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

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Our Experience on Internet Radio: Big Blend Radio Interview

My friend Holly Hansen and I had a singular experience in being interviewed on an Internet Talk Radio Station. At least it was a new experience for me, but I understand that Holly is been on the radio quite frequently lately. We were interviewed on the Big Blend Radio program by Nancy Reid & Lisa D. Smith, the mother-daughter travel team on the 'Love Your Parks Tour' and publishers of the digital Big Blend Radio & TV Magazine and Parks & Travel Magazine. The topic of our interview was genealogy in the state of Arizona. We also talked about traveling around the state and some of the points of interest. This is part of the effort of Family History Expos to reach out to the greater potential genealogical community meaning the rest of the world that doesn't presently do genealogy.

Quoting from a report from Lisa D. Smith, Park Traveler, and Publisher of Radio Host:
The interview podcast is featured with Holly’s article on and will be featured in the upcoming April-June issue of Parks & Travel Magazine, and in an upcoming Big Blend e-Newsletter. The podcast is also published on,,, and on which syndicates and distributes out to a number of podcast outlets including,,,,,, Spotify, and, etc. 
In addition, she supplied me with a number of links to the interview:
Here are the main links (all easy to use on social media): 
- Podcast & Article on -
- Podcast on -
- Podcast on -
- Show on -
- Podcast on - 
 This was quite an interesting experience and thanks to Holly and Big Blend Radio for the experience.

RootsTech 2019 is Almost Here! Here is your Survival Guide

The weather reports for the Salt Lake City area are not very favorable for the week of RootsTech 2019. That looks like cold weather and snow. FamilySearch has been concerned about this and many other things that you should know about the RootsTech 2019 conference. They have published a RootsTech Survival Guide linked above. Some of the things that have changed for the upcoming conference include the following list send out by email. Here is a list of those things that have changed from past years:
Conference Updates 
In addition to increased customer service, here are a few more things we’re doing to make RootsTech 2019 a success for you:
  • Free WiFi. We’re testing the Salt Palace’s new system and providing free, high-speed internet to all attendees, courtesy of FamilySearch.
  • Increased Staff Support. You’ll notice an increased number of staff positioned throughout the Salt Palace to assist you. They’ll be wearing bright turquoise shirts that say “Ask Me Anything”. They can help you find your classes and assist you with any other needs.
  • RootsTech Daily Rundown. Each day when you arrive at the Salt Palace, you’ll be given a printed handout with a summary of the day’s events and most popular classes. These handouts will also be available in the Documents section of the mobile app.
  • Larger Classrooms. We’ve increased the size of classrooms and added a new room, the Ruby Room, which seats over 3,000.
  • Coaches’ Corner. Bring your biggest genealogy roadblocks and find answers at the Coaches’ Corner in the Expo Hall. Over 400 slots are available with expert genealogists. Sign up here:
If this is your first time attending RootsTech, then I would certainly advise you to review the Survival Guide. Here is the link: A Survival Guide to RootsTech 2019.

I hope to see you there.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Step-by-Step Guide to Using Online Census Indexes: Part Three

Page from the U.S. Federal Census for 1790
There is a 72-year restriction on public access to the census data and so the most recent census records that are available are from 1940. Most people will only see the information from one census become available during their lifetime. All of the main schedules of the U.S. Federal Census are now available online. Here is a list of the main online sources for digitized copies of the U.S. Federal Census records, however, you will need to search for the census records on these websites. This list is not exhaustive and you may find other digital copies on additional websites. Subscription websites are marked with dollar signs.
You might ask why you would use more than one of the digital copies of the census? The answer is that most of these online copies represent different digital scans of the original National Archives microfilms. The quality of the scans varies from copy to copy and also within the individual scanned copies. For example, here is a screenshot of a page from the census taken from By the way, should you wish to do so, you can download the entire census from 1790 to 1940 to your own computer. If you decided to do this, make sure you have a lot of free memory on your hard drive.
The copy of the census records reproduces the original microfilm. All of the other copies of the census have been edited. There is often extra information on the original not visible in the other copies. However, the copy cannot be searched by name. You will need to find the page you need first from one of the other online copies and then use that to find the same page on I am sure that very few people will want to do this on the chance that there is a little bit of additional information, but you should be aware that it is possible.

The most commonly used parts of each U.S. Federal Census are the Population Schedules. These are the listings of the individuals and/or households in the entire census area. However, there are are a number of non-population schedules that also contain valuable genealogically useful information. Here are short descriptions of each of these additional non-population schedules. The information about the content of the schedules is as listed on the National Archives website. These non-population schedules may be found online on and Bear in mind that these schedules may need to be separately searched.

