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

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Watch RootsTech Online
Received from RootsTech 2019 today:
Can’t make it in person to this year’s RootsTech genealogy conference? Select sessions of the world’s largest family history conference will be broadcast live on Watch sessions that are available for free, or get access to 18 additional recorded classes that will be available online by purchasing a virtual pass. Recorded content from past years can also be found in the RootsTech archives.
For all the information you need about the way to enjoy RootsTech 2019 from home, please click on the link above to find out all the information.

Update on Finding Irish Records
It may seem like a very unlikely place, but Phoenix, Arizona is the home to a valuable Irish genealogical resource: The Irish Cultural Center and McClelland Library. Here is a description of the McClelland Library from the website:
The McClelland Library is a Special Library dedicated to the legacy of Irish authors, history, literature and research of a Celtic nature. The library, a division of the Irish Cultural and Learning Foundation, is an affiliate of the Phoenix Public Library. All of our print holdings can be found within the Phoenix Public Library’s online catalog. The three-story McClelland Library houses over 8,000 published materials, in various form, from Irish authors, poets, and genealogical sources. 
Items within the collection are available for public access and use during regular library opening hours. The McClelland Library’s circulating collection is available for checkout to Irish Cultural Center and McClelland Library members in good standing with a McClelland Library card. All materials are accessible to non-members on library premises.
In addition, the Irish Cultural Center hosts the Frances H. McClelland Genealogy Research Centre.
Here is a description of the Centre:
Welcome to the online home of the Frances H. McClelland Genealogy Centre. Here you will find online resources to assist with your Celtic family history search, helpful tips, and general information about the services we offer. The Frances H. McClelland Genealogy Centre at the McClelland Library in Phoenix was founded with the purpose of helping people find their Irish roots and to inspire individuals to write their family history. We look forward to assisting you with your genealogical research.
The Centre provides on-site research assistance, classes, guided tours and group research, and guest speakers. The website is worth investigating.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Do I need a large capacity hard drive?

In the past, a common theme among computer users and genealogists was a concern about file sizes, storing photos, and having enough computer memory to run certain programs. Fortunately, those days are long over. But genealogists are innately conservative and I still find quite a few who worry about how much stuff they can store on their hard drives and computers.

If you are still using an "older" computer it may be time to upgrade your computer. Computer systems that include a desktop computer, monitor and a 1 TB internal hard drive start at just over $200. Yes, that number is correct. An entire computer system including a large monitor for around $200. However, if you want the latest and fastest computers available with a huge screen, say over 40 inches, you might spend as much a $10,000 or more. This huge disparity in pricing reflects the fact that basic computers, especially older or reconditioned models, are really inexpensive. But it also reflects the fact that the speed and capabilities of new computers vastly exceed the needs of most genealogists. You can do well today walking into a Costco, Best Buy, Sam's Club, or Walmart and buying any of the computers on display.

What do all these newer computers have in common? Huge internal hard drive storage. At the time of this post, there is now a one terabyte flash drive (aka thumb drive). One terabyte of storage is huge and likely more than many people would fill up in years of work. But if you are still concerned about storage space the price of very large hard drives is still dropping rapidly. You can always plug an external hard drive into your computer, either desktop or laptop, and use that device for storage. In fact, having at least one external hard drive for storage is an inexpensive way to back up all your files. Both the Mac OSX and Windows operating systems have built-in automatic backup programs.

If you are at all concerned about preserving your work, you can do what I do, use multiple external hard drives and automatically back up all of them to an online backup service,

Now if you are storing huge amounts of data, say 200,000 high-resolution photos or something like that, you can buy very large hard drives for very reasonable prices. A 4 TB external hard drive can be purchased on Amazon for under $100. However, the least expensive hard drive based on the cost per unit of storage right now is an 8 TB hard drive for about $139.  A 10 TB hard drive is about $269 and 12 TB hard drives are now starting to come down in price but they are still expensive at over $600.

There is really no excuse for failing to back up your data.

Friday, January 25, 2019

How does the US literacy rate impact genealogy?

According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2018, 28% of the adults in the United States had not read a book in the past year. In another survey, the Pew Research Center found that in 2017 audiences for nearly every form of news media fell except for radio (which is so low now that it probably doesn't matter -- my comment). But overall literacy levels can be misleading because the average American reads at about a 7th to 8th-grade level.

According to the Literacy Information and Communication System or LINCS) funded by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE), "The ability to read fluently and for understanding—to be able to learn from text—is perhaps the most important foundational skill for U.S. adult citizens' health, well-being, and social and economic advancement. " Genealogy is a text-intensive activity. If a person has difficulty reading, it likely that they will have difficulty doing genealogical research.

