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

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Early Bird Registration Opens for RootsTech 2020
#RootsTech 2020 is just around the corner. It is time to begin the Early Bird Registration. Early bird discount pricing is available for a limited time on 4-day passes at just $169 (a $130 discount on regularly priced passes). Single-day RootsTech passes are also available for $99. Both one-day and full conference passes include access to the popular expo hall and keynote sessions. Early bird pricing ends October 11, 2019.

Here is more about the announcement from the news release:
FamilySearch International has announced that registration for RootsTech 2020 Salt Lake City is now open. RootsTech is a popular 4-day annual family history and technology conference where individuals and families are inspired to discover, share, and preserve their family roots, heritage, and stories. The 2020 conference will be held February 26–29, 2020, at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. 
For more information, visit Discounts are available for early registrations. 
In 2019, RootsTech attracted over 20,000 attendees from 38 different countries and all 50 states. 
RootsTech 2020 will celebrate its 10th anniversary and the distinguished honor that it is the largest genealogy conference of its kind in the world. The conference will feature a full lineup of inspiring and well-known keynote speakers, over 300 informative sessions, including hands-on computer workshops taught by industry professionals; interactive activities and helpful exhibitors in the expo hall; and entertaining events—all designed to inspire and empower personal family discoveries.

DNA, Genealogy, and Political Entities

One of the most visible and recognized results of taking a genealogical DNA test is the "Ethnicity Estimate." These ethnicity results are widely promoted by the various genealogical DNA testing companies as a benefit of taking their DNA tests. For some of those who take the tests, the results are surprising. To those of us who have been doing genealogical research for years, the results can also be surprising but in a different way. 

One of the most ways of reporting the results of a genealogical DNA test is to give a list of countries such as the one shown above in these results from Interestingly, the method of reporting uses currently established political entities for the percentages rather than anything that can remotely be classified as ethnicity. In the example above from my own test, I am shown to have 10% of my "ethnicity" from Norway and another 10% from Sweden. In all my years of doing genealogical research, I have never found one verified ancestor going back many generations from either country. My Scandinavian ancestors came from Denmark. The map outlines cover only a tiny portion of the map currently part of Denmark. That country is not mentioned.

68% of my ethnicity is identified as "England, Wales & Northwestern Europe." Likewise, the general outline of the space marked on the map for that grouping includes the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and a tiny part of Switzerland. Again referring to my extensive genealogical research, I do find generations of my family from England, Scotland, and Wales who ultimately immigrated to America and ended up in the United States but I have yet to find one ancestor who originated in any of the other countries covered by the map outline. 

Now let's suppose that I was a novice genealogical researcher and I believed the Ethnicity Estimate that I have Norwegian and Swedish ancestry. Is there a possibility that I would waste my time trying to find my nonexistent Swedish and Norwegian ancestors? 

What about this historical fact. Both of these currently existing political entities were part of the Kalmar Union between 1397 and 1523 or for 126 years. Here is a quote from a Wikipedia article entitled, "Kalmar Union."
The Kalmar Union (Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish: Kalmarunionen; Latin: Unio Calmariensis) was a personal union in Scandinavia that from 1397 to 1523 joined under a single monarch of the three kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden (then including most of Finland's populated areas), and Norway, together with Norway's overseas dependencies (then including Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and the Northern Isles). The union was not quite continuous; there were several short interruptions. Legally, the countries remained separate sovereign states, but with their domestic and foreign policies being directed by a common monarch.
Obviously, the history of this part of the world is far more complicated than the simplistic political designations we have today. Would it help our reference to Sweden as an ethnic entity to know that during the 17th Century that Sweden took control of the entire Baltic region including the northern part of Germany and the modern Baltic states? The Swedish Empire collapsed when in the 17th Century, Russia took over those parts of Sweden known as the Baltic states.

Later in the history of this region, in the early 19th Century, Sweden lost all claims to areas outside of the Scandinavian Peninsula but in 1814, Sweden gained control of Norway from Denmark and Norway was part of Sweden until 1905. Sweden is currently a member of the European Union.

The history of each of the countries listed as part of my Ethnicity Estimate is equally, if not more, complex. Whatever the definition of "ethnicity" it does not fit comfortably into any of the present or past political boundaries of these and any other country of the world. For example, as a resident of the United States of America, what is my ethnicity? Does the fact that I live in the United States imply any particular ethnic derivation?

Even more importantly, does the information in my "Ethnicity Estimate" help me understand my origin or my "roots?" Especially when I have no demonstrable ancestors from much of the area designated as the countries of my origin? What about the effect of the North Sea Empire? The North Sea Empire refers to the time between 1013 and 1042 when there was a union between the kingdoms of England, Denmark, and sometimes Norway. By the way, the reason why the Shakesperian play, Hamlet, takes place in Denmark is because that is where the original story used by Shakespeare as a basis for the play took place.

What the DNA testing companies are really saying when they give you an estimate that includes a present political entity is that in their database, you have a match with people who they identify as coming from the area included in those present politically define countries. The matches really have nothing to do with ethnicity at all. It would probably be more accurate to call the estimates "Geographical Estimate" rather than use the word "ethnicity" that implies some cultural or social connection to those areas.

For example, I am supposed to be ethnically from England (now commonly called the United Kingdom or the UK) My roots in England in some ancestral lines, go back 400 years. While in other lines, my English ancestors arrived in the United States in the mid-1800s. I have two ancestral lines that came to America by way of immigration to Australia although all of my Australian immigrant families were born in England. What is the ethnicity of my ancestors that have lived in America for 400 years? How long does my family have to live in America before they become Americans?

