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

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Finding Your Ancestors using Death and Cemetery Records -- Part One: Lost and no recovery


Death and cemetery records go way beyond death certificates and grave marker inscriptions. To begin to understand all of these genealogically valuable records we need to focus on what happens and what records are created when a person goes missing or dies. Of course, the records that are generated from the time of death until final burial or cremation vary considerably according to the circumstances of the death. 

It is not unusual for genealogists to fail to find a death and/or burial date for an ancestor or relative. In the United States, death certificates are a fairly recent innovation. Some states did not uniformly create death certificates until well into the 1900s. In England, burial records created by the Church of England are fairly common but death dates are hard to find. From looking at thousands of entries in the Family Tree, I can say that finding a death record is hit or miss with huge numbers of entries simply recording that the person was "deceased." I am sure that many but not all of these missing death and burial dates could be identified with a broader search. This series of posts will examine a broad spectrum of death and cemetery records. 

Let's start with those who are lost at sea.

For example, here is a website created by the City of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Here is a description of the contents of this archive from the website.

Lost at Sea Register

We have compiled a list of fishermen lost at sea and other drownings based on the work done by Roberta Sheedy for the Memorial Plaques at the Fisherman’s Statue on the Boulevard at Gloucester Harbor. This list has been expanded and updated, and no longer is restricted only to fishermen from Gloucester or on a Gloucester boat. It now includes not only those Gloucester people lost at sea while fishing, but any death by drowning, whether at sea, in the Harbor, or rivers or lakes, and also deaths of fishermen on shore if their death was caused at sea. Therefore, while there were no women on the original list, there are some on this list. There are also children and vacationers, engineers and dockworkers – anyone who we felt should be included. A cross-hatch (#) after the name indicates that the person had no connection at all with a death by fishing or drowning in the sea.

This list is unavoidably incomplete – we will probably never recover the names of all the Gloucester people who have been lost at sea. Any additions or questions should be sent to the Archives Committee.

If an ancestor died and the body was never found, you may need to search contemporary accounts of the efforts used to recover the body. The best sources are newspaper accounts of the missing person. Likewise, if a person is lost and then the body is recovered, those recovery efforts may also have been reported in a newspaper.

I have many ancestors and relatives who "crossed the Plains" to Salt Lake City, Utah as pioneers (people who arrived in Utah between 1847 and 1868). Among those ancestors are some who died on the journey. The current number of pioneers who died stands at about 4,600. See "Do we know how many Latter-day Saints died between 1846 and 1869 in the migration to the Salt Lake Valley?" For some of these people, we have no place of death and others cannot be identified at all. 

Stay tuned for more about death and cemetery records.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

You Can Read Handwritten Documents! -- How to begin, Post #1


The first and most persistent challenges for those who undertake genealogical research are handwritten documents. I have been deciphering handwritten documents since I learned how to read in the first and second grades. After nearly forty years of doing genealogical research, I have learned to read the handwriting from many time periods and from many countries. After years of helping people read handwritten documents, I realized that I should share what I have learned. This post is the first in an unstructured series of regular posts about handwriting. I will show samples of difficult handwriting and discuss the ways to decipher what has been written. Along the way, I will also discuss the issues of teaching handwriting in the schools in the United States and recommend resources for learning more about handwriting. As I continue with this continuing series, I will welcome any and all examples you might want me to consider. You can send examples to

Now let's get started. 

Once you learn how to read, the style and form of the individual printed letters become internalized and you stop being aware of them almost completely. The opposite occurs when you begin the process of trying to read a handwritten document. You are immediately confronted with not only the individualized form of the letters but also the skill of the person who wrote the document. In addition, because genealogists work with historical documents, we are also faced with the condition of the original document such as the one shown above. 

Genealogists are faced with handwriting challenges almost immediately upon starting any research project. For example, the U.S. Federal Census was handwritten from the first census in 1790 until much of the census was computerized in the 2020 census. As less and less emphasis is placed on learning handwriting in the United States, it is entirely possible that within a short time, the average person will not be able to read any handwritten documents. I am now finding many teenagers and older whose ability to read cursive is extremely limited. 

