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

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Beginning the Mayflower Quest Part Two: Working my Way Back in Time

This is a close up shot (not mine) of the famous Plymouth Rock. You may or may not believe that this rock is where the Pilgrims landed, but the reason there is a photo at the beginning of this post (other than the tie-in with the Mayflower and Pilgrims) is that the rock is the subject of graffiti attacks about five times a year on the average. See "Vandals paint Plymouth Rock with red graffiti." Graffiti and adding unsubstantiated entries to the FamilySearch Family Tree have very much in common. Both are acts that seem to have no logic or reason behind them and according to the article above, they can both be "cleaned up" in a short time. Unfortunately, like graffiti, much of the unsupported and unsubstantiated additions to the Family Tree are still there just like the graffiti that decorates most of the cities around the world. (I saw more graffiti in Madrid, Spain than I have seen in Los Angeles, California).

When you look at a person such as Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7, a Mayflower passenger, you have to wonder why his entries change so often on the Family Tree. The main reason, as I have surmised, is that not only does he have an extraordinarily large number of descendants, he is also part of a group of people that are part of a prestigious number of individuals who are remembered through a lineage society for immigrants who came over on the Mayflower in 1620 so he is in a sense a "target" ancestor, as are all the Mayflower passengers. Of course, these issues are not limited to the Mayflower passengers, there are societies and associations for the settlers in any part of the United States and other organizations for people whose ancestors came as immigrants from almost every country of the world. But the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (The Mayflower Society) is one of the most recognized in the United States.

Despite the overwhelming amount of very specific information about a person such as Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7, the urge to be a descendant of such a person overwhelms considerations of basic research methodology. In my years of helping people with their research, I have also found this same overwhelming drive in people who believe they are related to a Revolutionary War veteran or to an Indian Princess or royalty or whatever. 

The other part of the equation that makes up the perpetual changes to a person such as Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7 in the Family Tree is the seemingly unending supply of old GEDCOM files and copied pedigrees. When people decide to "do their genealogy" they turn immediately to the piles of old family group forms or an old Personal Ancestral File (PAF) file and assume because it is old and handed down from a grandmother or someone really old, it must be accurate and of course, all the other people working on the Family Tree do not have these "historical gems" and must be enlightened even is the person making the changes is not quite sure why the Mayflower passengers are important other than we remember them every Thanksgiving here in the United States. 

When I go back over my own early research, I just ended up copying everything I found for a considerable time. Most of my initial information came from paper family group sheets submitted to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. When I had assembled a huge pile of paper and entered it all into a computer program (eventually PAF) I began to do some actual research and soon eliminated a fairly high percentage of all of the extended lines. Unfortunately, since those family group records in the Salt Lake City Family History Library ended up as the original source documents for the Family Tree, many people will have their genealogy validated simply because all their stuff is right there in the Family Tree today so it must be true. 

Which brings me to the starting place for this particular effort. See "Popularity on the FamilySearch Family Tree is not always productive." Because I have researched and validated every ancestral link back to my 4th Great-grandmother, Thankful Tefft LKKM-LWN, I decided to begin with her. She is also the person most mentioned in my family as the direct descendant of the Mayflower passenger Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7 even though all of Francis Cooke's direct descendants have the same exact claim to his ancestry. Part of that reason is also that Thankful Tefft and her husband Joshua Tanner are listed in the Mayflower Society's registered descendants' books. So, if a descendant of Thankful Tefft has "proved" their genealogy back to her, then they should be able to prove the rest of the generations by referring to records already accepted as valid. Each of the lineage steps from me back to Thankful Tefft in the Family Tree has, at least, 61 sources attached so if you have any questions about any of these individuals you will have to read through a total of about 561 source citations to records, books, certificates, and biographies to decide if I have any of the wrong people. But because I have added most of those records myself, I am starting with Thankful Tefft and working back through the sources for this older set of ancestors so there is no doubt about my relationship back through the seven additional generations to Francis Cooke. 

In each generation, I am focusing on the parent/child relationships. Sometimes I find people with a huge number of sources that mysteriously are missing any reference to the person's parents. No matter how many other sources provide information about the person's spouse or children or death or whatever, if there are no sources substantiating the identity of the person's parents, the line stops right there and any speculation about the identity of the parents is pure speculation. So you can expect me to discuss every step of the process going back generation by generation until I reach the ultimate conclusion that I am almost certainly a direct descendant of Francis Cooke and by the way of his son John Cooke and John's wife Sarah Warren and her father Richard Warren. Both John Cooke and Richard Warren were also Mayflower passengers and when this is finished I may well be a direct descendant of several more Mayflower passengers. Time will tell and so might the research. 

