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

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

MyHeritage Adds 821.2 Million Records in Two Weeks

Historical Record Collection
During the last two weeks of December 2019, added 821.2 million new records to their Historical Record Collections. Yes, you read that right. The total number of records currently on the website is 11,091,324,103. For example, the website currently has 125,672,188 Swedish Household Exam Records and 289,914,839 U.S. Yearbooks Name Index, 1890-1979 records. You can see all the records listed in the Collection Catalog located in the Research Tab on the home page.

One interesting collection, containing 494,096,288 records is the Historical Books - Index of Authors and People Mentioned, 1811-2003. Here is a brief description of this record.
This collection is an index of persons mentioned in various English-language public domain books as well as the names of authors of these publications. The number of digitized books is over three million. The index includes the following searchable information: the title and the year of publication, name of the author(s), birth and death year of the author(s), the names of all the individuals mentioned in the publication, the publisher and the subject(s) of the publication can also be found in most records.
You need to remember that to best take advantage of these huge collections, you need to have your family tree on the website and have a complete subscription including data access. If you have a complete subscription, you will receive Record Matches to these completely indexed collections. With these new records, the number of my own Record Matches in my working family tree jumped to 17,990. The amount of information provided by is a bit overwhelming.

If you are not familiar with, you can find out a lot more about the program from their new education website, How long can you ignore these huge completely indexed collections?

Monday, January 27, 2020

MyHeritage Featured on CNN in Honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day

CNN World
I received the following email notice today from a friend at MyHeritage and found this very interesting article linked above.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, as a grandson of survivors myself, I'm proud to share a beautiful story featured today on CNN and made possible thanks to the dedicated efforts of the MyHeritage Research team. 

An iconic 1933 photo of Jewish shopkeeper Richard Stern standing defiantly outside his shop in Cologne, Germany, sparked the interest of our Research team, who noticed the Iron Cross on his lapel as a Nazi soldier stands guard a few feet away. Using MyHeritage family trees and SuperSearch™, our researchers traced Stern's incredible personal story from that day in Cologne and across the Atlantic Ocean. What they revealed was an inspiring story of hope and determination starring a real-life hero. 
 I hope you take a few minutes and read this article: "The story behind the German Jewish war hero honored on both sides of the Atlantic, decades apart." Can you believe how remarkable this story is?

Time to Get Ready for RootsTech 2020

Get Ready for RootsTech 2020!

All of us involved in The Family History Guide have been getting ready for RootsTech 2020 since the end of RootsTech 2019 last year. This year we will have an even bigger space at RootsTech and will be teaching classes and demonstrating The Family History Guide all during the Conference.
Our booth will be in the main exhibit display area so be sure and come by and learn about our website. The Family History Guide is a free website that represents a best-in-class learning environment for family history. Its scope is broad, but its focus is narrow enough to help you achieve your goals, step by step. Whether you're brand new to family history or a seasoned researcher—or somewhere in between—The Family History Guide can be your difference-maker.

My wife Ann and I will be at the booth as much as possible during the entire conference. However, I will also be serving as an Ambassador for FamilySearch and presenting two classes for at their booth. RootsTech is always a busy time for me.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Technological Impact on the Future of Genealogy

The huge website presently has digitized 22,794,565 books. presently has about 453,000 digitized genealogy books. The has 17,217,620 digital books on its website. The National Library of Australia's website has 20,266,228 digitized books and a total of 6,475,456,068 digitized documents and webpages. In 2019, Google Books claimed that the company had digitized over 40 million books. See also, "15 years of Google Books."

As we start a new decade, I can sit here at my computer in Provo, Utah and look out my window at the melting snow and access millions of books. The largest physical library in the world, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., currently has a collection of about 32 million books and other print materials. Look at the numbers above. Technically, here at my computer, I am sitting in the largest library in the world and I have not even listed the online collections from thousands of other libraries.