Seven of my eight great-grandparents were born in the United States. One was born in Denmark. Going back one more generation, seven of my great-great-grandparents were born in the United States, five in Denmark, 1 in Wales, and four in England. Why isn't the United States a place of origin listed in the Ethnicity Estimate even though the map shows my relatives coming from the United States? Doesn't the US have any ethnicity?

Importantly, what is the time period covered by the Ethnicity Estimate? How long do my ancestors have to live in American before becoming ethnically American?

As a final note in this post, couldn't Ancestry have made the same "Ethnicity Estimate" from looking at my family tree without referring at all to a DNA test?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Obsolete Technology Still Haunts Genealogical Research

In a recent class I taught at a local Family History Center, I got a question about transferring old genealogical data from a floppy disk. I have also had several conversations recently about the old Personal Ancestral File (PAF) program. These ancient relicts seem to have acquired a life of their own and continue to haunt us years after their utility and compatibility has been laid to rest.

The problem of the floppy disk is twofold. First, you have to find a floppy disk drive that will accommodate the disk; either 3.5 inch or 5.25-inch floppies. This isn't entirely impossible. There are inexpensive USB 3.5" floppy disk readers available online from and other suppliers. I cannot find a readily available 5.25" reader. The real problem is the operating system of the floppy disk and its format. On either a Windows or OS X device, the computer has to recognize both the format of the disk and the information on the disk. Fortunately, there are some paid services that will recover the data from these old formats. When you get to this point, the next issue is the format of the data. In other words, what program created the data on the disk? This is where Personal Ancestral File or PAF comes into the picture.

By the way, the New York Public Library has a post entitled, "Digital Archaeology: Recovering your Digital History" that explains, in detail, the challenges of recapturing the data from floppy disks. Links from this post are still active and there well may be some way to recapture the data.

Amazingly, PAF will still run on some Windows operating systems although the Mac version has long since ceased to operate. There are still two currently supported programs that will read PAF data: RootsMagic and Ancestral Quest. I am not aware of any other programs that still support PAF files.

OK, so there is a complicated and reasonably cost-effective way to recover the information (data) from these old disks assuming the disk media is not damaged. By the way, floppy disks were always prone to failure and were never that reliable.

The real question is what could possibly still be of value on the old media? Maybe a personal or family history? But what if the content is old genealogy files? I spent years of my life recording and correcting genealogical information from several of my ancestors and, over the years, I have also looked at a fairly large number of these floppy disk files brought to me by people who assumed the data was valuable. Almost without exception, all of the data from these old files is currently online in one or more of the large online genealogy programs. For example, researchers who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints usually submitted all of their discoveries to the Church so that the temple ordinances could be performed in the temples. Many of these submissions are a matter of record and still available in digital format and with a few exceptions have already been incorporated into the Family Tree. To a large extent, this old data was the root cause of massive amounts of initial duplication on the Family Tree.

Here's where we are today. There has been a vast increase in genealogical data online. It is very likely, unless the parent or other relative's research was being done in another country, the information is already duplicated online or can be duplicated by looking at the readily available online sources. The relatively small file sizes supported by floppy disks means that images and other larger files are not usually found on floppy disks. It may well be, however, that the information on the disk could be both unique and valuable. Before I discourage anyone from going through the process of trying to retrieve the data from a floppy disk, I would point out that there very well be valuable information on the disk and paying for the retrieval,

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The History of the Development of Genealogical DNA: Part Thirteen: Privacy and DNA Testing

In my early years, I lived in a small town with a shared line telephone system. If you wanted to know the news of the day, all you had to do was pick up the phone receiver and listen to what was being discussed. Later on in life, I lived in Panama City, Panama. Parts of that city had an average room occupancy rate of about 50 people per room. Imagine 50 people sharing the same common room and using the same bathroom facilities. Some of the people I knew personally were slightly better off, they only had 15 or 20 people living in a one-bedroom apartment. When you think of people who live in comparable circumstances, your concept of "privacy" has to be affected. What does privacy mean to someone who is homeless or someone who lives in any kind of extreme poverty?

Privacy, as commonly expressed in the more affluent parts of the United States, is a very fluid concept. As a long time trial attorney, I often encountered situations where claims of "privacy" were merely a coverup for fraud and other illegal activities. During the last few years, I have had extensive contact with individuals suffering from dementia. I can assure you that there is little private about the life of a person in the last stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Now to the subject of DNA and privacy? What is and what is not private about genealogical DNA testing? There are estimates that over 26 million people have taken a genealogical DNA test from one of the major online genealogical DNA testing companies. See "More than 26 million people have added their DNA to four leading ancestry databases: report." I am pretty sure that is a low estimate., for example, has a Privacy statement about those who take or are going to take an DNA test.  Here are a screenshot and a link to the Privacy page.
Here is a list of the kinds of data that Ancestry collects from its users.

  • Account Information
  • Credit Card/Payment Information
  • DNA Kit Activation Information
  • Profile Information
  • User Provided Content
  • Genetic Information
  • Social Media Information
  • Additional User Information
  • Note about health-related information
  • Your Communications
  • Contests and Promotions
  • Find A Grave Photos and Photo Volunteers
  • Computer and Mobile Device Information
  • Information from Cookies and similar technologies
  • Information shared through social media features
  • Information from your use of the Service
  • Information from Public and Historical Records
  • Information from Third Parties
What is left to know? Once your DNA test results are known, you are also quickly embedded into a particular family and even your health and economic standing can be very specifically identified. 

Another interesting fact is that you are dropping samples of your DNA across the world everywhere you go. For example, what about the gold mine of DNA samples from the gum left on the bottoms of tables and chairs? We used to have big projects to clean the gum off the chairs in our church building. If you are losing your hair or getting a haircut, you are leaving a lot of DNA around the places you visit. You can read about any number of criminal cases that have been solved based on DNA from a tissue thrown in a garbage can. 