Agricultural Schedules

The U.S. Federal Census Agricultural Schedules were taken in the years 1850, 1860, and 1870 and they provide the following information for each farm.
The name of owner or manager, number of improved and unimproved acres, and the cash value of the farm, farming machinery, livestock, animals slaughtered during the past year, and "homemade manufactures." The schedules also indicate the number of horses, mules, "milch cows," working oxen, other cattle, sheep, and swine owned by the farmer. The amount of oats, rice, tobacco, cotton, wool, peas and beans, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat, orchard products, wine, butter, cheese, hay, clover seed, other grass seeds, hops, hemp, flax, flaxseed, silk cocoons, maple sugar, cane sugar, molasses, and beeswax and honey produced during the preceding year is also noted. The 1880 schedules provide additional details, such as the amount of acreage used for each kind of crop, the number of poultry, and the number of eggs produced. 
Exclusions--Not every farm was included in these schedules. In 1850, for example, small farms that produced less than $100 worth of products annually were not included. By 1870, farms of less than three acres or which produced less than $500 worth of products were not included.
Manufacturing Schedules

As the United States was transformed from a primarily agricultural country into a manufacturing country, an Act of Congress dated May 1, 1810, mandated that the government make "an account of the several manufacturing establishments and manufactures." However, the Act did not specify the type of information to be collected so the actual information contained in the recorded records varies greatly. From the website:
Manufacturing schedules in 1820, 1850, and 1860 reported the name of the manufacturer; the type of business or product; the amount of capital invested; the quantities, kinds, and value of raw materials used; the quantities, kinds, and value of product produced annually; the kind of power or machinery used; the number of men and women employed; and the average monthly cost of male and female labor. The amount of detail reported in these schedules increased in 1870 and again in 1880. In 1880, supplemental schedules were also used for specific industries, such as for boot and shoemaking, lumber and saw mills, flour and grist mills. 
Exclusions--Small manufacturing operations that produced less than $500 worth of goods were not included on any of the schedules.
Both the Agricultural and Manufacturing Schedules can contain information including details that are not contained in the general population schedules. Both Schedules may also list people who were not residing in the particular area covered by the Population Schedules.

Mortality Schedules

It may seem rather strange, but the 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 U.S. Federal Censuses had Mortality Schedules. There are also some mortality schedules from 1885 in some of the state censuses. Fortunately for genealogical researchers, these records often contain information about people that the Census would otherwise have missed. The Mortality Schedules contained deaths in the year preceding the census year. Again from the website:
For each person, the following information is listed: name, age, sex, marital status if married or widowed, state or country of birth, month of death, occupation, cause of death, and the length of the final illness. 
Business Schedules 1935

The U.S. Federal Census Business Schedules contain information relating to advertising agencies, banking and financial institutions, miscellaneous enterprises, motor trucking for hire, public warehousing, and radio broadcasting stations. There were other more limited censuses taken in 1929 and 1933.

Censuses of American Indians

American Indians are not identified in the U.S. Federal Censuses for the years 1790 to 1840. However, the1860 Census began identifying Indians living in the general population. Beginning in 1900, Indians living both on and off the Reservations are included in the Census schedules. A more complete listing of all the specific census records for Indians is contained on the United States Census Bureau website. Se History, Censuses of American Indians.

From time to time, it appears that an ancestor or an entire family has suddenly disappeared from the census. This is usually due to the index being inaccurate or the individual or family's movement to a new location but this possibility is relatively rare and searching the census schedules page by page may show the missing family especially when there is an indexing error.

Here is a link to the previous posts in this series:

Part One:
Part Two:

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Re-inventing Genealogy

There are four major types of genealogy programs: those that store information, those that provide information, those that teach about genealogy and those that assist in doing research. The distinctions between these four types of programs are blurred because there are a few multifunctional programs particularly those that have associated family tree programs and include a large database of digitized genealogical records. There are also a number of utility programs that supplement the activities of the larger online database/family tree programs. There are also a smaller number of games, activity programs, and even a few specialized scanners and other computer associated devices aimed at the larger genealogy market.

Several articles written in 2014 observed that "Genealogy is a 2-plus billion dollar industry that is expected to grow to nearly 3 billion by 2018." See for example this article from Forbes dated 23 November 2014 entitled, "Opportunity Is About To Knock So Get Ready To Open Your Door." This observation was made before the advent of the sale of the presently popular genealogical DNA testing kits. Online estimates of the growth of just the DNA testing market run from about $10 billion to over $22 billion in the next few years. How do these growth estimates compare to other market sectors? Well, reality is sometimes ignored when you start talking about money. For example, the worldwide market for yogurt is expected to be almost $89 billion in 2019 and grow to $107 billion dollars in 2023. In short, the market for yogurt is expected to be about four times the total of the entire genealogical DNA market. By the way, the genealogy DNA market is largely concentrated in four or five very large companies.

So what could possibly drive innovation in the genealogy market? What could happen to grow the market beyond current estimates that are largely based on the growth of DNA testing?

Right now, genealogy is mostly a solitary pursuit that has only begun to be computerized. The initial innovation in genealogy has focused on digitizing paper-based records. However, to liberate the information from their digital surrogates, the indexing process is still highly labor intensive. Granted, some genealogists can use the raw digitized records using time-honored techniques of searching individual records one at a time, but these individuals are not generally very few in number compared with the user base of the large online genealogy companies. Despite advances made in optical character recognition and handwriting recognition, these technologies have gained little traction in the genealogy companies. Automated record search programs rely entirely on indexed records.

Additionally, technological changes even those that measurably increase "genealogical productivity" face stiff resistance from tradition-bound genealogists. Overall, the genealogical community is highly fragmented and exchange of information obtained by individual researchers is, with few exceptions, locked into proprietary formats. The only widely accepted data exchange program for individual users, GEDCOM, is woefully out-of-date.

The small cadre of professional genealogists and those amateurs with similar skills are mostly unconnected with the much larger corpus of both serious and casual family historians. Professional genealogists are almost uniformly prohibited from publically sharing their work with the general genealogical population either by professional restraints or individual contract obligations. The idea of sharing genealogical information is further stifled by reason of the fact that many genealogists of all levels of expertise claim "ownership of their work."

