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

Friday, June 29, 2018

Technology and Family History: A Perfect Match

James Tanner-Technology and Genealogy: A Perfect Match

Well, I am back doing webinars for the Brigham Young University Family History Library.  You can see my latest addition above. But the wonderful folks at the BYU FHL have been uploading videos all along while we have been digitizing records here in Annapolis, Maryland at the Maryland State Archive. If you want to read about our FamilySearch Mission, you can see my posts on my other blog, Rejoice, and be exceeding glad...

Check out all the new videos on the BYU FHL YouTube Channel. Here is a screenshot of the Channel page with a link to the Channel.
I have webinars planned for July and August and on into the Fall. Check the BYU FHL website for the schedules. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Reclaim The Records Challenges the New York Department of Health Over Priority
In a somewhat complicated lawsuit involving a claim by Reclaim the Records ( against the New York State Department of Health, there are allegations that the state agency gave preferential or fast treatment to a request by for public records to add to Ancestry's database, while at the same time failing to provide the same service to the non-profit Reclaim the Records organization.

The lawsuit seeks to obtain records from the New York State Department of Health concerning the transaction with The link in the caption of the screenshot above is to a copy of the full petition. Essentially, the request for records under the Freedom of Information Law filed by Reclaim the Records took more than a year to process while the request made by produced the records in about 3 months.

Initially, the New York State Department of Health also told Reclaim the Records that they would need to pay $152,000 to obtain copies of the New York State Death Index. Here is a link to a detailed account of what Reclaim the Records did to obtain the Index to New York State Deaths (Outside of New York City) 1880-1956

It will be interesting to see how the request was handled.

The issues raised by this legal action extend into the area of the monetization of public records whereby government agencies around the world try to make money from the information they have collected from individuals and families. I suggest you may wish to subscribe to Reclaim the Records' newsletter and support them in their efforts.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

FamilySearch Adds 135 Million Records from Denmark, Finland, and Sweden

If you have ancestors from one of these three Scandinavian countries, you can benefit from this huge new collection of records. Here is a quote from the announcement from
SALT LAKE CITY (26 June 2018), FamilySearch announced today the availability of its newest record collections—135.4 million free digital historical records from Denmark, Finland, and Sweden. These new collections were digitized in partnership with MyHeritage and the National Archives of Denmark and Finland and can now be accessed at FamilySearch
The freely searchable collections are comprised of church records, including birth, marriage, and death records, confirmations, moving-in and moving-out records; court; tax lists; examination books; and more. 
“The new collections will provide a better research experience,” said Whitney Peterson, FamilySearch International collections specialist. “Uniquely identifying ancestors from these countries can be difficult due to the frequency of common names [the use of patronymics]. Before now, our vital indexes have provided broad but incomplete coverage. These new, complete collections will make it easier to find and track your ancestors.”

Again, quoting from the announcement, the new records include the following:
  • 55.1 million new records added
  • Census records (1834-1930).
  • Church records (1686–1941; record images only)
  • Land records of Denmark—deeds and mortgages (record images only)
  • Probate records—Denmark estate records (1436–1964; record images only); Probate indexes (1674–1851).
  • Denmark civil marriages (1851–1961)
  • Denmark, Copenhagen civil marriages (1739–1964; indexed 1877–1964)
33.4 million new records added
Finland church census and preconfirmation books (1657–1915)
Tax lists of Suomi-Henkikirjara (1819–1915).
  • 46.9 million new records added
  • Sweden household examination books (1880–1920).
  • Church books (Kyrkoböcker) from Kopparberg (1604–1860), Örebro (until 1860), and Östergötland (1555–1911).

Read the entire announcement here:

Monday, June 25, 2018

Click Your Way to Genealogical Success - Part Six

Finding Accurate Information

When I was in the very early stages of doing genealogical research, about thirty years ago, I got most of my information from the huge collection of family group records housed in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. This was long before FamilySearch came into existence and over the years, my extended family had submitted family group records to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and these records were stored on shelves in big binders in the Library. By the way, many of these records are now available in digital copies online. Here is a screenshot of the Collection page on
Here is a screenshot of one of the records.

I ended up with a pile of photocopies about three feet high. These records were stored alphabetically and searching for records involved pulling the huge binders off of the shelves and paging through them looking for relatives. If I found one I was interested in, I had to pull the record out of the binder and take to a copy machine and make a copy. Copies cost 25 cents each. So I had rolls of quarters for copies. That stack of copies represented hundreds of dollars of copy costs.

If you look closely at this family group record (FGR) you will see that there is a small section that asks, "Where was information shown on this family record obtained?"

Could you identify the source of the information from this citation? I learned that this was one of two books and here are the current, more accurate, citations to these two books.

Tanner, George C. William Tanner of North Kingstown, Rhode Island, and His Descendants. Minneapolis, Minn.: Pub. by the author, 1905.

———. William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and His Descendants: In Four Parts. Faribault, Minn.: G.C. Tanner, 1910.

Essentially, the information on this FGR was copied from one of two books published in 1905 or 1910. If you did not know about the books, how would you know that this citation referred to the books? The reference to "B4 B14" is the Family History Library catalog number used at the time and no longer is in use.