See these previous posts

Monday, June 29, 2020

Beginning the Mayflower Quest: Evaluating the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part One

In the Family Tree, people who have constant changes for no reason at all are called "Revolving Door" ancestors. Those who are knowledgeable and concerned and watch these Revolving Door Ancestors can have dozens or hundreds of changes to evaluate and correct every week and with some of the extreme Revolving Door Ancestors, those changes can add up to a significant amount of work every week, week after week. The changes are like a fast-growing cancer that cannot be contained but if left alone would soon kill the host meaning the Family Tree. 

The most obvious Revolving Door Ancestor in my family lines is Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7. His importance in the Family Tree arises from the fact that he was a Mayflower Passenger and possibly one of the most well-documented people on the face of the earth. He has an entire book published solely about his genealogy that the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (The Mayflower Society) has spent over 100 years researching. Because of the color of their covers, these books are known as the Silver Books. Here is the link to that book:

Everything that is known about Francis Cooke is contained in this relatively newly published book. Here is the statement from The Mayflower Society about the contents of this book. 
Francis Cooke, Volume 12

A "Mayflower Families" GSMD Publication, part of the Silver Books with an addendum added.

This addendum, by Susan E. Roser, Secretary General, and Judith H. Swan, Former Governor General and Director, Silver Books Project, seeks to list all known corrections,
deletions and additions that have been made known to the Silver Books Project by December 31, 2016. 

This addendum uses the 1999 book which was a reprint of the 1996 edition.
I can assure you, after spending nearly forty years researching my family lines that there is no better documentation than this series of books. If you really think that you have information that changes the entries in the Silver Books, I suggest you make your case to the Mayflower Society and see what they have to say about your research. 

This brings us to the most recent change to Francis Cooke detected by the Family Tree program. I do not make these things up. I am sensitive to the fact that not all the people who work on the Family Tree have my background. I try to help people and not attack them. 

Here is today's offering from a Family Tree contributor:

Notice where the information came from, a GEDCOM file with no sources. Unfortunately, the Family Tree has no level of filtering out this information other than notifying me and others watching these families that there is a change or duplicate or whatever. We do all the work to correct this stuff. I blurred out the name of the person who submitted this entry.

Well, this is the first entry in this saga. I started with my direct line ancestor Thankful Tefft LKKM-LWN and verified her listed sources and added a few more to bring the total to 56 sources. One source I added was an extensive book written in 1896.

Tifft, Maria Elizabeth (Maxon). A Partial Record of the Descendants of John Tefft, of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and the Nearly Complete Record of the Descendants of John Tifft, of Nassau, New York .. Buffalo, N. Y. : The Peter Paul book company, 1896.

The main issue here is whether or not there is a historical record that substantiates the parents of each of the links back to Francis Cooke. Once I reach the fifth-generation descendants, I can use the Silver Book cited above.

Well, now I have another list of changes to the Family Tree from my weekly list from FamilySearch. Here are the changes today for Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7. In this case, I am not going to blur out the names since the changes are publically available on the website and anyone making changes to Francis Cooke should be aware that we can all see those changes and also, that the people working on making the corrections should be recognized for the constant and immense work they do on just this one person. 

I am wondering how long this has to go on before FamilySearch realizes the basic problem with the Family Tree and the destructive nature of the changes?

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Popularity on the FamilySearch Family Tree is not always productive

Every week I get an email report from advising me of the changes to people I am watching. If "watching" is a term you are not familiar with see "Watching, Waiting And Editing The Family Search Family Tree." Every week, almost without fail, my direct line ancestor, Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7 has dozens up to in the hundreds of changes. Francis Cooke was a passenger on the Mayflower in 1620. He likely has hundreds of thousands of descendants. There are an estimated 35 million descendants of the surviving Mayflower passengers. Apparently very few of them seem to know more about him than the fact he arrived in America on a boat. Here is a screenshot of that part of the FamilySearch email showing me the changes for the week ending June 7th, 2020.

This was a relatively light week for changes. In this one week, child relationships were changed, Burial information was changed, his birth record was changed, Parents were added, and many other changes were made. In total, that week of June 7, 2020, with all the other changes, there was a total of 82 changes to 19 people. Most of those changes, 9 of those changes were to Francis Cooke. 

Now, is Francis Cooke such a controversial person that all these changes reflect a lack of real information about him and his family? Far from that. In fact, there are probably relatively few people from the 17th Century who are as well documented as Francis Cooke. The General Society of Mayflower Descendants has been researching the 102 passengers on the Mayflower since it was founded in 1897. Of this original number, 45 of the passengers died during the winter of 1620-21. The lives and descendants for five generations have been exhaustively researched and published in a set of books known as the "Silver Books." The book containing information about Francis Cooke is in the twelfth volume of the series. Here is the citation for that book. 

