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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Early Bird Registration Ends Soon for RootsTech 2013

I got the following reminder from the RootsTech staff. I can't believe time has passed so quickly and it already February. I still have to other presentations before RootsTech to keep my occupied. Hope to see you there. Here is the reminder:
As a reminder, early bird registration ends on February 15th. Don’t you think a RootsTech pass would be a great gift for Valentine’s Day?  After all, RootsTech is all about connecting with those you love—past, present, and future! Now's the time to remind folks about the end of early bird pricing, if you haven't already. The price will go to $179 for a few weeks, as a last chance offer, before going to the full price of $219.

Learning to live with technology

It seems to me that one of the most common barriers to a genealogical researchers' full integration in the current genealogical community is lack of computer skills. There is an underlying assumption that there is a correlation between computer skills and age, but I find deficient computer skills at all ages. Simply because of the demographics of genealogy as an interest, I see more old people than younger ones with computer challenges. But if I teach a class of teenagers or young adults, I always find a significant percentage without the requisite computer skills to be comfortable searching on the Internet. As a matter of fact, with younger computer users, there are major differences in computer availability and competency due to income and social position. See for example, Attewell, Paul. Disadvantaged Teens and Computer Technologies. M√ľnster: Waxmann, 2003.

I have written about this a few time previously, but the computer skills challenge is brought up to me frequently as I assist patrons at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. This past week, I taught a class on using mobile devices for genealogy. I spent more than an hour explaining how to use tablets and smartphones than anything directly related to genealogy. In the end, after the class, some of the participants followed me to the main research area, where the class continued for some time.

So the question I propose is: Should we, as genealogists, be teaching computer skills along with our classes in genealogy? Last week I had a very nice class at a retirement RV park here in Mesa. The participants were all above average computer literate. The class was on blogging but the questions I got indicated that despite their level of sophistication in computer operation they still lacked understanding of some of basic concepts of how social networking and blogs work on the Internet. At the same time, genealogical database programs are adopting some of the characteristics of social networking. I say this as I receive regular email messages from online databases informing me that someone else online may have information about my ancestors.

What I am saying is that a common lack of computer skills at all ages is a hinderance to many people's involvement in the current world of genealogy. The FamilySearch Libraries are a good example of the complete integration of technology in the day to day process of genealogical research. On some days, especially in the winter, literally every single patron computer in the Library is being used. But if a patron refuses to use a computer, there is very little we can do to help the person with their genealogical research without doing all the online work for that person.

Another obvious fact is that there are millions of users of Personal Ancestral File (PAF) that have not upgraded from using it as their main database when the program was discontinued in 2002. I find the major reason for not upgrading is a lack of computer skills; not understanding how to migrate the data to a new program. Fear of losing their data in a new program stops a considerable number of people from trying or using any one of the newer database programs. This fear comes from a lack of fundamental computer skills.

So, we have two fronts. Youth who lack computer skills obviously are not candidates for helping with genealogy and older folks who lack those skills are locked into a world without online resources to help them with their research. Perhaps we need to start teaching how to use computers and not just for genealogy?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

More thoughts on sources

I have received some very insightful comments about my recent posts concerning sources in genealogy. As a consequence, some of the ideas I expressed have proved to be incomplete. This post is an elaboration on some of my earlier ideas.

The concept of sources in genealogy seems like it should be an obvious part of the basic fabric of the process of discovering your ancestors. One experience this past week illustrates the fact that the concept of a "source" is far from obvious. I had a patron come into the Mesa FamilySearch Library and request some help with her research. She sat down at a table next to me and unfolded one of those huge multi-generational pedigree charts and began pointing to blank spaces on the chart as if I could magically fill them in with names. We focused on one family where the ancestors of both the husband and the wife were missing. I asked her where she had looked for information about her family and she gave me a blank look as if to say, what did I mean where did she look.

It turns out, that the information on the chart had been entirely copied from existing family group records from other people and from FamilySearch's family tree programs. She basically had no idea of the connection between finding a document with information about her ancestors and adding that information to her huge pedigree chart. Really. After a few minutes of search, we found the family, she had pointed to, in the U.S. Census. She was entirely unaware that there was such a thing as a U.S. Census. I spent about an hour showing her how there were millions of records about people's lives in dozens of categories and that searching through these records in some systematic way, usually produced information about specific individuals and families. After a fairly brief search, we did find the names of the wife's parents in the U.S. Census with an entry showing the target person, the wife, as a child in a family.

