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

Monday, December 31, 2012

Farewell to FamilySearch Forums

I mentioned in a previous post that the FamilySearch Forums are scheduled to be discontinued on 21 December 2012. The Forums have been posted with the following statement:
We are transitioning our Forums into a new question and answer tool. These tools are in testing over the next month. Learn more, or join in the testing of this new tool here.
The statement is repeated as this Notice also, which is slightly different than the one above:
Forums Notice 
FamilySearch Forums will be discontinued after December 31, 2012. We are transitioning our Forums into a new question and answer tool, and these tools are in testing over the next month. Learn more, or join in the testing of this new tool here.
Presently, clicking on the link takes you to an Announcement page with this same information. So far, there is no clear indication as to what direction the "question and answer tool" will take or who will be "answering" the questions.

Odds and Ends of Technology

Sometimes there are so many things happening in technology, none of which warrant a complete blog post that I like to just list a summary of recent events:

First on my list today, are some drastic changes to Google Reader. Google's new Reader design integrates Reader with Google+. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on whether or not you presently use Google+ and/or Reader. I'm also not sure whether or not the changes benefit the user or simply force more people to use Google+. I happened like Google+ more than I like Facebook, but I am sure that I'm in a minority in that regard.

Many news stories are reporting rather tepid sales for Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system. Apparently, the sales are running behind those clocked by Windows Vista during the same period of time.

I found an interesting smartphone/tablet app called Snapguide. It is sort of a cross between YouTube and a social networking site. It is setup to provide video instruction for everything from menus, two recipes, automotive repairs and everything in between. It doesn't look like the genealogists have discovered it yet.

There was a big controversy over the substitution of Apple's Map App for Google's Map App on the iPhones and iPads. Apple's Map program simply did not work sufficiently well to be useful. Taking advantage of the situation, Google dropped their Map program for a while and then released it again in an upgraded version. Meanwhile, some of us discovered Waze and other options for using map programs and the whole issue just went away.

During the past year, many of popular genealogical database programs have undergone significant upgrades. This is just a reminder to check to see whether or not the program you are using has been upgraded. If there has been a significant upgrade, you may have to purchase the upgrade. You may wish to do this for a number of reasons including keeping your software compatible with hardware changes and operating system upgrades.

The boom in the tablet computer market has certainly reached our family. At a recent family gathering with three of my children and their families, I counted 11 computers, tablets, and smartphones.

2012 saw the introduction of light field cameras. The first production model called the Lytro, started selling. Light field cameras allow the user to take a picture and decide later which portion of the picture to put in focus. Yes, an out-of-focus picture can be refocused after it has been downloaded to your computer. Toshiba is also developing the technology.

 That is probably enough for now.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Cost of Genealogy

If time is money, then every activity we participate in has a cost. But I think that looking at time as money is a particularly inappropriate way of viewing life. If acquiring money is the only objective in life, then there is no real meaning to the vast majority of our activities. But sometimes we need to look at the other side of this "time as money" attitude, that is, those who view everything in terms of its cost and value "free." Of course, no one and no society can get something for nothing. Even if the cost is hidden or distributed over a large number of people, there is still a cost.

Genealogy is not a particularly expensive activity, as such, but it can be. To do one thing that we would like or choose to do, we have to give up something else. I have a huge number of "interests" other than genealogy, from photography to minerals, but if I want to accomplish a specific goal in any one of these interests, I have to give up time devoted to the others. When people say they don't have time for an activity, such as genealogy, what they are really saying is that they don't choose to allocate the time to that particular activity. They value other activities more than genealogy.

One issue in determining the cost of any activity, is separating out the overhead, common expenses of living from the added expenses of the particular activity. There is no need here to go into a detailed discussion of budgeting and finances, but how we managed to spend our money or other disposable resources determines to a great extent the time we have left for other activities. Unfortunately, genealogy has garnered the patina of old age. I frequently talk to people who have the attitude that doing genealogy is something put off until old-age and retirement. However, retirement from a commercial job does not automatically mean that you will allocate time to any certain activity. Most of the so-called retired people that I know feel just as busy as they did when they were working full time for a living.

As I grow older, I am more acutely aware of the trade-offs between different activities. If I spend two hours watching a movie, then I have just lost that two hours but could've been spent in another activity. Part of the cost of genealogy is in its comparative value as an activity. As long as we consider genealogy to be a "less desirable" activity, It is extraordinarily easy to find other things to do rather than concentrate on finding our ancestors.

Moving beyond the general overhead activities and the trade-offs between other positive and equally desirable activities,  becoming involved in genealogy also incurs some out-of-pocket expenses. I suppose, you could look at genealogy as requiring no more than a piece of paper and a pencil. But there is a time commitment involved in learning the basics and acquiring sufficient skills to properly record and document genealogical research. It is currently a fact genealogical life that there has been a shift in the nature of the activity to being almost entirely computer-based. So presently, any consideration of the cost of genealogy, has to include the background, overhead cost of acquiring and learning to use a computer system.

