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

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Understanding MyHeritage's Record Matching Technology

Back in June of 2012, began a revolution in the world of online genealogical database website with the introduction of SuperSearch™. The key factors in this revolution were the vast increase in the accuracy and expansion of the coverage of the searches automatically made on behalf of those users who maintained a family tree on the website. Over the years, the number of records searched, the accuracy, and the depth of the searches have continued to increase. However, the full benefit of this sophisticated technology is only available to those users who have a Premium Plus subscription to the program and also include a further data subscription. From my own experience, the benefits of these advanced tools far outweigh their cost to the user.

One of the main benefits of the SuperSearch™technology is the constant searching of over 9.7 billion historical records. All of the individuals in your personal family tree matched to all of the records. If you have a large family tree, such as mine, the number of matches can easily run into the thousands as you can see from the image above showing that I have a reservoir of over 6,000 Record Matches. My experience here in the United States is that most new users almost immediately begin to get results from the Smart Matching™technology but Record Matches depend on adding enough information to a family tree to connect with the records on the website.

With millions of new records being regularly added to the MyHeritage collections, over time, you should begin to see results from the Record Matches. If you are wondering what records are available on the website, you can see the entire collection in the Collections Catalog located under the Research tab on the menu bar at the top of the website's pages.

When you have a family tree on the website, you will find links to each individual's Record Matches and Smart Matches in the form of icons. The little brown icons represent Record Matches and the little green icons represent Smart Matches.

The icons represent the presence of Record Matches but not the total number. Here is an example of what you might see if you click on a Record Match icon.

In addition to the icons on the individuals on your family tree, you can also see lists of the Smart Matches either by the sources in the record collections or by individuals. Here are images of the two options. The links to these lists are under the Discoveries tab on the menu bar. Here is a screenshot of matches by people:

And here is a screenshot of matches by source:

If you find a source you wish to attach to an individual in your family tree, here is the process. I found this Record Match to a newspaper account for one of my ancestors.

Now I can review the match.

Different parts of the screen scroll and are not adequately represented by the screenshot. 
The question here is whether or not the record applies to the person listed on the left from your own family tree.

In addition to the individual record match, has extended the search using the MyHeritage Record Detective technology and found 40 additional records. These additional records need to be individually evaluated. Here is a screenshot of some of these additional records.

Not all of the Record Detective records pertain to the main individual. They could be anyone related to this particular individual in some way or that are mentioned in the primary record. Here is a short explanation of the Record Detective technology:
Most of MyHeritage’s technologies begin with your family tree, which is the obvious starting point for finding matches relevant to your family history. But what if you have searched on SuperSearch™, and have found a record that is a good fit for one of your ancestors? In this case, your starting point is a record, not your family tree. 
This is where the Record Detective™steps in. The Record Detective™ looks to see if this record is connected with any people on MyHeritage family trees and if those people have matches to other people or other records. If so, then these other records are about the same person as the record that you’re looking at now. Record Detective™ goes behind the scenes to try to find other records about the same person you’re looking at and magically delivers more relevant records to you. 
All of this is done automatically with extremely high accuracy, thanks to the accuracy of the underlying Record Matching and Smart Matching™ technologies. 
With the Record Detective™, records know who they are about — every record can lead to more records about the same person.  
As you can probably tell from what I have already written, you could spend a considerable amount of time adding records to your family tree just from on main record search. However, you can focus on specific people rather than be driven by the matching technology. But if you are just starting out with a few people in your family tree, I suggest you may wish to keep adding records as they are found until you become interested in a specific family line or exhaust the immediate resources on the website.

I should mention that as I worked on adding these sources, the number of Record Detective sources quickly rose to 88. As you proceed to add sources and individuals to your family tree, you will soon begin to realize the importance of carefully examining and evaluating those records to make sure you are accurately attaching correctly identified records to individuals in the family tree and also obtaining all of the information from the records.

Friday, June 28, 2019

What is Ethnicity and Why Do We Care?

Ethnicity is the big drawing card for genealogical DNA testing. If you obtained a DNA test some time ago, you might have noticed that your "Ethnicity Estimate" has changed, possibly dramatically, since you received your first results. The superficial key here is in the term "estimate." But there is an even more serious issue with the term "ethnicity."

By common definition, ethnicity is the fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. If you think about what this says, you realize that ethnicity has nothing to do with "race."  But the real questions for genealogists is this: how does a national or cultural tradition get passed along through your DNA?

Let me give you an example. According to my extensive genealogical research over the past 37 or so years, my "ethnicity" does not exist. I do not belong to any specific social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. My "social group" consists of people from all over the world speaking dozens of different languages. Personally, I have lived in three different countries for years at a time and spoken two different languages. I cannot claim any kind of common national or cultural tradition. As I write this, I am eating flan for breakfast with jugo de naranja. I certainly do not share any cultural or national traditions with my Danish ancestors and from the movies, I have seen of England, I share hardly anything (except a form of English) with my English, Scottish, Irish, and Welch ancestors. I have more Latin-American and Spanish language traditions than either British or Danish.

So when the DNA test results tell me that I am a certain percentage English or Scottish or Welsh or whatever, what does that tell me? Oh, but you say. What the DNA testing companies are really trying to tell you is where your remote ancestors came from. Surprise. I already knew all that. But telling me that I have a certain percentage of English ancestors doesn't tell me anything about their national or cultural traditions.