The study of old handwriting is called Palaeography. If you are interested, the Institute of Historical Research of the School of Advanced Study from the University of London offers a free course in Palaeography. Brigham Young University has a free script tutorial covering documents in English, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, French, and Italian. 

Generally speaking, most genealogists are not going to be working with documents considered by palaeographers but any knowledge that helps genealogical research is valuable. 

Just a brief note about bad handwriting. Starting with records from your immediate family, you may be confronted with really poor handwriting skills as I mentioned above. If this is the case, the only real solution is to try to obtain enough of the person's handwriting to begin to analyze the content and understand the parts that do not appear to be legible. The basic tactic for resolving handwriting challenges involved repeated study and review. I will write about this several times in the future. If you want to get started with an overview, see the following webinar.

Learning to Read Old Handwriting

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Nearly 900 Million OCR-Indexed Records Coming from FamilySearch

I have been keeping a journal for many years. Originally, it was on paper and handwritten but eventually, I started keeping it on a computer. When I first started, because computer storage was so volatile, I printed off a copy of the journal periodically and kept it in three-ring binders. Finally, the inevitable happened. I lost the computer file for part of my cumulative journal. Fortunately, I had the print-out for the part I lost. Back then, Optical Character Recognition or OCR was just getting started. When I discovered that a file had been lost, I used an OCR program of the day to reconstruct the missing part of my journal. From that time on and because of other episodes of lost files, I am compulsive about backing up my files. 

Now, OCR is far from a "new" technology. I use it frequently when I need to make changes to a document stored in PDF format although I very seldomly use OCR from paper documents. 

I have always been somewhat incredulous about the fact that genealogists have been so slow to incorporate OCR technology in their digitization efforts. I was interested to see the above blog post about OCR and machine learning. Some of the larger genealogy companies have been using OCR to index records for years. Billions of pages of newspapers from around the world are now fully searchable as well as millions of books. has about 491,000 digital books online according to the FamilySearch Facts of September 2020

Digitization of historical records is immensely useful for historical and genealogical research. The fact that we can now access billions of records online has revolutionized how we do genealogical research. But searching through historical records, even in digital format, is time-consuming and inefficient. Indexed records speed up the research process. has an online counter that graphically shows the increasing number of images from "the world's largest collection of historical documents." The number is constantly changing but at the time I wrote this down, the number was 4,252,458,500 and counting. There is also a link to view the most recently added images

Due to the current pandemic, we are currently excluded from many libraries, including the Brigham Young University Family History Library where I serve as a Church Service Missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the famous Salt Lake City, Family History Library. Were it not for the huge online collections of documents, my own research and my ability to help others with their research would be dead in the water. 

It is gratifying to see from the article linked at the beginning of this post that FamilySearch is finally making a major effort to not only digitize records but use long-standing technology to make them available with OCR and machine learning indexes. There will always be a component of this automated indexing that requires human review but as the huge online indexes to newspapers and books have shown, OCR and machine learning can go a long way towards opening-up billions of pages of records for searches. They are not going to put the indexing volunteers out of business, as the article explains, but the task of the human indexers will change over time. 

Huge advances have also been made over the past few years in handwriting recognition. The blog post above makes an oblique reference to being able to read handwritten documents. I believe the technology is in place to make significant advances. One of the most direct ways to speed up the review process is to allow those who do research into handwritten historical documents to "correct" the entries found by the OCR process. This is allowed in a very limited number of documents on but has been in generally in place on for some time. 

I look forward to continued advances but for now, I am glad to search through images. Looking at the original document is always a requirement for careful research. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Finding Your Ancestors Using Census Records


See Thomas Jefferson in the 1790 Census.

Census records are some of the most valuable and commonly used genealogical records around the world. When I first began searching for information about my ancestors years ago, I was introduced to the U.S. Federal Census Records while I was doing research at the Salt Lake City Family History Library. One of the Library staff showed me a large file cabinet full of microfilm rolls containing a copy of the U.S. Census records. I found the roll for the place some of my ancestors lived and figured out how to view the images in a microfilm reader. After looking at the images for a few minutes, I decided that this whole process was hopeless and it was many years before I used any of the census records again. 

