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

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Is the Story of and DNA Untold?
This recent article from reviews some of the issues raised by the recent interest in genealogical DNA testing. It also reviews some of the history of  The article is quite long for a news story and contains some interesting information sprinkled with a few questionable and unsupported "facts." First of all, the issues raised by this article are far from new. I expect that very few genealogists are aware of the dark part genealogy has played in our collective history. Let's start with this:
Here is a quote from the beginning of this article.
The United States has an imperfect history. Some of our darker chapters include slavery, the decimation of Native American populations, and atrocities committed during our various wars. A quick survey will reveal that most Americans have learned about or at least heard of these events. However, ask the average person about the “ eugenics movement” and you are likely to get blank stares. We at Genetics Generation believe it is time to raise awareness of this tragic time in our country’s history.
As a side note, the publishers of this post seem to have no idea how to moderate the comments left on their post. But that is another issue I deal with almost every day.

One thing not emphasized in the short article about eugenics was that originally before genetic testing became available, this movement was based on genealogy. What is not noted in either article is the fact that some genealogists, mostly those with a legal background, have been the ones to raise the alarm. For example, here are links to posts by blogger Judy Russell entitled, "The price of sharing" and "The ethics of DNA testing."

Here is a short list of articles that relate to this topic. Can you tell which of these articles are based on substantiated facts and which include scare tactics and misrepresentation?
If you want an in-depth look at the history of DNA testing and the ethical and social issues involved that go way beyond the issue of privacy, here is a short list of books you might want to read.

Mayflower, James. Genealogy: DNA and the Family Tree, 2015.
Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Gene: An Intimate History, 2017.
Ollhoff, Jim. DNA: Window to the Past. Edina, Minn.: ABDO Pub. Co., 2011.
Wailoo, Keith, Alondra Nelson, and Catherine Lee. Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2012.

If you need a good resource for information about genealogical DNA testing, I suggest the websites maintained by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy or

For the past few years, I have been reading and studying about the subject of DNA testing and genealogy and will continue to read and study more. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Search for the Cluster

I seldom hear references from the genealogical community to the concept of cluster research. There is a lot more written about research logs, citations, writing reports, and the mechanics of recording than what you find written about the actual process of researching records. I view all those issues as a "grade school" level of genealogy.  They are certainly things that you need to know and learn, but they don't produce information. They are like learning about the operation, function, and maintenance of an automobile, but never learning how to drive.

Anyway, since real research is seldom taught in the United States at the grade school or high school level, it is important that anyone getting involved in genealogy realize that there is a lot more to learn about the subject than the mechanics of processing information. You have to find it first.

There is a superficial resemblance between scientific research and historical research. But the difference between scientific and historical research is so fundamental as to make them entirely different pursuits. Unfortunately, the terminology used in referring to both is the same. Unless we branch out into archeology, historical research is basically the examination of the human written record. Overlaying this process of examining the written record is a significant amount of the personal interpretation and analysis that boils down to the opinion of the researcher.

One thing that all forms of "research" have in common is the need to determine whether or not someone else has already done the research you are planning to do. Since prestige in the scientific community is often based on the priority of a discovery, scientists quickly learn the need to do an exhaustive survey before beginning their research. Unfortunately, few genealogists feel compelled to survey what has and what has not been done and recorded previously. This subject reminds me of an experience I had one day while serving in the Brigham Young University Family History Library, I had a patron ask for assistance. She explained that she was in the last stages of certification from one of the two major certification organizations (which I will not specify) and she needed to know how to register for I do not make this stuff up.

Genealogical DNA testing is seen as a way to make genealogical research more scientific and in some cases, when supported by adequate historical research, it may well dramatically influence the conclusions we make from purely historical research. DNA tests may also correct inaccurately recorded history. But long before DNA became a hot topic in genealogy, tools already existed to provide assistance in increasing the accuracy of our genealogical conclusions. Those tools are referred to as locality and cluster research.

Let's suppose you obtain a DNA test and as a result, you get a list of people who share some percentage of your DNA gene segments. We would have to further assume that many of your relatives had the same DNA test. Let's further assume that all of these relatives have their family tree online on the same website that sponsored the DNA tests. Does this begin to sound familiar? It should if you have been following the genealogy news. The CEO of, Gilad Japhet, has been speaking about this possibility for some time now. What you would likely see with an integration of DNA testing, historical research, and plotting together on a pedigree-like relationship chart, would be a cluster of people around you. If that chart also incorporated geographical and other information, you would begin to see patterns.

Cluster research, joined with locality research can produce similar results. As expressed by the Wikipedia article on Cluster genealogy:
Cluster genealogy is a research technique employed by genealogists to learn more about an ancestor by examining records left by the ancestor's cluster. A person's cluster consists of the extended family, friends, neighbors, and other associates such as business partners. Researching the lives of an ancestor's cluster leads to a more complete and more accurate picture of the ancestor's life.
I would disagree with the article's definition in that cluster research is not a technique, it is a fundamental part of the research process. Presently, depending on the time depth, DNA testing may or may not help in this process.

Locality research is simply the process of adding geographic information to your cluster research. Granted, cluster and locality research are more involved and more time consuming than searching for names and dates, but they are really the only valid way to extend research beyond the simple search for names. Interestingly, many of the commonly used records are adjuncts to cluster research. For example, a census record is not just a list of names with some added information, it is also a snapshot of a neighborhood and a community. For example, I can go through the Census record of a small town and find a whole "cluster" of related people. The records available from and about those extra people may shed light on information that is missing about my own ancestors.

