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

Monday, September 30, 2019

Changes in the World of Unanswered Questions: Still no answers

Back in 2012, I wrote a short blog post entitled, "Unanswered Questions." Then, in 2017, I wrote a blog post entitled, "More Unanswered Questions."  As I mentioned in the 2012 post, when I do a presentation, I usually ask everyone before I start whether or not they have any questions about the known or unknown universe. Occasionally, I will get a question or two but usually, everyone just sits there and stares. I have lots of questions and I know some of them are unanswerable. Now it is time to again look at some of the questions and topics I wrote about in the two previous blog posts and discuss why they are still unanswerable.

Back in 2012, I asked the question: "Which of Adam's children are you descended from? Can you document your sources?" That was a little over seven years ago. Has any progress been made in documenting sources? Is the genealogical concept of "back to Adam" still a current issue? The intent of both of the parts to that question was to point out the futility of accepting any of the commonly circulating pedigrees that purport to take you line "back to Adam."

In 2012, I did a search on the Family Tree for a person named "Adam" who lived in a place called "Eden" and had a wife named "Eve." There were quite a number of responses. From time to time, I have made the same search with the same results. Here is a screenshot of the current results of about the same search:

If I add in a wife named Eve, here are a few of the results from the new search:

I was interested in the one entry placing the Garden of Eden in Utah and in a specific county. Since Grand County was founded in 1890 and is the county where both Moab and Arches National Park are located, I can understand why you might think Eden was associated with that county but historically, I think that locating Eden in or near Moab lacks historical support. I am also intrigued by the entries that place Eden in the Marshall Islands. This is likely just another editorial and promotional reference that ignores the difficulty a 4000 BC Adam and his descendants might have had in crossing the Pacific Ocean.

The real questions here should be: How long are we going to put up with bogus, imaginary genealogical entries in online family trees? Who in the real world of academic-level research will take us seriously when we have entries such as these in our online. collaborative family trees?

My next question is from the 2017 blog post and asks: How many genealogists does it take to change a lightbulb? This question is really a commentary on the technological changes confronting all of the world's genealogists. As I pointed out in my comment in that blog post, our descendants may not understand this question because they have never seen a lightbulb replaced. That day may still be in the future but this question opens up a lot of other questions about the impact of technology on both research in general and specifically genealogical research.

The light bulb question is really a follow up to my earlier question about how long it would be until I no longer heard the statement: "I don't have any computer skills." I am currently teaching a series of classes on mobile apps, including those directed at family history and genealogy. The main challenge I observe so far for most of the decidedly older people who are attending my classes is that they cannot operate their smartphones at all and they have no idea how to avoid the problem. This is the so-called "Digital Divide." The impact of technology on genealogy will only become more extreme with the addition of DNA testing and the tools being developed for analyzing those DNA tests.

Some of my questions were aimed at the issue raised by genealogy companies promoting their products and genealogy in general as easy, fun, simple, and similar terms. See the first question back in 2012: "If genealogy can be learned in five minutes, why are there 25 five-minute-episodes so far in's Learning Center?"

By the way, those 15-minute lessons are no longer on but there are a lot of other websites that have picked up on the idea of spending only 15 minutes a day and are emphasizing how easy it is to do genealogy. Granted, there are things you can do in 5 or 15 minutes, but most genealogical research is time-intensive.

My 2017 question about attendance at genealogy conferences is still a concern. I am seeing some conferences disappear, but other new ones being established. The issue is still valid and current, but so far despite some discontinuances and consolidations, conferences are still alive if not particularly well.

I will still keep asking questions and writing, for the time being, but one serious question is how long with blogs be relevant and viable. I am still seeing a dramatic drop off in direct blog readership. But when you add in all of the social networking outlets, readership is holding stable. Maybe it is me that is becoming irrelevant and not blogs in general? Now, that question needs to be added to the list.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Expanded Commentary on the Rules of Genealogy: Rule Six

I have slowly been going back to the list of the Rules of Genealogy and writing about each individual rule. There are presently 12 Rules. Here is the current list from my blog post of 19 July 2019.
  • Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.
  • Rule Two: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive.
  • Rule Three: Every person who ever lived has a unique birth order and a unique set of biological parents.
  • Rule Four: There are always more records.
  • Rule Five: You cannot get blood out of a turnip. 
  • Rule Six: Records move. 
  • Rule Seven: Water and genealogical information flow downhill
  • Rule Eight: Everything in genealogy is connected (butterfly)
  • Rule Nine: There are patterns everywhere
  • Rule Ten: Read the fine print
  • Rule Eleven: Even a perfect fit can be wrong
  • Rule Twelve: The end is always there
In this post, I am expanding on Rule Six: Records move.

