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

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Wisconsin: State Archives: Wonderful Local Sources for Genealogical Research
One of my daughters and one of my sons-in-law attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison for graduate school and I also have a sister and her family that live there. I also remember almost freezing to death one winter in Madison waiting for my daughter. So I have some connection to Wisconsin, but it seems like I should spend more time online looking at the resources from each of the Archives. Wait a minute. That is exactly what I am doing. Here is my look at the Wisconsin resources.

The Wisconsin Historical Society is the umbrella organization for the following divisions:
  • The Division of Library, Archives and Museum Collections
  • The Division of Museums and Historic Sites
  • The State Historic Preservation Office
  • The Office of Programs and Outreach
Here is a description from the Wikipedia article, "Wisconsin Historical Society."
The Division of Library-Archives collects and maintains books and documents about the history of Wisconsin, the United States, and Canada. The society's library and archives, which together serve as the library of American history for the University of Wisconsin–Madison, contain nearly four million items, making the society's collection the largest in the world dedicated exclusively to North American history. The Wisconsin Historical Society's extensive newspaper collection is the second largest in the United States after the Library of Congress. 
The society's archives also serve as the official repository for state and local government records. The society coordinates an Area Research Center Network, an alliance between the Historical Society in Madison and four-year campuses of the University of Wisconsin System throughout the state, to make most of the archival collections accessible to state residents.
The Division of Museums and Historic Sites operates the Wisconsin Historical Museum in downtown Madison and 11 historic sites throughout the state. The museum has an archaeology program in collaboration with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources that undertakes research, and collects and preserves historical artifacts. The other historic sites are tourist attractions that display historic buildings reflecting Wisconsin history and provide exhibitions and demonstrations of state history, such as ethnic settlement, mining, farming, fur trading, transportation, and pioneering life. 
The Wisconsin Historical Society is located on 814 State Street, Madison, Wisconsin. This location contains the following records:
The headquarters building contains the Society's Library and Archives as well as the offices of most Society programs. Our librarians and archivists are ready to help you enjoy the largest collection of published and unpublished materials documenting the history of North America outside of the Library of Congress. Learn more about our visitor amenities
This is a photo of the Reading Room.

By James Steakley - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Many of the Archives around the United States feature specific resources for genealogists. The Wisconsin Historical Society has this section:
The Wisconsin Historical Society is among the top five institutions for genealogy research in the United States. Quoting in part, their collections contain "nearly every type of genealogical resource can be found - from vital records to military records, to passenger lists, to census records." Plus, their "4,000-title newspaper collection is second only to the Library of Congress." The "collections span the entire United States and Canada and are an invaluable resource for connecting your family's heritage." For a more complete overview see "Family History Collections Overview."

The Society also has twelve different historic sites and museums that are free to visitors.
The Wisconsin Historical Society website has a directory of over 400 local societies and museums.

Genealogists should take note that every one of these societies and museums may have information that is valuable to your research. If you are doing research in Wisconsin, it looks like to me that you have enough resources to last for many years.

But before you get in your car or take an airplane to Wisconsin, you should explore their online resources. You can find links to the collections on the "Explore Our Collections" page. In addition, it always a good idea to explore the holdings of all of the large online genealogy database websites and do an intensive online search for additional resources. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Where are all the genealogy ebooks?

During the past few years, there has been a considerable amount of discussion about the future of paper-based books in light of the development of digitized copies of existing books commonly called ebooks and the fact that a percentage of newly published books are being published only in digital editions. The discussions centered around the future of libraries, bookstores, and all others involved in the traditional book trade. However, the latest statistics on book sales are inconclusive about the future of paper-based books with some statistics that indicate e-book sales are declining and people are returning to printed books. See "Real books are back. E-book sales plunge nearly 20%"

I am certainly a proponent of digital books, especially for research purposes. It is absolutely easier to use a digital book that can be searched word by word than relying on an incomplete index or no index at all in a paper-based book. From the standpoint of doing genealogical research, the issue of digital vs. paper is irrelevant because of an extremely small market for either format. Most of the books that have genealogical research value are either old or of very limited print runs. For example, most of the "surname books" or books about a particular family or individual and his or her descendants or ancestors have perhaps a dozen or less than fifty copies printed. When these books find their way into a library, the library may have the only copy publically available. Even genealogy trade books have very small print runs. Almost all the books I have collected about genealogy over the years are out-of-print and will probably never be reprinted.