The article above from Wikipedia cites a good example of cluster research. Here is the citation.

Lenzen, Connie. "Proving a Maternal Line: The Case of Frances B. Whitney". Originally published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 82, no. 1 (March 1994): 17–31.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The GDPR and Genealogy
If you have signed in or registered for a number of different websites and online services, you have probably received a number of email notifications about the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR. What is going on?

If you buy, sell or rent any service or goods in the United States or elsewhere, you probably have provided personal information to the provider in some form or another. For example, if you have a credit card, you filled out a signed application form to obtain the credit card. If you then used the credit card to buy goods or services, the number on the card was used to transfer money from you to the provider. As we all engage in these ever increasingly complicated transactions, especially now as many of these transactions take place online through the internet, we each accumulate a significant online information presence.

This online information is also gathered by websites that use your personal information for other purposes. For example, if you make a purchase on or any other online retail or wholesale sales website, detailed information about your purchase is recorded and used to target you with advertising. In addition, in recent times there have been numerous spectacular data breaches where information about individuals and companies has been accessed by illegal means.

In an attempt to control the flow of data about individuals, labeled "natural persons," the EU GDPR was created and became actively enforced on 23 May 2018. The Regulation applies to any entity doing business or storing information about "natural persons" living in the EU. Here is a short summary of the Regulation from Wikipedia: General Data Protection Regulation.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) 2016/679 is a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area(EEA). It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU and EEA. The GDPR aims primarily to give control to citizens and residents over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU.[1] 
Superseding the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC, the regulation contains provisions and requirements pertaining to the processing of personally identifiable information of data subjects inside the European Union, and applies to all enterprises, regardless of location, that are doing business with the European Economic Area. Business processes that handle personal data must be built with data protection by design and by default, meaning that personal data must be stored using pseudonymisation or full anonymisation, and use the highest-possible privacy settings by default, so that the data is not available publicly without explicit consent, and cannot be used to identify a subject without additional information stored separately. No personal data may be processed unless it is done under a lawful basis specified by the regulation, or if the data controller or processor has received explicit, opt-in consent from the data's owner. The data owner has the right to revoke this permission at any time.
I have included all the links and footnotes. From my perspective, given the data breaches constantly being reported in the media, it is strange that the United States Congress has not passed a similar law protecting personal information online. Those companies that had to scramble (over two years) to come into compliance because they are doing business in the EU, should have had these types of protections all along.

By the way, dead people are not included in this Regulation, so unless you are commercially storing or using personal information about living people, you probably will not be affected by this Regulation. That said, the Regulation is complicated, very detailed, long, and subject to all sorts of interpretation. It also imposes some huge fines for noncompliance. The Regulation also has some less restrictive requirements for businesses of less than 250 employees.

If you think you might fall under the provisions of the Regulation, I suggest you read the entire text including its 173 Recitals. You may also want to find a competent international attorney to help you interpret and make the proper adjustments to your business as required by the Regulation.  European Union's General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR

Sunday, May 27, 2018

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

Handling and Storing Old Photographs

Photography has a very short history. The first photographic process, the daguerreotype, was developed in about 1838. Old photographs are also more subject to changes over time and mishandling. Some of the old photos I have inherited over the years are in terrible condition. The worst have suffered water damage after being glued down to black paper album pages and are covered in mold. Even if the photos are stored properly and not piled in old shoeboxes, the images are subject to chemical changes and especially color photos and slides will fade over time. Digitizing these old photographs has the highest priority. Here is an example of a photo taken in the mid-1960s with poor film.

This is a 35mm slide and the color shift is due to degradation of the film not to a poor exposure. In some of these cases, you can correct the color shift using Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, but in other cases, the color is lost. In this case, you might be better off changing the photo to a black and white (grayscale) image.

Unlike paper documents, photographic documents need to be handled and stored with extreme care. There is only so much you can do both practically and ethically to restore an image. Turning to the Library of Congress, Preservation Directive, Care, Handling, and Storage of Photographs, here are the latest suggestions:
Taking care when handling any collection item is one of the more effective, cost-efficient, and easily achieved preservation measures. 
Take proper care when handling photographic materials by:
  • Having clean hands and wearing non-scratching, microfiber or nitrile gloves; having a clean work area
  • Keeping food and drink away
  • Not marking photographs, even on the back side
  • Not using paper clips or other fasteners to mark or organize prints
  • Not using rubber bands, self-adhesive tape, and/or glue on photographic materials
You might notice that, with photographs, there is a suggestion to use gloves when handling the photos. With slides, it is important to handle them only by the paper mounts. With other photos, absent gloves, you should handle them by the edges and avoid touching the surface of the photo.

Storage is another matter. I have saved several substantial collections of photographs from destruction by simply being willing to "store" them. Over the years, I have scanned tens of thousands of photos. These images are available to be uploaded to online family history websites, such as the Memories website. Probably the majority of the photos I have now are of living people and sharing those online or sending digital copies to relatives is another way to make sure the images are preserved. Here is a screenshot of some of the photos in the Memories section that have been uploaded by me and others in my family.

Most of these are photos I would never have seen without this photo sharing option.

Storage of photos is a real issue. Historically, people pasted them down in albums. Later, there were a number of mounting options such as photo corners and others. One thing that becomes very important is to identify the people in the photos if at all possible. As time passes, the identity of the people becomes more and more of an issue.

