluded the purchase of some other model of car. So your choice is made among competitors for your hard-earned car purchasing dollars. In addition, your choice is likely to affect your future purchases of cars for some considerable time. If you are like me, you keep your cars, usually, for more than ten years, even though I know the average time is much lower. In a real sense, the car manufacturers are in direct competition with each other. Choosing one, excludes the others.

So, do genealogical service providers compete in the same way car manufacturers (or TVs, or computers or whatever) compete? Hmm. An interesting question. From the TV ads, you would think that they were like a car manufacturer competing against other genealogical service providers for your hard-earned genealogical dollars. But there are some significant differences. I am not aware of anywhere nearby that I can go to use a car for as long as I want for free. But I can go down to my local FamilySearch Center (remember the names have changed) and use to my heart's content day after day, as long as I want to sit there in the center.

If is competing with some other entity, who are they competing with? is free. (There is, of course, another discussion on the concept of "free" but that will have to wait). For example,'s is also free at FamilySearch Centers. So if and are both free, how can they compete? It seems there is a fundamental difference between genealogical service providers and other commercial entities who compete in the marketplace.

In addition, if I have a subscription to (which I do), I am in no way disincentivized from subscribing to another service. My commitment to could be as short as a one month's subscription or as long as a year and the amount of money I have invested is much, much less than the cost of a car, and even considerably less than the cost of a TV or even a computer. I might be thinking, should I purchase an iPad or subscribe to, but that is not the same thing as deciding which model car to purchase.

But how do you account for the fact that most of the genealogical information in the world is available to those willing to spend time and sometimes money to acquire it? Doesn't that mean there has to be competition there somewhere? In a very general sense, all commercial enterprises compete with all other commercial enterprises. You have to decide whether to eat or do genealogy. You may elect to do both or one or the other.

Let's expand this idea a little more. Do the various genealogical conventions around the country compete with each other? This is a little more difficult to determine. Some of the very local conventions are "free" or free to members of the organization, but the larger conventions all have a cost associated with attendance. In addition, the genealogists usually have additional expenses of travel and accommodation. You may choose to go to one national convention a year or all of them, but the factors determining your attendance are decidedly more complex than simply looking at the different conventions as competitors. Personally, I would go to them all if I had the money and time. But I would soon get tired of living in hotels and eating out. I know a lot of genealogists who have never been to a convention and don't intend to go at all. So does the fact that RootsTech will be in March next year, exclude you from attending a local convention of your genealogical society? If you live in Australia, it might work the other way around because of the cost. You may not be excluded from attending all of the local conventions, but not an expensive one like RootsTech.

What about other genealogical services? Are they in competition with each other? If they are not, then should they cooperate?

It looks like this topic needs some more development. Look soon for part two or three or whatever.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

When is a source not a source?

In my early days of collecting family history, I relied heavily on work done by my relatives. My pre-computer efforts were primarily aimed at reviewing thousands of family group records submitted by my family over the years. I would show up at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah with a couple of rolls of quarters and look for the next series of family group records. I slowly extended my pedigree. Very quickly, I realized that not all of the records were either reliable or complete and I was soon looking for additional information to resolve the controversies. Years later, I was to discover that I was in the "survey" phase of the genealogical research cycle.

As time passed, I acquired a series of computers and computer programs for recording my research (really my survey). In most cases, back then, I would record the "source" as "Family Group Record in the possession of James L. Tanner." As I grew in understanding of genealogy, I rued the day I started to put that on my computer entries. In migrating the files over the years, I still have hundreds upon hundreds of sources recorded in that manner, despite my systematic efforts to replace those notations with accurate and correct sources.

I need to note, very few of the records I examined had any sort of source notation. My reference to a family group record was decidedly not a "source." In many cases, however, I did note the originator of the record, but usually the "source" citation stopped there. Later, I began documenting my genealogy systematically. What I found was that many of these older records were done from memory by the people who actually knew the ancestors listed. They had no sources because it did not occur to them to document their own family's record, known from memory. As a matter of fact, these early family group records have a tendency to be much more accurate than the general run-of-the-mill records produced today by family members with no knowledge of the family.