Today, all of the available U.S. Census Records are online on the internet on a number of different websites. Two important copies are completely free to search and view. An indexed copy is on and an un-indexed copy of the original microfilm is on Here is a list of a few of the websites that have copies of the U.S. Census records. Those websites marked with a dollar sign have a subscription but the word "Library" means that they are also available in some public libraries. In addition, those marked with FHL are available in a Family History Library around the world.

  • $ Library FHL
  • $ Library FHL
  • $ Library FHL
  • $ Library
  • $
  • Free
  • Free
  • $
This list could go on and on.

Now, census records do not stop with the United States Federal Census. There are U.S. State Censuses, and many other countries of the world have available census records. Here is one place to start to see where and how to access census records from some countries of the world: Census Online.

Back to my first experience at the Salt Lake City Family History Library; had I known a little bit about the Census records and how they were compiled, I might have had some success finding some of my ancestors. The key to all census records is the location of your ancestors during the years the census was taken. If you know where they were, you can always search the census page by page for your ancestors' names. Obviously, this is only practical if your ancestors lived in a relatively small town or village, otherwise, you will have a monumental job of searching. 

Indexes for the U.S. Census began back in 1918. Here is a quote about this particular index system called "Soundex" from Wikipedia: Soundex. When I learned about the Soundex, I was volunteering at the Mesa, Arizona Regional Family History Library (later the Mesa FamilySearch Library).

Soundex is a phonetic algorithm for indexing names by sound, as pronounced in English. The goal is for homophones to be encoded to the same representation so that they can be matched despite minor differences in spelling. The algorithm mainly encodes consonants; a vowel will not be encoded unless it is the first letter. Soundex is the most widely known of all phonetic algorithms (in part because it is a standard feature of popular database software such as DB2, PostgreSQL, MySQL, SQLite, Ingres, MS SQL Server and Oracle.) Improvements to Soundex are the basis for many modern phonetic algorithms.

Some online genealogy websites still incorporate Soundex searches such as 

Although there are sophisticated search engines on some of the websites, searching for ancestors on a census record might still require a name-by-name, page-by-page search. I am glad we have the images from the census records available. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Provo River Canyon, Utah


The Provo River originates in the Uinta Mountains of Eastern Utah and flows southwest finally emptying into Utah Lake. Although this is somewhat of an idyllic view, the reality of the canyon is that there is a major four-lane highway that is essentially a raceway up and down the canyon. Normally, traffic runs in excess of 60 mph, and driving the highway can be a harrowing experience. In this case, we were riding the Heber Creeper, a train that originates in Heber City and makes a there-and-back trip to Vivian Park about in the middle of the canyon. It is much nicer to travel at about 15 mph than over 60. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Why do genealogy websites and programs keep using the word easy in their advertising?

 Easy is not a word I would use when talking about genealogical research. Apparently, those people who sell genealogy programs and websites must have some magic formula they drink or eat that makes doing research easy. Why don't they sell the formula instead of their programs? They would probably make a lot more money. 

Maybe they have a different definition for the word. One dictionary definition of "easy" is "achieved without great effort; presenting few difficulties." I can only guess that all their ancestors and relatives must have left individual documents with sources attached telling when and where they were born, married, and died including a four-generation pedigree of all their spouses. These relatives who made all their genealogy easy must also have done and a complete set of recorded oral interviews with everyone in every line going back seven generations. Interviews that included a complete history of the birth of every child and supplemented with copies of every genealogically important document. If all that was the case, then I suppose copying down all that information and putting it in a family tree program would be relatively easy. 

