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

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Comments on Traditional Genealogical Research

As genealogy, either seriously undertaken or casually pursued, continues to dramatically change, it is important to reflect on whether or not the changes in genealogical methodology occasioned by the claimed technological advances add real value to the process or are only window dressing presented as advances. At the same time, we need to consider the plight of those who cling to traditional methodology and make sure that we are not abandoning much that has a continuing value.

Presently, those who adhere to traditionally oriented genealogical research methodology are decreasing in numbers rather rapidly. 1975 is the date of the introduction of the first personal computers and that date can represent the watershed between the strictly traditional method of doing genealogical research and all the subsequent changes. A quick calculation shows that, as of the date of this post, if you were born in the year personal computers were introduced, you would now be 43 years old. But in reality, if you could push the 1975 year date back at least ten years because those younger than 10 years old in 1975 are not likely to remember a world without personal computers. So the effective watershed date for those who began doing genealogical research before personal computers became available is limited to people who are in their late 50s or early 60s.

Why then do we still have people who distrust and eschew the use of computers in genealogical research? Probably for the same reasons we have a significant number of people who reject modern society in its entirety and still use horses for their major means of transportation.

What are the main features of the "traditional" pre-computer genealogical research? Well, these features are shared by research in almost any topic or subject. Since I did a significant amount of original research prior to 1975 and much more before computers became generally available in the 1980s, I have a personal perspective on the changes. I started doing genealogical research in 1982 and that happened to coincide with my first purchase of a personal computer; an Apple II. Of course, early genealogical research before the introduction of the internet was merely a computerized replication of paper-based genealogical research. The cumulative impact of technology is still being felt and appreciated.

Over the years that I have been publically writing about genealogy as a topic, I have addressed this issue several times, but since technology continues to rapidly evolve and as those who lived before personal computers continue to die off, I feel it is important to understand where technology is taking genealogical research and whether or not we are losing anything in the process.

Let me start with a hypothetical situation. Let's suppose that M was beginning her genealogical research in the pre-computer era. M could start by recording what she personally knew of the names and associated information about her immediate ancestors. Assuming she had contact with some older relatives, she could also write letters asking for further information. If she was acquainted with others interested in genealogy, she could reach out for help and suggestions. She may or may not have decided to record her information in a pedigree and family group record format. Unless she happened to be submitting her research to some sort of organization such as a genealogical society or for publication, her method of recording the information she obtained would be entirely idiosyncratic. Depending on her persistence, over time, her genealogical records consisted of pages of notes, letters and responses, photos, documents and other memorabilia.

Where did she get information about her family before the internet and when she ran out of living family members to question? She had to physically visit libraries and archives and copy out the information she found. However, there are some issues that were going on that are not obvious. M had little or no way to determine if other members of her extended ancestral family were working on the same individuals and families. As a side note at this point, I would mention that I spent more than 15 years doing genealogical research and accumulated a two-foot-high pile of family group records before I decided that I have probably acquired most of what had already been done about my own family. Here we have the core issue of pre-computerized genealogy: the total lack of ability on the part of a researcher to determine if other people had already done the research. In my hypothetical, M could spend her entire life doing genealogical research and find out that much of what she had done was duplicated somewhere else. In effect, it does not matter how meticulous or careful M was in her research, there was always a possibility that she was simply rehashing what someone had already done and likely published. This fact is abundantly illustrated by the huge number of duplicate entries in the current online genealogy family tree programs.

Even if we minimize the impact of the potential for duplication, M's ability to discover information about her family beyond what had been accumulated and shared with her, was extremely limited. It could take years for M to extend her family line a few generations. The next major obstacle was M's ability to determine if the information she had acquired was accurate or not. Since the norm at that time was that researchers worked in total or semi-isolation, it was always possible that she had made a wrong conclusion based on faulty or insufficient documentation and was researching unrelated families. As I reviewed the work that had been done in my own family primarily from the accumulation of family group records in the Salt Lake City, Utah Family History Library, I found and I am still finding inaccurately connected families.

What happened to M's research when she died? In some cases, it was passed down to another interested genealogist. In many cases, it was entirely lost and the subsequent researchers had to start over from scratch. I had the benefit and burden of inheriting a huge amount of family history. I am still working on sorting and recording all of the tens of thousands of pages of information about some of my family lines. At the same time, I am painfully aware that some people have almost no information about their families when they acquire their interest in doing research about their family.

Let me extend my hypothetical situation a little. Let's suppose that M works through all of her research and publishes what she has found in a book. We have many of this type of book available to us today. Because M was the only person actively doing research, the book is mainly based on her opinions and conclusions. Since she had done all the work to compile the information, she saw no need to justify or provide sources for her conclusions. It never occurred to her that anyone would disagree with what she had written. In fact, this isolation allowed M to reproduce her own interpretation of her family history. She could ignore the less attractive aspects of her family history and emphasize the more appealing ones. Because M was the "authority" on her family's history, subsequent researchers simply copied her work and passed it on as true. In a sense, the stories and information in the book became almost scriptural. It became heresy to question M or her conclusions.

There was another aspect of genealogy that arose in this pre-computer time. Because access to original records was severely limited and because genealogical research was hugely time-consuming, people would pay others to research their families. Genealogy as a persuasion became genealogy as a profession. However, the supply and the demand for professional genealogists were extremely limited. The number of "professional" genealogists in the entire world was limited to a few hundred active individuals. These professionals were clustered around the major sources of information such as the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and other such institutions and archives around the world. Additionally, the professionals, because of the limits on time and availability, became "expert" in doing research in defined geographic areas. We still have significant vestiges of this geographically oriented genealogical research today.