At some point, of course, I became obsessed with trying to document my family with original sources. That turns out to be an unending lifetime endeavor. But the question arises, is a citation to a family group record compiled by a living person about that person's family a source? I guess I would have to say yes in most instances. The point here is that citing the family group record is not the end of the verification process. It is still necessary to search for and record source documents that were created at of near the time of the events recorded by someone who witnessed the event or had a responsibility to record the event. That is the key to the source issue. But if you think about it, many of those early family group records fall into the definition of a source, especially those recorded about the immediate family members of the person supplying the record.

Where are these records found today? In the Ancestral File on The task of pulling all those records over the years is much simpler now. But the trade off is that you do not get the opportunity to look at the original sheet and see all of the notations and comments made by the originators. Upon reflection, my early efforts taught me some valuable lessons. Most importantly, they taught me the importance of documenting my work through original source records and recording the sources.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Join Me on the Kearney to Grand Island Historic Tour

Central Nebraska has several historic pioneer overland trails some of which date back to prehistoric times and the Native Americans in the area. On 6 September, 2012 I will be going on a guided tour of the trails between Kearney and Grand Island, Nebraska. The tour is sponsored by Family History Expos and there is still time and room available for you to register and join us on the tour.

The trails include the Mormon Trail and the Oregon Trail also known as the Platte River Road. Our guide for the tour will be Ronnie O'Brien, Director of Cultural Education at The Great Platte River Road Archway in Kearney, Nebraska. 
Also on the tour will be R. Val Rasmussen, Past President of the Temple Fork Chapter, Sons of the Utah Pioneers - 1986. During 34 years with the LDS Church Education System, a highlight was assignment as Nebraska Area Coordinator / Lincoln Institute Director. Starting in 1996, he was Education Chairman for the Nebraska Mormon Trails Association. 

In addition, we will have Terry Welch along. He is a retired instructor of 38 years with the LDS Church Educational System. Terry has been actively involved with trail research and trail exploration for nearly twenty years, having been a tour director on multiple occasions. He was also involved with the Sesquicentennial Mormon Pioneer Wagon Train of 1997.

Following the tour, on the 7th and 8th of September, we will have the Midwest Family History Expo. Click here for information about registering for this outstanding event.

Ronnie O'Brien will be teaching 
Bringing the 1860's on the Central Nebraska Mormon/California Trail to Life.

It took her eleven years and a lot of determination to piece together what life was like for the pioneers who settled along the Mormon/California Trail in Central Nebraska in the 1860’s. To register for the Expo, click here

R. Val Rasmussen will also be presenting 
The Nebraska Corridor 1847 to 1869 "A Protected Exodus" "Are We There Yet!" 

Yearly thousands of western families travel the "Nebraska Slab", I-80 (463 mil.) , in route to pioneer historical sites in the Midwest. Mesmerized , because they have no idea where the trail is, or what happened in their current panorama! To prepare for the Sesquicentennial Wagon Train Celebration, Nebraska Travel and Tourism, in cooperation with the Nebraska Mormon Trail Association, produced: A Self - Guided Tour, "A 19th Century Exodus". We will provide material which allows you to be successful "Family Tour Guides". Included will be information on 18 sites you can choose from, to highlight your ancestors exodus experience, in the most romantic segment of the pioneer trail! 

Terry Welch will also be presenting
Uncommon Aspects of Mormon Pioneer Migration

From Nauvoo to Salt Lake; Mormon pioneers left a trail legacy of hardship and endurance which differed in many respects from other west bound groups. This presentation will explore those differences. 

Changes in overriding those in Family Tree

It appears that by linking's Family Tree to (NFS), that changes made in Family Tree to correct misinformation are quickly negated by careless actions in NFS. Here is part of a comment in the topic stream in the FamilySearch Help menu:
Just found that a person **with no contact info** combined (for third time) a relative with an unrelated person some 15 years older with different wife, made the older man son of my relative's father AND of his paternal grandfather and reattached wrong wives to both of the latter. Despite there being explanatory "Discussion" notes.
 Here is an excerpt from another comment:
Two days ago I spent two hours on an ancestor who was given two wrong names and married to three wrong husbands with total 17 wrong children. Separated her from the wrong spouses and children, straightened out the name stuff. Yesterday I found she was renamed, again attached to the wrong spouses, her actual spouse was combined with one of his nephews, and there was no "history" showing what I had done the previous day. The changes were made by "anonymous" with a long string of numbers for whom there is no contact information. What data there is suggests that this wrongness was re-migrated into FS-Family Tree yesterday.
My own experience is that inaccurate and duplicative data is still pouring over from NFS to Family Tree. It appears to me that the inaccurate data is being transferred a little at a time, so if you leave your information on Family Tree alone for a few days, you will find additional duplicated information from NFS. Added to this, there are unaccountable changes being made to the NFS data that show up in Family Tree such as changing the spelling of the birth name of an ancestor, contrary to a reference to the actual birth record with the spelling visible to the world.

