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

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Simple Rules for Robo Calls

I am not a robot. One of the most common online procedures for blocking robocalls is to have you certify that you are not a robot. I have written about this problem from time to time and usually get a few comments recommending various methods of stopping or at least slowing down these calls. Since I am using an iPhone with iOS, there is an option on the call information screen to block a caller. When the call comes in from an unknown number and a strange location, such as Shoreline, Washington, I do not answer and I wait to see if the caller leaves a voice mail message. No message then the call is blocked. This is "free" and simple.

The effect of this is if you are calling me and can't get through because your ID does not show up, I will not answer your call. If you really want to talk to me, you can email me and set up a time or simply leave a message. If I do manage to answer the phone, I will likely wait for you to say hello or ask for me.

Yes, I am aware of apps and programs, but I like simplicity.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Bring Your Genealogical Research into the 21st Century

How many of you out there in genealogy land have seen and handled one of these?

How many of you still have a stack of these in a box or binder?

How many of you out there still use this program?

How many of you are still using an older version of this same program?

How many of you are still using the following method of recording your genealogical research?

These are not idle questions. I have seen the rise and fall of empires since these tools were used for genealogy shortly after the last ice age.

Why is this an important issue for genealogists? Because we are basically old and feeble? No, the real reason is duplication of effort and duplication of errors. The simple fact of life in the world of genealogy is that historically, almost every genealogist had to recreate his or her entire pedigree from scratch. Some of us inherited piles of paper from another older and sometimes long dead genealogist, but that just created more work for us rather than saving any time or effort.

Let's take an example from the Family Group Record image at the beginning of this post. Hundreds, perhaps, thousands of people created a similar record for their personal use. Were all of these records exactly the same? No. There are some hard to detect errors in the image shown above. For example, the last child listed is recorded as "Albert Mills Tanner" when his name was "Albert Miles Tanner." The errors on these paper Family Group Sheets have been endlessly perpetuated across the years since they were first typed.

So how do we overcome the burden of all this duplication and perpetuation of errors? We work together on a collaborative family tree. Does such a tree exist? Yes. The most used one is the Family Tree, but there are others. Absent the use of a program such as the Family Tree, the errors and duplication of effort run rampant and they are almost impossible to eradicate. Even if you choose to use your own program or method of recording information, it is important to refer to the Family Tree for a master copy of the information as it now exists.

Once the paper Family Group Records were created, they have been handed down to people who have never done a day's work of genealogical research. However, the inherited documents (and other artifacts such as photos) become "treasured heirlooms" and are treated as if they were infallible sources of information about the family. Only when the family begins to participate in the 21st Century Forum of Genealogy online and with collaboration can these errors begin to be corrected.

Granted, some of us would rather live in the past and use an outdoor privy than indoor plumbing, but I think it is time to start eliminating duplication and errors and begin living in the 21st Century.

Once you begin using the Family Tree, you will begin to see both the problem of duplication and the amount of error that needs correcting in their proper perspective.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Attend Online MyHeritage Live in Oslo, Norway
Beginning at 9:00 local time in Oslo, Norway on November 3rd, MyHeritage will have a live stream of genealogy and DNA tracks online on the MyHeritage LIVE conference website. If you need help calculating the time difference to your local time zone, you can use Make sure to visit the conference website to see the full schedule and tune in at the time of the lecture to watch the live stream. See the website linked above for more information about the Conference.

High-rise planned at mouth of Provo, Utah's Rock Canyon

This post is a departure from my usual topics but I am concerned and need to publicize the issues. The above view of Mount Timpanogos was taken from my front yard. My house is very near to the mouth of the prominent canyon, called Rock Canyon, just above the Provo, Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and visible from the Brigham Young University Campus. A prominent cliff at the mouth of the canyon is called Squaw Peak. As you can see from the photo above, there are houses built up the side of the mountain. The main access to Rock Canyon, a very popular recreational area for hikers and climbers, is along 2300 North in Provo.

When you look at the above photo, you are looking across a 5+ acre parcel of land that is adjacent to Rock Canyon and is located along 2300 North. By the way, the famous Wasatch Earthquake Fault crosses the property. Here is a Google Map of the area. You can see the 5-acre parcel where the red arrow points. The parcel is adjacent to the Wasatch National Forest.

