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

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Missing #RootsTech 2018

I guess I have mixed feelings about missing #RootsTech 2018. I love the opportunity I have to digitize important records in Maryland State Archives, but I also miss the friends and acquaintances I will not see this year. I hope those of you have the opportunity to attend this fabulous Conference have a wonderful time.

The Indexing Challenge

Indexes and catalogs are finding devices used to provide entry points into large information sources such as libraries and online databases. By virtue of the fact that genealogists use historical records, they come in contact with a variety of indexes and catalogs. Large online genealogical database companies, such as and others, use indexing to assist in computer-aided searches of their historical records. FamilySearch relies on a vast network of volunteers to provide indexes to its records. Other companies hire indexers from countries around the world. There seems to be a general consensus that indexing is a valuable asset to the genealogical research's tools.

But there are some major limitations to the process and product of an indexing effort. But before making any comments about the limitations, I need to emphasize that indexing is, in fact, a very valuable tool for any researcher, genealogical or otherwise. But by not knowing indexing's limitations, the researcher may be essentially shut out of valuable records.

To start, I need to briefly review the difference between a catalog and an index. Cataloging, as a tool used in libraries, has been around since antiquity. Catalogs increase their utility when there is a one to one relationship between the catalog entries and the position of the physical books and records on a library shelf. However, catalogs depend on the vagaries of the system used to catalog the entries. The catalog entries are subject-based and do not reflect necessarily reflect any specific information about any one book or record. As paper catalogs have been migrated to computers and included on the internet, the entries have been expanded to include listings by geographic location, record titles, authors, and keywords. An example of using a catalog entry is the FamilySearch Catalog.

Without knowing the title and/or the author of a specific book, record or document, it is difficult to find the item using just the catalog.

An index links the user to a specific entry in a book, document or record. Indexes have been used for a very long time as finding aids within books or other documents. But again, the items included in an index is a reflection of the choices made by the author, creator or indexer. Some books such as the Bible and other books and records have complete indexes called concordances. Exhaustive concordances contain a reference to almost every word in a particular document. A Bible Concordance can be almost as long as the Bible itself.

Computer technology gave indexers the ability to search every word of a document as long as the document was in a compatible format. Computer programs called optical character recognition programs (OCR) can recognize printed characters and translate them into "text files." A text file contains "plain text." This post is in plain text with some minimal formatting. The obvious limitation of OCR is that it is confined to text documents, i.e. documents that are typeset or typed in text. The frontier of computer programming for documents is handwriting recognition software which is still in the preliminary development stage.

For the time being, genealogists have to rely on human indexers for nearly all of their searchable documents. Now, let's get down to the issues. Since humans are fallible, indexes compiled by humans or using humanly designed programs will never be 100% accurate. In addition, most indexing schemes index only a specific selection of words in an entire document. You are out of luck in finding your ancestor in the document, if he or she was only mentioned in the parts that are not indexed.

Now, here is an example of a complete text search document from

Rather than index some of the entries, this book has been completely indexed, i.e. through OCR, every word is searchable.

Now, what is the challenge of Indexing? I am not referring to the difficulty in deciphering old handwriting or whatever, I am referring to the fact that so many researchers believe that they are "searching" for their ancestors' names in indexed documents when the names they are looking for have not been included in the indexing. As I mentioned, when a document is indexed, only certain fields are included in the index. If you ancestor shows up in an unindexed field, you will never know unless you do a comprehensive word by word search of the document.

Even if you search a record page by page, in a microfilm copy, for example, you can never be perfectly certain that you haven't missed something important. Careful researchers may end up searching the same records over and over to make sure they haven't missed anything. Full-text searches, such as the example, are part of the answer. Accurate handwriting recognition will help, but ultimately and for the foreseeable future, accurate and complete searches of most documents will still rely on careful page by page searching by researchers.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Car Reviews and Genealogy

I have been reading car reviews ever since I was a teenager. Now that I am much older, I detect a pervasive bias among all car reviewers and with all my genealogical experience, I see a very similar bias in the genealogical community.

Car reviewers always find something wrong with every car or truck they review. In addition, no matter how good the review, the reviewer always compares the car to a more expensive model. Ultimately, it appears to me, that all car reviewers compare every car to some ideal car that would cost a half a million dollars or more to buy if it existed at all. Sometimes, I feel like I may have adopted a car reviewer's attitude towards genealogy, but I do know a lot of people who definitely have.

The essence of these car reviews is that no car is "good enough." If it drives stiffly, it is said to drive like a truck. If the car drives too softly, it said to have less control, and etc. etc. Even cars costing into the hundreds of thousands of dollars have their failings according to the critics.

Genealogists follow this same pattern. If an effort by a novice genealogists produces anything less than perfection, it is always lacking in utility and could be improved by more sources, more effort and more time spent. Genealogy programs can always be improved and no effort is "good enough."

When I drive down the road, I seldom see a car costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and personally, I often make the observation that even if I had enough money to buy such a car, I would probably not buy one. Expensive cars, like some more extensive genealogical efforts, are "show pieces" and do not reflect the choices made by those of us who drive ten-year-old, very moderately priced vehicles or those of us who do genealogy in our spare time and do not even intend to write journal articles or claim to be professionals.

During my years as a trial attorney, I represented a large number clients in cases involving cars. Some of these involved disputes arising out of automobile accidents over the value of the damaged car, but quite a few involved the condition of the car itself. What I found is that the more expensive the car, the greater the battle over the car's condition. I also learned that spending more money did not necessarily mean you would get a "better" car. I would certainly not want to drive a very expensive car around Utah Valley or Washington, D.C.