 When you begin adding in the cost of a computer, computer programs, the time involved in learning the programs, the skills involved in operating a computer, the cost of an Internet connection, and other incidental expenses such as paying for the electricity to operate the computer, you begin to see that the cost of becoming involved in genealogy may be substantial. Of course, a computer system has many other uses besides genealogy. A person may be motivated to purchase a computer system even with no intention of becoming involved in genealogy. Therefore, the entire cost of the computer system could not be and should not be allocated entirely to that portion of the system used for genealogy.

My acquisition and use of computer systems, paralleled my increased interest in genealogy. I would have purchased and used computers regardless of my interest in genealogy but because I had computers available my genealogical interests benefited from my computer interests. But I certainly cannot attribute my acquisition of computers to be entirely caused by my interest in genealogy.

When I said that genealogy was not a particularly expensive activity the response should be "compared to what?" I happen to live in a society surrounded by people who expand relatively large amounts of time and money on a variety of recreational and entertainment activities. Several of my neighbors own rather large and expensive motorhomes or Recreational vehicles, some of which cost well in excess of $200,000. The gas alone for these vehicles for one year is probably more than my entire expenditures for equipment and supplies for genealogy.

It is obvious, that the cost of any activity including genealogy, is relative to the overall time and financial resources of the individual interested in the activity. What I've found be interesting over the years is that very few people I would consider to be wealthy, as to financial resources, are at all interested in genealogy. It is probably impossible to determine, but I would guess the people who are motivated to accumulate wealth are probably not the same people who are motivated to seek out their ancestors.

One additional cost of genealogy is the alienation factor. Unfortunately, there will be people and even members of your own family who will avoid you as a result of your interest in family history.

Basically, this analysis comes down to a question of whether or not any particular activity is worth the time and expense needed to pursue it. In my case, and I would assume in the case of those reading this post, that decision is already been made and a fairly large allocation of time and money has already been spent in the pursuit of genealogy.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The California Digital Newspaper Collection

I am always extremely interested whenever there is a new online database of digitized sources.  I was interested to see a reference to The California Digital Newspaper Collection. Here's a description of the database:
The California Digital Newspaper Collection contains over 400,000 pages of significant historical California newspapers published from 1846-1922, including the first California newspaper, the Californian, and the first daily California newspaper, the Daily Alta California. It also contains issues of several current California newspapers that are part of a pilot project to preserve and provide access to contemporary papers.
The project is sponsored by the University of California Riverside. It is part of the  Center for  Bibliographic  Studies and  Research which includes the English Short-Title Catalog (1473-1800), the California Newspaper Project, the Californian  Digital  Newspaper  Collection, the Cat├ílogo Colectivo de Impresos Latinoamericanos hasta 1851, and the California Newspaper Microfilm Archive.
The English Short-Title Catalog is a vast database designed to include a bibliographic record, with holdings, of every surviving copy of letterpress produced in Great Britain or any of its dependencies, in any language, worldwide, from 1473-1800. In order to increase access to these items, we include references to microfilm, digital, and other facsimile versions. All of the records are fully searchable online.
 The websites include a guide to Britain's territories, colonies, and possessions from the fifteenth century to the end of the eighteenth century, the period covered by the English Short Title Catalogue.

Okay, so now I'm getting overwhelmed. Here we have a huge database but obviously contains information valuable to genealogical research that is completely gone underneath my radar. I guess watching the Internet  day and night doesn't seem to help much.

New Search Engine from The Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA)

I noticed that my friend Daniel Horowitz of was one of the volunteers who contributed to the All Israel Database of the Israel Genealogy Research Association. This search engine currently features 105,936 records from 85 different databases and was last updated on 24 December 2012. As indicated by their website:
The Israel Genealogy Research Association [IGRA] has set as one of its primary aims the preparation of databases based upon various records, mainly found in Israel, for as wide an audience as possible. The large amount of archives located in Israel dealing with communities in Israel and Jewish communities outside of Israel have records in a variety of languages but mostly in Hebrew and English. Our data come from Archives as well as publications which are on open shelves in libraries. 
We aim to scan the materials, build databases with the pertinent information, and then to link to the original scans, where archival permission has been granted. Surnames and first names will be transliterated from Hebrew to English, and vice versa, depending on the language of the original material. This will enable researchers who are not familiar with the other language to find the families they are searching for.The databases loaded are divided into 3 eras: 
Ottoman Administration (- 1917)British Administration (1917-1948)Israeli Administration (1948- )
You have to be registered and sign in to do a search, but registration is free.