A short time ago, those of us in the immediate neighborhood found out that this parcel was privately owned. Apparently, for a number of years, the parcel has been used by the Forest Service. We learned that the property was going to be developed. Since I am presently in Annapolis, Maryland working at the Maryland State Archives digitizing records, I have not been able to personally attend any of the meetings held by the Provo City agencies about the proposed development.

This area has a long history of proposed developments. See the Rock Canyon Preservation Alliance. Apparently, the Alliance was involved in the development of the subdivision where I now live.

I was notified that after several meetings, the latest proposal for the development of the property includes a structure that will be 40 feet high on the property i.e. four stories. At the last meeting, the building was supposed to be for storage of recreational equipment. Provo City has a very spotted reputation for approving strange exceptions to their zoning laws as witnessed by the apartment building on 9th East and 7th North in Provo.

I have contacted the Rock Canyon Preservation Alliance and some of the homeowners in the area have been attending the meetings, but there does not seem to be much publicity or general interest in a project that could adversely affect this heavily used area.

So, I now turn to my main outlet for communicating with the world. If you live to the west of the proposed property, your view of the Canyon is about to be blocked. Also, if you use Rock Canyon for recreational purposes, the additional development with the large highrise building may impact the already congested area at the mouth of the canyon. Anyone out there who wants to know what is going on? I would be glad to help once I get back to Provo. Do we really need a four-story building at the mouth of the canyon?

Here is a Google streetview of the property from 2300 North.

Here is another view looking up 2300 North towards the canyon from the same point.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Does a genealogist need a smartphone?

I am guessing that the title to this post is no longer a major issue with current statistics showing that 95% of people own some kind of cell phone and smartphone use in the United States is at 77% of the population. That means that about 3 out of every 4 people in the United States now own a smartphone. But are there some particular uses for smartphones for genealogy that make them a particularly desirable device?

The answer to that question depends entirely on the extent to which computers, not just smartphones, have become integrated into your genealogical research methodology. As I analyze my use of my own smartphone, an iPhone 8 Plus, here is how I use mine with comments on the applicability to genealogy.

I obviously use my iPhone as a telephone but I make and receive a very few telephone calls. Most of my interpersonal communication is by email or on social networking programs. Since a significant amount of information about the genealogical community I monitor comes in the form of email or on Facebook or other social networking websites, this is by far my most constant use of my iPhone. On a regular day, I receive in excess of 50 email messages and probably double that number of messages on social networking. I limit my time on social networking and get notifications by email when someone wants to contact me.

Most genealogists are probably not as integrated into the online genealogical community as I am so I am guessing that few people use their smartphone primarily for genealogically related communication.

The second most used part of my iPhone is the camera. I use my iPhone camera constantly and even though most of my usage is for my photography interest, I do use the camera to record documents and photos related to genealogy. I take hundreds (sometimes thousands) of photos a month and now many of these are taken using my iPhone. Here is a recent example of a documentary stamp from a probate document. Documentary stamps were used on legal documents to pay the filing fees. I now use my iPhone for taking notes and making copies while doing research in libraries and archives where they are allowed.

Of course, I use my iPhone for reading books, doing research, watching the weather, as a GPS device with Google Maps and for a quick reference to answer questions or use a calculator. All of these integrate into genealogy from time to time.

Now, there are a number of specific apps for genealogy. I frequently go online on my iPhone and use, or and they all have dedicated apps. I keep a lot of my information in RootsMagic also and use their app on my iPhone.

The main limitation of using any smartphone for the above functions is the lack of a full-sized keyboard. However, for short messages, it turns out that we are using voice recognition apps such as the one from Google called Gboard. By the way, I do not like or use Siri.

So the question is does a genealogist NEED a smartphone. As usual, the answer is that it depends. I would feel like I was kicked back 30 years if I didn't have almost constant access to a computer and/or my iPhone. It that a good thing or a problem? I think the answer to both questions lies in how intense you are about almost constantly incorporating information into your life.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Why Genealogy?