Wood, Ralph V., and Lucy Mary Kellogg. 2015. Mayflower families through five generations: descendants of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth, Mass., December 1620. Vol. 12 family of Francis Cooke.

New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) has partnered with General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) to bring new searchable databases created from authenticated Mayflower Pilgrim genealogies and from 50 years of published Mayflower passenger scholarship from the Mayflower Quarterly. GSMD members will enjoy generous discounts on new memberships in New England Historic Genealogical Society, the founding genealogical organization in America.

Known as the "Silver Books" because of their distinctive covers, the Mayflower Families Through Five Generations series from the General Society of Mayflower Descendants meticulously documents the first five generations of descendants of Mayflower passengers who arrived in 1620. This essential resource has previously been accessible only in print format. As a result of this partnership, the fifth generation portion of these will be available online on for use in family history research.

The "Silver Books" series is comprised of 31 volumes, of which the fifth generation of each will be brought online as a database as the digitization is completed. 50 passengers on the Mayflower are known to have living descendants, however, the “Silver Books” treat the 25 families that left American descendants.
OK, so why are there so many people out there making changes to a person whose five generations of descendants have been meticulously documented and when the documentation is readily available in libraries and online?

That is a good question. For some years now I have been working through all of my ancestral lines and purposely avoiding the Mayflower line. I have been watching the changes made to just one passenger, Francis Cooke, for years now. With the pandemic and the loss of all my direct contact with libraries and Family History Centers, I think it is now time to take on the Mayflower line. I actually have several lines that trace back to different Mayflower passengers, but this will be my test case. I have (or will have) complete access to the Silver Books and I can take a stand on the Family Tree and work my way back documenting every connection again and then when I reach Francis Cooke, I will start helping with the corrections. If you are thinking about changing anything that has been completely documented previously by the Mayflower Society, I would suggest having a second or third thought on this subject. 

I am drawing a virtual line in the sand. I will be documenting my research here on this blog so if you want to help or question or criticize you will have an ample opportunity to do so. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Languages, Scripts, and Genealogy

The United States is a nation of immigrants. About 1.6% of the population are Native Americans. If we persist in doing genealogical research we will all find ourselves trying to read difficult to decipher handwriting and nearly all of us will find a challenge in reading a foreign (to us) language. In my ancestry, I will encounter Irish, Scottish, Welch, older forms of English, and Danish. If I go far enough back, I will find some Dutch. Also, in almost every line, I will eventually have some difficulty in reading the handwritten records. 

My first Danish speaking ancestor was born in 1863 and came to America as a young child. His father, Jens Christensen, has a Danish christening record. Here is a copy of the record.

Here is a magnified copy of the entry for Jens Christensen. 

The date is 31 July 1819. In the event, we run into either a language challenge or a handwriting challenge we either have to spend our time learning enough of the target language to get by with reading the records and learning how to read the handwriting or hire someone who can help us with both. Persistent and dedicated genealogists "bite the bullet" and learn both. 

If you are confronted by a language barrier, the first place to start is a word list. Here is one from the Research Wiki.

Many years ago, FamilySearch printed some Research Outlines covering the basic research techniques in countries all around the world. Here is the cover of the one for Denmark.

This particular Danish Research Outline is 253 pages long but all these old Research Outlines are no longer in print. However, all is not lost. All of them are available in PDF files on the Brigham Young University Family History Library Website.

In addition, if you need more help, you can find links to even more information on The Family History Guide Countries Research section.

Now let's suppose you still have trouble reading the handwriting in old records. Why not try the following website for some instruction:

When you start getting into difficult handwriting and languages you do not know, you are just getting into the interesting parts of genealogical research and the best parts also.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Reclaim the Records wins FOI fight for 19th and 20th Century Yonkers, New York Birth and Death Records

Reclaim The Records

Quoting from an email recently received:
Hello again from Reclaim The Records! We hope everybody has been hunkered down safely and soundly for the last few months, maybe working on some genealogy from home with some of the records we've helped release online over the past few years. Well, we're back to announce some great new records you might want to check out while you hunker in your bunker. And as always, these new records we've acquired and published are totally free.

After literally years of negotiating and haggling (although luckily stopping short of yet another lawsuit), we are pleased to announce the first-ever publication of tens of thousands of late nineteenth and early twentieth century births and deaths for Yonkers, New York. We've photographed the alphabetical indices, and for most years we were able to photograph the full birth and death registers, too!

And none of these record books had ever been available to the public to use or browse before, not even on microfilm at a library. And the people listed in these records were generally not in the statewide birth and death indices that we previously acquired and published for New York.