Here are some storage suggestions from the Library of Congress.
Good storage is arguably the most important preservation measure for photographic prints and negatives:
  • A relatively dry* (30-40% relative humidity), cool** (room temperature or below), clean, and stable environment (avoid attics, basements, and other locations with high risk of leaks and environmental extremes)
  • Minimal exposure to all kinds of light; no exposure to direct or intense light; use duplicate slides in light projectors
  • Distance from radiators and vents
  • Minimal exposure to industrial (particularly sulfur-containing) atmospheric pollutants
  • Protective enclosures within a box
 **** Relative humidity is the single most important factor in preserving most photographic prints.
** For contemporary color photographs and for film negatives, however, temperature is the controlling factor affecting stability. Storage at low temperatures (40°F or below) is recommended. Appropriate enclosures for cold storage are available from various vendors. 
*** Suitable protective enclosures for photographic prints and negatives are made of plastic or paper that meet certain specifications:
  • Paper enclosures must be acid-free, lignin-free, and are available in both alkaline buffered (pH 8.5) and unbuffered (neutral, pH 7) stock. Storage materials must pass the ANSI Photographic Activity Test (PAT) which is noted in supplier's catalogs. Buffered paper enclosures are recommended for brittle prints that have been mounted onto poor quality secondary supports and for deteriorated film-base negatives. Buffered enclosures are not recommended for contemporary color materials. Paper enclosures minimize unnecessary light exposure; are porous; easy to label with pencil; and are relatively inexpensive.
  • Suitable plastic enclosures are made of uncoated polyester film, uncoated cellulose triacetate, polyethylene, and polypropylene. Note: Photographic emulsions may stick to the slick plastic surfaces of these storage materials at high relative humidity (RH). Plastic enclosures must not be used for glass plate, nitrate, or acetate-based negatives. 
Prints of historic value should be matted with acid-free rag or museum board for protection. Adhesives should not touch the print. Matting should be done by an experienced framer or under the direction of a conservator. 
Store all prints and negatives (whether matted or in paper or plastic enclosures) in acid-free boxes. If possible, keep negatives separate from print materials. Store color transparencies/slides in acid-free cardstock boxes or metal boxes with a baked-on enamel finish or in polypropylene slide pages. For more information about storage of negatives, see Motion Picture Film. 
Protect cased photographs (e.g., daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes) in acid-free paper envelopes and store flat; keep loose tintypes in polyester sleeves, or, if flaking is present, in paper enclosures. 
Storage of family photographs in albums is often desirable and many commercially available albums use archival-quality materials. Avoid albums with colored pages and "magnetic" or "no stick" albums.
As you can see, it is highly likely that the photo collections you will find in your research will not be preserved. In every case, as quickly as possible, digital images should be made of every photo. I also recommend making a digital image of complete album pages before digitizing individual images. This helps to preserve any relationships that might be discovered by looking at the arrangement of the photos.

Next, I will take on some suggestions for digitization.

See the previous posts in this series here:

Part Five:
Part Four:
Part Three:
Part Two:
Part One:

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Ethics of Photo Restoration

Photographers have been manipulating photos since photography was invented. For example, this photo of a fountain in downtown Washington, D.C. had some distracting elements. The people and the sign in the background pulled your eyes away from the swirling water and of course, the small and barely visible duck. Most of the attempts at photo manipulation in the past when the photographer or editor had to work with negatives and prints were painfully obvious. But improvements in technology have made them almost seamless.

I decided to take out the people and the sign. Here is the resultant photo.

I would classify this change as a "quick and dirty" edit of the original. But if you look more closely, more has changed than just the editing of the people and sign. Look at the contrast and the colors. If I were going to do a complete edit of the photo, I would have also removed the flagpole on the right side. I might also have removed the light fixtures on the building. If something is missing from a photo, how can you tell?

Years ago, there was a commonly used phrase that said, "photos don't lie." But today, with digital images, almost any photo is suspect. I could have put people into this photo as easily as it was, using Adobe Photoshop, to take them out.

When we modify an old photograph to "repair" the damage of age or to "mend" the scratches we are changing history. A photograph is a historical artifact and should be conserved but not changed. Since I took the photo and I am not trying to represent that it is accurate in any way, am I justified in altering the original for my own purposes? I am not representing that the edited photo is in any way "reality." I am can change the photo any way I want to. I would suggest that in today's world, virtually 100% of all the published photos you see have been manipulated in Photoshop or a similar program.

Does this view of "artistic license" extend to historical photos? I think not. But changing and editing photos is so common as to be ubiquitous. Here is an example of a page from the Memories section showing photos of George Jarvis and his wife. How many of these photos have been manipulated in some way?

What about this photo?

This photo has the notation that it was taken in 1911. Would it help you to evaluate the historical value of this photo to know that color film in sheets for cameras was first introduced in about 1938? You can see from the previous screenshot that this photo was originally in black and white. Where did the color come from? It was painted onto the image. You may like this color photo better than the black and white but is it historically accurate?

When I discuss this issue with those who are preserving photos of their ancestors, they often do not care at all whether or not the photo has been changed. They merely want a photo that looks good. Are genealogists historians? Are we entitled to rewrite our own history just as I can edit my own photos?

These are real issues but seldom discussed or emphasized by the usual genealogical discourse.