Each of us follows our own path that takes into the world of genealogical research. Some years ago, I wrote a series of posts on the demographics of genealogy. I found that the demographics of genealogy has been the subject of several scholarly articles. Some of the studies report on the relationship of genealogy to generativity. In case this is a new term for you, generativity is defined as a concern for people besides self and family that usually develops during middle age. See Here are three studies that have considered generativity in the context of genealogy.
  • Drake, Pamela Jo Willenbring. 2001. Successful aging: investment in genealogy as a function of generativity, mobility and sense of place.
  • Umfleet, S. Bradley. Genealogy and Generativity in Older Adults, A Social Work 298 Special Project Presented to the Faculty of the College of Social Work San José State University. Special Project, (M.A.) San José State University, San José, California, 2009. 
  • Hackstaff K.B. 2009. ""Turning points" for aging genealogists: Claiming identities and histories in time". Qualitative Sociology Review. 5 (1): 130-151.
I think I jumped the gun a little, my interest in genealogy began when I was in my late 30s and had nothing to do with any of the assumed motivations explored in the above publications. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was exposed to the concept of doing genealogy or family history at a very early age as part of my religious background. My home, during my childhood, had shelves of books that included several surname books about my own ancestors. We were also told stories about prominent ancestors that became part of my oral heritage. Basically, genealogy became an interest that amalgamated several of my skills and interests including history and research. Genealogical research has always been so challenging that it has managed to keep my interest for over 36 years of intensive involvement. 

Just today, I was talking to one of the volunteers in the Maryland State Archives where we are digitizing records for FamilySearch and he mentioned to me that he had never learned how to type. I am fairly certain that had I never learned how to type, that my interest in computers and in genealogy would have been significantly reduced. Attempts to explain the motivation of genealogists would have to take into account the fact that the numbers of people who are involved include some rather distinct levels. As I have written about in many previous posts, genealogy per se is not a very popular area of interest compared to interests such as movies, sports, and a myriad other interests. The fact that millions of people have taken DNA tests or posted a family tree online does not indicate more than curiosity. Interest in genealogy may be increasing, but many of the indicators of interest such as attendance at genealogy conferences seen to suggest that active, participatory interest is either stable or on the decline. 

So why should anyone be interested in genealogy? The usual pat answer to this question involves discovering one's "roots." The genesis of this interest is attributed to a TV series called "Roots" that aired back in 1977. This date is significant because it pre-dates the development of the internet and all of the current large, online, genealogical database programs. The largest of these websites is clearly with more than 99 million users and 43 million family trees. Even these apparently large numbers are only slightly more than one-tenth of one percent of the total world population. You can compare this to statistics that indicate that approximately 43% of the people in the world are interested or very interested in Soccer (Football). See

Because of my church membership, many of the people I associate with consider their genealogy to be "all done." What they usually mean by this is that they know most of their ancestors back from four to six or more generations. But this viewpoint is usually focused on either direct line ancestors or descendency from a prominent person. I could certainly have gotten that impression from the books I have available to me as a child. It was only after my interest in genealogical research expanded past the point of casual interest that I began to realize that comparatively little real genealogical work had been done on even my direct line ancestors. 

As with any special interest from bird watching to raising rabbits, once you become significantly involved in the interest, you tend to find and associate with people who have the same interests. However, that is not always the case. I am significantly involved in photography but I do not go to photography conferences, nor do I take classes or associate with other photographers. I was involved in genealogy for more than twenty years before I ever took a class or attended a genealogy conference. 

Like many other interests, there are those individuals that become well known in the area. We have a number of very prominent genealogists, most of whom are professionals or semi-professionals. But the actual number of these individuals is very small. For example, the directory of the Board for Certification of Genealogists has less than 250 individuals listed. By comparison, when I was practicing law in Arizona, there were over 14,000 attorneys in the state. 

If you were to attend a major genealogical conference, such as the upcoming RootsTech 2019 Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, you could get the impression that there are lots of people involved in genealogy. But I talk to many people around the United States who are doing genealogical research who, like I was early on in my interest, not planning on attending a conference or taking a class. There are many local, county and state genealogical societies in the United States and other countries. Some of these have a core of very active genealogists. But by and large, genealogy is not particularly a group activity where people attend for social interaction. 

I think that the reasons for an active interest in genealogy are highly personal. We should not feel bad because others do not share our interest and we should, by no means, feel isolated or unusual. Because genealogy requires a lot of different skills, it should not be surprising that there are a limited number of people who are or could become interested. In addition, we should welcome any level of interest. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Environment, Culture, and DNA

Many years ago, when I was in graduate school studying Linguistics, the big scientific issue, particularly about language acquisition was "Nature vs Nurture," In short, the argument was whether human language was hard-wired and therefore inherited or acquired after birth. This overly simplistic view of a complex subject has now become a major issue again but the arguments being put forth are now incorporating references to DNA. Ultimately, the genesis of the argument began with the concept of evolution. But many of the issues surrounding genealogical DNA testing are really rehashing the old dichotomy between nature and nurture. B. F. Skinner was the leader of the "nurture" camp and Noam Chomsky was the leader of the "nature" camp. It is interesting that almost all the theories propounded by both sides have now been subject to extreme revision over the years.