What does this really mean to genealogists? Well, for nearly all of the ones I know and work with across the world, not much because few of them take advantage of these huge collections. What about the genealogy collections? I have published some of the figures recently but here are a few more:
  • number of searchable online records: 4.85 billion
  • about 20 billion records
  • as of the date of this post, 11,091,106 records
  • over 2 billion records
None of these numbers are actually comparable because each company counts its records differently but the idea here is that there is a lot of information online. How many other records are online? No one really knows. One example of what is available is the Washington State Digital Archives. This state-based free, online archive presently has 22,901,566 records preserved with 73,983, 465 searchable. The total number of digital records is clearly in the billions upon billions. 

Again, I will ask the question: what does all this really mean to genealogists? I think that what we see now with "traditional" genealogy is going to start to change dramatically. For many years, all of my primary research was done in libraries. Not too long ago, I spent some time at the Library of Congress looking at its genealogy collections. The Genealogy and Local History Rooms of the Library had been closed and the "genealogy" collection was a relatively small section in the stacks with no real place to study. Granted you could haul the books out of the stacks to the main reading room most of the available books and other publications were stored offsite and would require days of waiting to access. I wondered why I would need to visit the Library of Congress? Even if I decided to visit the Library of Congress for some reason, I would need to spend some considerable time searching the online catalog and determining if the material I was interested in researching was not available online on one of the other websites. 

The main argument against change is still that "not all records have been digitized." The answer is that this is certainly the case and that many important records may never be digitized but before you jump on an airplane and fly off to a remote repository, you should probably check to see if the records you are looking for have been digitized and are online. It is time for another example. Have you investigated the Central European University's Hungaricana Portal? Did you know that this resource even existed? The Hungaricana Cultural Heritage Portal has millions of digitized records. Do you think it would be a good idea to check this website and some others before making a trip to Hungary to "do genealogy?" 

What is the main challenge we have in the future? Maintaining a central clearinghouse for maintaining a universal, combined, family tree that will allow us to see what all the researchers around the world know about the human family. Oh. Guess what? We already have such a program. It is the Family Tree. But you say, that website isn't professional. It isn't up to your standards. Well, do you have another suggestion that would address the issue of the massive duplication of effort from billions of individually maintained family trees? A free, collaborative, website without the possibility of future loss due to commercial failure? 

Again you protest. The Family Tree is inaccurate and the unwashed masses can change the entries. Guess what again? The future of genealogy is in the unwashed masses. You forget, there are 7.8 billion people on the earth and in 50 years or so they will be everyone's ancestors. In 100 years, for most people, genealogy will consist entirely of looking on whatever version of the internet exists at that time. For these future people, genealogy will not really exist as such, it will all be recorded on government computers. 

What about artificial intelligence? I think that very shortly computer programs using the available records and DNA testing will be able to compile pedigrees with more accuracy than almost any genealogist living today. When you take a DNA test (which will become mandatory in almost all countries of the world) you will immediately be placed in a family going back generations. Right now, my pool of DNA relatives is a relatively small number of thousands of DNA matches, but those matches are all over the world and I can imagine that the connections of those thousands of people probably links me to most of the world's population. 

So are we going to focus on finding that remote ancestor or do what is right before our eyes, connect all the people presently on the earth into one huge family?  Oh, I guess the old stuff is useful also, but we need to get handwriting recognition software to really get into all the old records. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

New Speakers Announced for #RootsTech 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah

Leigh Anne Tuohy and Ryan Hamilton round out RootsTech 2020 keynote speaker and entertainment line-up in Salt Lake City, Utah February 26 - 29, 2020.

Here is the announcement about Leigh Anne Tuohy.
We’re thrilled to announce that Leigh Anne Tuohy, inspirational subject of the hit movie, The Blind Side, will be the featured keynote speaker at RootsTech on Thursday, February 27. Leigh Anne’s family story is proof that when we give a bit of ourselves to other people, we make the world a better place. An advocate of adoption and charitable giving, Leigh Anne continues to actively improve standards of living for children throughout the country who are fighting to survive in the invisible cracks of society.

The RootsTech Evening Event, taking place on Friday, February 28, at 8:00 p.m., will feature popular comedian Ryan Hamilton.