The fact that these genealogically valuable books are essentially "rare" makes finding them and using the information contained in the books very difficult. I recently found a reference to a book that apparently was in manuscript format and the only copy was in a library in Florida. I tried to obtain the book through Interlibrary Loan, but the library refused to send the book because they had the only known copy. Fortunately, I found a friend who knew someone who had access to the book and I was able to get the few pages I was interested in sent me as digital images. If that book had been digitized and made available online, I could have been spared the time and necessity of working through a network of researchers to find out whether or not the book was useful. In most cases, the existence of such a book would be well beyond the research resources of anyone who did not have direct access to that library in Florida.

But even supposing that a book is digitized, there is still a huge issue of how to find the book and gain access to the book. A paper book sitting on a shelf in a library somewhere in the world may be accessible but only if you can find the book in the library and only if you can physically travel to the place where the book is located. You might assume that digitizing a book makes it more accessible, but there are a number of barriers that prevent this from happening.

The first barriers to finding and accessing the information in ebooks are the arcane and overly restrictive United States Copyright laws. Unless a book is published as an ebook, there is no incentive for an author to reprint a book as an ebook unless they can maintain the same level of restrictions. Because the genealogy market is so specialized, there are few avenues for authors to publicize their books, so even if the author chooses to publish an ebook, there is little expectation of a high sales volume. In many instances, university libraries turn out the be one of the biggest customers. Libraries provide ebooks to those who have their library cards, but the most common ebook supplier,, does not include more than a small handful of genealogically related ebooks to their inventory.

It is ironic that you can go to a large library, such as the one I live near, the Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library, and find thousands of paper-based, valuable genealogy related books on the shelves and as a non-student, none of them are available to me as ebooks.

Of course, the question that needs to be asked is whether or not there are any genealogically related ebooks at all? The answer is yes, there are hundreds of thousands available and they are concentrated in five major websites.

So where are the genealogically related ebooks? presently has an online collection of 372,477 ebooks. But not all of these are readily available. Here is an example of one of the warning messages that come up if you click on a restricted book:

Unfortunately, there are no readily available instructions about how you go about obtaining sufficient rights to view the item. If the "book cannot be viewed online due to copyright restrictions" then why have the book listed in the online catalog at all as an ebook? What is the point? It appears that the actual number of ebooks that are readily available in considerably less than the number claimed to be digitized and online. There are some readily available books, but you may become frustrated with the restrictions. I am going to write a followup post about how to find all these books.

The next online source for genealogically related ebooks is obvious: Google does not publish the numbers of publically available books and determining the number genealogically significant books is probably impossible. Notwithstanding the huge collection of books on Google, they are divided into the following categories as summarized by Wikipedia: Google Books:
The four access levels used on Google Books are:
  • Full view: Books in the public domain are available for "full view" and can be downloaded for free. In-print books acquired through the Partner Program are also available for full view if the publisher has given permission, although this is rare.
  • Preview: For in-print books where permission has been granted, the number of viewable pages is limited to a "preview" set by a variety of access restrictions and security measures, some based on user-tracking. Usually, the publisher can set the percentage of the book available for preview. Users are restricted from copying, downloading or printing book previews. A watermark reading "Copyrighted material" appears at the bottom of pages. All books acquired through the Partner Program are available for preview.
  • Snippet view: A 'snippet view' – two to three lines of text surrounding the queried search term – is displayed in cases where Google does not have permission of the copyright owner to display a preview. This could be because Google cannot identify the owner or the owner declined permission. If a search term appears many times in a book, Google displays no more than three snippets, thus preventing the user from viewing too much of the book. Also, Google does not display any snippets for certain reference books, such as dictionaries, where the display of even snippets can harm the market for the work. Google maintains that no permission is required under copyright law to display the snippet view.
  • No preview: Google also displays search results for books that have not been digitized. As these books have not been scanned, their text is not searchable and only the metadata information such as the title, author, publisher, number of pages, ISBN, subject and copyright information, and in some cases, a table of contents and book summary is available. In effect, this is similar to an online library card catalog.
Once again, you might get frustrated when you search for an ebook and you find that the ebook you want is in one of the 3 out of the 4 restricted categories.