Reducing complex subjects to simplistic dichotomies is intellectually abhorrent. Rather than creating a fact-based dialogue, any interaction on the subject becomes propaganda. By the way, propaganda is not limited to political issues. The broad definition of propaganda is information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc. Not all propaganda is entirely false but it is still propaganda. Right now, we find ourselves in a virtual ocean of propaganda about DNA and DNA testing. Some genealogists paint DNA testing as the ultimate solution for unresolved genealogical (i.e. historical family history) questions. A small, but vocal, group of genealogists question DNA testing's utility beyond resolving relationship issues in the first five or six generations and paint all other conclusions as speculative and yet undetermined.

Meanwhile, the use of genealogical DNA testing to support or debunk political, social and cultural issue is expanding well beyond determining the identity of ancestors and relatives. Recently, the most prominent use of genealogical DNA testing has expanded into the criminal justice system. It is ironic that DNA testing for relationships started out as a tool in the court system for proving paternity and then moved into the genealogical arena in stages along with the online accumulation of huge genealogical tree submissions and has now begun to move back into the criminal justice system because of the accumulated data in all the online family trees. The propagandists have jumped on this bandwagon and paint the use of genealogical DNA testing as a boon to research or an extreme violation of "privacy."

Depending on your personal cultural background, you may see that publicizing information about your family is a violation of privacy or a polite necessity. For example, if you were raised speaking the Navajo language, you would be used to explaining your clan affiliations and ancestry as part of polite introductions when meeting people. We often use surnames in the broader modern culture of the United States in the same way. Frequently, when I meet someone for the first time, we inquire as to whether or not we are related to a person we know who has the same surname. However, the taboos and personal ramifications of this type of interaction are extensive. For example, let's suppose you have not spoken to a certain relative for years because of a conflict and someone you meet who knows your relative immediately asked how that relative is doing. What do you say?

Genealogical DNA testing has the potential of stripping away many of the cultural norms of our society and adding another layer of relationships and interactions that have the potential to disrupt our entire worldwide social system. We may all be forced to consider the fact that some of our basic attitudes and beliefs concerning our relationships with others have no basis in fact. The most visible of these heretofore fundamental beliefs is that of "racial" identity. Extensive DNA testing is definitely demonstrating that the concept of "race" is based entirely on superficial differences in such things as skin coloring and speech patterns. The effect of this revolutionary concept is dramatically demonstrated in the futile and pathetic attempts by some groups to preserve their personal viewpoints on "racial purity" and "racial superiority" when DNA testing shows such distinctions are illusory.

As genealogists, we have been placed squarely in the middle of this quandary. Of course, we can ignore the entire subject of DNA testing and continue to build our paper pedigrees as if the subject did not exist. Just as the genealogists who refuse to go online with their genealogical data do by claiming privacy or ownership concerns. What is certain, however, is that how we view ourselves as humans and part of a continuum of humans with few biologically-based differences will ultimately become part of what we will have to deal with as genealogists. Meanwhile, I will have to come to an understanding of how I might have acquired Southern European and Middle Eastern ancestry.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

DNA analysis providing evidence of Native American heritage?
Genealogical DNA testing is in the news lately. The test results from a DNA test made public by Senator Elizabeth Warren resulted in the following statements from the President of the United States as quoted in the above article from The Guardian.
Referring to her by the racist moniker Pocahontas, Trump said: “She took a bogus DNA test and it showed that she may be 1/1024 [Native American,] far less than the average American …
"Now that her claims of being of Indian heritage have turned out to be a scam and a lie, Elizabeth Warren should apologize for perpetrating this fraud against the American Public,”
Hmm.  These comments and the rest of the controversy have elicited the following response from my expert genealogist daughter, Amy Tanner Thiriot posted on Facebook:
I've talked about the fight over Senator Elizabeth Warren's genealogy from time to time, and the woefully offensive campaign to mock her family stories and heritage. Yes, she has indigenous ancestry, and no, there never has been and never will be any excuse for anyone calling her "Pocahontas" or — more importantly — for using Native American identity as an insult or political weapon. And just in case you've heard otherwise, her political enemies are wrong about her ever being a "diversity hire." If your news outlet is telling you otherwise, you may want to find a new source for news.
Here are a few of the issues raised by the statements made by the President:

  • Were the results of a genealogical DNA test "bogus?"
  • Does the "average American" have Native American DNA?
  • What is the percentage necessary to establish Native American ancestry or any other ancestry?
  • What source did the President use to conclude the percentage of Native American ancestry in Elizabeth Warren's test?
  • Are claims of Native American ancestry (or any other ancestry for that matter) based on a genealogical DNA test a "lie and scam?"
  • Are the genealogical DNA testing companies perpetuating a fraud on the "American Public?"
  • Is calling someone a "Pocahontas" now another racist moniker? What about those people who claim descendency from Pocahontas or Rebecca Rolfe?
  • Is there something wrong with acknowledging Native American ancestry?
There are probably a lot of other questions that could be raised by these irresponsible statements. The real question from a genealogical standpoint is why is this an issue at all? 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Genealogy Hits the Prime Time

When we came to Annapolis, Maryland, we sort of expected to see dead bodies on every corner and in every park. Not really. But that is the impression you might get from watching a popular law enforcement series from the world of TV. Now the dead are featured on a prime-time TV show called, "Family History." The story plot is about a young lady who discovers all the "family secrets" from taking a DNA test, probably from one of the sponsors of the TV show. In my family, they wouldn't have any material for even one episode so the "murder a week" plot is likely to surface in the protagonist's family.

When I write about a media production that highlights genealogy, there are always those who say any advertising is good news for genealogy. Although, I am not so sure that this is the case when you sensationalize and subsequently trivialize the real relationship between DNA testing and genealogical research. Since I don't own a TV and haven't watched network TV except in brief skip-through-the-channels experiences when we are staying in a hotel for many years, I will have to wait to watch until the show ends up in one of the online suppliers of series.

I will be watching for reviews and comments, however.

Monday, October 15, 2018

First Ever Virtual Online International Genealogy Conference

Family History Expos' Pirates of the Pedigree is the first virtual, online, international genealogy conference and it can be watched and enjoyed from home for free. If you have been to a local genealogy conference recently, you may have had a few vendor companies attending your event. The Family History Expos event has over 70 vendors from around the world including many genealogy societies and major online genealogy companies such as You can visit all these vendors and save your back and feet. You can chat directly with many of the vendors and connect with the rest through email.

The event starts today, October 15, 2018, and will run through Saturday October 20, 2018. See this link to find out more and attend this first ever event.

Here is the video and basic blurb: proudly presents PIRATES OF THE PEDIGREE, the 2018 International Virtual Family History Expo this week 15-20 October 2018. It’s free and easy to watch online.

It’s free to watch, but to view the recording and the handouts, register at‬ 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Looking for a Recipe for Genealogy?

Julia Child's Kitchen at the Smithsonian American History Museum
If you have ever eaten something that you liked a lot, you may have thought about getting the recipe. Recipe and food websites are some of the most popular on the internet. Too bad we don't have a recipe for genealogy that would show us step by step how to make well-made family trees. Wait a minute. We do have a recipe for genealogy. It is called The Family History Guide. It is a well organized, step-by-step way to become extremely proficient in doing genealogical research and have your own well-made family tree.

If you can follow the instruction to make a simple meal, you already have all the skills you need to get started becoming a great family historian. The instructions are all on the free, organized, sequentially organized website called The Family History Guide.

The Family History Guide takes the complication of genealogical tasks and breaks them down into pleasant bite-sized chunks of information that will have you progressing along to mastery. Your learning experience will be aided by thousands of instructional documents and videos. You can do all of this for free.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Looking Beyond Genealogy Websites

Because of the huge number of resources available on four or five of the largest genealogy websites, we have a tendency to focus primarily on those resources sometimes to the exclusion of other valuable genealogical records. Perhaps, we need to step back a bit and take a longer view of the genealogical research process and adjust our research habits and methodologies to the reality of document and record availability.

Let me start with a hypothetical situation. Let's suppose that I needed to do some research in North Carolina, United States for an ancestor. I could begin my research by "touching the bases" and checking for the ancestor's name etc. in each of the big online database programs. Because I touched all four or five bases does that mean I have now made a "home run" and can retire from the field? Not at all. What do I do next?

