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

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Resources for the Mayflower Passengers and Their Descendants


2020 is the 400th Anniversary of the landing of the passengers of the Mayflower. Here is a very short summary of the voyage from Wikipedia: Mayflower.

Mayflower was an English ship that transported the first English Puritans, known today as the Pilgrims, from England to the New World in 1620. After a grueling 10 weeks at sea, the Mayflower, with 102 passengers and a crew of about 30, reached America, dropping anchor near the tip of Cape Cod on November 11, 1620.
Mayflower Passenger List

It is estimated that as many as 35 million people living today have ancestors from the above list. Digital copies of some of the original documents about the Mayflower passengers are available online from the State Library of Massachusetts. See 

The main genealogical source for researching a connection to one or more of the Mayflower passengers is a series of books called the "Silver Books" from the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. The name of the books comes from their silver colored covers. Here is the real name of the Silver Books is the Mayflower Families Through Five Generations. The entire series is being digitized and indexed through a partnership between the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) and the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. See Here is a quote from that link describing the vast database. 

NEHGS will post images from the “Silver Books” for all fifth-generation descendants with a complete index including: birth, marriage, death, and deeds for these descendants, their spouses, and children on NEHGS will also create indexes on content within the first fifty years of issues of the Mayflower Quarterly (1935 through 1984) for all article titles and names included in that publication and post images on

This database will involve 31 volumes of the “Silver Books” comprising about 11,800 relevant pages. Our preliminary calculations indicate that the index will have about 7,750 fifth generation descendants, along with their spouses and children. The actual record count will not be known until the indexing is completed, but more than 150,000 birth, marriage, death, and deed records in total are estimated.

Before you even dream of being a descendant of one of the Mayflower passengers, I would suggest that you become very familiar with the basic resources about the passengers and their descendants. The basic NEHGS resources are on their website Before you waste your time looking elsewhere, I would suggest obtaining a subscription to that website. Some of the basic databases on the website that are invaluable for research in addition to the Silver Books include the following:

  • The Mayflower Descendant: A Journal of Pilgrim Genealogy & History
  • The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620—1633 series
  • Plymouth Church Records 1620-1859
  • Barnstable, MA Probate Records 1685-1789
I might also caution you that many of the online family trees, including the Family Tree are woefully inaccurate when it comes to documenting the Mayflower passengers and their descendants. Before you even begin to rely on the entries in online family trees, you need to be very familiar with the Silver Books and the other readily available online resources. Recently, FamilySearch made all the passengers "read-only" and this has stopped the stream of unsupported changes to these individuals for a while but not all the information on every passenger is correct despite the read-only status. 

Here are a few more websites that you should be very familiar with before you jump to the conclusion that you had an ancestor on the Mayflower. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Legacy Family Tree Webinars Celebrates 10th Anniversary

As I remember, I was in attendance at either the first broadcast webinar or one very close to the first. I do remember a discussion with Geoff Rasmussen about the "new" technology. That now seems like a really long time ago especially since being online with webinars is now an integral part of my ongoing life. I have no exact idea how many I have done but it is probably somewhere over 200 best guess. Some of them have not been recorded but most of them are on the Brigham Young University Family History Library YouTube Channel. I have also done a couple for Legacy Family Tree and also a few for MyHeritage

In celebration of the Anniversary, Legacy Family Tree is unlocking the top webinar from each year and making them free for 10 days. Visit to watch.

There will also be discounts for new webinar memberships. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

What do you need to know to do genealogical research?


I found this interesting quote from the following book:

Fudge, George H, and Frank Smith. LDS Genealogist’s Handbook: Modern Procedures and Systems,. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1972, Page 121. 

Intelligent research cannot be conducted without some knowledge of the economic, social, religious, and historical background of the country whose records are being searched. For instance, events in these categories affect the movement of people and the direction of that movement. The keeping of records was affected by wars and by the formation of new religious sects.

There have been promotions by genealogical companies in the past few years that have maintained that you don't have to be a genealogist to do family history. Well, one problem with this statement is that by definition, if you are involved in family history, you are a genealogist. The definition of a genealogist is so vague as to include all possible levels of involvement in family history. Here is the most common definition found on the internet in a number of websites:

A genealogist is "a person who traces or studies the descent of persons or families."

Perhaps we can find another more restrictive definition that will support the idea that doing family history does not involve genealogy? Here is a common definition of "genealogy" from the website:

Genealogy, the study of family origins and history. Genealogists compile lists of ancestors, which they arrange in pedigree charts or other written forms. The word genealogy comes from two Greek words—one meaning “race” or “family” and the other “theory” or “science.” Thus is derived “to trace ancestry,” the science of studying family history. The term pedigree comes from the Latin pes (“foot”) and grus (“crane”) and is derived from a sign resembling a crane’s foot, used to indicate lines of descent in early west European genealogies. 

As I have written in the past, the term "family history" was coined to avoid using the word "genealogy" to avoid all those people out there who are allergic to genealogy. 

I certainly agree with the first quote above about the need to know a lot about everything to do an adequate job of genealogical research. I frequently find that I have to do research about my research to understand what my research has found. Just today, I tried to answer what I thought was a simple question and ended up spending a great deal of time researching online and never did get the original question answered. 

I guess the real message that genealogists need to convey is that genealogy is a really hard, complex pursuit, and doing genealogical research is not easy. One of the possible reasons why genealogy is not a generally accepted academic subject is that is so broad and so difficult only a handful of people can possibly master it and even then there are very few paying jobs available for "professionals." 

The best answer to the question in the title of this post is that you need to know how to do research; real difficult research in libraries, archives, online, and sometimes standing in a cemetery. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

How do genealogically significant records get preserved? Part One


Let's suppose that your great-grandfather wrote a journal during his lifetime and you are the member of the family that ends up with the journal. You might have a couple of concerns: how do you preserve the document and what can you do to make the journal available to others in your family? Obviously, this hypothetical example applies to more than just an individual with an ancestor's journal, it also applies to a library or archive with original historical records. The process whereby a historical document or record is made available online is somewhat complicated. Here is a list of the steps necessary to transform a paper-based document into an online digital copy. 