What is a DNA test telling me or you about our ancestors? Interestingly, very little. What a DNA test does tell you is that you share certain selected DNA genetic sequences that match other people with the same DNA genetic sequences. Currently, with my DNA tests, I match up with thousands and people from all over the world. It is no surprise that the vast majority of these matches are from people in the United States. Tabulating the other matches from one DNA test shows matches from 39 different countries. How am I supposed to choose my ethnicity?

Out of my thousands of ancestors who lived in the United States, what was their common social group with a national or cultural tradition?

Let's start with the basics. First of all the DNA test confirmed that some of the siblings (those who have taken the same DNA test) are my siblings, i.e. we share the same parents. However, past that point, I have little to go by on most of my ancestral lines. We are presently looking at a claimed relationship to one of my remote Tanner ancestors that we cannot substantiate through genealogical research. The few cases where we can substantiate a relationship through a common ancestor are not surprising or particularly informative. But isn't this repeating my common observation that DNA only provides helpful information for some narrow situations?

DNA test results can tell you a lot about the first two to four generations of your ancestors assuming some of your relatives have also taken genealogical DNA tests. But a DNA test cannot really tell you anything about your "Ethnicity" other than telling you that you may have matching, living people in a certain list of countries. In some cases, these matches may surprise you or cast doubt on family traditions, but if your family came from England or Africa or the Pacific Islands, telling you that doesn't tell you about your ethnicity, it tells you that you have DNA matches with people from those areas of the world. The number of DNA matches I have from countries around the world makes me wonder more about the reliability of the tests that it does about the results.

If you take a DNA test out of curiosity then keep looking at the results as those results we continue to change. As for any genealogical value, the only way the tests will benefit you genealogically is if you take the time to enter your family tree information into a family tree associated with the DNA test.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

When does DNA stop helping me with my Genealogy?

I recently received an email notice from that said the following:

I clicked on the link to the blog post and got the following:
All this seemed pretty innocuous so I signed into to see what was new. Here was what caught my eye from the blog post.
We encourage you to view your DNA story again, as you may notice a new community waiting to be explored and shared with your family and other loved ones. 
With 15 million people tested, AncestryDNA has the largest consumer DNA network in the world. As new people continue to join our AncestryDNA network and science and technology continue to evolve, we expect that the number and granularity of communities offered will continue to increase. This latest update is just one of many that you can expect on your journey of personal discovery. 
When I logged into, I got an invitation to answer a survey. I decided, why not, I can find out what Ancestry is interested in. It turns out that the survey was quite disturbing. None of the questions dealt with genealogy or my interest in discovering my family history. The entire survey asked me about my feelings and attitudes. It was a survey I would expect from a sociologist or psychiatrist. When I finished the survey, here is what I got linked to:

There is nothing here about my family or genealogy or anything remotely related to my research. As I thought more about this, I began to wonder if this wasn't some sort of made over eugenics or the science of improving a population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics.

The rest of the advertisement only increased my concern. Here is another screenshot.

And there is another screenshot of the same advertisement:

Are we now in the business, as genealogists, in identifying racial traits? Here is another screenshot.

To add further to my concern, when I clicked on the "Personal Discoveries Project" link on, I got the following statement:

Apparently, wanted to make sure they got the first "survey" before they asked for my consent. Maybe all this concern comes from being a trial attorney for 39 years but I do not see how giving essentially an open license to use my DNA test helps me with my genealogical research. I think they have moved well beyond that focus. I suppose those of you out there that think this is all really good idea, but I for one, do not. When DNA testing gets into areas such as the ones evidenced from the ads, I think it stops being a genealogical tool and becomes something else.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Understanding MyHeritage's Smart Matching™ Technology

As I teach classes about, I find a lot of confusion about the differences between the website's Smart Matching™technology and the Record Matches. Once users understand the differences, they begin to see the tremendous power in both technologies. Here is a quote from Help Center that begins to explain this amazing technology.
Smart Matching™ is a specialized powerful genealogy technology that matches people that you have defined in your family tree with people in other family trees that members all over the world have created on
It works by comparing names, facts, and connections intelligently to the millions of family trees contributed by other users, to find out if your family tree intersects with any other trees and indicates matches. The sophisticated technology behind Smart Matches™ bridges across differences in spelling, phonetics, and relationships that may exist between the trees to offer a large quantity of highly accurate matches. 
With billions of family tree profiles on MyHeritage, you have an excellent chance of getting Smart Matches™ that reveal valuable new information about your family.
I usually explain this technology by pointing out that has over 102 million (yes, million), users worldwide and that the Smart Matching™technology allows you to connect with relative around the world that you could not imagine existed. All of these potential contacts are people who are interested in their genealogy and who live the countries, speak the language, and likely know about the records that exist in their country. Contacting these people is entirely optional but if your family comes from a place where obtaining records is difficult, such as some places in Eastern Europe or other countries on other continents, then contacting these Smart Matching™people may be the only practical way you have to do additional research.

It is important to understand that Smart Matching™is not a simple "name matching" technology. It is highly sophisticated and an indication of a match indicates that you are very likely related. I have talked to lots of people over the years I have been using and teaching the website that have found their relatives in other countries, made contact with them, and even traveled to meet them and learn more about their families.

If you come from a part of the world where there has been a lot of genealogical research, you might have a flood of potential relatives. For example, I have thousands and it may not be practical to think about contacting them all. In this case, it is important to evaluate these potential contacts to see if they might provide information about the specific parts of your family you are researching.