Here is more information about Ryan Hamilton.
Hamilton has performed on stages across the country and in a very funny Netflix special, Happy Face. Capitalizing on his unique experience of growing up in rural Idaho before moving to New York, Hamilton makes delightful and relatable observations in an endearing style—often poking fun at his own wholesomeness. His recent appearances include The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and Conan. He has also opened for Jerry Seinfeld and Jim Gaffigan.

Do You Ignore any of the Large Online Database Websites?

I have noticed an interesting phenomenon among genealogists. Some of them tend to ignore the large online genealogy database and family tree websites either collectively or selectively. The most common manifestation of this is when a person has a subscription to one of the "Big Four" websites and does not subscribe or even view the other websites because of a belief that the other websites "all have the same records." Now there are likely some reasons why one or more of the websites may be ignored such as the fact that they may not have any records from the area of the world the genealogist is searching but without a careful examination of the records in each of the large websites which, by the way, are changing and increasing constantly. you really have no idea what records are on which website.

We should all be aware of the huge number of records that are still locked up on paper sitting in archives, libraries, and other repositories around the world but the number of records online is truly phenomenal. As I have written several times, numbers of records don't mean much if the record you are looking for is not yet available online, however, the huge number of online records clearly mandates that a "reasonably exhaustive search" includes online record sources.

I have been going through a few genealogy reference books lately. Of course, the ones written before the internet make no mention of digitized records but surprisingly some books written quite recently talk about genealogical research methodology and never seem to get around to mentioning online genealogy records or any of the large online websites. I suspect that the authors are either unfamiliar with online resources or intentionally omit references to online resources to protect their "exclusivity." After all, in the world of professional genealogy, if the average amateur genealogist can find an extensive source-supported pedigree in a few minutes online, the demand for professional services is diminished. I saw the same, although not so prominent, issue in the law profession when online legal self-help websites became available. For example, some attorneys were making a good living drafting wills for their clients. Then along came do-it-yourself will writing programs such as and other such websites advertising that they have successfully created over a million and a half personalized wills with fees starting under $100. These will-writing websites have severely impacted the revenue of the so-called "estate planning" attorneys. Another good example of the impact of online resources is the tax filing software TurboTax. The effect of this software alone has forced the professional accountants and tax filing companies to change the way they do business and in some cases, such as H&R Block, the companies have had to issue their own software. Couple tax preparation software with the marketing power of Costco and you can easily see the impact that can have on the professionals.

Professional genealogists who consciously or unconsciously feel threatened by the online genealogy companies or are overly distrustful of online family trees are also feeling the impact of "do-it-yourself" genealogy. Now the attorneys and accountants are not going out of business but what about the genealogists? Genealogical research can be just as complex if not more complex than either law or accountancy but if, as is commonly advertised, the large online genealogy websites implement automated and artificial intelligence supported programming that can help the average person compile a pedigree, what is left for the professionals?

How should the professionals react? Should they stick their collective heads in the sand and pretend that online genealogy does not exist? This does seem to be the reaction of some professionals. Should they write journal articles and establish professional standards that exclude the casual computer-based genealogist? How long to do you think the estate attorneys, tax attorneys, and accountants can ignore tax and estate software online?

One thing I can say. My own methodology of doing genealogical research is rapidly evolving and for the most part, it does not include many of the trappings of traditional genealogical research. One area of genealogy that is feeling the impact of the online resources is the need for local Family History Centers. One on one assistance with computers and genealogy is never going to disappear. But the advantage of having an expensive-to-maintain facility with computers absent the ability to provide that same one-on-one training has been greatly diminished. The first of the do-it-yourself genealogy websites is The Family History Guide. I don't think anyone yet feels threatened by this website but if you think about the impact of TurboTax, you can see a future where this type of instructional website becomes a major factor in how people interact with professionals. Those professionals who ignore this trend do so at the risk of losing any of their advantages.

