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

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Who are your relatives?

Who you consider to be related is determined, to a large extent, by your cultural and social background. My Grandmother used to say, "You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your relatives." This was usually a response to something negative happening in our family. But, in a sense, you can choose your relatives. You and your family make family and many genealogical decisions based on who you think are your relatives. For example, say someone dies and they are a "relative," how close does the relationship have to be before you feel compelled to go to the funeral?

Now, this is a trick question. Because of inter-family relationships, you may refuse to go to the funeral of a member of your immediate family. But what I am talking about is not this family squabble kind of relationship, but the basic structure of your family's kinship. These relationships do not come from our knowledge of our family through contact, but are culturally established through linguistic and social mechanisms. But sometimes these relationships are established through inherited family fights and prejudices.

I frequently have people come up to me and declare that we are related. Most of the time, this relationship stems from a rather remote common ancestor. Other than acknowledging our shared ancestor, the existence of this type of relationship seldom engenders any further social contact or obligations. Occasionally, there is an incentive to share some kind of records or photos, but there is no real sense of family created merely by reason of descent from a common ancestor. The exception is belong to a remote ancestor's family organization, especially if the the remote ancestor had a large family or was famous for some reason.

In every family with which I am acquainted, there are certain family members who, through past experience, are fighting for one reason or another. In some cases the family is fragmented by coalitions of siblings. Some of this antagonism spills down through the generations and their descendants lose contact with each other over the years. My maternal grandparents' family was a good example of this issue. As children, we had very good relationships with my Mother's parents but virtually no contact at all with some of my Mother's siblings. In fact, my contact with some of my uncles and aunts was limited to one or two visits during their lifetime while others were visited frequently. Over the years, I have had no contact at all with the cousins who are the children of these estranged relatives but have more frequent contact with other cousins of family members who we visited. I can only guess at the underlying causes of this disruption in the family. Interestingly, I see the same type of thing happening in my own family with my own siblings.

It appears, that to some extent, inter-familial relationships can govern who we consider to be our relatives. Of course, from a genealogical sense, anyone who is related by blood or marriage is a candidate for research, but I suggest that we select our research efforts, in some instances, based on our concept of who we are willing to associate with. I have found this to be the case with some of my friends who were raised by their mothers when their fathers had abandoned the home and there was a divorce. There is a measurable degree of antagonism in researching the divorced husband's line.

One of the common occurrences in families, the re-marriage of a spouse after a death or divorce, creates another interesting conflict situation. This seems to happen frequently when a mother or father remarries when the children of the first (or second or whatever) marriage are adults with children of their own. There are frequent instances where the parent's new spouse is unwelcome and literally written out of the family record. I saw this in my own family with my paternal grandfather's second wife. Although she was technically my grandmother and lived until I was quite old, I saw her on only one occasion.

Maybe we need to examine our attitude towards our present and past family members to see if we are making genealogical research decisions based on inherited family fights.

In all of this, there is another underlying issue; that is, the relationship we have with the families of those relatives we call "In-laws." This issue also extends to the spouses of our bloodline relatives. Are you really related to the wife of your bloodline uncle or aunt, the children of a grandparent? Usually, you are not related to your own spouse "except by marriage" and so this relationship is a cause of a certain amount of discussion among genealogists as to the appropriateness of "doing research" for unrelated lines. Do you feel any obligation at all to research the family of those who are married to your brothers and sisters?

Again, maybe we need to examine our attitudes towards those who "married into" the family and evaluate whether or not we consider their families as proper subjects of our research. When we read a surname book or look at research done by relatives, it is useful to recognize that family relationships may have affected the structure and content of those records.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Very Disturbing FamilySearch Family Tree Issue

A recent post by my daughter Amy on TheAncestorFiles blog has the following title: "Individuals of Unusual Size (IOUS)" turns out to be very disturbing. She quotes a support email as follows:

From:  [...]
Subject:  Need Records Merged
Date:  February 27, 2013 9:28:23 AM EST
To:  [...] 
Dear Amy Tanner Thiriot,
RE:   John Tanner  KWJ1-K2F and MMM9-MM1
        Lydia Stewart  M5XK-TBR and LC3X-WJ5
Thank you for contacting FamilySearch Support.  Your concern deals with individuals of unusual size (IOUS) record.  There is not an easy solution at this time.  Currently our database can not handle records of this size. We kindly ask for your patience and understanding until increased functionalities become available in new FamilySearch.  At a future time, the expectation is that you, as the patron, will be able to independently resolve these issues as tools and technology are improved.
FamilySearch Data Administration
The problem is rather simple, almost every family line I have in FamilySearch Family Tree contains these "Individuals of Unusual Size." The implication of this problem, if the response from FamilySearch is correct is also rather simple: I cannot do any further work on Family Tree until this issue is fixed.

Interestingly, it took me about the same length of time to realize that I could do nothing at all to improve the situation in Apparently, has the same unresolvable problem with the data in Family Search Family Tree that exists in This is caused by importing the same data into Family Tree as created and used in For me and others in a similar situation, it renders both programs essentially worthless for adding additional information.

The problem is that there are multiple file copies of my ancestors. This is what is meant by the phrase "Individuals of Unusual Size." Most, if not all, of my direct line ancestors fall into this category. The effect is that the duplicates in the system cannot be merged. This leaves phantom lines and multiple choice lines that cannot be reconciled. So, I can clean up the problems in my line back to my Great-Grandfathers, but beyond that, the program stops working. Although I can see duplicates in the file, the program does not see or allow me to merge the duplicates. So the lines back any further are essentially dead ends as far as any practical use is concerned.

Now, if you do not have an individual of unusual size in your line, you may never have seen the problem. But fortunately or unfortunately, all of my lines come from early Utah and Arizona pioneers. This is further complicated by the fact that my parents were second cousins. As I go back on my lines, sooner or later, I nearly always bump into an ancestor who has a huge number of online submissions.

This problem is not new. I have known there was a problem since shortly after starting to use Family Tree sometime last year. But this message from FamilySearch is disturbing because it states that the problem will only be solved through programming additional features referred to as "increased functionalities." Is there an outside chance this will never happen?

The solution to the whole problem should have been to accommodate the data before implementing the program.

Who are these people? -- exploring your own genealogy files

At some point as you continue to accumulate names of ancestors, you begin to lose track of who all of these people are. This begins to get pointed out to you regularly if you put your family tree online in one of the larger databases such as or Both programs are continually suggesting that you have links with matching individuals in other users' family trees. But many times the matches are with a spouse of a distant relative and the question comes up repeatedly; who are these people?

I suppose there are those people who can remember the names of everyone in their high school class fifty years ago, but I am certainly not one of those people. I barely remember most of the names of the people I meet and have trouble remembering the names of some of my close relatives and friends. I suppose you could consider this a genealogical disability, but I am certain it does not qualify for SSDI (for those of you who are not genealogists, you know this as Social Security Disability Insurance, for those of you who are genealogists, this is the Social Security Death Index. Interesting that the Social Security Administration has an acronym that is the same for two completely different things. Sort of indicative of the state our government when there is a confusion between insurance and death). Back to the problem of remembering names.

I always figured that the main reason for having a computer was so that I didn't have to remember stuff. But it does get awkward when I forget close family member's names and the names of friends that I have known for thirty or forty years. But back to remembering names of distant relatives. You would think the solution quite simple; have a database of your family file and look up the unknown names when they pop up. Right. That works until you get into higher and theoretical math. The trouble is that some of my lines are highly convoluted.

The other day I got a whole lot of Smart Matches from for the Kartchner family. OK, so my comment was, that the family was likely in my wife's line because I had never heard of a connection with the Kartchners, who, by the way, are a prominent family in Arizona. I guess I should have realized that if they were from Arizona, they were probably related to me in some way and not related to my wife who is from Utah. So, I began looking at my lines to try and figure out where this suggested link came from.

That process turned up and interesting fact. I did not have the two lines connected. What happened was that I had a duplicate in my file that was the link between me and the Kartchners. So I merged the two individuals and voila! I had a clear link to the mainstream of the Kartchner genealogy. In fact, I had a whole line of Kartchners going back to 1788 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. So this brought up another issue; exploring your own genealogy. Somewhere over the years, I had spend considerable time researching and typing in a large number of Kartchner families. So, why didn't I remember all this? I call it CGA or Convenient Genealogical Amnesia. You really can't walk around all the time with 10,000 or so names in your head and so you conveniently forget any of them you don't see every day (or in the last five minutes).