In the old days, some genealogists loved to display their huge pile of family group records and pedigree charts, mostly accompanied by explanations about how they were related to royalty. This type of display was extremely counterproductive of engendering any interest in genealogical research. Likewise, scholarly articles on a particularly difficult genealogical mystery may impress others with the same interests, but these articles are very much like driving a Maserati in Utah Valley. It may impress some, but is so far removed from those of us who decide between GMC and Ford that we do not relate and likely never will.

I do think the world needs expensive cars. Just as I believe that genealogy needs a scholarly level of performance. But I do take exception with those who think that anything less than expensive cars and scholarly articles is not good enough are simply wrong. I have been characterized as a critic on many occasions. But I hope that I fall more into the realm of "good enough."

A few more words on this subject are necessary. If a car is shoddily constructed and dangerous to drive, it is not "good enough." Likewise, if genealogical research is only partially done and the results inaccurate or wrong, the work is not "good enough." I hope to follow the one quote I have from my Tanner grandfather and great-grandfather, "if something is worth doing, it is worth doing right." I drive a well-made, very useful and safe car. I hope to do very accurate, very useful and very well sourced genealogy.

From Whence and to Thither -- Understanding Migration Patterns: Part Eleven

By Unknown - (website), Public Domain,
Earlier, I left my Tanner ancestors in New York State. My direct line ancestor, John Tanner, was a prosperous businessman and landowner in Bolton. Following their conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they began to "gather to Zion" and moved successively from New York to Ohio, then to Missouri, back to Illinois and finally to the Salt Lake Valley in what would become the State of Utah. Their travels have been extensively documented due to their involvement in the Church and the good records kept in each of these areas. Most genealogists are not so fortunate.

What do you do with an ancestor who suddenly appears in the Midwest or West? In all instances, you focus on what you know before jumping to conclusions about what you do not know. Just as with immigration research, you research the place of arrival and look for information that leads you to the place of departure. In searching records, expand your research to possible motivations for the ancestor's movement. Some of those reasons might involve land availability, religious affiliation, and occupation.

As I wrote previously, the key to starting your research is to place your ancestor in the context of his or her community. Ask a lot of questions:
  • How did the family get to the place where they are found?
  • Do the settlers in the area have any common heritage? Language? Religion? Occupation?
  • Did the ancestor own land? If so, how did he or she acquire an interest in the land?
  • What were the common occupations in the area where your ancestor appears?
  • What was your ancestor's occupation?
  • Did your ancestor belong to the dominant religion or some other?
  • Can you identify any of your ancestors' neighbors?
  • Where did the neighbors come from?
These types of questions are research driven. Every time you find some additional information about your family, you need to start asking more questions. In my experience, many researchers stop asking questions and take the easy way out. They start focusing on names and try to guess where the ancestor came from and match a name to the ancestor. I have an almost constant stream of examples of this practice as I help people with their research. Most of these deal with issues involving immigration, but often, they involve tracing and ancestral line back to the original immigrant and therefore end up dealing with migration. 

Going back a bit, I have mentioned several times that migration to new areas of America was not driven by the settlers but was driven by land speculators and salesmen. People moved to most places away from the coast as a result of some type of land grant and the subsequent sale of farms or lots. The most prominent of these land schemes came from the United States federal land grants in the form of bounty land warrants or homesteads. The simple answer to the question of why your ancestor moved to a certain area could be free or low-cost land. If your ancestor arrived in a particular area during the time that land was opening up for development, then you should concentrate your research on land and property records. 

But what if your ancestors were poor and never owned any land? This is certainly a possibility. If they did not own land, then you focus on occupations or religious affiliation. For example, miners who came to this country from England and Wales often settled in mining communities. As new mines were developed, they moved to the new mining areas. For example, once the mines in California associated with the Gold Rush of 1849 began to give out, new mines opened in Arizona and the miners moved from California to Arizona. This movement is a migration pattern. 

My ancestors' movement across the United States would seem to be random without the religious connection. Why would someone leave a prosperous business in New York? How could his descendants have ended up settling in northern Arizona on the dry and windy Colorado Plateau? These are hard questions to answer without knowing religious motivation and background of these early settlers. By the way, their migration pattern was predetermined by one man: Brigham Young. 

The Mormons were not the only group that followed religious and cultural migration patterns. Many Scandinavian immigrants migrated to the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota because of the similarity of the climate to their homeland. But different motivations led many more Scandinavians to move into other areas of the country and, of course, there were Scandinavian Mormons and some of the small towns in Utah can trace their heritage back to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

At the bigging of the 20th Century, there was a huge movement of formerly enslaved people to the northern states. This movement is called the Great Migration. Here is a description from Wikipedia:
The Great Migration was the movement of 6 million African-Americans out of the rural Southern United States to the urban Northeast, Midwest, and West that occurred between 1916 and 1970. Until 1910, more than 90 percent of the African-American population lived in the American South. In 1900, only one-fifth of African-Americans living in the South were living in urban areas. By the end of the Great Migration, 53 percent of the African-American population remained in the South, while 40 percent lived in the North, and 7 percent in the West, and the African-American population had become highly urbanized. By 1960, of those African-Americans still living in the South, half now lived in urban areas, and by 1970, more than 80 percent of African-Americans nationwide lived in cities. In 1991, Nicholas Lemann wrote that the Great Migration:

"...was one of the largest and most rapid mass internal movements in history—perhaps the greatest not caused by the immediate threat of execution or starvation. In sheer numbers it outranks the migration of any other ethnic group—Italians or Irish or Jews or Poles—to [the United States]. For blacks, the migration meant leaving what had always been their economic and social base in America, and finding a new one."
The impact of this vast movement is something that cannot be ignored by genealogists and historians. Now, more than a hundred years after this movement began, the descendants of these people will necessarily have to track the movement of their ancestors from the southern farmland into the urban areas. Fortunately, records such as the U.S. Federal Census can assist this research. 