Here is the information sent out in the press release about the new search engine:
The Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA) has released a new search engine for their AID (All Israel 
Databases) section .  In July, at the IAJGS International Conference in Paris, IGRA was awarded the Stern Grant with the intent that these monies to be used to develop a bi-lingual search engine to improve our website.  We contracted with Brooke Schreier Ganz and worked closely with her to build what we hope will be a much improved search experience.  Rose Feldman, Carol Hoffman, Daniel Horowitz, Garri Regev and Philip Trauring have each given from their special fields to make this possible. 
We believe we bring you now a balanced assortment of databases – from the Ottoman, British and Israeli Administrations, relating to communities from the north to the south, and in many different fields. 
Some of the databases are in English but most are in Hebrew, with a few additional languages as well.  Each database is presented in the language of the material found.  The search engine, however, is able to understand both English and Hebrew and will bring you matches in both languages even if you only entered the name in one language. There is a virtual keyboard if you do not have a Hebrew keyboard and want to use one. 
You will notice that in addition to entering the names you are searching there are possible filters on the right side of the page to help you fine tune your search.  Try them out!!  Adding more or taking them away is quite simple. 
Our databases and search engine page is available to all registered users of our website (free).  Please be sure to log in.  You will be alerted if you do not have permission to access information.  Due to restrictions from the various archives we have had to layer the accessibility of our databases.  There are databases available to everyone.  Some of our databases allow you to search but not to see all of the details.  Other databases are only for paid IGRA members. The same is true for the images of the databases.  Almost all of the images have been added and more will be added in the coming days.

REGISTER NOW - Webinar, January 13, 2013 (8pm Israel, 1pm EST, 10am PST) - Navigating the All Israel Database Search Engine (English): 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Update on Photos on FamilySearch

In previous posts, I've talked about's photos program which is presently in beta test. The concept of the program is the ability to add photographs to Family Tree. Here is the updated information:

FamilySearch Photos and Stories Update
Development continues on FamilySearch Photos and Stories. What's the latest?
  • New landing page-A new Photos landing page has launched that includes a few new interesting features. There is a gallery of recently uploaded photos as well as a dynamic counter at the bottom of the page that shows the number of photos uploaded to-date. You can click on photos in the gallery to visit photos and pages that other users have contributed (while staying logged in as yourself).
  • New tagging tool-We upgraded the tagging tool. You can now more easily move and resize tags using buttons that appear when you mouse over the name of the tagged individual in each photo.
  • Set portrait image -You can set the portrait image (circular icon used to identify the person in the person page and the people page) by hovering over a photo in the person's photo page and clicking on the small silhouette that appears at the bottom right of the photo icon. Clicking the silhouette will initiate a process that will change the current portrait image to the face that is tagged in the new portrait image that matches the name of the person selected.
  • Social Sharing-A social sharing footer has been added to allow for the sharing of photos, albums, and photo person pages using the most common and popular sharing methods, including: email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and many others.
We hope you'll try out these new tagging and social sharing features of FamilySearch Photos. They provide a great way to show your family and friends what this new tool is all about. As people become interested in joining in the fun, please to share the FamilySearch Photos invite link ( with them. 

We are adding more people to the system everyday, so why not have them be users who will be contributing photos and stories you are interested in?

As you use FamilySearch photos, remember to give us your feedback (using the Feedback button at the right of each page). Your input will help us refine the tools and prepare for our general release.

Thank you!
FamilySearch Photos Team

Back to the demise of libraries and paper books

Yesterday, for the first time in almost of month of recuperation from major surgery, I went out for a short ride in the car. Of course, being who I am, we went to the Mesa Public Library. What was notable about this very short visit to the library? Nothing, that was what was notable. My wife returned a book to the automated book return where a conveyor belt pulled the book into the depths of the library and read the microchip embedded in the book to credit her returen. She then went to the shelf where the books on hold were posted and found the one with her printed reserve notice, took the book over to an automated check out desk where she placed her library card on the designated square, the machine read her card, showed her account with the book she had just dropped in the slot returned. She then put the newly acquired book on the square and the book was automatically added to her account and the chip in the book was changed to show that she had checked out the book. This was important because then we walked out of the library passing through the security that checked to see that the book she was carrying had been checked out.

Now, why did I say there was nothing notable about all this? Easy, we didn't have to talk to or ask questions of, or wait for anyone. This whole process took place with automated equipment. Now, here is the question: What difference is it to me if I get in my car, drive to the library, pick out a book, check the book out of the library, drive the book back home, read the book, then go through the process to return the book by driving back to the library etc. than if I check out a book electronically and read it on my iPad or Kindle?

The difference is simple. No drive to the library twice.

Why would I go to the library to physically check out books? The "library" part of the experience, as I reported above, was entirely neutral. Nothing happened. No interaction with librarians, other patrons or anything except having to brave the gauntlet of people in front of the library trying to get us to sign petitions or assist with other causes. So again, why should I go to the library?