But then, as I examined this line, there was another even more interesting question. Was I really related to the Kartchners? Notwithstanding I had a number of them in my file, how was I related, if I was?

Unfortunately, lack of familiarity with any given line in your database may create a problem. Fortunately, the genealogy programs come to your rescue. Many of them will highlight the linking individuals. In this case, I found that Marion Francetta Miller (b. 1882, d. 1968), whose mother was a Kartchner, was married to my Great-uncle Thomas William Tanner (b. 1880, d. 1965). I actually knew about these people. Their children were my father's first cousins.

But if this line was related through the spouse of one of my uncles, was I really related to these people? OK, the answer to that question is the basis for a great deal of discussion and controversy. Some would say, yes, of course. Others would say no, not at all. From a genealogical standpoint, since I actually had dealings indirectly with these people, I considered them to be relatives. But are all their ancestors my relatives? When it gets down to it, I don't really care one way or the other. As long as there is an actual connection with one of my uncles or cousins, I will include them in my genealogy.

But another question is what kind of priority will I assign to doing research on this particular branch of my family? Now that I have explored this line and realize the connection, I must admit that I will not likely put them on the top of my list of families to investigate. I have enough of a mess in my direct lines to keep me busy for the rest of my life without following the families of the spouses of my ancestors' siblings.

Of course, the question then arises as to what other surprises are lurking out their in Tanner genealogy land? Maybe I should do some more exploring.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Online vs. Local Genealogy programs

Have the online family tree programs progressed to the point that you no longer need to buy your own genealogical database program? Can you now keep all your records online? The answer to both of these questions is a qualified no. The reason the no is qualified is because how you maintain your genealogical data depends entirely on how much and what type of documents and data you have accumulated.

For some people, starting and keeping a family tree online may be all they expect or require from their genealogical experience. This is especially true if the person's goal is merely to record the information for some purpose other than doing research. From my examination of hundreds of online family trees, it appears that whatever the motivation of those who posted the information, they are not intent on expanding the pool of information readily available online to copy and are content to remain blissfully ignorant of any additional facts about their particular family. At this level, an online family tree serves their purpose entirely.

But if you are interested in doing even a modicum of research, You will quickly exhaust the capabilities of nearly all the online hosts for family trees. There are a few online hosting organizations that have developed or are in the process of developing programs that are feature rich and have the capability of storing all of the data, including notes, photos, documents and other items, most people could hope to generate. In those cases, and again depending on the needs and expectations of the user, this type of online program just might act as a substitute for a local genealogical database.

Here is the problem. Even if you use an online host for your genealogical information, what happens if that online host goes out of business, raises their rates substantially or takes some other detrimental action? What happens to your data? Recognizing this and the additional fact that you may not want to share all of your information online, there is a definite need for local storage and organization.

Unfortunately, I find a significant amount of resistance to the idea of having your own genealogy program. Its not that the people have all their data online, they simply do not see the need for recording their family history in other than handwritten forms, spreadsheets and databases. They most certainly do not see the utility of paying for a program especially if the program is going to require periodic updates. Even if they see the need for a localized genealogical database, they seek out programs that are "free" or otherwise have no significant cost.

Will the online programs get to the point where it is meaningless to try to maintain your own personal program? What I see as more likely, is the evolution of the combination of a local program and an online version of the data. There are a few of these programs already such as's Family Tree Maker and's Family Tree Builder. As these dual, online and personal programs become more sophisticated, I would guess that more and more of the genealogical community will begin using these or a variation of the programs. There were several of the Affiliate programs that would exchange data with the program, and while that was seen as an advantage by some, others who had already submitted their data to FamilySearch were appalled at the way the conflicting submissions were unresolved. Presently, FamilySearch is developing Family Tree to resolve some of those problems but has yet not allowed third-party public access to the Family Tree program except in some limited areas.

In my opinion, there is presently and will be for the foreseeable future, a need for your own dedicated genealogical database program if for no other reason than to preserve your own research and opinions concerning your ancestors. Eventually, given an increase in the capabilities of the programs, there may be some viable alternative.

Chrome OS -- the third operating system?

I believe this may be the first time I have written about Google's operating system named Chrome OS. First, it is important to distinguish the operating system from the browser of the same name.  A browser is a program that runs on your computer to provide you access to the Internet. An operating system is the program installed on your computer to operate the entire computer. Obviously, the most popular and used operatings systems are Windows based with well over 90% of the computers using Windows. Apple's operating systems are a distant second with about 6%. See Statistics on operating systems are difficult to interpret because every release and update of an operating system is considered to be a new operating system. So, you don't just get statistics for Windows vs. Apple, you get numbers for Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and etc.

Finding accurate statistics on operating systems' usage is further complicated by the fact that there is a further distinction between the types of computers. Desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones are all considered separately because they run different operating systems.

After doing a rather extensive review of websites monitoring the statistics of operating systems, I couldn't find any significant market penetration listed for Chrome operating systems.

Presently, the only computers that come pre-loaded with Google's Chrome operating system are those sold under the Chromebook label.

The main limitation with the Chrome OS discussed in the online world is that the operating system only works completely when it is connected to the Internet. There is also a lot of discussion about the availability of compatible software. Presently, its usage is entirely limited to online genealogy programs. None of the popular genealogical database applications run on Chromebooks. I'll keep monitoring the situation and report any changes.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Digging yourself out of a genealogical black hole

Unfortunately, there are a significant number of genealogical researchers that become fixated on one overwhelming issue in their pedigree. They become so adsorbed in trying find the missing or end-of-line ancestor that nothing else matters. This missing or unresolvable problem becomes a virtual black hole sucking in all their time and resources. In my experience these unresolvable problems can be categorized into a few broad categories.

Here is a list of the main categories of legitimate candidates for genealogical black holes:

  • Actual time periods where there are no longer any records of ordinary people
  • Individuals whose parent or parents were not recorded (i.e. foundling or out-of-wedlock)
  • Individuals who, for whatever reason, left the family, changed their name and were never heard of again (sometimes you can ultimately resolve these)
  • Ancestors who originate in countries that either did not keep records or where, because of war or otherwise, the records are no longer available. 

Spending time on any of these does not hold out much promise of resolution. However, there are other situations that appear to be black holes but are usually resolvable through additional much broader research. These include:

  • Claims that the records were destroyed in a fire or other natural disaster
  • Families or individuals that just seem to disappear from Census or other records for no particular reason (this is similar to individuals who leave a family, but not exactly the same thing)
  • Individuals who changed their name when the immigrated or emigrated
  • Individuals or families that moved into the frontier

If these circumstances apply, then the solution is usually looking at additional records and broadening the search to other areas. Easy for you to say, you reply. But really, no matter how much the researchers protest that they have searched all of the records, it is very, very seldom accurate. In the past couple of months, for example, I have learned about whole classes of records that I never previously imagined existed. Frequently, the issue is availability of the records and the researcher has neither the time nor the resources to travel to the original jurisdiction to search for additional records.

It is further my experience that the largest percentage of the situations that can ultimately be resolved have not been resolved because the researchers have been looking in the wrong place. They have usually assumed that an ancestor lived or was born in a certain area when the facts are otherwise. In some cases, the researchers are hung up on details of name variations and refuse to look beyond what they "know" to be accurate.

So what are the solutions?

In the all of the above examples, the first step is to move back to the first verified individual in the first verified location and start the research over again. Begin by looking for additional types of records before searching for names. At this point, it is absolutely important to start learning the local and regional history. You have to start digging your way out of the hole by building a scaffold of information about where, when and how you family lived. The hole occurs when you focus on the narrow identification of an individual or family and forget the larger picture.

In my case, the solution has turned out to be additional study and education in genealogy. It seems inevitable that each time I find an "unsolvable" barrier, it turns out that I need to study more and read more.