  • Physical preservation
  • Curation
  • Housing or storage
  • Cataloging
  • Indexing
  • Publication
  • Maintenance
Even if you are an individual with only one genealogically significant document or record as contrasted to a huge archive or repository, everyone has to go through the same steps. I will examine these steps one-by-one and perhaps you will begin to understand what it takes to assure that valuable information will not be lost.


Inevitably, unless steps are taken to preserve a physical object, the object will eventually be lost. This process is inevitable. In physics, this process of decay and disorder is called entropy. How you preserve a historical artifact depends on the artifact's composition. I am going to use the term "artifact" to represent any genealogically (historically) significant object including documents and records. Simply put, if you want to preserve a book the process is different from that necessary to preserve a quilt. In addition, preserving an artifact really only changes the method of preservation. For example, let's suppose that we want to preserve the journal I mentioned above. Today, the obvious response would be to digitize the journal. But then, all you have really done is change the challenge of preserving a paper document into the equally difficult challenge of preserving a digital document. In short, the process does not end with the physical preservation of the artifact. The preservation includes all of the steps I outlined above.

To address the first step, you might want to refer to the Library of Congress's Preservation Directorate. This website contains specific instructions about the physical preservation of the following types of artifacts and links to how to preserve many others:

  • 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
  • Other objects: Video on making a custom storage box for objects
  • Preservation Housing for Large Fragile Objects [PPTX, 12 MB]

The information on this website is constantly being updated. Preservation is not just putting the item in a cardboard box and forgetting about it. You need to be aware of the need to do something more. One thing you can do with a journal is to donate it to a historical society, museum, or archive. 

Digital images of the artifact are one way of preserving the information it contains. However, without continuing down the steps in the list above, digitization does nothing more than create another artifact that needs to go through the entire process. 


Curation is the action or process of selecting, organizing, and looking after the items in a collection or exhibition. Once you have done what is necessary to preserve an artifact, you need to take the next steps. But even assuming that you organize and look after the items, this does not mean that the artifact will ultimately be preserved. Everyone dies. Preservation will be passed on to your heirs or assigns. That brings up the next item on the list. 

Housing or storage

Your basement, attic, or garage are only temporary storage areas. Curation of the artifact needs to move on to a permanent storage place. Permanent in this context means institutional. Finding an institution, archive, library, historical society, or other organization that will take over curation can be the most difficult challenge. Even though you or your family might put a huge emotional value on the artifact does not mean that an institution is going to spend its hard-earned funds to preserve it. You need to be realistic and view your artifact in its historical context. All I can suggest is that you start contacting every institution, library, archive, historical society, or any other similar organization ask. 


A collection can be organized but not cataloged. Archives and other organizations that help preserve artifacts must catalog their collections so they know what they have and how they can locate any given artifact in their overall collections. Digitizing the artifact does not solve the problem. Digitizing just changes the format of the preservation efforts and makes storage less expensive. Don't think that once an artifact (such as the journal above) is digitized that the original can be thrown away. The artifact itself is genealogically significant and must be preserved if at all possible. This is the main reason why finding an institution to take over this part of the preservation process is vital.


A catalog is helpful in locating a specific artifact but does not tell you much about the significance of the item. This is especially true with documents and records. Indexes open up the possibility that the item will be useful for research by people who do not understand catalogs and how to search documents and records page by page. If you keep an important artifact in your family, it is very likely that it will not be available generally to the genealogical research community. If the artifact moves to an institution dedicated to preservation, and the item is digitized, cataloged, and indexed, it is then possible that the general community may find a way to gain access to the artifact. 


Even if you or an institution takes all the steps to this point in the preservation process and fails to make the digital record. Some genealogists get to this step after having done all the work to preserve their genealogically significant artifact (records) and fail to make them publically available. They have just moved back up the list. 


Even with digital copies of artifacts, you still have to maintain digital copies. This is part one of a series and will continue as I do some research. Stay tuned. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

A Deeper Look at began as a family history product sold on CDs in 1997 and has expanded online to include 3 million paying subscribers and 18+ million people DNA tested. The website claims the world's largest collection of family history records with over 27 billion records online. 

The website is uniquely valuable to research genealogists who happen to be doing research in the countries where the website has records. Superficially, anyone who was interested in their family history and who had ancestors and relatives in the countries where has records will likely connect with either ancestors or relatives by creating a family tree on the website supplemented by an Ancestry DNA test. For many people in the United States and Western Europe, green leaf record hints and DNA matches will help to relatively quickly build a family tree back a number of generations. However, despite its beginning family historian orientation, the website is also extremely useful for advanced researchers. 

I would like to present two examples of how this process might work to help you resolve mysteries and extend your family tree using the tools provided by the website. 

My first example involves solving the identity of one of my Great-grandfathers who was known as Marinus Christensen. He was born in Torslev, Hjorring, Denmark in 1863. A notation in a book authored by the wife of one of his nephews indicated that he was "adopted." Extensive research turned up another notation of adoption in a church record. However, his real status was a mystery. Off and on during my almost 40 years of research, I would check to see if there were any records that might reveal his identity. Finally, one of my daughters found a baby born out-of-wedlock very close to where Marinus lived and also named "Marinus." We guessed that this might be the long-sought record showing his actual parents and birth date.  

Fairly recently, introduced a new DNA program called ThruLines™. Marinus Christensen showed up with 13 of my DNA matches. Interestingly, all of these matches were Christensen and therefore his descendants. Upon noticing this fact, I checked to see if his sister had any descendant DNA matches. I found that the ThruLines™program has found 43 matches for Marinus's sister, Mary Kjerstine Christensen Overson. Interestingly, her descendants who are my DNA matches show a completely different set of matches that are all Oversons and none of them overlap as Christensens. So Marinus was not related to his "sister" and was almost certainly adopted. Obviously, the two families had different surnames because of Mary Kjersine's marriage, but they always considered themselves to be "cousins." Well, they still are cousins but not just related by DNA. This example shows how research, a family tree on, and a DNA test can be used by the ThruLines™program to help resolve a family mystery.