Over the past few years, I have become increasingly aware of the fact that many of the people I am trying to assist in doing some genealogical research do not have the reading skills to understand the basic concepts of research. I am also becoming more aware that some people's resistance to involvement in genealogy is based on insecurity caused by their low level of reading and writing ability. I am not disparaging anyone with these observations, my intent in bringing up this topic is to point out that some people will not be comfortable with learning about their ancestors due to their limited literacy skills.

What can we do about this situation?

Genealogy is like an old-time pump. It needs to be primed to operate. The priming in genealogy comes from a variety of sources including the current advancement in making digitized documents available online. But even more important than the flow of digitized information, genealogy needs to be primed with a steady and constant supply of new researchers. I am not maintaining that genealogy should be in any way elitist. But genealogists should be at the forefront of those who are actively promoting literacy and education. The continuation of genealogical research really does depend on a constant supply of people who have the set of skills needed including reading cursive handwriting that work together to enable someone to do difficult historical research.

Dumbing down genealogy programs or constantly emphasizing that everyone should be able to do genealogy (i.e. genealogical research) or that there is no need for research skills does not give the right message. Fun and easy are not terms that are consistent with genealogical research. Meaningful, thought-provoking, serious, intense, challenging, and similar terms are more expressive of the level of involvement required for genealogical research.

Let me give a personal example. From my early teenage years and for about the next 15 years following, I spent a considerable amount of time learning to be a rock climber. This was before rock climbing became a "sport" done inside on a climbing wall. I was not attracted to rock climbing because it was either fun or easy. It was hard, dangerous, challenging, technical, but it was rewarding. I am not attracted to genealogical research because it is dangerous (obviously) but it is hard, challenging, and technical.

I could say the same thing about learning any challenging skill. I happen to have a relatively large number of grandchildren and one thing I have seen as they grow up, they most enjoy doing challenging, difficult things that require a lot of practice. I have several grandchildren who have learned to play musical instruments to a performance level. While they were learning to perform at that level, I can say with all certainty that the process for them was not fun or easy. They only became competent after years of practice. Why do we think that genealogy has to be different than any other challenging and therefore rewarding skill?

We need to start thinking about literacy, research skills, and handwriting recognition, and less about making genealogy into a game or a pastime. Just as I was a serious rock climber, just as some of my grandchildren have become serious musicians, perhaps we need think about becoming serious genealogists.

Step-by-Step Guide to Using Online Census Indexes: Part Two
Almost all census records have one thing in common: they have a specific form for each year the census was taken. These forms are often referred to as 'schedules." Most of the original microfilm copies of the earlier schedules are difficult to read and as a result, there are websites online that have clean copies of the schedules. Above is the schedule for the 1790 U.S. Federal Census, the first year that the U.S. had a national census. This particular schedule came from the U.S. National Archives website which has a section for genealogists. See National Archives, Resources for Genealogists. There is a specific page with links to articles about each year of the Census. Here is a screenshot of that page.
One of the first things you should know about the United States Federal Census is that before 1850, the schedules contained only the name of the head of the household and other members of the household were represented only by numbers or tick marks. Here is a partial copy of a schedule from the 1790 U.S. Federal Census.

This listing of individual households is contained in the main part of the U.S. Federal Census called the Population Schedules. However, there are a number of "Non-population Schedules" that contain specialized information for many of the census years.

Before these records were digitized and indexed, a genealogical researcher had to search through each page of the census, name by name, for each locality an ancestor might have lived in. Another obvious challenge was the need to decipher the handwriting of the person taking the census who was usually referred to as the "enumerator." If we fast forward to the present time, all of the existing U.S. Federal Census records are available online. In fact, there are digital copies of the entire set of Census records or schedules on multiple different websites. For example, all four of the largest online genealogical database programs,,,, and, have fully indexed copies of the entire surviving census schedules. However, only three websites are digitization partners of the U.S. National Archives:,, and Quoting from the U.S. Archives web page entitled, "Microfilm Publications and Original Records Digitized by Our Digitization Partners:"
Our digitization partners,,, and, have digitized selected NARA microfilm publications and original records and made them available on their web sites. The list below includes all microfilm publications and original records that have been either partially or wholly digitized by the partners. The list will be updated when additional materials are digitized. 
Please note: is a free site. Ancestry and Fold3 are both subscription services that allow free searches of some or all index terms for each title. Free access to and is available in all Research Rooms at the National Archives, including those in our regional archives and Presidential libraries. Agreements with our partners are such that there will eventually be free access online to all these digitized records through the National Archives Catalog. As microfilm publications become available in the National Archives Catalog, we will link directly to them in the Publication Title column.
The National Archives census records are linked from the "Search Census Records Online and Other Resources" webpage. For some time now, the following statement has been on this webpage:
Federal Census records have been digitized by several of NARA's partners, and will eventually be available as well through the National Archives Catalog.
 But at the time of this writing, the records are not yet available directly from the National Archives except in microfilm format.
The key word about the U.S. Federal Census is "surviving" because some of the Census schedules have been destroyed. The main loss to the U.S. Federal Census is for the census year 1880. The commonly related story is that the 1890 schedules were destroyed in a fire. This is only partially true. Some of the schedules were destroyed in a fire but the majority of the schedules were destroyed because of a lack of oversight by the Library of Congress. You can read the entire, very complicated account in a National Archives two-part article entitled, "The Fate of the 1890 Population Census"