Migration is an integral part of history and genealogists will only become adequately competent when they acquire sufficient historical knowledge to place their ancestral families in the context of their place and time.
You can see the earlier posts in this series here:

Monday, February 26, 2018

Shoe Boxes of Old Letters, Photos and Papers -- Part One

Boxes of old photos, letters, and papers are a genealogist's treasure. Unfortunately, less enlightened individuals view them as junk. This series will address the curation and storage of all kinds of documents based on the most accepted archival standards. For each type of record discussed, I will give various options, These options reflect the realities of budgets, storage space and time.

It may be helpful to start with the fact that even under ideal conditions of temperature, humidity, and light, some documents and photos will deteriorate over time. The old 35mm slides that were popular for many years are a good example. Even if kept in optimal conditions, some of the film types will turn yellow, green, or other colors over time. Another example is high acid paper, such as that commonly used in newspapers. Even the slightest amount of light will turn the pages yellow and then dark brown. Keeping the newspapers in complete darkness is an option, but then who could read them? I working on document preservation at the Maryland State Archives, most of the documents have a darkened edge where the files were in even a low light. When I lived in Mesa, Arizona, a newspaper delivered to our driveway in the early morning would be yellow by noon. I could and will go on to write about water damage, mold, and many other calamities.

Considering all the bad things that can happen to documents, it is amazing how many of them have survived. Now, why don't we just digitize everything? I guess this is one of the reasons that my wife and I are working as preservation specialists in the Maryland State Archives and digitizing records all day. But digital copies are not the ultimate panacea. Digital files have to be maintained, migrated and backed-up to survive. Time takes its toll on everything. But for availability and access, digitization cannot be beat. I can post a digital image of a photograph online and it is immediately available to anyone who is interested in viewing it. But as long as the photo remains a paper printed photo, only one person can possess the image and anyone who wishes to see the image would need to know that the photo existed and have some physical access to it. You could argue that publishing the photo in a book would do the same thing, but the access would still be limited to those who could obtain a copy of the book or even knew of its existence. By putting a photo online on a family tree program such as or, millions of users and hopefully relatives would have the opportunity to learn about the photo a view it and even download their own copy if desired.

I must also start out this series with a few comments about paper vs. digital. Many genealogists are still in the mode of saving everything they discover in paper copies even copies of copies. Some of this fixation on paper is merely a conservative holdover, however, part of this entrenched paper use comes from a fear of impermanence of digital files. When challenged, some paper users will launch into a tirade about how digital files can be lost in a wink of an eye. By the way, so can paper records. The key to both is conservation and curation. From my standpoint, genealogists only succeed to the extent that they become curators of their ancestral heritage.

What do we do with the originals once they are digitized? The worst possible choice is to destroy them. We must keep them and preserve them as long as possible. This is not an either/or situation where we dump the paper or whatever as soon as it is digitized. Digitization is only one in a panoply of methods that we can call upon to preserve and organize.

What about shoe boxes? Archive quality containers for documents and photos are acid-free, lignin-free, and pH-neutral. I will discuss those qualities and others in future posts. But from the cheap, preserve it from being thrown away standpoint, there is nothing wrong with a sturdy cardboard box. I have written about the constant loss of old, genealogically important documents and photos. The most common scenario is that a genealogist dies and all of his or her papers, documents, photos etc. are thrown away by uncaring or unknowing family members, assuming there are any family members who care enough to throw things away. At this point, my old Brigham Young University Family History Library Video on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel is still pertinent. Here it is:

What will happen to your Genealogy when you Die

Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

New Turkish Government Genealogy Database


The Armenian Weekly reports the following:
On Feb. 9, reports surfaced that over four million Turkish citizens had attempted to access the online government system (known as “e-Devlet”) seeking access to their family tree. Regardless of whether the figure is accurate, it is clear that the high volume of traffic to the website at first slowed and ultimately forced the shutdown of the system, which had only recently been opened.

The reason for the extraordinary interest in these family tree reports was the claim that they contained much more information than previously available—information dating back as the early 1800s in some cases. In addition, this was the first time such information was so easily accessible online from anywhere in the world. The internet soon filled with stories of Turkish citizens learning of Armenian and other ancestry they had not known about previously.
Here is the translation of the above form from Google Translate:

If you are interested at all in Turkish genealogy, here is a possible solution to lack of citizenship and lack of knowledge of the Turkish and Armenian languages: With over 93 million members in every country of the world, by putting your family tree on the website, you will have the best chance of connecting with relatives in Turkey.

You can get my introduction to from the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel. See

Making the Most of MyHeritage com
 You might note that the Member Map is no longer available on the website

Saturday, February 24, 2018

From Whence and to Thither -- Understanding Migration Patterns: Part Ten

When you are involved in learning about your historical family, as opposed to researching more recent relatives, you will inevitably come to a time when each of your family lines traces back to a geographical movement. The United States is a nation of immigrants and there have been vast movements across the world that have brought our ancestors to this country. All of us can trace our ancestors back to some "ancestral home" where that particular family line originated.