It would appear that this genealogical logjam will prevent any real progress towards data unification and overall technological progress. What is needed is a way to re-invent genealogy. The first step in this direction needs to come from establishing a way to create a uniform data standard for the exchange of genealogical information. However, as long as each company, large or small, has its own proprietary set of data standards, such exchange of information is unlikely to occur. Since about 2012, The Family History Information Standards Organisation, Inc. or FHISO, has been working to implement data exchange standards, but although progress has been made in some areas, quoting from the website:
What file format will this standard generate? 
We believe it is unrealistic to produce an all-encompassing standard with the resources currently at FHISO’s disposal, and were such a standard to be produced, it runs the risk of being ignored, much as other attempts at a new standard such as the GenTech Data Model have been. 
Instead, our intention is to develop a series of standards each covering a narrow area. Over time, these will fit together to form FHISO’s new data model, but at first they are likely to be used in existing data models, in particular GEDCOM and GEDCOM X, which the FHISO Board have identified as the two dominant non-proprietary data models at present.
We have so much of our family history heritage that is lurking in fragments all over the internet and in libraries, historical societies, archives, and myriad other locations that are waiting to be integrated. Presently, genealogists have to individually remake the wheel. We have to individually create our own methods and every generation has to repeat and redo the work done previously. There is one small glimmer of hope in the Family Tree, but it will take dedication and years of work to create a reliable and trustworthy Family Tree. Meanwhile, we if we want to re-invent genealogy, we need to encourage and support efforts to integrate the data now scattered in millions of family trees into a workable one-source database that will help to eliminate duplication and help to correct the existing errors.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

What do you get when you combine a powerful social networking program with over 100 million users and an advanced technology database program and an aggressively accurate DNA testing program with over 9.5 billion records? You get The company began in 2003 with the iconic "garage" (actually a living room) startup paradigm. Now after more than 16 years, the company has spread to 196 countries across the globe. The company's headquarters are in Or Yehuda, Israel with additional offices in Tel Aviv, Israel, Orem, Utah, Kyiv, Ukraine, and Burbank, California.

Back in 2016, the MyHeritage blog featured an article entitled, "A Sneak Peek Inside the MyHeritage HQ."  This article provides an idea of the atmosphere which engenders this rapidly growing genealogical website.

 Some of the important technologies developed by the company are outlined in the following list:

  • Smart Matching™ -- Finds matching profiles in family trees, enabling users to discover new ancestors and relatives, and connect with other users
  • Record Matching -- Automatic matches between people and historical records
  • Instant Discoveries™-- Unique technology that allows adding a whole new branch to the family tree in one click
  • SuperSearch™-- A Search Engine for exploring billions of historical records
  • Record Detective™ -- Automatically extends the paper trail from a single historical record to other related records and family tree connections
  • Global Name Translation™ -- Translates names found in historical records and family trees from one language into another, to facilitate matches between names in different languages
  • Search Connect™ -- Enables users to easily find others who are looking for the same ancestors or relatives, and get in touch with them

Most recently, has expanded by beginning a series of international conferences held in different locations. The first conference was held in Oslo, Norway in 2018. The next conference will be held in Amsterdam, The Netherlands in 2019. also has a free powerful desktop genealogy program called Family Tree Builder.
My fascination with began as a result of the fact that I realized that they were the driving force behind genealogical technological innovation. Genealogy is a highly conservative pursuit. Little about genealogical research has changed in the last 100 years. The typical view of a genealogist is still an older person sitting in an archive or a library.'s focus on innovative technology has been the impetus for changing the way millions of people around the world view researching their ancestors. Because of my interest in the program and my interest in technology, I began investigating the company early in its development. In an almost unbelievable chain of events by writing about MyHeritage developed into a friendship relationship with the company.

Perhaps there are other individuals and companies out there in the greater genealogical community that are as interested in pushing ahead with technological development in genealogy but none of them have accomplished what has been accomplished by

Development and acceptance of the program in the United States has been slow primarily because MyHeritage has not participated in saturation advertising. But with over 100 million users it is hardly necessary for the program to advertise in the media. Word-of-mouth is sufficient.

One example will suffice in this present post. I received a request for help from one of my friends about her Swedish ancestry. The question was quite involved and on its face, would appear to take a lot of time and some serious research. However, in reading through the narrative provided by my friend, I realized that she should make sure her information was in family tree. The reason for this conclusion was the huge number of fully indexed records on from Sweden. Further, the Record Match technology would very likely provide her with a basis for resolving her questions. In any event, the additional information she would receive from would likely make the entire task much easier.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Back to the Issue of Genealogical Standardization of Place Names

Okay, we're back to the issue of standardization of place names. Standardization is exactly that, it is an attempt to establish a uniform method of doing something from manufacturing to genealogical place names. The underlying reason for working towards place name standardization is that we need to have a common way of referring to specific locations that can then be tied to GPS coordinates. This is important because of the rule that genealogically valuable records are created at or near the place that an event occurs by people who have an interest in the event or duty to report it. The duty part of the rule refers to the fact that these genealogically valuable records are created by government entities that exist at the time of the event.