These photos are all new, and they're gorgeous:

To read the rest of this fascinating story, go to the Reclaim The Records website:

Here's where the records are published for free:


Monday, June 22, 2020

MyHeritage Photo Enhancer goes Viral

MyHeritage Photo Enhancer Goes Viral: One Million Photos Already Enhanced!

If you haven't seen or heard of the MyHeritage Photo Enhancer you are in for your own "Wow" moment when you take the time to look at the examples in the above blog post. Here is the link again just in case you can't figure out to click on the link below the screenshot. 

Here is an example of an enhanced and colorized photo from my own relatives' photos showing the before and after. 

As I have said before, this is not a process I could do with any of my tools as a professional photographer. I used to always say that you couldn't correct a blurred image. Now, I have to change my entire idea of what can and cannot be done. 

Comments on the Same Name = Same Person Problem

Using the website, I can search for the frequency of any person's name in all of the website's millions of records. I can also filter the names by area and time. For example, if I were looking for an ancestor named "John Robertson," I could find the relative frequency of the name "Bryant" in a particular place in England in 1820. Here is a summary of the steps of the search.
  • Initially, without any filters, the search engine finds 1,716,613 instances of the name "Bryant" in all of the website's records.
  • If I add a filter for "England," the number drops to 603,078 results. 
  • When I add a more specific place such as the county of Kent, the number drops to 33,431 results.
  • Now, if I add in the date of 1820 plus or minus 2 years as a birth year, I find the number has dropped again to 6,482.
At this point, you can see that without more specific information, the number of possible duplicate names even in a small time period and a smaller geographic area. Now, what if I happen to know a little bit more information? The issue here, of course, is a "chicken and the egg" problem, If I know all the information why am I looking, and if I don't know all of the information how do I look?

But forging ahead, I add in a given name of "John," a fairly common English name. This results in a total of 986 people. Think about this result. If I am looking for an ancestor named "John Bryant" who was born about 1820 and lived in Kent, England, I have nearly a thousand records with different people with that same name. 

Now think some more. How many entries in online family trees do you see with this sort of information:

John Bryant, b. about 1820, Kent, England?

In this case, this person has about 1 chance in almost a thousand of being the correct person. 

Many times these names that we see in the online family trees are merely place holders. They may or may not exist, but by adding in the name we are making a guess that has a fairly high probability of being wrong. This probability of being wrong increases dramatically if you don't use good sense and start adding in people in England from other counties. For example, if I remove the designation of "Kent" as the county in my search, the number of results jumps to 16,824. Of course, guessing that someone with this same name could be found in a county far from where the family originated raises the chances you are wrong to almost a certainty.

What happens if I add a more specific geographic location such as Rolvenden, Kent, England? I get 43 results and the chances that I find the right person have just increased substantially. It is also possible that I can find unknown relatives in this small area.

The real key to these examples is knowing the specific geographic location of an event in an ancestor's life. The more focused you are on the geographic location of events, the more accurate you will be in finding people you are actually related to. 

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The 7 Largest Cemeteries in the world

Quoting from an email from
Cemeteries around the world are gaining popularity as tourist attractions and destination points. In recognition of this, many cemeteries are planning visitor events and turning their grounds into park-like settings. 

Come take a virtual tour of the seven largest cemeteries through BillionGraves’ latest blog post by clicking HERE.

If you would like to take gravestone photos, CLICK HERE to get started. You are welcome to do this at your own convenience, no permission from us is needed. If you still have questions or concerns after you have clicked on the link to get started, you can email us at
You may have a cemetery or two near you that needs to be documented by GPS based photos. I happen to live in Utah and according to every cemetery in Utah has been photographed, although there might be some old, abandoned ones that have been missed. I know there are lots of places where the cemeteries have yet to be photographed. This is a good pandemic activity. You are not likely to have anyone nearby and have to worry about self-distancing.  

Friday, June 19, 2020

Free Daily Access to Records on MyHeritage

Every day in June, is making a new record collection available for free on that day. Here is a list of the collections for the rest of the month and the day they will be free. 

You can see more about this offer on this blog post: Don’t Miss This Week’s Free Record Collections! Quoting from the blog:
Each day of June, a different and significant historical record collection is being made available for free! The collections we have chosen for this offer were handpicked for their value to family historians and include collections that are exclusive to MyHeritage. Altogether, we’ll be providing free access to 2 billion historical records throughout June!