One of the ultimate challenges of genealogical research is tracing any particular family line backward in time as we discover these movements. The concept of "migration patterns" helps to flesh out the bare bones of your research efforts so that the families can be recognized and identified. Some of us living in America can trace our ancestry here on the American continent back hundreds of years. A few of us can find records dating back into the 1500s if our ancestors spoke Spanish. Even very few Native Americans can trace their ancestry here in America back further than the 1800s. My earliest American ancestors date back into the 1600s and I have to admit that doing the research into these families is extremely challenging, primarily because of the immense amount of inaccurate information and pedigrees that have proliferated over the years.

As your research takes you back in time, you will inevitably encounter more and more difficulty in finding records of your family. With exception of French or Spanish ancestry, your efforts in pushing back into early history will either end up with an immigrant living somewhere on the east or west coast or appearing, as if by magic, somewhere in the interior. These dead ends or brick walls are difficult to accept. When confronted with these common situations, the remedy is expanding your research to the surrounding community. The end-of-line ancestor, if still in America, had to get here somehow and it is only through extensive historical research, including a focus on migration patterns, that will start to give clues about where the person came from.

When you reach an impasse, it is time to broaden your research. Begin by verifying all of your existing information. Make sure names, dates, and places match and are supported by the historical records. You do not want to start searching in the wrong place. If necessary, come forward in time to the more recent generations before doing your research. Make sure of what you know.

For early American settlers, always check the dates of the establishment of the town or village and the dates of the establishment of the counties. This is usually done quite simply by doing a Google search for the name of the town or county. If your ancestor was an early resident of either the county or the town, then you should always look for local history information. Look for a local museum or historical society and contact them about early settlements.

While researching back in time, do not forget to check newspapers, court records including probate records, land and property records, school, and church records. All these, plus many other kinds of records may be the key to finding where your ancestors were coming from when the settled down.

Once the United States began to grow, the paths that settlers took when moving west continued to proliferate. Finding these pathways involves reading both national histories and local histories. Always look to the major industry in any given area. If your ancestor was a minor, he probably moved to a mining area. If the family were all farmers, then look for farm country. Remember big migrations and events such as the Gold Rush, the American Civil War, and other such events. Your ancestors may have been affected by these events.

After all is said and done, keep looking.

You can see the earlier posts in this series here:

Jonathan's Story: The Family History Guide Video
The Family History Guide has uploaded a very touching and inspiring video for its booth presentations at #RootsTech 2018. I have been watching and helping all of my friends at The Family History Guide almost since its inception. As I travel across the country and especially as I now serve in the Washington D.C. North Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I continually find opportunities to introduce people to The Family History Guide.

The Family History Guide's participation in RootsTech 2018 will move the website into the forefront of the genealogical community. There aren't a lot of fundamental changes in the genealogical community, but having a structured and sequenced tool for learning about and teaching genealogy is a major development. If you attend RootsTech 2018, take time to visit The Family History Guide booth and learn more about this fabulous website.

Friday, February 23, 2018

From Whence and to Thither -- Understanding Migration Patterns: Part Nine

Coming from the west, especially if you have lived in the Rocky Mountain states, you will not be much impressed with the "mountains" in the east. but historically, the interior mountains along the eastern part of North America were an imposing and difficult barrier to westward expansion. As I previously mentioned, the first settlers to cross the Appalachian Mountains were entirely unknown until early in the 1700s. Because of this vast 1,300 mile long mountain range, early settlements moved north and south rather than west.

In 1746, a group of Virginia investors formed The Ohio Company, based on land speculation to promote the sale of lands in what is now the State of Ohio. However, a major deterrent to western colonization was the threat imposed by Native Americans and later by the French. The conflict, usually referred to as the French and Indian War, was part of the Seven Years War between Great Britain and France. The war came about, in major part, because of the conflict between the British land speculators and the French traders. The War lasted from 1756 to 1763. Before and during this long war, travel into the interior was dangerous. Quoting from the Wikipedia article on The Ohio Company:
In 1749, the British Crown granted the company 500,000 acres in the Ohio Valley between the Kanawha River and the Monongahela. The grant was in two parts: the first 200,000 acres were promised, and the following 300,000 acres were to be granted if the Ohio Company successfully settled one hundred families within seven years. Furthermore, the Ohio Company was required to construct a fort and provide a garrison to protect the settlement at their own expense. But the land grant was rent and tax free for ten years to facilitate settlement.
Looking to the north, settlement in the area of Canada was facilitated by the Great Lakes and their connection to the Atlantic Ocean along the St. Lawrence River. Likewise, the area west of the Appalachians was open by means of the Mississipi River system. The French settled Quebec in 1608 and New Orleans in 1718 and it is always helpful to remember these dates and the date of the Louisiana Purchase which did not occur until 1803 when the French had been in America for almost 200 years.

Another date to remember for migration is the traditional date of the beginning of the Revolutionary War in 1776. Those people who remained loyal to the British cause were called Tories, but this name was not very accurate because the Tory Party in Great Britain had been in existence since around 1678. The name was applied by the revolutionaries to the anyone who was loyal to the British Crown. By the end of the War, it is estimated that up to 70,000 of these Tories or Loyalists fled from the young United States to Great Britain or Canada. Additionally, southern Loyalists moved to Florida and some moved out into the Caribbean British possessions.

For more information see the following list of books:

Brøderbund. “Genealogical Records: Loyalists in the American Revolution.” Brøderbund, 1999.

Brown, Wallace. The Good Americans: The Loyalists in the American Revolution. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1969.