Of course, in some instances, the information in a relative's family tree may be identical to your own information. You may still wish to contact the potential relative for personal reasons. But if there are differences between your information and that in another family tree, you may wish to spend some time evaluating the differences and determining if there are documents that might indicate if you need to add to or change the information you have in your family tree. However, you need to be aware that MyHeritage's Record Matching technology is constantly searching every record in their collection and matching them to every individual in every family tree on the website at a very high level of accuracy. Where the information you see in another person's family tree might be most useful is if the information is about currently living people or those who have only recently died. Current information may be difficult to otherwise obtain.

Another major help in evaluating Smart Matching™matches is to use the results from DNA testing. If you obtain a DNA test from MyHeritage or upload the results from another company, you will be provided with DNA matches. If another user of the website shows up as a DNA match and a Smart Match, you have a greater degree of assurance that a relationship exists and that the information in the other person's family tree might be helpful.

You may wish to review the entire section of the Help Center about the Smart Matching™technology. Here is the link.

This Help Center section will provide information about how to reject Smart Matches that are not correct, ignore specific Smart Matches, and disable Smart Matches altogether if you wish to do that. is a complex website with fabulous resources, but where there is great benefit, there is usually an equal measure of effort required. You need to learn about the program. As will all current technology, the website will continue to become more useful and probably have more features in the future. Part of the challenge of working on our family's genealogy today is keeping up with all that new technology. But presently, you can take advantage of the helpful tools provided by MyHeritage to expand your family research in ways that were impossible just a few short years ago.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Obituaries and Copyright Issues

From a recent anonymous comment:
What kind of legal text can a person include in their own or their family member's obituary or its signed publication agreement to preclude the funeral home, newspaper, or any other entities from claiming copyright? Has anyone ever tried to copyleft their own or their family member's obituary under GNU GPL or Creative Commons CC0? There should be an ironclad way to put your own or close family member's obituary in the Public Domain in perpetuity, regardless of where the obituary is subsequently published and copied.
Of course, the content of all newspapers is covered by the current copyright laws in the United States of America and the copyright laws of all of the other countries of the world. Subsequent to the U.S.'s adoption of the Berne Convention Treaty. The Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988 is a copyright act that became law in the United States on March 1, 1989, making the U.S. a party to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

It is always a good idea to be aware of the existence of copyright protection. That said, when we get into the issue of the coverage of a very specific article, the law becomes vague and highly controversial. Obituaries fall into the vague and controversial category. I have never seen or heard of a copyright lawsuit concerning an obituary even after searching online. Most obituaries are written by a relative of the deceased so the copyright would be owned by the author or writer. But in many cases, when the obituary is submitted to a newspaper, the newspaper not only charges the relatives for printing the obituary but also has them agree to transfer the rights of the obituary to the newspaper's publisher.

There actually are entities that collect and publish obituaries about prominent people for profit but they are businesses and I would assume that they obtain the rights to publish their obituaries or write them themselves. In the case of an obituary about a relative that is published without an author's name, post-1989 every work published or created in the U.S. is automatically covered by the copyright law in the U.S. So I can't tell you what to do in any specific instance.

You can observe large collections of obituaries online. See United States, GenealogyBank Historical Newspaper Obituaries, 1815-2011 on for example. Also, bear in mind that in the United States, most works published before 1924 are now in the public domain. See Cornell University Library, Copyright Information Center, Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States for a complete summary.

In short, I can't be much help and neither can anyone else. The copyright law in the United States is a hopeless mess and tracking down the copyright holder to a specific obituary would be a nightmare unless the obituary happens to make a specific note of the copyright holder.

Do you have a Research Plan?

Do you feel your genealogical research is like a random walk in the park? Perhaps, you should think through your objectives and come up with a research plan. There is always a measure of uncertainty in any research effort. But a research plan is not a fixed document, it evolves as the research progresses. What is important is to specifically identify the questions you wish to answer and then determine the documents you need to find to answer those questions.

During the past year or so, I have been involved in helping with some "brick wall" research projects. In most of those projects, I find that the target "brick wall" ancestor is really unconnected to the pedigree several generations forward in time. It is also often the case that there has been some research from an even more remote desired ancestor's descendants. For example, there may be a family tradition of an ancestor who fought in the United States Revolutionary War or who came to America on the Mayflower, however, this tradition is based on similar surnames or some other imaginary basis. In many cases, I have seen over the years, the would-be descendant lacks that one link connecting the ancestors to the target's descendants. A sound research plan can help to overcome the inaccuracies that may have crept in over the years.

When I am listening to someone tell me about a problem they have encountered in their research, I have to ask a lot of questions to get to the core of the issues that need to be resolved. When you are doing your own plan, you also need to ask yourself a series of questions particularly about the research that has already been done. A research plan starts with one or two very clearly defined and specific goals. Overcoming a research problem is a goal. The questions I ask clarifying the issues become the steps to solving the problems expressed by the goal.

A research plan needs to be based on a firm foundation of information supported by critically evaluated sources. Source supported genealogical research proceeds incrementally. It is all too common for those starting out on a research project to choose a goal of finding a blank spot on a pedigree or fan chart. Commonly, this is done without spending the time and effort to determine that all of the generational links back to a remote ancestor are adequately and reasonably supported. This lack of a generational link usually turns out to be the actual brick wall. To mix metaphors, you can't build a bridge in the air. You need to proceed step-by-step and make sure you have an adequate base for moving back one more generation.

The most important part of successful genealogical research is identifying an accurate chain of physical locations where events in your ancestors' lives actually occurred. If your ancestors moved or stayed in the same place, you must have documents that show their location over time. Valid historical documents are created at or near the place where an event occurred by someone who had an interest in the event or a duty to report the event. The main activities of genealogical research involve identifying these pertinent records, locating them, and then carefully extracting the information and recording it in an organized way.