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Integrating Family History into Your Lifestyle

Overson Family about 1915 enhanced and colorized by

Genealogy can become an all-consuming passion but it is always best to have moderation in all things. Some of us spend an inordinate amount of time doing their own genealogical activities and helping others with theirs. Is this a problem or even a concern? When I was working as an attorney, I could easily spend 50+ hours working every week. Some weeks, when I had a trial out of town, I might work as many as 60 or more hours in five days. Much of the time in my life, even when not in trial, I would work for twelve or more hours a day. No one ever questioned the time I spent because obviously, it was my job, and hopefully, I was getting paid to work. 

So why is there a concern over the time spent doing genealogy? I may not be getting paid, but I treat genealogy just like I would treat my job as an attorney. There is work to be done and I am motivated to do it. Do I expect anyone else to spend the time I do? No more than I would expect everyone to work at their job more than 60 hours a week. 

For most of the people I know, working at genealogy related activities is optional and falls into the category of "I will do it when I get around to it." Genealogy is more of a hobby or interest than a passion. In my case, when I retired from the law profession, I merely substituted genealogy for the time I used to spend as an attorney. 

The first question you should ask yourself is which activities do you really value? Do you work full-time at a job, if so, what do you really want to do in leisure time? Are there other activities in your life you value more than genealogy? When you get down to it, maybe an interest in genealogy will never rise to the level of motivating you to become involved. There are other leisure activities that may seem more appealing such as gardening, camping, fishing, sewing, painting, crafts, and many other worthwhile activities. What if you feel "guilty" that you aren't "doing your genealogy?" Guilt can be a motivator but it is usually not a productive one. Is genealogy a recreational activity? Here are some of the most popular recreational activities in the United States:
  • Reading.
  • Watching TV.
  • Family Time.
  • Going to Movies.
  • Fishing.
  • Computer.
  • Gardening.
  • Renting Movies.
This is part of a list of the top 50 such activities and genealogy is not listed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this chart shows the that 
On an average day in 2014, nearly everyone age 15 and over (96 percent) engaged in some sort of leisure activity such as watching TV, socializing, or exercising. Among those who engaged in leisure activities, men spent more time in these activities (6.0 hours) than did women (5.2 hours).

Watching TV was the leisure activity that occupied the most time, accounting for more than half of leisure time, on average. Men spent 3 hours per day watching TV, while women spent 2.6 hours. Socializing, such as visiting with friends or attending or hosting social events, was the next most common leisure activity, accounting for 0.7 hours per day for both men and women.
Here is the chart.

It is also noted on this same page that "on average, adults age 75 and over spent 8.0 hours per day engaged in leisure activities—more than any other age group; 35- to 44-year-olds spent 4.1 hours engaged in leisure and sports activities—less than other age groups."

All I really did was trade my leisure activities for genealogy. You don't have to trade all of them. I spend time walking, riding a recumbent bike, watching movies, and other activities. I just spend more of my leisure time doing genealogy than anything else. If you evaluate what you do every day by keeping a detailed diary or inventory, you can easily find an hour or two a day for genealogy but there is always a trade-off. You have to give up a portion of you leisure activities. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Genealogical Reality vs. Expectations

There is often a distinct divide between our personal expectations and reality. One of the most common examples among those who are involved in the millions of online family trees is the expectation that the information recorded in those family trees is accurate. However, there is an exactly opposite and equally common expectation among some genealogists that all the information in online family trees is inaccurate and not supported by sources. What is the genealogical reality? I will try to answer this question as I continue writing this post.

What do I mean by the term "expectations?" I would include in this term all of the preconceived and learned information you have about what constitutes "doing your genealogy" or "compiling your family history." Behind your preconceptions and experience, there is always some core motivation. As an example, some genealogists have a religious motivation. Others do not attach any religious motivation to doing genealogical research and are merely interested or fascinated with the history of their family. In addition, there are some genealogists who are motivated by genealogy as a profession. Some genealogists spend nearly all their effort and time helping other people find their familial heritage and do very little work on their own family lines. Because an individual's motivation is highly personal, everyone has their own motivation, and sometimes an individual's motivation is a combination of many different factors. 

In the past 50 years, with the advent of computers and the internet, genealogy has become a big business for a few very large genealogy companies. It is very likely that many of the employees of those companies are motivated by obtaining and keeping their jobs rather than any altruistic interest in the complex field of genealogical research. One of the more obvious developments in the genealogical world aided by the global promotion of genealogy as a potential activity for "everyone." is the idea that genealogy is simple, family-oriented, and fun. I am certain that the media advertisements for these large companies almost uniformly emphasize the simplicity of their websites and how quickly the neophyte can become a competent family historian. Most of these ads raise expectations that are far from reality. Frequently, a realization of reality comes when the newly minted genealogist finds that his or her ancestors came from a country that speaks a language different than the one spoken by the new genealogist or some other similar event that demonstrates the complexity and difficulty of genealogical research. 