Moving on, we find an online treasure: With 19,379,045 total ebooks and texts, is the far ahead of even the closest competitor and of these 18,547,866 books and other resources are readily available and 672,961 are available to borrow online for up to two weeks. Here is the largest library you probably have access to from your home without any particular restrictions other than logging into the website. How many of these are genealogically significant? Tens of thousands. Why are all these readily available online? What happened to copyright? Nearly all of the items made available on are in the public domain. No copyright restrictions. Why is this significant for genealogists? Because we like old stuff.

What can we do for an encore? How about Well, according to their catalog, they have 447,870 books and publications on their website which are all completely searchable. But is a subscription website. But you could go to a Family History Center and use their institutional version of the program.

Where do we go next? The However, even though this website is free online and currently has 16,797,545 total volumes, most of this collection is restricted to those associated with participating universities but 6,310,561 volumes are in the public domain and can be read and searched online.

Well, other than bumping up against copyright restrictions all the time, you can probably see that there are a huge number of possible genealogically significant books and other digitized texts online. Stay tuned for the next post about how to find all this stuff.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Traveling Home

Utah Valley
During the past year, my wife and I have been serving a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have been writing about our mission experience on my blog, Rejoice, and be exceeding glad... You can find all of the nearly 100 posts by searching for "a family history mission james tanner." We have been serving as Document Preservation Specialists for FamilySearch digitizing documents at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, Maryland.

However, the end of our mission is now approaching rapidly. During the next few days, we will be packing and saying our goodbyes to Annapolis and people we have been working with. We will spend some time visiting family as we travel back across the United States to Utah. As usual, when we are traveling, I will be writing only intermittently depending on time for writing and internet connections. 

We are grateful for the opportunity we had to serve in Annapolis, Maryland and will be looking forward to further service in Utah as we arrive home.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Veterans Records the Target of Reclaim The Records FOI Lawsuit

Here is a quote from Reclaim The Records about their most recent lawsuit to obtain publically available and free US records. I think the whole announcement has some interesting implications for genealogists so I am reproducing the entire statement with all the links.
"Happy Veterans Day, from Reclaim The Records. We're that non-profit organization that likes to (1) identify important historical and genealogical data sets that aren't widely available, (2) request and acquire copies under Freedom of Information laws (sometimes by suing government agencies, if necessary), and (3) publish it all online, for totally free public use, no strings attached. After all, our taxes already paid for the data; why should we have to pay yet again?"
"Today we're announcing that we've launched yet another lawsuit against a government agency that didn't want to turn over public data to the public. It's our very first federal-level Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, as opposed to the various state-level FOI laws we've been using since 2015."
"We're going after another government database that ought to be freely available to the public, but isn't. We're asking the US Department of Veterans Affairs to provide the first free public copy of the Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem (BIRLS) Death File."
"This database contains basic information on about fourteen million deceased American veterans who served in the US military and then later received benefits from the VA, such as healthcare or the GI Bill, between approximately 1850-2017. Each record includes the veteran's dates of birth and death, dates of enlistment and release, and branch of service. Some years have a little more information available than others, including the veteran's basic cause of death (i.e. natural or combat-related), gender, and possibly other fields."
"This database is a boon not only to genealogists researching our family members' military service, but also to historians, sociologists, health care researchers, and many other groups. Everyone listed in the database is deceased, so the privacy concerns are minimal. But the information is currently not available on any free website, not even through the main US government open data portal, It's not searchable, and certainly not downloadable."
"Instead, there's only one place on the whole Internet that has access to this important information about American veterans: (Well, and, but that website is now owned by Ancestry, like so much of the genealogy world these days.) And when we asked the VA for a copy of the BIRLS file, they replied that even though they agreed that they had provided a copy to Ancestry a few years ago, the VA didn't want to provide a copy to us, too."
"It's so weird how that "preferential treatment" thing keeps happening, right? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯"
And so, in a move that will likely not surprise anybody, we sued the government to get the records. We filed Reclaim the Records et al v. United States Department of Veterans Affairs in US District Court, Southern District of New York, on September 17, 2018. It's case number 18-CV-8449, if you want to follow along from home through PACER."
"Three weeks later, on October 10, 2018, the VA suddenly responded to our attorney, but not in a formal lawsuit response. They instead produced a letterthat was conveniently dated (backdated?) September 13, 2018, which was four days before our lawsuit had been filed. No explanation was given by the VA as to why they had not produced this letter prior to our suing them. 🤔"
"This letter says that the VA had suddenly remanded our request to their FOIA Officer for "further consideration, appropriate processing, and the issuance of a subsequent IAD"😏"
"And that sounds promising. So...stay tuned."
"In the meantime, in case you missed it, check out a recent in-depth new article from the senior editor at BuzzFeed News (and fellow genealogy nerd) Katie Notopoulos, covering our Freedom of Information lawsuit against the New York State Department of Health.
(Well, one of our lawsuits against the New York State Department of Health, anyway; we actually have two lawsuits running against that agency right now. But that's a story for another time...)"
"We'll just close by saying that if you support our work to bring public records back to the public, we would really appreciate your financial support, too. We want to fight more government agencies for the return of more public records, but we need your help to do that. We're a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and it's public donations that fund our work and our lawsuits, not expensive annual subscriptions to websites that sell you back your own data."