I realized that this idea of "sources" was not as simple as using the word would make it seem. When we speak of a genealogical source, we are, in fact, implying that there is a research process, which involves a number of steps, and which must be evaluated according to a set of criteria that have evolved over many years. The whole research process is not intuitive. Learning about the connection between looking at records and finding information about an individual or family is something that must be learned. The key here is that many of those people out there in the world of family research have yet to make the connection between the process of doing research and finding usable information. The abundance of online "family trees" submitted by millions of people give the impression that you can just go online and "find" your genealogy and that is exactly what this woman had done and what countless others of our compatriots are doing every day.

So when we talk about adding sources to our research, we are speaking in an unknown language. It is as if they are saying, I looked at my Great-aunt's genealogy and copied down (or got a GEDCOM) and there it is. My genealogy. What do you mean I need to put in a source? My source was Aunt Jane and she knew all these people or whatever.

The idea that the information may be incomplete or entirely inaccurate simply does not exist in the larger genealogical community, especially the ones online feeding the huge family tree programs with names.

At some point, if a person becomes interested enough in genealogy to talk to someone else about the topic or, in the case of this woman, come into a FamilySearch Library, they may begin to understand the concept that that historical information has to come from somewhere and we call those documents or records that provide information "sources." Then the budding genealogist has to gain the concept that recording these sources is a good idea. Sometimes the concept of recording sources requires years of experience and finally realizing that the same records are being searched over and over again.

I have shown this concept to many people over the years and have found that telling someone about sources doesn't work. You have to get the person to come to the point where they are willing to look and finally make the connection between finding a record and discovering more information about their family.

Of course, there is the next problem and that is the reliability of the information. But that is another topic.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Just when you thought you had no more to worry about

Just when you thought you had everything under control, along comes another level of technological development to put it all out of control again. This new imaging system from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has developed a 1.8 billion pixel camera that can take picture from more than three miles away and recognize people. I realize this has little to do with genealogy, yet. But if you think about it for a while...

The Evolution of FamilySearch Family Tree Photos

Michael W. McCormick in his blog, Enduring Legacy Genealogy, posted a link to a Get Satisfaction dialoge about the future of Family Tree Photos and its possible interaction with's Family Tree. Over the years, I have been shown a number of prototypes by developers, some with the assurance that I was looking at the "finished product." Most of the time reality sets in and changes are made to the proposed website before it is released. It is certainly possible that FamilySearch will implement these changes but there is never a firm timetable to programming and you might have to wait a while before the changes take effect.

On the other hand, I really like what I have seen so far of FamilyTree Photos and hope the program is adopted in a release version sooner rather than later.

Review of Janet Hovorka's book Zap the Grandma Gap

A few weeks ago, I got an email from my friend Janet Hovorka about a new book she had just finished writing and had some proof copies. She graciously sent me a copy of the book for review. The book turned out to be delightful. What a gem. It does appear to be more than a little biographical but that adds to the appeal. Even before I finished the book, my wife picked it up and read it also. She was equally impressed by the ideas Janet has about sharing genealogy. OK, now you have to know that I did get a free copy of the book to read, but this review is my own opinion.

I will attach the substance of Janet's press release below in case you want to read what she has to say about her own book.

Janet has so many good ideas, it is a shame that almost all of my grandchildren live in different states. I guess the idea is to see if we can adapt any of the suggestions to electronic contact. I was impressed with contrast between Janet's experiences with her family and my own. But despite the vast apparent differences between our families, I still value her experiences and suggestions. The book is easy to read and has a lot of activities and suggestions that you will want to return to frequently for additional ideas. The book is a breath of fresh air in the genealogical community and I hope you have the opportunity to read it.

Here is the Press Release:

Are the youth in your family more attached to their iPod or laptop screen than they are to you? How do you connect to your family members and form the kind of close relationships that will support and strengthen them as they grow into successful and grounded adults? Teaching your children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and even your brothers and sisters about their family history can create strong bonds in your family and become a framework that protects and empowers your relationships. Family history connects family members in a way that is personal and unique to your family. It especially gives children the power to identify with personal heroes, learn life lessons and gain a broad, wise perspective on life.

You may be thinking, sure but my family’s eyes roll back in their heads and they suddenly have pressing engagements they have to attend to when we start to talk about family history. Super Grandma comes to the rescue. In the new book Zap the Grandma Gap : Connect With Your Family by Connecting Them To Their Family History, you’ll find specific ideas, examples and step by step instructions to take your family history from snoring and boring to exciting and inviting. Super Grandma will teach you all the tips and tricks to connect you and your family back to your own super grandmas and grandpas in simple and easy ways that will bind your family together and strengthen your relationships.