If you look at each of the schedules for each census year, you will see that every census year from 1790 to 1940 has a different set of questions. In the early years, the census enumerators visited each home and personally recorded the information. It is important to know that literacy rates were very high in Colonial times but mostly confined to the white, male majority. Rural populations had lower literacy rates. For genealogists, this means that the spelling of surnames and given names was often ad hoc and arbitrary until well into the 19th Century. This lack of spelling consistency directly affects the accuracy of our modern indexes to the census records.

Here are some basic reference links about the U.S. Federal Census. I suggest that you may also wish to read a book on the subject and so I have included a list of books also.

Here are the books:

Anderson, Margo J, Constance Forbes Citro, and Joseph J Salvo. Encyclopedia of the US Census: From the Constitution to the American Community Survey. Los Angeles, Calif: SAGE, 2012.

Bass, Frank. Guide to the Census. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2013.

Christian, Peter, and David Annal. Census: The Expert Guide. Kew: National Archives, 2008.

———. Census: The Family Historian’s Guide, 2014.

Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 2017.

Haugen, David M, Susan Musser, and Ross M Berger. The US Census. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2012.

Hinckley, Kathleen W. Your Guide to the Federal Census for Genealogists, Researchers, and Family Historians. Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books, 2002.

Kemp, Thomas Jay. The 1930 Census: A Reference and Research Guide. North Salt Lake, Utah: ProQuest, 2003.

Schor, Paul, and Lys Ann Weiss. Counting Americans: how the US Census classified the nation, 2017.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Check Out Books from Ebook Libraries
Did you know that you can check out books online just like you can check out books from a traditional brick and mortar library? The is an example of a completely free, online library. Here is a description of the OpenLibrary from its website.
At its heart, Open Library is a catalog. The project began in November 2007 and has been inhaling catalog records from some of the biggest libraries in the world ever since. We have well over 20 million edition records online, provide access to 1.7 million scanned versions of books, and link to external sources like WorldCat and Amazon when we can. The secondary goal is to get you as close to the actual document you're looking for as we can, whether that is a scanned version courtesy of the Internet Archive, or a link to Powell's where you can purchase your own copy.
The first step is to sign into the website by creating a free account. You can then download books in a variety of formats and read them on any device that can connect to the internet. Here is an example. I can browse the huge catalog and decide on a book I would like to read. Yes, most of these books are older books now in the public domain, but there are a number of surprises also. How many of these books relate to genealogy? That depends on your definition of genealogy. Not all the books in the catalog have available ebooks for downloading and reading.

Here is a book I thought interesting:

Over on the right-hand side of the page, there is a link to borrow the ebook. If I click on the link, the book downloads to my computer and I can begin to read.

When I click on the cover, I get an animated page turning and I can literally read the book just as if it were physically in front of me.

At the bottom of the screen, I have links to enlarge the text or change the format of the way the book is presented. I choose to read the book a single page at a time and I can scroll the pages with my cursor by clicking and dragging on the page.

Here is the first page of the text. Do you think I can learn how to write?

Now, you have 1.7 million additional options to read. Hmm. No enough? Well, here is another free library where you can download and check out books: the SimplyE app. You can find this free app in either the Apple App Store or on the Google Play store. This app gives you access to thousands of additional books from libraries around the United States. Are there more sources? Absolutely. There are dozens of free online libraries. Some of these are connected to your own public library. If you are interested, you might want to start searching online for free, online libraries of ebooks. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Is Genealogical DNA Testing Junk Science?
The story linked above is currently making the rounds on the internet. I'll let you read the news accounts and draw your own conclusions. However, what the stories fail to mention is that genealogical DNA testing is a tool for those with their own research and a robust and accurately researched family tree to gain additional insight. Test results are far from definitive and they only apply if they are used within the context of active and substantiated genealogical data.

I personally find the ethnicity aspect of DNA testing to be amusing and of extremely limited utility. But in the context of a major family tree program, the results concerning your shared genetic data is supported by matches between family trees (or not depending on the accuracy of your own research). For example, here is a screenshot of my relationships on that is completely ignored by the above article and all of the other online reports.