Any search we do online with websites assumes that we have accurate and complete search criteria. This means that we know the variations in the name of our ancestor and all the places where that ancestor lived. Let me give an example. Suppose I am looking for this ancestor:

Cornelius Dollarhide, b. 1746 in North Carolina, United States, d. February 1838 in unknown.

Hmm. Where would I begin to look for this person? You say the answer is obvious, you look in North Carolina. I say, maybe and maybe not. Neither the birth nor the death dates are exact and neither of the dates is associated with a specific location. One thing I did discover with my search is that there are a number of men named Cornelius Dollarhide or with variations of that name who lived about the same time in North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and even Maryland. Which of all of those potential candidates is my target person? The main issue turned out to be between a Cornelius in Kentucky and one in Tennessee.

I began the process of expanding my research by looking in records outside of those readily searchable on the main large genealogy websites. I found my first breakthrough on a website called, "The American Revolution in North Carolina." To understand why finding a record of Cornelius in this website was important, we have to step back and look at other details. First of all, this family's verified family line comes from Mississippi. So we need to find out how they got there. It is also essential that we look at the dates and places to determine the jurisdictions of the places at the time of the events. For example, Mississippi did not become a state until December 10, 1817. Kentucky did not become a state until June 1, 1792. Tennessee was made a state on June 1, 1796. Why do these dates matter? When doing genealogical research we look for records created at or near the time of the event in the jurisdiction of the time of the event. In this family, the Cornelius' son, Thomas Jefferson Dollahite said he was born in Tennessee in every census from 1850 to 1880. Since Tennessee became a state in 1796 and the son was born in 1814, he could have been born in Tennessee. It follows that if we find the son's father is Cornelius in Tennessee, then we have good indications that we are looking at Tennessee as the place where this family lived rather than Kentucky.

At this point, I still need more information to conclude that the family in Tennessee is the same as the family in North Carolina notwithstanding the fact that Tennessee was originally a part of North Carolina. I found additional helpful information in the following book available on Google Books.

Hale, Will T. 1913. A history of Tennessee and Tennesseans: the leaders and representative men in commerce, industry, and modern activities. Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co.

In that book, it states that the Dollahite (Dollarhide) family came from North Carolina and were early settlers of Henry County, Tennessee.

As I continue to do research using a variety of sources, each new piece of information will help me to be more and more accurate. The cumulative sum of the information I find will eventually be enough to conclude that the family came from North Carolina.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Social Media is not Data Storage: Google to Shut Down Google+

During the past couple of years, many people, including genealogists, have been transitioning their blogs to social media such as Facebook etc. They have also used social media websites for "genealogy" storing photos and documents online. The recent announcement made by Google that it will be "sunsetting consumer Google+" highlights the dependence all of the users of social networking websites have on the continuation of what is essentially a business to make money. None of the online social networking websites is "permanent." They are all totally dependent on the whims and goals of those who own and run them.

At the very least, if you are using a social networking website to "store" your photos or other content, you should backup all of your data to another storage media constantly and regularly. When I say "another storage media," I do not mean another social networking website. I mean your computer's storage. Any data that you wish to preserve should also be backed up to hard drives, flash drives, and online data storage.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Digital Strategy at the Library of Congress

Apparently, the Library of Congress is finally beginning a comprehensive plan to digitize some of their vast collections of records. As the claimed largest library in the world, they are certainly not the leader in the number and value of their online offerings. As genealogists, the recent history of the Library of Congress is far from promising. On November 25, 2013, the Library of Congress closed its Local History and Genealogy Reading Room and moved the reference collection into the "stacks." Access to this traditional genealogical resource is now in the Main Reading room. From my own experience, without guidance, a first-time user would not be able to find the books and other resources.

There is also an inherent contradiction in the current efforts of the Library of Congress due to the fact that they are also the agency responsible for the controversial access policies inherent in the United States Copyright Law because the Copyright Office is an integral part of the Library. Because of Congressional action, use and access to many valuable research materials have been overwhelmingly restricted. It does seem unlikely that the governmental agency most responsible for "protecting" and limiting access to intellectual resources should become the leader in making those same resources available.

Policies and budgetary constraints at both the Library of Congress and the National Archives have severely limited the number and availability of digitized records from both institutions. It would be a huge change if this present plan includes real changes in the number and availability to access items in both institutions collections.