Callahan, North. Royal Raiders: The Tories of the American Revolution. Indianapolis [u.a.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963.

Halsey, Francis W. The Old New York Frontier: Its Wars with Indians and Tories, Its Missionary Schools, Pioneers, and Land Titles, 1614-1800. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1901.

Martin, Thomas S. True Whigs and Honest Tories: A Green Interpretation of the Coming of the American Revolution. 2, 2,. San Francisco: Internat. Scholars Publ., 1997.

Myers, Theodorus Bailey. The Tories, Or, Loyalists in America Being Slight Historical Tracings, from the Footprints of Sir John Johnson and His Contemporaries in the Revolution. Albany [N.Y.: Press of J. Munsell’s Sons, 1981.

Phelps, Richard H. A History of Newgate of Connecticut, at Simsbury, Now East Granby: Its Insurrections and Massacres, the Imprisonment of the Tories in the Revolution, and the Working of Its Mines : Also, Some Account of the State Prison, at Wethersfield. Salem, N.H.: Ayer Co., 1984.

You might also want to check out The Online Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies website.

After the Revolutionary War, immigration increased steadily and the pressure to move off of the coastal area and out into the wilderness. But the mountains still impeded settlement. As the area of the mountains was explored, passes or gaps through the Appalachian Mountains were discovered. Chief of these passages was the Cumberland Gap and the trail through the gap known as the Wilderness Road. The Cumberland Gap was utilized by another land speculation company called the Transylvania Company and in about 1774, the Company hired Daniel Boone to blaze a trail through the Cumberland Gap into what was called Kentucky. See Wilderness Road. Two other lesser known gaps were the Kane Gap and Moccasin Gap. There is now a Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

By focusing genealogical research on the movements of early American ancestors, a researcher can begin to correlate their movements with historic routes. It is also important to take into account the various land promotional or speculative organizations that were formed to sell land in the west.

You can see the earlier posts in this series here:

#RootsTech 2018 Survival Guide
Having attended every annual #RootsTech Conference since its beginning in 2011, I am sure I have a different perspective and expectations than those attending for the first time. My very first suggestion is to make sure you have good, comfortable walking shoes. I also suggest carrying some kind of easily managed bag or pack for things you might need during the day and for gathering the handouts and such from the Exhibitors. I would also urge all who attend to visit the Exhibits. You may not realize it, but much of the instruction that goes on at #RootsTech takes place in the Exhibit Hall.

Some of these suggestions and many others dealing with registration and check-in are in the above-linked Survival Guide.

A couple of other suggestions include the fact that there are comfortable sitting areas in the Exhibit Hall and the food vendors are quite good. Expect line. Wear warm clothes that can be layered to accommodate a range of possible temperatures. It is a good idea to have the bag or pack to store your coat and other extra clothing.

Salt Lake City is sometimes very cold and windy. Don't count on good weather. As I have pointed out in the past, Salt Lake City blocks are very long and there are eight blocks to a mile. The Salt Palace, where RootsTech is being held is roughly two blocks long and two blocks wide at the north end. Do the math.

Take the time to talk to those around you. You might make a few friends and get to know some fantastic genealogists. I am sorry I will not be there, but I am having too good a time serving as a Senior Missionary in the Maryland State Archives to feel too sorry about missing RootsTech this go around.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

How to Read and Understand a Product Review

Most of us are familiar with the five-star product review feature made into an institution by and other websites. Produce reviews have become a staple of almost any online purchase, so much so, that we sometimes look at the reviews before buying an item off the shelf in a store. It is also common to compare the price of an item in a store with the price online. I went shopping with one of my grownup children the other day in a brick and mortar store and every item he was interested in was instantly compared to the price online.

When reading a product review, even as genealogists, there are some important things to remember. Here are some of my thoughts as a consumer, a genealogist and an attorney with many years of experience. The suggestions are in no particular order.

Suggestion #1:
Making a decision to purchase a product, whether it be a genealogy program or online service, or some other product, should be made independent of either reviews or recommendations. In other words, you should decide what you need and what you purchase. For example, let's suppose you attend a class and the instructor recommends a particular program or service unless that service or program is entirely free, you should make up your own mind whether you will ever use the product of service. I have looked at and purchased hundreds of programs over the years. I mostly use the same kinds of programs all of the time. Right now, I probably have about a hundred programs on my computer. I use less than ten percent of them 95% of the time. I have a few programs that are useful when I need them and worth having for that reason alone, but I would guess that over the years, of all the programs I have purchased and installed, I have never really used. Some programs have a "free" version and using the free version might be enough to make a decision as to whether or not to purchase the full program.

Suggestion #2:
Always look for a product review. I have pretty much become review dependent. I don't look for reviews on day-to-day purchases, but anything out of the ordinary groceries and such, I look for a review. You can usually find a review by doing a Google search for the product plus the word "review," But once you find a review, you need to think about my next suggestions.

Suggestion #3:
This is probably the most difficult step in the purchase process: finding an independent reviewer who isn't employed by or related to the product's seller. I always discount reviews on a product website. For example, if I am going to buy a computer program, I do not give any weight to the reviews about how wonderful the program is that are prominently featured on the product website.  Some "review" websites are really only thinly veiled promotional websites. This includes most "top ten" of anything websites. As you probably know, there are a lot of websites (formerly magazines) that make money selling their reviews. The fact that a review costs money does not automatically disqualify it as a reliable review, but a paid review is not necessarily reliable.