Monday, November 12, 2018

Looking Forward to RootsTech 2019

Looking forward to #RootsTech 2019, I have heard that hotel accommodations are at a premium close to the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah but there are a lot of options. Many of the local hotels run shuttle services between the hotel and places in Salt Lake City. One we have used many times is the Chrystal Inn Hotel and Suites on 230 W 500 S. but you can also look at the local TRAX line. The TRAX stops right across the street from the Salt Palace. Here are a map and link to the TRAX.
The TRAX line is free in the downtown area, but there is a reasonable charge from the airport and other locations in the Salt Lake Valley. It also connects to the FrontRunner, the train that runs from Provo to Ogden and stops at locations in Salt Lake City.

There is also a somewhat new feature on Google. You can search for a specific business or attraction anyplace and get a long list. For example, if you search for hotels in Salt Lake City, Utah you get a list like this:

By expanding the view, you can see the entire list and filter the results by free parking, WiFi, breakfast and other choices.

From my extensive experience in traveling around the country, I know that the price they put on the ad may not be available for the time and date you need, but the price in Google gives you an indication of what you might have to pay but be prepared to pay more.  By matching the TRAX map to the hotels, you can see which ones would be convenient to travel to the Salt Palace. If the hotel looks like it is within walking distance of the Salt Palace, you need to remember that Salt Lake City blocks are really long and the city is at a high altitude. Remember to ask if they have a shuttle and how long it is available.

We usually stay with family right in the Valley and then drive the short trip to downtown each day, but we have commuted from Provo and that works. You just need to be aware of the schedules for each of the lines. Salt Lake City has a fairly good public transportation system, but it also winter and it might be bad weather.

There are hundreds of places to eat in downtown Salt Lake City. You can use Google to locate ones within walking distance of the Salt Palace.

Parking downtown is really limited and expensive if you aren't used to paying for parking. I can say from experience that it is a lot less expensive and more available than Washington, D.C. or Annapolis, Maryland.

As I have written in the past, the Salt Palace involves a lot of walking. You should wear very comfortable shoes and forget fashion. I went out an bought a pair after my first RootsTech experience.

The weather can be very nice but cold or very bad and very cold so plan accordingly. Snow is possible almost any day in February.

I hope to see as many of you as possible, look for me mostly at The Family History Guide booth.

Dallas Public Library Teams with FamilySearch to Digitize Genealogy Collections

FamilySearch International has recently announced an expansion to their online Books Collection. Here is a copy of the announcement:
The Dallas Public Library is working with FamilySearch International, the largest genealogical organization in the world, to digitize the library’s extensive family history book collection. The initiative will expand free online patron access worldwide to the library’s historical records digitized. Search FamilySearch's Historical Book Collections
“The Dallas Public Library has a long relationship with FamilySearch through microfilming Dallas County records in the 1990s,” said Dallas Public Library Director Jo Giudice. “We’re excited to take the next step in scanning books with the FamilySearch team.”  
Digitizing this collection will give researchers from around the world unprecedented access to rare and one-of-a kind family histories. Dallas Public Library’s family history book collection is a small part of the library’s genealogy collection, considered one of the largest and most comprehensive collections for family history research in the Southwest. The family history book collection will be scanned by FamilySearch volunteers. It contains more than 16,000 volumes of material donated over a 60-year period. The first records digitized will be rare family history books printed before 1923.  
“Dallas Public Library has been a top 5 genealogy library in the U.S. for many years. Partnering with them on the scanning initiative is going to benefit so many family historians far and wide,” said David E. Rencher, director of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.  
The Book Collection ( presently contains 372,477 digitized books. Some of these books are downloadable. However, some are also restricted to viewing either in a Family History Center or only in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. The books must be searched through the books collection, they are not searchable in the Historical Records Collection section of The books may also be found in the Catalog. There are links from the books found in the Catalog to the digitized book itself.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Major Genealogical Advances Announced by MyHeritage