Upon reflection, it is quite easy for even experienced genealogical researchers to find themselves in a situation where they ignore and are trapped by one of these rules. One of the common situations where this rule applies in the United States involves the so-called "burned counties." See "Burned Counties Research." As the Research Wiki article points out, "The phrase "burned counties" was first used for research in Virginia where many county records were destroyed in courthouse fires, or during the Civil War."

It is indisputable that records are destroyed by fires and other causes. What is meant by Rule Six is a simple fact, the records you are searching for may have been kept in some other location rather than the particular building, usually a courthouse, which burned down. Record loss is a real problem, but it is not an excuse for failing to do systematic and careful research. In almost every case where someone has told me that their ancestors' records were lost in a courthouse fire, the person making this statement has not verified what, if any, records are still available. There is a statement on the FamilySearch Research Wiki page that summarizes what our reaction should be to "burned counties" in particular. The quote is "This is not magic. We cannot make missing records re-appear, but we CAN learn to make progress without them."

Another interpretation of Rule Six refers to the simple fact that records can be moved from their original location and could be found far away and even in a country different than that of their origin. I am writing here about "paper" records. The actual, physical recording of events. This commonly occurs when records are gathered to a "centralized" repository or when people immigrate from country to country or place to place. A good example of this rule is the entire United States Archives and Records Administration. This federal agency has vast warehouses of records parodied in the movie starring Harrison Ford called Raiders of the Lost Ark. Where is the warehouse and how do you gain access to the records?

Jurisdictional boundaries change, people move from place to place, governments rise and fall, all of these and many more conditions can cause specific records to be physically stored in places far removed from their original location. Genealogical research is part art and part science. Finding where records are located is more than simply looking online or referring to an excellent source such as the FamilySearch Research Wiki. Another example. Let's suppose you are looking for an ancestor that worked for a railroad in the United States. Where would you go to find his or her records? The Research Wiki has over 1,500 listings for railroad records. Where are all these records located? They are certainly not all in the same place. How many places do you think you might have to search?

It is true that records move, and this rule is one that needs to be taught and emphasized continually.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

All of the MyHeritage LIVE 2019 Lectures Now Online
The September 24, 2019 MyHeritage Blog post contains links to all of the presentations from the MyHeritage LIVE Conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands held on September 6th through the 8th. Here is a video with some brief highlights of the conference.

See this link

I am not sure, but I think that this may be only the second time that an entire genealogy conference has been made available for free online with videos. The first time was from the MyHeritage LIVE 2018 Conference. See this post:
Not only were both of these Conferences broadcast live during the conference, but you can also review the entire conferences at your leisure.

Genealogy and Genealogical Records in South Africa

Here is a short history of South Africa from Wikipedia: History of South Africa:
Following the defeat of the Boers in the Anglo-Boer or South African War (1899–1902), the Union of South Africa was created as a self-governing dominion of the British Empire on 31 May 1910 in terms of the South Africa Act 1909, which amalgamated the four previously separate British colonies: Cape Colony, Colony of Natal, Transvaal Colony, and Orange River Colony. The country became a fully sovereign nation state within the British Empire, in 1934 following enactment of the Status of the Union Act. The monarchy came to an end on 31 May 1961, replaced by a republic as the consequence of a 1960 referendum, which legitimized the country becoming the Republic of South Africa.
Settlement of the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the African continent began with a Dutch East India Company trading post in 1652. The British invaded the Cape in 1785 and the Dutch settlers moved inland in what is known as the Great Trek and established Boer settlements in the interior. The population of the entire area including the present countries is a mixture of the original African population, Portuguese,  Dutch, French, German, and British immigrants and enslaved people imported from the north of Africa and from the Dutch Colonies in Asia. South Africa also has the largest population of immigrants from India on the African continent. Obviously, the history of South Africa and the surrounding countries is much more complicated than this short summary. To do adequate genealogy, you will need to start with understanding the history of the countries where your ancestors lived as well as the countries from which they immigrated.

Two good places to start your research are the short summary of sources in Rosemary Dixon-Smith's website page entitled, "A Research Guide for Beginners" and the South African Genealogy Page. A more complete list of sources is available from the South Africa pages of The Family History Guide. Each of the major genealogical websites has a collection of records linked from The Family History Guide page. Another good place to start is with the Research Wiki page for South Africa Genealogy. You will need to remember to look for records in the country of origin of your ancestors and also remember the time periods when South Africa was under the control of the different European nations. For example, records of British South Africa may be located in Great Britain.