We have a tendency to view "traditional" genealogical research in the same category as we would a piece of fine art or handicraft. We often think of traditional genealogists in the way we view extensive fine handicraft today. We tout the craftsmanship of "traditional" values. The reality is far different. My opinion, much of the work done by traditional genealogists has questionable value. I could give hundreds of examples. The main thrust of the information revolution vanguarded by access to computers and the internet has been to provide us universally with information to verify and correct the work done previously. Some of it is correct and valuable. DNA testing, online family trees, and vastly improved access and communication have all contributed to the reduction in duplication, and wrong conclusions of the past. We still have a huge overburden of traditional research methodology. But that is a topic I have written about in the past many times and will probably write about again.

Just as we would not now go back to riding horses to travel across our country unless we had a specific goal or reason to do so, we are not about to go back to the "traditional" ways of doing research.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Posts from The Family History Guide
You may not be aware that The Family History Guide regularly posts to a blog. You can subscribe to the blog by email and learn about all the new features on the website as well as other topics. This featured article by Bob Taylor illustrates a common problem faced by many beginning genealogists; separating fact from fiction when it comes to family stories and traditions.

I might also remind everyone that The Family History Guide is sponsored by a non-profit corporation called The Family History Guide Association. All of the support for The Family History Guide website and other activities comes from volunteer help (like my participation) or from tax-deductible donations from contributors. For example, we have an upcoming RootsTech 2019 Conference and The Family History Guide would like to be there to teach about using the website. The reality is that this takes not only volunteers to attend and teach and staff the booth, but money. Yes, money. Contributing to The Family History Guide Association makes this possible. Take some time to visit The Family History Guide Association website and consider making a donation. I am only writing about this subject because I am convinced that The Family History Guide is part of the solution for helping more people become involved in learning about their family history.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

FamilySearch Adds 29 Million Netherlands Records
With the addition of 29 million new, free, historical records from the Netherlands, now has over 65 million images and indexes from the Netherlands. Quoting from the above press release:
The freely searchable collections are comprised of birth, baptism, marriage, death, church, notarial, army service and passenger list records and population registers. Some of the records date back to 1564. Considering the population of the Netherlands is 17 million people today, the size of these collections makes it highly likely family historians will find the ancestors they’re seeking. 
The breadth of record types now available provide a fantastic opportunity to learn more about a Dutch ancestor’s life. 
There are also 12 free learning courses to help those searching Dutch ancestry and online volunteer indexing projects to make additional Netherlands records freely accessible.
As we have discovered, my wife and I both have some relatives in the distant past from the Netherlands. These records enable us to do research in this area.

Friday, July 27, 2018

What do I need to know to Attend RootsTech 2019?

RootsTech 2019

If you are involved in family history or genealogy at any level, you will find something at a RootsTech Conference of interest and value. The main sponsor of the RootsTech 2019 Conference is FamilySearch, the worldwide genealogical organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is by no means a "religiously oriented" conference. It is pure family history and genealogy. However, on the last day of the Conference, members of the Church are invited to attend special sessions directed at their particular interests. RootsTech 2019 will take place on four days, from February 27th to March 2nd, 2019. The Saturday, March 2nd date is designated Family Discovery Day and that is when the members of the Church are most involved. 

RootsTech 2019 takes place in Salt Lake City, Utah in the city's large convention center called the Salt Palace. The Salt Palace is located in the middle of the downtown area of Salt Lake and is literally across the street from a huge shopping mall called the City Creek Center. It is also surrounded by a number of hotels. Some of those hotels have a "special" rate for the duration of the Conference, but those reservations get snatched up fairly quickly. You can see the hotels that may be participating at this link:

Make sure to ask for any specials specifically for the Conference. 

Salt Lake City has an extensive public transportation system with light rail service to and from the airport that also comes quite near many of the hotels that surround the Salt Palace. When we lived in Arizona, we stayed in one of the nearby hotels. But now that we live in Provo, Utah just a few miles to the south, we have tried using the FrontRunner Train that runs from Provo to downtown Salt Lake. We find that not so convenient because the Conference activities last well into the night. We have also stayed with relatives in the Salt Lake Area and driven downtown for the Conference each day. We find parking to be less than ideal but possible. If there is another major event downtown, parking can be at a premium. If you are used to paying for parking in other major cities, you will not be surprised at the cost. 

You do need to realize that Salt Lake City is a major skiing destination. You also need to realize that February/March is near the height of the ski season. This means that the airport is often very crowded and some flights are completely booked. You should make travel plans early. Salt Lake City is also at an elevation of 4200 feet above sea level and parts of the city go much higher on the surrounding mountains. Also, you need to be prepared for inclement weather with snow, ice and freezing temperatures common. Those of us who live there don't notice the altitude or the freezing weather all that much, but it can be a shock if you are coming from a warm climate. 

Salt Lake City is not a big city as big cities go, but it does have big city problems of homelessness, panhandlers and such. You do need to be careful about going into some areas of the city at night and be aware of the usual personal security issues present in larger cities across the U.S. 

Now, Salt Lake City is the genealogist's dream location. The Family History Library, the largest family history library in the world, is within walking distance of the Salt Palace, but you need to know that Salt Lake City blocks are one-eighth of a mile long. The Salt Palace is almost a quarter mile long and a quarter mile wide. You do a lot of walking if you attend RootsTech. Remember there are thousands of people attending the RootsTech Conference and many of them would like to visit the Family History Library. I suggest that if you are serious about doing research during your trip to Salt Lake, that you come early to the Conference or stay for a few days after the Conference is over and spend that time at the Library. 