You’ll find specific tips on ideas such as:
• Applying your family history to your current family member’s interests
• Utilizing social networking to teach your family about their past
• Honoring past family members through the plants inside and landscaping around your home
• Exploring your ancestor’s skills and talents by creating a project or taking a class together
• Establishing traditional food heritage such as historic family recipes or even a gingerbread house of the family home
• Collecting and archiving the jewels in your family history to ensure future curiosity
 • Navigating the rough spots in your family history

Along with the launch of the book, a new website has been created full of resources to help families connect with their family history. The website establishes a gathering place where people can submit their best ideas and learn from each other how to strengthen the coming generation. Included in the site are a multitude of free resources including:

  • A FREE 28 page excerpt of the book including table of contents. 
  • A FREE 35 page workbook for children to begin to record their own lives and explore their family history 
  • A FREE weekly newsletter with 52 additional ways to engage your family with their family history 
  • FREE 8.5x11 pedigree charts and resources for other genealogy charts 
  • A comprehensive list of resources collected from all over the web 
  • Links to the FREE Zap the Grandma Gap blog, facebook and twitter feeds with additional ideas for connecting your family with their past. 

 Early reviews include:

  • "If you are looking for concrete ideas for sharing your family history and inspiring the next generation, look no further than this book. The personal stories and worthwhile activities make this an enjoyable read, and an ongoing resource to every genealogist. Janet's passion for the power of family history in the lives of today's busy families shines throughout the pages!" Lisa Louise Cooke, Author and host of The Genealogy Gems Podcast. 
  • “Janet Hovorka has provided a book overflowing with valuable ideas and suggestions for involving the "younger" generation in genealogy, perhaps without them even knowing about what you are trying to do. This book succeeds in being both entertaining and informative in a way that makes sense rather than preaches.” James Tanner, author of The Guide to FamilySearch Online and  
  • “Zap the Grandma Gap is a handy toolbox brimming with inspiration and ideas for getting the “family” into family history. You’ll be grateful for the guidance as well as the casual and supportive way in which it is delivered.” Amy Coffin, author of and The Big Genealogy Blog Book. 
  • “This book is a must-read for everyone who treasures family history and wants to make it come alive for future generations." Suzanne Curley Director, Riverton FamilySearch Library 
  • “Zap The Grandma Gap is not only a good read but a great reference book for creating fun family centered activities that treasures and builds firm family values.” Holly T. Hansen, President Family History Expos Inc. 

Zap the Grandma Gap : Connect With Your Family by Connecting Them To Their Family History by Janet Hovorka is available now at, at bookstores and by calling 801-872-4278. For it’s initial release, the book will be on sale for $19.95 until January 31st at which time the book will return to its regular price of $23.95.

About the Author: Janet Hovorka received a B.A. in Ancient Near Eastern History and a Master's degree in Library and Information Science from BYU. She helped people at the BYU library with their family history research but was completely uninterested in her own. Now, she and her husband Kim Hovorka own Family ChartMasters ( —official, award winning printers for most of the genealogy software and database companies. She is currently serving as President of the Utah Genealogical Association and teaches courses in library skills and genealogy at Salt Lake Community College. Janet inherited a large amount of genealogy from her mother and grandmother, both wonderful genealogists who lived family history in a way that was attractive and inviting. Eventually Janet woke up to the soul satisfaction of learning about her past. Most recently she has found great joy in encouraging her teenage children's genealogical interests. Understanding the good and the bad in her own family history has helped her deal with her children and husband, and even her extended family in a more healthy way. Janet writes the The Chart Chick blog (, has written for numerous genealogy publications, and has presented 100s of lectures all over the world to help people learn more about their past.

Media kit available upon request. Zap the Grandma Gap : Connect With Your Family by Connecting Them To Their Family History by Janet Hovorka. Published by Family ChartMasters: Cedar Hills, Utah, 2013. Paperback, $23.95 194pp. ISBN 978-0-9888548-0-2.

Can you or I do real work on a mobile device?

The title to this post is a serious question and not just rhetorical. Can we do serious work on a mobile device or are we doomed to trivia and tweets? Part of the answer depends, of course, on the definition of mobile device. To some extent, the answer also depends on the development of realistic input devices for the mobile world of electronics. For example, is the current configuration of a "laptop" computer considered a mobile device?

One point that is non-negotiable is the fact that I will not voluntarily give up working on my 27" screen, which cannot, by any definition, be considered portable. I may go larger, but I will not go smaller. Mobile technology would have to change extraordinarily to get past that issue. So from my standpoint, all the development in the world will not replace some sort-of desktop computer with a keyboard that is full size and comfortable to type on.

There is no question, if you read the news, that "mobile is one of technology's hottest trends." See "Yahoo's ad prices, international income rise to propel 4th-quarter earnings above Street view." But does this mean that we will all be doing our real work on mobile devices?