This also brings up another basic rule of genealogical research that place names are recorded as they were, i.e. jurisdictionally, at the time the event occurred. So these two rules concerning the probable location of the records and the recording of the name of the place where the records may have been created are the underpinnings of all genealogical research. Ignorance of or failing to acknowledge accurate place names is the underlying cause of most of the confusion present today and the millions of online family trees. Standardization is an attempt to bring order to this confusion.

Here is a simple example. A baby born in Arizona in 1945 would have a birth certificate created pursuant to the current state statutes. If the baby was born in a hospital, the birth certificate was created by the hospital and then forwarded to the Arizona Department of Health Services which presently has the duty of preserving the record and providing copies to those who need them. Actually, the whole process is much more complicated but the summary suffices. If I wanted to look for a birth certificate for an individual born in 1945 I would have to know that he or she was born in Arizona. If I knew that the person was born in Arizona, I would need to ask the question as to which government agency might have a copy of the birth certificate. But if I did not know the person was born in Arizona where would I go to look for the birth certificate?

If I were doing genealogical research for the person born in 1945 and started looking in New York for the birth record would I find the birth record for a person born in Arizona? This may seem like an extreme example but the underlying principle is the same. Genealogical research is based on identifying a specific location of an event in a person's life. Without this geographic location which includes all of its political ramifications, it is extremely unlikely that we would be searching in the right location for the individual's records.

So why standardization? Because the identity of these political variations in the way that specific geographic locations were named generally identifies the place to start looking for records. For example, an individual farm has a specific geographic (GPS) location on the face of the earth. But over time, that same farm could have been in a number of different political entities. County boundaries could have changed and state boundaries could've changed. Those changes affect the places where records could have been created and presently could be found. So what do we do with this:
  • 1284 Wales and England under the name of England
  • 1536 Wales and England under the name of Kingdom of England
  • 1603 Wales, England, and Scotland under the name of Great Britain
  • 1707 Wales, England, and Scotland under the name of Kingdom of Great Britain
  • 1801 Wales, England, Scotland, and Ireland under the name of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
  • 1922 Wales, England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland under the name of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
In this case, obviously, if a location was in either Wales or England, the name used to designate the political entity is fairly irrelevant. But if a person lived in Scotland or Ireland or Northern Ireland to name changes reflect jurisdictional changes where the records may have been kept. Unfortunately, the changes in the names as illustrated above also come with a log of political baggage. People can become offended if the wrong political designation is used.

There are a significant number of people who assume that if a person were born in Arizona then Arizona should be used as the designation even if the person was born in 1890 when Arizona did not exist as a state. They think that the distinction between Arizona and Arizona Territory is trivial and inconsequential. But here's the question. Where are the early Arizona records currently available? That may seem like a simple question but the answer is more complicated than you might think. Here is another list of dates:
  • The 1700s to 1848 Arizona was part of Mexico
  • 1848 to 1853 the part of Arizona north of Gila River was part of New Mexico Territory
  • 1853 to 1863 the southern part of Arizona was added by the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico
  • 1863 to 1912 all of Arizona was Arizona Territory
  • 1912 to present all of Arizona is the State of Arizona
There are several factors. First, there is the issue of the exact geographic location. Second, there is the issue of the time period under consideration. Third, there is the issue of the governmental agency administering the geographic area during the time period involved. Fourth, there is a historical question of where any records kept during the time of the event may have been created and where they are presently located. Fifth there is the identity of the person involved in the research.

Standardization eliminates some of the confusion concerning the changes in the geographical locations designations over time. Another factor which is to some extent geographically independent is that certain governmental agencies create records throughout an entire country. For example, United States Census records are maintained by the national government regardless of the location where the census was taken. But even knowing that U.S. Census records are maintained at a national level still requires that the general location of a person be known or a search would have to be made of the entire census. Today, because we have digitized records with search engines that can search the entire country some of the issues have been resolved but how do we tell the difference between people with similar names if we have no idea where they lived? We always come back to the issue of identifying the geographic location.

The main challenge presently with standardization is coming up with accurate designations of the locations reflected by the time periods involved. For example, has made some efforts to include time periods in the standardization suggestions. Some genealogical programs, such as RootsMagic, will indicate whether or not a county designation is proper depending on the time frame of the entry. It is certain, that as time passes standardization will become more prevalent and more accurate.

Those who ignore standard place names and think that standardization is trivial or unimportant are missing the entire basis for accurate genealogical research.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Who are the holdouts to digitization?

Digitization of valuable genealogical information has been engulfing us like a gigantic wave. But it always helps to step back and think about the vast number of records still locked up in paper documents. The number of documents waiting to be digitized probably exceeds by many times the number of useful digital images that are already online. After spending time digitizing records at the Maryland State Archives and visiting both the National Archives and Library of Congress, I have an enhanced appreciation for the number of documents that remain unavailable online in digital format.

What remains to be digitized? The list could go on indefinitely. But there are some notable holdouts. I am sure that the same situation exists in most, if not all, the countries of the world, but my focus here in this post is on the United States.