Friday, May 25, 2018

They Were Working on the Railroad: Looking at your Railroad Ancestors

A.J. Russell image of the celebration following the driving of the "Last Spike" at Promontory Summit, U.T., May 10, 1869. Because of temperance feelings, the liquor bottles held in the center of the picture were removed from some later prints.
While doing genealogical research, we often consider the "details" of our ancestors' lives to be supplemental to our search for names, dates, and places. I seldom see researchers list a person's occupation as an essential element of their vital personal information. However, many times a person's occupation will help to distinguish them from others with the same name. More importantly, occupations can provide additional records that may cast light on difficult research issues. One of these important occupations in the United States is whether or not your ancestors worked for a railroad. 

The first railroad in America was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, chartered in 1827. As a side note, we recently viewed the Charles Carroll House here in Annapolis, Maryland. In 1830, Charles Carroll was the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence and he laid the first stone when construction on the track began in Baltimore on July 4, 1828. See, "First U.S. Railway Chartered to Transport Freight and Passengers, February 28, 1827."

Many occupational records have survived but finding them can be a challenge. My own ancestors lived in Northern Arizona and worked for the railroad to provide cash for a large family. Their construction experience likely led to their later involvement in road construction and my uncles founded what became, at one time, one of the largest businesses in Arizona. However, if your ancestors worked for the railroad records of their employment could be in an archive or another historical repository such as a railroad museum. 

To start your research, you may wish to investigate exactly where your ancestors lived and whether or not they were near a rail line. Millions of Americans worked for the railroads and records of their employment are scattered from the U.S. National Archives to local libraries. Here is an example from the National Archives:
This article mentions several categories of records that could be used to find an elusive ancestor. There is even a Railroad Genealogical Society and a National Railway Historical Society. If you begin to search for railroad records online, you may be amazed at the number of sources of records. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Can You Prove Anything?

Proof is a complex subject. Some of the most popular programs on TV and the Internet involve "detectives" who investigate crimes, most usually murders of some sort, and "solve" the crime by gathering evidence. More recent such programs have a standard cast of characters who each have special, almost superhuman, characteristics. There also seems to be a need for a "forensics" lab character who is able to do magical things with technology. The bad people are always confronted with the proof of their evil deeds if they are not shot outright and killed.

This tradition of providing proof of wrongdoing goes back into the haze of prehistory. Interestingly, as I have written in past posts, genealogists have carried this conflict based idea of proof over into the world of historical research. Almost uniformly, genealogists are portrayed in their own writing as detectives who are discovering evidence and proving a relationship. Concomitantly, the words evidence, prove, proof, and other words usually associated with courts cases, criminal investigations, and other such activities have permeated genealogical research reports.

We do have another, not so common, use of the concept of proof in science and particularly mathematics.

By Norman Megill -, Public Domain,
Of course, as a practicing attorney in the United States court system for many years, I was intimately involved with the concept of proof on an almost daily basis. With the help of my staff, we gathered "evidence" for our client's claims or defense and the presented that evidence in court in an attempt to prove to the judge or jury that our client was correct and the other side was wrong. These were almost always adversarial proceedings where some other attorney or attorneys were opposing our clients' position.

How does all this apply to genealogy? In the past, in an attempt to validate genealogy as a "profession" some very influential lawyer/genealogists have given genealogy a patina of legal jargon. The idea of discovering historical documents and records, recording the information and noting the citations of where those records can be found has, in some instances, into a form of advocacy that involves proof. However, there are no genealogical judges or juries except those that are self-appointed by genealogical entities.

Yet, there are serious and ongoing disagreements between genealogical researchers. On the surface, genealogical research seems to have similarities to scientific, mathematical or legal investigations. We do examine the historical record and try to discover information about our ancestors. This activity has some of the characteristics of detective work and we even use some high-tech tools such as DNA testing. Can we prove our case for an ancestral relationship? Actually, there are more differences than there are similarities. If we can design a DNA test that includes enough individuals from the right lines, we may be able to increase the percentage possibility of a relationship, but unless we are dealing with 1st and 2nd generation relationships, even DNA testing has a measurable degree of uncertainty.

The basic answer to the question in the title of this post is both yes and no. You can believe something because of your own personal experience, but you cannot prove your experience to others unless they are willing to go through the same process you go through to achieve your own certain knowledge. When we are talking about history and historical records, we move into the area of opinion. The degree of believability of your conclusions and opinions is based entirely on the arguments you develop based on the historical records you can use to support your claims. Historical (i.e. genealogical) research is not amenable to the scientific method. I cannot give you a set of steps that you can use to be convinced that I am right in my conclusions. Although, I may be very persuasive and you may believe me. There is always a possibility that one more record will change my opinion.

Conviction or belief is not the same as proof. I may have a strong religious or philosophical belief or conviction in the truth of some fact. Which by the way, I do. But that does not extend to my conclusions derived from historical records. Because of my personal religious beliefs, I do happen to believe in Divine intervention and modern revelation, and as a genealogist, I may feel prompted to find a record or look for an individual, but ultimately, I have to find some historical record or document to support my conclusion of a relationship or depend on a structured and research supported DNA test. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that life continues after death. See "The Postmortal Spirit World." I personally believe that my deceased relatives, under special circumstances, could intervene in my genealogical research. But this is not the basis for claiming proof of any relationship. I must still do the work of connecting the families with historical research.

Whatever your philosophical or religious beliefs, as a genealogist we base our conclusions on historical documents and records. When we speak of proof, we are merely expressing our belief or opinion.