It is true that mobile devices have become ubiquitous. I was at a meeting recently where the average age of the attendees was likely well above 50 years old and the number of tablet and iPads in evidence had dramatically increased over past such meetings. It is true that I use my iPhone and iPad extensively where just a few short years ago, that would not have been the case or even possible. But I don't see that my increase in use of a mobile device or two or three has cut into my time on my main computer. The key here is my question above concerning including laptop type devices in the definition of mobile. Because of travel, which is becoming regular with me, I use my MacBook Pro more than I have in the past. But it has a full-size keyboard and a 15"+ screen. There are some things I choose not to do on my laptop, such as editing any quantity of photographs, but I can get my writing and other things done.

As for the other devices, I really don't like typing messages into my iPhone. I have a really hard time getting my fingers to hit the tiny little virtual keys on the screen, so texting for me is entirely out of the question. Any message of more than a few words drives me either to the telephone or to my desktop. I cannot imagine composing a blog post on a smartphone. But if you think of all the tasks you do online, there are a fair percentage of them that can be transferred to mobile. For example, email is as easily read on my iPhone as on my computer. But some tasks are nearly impossible for me to do on either an iPad or an iPhone.

Genealogy is data entry intensive and although many of the commercial database programs have apps for both my iPhone and my iPad, it turns out I use them more for reference than for data entry. The real issue at this point has to do a keyboard and a mouse. I am currently transitioning from using a mouse to almost entirely using a track pad, both for my mobile devices and for my desktop computer, an iMac. I find the trackpads to be improved to the point where I have just as much or more control than the mouse and less stress on my arm and wrist. It is not, however, an easy transition. Had I not been forced to use the trackpad on the MacBook Pro for enough time to learn how to use it effectively, I would not have made the transition. I am not sure how I am going to accept touch screens on non-mobile computers either.

Since the keyboard is the main issue with mobile devices, I have tried a few portable keyboards for tablets and iPads but found most of them (all of them?) unacceptable.  This brings up another issue entirely, if you are going to lug around a keyboard for your tablet computer, why not just get a laptop? The newer laptops are shrinking in width dramatically. I am looking at my old laptop with my newer Toshiba sitting on top of it. The new laptop is much less than half as thick and thereby much lighter than the older model HP. The latest thing in laptop computers are called "ultrabooks." The trend was really started with Apple's MacBook Air and has now started affecting all of the laptop designs. I got to work for a while on a MacBook Air recently and the issue there is connectors. However, that issue is rapidly going away with WiFi, Bluetooth and adapters. My next laptop may be a MacBook Air or whatever is the equivalent when I am getting ready to migrate again.

So, to summarize. Mobile devices are great unless you type incessantly as I do. Then you need a keyboard. If I am going to purchase and use a keyboard for my tablet computer (i.e. iPad) then why not use a light weight laptop? OK so we go around and around with that one. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Review of FamilySearch 2012 Accomplishments

In a blog post of 23 January 2013, Dennis Brimhall, the CEO of FamilySearch reviews some of the statistics of the past year for the website. Here is just the first section of a very long list of numbers: at a Glance as we Start 2013
  • Number of names in searchable databases --Over 3.5 billion
  • Number of historic records published online each month --Over 35 million
  • Number of digital images published online each month from original source documents ---                                                                 Over 33 million
  • Number of searchable historic record collections online -- 1,363
  • Number of indexed names published per year -- Over 200 million
  • Number of visits per day -- Over 10 million
  • Number of visitors per day -- Over 85,000
  • Number of pages viewed per day -- Over 5 million
  • Page views since launch -- Over 16.6 billion
  • Visits since launch -- 712 million
  • Visitors Since Launch -- 308 million
  • Number of online indexing volunteers -- Over 200,000
  • Number of registered users -- Over 1 million
  • Number of family history centers -- 4,600 in 126 countries
  • Number of digital books -- Over 60,000
Click on the link above for the complete list. The numbers of new records is impressive also:

What Was Added in 2012
  • Digital Images Added: 297,695,589
  • Indexed Records Added: 408,154,952
  • New Collections Added: 381
  • New Countries Added: 10
  • New Books Added: 40,849
I may have some comments once I have been able to think through the statistics. 

Don't abandon the unified Family Tree!

I read some alarming statements by The Ancestry Insider that intimated that may be considering abandoning the unified FamilyTree before it even gets operating. Is it possible that the challenge of fixing the data is too daunting? Going back to individually submitted and owned family trees would be huge step backward for genealogy and a loss to the world of research that will likely never be resolved again. There are already millions of individual family trees out there in programs like,, and other similar programs. Although these programs are useful for an individual, because there are so many differing opinions on the data, they are essentially useless for the purpose of coordinating a universal family tree. Programs like show promise but do not have the wide spread usage and historical record resources of It will be a sad day if becomes a place simply to park your individually owned and maintained family tree. It is not possible to underestimate the importance of the staying power. FamilySearch which is not going to be bought out by a European investment group.