First of all, we have our own U.S. National Archives. I could ask what would seem to be a valid question about the number of records presently in the U.S. National Archives, but persistent research online has shown me that apparently, no one has any idea of the actual number. Estimates begin at about 12 billion but the actual number is probably unimaginably larger. number. With very, very, few exceptions, the number of documents is entirely unknown. The documents are not cataloged individually but are classified in the number of cubic feet of documents or the number of linear feet on the shelves. Here is a screenshot of an example from the following record group:

Reports of Indian Schools, 1941 - 1949
Creator(s): Department of the Interior. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Navajo Service. 1947-1949  (Most Recent)
From: Record Group 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1793 - 1999

Here is the screenshot:

This is only one small set of records. Most of the other records are measured in cubic feet of documents. If you spend even a few minutes in the National Archives Catalog you will begin to see the challenge.

Here is the statement about digitization currently on the National Archives website:
With NARA’s strategic plan, 2018-2022, NARA has committed to digitize 500 million pages of records and make them available online to the public through the National Archives Catalog by October 1, 2024. This goal will be accomplished, in part, by integrating digitization into the responsibilities of archival units nationwide and through entering into new public-private digitization partnerships.
Hmm. Let's suppose that the number of documents held by the National Archives is really about 10 billion (a really low estimate) what percentage of the documents does 500 million represent? Additionally, how many documents does the U.S. National Archives receive each year? My guess is that it is somewhere above 500 million. So really, they are getting further and further behind. By the way, 500 million is less than one half of one percent of the estimated total. 

The National Archives actually does almost no digitization of existing records. The strategy of the National Archives is set forth in a rather long discussion on a web page entitled, "Strategy for Digitizing Archival Materials." If you have ever tried to find a document in the National Archives, READ THIS PAGE. As an attorney, I am used to reading all sorts of government stuff. What this page essentially says is that the U.S. National Archives is doing essentially nothing to digitize its holdings. But what about the Partner Programs? There is a page of the "Digitization Partnerships." If you are at all interested in what is going on at the National Archives look at this page.

What is not on the page is that the actual digitization of records is mostly at a standstill. For example, what I have learned by talking to volunteers (Missionaries) who served at the National Archives digitizing documents is that because of the current administration's "budget cuts" all digitization has essentially stopped. In addition, because of bureaucratic red tape and outmoded preservation procedures, the process of digitization inside the National Archives is essentially nearly impossible for the volunteers. For example, has a list of its "New and Updated" collections on its website.

The most recent records added are from October 2018. But look at the list closely and you will see that none of the recent records seem to originate from the U.S. National Archives. If you look at a few categories that likely came from the Archives, you will see that the collections are really quite old and not identified as coming from the National Archives.

This is just one example of the massive number of records that are not only unavailable in digitized copies online, but are not even in the process of being digitized. Despite everything that I do say about what is available online, we all need to remember that genealogists still need to visit these archives and libraries and do the rest of the research that cannot be done without digital copies. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Revisiting genealogical myths

It has been some time since I wrote about genealogical myths. I even did a webinar on the topic back in 2016.

I continue to see a consistent stream of people who have asked me questions that indicate that they have "bought in" to a genealogical myth or two or three. But rather than rehash the usual list of genealogical myths, such as the Cherokee Princess and the Three Brothers myths, I decided to look at some of the less visible and obvious myths.

Many family traditions have been believed for so long by so many people that they have taken on mythic qualities. Few, if any, of those who tell and retell these traditional stories, have any idea of the origin or the veracity of the narrative, but so many people have told the story and believed the story that it can no longer be doubted as the absolute truth. How and when does a traditional story become a myth?

Traditional stories exist both in the written and oral genres. There are societies around the world who have established cultural support for oral histories. In the United States, transmission of oral histories is haphazard at best. Many traditional stories have been reduced to writing. The genealogical literature is full of instructions and suggestions concerning the preservation of family traditions and stories in particular. From a research standpoint, traditional stories may be key and understanding and discovering an individual's ancestors. But in some cases, traditional stories either block or mislead research. This is especially true when the traditional story has taken on mythic characteristics.

A traditional story becomes a myth when careful research discloses that the basic facts in the story are either unsupported by any contemporary sources or inaccurate when compared to contemporary sources. The traditional story does not need to be an extensive narrative it can merely be the identification of an individual with a particular artifact or event. For example, a family tradition may be that a remote ancestor fought in the American Revolutionary War. When subsequent genealogical research conclusively shows that the ancestor did not participate in the Revolutionary War, when the persistent tradition that the ancestor was a participant continues to be reported and believed, the traditional story has become a myth. By the way, one definition of a myth is a widely held but false belief or idea.

In my own genealogical research experience, I have encountered several extremely persistent myths in my own family lines. One example is the "photograph of John Tanner." This myth concerns and obviously old daguerreotype. Family tradition identifies the image as that of our prominent ancestor, John Tanner who was born in 1778 in Rhode Island and died in Cottonwood, Utah in 1850. I am not going to reproduce an image of the daguerreotype for the simple reason that it is being copied as an actual image of John Tanner despite careful research which shows the actual identity of the individual assumed to be John Tanner. Reproducing the image would simply add to the proliferation of the myth. For a detailed explanation of the historical analysis of the image see the following: "The Tanner Family Daguerreotype: Man at Left — Options."  This blog post contains links to a nine-part series analyzing the photograph.

Despite almost heroic efforts to publicize and debunk the mythic origin of the photograph, individuals still continue to attach the photo as an actual image of John Tanner.

Another of the Tanner family myths also revolves around the conversion of John Tanner to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The story has been published in several books and has also been represented in a movie made about the life of John Tanner. There are essentially multiple versions of the story. The most cited version is contained in the following book:

Tanner, Maurice. 1942. Descendants of John Tanner: born August 15,1778, at Hopkintown R.I., died April 15,1850, at South Cottonwood, Salt Lake County, Utah. [Place of publication not identified]: Tanner Family Association.