Suggestion #4:
There will almost always be a few bad reviews. There is always the situation that everyone seems to love the product but one person gives it a one-star review. I usually discount a few bad reviews unless what they are saying makes a lot of sense. Here is an example from for a popular genealogy program.

Here is an example of a negative review.
This program is not at all intuitive to use and I keep making multiple entries without knowing it. I had read lots of reviews before buying it (not just the ones here), and I'm really disappointed. The way the program operates seems ancient. I'm not at all happy that I spent what I did on it.
This is not a helpful review. Apparently, the person did not want to learn how to use the program after purchasing it. The review is not specific about the "multiple entries" and seems based on some preconceived notion about how the program should operate, i.e. "ancient."

This type of discussion could go on and on. There always seems to be someone who is unhappy with any product or service. In the case of the program above, I happen to have used the product for years and understand some of the frustrations but would disagree with almost every one of the bad reviews.

Suggestion #5:
Always look at the number of total reviews and the proportions of positive vs. negative reviews. If a product only has one review, it is possible that the person reviewing product was somehow related to the product's developer. If there are a substantial number of reviews for a product or service, you are more likely to get a feel for the relative benefit and value of the product. Here is another example of a genealogically related product.

With this many reviews, you should be taking the negative reviews seriously. But remember, if there was only one review, you would not know what category it fell into.

Suggestion #6:
Look at the competing product's reviews. This may not be as easily done as it is to suggest. In the genealogical community, there may not be a competing product.

Suggestion #7:
Look for alternatives. This doesn't mean that you look for competing products, this means you look for different solutions. For example, maybe you have concerns about using an online program for your genealogy. Maybe you should look at desktop-based programs. In other words, there are often alternatives to one type of program or service.

Suggestion #8:
Do the math. Be careful to avoid any add-on costs. For example, a program may be "free" but only for a limited version. How likely are you to want the upgrade? This is especially true of programs presented in a class or at a conference. The presenters are likely to demo the complete, i.e. paid for, version of the program and not the free version.

Suggestion #9:
Write a review yourself when you find a good or bad deal.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

1000 Programs on GenSoftReviews
Almost everyone who has an internet connection recognizes the "star system" of ranking programs and other merchandise. has been doing this for years with reviews generated by actual users of various genealogy programs. What is amazing is that the number of such programs has grown over the years and has now surpassed 1000.

This means that there have been over 1000 different genealogy programs developed. I must admit that I have not kept up with all of them. Time and old age take their toll. Actually, I am way too busy to try all the programs like I used to do. But with some notable exceptions, such as the strange case of programs that are highly rated but no longer supported or available from their developers, the rankings are quite accurate. Low ranked programs have some serious issues. Higher ranked programs have a lot fewer issues. Many programs have a dedicated fan base and some of these fan bases are like the people who are still looking for Elvis. They apparently expect really old programs to continue living long after they are officially dead. is more than another website. It is a real window into the history of genealogy software and the attitudes and opinions of thousands of genealogists around the world. If I were rating genealogy websites, I would give five stars and a place in the Genealogy Website Hall of Fame.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Genealogy and the Courts Continued: Copyright Chaos

This post isn't really series, but from time to time, I address any legal changes that may affect the genealogical community. Sometimes a random court decision about a case that seems to have no relevance to genealogical research or anything else becomes a deal changing blockbuster. The latest controversy involves a case from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The case citation is as follows:

Justin Goldman v. Breitbart News Network, LLC, Heavy, Inc., Time, Inc.,Yahoo, Inc., Vox Media, Inc., Gannett Company, Inc., Herald Media, Inc., Boston Globe Media Partners, Inc., and New England Sports Network, Inc., Case 1:17-cv-03144-KBF, S. District of New York, 2018.

Here is the court's own summary of the facts which includes a footnote.
On July 2, 2016, plaintiff Justin Goldman snapped a photograph of Tom Brady (the “Photo”), Danny Ainge, and others on the street in East Hampton. (ECF No. 149, Goldman Declaration (“Goldman Decl.”) ¶ 2.) Shortly thereafter, he uploaded the photograph to his Snapchat Story.1 (Id. ¶ 5.) The Photo then went “viral,” traveling through several levels of social media platforms—and finally onto Twitter, where it was uploaded by several users, including Cassidy Hubbarth (@cassidyhubbarth), Bobby Manning (@RealBobManning), Rob H (@rch111), and Travis Singleton (@SneakerReporter). (Id. ¶ 6–10; ECF No. 120, Defendants’ Statement of Undisputed Facts Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 (“Defs.’ 56.1 Statement”) ¶ 28.) These uploads onto Twitter are referred to as “Tweets.”

1 Snapchat is a social media platform where users share photographs and messages; a Snapchat story is a series of photos a user posts—each photo is available for twenty-four hours only.

Defendants in this case are online news outlets and blogs who published articles featuring the Photo. Each of defendants’ websites prominently featured the Photo by “embedding” the Tweet into articles they wrote over the course of the next forty-eight hours; the articles were all focused on the issue of whether the Boston Celtics would successfully recruit basketball player Kevin Durant, and if Tom Brady would help to seal the deal.

It is undisputed that plaintiff holds the copyright to the Photo.
The key to understanding this controversy is that the photo was undeniably subject to a claim of copyright and then used by commercially oriented websites without a license or even the courtesy of attribution.

The court goes on to examine the process of "embedding" a photo in an HTML document. To make this part of the case as simple as possible, the photo at the beginning of this post is "embedded." All that means is that it is used in the context of this post and copied here by reference to another copy of the same photograph. By the way, the photo above is in the Public Domain and not subject to copyright claims.