Monday, May 21, 2018

An Update on Photo Editing

The common practice of "restoring" old photographs has some practical, historical, and ethical considerations. Photo restoration companies use "before" and "after" pictures to show how much an old photo can be improved. Most of the time, when I talk to people about "restoring" a photo, I get little or no negative response. It is practically universal that people would like to see their photos restored. But there is more than one side to this issue.

If you look at the photo above, can you tell what the original photograph looked like? This photo is probably a print from a glass negative. It is possible that a better paper print exists somewhere that may have been made before the damage occurred to the negative. The apparent damage looks like it was present on the glass negative when the print was made. My best guess of the origin of the white spots is that they were from some type of sticky tape used when the glass plate was stored.

From an archival standpoint, it is extremely important to make sure this photo is reproduced or digitized in its present condition. Nothing at all should be done to enhance or modify the original. If you want to "enhance" or edit the photo, always make sure you are using a copy and not the "original." If I were to enhance this photo, there would be no doubt that my efforts would make the photo more pleasing. Ethically, once I make any changes or enhancements of any kind, no matter how minor, the photo is no longer an archival original. It then becomes an interpretation of the original.

Here is an example of what could be done to this photo. I am using Adobe Lightroom to make some minimal changes.

All I did was to increase the contrast which brings out some of the detail that was not visible in the original. There is a good argument that this type of enhancement should be "allowed" as part of the curation process. Here is another copy of the photo with some additional changes.

It would not be too much of an argument to suggest that the photo now looks better than the original. One of the main issues with old photos is the condition of the original. If the photograph was bad to begin with. i.e. out of focus or similar problem, it is not likely that Photoshop or Lightroom could fix the problems. But if the basic image is in focus and has moderately good contrast, the tools in the programs can make the photo look a lot better. But remember, the edited photo is not a substitute for the original.

Here is an example of more extreme editing. There is usually an incentive to make the people look better than they did in real life. If you look closely at the photo, you can see that the men's suits look like they are covered in lint. Maybe they actually were. But the inclination is to clean up the suits. After moving the photo over to Photoshop from Lightroom, here is a sample of some of the additional changes. Remember, the question is always what is enhancing the original and what is changing or improving on the original.

The more work I do on the photo, the "better" it looks. But at some point, the photo is no longer historically accurate and some of the work is mine rather than what was in the original photo. I could do a lot more work on this photo and then it would become my work and not much left of the original.

Most genealogists would not think twice about improving a photo, but it is extremely important to preserve the originals or as close to the originals as possible. Eventually, if changes continue to be made, the photo ceases to be accurate at all.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Where is the "Hidden or Deep Web?"
Sometimes the deep web or dark web is portrayed as something mysterious or even evil, but here is a definition from the Association of Internet Research Specialists about the hidden Internet that explains what and where it is.
When you hear or read about the hidden or deep web, it’s anything behind a paywall, something with a password, or dynamically generated content on the fly and didn’t have a permanent URL. These are the things you are not going to find with a traditional Google search. So, where can you look? Thankfully, there are deep web search engines available on the web.
Of course, there is a component of the Internet that is used for bad or illegal purposes, but a good analogy is that the Internet is like a huge city. You can find a lot of things that are helpful in a huge city, but there are likely dangerous places that you would be better off not visiting. How do you find what you want while avoiding the "bad" sections of town? The main way is to stay on clear and public areas rather than blindly "surfing" the web. If you look for evil things you will find them, so don't look.

For genealogists, one example of searching the deep web is looking for records in libraries and university special collections. Very few of these cataloged items will show up in a general Google search. The most obvious search engine for locating research materials in libraries around the world is As genealogists or family historians, we should be familiar with libraries and archives. But as I have seen recently here in Maryland while working at the Maryland State Archives digitizing records, the libraries and archives may still be working with their data a little bit back in the past. Here is a sight I saw during a recent visit to the Library of Congress.

I also see a huge card catalog every day at the Maryland State Archives. No Google search is going to help you find your records if they are still cataloged on a 3 x 5 card. When I write about all the records that are available online, there is always a caveat. There are many records that will not show up in a Google search and there are many others that are not yet discoverable by searching on the Internet.

What all this really boils down to is that research is open-ended. You really never get to the end of the possibilities. I have been searching for my Tanner ancestors in Rhode Island for years and yet I still haven't taken the time to go visit the libraries and archives in Rhode Island so I am undoubtedly missing something. Until I actually spend the time to visit those local libraries and archives, I will likely be missing something. But on the other hand, to make a cursory search of the Internet resources and think you have found everything online is delusional.

Now, I found that there is a book about my Tanner family and the only copy I know about is in a library in Florida. Is it worth the trip?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Resources for Reading Old Handwriting

The ability to decipher handwriting is an essential tool for the research genealogist and the further you research back in time, the more necessary the skill of reading the handwritten documents becomes.