Formulating a research plan depends entirely on what research has already been done. As you begin, you need to focus on the specific information that needs to be acquired and evaluate the types of records that would provide that information and would also be useful for answering the questions and achieving the ultimate goals. Here is where your level of research experience becomes crucial. If you are a relative novice to research, you may need to seek some help in identifying the types of records you need to examine. As your research skills increase, your ability to identify the types of records you need to search will also increase. For example, you could determine that an ancestor's will might provide information about the ancestor's family members and thereby establish a connection between the two generations. To proceed, you will need to know where to go to find a copy of the will if it exists at all. You will also need to know how to understand and read the will if one is found. It is usually a good idea for the research goals to include acknowledging the need to learn specific skills, such as reading old handwriting or understanding legal documents.

The research plan should include a list of all of the potential documents that may be of assistance in providing the information to answer the questions and achieve the goals. Part of preparing the plan includes identifying the location and availability of those documents. As you can probably guess, this step is not only crucial to making any progress but also the core of the whole process.

Obviously, the huge number of digitized records that have been made available online has revolutionized the way we conduct our research. But I am still finding people who come to me for help that have not done an adequate online search or who are even aware of the records that are easily available online. Commonly, I speak to people who have superficially searched on or but have never investigated or Each of these large online database websites has a detailed catalog or listing of the documents in their collection and each has unique documents not otherwise available online. For example,, a free website, has billions of records primarily organized by location (country) many of which are digitized and available on the website but I am continually talking to potential researchers who do not know that the website even has a catalog and I regularly encounter "experienced" genealogists that are completely unaware of the website.

As I mentioned previously, working with a research plan is an evolving activity. You may readily find the information you are seeking or you may spend years searching, but either way, it is important to keep modifying your plan or when resolved, choosing a new topic for research.

Here are two helpful links that illustrate a formal research plan in detail.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

A DNA Experience: Switched at Birth

It was bound to happen. I had my first direct experience with a genealogist who found out through a DNA test that he/she was switched at birth. I have no intention of providing any details of this situation because of the delicate nature of the discovery. The genealogist had been researching his/her family for many years without the slightest hint that there could have been a problem. Someone else took a DNA test and contacted the genealogist saying that they were related. The genealogist did not recognize any of the proffered surnames and assumed there was some kind of mistake but the party with the DNA test insisted there was a relationship. Finally, the genealogist got his/her own test and it showed that he/she was not related to anyone in the family he/she had been living with for a lifetime.

The genealogist came to me when he/she needed to start doing all of the research on the newly discovered family from scratch. I got her/him started on where she/he immediately got swamped with Record Matches; over 2000 in about an hour or so. This was what happened when he/she had to "start all over again."

As long as genealogists continue to view DNA tests through the filter of ethnicity they will continue to be surprised by those findings that are outside of what you would like to expect. Although finding out that you have been researching an unrelated family for years can happen with DNA testing, it can also happen with careful research.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The History of the Development of Genealogical DNA: Part Ten: The Advance of DNA Testing

Popular TV shows about crime scene investigation techniques, including DNA tests, pushed DNA into the public view. The first such show was named "Pilot" and aired on October 6, 2000, as the season premiere of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. In 2003 NCIS began its 16 season run and added to the public awareness of DNA testing.

Quoting from Wikipedia: Genealogical DNA test,
The first company to provide direct-to-consumer genetic DNA testing was the now defunct GeneTree. However, it did not offer multi-generational genealogy tests. In fall 2001, GeneTree sold its assets to Salt Lake City-based Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) which originated in 1999. While in operation, SMGF provided free Y-Chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests to thousands. Later, GeneTree returned to genetic testing for genealogy in conjunction with the Sorenson parent company and eventually was part of the assets acquired in the buyout of SMGF in 2012. 
In 2000, Family Tree DNA, founded by Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld, was the first company dedicated to direct-to-consumer testing for genealogy research. They initially offered eleven marker Y-Chromosome STR tests and HVR1 mitochondrial DNA tests. They originally tested in partnership with the University of Arizona. 
In 2007, 23andMe was the first company to offer a saliva-based direct-to-consumer genetic testing. It was also the first to implement using autosomal DNA for ancestry testing, which all other major companies now use.
It is not a coincidence that consumer genealogical DNA testing closely parallels the popularization of DNA testing portrayed on nationally popular TV shows. It took some time following the publicity of the double helix beginning in 1953, the Nobel Prize given to Watson, Crick, and Wilkins in 1962, and the sequencing of the genome from 1990 to 2003 for DNA to move from an esoteric scientific study to the mainstream of our existence as humans. As you can see from the very short summary above, genealogists were and are at the forefront of those incorporating DNA test results into their interest in inheritance and the identity of individuals.

In order for a DNA test to be useful for genealogical research, it needs to be coupled with an extensive, existing family tree program. The only way to match individuals is when they take related DNA tests and there is some mechanism for those taking the test to see the connections. The question still remains as to the level of technical details the genealogist needs to know to make substantiated and supported genealogical conclusions. To push on towards a resolution of this question, I need to take a short step back and write further about the development of forensic DNA testing and what is called the "DNA fingerprint."