You should also bear in mind that the Salt Lake City area has three major universities and many other attractions. The Brigham Young University campus is about 45 miles south of Salt Lake City and has the Brigham Young University Family History Library, the second largest family history library in the world. The Salt Palace is also within walking distance of the world famous Temple Square and usually, there is a special concert by the Tabernacle Choir during the conference for Conference attendees. The program for 2019 has yet to be announced so you will see lots of blogs posts from me as the schedule is made known. 

If you have any particular questions about the conference or Salt Lake or come early or stay late and want to have me help you with some research either in Salt Lake or Provo, let me know well in advance so I can calendar my time. During the Conference, I will likely be very busy, but as I always write, please take some time to say hello. 

Australian National Library's 50th Anniversary Celebration
During 2018, the National Library of Australia celebrates the 50th anniversary of its iconic building.
Trove, the Library's digital discovery service, is joining the celebrations with '50 Objects': a tour of 50 of the most interesting and important records in Trove. Every week, for the next ten weeks, we'll be featuring fascinating Trove treasures on our blog, in an ode to digitally accessible Australian content.
You may or may not be able to see from this screenshot that the National Library of Australia's online digital collections now include 586,694,966 images. Whenever I mention this tremendous online collection to genealogists, I get a comment about not having Australian ancestors. I happen to have three ancestral lines that have ties to Australia and my ancestors in two of the lines settled in Australia in the 1850s and subsequently, I have perhaps hundreds (thousands?) of Australian cousins.

However, if you have ancestors from Great Britain, Ireland, or even Western Europe, you may very well have some relatives in Australia that share your English, Welsh, Scottish, or Irish heritage.

During the next few weeks, I will be highlighting my Australian ancestors and their descendants. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

There is a Definite Move towards 12 TB Hard Drives

For some time now, the most cost-effective hard drives have been those with 8 Terabytes of storage capacity. 8 TB hard drives are presently about $149 on It is hard to imagine using all that capacity unless you are a gamer, collect videos or a professional photographer. Hmm. I forgot to mention dedicated hoarder genealogist who loves to digitize everything and saves ever image found online. But what about 12 TB? Does this huge capacity make sense? 

Huge capacity hard drives do make sense for people who are running large businesses or managing server farms for online storage. 12 TB hard drives are mostly only available at the time of this post as internal hard drives; designed to be put in servers or in storage arrays. Right now, the price of an internal (without a case) hard drive is about $400 or so. 

I have recently posted about the need for backing up the files on your computer and other devices, so I won't go through all that again, but the main issue here is the cost of storage and that has become negligible compared to the cost of replacing or reconstructing lost data. 

What do I use to back up my massive data files (currently about 8+ Terabytes)? I have 3 TB of internal storage on my main hard drive in my computer. That is backed up to a dedicated 8 TB external hard drive by Apple's Time Machine program. The extra files, not on my internal hard drive, are backed up to three separate 8 TB external hard drives, each of which has a copy of all my old files and photos and scans. The entire system, including all of the external hard drives, is also backed up multiple times a day to

Will I move to 12 TB drives when I need to replace an existing drive? That will depend on the cost of 12 TB external hard drives and how much data I have accumulated when I have the need.

Findmypast Joins the DNA Lineup

Click to see original

As you can see from the notice above, has joined the ranks of the other large online genealogical database programs and is now featuring its own DNA test. This one appears to be designed to attract those with ancestors from Britain and Ireland. I am sure as soon as the results start to appear, we will have a number of comments comparing the tests to researched pedigrees.

However, this test seems to make sense for those who have primarily ancestors from this area of the world. is a British company. Quoting from their website:
Living DNA is a collaboration of over 100 world-leading scientists, academic researchers, and genetic experts.  
The team is led by DNA Worldwide Group, a DNA testing company, whose services are used by every court in the UK. The company is run by David Nicholson and Hannah Morden who saw an opportunity to show humanity that we are all made up of all of us, dissolving the concept of race. The chosen laboratory partner of Living DNA in Europe is Eurofins Scientific, the world leader of bio analytical testing with 25.000 staff in 39 countries, delivering secure and clinical grade testing.  
It was launched in 2016 after two years of intensive development but its parent company DNA Worldwide Group has been operating since 2004. 
Actually, having new options for taking DNA tests is a really good idea. Each of the companies will have a different database and will be able to provide information not available from the other companies.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Genealogy's Star is on Facebook
For someone who is so wrapped up in social media, I still have a tendency to ignore Facebook. I usually notified by email if someone mentions me or posts to anything I post, but otherwise, I am not in the habit of checking the Facebook news stream other than very occasionally. However, I have had a Facebook page for Genealogy's Star for some time. Unfortunately, the page was somewhat neglected and I hadn't posted anything there for a while. I decided to make an effort to post more frequently.

I started by adding social media links to each of my blogs. I then decided to post the blog links to my Genealogy's Star page. This gives my readers the option of viewing the blog posts from the Facebook page. As usual, you can make comments on Facebook or on the blog posts directly or you can email me directly or call me on the phone or try and find me in person.

Thanks in advance for liking my Facebook page and posts.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

24% of Computer Users Never Back Up Their Data
According to a study from the Harris Poll commissioned by, 24% of computer users never back up their data. Hopefully, none of this percentage are genealogists. What is more disturbing, only about 6% of the computer users back up their data on a daily basis.