There is no magic wand to make these challenges go away. The reason why I classify the two groups differently is because I have seen most of the problems from the second list resolved, but I have seldom seen the ones from the first list.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The paperwork of dead relatives

I frequently field requests from patrons at the Mesa FamilySearch Library looking for death certificates and obituaries. These documents are commonly sought for information on a death date of an ancestor. Most of these patrons requesting a death certificate are entirely unaware of the time periods during which these types of documents could be found. With respect to obituaries, they often begin and end their search with one local newspaper. In both cases, they are limiting their search, when other documents and records might provide the same, or even more information.

Commonly researchers are disappointed to learn that death certificates are a relatively recent innovation. In Arizona, for example, death certificates were not universally required by the State until after 1909 but there was not full compliance with the requirement until about 1926. Some death certificates date back before that time period, but there may not be one for any particular person.

Even in the Eastern states, implementation of uniform death registration occurred at relatively late dates. The state of New York, for example, began death records in 1847, but general statewide registration did not occur until 1880 and full compliance did not occur until 1890. So looking for a "death certificate" depends on the time period of implementation and the date of compliance by local record keepers. If you want to know the dates for other jurisdictions, I suggest looking in the FamilySearch Research Wiki under the topic of Vital Records for each jurisdiction. For example, search for Ohio Vital Records.

Obituaries are an entirely different issue. The presence or absence of an obituary in any given newspaper depends entirely on the circumstances of the person's death and the interest of the community and in some instances, if the family could afford to place the announcement. Commonly, patrons come asking for an obituary index. They believe that you can just look on a computer database and see a list of obituaries. Well, such indexes do exist in a spotty sort of way, but few of them go back more than the late 1970s or 1960s at the earliest and most of them only focus on one or two local newspapers. For each existing index, you must know which newspapers are included and time period for the coverage. Failing to find an obituary in an index is really no indication at all that such a document does not exist. In some instances obituaries may have been published in other county, or even regional or state newspapers.

Searching for obituaries should always include an many online digital newspaper collections as you can gain access to. For example, you should at least search the Newspaper Archive available from and with a Record Search. This search is free in FamilySearch Centers. You can also search in or its genealogy based program, these resources may be available through a public library but are a subscription service. Also remember the Chronicling America Historic Newspapers on the Library of Congress website. There are also many state digital newspaper projects, notably, those in Utah, Colorado and other states. Do a general search for digital newspapers.

But don't stop there. Go to the Library of Congress and look at the US Newspaper Directory 1690 to the Present on the Chronicling America Historic Newspaper page. From there you can find a list of the newspapers published in the state and/or county during any time period. The list also has a link to all of the repositories that may have copies of the newspapers.

And there is still more. There are a lot of other types of sources that can give a death date. You may wish to look at the United States Vital Record page in the FamilySearch Research Wiki. You may also wish to look at United States Death Records in the Research Wiki.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Challenge of Biblical Genealogies

A key element of the "Back to Adam" type of copied genealogy is reliance on genealogies in the Bible. From a genealogical standpoint there is not a religious issue here. Genealogy, as a historical discipline, and as such, is not prepared to comment on whether or not the genealogical accounts in the Bible are "true" because there are no sources on which to base an evaluation. But strictly from the genealogical standpoint, the Biblical genealogies are no more or less useful than any of the other thousands of other surname books lacking sources. I an not questioning any aspect of the validity of the Bible as a religious text and its Divine origins, but in genealogy, lack of sources is lack of sources.

I write about this topic because the phrase "back to Adam" can be considered a cliche for any unsupported genealogical pedigree. If you copy a pedigree without substantial sources from or some other online family tree parking program, then your pedigree is no more and no less as valuable as one tracing your ancestry back to Adam. I write about this issue from time to time because it comes up regularly. In fact, there are several pedigrees showing connections back to Adam loaded in the FamilySearch Family Tree although in this regard, I am relying on the accounts of people who have spent the time clicking on the links in that program.

However, if you have made it this far without calling me a heretic, then I can address the real issue with the inclusion of Biblical pedigrees in a current family tree; the lack of any reliable or substantial proof of connection departing from the Biblical account to a reliably documented historical figure subsequent to  that account. In short, after you reach the end or most recent Biblical figures, there are no records or source establishing descent from the Biblical lines. This approach avoids any doctrinal disputes as to the validity or truth, per se, of the Bible and focuses instead on the lines of descent from Biblical individuals.

Because of the religious overtones to any discussion involving these genealogies show lines going "back to Adam," many of the online discussion of this topic verge on hysteria. For that reason alone, I do not look to online sources such as Wikipedia for any support in discussing this issue. So, are there any scholarly treatises on these early genealogies? Has anyone ever taking this issue seriously? It turns out that the answer to that question is much harder than one would suppose.

Rather than start with the Biblical account, the real issue for genealogists is how far back in time can any genealogy be reliably established? That question really depends on the culture of your ancestors and records they kept. There are reliable genealogies that go back thousands of years but they do not exist in Western European countries.

If you are really interested in finding out about this subject, then there a good starting point in an article summarizing the work that has been done and the limitations of the research called, Medieval British Isles Families by Gary T. Horlacher for ProGenealogists. If you find a pedigree that extends beyond 1550 AD start taking classes in Old Latin and reading ancient manuscripts before you talk to me about it. Oh, and it will also help to learn how to read Old German and Old English.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Coping with Genealogical Data Overload

I have almost 2500 automated sources sitting on generated by their extraordinary Record Search function. Basically, all I had to do was upload my family tree and voila! I have a huge number of original sources to process. This just adds to the pile of other unfinished genealogical challenges I have stacked up waiting for my attention. I realize that I am far from unique. Almost everyone I talk to in the genealogical community has some unfinished pile of something or another to worry about.

What saves me from paralysis is focusing on one task at a time. I use to do lists, not to give me daily goals, but to remind myself of all of the unfinished projects. A good example is the scanning of the thousands of negatives and photos I received indirectly from my Great-grandmother. I could easily spend all day for weeks scanning and labeling these images. But, I am forced by other commitments to do the work piecemeal. So what I do is dedicate a full day once a week or so to doing this one task. Even though some weeks, such as this one, when I am in St. George, Utah, I cannot spend any time on the project, I still have one day a week where that project is a priority and so when I get back home, I pick up the work where I left off. Scanning and labeling images has become the background to everything else I do.

One trick I have found, is using my own family files for examples in teaching classes. When I teach a class about's Family Tree program, I use the time in the instruction to edit the entries in my own family online and add more sources. Surprisingly, I make quite a bit of headway in editing the entries simply by using them as examples every week in my classes.

Presently, one of my major time consuming projects is preparing PowerPoint presentations for classes at Expos and conferences. I find this to be extremely time consuming, but by dedicating blocks of time to this effort, I can begin to make headway. Sometimes, with deadlines, I have to abandon all other activities to spend all my time with preparation. This could be frustrating, but it becomes less so, if I work steadily on the PowerPoint projects and try to stay undistracted by other activities. Fortunately, I can stay current with email and blog posts with my portable devices and use odd hours when I am waiting in lines or for appointments to keep up-to-date.

As the amount of genealogical information and data piles up, I have resorted to computer-like filtering processes to keep from getting buried in the non-essential. I use news aggregators, such as Google Reader, to give me an overview of the blog stream and I do the same thing with email. I use an email aggregator so that all my email addresses come to the same place for review. These same apps work on my iPad and iPhone so I can see email at odd times and places as I mentioned. Sometimes, if the piles get too large, you just have to cut your losses and dump a huge amount of input as read so you can, in essence, start over again the next day. For information on news aggregators see Wikipedia:News aggregator.

Like many, who have done research for years, I have a huge pile of boxes with family documents, photographs and an endless series of papers from old scrapbooks to letters. The boxes seem to defy organization. So last summer and again this coming summer, I intend to hire one or more of my grandsons to scan documents and enter metadata about the scanned documents. Fortunately, all of my grandchildren have grown up with computers and I find this to be an opportunity to help them appreciate genealogy also.

One of the things I can't do anything about is the overload of information coming over the Internet. It is sort of like processing ore in an open pit mine; only a very small percentage of the overburden is valuable ore, but you still have to dig through the whole pile. It seems like days will go by when there is nothing I am really interested in reading, but suddenly there are significant shifts and I am spending all my time just trying to keep up with the flow of newsworthy stories. It would help if all of the genealogy companies didn't wait until the same conferences to announce their new programs, but they do them all at once and I end up scrambling to keep up with the latest changes. In some rare cases, the vendors will send me new material in advance so I can write about it beforehand and be ready to release the announcement at the time the product is introduced.