More importantly, how would I or anyone else know whether or not the information on the FGR was accurate? How would even know if the person submitting the FGR had copied the information accurately from the book? The FGR did have the name of the person who submitted the record, but I found that most of these people were no longer alive or had moved and could not be located.

The challenge is that nearly all this information was incorporated into the Family Tree. Yes, nearly all this information without regard to the origin or accuracy of the information. In some cases, the incorporated information reinforces inaccurate or incomplete family traditions about ancestors and their identity. Some of the information can be verified but it may take extensive research to "correct" the inherited information. In addition, many of your relatives may have incorporated the inaccurate information in their personal files and may never have taken the time to verify what has been passed down from generation to generation.

The Family Tree is not the only online family tree program that has incorporated unverified and unsupported information. For example, I commonly find people in family trees that have no supporting sources or just one or two. This is the case even though the program provides record hints for all its users. The same situation exists in many of the other online family tree programs.

If you have inherited ancestral information or have "borrowed" information from someone's family tree online, you should be extremely careful in accepting anything that is not supported by a source with a citation to the place where the information can be viewed and verified.

You can read the previous posts in this series here:

Part Three:
Part Two:
Part One:

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Here Comes RootsTech 2019

I am certainly looking forward to attending RootsTech 2019 this next year. After missing the Conference in 2018, I am primed to get back to see what is going on while I have been out here in Maryland.

I understand that there were a number of "issues" with the 2018 Conference and I have seen that RootsTech 2019 has implemented some major changes. You can see the changes on this page.
I think you will like the changes and what is changing will probably make your experience a lot more enjoyable. Keep tuned for updates on the Conference.

Genealogy and History: How do they relate?

If we look at a bare entry in a family tree program the person represented would not be real in any sense. The listing of a date and a place fails to transmit any information at all. Viewed in this way, genealogy can hardly be considered to be history. It is more akin to compiling directories or making lists of items to purchase on a shopping trip. I have used this quote before, but it bears repeating.
“If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree. ” Crichton, Michael. 2013. Timeline: a novel. New York: Ballantine Books. P. 73. 
An online family tree program such as the Family Tree provides a way for contributors to add memories to an individual entry.  But the context of these "Memories" is often missing. Here is an example from the Family Tree that illustrates the issues I am writing about.

Although this screenshot indicates that Mary Kadwel has "four sources" there is no other information about this person in the Family Tree. She apparently lived in a town in Kent County, England called "Rolvenden." This is always a good place to start understanding who this person was and what kind of a life she lived.

Here is a short summary of Rolvenden from Wikipedia: Rolvenden.
Rolvenden is a village and civil parish in the Ashford District of Kent, England. The village is centred on the A28 Ashford to Hastings road, 5 miles (8.0 km) south-west of Tenterden
The settlement of Rolvenden Layne, south of Rolvenden, is also part of the parish and shares in its shops and amenities.
This doesn't tell us much about the town that could apply to the individual, but the Wikipedia article goes on to relate some historical background of the place. But some of the information in this history is tremendously interesting to this particular family line. This person happens to be my Sixth-great-grandmother and her descendants, down to my Great-great-grandmother lived and were christened in Rolvenden. They left England for Australia in 1849. The Rolvenden article states the following:
The population declined between 1830 and 1850, when many people left during and after the Swing Riots. This was caused by the public vestry system of Rolvenden parish making the conscious decision to provide the poor with a single payment for assisted passages to the colonies, as opposed to large ongoing payments for parish relief.
These ancestors were certainly poor agricultural workers. The reference to the "Swing Riots" and the payment for assisted passages impacts this family directly. My Great-great-grandmother, a direct descendant of Mary Kadwel, left England with her family and emigrated to Australia in 1849. This historical background not only adds to an understanding of Mary Kadwel but it also helps to explain the subsequent emigration to Australia of two of my ancestral lines.

If you happen to have English ancestors and any of them emigrated from England from around 1830 to the 1850 or later, you may wish to read the article linked above about the Swing Riots. This may help explain why and how your ancestors came to America or to went to Australia. In my case, we may find more information in the Poor House or Poor Records.

History is not just wars and kings, it is real people living in their own times.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

An Update on Organizing Your Genealogy

A couple of years ago, I did a couple of popular webinars for the Brigham Young University Family History Library called "Organizing Genealogy Files" and "What's in that Pile? Organization for the Disorganized Genealogist." Since that time, I have had a number of questions about organizing personal genealogy files. So, I thought I would be a good idea to revisit the topic.