Oh, but maybe they aren't talking about actually doing genealogical research but they are referring to their complex and hard-to-understand programs and websites? Genealogy programs and websites are far from immune to the dreadful feature creep disorder. Feature creep infects almost every program ever developed for almost every computer ever sold. Each revision or upgrade has to have more features than the previous program or website that seemed to work just fine, thank you. Granted, some websites and programs need to add new content all the time to stay competitive but remember, the number one most popular genealogy program of all time was and still is Personal Ancestral File (PAF), one of the most basic programs for genealogy ever written. Development of PAF stopped in July of 202 with support for Windows 9 and NT. Support from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the program ended on July 15, 2013. 

Notwithstanding the lack of development, upgrades, new features, and even general availability, PAF still gets 4.9 out of 5 stars overall on Here is a recent (2020) comment showing something even if I can't figure out what it is.

Easy, simple, just does what it should do. Very reliable.

Biggest Pro: Works without updates with all Windows versions the last 25 years

Biggest Con: none

Was PAF (or is) "easy" to use? Actually, there was a substantial book of instructions for the program. You can still buy copies of the Users Guide online for more than the cost of the original program which was $6.00. I still have a like-new version of PAF 5.0 in the original box with the original documentation. The Users Guide ended up being 189 pages long. Of course, it needed all of those pages to tell you how easy the program was. 

I provided one-on-one support to PAF users for many years and I can tell you, there is nothing easy about the program. It is only easy once you learn the program and compared to learning a new program. 

I have been going through some of the genealogy websites for The Family History Guide Show Me series. See The reason why we have Show Me videos plus the written descriptions about the websites is that the websites are extraordinarily complex. I go through the websites and the instructions word by word and step-by-step and I have to go slow and repeat the steps several times before I get the gist of what I am supposed to be doing. 

But I am sure that I will get an ad by email in the next few days telling me how easy some new feature or another is and I will spend hours learning the new feature and then deciding whether I ever needed it in the first place. 

Thousands of people have now registered for RootsTech Connect?

I heard a rumor online that there have been many thousands of registrations for the free RootsTech Connect. I can't confirm that rumor but I would not be a bit surprised if the numbers were conservative. For the user or attendee having a free virtual conference provides many of the benefits and only a smaller number of tradeoffs for the average genealogist. Unless you happen to live within about 50 miles of downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, and wanted to attend an in-person event, you would need to obtain a hotel reservation, arrange for transportation, obtain a hotel reservation, and plan for food during the conference. This could run into hundreds of dollars or even thousands depending on the hotel and or the food you intend to eat. 

By registering, you are not obligated to attend any particular number of presentations. The advantage to you is that you can now see overlapping classes at your leisure instead of being turned away depending on the attendance and the number into the class before you could get time to register. The Family History Guide will be presenting a couple of classes. We may also stream some classes during the conference. Who knows? 

I am looking forward to the virtual RootsTech but I will be missing seeing some of my old friends and making some new ones. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Another Computer Upgrade


Of course, this image is just for reference. My computers have cables all over the place and are surrounded by printers, scanners, and other technical odds and ends. I view computers as a consumable product. The technology changes so rapidly that any given model of computer will be obsolete in as soon as you buy it. After having worked my way through dozens and dozens of computers over the past thirty or so years, I mostly watch for major upgrades and change computers about every three to five years. Of course, since I spend sometimes 12 to 14 hours a day on my computer, I have a higher priority on advances in speed and utility than most genealogists. 

I had my last computer, an Apple iMac for just over five years. It was starting to act up and rather than wait until it crashed and lost data, I decided to upgrade. I bought a new iMac. Over the years, I have also had a rule to buy the fastest and most advanced computer I could afford. Now, so you know that I am not that extravagant, we keep our cars until they fall apart, sometimes for more than 15 years. With the Pandemic, we have had to stay home and our spending has been curtailed so having a new computer became a priority. This is true because of the number of webinars, videos, and classes I have been producing and teaching. 

Genealogists are not known to be big spenders. I won't go so far as to say they are "tight-wads" but they do tend to be very conservative in their purchases. I am not advocating or even suggesting that genealogists buy a high-end computer. When I recommend a computer to someone, I suggest they buy a laptop beginning at about $350 to $500. Most of the laptops in that range are perfectly adequate for most genealogical work and the portability is a plus. 