Another aspect of genealogy that is changing rapidly is the availability of online sources. I have lately begun expecting records that I need to research to be online and this is becoming more and more common. Keeping up with the flood of newly digitized records is almost impossible, but the key here is knowing how to search for new records. Sometimes, huge online collections go entirely unnoticed by the genealogical community because they are outside the mainstream of their focus. For example, most genealogists have a tendency to ignore or be unaware of Trove the website of the National Library of Australia. That site alone has over 327 million Australian and online resources:books, images, historic newspapers, maps, music, archives and more. OK, so how do you find out about all this stuff, much less keep track of everything? The answer is quite complex.

Part of the answer is learning how to turn it all off. Sometimes we forget there is a power switch on all of the devices. Keeping up can be addictive so it is good idea to be acutely aware of that possibility and try to maintain balance. You do need to have a life outside of the electronics and genealogy.

Contemplating Royal Genealogies

It seems to be a common thread among some genealogists that connecting to a royal line is big deal. It has always seemed strange to me that in a country, like the U.S., that fought to rid itself of a king, so many people would be interested in connecting to royal families. I guess it is in the same vein as knowing how you are related to famous or popular people. Connecting to royal families is not particularly remarkable but the real question is once you believe you have such a connection, how reliable is that information.

I find, almost without exception, that royal lines are accepted almost on blind faith. During some of my earliest research, over thirty years ago, I found family group record after family group record claiming I had royalty in my pedigree. After years of further research, I have yet been unable to document even one connection to a royal line, not that I have consciously tried to do so. Meanwhile, I have concluded that looking for a royal line is a pretty good motivation for some people to get started in genealogy and it is mostly harmless. In Arizona, we have the same kind of thing with people looking for proof of American Indian ancestors, only there the main motivation is tribal membership and benefits.

It is interesting to see how many online societies and organizations there are dedicated to membership of those that can "prove" royal descent. One of the oldest of these is the Sovereign Colonial Society Americans of Royal Descent founded in 1867 and located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There is also quite a library of books documenting the royal descent of the American colonists. With even a superficial search online, you can find dozens of books and websites dedicated to royal genealogy. Here are a few examples:
  • Roberts, Gary Boyd. The Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants to the American Colonies or the United States: Who Were Themselves Notable or Left Descendants Notable in American History. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co, 2004.
  • Richardson, Douglas, Kimball G. Everingham, and David Faris. Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2004.
  • Weis, Frederick Lewis, Walter Lee Sheppard, David Faris, and Frederick Lewis Weis.Ancestral Roots of Certain American Colonists Who Came to America Before 1700: The Lineage of Alfred the Great, Charlemagne, Malcolm of Scotland, Robert the Strong, and Some of Their Descendants. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 1992.
  • Browning, Charles Henry. Americans of Royal Descent. Philadelphia: Porter & Costes, 1883.
These and many other books often have what appears to be extensive documentation. Unfortunately, some of that documentation is simply to other compilations of a similar nature. There is a good explanation of the issues involved in doing research back into the royal lines on's Pro-genealogists website. Begin with an article entitled, "Medieval British Isles Families" and look for similar articles. Quoting from that article, the author, Gary T. Horlacher, cites some of the problems with doing this kind of research:
When tracing medieval genealogies one should be aware of some areas where difficulties and errors are found. Difficulties and errors that you will want to be careful of include:
  • Accepting undocumented pedigrees as truth. 
  • Separating fact from fiction.
  • Unverified or incorrect pedigree links.
  • False information.
You should be especially careful in the following cases:
  • Genealogies back to Adam.
  • Ancestry of Colonial American Families.
  • Fabricated lineages.
  • Lineages through illegitimacy.
This is only the barest beginnings of the issues with establishing royal lines. Of course, documenting a line to a modern royal family may be much more reliable, if there are cited sources. If you want to get an idea of the controversy and scholarly discussion of royal pedigrees, I suggest the website Some Notes on Medieval English Genealogy. Although this website talks about England, the same issues exist in any European country's royal genealogies. You will, of course, also want to look at the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy.

Even though I write about this topic from time to time, I still find that the issues of connecting to royal lines to be current in the genealogical community. In past posts on this subject, I get comments explaining to me that the commentator's lines to royalty have been verified and questioning my skepticism. I acknowledge that kings and queens had children and descendants just like anyone's ancestors, but a word to the wise is that you have to shovel through a lot of dirt to get to the gold in royal genealogies.

Starting a Genealogy Blog

At a class I taught recently on creating a genealogy blog, even though there were mostly experienced computer users in attendance, some of the attendees were unfamiliar with blogs. If you are reading this post, you have probably overcome the first obstacle for starting a genealogy blog; that is, understanding the idea of a blog. A blog is essentially a website that exists on the Internet with its own unique title and address.

Once you understand the nature of a blog, the first step towards starting your own blog should be to read various genealogy blogs and decide on a topic or theme for the new blog. While this might seem pretty simple, this step also involves spending some time thinking through the process of writing and publishing the information. The question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you really want to spend the time and effort it takes to post your research, your comments or whatever on the Internet. Do you want to share? Do you want to have people contact you about what you write? While there is not set form or schedule for publishing a blog online, we do find a considerable number of blogs that are abandoned after a few postings because the author or authors discover the amount of work necessary to maintain one. Do you enjoy writing? If not, you may find it difficult to keep a blog alive.

Although there are provisions for creating an invitation-only or private blog, making a genealogy blog private defeats most of the reasons for having a blog in the first place. The general idea of starting a genealogy blog, especially one that talks about an individual family line, is to communicate with both known and unknown family members. An invitation-only or private blog or family tree, excludes the people you are most interested in contacting; those you don't presently know.

I might observe that blogs are extremely effective in helping to establish contacts with remote family members. Posts on Facebook and Twitter are both transitory in nature. Blog posts are discoverable by Google searches and can remain online for an indefinite period of time. One of our relatives contacted my daughter about some family photos, three years after she posted the inquiry requesting the photos in her blog.

You may also need to decide where you want your blog to reside. Many bloggers use Google's free Blogger program for hosting and posting a blog because it is relatively simple and free. If you are more technically minded, you might like, a free specialized programming environment for creating and hosting blogs. You can create a blog using simple menus from both Blogger and WordPress. But has capabilities that go well beyond the simple or menu driven selections. You can also rent space on an Internet file server such as or and create your own website. Most people who do not have the programming skills or who do not want to spend the time to create their own website, can do so, using the blogging programs.

Here is a Genealogy Gems video that gives and excellent introduction to blogging:

At the heart of the participation in the blogging world is the motivation to share information. Without this driving force, blogging can become a burden rather than a opportunity.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Off to St. George, Utah for the Family History Expo

The next few days will find me in snowy St. George, Utah. Both St. George and Mesa, Arizona had some unexpected cold and icy weather. Mesa had a huge hail storm that left drifts of ice that looked like snow. But St. George had actual snow. Fortunately, the weather is supposed to revert back to its sunny condition for both localities.

I will be presenting the Keynote address at the Family History Expo and I am looking forward to presently classes and meeting a lot of new people. I hope to see you there. Make a point of coming up and talking to me if you get a chance.

Speculations on RootsTech 2013

I am wondering if RootsTech 2013 will be used by genealogy software developers, including to make some major or perhaps incremental announcements? for one, is overdue for changes to the Family Tree program. The "Release Notes" online date back to 15 November 2012 and the Reference Manual has had no update since 3 January 2013.

The one big change that hasn't been addressed at all by the other software developers is their direct support of the Family Tree program. Some of the existing software, such as Ancestral Quest, presently refer to the connection with as a "Family Tree" connection although the connection is really making changes to The real issue is the continued connection between and the newer Family Tree program. There are still a huge number of people using that have not noticed the announcements and postings on the program about Family Tree. With yet no official announcement from FamilySearch mandating a change over to Family Tree, many people are still using out of inertia and desire to avoid change.