My second example is a lot more complicated. It involves a more distant ancestor, Thomas Brownell, b. 1615, d. 1665. When I began this example, he had 39 Ancestry Hints. As I examined the hints, I found some very interesting documents. I also found a few things I would absolutely ignore. As is the case with a lot of people I have in my family tree, the information is incomplete and sometimes inaccurate. The reason for this is that in my initial survey which I started almost 40 years ago, I entered the information as I found it at that time, long before computers and the internet. Since I have been working back systematically, at the level of Thomas Brownell, my 9th great-grandfather, where I have over 2000 potential grandparents, I am only just now even looking at some of these people. 

What I quickly determined was that the information I had in my family tree was woefully out of date. This is an important point. Whichever of the many genealogy programs you use for your main program, you have to realize that when using other family tree programs or websites, you need to make sure that they have the same information you have maintained in your primary family tree. So before I got going any further with the 39 record hints, I spent a few minutes bringing this particular person up to date. After the update, I have Thomas Brownell, b. 1608, d. 1664. Quite a change. Now to go through all the record hints and see if they make sense or change any of the updated information. With 39 record hints, this takes some time but is still valuable. 

It turns out that one of my distant relatives did a huge amount of research about this particular family which saves me a lot of time. I can now save the record hints to my ancestor and may be able to work further back in time. But this one entry did not save me the time of updating my files about this person. Because of the many people using Ancestry, occasionally I receive a benefit from all the work that others have done. Look deeper and maybe you will also benefit from the work of your relatives. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Using the Internet Like a Pro: Genealogists Have No Idea What’s Out There


Using the Internet Like a Pro: Genealogists Have No Idea What’s Out There

One of my most recent videos raised a question. The video reviews a number of hugely valuable websites for genealogists that do not all fall into the category of genealogy websites. The question involved obtaining a list of the websites on the video that did not involve stopping the video every few minutes to write down a URL or name. Because I was asked the question, I decided to make a list of the websites mentioned in the video and add a few more for good measure. Here is the list. You may still want to view the website so you can see why I use all these additional resources. 



• Reclaim the Records https://www.reclaimtherecords

• Digital Public Library of America

• Hathi Trust Digital Library

• Google Books

• Trove


• Foundation for East European Family History Studies

• The USGenWeb Project

• GenWiki (German Genealogy)

• Cyndi’s List

• RootsWeb

• Library of Congress, Chronicling America

• New York Public Library Online Collections

• Smithsonian Libraries Digital Library

• Open Education Database, 250+ Killer Digital Libraries and Archives

• The Family History Guide


• Billion Graves


• Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island

• Digital Library on American Slavery

• Old Maps Online

• Board on Geographic Names

• The Freedmen’s Bureau Records

• FreeBMD

• Castle Garden

• Open Library

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Look for Genealogy Channels on YouTube

Google's is a goto place for information and explanations about almost every possible subject. I have used YouTube videos for everything from installing an air filter in my car to learning specific software programs. What you may not realize is that there are thousands of videos about a multitude of genealogically related topics. 

YouTube is divided up into "Channels." Anyone who wants to take the time can create their own channel and start uploading videos. Here is a link to a video with 2,265,295 views (as of the date of this post) about how to create a YouTube Channel. 

How To Create A YouTube Channel! (2020 Beginner’s Guide)

You can search YouTube by clicking in the search field at the top of each YouTube page. You can see the search field marked by a magnifying glass icon in the image above of The Family History Guide YouTube Channel page. Very few genealogy-related YouTube Channel pages get millions of views. The most popular channels are sponsored by the large online genealogy database/family tree websites such as the following:

You can subscribe to a channel and get notices from YouTube whenever a new video is posted to that channel. Of course, my wife and I have been posting videos to YouTube for years as volunteer missionaries at the Brigham Young University Family History Library. Here is the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel

Currently, there are YouTube videos with over six billion (yes, you read that right) views. Most of the really popular videos are music related with a few kid's videos thrown in. The most popular genealogy-related video on YouTube might be one by called Descendants of Honor with 6.9 million views. This video is less than a minute long. But the number of views often reflects the amount of advertising the sponsor invested in promoting the video. The most viewed video on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel has 57 thousand views which is more in line with the popularity of genealogy videos in general but it is about an hour long. A RootsTech video entitled Connect. Belong. RootsTech 2018 has 664 thousand views for comparison. That video is also short at less than two minutes. 

Another way of determining the popularity of a particular channel is the number of subscribers. Again, has about 145,000 subscribers. 

There are really too many channels and individual videos to list in a blog post. You will need to explore what is there by searching

Friday, September 4, 2020

Why are the so many duplicates in online family trees?


The most obvious reason for duplicates in the vast number of online family trees is that every one of my online relatives with a family tree has duplicated some part of my own family tree and the family tree of every other relative. In addition, I probably have somewhere around a dozen copies of all or part of my own family tree on various websites. It would be wonderful if all of those relatives' trees were documented and accurate and I guess I could say the same thing about all the family trees I have on various websites. Some of those must be woefully out of date. 

The real issue is whether or not there is one reliable reference for all of the information on the various family trees? I keep two or three of my own family trees up to date by focusing on two or three websites. Some researchers elect to try to use a desktop program and keep it up to date. I am always moving around from computer to computer and trying to maintain a desktop program is just not practical but I do keep a backup copy of my family tree on a local desktop program. 

Is there a practical way to avoid all this duplication? There are several collaborative, unified family tree websites. These websites include the Family Tree,, and Both the Family Tree and are free websites. has a free basic account but it also has a Geni Pro version that is currently $119.40 a year. The advantage of these collaborative websites is that the users all see the same information and duplication is decreased to the extent that the users actually collaborate and do not ignore the need for genealogically accurate entries. 

Duplication is a problem with individual entries in a family tree when there is more than one copy of the same person. Additionally, having separate family trees automatically duplicates all the entries between related researchers as soon as they enter the same person. For example. my Great-grandfather Henry Martin Tanner has tens of thousands of descendants. If those descendants decide to create their own individual family tree, they will be duplicating both the person and the research effort every time they enter a person who appears on another relative's family tree. Potentially, there are tens of thousands of copies of Henry Martin Tanner sitting out there on every one of my relative's individual family trees. 