It will be interesting to see what will happen, although I do not expect any significant changes during what is left of my lifetime. As a final comment, I would suggest that the Internet Archive or may become the largest library in the world considering its growth during the past few months and years assuming they catch up with the National Library of Australia.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Beware of Bogus Facebook Friend Requests

I have seen a rise again in bogus Facebook friend requests. When you receive a friend request, you can certainly decline and delete the request. There is no obligation at all to accept any requests. However, you might get a request from someone you know or who may be part of your "interest group." In some cases, you may recognize the person and think, "don't I already have them as a friend?" In many cases, the answer is yes.

What is happening is that Facebook parasites are creating or cloning fake copies of existing Facebook people and then sending out friend requests to get huge numbers of friends. They can then use the bogus friend to send out spam posts.  The easiest solution to this problem is to check any new friend requests against your existing friends. Simply use the name of the person on the friend request and search your list of friends. If you find that you already have the person as a friend then delete the duplicate request.

The person who has been duplicated does not know about and cannot control the duplication. This is a serious bug in the Facebook program and probably results in millions of bogus "people" on the program.

Other bogus friend requests appear to be real people. You can detect that they are bogus by the fact that their photo is usually a woman and the accompanying photos are suggestive. These fake requests are almost always from undesirable or pornographic websites. One other way to detect these fake friend requests is that they usually have a very small number of friends. Think about it, why would someone you do not know send you a friend request as one of their first friends?

This is a major problem with Facebook and could ultimately ruin the entire program.

Don't respond to any request in Facebook that asks you to click on any link. Here is that type of bogus request that came through Messenger:

I suppose that should Facebook become unusable, we can all move to something else.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Looking at Genealogy as Information

Back in 1948, Claude E. Shannon published a groundbreaking paper entitled, "A Mathematical Theory of Communication." This paper is viewed as the foundation for the development of electronic computers and the transmission of information over electronic circuits. However, there are many of the concepts in that first paper and in the subsequent development of information theory that relate directly to the creation of an online family tree, particularly of the type implemented on the website known as the "Family Tree." The concepts of the general theory of the transmission of information can be applied to genealogy by analogy.

Here is a schematic diagram of a general communication system:
If we substitute genealogical terminology, the analogy becomes obvious.
If we view genealogy as a system with information sources as the input and accurate family trees as the output, then we should begin focusing on reducing the noise or unsupported information and increasing the quality of the signal or enhancing the level of support for the conclusions made by entering information in our individual records. What is the underlying principle upon which we can "tune" our genealogical information stream? The one tuning principle is adherence to a strict consideration of the location of each event recorded. It is certainly true that people move around, but the main challenge of genealogical research is attaching the events in a person's life to very specific geographical locations. The benefit of focusing on the location of the events is evident in the reduction of unsupported information. Additionally, we can conclude that any information that is unsupported by researched sources is no more than noise.

Looking at genealogy in this way emphasizes the importance of careful and documented information. This goes back to the early saying about computer programming: garbage in -- garbage out. Here is a good example.

Pirates of the Pedigree

Here is a press release from Family History Expos' President Holly Hansen about the upcoming virtual conference called "Pirates of the Pedigree." I will be presenting on Saturday, at 8:00 am, MDT.
October is a wonderful month, especially after the typically sultry weeks of late summer. Known for its brilliantly colored fall leaves and the holidays of Columbus Day and Halloween, this October brings Pirates of the Pedigree, a first-of-its-kind, world-wide event for all family historians. 
Beginning on Monday, October 15, a full week filled with 58 classes will be broadcast over the internet. Holly T. Hansen, president of the company, has gathered an outstanding group of presenters to teach in their area of expertise. 
As if the classes weren’t enough to entice you to participate, check out the wonderful Sponsors and Vendors. What an impressive collection of businesses focused on serving the needs of genealogists! 
We’re gearing up for a fun week, with some activities preceding the event. The first one is being announced with this notice. Play along! 
Registration is still open. At $99.00 for the entire event, each class costs under $2.00! In addition, you will receive the handouts and extended access to watch the class presentation videos over and over. The extended access will be especially helpful if the original broadcast is at a time that is inconvenient for you. 
A selected number of classes will be made available at no charge. However, handouts and extended access will not be included without a registration.  
Join us for this groundbreaking event in the world of family history. Visit us at to get the full panoramic picture of Pirates of the Pedigree.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Don't Forget to Look at Probate Inventories, Accountings and Sales

An example of a probate inventory and valuation
For hundreds and in some cases, thousands of years, the transfer of a person's property after death has been the subject of legal or governmental action. These procedures imposed at death are collectively referred to as probate actions and almost every country of the world has developed some form of this structured transfer of property. Our system of probate in the United States is primarily derived from English law. Because probate actions involve the transfer of interests in personal and real property, there are a huge number of records of these transactions. None of these records were kept for the purpose of benefitting genealogists or genealogical research. Most of the time, the interest of the community in handling probate matters was concerned with taxes imposed on the transfer of the decedent's interest in the property.