There is also a segment of the genealogical community that believes that genealogy is a purely academic and scholarly persuasion or professional pursuit and that those who can actually do genealogical research need to be qualified and even certified to pursue "real" genealogical research. Again, just as there are successful people in almost all human endeavors that are "self-taught," many professional-level genealogists are not recognized by any formal training organization despite the fact that there are university-level degrees in genealogy. 

The reality of genealogy is that it is a highly complex and difficult pursuit at almost all levels. Those who expect it to be easy will almost always be frustrated by its complexity. Those who expect to make genealogy their profession will soon learn that the actual number of jobs available is very restricted and that most of the jobs with the genealogy companies do not actually have anything to do with genealogical research, they are mostly administrative positions and sales. To see a sample of what is available professionally try a Google search for "job openings in genealogy." You might also want to click on the job openings and see what the typical pay scale is for the jobs offered. 

If you have professional aspirations, I suggest that you may wish to get a degree in Library and Information Science, Archives and Records Administration or other similar occupation or profession. If you want to become a professional genealogist, I suggest starting to do some research into the qualifications and business requirements. See "Becoming a Professional Genealogist" for an example. Here is a book you might want to read also.

Clifford, Karen. 1998. Becoming an accredited genealogist: plus 100 tips to ensure your success! Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry.

Historical and genealogical research are intensely involved in libraries, archives, and online research. Some of the academic areas that are pertinent are paleography, history, languages, and geography. Most professional genealogists are also extremely experienced in some specific geographic area such as research in the  Southern United States or Eastern Europe. 

Here is the real question: if genealogy is so easy and fun that anyone can do it, why are there professional genealogists? Perhaps you can see some gap between generally held expectations and the reality of genealogical research. Oh, I failed to mention the complexity of DNA studies as well. I guess I will have to return to this topic sometime. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

When is a source not a source?

Genealogists frequently use the term "source" apparently without any idea of its meaning. The dictionary definition is "a place, person, or thing from which something comes or can be obtained." See Google. If we want to get more academic or professional, we might not use the term "source" but instead, use the term "citation" or "citation of authority." There are a huge number of books and articles written about how to use "proper citations." Almost every magazine publisher, journal publisher, or book publisher has its own set of detailed instructions about how to form citations. For example, see the following:

Purdue Writing Lab. “In-Text Citations: The Basics // Purdue Writing Lab.” Purdue Writing Lab. Accessed June 15, 2020.

This particular citation was created using the APA Publication Manual. Here is a citation to the APA Publication Manual using the Chicago Manual of Style.

American Psychological Association (Washington, District of Columbia). 2020. Publication manual of the American Psychological Association.

and here is a citation for the Chicago Manual of Style using the Chicago Manual of Style. 

University of Chicago Press. 2017. The Chicago manual of style.

Think about these citations for a moment. As genealogists, we would like to know where you got your information. Superficially, these citations tell you, the reader, where I got my information but there is a major difference between a citation and a source. Without using a Google search (or using the internet at all) can you tell me where you would go to find any one or all of the books I cited in the somewhat silly introduction above? Could you also tell me which of the different style manuals I should be using as a genealogist? How about the following 892-page book?

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Pub. Co., 2007.

If I were writing for one of the major genealogical journals, such as the following:

The American genealogist. 1999. [Warwick, R.I.]: [R.W. Sherman].

I would be expected to adhere to their style manual which by the way, is stated to be The Chicago Manual of Style. 

Hmm. What is going on here? This seems rather circular. I begin by writing about sources and end up writing about citation formats. It appears that I have lost sight of my first sentence; using the term "source" without understanding the meaning. What is lacking in each of the citations I provided above? (Hint: go back and read the definition of a source). What is lacking is anything about where I obtained the information except in the very first example, where I provided a citation that, by chance, included a link to the original document. The other "citations" did not tell you or me where I could find the information. Yes, I now know that books about styles exist, but where would I go to find the books? I happen to have copies of the Chicago Manual of Style and Evidence Explained sitting on the shelves in my bookcase. I would certainly use both if I were submitting an article for publication but what if I am providing a source citation for a genealogical event in an online family tree? Here is a citation to a book containing stories about some of my own ancestors. 

Parkinson, Diane, and John Parkinson. James Parkinson of Ramsey: His Roots and His Branches : England, Australia, America : A Biographical History and Genealogical Record of the Family of James and Elizabeth Chattle Parkinson. Austin, Tex.: Published for the James Parkinson Family Association by Historical Publications, 1987.