My recent posts have been clear about the importance of FamilySearch's vision of a unified program incorporating data, sources, images, documents and stories into a family archive of unsurpassed value to the world. To trade that for another genealogical parking lot would be a disaster.

What are the problems here? The answer is simple, the problems with's Family Tree do not originate with the program, they originate with the data. Had Family Search launched Family Tree without any data at all, we could have all added our data one person at a time and avoided a lot of the complicated problems apparent now with the imported data. But even though the data is a mess, to ignore that situation is like hiding your head in the sand. The same situation of bad data exists on all the other online family tree programs but it can be ignored because no one has to look at any other family tree but there own and we can't see our own problems. It is important that we confront the issue of bad information at some point. If FamilySearch abandons the battle, it will only be postponed until it is virtually impossible for anyone to find consistently accurate data online and there will be only a very few genealogists with truly accurate family trees. The mistakes of the past will be copied over and over just as they have with surname books and other unsourced documents.

My own family tree is a good example. Back a few generations, I show a husband and wife with the same parents, that is, the mother and father of the husband are listed as the same as the mother and father of the wife. Online, there are many different opinions in different user submitted family trees about resolving this situation in different programs. None of these differing opinions in different programs have any possible way to talk to each other about resolving their differences. If I have the correct data in and you have your tree in we may never see or hear of each other. There is no one place to go to see what everyone says about the correct information. Family Tree could fix that.

Let's stay the course. Keep Family Tree moving towards a unified tree.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

What are sources and why should I care?

As genealogists we talk a lot about "sources" but we do not have a very rigorous definition of the term to support our dialoge. Even though different researchers are using the same word, what is meant by the term covers a pretty large and rather vague area. Technically minded researchers get into subdividing the concept of sources into primary, secondary and so forth, without ever adequately defining what they are talking about. Citing sources is not genealogical proof. Assuming genealogy is subject to proof at all. Sources do not automatically become evidence to support conclusions merely because they are cited. I may have a dozens of sources cited but nothing that leads to conclusion I have made about the relationship of an ancestor.

When considering the issue of providing sources for genealogical data, there are two main camps, the academic and the legal. The academic approach is sometimes further divided into approaches from the humanities such as history and what is called the scientific method. These approaches to the idea of citations of sources are fundamentally different. When a lawyer cites an authority it is not to show where the information came from but to support a legal argument with a concurring opinion from some court's written opinion. On the other hand, academics are not citing authority in that way, i.e. to make a case, but rather using citations to document how their opinions and ideas fit within the greater academic community. Academic citation leans more towards attribution, i.e. telling where the non-original information came from. While legal citations are to "authority." An extreme legal example is the idea of "string citations" or attempting to prove your argument simply by listing a lot of court cases you claim support your position. It is also true that some academics pile on the citations to attempt to add validity to their conclusions.

Unfortunately, although these two different disciplines have vastly different goals in their use of authorities or citations, as genealogists, we have mashed the two into an almost incomprehensible discussion of primary vs. secondary, original vs. derivative and direct vs. indirect to some how arrive at a "proof." The discussion of genealogical sources and citations is rife with legal terms such as evidence, relevancy mixed in with academic jargon such as hypothesis, theory and proof. In the extreme, genealogists resort to using legally defined terms such as the levels of proof required in litigation: beyond a reasonable doubt, clear and convincing evidence, preponderance of the evidence etc. When in reality, there is almost no relationship between the legal process and what is commonly considered genealogical research.

The idea that quasi-legal terminology somehow creates a relationship between what goes on in a court room and genealogy has its roots in early 20th Century genealogical writers who were attorneys. Their heritage has created a genealogical environment of an almost incomprehensible and impenetrable mishmash of legal and academic jargon that defies analysis from either an academic or legal standpoint.

Genealogy seeks for Truth, with a capital "T." The legal profession seeks for justice and to support the law. All you have to do is sit through one three week first degree murder case to realize that finding the "Truth" is not the object. The last thing we need to establish genealogical proof is to apply the Federal Rules of Evidence to our research. If you were really going to try and prove who your ancestors were in court of law, most, if not all of what we commonly accept as evidence would be disallowed by the Rules of Evidence. A law case is made up of what the plaintiff believes and opposed to what the defendant believes and then what the court will allow as testimony and evidence and what both the judge and the jury are allowed to consider. What you get is a decision, not the truth of the matter. I am not being cynical about this at all. Our system of law works for its purposes, but it was not designed to establish truth but to make decisions that decide cases. In law, someone wins and someone loses or more commonly they both lose and settle their differences. Genealogy is not a game of win or lose although there are those who would like to make it one.