The utility of this information from DNA testing is in direct proportion to the accuracy of your own research as supplemented by the record hints and other tools available on the website. In this case, is NOT junk science. The relationship matches are independently valuable regardless of the accuracy of the "ethnicity estimates." In fact, with, I can go much further and see the chromosome matches using the MyHeritage Chromosome Browser between me and up to seven other potential relatives at the same time. Since it is apparent that those taking the tests and then broadcasting the results have no real interest in genealogical research, the "junk science" issue is itself junk reporting.

On a practical level, the key issue is whether or not the person taking a genealogical DNA test is involved in serious genealogical inquiry. Many of the people whose DNA tests are reported on the genealogy programs as matches lack family trees that enable me to determine how I am related to a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th cousin. Taking a DNA test, as was done by the twins in the story, without doing serious research is nothing more than entertainment.

What about the differences between the various companies? So what? I have two different tests from and from In both cases, the relationships shown are accurate but vary because different people took the two different tests but both tests accurately identify close family members and other relatives. In my case, unlike many others, I happen to be completely aware of the identity of all of my close family members but this is not the case with everyone.

In short, as a genealogist, taking a DNA test is simply one more tool in verifying the accuracy of my own research. The fact that ethnicity estimates vary between genealogy companies is no surprise since I fail to see a consistent definition of ethnicity in any event.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

DNA, Genealogy, and Geo-political Entities

Europe in 1910
If you have been one of the millions of people who have taken a genealogically motivated DNA test in the last few years, you probably received results that included a list of ethnic origins based on the results that included a map showing the present political boundaries of countries with a generally defined area of "ethnic match." The common definition of "ethnicity" is "the fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition." See The descriptions of these "ethnic" groups from the genealogy companies include labels such as the following:

  • English
  • Irish
  • Italian
  • England, Wales, and Northwestern Europe
What is the correspondence between current political boundaries and ethnic groups? If a DNA test results say that my "ethnicity is "English" what does that mean? Is there a single social group in the present day country of England that has a common national or cultural heritage? Has there ever been a single social group in England that had a common national or cultural heritage? Can you lump England, Wales, and Northwestern Europe into a single ethnic group?

What are the DNA tests results actually saying when they give you an ethnicity estimate? Political boundaries in Europe have been in a state of constant change for as long as there have been separate political entities. The boundaries of ethnic groups, if they actually exist, do not correspond to political boundaries.

Let's take England or English as an example. What is the English ethnic group? In 2105 results of an Oxford University study showed the following quoted from an article entitled "Who do you think you really are? A genetic map of the British Isles":

  • There was no single 'Celtic' genetic group. In fact the Celtic parts of the UK (Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Cornwall) are among the most different from each other genetically. For example, the Cornish are much more similar genetically to other English groups than they are to the Welsh or the Scots. 
  • There are separate genetic groups in Cornwall and Devon, with a division almost exactly along the modern county boundary.
  • The majority of eastern, central and southern England is made up of a single, relatively homogeneous, genetic group with a significant DNA contribution from Anglo-Saxon migrations (10-40% of total ancestry). This settles a historical controversy in showing that the Anglo-Saxons intermarried with, rather than replaced, the existing populations.
  • The population in Orkney emerged as the most genetically distinct, with 25% of DNA coming from Norwegian ancestors. This shows clearly that the Norse Viking invasion (9th century) did not simply replace the indigenous Orkney population.
  • The Welsh appear more similar to the earliest settlers of Britain after the last ice age than do other people in the UK.
  • There is no obvious genetic signature of the Danish Vikings, who controlled large parts of England ('The Danelaw') from the 9th century.
  • There is genetic evidence of the effect of the Landsker line – the boundary between English-speaking people in south-west Pembrokeshire (sometimes known as 'Little England beyond Wales') and the Welsh speakers in the rest of Wales, which persisted for almost a millennium.
  • The analyses suggest there was a substantial migration across the channel after the original post-ice-age settlers, but before Roman times. DNA from these migrants spread across England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, but had little impact in Wales.
  • Many of the genetic clusters show similar locations to the tribal groupings and kingdoms around end of the 6th century, after the settlement of the Anglo-Saxons, suggesting these tribes and kingdoms may have maintained a regional identity for many centuries.
So, if your DNA test says your ethnicity is English, which English is that? Even if the "ethnicity" area shown on your map is a blob rather than a defined area, how many different ethnicities are contained within that blob? What is certain is that the present political configurations of countries around the world do not reflect any ethnic boundaries.