The first paternity testing relied on blood typing between the child and the alleged parent. See Wikipedia: DNA paternity testing. Here is a short summary of the history from the same article.
The first form of any kind of parental testing was blood typing, or matching blood types between the child and alleged parent, which became available in the 1920s, after scientists recognized that blood types, which had been discovered in the early 1900s, were genetically inherited. Under this form of testing, the blood types of the child and parents are compared, and it can be determined whether there is any possibility of a parental link. For example, two O blood type parents can only produce a child with an O blood type, and two parents with a B blood type can produce a child with either a B or O blood type. This most often led to inconclusive results, as only 30% of the entire population can be excluded from being the possible parent under this form of testing. In the 1930s, a new form of blood testing, serological testing, which tests certain proteins in the blood, became available, with a 40% exclusion rate. 
In the 1960s, highly accurate genetic paternity testing became a possibility when HLA typing was developed, which compares the genetic fingerprints on white blood cells between the child and alleged parent. HLA tests could be done with 80% accuracy, but could not distinguish between close relatives. Genetic parental testing technology advanced further with the isolation of the first restriction enzyme in 1970. Highly accurate DNA parental testing became available in the 1980s with the development of RFLP. In the 1990s, PCR, developed in 1983, became the standard method for DNA parental testing. A simpler, faster, and more accurate method of testing than RFLP, it has an exclusion rate of 99.99% or higher.
This summary type of history omits the real issue involved in paternity testing: whether or not the courts would accept the paternity tests, at whatever level, as evidence in a paternity lawsuit. Again referring to the Wikipedia article above,
The DNA parentage test that follows strict chain of custody can generate legally admissible results that are used for child support, inheritance, social welfare benefits, immigration, or adoption purposes. To satisfy the chain-of-custody legal requirements, all tested parties have to be properly identified and their specimens collected by a third-party professional who is not related to any of the tested parties and has no interest in the outcome of the test. 
The quantum of evidence needed is clear and convincing evidence; that is, more evidence than an ordinary case in civil litigation, but much less than beyond a reasonable doubt required to convict a defendant in a criminal case. 
In recent years, immigration authorities in various countries, such as United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, and others may accept DNA parentage test results from immigration petitioners and beneficiaries in a family-based immigration case when primary documents, such as birth certificates, that prove biological relationship are missing or inadequate. 
The discovery of the blood groups by Karl Landsteiner in 1900 resulted in his being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1930. Here is a short explanation of the history from Wikipedia: Karl Landsteiner.
Karl Landsteiner, ForMemRS, (14 June 1868 – 26 June 1943) was an Austrian biologist, physician, and immunologist. He distinguished the main blood groups in 1900, having developed the modern system of classification of blood groups from his identification of the presence of agglutinins in the blood, and identified, with Alexander S. Wiener, the Rhesus factor, in 1937, thus enabling physicians to transfuse blood without endangering the patient's life. With Constantin Levaditi and Erwin Popper, he discovered the polio virus in 1909. He received the Aronson Prize in 1926. In 1930, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He was posthumously awarded the Lasker Award in 1946, and has been described as the father of transfusion medicine.
For a detailed analysis of the history of paternity testing see the following.

Hartshorne, Susan Vipont, Proof of  Paternity: The History, University of Manchester School of Law, 2912.

Paternity lawsuits are seldom appealed and the evidentiary issues are similar to any type of evidence involving testimony by an expert witness.  In Arizona, for example, proof of paternity relies upon four presumptions. See Paternity Establishment by Presumption of Paternity quoting A.R.S. § 25-814.
In Arizona law, in general, a man is presumed to be the child’s father if:
  1. He was married to the mother during the 10 months immediately preceding the child’s birth. Or the child was born within 10 months after their marriage ended by death, annulment, divorce, or legal separation.
  2. Genetic testing affirms paternity by a 95% or more probability.
  3. They are unmarried and both sign the birth certificate.
  4. They are unmarried and both sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity.
Those presumptions are rebuttable with clear and convincing evidence, so they may be challenged. Additionally, if a court decree established another man’s paternity of the child, then the presumption of paternity is rebutted. A.R.S. § 25-814.
Genealogists, for the most part, ignore the technical, legal requirement for establishing a valid relationship and jump past all of the custodial and testing requirements and formulate their opinions based on the findings of unsubstantiated DNA tests that do not provide for verification.

Stay tuned for the next installment

See these previous posts:

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:
Part Five:
Part Six:
Part Seven:
Part Eight:
Part Nine:

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Ultimate Digital Preservation Guide, Part Three -- The Dawn of the Digital Image Age

Some of the first consumer-level digital cameras were the Casio QV-10 and the Apple QuickTake 100 and 150.

Casio QV-10 had a resolution of 320 x 240 (no Megapixels) compared to a currently available Canon EOS 5DS R with a 50.6 Megapixel sensor. The Casio QB-10 cost $750.00.
CC BY-SA 3.0,

Apple QuickTake 100 launched in 1994 with a .31 Megapixel sensor and could store only eight photos at a time.
By Picto - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Apple QuickTake 200

By The original uploader was Redjar at English Wikipedia. - Photograph taken by Jared C. Benedict on 06 March 2004., CC BY-SA 3.0,
Here is a link to some of the photos taken by these original digital cameras:

The very first portable digital camera sold was probably the Dycam Model 1 sold beginning in 1990. Digital cameras, such as those in smartphones, have become ubiquitous. On average, on Facebook alone approximately 350 million photos are uploaded every day.

Digitization involves making an image of a document or object with a digital camera. A digital camera is an electronic device that records and stores digital images. Here is a YouTube video that shows how a digital camera captures anHow a Digital Camera Works image.

How a Digital Camera Works

An image sensor is a solid-state device or the part of the camera that reacts to light and converts the light that enters the camera through the lens into an image.