The reason this is an issue is that recently, I have been helping people get on to Zoom for video conferencing. I am finding that their computers and their operating systems will not accommodate the video requirements of Zoom. They need an upgrade. I realize that many people are having an economically difficult time during the Pandemic and the people I am dealing with may be challenged in that way but just take my comments as suggestions. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Reclaim The Records takes on the US National Archives for Billions of Records


It is about time that this happened. The National Archives and Records Administration is supposed to be the nation's record keeper but only %-3% are so important for legal or historical reasons that they are kept and of those only a vanishingly small number of records are digitized and available to the public other than by actually visiting the locations of the main archives or one of the branch archives. When you visit the National Archives in Washington, D.C. you discover that very few of the records are available to the public without registering and going through a somewhat complicated procedure of identifying and accessing the actual records. Of course, during the Pandemic, all the research rooms and libraries are closed. See

When you physically visit the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and ask about record availability, you are directed to a few computers and told to look at or This is due to the fact that the National Archives has a vanishingly small collection of online digital records. See "Digital Resources." See also, "Microfilm Publications and Original Records Digitized by Our Digitization Partners."

You can also see what is going on with digitization by looking at "Start Your Genealogy Research." When you click on a record category, such as Census records, you are directed to one of the Partner Resources. You cannot search National Archives records directly. 

Now to Reclaim the Records. You really need to read the entire description of what is going on and what needs to be done. 

Billions of Digital Images

Please take the time to read this article:

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Finding Your Ancestors Using Court Records


Palace of Justice, Brussels, Belgium

Genealogists rely on a variety of court records for research beyond the popular census and vital record sets. Attorneys who practice law in the court system take years of study to master the complexity and language of the law and the court system so there is an advantage to those genealogists who also happen to be lawyers. How does the average genealogist deal with the pervasive "legal jargon?" The first major step is to improve your reading skills. Take the time to use a dictionary while reading. In the United States, the basic legal dictionary is called Black's Law Dictionary. Fortunately, the entire contents of the dictionary are online and free to use. Here is the link to the free online website: Here is a screenshot of some of the entries:

Of course, the edition used of Black's Law Dictionary is an old 2nd Edition but legal terms seldom change and genealogists are almost always looking at language in old documents. Just to know, the latest edition is the 11th edition. I have mentioned this in past posts during the time I was practicing law, I always had a copy of Black's Law Dictionary within reach of my desk. 

Legal documents are located just about everywhere in almost every town in the world. The main challenge in doing research, besides the language, is availability. Although the major genealogical websites have collections of legal documents, billions of others are still on paper or microfilm in individual storage areas from courthouses to warehouses. Here are a few of the types of documents you can look for:

  • Case files
  • Dockets
  • Indexes
  • Judgments
  • Minutes
  • Orders
  • Decrees
  • Wills and Probate files
  • Bonds
  • Guardianships
  • Inventories
But the list goes on and on. Law is divided into two main parts: Civil Law and Criminal Law. As little as we would like to know, some of our ancestors and relatives had criminal law issues so we must be aware of both. You might want to start with a book like this one:

Ventura, John. 2005. Law for dummies. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley Pub.

Something like this book might give you just enough insight into the legal system to help you do some valuable research. As an example, here is a screenshot of the Court subject for Utah in the Catalog.

There are some very useful free collections of court records online. One of the best in the United States is Google Scholar or It has a huge collection of both U.S. Federal cases and state cases that are completely searchable. For example, Here is a search for my name in court cases:

You might want to start by looking up some of your ancestors or relatives. You might be surprised. Meanwhile, to get started, search online for court records. You might also be surprised at what you find. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Highlights from New Collections on All Major Genealogy Database Websites

Each of the large online genealogy database/family tree programs continues to add large record collections to their websites. The results of this steady increase in online genealogical resources are beneficial to those who utilize the programs regularly and look for search results or record hints from the newly added content. Here are a few of the highlights from each of the major websites.