Now, the FamilySearch Family Tree is a special case. It was seeded with millions of names that had been accumulated over more than a hundred years of research. Unfortunately, this process included the duplicates from a huge number of entries for the same individuals. For example, my Great-grandfather Henry Martin Tanner ended up with well over 800 copies. These collaborative websites have developed a way to "merge" two duplicate entries into one surviving individual. The process of "cleaning up the entries" is ongoing and will continue as long as contributors continue to enter duplicate individuals without rigorously verifying that the same individuals are not already resident in the online family tree. In the case of the FamilySearch Family Tree, the duplicates were there from the time when the data was uploaded, first to a website called and later when the same information was used to create the FamilySearch Family Tree. I spend a considerable amount of my time merging duplicates on the Family Tree. 

Duplicates are inevitable given the number of online family trees and the fact that relatively few people focus on using one or more of the collaborative online family trees. Whenever I write about this subject, I always receive comments from people who have a problem with the entire concept of a collaborative family tree but as long as this antipathy exists, there will always be a duplicate challenge. 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

The future evolution of webinars and online virtual conventions

Conventions, fairs, carnivals, convocations, assemblies, and every other kind of large meetings have always been part of the human experience. The main benefits from large scale assemblies come from shared experiences and what we now call "networking." Obviously, the emphasis of these gatherings has been from the purely social or religious to the purely commercial with a mixture of both ends of the spectrum in between the two extremes. As the pursuit of genealogy became popularized the first organized genealogy organization is the New England Historic Genealogical Society founded in 1845. The National Genealogical Society was founded in 1915. Sometime between these dates, it was likely that the first genealogy conferences of members and other interested people were held. 

It is estimated that there are over 30,000 conferences held each year around the world. There is a website that tries to keep track of all the genealogy conferences. It is called and it lists a lot of conferences. As I reviewed the list of upcoming conferences, I noted that the pandemic has taken its toll. Almost every conference listed had either changed from in-person to virtual or been canceled for this year. Of course, this includes the upcoming RootsTech Connect conference. Which will be held virtually from the 25 to the 27th of February in 2021. 

The virtualization of all these conferences opens a question about the long-term effects of what would seem to be a temporary situation. Think of all the huge convention centers and hotels that will be affected by the closing down of conferences all around the world. 

In the case of RootsTech, over 17,000 people signed up for the free virtual conference in the first 24 hours after its announcement. I expect that the number of virtual attendees will vastly eclipse any of the total numbers of in-person attendance. So, the question is if this upcoming conference has a huge attendance, why would they go back to the expense, etc. of a live, in-person conference? 

I spend hours each week online virtually talking to people making presentations, teaching classes, or attending meetings. I save a huge amount of time that I previously spent traveling and getting ready to travel. The main problem before the pandemic was that very few people were familiar with or comfortable with talking and meeting online. That barrier has now, to some extent, disappeared. I talk to people who are using a smartphone, a tablet, or sitting at a desktop computer. Once you get over the novelty of the situation, you can almost ignore the interface. We have been able to meet as family groups which never took place before the pandemic. 

Granted, I have been teaching webinars for years. I have also been teaching in-person classes for most of my life starting with substitute teaching during my years at the University of Utah now almost fifty years ago. There is an interesting comparison between my webinars and my live classes. I am guessing one of the largest in-person classes I taught was one year at RootsTech with over 3000 people in the conference hall. However, this number is less than impressive when one of my webinars has now been viewed over 57,000 times and one recent Facebook Live broadcast for had over 17,000 views almost immediately and now has over 21,400 views as of the date of this post. 

My question is this. Which is more productive of my time? Teaching 1 to 30 or so people in a live class or presenting the same class online to thousands of people with residual viewings into the tens of thousands. 

Now let's expand that to the present virtual genealogy conferences. If the idea of having a conference such as RootsTech is to reach as many people as possible, doesn't it seem logical to have a virtual conference rather than going to the huge expense of an in-person conference? Are there enough additional benefits from meeting in person to make it worth the time and expense? Think of Amazon selling food. Think of Walmart delivering food. Think of the time and expense. Hmm. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

FamilySearch Announces RootsTech Connect 2021: A Free Global Virtual Event


FamilySearch Announces RootsTech Connect 2021: A Free Global Virtual Event

Quoting from the FamilySearch press release:
FamilySearch is thrilled to announce that the RootsTech 2021conference previously planned for February 3–6, 2021, in Salt Lake City, Utah, will now be held on February 25–27, 2021, as a free, virtual event online. RootsTech Connect 2021 will enable attendees to participate from around the world and will feature inspiring keynote speakers, dozens of classes in multiple languages, and a virtual marketplace. Reserve your place today for free at

“The pandemic is giving us the opportunity to bring RootsTech to a broader audience worldwide,” said Steve Rockwood, FamilySearch International CEO. “A virtual event also allows us to expand our planning to truly make this a global celebration of family and connection.” 

RootsTech Connect 2021 will be global in scope while offering many experiences that attendees have come to know and love from RootsTech events—including inspirational keynote speakers, dozens of classes to choose from, and an expo hall.  

Throughout the three-day online event, attendees will have the ability to interact with presenters, exhibitors, and other attendees through live chat and question and answer sessions. 

“Classes will be taught in many languages, and presenters will teach from a number of international locations,” said Rockwood. “We will celebrate cultures and traditions from around the world, with activities that the audience can participate in from home—such as homeland cooking demonstrations, storytelling, and music performances. This is one virtual event you won’t want to miss.” 

RootsTech Connect 2021 will offer a combination of both livestream and on-demand content to accommodate differences in time zone for participants. In addition, sessions will be available to view on-demand after the event concludes. 

Rockwood says that FamilySearch is looking forward to the opportunity to deliver the signature RootsTech experience and helping tens of thousands of participants worldwide to discover, gather, and connect their family story.  

RootsTech hopes to gather in-person again in the future but anticipates the RootsTech Connect virtual opportunity will become a regular addition to the event. 

Register for free at

This will be a very interesting experience. The times they are a changin'...

Monday, August 31, 2020

When is a Brick Wall not a Brick Wall?


As I have written and presented previously, the concept of a "brick wall" in genealogical research is not very helpful. Here is a video I did a couple of years ago about how to resolve the problem. 

But there is always more that can be said on this subject. In this post, I am going to try to identify the type of situations that cannot be classified as "brick walls" for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, there is no consistent and universally accepted definition for what is and what is not a brick wall. But from having fielded a lot of questions about brick walls, I have formed an opinion about what does and what does not fall into that category. The reason for doing this is to help you make progress on those lines that you have wrongly classified as brick walls.