Here is another example of the problem. Some of my ancestors have lived in America for about 400 years (399 years to be exact). My genealogical research clearly shows that most of them came from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. However, they have intermarried over those 400 years with people from other locations. Looking at my researched family lines at the great-great-grandparent level here is the makeup of my lines by birth country:

  • United States
  • United States
  • England
  • England
  • Denmark
  • Denmark
  • England
  • United States
  • United States
  • United States
  • Ireland
  • United States
  • Denmark
  • Denmark
  • Wales
  • England

What happens if we go back another generation? Fortunately, I have the birthplaces of all 32 of my ancestors at the Great-great-grandparent level and as would be expected, the birthplaces are exactly consistent with the makeup of the countries at the next more recent generation. Why don't any of the estimates show America as an ethnicity? How long do I have to live here before my 400 years of ancestors come from America?

These question actually tell us a lot about genealogy ethnicity estimates. They are in fact estimates and they are based on the ethnicity definitions determined by the testing companies. Interestingly, the companies could have given me the same estimate without the DNA test, based on the content of my family trees and as a matter of fact, the paper estimate from examining my online family tree would be more accurate than the DNA tests.

How do you define what it means to be English? Or Welsh? or German?

So why do I need a DNA test to tell me my ancestors came from England? Why don't any of my ethnicity estimates show my ancestors in the United States for almost 400 years?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Step-by-Step Guide to Using Online Census Indexes: Part One: Introduction
Censuses date back to antiquity. The first known census was taken about 6000 years ago by the Babylonians in 3800 BC. This census included the number of people, livestock, and some commodities. See New World Encyclopedia: Census. Other ancient census records come from China. The Bible contains several references to censuses and there are several instances of censuses in both the Old and New Testaments.

One of the first records that budding genealogists learn to rely on are the various census records. In the United States, the U.S. Federal Census was mandated by Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution. The first Census in the United States was taken in 1790 and every ten years thereafter. Because of privacy concerns, the Censuses are not made public until 72 years after the official Census Day. The 1950 Census records will be released in April 2022. Unfortunately, due to government negligence and error, almost all of the records from the 1890 U.S. Federal Census were lost either by fire or government destruction.

Concerning census records in the United Kingdom and quoting from Wikipedia: Census in the United Kingdom:
Coincident full censuses have taken place in the different jurisdictions of the United Kingdom every ten years since 1801, with the exceptions of 1941 (during the Second World War) and Ireland in 1921. Simultaneous censuses were taken in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, with the returns being archived with those of England. In addition to providing detailed information about national demographics, the results of the census play an important part in the calculation of resource allocation to regional and local service providers by the governments of both the UK and the European Union. The most recent UK census took place in 2011.
For genealogists, the first usuable census information from the U.K. begins in 1841.

As a contrast, in Mexico, the census efforts have not been a beneficial to genealogical researchers. Here is a short explanation of the Mexican National Census from the Research Wiki:
While earlier attempts were made to enumerate the Mexican population, the 1895 census was considered the first federal or national census. Beginning in 1900, censuses were conducted every 10 years. The 1930 census was conducted on May 15 and was the first census in which returns were processed centrally. Because of this, most of sheets still exist. This census is widely recognized as one of Mexico’s best planned and executed censuses, and it is also the only one accessible to the public. Due to under counting and some record loss, primarily for the Federal District, the 1930 census covers about 78 percent of the population, not 90% as previously reported. (This figure is based on 12.8 million persons in the database extracted from this census compared with a total population in 1930 for all of Mexico in 1930 of 16,552,722 (see Mexico Population 1930). Since the population of Mexico City was 1,029,000 in 1930, there were record losses in areas beyond the Federal District as well, accounting for another 2 million plus persons not covered in the database placed online by in September 2011.
As you can see from this explanation, census records can be extremely useful, but have definite limitations. Census records exist in many countries around the world, but it takes some investigation and effort to obtain access to the records.

Returning to the United States, in addition to the Federal Census, there are also several local and state census records. Here are some links to resources that list all of the available census records in the United States:
Search for census records with the name of the state or country to find hundreds of additional links. 

This series is a step-by-step guide to using online census records through various online websites' indexes. Using a variety of websites and their individual indexes is a way to make sure that you are capturing all of the information available from each census. Of course, I cannot review every website and every census, but I hope to give enough examples, that you can see how to approach any particular census record. 

Stay tuned. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Using BillionGraves to Document Cemeteries
My recent involvement with digitizing documents at the Maryland State Archives has reaffirmed my interest in document preservation. I have seen graphic examples of the effects of time on the condition of the documents. Grave markers (tombstones, headstones, etc.) fall into the category of important genealogical records that are subject to deterioration over time. Without constant maintenance, grave markers will eventually erode away and disappear.

Programs such as are making a tremendous difference in the preservation of the information available online about grave markers and cemeteries. The most important fact about the entries on, as opposed to those on, is the fact that entries on are linked to the GPS coordinates for the cemeteries and grave markers. This allows users to use their smartphones to record the entries and later other users can use their smartphones to find the exact locations where the entries were originally photographed. I have personally used my iPhone and the program to track down the graves of some of my ancestors. is a free website to look up headstone photos from around the world. Volunteers use smartphones to take GPS tagged photos of headstones. Photos are uploaded to the BillionGraves website either automatically or later with an internet connection. The photos are then available to be transcribed by volunteers. All of the photos can be easily accessed for research online. There is a paid subscription level of the website that adds many valuable features.