Again, what are we talking about when we use the term "privacy" in conjunction with genealogical research? It is fundamental law of privacy that the dead do not have any. Once you die, there are only extremely limited claims about your life that can be claimed to be private. On a recent trip to Europe, I found that it was not uncommon in public restrooms that female workers were present cleaning the male restrooms while being used by the male patrons. I don't know how that would go over in the United States but it points out that privacy is a cultural issue. 

Clearly, what you or I believe to be our private affairs depends on the circumstances and cultural background. Of course, so far I haven't even mentioned social networking. I can go on Facebook right now and find death notices, babies born, details of extensive medical operations, travel details, birthdays, details of peoples daily activities, and an endless stream of other daily details. Remember HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)? My wife can't have access to my medical information without my permission but you can read more than you want to know on Facebook. 

Clearly, as a culture, we need to redefine what we think is private and what is not. Genealogical DNA testing is just one more issue in the overall trend. 

See these previous posts:

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:
Part Five:
Part Six:
Part Seven:
Part Eight:
Part Nine:
Part Ten:
Part Eleven:
Part Twelve:

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Expanded Commentary on the Rules of Genealogy: Rule Five

Here are the Rules of Genealogy.
  • Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.
  • Rule Two: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive.
  • Rule Three: Every person who ever lived has a unique birth order and a unique set of biological parents.
  • Rule Four: There are always more records.
  • Rule Five: You cannot get blood out of a turnip. 
  • Rule Six: Records move. 
  • Rule Seven: Water and genealogical information flow downhill
  • Rule Eight: Everything in Genealogy is connected (butterfly)
  • Rule Nine: There are patterns everywhere
  • Rule Ten: Read the fine print
  • Rule ElevenEven a perfect fit can be wrong
  • Rule Twelve: The end is always there.
This post is part of a from time-to-time series expanding on each of the Rules of Genealogy. I'm now at Rule Five. Quoting one of my earlier blog posts:
Granted, this Rule is an old saying usually applied to collecting debts. But I find it is very much applicable to genealogy. I would apply this Rule to all those genealogists who think that they are related to royalty or famous people simply by listing them in their pedigree. Really, I talk to to people all the time who are so proud of their royal heritage when they have done nothing at all to document or prove an actual connection. On the other hand, I talk to people all the time that are convinced they had an ancestor that was a Pilgrim, a Revolutionary War veteran, an Indian Princess or some other connection, without the slightest documentary evidence to support the belief. I think we need to remember the source for a blood connection.
What do blood and turnips (well turnips at least) have to do with genealogy? I find that many people justify their involvement in genealogical research out of the desire to be related to someone famous or at least seemingly important. In fact, much of the early history of genealogy was about providing important-looking pedigrees to people with aspirations of royal lines. You can read about in one of the only books on the subject:

Weil, Fran├žois. Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013.

Illustrious or famous ancestors are just that; ancestors. Of course, it is possible to have an illustrious heritage and be motivated by your predecessors' accomplishments and it is also true that we literally inherit certain traits and characteristics from our ancestors. It is also true that much of Western European history as it spilled over into America was about the conflict between classes that were based on birth. I do not think that genealogy should be the basis of establishing a privileged class. I happen to take seriously that part of the second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence which states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
Many people may not be aware of the dark side of genealogy called eugenics. Here is a definition from Google:
The science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics. Developed largely by Francis Galton as a method of improving the human race, it fell into disfavor only after the perversion of its doctrines by the Nazis. 
If you think eugenics was something confined to Germany, you need to read the following short article:

“America’s Hidden History: The Eugenics Movement | Learn Science at Scitable.” Accessed September 15, 2019.

Ultimately, the ideas that came from the eugenics movement were used to justify mass killing based solely on a person's ancestors.

My rule about blood and turnips is aimed at debunking the concept that individual worth can be based on the identity of a person ancestors. Hence my reaction when people start telling me about their royal ancestors.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Genealogy and Genealogical Records in India

From time to time I get inquiries about genealogical research in India. Yes, there are some records available online, but no they are not particularly easy to access and compared to the approximately 1.37 billion people who live in India, there are relatively few genealogical records that are easily accessible online. has some records but compared to the total population of the country, the coverage is not extensive. You can see a list of the available records from FamilySearch for the entire country on the India page.
Most of the records available on FamilySearch for India are in the Catalog but do not show up in the indexed historical records and are available only as images. There are hundreds of records listed in the FamilySearch Catalog and they are summarized on the India page shown in the image above. Some of these materials that are available are only accessible while in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. You will also find that most of the records are images only and that there are no translations so unless you can read the script and know the language, they will be of little assistance. Here is an example.
There are a few records on, but these are mainly records of the English occupation of India. The catalog presently shows 21 collections but many of these collections are general and not specific to India. There are also relatively few records on but a search for India in the MyHeritage family trees shows over 700,000 entries.  It is entirely possible that you could connect to a relative in India using

Here is a screenshot of the page for India:

If you look at the population of India and then look at the number of records in the collections, you can see that the coverage is very small. Probably, the best place to start is with the Research Wiki for India Genealogy.
You will find that many of the records listed for India are actually from the British occupation but it is profitable to start looking at all the resources available as listed in the Research Wiki. You can also start doing a general online search for India genealogical records or India genealogy and find a number of entries. While searching for genealogical records, you will soon discover that many of the references will lead you to the British occupation of India.

One place to start looking for records from India is the National Archives of India.
There are also some online records from the National Archives of India.
India has a web-portal for access to the records online called the "Abhilekh patal"
This website includes a link to a "5 Step User Guide." Here is a screenshot from the guide.