FamilySearch may also take the opportunity of RootsTech 2013 to announce its FamilySearch Photos program that has been in Beta test for some time. There have been a number of recent incremental changes to the program, but it looks to me that it is not quite ready for a big time announcement. I also wonder if FamilySearch has the potential storage capacity and bandwidth available for a major increase in storing photos?

All these are speculations. I also wonder about Since its sale to a European investment group, there haven't been any substantial announcements or changes to the program. This is especially true of's purchase of That websites has yet to show any branding and I am guessing the two sites may continue to be operated as separate entities. Unfortunately, there also hasn't been a dramatic increase in the utility of the search engine. In searching for an ancestor is both easy to find and has records in a variety of databases, I find that gives only 10 suggested records out of thousands online and of those all but two are false positives. The same search on gives over a thousand records but unfortunately with about the same level of false positives. This occurs even when I put in a specific birth date. For example, I search for my Great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner, and put in his birth date of 1852 in California and get hundreds of responses for records after 1900 for Henry Tanner Moekler. When I change the search to look for Henry Martin Tanner in Arizona, I get Martin Henry Tanner in Utah. This happens even though has found more than a dozen historical records for Henry Martin Tanner from my family tree. Oh well.

Maybe, both and could get together and improve their search capabilities.

I assume that other genealogy companies will use RootsTech 2013 as a venue for making some kind of announcement, so I am prepared to feature those in blogs from the scene.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Genealogy and Identity Theft

Genealogy will always be involved in the issue of identity theft as long as banks and other institutions stupidly keep using family relationship information for their security questions. Since I have multiple family trees online, how naive is it to use my mother's maiden name as a security question? Most of the other security type questions used by financial institutions and others, involve the same sort of simple to find types of information, such as the first school you attended. But there is still a real issue for individuals as to whether or not the so-called Identity Theft is something that needs to be feared to the point where some people refuse to download software or buy items online?

It has been some considerable time since I last wrote about this issue, but it keeps coming up again and again every time I teach a class about blogging, or using Google, or sharing family trees online or any other related subject. News stories with devastating examples of "Identity Theft" make people, especially older people less experienced with computers, paranoid that someone is going to steal their bank account if they sign up for email.

The first rule to observe in any kind of threat news is to see who is saying that there is a problem. It is interesting that nearly all of the online information about the so-called "Identity Theft" comes from companies who are trying to sell some sort of security program. You get the same type of scare tactics from home security systems, insurance salesmen, and many other sales types. So is there a real identity theft problem?

The main challenge of coming to grips with the world of identity theft is that there is no clear definition of exactly what they are all talking about. From all the news stories and even genealogy blogger posts, you would think that everyone knew exactly what they were talking about. But if you go to the U.S. government statistics, you will soon find that the definition used in government reporting includes, at
least, three broad areas. Here is the definition from the Bureau of Justice Statistics:
For the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the definition of identity theft includes three general types of incidents:
  • unauthorized use or attempted use of existing credit cards
  • unauthorized use or attempted use of other existing accounts, such as checking accounts
  • misuse of personal information to obtain new accounts or loans, or to commit other crimes.
Reports examining identity theft victimization at the person level uses data from an identity theft supplment to the NCVS. The supplement collects data from all NCVS respondent age 16 or older about experiences with identity theft. Reports examining identity theft victimization at the household level, use data from the core NCVS, in which the head of the household reports on the experiences with identity theft of all household members age 12 or older.
The last definition concerning the misuse of personal information is the one most worrisome to individuals, especially older individuals. But any statistics showing millions of victims a year quoted by security companies, conveniently or intentionally omits any distinction. Notice that the definition of identity theft includes "attempted use of existing credit cards." This means any time anyone tries to use a credit card improperly, this is reported as identity theft. Including this type of vague activity as the basis for reporting criminal activity renders the whole category of identity theft entirely meaningless.

Next, if you go to the Bureau of Justice Statistics website, you will immediately see that the incidence of identity theft is based entirely on the National Crime Victimization Survey. In other words, the numbers are not based on criminal arrests or convictions but on asking people if they think they have been victimized. If you dig deep enough, you will find that losing your credit card makes you a victim of identity theft.

By the way, people don't want to listen to me tell them these facts. When I try to explain why there is an overblown fear of identity theft, I have no audience.

Here is a summary of the statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics:
Presents data on the nature of and trends in identity theft victimization among U.S. households from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). The NCVS defines identity theft as the misuse or attempted misuse of an existing credit card or another existing account or the misuse of personal information to open a new account or for other fraudulent purposes. Findings are based on experiences of all household members age 12 or older as reported by the head of household. The data brief examines changes in the percentage of households experiencing identity theft from 2005 to 2010. It describes differences in the types of identity theft experienced by households in 2010 compared to 2005, as well as changes in the demographic characteristics of victimized households. The brief also presents estimates on the monetary losses attributed to household victims of identity theft. 
  • In 2010, 7.0% of households in the United States, or about 8.6 million households, had at least one member age 12 or older who experienced one or more types of identity theft victimization.
  • Among households in which at least one member experienced one or more types of identity theft, 64.1% experienced the misuse or attempted misuse of an existing credit card account in 2010.
  • From 2005 to 2010, the percentage of all households with one or more type of identity theft that suffered no direct financial loss increased from 18.5% to 23.7%.
Look at these numbers carefully. Obviously, the Bureau of Justice does not distinguish between the misuse or the attempted misuse of a credit card. Also, note that this does not distinguish attempted use by family members. So, if your child tries to use your credit card, you are the victim of identity theft. Not if they succeed in using your credit card, but only if they try to use it.

Notice there is no mention of online or computers anywhere in this report. Also note that a percentage of the entire population of the United States for a whole year is always a large number. Note also that financial loss is falling not rising. Have you ever seen a news report stating that losses from identity theft are falling dramatically? Neither have I.

Now, don't misunderstand me. People should be worried about their credit cards. But when was the last time you went to a restaurant and gave your credit card to a server for payment. What did he or she do with the card? Do you know? If you want to get paranoid about identity theft, you need to be aware of where and when it is happening. It is not type of crime the news stories and those selling products would like you to believe.

OK so prove me wrong. Let's look at the United State Attorneys' Annual Statistical Report for 2010. Guess what, identity theft is not identified as a separate category. So where do you go to find out how many identity theft crimes were committed in the U.S? It turns out to be a slippery and difficult question to answer. I turn to the U.S. Census Bureau and their 2012 Statistical Abstract. The latest statistics are from 2009, almost four years ago. Guess what? Identity theft is not listed as a category in the general statistics. But there is a separate report for "Fraud and Identity Theft -- Consumer Complaints by State."

Look at this report. It is not based on criminal prosecutions, but on unverified reports from consumers. The latest year reported in 2010. The total number of identity theft reports in the U.S. for 2010 was 250,854 or 81.2 per 100,000 population. This compares to a violent crime rate of 429.4 per 100,000 population. Motor vehicle theft is at 258.8 per 100,000 of the population.

Why then is identity theft such a hugely touted concern in the U.S? That is a really good question. But look again at the definition of identity theft being used by the U.S. Government before you cite any statistics.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Moving or backing up your genealogy files -- Part Two

Another common mistake made by genealogists when backing up their files is to rely on the "Back Up" command in some of the more common database programs. Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is a prime example of this problem, though it is certainly not the only program out there with this type of problem. The problem occurs as a result of the "Back Up" command prominently appearing in the File Menu selections. People are told to "back up" their files and they automatically think that by choosing that menu option they are doing what is intended. The problem arises because the command usually creates a compressed copy of the data file and then stores that file in some default location on the computer's main hard drive. So I constantly see PAF backup files appearing in the same file folder with the copy of the un-compressed program file and all of the other files loaded by PAF.

If you backup a file to the original storage device, you do not have a backup, just another copy of the data file on the main hard disk of the computer. If the computer were to crash or hard drive fail, that so-called backup file would be lost along with the other files on the computer. A backup is not really a backup unless it resides on a storage device that is not the original computer. So, for example, you would need to tell the program to make the backup on an external hard drive, a CD or DVD, a flash drive or some online storage account.

The irony of this situation is that the programs, including PAF, provide a preferences selection to indicate to the program where you would like your backup to be made. As long as you have an external hard drive or some other similar device attached to your computer, you can choose to have backups go to the external hard drive.