The account as contained in this particular book has been republished dozens of times in different books and articles. What is interesting, is that at the end of the biography of John Tanner in the book there is the following statement:
This sketch was written by Nathan Tanner, Jr., Son of Nathan Tanner, who was the son of John Tanner, the subject of this sketch.
Since there are no citations other than the statement, the facts contained in any "biography" are unsupported. The events purporting to relate to John Tanner's conversion date from 1832. At the time of the events, his son Nathan Tanner would have been approximately 17 years old. Nathan Tanner's son, also named Nathan Tanner Jr., was born in 1845 and was about five years old when John Tanner died. Unfortunately, there is no date associated with the writing of the account printed in the book but Nathan Tanner Jr. died in 1919. If someone has the original manuscript that information has not been disclosed in the book or in a subsequent publication. In short, what appears to be the only and original story was possibly written as long as 87 years after the event. However, it should be noted that Nathan Tanner Sr. died in 1910. But there is no reference in the story that Nathan Tanner Sr. witnessed or participated in the event.

Two of the individuals who could possibly provide additional details about the event have only recorded brief references to being present at the event. No details have been provided.

One of the key factors in creating a mythic tradition is that the basic facts cannot be either proven or disproven. Essentially, we have to take the word of the originator of the story as to the accuracy of the details. Notwithstanding the lack of substantiation, I am certain that there are hundreds perhaps thousands of Tanner descendants that can relate this story and others from memory. The oral recitals of the story often omit many details but also include conclusions that are not contained in the original story.

My purpose in using these two examples is not to cast any doubt or aspersions on the contributions of John Tanner but to illustrate how a historical event can become a myth. In the case of the photograph, there never was any basis in fact for the conclusion that the individual was John Tanner. In the case of the book, many of the incidents are collaborated by contemporary historical sources but those stories which have been passed down through oral history have lost some of the historical context and details.

What part do these traditional stories play? The answer to this is that they are fundamental to creating the connections between the researcher and the ancestor. The researcher can learn from the stories how the life of the ancestor affected all of his or her descendants. The damage comes when the myth competes with the reality as supported by historical records and becomes the reality to the denigration and refusal to accept the historical records.

The Family History Guide Booth at RootsTech 2019

This is a computer rendering of the booth
Yes, The Family History Guide will front and center on the Exhibit Floor of RootsTech 2019. Our booth will be located just behind the new Coaches Corner and diagonally across from the FamilySearch booth. The booth is #217. Here is a map of the exhibit floor showing the booth location.

Here is a look at the back of the tower structure in the booth. The graphics were provided by the Queen of Wraps company.

Both my wife and I will be helping to teach during the Mini-Class schedule. Here is an outline of the classes to be taught. The instructors for the classes will vary according to our availability and the number of people needing help.

TimeThursday, 2/28Friday, 3/1Saturday, 3/2
9:00aInside The Family History GuideInside The Family History GuideInside The Family History Guide
9:30aResearch with TFHGCome Follow Me Companion OverviewFamily History Activities 
10:00aFamily History ActivitiesTFHG for Trainers & ConsultantsOnline Tracker and Reporting
10:30aTFHG for Trainers & ConsultantsResearch with TFHGFamily History Activities
12:00pOnline Tracker and ReportingFamily History ActivitiesResearch with TFHG
12:30pResearch with TFHGOnline Tracker and ReportingCome Follow Me Companion 
1:00pFamily History ActivitiesTFHG for Trainers & ConsultantsFamily History Activities
1:30pInside The Family History GuideInside The Family History GuideOnline Tracker and Reporting
2:00pCome Follow Me Companion Research with TFHG(no class)
2:30p(no class)Family History Activities
3:00p(no class)Online Tracker and Reporting(no class)
3:30pQuestion/Answer Session
4:00pTFHG for Trainers & ConsultantsTFHG for Trainers & Consultants(no class)
4:30pFamily History ActivitiesResearch with TFHG
5:00pInside The Family History GuideQuestion/Answer Session
5:30pOnline Tracker and ReportingInside The Family History Guide

Remember that we have three full-length presentations this year at RootsTech. For details, see our previous blog post RootsTech Presentations from The Family History Guide.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Free MyHeritage Marriage Records for Valentine’s Day!
Quoting from the blog post entitled, "Free Marriage Records for Valentine’s Day!"
Do you know the love stories of your ancestors? How did your great-grandparents meet and get to know each other? In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re providing free access to love-related records in our massive historical records collection during February 10-17. No Data subscription is required so you may search all U.S. states, European and worldwide collections for your ancestors’ marriage records! 
Search free marriage records on SuperSearch™
 Marriage records are an important genealogical record as they not only include information about the bride, the groom, and their residence when the marriage occurred but often contain additional information such as birth dates, birthplaces, occupations, as well as religious affiliations. Often a marriage license will also contain information about the parents of the bride and groom including their names and birthplaces. Each state and country has different requirements for that information so different records have varying data. 
In addition, don’t forget to enter our Valentine’s Day Competition! Send in your ancestor’s love letters to for a chance to win a MyHeritage DNA kit! 
♥ ♥ Happy Valentine’s Day! ♥ ♥

Announcing MyHeritage LIVE 2019
I am excited to announce's LIVE 2019 conference to be held in Amsterdam, Netherlands from September 6 through September 8, 2019. What is even more exciting for me is that I will be participating as a featured speaker at the conference.
Here are two more of the speakers who did not fit in my first screenshot.