Ancestry lists its newly added content in its Card Catalog. Here is a screenshot showing some of the newest additions. 

This is only part of the list of the new collections. One collection that stands out is the Norway, Church Records, 1812-1938 (in Norwegian) published on 10/12/2020 with 41,391,903 records. Another notable addition is the Marriage Index 1800s - 1999 with 11,468,406 records. I also note the Arkansas, Marriage Certificates, 1917 - 1969 with 3,026,843 records. You may wish to go to the Card Catalog to see more new and established record collections. You can find the Card Catalog in the pull-down menu under the Search tab on the home page. Ancestry now has over 27 billion records on its website.

FamilySearch lists its newly indexed records on the list of all of the records in its Historical Record Collections by browsing all published collections. If it isn't already showing, you can further click on the heading of the list to view the "Last Updated" records. Here is a screenshot of the new records.

There is an index for Iowa, County Births, 1880-1935 with 2,279,1010 records. There are also large record collections from: 
  • Mississippi , County Marriages, 1858 -1979 -- 1,382,425 records
  • England, Herefordshire, Bishop's Transcripts, 1583 - 1898 -- 1,122,984 records
  • England, Middlesex Parish Registers, 1539 - 1988 -- 1,281,950 records
  • Venezuela, Catholic Church Records, 1577 - 1995 -- 1,239,652 records 
In each of these listings, it is important to realize that the entire content of the record collection may not be indexed. The "new" records include only the indexed records. is based in Israel and focuses primarily on the European market but it does have a significantly large user base in the United States. There are some impressive collections on You can see a list of all of the collections under the Research tab on the home page. If you view the list by Last updated, you will see something like this screenshot.

Here are a few of the notable collections:
  • U.S. City Directories -- 545,346,844 records
  • Sweden Household Examination Books, 1840-1947 -- 125,672,160 records
  • Historical Books - Index of Authors and People Mentioned, 1811-2003 -- 494,096,281 records
  • U.S. Yearbooks Name Index, 1890-1979 -- 289-914,598 records
  • Norway Church Records, 1815-1938 -- 42,248,250
Since there are over 12.5 billion records there are a lot more collections. is based in Great Britain and has an outstanding collection of records from the British Isles and Ireland with records from all of the former British Colonies (including the United States). Here are some of the larger collections:
  • England & Wales Births 1837-2006 -- 133,086,915 records
  • England & Wales, Electoral Registers 1920-1932 -- 125,544,782 records
  • UK Electoral Registers & Companies House Directors 2002-2020 -- 118,791,383 records
  • People In The News -- 108,735, 838 records
  • England & Wales Marriages 1837-2005 -- 95,653,029 records 
Here is a screenshot of the All Record Sets webpage. is the largest source of French archives: civil records, censuses, and historical archives. Here is sample of some of the records on the website. 
  • Andriveau Fund - Marriages in Paris (1613-1805)
  • Reconstituted civil status of Paris (1798-1860)
  • File of deaths (INSEE)
  • "European" civil status - Algeria (1830-1904) does not provide a record count for each of its collections. Here is a screen shot showing many of its collections.

Quoting from the website, "Launched in 1996 by genealogy enthusiasts, Geneanet is a community of more than 4 million members who share their genealogical information for free: more than 7 billion individuals in the family trees, some digitized archival records, some family pictures, some indexes, all available through a powerful search engine, and a blog."

Here is a screenshot of some of the larger collections available on the website. 

All of these websites have unique content. There are still hundreds (perhaps thousands) of additional websites with equally as important genealogical records. This post is only a small sample of the treasures that await the researcher online. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

MyHeritage adds huge Norwegian Record Collection


New Norwegian Record Collection

In a blog post, has announced "the addition of a new Norwegian historical record collection — Norway Church Records, 1815–1938. The records in this collection were digitized in collaboration with the National Archives of Norway (Arkivverket), and consist of 42.2 million indexed records and high-quality scans of the original documents. The records include births & baptisms, marriages, and deaths & burials. This release is the first time the collection’s images are fully indexed and searchable — making it easier than ever to research your Norwegian ancestors. The addition doubles the number of Norwegian historical records on MyHeritage and brings the total number of historical records on MyHeritage to 12.6 billion."