Particularly with PAF, there is another problem. The so-called backup is a compressed file. Commonly, PAF, in the last versions released, used Windows Zip or WinZip to create this compressed file. Frequently, people come to me to try to recover their old PAF files from a floppy disk or other media and we find out that the file is really a backup. The problem of restoring a file from an old floppy disk is further compounded by trying to find a program that will un-zip or decompress the file. This becomes a bigger problem because I am usually trying to solve this issue at the Mesa FamilySearch Library where the computers are not loaded with utility programs. There will come a day when these old PAF files will not be able to be resurrected.

Now we are back to the original issue, moving files from folder to folder and from device to device. With today's graphic interfaces, it is common to just tell people to "drag the file icon from the original folder to a folder on the target device." Unfortunately, with the proliferation of programs and devices, such as tablet computers, these instructions are not really useful. For example, if I want to keep a copy of my database on my smartphone or tablet, I may have to go through a series of specific steps to transfer a file from my desktop computer to the selected device and these steps may be different for each type of program and/or device you are using.

The genesis of this issue as a problem lies in the inability of computer users to visualize the reality of their files and realize that moving a file is very similar to moving a physical object. You actually have to move the data from one device or folder to another. This can be done by copying the file using series of commands or by dragging an icon of the file onto another icon representing the external device or folder. How this process occurs depends on the operating system you are using. There is no simple solution, you have to learn how to perform this process on your computer, using your operating system and your genealogical files. You may have to have someone help you until you learn how the process is done.

The impact of not learning how to backup your files or more fundamentally, how to move them from folder to folder or from device to device can have very serious consequences. You may lose your data entered into the program entirely.

Here are a YouTube video on the subject:

You might also want to see The Senior's Guide to Computers.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Buying a camera -- some additional thoughts

Resolution is a bugaboo. Camera manufacturers tout their megapixels as if the higher megapixel count really gave you automatically better image quality. It reminds me of the car manufacturers and horsepower. The newest Bentley Continental GT Speed is advertised at 616 horsepower and supposedly can go 205 mph. So you are going to drive this car on an Arizona freeway? Exactly where are you going to go 205 mph? In fact, I am not aware, outside of race tracks, anywhere in the U.S. you can drive over 100 mph without picking up a few friends with flashing lights. Unfortunately, except for the flashing lights, the analogy with extreme pixel count is valid.

Let's face it. Human eyes have a visual limit. In clear language that means that no matter how many pixels or megapixels a camera sensor has, once the camera exceeds human visual acuity, the additional resolution is wasted. What you do get is physically larger and larger images at the theoretical limit of visual acuity. I could get very technical here, but basically, there is a limit to the ability of the human eye, any human eye, to resolve detail. For practical purposes, that resolution, in computer terms, is about 300 dpi or so.

Once a camera system reaches the theoretical resolution of the human eye, any additional resolution will simply allow the image to be enlarged. There are tables online that compare the megapixel setting to the size of the photographic print. So how do you get more resolution from your camera? To a great extent, as I wrote in a recent post, the quality of the image depends primarily on the quality of the lens. If you want really high quality photos, you need really high quality lenses. In this case, read more expensive. For example, both Canon and Nikon have three levels of lenses for their DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras; a consumer level, a prosumer level and a professional level. Guess which ones are the most expensive.

When you buy an inexpensive camera, you will get an inexpensive lens system. End of story. But wait, that isn't the end of the story. What has happened is that less expensive cameras have evolved with higher and higher quality. Today's cheap cameras have high resolution sensors and adequate lenses.

So what else is important to image quality. It turns out that there is one more simple factor: the physical size of the sensor irrespective of the number of pixels. Professional cameras have "full frame" sensors that are considerably larger than point-and-shot varieties. A full-frame sensor is roughly equivalent to the resolution of 35mm film. There are cameras with even larger sensors but they cost more than consumers want to pay. Rather than make one huge sensor, manufacturers have resorted to using multiple sensors to achieve really high resolution images. In essence, you take a series of high resolution images and combine them with computer software into one huge image. These photos are called gigapixel images.

What does all this mean to a genealogist who doesn't want to become a professional photographer? Not a whole lot. In the end, you go to a store that sells cameras, you pick them up and get one that feels right and then do some looking online for reviews and make you decision based on how much you want to pay. If I went into any store selling cameras, say Walmart or Best Buy, and simply purchased the first camera that caught my eye, I would get a reasonably good camera. But if I do my homework, I might be able to get a really good camera for the same price.

But once you get out of the consumer area of cameras, the prices are not flexible. There are no discounts to speak of and the equipment starts to cost real money. I suggest that before you spend more than $1000 on a camera, you just might want to make sure you know what you are doing. It doesn't do you any good to buy and expensive camera is you don't know how to use it or understand what makes it expensive.

Buying a Camera -- Nikon vs. Canon or whatever?

In northern Arizona, the dirt roads can be nearly impassible. There used to be a saying about the roads that went something like this; choose your ruts because you are going to be in them for a long time. The same thing can be said about choosing a camera system, choose your camera brand because you are going to be in it for a long time. There are a bewildering number of camera manufacturers. In most large industrial manufacturing business the trend is to consolidation and fewer brand choices. In cameras, the trend is exactly the opposite. The number of manufacturers and camera models seem to increase every year.

Lately, the move has been to add cameras to smartphones and tablet computers. In some cases, these add-ons are sophisticated camera systems but some may also be of inferior quality to a dedicated camera. There are always a number of reviews online concerning the quality of the images from any particular camera system. My suggestion is to do the research before you buy. Search on the name of the camera and the word "review" and you will undoubtedly find someone with an opinion.

Genealogist almost always see the need for some kind of camera if only to record family events and people. But with today's electronic digital cameras, the camera has also become a tool for recording and digitizing documents and artifacts rather than just snapshots. Depending on your individual interests, finances and inclinations, you may be interested in taking quality photographs or satisfied with whatever the camera you have records. The good news is that very inexpensive cameras can take very good photographs. But unlike spending a lot of money on cars and clothes, cameras are tools and there is a reason why the professionals use certain types of cameras rather than others and why you might end up spending money for a better quality camera and lens system.

I have written about purchasing a camera in the past, but times change and cameras are partially electronic devices so the vast changes in technology have affected cameras as well as every other aspect of the electronics industry. Hence, there is a need from time to time to review the state of technology and update recommendations.

There are certain features of all digital cameras that determine the quality of the final image produced. I will briefly discuss the factors determining the quality of digital image produced by cameras in general, with a perspective on the importance of each.

A camera is essentially a light-tight box with a way to allow limited amounts of light to access and record the images on a light-sensitive substance. In the most extreme example, you can take recognizable pictures using a cardboard box with a pin hole and a sheet of photographic film. See Wikipedia: Pinhole camera. The first addition to this simple system is adding some kind of lens. The lens gathers the light and focuses it on the light sensitive substance (film or digital sensor). So, if I were going to rank the photographic components in order of the their importance, the most important part of the system is the lens.

Historically, cameras came with one fixed lens. Whatever limitations were inherent in the lens were unable to be corrected. Today there are a multitude of specialized lenses and computer software that can correct most, if not all, of their limitations.

In currently available digital cameras, the lenses can be extremely inexpensive or an individual lens can cost many thousands of dollars. Cameras are generally divided into two different classes: fixed lens cameras and removable lens cameras. If you have a camera in your smartphone, you have a fixed lens camera. You have to use the lens supplied with the camera. You can put additional lenses in front of the fixed lens, but ultimately, the quality of any image you obtain is determined by the quality of the lens.

Removable lens cameras allow you to change the lens for different photographic conditions. More expensive and/or professional level cameras can have a whole system of lenses for special circumstances. I mention both Canon and Nikon in the title to this post because both of these companies have a huge selection of camera models with an additional huge selection of lenses for their more expensive models.

You may be perfectly satisfied with the quality of the images you obtain from a smartphone (Android or iOS) but if not, there are a multitude of choices at every possible price level. Moving up a notch are the point-and-shoot cameras that are really sophisticated computers. You can buy a high quality camera for less than $100. You may wish to do some research online to see why you might want a more expensive camera. Websites such as have consumer reviews of almost every possible product.