I can summarize organization in a number of steps as follows:

  1. Choose one main family history database program to use as your primary organizational tool. This can be an online program such as the Family Tree or or or some other program or it can be a desktop program such as Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree, or Ancestral Quest. Use this primary program to enter all of your information about your family. 
  2. Digitize all of your documents, photos, slides, everything. You can buy an inexpensive, very usable flatbed scanner for less than $300. As you scan your documents, attach the scanned images as sources to all the individuals in your primary database program. 
  3. Organize your paper records by creating an accession system. You number the first document #1, the second document #2 and etc. Then the computerized database has a list of all the documents with a short title/description. This description could also be the formal citation to the document if you want to have that information available. The documents are then filed using either file folders or boxes. You can then easily find a document by its number and by searching the database. 
  4. Keep your research logs, notes, and timelines etc. online in a general purpose program such as Google Docs or another easily accessible program. You can also keep a copy of your database list of documents online in Google Drive or some other accessible program and have it available when you add new documents or need to find or refer to a document. 
  5. You can use a dedicated photo program such as Adobe Lightroom to organize the photos or you can just keep all of them in one huge folder and keep the record numbers and or dates as part of the title of photo/file. 
If you have a digital copy of the document or photo attached to your primary family history or genealogy database program, you will find that you do not need to refer to your overall list very often, if at all. 

If you think of this as an overwhelming task, then it will be an overwhelming task. But if you just start numbering or attaching and digitizing, you will soon see the results in being able to find most of the information you are really interested in finding. 

Please, please, always preserve the original documents. You can find a lot of information about document preservation from the Library of Congress Preservation Directorate. By the way, this system is essentially exactly the one used by many Archives. Sometimes their classifications and physical storage are more complicated, but essentially, they number the items and put them in storage boxes or on shelves and create a catalog of the documents showing location and ID number. 

If you like, you can color code, cross-reference, add comments or make scrapbooks or whatever, but none of that really adds anything to the storage method described. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Digital Public Library of America Launches Open Bookshel

I have written about the Digital Public Library of America or DPLA quite a few times. Their free online images, texts, videos, and sounds have grown to 22,361,822. They have many valuable family history resources and lot more. Recently, they launched a new online resource, the Open Bookshelf. Here is a quote from their announcement.
The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is pleased to announce the launch of Open Bookshelf, a digital library collection of popular books free to download and handpicked by librarians across the US. The collection currently has more than 1,000 books, with new titles added daily. Open Bookshelf is designed both for libraries and for readers: it is currently available to libraries through the DPLA Exchange and to readers via the SimplyE mobile app. 
Open Bookshelf contains an exciting, diverse collection of titles spanning a myriad of genres. Readers will find: the classics they know and love, from Austen to Twain, updated for EPUB 3.0 format with beautiful covers; the best Creative-Commons licensed works from innovative authors like Cory Doctorow; freely available textbooks and academic titles representing the push for open scholarship; and an exciting multicultural children’s collection.

“With Open Bookshelf, free-licensed ebook content will no longer be a second class citizen in libraries,” said Eric Hellman, president of the Free Ebook Foundation. “The Free Ebook Foundation is thrilled to be contributing feeds from to the project." 
Open Bookshelf titles are selected by DPLA’s Curation Corps, a team of librarians and information professionals representing communities across the US. They have built the collection on a title-by-title basis, using their expertise to add books readers will enjoy.
Here is a screenshot of the information about the Open Bookshelf.

MyHeritage Offers Free DNA Tests to Help Reunite Separated Migrant Children with their Parents

Quoting from an announcement by dated 21 June 2018:
We have just announced that, following the recent separation of immigrant parents and children in the United States, MyHeritage is expanding its pro bono initiative, DNA Quest — which helps reunite adoptees with their biological families through DNA testing — to help those parents who were detained at the US border reunite with their children. We are pledging 5,000 additional free DNA tests for separated parents and children who are interested in this opportunity. 
For the DNA kits to reach the affected people, MyHeritage has begun contacting relevant government agencies and NGOs that are able to provide assistance with distribution of the DNA kits — to parents in detainment facilities and to their children placed in temporary custody. MyHeritage is also calling the public to assist — anyone who can help with the distribution of the DNA kits and is in touch with the separated families is requested to contact The DNA results will be processed by MyHeritage and not shared with any third parties.
To read more about this interesting offer, see

MyHeritage Offers Free DNA Tests to Help Reunite Separated Migrant Children with their Parents

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Genealogy in Transition and Transformation: The Old and the New

If you have been doing genealogical research for many years or have just started, it may not be obvious that genealogy as a persuasion is in a state of rapid transition and transformation. From my perspective working on digitizing records in a major state archive, over the short time we have been here, I have seen some dramatic changes. Those changes involve some of the following issues and many others:
  • Our ability to access records around the world is increasing dramatically
  • Time restraints on finding and accessing those records are decreasing
  • The time from acquiring the record to when that record is digitized and available online is decreasing 
  • The time it takes for individual researchers to publish genealogical findings and make them available around the world is collapsing into being almost instantaneous
  • The ability of individuals to collaborate and share research tasks is becoming ubiquitous
  • DNA is adding a scientific twist to the old process of identifying and locating relatives
What does all this really mean to those who are still in the paper/search the records stage of genealogical development? It means that the vision of the future expressed by's CEO Gilad Japhet is rapidly becoming a reality. Here is the video for reference.

For example, I recorded the number of Historical Records available on the MyHeritage.eom website about ten days ago. That number was exactly 9,067,418,625. Now, ten days later that number has grown to exactly 9,078,987,922. has added 11,569,297 records in ten days. At that rate, they could add over 400 million records in one year (about 422,279,340.5). This is just one of the companies digitizing and adding records online.