Gilad Japhet's Keynote Address at MyHeritage LIVE continues its dominance of the development of new genealogical technology with several important announcements made by Gilad Japhet, the CEO of MyHeritage, at the first annual MyHeritage LIVE Conference in Oslo, Norway. The first part of the Keynote was the emotional and very interesting story of Gilad's genealogical discoveries about his ancestral family. This part of the presentation is essentially a model of the way current genealogical research should proceed. In the second part of the presentation, Gilad covers the latest technological marvels from the wizards at MyHeritage.

The first of these announcements concerns increasing the accuracy and information available from MyHeritage DNA matches. Here is an example of a 2nd cousin DNA match from my DNA analysis on

I have removed the name for privacy concerns. In the right-hand column, there are three Family Tree details: a summary of the number of matches in our family trees, common ancestral surnames, and now, ancestral places in common. If I review the match, I will see additional details about our related ancestral lines.

However, this is just the beginning of the complete analysis. The newly added area includes a map of shared ancestral places.
This information is extremely valuable and it is detailed down to the exact locations. This comparison enables me to determine whether or not I believe the information in the shared family tree to be accurate, but it also gives me a better idea of our joint ancestry. For example, if we return to the United States, I can see exactly which close ancestors we have in common.

You need to review this information if you have already submitted a DNA test to If you have done a DNA test, but do not have your family tree information online on the website, you are missing the whole reason why DNA testing is an important adjunct to genealogical research.

The next announcement from Gilad was the U.S. City Directory Project. MyHeritage is working on adding nearly one billion records with structured content that will show Record Matches with all of the references to any one individual consolidated across time. The entire collection will be fully searchable with new directories being added.

Gilad Japhet's Keynote Address at MyHeritage LIVE

Next, MyHeritage is expanding its newspaper coverage to millions of historical Newspapers from Europe, including the Netherlands, Austria, and other countries. These records will also be fully searchable.

Gilad’s Keynote Address - MyHeritage LIVE - November 2018
In partnership with FamilySearch, plans are for MyHeritage to add 15 million new records from the Czech Census from 1857 to 1921.

Gilad’s Keynote Address - MyHeritage LIVE - November 2018
The announcement also includes partnership records from FamilySearch for 8 million Brazil records and indexing 14 million also from a partnership with FamilySearch.

The last part of Gilad's presentation dealt with further developments in DNA testing and analysis. This part starts at about 50 minutes into the presentation. You REALLY need to listen to what he has to say about DNA testing. Now the biggest news of all.

Extracting DNA from old envelopes

Gilad’s Keynote Address - MyHeritage LIVE - November 2018

I am not going to explain this whole idea and process here, you will have to watch what is said in the presentation. But I am going to identify a number of my old envelopes and wait for the announcement of the opportunity to extract the DNA from them.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Arkansas: State Archives: Wonderful Local Sources for Genealogical Research

I am starting my nationwide tour of all of the state archives with a visit to Arkansas. My thanks to Jeanne Rollberg of the Friends of the Arkansas State Archives for her valuable information about the Arkansas State Archives. Much of the information I include below, came from her.

The way that archives are organized varies considerably across the United States. In the case of the Arkansas State Archives, the agency is part of The Department of Arkansas Heritage.
For genealogists, the main attraction of state archives is that they are usually responsible for storing and preserving state records. Here is a description of the Arkansas collections:
The Arkansas State Archives houses approximately 13,000 cubic feet of state records and manuscript collections pertaining to the history of Arkansas and its people. These materials have been described and inventoried for ease of access. These inventories, called finding aids, are keyword searchable. You may also browse these finding aids alphabetically using the links below. Click the collection's title to view the finding aid. 
Separated Materials:  Some archival collections contain materials that have been stored separately from the bulk of the collection due to those items' preservation needs. Generally, this affects collections that include artifacts that have been moved to the archives' museum collection, and the existence of artifacts in a collection has been noted in that collection's finding aid. Due to the nature of artifact and other separated materials, we require researchers to fill out an Artifact Access Form and send it in to, to schedule an appointment to view artifacts from the museum collection.  
In Arkansas, there are three divisions of the State Archives: the main archives located in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives located in Powhatan, Arkansas and the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives located in Washington, Arkansas. The physical division of the archives will mandate that a researcher spend some time locating the particular records needed for research to avoid unnecessary travel. In any state, it is important to determine the location of the record collections since it common that some records are maintained locally in cities, towns, and counties and other collections of records may only be available at the state level.