The Guide can be downloaded.

The BBC ran part of a series on "Tracing your Asian roots on the Indian subcontinent." Quoting from that website:
Before The National Archives were set up in India, there was a system of keeping manuscript records which were created by Hindu rulers, sultans, Mughal and other Muslim rulers. 
Records may be available in the form of palm leaf, bark, parchment, silk, leather and cloth manuscripts. Records created by the Indian local rulers, Hindu temples, Islamic shrines, gurdwaras, and waqf authorities (the Charitable Islamic Trust) may be kept at the local state libraries, museums and relevant State Archives. 
These documents can give a certain degree of family history information on elite families and higher-ranking officials who served the local rulers. 
In 1891 (during the British period), the National Archives of India was established as the Imperial Record Department in Calcutta. Since 1947, the National Archives of India has established four regional offices at Bhopal, Jaipur, Bhubaneswar and Pandicherry.
The BBC article cited above is helpful in outlining where other records may be available.

There is an IndiaGenWeb page that can also link you to some resources.
You can explore more from this page but the links become rather circular.

There are additional possible resources on although the references will link you to other websites. There are quite a few records from British India, see "Online Databases & Records for Research in British India." Many of these British records are also available on

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Ultimate Digital Preservation Guide, Part Thirteen: Damage

Damaged book from the Maryland State Archives
Document damage is inevitable. Even if the documents are not subject to war, floods, earthquakes, or other types of disasters, time itself is the cause of damage. The archival term for the tendency of physical objects to deteriorate is "inherent vice." This is due to the fundamental instability of the components of which they are made, as opposed to deterioration caused by external forces. See Wikipedia: Inherent vice. You can find a relatively complete list of archival and record terms in the following from the website of the Society of American Archivists.

“A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology | Society of American Archivists.” Accessed September 13, 2019.

Here is a quote from the above-cited Wikipedia article describing the issues:
The term is broadly used in archival practice to recognize the material constraints of preservation activities. For example, many kinds of paper have acid in them that makes them chemically unstable. Over time, the acid will eat away the text on the page and cause paper to turn yellow or brown and become brittle. As the acid continues to break down the cellulose fibers, the paper disintegrates. In the world of philately, the adhesive on the back of stamps is both an inherent vice—any exposure to moisture will compromise their ability to be preserved—as well as the purpose for which the stamps were made. In the case of film, an example of inherent vice is the innate chemical instability of cellulose acetate film, which can result in the degradation known as "vinegar syndrome" due to the distinctive vinegar odor it produces.
Slowing this tendency of objects to self-destruct requires an understanding of how materials interact. This includes not just an understanding of the intrinsic qualities of the materials themselves, but also the way that they affect and are affected by the other materials that they come into contact with. For example, leather and metal are two materials which are frequently used in combination with each other, but react to each other over time to cause corrosion on the metal. 
The presence of deteriorating agents is a problem which can be tempered by selecting archival quality materials, such as acid free paper. However, frequently the objective of manufacturers is to make a process (i.e. papermaking, book binding, etc.) faster and easier; the longevity of the items they produce is not their primary concern.
In short, physical preservation is a never-ending challenge. What this means for anyone wishing to preserve physical object (including paper-based records) is that preservation needs to be proactive. The longer you wait before taking action, the more serious the problems become.

The loss of information due to both external causes and document deterioration is substantial and ongoing. Once the documents are damaged, the cost of restoration can run into the hundreds of dollars per page. The process involved includes cleaning, deacidifying, pressing. frame removal, debacking or dematting, mounting to archival material, mold treatment, retouching, and significant tape removal. See ACA Paper Restoration for an example.

The Preservation Directorate of the Library of Congress lists the following format types that are a concern:

  • Books
  • Paper
  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks and Albums
  • Newspapers
  • Comic Books
  • Audio-Visual: Grooved Media, Magnetic Tape, and Optical Discs
  • Audio-Visual: Motion Picture Film
  • Asian Bindings
Here are some additional categories of objects:

  • Dishes/Glassware/Silverware
  • Firearms
  • Furniture
  • Jewelry
  • Native American Items
  • Natural History Specimens
  • Textiles/Clothing/Uniforms
  • Tools/Mechanical/Instruments
  • Toys
  • Works of Art

However, the list can go on with other types of physical objects and each type of object has its own peculiarities that mandate different methods of preservation. For more information see the following websites:

“Connecting to Collections Care Online Community.” Accessed September 13, 2019.
“Saving Your Treasures | Netnebraska.Org.” Accessed September 13, 2019.

For a more extensive list see the Saving Your Treasures Resources list. 

The amount of information online about preservation reflects the seriousness of the issues involved. That is why this is an almost endless topic for a blog post series.

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:
Part Five:
Part Six:
Part Seven:
Part Eight:
Part Nine:
Part Ten:
Part Eleven:
Part Twelve:

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Spam Comments: Don't tell me how great my blog is

I do not get a lot of valid comments to my blog posts. I have to say something fairly controversial to get any comments at all. But I do get several spam comments a week. All my received comments are moderated and all the spam comments are deleted. It is really easy to spot the spam comments because they invariably start out by telling me some old blog post is well written or informative or whatever. For example, here is the initial wording from a spam comment: "Informative. It’s not easy to get such quality information online nowadays. Great going."

Real comments rarely say anything about the writing, they comment on the topic. Many of the spam comments are simply a sales pitch for some product or service. I invariably delete all these comments before they are published.

So, if you want to comment, make your comment specific to the blog post. If you want to tell me I am doing a good job or not, just post to my Facebook posts and say anything you want to say. Remember, if you use abusive language on Facebook, you might get banned from the website. I have had a very few comments on Facebook in that category.