Personally, I have two complete backups daily; one to Backblaze and another to an external hard drive using TimeMachine. During the past few years, I have had to restore my entire system due to a major internal hard drive failure. For me, this clearly shows the need for consistency in backing up my data.

There are a number of online data storage companies that provide backup services. These include offerings from Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon, but these services are not comprehensive, i.e. they do not include your operating system and all your programs. When my main hard drive crashed, I used the TimeMachine backup to restore my files, but even with TimeMachine, the process took many hours of time to load all the information and return to the point when the drive went bad. I cannot imagine trying to restore all the Terabytes of information I have without a comprehensive backup.

At the very least, go out an buy an external drive and back up your important files. The cost of a 8 Terabyte hard drive has dropped to about $149 on How many hours of work would you have to do if your system crashed, was destroyed in a catastrophe, or was stolen?

If you need help getting started with backing up your data, there are many other genealogists who, I am sure, would be willing to help. Get busy today and save yourself some major grief.

Another Win for Reclaim the Records: The New Jersey Death Index
Another stunning victory for Reclaim the Records. Here is the announcement from a recent email:
The New Jersey State Department of Health actually responded to our attorney's request in record time, and without a fight. We're guessing that they probably looked her up online and realized we'd hired the most badass OPRA attorney in the state, and then wisely decided not to stonewall or ignore us. 
This was a far cry from their attitude a year ago when genealogist Alec Ferretti tried to get a copy of the very same death index from the New Jersey Department of Health on his own. Oh no, said an attorney for the state to Alec, we can't just give you a copy of the death index! Why, we have rules about mortality data, and privacy! So very many rules! 
Well, this is why Reclaim The Records is constantly fundraising so that we can hire attorneys — because while the various state Freedom of Information laws are supposed to treat all citizens fairly, in practice it seems that the citizens with attorneys get treated just a little better. 
So, we drafted a new OPRA request, and our attorney sent it out under her name, and this time the state didn't fight us. Funny how that works, right? 
Anyway, the New Jersey Department of Health sent us every death index record they had, delivered as files on a USB stick. But it turns out that even the state Department of Health, who are legally required to keep these records, don't actually have all of them anymore. Even though that's, like, their job. 
We were able to get all of the New Jersey death index records for about half of 1920-1924, all of 1925-1929, and then from 1949 to 2017! The files prior to 2001 are available in PDF format, each of them scanned images of typeset pages and old dot-matrix printouts. And the newer files from 2001-2017 are in two text spreadsheet (.CSV) files exported from the state's own databases, and are text-searchable immediately. 
But come on, who wants to sit and tediously search through spreadsheets? Nah, let's do something better with all that data. 
Your one-stop shop for everything you ever wanted to know about the New Jersey Death Index, with a searchable database of over 1.2 million records for 2001-2017 and direct links to over 500,000 digital images for the not-yet-transcribed 1901-2000 data. It's all there and it's all free, free, free!
What can I say more than that?

Monday, July 23, 2018

Registration Now Open for MyHeritage'a International User Conference

You’re Invited to MyHeritage’s International User Conference!
Registration is now open to anyone, from anywhere in the world, who would like to learn more about MyHeritage – including subscribers, DNA customers, those with free basic accounts, and those who haven’t used MyHeritage yet but would like to find out more. The MyHeritage LIVE Conference will take place on the weekend of 2–4 November 2018 in Oslo, Norway.

For more information about the Conference see the blog post linked here:

You’re Invited to MyHeritage’s International User Conference!

RootsTech 2019 Ambassador

I have been selected to be a RootsTech 2019 Ambassador. I have been to RootsTech as a Blogger/Ambassador every year except 2018 when I was an Ambassador remotely. I am looking forward to seeing all my friends and making some new ones. I am usually very busy at RootsTech but I will be glad to talk to or meet with anyone. If we can't find a time during the Conference, we can make other arrangements, even meeting online.

I look forward to seeing you next year in the frozen north of Salt Lake City in February 2019.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

10,832 Blog Posts: A Retrospective

I recently totaled up the number of posts on my three main blogs and the number came out to 10,832. I have a few hundred more posted in now abandoned blogs, but this is the main number. In addition, I have written or co-authored more than 25 books, mostly on genealogy and hundreds of other published and unpublished articles and newsletters. Of course, that number will change after today and every day thereafter.

As technology changes and as the attention of the masses shifts from social network to social network, I still see blog posts as the most substantial and content-rich method of online communication. I do post all my blog posts on a number of other social networking programs, but that is only a concession to the reality of where the people are viewing content. I do have a Facebook page for Genealogy's Star and I suppose I ought to post there more often.

When I was younger and writing mainly with a pencil or pen and paper, the whole process was tedious and painful. When I learned to type in high school, the process was not much better. I could type but made so many errors that correcting my writing took more time than writing. When I finally got computers and word processing, they were liberating. I could finally type almost as fast as I could think and make corrections on the fly with a minimum of effort.

As time passed, I realized that I would not be very proficient in many of my interests. I was not talented or coordinated enough to play sports, I couldn't make things with my hands unless I wanted to spend more time correcting my mistakes than actually making things. One day, I finally realized that the things I could do involved speaking and writing. I tried to write some fiction but decided that what I wrote was most pretty sappy and not at all satisfying. Meanwhile, I kept writing technical, legal, and special interest material in a constant stream. When I became overwhelmingly interested in genealogy, it was only natural that I would start to write and talk about genealogy.