As an aside, an example from a trial I was in several years ago. The opposing counsel (attorney) was trying to ask my client some questions during the trial. Every time the question was asked, I objected and the Judge sustained my objection. That meant that the other attorney could not ask that question in that way. The attorney tried again and again to ask questions and every time I objected and the objection was sustained. Finally, the Judge noticed that the opposing counsel had "lost it" and could not continue. The Judge called a recess so the attorney could have a break and regain some measure of composure. Do we really want to be put into those types of situations as genealogists? Are we really trying to "prove" our case or merely reporting our research and drawing our own opinions? Do we really want rules of evidence for genealogists like those in the legal profession?

The difference between genealogical research and its conclusions and legal proceedings are more than a matter of degree. Using terminology borrowed from law creates a fog of jargon that cannot be penetrated by the average (or even, if they would admit it, the expert) genealogist. But you cannot go far in reading any sort of genealogical writing on the subject of evidence or proof without confronting a reference to some kind of legal terminology. I submit that this is not necessary and should be stopped and abandoned.

As genealogists we need to forge a new methodology with a new terminology based more on evaluation of evidence and seeking for historical truth or reality rather than miring down in legal jargon that, in reality, adds nothing to our understanding of the historical relationships we are seeking. Let's make the process of determining our ancestors less impenetrable.

So what is a source? I think the definition should be simple. It is where ever you got the information. Why should you record the source? To save time in going back and looking at the same documents over and over again and to provide a way for others to see the basis for your conclusions. Do I really need to get into a lengthy analysis of primary vs. secondary etc? Not to record sources. How do I go about analyzing the information and drawing some conclusions? That is exactly where genealogists need to develop methodology and procedures that do not rely on quasi-legal concepts. The general outline of how we go through the research process is basically good. What is not good is arriving at a "proof" when all that we mean is that we have an opinion. Proof involves the concept of a judge making a decision. Genealogical data is always inconclusive and tentative and always waiting for further evidence, in reality there is no "proof" in genealogy and using the term is misleading and implies a degree of certitude that is almost always lacking.

I realize that the whole "upper levels" as they are considered, of genealogy relies on the concept of a genealogical proof statement, but using the term "proof" is misleading. We do not prove anything, all we do is express our opinion. There is no genealogical judge or jury who will certify that our conclusions are correct. Genealogical methodology is not an adequate substitute for a court system of laws, procedures and judges. Neither would we want such a system. Genealogy does not "require a higher level of proof than most litigation. " See Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2007, page 18. Legal proof and genealogical opinions are not the same thing at all. If I were to apply a "legal standard of proof" to almost all the genealogical arguments and opinions I have read, I would reject virtually all of them as there is nearly always a reasonable doubt in the legal sense of the word.

I realize I am probably the lone voice out here in the wilderness of Arizona, but it about time that an attorney spoke out and said enough is enough. Is the academic approach to genealogy more useful or reliable than a legal approach? Sometimes the term "scientific" is used in conjunction with analyzing genealogical evidence. But those are topics of yet another post.

The Potential of

I wonder if FamilySearch really understands the potential of They seem to be moving towards putting the pieces together, but I have yet to hear anyone articulate the website's true potential in a coherent fashion. The closest presentation yet was from Tim Cross at the Arizona Family History Expo. He gave a presentation on and talked about storing photos, stories and documents along with the entries on Family Tree. But there seems to be one more step; making the "master copy" of the world's genealogy.

Right now the Family Tree program is mired down in its historical roots. Unfortunately, FamilySearch decided to carry over all of the data issues generated during the past 150 years. By importing data directly from, instead of starting with a clean slate, we are forced to confront all of the errors of the past rather than simply beginning again with a clean slate. But re-focusing the data may turn out to be a minor problem compared to the challenge of maintaining a master copy of the world's genealogy. now has announced nearly all of the pieces of a system to completely record genealogical data online in one place at one time where everyone has access to see only one master copy of the data. They have the record sources in the form of the Historical Record Collections. They have the individual and family data in the form of Family Tree which can then be linked to the data sources both in FamilySearch's collections and externally also. They have the potential of adding in images and tying those images to the individuals and families in Family Tree. They have the further potential of adding stories about the individuals, making the dry data come alive and finally they have the potential of adding in the external source documents that are presently scattered around the world in millions of locations and doing this through digitized copies.

If they are successful in seeing the potential of this system and can overcome the difficulties of storing and maintaining the huge amount of data that will be generated, or its successor websites could become the world's master copy of genealogical information.