Additional Comments on Claims of Ownership to Genealogical Research

This is one issue in dealing with genealogical research that refuses to go away. This round of my discussion on the issue begins with a hypothetical situation. Let's suppose that you are a "'professional" genealogist which essentially means that you expect some monetary compensation for your research for other people. In conjunction with your representation of a client, you travel to an archive and do some research on your client's behalf. In the course of your research, you copy several documents from the archive's holdings. You then write your research report to your client and get paid for your efforts. Who owns the research report? Who owns the copies of the documents you copied from the archive? What do I mean when I use the term "own" in conjunction with this hypothetical? Can a researcher make claims to "ownership" that extend beyond the protection offered by his or her country's copyright laws?

There are two concepts that apply to the answers to these questions. The first is the application of the national copyright law where the agreement for the research is made and the second is an amorphous claim of "work product."

Fundamentally, the parties to a professional services agreement or contract can agree about the ownership of the copyright and any other terms of the employment agreement. This only works, in a legal context, if the parties to the contract reduce their agreement to writing. There is a vast law of oral contracts but it would be extremely difficult to maintain a claim for copyright ownership based on an oral contract.

The professional genealogical researcher can include a provision in any employment contract that he or she retains the copyright to any of the reports or other items produced. The researcher would want to maintain this position for the purpose of using the research report in future publications. What about the document copies obtained from a library or archive? It is possible that the archive, library, or other institution already claims some sort of copyright interest to the documents and that the researcher had to comply with those requirements to obtain the copies. In the absence of an institutional claim to copyright, the documents may not be subject to any other copyright claims. In that case, the researcher cannot obtain a copyright claim to the documents by simply doing research and making copies. The researcher can obtain no rights superior to the original owner, i.e. the institution. If the institution does not claim any rights, then there is no copyright and if the researcher copies the documents and gives a copy to his or her client, the client has just as much right to the documents as the researcher. Including the documents in a copyright-protected report does not change this relationship. You cannot impose a copyright claim on a copy.

It is important to remember, in this context, you may own a copyright interest in your work but not in any copies of any documents you may find in a repository. The fact that you "did the research or work" to find the documents is irrelevant to the issue of copyright claims.

Now let's suppose that you are not a hired professional but merely doing research for your own purposes. You still have a copyright claim to any work, i.e. writing or report, you make. But there is nothing you can do that gives you the right to claim ownership to any documents you obtain through making a copy. Now, let's add one more factor: you put your information online for people to access either by putting the information in an online family tree or your own website or blog or whatever. If you add the "information" to an online family tree, it is no longer subject to any possible claim of copyright. If you add the documents to your online work or family tree, you never had any interest in the documents in the first place and so do not have any copyright claim merely because you were the one who found the document and put it online. The general rule is that information or facts cannot be copyright protected.

What about attribution? Yes, what about attribution? In an academic or other professional settings, attribution is a big deal. Let's suppose in this context that you make a copy of the document from an institution (library, archive, etc.) and you modify the document by putting your own name and other information on the document. For example, you copy a census record and then add a caption to the copy that says something like: "This document was obtained by the work effort of John Doe and cannot be further copies for any purpose." If you fail to give a complete citation to where you obtained the document you are already violating any customs of attribution. Your statement is a nullity. You obtain no additional rights to the document neither can you claim a copyright interest and if someone were to copy the document from your publication and leave off your writing, you would not have any claim at all except in an academic or professional context for attribution.

Genealogical information obtained by research comes from historical documents. Doing genealogical research and copying the information from original records does not change the nature of any copyright protection if any that the original documents made have. But doing genealogical research per se does not give you any rights just because you did the research. There is no amorphous right to a "work product" in the context of genealogical research. You either have a copyright claim or you don't.

Unfortunately, claims of ownership by researchers are usually irrational and based on a desire for recognition. The tragedy is that those who claim ownership ultimately die and their work is lost because no one appreciates the work that went into its production. From my perspective, the nice thing about personal copyright claims is that you can ignore any of your own claims and not worry about your family members copying your work. My position is that doing the work is its own reward. I appreciate recognition and attribution, but I do not stop sharing my work on the basis of any claims I may have to copyright or ownership. That said if I did find that someone had copied my work verbatim, I would probably make a request that they attribute my work. But if I put my work in an online family tree, I have no expectation of either copyright or attribution. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Why I would attend a genealogy conference

I am writing this while attending the MyHeritage LIVE Conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. When all of the sessions of the MyHeritage LIVE Conference are streamed live and will also be available online after the conference, you may wonder why we would come to a conference? Over the past few years, many genealogy conferences, both large and small, have migrated to posting either live broadcasts of their conference or selected portions. The idea is to make the conference available to a larger audience but in some cases, the online availability impacts the overall attendance at the conference. In response, some conference organizers are now moving to a fee-based online access and are even holding entirely virtual conferences.

The cost of attending a major genealogy (or any other type of conference) can be considerable when you include the charge for the event, the cost of travel and accommodation and the extra costs always associated with travel. In addition, despite years of promoting genealogy to younger target audiences, those who are interested in attending a genealogy conference are still much older than the average age of any country's general population and despite interest, age is a factor in actual physical attendance.

Most of the statistics about conference attendance include professional and trade conferences where attendance is either paid by an employer or attendance is required to maintain a certain employment level. For example, my children who are professionals, mostly university associated, attend conferences as an integral part of their professional responsibilities and involvement. These types of conferences do not compare to interest conferences such as general interest genealogy conference. Trade conferences are also almost mandatory for some trades and industries. One of the largest such trade conferences is the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas every January. By the way, the registration fee is around $300 to $1,700 depending on your participation and attendance is limited to consumer electronics professionals representing specific businesses. Attendance at the conference is over 175,000 people.