The number of genealogists who have to spend hours and hours in obscure repositories is diminishing rapidly. My experience recently helping people from Latin America find their ancestors online is an excellent example. Let's suppose that you come from Colombia in South America. The website has digitized, online, free Catholic Church records for the country from 1600 to 2012. These records contain 12,555,984 images.

What do these numbers actually mean? They are simply part of a trend that will continue to provide more and more records which will ultimately feed the record hints of the large online database programs and coupled with DNA will make finding relatives and ancestors in ever larger areas of the world more tied to online family tree programs. So, if you were to start your family tree today and you were from someplace in America or Europe, as time passes, you will be more and more likely to have the process fully or partially automated.

Where does that leave the library/archive bound researcher? Here is one example. The New England Historic Genealogical Society has just added the Mayflower passengers and five generations of their ancestors to their online database. This means millions of people around the world will now have a verified and extensively documented source for some of their ancestors. How many more such databases will there be in the future? As we get millions of sources added to the Family Tree, to family trees, to family trees and's family trees, and's family trees, and's family tree, and so forth. Then we add in millions of DNA tests and what do we get? Now I am back to the beginning of this post.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Thanks to MyHeritage, Father and Daughter Reunited on The Today Show

Father and Daughter reunited on The Today Show thanks to MyHeritage DNA

Quoting from an email announcement from
Sarah, from Fort Wayne, Indiana (now living in the Netherlands) was placed in adoptive care as young child by her mother. To try and find her biological family, she took a MyHeritage DNA test that her husband purchased for her. She was shocked when she got a match to her biological father, Arland, who didn't even know she existed. 
Sarah and Arland then spoke on the phone numerous times, but today was the first time they met.
These types of reunions are going to become more common as and the other DNA testing and matching companies keep growing. I am glad this one turned out so well. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Christening Date is not the Birth Date (Usually)

Many of the genealogy database programs, both online and desktop, show entries for a birth date and a christening date. The christening date is a church recorded date of the baptism. In many countries, particularly those with Catholic or Protestant heritages, birth dates may not be recorded as frequently as the christening date. Frequently, the christening was performed shortly after birth, but there are a lot of exceptions. For example, it is not unusual to find some or all of the children in a family with the same christening date. It is also not unusual to see a christening or baptism date when the person was much older or even as an adult.

The example above shows a common practice of estimating the birth date the same as or the same year as the christening date. In the case above, this might be accurate, but since there are no records of the birth date, the date should either be shown as estimated or calculated. I prefer to leave the date blank unless I have a record that actually provides a birth date. In the case of this John Sutton, a marriage record shows he was married at age 22 in 1705, so the christening date is consistent. The marriage date could also be used to estimate a birth date.

The issue of the unsupported birthdate is made more serious due to the very common name of the person. There may be a "John Sutton" born in Winwick, Lancashire in 1683, but it might not be the one married to Elizabeth Robinson or the father of the listed children.

Genealogy is not a "fill in the blanks" pursuit. You do not get a prize or more credit for filling in all the blank spaces. The information used to make the detailed entries should be entirely supported by the source records. Speculation may help with research but it should never become the basis for entering data in your database unless clearly understood and clearly marked to be speculation, especially if your family tree is online.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Finding Your Mayflower Ancestors and Mayflower 2020
I recently wrote about the completion of the Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700 to 1880 that is on the website. However, the main connection to the database is on the commemorative portion of the website commemorating 400 years of Mayflower history. Here is the direct link.

If you go to the New England Historic Genealogical Society website, you will find a prominent link to the Mayflower database.

So, how do you find out if you have ancestors who were Mayflower passengers? The real answer is by doing exactly what genealogists have been doing for quite some time: you do the research necessary to connect to one of the descendants of the original passengers. The advantage of having the database online is that once you get back into the mid-1800s with your research, you could check the database to see if any of your ancestors show up as descendants. If they do, then you could apply for membership in the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, commonly called the Mayflower Society.

If one of your relatives has already become a member of the Mayflower Society, you may be able to find a more recent connection and speed up the process of applying for membership. An explanation of the process is found on the Society's website on a page entitled, "Join GSMD." There are annual fees for membership in both the New England Historic Genealogical Society and the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

Because of my own New England ancestors and other ancestors such as Mormon Pioneers, I am aware of several lineage societies I could join. Specifically, I have at least three documented original Mayflower passengers. My Fourth Great-Grandmother, Thankful Tefft, is already a documented descendant.

The significance of the database to me personally is that it provides documentation for probably thousands of people in my ancestral family. Now that it is searchable, assuming I pay the subscription price to NEGHS, I can search for specific ancestors and save a huge amount of time documenting known lines. I will likely find that I am also related to additional Mayflower passengers.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

What's Wrong with these Dates?

These dates come directly out of the Northiam Parish Register and they are correct. So how is that possible? If you are a very experienced genealogist with a lot of time doing English research, you may know the answer immediately. But if not, you may have to spend some time doing some historical research before you can resolve what seems to be conflicting dates.