Once you begin to realize that genealogical records all fall into the same categories, you will find it much easier to do research in different countries. The initial orientation should always include the history but it is also important to begin with a survey of the types of records that are reasonably available and the records' location.

Here is a list of useful books about South African Genealogy and History.

Dutch Reformed Church Archives (Stellenbosch, South Africa). South Africa, Cape Province, Beaconsfield, Church Records. Salt Lake City, Utah: Digital capture by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 2007.
———. South Africa, Transvaal, Krugersdorp, Church Records. Salt Lake City, Utah: Digital capture by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 2007.
———. South Africa, Transvaal, Mara, Church Records. Salt Lake City, Utah: Digital capture by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 2007.
Finkelman, Paul. Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-First Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Genealogical Society of South Africa. An Abridged Guide to Genealogical Research in South Africa. Houghton [Johannesburg: Genealogical Society of South Africa (PO Box 2119, Houghton, Johannesburg 2041), 1995.
Genealogical Society of South Africa, South Africa, Directorate State Archives and Heraldic Services, and National Archives of South Africa. Alphabetical Guide to Gravestones in Smaller Cemeteries in South Africa. Pretoria? State Archives Service, 1989.
Genealogical Society of South Africa, and Southern Transvaal Branch. Intermediate Guide to Genealogical Research in South Africa. Saxonwold, South Africa: Southern Transvaal Branch of the Genealogical Society of South Africa, 1996.
Genealogical Society of South Africa, and State Archives Service (South Africa). Alphabetical Guide to Gravestones in Smaller Cemeteries in South Africa. Pretoria: State Archives Service, 1988.
Malan, Hercules M. Guide to the Malans of South Africa, History and Genealogy. Place of publication not identified: publisher not identified, 1998.
Natal Inland Family History Society, Genealogical Society of South Africa, and Natal Midlands Branch. “GNUS: The Quarterly Newsletter of the Natal Inland Family History Society and Natal Midlands Branch of the Genealogical Society of South Africa.” GNUS : The Quarterly Newsletter of the Natal Inland Family History Society and Natal Midlands Branch of the Genealogical Society of South Africa.
Pama, C. Genealogy in South Africa.
Reaman, George Elmore. The Trail of the Huguenots in Europe, the United States, South Africa, and Canada. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 2000.
South Africa, and Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. South Africa, Eastern Cape, Estate Files,. Salt Lake City, Utah: Digital capture by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 2013.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Quantum Computers, Artificial Intelligence, and Genealogy

Here is a quote from an article on website entitled, "Google may have just ushered in an era of ‘quantum supremacy.’
Google’s quantum computer was reportedly able to solve a calculation — proving the randomness of numbers produced by a random number generator — in 3 minutes and 20 seconds that would take the world’s fastest traditional supercomputer, Summit, around 10,000 years. This effectively means that the calculation cannot be performed by a traditional computer, making Google the first to demonstrate quantum supremacy. 
Despite hitting the milestone, it’s likely that quantum computers capable of tackling practical tasks are still years away. However, once developed, the computers are expected to have huge implications for areas as diverse as cryptography, chemistry, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Google expects the power of quantum computers to expand at a “double exponential rate,” whereas traditional computers have long been pegged to Moore’s Law, which saw power double every 18 months or so.
It might be some time before we see the impact of this new technology. If you want to learn about quantum computers, here is a link to an article from the MIT Technology Review entitled "What is a quantum computer."

What does this have to do with genealogy? Sorting through and organizing the data for billions of people takes a lot of computer power. When you think of all the information about just one person, including DNA tests and etc., you can imagine that faster computers will always be useful. This also brings us to artificial intelligence or AI. Some of the problems being addressed with AI include handwriting recognition and transcription. A rudimentary form of AI is used to create the record hints implemented in the large online genealogical database websites. See my previous post entitled, "Thoughts on the Creation of a Universal Family Tree."

As I point out in my previous post, the ultimate product of massive genealogical data and the ability to organize and validate the data would be a universal family tree. Of course, from our limited perspective the major issues today are duplication and accuracy. But given a massive amount of data and the ability to review all of it quickly, it is conceivable that a universal tree is possible.