This past week, I got a call from a programmer who is developing the next step in instructional software. All I can say about it is that when these products mature, there will be a significant impact on the professional side of genealogy. Look to the future folks.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

U.S Mexican War Soldier and Sailor Database

Battle of Cerro Gordo during Mexican-American War
I received the following email notification about the launch of U.S Mexican War Soldier and Sailor Database:
The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and the National Park Service’s PaloAlto Battlefield National Historical Park (NPS) announce the launch of the U.S.-Mexican War Soldier & Sailor database. 
This online, searchable database contains information for over 85,000 U.S. and
Mexican veterans who served in this war. Many records include personal details, such
as hair color and occupation. 
The database allows descendants of these soldiers and sailors to connect to their
personal history and helps Palo Alto commemorate and tell the stories of those who
served. This invaluable research tool benefits genealogists, historians, as well as
people who may have never known they are related to a U.S.-Mexican War veteran. 
This project started in 2007. Progress was extremely slow until 2015, when FGS joined
forces with the NPS. FGS offered their expertise and numerous volunteers. 
Patricia Rand, the FGS contact, recruited and trained volunteers who spent over 17,000
hours doing the tedious task of inputting data. Their dedication makes it possible for
future generations to learn about those who served in the U.S.-Mexican War. 
Join us for the virtual launch of the U.S.-Mexican War Soldier & Sailor Database on
Monday, January 27 at 3 pm Central. You can join us in-person at the Palo Alto Visitor
Center or live from your computer. 
You can learn about the announcement of the database from the following link:

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Elder and Sister Stevenson to Speak at Family Discovery Day

Family Discovery Day is a free one-day event for families and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held on Saturday, February 29 beginning at 9:30 am in the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is held in conjunction with the annual RootsTech 2020 Conference, February 26 - 29, 2020.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Lesa Stevenson, will be the featured speakers at the popular RootsTech Family Discovery Day.

In addition to hearing from Elder Stevenson, you can:

  • Attend the RootsTech general keynote session (directly following Elder and Sister Stevenson’s remarks on the main stage) and hear from Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith.
  • Experience the RootsTech interactive expo hall, where families and friends can create visual family trees, recreate family history photos, and participate in other fun games and activities geared to help you connect past and present.
  • Attend a selection of classes designed to teach you how to find family names, prepare them for temple blessings, and teach others how to do the same.
Other activities for Church members include the following:

Free Youth Activities | Wednesday, February 26, 6 – 8 P.M.
Youth and youth groups are invited to the Salt Palace on Wednesday, February 26, between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. for fun activities and games. It’s the perfect place to celebrate family connections, learn new things, accomplish personal goals, and make friends from around the state.

Free Young Adult After-Party | Friday, February 28, 8 P.M. – 12 A.M.
Young adults are invited to the RootsTech after-party on Friday, February 28, to celebrate family and culture, and to connect with friends. The after-party features interactive games, dancing, an escape room, and a special performance by comedian Ryan Hamilton.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Introduction to MyHeritage's Education Website

Explore MyHeritage Education

This short video introduces and explains the new Education website. New content is being added to the website regularly. Here is a brief explanation of the content from the website.
MyHeritage Education, a useful new website for learning about MyHeritage tools and technologies, as well as general genealogy and DNA topics, is now online. It offers an extensive range of learning materials, all free, that will help you understand how to make the most of MyHeritage. The articles, how-to videos, and webinars on the site cover a wide variety of topics and include plenty of tips for everyone from beginner family history enthusiasts to seasoned genealogists. Learn how to make the most of your MyHeritage Education experience.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Yuma, Arizona Family History Seminar

This is an invitation to the annual Yuma, Arizona Family History Discovery Day or Yuma Family History Seminar. I have been attending this seminar/discovery day for some years now and have enjoyed the hospitality and warm weather during the conference even though it actually rained one year. My wife, Ann, and I will both be teaching three classes each. Hope to see you there. Here are the particulars since they are hard to read from the poster.

Family History Discovery Day
7:30 am to 3:00 pm
January 25th, 2020
4300 West 16th Street

For information send an email to
or click here for registration:

Click here for more information:

RootsTech Attendance

How does the FamilySearch sponsored annual RootsTech Conference attendance compare to other national (and international) conferences? What is the attendance trend at the RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah for the last few years? 