This is a serious question, not just hyperbole. One reason presently is that many books are not yet available directly through online library loan to ebook readers. But that is changing rapidly. There is no question that nearly every book presently in the average public library will become available through some form of online library loan service in the not too distant future. So are my days of wandering the stacks over? From my own standpoint, the answer is yes. I see no reason to take the extra time to physically go to the library to check out a book and I have been checking out digital books for some time now, as I have reported previously.

So what is the future of the library? News articles have reported for more than a year that ebook sales online have passes paper book sales. See Amazon: consumers buying more Kindle eBooks than print books. Current news articles claim an absolute decline in the number of paper books sold and a virtual abandonment of print sources such as newspapers. See In Changing News Landscape, Even Television is Vulnerable.

May I suggest that libraries still have and always will have a viable place in out society. Assuming they can transition into centers for learning and resources and acquire a social component. If my trip to the library is like the one I had yesterday, why would I go? But if the library has classes, seminars, social gatherings (even restaurants) and other amenities, then they become a place for people to go to get help and support rather than just automated supermarkets for books.

As genealogists, we are consumers of books and records. Access to these records is crucial to advancing our research. As long as the resources presently locked up in libraries become more available through digitization, then the trend will ultimately have no net effect and may make many more records available. But if the libraries close, what will become of their collections? What of all the materials that the cities and states don't seem to have the funds available to digitize. The loss of the Alexandria Library in ancient Egypt could become a footnote to the loss of documents do to the closure of our libraries.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 Genealogical Year in Review

I decided that I would do one of those end-of-the-year type of looking back to see where we have come in the world of genealogy posts and it turns out to be fairly complicated. Not just because there was  a lot going on this year, but because there is no convenient place to stop. I could list all the conferences and expos, all the meetings and other events, but that wouldn't really tell anyone what happened. So I have opted for a more general analysis. A review of the trends and changes that will affect what we do as genealogists (and what we do in a lot of other areas of our lives also) during the coming year and henceforth.

Trend No. 1: The beginning of the end of the desktop computer.
The current configuration of microcomputers dates back to the concept of a "computer in a box" illustrated by the early Apple and IBM PC computers. Of course, the flaw in this early concept was the fact that most of the peripheral devices such as the computer’s monitor, external floppy disk drives, printers and other similar items were not contained within the "box." In addition, concurrent technological developments affected computer monitors, telephones, television sets, stereo audio complements and an ever-increasing number of similar devices. Early on there were two parallel trends in computer development; ever more powerful component computers sold as "desktops" and smaller more portable computers sold as "laptops."

During the past year or so, we have seen the culmination of these trends as more and more peripheral devices are incorporated within the computer itself. Today's typical tablet or lightweight laptop computer is the current end product of this evolution. The average tablet computer made available this year, contains a high resolution camera, and Internet connection, and most of the software functionality of a desktop computer. If you also consider, the smart phone, you add the telephonic capability to the same computer functions.

More and more, computer users are abandoning the traditional desktop configuration for the more portable and convenient smart phone, tablet or laptop. See PC Sales Set to Decline For Years, Analyst Warns. Meanwhile, when was the last time that you remember a major computer manufacturer introducing an innovative new desktop computer? For example, Apple introduced an upgrade to its all-in-one-box iMac computer but there is also discussion that it may discontinue its high-end Mac Pro computer.

Trend No. 2: The migration of more software functions to the Cloud.
During the past year, we saw an acceleration in the transition of local-based software to cloud-based software. Even in the conservative area of genealogical software, the trend is towards utilization of online services in conjunction with local software. Two of the major online genealogical database providers, and, continued to provide additional cloud sourced benefits to their customers as well as local genealogical database programs. But the question raised again and again during the year was whether or not it was even necessary to have your own computer program on your individual computer? It is very doubtful, that all of the millions of users of cloud-based genealogical databases have their own individual software programs. As the functionality of cloud-based programs increases the question will continue to rise as to the advisability of maintaining your own individual database.

Trend No. 3: The saturation of the social networking environment.
There is no question that social networking has become one of the dominant forces our modern society. This includes the genealogical community. The issue is whether or not we have reached the level of saturation where it is practically impossible to absorb any further social networking options? The latest development is the creation of genealogical special interest groups online in larger social networking context. For example, in the past two or three months or as been a movement to add Facebook specialty groups and Google+ interest groups for genealogists. Are genealogists ready to give up even more research time simply to "hang out" online?

Trend No. 4: The consolidation of commercial online genealogy.
Calendar year 2012 saw an acceleration of the expansion of the larger genealogical database companies with significant acquisitions and partnerships. There's no question that this trend will continue in the future with additional acquisitions and consolidations. Whether you agree that this is a good or a bad idea, begs the issue because the forces are already in place to continue the expansion.