Earlybird registration is already open for a special rate of €150. That works out to about $178 US at the current exchange rate which of course can change daily. Click here for registration information. Accommodations are available at the Hilton Amsterdam.

I will obviously have a lot more information about this wonderful conference once more details are available.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Will Computer Programs Replace Genealogists?

With a combination of record hints, DNA tests and optical character recognition could a computer program construct a verified family tree? For many people living today, I believe this question has long been answered. Some time ago, introduced notes "Instant Discoveries" and I have seen the program time after time produce a valid and sourced, albeit limited, family tree for users. Given the research skills of the majority of people constructing family trees on the large online websites, it is only a matter of time before the online websites implement programming that automatically verifies and corrects entries.

Obviously, the main obstacle for the complete replacement of the genealogists lies in the implementation of optical character recognition software that can read handwriting, i.e. handwriting recognition software. With the addition of artificial intelligence, the need for human intervention would be minimized. and have both implemented error correction technology that now advises users of inconsistencies in their existing family tree data. The step that is missing is to make such programming intervene in the entry process and correct the existing entries. An intermediate step would be to mark questionable entries this has already been implemented to a small degree on

Many genealogists already rely on computer programs that analyze DNA tests which are now being used as a matter of course to resolve criminal actions in the courts. So let's suppose this scenario. You take a DNA test from a large online genealogy based website with sophisticated programming. Your DNA test is then matched to millions of other users of the same website. The program behind the website then constructs a potential family tree relationship between the users. Meanwhile, the program has been analyzing billions of written records. The information from those records is then integrated into the structure created by the DNA testing. Hypothetical relationships are then analyzed comparing the DNA testing results to the information contained in the written records. As is already possible, the program compiles a list of "sources" and determines the relative possibility of relationships based on the accumulated sources and the DNA testing results. Previously submitted family trees are further analyzed to see if they reinforce or detract from the constructed family tree data.

As this hypothetical system becomes more and more sophisticated, it will become at least as accurate as any present genealogical analysis. Missing parts of this constructed family tree will be noted due to missing source information, i.e. documents that support conclusions. How will this be any different than what we have today? It will be a lot more accurate.

What are the implications of this scenario? What were the implications of the Internet when it was first introduced? Will I still have a job in the future? Considering my age I doubt that this will happen before I end up in the care center or pass on to my reward. But for many people living today, this is not a merely theoretical possibility. Maybe worrying about whether or not you can get younger people involved in genealogical research does the wrong thing to worry about. Maybe we should worry about the implications of creating a worldwide family tree showing that we really are all related. However, when you think about the possibility of worldwide family tree the reality is that records do not exist to connect every person to every other person on the face of the earth. The genetically, we are certainly all related.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Why does my DNA Test Ethnicity Change?

This is my original DNA Test from May of 2017. The summary of the results was as follows:
  • Great Britain 55%
  • Scandinavia 29%
  • The Iberian Peninsula 11%
  • Ireland 5%
Time has passed an I have grown older and now my ethnicity has changed. Here is what the test results show today, for the same test. 

This notice comes up when I go to look at my results:

You might notice that both estimates add up to 100%. Would the earlier results have caused me to start trying to find my "Iberian" ancestors? What do these DNA test results tell me that I didn't already know? More importantly, what kind of changes will I see in my results in another year or two?

Let's think about a little bit of history here. If your ancestors came from England, as mine obviously did from all the research I have done, where did the people who now live in England come from? Why doesn't my ethnicity estimate simply reflect the origin of the people who live in England? If you want a current summary of the historical origins of the English people, here is one article that will give you some pause to accept DNA testing ethnicities on their face value: "Myths of British ancestry." See also this book by the same author as the article:

Oppenheimer, Stephen. 2012. The Origins of the British.

A more fundamental question for genealogists is what does all this have to do with genealogy? I am going to give my own opinion here and say not much if anything. It all falls into the category of so what? 

So what is the real value of DNA testing for genealogists? The answer is not obvious because of the hype over ethnicity results. The real value is in assisting in identifying relatives in the first four to six generations. Past that, it is sales hype. Alright, in some unique cases where extensive genealogical research has been done, you might be able to push an extensive DNA testing study to help identify more remote ancestors, but the real value is much more close to the first few generations. 

The second major point about genealogical DNA testing is that it only makes sense in the context of a carefully and well-researched family tree. If you take a DNA test, you may have an unknown parent or sibling, but unless you do more and have access to and connect with a database of others with the same test, you will never know. 

Have you looked at the results of your DNA test lately? Have the results changed from the original estimates? Isn't this estimate sort of like the weather forecasters modifying their predictions after rain or snow has started falling? Were you told that your "estimate" would change over time?

Should you take a DNA test? Yes, if you want to do so. But how about participating in genealogical research also and put your family tree online so you and others can see who you are and who you are related to. After all, we are all family. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Google's Shutdown of Google+
Google has announced that Google+ will shut down in April 2019. However, I am presently not able to easily post my blogs or anything else to the website. If you have been following my blogs on Google+, I suggest that you now follow or at least like my Facebook page for Genealogy's Star where I will be posting links to all of my various blog posts. Also, see @Genealogysstar.
If you have some kind of aversion to Facebook, then you could subscribe with FeedBurner or by email. There are links to subscribe located in the information on the right-hand sidebar of my posts.