Since there has only been one RootsTech Conference in London, I am not going to include those attendance figures in this post. Overall Rootstech conference attendance includes paid admissions, exhibitors and their support personnel, FamilySearch staff and volunteers, and on Saturday, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who attend for free on a limited basis for Family Discovery Day.  The numbers reported are sometimes rounded and not at all specific. Here are some of the attendance figures reported for the past few years. 



Estimated to be 12,000 attendees with 30,000 registered attendees on the Family Discovery Day


Over 25,000 attendees, no figures for Family Discover Day, including online attendees, the number is 375,000 that includes Includes in-person, online, and local Family Discovery Day events.


Reported to be 23,918 attendees with 10,216 paid attendees and 15,765 Family Discovery Day attendees


7,253 paid attendees with 6,900 Family Discovery Day attendees


6,770 total registered attendees and 1,500 youth attended the special youth orientation program

In some cases, it is unclear how registrations compare to the total numbers of attendees. It is difficult to compare the attendance from year to year but it is clear that 2019 was down from recent previous years. 

These figures show an upward trend, except for from 2018 to 2019, over the years especially if you factor in the number of people reached online. It will be interesting to see how the figures change for 2020 and whether or not the London conference will have an impact on the overall attendance in the U.S. 

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Can you prove anything with historical records?

Let's suppose, as I started to illustrate in a previous post entitled, "What is a Genealogical Proof?", that you found the following record about one of your relatives.

This is an Arizona birth certificate. Does this document "prove" that Wallace Ove Tanner was born on August 12, 1924? What would it take to prove that he was actually born on that date? There are several reasons why this document is not conclusive of a birth date. An oral history account of the event would cast some doubt on its accuracy. How many more documents do we need to "prove" that he was born on the date recorded on the certificate? What if there was never any controversy over the supposed date?

In the legal law of evidence, the reliability of all evidence is divided up into several categories. As I discussed in my previous post, in court actions (trials and evidentiary hearings) there is always a burden of proof. Here is a pretty good summary of evidentiary concerns from Wikipedia: Evidence (law).
The quantum of evidence is the amount of evidence needed; the quality of proof is how reliable such evidence should be considered. Important rules that govern admissibility concern hearsay, authentication, relevance, privilege, witnesses, opinions, expert testimony, identification and rules of physical evidence. There are various standards of evidence or standards showing how strong the evidence must be to meet the legal burden of proof in a given situation, ranging from reasonable suspicion to preponderance of the evidence, clear and convincing evidence, or beyond a reasonable doubt. 
There are several types of evidence, depending on the form or source. Evidence governs the use of testimony (e.g., oral or written statements, such as an affidavit), exhibits (e.g., physical objects), documentary material, or demonstrative evidence, which are admissible (i.e., allowed to be considered by the trier of fact, such as jury) in a judicial or administrative proceeding (e.g., a court of law). (links omitted)
How would you evaluate the above birth certificate? I suspect that almost all genealogical researchers who had no legal training would immediately assume that the birth certificate was the final arbiter of the date of birth. Of course, at this point, you are going to ask whether or not there is any other "evidence" that the date is not correct? What if there is? What if there is not?

You could also take the position that a birth certificate is nice but not really necessary. We can always assume that any record that shows that a person lived implies a birth and so focusing or fixating on any one type of document is unnecessary and unproductive. In reality, any document that positively fixes a person to a date and a place is sufficient to imply birth.

At this juncture when considering the reliability of any particular document, the "traditional' genealogical approach is to start borrowing the "standards of evidence or proof" from the legal profession. I am sure there are genealogists who would automatically consider a birth certificate like the one above as "beyond a reasonable doubt." However, from my perspective as a lawyer, all historical documents are suspect and none of them individually fall into either the category of clear and convincing evidence or beyond a reasonable doubt. All we can really say about historical/genealogical documents is that they provide unsubstantiated information or raw information and each researcher has to draw their own opinions and conclusions.