The answer turns out to be both simple and complicated. Before 1752 in England and most of its colonies, the New Year was on March 25th. Here is the explanation from The Connecticut State Library, Colonial Records and Topics article, "The 1752 Calendar Change."
In accordance with a 1750 act of Parliament, England and its colonies changed calendars in 1752. By that time, the discrepancy between a solar year and the Julian Calendar had grown by an additional day, so that the calendar used in England and its colonies was 11 days out-of-sync with the Gregorian Calendar in use in most other parts of Europe.

England's calendar change included three major components. The Julian Calendar was replaced by the Gregorian Calendar, changing the formula for calculating leap years. The beginning of the legal new year was moved from March 25 to January 1. Finally, 11 days were dropped from the month of September 1752.
Learning about the calendar changes will help explain many other seemingly difficult dating issues.

Mayflower Families Descendants to the Fifth Generation is now Complete

Quoting from the AmericanAncestors DataBase News from the New England Historic Genealogical Society post dated May14, 2018 and entitled, "Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700 -1880 is now complete:"
We are extremely happy to announce that we have added our final volume to the Mayflower genealogies, and this database is now complete! This project started over a year ago, and our volunteers have invested over six thousand hours of work to scan and index this invaluable information. 
Overall the Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants database contains 31 volumes, 10,155 pages, and over 575,000 searchable names. The word cloud image presented above, shows the 100 most common surnames found in the database. 
Today’s addition, part three of Henry Samson volume 20, is the final part the searchable database of authenticated Mayflower Pilgrim genealogies, Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880. This addition adds 726 pages, over 16,000 records and over 50,000 searchable names related to the descendants of Henry Samson. This database index includes birth, baptism, marriage, death, and deed records, and where available, the names of parents and spouses.
Estimates of the number of people around the world who are descendants of the original, verified, Mayflower passengers who arrived in America in 1620 run into the tens of millions. For many years, I have been using the "Silver Books," which are the basis for this project, to help with my own research into my New England Ancestors, including at least three passengers on the Mayflower who survived. In fact, I may have several more connections.

I first wrote about this database back in 2017. Since then I have written about some of the problems that accompany trying to maintain an entry for a Mayflower Passenger on the Family Tree. See the following" The Saga of Francis Cooke on the FamilySearch Family Tree.

My hope is that this new database will help to disentangle my own New England ancestors. By the way, access to this database and many others on the website requires a paid membership, the "free" membership given to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not work.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

MyHeritage Presents FootballDNA
8 legendary football (soccer) players reunite on the pitch to discuss national rivalries, reminisce and laugh together — and see their ethnicity breakdowns revealed through the MyHeritage DNA test. Having lived through quite a few World Cup tournaments over the years, I am aware that these players' names will not be familiar to many people in the United States but this is a fabulous promotion for those in the rest of the world. See this video for more of the story. This is one of the best Genealogy/DNA promotions I have yet seen.

8 Football Legends Uncover Their Origins with MyHeritage DNA

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Reclaim the Records frees the NYC marriage license index for 1996-2017

Another big win for genealogists and others needing records from New York. Reclaim the Records has won a lawsuit and now has the NYC marriage license index for 1996-2017, 1.5 million records, free online, searchable and downloadable.

Here is the link to the newly acquired records:
Please take the time to go to the Reclaim the Records' website and see all of the records that have been liberated.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

All Burned Up: Fires and Genealogical Research

Because most of the world's genealogically significant records have been created and stored on paper or a paper-like substitute (parchment etc.) our collective history has always been subject to loss from a variety of natural causes. One of the most common is fire. There have been some notable documentary losses due to fire stretching back almost to prehistoric times. More recently, there have been several large fires that have had an impact on our ability to do genealogical research. I decided to list a few of the more prominent fires. But before I do the list, it is absolutely important to understand that although records are lost in a fire, that does not mean that every record about our ancestors was lost. Loss from fires may make a research objective more difficult but rarely impossible.

Here are a few of the fires.

1. The 1890 U.S. Federal Census

It is commonly repeated that the 1890 U.S. Federal Census was lost in a fire. That is only partially true. The entire story about the loss of the 1890 Census is more complicated. The U.S. National Archives has a three-part series outlining the real story. You can read the series starting with Part One, "The Fate of the 1890 Population Census, Part 1." You will discover that the census was lost through bureaucratic incompetence in addition to some fire damage.

2. The 1973 National Personnel Records Center Fire.

Quoting from the National Archives website article entitled, "The 1973 Fire, National Personnel Records Center,"
On July 12, 1973, a disastrous fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) destroyed approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF). The records affected: 
Branch -- Personnel and Period Affected -- Estimated Loss 
Army Personnel discharged November 1, 1912 to January 1, 1960 80% 
Air Force Personnel discharged September 25, 1947 to January 1, 1964 (with names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E.) 75% 
No duplicate copies of these records were ever maintained, nor were microfilm copies produced. Neither were any indexes created prior to the fire. In addition, millions of documents had been lent to the Department of Veterans Affairs before the fire occurred. Therefore, a complete listing of the records that were lost is not available. However, in the years following the fire, the NPRC collected numerous series of records (referred to as Auxiliary Records) that are used to reconstruct basic service information.
The fire was in the St. Louis, Missouri NPRC Military Building.