The Science of Camera Sensors

So one step in digital preservation is the process of making a digital image of the document or physical item you wish to preserve. The digital image is then stored for use. But digital preservation goes well beyond the first step and includes steps before and after an image is captured.

Whether you organize digital images by organizing the documents before the images are made or organize the digital images after they are made depends on how you decide to proceed. In either case, you should rely on the computer to do the organizing. Let the computer do what it does best and you do the rest. Here is a video that will help you understand this principle.

What's in that Pile? Organization for the Disorganized Genealogist

Stay tuned for the next installment.

See the previous posts in this series here:

Part One:
Part Two:

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Incremental Help for Non-Profit Charitable Organization: The Family History Guide Association

If you are making any purchases through Amazon, you can provide a small benefit to a charity without any pain or even an impact on the prices you pay for your Amazon purchases. As you can see from the notice I received above, if you simply make your purchases through, Amazon donates a small percentage of your purchase to the charity of your choice. In this case, I am suggesting a donation to The Family History Guide Association, the 501 (c) 3 charitable corporation that supports The Family History Guide.
Of course, you can donate directly to The Family History Guide Association, but by adding it to your Amazon account through, you won't have to worry about writing out a check or whatever. If you don't know about The Family History Guide, I suggest looking at the website and watching a few videos on their YouTube Channel and on my YouTube Channel. Here are some helpful links.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The History of the Development of Genealogical DNA: Part Nine: Without Leaving a Fingerprint

The development of using fingerprints for criminal investigations set the stage for the use of DNA in the courtroom and most recently the use of DNA in genealogical research. The concept was that fingerprints were individually unique but that fact had to be established in court before fingerprints were generally accepted for identification purposes in or out of a criminal investigation. The use of fingerprints in criminal investigations had a rocky start and it was several years before fingerprint evidence was generally accepted by courts around the world. The first case in the United States is explained in an article posted on entitled, "The First Criminal Trial That Used Fingerprints as Evidence." There has been a trend in the courts moving fingerprint evidence from producing a prima facia case to being used more to corroborate other evidence.

The case of Colin Pitchfork the first person to be convicted in a criminal case by DNA evidence is summarized in Wikipedia: Colin Pitchfork.
Colin Pitchfork (born 23 March 1960) is a British convicted murderer and rapist. He was the first person convicted of murder based on DNA fingerprinting evidence, and the first to be caught as a result of mass DNA screening. Pitchfork raped and murdered two girls in Leicestershire, the first in Narborough, in November 1983, and the second in Enderby, in July 1986. He was arrested on 19 September 1987 and sentenced to life imprisonment on 22 January 1988, after admitting both murders.
To move from the scientific circles into the courtroom and then be accepted by the public were all necessary steps to DNA's acceptance as a tool for genealogical research. The techniques for using DNA in criminal cases became known as "DNA fingerprinting." The definition of DNA fingerprinting is as follows:
DNA fingerprinting is a method used to identify an individual from a sample of DNA by looking at unique patterns in their DNA.
A major step in understanding DNA was the Human Genome Project. Here is a description of the Project from Wikipedia: Human Genome Project
The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international scientific research project with the goal of determining the sequence of nucleotide base pairs that make up human DNA, and of identifying and mapping all of the genes of the human genome from both a physical and a functional standpoint. It remains the world's largest collaborative biological project. After the idea was picked up in 1984 by the US government when the planning started, the project formally launched in 1990 and was declared complete on April 14, 2003. Funding came from the US government through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as well as numerous other groups from around the world. A parallel project was conducted outside government by the Celera Corporation, or Celera Genomics, which was formally launched in 1998. Most of the government-sponsored sequencing was performed in twenty universities and research centers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany and China. 
The Human Genome Project originally aimed to map the nucleotides contained in a human haploid reference genome (more than three billion). The "genome" of any given individual is unique; mapping the "human genome" involved sequencing a small number of individuals and then assembling these together to get a complete sequence for each chromosome. Therefore, the finished human genome is a mosaic, not representing any one individual.
Genome variations are differences in the sequence of DNA from one person to another. Quoting from a Genome News Network ( article entitled, "Genome Variations:"
The more closely related two people are, the more similar their genomes. Scientists estimate that the genomes of non-related people—any two people plucked at random off the street—differ at about 1 in every 1,200 to 1,500 DNA bases, or "letters." Whether that's a little or a lot of variation depends on your perspective. There are more than three million differences between your genome and anyone else's. On the other hand, we are all 99.9 percent the same, DNA-wise. (By contrast, we are only about 99 percent the same as our closest relatives, chimpanzees.) 
Most genome variations are relatively small and simple, involving only a few bases—an A substituted for a T here, a G left out there, a short sequence such as CT added somewhere else, for example. Your genome probably doesn't contain long stretches of DNA that someone else's lacks. 
If the genome were a book, every person's book would contain the same paragraphs and chapters, arranged in the same order. Each book would tell more or less the same story. But my book might contain a typo on page 303 that yours lacks, and your book might use a British spelling on page 135—"colour"—where mine uses the American spelling—"color."
It is these minute differences that are the basis for using DNA to identify criminals, help in genealogical research and assist in the diagnosis of some inherited diseases. The differences between individuals come for mutations or mistakes that occur in the DNA sequence with cell division. Determining the relationship of two humans is accomplished by matching the patterns of DNA variations.