The main reason I don't feel that using the term "brick wall" to describe a situation where genealogical research has become difficult is that there is a confusion between difficult research situations and those that are impossible. We all have to start at the same zero-level of experience in acquiring research skills and since the level of the perceived difficulty of any particular research situation is dependent on the background and experience of the researcher, the definition of what constitutes a brick wall for any given researcher changes over time as skills are acquired. For example, I might have a high skill level in doing genealogical research in the English language but close to a zero skill level in a language such as Chinese. Ultimately, progress is Chinese genealogical research depends on being able to understand and read the language. If I had a Chinese ancestor, that would be my brick wall but if I learned how to read Chinese and learned about Chinese records, I might find that my initial "brick wall" was rather easily overcome. 

My Chinese language example is also an example of why you might want to find some help from other genealogists with the particular skills that prevent you from making progress with your research. So a lack of experience or knowledge on the part of the researcher cannot be called a brick wall. The researcher can choose whether or not they want to make the effort to learn what it is they need to know to make progress on a particular ancestral line, including learning a new language or script. 

One thing I have noticed from all the questions about brick walls is that the vast majority of the issues involve ancestors back in or before the 18th Century. There is a direct relationship between researching back in time and the increasing difficulty in finding records especially for people who were neither rich nor famous. Characterizing research before 1700 as a "brick wall" is neither realistic nor productive. Research usually requires learning new scripts and even a new language. At the same time, the records that do exist are more difficult to access and search and the records often require page by page and line by line review. The fact that you cannot find an individual in this increasingly difficult time period may simply mean that there are no records for that individual. If you need a good example of the difficulty, look at the following book.

Anderson, Robert Charles. 2015. The great migration directory: immigrants to New England, 1620-1640 : a concise compendium.

From time to time, people come to me with questions about an ancestor or relative that lived well within the 19th or 20th Century and preface their questions with the comment that this person is a brick wall. If you watch my video above, you will hear me say something about the fact that almost all these issues end up being related to looking in the wrong place. On the other hand, people do disappear without a trace. Some to escape from a bad situation others simply because during the 1800s especially, life was difficult and people died in places where their bodies were never found. Compound this with the fact that some people changed their names and never looked back along with spotty record-keeping and you have a lot of reasons why finding a particular person may never be resolved. We should not consider these people to be a brick wall case until we have done as much research as possible for all the related people we can find.

By the way, a missing record for a birth, marriage, or death is never a brick wall. There are plenty of reasons why one vital record may not be found. You need to remember Rule Two of the Basic Rules of Genealogy: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive. See A New Rule of Genealogy Discovered: Number Thirteen.

If you feel like you simply cannot find anything about a particular person or family, just take a deep breath and take a few generations back on that family line and work back up towards the brick wall person. I have ancestors I have been researching for over thirty years and I still do not consider them to be a brick wall because I still think there are sources of information I have not yet found. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

FamilySearch partners with Ontario Ancestors to digitize historic books


A Message from Society President Steve Fulton, UE

Quoting from an announcement made on 28 August 2020:

Ontario Ancestors and FamilySearch International announced their new book scanning partnership. Under the agreement, FamilySearch will provide specialized book scanning services and support volunteers in exchange for access to Ontario Ancestors’ extensive library of historical and genealogical books. Digitized documents will be publicly available on both websites. Digitization is scheduled to begin by the end of 2020, depending on pandemic restrictions. 

This agreement is a first for a genealogical society in Canada. President Steve Fulton UE commented that “this agreement has no direct cost to us, but the benefits to the society are immeasurable.” He also went on to say that this agreement is a “direct result of the many conversations that we have had with a number of partners, and [it] is a key to delivering on the society’s goal of building up its digital presence by utilizing strong partnerships.” 

Dennis Meldrum, FamilySearch manager of book scanning partnerships, says Ontario Ancestors has one of the largest collections of family history and genealogy books in Canada. “It will be a privilege to work with Ontario Ancestors to digitize and share their impressive collection of books not under copyright,” said Meldrum.

This is the second time the two organizations have partnered on records preservation and access. The first digitization project was the Vernon Directories that began in 2019 (Search the Ontario Vernon Directories for fun discoveries about your ancestors). currently has over 490,000 genealogically significant digital books online which are free to the registered users of the website. See the following:


Friday, August 28, 2020

Malls, Conventions, the Internet, Webinars, Classes, Genealogy, and a Pandemic


What do malls, conventions, the internet, webinars, classes, genealogy, and a pandemic have in common? Recently, a major department store closed at a nearby mall. These stores are called "anchor tenants." The idea of a mall is that all the tenants benefit economically from their association with each other. The mall becomes a "target destination." Almost immediately after the store closed, they began demolition. Within a very short time, the store structure disappeared and a "new" anchor store is planned however this repurposed mall includes offices, apartments, condominiums, and a huge parking structure. Meanwhile, at another nearby mall two of the three main anchor store locations sit empty. News accounts for the past few years have chronicled the demise of the American shopping mall. See "The Death of the American Shopping Mall Is Coming Sooner Than You Think." 

The COVID-19 pandemic that began near the end of 2019 is hastening the end of the mall culture but the decline started long before the pandemic. Think of a mall as a distribution point for goods and services. As I noted, the concentration of stores in one connected location was supposed to attract people (customers) so that stores that would not have otherwise survived as stand-alone businesses would benefit. It is all too easy to blame the downfall of the malls on internet commerce, primarily on But Amazon is not the cause of the downfall of malls, it is really a product of the economic and cultural forces that are affecting all of the entities named in the title to this post. 

The pandemic has accelerated the shift from a concentrated and focused distribution system to a dispersed system tied together by electronic lines of communication. To illustrate, I recently purchased a computer. However, the only store in my area that sold that particular computer is closed because of the pandemic. In addition, that store does not "carry" the model I wanted to order but I could order the computer through the store. So, I opted to order the product directly from the manufacturer (not Amazon). If this chain of decision making events occurs over and over again, then there is no need for me to get in my car, drive to a mall, walk around to find the computer store that sells this particular computer, and order it through the store which will then require me to return to the store to pick it up. A hybrid system would allow me to order the product online and pick it up at the store which would still require one trip to the store. Either way, I get the exact same product in about the same time but in my case, I do not have a trip to the store which, by the way, is about an hour or more away from my home. 