For the past month's, my wife and I have been serving a Senior Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as Record Preservation Specialists for FamilySearch. We have been working in the Maryland State Archives helping to digitize probate records. During our work of digitizing these records, we have been impressed by their immense value for genealogical research. Unfortunately, most researchers who even know to use probate records consider wills to be the chief records and the only ones of value. I don't want to understate the value of wills, but the entire probate process includes a whole series of valuable records. Some of the valuable types of records usually classified as probate records include the following:
  • Wills
  • Estate inventories and accountings
  • Reports of sales
  • Guardianships
  • Indentures
and here in a former slave state, Certificates of Freedom. In addition, there are all the Court's procedural documents, signatures, and the other associated documents that also contain valuable information. The inventories and accounts of sale are some of the most interesting documents. Here in Maryland, and elsewhere, they list all of the names of those who purchase items from the estate sale. These lists often include the names of all of the family members living in the general area of the location of the deceased's property. These lists also indicate the economic level of the deceased and provide an insight into the types of property owned. In short, they are not only helpful for research, but they are also fascinating. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Expanded Commentary on The Rules of Genealogy: Rule One

I have been referring to the Rules of Genealogy for some time now and I thought it was about time to produce an expanded commentary on each of the existing eleven rules and who knows, I may discover another rule before I am finished with this commentary. Here I go with Rule One.

Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.

This is a surprisingly simply stated rule that has a complex background and application. Rule One has its origin in the almost universal ignorance of history and geography of the practitioners of genealogy. It is also my experience that even those who know both the history and geography consistently make errors based on their failure to apply their own knowledge. It is also interesting that when someone does not know something, they are usually unaware of their lack of knowledge. My comments are not intended to apply to those few genealogists who have an extensive background in history and/or geography and particularly political history. I also do not exclude myself from this category when I do research in an area of the world with which I am unfamiliar.

The crux of this rule is the common practice of identifying people by name and date and ignoring the location of events in their lives. Genealogical research should always (ALWAYS) begin with an identification of the exact location of an event in an ancestor or relative's life. Even though I write about this frequently, I always have the impression that I am trying to wear away a glass wall as amply illustrated by the November 28, 2015 episode of Dr. Who entitled, "Heaven Sent." Dr. Who's wall is made of Azbantium, a mineral 400 times harder than diamond.

Well, just like Dr. Who, I will keep pounding on the wall until I stop writing because of whatever cause.

Unless you happen to believe in the multi-universe theory, everything that happens in our particular timeline is associated with a specific geographic location on this earth. In order for an event to become discoverable through historical/genealogical research, some record has to be made of the event beginning at the time the event occurs. However, let's assume that the event is not immediately reduced to a physical record as can happen with oral histories or recording memories. We can assume, and usually do, that the longer the time between the event and the physical recording of the event, the greater possibility exists that the event is not memorialized accurately. There are a number of different ways that historians and genealogists have expressed these phenomena such as using the terms "primary sources" and "secondary sources."

Using the birth of a baby as the basis of the rule comes from the physical fact that the mother of the baby is always present at the birth. The rule refers to the common issue of finding that children listed with a particular set of parents were born in different places making it highly unlikely that they are actually the children of the mother listed in the family. There is also a reference to the fact that the mother has to be alive when the baby is born or die at about the same time of the birth. The corollary to this rule is that the father does not have to be present when the baby is born and so locating events in a mother's life are inherently more reliable than the location of events in a father's life.

This rule is the first rule of genealogical research because I usually have to point out this fact and repeat the rule on a very regular basis when I am doing research with or for another person. I could examine any extended family tree such as the Family Tree or any other such compilation of user-submitted genealogy and find multiple instances of the violation of this rule in a matter of minutes. I don't usually find too many people who want to take me up on this challenge.