If you plan on doing some very complicated photography, such as digitizing glass negatives, you might have to invest in some fairly expensive cameral equipment and some specialized lenses. These high-end cameras can cost many thousands of dollars and the lenses can cost more than the camera, much more.

Before you make a decision, realize that if you are buying a high-end digital single lens reflex (DSLR) you will likely have to stay with the same camera system for a long time because of the investment you have in lenses.

A Day Made of Glass

We aren't that far away from this look into the future. Some of the concepts are way beyond the present economic and data infrastructures. I's not sure which country, if any, will actually have this kind of technology. But if you think you are challenged by technology watch parts 2 and 3 of this same video.

I don't want my car to greet me when I get in, I just want it to do what cars do.

New blogger for the TheAncestorFiles

From time to time I have made references to my daughter, Amy Thiriot's, blog, She is an extraordinary researcher and author and her blog is extremely valuable to our family. I like to use her blog as an example of exactly how effective a blog can be to develop genealogical contacts. This week, as a matter of fact, we made contact with a long lost 1st cousin solely because of articles Amy had written about this person's father.

For some time now, I have been trying to figure out how to put all of my photos and research online. I discussed the idea of starting a new blog and have even decided on a list of possible names. Graciously, Amy invited me to collaborate on her existing blog. After discussion, we have agreed to collaborate on the existing blog. So, I will be writing about my research and the vast number of photographs I have scanned over the years. I intend to focus on the more distant relatives. I hope to live up to Amy's high degree of scholarship and excellent writing.

I will be adding a more prominent link to TheAncestorFiles website in the immediate future from my present blog. Thanks to Amy and I hope I do not try her patience too much.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Moving or backing up your genealogy files -- Part One

One of the most persistent questions I get during classes or presentations involves the issue of backing up genealogy files or moving them from one device to another. This problem comes up in the context of acquiring a new genealogy program and in using a storage device, usually a flash drive (also known as thumb drive and several other names). The concept of moving a file from one device to another or even moving the file from one folder or storage location on the same computer turns out to be a rather difficult concept to understand, especially for new computer users.

The first step in understanding how to move a file involves understanding how files are stored on your own computer, tablet, iPad, or laptop. All of these devices have a physical mechanism, such as a flash memory drive or a mechanical hard drive for storing both the programs and the files you create with those programs. That is why, when you close the program and go back to it later, the information you entered into the program is still there.

Programs such as genealogical database programs (Personal Ancestral File, Ancestral Quest, Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic or Reunion on Apple computers and many others) all create a place on your computer where the information you enter is stored. When you start entering information, you have to create a "new file" and give that file a name. Unless you tell your computer program otherwise, that new file will be stored in some standard or default location on your computer's hard drive or other storage drive. Unfortunately, many people have no idea where the program is storing the information they enter. Even though this file is electronic it has an actual physical presence and is represented by some sort of icon (little picture) or file name on your computer. You have to realize that the file is really there in some physical location represented by the file name or icon.

Let's suppose that you are creating a file in Ancestral Quest, RootsMagic or Legacy Family Tree or Reunion. Each of these programs will place that new file in their default location chosen by the programmers or developers of the program. Unless you choose otherwise, every new file you create with your program (any program including word processing or drawing or whatever) will always be stored in the default location for that program.

The key here is that you can physically move these electronic files from one storage location to another on your computer or onto an external storage device. You can either move the original file or a make a copy of that original file and move or copy the copied file to a new location. Unfortunately, if you do not understand where your original file was located, you can also accidentally erase a file or move it to a location unrecognized by the program.

I have seen people with copies of literally dozens of individual data files on their computers or flash drives with no idea that they had that many copies and no idea which of all the files was the one they were working on. I highly recommend adding a date the file was first created, such as today's date 20130217, to all of your file names so that you can tell which file is the most recent.

On most computers and other devices, every file created on the device has a unique pathway showing where that file is located. On Windows devices, that pathway is usually shown in the extreme top of your computer screen when you open the file. It may look something like this:


If the file were created today. This tells you where the file is physically located on your hard drive or storage device. If you were to find this file on your computer on either an Apple or Windows computer, you would see either a file name or an icon representing the file. Navigating your way around a computer is not easy and you may need to get some help in the way of classes or mentoring. If what I have explained so far makes no sense to you, you are not alone. But if you don't understand how to find your original file, seek help.

It is absolutely crucial to either making a backup of your data file or moving it to another device to understand how and where this system of storing files on computers works.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Are there live people in the SSDI?

A recent blog post by The Ancestry Insider reported that "every month over a thousand living people are listed by Social Security as dead." He quoted a news article dated 8 February 2013 from "WFLA 8" in Tampa Florida and cited a YouTube video:

The question is whether or not the supposed statistic is correct. If it is true, more than 12,000 people a year would be incorrectly characterized a dead while still living. Unfortunately the video gives only two anecdotal incidents to support its allegation of the number of living people listed as dead. Since genealogist rely on the information in the SSDI or Social Security Death Index, this claim is of more than passing interest. So what are the facts?

A much earlier story appeared in on August 17, 2011 and claimed "Social Security wrongly declares 14,000 people dead each year." The article claims:
Of the approximately 2.8 million death reports the Social Security Administration receives per year, about 14,000 -- or one in every 200 deaths -- are incorrectly entered into its Death Master File, which contains the Social Security numbers, names, birth dates, death dates, zip codes and last-known residences of more than 87 million deceased Americans. That averages out to 38 life-altering mistakes a day.
Along with more anecdotal evidence, the article cites a "recent investigation" by the Inspector General as follows:
Of course, Brooks isn't the only living person to have been put in the Social Security graveyard. In a recent investigation, the Social Security Office of the Inspector General, which oversees the Social Security Administration, discovered that the Death Master File contained 36,657 death entries between May 2007 and April 2010 for people who were very much alive.
OK, so there is supposed to be some kind of report? Interestingly, another news article claims that the Social Security Administration failed to report over 1.2 million people who were dead and that the SSDI is missing those people. See "Social Security's Inspector General: Master death list missing 1.2 million."

An even earlier article appeared in the on 8 July 2011, entitled, "I'm not dead: Social Security agency makes grave mistake for thousands." So, apparently, the story is getting passed around the country by news services. Both written and video news has several articles on the subject.

Well, how about going to the Social Security Administration website and see what they have to say about the subject. Unfortunately none of the news outlets spreading this story reported the source. (Isn't there something in genealogy about lack of sources?) Or better yet, the Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration. Hmm. There doesn't appear to be much on the site about this issue, especially if it is such a big problem. As a matter of fact, it turns out that the hearing where this information was supposedly made public was held in conjunction with efforts to limit the use of SSDI information for genealogists! The hearing was supposedly held on 2 February 2012 but the news report of the same topic was dated more than a year before the hearing. See "Alice Brown: A Case of Mistaken Death" in the Palisadian-Post for 19 July 2012.

OK, so the reports of mistakes by the Social Security Administration and the efforts to limit the dissemination of the SSDI are related. Interesting. So let's look at the report of the hearing on the Social Security's Death Records for 2 February 2012. If you are at all interested in the Social Security Death Index, read this article. Here is the pertinent quote:
Our March 2011 report, Follow-up: Personally Identifiable Information Made Available to the Public via the Death Master File, examined whether SSA took corrective actions to address recommendations we made in a June 2008 report on the DMF. In the June 2008 report, we determined that, from January 2004 through April 2007, SSA’s publication of the DMF resulted in the potential exposure of PII for more than 20,000 living individuals erroneously listed as deceased on the DMF. In some cases, these individuals’ PII was still available for free viewing on the Internet—on ancestry sites like and—at the time of our report.
The report goes on to confirm that the Social Security Administration has a percentage of errors that hold as follows:
According to SSA, there are about 1,000 cases each month in which a living individual is mistakenly included in the DMF. SSA said that when the Agency becomes aware it has posted a death report in error, SSA moves quickly to correct the situation, and the Agency has not found evidence of past data misuse.
But this information apparently comes from the 2004 through 2007 report. So this issue is not new news.

So, although the information about the SSDI inaccuracy may be correct, it appears that this is not a current issue, but was brought up in the context of hearing on limited the availability of the SSDI to genealogists.