Search Norway Church Records, 1815–1938

For more information, please see the blog post, "New Norwegian Record Collection."

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Genealogy, the Pandemic, and the Digital Divide


The Pandemic has exacerbated the problems associated with the Digital Divide. The Digital Divide is the gulf between those who have ready access to computers (i.e. the internet) and those who do not. It is also the economic, educational, and social inequalities between those who have computers and online access and those who do not. During the last seven months of the current Pandemic, all of the Family History Centers have been closed including the famous Family History Library in Salt Lake City and the Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History Library (only to those who are not students or faculty). In addition, most of the libraries and archives of the world are closed to most patrons. There is currently no practical way for most of us to physically access any genealogical records. 

Of course, most active genealogists (outside of the recent graduates employed by genealogy companies) are older and the prevalent concept of those who are computer and internet challenged focuses on the elderly. But I am seeing a significant number of people, regardless of age, that are being challenged by the huge movement to "online" communication. For example, school teachers who are forced to teach classes online or lose their jobs. 

Usually, those who are concerned about the Digital Divide focus on people who do not have access either to computers or the internet but fail to recognize that access to both does not equate to computer literacy. Additionally, in the case of genealogical research, knowing how to use Facebook or Zoom does not automatically confer expertise in using online genealogically valuable resources. One of the symptoms of this genealogical nearsightedness is the vast majority of genealogists who focus entirely on one online family tree/database program and who "don't have time" for the other major only websites. I commonly talk to dedicated genealogists who have used one or maybe two of the major online programs but are totally unacquainted with the others. I am referring to,,,,,, and quite a few other websites. Computer literacy goes far beyond knowing how to use a keyboard and a mouse or trackpad.  

My awareness of this problem has heightened because of the large number of Zoom meetings I have had recently up to five in one day. Most larger groups of novice Zoom users tend to fail to mute their microphones and in a recent case managed to share their screen without being aware that they were showing what they had recently searched for. Although Zoom has become ubiquitous, constant use has shown its quirks and limitations. Unfortunately, a significant number of the people I associate with are "locked out" of Zoom and everything else online because they do not have the basic computer skills to go through the login process and/or their computers or other devices are too old to support online streaming programs. I have a significant number of friends who do not do email and even if they have an email account, they do not read their email at all. Until quite recently, I was still working with people whose computers were running Microsoft Windows Vista. 

The reality is that these people are part of the Digital Divide even though they pay for a connection to the internet and own a "computer." Unfortunately, many genealogy enthusiasts fall into this category. If you "hate" to use your computer and are not comfortable being online on the Internet then you fall into this category. Why is that the case? As I noted above, with the closure of essentially all the physical research entities around the world, we are left with working almost entirely online. Now, you ask, what are we going to do about it. I think the BYU Family History Library is a good example of what can be done. Here is a screenshot of its website.

As a volunteer missionary at the BYU Family History Library, I am participating in their extensive outreach program. All of these offerings are absolutely FREE. Here is what is offered online:

  1. A huge webinar library hosted on the BYU Family History Library website and on New live webinars are regularly scheduled. See See also the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel
  2. Regular Sunday afternoon live classes. Right now, there are three classes scheduled every Sunday. These are live with Q&A sessions at the end. Here is the link to the class schedule:
  3. Indexing classes on the first Thursday of every month. Here is the link to the classes:
  4. Family history basic tutorials:
Now, in case you really want to know where to go to get help, you can also take advantage of the FREE educational website known as The Family History Guide.

Whether you're just beginning or you've been at it a while, doing family history can be easier. The Family History Guide helps you choose a path you're interested in, with tools to help you find the information you need.

Back to the Digital Divide. The Family History Guide has an entire instructional section on Computer Basics including the internet. Here is a screenshot of the webpage with the links.