Now, I spend a lot of time writing and preparing presentations and classes. People ask how I come up with the ideas. That has never been a problem. I usually have a list of topics to write about and by reading and listening and working with people, I come up with plenty of ideas. It is always surprising to me that anyone likes or reads what I write or listens to what I have to say. But I would probably talk and write to myself if no one cared to listen.

My main creative outlet has turned out to be photography. This is something else I have done nearly all my life. Again, I take photos for my own satisfaction and the fact that anyone likes them is still surprising.

Will I stop writing? No. Will I stop taking photos? No. Well, someday I will have to stop simply because I will wear out. But meanwhile, I will keep on keeping on. Oh, one more thing. I do sleep.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Adam Smith and Modern Genealogy

Adam Smith. Etching created by Cadell and Davies (1811), John Horsburgh (1828) or R.C. Bell (1872). -, Public Domain,
Adam Smith in his seminal work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) observed that a division of labor represents a substantial increase in productivity. He was one of the early proponents of what may seem obvious today; that complex tasks can best be done by breaking them down into small, incremental components. In addition, he realized that these tasks could be done by many individuals working in combination to achieve a common goal. His observations were based on the manufacture of pins. These concepts are generally recognized as a basis for modern industrialization.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of industrialization has always been the disorientation and dislocation of the labor force. The industrialization faced by the world back in the 18th and 19th centuries is minor compared to the effects of the second (or third or whatever) industrial revolution going on today, usually referred to as the Information Revolution. Reaction to the historical industrial changes was sometimes violent. From 1811 to about 1816, bands of English workers destroyed machinery in the cotton and woolen mills that they thought was threatening their jobs. These opponents to industrialization have been called "Luddites" named after Ned Ludd, an apprentice who smashed two stocking frames in 1779 and became identified with the movement.

As a result of the disorientation and dislocation caused by the rapid advances in technology today and its impact on the practice of genealogy, we are today faced with our own genealogical Luddites.

As I have written several times in the past, genealogy has traditionally been a solitary and labor-intensive pursuit. The reaction of many has been to withdraw into their traditional methodology and decry and even oppose the transformation of genealogy from a solitary pursuit into its complex reality of a systematic division of labor. The mechanism for this change is not any one machine or process but an accumulation of processes focusing on online family trees.

Just as Adam Smith foresaw changes in the way physical items are made, we are now facing a change in the way historical research proceeds. The most obvious examples of this change are the beginning of universal family tree programs and the implementation of automatic searching illustrated by record hints. Combined, they are transforming the way genealogy is done far more completely than the mechanization of cotton or woolen mills.

The resistance to these changes is just a radical as that done by Luddites in the 19th Century. The threats to these advances come from concerns about privacy, maintaining individual autonomy, and isolationism.  The extreme manifestation of this opposition to technology is the refusal of some genealogical researchers to share "their" research despite a common ancestry with thousands of people. But the most insidious attacks come from those who cannot understand the need for collaboration and cooperation. Common examples of this attitude are referring to an online family tree as "my tree" and the information as  "my research."

Presently, the most prominent example of the changes is the Family Tree. This universal, automatic record hint driven family tree is the object of intense criticism merely because it implements the best of the effects of the division of labor espoused by Adam Smith. Almost uniformly, the criticism of the Family Tree arises from the actions taken by "other people." There are few admissions that the problems associated with the division of labor arise from the individual not doing his or her own part of the process. The results closely resemble a playground fight between rivals.

How do we manage to navigate these huge informational changes? I believe the first step is that the level of sophistication and knowledge of genealogists needs to increase. We also need to recognize that genealogy is inherently a cooperative and collaborative effort, not just an individual hobby. As we collectively begin to understand that when we begin working on a family tree we are likely duplicating the work of hundreds or even thousands of others who are related to the same ancestors, we will begin to see the importance of finding our place in the human family.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Most Popular Browsers, Search Engines and Operating Systems

It has been quite a while since I wrote about browsers, search engines, and operating systems. During the past few years, there have been significant changes in the way we access our computing devices. There have been significant changes in the market percentages of the different programs. Time to see what is going on out there on the internet.

First browsers. A browser, also known as a web browser, is a program that runs on your device (using the term to include anything attached to the internet) that enables the user to navigate the World Wide Web to access and display data of all kinds. You might be surprised at what are now the most commonly used programs. Here is the lineup from for 2018.

  • Chrome for Android 27.62%
  • Chrome 63.0 13.76%
  • Chrome 64.0 11.55%
  • Safari iPhone 9.58%
  • Firefox 58.0 3.41%
Here is another list from
  • Chrome 44.5%
  • Safari 25.4%
  • Various versions of Internet Explorer 15.5%
  • Firefox 7.4%
  • Edge 3.5%
Here is another website with statistics: This is where some of the information about usage comes from. There are many other sources.

Now, what about search engines? Here is another list from But really, the answer is there is Google and everybody else. Google has 63.5 percent of the overall search inquiries in the U.S., but on mobile devices, it has 93% of the market share. Worldwide, Google has an 86.3 percent market share. No other search engine has even close to 10% of the market. 

Next, on to operating systems. Here we have two divisions: desktop and mobile. There are probably not many surprises here. It is back to

  • Windows 82.55%
  • MacOS is about 12%
The rest share what's left. 

Mobile again from
  • Android 30.5%
  • iOS 23.8%
  • Microsoft 2.6%
  • RIM (Blackberry) 6.8
Many others with very small percentages.