If a cemetery is very small, the issue of finding a particular grave marker is trivial. You walk around the cemetery and look at each of the markers. However, this scenario presupposes that you can find the cemetery in the first place. It also presupposes that the cemetery is not huge with thousands of graves. Using, you can also photograph and mark the GPS locations of gravesites where there is no grave marker.

One of my current goals, when the weather permits and the snow melts, is to take more photos in the local Provo City Cemetery. You would think with the concentration of people who should be interested in genealogy, that the cemetery would be long ago completely imaged, but there are still entire sections where the coverage is minimal. When I was in Annapolis, Maryland, I checked and very few of the hundreds of cemeteries in Anne Arundel County had been photographed. You might want to check in your area. If you need time outdoors and some exercise, you might as well take photos of cemeteries.

Friday, January 11, 2019

BYU Family History Technology Workshop 2019
Registration is now open for the Brigham Young University Family History Technology Workshop. This one day workshop is held on the Brigham Young University campus in Provo, Utah in the Hinkley Alumni Center on February 26, 2019. The conference is primarily directed at developers and those interested in new developments in genealogical software. The conference is scheduled one day before the annual RootsTech conference held in Salt Lake City Utah. If you want to get a feel for the topics covered by the conference, you should visit the website and review the archive of past presentations.

Conference registration is now open and if you wish to present at the conference submissions are open until January 21, 2019.

What's New at RootsTech 2019
There will be a lot of changes this year at RootsTech 2019. Of course, if this is your first year attending RootsTech, you will just enjoy all the changes without knowing that they are changes. But for those of you who have attended in the past, many of the new changes address issues that became more apparent last year.

On Wednesday, February 27th, quoting from the post linked above:
Previously, Wednesday lunch options have been limited because the expo hall has been closed. We received a lot of feedback on this and will now be offering boxed lunches to all RootsTech attendees. You will find lunch pick-up stations throughout the Salt Palace.
You will need a full registration at RootsTech 2019 to be attending classes on Wednesday. The schedule of classes is changing for all of the days of the Conference. Here is another quote:
This year we are adding a new class session at 8 a.m. that we are fondly calling Power Hour. This session brings together 3 presenters to give short, unified presentations. So, if you subscribe to the theory that the "early bird gets the worm," you are sure to enjoy this extra hour.
I might point out to those who will be driving to downtown Salt Lake City, Utah to attend the conference, that parking is always an issue and traffic during the morning hours, especially if there is snow, can be difficult. Keep that in mind while planning your trip to the Salt Palace. You might want to park away from the Salt Palace and ride the local TRAX light rail to the downtown area.

Some other changes include the fact that there will be no badge scanning for sessions (badges will only be scanned for sponsored lunches and labs) and an update to the mobile app. I suggest you watch all of the discussion in the following video.

Road to RootsTech, Episode 5: What's New at RootsTech SLC 2019

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Comments on FamilySearch Record Collections of 2018
In a recent News Release, listed their "Top Record Collections of 2018." The list raises a number of issues that are also shared by all of the other large online genealogy database programs including by not limited to,, and

The News Release consisted of a brief introductory statement followed by a long list of countries and some specific categories of records that were apparently taken from the Catalog. Here is a screenshot of part of the announcement and the list.

Here is what the introduction had to say about the list:
SALT LAKE CITY, UT (8 January 2019), In 2018, FamilySearch added hundreds of millions of searchable free images and indexes of historical records from all around the world. The records came from locations such as Germany, Sweden, France, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Mexico, and the United States. We thought we'd summarize those countries with the largest volume of new records and images for you and provide convenient links to help you quickly discover a few new ancestors. FamilySearch now has over 8 billion free names and record images.
The way the statement is worded, it is unclear whether the numbers in the list are the number of new images added in 2018 or simply the total number of images from each of the categories of records. For this issue is even more complicated because there is a further issue of the number of total images vs. the number of those images that have been indexed and included in the Historical Record Collections section of the website. See the following video for a brief explanation of this part of the issue.