Trend No. 5: The realization of the insular nature of genealogical data.
This is a result of the continued expansion of the larger genealogical databases, the need for a common data interchange format for genealogy became even more crucially evident. It was agreed by the larger community, that the GEDCOM standard had become obsolete because it had not kept up with the expansion of multimedia and online resources. The year 2012 saw significant efforts directed towards initiating discussion of data communication standards. The future should see more efforts in this regard.

Trend No. 6: The advent of the unified family tree option.
One of the most significant events during the past year was the introduction of the Family Tree program as a unified online option. Although, the program remains in the development stage and is still in the process of being introduced, it may yet prove to be a fundamentally revolutionary development assuming it does not get bogged down in the data as did

Trend No. 7: The continued marginalization of genealogical societies.
Genealogical societies have a long and storied history in the United States and other countries but except for some of the larger organizations that operate on a national basis, organized societies have failed to keep up with the vast technological changes especially the explosion of social media. For example, a sample search on for "genealogical society" brings up almost no results. If the statistics from the large online genealogical databases are correct then there are literally millions of people around the world posting fair family history information online. But with only a few exceptions, the genealogical societies seem absent from this online phenomena. Another example, the Federation of Genealogical Societies has a page, but at the time of the writing of this post it had 926 Facebook “likes,” while at the same time,, had 389,217 likes. Very few regional or local genealogical societies have any significant presence in any of the social media. If this trend continues, the societies will continue to become more marginalized.

Trend No. 8: The consolidation and  contradictory proliferation of genealogical conferences.
In 2011, began the process of consolidating genealogy conferences. The initial conference was billed as a consolidation of three previously held conferences. In 2013, an additional conference was added and consolidated into At the same time, and what seems to be a contradictory trend, there seems to be a proliferation of smaller conferences scattered all over the country. The impact of these seemingly opposing trends remains to be seen. But it is evident that the market, if there is one, for genealogical seminars and conferences may become saturated.

Trend No. 8: Automated research and source record matching.
One of the most dramatic technological advances in genealogical research has been the development of automated research and source record matching by the larger genealogical databases. Both and have introduced very successful and comprehensive research aids that attempt to match individuals in a user's online family tree with source records in the database. This technology has proved to be extremely valuable and accurate. If this trend continues it may well be that the genealogical researcher will be inundated with source material.

I'm sure there are other trends that I could discuss. I would be glad to entertain comments and perhaps do a follow-up blog post concerning some additional ideas.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from our house to yours. May all your days be merry and bright.

Monday, December 24, 2012

FamilySearch Forums to be discontinued?

The following announcement appeared on the FamilySearch Forums startup page:
FamilySearch Forums will be discontinued after December 31, 2012. We are transitioning our Forums into a new question and answer tool, and these tools are in testing over the next month. Learn more, or join in the testing of this new tool here.
Clicking on the link brings up the following explanation:
Dear FamilySearch Forums Member,
At FamilySearch, our goal is to help you in the way that makes the most sense for you, while ensuring that we have the resources to provide the best experience possible. Due to user feedback, we are discontinuing these forums as of December 31, 2012, and researching alternate tools that will allow us to better give help in the future. If you utilize these Forums, please continue reading to know how you will be able to get help in the future.

Research & Consultant Help

You are welcome to join our Research Facebook groups, or our FamilySearch Facebook group, to ask questions or help answer others’ questions about family history.

Product, Indexing, & Family History Center Help

To receive help with your FamilySearch product, indexing, and Family History Center questions in the future, there are many options for assistance - contact FamilySearch over the phone, chat, or email with your questions. For indexing help specifically, in addition to the above you can visit a community-run forum site, or talk with your local stake or group indexing director.

Testing Community Software

If you are interested in helping us test other community software tools, join us in one of the following areas:
Google Groups - simple online discussions that you can subscribe to by email or view online.
FS Groups - more robust community software that allows individuals to create groups around topics they are interested in.
Google+ Community - a community group that allows for categorized discussionsWe are testing these for the different types of functionality they provide. There are other possibilities we are looking into as well that provide similar functionality.

We apologize for the inconvenience that this will cause for those of you who have come to enjoy your collaboration with each other on these forums. We hope this gives you enough time to search out alternate means of discussing those questions about your family history work, and the products that you enjoy. Feel free to ask questions below.
There were several comments to the announcement, all which were negative and especially about re-directing inquiries to Facebook Research groups.

I have noticed a decided decrease in activity on the Forums for the past few months and it does not come as much of a surprise that the site is being discontinued. It seemed to me that it had mostly been bypassed as a method of communication for FamilySearch.

There are those of you, of course, who are saying "What are the FamilySearch Forums?" and I suppose you won't miss them at all.

Who are your ancestors?

I thought you might enjoy this short video asking the question, "What is an ancestor?" But there is a real issue here. Who do you consider your ancestors to be? If you believe the results of some of the online programs that show your relationship to famous people, you could consider anyone who had died as your ancestor. On the other hand, there are those that consider only their direct surname line as "real" ancestors. Is there a generally accepted definition of "ancestor?" Or is the issue so clouded by social and cultural attitudes as to be meaningless?