There are two major challenges in reading old handwriting: the changes in the script and the penmanship of the writer. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to learn how to read old handwriting other than hard work and practice. However, there are some good resources to aid in your efforts. I would start with the help page from the Indexing Project. Here is a screenshot of part of the page.!/lang=undefined&title=Alphabet%20(Secretary%20Hand)
Here are the resources to the websites listed on the page. Most of these items are on the page linked above but some are links to other websites.
Books about old handwriting are also helpful. Here is a selection of books you might consider. I do not usually find these books in a local library but you can search for a library that might have the book on 

  • Barrett, John, and David Iredale. Discovering Old Handwriting. Princes Risborough: Shire, 2001.
  • Brook, G. L. An Introduction to Old English. Manchester [England: University Press, 1955.
  • Cope, Emma Elizabeth Thoyts. How to Decipher and Study Old Documents: Being a Guide to the Reading of Ancient Manuscripts. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1978.
  • Essex Record Office, and Hilda Elizabeth Poole Grieve. Examples of English Handwriting, 1150-1750, with Transcripts and Translations. Part I: From Essex Parish Records. Part II: From Other Essex Archives. Chelmsford? Essex Education Committee, 1954.
  • Gardner, David E, and Frank Smith. Old English Handwriting, Latin, Research Standards and Procedures. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966.
  • Hamilton, Charles. The Signature of America: A Fresh Look at Famous Handwriting. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.
  • Jaunay, Graham. Cracking the Code of Old Handwriting, 2016.
  • ———. How to Read Old Handwriting. Glandore, SA: Adelaide Proformat, 2006.
  • Kirkham, E. Kay. The Handwriting of American Records for a Period of 300 Years. Logan, Utah: Everton Publishers, 1973.
  • Leftwich, Ralph Winnington. Shakespeare’s Handwriting and Other Papers. Worthing: The Worthing Gazette Co., 1921.
  • McLaughlin, Eve. Reading Old Handwriting. Haddenham: Eve McLaughlin, 2007.
  • Murray, Sabina J. Deciphering Old Handwriting & Commonly Found Abbreviations. Place of publication not identified: publisher not identified, 1999.
  • National Archives (Great Britain). The National Archives Palaeography Tutorial: (how to Read Old Handwriting). Kew, Richmond, Surrey, UK: National Archives, 2003.
  • Sperry, Kip. Reading Early American Handwriting, 2008.
  • Thoyts, Emma Elizabeth. How to Read Old Documents. London: Phillimore, 1980.
  • Ward Lock Educational Co. The Old Fashioned Handwriting Book: The No-Nonsense Hand-Writing Book to Help You Practise a Writing Style. London: Ward Lock Educational, 1981.
I took a class from Kip Sperry at Brigham Young University and used his book as the text. It was a very good class and helped me get started with deciphering some really old, difficult handwriting. But sometimes you just have to study it out. I usually start by staring at the handwriting for a while and then come back to it the next day and keep staring and trying to see the letters until finally it starts to click and I can begin to see words and letters. It sometimes takes a week or more of this practice to make out what was written. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Genealogy is Basically Collaboration

The stereotypical idea of a genealogist is an older, sort of out-of-touch with reality, dowdy aunt or uncle that collects and relates stories and spends time gathering names and dates about your family. He or she is usually the person you want to avoid at a family gathering. As I have mentioned several times before, the demographic for this blog is usually an older person with a university degree and with no children at home. I suggest we start to move beyond the stereotype and realize that genealogy is dramatically changing. 

The main problem with the old model genealogist is that he or she worked alone. The new version of a genealogist is someone who is definitely part of a larger, online genealogical community and is collaborating with a network of others who are researching the same family lines. We no longer have to rely on the interest level of our close relatives, we can now reach out to people who share our interest and are willing to cooperate in researching shared family lines. 

What is strange about this "new" model is that the lone genealogist was only lone because of a lack of ability to network with others who shared the same interest. In the past, you could join a genealogical society, but it would be pure chance that anyone in your circle of genealogists was working on the same family lines you were working on. With today's online family trees, finding relatives is usually pretty simple. Deciding you want to talk to them and collaborate with them is still a challenge. 

I "grew up" in total isolation from anything that could be considered to be a genealogical community. My family was mostly allergic to genealogy. The mere mention of the word made most of them break out in hives. Today, I have a huge circle of people who are working on my ancestral lines and helping me to find sources and making progress with the "end-of-line" ancestors. 

For many years now, I have been immersed in collaborating with a number of people who share my interest and enthusiasm for research. Unfortunately, I still encounter a considerable number of genealogists who think that they own their genealogy and are afraid that others will steal their information. Some are so concerned about protecting their information that even when I am trying to help them, they are afraid to let me see their pedigree chart or look at the sources they have copied. 

The irony is that genealogy is about families. The isolation comes from failing to involve those around you even when they do not have your level of interest. It is true that some families are dysfunctional, but in many cases, it is possible to find those who share an interest in the photos, stories, and memorabilia but may not have an interest in the dates and places. 

You might think that the benefits of collaboration are so obvious that it would be natural for genealogists to freely share their information with family members. But my own experience leads me to believe that there are more people out there who are worried about protecting their data than is logical. One factor that I see that will break down this isolation is the movement to use DNA testing as a component of genealogical research. Once a person has "relatives" that they did not previously know and who are related by "blood" it makes the idea of genealogical research take on a new dimension. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Plagues, Wars, and Natural Disasters: Genealogical Research Hazards

It is not too uncommon for genealogists to encounter a situation where a family seems to vanish from the historical records. In many situations such as these, it is important to have a sense of history. Your ancestor or even his entire family may have been the victims of a plague, a war or a natural disaster. There are quite a number of timelines online, such as this one, that shows when the major plagues went through Europe. This one is from Wikipedia: Timeline of plague.
The problem for genealogists is that so many people may have died that there were no records made of the deaths. Today, we refer to international epidemics that cross country boundaries as pandemics. A little history might be worth a lot of worry and research. For example, if your Irish ancestor showed up in America between 1845 and 1849 they probably came because of the Irish Potato Famine. During this time period over a million people died in Ireland more than a million migrated to America. Tracing your Irish ancestors back to the homeland might be a major challenge. You can add to that problem the fact that in "the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish Catholics had been prohibited by the penal laws from purchasing or leasing land, from voting, from holding political office, from living in or within 5 miles (8 km) of a corporate town, from obtaining education, from entering a profession, and from doing many other things necessary for a person to succeed and prosper in society." See Wikipedia: Great Famine (Ireland).  My own Irish ancestors left Ireland just after the famine ended.
In addition to plagues, epidemics, and pandemics, wars can also result in the disappearance of an individual or a family. Once again, a little bit of historical research may disclose that your ancestors were living in a war zone and that their disappearance may be attributable to a war.