Why do I take this position? None of the people named in the birth certificate are still alive. It is as simple as that. If I were presenting this document in a court of law as evidence, I would have to use either the "Government Document" or self-authenticating exception to the hearsay rule to get this document admitted into evidence. But even if the document is admitted into evidence, it still does not mean I can unqualifiedly represent as factual everything in the document. The hearsay rule still applies to the statements made in the document. The hearsay rules are fairly complicated and despite common usage of the term by laymen, hearsay is not something that a non-lawyer is likely to understand. In fact, there are quite a few practicing lawyers who apparently do not understand the evidentiary rules about hearsay. But that does mean that genealogists are restricted from considering historical records that are blatant hearsay? Absolutely not. There are no restrictions on the use of historical documents or records by historians and genealogists. If you don't like the conclusion I have drawn from the records I cite, then you can certainly write or post your own opinion.

Equally, the Government Document rule of evidence falls into the category of "self-authenticating" and that exception to the hearsay rule is just that, an exception. The rule does not mean the document is necessarily more valuable, factual or "true" in any sense of the word. It is considered just like any other evidence. The only advantage of the Government Document rule in court is that you do not have to authenticate the document with the same level of testimony as you would with other documents, hence the term "self-authenticating."

So why do genealogists cloak their opinions about the validity of historical documents or records in legal jargon? Good question. My perspective is that using legal jargon is a support for charging a fee for doing genealogical research. Can you prove anything with historical records? Yes, you can prove someone needs to pay for genealogical research. Are the continual references to quasi-legal evidentiary categories helpful in clarifying the basis for a professional opinion as to the usefulness or validity of any particular historical records? Not really.

Let's suppose I rely on the above birth certificate to establish the birthdate and place of the person named in the record. Let's further suppose that we find another government document in the form of the U.S. Social Security Death Index and that record also indicates a birth date of 12 August 1924. Does that additional record help substantiate the first record? Not at all. The deceased person may not have known his own birthdate and used the date on his birth certificate during his lifetime when asked for his birthdate. Is the SSDI record reliable for the date of death? Maybe. Are we worried that the person is not dead? Remember Rule Two of the Rules of Genealogy: "Absence of an obituary or death notice does not mean the person is still alive."

We don't prove history. We interpret and form opinions about history. We also extrapolate theories about the parts of history where no records exist. If genealogy is nothing more or less than a collection of opinions, some of which are dressed up in jargon, what is the use of becoming an expert in genealogical research? Simple. I am not saying that doing the research and reviewing and citing the historical record is not necessary, it just doesn't need to be dressed up in legal jargon. If I believe that, for a number of reasons, my father's birthday was August 12, 1924, and you disagree, then it is up to you to show me (and everyone else who might be interested) how you arrived at your opinion. If you simply decide that you don't believe the written documents and records but cannot support your conclusions with a cited reference or source, then I have no reason to change my own opinion. Let's suppose that you do find a journal or a record of an oral history that substantiates a different date. If I agree, I can change my own opinion. But there are no genealogical courts, no genealogical judges or juries, and in their absence, my opinion is just a valid as yours.

What if I think that your whole online family tree is fake and unreliable? So what? Are under some genealogical burden to correct all the mistakes and inaccuracies in the world. But wait. What about the situation where a supposed genealogist takes money for doing research and supplies an entirely imaginative pedigree? What if that situation ends up with a fraud claim in court? Then the law takes over and all the rules apply. Can you be punished for doing a poor job of research on your own pedigree and coming up with the wrong ancestry? Maybe that would be a good idea but then we would have to appoint some genealogy judges and organize some genealogical courts.

Now, once again we get to DNA. Isn't DNA a scientific way of proving relationships? Are the limits on the ability of DNA tests to establish a relationship? Sorry, but you will still have to wait until I decided to write some more about DNA. But I can say that DNA test results are pretty persuasive and I would be inclined to believe in their limited reliability. I am prepared to give examples.

Friday, January 3, 2020

What is a Genealogical Proof?

An evidence class is one of the basic first-year requirements for graduating from law school and teaches would-be lawyers the basic rules that govern the admissibility of evidence in civil and criminal trial proceedings. After graduating from law school and over my many years of both civil and criminal trial experience, I was made painfully aware that very few non-lawyers (usually referred to as clients or potential clients) had the faintest idea about the concept of proof in the context of a civil or criminal trial. The interesting thing about proof in the legal sense is that ultimately a judge or a jury has to decide between the parties and make a decision or judgment even if they really believe that all of the parties are wrong.