Kinship, in the context of anthropology, is the study of the patterns of social relationships in human cultures. You could say that anthropology looks at the pattern and genealogy looks at the identity of the people in the pattern. In the Western European genealogical tradition, we have imposed a strict structure on our relationship patterns through the use of the "standard pedigree chart." While at the same time, we pay lip service to other non-traditional patterns. In a real sense, the patterns expressed by the more popular genealogical database programs, to some extent, mandate our view of these relationships.

As genealogical interests expand beyond their core Western European established patterns into cultures that do not share the same kinship patterns, there is a real question as to whether or not some "standard" worldwide pattern should be imposed. Most current genealogical database programs presently allow for multiple parent relationships, i.e. biological, adoptive, foster, guardianship etc. But even with this expansion of the core relationships in families, there are other patterns that do not fit into any of these categories. One notable exception, from Western European culture, is the existence of godparents.

It should be obvious that in our present society, focusing on the biological lineage alone is impractical and in some cases impossible.

In a larger sense, there is also the issue of who in your pedigree is considered to be a "relative" and who is not. In our American culture, spouses are seldom closely related. Quite commonly, I get into a discussion with people about their ancestors and begin with the question as to whether or not they are "related" to their husband or wife? In my case, for example, I have yet to find any common ancestor between my own family and my wife's family. On the other hand, my own parents were second cousins. They had great-grandparents in common.

Here is a question that illustrates the issue. Are you related to your siblings' spouses? Granted, your children and their children are cousins, but are you related to your brother or sister-in-law? I don't happen to consider my in-laws as relatives. I have no interest in researching their lineage and do not feel compelled to record information about their ancestors. But my attitude in this regard is ambiguous and inconsistent. If I go back a generation or two, I have traditionally included all of the lines from all of the spouses of some of the siblings in any particular generation in my database. For example, if I go back to my Great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner, I have recorded all of his biological children (my aunts and uncles and my Grandfather) and all of their spouses. In some cases, I have traced the spousal lines and in some cases, I have not. Am I missing a set of my own "ancestors" by omitting all of the possible lines? Some of my ancestors had multiple marriages. Do I include all of the spouses' families, even those I am not "related" to?

The issue of multiple spouses is not unique to those of us descended from polygamist families. Many of my ancestors had multiple marriages with children from each marriage due to the death of a spouse or divorce.

For those who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), this issue takes on an added dimension when we consider our responsibility for performing proxy ordinances for our deceased relatives. There are very specific guidelines to determine who is and who is not a "relative" in this context.

I think this issue of who is a relative is mostly ignored by the genealogical community. Not because the issue doesn't exist, but because we are like fish swimming in the water. We don't question the water. It is just there. We don't question the system. It is just there. But maybe we need to examine how we define our system so that we can communicate on the same level with different kinship systems.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Who owns the genealogy companies? - More websites

Who owns the genealogy companies? – More websites

I guess I keep getting distracted from completing my current series on who owns the genealogy companies. So far, I have looked at the websites for and It is time to turn my attention to First of all, and fundamentally, is a wholly owned Corporation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every time I make this statement, I get comments to my blog posts suggesting some kind of conspiracy between and the other commercially based, online databases. No such relationship exists. does not own, nor do any of the commercial sites control or own Saying this, does not mean that the various companies do not cooperate at different levels. For example, some of the online databases cooperated to an extent in the production of indexes to the 1940 U.S. Census.

It is important to understand, that all of the services offered by FamilySearch are free to the public with very few exceptions, such as, the rental of microfilm copies of records.

For the past few years, has been consolidating all of its websites into the one,, address. However, there are still some odds and ends of websites that are not directly connected to or to each other. Here's a list of the current websites directly or indirectly associated with – this is the main website and contains the Historical Record Collections consisting of millions of digitized records from around the world. also has the newer Family Tree program for entering individual family information. is also the location of the FamilySearch Research Wiki, a genealogical encyclopedia with tens of thousands of articles. The site also contains a huge number of other resources including tutorials, videos and other useful resources. Other important resources include the Family History Library catalog with links to tens of thousands of digitized books. – this website was introduced about five years ago and is quickly being replaced by Family Tree on the website. Although its demise was predicted for 2012, it now appears that the program will continue to be active well into 2013.