1816 is known as the Year Without a Summer. The severe climatic change was caused by the eruption of Tambora, a volcano in what is now Indonesia. Here is one account of what happened:
Severe frosts occurred every month; June 7th and 8th snow fell, and it was so cold that crops were cut down, even freezing the roots .... In the early Autumn when corn was in the milk it was so thoroughly frozen that it never ripened and was scarcely worth harvesting. Breadstuffs were scarce and prices high and the poorer class of people were often in straits for want of food. It must be remembered that the granaries of the great west had not then been opened to us by railroad communication, and people were obliged to rely upon their own resources or upon others in their immediate locality. See Atkins, William Giles. 1887. History of the town of Hawley, Franklin County, Massachusetts, from its first settlement in 1771 to 1887: with family records and biographical sketches. West Cummington, Mass: W.G. Atkins, Page 86.
 Gaining a historical perspective about your ancestors will pay off in your increased ability to find pertinent records and thereby increase the accuracy of your research. If a family or individual seems to disappear from the record, there is usually a reason and taking the time to do some background historical research make the disappearance resolvable. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Saga of Francis Cooke on the FamilySearch Family Tree

One of my ancestors is Francis Cooke who was a passenger on the Mayflower. He is what I call a revolving door ancestor. I am watching him on Family Tree and every week I get an update of the changes made to his entry. He currently has 57 sources listed and 50 Memories. There are few people who were born in the 1500s that are more completely documented than the Mayflower passengers. The General Society of Mayflower Descendants or Mayflower Society has an extensive set of books called the "Silver Books" documenting every one of the accepted Mayflower passengers. Every statement about every passenger has been evaluated and compared to original documents and records. There is very little controversy about any of the entries in those books. If any new information is discovered, it is carefully reviewed by the Society's genealogists and added to the books. It takes years to get an alternative theory accepted.

You would have to dedicate years of your life and perhaps thousands of dollars to even get to the point where you could begin to find any new information about any one of the Mayflower passengers.

That brings us to the situation that exists with Francis Cooke in the Family Tree. Every week someone has made changes to his entry and someone else has to go through the changes and reverse the unsupported information added.

There has been some talk at the FamilySearch about requiring a source before making any changes to the Family Tree. With entries such as Francis Cooke and other individuals who are extensively documented there is no question that sources have been added. I do get unsupported changes to my ancestors almost constantly, but in this case, these individuals need to be evaluated and either made Read Only or some other step taken to avoid the colossal waste of time that it takes to maintain these well-documented individuals.

Another possible solution has been suggested that someone from the family be appointed the official gatekeeper for some of these people. The gatekeeper or gatekeeper committee would be the only ones allowed to make changes to the individual.

Some mechanism needs to be put in place to stop these revolving doors. The integrity and credibility of the Family Tree is really what is at stake.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Medieval Genealogy Once Again Becomes a Concern

Oriel College CharterPublic Domain

The period of time from about 500 A.D. until approximately 1500 A.D. in Europe is variously called the Middle Ages or the Dark Ages. Printing was introduced into Europe by Johannes Gutenberg beginning in 1439 and by 1500 it is estimated that by 1500 printers had produced approximately 20 million volumes. Before that printing revolution occurred all of the documents had to be laboriously copied by hand.

Every so often, I run into questions about extending family lines back before about 1600 and this reminds me to write about doing genealogical research back into the dim past. Because of this, I have to return to a statement made by Robert C. Gunderson, Senior Royalty Research Specialist of the Church Genealogical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made in an article in the Church's Ensign magazine back in February of 1984. The article is entitled, "I've heard that some people have extended their ancestral lines back to Adam. Is this possible" If so, is it necessary for all of us to extend our pedigrees back to Adam?" The key statement made in that short article is as follows:
The simplest answer to both questions is No. Let me explain. In thirty-five years of genealogical research, I have yet to see a pedigree back to Adam that can be documented. By assignment, I have reviewed hundreds of pedigrees over the years. I have not found one where each connection on the pedigree can be justified by evidence from contemporary documents. In my opinion it is not even possible to verify historically a connected European pedigree earlier than the time of the Merovingian Kings (c. A.D.450–A.D. 752).
The full answer to the question would also have to take into account the preparation and background you would need to extend a valid pedigree back before approximately 1550 A.D. As I have pointed out in past posts, you would need to know Latin and a variety of other old European languages, you would have to have completely documented your ancestral line back to the starting point in the 1500s and you would have had to have spent years studying the history of Europe. Then and only then you could start to do some research. Oh, I almost forgot. You would have to learn how to read the handwriting.

So why are there so many ancestral lines extending into the Middle Ages in online family trees? The basic reason is ignorance. These lines have been copied out of generally available books of European Royalty. If you do think you have a line or two that goes back to European Royalty, then why aren't you rich and living in a castle? That is not a trivial question. But I always note that Royalty had children and some of us must be related.