3. The Chicago Fire of 1871

Claiming that the records were lost in the Chicago Fire is almost a universal genealogical excuse for not doing more research. I have found people using this as an excuse even when they did not know for sure that their ancestors or their ancestors' records were in Chicago in 1871. However, the real loss was catastrophic. Here is one place to start reading about the loss of records; The Losses by the Fire.

4. The Irish Public Records Office Explosion and Fire of 1922

With this fire, it is a good idea to start out with some online research. Here is a good article from the website: "All Irish genealogical records were destroyed in the 1922 fire': Myth or fact?"

Irish research is difficult enough, but the loss of the Public Record Office (PRO) records makes the task even more difficult. Here is a summary of lost records from the above article.
The PRO housed many genealogical treasures including Irish census returns, originals wills dating to the 16th century, and more than 1,000 Church of Ireland parish registers filled with baptism, marriage and burial records.
The suggestions contained in this article apply to all of your research in all parts of the world.

5. Burned Counties Research

Another common excuse for discontinuing genealogical research is the claim that all the records were burned in a courthouse fire. This loss of records is generally referred to as "Burned Counties Research." A good place to start is with the Research Wiki article on Burned Counties. There is a chart showing a partial list of the burned counties and an explanation of the steps needed to overcome some of the loss. There is a more complete explanation about burned counties research in the following book written by Holly T. Hansen, Arlene H. Eakle, Ph.D and me.

Eakle, Arlene H, and James L Tanner. Virginia: Bypassing the Burned Counties Research Guide. Morgan, UT: Family History Expos, 2015.

The book is available on

If you believe that some records have been lost to a courthouse fire, do your research and find out exactly when and what was lost.

6. San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906

I have to admit that I have not had many people claim their records were lost in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but it is possible I suppose. This in no way is intended to minimize the huge destruction that occurred, but in some cases, the post-earthquake claims and other records are valuable for research.

7. New York State Library Fire of 1911

With this note, I am probably getting beyond the commonly referred to fires. Quoting from the New York Genealogical Biographical Society website article entitled, "Fire at the New York State Library,"
In 1911, a fire in New York's State Capitol, Albany, destroyed an enormous amount of crucial historical and genealogical records. Read on to learn about the fire, see some of the astounding pictures, and learn about what was destroyed. We'll also detail two heroes of the fire, who saved countless precious historical resources from destruction in the days after.

Harry Macy Jr. wrote about this event and its impact on New York genealogy in the Spring 1999 issue of the NYG&B Newsletter (later renamed the New York Researcher) - this blog is based on that article, The 1911 State Library Fire And Its Effect On New York Genealogy, which is available for NYG&B members to read in the New York Knowledge Base.
This quote illustrates the fact that complete research in any given area may include joining a local or state genealogical society.

Well that is enough of my list for now. I suggest that if you suspect a fire, look for the smoke. In other words, take the time to do your research about the real effects of the fire before giving up on your research. 

MyHeritage Promptly Responds to Data Breach
I recently wrote about a cybersecurity incident reported by The company has been rapidly responding after learning about the incident and has issued an update. Here is an outline that was sent to me in an email of the steps they have taken to respond.
Steps We’ve Taken
  • Immediately upon learning about the incident, we set up an Information Security Incident Response Team to investigate the incident. We have engaged a leading, independent cybersecurity firm to conduct comprehensive forensic reviews to determine the scope of the intrusion; and to conduct an assessment and provide recommendations on steps that can be taken to help prevent such an incident from occurring in the future.
  • We have notified relevant authorities as per GDPR.
  • We set up a 24/7 security customer support team to assist customers who have concerns or questions about the incident.
  • We started a process to expire all passwords on MyHeritage, requiring our users to set a new password. You can read more about this in the follow up announcement we issued on June 5, 2018.
  • We added support for Two-Factor Authentication.
MyHeritage also outlined what the users of the program should do. Here is that outline.

What You Should Do 
1. Change your password on MyHeritage. 
Changing your password is a prudent and recommended practice. After doing this, you’ll be safer, because even if someone else has your password they will not be able to access your MyHeritage account from now on.

Read our FAQ article explaining how to change your password on MyHeritage. If you are using our mobile app or the Family Tree Builder genealogy software, first change the password on the website and then set the same new password on the mobile app and/or Family Tree Builder. 
For maximum security, change passwords often and avoid using the same password on different services and websites, so if your password is ever compromised on one of them it will not be used to access the others. 
2. Add Two-Factor Authentication (optional). 
Two-Factor Authentication is an extra layer of security for your account, designed to ensure that you’re the only person who can access your account, even if someone knows your password. Two-Factor Authentication allows you to authenticate yourself using a mobile phone in addition to a password, which further hardens your MyHeritage account against illegitimate access, because others don’t have access to your mobile phone. For more details, see our blog post
For now, there are no other actions that you need to take as a result of this incident.
All of these suggestions really apply to your general use of the internet. They are good suggestions for all websites where there are passwords. Some people suggest using a password service in the form of an online company that stores or encrypts your passwords. The problem with this concept is what if that service is compromised? But, you can control the situation by using good online practices and changing your passwords from time to time.