I would start my search by looking at the records available online. Here is the section called Arkansas Digital Ark-ives:
This page also provides access to Arkansas History Commission Resource Guides.

In beginning this exploration, I was contacted by a very helpful genealogist who is a member of the Freinds of the Arkansas State Archives.
After spending about a year working 8 hours a day, five days a week (except for holidays and some personal time days) am I considerably more familiar with the inner workings of archives than I was previously. One thing I do know for sure is that visiting an archive for genealogical research requires a considerable amount of preparation. Do not expect to walk in and start working immediately without finding out whatever is possible from their online resources. It also helps to talk to someone who has had some experience with the archive. Hence, the Friends of the Archives.

The Arkansas State Archives has started a Genealogy Day. Here is a link to a video with some images of the 2018 Genealogy Day. It might also be a good idea to see if anyone has uploaded a video to or about the archives. In fact, the Arkansas State Archives has a Channel.
Note the video on the Foodways Symposium.

Another important resource in addition to the Archives is the Arkansas Genealogical Society. Here is a screenshot of their publications page. You might try finding some of these publications in libraries through or order them directly from the Genealogical Society.
Note the Arkansas Prior Birth Index which appears to be a valuable resource. I found a copy of this book listed in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah for example.

The Arkansas State Archives is also digitizing their collection of newspapers that will become available on the Library of Congress Chronicling America website. From this example, you can see that using the resources of a state archive should be fully integrated with broad and in-depth research methodology. Quoting from the information supplied to me by Jeanne Rollberg of the Friends of the Arkansas Archives about the Archives' newspaper project:
Newspaper digitization has been a top priority the last few years. Here is an item about some completed digitization last year: Archives partnership digitizes 24 Arkansas newspapers.  Here is about upcoming digitization. NEH grant goes to state archives for newspaper digitization
"The project will take two years to complete. Once digitized, the newspapers will be housed online through the Chronicling America website hosted by the Library of Congress ( and will be accessible to the public for free. An announcement of which Arkansas newspapers are to be digitized will be made at a later date following the work of a selection committee. 
The State Archives holds the largest and most extensive Arkansas newspaper collection in existence. Its total newspaper holdings include an estimated twenty million pages from almost 1,800 titles representing all seventy-five counties in the state."
I had the opportunity to speak at a Lunch and Learn presentation here in the Maryland State Archives and I was happy to learn that the Arkansas State Archives has a similar program in the Arkansas Writer Series called Pen to Podium lectures four times a year. The next presentation will be on November 13, 2018. 

I am sure as I continue to write about these wonderful organizations, that I will discover many interesting and useful resources for genealogists. 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Saroo Brierley is the Friday Keynote Speaker at RootsTech 2019
Saroo Brierley with be speaking on Friday, March 11, 2019, on the Main Stage at RootsTech 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Here is the announcement from RootsTech:
Saroo Brierley lost contact with his family as a 5-year-old boy at a train station in India. He was later adopted and raised by an Australian family. But he was unable, and unwilling, to forget the land of his childhood. 
Determined to rediscover his past, Saroo poured over Google Earth and eventually managed to recognize his home town—and track down his birth mother. 
Their reunion in 2012 made headlines across the world, and his full story is recounted in his number 1 international bestselling autobiography, A Long Way Home
The film Lion, based on his autobiography, was released in November 2016 and nominated for 4 Golden Globe and 6 Academy Awards.
You can read more about him at Wikipedia: Saroo Brierley

MyHeritage LIVE Keynote from Gilad Japhet now available

Gilad’s Keynote Address
The historic MyHeritage LIVE Conference is now over and the presentations made during the Conference are now appearing online. I strongly suggest that you watch the Keynote. It is a wonderful and remarkable story of one very influential person's involvement in genealogy. It is also an excellent introduction to the background and philosophy of which will undoubtedly become the largest genealogy company in the world and is already the main force for technological change and advancement in our very tradition-bound pursuit.