Apparently, the defense raised was that no actual "photo" was copied and that the "original" was never used. This is a pretty lame defense from my perspective. I would probably have claimed that the "viral" photo had passed into the public domain by virtue of the fact that the "author," here the photographer failed to take steps to protect his copyright from use by millions of people. He could have watermarked his photo with a claim of ownership, for example.

This case has implications for anyone who copies a copyrighted photo because, at least in this early phase of the litigation, the court did not discuss the issue of abandonment.

The discussion by the Judge is a good summary of the status of U.S. Copyright law as it relates to technology such as the internet. However, many of the statements quoted by the Court demonstrate the lack of sophistication of the various judges who are quoted.

It should also be noted that this lawsuit is far from over. The order referenced above is only a decision on part of the case and the final decision or judgment of the court is still a long way off. After the decision is made, the parties could always appeal to the Court of Appeals and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court.

If this case is finally decided on the basis of the reasoning set forth by the Court, it will become a landmark decision and a very good reminder to all of us to be extremely careful when copying and using content from the internet.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Personal Blogging is still Fading Slowly Away

I noticed an article in the news stream that indicated that Facebook's traffic is down 50 million hours per day. See "Facebook's traffic is down 50 million hours per day as Zuckerberg demands fewer 'viral videos'." There aren't equally as clear statistics for blogging because the trend is that blogs are becoming almost exclusively marketing vehicles. A not-so-recent article entitled, "52 Incredible Blogging Statistics to Inspire You to Blog" makes the statement, "Over the past five years blogging has evolved into a serious online marketing activity." Yes, my blogs are becoming an endangered species.

Of course, you are more than welcome to buy any of the books I have authored or coauthored. You are also welcome to use or purchase any of the programs I mention. But I do not view my blog as a marketing activity. I still present at conferences when I am available. But this year, I am only scheduled, so far, at two very local events. I would be at #RootsTech 2018 this year, were I not volunteering at the Maryland State Archives and working every day at digitizing records so all of you out there will have records to search.

The reality of blogging is that rather than disappearing, it has become the main news and marketing vehicle for what was previously the publishing and newspaper industry. I haven't read a paper newspaper for some time. Although, I did read the paper editions of the Universe, the student newspaper at Brigham Young University while we were there at the BYU Family History Library. I also read the paper edition of the Deseret News' National Edition, the local Salt Lake City, Utah newspaper. I read both because they were free and distributed at the entrance to the Library. I could read both online, however.

Facebook users, especially younger users, are migrating to Snapchat and Instagram. Bloggers have been migrating to Facebook for some time now and will probably follow the lead of the younger users to Instagram. Quite frankly, Facebook has simply become another junk mail outlet as have many of the blogs.

There are still some dedicated genealogy bloggers out there and a few new ones, but they are mostly drowning in a flood of commercial blogs, some of which post dozens of times a day. My blog aggregator,, and my news and blog aggregator,, can both have over a thousand posts listed in a little more than one day. In one sense, blogging is dying from success.

I am no longer actively promoting blogging as a genealogy activity. I do have occasion to talk to genealogical entrepreneurs from time to time, and I do suggest that they use the media to promote their activities and include blogs and Facebook posts, but now the field also includes Pinterest, Instagram, and other such outlets. Promoters or all kinds are also exploiting Twitter, YouTube, and Google+.

Of course, I post to all those outlets. However, my Instagram account is family oriented and not generally public.

Will I keep blogging? I was speculating about the amount of time I might have to blog here in Annapolis, but it turns out that I just work more and do some of the same things I did before coming here. My question was if I was going to work for for over 40 hours a week, what would I do with all my extra time. I guess I am finding out.

We have our five MyHeritage Party Winners

I would like to congratulate the winners of free passes to the Roaring Twenties party after #RootsTech 2018 which is quickly coming up. They are:
  • Bev Bremness
  • J Ray Scott
  • Dave & Manja Midgley
  • David Farstead
  • Linda Lenhard
Thanks to all those who submitted entries. Sorry again, that I won't be there to enjoy this great party. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

From Whence and to Thither -- Understanding Migration Patterns: Part Eight

Representation of Thomas Hooker's Settlement of Connecticut
This highly stylized image of early colonial travel and settlements is far from accurate, but it does give an idea of the obstacles facing early travel in the Colonial Era. When moving, the early settlers of America had to carry everything they needed to survive. The least realistic aspect of the above image is the lack of equipment and supplies carried by the people shown. There were no opportunities to seek out local food or shelter when they reached their destination. As roads and settlements increased the wilderness simply moved further west and north.

The main access to the interior of the American continent was by following the rivers upstream. It is no coincidence that most of the major cities in the United States are built along rivers. The most obvious access point is the vast Chesapeake Bay. Technically, the Bay is really an estuary. An estuary is a flooded river valley where the tides from the ocean meet a river stream. Here is a satellite view of the Chesapeake that shows its size.

Satellite (Landsat) picture of Chesapeake Bay (center) and Delaware Bay (upper right) - and Atlantic coast of the central-eastern United States.
Just north of the Chesapeake is the Delaware Bay, another estuary. Some of the cities along these to great waterways are Washington, D.C., Baltimore in Maryland, Dover in Delaware, Wilmington in Delaware, Philadelphia in Pennsylvania and ultimately upriver, Trenton in New Jersey. New York, did not have a huge estuary, but it did have the protected bay and the huge stretch of protected water on the north side of Long Island. Here is another satellite view showing the area around New York City.