For example, if I could put all of my research, my data about birth, marriage, death and everything else, along with narratives and images of each individual and then add source references from around the Internet, I would have a "one stop shop" of all my data. If that could be preserved online by an organization that was dedicated to maintaining, preserving and migrating my data, the problem of losing all my data at my death could be avoided. But here is the challenge. Presently my data is more than 2.5 Terabytes of information. Multiply that by millions of contributors and you can begin to see the real problem. The challenge of data storage and maintenance dwarfs the present issues of data integrity.

Even if the data on were highly selective, the amount of data is huge even for the images alone. Fortunately, technology may make this whole scheme possible. It is not just possible, but highly likely that massive data storage capabilities will evolve over the next few years that may make my concerns moot.

The real challenge here is whether or not FamilySearch can focus on the potential they have created. Will Family Tree become mired down in the data like happened with or can the duplicates and inaccuracies finally be sorted out? FamilySearch appears to view the problem as recruiting more people to put in more data. It is true, if we want to capture the world's genealogy, then more people, especially young people, have to participate. But involving more people in genealogy alone is not the answer. For example, what if I were able to convince many of my children and grandchildren to help with my genealogical research? Where would they put the information? How can we collaborate when the data is so corrupted that I cannot get back more than four generations on some of my lines in Family Tree without duplicates and misinformation?

So, the potential to create a place where everyone in a family can go to see the master copy of their genealogy is now rapidly becoming a reality. But there remain significant challenges to that potential. I am confident that the issues can be overcome. I have the hope that I can begin transferring my huge accumulation of data, images, stories and sources to this master copy. Meanwhile, I guess I will just keep accumulating more.

The real question is whether or not this potential view of organizing the world's genealogy is consistent with the basic goals of FamilySearch. I happen to think that it is. This concept reinforces the religious doctrines of FamilySearch and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The concept benefits all of mankind, especially if you view the extent as encompassing the entire world and not just the Western Europeans and their descendants. Think of world cultures that are rapidly disintegrating and losing their heritage. Family Tree may become and could become the way to preserve the world's heritage of culture. There are, of course, two more elements missing; audio files and video files.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Just for Fun

This was just for fun and the confusion of people trying to record names (i.e. genealogists who worry about how a name is "actually" spelled and then argue about the correct spelling(as if it mattered more than anything else)).

Editing entries in FamilySearch Family Tree

Most of the information contained in's Family Tree program can be edited or, in some cases, deleted by any registered user. This includes most of the personal information about individuals and the relationships between individuals. The ability to edit or delete information is not limited to the people who contributed the information. In Family Tree's predecessor program,, everyone "owned" the information they personally contributed and no one else could edit the submitted information. If the information was inaccurate or inappropriate, the only response was to add more, hopefully, accurate information. But all the information, both accurate and inaccurate, was preserved at the same level and availability. 

Family Tree changes this scenario dramatically. Any registered user can edit (or where allowed) delete any information. Not just the information they personally contributed. 

Whenever I present this function of the program in any class, there are always the same two questions. These are:
  • If anyone can change the information then why doesn't the whole database devolve into chaos or fill up with garbage? (Integrity of the database)
  • Do you mean to say that anyone can change my family information? (Ownership of the data)
Usually, my explanations of these two issues does not satisfy those asking the question. The issue of the ownership of genealogical data is extremely ingrained in the psyche of the average genealogist. I find the attitude of ownership to be almost pervasive. Researchers have a tendency to think of the information they find to be "their" data. It is relatively easy to point out that all of the descendants "own" their own ancestry, so no one ancestor is owned by any one of the descendants. Although this simple explanation is true, an attitude of possession is hard to overcome. Well, whether or not you or anyone else believes they own their genealogical data, Family Tree still allows anyone to make changes. So this issue has more to do with participation in the program at all, rather than affecting the manner in which the information is edited. 

The remaining question concerning the integrity of the data is a little more difficult to address. It is true that allowing anyone to edit data in a database would intuitively seem to move the data towards chaos. But in fact, as counter-intuitive as it may be, allowing everyone to edit the data raises the overall reliability of the data. The reason this occurs is dictated by basic human nature. There are two factors; some people are driven to correct the world around them and most people could care less. In other words, it a lot more likely that people possessing the correct information about the people in Family Tree will be motivated to edit and update the data than those who do not care about either genealogy or Family Tree. This is the premise that makes the wiki-based programs work where registered users can make changes. Family Tree is not strictly a wiki but it does have wiki-like characteristics. 

In fact this is the case. Counter intuitively; the information in a wiki (or a wiki-like) program becomes more reliable rather than less reliable. But this brings up another common question:

What happens if I change the information and then someone changes it back and then I change it again and so forth?