If you can remember what was popular back a few years, you can see that there has been a huge change in the way computers are used and the programs that are the most used. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What Are Special Collections?

Most of the larger libraries and archives of the world have a storage area set apart from the regular books and other materials where they keep items that are either very monetarily valuable, in a delicate condition or are extremely rare. These sections of the libraries are usually called "Special Collections." In most cases, access to the items in these areas is restricted in some way. The Special Collections are not the same as libraries that have "closed stacks" restricting patron access to the books and other materials and requiring all of the patrons to request items for retrieval by library staff. Some libraries and archives even have the items in their special collections separately cataloged.

Smaller local libraries may also have a section of books or other items that are restricted from circulation and not kept on the regular shelves.

In my experience, most of the genealogists I talk to have little or no experience in researching in a special collections library. The first challenge is finding it. There may or may not be a designation or sign acknowledging that a special collections library exists. For example, the Library of Congress has most of its collection in closed stacks, but the Special Collections part of the Library is ent

Another example, the state of North Carolina has over 80 colleges and universities. Nearly all of these entities have libraries and special collections. Think about it. If you had ancestors in North Carolina, have you check the catalogs of all these libraries? Now, there is a North Carolina Digital Heritage Center that has a huge online collection of some of these items but this is only a small part of these valuable collections.

I have written about this experience previously, but while I was researching my great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner, I found a collection of records from one of his sons in the University of Utah Special Collections Library consisting of 21.25 linear feet of records. These records contained information about almost all the people who had lived in the small Arizona town where Henry lived. I also found most of the same collection in the Northern Arizona University Special Collections Library.

Since the items in the special collections libraries do not circulate, you may have to plan on spending the time at the location of the library looking at the items in a special reading room like the one shown above in the Library of Congress.

To find a special collections library simply do an online search for the location, i.e. the state or county, with the words "special collections." You may be surprised at what you will find.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Busy Week at Conference in Pennsylvania

My wife and I are busy this week assisting FamilySearch at the Registers of Wills and Clerks of Orphan's Court Association of Pennsylvania's 91st annual conference. We were asked to support the FamilySearch representative and help to promote the idea of using FamilySearch to help digitize their records. The Conference is being held in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. So we have taken a short drive through the beautiful countryside to help out.

We are there to relate our experiences in digitizing records for Maryland State Archives. I may have to catch up with posts once we get back.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

MyHeritage Adds 25 Million New Records

The new additions include millions of records from Ellis Island, West Virginia, and Sweden and hundreds of thousands of records from Denmark. The new records bring the total number of records on the website to 9,145,401,868. Yes, that's over 9 billion records.

You can read about the new records on the MyHeritage Blog. See New Historical Records Added in June 2018. If you have Swedish ancestors, you should take note. Here is the explanation of the new Swedish records from the blog post.
Sweden Household Examination Books 1860-1930 Update 
This 3,662,252 million historical record collection update to the Swedish Household Examination Books marks the final installment of this collection which now totals 87,401,340 records. 
The Swedish Household Examination Books serves as the primary source for researching the lives of individuals and families throughout the parishes of Sweden, from the late 1600’s until modern times. The books were arranged by the Swedish Lutheran Church who maintained the official records of the Swedish population until 1991. Each year until 1894, the parish priest would visit each home, first testing each individual’s knowledge of the catechism, and then collecting information about birth dates, marriages, deaths, changes in residence, etc. After 1894, the parish priests continued their visits but tended to be less focused on the doctrinal exams and more focused on collecting population information. These post 1894 records came to be known as the F√∂rsamlingsbok. 
This June installment is comprised of the records of those who were away from home at the time of the original collection.
 This was particularly interesting to my wife who has Swedish ancestry.

Returning to the Challenges of Francis Cooke

Week after week as I receive an email generated from the Family Tree about those whom I am watching, I see almost constant changes to people such as the Mayflower passenger Francis Cooke. Insanity is often defined as extreme foolishness or irrationality. I think this definition applies to those who feel that they need to keep editing a prominent person. It boggles my mind to think that there are so many people out there in the greater genealogical community that know so little about history and particularly about New England history to think that they have "discovered" some new information for a person such as a Mayflower passenger.

Notes, life sketches, memories, documents, and dozens of source do not seem to make an impact on the waves of changes. Of course, all of these "changes" also fail to be supported by even one source. Fortunately, there is a small group of people who ardently defend the reality of the entries and change everything entered back to conform with the more than well established and sourced information.

For example, there is some who added a birth date for Francis Cooke of 1 October 1577 and further shows he was born in Gides Hall, Essex, England. In fact, no new sources have been added to his entries for at least a year and there are no records showing a birth or christening record for Francis Cooke. The Gides Hall records date from the 1700s and show a person named Francis Cooke marrying a woman named Hester on 2 November 1766. Remember, the Mayflower arrived in America in 1620.

These few entries in my Family Tree take up an inordinate amount of time and effort just to maintain the status quo. Over the years, there has been some discussion about making such entries read-only or locked, but that presupposes that the information is complete and correct at the time the entries are locked.

There are presently 1357 people in the Family Tree with the name of Francis Cooke.

As an example, one of them was born in England in 1566 and supposedly died in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States in 1675.

He apparently lived to be 109 years old. There are no sources listed for this person. By the way, the actual entry and the search listing do not agree. The entry is for Francis Cooks KGS8-47J.