By the way, if you really would like to get started with Medieval manuscripts, I found a rather extensive list, if not slightly out of date, of the major digital websites. It is entitled, "Medieval Manuscripts on the Web" and it is dated January 6, 2017, and it comes from Siân Echard at the Department of English of the University of British Columbia.

Gunderson in his article above mentions examining hundreds of pedigrees. I can say I have examined thousands of pedigrees and with very, very rare exceptions the documentation for all those pedigrees (including my own on several online family tree programs, essentially end with a lack of documentation in the 1700s with a few going back into the 1600s and even fewer going back into the late 1500s. Almost uniformly, these early pedigrees are copied from a variety of lists and sources without the benefit of any original research.

Where is the largest list of European Royalty and Nobility? It is on the website in the Genealogies section.

From my experience, most genealogists are stopped in the early 1800s or possibly the late 1700s with a "brick wall" at that point. In most cases, these lines all end with a lack of any substantial documentation and a jump to an ancestor with the same surname and no documented connection.

Believe me, you can spend your entire life doing research in the 1700s and 1800s.

Saving Memories Forever Website Closing May 31st, 2018

It is always sad to see a member of the greater genealogical community have to stop working. In a  message from the developers and operators of the website, the developers explained that the information on the website is not lost, but must be downloaded to your local computer. Here is a screenshot of the website. By the way, they were winners of the RootsTech 2014 Developer's Challenge.

If you need help or have any questions, use the Contact Us link on the website to ask for help. The link is at the bottom of the startup page of the website.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

My Experience in Social Networking

One of the most interesting things about my social networking experience is the fact that of all my activities, I am most endorsed by the community for Social Media over any other activity. I recently tabulated by social networking views from those programs that provide statistics and in the last month, I have had over 85,000 views plus whatever from Facebook and other venues that don't supply analytics. In a busy month, I can have well over 100,000 views. This blog has had more than 136,000 views in one month. However, numbers do not tell much at all about how social networking fits into my life. These numbers do not count all the other posts on,, and other websites.

As I have written in the past, blogging is undergoing some major changes and genealogy blogging is part of the changes that are occurring. But that is another topic for another time.

Of course, I have to mention the over 100 webinars and presentations on mainly for the Brigham Young University Family History Library. That could be considered to be social networking also. The Brigham Young University Family History Library has over 6,621 subscribers and presently over 430,000 views. My most watched webinar now has over 33,000 views.

As an additional note, with this post, I will have published 10,610 blog posts from my three main blogs, not counting all the other writing for FamilySearch and other entities. This kind of reminds me of an analogy of the infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of typewriters. It would seem that I might have said something significant even if what I write is randomly generated.

I realize that those numbers are tiny compared to others in the social networking world, but the impact of talking to people and meeting with people who share a common interest with me has changed my life dramatically over the years. When I moved to Annapolis, Maryland, I already had contact with people who I had never met personally but had written to and communicated with for years. As a side note, if I fail to write for a few days for whatever reason, I sometimes get inquiries as to the status of my health. That is a really nice part of writing so much.

How does social networking fit into my life? That is a good question. For me, social networking is a background that maintains a connection to a large "family" of acquaintances and friends. It is also one of the main ways I keep in contact with my real family of children and grandchildren. In a much greater sense, as I have written previously, writing online is like carrying on a conversation with the world. It still amazes me that I can sit at my computer and write from Mesa, Arizona or Provo, Utah or Annapolis, Maryland or any other location including countries like Canada and Costa Rica and maintain this ongoing conversation for more than 11 years. By the way, this is mostly a one-way conversation because I never seem to generate a lot of responses unless I write something really outrageous.

How much time do I spend on social networking? That is a hard question to answer because technically my blog writing is considered social networking and I do spend a significant amount of time writing. In a greater sense, all of my contributions to over 25 published books on genealogical research could also fit into the category of social networking. Fortunately, I can still type rather quickly and my computer programs correct most spelling and typographical errors although a few do creep in and as some would say, obviously. Actually, since I think about topics and wake up with ideas, I suppose my mind keeps working all night and all day.

Who do I think I am writing to, i.e. who do I think my audience is? Beats me. I really never think about an audience unless I am involved in a tirade on one subject or another and in that case, I am directly my writing to those who are least likely to read what I write. In fact, most of my writing is directed at people who will never read what I write. Hmm.

If you take a class or read a book about writing or becoming an author or writer, there is a lot of drivel about "finding your voice." Have I found my voice? It really isn't something I think about. I do know that most of my English teachers and my other teachers over the years would probably roll over in their graves if they found out how much I have written over the past years.

I have written a couple of novels and a lot of poetry, but none of that gets published. The real heart of all my writing is a passion for genealogy and family history. I literally live every day of my life with an endless multitude of ancestors looking over my shoulder. Sometimes, I like to pick on one or two particular ancestors, but overall, I think they are acting in concert or in committees or whatever and directing my life. I can only ignore them at my peril.

How long can this all go on? That is the question. I am getting old enough to realize that there is an end out there sooner or later. We will take that issue one day at a time.

Oh, what about the photography? That actually makes a few dollars a year. It is also a passion, but one in the background. I now carry a camera everywhere I go and so taking photos is just part of living and breathing. You would think that I didn't have much time for anything else, but I do have a lot of other interests and presently a full-time job digitizing records at the Maryland State Archives for and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Do I ever think about writing about something else? Yes, but I avoid politics.