You can follow my blog, Rejoice, and be exceeding glad..., by following my Facebook page or by email with the link in the sidebar. My third blog, WalkingArizona,  also has a link to follow the blog in the sidebar.

Monday, February 4, 2019

What can you learn from taking a DNA test?

The real answer to the question in the title of this post is it depends. But commonly, the answer is absolutely nothing. For example, telling me that I am 74% English is not surprising and after doing genealogical research for 38 years it is hardly new information. But before you start to respond with a list of all the things you learned from your own DNA test, hear me out.

A DNA test taken in isolation from its context is only useful when placed in the context with the purpose for which it was taken. If you take a DNA test for medical reasons, the test only becomes valuable when it is analyzed and interpreted in light of current medical research. If you take a DNA test for forensic reasons, it is only useful in the context of some type of legal action. If you take a DNA test to support genealogical research conclusions it is only useful if you have done careful and complete genealogical research. A more simple example is taking a DNA test from a genealogical database company. In that context, the results of your test are only useful if your test is compared to that of many other people taking the same test. In other words, the value of the DNA test is in the accuracy of the DNA matches. In my case, I have not learned anything that I did not already know.

If you start reading the flood of commentary on DNA testing, you will soon see that most of the comments relate to "discoveries"  that are made as a result of a DNA test taken in conjunction with a database of other people who have taken the same test. So far, the DNA tests that I've taken have matched me with a very small number of people who are classified as extended family. My own case, the number of people in this category is 11. Of those people, six do not have a family tree in the website providing the DNA test and since these people are living none of them appear in my family research. In short, I have no idea who these people are. So the fact that I am related to someone named "Sarah" is absolutely useless information to me. Granted, I could contact that person through the program but if she does not have a family tree how will she know how she is related to me?

In short, a DNA test is only valuable and only provides information if it is placed in the context of the research that it is intended to support. Again returning to the online stories about DNA testing, many of them relate how someone is surprised or even overwhelmed by learning that they have a certain ethnicity. But it is seldom emphasized that this conclusion comes only as a result of the DNA testing company having matched the results of the individual's DNA test to hundreds or thousands or even millions of other people taking the same test. But even with a database of millions of people, the DNA testing company will need to do careful research matching certain DNA sequences to people in a certain geographic area. If you took a DNA test some time ago, you have likely found that the results of your test have changed over time. This happens as a result of the DNA testing companies refining the results of the DNA tests as more and more tests are taken. So what happens if you based your actions or impressions on your initial test results received a year or two ago? Are you prepared to reassess your original impressions every time the DNA company refines and changes the percentages of ethnicity reported?

Another interesting fact is that despite the thousands of DNA matches I have received and continue to receive notice of, I have yet to have anyone contact me for genealogical information simply because of the DNA testing match. In those few cases when a person who has an extensive family tree matches to my DNA test, I almost certainly have already been notified through tree matching technology of that particular relationship. Granted, DNA testing may help to confirm that we both have fairly accurate research but without the extensive family tree research that preceded the test, the information would be essentially useless.

Hypothetical situation. But suppose that you were adopted and that you did not know either your birth mother for birth father. Let's further suppose that you take a popular DNA test. Will taking that test help you identify your birthparents? The answer is simple. Test results will only identify your birth parents if someone who is related to you, either your birthparents or another close relative, takes the same DNA test. So in that situation, if you were truly trying to find your birth parents, you would take every single test available. Doing so would increase the chances that one of your relatives had taken the same test. Granted, there are likely people out there who have done that, i.e. taken a series of DNA tests. But the companies who report the stories of people finding their relatives usually do not mention the fact that the person may have taken more than one DNA test.

The current DNA technology certainly increases the possibility that an orphan will find his or her birth parents or some other close relative. But it is my impression that reports of confirming extensive genealogical research conclusions only occurs when the people involved have been doing genealogical research extensively for many years. Meanwhile, what motivation do I have to contact Sarah who is a first cousin twice removed or fourth cousin who does not have a family tree?

Sunday, February 3, 2019

What will you lose if a website goes down?

This prominent notice should remind all of us of the ephemeral nature of online websites. Of course, Google+ is not a website I would ever have considered useful for storing any type of information, I am certain that there are a number of people who have posted photos or other information on the website that they would like to have preserved. We often get into a discussion about the relative merits of the different methods of backing out computerized data but the real issue is permanence.

If we rely on mechanical devices we can basically predict that they will fail after a certain period of usage. In this case, redundancy is the rule. For that reason, I use multiple external hard drives for backing up most of my information. However, it is shortsighted to use mechanical and or flash memory devices exclusively. Given the low cost of online storage, it is always a good idea to employ redundancy in this regard also. Some online websites that purport to be backup solutions are really only useful for temporary storage of documents which may need to be used on different devices. Other online data storage websites are best suited merely for the purpose of transferring files and allowing multiple individuals to work on files at the same time.

I would suggest, that just as we can predict that the mechanical device will inevitably fail, we can also predict that any one particular storage solution that is entirely online may also fail.

Do your homework! Before relying on online storage make sure that you have considered all of the options.