Usually, when I write a post like this one, I get several suggestions to make my views known in GetSatisfaction. There are presently 4929 topics on just the Family Tree in GetSatisfaction. The total number of topics is 12,209. Am I supposed to search through all these topics to see if this issue has already been raised? Should I start a new topic?

Well, I did search and, as I already knew, found that this topic has been around for at least five years or more. It also turns out that one of the people who commented on this problem is the same person who is cleaning up Francis Cooke today. So some of us have been working on this same issue for many years.

By the way, the response here outlines several options for limiting these irrational changes. This is only one of the many similar topics.

Now, short of requiring a psych evaluation for potential users of the program are there any other ways that the number of changes to these prominent people can be reduced?

I don't have an answer that is any different than all the different responses in GetSatisfaction. But I do know that I will outlast those who are making irrational changes and I already have assistance from a 2nd generation and will now start working on the third generation of those who will defend the integrity of the Family Tree.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Where are we with social networking?

What is happing in the world of blogs? What is happening on Facebook? What about Google+? And what about Twitter and Pinterest and Instagram? Not to mention, what is going on in the hundreds of other social networking websites. Last, of all, what does this have to do with genealogy?

Here is a graphic display of some of the more prominent social networking websites. How many do you recognize?

I am only on about nine of them. What do I know?

I have observed many times in the past few years that genealogical blogs are on the decline both in content and number. I have been going through lists of genealogy blogs online and continually find blogs listed that haven't posted for years. Some have been abandoned altogether. For example, out of ten blogs I checked, only three still had viable and updated posts. Many of these were abandoned as long as three or more years ago. Even though some of them had postings in 2018, the posts were outdated by many months. As I continued to search, I looked at posted "best genealogy blogs" and "genealogy blogs worth reading." Interestingly, my blog was seldom listed but most of the ones recommended hadn't published in years.

My reality is that one of my most popular venues is I get more visits on than I do in almost all my other blogs.

One interesting development is the invitation I received from RootsTech 2019 ( inviting me to apply to be a RootsTech Ambassador. There was no mention of blogs or bloggers in the invitation.

Where have all the bloggers gone? To flowers every one? has a lot of current genealogical activity but it is not immediately evident from a common news stream. Even if you subscribe to a lot of Facebook genealogy posts, you will probably lose them in the stream of viral videos.

What about Pinterest? I have no idea how to focus on genealogy on Pinterest. Everything goes by in huge streams of photos.

Instagram? I limit my friends to my family to keep from seeing everything that goes on everywhere.

I could go on but my impression is that genealogical information of the kind sent out regularly by experienced genealogists is getting harder and harder to find.

Are you aware of the Veridian Newspaper Collections?
It has been some time since I last wrote about Veridian is a company called DL Consulting located in Hamilton, New Zealand. Here is a quote from their website about the company.
Since 2002 DL Consulting has been helping libraries around the world retain their position as critical and important community resources. We understand that libraries are responding to an increasing demand for online access to content. Our Veridian digitization services give libraries the ability to preserve archives of historic material and deliver the content as a digital collection to their communities. 
DL Consulting has proven experience delivering large projects for prestigious university libraries, large state and public libraries, and national libraries in the U.S. and abroad. Our staff is highly skilled in managing complex digital collections and is always responsive to issues large and small. DL Consulting is based in Hamilton, New Zealand, with an office in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The company maintains a huge search engine called that searches more than 149 million items from more than 2,700 historical newspapers around the world. Some of the collections include:

  • 2017/06 Purdue University Library new Done
  • 2017/07 Catholic News Archive new Done
  • 2017/08 The Vassar College Digital Newspaper Archives new Done
  • Kent State University Done
  • 2017/09 Colorado Historic Newspapers Done
  • Digital Michigan Newspaper – Central Michigan University Done
  • 2017/10 Hudson River Valley Heritage Newspapers new Done
  • 2017/11 Stanford Daily – Stanford University new Done
  • 2017/12 Eastview/Hoover Hoji Shinbun new Done

Here is a link to the complete list:

Once you begin to recognize that there are an overwhelming number of online resources to search, it will change the way you do your genealogical research.

The First Ever MyHeritage International User Conference, in Norway

I will still be in Annapolis digitizing records, but it is interesting to learn that is holding its first ever MyHeritage User Conference in Oslo, Norway from the 2nd to the 4th of November, 2018. Here is a summary of the upcoming conference from the announcement I received.
The conference will be open to anyone from anywhere in the world who would like to learn more about MyHeritage, including subscribers, DNA customers, those with free basic accounts, and even people who haven't used MyHeritage yet but would like to find out more. 
Come and learn about MyHeritage's current and future products directly from senior MyHeritage staff. Gilad Japhet, CEO of MyHeritage, will give a keynote address and there will be classes covering a range of subjects — including genealogy and DNA — as well as hands-on workshops. There will also be presentations from leading genealogists and DNA experts, and a chance to meet and exchange tips with other MyHeritage users.
I am sure there will be more information available shortly. By the way, the weather is not too bad in Oslo in November.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Is Genealogy an Elephant?

By Illustrator unknown - From Charles Maurice Stebbins & Mary H. Coolidge, Golden Treasury Readers: Primer, American Book Co. (New York), p. 89., Public Domain,
I am sure I am one of the blind men feeling the genealogical elephant. But I am also certain that there are many other blind men out there in the greater genealogical community. Why do we have such differing opinions about the nature of genealogy and its methodology? Could it be that the subject itself is the answer to that question? Genealogy is really a very personal endeavor. Each of us begins and becomes interested in our ancestral heritage in a different way and how we proceed depends as much on our own personal background and interests as it does on any objective approach to the subject.