I used to review this situation with my clients who were on their way to court by explaining that there was the "truth" my client believed, the "truth" of the opposing party and during the trial, the "truth" of the trial  (judge or jury) would evolve and it was entirely possible that all three were wrong and even if one of the "truths" was right, the "truth" of the trial, right or wrong, would prevail. I also observed that what I thought was the "Truth" of the case would probably not make any difference at all since I was there to represent the "truth" of my client. My job was to try to persuade the judge and jury if there was one to rule in favor of my client regardless of the ultimate concept of truth. This process was what was involved in "proving my clients' cases."

One main difference between my representation of clients in court and my work in genealogy is that I can choose my clients and thereby perhaps increase my chances of proving their cases but I cannot choose my relatives so I am stuck with what information has come down to me in the form of documents and records.

With my many years of experience trying to prove my cases, I am very skeptical about the possibility of "proving" any particular genealogical "truth."

Some time ago, I wrote a blog post entitled, "Can you prove anything?" This is part of what I wrote.
The basic answer to the question in the title of this post is both yes and no. You can believe something because of your own personal experience, but you cannot prove your experience to others unless they are willing to go through the same process you go through to achieve your own certain knowledge. When we are talking about history and historical records, we move into the area of opinion. The degree of believability of your conclusions and opinions is based entirely on the arguments you develop based on the historical records you can use to support your claims.
In law, we have three different "burdens:" the burden of production, the burden of persuasion, and finally the consolidation of those two in the burden of proof.  Initially, a party to a lawsuit has a duty of production. The party must provide evidence that supports his or her claim. On the other hand, the burden of persuasion moves beyond the burden of production to the duty of any party to a lawsuit to convince the fact-finder (judge or jury) that their case is "correct" and should prevail. i.e. that the evidence presented is credible and sufficient. The burden of proof is the obligation of each of the parties to a dispute to provide evidence sufficient to establish a prima facie case, that is, a case that is legally sufficient to require a decision by a judge or jury. Failure to carry the burden of proof of a prima facie case usually results in that party's loss. The whole process is almost infinitely more complicated but essentially these basic considerations govern everything that happens in court.

Subsequently, what has all this to do with genealogy? Almost absolutely nothing. As I have pointed out several times in past blog posts and in classes, genealogy involves historical research it is not and cannot be adversarial. There are no genealogical juries or judges. That is the point. Genealogical or historical research is not legal research and the process of consulting the records and documents and forming an opinion about what we create as our own historical reality bears no relationship to a court case.

The fact that some (or most) genealogists use legal terminology when referring to their historical research comes from a number of lawyers who were or are today genealogists. Lawyers tend to believe that their opinions can be "proved." Good lawyers (ones who know what they can and cannot do as lawyers) tend to prevail more than bad lawyers (those who put more faith in their opinions than they do the law). When good lawyers do genealogical and historical research they tend to be persuasive.

Now it is time to give some examples. Let's suppose you are looking for a birth date of one of your ancestors. Let's further suppose that this person lived in the 20th Century when there were documents we call birth certificates. Continuing on with this hypothetical situation, you actually find a birth certificate. Hmm. Have you now "proved" the date on which this person was born? Could the birth certificate be intentionally or unintentionally wrong? Who created the birth certificate? Was the person who created the birth certificate there at the time the baby was born? Let's look at a birth certificate and see if we can answer these questions.

The information in this birth certificate is certified by the signature of someone who is supposed to be an attending physician or midwife. Look at the date of the signature. Look at what is represented as the date of birth. They are a month apart. Now, what is the story I have been told about my father's birth? My Grandmother was ready to have a baby and was alone in her parents' house in the very small town of St. Johns, Arizona. She was able to make it into the kitchen where the door to the outside was open or blew open because of a thunderstorm. The baby was born on the kitchen floor with rain blowing in from the storm. When was the baby born? Did my Grandmother jump up and write all of this down? So, there was no attending physician and no midwife. Who told the person who signed the birth certificate about the birth? Do you still think that this birth certificate proves when my father was born? Does it really matter?