FamilySearch Indexing – there is a huge online volunteer effort to index the records being downloaded by on an almost daily basis. Volunteers are constantly being recruited for this program and their efforts benefit the entire genealogical community through making the records in late Historical Record Collections more accessible. – this website is used as a place to introduce new programs. Some of the programs introduced are further incorporated into existing online programs, but other programs have been discontinued or abandoned. One of the more notable offerings presently on is the program called Community Trees. This rapidly growing database includes scholarly genealogical studies of particular geographic areas. Unfortunately, some of these extremely valuable genealogical resources are almost unknown because of their low visibility on the Internet and not because of the lack of value of the websites. It is also interesting to note that both the FamilySearch Research Wiki and the FamilySearch Forums programs are listed as under development. Photos – this very recently introduced program is intended to be an adjunct to the Family Tree program. It will be a place where photographs can be stored and linked to individuals in the Family Tree program. This program is presently in beta and access may be limited.

FamilySearch Affiliates – in order to create greater value for any online records, FamilySearch has entered into agreements with third-party programs to provide added resources to genealogists. These programs vary from basic genealogical database programs to programs that create charts and other graphics. None of these third-party programs are owned or controlled by FamilySearch.

There are several other FamilySearch affiliated websites such as the website that is automatically used for ordering microfilm copies of records from the Family History Library. But these are the more visible programs.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Monetization of Genealogy

A possible unforeseen consequence of large, online, commercialized, genealogy database websites is the monetization of the larger record collections. As the larger companies scramble to acquire even greater proprietary access to specific records, the governments and agencies responsible for maintaining those records are beginning to see that genealogical data can be a source of revenue.

Some countries, such as United Kingdom and Sweden have already created strategic alliances with genealogical database providers of fee-based websites. Further, as the countries recognize that digitalization of their records is necessary for cultural and historical preservation, they will also recognize that there are people willing to pay for access to the records. My guess is that as time goes on, organizations such as FamilySearch will find it more and more difficult to obtain records for free distribution on a large scale national basis.

We do not have to go very far to see an example of the commercialization of government-sponsored records in the United States. Originally, the website had as its goal the digitization of records from the National Archives. Whether or not you think there is an issue with a commercial company gaining access to government records and then charging for access to those same records, you would have to admit that once was purchased by, the monetization was completed.

It is not my intention to debate the propriety of charging for access to genealogically valuable records, I am merely commenting on the fact that successful efforts to monetize government records has resulted in the growth, to some extent, of the large multinational, online, genealogical databases.

It is my guess that will find it more and more difficult to obtain access to large databases merely in exchange for archiving a copy of records for the governmental agency. In addition, we have issues like those transpiring in the Georgia State Archives. Where, despite statutory mandates to maintain access to government records, the state is restricting access based on alleged budgetary concerns. This type of situation opens the door to negotiations between state agencies and commercial database providers to enhance the state’s revenue stream. In case you have missed the news, I am referring to the Georgia Secretary of State's recent actions in closing down access to the Georgia State Archives because of budgetary concerns.

From my perspective, the large online genealogical databases provide a valuable service at a relatively nominal price. My opinion that the price is nominal takes into account the expense and time it would take me as an individual, to locate and gain access to all of the records in the large collections.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Reunion, A Search for Ancestors by Ryan Littrell - A Book Review

Every day, I watch the parade of posts on websites such as and One post today, on, caught my eye. The person posting the note had a goal to read 60 books during the coming year. There were times during my life when I read that many books in a month or less. I have to admit, that the quantity of my book reading has diminished somewhat over the years. The main reason being the abundance of non-book type text.

Recently, I have received some invitations to review new books. In this particular case, author Ryan Littrell asked me to review his book Reunion, A Search for Ancestors. The book is widely available through his website,, and many online retailers.

The book is a chronicle of Ryan's investigations leading to the discovery of his Scottish ancestors. The book alternates chapters that establish the historical context of the Scottish clans and Ryan's investigations concerning his ancestry. It is an interesting and insightful journey of personal discovery. One of the main messages of the book to genealogical researchers, is the importance of placing your ancestors within the context of the time when they lived.

The chapters of the book dealing with genealogical research give a realistic portrayal of the process that all genealogists must go through to learn not only the information they are seeking but also the craft of becoming a genealogist. The book is not intended to be a didactic treatise but more of an unfolding of personal discovery and relationships to ancestors. Many of the issues confronting the author in his investigations are those that are common to all genealogical researching efforts. For this reason alone, the book is a valuable tool to provide an insight into the investigative process from a highly personal standpoint.

I must admit, that early on in the book I found myself wishing I had the opportunity to make some suggestions to the author to speed up his research. I for one, would have spent more time online and in record repositories. But, as the book progresses, I was impressed by the thoroughness of the research. It would've been nice however, had the author included more detailed research notes. Perhaps, those notes could be made available to interested family members in another format.

Interested genealogists can find an abundance of personal anecdotal research information online in blog posts. But, it is not often that these stories and experiences are provided with the detail in the background given in this particular book. I was also interested to read his detailed account of the relationship between DNA matching and genealogical research. I believe that this is the first time I have read a description with enough background to show the true value of the DNA material obtained from his relatives.