Unfortunately, genealogy is fragmented by those who believe that their way of doing research and recording the results is the only way. They are certain that their opinion of the elephant is correct and the others are all wrong. This week, I had two experiences giving me an insight into two of the very divergent views of genealogy. One of the experiences involved a group of teenagers who were brought to the local Family History Center for a "family history experience." The second was attending a meeting of a local genealogical society where we listened to a presentation about the resources of the Maryland State Archives. The two experiences were certainly at different ends of the elephant.

My elephant reality includes a large number of such disparate experiences. For example, there is a major emphasis in some parts of the greater genealogical community on citations and proper report writing. Neither of my recent experiences could have possibly viewed the genealogical elephant through touching on either citations or reports.

I spend a huge amount of time with online family tree programs. But I also do research in libraries, archives and other large and small repositories. You only have to think of the difference between beginning a family tree on an online genealogy program and sitting in an archive looking at original records to understand the disparity between these two experiences.

When I work with people who have a real desire to find and connect with their ancestors and they struggle with technology, I feel their frustration and can certainly understand that not everyone has "grown up" computers. I guess I am still trying to completely identify and quantify the genealogical elephant and perhaps harmonize all of the disparate impressions and beliefs about the subject. I had one person who I spoke to recently say, "I need to hire a professional genealogist. I have been doing genealogy for more than thirty years and I just can't resolve some of my research problems." He was seeing his part of the elephant quite clearly.

Maybe we all need to start seeing our own part of the genealogical elephant.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Making Your Way Through a Fog of Names

A quick search on the website for the surname "Smith" shows over 15 million results and of those results, about 1.4 million of those results have the name "John Smith." Of course, not all English names are as common as Smith or Jones, but every language of the world has its "commonly used" names. My own name has over 52,000 results. Fighting your way through record searches when your ancestor has a relatively common name is like walking into a dense fog.

Unfortunately, many genealogists never get past the "name search" level of genealogy. This issue is often referred to as the "same name = same person" problem. Separating two or more people with the same or very similar names can be overwhelmingly difficult. I have found people with the same name, living in the same small area, with the same birth and death dates. The only distinguishing features seemed to be their occupations.

If you don't care if you are related to a person and are simply trying to fill in all the empty spaces on your pedigree, then this post is obviously not directed at you. But if you care about your relationship to the people you are researching, then you need to be aware of the methodology used to separate commonly named individuals.

I use because I have a huge number of English ancestors. I also use the program because their particular search engine allows me to focus on the number of people with the same or similar name in a decreasingly smaller geographic area. For example, take the search for "John Smith." Here is a screenshot of the results.

Now let's add some qualifiers or filters. First, let's limit the area under consideration from England in general to a specific county.

Here, I put in Kent County and got a significant reduction in the number of results. By the way, you can use almost any search engine to do this, but is particularly well suited for this kind of analysis. Now, let's add a time period, say from 1820 to 1825.

Although there is a drop in the number, the reduction isn't much help. This points up a basic issue with all genealogical research: We have to know where an event in the person's life occurred. I will take a look at a specific parish: Tenterden.

Now we are getting somewhere. We have only 42 results and some of them are not specific to Tenterden. If we go down the list, some of them also have middle names. Now we have to begin looking at each of the entries to see if the details match those implied from looking at the rest of the family.

The main challenge in using this type of analysis is knowing where the people lived and being consistent in looking in the same area. For example, in this list, there are two locations Wittersham and Appledore. How far apart are these two towns?

They are quite close together and we will definitely have to find more information before we determine which of these two is the one we are looking for. The first record that came up is from the 1851 England, Wales, and Scotland Census. We can start there to see the occupation that is listed and so we start the journey into more and more specific research.

In some cases, with my own ancestors, I have multiple people with the same names in the same places and have yet to find my way through the fog. The danger here is that you make an arbitrary choice.

Monday, July 9, 2018

FamilyHistoryExpos Presents an Online Virtual Genealogy Conference
Some of my readers might recall that Family History Expos used to hold well attended, in-person, conferences around the U.S. Over time, however, the cost of traveling to various locations and the increased costs for renting the facilities finally mandated the end of onsite conferences. Since that time we have been holding webinars, online workshops and other activities. Of course, we have been publishing a lot of books. By the way, you can find our books on Just look for the names of the authors: Holly Hansen, James L. Tanner, Arlene H. Eakle, Ph.D. There are also additional authors of some of the books. Here is one of the books as an example.

Now, we are going to return to having conferences, but these will be entirely online. The first of these events is the Pirates of the Pedigree, 2018 International Family History Expo, A Virtual Event. We will be online from October 15th through the 20th. Here is a description of the upcoming conference.
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. 
Paid registered attendees receive the following with their registration:
  • Registration gift packet of digital fun and educational items donated by our Sponsors and Vendors
  • Access to view and print class handouts
  • Access to view recorded classes after the Expo is over
  • Eligible to win door prizes
Public viewing of some classes will be available at no cost. Those attending free classes offered without registration will enjoy the slideshow presentation of the presenter only. To view classes at no cost, simply click the link provided in the Agenda (check in early to assure yourself a spot in the broadcast). The Agenda is in process. 
We hope you will all attend this innovative event. We also note that several other organizations are starting up the idea of a virtual conference. I guess our good ideas have spread across the industry.