The MyHeritage LIVE Conference is a "user" conference aimed specifically at a known group of the website's advocates and supporters. Those attending the conference specifically wanted to be there and were well aware of the cost of attendance. The attendees came from more than 20 different countries. Because they all shared a common interest, there was considerable interaction at a number of different levels between the participants. The internet broadcast of the conference merely increased the total attendance into the tens of thousands many of whom will plan on attending the next year's conference which was announced to be held in Israel.

The real reason conferences are still relevant in the internet world is the advantage of person-to-person contact such as took place at the MyHeritage LIVE Conference. Of course, I was invited to present at the conference but the advantages of being here in person far outweigh any excuses you can think of for not attending including the availability of the conference presentations online. Being here in person is vastly different than listening online.

Now, does the MyHeritage experience apply to general interest conferences organized around a membership organization? Some of the incentives for attendance are the same. Personal interaction is always a better experience than sitting at home and listening to a broadcast. But without the incentive of a specific common interest such as a user group other than the general common interest of genealogy as a subject, can conferences survive in the world of instant communication?

One major consideration for the conference organizers is the cost of the event. In the past, the number of paid participants attending a conference could balance the out of pocket costs of the sponsor. I am certain that some major conferences such as the Consumer Electronics Show can garner enough interest to offset the production cost. But I am also convinced that many of the conferences without the industry draw of the Consumer Electronics Show will continue to disappear. This prediction applies specifically to general interest genealogy conferences. The assumed general interest of the world's population in family history and genealogy does not translate well into conference attendance. Likewise, the draw of having a schedule of presentations by relatively unknown individuals when their presentations are available online is not going to increase attendance.

One factor for larger conferences is the continued participation of vendors. A major part of the income from large conferences come from the fees paid by vendors to have a booth on the exhibit floor. If attendance drops, the vendors sell less and soon decide that that cost of the conference is not worth the number of sales.

The reality of general interest conferences, both large and small, is that the sponsoring organizations will be forced to subsidize their conferences in larger measure and realize that paid attendance is not going to cover a significant portion of the overall cost of the conference. Hence, the idea of a "virtual" conference thereby dramatically cutting down the overhead becomes attractive, becomes attractive. Will those who are involved in genealogy pay to attend a virtual conference? Perhaps. However, the vendors at those conferences will not be so eager to subsidize the conference if they do not see an economic advantage to doing so.

So the issue of whether or not large general-interest genealogy conferences will continue to be held is going to be determined, to a great extent, by whether or not the sponsors want to continue subsidizing the conferences simply for the purpose of keeping them going. In the not too distant past, several long-standing genealogy conferences have been discontinued or reduced in frequency and this trend is very likely to continue.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

MyHeritage LIVE Conference: The Impact of DNA Testing on Genealogical Research

DNA testing has become established as an integral part of the world-wide genealogical community and is making major technological advances extending DNA testing from its current position as a genealogical research tool by expanding their DNA Health program.
The expansion of the Health DNA testing program was one of the highlights of the opening presentation by Gilad Japhet, CEO and Founder, at the MyHeritage LIVE Conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on September 7, 2019. In an earlier post entitled, MyHeritage LIVE: The Future is Bright, I wrote about the announcement of MyHeritage's acquisition of SNPedia and Promethease, adding a vital link in MyHeritage's advancement in this rapidly expanding and innovative addition to the health wellness industry. But Gilad Jephet's comments went well beyond the subject of the acquisition. 

Going back in time, DNA testing has become a standard in criminal investigations. Early on, when DNA testing was still an innovation, a substantial number of existing criminal convictions were overturned and are still being overturned by subsequent DNA analysis of the evidence. DNA testing, with the proper procedural prerequisites, is regularly used in criminal prosecutions. Presently, genealogical DNA testing is going through a phase where many DNA tests are motivated by casual interest or curiosity. But as technology advances, even the popular ethnicity estimates will become more accurate and used for more serious research. 

During his presentation, Gilad Japhet expanded on the future of MyHeritage DNA Ethnicity Estimates by outlining the efforts being made by MyHeritage to dramatically increase the accuracy of the estimates by focusing on a more comprehensive and detailed representative basis for the DNA comparisons. He outlined an expanded European comparison base that would include specific ethnic groups down to the local county or district level. 

His comments also included an analysis of the important part that MyHeritage DNA Health testing could play in improving the detections of several types of genetic-based illness and conditions. DNA Health along with Genealogy and genealogical DNA testing make a well-rounded and complementary system. Genetic diseases are, by their nature, inherited and there has always been a component of genealogy interested in ancestral diseases and infirmities.

With the steady increase in online genealogical source records, the recent increase in interest in DNA testing has opened new avenues to resolve multiple previously very difficult to resolve genealogical challenges. The most obvious of these is the identification of near relatives by those who were adopted or otherwise never knew their parents. But as the results from DNA tests become more detailed and genealogically accurate, those who use these new tools will find useful avenues that will assist genealogical research in ways we cannot presently imagine.

Unfortunately, many people who take a DNA test do not follow up with the information provided and begin a family tree. With a family tree, a DNA test moves beyond curiosity and begins to be of use in finding and connecting with relatives and learning about their ancestral heritage.

I can only guess at what the future might bring, but I do know that MyHeritage will be at the forefront of any technological developments. 