I am guessing that if you lived in the United States and you went to your local public library, you would find a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style, maybe not the current edition but there be a copy in your library. I looked in the catalog for my own library and found the book quickly. But what about this Parkinson book? I have given you a perfectly good citation but where would you go to find a copy of this book to verify that I did, in fact, obtain my information from this book? Maybe you don't care if I am right or wrong and if so, I would probably guess that you have seldom if ever, verified the information in your own family tree by looking at the original sources, if they exist. 

So, my citation of the Parkinson book is a good citation but a lousy source. The Parkinson book in question is an example of a limited private printing and if the book were written about something other than genealogy, it might be considered a rare book. But here is the core issue. If I provide a citation, you have no real way of determining if I quoted the original accurately UNLESS I give you explicit information about how to obtain the book or other publication or record or document or whatever. 

In the academic and legal world, we don't care whether we tell our readers where we got the information so long as we have provided a citation. When I was involved in litigation as an attorney, I spent a huge amount of time looking up every citation to authority used by the opposing counsel, item by item. Part of the process was knowing where to look without spending a huge amount of time and effort. 

What is the easiest way to tell someone where you got the information in today's world? Provide a digital copy of the document, book page or etc. What about copyright? That is a real issue and causes unlimited amounts of grief for researchers. But if copyright is an issue, I may have to be satisfied with one additional bit of information. Here is the long Parkinson citation with that one piece of information. 

Parkinson, Diane, and John Parkinson. James Parkinson of Ramsey: His Roots and His Branches : England, Australia, America : A Biographical History and Genealogical Record of the Family of James and Elizabeth Chattle Parkinson. Austin, Tex.: Published for the James Parkinson Family Association by Historical Publications, 1987. Available at the Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library in Provo, Utah. 

But what if you live a long distance from Provo? You can very likely use you local library's interlibrary loan process to obtain a copy of the book from any one of the four libraries that have a copy. 

How did I know where the book could be found (besides the copy on my own shelf)? I used to look up the book, entered my zip code, and had a list of libraries in about one second. 

I could also provide a digital copy of the documents I used to enter information about my ancestors either by uploading a copy of the document or I could provide an electronic link to the specific document in question. Almost every currently supported genealogy program provides a way to include a copy of the document or link to the document, if available, with the information you enter about your family. 

You also might find a copy of a book on, There is a copy of the Parkinson book selling on Amazon for about $75.00. 

Citations are very important for those who publish their material where a specific citation form is required. But for genealogical researchers, we need to know how or where we can find the document, record, book, or whatever. What if the information came from a living person now dead? So that is where it came from and I now know that I need to seek out additional source information if it is available. But if you do not tell me you information came from your now-dead grandmother, I have no idea how to begin to verify the information supplied. 

A citation provided without giving a source (i.e. where I can find the document or information) is not very helpful. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Can this genealogical research knot be untied?

One of the most common traps for genealogists is people with the same name. Usually, this problem can be solved by looking closely at dates and places but sometimes, given the available historical records, the issues are unsolvable. This post examines one of these apparently unsolvable challenges. 

To set the stage for this examination, I break one of my general research rules: the people in this situation all live in the late 1600s and early 1700s when it can be expected that the record sources are sometimes incomplete. I am also finding more of these challenges as I work with early New England families whose ancestral origins in England are well documented. There appear to be no concerns with relying on the identity of the remote ancestor even though the family in question is a descendant not also an immigrant. So, I am looking at the relatives who stayed in England and did not come to America. I providing the ID #s of the families so that you can look at the sources in more detail if you are interested. 

The family in question is as follows

John Heath
1693 – 20 August 1726 K89X-ZPC

his wife,

about 1697 – Deceased LDRX-RWF

and their daughter

Mary Heath
about 1713 – 23 November 1729 ID #MWS8-2LF

To save some space and time, I will summarize most of the sources rather than reproducing all of the sources here in this post. Most of these sources were found on FamilySearch but some were found on and 

John Heath K89X-ZPC is the son of Cornelius Heath MGC9-CYM and Mary Fabian LHR9-RB5. This is shown by a Christening record from the England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975", database, FamilySearch (

The name of his wife is found in the Christening record for their daughter Mary recorded in the same database. The baby was christened in the parish church of St Dunstan in The West, London, England.

This is important because there is also a death record for Mary in the same parish and an apparent burial record for John Heath in the same place, recorded as Saint Dunstan and All Saints Church, Stepney, Middlesex, England

Of course, there is a question about the surname of Margaret and whether or not this couple had any further children. 