The real challenge is for those of us who have hundreds of passwords. Managing those can be a real challenge.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

FamilyHistoryExpos 2018 International Virtual Expo
Quoting from the website:
Join Family History Expos and researchers from around the world as we celebrate 15 years of service to the genealogy community! 
We have chosen "Pirates of the Pedigree" as our theme for this amazing event. With the advent of the internet and digital documents, we are surrounded in a virtual sea of opportunity. But too often the ancestor you are seeking is lost in the records. At this Expo, we will share experiences, resources, and techniques that will assist you in discovering which records may hold the clues to locating the correct ancestor from all the rest. 
After attending this event, you will know how to recognize those "Pirates" that would steal your treasured lineage. Let the internet connect family historians from distant lands to tackle the challenges we all face. 
This is a totally online event. Classes will be broadcast. Sponsor and Vendor links allow you to visit their website or special event page quickly. Visit websites, blogs, and social media sites where you can learn about the resources and services available to help you successfully and accurately research your family history.
Visit the website at for details about the schedule, presenters, exhibits and door prizes.

The Virtual Conference will be held October 15, 2018, at 8:00 am to October 20, 2018, at 5:00 pm MDT. I will be presenting as well as many other well-known genealogists from around the world.

Genealogical Research Hazards

We could go blithely along for years with our genealogical research and never be aware of the hazards that lurk just beneath our awareness. The main issues involve doing the math and checking the places where events were supposed to occur. As I examine existing pedigrees, I find the same hazards over and over again. The consequences of ignoring these hazards are the high probability that you have left your family line and are researching or working on the wrong, usually unrelated, people.

Here are some of the most common and most dangerous hazards.

Hazard #1

Failing to do the math. 

This example of a flight of fancy is a good illustration of failing to do the math as well as several other hazards. This is a real entry in the Family Tree. The Father in this example is 65 years old when the two children were supposed to be born. His wife, Alice, however, is only six years old when William and Ralph are born. The father could have had children but Alice is not the mother. Notice also that the grandparent William Malbon also had two children the same year.

If you think this is a ridiculous example, I suggest you start using your calculator to check the ages of those people you have in your own extended pedigree.

Hazard #2

Failing to check the places.

This is one of my most common themes in writing about genealogical research. This Malbon line is an excellent example of the kind of fuzzy thinking that ignores geography and history when doing genealogy. Here is an example

If you were to look at this part of a pedigree and didn't examine the locations listed, you might not catch the problem. Here are the people and their locations.

John Rogers b. 1612 in Breage, Cornwall, England and his son,
John Rogers b. 1636 in Trescowe, Cornwall, England and his daughter
Mary Rogers b. 1667 in England (no location listed) who marries
John Hovenden who was b. 1663 in Northiam, Sussex, England

Here's what that all looks like on a map.

The dates here are in the early 1600s. Absent an explanation about how this family in Cornwall had a daughter that married a man from Sussex, this is not at all defensible or likely.

Hazard #3 

Choosing a similar name or whatever.

The short list above has a person named Mary Rogers who was listed like this:

She is supposed to have 6 sources which show that she was christened in Ticehurst, Sussex, England. However, her parents are shown as being from Cornwall. Actually, there are two sets of listed parents, one family is from Sussex. Which is correct? A quick check of the number of people named Mary Rogers in Sussex at that time shows the following from

There are over 6,000 people shown in the records of Sussex County with the name of Mary Rogers. How many are there in Ticehurst? Only one.

She is not the Mary Rogers who was born in a family in Cornwall. Now, if you started to do the research on the Cornwall line, you would be off on an unrelated line.

There are a lot more hazards but these three cover the majority of the errors in many online family trees.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Have you lost contact with the Earth?

I was recently helping one of my friends to find one of his direct-line grandfathers. The family lived in North Carolina and his initial research had the ancestor located in North Carolina and born in 1838. Well, that was the problem. He was stuck. So we began the process of looking at the earth.

I commonly find that people in online family trees have birth, marriage, and death locations listed as a county, a state or even a country. Here is an example:

This person has no contact with the earth and neither do the people who have recorded these ancestors.  This is further illustrated by this same person who has one marriage listed in 1763 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and another marriage in County Down, Ireland in 1766. He also has a child born in Derry, Ireland in 1768 and another who died in Virginia in 1851. Descendants of this person are born in Tyrone, Ireland in 1801 while others were dying in 1818 in Pennsylvania.

When I talk to people about this kind of situation, I consistently hear the claim that it could have happened that way. At this point, I always go back to The First Rule of Genealogy: When the baby was born, the mother was there. This rule is a reminder to stay on the earth and not float off into outer space while doing your genealogical research.

Anytime you cannot connect a person to an exact location on the surface of the earth, you are speculating about any proposed relationship. In the Linton line above, the connection to the earth was lost when someone added a parent born in 1775 supposedly in County Down, Ireland to someone born in 1801 in County Tyrone, Ireland. Given the time frame, is possible? Like I said, I always get the argument that it was possible. But in this case, there are no records showing exactly where the person born in Tyrone, Ireland was born. The information about his birth was "passed down" through the family. So anything showing a birthplace for his parents is pure speculation.

A point of explanation: We start our genealogical research by moving from what we know and then finding documents and records that fill in what we do not know. When we look at these connections, the geographic locations have to match up exactly.