I could not find any current information as to whether or not the number of people reported dead that were actually alive was still about 1000 per month. I would suggest that this story, although with real world examples, has now taken on the dimensions of a myth.

From the standpoint of a genealogist, I am not using the SSDI to find people who are recently reported as dead for insurance or other reasons. If there are errors the above report indicates that the Social Security Administration corrects the problems. So, along with all other records, we learn that the SSDI may not be 100% reliable.

Quantity vs Quality

Is genealogy essentially a dogged pursuit of huge files and lists of people or is there a human side to genealogy that looks at the quality of the work? I talk to people all the time who have the attitude of "oh, I found that family in the Census, so now I can check them off and move on to the next family." They act as if their relatives were some kind of National Park Service Passport system where the idea was not to get to know any one place, but to "collect" ink pad stamps or stickers in a book to prove that you had been to all the National Parks.

Can you really compare the worth of two different family files by simply asking how many names there are in the files? What if your ancestors had only two or three children and my ancestors had twenty, does this make my file a lot "better" than yours because I have a huge number of relatives and you have a paltry few? Unfortunately, striving for numbers of people in a genealogy file is extremely common. Even though the number of names in any one file is completely meaningless.

I have spent most of my genealogical life struggling with huge numbers of names in almost any collection of family trees beginning with the Family History Library and the Patron File. My family was prolific in accumulating pedigrees and submitting family group records. But, as I learned very early on, they had neglected the quality of the work and further neglected to provide sources. Presently, the biggest obstacle for me to move backward one more generation is not a lack of information, but a huge accumulation of duplicate and contradictory information. FamilySearch Family Tree has become the benchmark for me because it contains most of the work I have personally submitted over the past thirty or so years and because it also contains most of the submitted family tree information accumulated by my relatives. I am at at a dead standstill in editing the Family Tree four generations back because of the duplicate information in the file and the lack of a way to merge the duplicates.

What do I mean by quality? Basically, sound research with conclusion supported by the Genealogical Proof Standard. Why do I think an arbitrary proof standard is necessary? Because a pedigree that lacks sources also lacks credibility. I am not advocating a dogged adherence to formality or any one criteria for citations, but I do think that there is a level at which genealogical work becomes self validated. I also realize that the Genealogical Proof Standard is mostly lost on the vast majority of the casual or less-than-fanatical genealogists.

To be fair, I need to admit that many of the incomplete and wrong entries floating around in our family came from me when I submitted my files to the Pedigree Resource File under the then enticement of backing up my file. But it is only lately that the scope of the problems with the earlier submissions became evident due to the availability of programs that linked to

The last thing I need is a smartwatch

My computer talks to me. No, I am not going any crazier than I already am. My computer literally talks to me. If I forget to turn the sound down on my computer, the Apple operating system will read error messages and system messages in very loud voice. I remember a Nisan car one of my friends owned that had a voice that told you if a door was left open. I thought that pretty annoying at the time and I am glad all my car does is beep at me if I have left the lights on or fail to fasten my seat belt. I can't imagine the annoyance of have a watch that talks to me.

Why is this even a question? Apple is rumored to be developing a "smartwatch" and of course, the first thing they talk about is having Siri, Apple's talking computer system, on your wrist. Not in this lifetime. First of all, Siri doesn't work for me. I have enough trouble trying to communicate with people, without having some half-wit computer operating system to argue with. I already spend an inordinately large amount of time just fussing with computer operating systems, programs that won't load, bugs in programs, crashing computers, and on and on and on, without adding another level of frustrating Dick Tracy kind of annoyance.

In addition, if they shrink the controls for the computer down to the point that they fit in a watch, I will not be able to see them or use my fat, clumsy fingers to push some virtual buttons on a screen I cannot see.

I am already saturated with computers; desktop, laptop and pocket-sized, as it is. I used to try to remember to carry my computer with me, now I consciously try to remember not to bring my computer or computers with me. It is time to define the limits of when and where computers are welcome in our lives, our culture and our society. How about computer free days? Days when we look at the trees outside and forget electronics for a time? I know, I am the last person to pine away for such an idyllic world, but, hey, I too can dream.

No, I will not be buying any more intrusive, annoying, frustrating, talking electronic miracles.   

Friday, February 15, 2013

Check out the public library

I would assume that genealogists are more prone than the general population to use their local public library. During my recent trip to Florida for presentations to four genealogical societies, I found that the Indian River Genealogical Society has a room for their society in the local county library. By the way, you can read about my presentation on their website. The library site is called JULIAN W. LOWENSTEIN ARCHIVE CENTER AND GENEALOGY DEPARTMENT. Quoting from their site:
In 1986, the small private library of Vero Beach was adopted by the Board of County Commissioners of Indian River County. The original collection of approximately 250 books was donated by IRGS. When the new library opened February 1, 1991, the genealogy collection of approximately 3000 books had a separate room with approximately 1000 square feet. Today, there is over 4000 square feet and over 40,000 titles, which includes the outside areas of the department where the microfilm and microfiche collections are located.
 If you check out your own library, you might just be surprised to find resources you didn't know existed. Vero Beach is the county seat of Indian River County on the East Coast of Florida, It has about 15,000 residents with many more winter visitors every year.

I was recently surprised to find out the extent of the genealogical resources in my own local Maricopa County Public Library. The Library has a special online eResource Center specifically for genealogy. You have to have a library card to use the service, but it has Library Edition for use in the library, Gale Genealogy Connect, Heritage Quest and ProQuest Obituaries.

The Gale Genealogy Connect site has hundreds of digitized genealogy reference books free through the library. Heritage Quest has more and ProQuest Obituaries lists obituaries going back to 1868 in selected newspapers.

Many local libraries have special collections of local and family history resources. You will never know unless you search the catalog or ask at the library.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Valentine to All

I am not big on holidays, to the chagrin of my wife and children, but I do like the Piano Guys and all their videos, so this is my Valentine to my family and to all of you. If you haven't heard the Piano Guys before, take some time to watch so of their other videos and more than likely you will become a fan.

Fables and endless genealogies: the Family Group Records Collection

When I first started to seriously compile my genealogy, because of my research background, I automatically began what is commonly called the survey stage. I went to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and began looking for what had already been done by members of my family. I discovered the rows and rows of binders containing seemingly endless copies of Family Group Records submitted by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from about 1942 through the 1980s. I cannot tell you how many hours and hours of time I spent finding the connections with my family and photocopying the Family Group Records. I ended up with about a two foot stack of copies.

Unless you experienced it like I did, you cannot believe all the false starts and endless linked genealogies I examined and rejected. This is the original online family tree before such a concept was even dreamed about.

Over the next few years, I researched and tried to verify this huge mountain of information. This process took me years. Now, ironically, most of that huge collection is online but available only to members of the Church. The record collection is called Family Group Records Collection, Archives Section (FamilySearch Historical Records) and contains 5,337,178 images.

For the last few years I have been telling people about the inclusion of these records in the form of the Ancestral File in and now in FamilySearch Family Tree. For an extensive discussion of these records see the FamilySearch Research Wiki article Family Group Records Collection.

Here is a description of most of the records from the Research Wiki:
Three million family group records were submitted to the Patrons Section between 1926-1979. The purpose was to share genealogical information and identify others working on the same lines. Each collection has some names that cannot be found in other filmings. The family group records often included a brief list of the sources used to compile the record. Sometimes the sources specify old film numbers or book numbers used by the Family History Library. Some records also included biographical histories for the family members listed on the form. In many instances several records have been submitted for the same family unit. Comparison of these records will sometimes reveal discrepancies. The collection binders have been removed from circulation so these records are available only on microfilm.
 Where I was able to verify the records or trusted the sources and/or the person submitting the records, I used this information as the basis for my family file. Ultimately, I ingested all of the records I found into my current database, hence the title to this post.

I often say that the time I spent at the Family History Library could now be accomplished online in the matter of a few weeks instead of years. But from my perspective today, the real question is whether I would do it all over again? The answer to that question is very complex and is yes and no. Yes, I would still feel compelled to examine everything that had been done before in my family, but now I would not be so eager to copy the records. Even when you have extensive family files handed to you by your ancestors, given the amount of information available today, the is a greater need to verify and provide sources than was ever done in the past.

I don't know if I am happy or not for another online infusion of fables.