The book details several investigative road trips taken by the author. It was difficult for me to determine whether or not, from my own perspective, I would have made the excursions without first doing considerable homework in online and library sources. But, from the narrative, it is clear that Ryan would not have found many of the records he discovered without spending the time and effort to drive to and visit locations where his ancestors lived. Because of the availability of online material, I fear that many genealogists have neglected the need to do on-site research and this book was a very good example of the importance of visiting the locations and doing research in the local repositories.

I found the research to be well-founded, the conclusions to be convincing and the research as outlined to be a valuable pattern for any other researcher. This is a book well worth reading especially if you have Scottish ancestry, but even if your ancestors come from completely different part of the world, the methodology is well illustrated.

Thanks to Ryan Littrell for giving me the opportunity to read this book.

You might also want to see his Law Review article:

Littrell, Ryan. Toward a Stricter Originality Standard for Copyright Law. Boston College Law Review. Boston College Law School, 2002.

Gadgets for your gadgets

Once you have your desktop computer with a large screen, a laptop computer, tablet or iPad, a smartphone, a scanner and a printer, you may think you're pretty well set up and well into the technological jungle. But, alas, you're just starting on your technological journey. Oh, I forgot to mention a digital camera. Oh, I forgot to mention a portable digital recorder. I could of course go on and on and probably will.

Eventually, many of the functions of dedicated devices, can be equally as well done by software added to the existing computer-based devices you may already own. For example, I wrote recently about voice-recognition. Some of the computer operating systems come with voice recognition software. But, if you are going to use voice recognition software with any frequency, you will likely need to buy a dedicated USB microphone in the form of a headset. The digital microphone will greatly increase the accuracy of the dictation and the recognition of the words by the computer program. In fact, Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Dragon Dictate both are sold with an included USB microphone headset.

One of my favorite add-ons to a computer is a touchpad. Touchpads now come with a variety of finger functions such as one, two or more finger clicks, a variety of swipes and other commands. As with any new device, there is a period of time required to learn the new commands. I started out with a trackpad on my laptop computer. Originally, the trackpads came with two buttons, so you had to position the cursor with the trackpad and then use the button to click. There was both a right and left button, for right and left clicking. I found this to be very awkward. However, the newer computers, especially the Apple MacBook Pros, have done away with the buttons and single and double-clicking is done right on the trackpad. Clicking with one finger is automatically a left click on a two button mouse and clicking with two fingers is automatically a right-click on a two button mouse. As I became more proficient with the trackpad on my laptop, I finally purchased the trackpad for my desktop computer and now use that almost exclusively.

Depending on your hearing ability, you may find that cell phones, laptops and other devices with speaker systems are not merely loud enough for you to hear properly. There are a variety of add-on speaker systems some of which use Wi-Fi connections instead of cables. These can be very helpful especially when you're using your smart phone or cell phone in speaker mode.

At some point, you may discover the world of videoconferencing. This becomes especially useful if you have family members at great distances across the country or around the world. Of course, you need more hardware to do videoconferencing. You need a WebCam. Fortunately, most of the newer laptops come with an integrated WebCam.

If you buy a tablet computer or an iPad, you will immediately see the utility of purchasing a separate keyboard. Some of the newer tablet computers come with an integrated keyboard system. If you add a keyboard to a tablet computer, don't you in effect have a laptop? As laptop computers get thinner and thinner and tablet computers become more powerful, it is possible that the two different types of computers will merge into one.

Sometime, I may write about the world of interchangeable lenses on digital SLR cameras and all the accessories. It is very easy to spend more money on lenses and accessories than on the initial purchase of the camera itself.

It may also occur to you, if you purchase a tablet or laptop computer that you need something to carry it in. There are a seemingly infinite number of cases, bags, packs, luggage and other types of carrying devices for the computers.

In working on your different devices, it may also occur to you that you do not need to use the standard keyboard and mouse that come with your desktop computer. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of different models of keyboard and mouse combinations you can add on or substitute for the standard devices that come with your computer.

As you create documents, take photographs, digitize records and genealogically important documents you will need to store that information. You may learn either by listening to others’ experiences or through your own mistakes, that you will need to have some type of backup storage device. As the number of your files grows backing up your data becomes more and more of a crucial fact of life. Thus, you need to purchase either online or dedicated storage devices. These can consist of hard drives, flash drives or flash memory drives. You may notice that I do not mention CDs or DVDs. There is a decided movement in the computer industry away from both CD and DVD storage media. Many of the new lighter laptop computers do not have CD or DVD drives.

Unfortunately, your journey into the jungle of technology is only beginning at this point. You will soon find, all of this technology changes regularly, requiring the purchase of even more new devices and more gadgets for your gadgets.

Come to think of it, as I go through this, there is a pretty good argument for not getting involved in the jungle in the first place, but fortunately or unfortunately my foray into the jungle world of technology began in the dim past. Oh, I hardly mentioned software at all. You can easily spend more on software then you can on hardware.