New MyHeritage Education Center announced at MyHeritage LIVE 2019

During the MyHeritage LIVE  user conference, MyHeritage announced MyHeritage Education: a new online resource center for enhancing your understanding of the MyHeritage platform and to help you make the most of your family history research. Quoting from the announcement:
Available in English, German, Dutch, French, Swedish, and Norwegian, the new Education Center includes loads of learning materials that will help you learn about every facet of MyHeritage. Articles, how-to videos, and webinars cover a wide variety of topics, including plenty of tips for everyone from beginner family history enthusiasts to seasoned genealogists. 
We will be adding new languages in the future, and we will be constantly be adding new content in each language. 
Whether you’re a new MyHeritage user, just starting your journey into family history research or a genealogy veteran, MyHeritage Education is sure to benefit you and help you make the most of your MyHeritage experience. 
Read more about this exciting new site in the blog post, and feel free to share it with all the world.  
MyHeritage LIVE live stream continues throughout the conference on the MyHeritage LIVE website or the MyHeritage Facebook page.

MyHeritage LIVE: The Future is Bright

One thing that is certain about MyHeritage, the future is bright. At the opening presentation of the MyHeritage LIVE Conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, CEO Gilad Japeth announced MyHeritage's acquisition of SNPedia and Promethease. Quoting from the SNPedia website:
SNPedia is a wiki investigating human genetics. We share information about the effects of variations in DNA, citing peer-reviewed scientific publications. It is used by Promethease to create a personal report linking your DNA variations to the information published about them. Please see the SNPedia:FAQ for answers to common questions.
The second acquisition was Here is an explanation of the company from their website.
Promethease is a literature retrieval system that builds a personal DNA report based on connecting a file of DNA genotypes to the scientific findings cited in SNPedia. 
Biomedical researchers, healthcare practitioners and customers of DNA testing services (such as 23andMe,, FamilyTreeDNA, Genos, etc.) use Promethease to retrieve information published about their DNA variations. Most reports cost $12 and are produced in under 10 minutes. Much larger data files (such as imputed full genomes) have increased runtime. Uploading additional data files into the same report costs an additional $4. 
These websites will add additional support and depth to the DNA matches on  Both of these websites will help to add depth to MyHeritage's growing consumer health interests. Here is an explanation of the acquisition from the MyHeritage blog post dated 7 September 2019.
Today we are announcing MyHeritage’s acquisition of SNPedia and Promethease, through acquiring the company that owned and operated them, River Road Bio, expanding our intellectual property in medical genetics. This marks our first consumer health acquisition and our 10th acquisition since MyHeritage’s founding. Promethease will be made free through the end of 2019 and SNPedia will remain a free wiki resource for academic and non-profit use. 
SNPedia was launched in 2006 and is a wiki that contains a broad, community-curated knowledge base linking between genetic variants and medical conditions, as well as traits, citing over 30,000 peer-reviewed scientific publications. It is the primary encyclopedia and de facto go-to resource for information about genetic markers and has evolved to cover 110,413 genetic variants. SNPedia operates under a Creative Commons license, wherein it is a free resource for academic and non-commercial use, with only MyHeritage having the right to utilize it commercially. MyHeritage plans to maintain SNPedia as a free resource under the same terms and will utilize this comprehensive knowledge base to enhance future versions of MyHeritage’s DNA health products. 
Promethease is a literature retrieval service. It allows consumers to upload their raw DNA data (from services such as, 23andMe, and others) and automatically compare it to SNPedia to see relevant scientific findings regarding their genome. The Promethease service currently costs $12, and offers consumers the option to store their DNA data. Since its launch in 2008, Promethease has become one of the world’s most popular consumer health services by allowing customers to obtain information based on their unique genetic makeup. Following this announcement, MyHeritage is transforming Promethease into a free service, effective today, and this free promotion will run until the end of 2019. MyHeritage intends to keep Promethease separate from its MyHeritage DNA health product line. Unlike Promethease, MyHeritage does not provide any health reports based on DNA data uploaded from other vendors. All of MyHeritage DNA’s health reports are based on clinical validation of the underlying DNA data. 
“The acquisition of SNPedia and Promethease expands MyHeritage’s intellectual property in medical genetics. Going forward, SNPedia will empower us to broaden the scope of health reports provided by the MyHeritage DNA Health+Ancestry test and propel it to become a global market leader in consumer DNA testing. We are happy to keep SNPedia as a free resource for the academic community and for consumers,” said Dr. Yaniv Erlich, Chief Science Officer of MyHeritage. 
“We are pleased with the acquisition by MyHeritage. We expect this to extend SNPedia’s contribution to even more consumers and thereby improve millions of lives through MyHeritage’s popular DNA testing platform,” said Dr. Greg Lennon, co-founder of SNPedia and Promethease. 
DNA Data
Promethease currently contains hundreds of thousands of raw DNA files uploaded by customers who have tested with services such as, 23andMe, and FamilyTreeDNA. The vast majority of Promethease customers are from the United States. As of November 1st, 2019, for existing non-European Promethease users only, the DNA data that is on Promethease will be copied to the MyHeritage website into new user accounts that will be created for them. Users who have uploaded DNA files to Promethease will retain ownership of their data (MyHeritage asserts no ownership rights over the DNA data), and manage it on the MyHeritage website in private accounts accessible only to them, and receive free value-add services, in addition to the accounts they will continue to maintain on Promethease. 
The accounts that will be created on MyHeritage for Promethease users will enjoy the special benefit of receiving not only free DNA Matching for relatives, but also free Ethnicity Estimates. Currently, users who upload their raw DNA data to MyHeritage receive free DNA Matches, but do not get Ethnicity Estimates. This extra feature is accessible for a  one-time unlock fee of $29 or by purchasing a site subscription. This benefit will be offered to Promethease users for free when their DNA is uploaded to MyHeritage, thereby saving them money and providing them with a free service that other users do not automatically receive. Some additional features will still require an unlock fee or a subscription, such as the Chromosome Browser. To learn about all of the benefits that will be available for free to Promethease users whose DNA kits will be uploaded to MyHeritage, read our DNA upload policy. 
Non-European Promethease users who are not interested in having their DNA data and accounts copied to MyHeritage can log in to Promethease and delete their DNA data permanently before November 1st, 2019, and their DNA data and accounts will not be copied. Promethease users will also be able to delete their DNA data and accounts permanently from MyHeritage and Promethease at any point thereafter. MyHeritage will de-duplicate the DNA data so that DNA kits that have already been uploaded separately to MyHeritage by the same users will not be copied over to MyHeritage again. For new users who sign up to Promethease on or after November 1st, 2019 and upload DNA data, it will be copied to new accounts created for them on MyHeritage on an ongoing basis. 
People who wish to take a genetic health test or receive health reports are encouraged to purchase the MyHeritage DNA Health+Ancestry test, which is based on clinically validated genetic markers and robust scientific research.