Of course, the idea of using AI for genealogical research is not new. For example, here is an article entitled, "AI-created family trees confirm 18th and 19th century class divisions in Finland." This article points out the following:
It would take 100 person-years for a genealogist to map and find all the parents for five million people – with a rate of one person per minute. The AncestryAI algorithm can do the same work in an hour using 50 parallel computers and with a success rate of 65 per cent. The algorithm can also measure the level of uncertainty for each connection so that unreliable results can be ignored. Genealogists and demographers can use the algorithm to shed light on societal change and history.
This work is being done by researchers at the Aalto University in Finland. See "Ancestryai Algorithm Traces Your Family Tree Back More Than 300 Years." See also "AncestryAI: A Tool for Exploring Computationally Inferred Family Trees." Here is a description of the program.
Many people are excited to discover their ancestors and thus decide to take up genealogy. However, the process of finding the ancestors is often very laborious since it involves comparing a large number of historical birth records and trying to manually match the people mentioned in them. We have developed AncestryAI, an open-source tool for automatically linking historical records and exploring the resulting family trees. We introduce a record-linkage method for computing the probabilities of the candidate matches, which allows the users to either directly identify the next ancestor or narrow down the search. We also propose an efficient layout algorithm for drawing and navigating genealogical graphs. The tool is additionally used to crowdsource training and evaluation data so as to improve the matching algorithm. Our objective is to build a large genealogical graph, which could be used to resolve various interesting questions in the areas of computational social science, genetics, and evolutionary studies. The tool is openly available at:
If these researchers had access to a quantum computer their computational time would probably be a matter of minutes rather than an hour even with an exponentially larger database.

Despite this potential capability, I don't think that any of the world's genealogical researchers need to worry that a quantum computer will put them out of business very soon but what about the future?

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Ultimate Digital Preservation Guide, Part Fourteen: Remediating the Damage

By US gov - US gov, Public Domain,
As genealogists, we may come in contact with documents and records that are clearly damaged from water, mold, natural deterioration, fire or many other causes. It is important to understand that our efforts to curate this damage may do more harm than good.

One common reaction to preservation is putting records and other documents in "protective" plastic sheets. In the past, it was also common to mount photos and other documents in albums or scrapbooks with a variety of methods from glue to photo corners. Often times, the plastic page holders and the mounting materials for scrapbooks does more damage than simply putting the documents in a book. The process of preservation is often referred to as curation. Curation is the action or process of selecting, organizing, and looking after the items in a collection or exhibition. Preservation is part of the curation process.

Unfortunately, adequate curation is usually beyond the resources and means of the average genealogist. Especially when there is water damage, the process can be lengthy and costly. Here is a summary of the process from the Northeast Document Conservation Center entitled, "Emergency Management, 3.6 Emergency Salvage of Wet Books and Records." If you take the time to review the instructions in this article, you will see that the process may be entirely beyond the resources of an individual.

One of the most commonly referenced major document losses occurred with the 1890 U.S. Federal Census. I have referred to the situation that resulted in the loss of these census records several times previously. The common explanation for the lack of records is attributed to a fire. But the fire did not cause the loss of most of the records. A more complete explanation of the loss is found in the following:

The Fate of the 1890 Population Census," Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 64-81 (Spring 1996), Part 1 and Part 2.

The loss was only partially caused by the fire. The real loss was caused by the failure of the bureaucratic government agencies to take the proper steps to ameliorate the damage. Here is a summary statement from the second part of the above article:
More than 150 years passed between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the establishment of a U.S. National Archives, however, and the nation paid a high price for this delay. Critical records succumbed to war, fire, flood, theft, moves, agency reorganization, administrative error, improper filming, ignorance, apathy, and the ravages of time. It is really quite remarkable that so many valuable records are extant and available for research. The tragedy of the 1890 census remains a constant reminder of the necessity for a vigorous National Archives and unrelenting vigilance about the historical record.
The worst response to document damage is that taken by the U.S. Government: delay and ultimate lack of action ending up with the destruction of the damaged documents. There is no question that a great of the 1890 U.S. Federal Census could have been saved by proper action. It is probably the case that more genealogically important documents and records are lost through being intentionally thrown away than are physically damaged by all of the other possible damage methods combined. It is very likely that every day some library or archive destroys genealogically valuable records. Of course, this fact indicates that, as genealogists, we should be more knowledgeable and more actively involved in document and record preservation.

Part of the reason for this series is to raise awareness of the need for preservation and curation in the genealogical community.

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

Thursday, September 19, 2019

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

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

DNA, Genealogy, and Political Entities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Obsolete Technology Still Haunts Genealogical Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See these previous posts:

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

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Expanded Commentary on the Rules of Genealogy: Rule Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Genealogy and Genealogical Records in India

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

Here is a screenshot of the page for India:

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

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

The Guide can be downloaded.

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

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

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

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Ultimate Digital Preservation Guide, Part Thirteen: Damage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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