Where are the Digitized Records on

So how many of the records listed by are images in the catalog and how many have been indexed and are searchable in the Historical Record Collections? That is entirely unclear. But this is not, as I mentioned above, a unique issue with FamilySearch. The real issue involves the use of the following terms to describe the online collections of genealogical records:

  • images
  • records
  • names
  • collections
All of these terms are used to promote each of the websites and many others with the implication being that larger numbers are better. But unfortunately, none of these terms have a consistent and disclosed meaning. What is an image? That would seem to be obvious, but an image can be a record of a single individual or an entire family or a list of hundreds of names such as a passenger list or a probate sale. The other three terms are totally meaningless. Is a "record" the entry for one individual such as an entry for an individual on a U.S. Federal Census record, or is it the Census sheet with fifty or so names or is it the entire Census year with millions of names? The number has to be a rough estimate unless there are some people in each of the companies squirreled away counting every name on every image. How far off are the estimates? Are the estimates high or low?

I am not particularly picking on FamilySearch here. This is a common issue with every online database large or small that promotes their database by representing its size. The real question for every researcher is whether or not the collection or whatever has the record you are looking for. If it does. Great. If not, the size of the collection does not matter at all. 

As an example, I clicked on the first entry in the FamilySearch list shown above for Australia. The list indicates that there are 1,618,183 "Records and Images." Is each record an image or is each image a record? Anyway, here is where the link takes me:
You can click on the caption link and see this page for yourself. There are many millions of records listed on this page. Neither the number nor the link tells us how many of these are newly added if any and how many are just an arbitrary guess at the number of images available. In addition, some of the image collections list are obviously not indexed or searchable and some are not even available outside of the confines of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Although it is unlikely to ever happen, genealogists would benefit from a little less hype and a lot more transparency from all of the online database programs. Perhaps we should forget the idea that a large number necessarily translates into a benefit. Again, the collection is only beneficial if it happens to have your information.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Thoughts on State Archives -- Supplement to the Series

For the past few weeks, I have been writing a series of posts on each of the state archives. Granted, I have a long way to go to get to all 50, but my experience so far and previous experience have provided me with some interesting observations.

First of all, any impression or thought that I had about the number of documents that are digitized as opposed to those yet to be digitized has been entirely readjusted. In the archives, I have visited and those I have looked at online, the number of digitized documents is only a vanishingly small percentage of the total number of documents that are still only on paper. The large online genealogy websites measure their online collections in the billions of records, but when you focus on one state or even one city, the number of records already digitized shrinks down to almost nothing.

Around the world, we currently create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. (See How Much Data Do We Create Every Day? The Mind-Blowing Stats Everyone Should Read) But that is almost all new data. Although the pace of digitization has increased, realistically, it is barely scratching the surface. In 2010, Google estimated that 129,864,880 books had been published. Even at best estimates of the number of books that have been digitized indicate that the number is about 40 million books. That is about 30% of the total. But most of the paper contents of the archives in the United States and elsewhere are not counted as books. Here is a description of the holdings of the United States National Archives Records Administration (NARA);
NARA keeps only those Federal records that are judged to have continuing value—about 2 to 5 percent of those generated in any given year. By now, they add up to a formidable number, diverse in form as well as in content. There are approximately 10 billion pages of textual records; 12 million maps, charts, and architectural and engineering drawings; 25 million still photographs and graphics; 24 million aerial photographs; 300,000 reels of motion picture film; 400,000 video and sound recordings; and 133 terabytes of electronic data. All of these materials are preserved because they are important to the workings of Government, have long-term research worth, or provide information of value to citizens.
What does this mean for the average genealogist? It means that if you are searching online and have not visited an archive that could have documents pertaining to your ancestors, it is very likely that you have not looked at even a small percentage of what is available for research. Some of the archives have ongoing digitization projects. For example, the State of Washington's Digital Archives have preserved over 216 million documents and have over 78 million of those searchable. But some states, with far more documents, have far fewer documents in their digital collections.

What else have I learned? I have learned that accessing the paper records in state and national archives is a very time-consuming activity. Some archives have large onsite collections, but in some cases, the main repository for storing the documents is off-site and gaining access to the documents can take days of waiting for the documents to be transported to the main archive location. Additionally, almost all archives require some form of registration for access to any of the documents. In addition, most archives also have strict rules about how and when their documents can be accessed. All of this is understandable given the fragile nature of many of the documents, but it also indicates the need for digital copies.

One obvious problem with all archives is that they are physical locations that must be visited. In addition, most of the collections are classified by record type and organized chronologically. Some indexes exist but in some cases, even those indexes are on paper or bound in book format.  For example, in one archive, you can access the catalog online, but the information online only tells you where the physical documents are stored and you have to guess the contents.