As genealogists, we are prone to believe that the documents we find are "evidence." In a loose way of speaking, they are evidence of something but they are not proof of anything. They may be persuasive and we may believe them, but they are not proof. Proof involves a set of rules and a judge or jury. Can you prove when you were born? In the end, aren't you relying on a document or story told to you by your parents? Does the absence of contradictory "evidence" prove the assertion of the available evidence? It does in court but I submit it does not in historical research. The next document you find may disprove everything you have assumed to be the "truth." Genealogical proof is nothing more than an accumulation of opinions and conclusions based on documents that may or may not be reliable.

For more see: "The Basic Uncertainty of all Historical Research"

Now a note about DNA testing. Isn't that scientific? Isn't that proof? That is the topic of another blog post.

2020 Legacy Family Tree Webinars Series Announced - TechZone added
Since MyHeritage acquired Millennia Corporation, the Legacy Family Tree Webinars Series has expanded dramatically. Here is a description of the Series from a recent post.

Legacy Family Tree Webinars provides genealogy education where-you-are through live and recorded online webinars and videos. Learn from the best instructors in genealogy including Thomas MacEntee, Judy Russell, J. Mark Lowe, Lisa Louise Cooke, Megan Smolenyak, Tom Jones, and many more. Learn at your convenience. On-demand classes are available 24 hours a day! All you need is a computer or mobile device with an Internet connection. 
Subscribe today and get access to this BONUS members-only webinar AND all of this:
  • All 1,088 classes in the library (1,375 hours of quality genealogy education)
  • 4,657 pages of instructors' handouts
  • Chat logs from the live webinars
  • Additional 5% off anything at
  • Chance for a bonus subscribers-only door prize during each live webinar
  • Additional members-only webinars
It's just $49.95/year.
I guess you could view the overall series as a collection of sub-series. Here is the list of webinar categories mentioned in the post.

  • Legacy Family Tree Webinars
  • Board for Certification of Genealogists monthly webinar series
  • MyHeritage Webinar Series
  • Down under series for genealogists in Australia and New Zealand

In addition, the entire series will be augmented by the new TechZone. Here is a description of the TechZone:
In addition to the live webinars, the new TechZone–a library of forty brand new tech videos–all 10-minutes-or-less–is now available. New videos will be released every Friday on all sorts of topics: Google, Excel, browser tips, mobile apps, Windows shortcuts, using Evernote, Facebook, chromosome browsers, using and improving your family videos and photos, and so much more. The TechZone is a new membership benefit where webinar members have free, anytime, unlimited access.
I have done a couple of webinars for the Legacy Family Tree Webinars in the past. In 2020, I will be doing three webinars for the MyHeritage Webinar Series. You can see the complete, upcoming webinar schedule here:
My webinars are coming in February, April, and June.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

I am Being Shut Out of Facebook

Apparently, whenever I post anything on Facebook from my blog and mention The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some or all of my posts are being reported as abusive and being blocked by Facebook. Apparently, it is OK to report false news and support conspiracies but not talk about genealogy and mention the Church. The blocking doesn't seem to be consistent but many of the things I have posted for the past few days have been marked as abusive and blocked. I have sent in several requests for review but have not received any responses. You can view all of my posts on Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. If this post is blocked, you can also read it on Blogger.

The MyHeritage Year in Review

The above infographic from summarizes its progress during the calendar year 2019. Some of the totals as of January 1, 2020 that are not on that graphic and can also be summarized as follows:

  • The number of historical records indexed and searchable on the website: 11,047,483,394
  • The number of users: 109 million
  • The number of profiles on the website: 3.5 billion
  • The number of family trees on the website: 49 million
  • The total number of employees: 420
  • The number of profiles added daily: 1.7 million
  • The number of acquisitions: 9
MyHeritage is unique in providing this type of information about the company. Some of the other large online genealogical database companies that host family trees supply some information about their company's actual number of records and such but none to the extent that is disclosed by MyHeritage.