Friday, September 6, 2019

MyHeritage LIVE: Kim and Christine: Sisters Reunited

Kim and Christine: Sisters Reunited

The MyHeritage LIVE Conference started with an amazing presentation about two sisters separated as babies in Korea who found each other using the MyHeritage DNA test. After viewing the above video we were given the opportunity to meet and ask questions of the sisters in person. One of the main benefits of attending a conference in person is the opportunity to actually see the people.

The classes will be starting online shortly. Check the link for the current broadcast.

MyHeritage adds Huge Collection of French Marriage Records

France, Nord Civil Marriages, 1792-1937 announced the addition of a huge collection of 5.4 million French Nord Civil Marriages from 1792 to 1937. Here is the description from the emailed announcement:
France, Nord Civil Marriages, 1792-1937 which includes 5.4 million civil records of marriages (1792-1937) for the French department of Nord that were collected by government authorities after the French Republic was proclaimed in 1792. The collection contains a detailed searchable index that details you won’t find on other websites.
The collection is live in MyHeritage SuperSearch™ at: 
In this collection, you’ll find rich details about the bride, groom, and their families, including the names of the bride and groom, their birth dates, birthplaces, marriage date and location, and the names of the bride’s and groom’s parents — including their mothers’ maiden surnames. Additional information about the death of one or more of the parents, along with witness names and details — often with recorded relationships to the bride and groom — can also be found. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Teaching Classes at the MyHeritage LIVE Conference in Amsterdam

Why am I in Amsterdam? Earlier this year, I was graciously invited to present at the MyHeritage LIVE Conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. After some discussion with my wife, we decided to take advantage of being in Europe to do some touring before the Conference. We left Provo on August 16th and spent the next three weeks touring the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, a tiny part of Austria, and Germany. The tour ended in Munich. We then flew back to Amsterdam for the Conference from September 6th through the 8th. I will be teaching two classes. Here is the genealogy track schedule for Sunday showing the local times for my two classes. Of course, you will have the opportunity to hear most of the Conference live online during both days.
The instructions for live streaming are on this MyHeritage blog post. See "MyHeritage LIVE Is Almost Here!"

MyHeritage LIVE Is Almost Here!
For those of you in the US, the 6+ hour time shift will put the Conference into the afternoon or evening. If you are in other places around the world, check to see what the time shift will be for your area. Most of the action will be on the MyHeritage Facebook page so keep a watch there.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Live Streaming from the MyHeritage LIVE Conference 2019
Great News! The MyHeritage LIVE Conference with be both live-streamed and available online after the conference. I will be teaching two classes on Sunday so check the schedule and adjust the times for your particular time zone. Here are some instructions about the live streams:
We are just a couple of days away from an exciting weekend in Amsterdam, and we are thrilled to announce that we will live stream the genealogy and DNA lecture tracks online throughout the conference! 
The live stream will be available on the MyHeritage LIVE website and on the MyHeritage Facebook page, so please tune in from 9:00 a.m. Amsterdam time on September 7th. 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.

The Rijkmuseum and the MyHeritage LIVE Conference in Amsterdam

The Threatened Swan
We are busy getting ready for the MyHeritage LIVE Conference in Amsterdam from September 6th to the 8th but meanwhile, we are taking the opportunity of being in Amsterdam to visit some of the places I have only read about previously. The first place on my list is the Rijksmuseum, the national museum of the Netherlands. Here is a short description from a Google popup:
The Rijksmuseum is a Dutch national museum dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam. The museum is located at the Museum Square in the borough Amsterdam South, close to the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and the Concertgebouw. The Rijksmuseum was founded in The Hague on 19 November 1798 and moved to Amsterdam in 1808, where it was first located in the Royal Palace and later in the Trippenhuis.
The image above of The Threatened Swan is historically significant in Dutch history. Here is a description of the painting from the Rijksmuseum website.
A swan fiercely defends its nest against a dog. In later centuries this scuffle was interpreted as a political allegory: the white swan was thought to symbolize the Dutch statesman Johan de Witt (assassinated in 1672) protecting the country from its enemies. This was the meaning attached to the painting when it became the very first acquisition to enter the Nationale Kunstgalerij (the forerunner of the Rijksmuseum) in 1880.
It turns out that swans are very significant in Western European history. Another example is the name of the famous castle in Germany, the Neuschwanstein Castle which translated into English is the "New Swan Castle." Images of swans are very prominent in many contexts.

What does all this have to do with MyHeritage and the Conference? Well, you might start to realize that genealogy and history are really the same things. Over the next few days, I hope to be able to show some direct connections between our cultural and historic heritage and our genealogical inheritance.