Now, what is a convention? It is essentially a "mall" for information and entertainment. The idea of a convention is to animate sales or promote something through personal interaction. Just like a mall, the convention promotes an "anchor presenter" usually a celebrity known by the target group of people invited to attend. The convention aggregates and concentrates attention to the product or services being promoted or sold. Just like a mall, I have to travel to the convention (sometimes at my own expense and sometimes sent by my employer) where I am expected to spend time shopping for new ideas or products. Are conventions immune to the forces that are shifting to dispersed systems of distribution? 

Conventions depend primarily on economies of scale. The larger the attendance (malls during the holiday season) the more successful the entire operation will be. Over the past few years, we have seen a number of genealogically oriented conventions (with a variety of names such as expos or conferences) disappear. One of the largest such disappearance was the "Who Do You Think You Are? Conference held in England and billed as "The world’s largest family history show." Other smaller regional conventions (conferences etc.) have also disappeared. 

In 2019-2020, the worldwide pandemic resulted in the cancellation of several other long-standing genealogical conventions. Some of the remaining ones have tried to transition to a virtual or online conference format. Does that sound familiar? A move from a concentrated and focused distribution system to a dispersed system tied together by electronic lines of communication. Will that transition be successful? I am guessing that to the extent that the "virtual conference" is truly virtual and not merely an electronic facsimile of a live conference, the move to virtual may be successful. Unfortunately, what I see is that those planning "virtual" events are trying to duplicate the live attended conference experience. So now we come to webinars and online classes. Even though genealogy is a rather restricted area of interest, on any given day, you could probably listen to or watch dozens of online genealogical presentations. So how will those traditional live conference promoters survive in that preexisting background of well-produced webinars and classes? Why would I pay to attend a 3 or 4-day online conference when I can watch good quality presentations from, in many cases, well-known genealogical community celebrities for free? How much will I spend to sit in front of my computer for 2, 3, or 4 days? Will I buy from vendors in a virtual "Exhibit Floor?"

Isn't the potential conference attendee now in the same position as I was in deciding to purchase a computer directly from the manufacturer online to be delivered to my house? Of course, the difference being that there are not a host of computer manufacturers out there giving away exactly the same computer for free like there is for the genealogy organization or company trying to sell an online virtual conference with a host of online presenters giving webinars and classes for free. How will those who are now trying to transition to virtual conferences survive the cataclysmic shift to dispersed distribution?

I have a lot of ideas about how and why some of the ways genealogy is presented will evolve in the virtual environment, but that will have to be a topic for another post. But I am certain that whatever we see as a "virtual conference" will not have much in common with whatever survives the pandemic and the shift to dispersed distribution. 

One last note, the pandemic will eventually die down to a background issue. When this occurs, will we rush back to attending live conferences? Think about it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The genealogical overburden of duplicate work


The definition of "overburden" that I am using here refers to the "rock or soil overlying a mineral deposit, archaeological site, or other underground feature." Google Dictionary. In doing genealogical research it is necessary to remove the "overburden" of duplicate entries, previously inaccurately done research, and other detritus before we can actually make some progress. Here is an example of the overburden from a recent FamilySearch Family Tree search. 

All of these entries for "Herodias Watson" are the same person and none of them showed up as duplicates until I started merging the duplicates down through this list. But the issue of overburden is much deeper than just an afternoon spent merging duplicates and correcting inaccurate entries in a family tree. I am acutely aware of the huge overburden that I began to remove almost 40 years ago. I spent the first 15 or so years of my involvement in genealogical research merely wading through all the paper that had been accumulated by members of my family over the previous 100+ years. This long list of nearly identical entries above is only a microscopically small indication of the number of similar entries I have had to endure to get to a few genealogical gems. 

One ancestral line back about six or so generations is the Sheldon line beginning with my 5th Great-grandmother, Elizabeth Sheldon, b. 1713, d. 1801. This family is mainly from Rhode Island as were those in my Tanner surname line. The problem with both the Tanner surname and the Sheldon surname is that these are fairly common names and both families names all their children with the same names. A quick look on shows that this website has almost 800,000 records for the Tanner surname and almost 500,000 for the Sheldon surname. One important fact about both these names is that people with these surnames are not necessarily related. When you get back to Rhode Island in the 1600s, commentators on the family's genealogy acknowledge that there are two original Sheldons named John who are not related. They are referred to as the "John Sheldon of Providence" and the "John Sheldon of Kings Towne." There are also people named John Sheldon at the time living in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The confusion in the Family Tree is so complete as to boggle the mind of the most persistent researcher. 

When someone with less experience starts to work in these "messy" areas of their family tree, it is almost inevitable that they become confused, especially when there are "sources" supporting the entries when the real historical person was misidentified. One simple example from my own lines was my direct line ancestor, William Tanner, b. about 1688 probably in England but possibly in Rhode Island. People kept adding a parish record from England for a "William Tanner" born about the same time but at that time there were over 1,700 William Tanners listed in the records of and there were no records connecting any of the William Tanners in England. Why would someone doubt the entry when there was a parish record to support the christening. What is even harder to detect is the fact that this particular "William Tanner" was only one of approximately a dozen men with that name during the time period when Francis Tanner, the documented end-of-line person was born. 

Although a tremendous amount of work has gone into some of these lines, the information is usually contradictory and unsupported. I believe that the main issue with online family trees is this massive duplication of effort that has occurred. The Family Tree and a few other consolidated family tree websites such as and, have created a mechanism where this overburden can eventually be eliminated but in many cases all that has been acheived is to graphically illustrate the problem. For example, the problem I mentioned about John Sheldon in Rhode Island from the FamilySearch Family Tree is duplicated in and in likely because the information came from the same faulty original sources. 

Now when I go back to my early years of genealogical research, I now realize that I "fell" for many of these overburden traps since my original research was based on Family Group Records that were submitted over a period of about 100 years to the Genealogical Society of Utah, now FamilySearch. One of the biggest problems is the failure of many genealogists to even recognize that this huge overburder of duplicate and inaccurate records even exists. 