I am extremely grateful for those who established and now maintain archives. They provide a service that is only rarely acknowledged by the state and local governments. Many archives are constantly operating under threats of budget and personnel cuts. Some U.S. state archives have even faced threats of complete closure. As genealogists, we should be familiar users and supporters of the archives that contain or might contain information about our ancestors.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

California State Archives: Wonderful Local Sources for Genealogical Research

Quoting from the California State Archives website:
California's first legislature, meeting in 1849–50, charged the Secretary of State to receive "…all public records, registered maps, books, papers, rolls, documents and other writings . . . which appertain to or are in any way connected with the political history and past administration of the government of California." The Act Concerning the Public Archives (Chapter 1, Statutes of 1850 (PDF)) was the first law signed by California's first governor on January 5, 1850. The California State Archives, a division of the Office of the Secretary of State, continues to serve in the spirit of those early instructions, providing a repository for the state's permanent governmental records as well as other materials documenting California history. The California State Archives serves a wide variety of researchers whose interests range from legislative intent and public policy to genealogy and railroad history in California. 
Archives staff continually organize and describe the records we receive to provide easier and faster access for researchers. Visit the Collections & Catalogs page for more information.
Obviously, the number of potential records in any one of the state archives depends, in part, on the length of time the records have been produced and the population of the state during that time period. Relatively small states such as Delaware and Rhode Island can have huge accumulations of records while some of the western states will have significantly smaller collections. California is in an interesting position. It certainly has the population, but unlike some of the other western states, California's history dates back to 1542 when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and his crew sailed into San Diego Bay. But most of the collections of the Archives date back only to the legislatively mandated date of 1849-50. 

Here is a further description of the Archives from the website:
The California State Archives collects, catalogs, preserves, and provides access to the historic records of state government and some local governments. The Archives collection is primarily composed of records from California state agencies, the governor's office, the state legislature, and the State Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal. The records are organized under the name of the agency or office that transferred the records to the Archives. The collections also include some private papers that have been donated to the Archives. 
The State Archives has specialized programs to collect and preserve records of state government. The Legislative Archives Program, Court Records Program and Governor's Records Program work with the three branches of Government to identify records of enduring value that should be preserved in the Archives. The State Records Appraisal Program works to identify and collect records of state agencies. 
Each year hundreds of researchers contact and visit the California State Archives seeking documentation to support their historical investigation. Reference Desk staff help researchers identify collections that are most relevant to their area of interest and retrieve those records from a secure storage area for researchers to view in the large Research Room.
The California State Archives hosts an annual open house each year in October and has other outreach programs including monthly tours, a speaker series, Digital Archives Day, preservation workshops, and periodic exhibits.

The main collections of the Archives consist of the following:
  • California Constitutions
  • Governor's Records
  • Legislative Resources
  • State Agencies and Constitutional Officers Records
  • Trademarks
  • Family History Resources
  • Spanish and Mexican Land Grants
  • Robert F. Kennedy Assassination Investigation Records
  • Local Government Records
  • Photograph Collections
  • Oral Histories
  • Supreme and Appellate Court Records
The Archives has some specifically identified collections for genealogists. In addition, the Archives is the genealogy library of the Root Cellar–Sacramento Genealogical Society, which is open to the public and staffed by volunteers several days each week. Here is another quote about the records that are directly related to genealogical research.
Our collections contain microfilmed copies and original records from 28 of California's counties including probate, deeds, and naturalization records. State agency collections of interest to genealogists include records of the California National Guard (1849–1942), Folsom and San Quentin Prisons (1850–1945), early California Youth Authority records (1891–1932), Yountville Veteran's Home Registers (1884–1910), and various professional and vocational licensing boards (1885–1968).
Many of the genealogically important records from California are online on different genealogy websites, but the Archives also maintains the California Digital Archives.  Surprisingly, this collection is quite limited so researchers will either have to go to the Archives or depend on the other online genealogy websites.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Classes, Webinars, and Presntations

Since returning to Provo, Utah, we have quickly settled down into our usual busy schedule. Here is a sample of the classes, webinars, and presentations I will be involved with in the next few weeks and months. You can click on the links to see the schedules.

Sunday Classes at the Brigham Young University Family History Library

Yuma Family History Discovery Day Seminar, Yuma Family History Center, Yuma, Arizona
Brigham Young University Family History Library Webinar Series

There are several other events that are still in the planning stage, but I will be at RootsTech 2019 and helping with The Family History Guide booth and as an Ambassador for FamilySearch. I will also be presenting at the booth at RootsTech 2019 on Friday, March 1st at 3:00 pm.

I may have other presentations and workshops during the year but meanwhile, I will be volunteering as a Church Service Missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Brigham Young University Family History Library Our regular shifts will be on Monday evening and Sunday afternoons on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month. But in January we will miss the 4th Sunday due to the Yuma Conference.

The MyHeritage Year in Review
With the end of 2018, we can look back on an exceptional year for Here is a blog post from MyHeritage that outlines the accomplishments of 2018.
The list outlined in the post is impressive and you may wish to review all the things mentioned. I have written about all of them as the year has gone by, but it is important to review them all from the perspective of a new year. Read the blog post here: "Goodbye 2018… Welcome 2019!"