Here is the link to the presentation: Gilad’s Keynote Address

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Ten Threats to the Future of Genealogical Research

As time passes, certain social, economic, and cultural factors do not bode well for the future of genealogical research. Because of the involvement of large, online genealogy companies, we are being led to believe that the "future" of genealogical research lies in their huge online collections of documents and the application of genealogical DNA testing, but despite these two greatly beneficial developments, we still have, at best, a murky genealogical future.

The items set forth below are based on my own observations and opinions. I could find some quantitative statistics to support most of them but I don't really think putting numbers to these issues will change the degree of threat they constitute. Many of these threats are interrelated.

Here, not in any particular order, are ten items that I think will pose a major threat to genealogical research:

#1 The abandonment of training of cursive handwriting

When you started doing genealogical research and found out that your ancestors came from a place where they did not speak your own native language, You likely dispaired of being able to do any further research. Now, let's think about young people in the United States who are not being taught cursive handwriting. When they start doing genealogy, they are almost immediately going to find themselves in foreign territory, for example, reading US Federal Census records. This issue is going to have a significant and increasing impact on the future of genealogical research. Even those students who learn one form of cursive are not going to have the need to use their skill because of the pervasive use of keyboards. If you think that young people are going to take over the job of doing research, then make sure they know how to read and write cursive.

#2 Lack of adequate document preservation

The continued physical degradation and loss of paper-based records despite preservation efforts particularly those in smaller collections that will be mostly ignored by the large online genealogy companies digitization efforts will erode access to many valuable genealogical resources. The economics of scale mandate that the large genealogy companies who are spearheading the digitization efforts concentrate on large collections and so the smaller valuable collections are unlikely to be digitized before there is significant document loss. Meanwhile, smaller collections are also those where the repositories have limited resources for preservation. For example, many of us have visions of courthouses with piles of old records in a damp basement or attic. Local politics fail to provide for the preservation, but the collections are small so none of the larger companies will spend the time or money to salvage the records.

#3 Lack of history training for younger students

There is an almost complete consensus among those who are still teaching history, especially on a university or college level that a general knowledge of history among the upcoming generation of students is dismally lacking. There is no question that what is being taught about "history" in grade schools and high schools is now "social studies" with an emphasis on race relations, economic disadvantage, and other social ills. If you disagree spend a few minutes quizzing some young people about some subject like the Korean War or the US Civil War. Lack of historical context for adding names to online family trees is a rampant problem.

#4 The huge avalanche of information that is overwhelming our ability to focus on any specific task long enough to solve complex problems

The availability of online information is often seen as a benefit and not a detriment to doing research, but the amount of information today has become the challenge rather than the solution. It is entirely possible that the information you are seeking has been digitized and is online, but there are so many websites with different procedures for accessing those records to make the job nearly impossible.

#5 The unsure future of digital preservation

Digitizing paper records moves the process of preserving those records from the physical threats of deterioration to the more esoteric issues of electronic record migration in the changing world of technology. How many records were lost with the demise of old 3.5 floppy disks? All electronic records need to be migrated as the technology changes. Large companies do this as a matter of course, but smaller electronic collections may become obsolete.

#6 Political pressure to destroy or restrict access to certain genealogically important documents

Many governments around the world have sunset laws that require the automatic destruction of genealogically valuable records after a few years. In addition, other records are lost due to the inaction of governments to provide for their preservation. This is an ongoing problem. The most prominent example is the 1890 US Census. If you think this Census was destroyed by a fire, then you don't know the whole story. See "The Fate of the 1890 Population Census" In addition, many records are restricted because of racial, social, cultural and other political concerns.

#7 General lack of appreciation of genealogically important documents

Many dedicated genealogists are so protective of their research that they end up alienating their family members. When the genealogist dies, all of his or her records are consigned to the trash. This is a constant and persistent loss of valuable information and records.

#8 The proliferation of inaccurate and unsupported family trees

The huge number of family trees online almost guarantees that a significant number of those trees are entirely inaccurate. Unfortunately, information runs downhill. Unless there is a constant effort to maintain and correct the information in a family tree, it is inevitable that the information will deteriorate over time.

#9 Increases in natural disasters

As more records are created, the danger of destruction from natural disasters increases. These natural disasters could be floods, earthquakes, fires, or just the constant decay and destruction of records by rodents, insects, mold, or other such agents.

#10 A general impression that genealogy is "easy."