Once again, I need to return to the question of the degree of genetic detail genealogists need to know to use the results of a DNA test to determine family relationships? The use of familial DNA relationships in criminal investigations is very similar to using similar information to determine the degree of relationship between any two individuals. It is my opinion that all of the concerns raised in the use of DNA evidence in a criminal trial should become considerations for evaluation and use of genealogical DNA tests.

Essentially, when we are doing an analysis of DNA variations, we are looking for similarities and differences in patterns. Over the years, the examination process has become more accurate and detailed. At the same time, the genealogically oriented websites that have DNA testing have developed sophisticated DNA data matching programs that provide suggested matches as well as tools for determining relationships. I am sort of back to my original car analogy, how much do you need to know about electric motors and internal combustion engines to drive a car? The same question applies, in its own way, to the use of DNA tests for genealogical research.

Going back to the legal system, the use of DNA evidence in criminal trials has had a rocky history that parallels the use of fingerprints. The stages of acceptance have progressed from initial doubts about their usefulness to almost exclusive use for prosecution and then to backing off from reliance and putting the DNA or fingerprint evidence into the same category as any other evidence raised in the course of a criminal trial. These changes are reflected in the current instructions given to jurors who serve in a criminal court trial. The role of jury instructions in a criminal trial is not something that you can learn from the media representations of criminal investigations and trials. But in real life jury trials for major crimes, the drafting and selection of jury instructions are a major component of the entire criminal justice process. Additionally, an examination of the jury instructions is illustrative of the way DNA test results should be viewed by careful genealogical researchers. The American Bar Association has a lengthy document entitled, "Standards on DNA Evidence." The important steps include the acquisition of the sample with proper permission from the person providing the sample, preservation of the integrity of the sample, maintenance of the chain of custody, tested by an accredited testing laboratory, and interpreted by qualified personnel.

You should be able to see that very few of these steps are followed when collecting with a genealogically oriented kit. There are no procedures which guarantee that the DNA sample sent to the DNA company actually came from the person purchasing the kit and sending in the sample. Of course, the consequences of a mixup or bad sample are not serious except in the case of the use of the test results for a "familial" DNA connection in conjunction with a criminal investigation.

This all for now, but stay tuned for an expansion on the interrelationship of DNA testing in both the genealogical and criminal prosecution areas.

See these previous posts:

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:
Part Five:
Part Six:
Part Seven:
Part Eight:

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Ultimate Digital Preservation Guide, Part Two -- The Cost of Physical Storage

What does it cost to preserve a historical, genealogically significant document? Let's compare the cost of preserving physical documents versus digital documents. Exact costs for storing and handling are dependent on the number of documents, the document's original condition, the location of the documents, and many other factors. Here is a quote from the U.S. National Archives in a short article entitled, "Storage and Handling."
Storage is the first and best means of defense in safely preserving archival holdings. Choices made in storage type and methodology have the greatest influence on the long-term preservation of records. 
A primary preservation goal is to house all records appropriately based on their size, format, and composition. Housing enclosures provide physical support and protection as well as a buffer against adverse or fluctuating environmental conditions. Housings also provide a mechanism for organizing and maintaining records in intellectual units that can be easily and safely handled. Factors that are considered when designing housings include the optimum method of accessing, storing, and using the records; stability of all component housing materials; method of fabrication or assembly; and cost.
One example of the cost of such storage is the cost of archival storage boxes. is a major supplier of such boxes and other containers. The per unit price of archival boxes depends on quantity ordered but they can cost from $16.70 each for five down to $14.75 each for 50 or more purchased at one time. Archival quality "clamshell" cases such as the ones in the photo below can cost around $10 each with price reductions for quantities.

The cost of physical storage depends on your personal attitudes and preferences. It is not uncommon for genealogical collections to be trashed by the heirs of an active genealogist due to simple lack of interest and negligence. Even if the documents are carefully stored, the space that the documents occupy impinges on the living space in any dwelling unit and many people object to the clutter and would rather see the documents thrown away than spend anything on preservation or storage space.

If you have ever wondered why so many old historical records have been lost or destroyed, you should carefully consider this publication from the U.S. National Archives.

Archives II, National Archives at College Park: Using Technology to Safeguard Archival Records
NARA Technical Information Paper Number 13 (1997)

This 32-page document explains the major considerations of document storage. In the United States, preservation standards are set by the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards and Technology or NIST. Unfortunately, like many U.S. government websites, the NIST website is huge and difficult to navigate. I suggest using Google searches for specific information including NIST in the search.

Due to the cost of preserving physical, paper documents or even those made of other substances, various methods of preserving the information contained on the documents have been developed. Since about 1938, one common method of preservation has been to use microfilm. However, this method is far outside the ability or consideration of a single, private genealogist. For an idea of the storage and maintenance requirements for preservation of microfilm see the following article.

McCamy, C.S., and C.I. Pope. “Current Research on Preservation of Archival Records on Silver-Gelatin Type Microfilm in Roll Form.” Journal of Research of the National Bureau of Standards Section A: Physics and Chemistry 69A, no. 5 (September 1965): 385.

Although over the years, some genealogists purchased both microfilm rolls and the equipment to view the images, nearly all researchers who depended on microfilmed records traveled to a major repository such as the National Archives or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah to view microfilm. The cost of acquiring, cataloging, storing, and making microfilm available to researchers is symbolized by The Granite Mountain Records Vault, a complex of tunnels drilled into the side of Little Cottonwood Canyon just outside of Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. This temperature and humidity controlled vault archives over 2.4 million rolls of microfilm containing billions of records.