In the United States and many other countries in order to sell real estate, you need to prove ownership by establishing a "chain of title" between the original owner and the present buyer. In some cases, the original owner may have acquired the property hundreds of years earlier. The chain of title documents all of the transfers from the original owner to the present. This is what we need to do in genealogy. There needs to be an unbroken chain of geographic locations showing that you have the right person in every step.

In some cases, the argument that people move from one place to another is valid. For example, at one time or another from birth, I have lived in seven or eight different states. But this type of situation changes as you go back in time. The especially true in the 1700s when travel was extremely difficult and limited. If you have ancestors who lived in one part of the world and you think they showed up in another part of the world, then you are under the obligation to show how that happened with documentation.

Of course, I have ancestors that came from England to America. I also have ancestors that went from England to Australia and then to America. I have ancestors who came from Denmark to America. Those movements are well documented. But could those same ancestral families have moved around in Denmark, England, Austraila and so forth? All of the movements from country to country occurred in the 1800s. Going back into the 1700s all of the documented locations for my families begin to focus on specific locations. If there is a possible movement or marriage from separate counties, then this raises an issue of accuracy and the burden is on me to show documentation how this movement might have occurred.

Remember, don't lose contact with the earth.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

MyHeritage Cybersecurity Incident

Quoting from the Blog article entitled "MyHeritage Statement About a Cybersecurity Incident,"
Today, June 4, 2018 at approximately 1pm EST, MyHeritage’s Chief Information Security Officer received a message from a security researcher that he had found a file named myheritage containing email addresses and hashed passwords, on a private server outside of MyHeritage. Our Information Security Team received the file from the security researcher, reviewed it, and confirmed that its contents originated from MyHeritage and included all the email addresses of users who signed up to MyHeritage up to October 26, 2017, and their hashed passwords.
If you are registered with MyHeritage, please read the entire article. Here is the scope of the breach,
We believe the intrusion is limited to the user email addresses. We have no reason to believe that any other MyHeritage systems were compromised. As an example, credit card information is not stored on MyHeritage to begin with, but only on trusted third-party billing providers (e.g. BlueSnap, PayPal) utilized by MyHeritage. Other types of sensitive data such as family trees and DNA data are stored by MyHeritage on segregated systems, separate from those that store the email addresses, and they include added layers of security. We have no reason to believe those systems have been compromised.
Please follow the instruction in the blog post to change your password. See

Monday, June 4, 2018

What is Genealogy? Reflections on an ongoing issue

Is genealogy a populist hobby or a serious academic pursuit? Can it be both or is it something else altogether? Why am I asking these questions and who even cares if there either questions or answers? In the past, genealogy served as both a political and cultural tool to both aggrandize the rich and grind the faces of the poor and disenfranchised. Its current billing as a popular and diversional pastime obscures its ragged and rather unsavory past. Its amalgamation with DNA testing does nothing to reduce the impact of its past uses and abuses.

Those of us who have a clear, religiously oriented motivation for searching out our ancestry have a way to separate ourselves from the dichotomy for we do not have to justify it as a valid leisure activity or as a valid adjunct to historical research. Genealogy has always been, to a great extent, the ugly duckling of the academic world. Despite some recent advances as an accepted academic degree in a very few universities, it still is largely ignored by universities and colleges in the United States and only partially accepted in Europe and other areas of the world.

When the subject of my interests and background come up in casual conversation, there is always a pause and then occasionally a responding commentary on the enquirers family heritage. But I seldom get the questions or comments I got while I was an actively practicing attorney. Among those I associate with the most, I am politely and sometimes not so politely ignored. I have surrounded myself with those who are advocates of genealogical research, but outside of the libraries, societies, and family history centers, mentioning family history is a way to terminate almost any conversation. Although it is a relief that I am no longer hated by the vast majority of the population of the United States as a practicing attorney. Genealogists do not appear on popularity lists or surveys.

I now have just over 5,000 DNA matches on one of my DNA tests and the vast majority of those people have a family tree comprised of less than ten people. In many cases, those who are listed as matching my DNA are not even identified or have marked their family tree as private. There is no way to determine why or how we might be related. For DNA to become a way to validate genealogical relationships, those relationships need to be documented and available but current news topics if widely spread and accepted could discourage most people from expanding on their curiosity satisfying ethnicity results.

From my standpoint, I do not feel that I need to validate my motivation for being a genealogical fanatic. After now more than 36 years of intense involvement in genealogy, I figure what difference does it make why I am motivated. Long ago, I realized that there were no real monetary inducements and I don't get any fame or glory to speak of. Like I have said many times, being famous in genealogy is like being the mayor of Nutrioso, Arizona and my statement is not intended to cast aspersions on the mayor if there is one.

Meanwhile, I will just keep doing research, writing blog posts, co-suthoring books, broadcasting webinars, attending some few conferences, teaching and helping in Family History Centers, helping anyone who wants to listen to find their ancestral heritage and otherwise trying to document as many relatives as I possibly can before I die. I do not need a justification for doing this and I don't need validation or popularity. I am perfectly happy sitting in a library doing research and helping an occasional patron.