Although this might happen, Family Tree has several layers of features that make this type of disagreement (commonly called a “revert war”) highly unlikely. First of all, anyone can “watch” any ancestor in Family Tree. Watching an ancestor initiates a process where the program notifies the user of any changes to the watched individual. Secondly, and more importantly, the program allows for communication between users through email. Obviously, if there is a difference in the data offered for any individual, the users can communicate and come to an understanding concerning the “correct” data to be entered. Finally, abuses of the program can be reported to FamilySearch. If the users carefully rely on sources, then the possibility of any disagreements will be minimized. If in the end, there is a genuine disagreement about a certain item, then the family will have to “agree to disagree” and get on with additional research to resolve the controversy.

Unfortunately, many of the duplications and errors in have been inherited by Family Tree. It may take some time to work through these errors, but ultimately, through the editing mechanism of the Family Tree program all of those errors can be corrected and information mutually acceptable to the family can be maintained.

Another comment I get at this point in teaching classes concerns the need to correct the duplications and errors in the program. The answer is yes, we are the ones who must start the work of correcting the information in Family Tree. We all hope we have more than one person per family to do the work. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Are sources necessary for genealogical data?

I guess the easy is answer to the question in the title to this post is yes, but then why do so many of the people involved in genealogy think sources are unnecessary? 

I have spent some time thinking about this issue and have come up with what I think is the main reason some genealogists do not adequately source their data. The reason is:

Just plain ignorance.

I believe this because it was the reason I failed to add sources to much of my early acquired genealogical data. I still have a huge number of people in my database with “Family Group Record in possession of James Tanner” as the source. It took me a few years of involvement to move past that level of my understanding. I can always claim that had someone explained to me some of the reasons for citing an actual source for the information I was gathering, I would have done so. But maybe not. It might also help to understand that during my early years in genealogy there was no Internet and no concept of people sharing data online. Even after the Internet became available, email was extremely limited and it took some considerable time to develop online sharing techniques. I have been gathering genealogical information about my family for a very long time. 

Many of todays genealogists are either new to genealogy or new to the Internet. If I have my own data on paper or on my own database program, who knows (or cares) if I have added sources? Unless I personally see the need for sources, who is going to question the way I have entered the information? If I go to any of the popular websites for genealogy, where does it say I have to add a source for every fact and event I record? Where are the source police? It is only very recently that anyone started harping on the issue of sources. 

On the other hand, my wife was trained in classes very early to add sources. So awareness of the issue depends on how you go about learning to do research.

The simple solution would then seem to be education, classes, books, webinars, and a plethora of other efforts to convince people that it is a good idea to add sources. This may or may not be effective. There are some people that will change their ways if they understand the reason for the change. But some will not change even when the reason for change becomes painfully obvious. Change is difficult and inconvenient and there is no visible reward for the extra effort. In addition, the people who are ignorant of the need to source their genealogical information are not likely to be going to classes, reading books on genealogy, watching webinars or participating in any genealogically oriented activities.

At the recent Arizona Family History Expo, Holly Hansen, the owner of Family History Expos, Inc. asked the participants in the opening how many were at the Expo for the first time. The number of hands that went up was significant. At the Mesa FamilySearch Library where I teach classes, I get new people all the time who have never attended a genealogy class previously. Ask yourself, how many members of my immediate family have attended a formal genealogical event such as a class or seminar? It is a good thing that there were so many new people at the Family History Expo, but my personal experience puts even these Expo attendees in the small minority of all those attempting to search out their ancestors.

There are those people who are knowledgeable about genealogy and the need for sources that agonize over the lack on knowledge of the newcomers and try hard to narrow the gap in their education. The challenge here is that the problem is not limited to the young or the newcomers to genealogy. There are those who have gathered huge files of names and have failed to add even one source. I have written before about the amazing lack of source citations in the Public Family Trees and I have demonstrated the same lack of sources in much of the published world of surname books.

In my case, my painful education over the years finally got me to the point where I began to source all of my information. But repentance this late in life has its drawbacks, I may not have enough time left in my life to add all the sources to the vast number of names I have gathered in my databases. I know the sources are available, but even adding sources to something like’s Family Tree, where the sources practically fall in your lap is a slow and somewhat painful process.

One challenge is that every time I look for additional sources, I find them for people who are already more than adequately sourced. I just cannot ignore one more source even when the number for any one individual grows quite large. This slows me down from adding sources to those who yet have none.

So what is the real answer to the question in the title to this post? Obviously, there are some controversial issues here. What if I say the source for the date of my own birth is my own memory? Is that really a source? How do I really know when I was born? I was there but not necessarily aware of the circumstances or the date. Do I believe my parents and the fact that I had a birthday every year? Would obtaining a copy of my own birth certificate help?