St. Dunstan in The West is one of several very early Anglo-Saxon churches in the same area historically called Lundenwic

In searching for additional children of this marriage, I find that there are two other families in the same time period with the husband named John Heath and a wife only identified as Margaret Heath in the England, Middlesex, Westminster, Parish Registers, 1538-1912. He and his wife have several children listed as christened as follows:
  • James christened 3 August 1718 at St Mary Le Strand, St Mary-le-Strand, Westminster, Middlesex, England
  • Elizabeth christened 19 May 1720 at St Mary Le Strand, St Mary-le-Strand, Westminster, Middlesex, England
  • John christened 4 October 1721 in St Mary Le Strand, St Mary-le-Strand, Westminster, Middlesex, England
  • Mary christened 3 October 1722 at St Mary Le Strand, St Mary-le-Strand, Westminster, Middlesex, England
  • Henry christened 30 September 1724 at St Mary Le Strand, St Mary-le-Strand, Westminster, Middlesex, England
  • Thomas christened  23 April 1727 at St Mary Le Strand, St Mary-le-Strand, Westminster, Middlesex, England
Now we have another John Heath with a wife named Margaret with the following children:
  • Robert christened 23 January 1714 at St Martin In The Fields, St Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster, Middlesex, England
  • James christened 7 April 1716 at St Martin In The Fields, St Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster, Middlesex, England
Other records show a John Heath is tax records located in Westminster, Middlesex, England. 

Just so you don't have to discover this for yourself, these three churches are located as follows from Google Maps.

All within easy walking distance of each other. What about the argument that these three different families are really the same family who simply had children christened in three different churches? What about the two daughters with the same name? Mary born in 1713 and died in 1729 and Mary born in 1722? It is entirely possible and quite common that when a child died the next child with the same sex was given the same name as the dead child but this is not likely at all when the child was still living. 

It is also highly unlikely that a family at this time would have gone to more than one church for christenings. An argument that the family moved is unlikely because all three churches are very close within slightly over one mile. 

What about these locations? John Heath K89X-ZPC was christened in Covent Garden St Paul, Westminster, Middlesex, England. Let's put St. Paul on the map. 

All four churches are within a mile or so of each other. By the way, all of Cornelius Heath's children were christened in Covent Garden St Paul, Westminster, Middlesex, England and there are two children named Mary, one born in 1696 and one born in 1697, 

There are two John Heaths that appear, John Heath K89X-ZPC born in about 1693 who was christened in Covent Garden St Paul, Westminster, Middlesex, England and another John Heath who was christened in 1688 in St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney, Tower Hamlets, Middlesex, England. Let's add that place to the map. 

That makes him an unlikely candidate for any of the other three John Heaths. Looking at the birth dates of the children and ignoring the double names for Mary, it would make some sense to consider this to be all one family. 

Heath is a rather common English name. A search on shows 1,165,284 records for the surname Heath in England. How many of these were in Middlesex, England in the 1600s? There are over 7,000 Heaths in records from 1660 to 1740 in Middlesex. Let's see how many "John Heath" names there are. That comes out to 958. Let's also look by parish for the number of John Heaths. To make this work, I have to cut down the range of dates to those men who could likely have been married and had a child by 1713. I chose 1690 plus or minus 5 years for a start. I searched each of the parishes by name. No luck.

So right now, there is no way to separate or combine these families. I have yet to find a marriage record for John Heath and Margaret and there are no other records that give enough information to separate or combine the individuals. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

See the Fantastic New MyHeritage Photo Enhancer

This is another "wow" feature from MyHeritage. Here is a video demonstrating the new MyHeritage Photo Enhancer. 

This feature uses deep learning technology that was licensed by MyHeritage and seamlessly integrated into the platform to enhance photos by upscaling them (increasing their resolution). All I can say is that it works on many photos and the results are amazing. 

Here is a photo from my own MyHeritage family tree before the enhancement:

Here is the same photo after:

It is hard to believe the difference. I have some of the advanced photo editing software that is presently available but I never thought that I could "fix" an out-of-focus image. 

The technology for enhancing photos was licensed by MyHeritage from the creators of the Remini mobile application. They developed machine learning technology to enhance photos by upscaling (increasing the resolution) the faces that appear in them. This produces exceptional results for historical photos, where the faces are often small and blurry, but works equally well on new color photos too. Enhancement works best on photos that feature multiple people, and allows you to go face by face to see each one enhanced.
But you do have to remember the following:
The photo enhancement technology gives its best guess as to what the original faces may have looked like, by bringing blurred, pixelated, or low-resolution photos into clear focus. Often, the results are stunning and highly believable. However, since the enhancement is a simulation, done by algorithms, its results may be inaccurate and, in rare cases, even distorted. As a rule of thumb, the sharper the input image that is enhanced, the more accurate the final result will be.
You can upload images for free right now. Here is the link:  Enhance your photos