Most original paper-based records exist in either a single copy or a few copies. Books and serial publications (magazines, newspapers, journals, etc.) may have multiple copies into the millions, but all of these historical documents suffer from the same issues of acquisition, cataloging, storing, and finally being available for researchers. In the United States, we have vast libraries such as the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. but a visit to a large library will impress on the researcher the difficulty of maintaining and accessing such huge collections of paper-based documents. Once again, it is almost always necessary for the research to travel to the larger libraries for research opportunities.

The time and effort expended by a researcher are often ignored as a cost of doing research but it is a real and very significant component. Here is a quote from Wikipedia: Digital Camera that tells about the turning point for digitally recording and disseminating records.
The history of the digital camera began with Eugene F. Lally of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who was thinking about how to use a mosaic photosensor to capture digital images. His 1960s idea was to take pictures of the planets and stars while travelling through space to give information about the astronauts' position. As with Texas Instruments employee Willis Adcock's film-less camera (US patent 4,057,830) in 1972, the technology had yet to catch up with the concept. 
The Cromemco Cyclops was an all-digital camera introduced as a commercial product in 1975. Its design was published as a hobbyist construction project in the February 1975 issue of Popular Electronics magazine, and it used a 32×32 Metal Oxide Semiconductor sensor. 
Steven Sasson, an engineer at Eastman Kodak, invented and built the first self-contained electronic camera that used a charge-coupled device image sensor in 1975. Early uses were mainly military and scientific; followed by medical and news applications.
 With the next installment, we move into the digital age.

See the first post in this series here:

Part One:

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Countdown to MyHeritage LIVE in Amsterdam, Netherlands
MyHeritage LIVE Amsterdam is the 2nd MyHeritage LIVE Conference for users. We are now in the middle of the planning for the Conference and you can still get Early Bird ticket prices until 31 July 2019. Here is a screenshot of the speakers.

I have been asked to present twice. My wife and I are excited to be able to attend the Conference. This will be our second trip to Europe although we have traveled in the Americas and lived in Central America.

Click Here to Register

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Ultimate Digital Preservation Guide, Part One

Genealogists tend to accumulate stuff. Some of this stuff has historical significance. Preserving the historically important part of all this stuff is a major part of our joint cultural heritage. We preserve all this historical stuff in museums, libraries, archives, and similar repositories. Despite the best efforts of preservationists, this physical stuff can decay, be destroyed, or lost in many different ways. Some of the stuff that is lost cannot be replaced and as a result, our historical and cultural heritage is incomplete. As genealogical researchers, we inevitably reach the point in our investigations when the loss of historically significant documents impedes or stops our research.

Presently, there are about 7.7 billion people on earth. Of course, these numbers change every second.
From this graphic, you can see that about 25 million people die every year. Some of those people will be related to you in some way. Genealogical research is never done, but due to the loss or absence of historically valuable records, most of those people who die every year will disappear from those records that manage to be preserved.

The cumulative cost of preserving a physical record is considerable and increases over time. There is, of course among genealogists, in particular, a lot of hand wringing over the loss of records. But some loss is inevitable and inexorable. Due to technological advances, we can now capture a much greater portion of our collective human history. Because of the technology that allows documents and records to be digitally preserved, the cost of preserving an individual record has plummeted and now approaches zero. But however contradictory as it may seem, the cost of preserving large numbers of records is still substantial and as with physical stuff, the now converted digital stuff will decay, be destroyed, or lost in many different ways.

Any recommendations as to the venue or format of digitization with the object of preservation will suffer the same or similar limitations as those that time and natural physical processes impose on physical records. In order to partially overcome these physical limitations, we need to broaden our perspective of preservation from specific time-sensitive methodology and begin to look at the concept of information preservation. Although we do attach significance to physical objects, as genealogists, we deal primarily in information rather than the form or substance of the method used to record that information.

It is time for some hypothetical examples to begin to delineate the concepts that need to be adopted to ultimately preserve what is important about our historical, genealogical heritage. Let's start by assuming we have a family Bible that contains genealogically important information, a historical resource commonly referred to and used as a genealogically significant form of a family record. This hypothetical family Bible is obviously a physical object that occupies a particular point in our space/time. No matter how this Bible is "preserved" it has a temporal life expectancy. At some point, the paper, leather, and other substances with which it is made will deteriorate. The loss of the Bible will be significant but only historically significant if the information contained in the Bible about the family is also lost.

This example presupposes that we view this particular Bible not only as a physical, historical artifact but also as a "container" or repository of specific family history information. In this sense, we separate the preservation of the historical information contained in the family Bible from the physical object itself. If we preserve the information contained in the family Bible in some fashion by copying it, we preserve the history even if the physical object is lost or destroyed.

The idea that "information" is something that exists separate and distinct from the physical object that containerizes the information is a relatively new concept. The origin of this concept is usually attributed to the mathematician, Claude E. Shannon with the publication of "A Mathematical Theory of Communication" as an article in the Bell System Technical Journal in 1948. It was renamed The Mathematical Theory of Communication in the book of the same name. See Wikipedia: A Mathematical Theory of Communication. Information is the abstract idea of what is exchanged through communication. When a physical object, such as the family Bible in the example above, is lost or destroyed, obviously some or all of the information about that object or that could be derived from that object is lost. But because we now have more efficient digital methods of preserving some of that information, we can more easily and efficiently stem the impact of the loss of the physical object.

In this series, I will focus on the entire process of digital preservation, from the selection of the information to be preserved to the challenge of maintaining the existence. Of necessity, some of the content of this series will involve technical terms and concepts but if you are serious about preserving genealogical significant information, I hope you will benefit from this exploration of the subject.