Meanwhile, I have plenty of work to do. It is obvious just from this last week's work that I have yet barely scratched the surface of the problems that exist on my direct line ancestors in the online collaborative family trees. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Blinded by a Pedigree Chart

 This is an example of the "standard" or traditional pedigree chart used by genealogists in this format and many other similar formats for hundreds of years, primarily, in Western European countries. Here is an example of one from the late 1700s.

An ahnentafel family tree displaying an ancestor chart of Sigmund Christoph, Graf von Zeil und Trauchburg

Whether oriented horizontally or vertically, the charts have the same information. What they show, however, is significantly misleading and culturally prejudicial. Why does this particular type of chart exist? The primary reason involves the establishment of a system of validation for royalty and nobility based upon the concept of primogeniture or inheritance through the firstborn son.

I have been reading through a lesson book for teaching genealogy published back in 1943. Here is the citation to the book. 

Deseret Sunday School Union Board (Salt Lake City, Utah). 1943. Adventures in research: genealogical training class Sunday School Lessons. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Sunday School Union Board.

The emphasis and outline of this lesson manual are illustrative of many of the same basic attitudes commonly taught today. Here is quote from the book that reflects a common genealogical attitude even today. The quote is in the context of telling about how someone started their genealogical research effort by taking some classes.
One of the lessons stressed [in the classes] the duty of everyone to trace his lineal ancestors even in the case of adoption, for "the bloodline is the first responsibility."

Hence, the traditional pedigree chart. One result of this emphasis was apparent to me when I began my own ancestral research. Many of my predecessor researchers had focused only on their own surname line and had recorded only the "bloodline" in their pedigrees. This focus is still extremely evident today in many of the online family trees. Here is an example from the Family Tree. 

Granted, this illustration reflects the way records were kept back in the 17th and 16th Centuries but it does illustrate the influence of the standard pedigree chart. If you were to zoom in on this line, you would also see that the wives in this direct line are not identified even by given name. Here is an example.

This is not an extreme or rare example, it is rather common. 

Now, what have we lost through this focus on the "bloodline" as was understood by generations of genealogists? The answer is more readily apparent when we impose our Western European cultural emphasis on non-European cultures. This emphasis blinds us to family relationships that do not "fit" within our standard pedigree format as expressed by the anthropological term "kinship." Here is a reference to a good introduction to the concept of kinship. 

“The Nature of Kinship: Menu of Topics.” Accessed August 22, 2020.

Here is an introductory quote from this website:
Kinship refers to the culturally defined relationships between individuals who are commonly thought of as having family ties.   All societies use kinship as a basis for forming social groups and for classifying people.  However, there is a great amount of variability in kinship rules and patterns around the world.  In order to understand social interaction, attitudes, and motivations in most societies, it is essential to know how their kinship systems function.

Essentially, by a narrow focus on the traditional pedigree chart and its implications, we lose all of the family kinship relationships. Here is another quote from the website showing what is lost. 

In societies using matrilineal descent, the social relationship between children and their biological father tends to be different than most people would expect due to the fact that he is not a member of their matrilineal family.  In the case of ego below, the man who would have the formal responsibilities that European cultures assign to a father would be his mother's brother (MoBr), since he is the closest elder male kinsmen.  Ego's father would have the same kind of responsibilities for his sister's children.

This is a representation of matrilineal descent. 

Focusing on the "standard" bloodline Western European model developed to validate royalty and nobility obscures, ignores, and denigrates this cultural reality. In fact, this emphasis forces genealogists to become blinded in their research efforts outside of the narrow cultural model inherited from Western Europe. 

Interestingly, this emphasis is so pervasive in the historically predominant culture of the United States that the currently violent political atmosphere reflects this bias. The increasing popularity of genealogical DNA testing, largely ignored by those who support any concept of racial supremacy, undermines the cultural basis for the standard pedigree model. 

It is also interesting that the immensely popular Harry Potter series of books is based on a theme of the conflict engendered by claims of racial purity. 

It is time that genealogists stop promoting a narrow view of lineage and kinship and begin to discuss ideas of ways that kinship relationships can be preserved and documented. I think that the web format for the internet with clouds of relationships based on cultural kinship is the best representation of reality. What do you think?

Friday, August 21, 2020

Take the time to view a webinar on genealogy


The Brigham Young University Family History Library may be closed to all but students and University staff but we are still producing about four or five webinars and instructional videos a week uploaded to the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel and posted to the BYU Family History Library's website. You can subscribe to our YouTube Channel and get notifications of any newly posted videos or you can just check the YouTube Channel from time to time or email the Library and be put on their email list. I am doing only about one new BYU Webinar a month, but we have a lot of other people involved.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

We are still providing support from the Brigham Young University Family History Library


Because of the pandemic, physical access to the Brigham Young University Family History Library has been severely limited since March of 2020. With the continuation of the restrictions, the staff and missionary/volunteers at the Library have been organized to provide online or telephonic support to anyone who needs help with their genealogy or family history. You can find out about our virtual classes every Sunday, our regularly scheduled webinars, other virtual classes, and virtual support from our website. If you call or email the Library, the staff will forward your inquiry to one of the missionaries who can best help you.

Personally, I have been helping a few people every week with research questions. You are welcome to contact the library or me directly. Leave a comment on my blog or contact me by email or through Facebook. Here is the contact information for the Library. 

Family History Assistance (Missionary Volunteers)

For family history help by email or phone, or to schedule a virtual family history consultation or group instruction.*

Email:, Phone: (801) 422-3766

*Although we cannot currently host groups in person, we can schedule YSA or other groups for virtual classes or other group instruction.

If you leave a comment on my blog with your question and contact information, I will not publish the comment but I can then contact you about your question.  

Monday, August 17, 2020

What are "new" records on genealogy websites?


The large online genealogy database/family tree websites regularly advertise that they have new records for their users to search. What does this really mean? Let me give a few examples. regularly sends out a list of "New" records. Here is the latest announcement.

If you follow the link, you will see that the word "New" refers to newly indexed records and not records added to the website. Some time ago, FamilySearch stopped listing the newly added records and listed only newly indexed records. Are they still adding records to the website? It is really hard to tell but it appears from the dates on some of the records that really new records are being frequently added. Over time, the number of records on the website seems to go up. See Facts.