New York STS058-081-038
This second satellite image also shows the impact of the Hudson River as a pathway into the interior of the country. The amount of goods and equipment that could be carried by boat far exceeded the capacity of wagons during all of the early history of America.

Accordingly, the migration patterns of American immigrants were governed by geographic reality: mountains and rivers. To begin to understand how your ancestors moved, you need to look to both the mountains and the rivers.

One of the basic motivations for movement from the Atlantic seaboard was the constant increase in population. One major motivating factor in moving to America was to obtain land ownership. Even though many immigrants came as enslaved people or indentured servants, those who came voluntarily were interested in land. Even among the well-known Mayflower passengers, some of the immigrants were not motivated by a desire to have religious freedom but were merchants and craftsmen. There were also some orphaned children and indentured servants. See Mayflower Compact.

It was over a hundred years after the first settlements along the Atlantic Coast before the interior began to be settled. As genealogists, before assuming that our early American ancestors were born in places like Kentucky or Tennesee, we need to be aware of the availability of transportation into these inland areas. One example is the Susquehanna River; the longest river on the East Coast. Here is a map of the Susquehanna River Basin.

By I, Karl Musser, created it - Own work: based on USGS data., CC BY-SA 2.5,
Primarily, because of the access to the interior afforded by the Susquehanna River, in combination with the Ohio River,  Pennsylvania was settled from east to west by about 1830. But to get an appreciation for the impact of migration routes, it is necessary to focus on the time each of the western states was first settled. Here is a partial list of what is considered the first European settlements for some of the states that do not have Atlantic sea coasts.
  • Vermont 1724
  • Ohio 1788
  • Kentucky 1774
  • Tennessee 1768
  • Arkansas 1686
Kentucky and Tennesee were first settled from Virginia. Vermont's first settlers came from Massachusetts. Ohio was settled because of the river systems as was Arkansas. It is important to understand how the pattern of settlement in each of these states continued after the first settlement.

The largest interior town in America, for many years, was Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The main road from Philadelphia to Lancaster was the Lancaster Turnpike. Here is a description from Wikipedia: Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike.
The Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike, first used in 1795, is the first long-distance paved road built in the United States, according to engineered plans and specifications. It links Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia at 34th Street, stretching for sixty-two miles. However, the western terminus was actually at the Susquehanna River in Columbia. The route is designated PA 462 from the western terminus to US 30, where that route takes over for the majority of the route. The US 30 designation ends at Girard Avenue in the Parkside neighborhood of Philadelphia, where State Route 3012 takes it from there to Belmont Avenue. At Belmont Avenue, State Route 3005 gets the designation from Belmont Avenue until the terminus at 34th Street.
Note that the road ran to the Susquehanna River. Genealogical research becomes more manageable as you begin to realize that your ancestors lived in the context of their own history and that movement in the earliest times was dramatically restricted from what it is today.

You can see the earlier posts in this series here:

Friday, February 16, 2018

Stories and Histories of Black Mormon Pioneers

My daughter and blogging partner, Amy Tanner Thiriot, in celebration of black history month made a standing room only presented a lecture at the Church History Museum’s series titled, "Evening at the Museum," on February 15, 2018. The above article appeared online on the LDS ChurchNews section of the Deseret News website. Quoting from the article:
Professor Paul Reeve, from the University of Utah, introduced Thiriot as a “thorough and meticulous researcher.” He quoted Thiriot’s own description of her work as having been prompted by “the little known black pioneers of the Utah territory” and said that “theirs are stories that have largely been forgotten, so researching their lives has been like a second emancipation; freeing these men and women from historical obscurity.” 
And while Thiriot’s research can be looked at as an exciting new turn that brings to light truths lost or hidden by history, the quiet and somber manner with which she told the histories of 19 different black pioneers who played various roles in settling the Utah territory created a memorial-like atmosphere during the presentation.
The article is quite long and was merely a summary of the research Amy has done in writing her upcoming book, "Slaves in Zion: African American Servitude in Utah Territory."  The article goes on to comment about the stories Amy told during her presentation:
These stories, and other detailed examples of documents and records uncovered by Thiriot, are just part of what makes her research groundbreaking for the black Mormon community.
Well done Amy. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Old Genealogists Never Die

If you were spending eight or more hours a day digitizing documents this might not be funny.

Win A Free Pass to the MyHeritage RootsTech After Party

MyHeritage has given me 5 complimentary tickets to their annual After-RootsTech party. Here is their description of the party:
Dust off your dancing shoes and fish out your fedoras!
MyHeritage invites you to travel back in time to the Jazz age — The Roaring Twenties — for our exclusive RootsTech After-Party 2018.
1920s costumes are welcome but optional. Don't worry, we'll have plenty of loot (pearls and rhinestones) to adorn yourselves with at the event.
Light food and drink will be served. All guests will receive tickets for the prize raffle.
The event will be held on Friday, March 2, 2018, from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM (MST) at Salt Lake Marriott Downtown at City Creek, 75 South West Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101

I tried to think of something simple to do. To win one of the 5 tickets, email me a screenshot of a Record Match from your family tree on The first five people to respond as shown by their email time and date stamp will win. Simple as that. Be sure to include your email address and I will send the first five people a link to register. If you don't get a response from me, you did not win. 

Here is a photo of the party from last year. 

Unfortunately, I will not be at RootsTech or the party this year because my wife and I are serving a mission for FamilySearch at the Maryland State Archives as Record Preservation Missionaries. We will be here for a year from last December. Here is another photo of the party last year. 

Oh, my email address is