In fact, the battle has yet to begin. Those changes coming over from NFS are from people who have yet to "discover" Family Tree. When they do, they will undoubtedly carry on their practices of messing up the data, without sources and without a contact email address. Those of us deluged with unbelievably inaccurate information from NFS need to have patience. Family Tree will ultimately win out and we will also win by using the program and correcting all the errors.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Is Merging Better than Combining? Comments on FamilySearch Family Tree

A basic concept in the (NFS) program is the preservation of all of the iterations of the data about every individual. The original data for the program came from a variety of sources with duplicate information. In order to try and contain the duplicates, the NFS program has a method of combining duplicate information into sort-of a super individual package. Even after the duplicates were combined, you could see all of the variations in the content and there was a way to "un-combine" individuals and restore them to their previous uncombined state.

The results was that many individuals recorded in NFS had hundreds of sometimes contradictory components. Unfortunately, there was no practical way to mark the "correct" information. Blatantly incorrect information was equally displayed with well documented correct information. The reason this occurred was likely a fear that unless all of the information was preserved, possible correct information may be lost. In addition, nothing could be changed. The only way to "correct" bad information was to add more.

The practical results of having all of the information visible and unable to be corrected was that some ancestral lines were entirely unusable. There was no way, practical or otherwise, to select the correct information from the huge information cloud and follow the most accurate pedigree line. As time went on, the information in the file grew even more muddled and complex. Families with huge numbers of duplicate individuals essentially could not use the program at all. At the same time, new users of the program, whose families had little or no information in the program, had a very positive experience. Because they had no duplicates, the program worked for them and did what it was designed to do.

At some point, the concept of preserving all of the data, contradictory or otherwise, was rejected by FamilySearch and they began developing the Family Tree program. Family Tree uses the concept of merging information rather than combining. In a merge, conflicting information is essentially hidden from the view of the user. The results is that the only information visible in the program is the consensus "correct" information. So if two separately recorded individuals who are really the same person are combined, all of the information from both individuals is available and visible for the now combined individuals. If the information were "merged" then the rejected information would disappear and the only information visible would be that selected as correct. In reality, the merged information does not go away, it is merely hidden and could be restored at any time.

Arguments can be made for both methods of preserving the information. But in the second example, as is supposed to eventually be the case with Family Tree, there is an inherent method for determining the most correct information and substantiating it through supporting sources. That means that hopefully, bad information will not continue to perpetuated off into the future and a more accurate pedigree can be established for each individual.

Some Random Thoughts

Warning: If your information diet is limited to low calorie genealogical content, you may wish to employ some moderation in reading the following blog post.

How would you like to live in blogging family that whips out cameras at dinner time to take photos of the food you are eating? (See Family Heritage Recipes). 

On the other hand, how would you like to go traveling with someone who keeps driving off the road and leaping out of the car to take pictures of flowers and weeds? (See Walking Arizona).

Or perhaps you would rather put up with having boxes stacked in every available corner full of photographs, letters, documents of every description and even bundles of hair? (I'm sorry there is nothing to see here, but there really is a huge braid of hair that came from my grandmother).

What about living with someone who is either on the computer, looking at an iPad or watching an iPhone about 90 percent of his waking time? Does that sound like fun?

And even further, what about living with someone who decides, in his old age, to drive all around the company talking to other old people about dead people?

How would you like it if periodically, you all had to jump up and go outside to look at the clouds or sunset or sunrise or rain or whatever was happening with the stars?

On to another subject, it seems like it is about time to upgrade all the computer systems and of course, that means that we have to think about new hardware. I think right now we have a total of about thirteen computers to upgrade or not.

It is really nice to find someone who not only is interested in finding their ancestors, but also spends the time to ask meaningful questions and listen to how the research should be done.

It is also nice to have a presentation where over 200 people show up and they are all really interested in what you are talking about.

That brings us back to old geezer who jumps in his car and drives 450 miles in one day just to take pictures of trees.

All of this while living in a place where it is not news for temperatures to reach 118 degrees.