What about Ancestry announces new records from time to time. The new records are all listed in the Ancestry Card Catalog. Here is a screenshot of the latest list of "New" records. 

Interestingly, the total number of collections on the website in the above screenshot is 32,813. This screenshot was taken the day this post was uploaded, 17 August 2020. Here is a screenshot of the same Card Catalog taken on 24 June 2016.

So, more than four years ago, there were 32,638 collections in the Card Catalog. So the increase of new collections is only about 175 new collections over four years or about 43 a year. I decided to look further back in my old posts and found that in a post from 12 May 2012, had 30,671 collections of records so from 2012 to 2016, the number of collections on the website went down. So, there is a really good question about the definition of "new" records. Back in 2012, Ancestry claimed a total of over 10 billion records. currently claims 27 billion records. See Ancestry Corporate, The many ways our family has grown

What about Their growth numbers are straightforward and simple to understand. Here is the current total of records.

The number of collections and records continues to increase and the new records actually appear on the website Collection Catalog. New records are marked "New" and updated records are marked "Updated." I can go back just a few years and see the difference. Back in 2014, I did a presentation about MyHeritage and the number of records at that time was about 4 billion. That averages to over a billion new records added every year. 

The idea here is that when it comes to claims about the total number of records on any one website, the real issue is whether or not they have the records you need to find your family. Each of the big websites has unique records and in each case, those records might be exactly what you need but it is also possible that the records you need are somewhere else. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Spotting and correcting errors in an online family tree


In this post, I will give an example from the Family Tree, of an entry that has some basic problems. I will then show how those problems can be identified and, if possible, resolved. This process of talking through issues in a particular "case" is similar to the case method used to teach in most law schools in the United States. 

Here is my case:

There are already two data problems found by the FamilySearch website, but the real issue is less obvious. Here are the two families side-by-side. By the way, Thomas Sheldon is the son of one of my direct line 6th Great-grandfathers, Isaac Sheldon, b. 1686, d. 1752).

If Thomas Sheldon was born in 1708 and died in 1750, The last three children either do not belong to this family or the dates are wrong because the three were born will after he died. But we need to look further. His wife Harriet Winters is listed a born in 1715 and the first child is listed as born in 1731 when his mother was 16 years old. Not impossible but also something to look into. The last child listed who was not born after the father's death date was supposedly born in 1747 when the mother would have been 32 years old so 10 children would have been possible. But since she was only about 35 years old, one possibility is that she remarried after her first husband died and the last three children are hers in which case, they have the wrong names. 

What do Thomas Sheldon's 7 listed sources say? The sources substantiate Thomas Sheldon's birth date and the names of his parents. However, the other six sources came from and are not at all helpful. Normally, I would detach all six of these extraneous sources. It is apparent that we don't have a source for Thomas' death. Some of the listed children have some sources but some do not have any. Where were these children born? Bear in mind that both of the listed parents are shown as born in Rhode Island and dying in New York. They did not travel to England to have children especially after their father died. Here is the list of stated birth locations for each of the children but bear in mind that some of them have no supporting sources.
  • Rhode Island
  • Rhode Island
  • Rhode Island
  • Rhode Island
  • Rhode Island
  • Rhode Island
  • Rhode Island
  • Rhode Island
  • Rhode Island
  • Rhode Island
  • New York
  • New York
  • England
I think we can safely say that the three children who are listed as born after the father died probably are not children of this marriage. But wait, the father, Thomas Sheldon, was born in Rhode Island but got married in New York and died in New York. His wife, Harriet Winters, was also supposedly born in Rhode Island and died in New York however, all of the children, except the three born after their supposed father's death, were listed as born in Rhode Island. If all this is correct then the father could have lived only a very short time in New York before he died. (Note: The sources listed as "Legacy Sources" were copied by the FamilySearch program from earlier programs or databases. Absent some reference to an actual source, they are useless). 

Looking at the sources for the children, I find the following:
  • Issac Sheldon, Sr. -- No record of birth, mention in two census records, will
  • Thomas Sheldon -- One census record 1790 no birth or death record
  • Susan Sheldon -- No sources (two legacy sources without any references)
  • Gideon Sheldon -- No sources
  • John Sheldon -- No sources (one legacy source with no reference to a source)
  • George Sheldon -- Burial record (FindAGrave), Mention in a book, will, (one legacy source) no birth date or parents
  • Colonel Joseph Sheldon Esq. -- A FindAGrave reference with death date and burial date, no birth information
  • Benjamin Sheldon -- No sources
  • Potter Sheldon -- two references to the 1790 U.S. Federal Census and a will in 1798
  • Caleb Sheldon -- FindAGrave reference and a will (legacy source without any mention as to where the information was obtained)
  • Hanna Sheldon -- FindAGrave reference to burial, birth date, and death date, no parents identified
  • Sarah Sheldon -- No sources
  • Content Sheldon (England) -- No sources
In short, there is not one source linking any of these children to their parents. Can this be fixed? Almost all these family members were born in the first half of the 18th Century (the 1700s) and finding records in that time frame is difficult. As is the case with all these issues, I have to ask the question about whether or not I want to take the time to sort out this situation? By the way, there are specifically cited sources for the birth of the father, Thomas Sheldon, and his siblings as the children of Isaac Sheldon and Susannah Potter. However, when I started, there was also no marriage record or even a reference to the marriage of Thomas Sheldon and Harriet Winters. I finally did remove the last child who was born in England. 

At this point, there is a real issue as to whether or not to try to "start over" with a family such as this one with NO supporting sources. Where did this information come from? 

Over the long run, I usually work with the information that is in the family tree and do some research to see if any of the information is real. After doing some research, I added the following records as sources:
  • Thomas Sheldon in the U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 showing birth year as 1709 and wife as Harriet Winters in New York. 
  • Thomas Sheldon in Rhode Island_ Vital Records, 1636-1850
I do have to conclude this post here with the work of researching each of the children unfinished. I suspect that if I am able to find Thomas Sheldon's (the father) will, I can determine which, if any, of the listed children are actually members of this family. As with much of what we do in genealogy, the immediate results seem unsatisfying and incomplete but many of these seemingly difficult problems succumb to extensive research.