The whole concept that genealogy is both fun and easy promote sloppy and haphazard research. It may well be "fun" in the sense that it is enjoyable for those who become involved, but it is no picnic. We all have to start somewhere, but if genealogy is actually a complex activity requiring a number of specific skills, then filling in a few spots on an online family tree is not a realistic way to encourage participation.

What can you do to help prevent this loss? The main thing you can do is to learn how to do well documented genealogical research and include, where possible copies of your supporting documents. This includes doing onsite research and obtaining copies where permitted.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

State Archives: Wonderful Local Sources for Genealogical Research -- Introduction

During the past year as I have been digitizing records in the Maryland State Archives, I have come to appreciate the vast resources available in these record repositories. I have decided to do a long series of posts highlighting each of the 50 state archives in the United States. I will also include those in possessions and territories where applicable. In each case, I will be detailing the records that are online and those that have yet to be digitized. I am sure that I will have to guess with some of the collections. Since I cannot think of a better way to start, I am going to proceed alphabetically. If you live in Wisconsin or Wyoming and really want to be moved up in the list, I suggest commenting and I will consider jumping around. The image above is from the Council of State Archivists and it is a Directory of all of the State Archives so even if I haven't gotten to your state yet, you can begin your own investigation. I will end up with another list of a few National Archives. This will keep me busy for a while.

There is a considerable variation in the types of items stored and available at the different Archives, but my service at the Maryland State Archives has shown me that what is there and what is available is exceptionally valuable to genealogists doing research in each state. I would suggest that despite the number of records that may be digitized, a visit to the state archives will always prove to be a valuable experience.

For most of my life, I have lived in Utah and Arizona. My ancestors from these states are well documented and I have had little incentive to do additional research in my own state archives. It was only by coming to Maryland for this extended visit that I have fully appreciated the value of these institutions.

I would like to do the same kind of survey for the various university libraries' special collections but since there are well over 2000 public and private universities in the United States, this will not likely happen. I do, however, suggest that genealogists become familiar with their local, state university libraries' special collections. You may find some very interesting and helpful documents and records. I have found several very interesting things in the Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library while I have been working there.

Stay tuned for the first installment on Alabama. I am not planning on keeping a running list of links to these posts but they will all have the same name "State Archives: Wonderful Local Sources for Genealogical Research -- [state name]. You will find them with a Google search.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Are there any Shortcuts in Genealogy?

It would be nice if there were genealogical wormholes that could transport us back to talk to our ancestors and interview them about their lives. But, alas, wormholes and time travel are mostly left to people like Dr. Who and his friends and Stargates. The fact that both wormholes and time travel have yet to make a dent into the need for genealogical research does not seem to stop some genealogists from touting shortcuts and using terms such as quick, easy, fast, and so forth.

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. Let's suppose you are looking for an ancestor in Maryland. You begin by searching on Google for your ancestor's name. No results. You have access to,,, and, so you search all four of these huge websites. No results. You don't find any mention of your ancestor. Wait a minute. You have just barely started looking but you have definitely left quick, easy, fast and any shortcuts far behind. What about the Maryland State Archives? Yes, they do have some records online, but after serving in Annapolis digitizing records for FamilySearch at the Maryland State Archives, I can surely attest that we are far from having all of their records digitized. We are only partly the way through the probate records for Maryland and according to our information, we have years of digitizing left to do.

So what is a diligent genealogist to do? Where is the shortcut? If you can't find the records online, you have to travel to the Maryland State Archives and look at the original records. Annapolis is a lovely place to visit but you might have to spend days, maybe weeks searching the records before you can feel that you have properly searched just this source.

Granted, you can always be more efficient. There are always better ways to do some of the things we do as genealogical researchers, but when you are searching through microfilm or even original records when there is no index, there is no shortcut. You just have to bite the bullet and look through the images one by one focusing on the time and the place where your ancestor lived. I have long lists of microfilmed records, now digitized to search and in some cases, I will have to be in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah to see the only copy I can find.

Returning to the Maryland example, there are also a number of local historical societies and genealogical societies that have their own collections. For example, the Anne Arundel Genealogical Society has some very valuable collections that are available to members. Local and state genealogical societies are always a good source for specific information about any area of the country. But contacting these societies takes time and probably some money to access all of their records. So far, I have only mentioned a few record types and there are a lot more left to search.

Let's face reality. Genealogical research can take a great deal of effort over an extended period of time. But spending the time and the effort and when necessary, the money is worth it.