My wife and I are trying to help in any way that we can. By the way, if you call the BYU Family History Library or email the Library, they can refer you directly to us for help. I am never too busy to help. Please feel free to call.  Here is the link to the email addresses and telephone numbers for the Library.

Turn Your MyHeritage Family Photos into Stunning Wall Art users can now easily turn their family photos on MyHeritage into beautiful wall art! They have created a seamless product integration with Mixtiles and arranged for MyHeritage users to receive incredible discounts of up to 50% off when they order multiple prints, plus free worldwide shipping!

Here is a short video explaining the process.

Turn Your MyHeritage Family Photos into Stunning Wall Art with Mixtiles

You may not be aware but has accumulated a huge collection of photos. For example, with my family tree on MyHeritage and because of the Smart Matching™technology, I have over 10.000 matching photos of my relatives. Here is a screenshot of just my collection.

Now with the new partnership with Mixtiles, I could have some of these precious photos to put on my own walls or share with family members. Here is a more complete explanation of this opportunity from the MyHeritage Blog article, "New: Turn Your MyHeritage Family Photos into Stunning Wall Art."

Mixtiles are extremely lightweight and feature a special adhesive that makes them easy to hang on the wall anywhere. No need for drilling or hammering, just stick them where you want them: they adhere easily and firmly to any surface and leave no residue or damage upon removal. If you decide you’d like to move them, simply take them down and stick them somewhere else.

The square format and easy configuration of these tiles offer a unique advantage when it comes to displaying family photos. You can order a mix of recent and historical photos and display them side by side to emphasize family resemblances and draw visual connections between the generations!

Turning your MyHeritage photos into stunning wall art could not be easier. Simply upload your photos to MyHeritage, select the original photos or colorize and enhance them, and then order your wall art. You’ll enjoy free door-to-door shipping worldwide and exclusive discounts that vary by country.

If you are ordering to the U.S., the U.K., and Canada, you’ll benefit from the following discounts:

  • 20% off for orders of 3+ Mixtiles
  • 35% off for orders of 6+ Mixtiles
  • 50% off for orders of 12+ Mixtiles

Orders to other countries are also entitled to discounts. Follow the ordering procedure to see the discounts available for your country. Shipping is free worldwide.

The link for ordering these wall photos is right on the My Photos page of your MyHeritage family tree. If you want to know more about the Mixtiles company. Click here.  

Monday, October 12, 2020

Finding Your Ancestors using Military Records


Photograph of Roof Damage Following the 1973 Fire at the Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri

The fire at the Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri in 1973 destroyed approximately 80% of the Army personnel records for those discharged from November 1, 1912, through to January 1, 1960, and 75% of the Air Force personnel records for those discharged from September 25, 1947, through January 1, 1964, with names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E. See the National Archives article, "The 1973 Fire, National Personnel Records Center" for additional information. Quoting from the article:

No duplicate copies of these records were ever maintained, nor were microfilm copies produced. Neither were any indexes created prior to the fire. In addition, millions of documents had been lent to the Department of Veterans Affairs before the fire occurred. Therefore, a complete listing of the records that were lost is not available. However, in the years following the fire, the NPRC collected numerous series of records (referred to as Auxiliary Records) that are used to reconstruct basic service information.

This event illustrates a major genealogical research issue: locating records when time or circumstances have made finding the needed information extremely difficult or impossible. This destructive fire is also a lesson in why digitizing records and storing the digitized images in separate locations is so important. 

I have an extensive background in military history. I spent eight years in ROTC or in the Army during the Vietnam War era, although I did not go to Vietnam because of some unusual circumstances. 

Military records in the United States and around the world are scattered around in a variety of repositories. In the United States each state, including Washington, D.C., and each of the U.S. Territories has a National Guard that serves a dual state and federal mission. See "What is the U.S. national guard and when is it called up?" In addition, the United States has the Army, the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Air Force, the Space Force, and the Coast Guard. The Army National Guard and the Air National Guard are reserve components of their services and operate in part under state authority. See "U.S. Department of Defense, Our Forces."

Each country of the world has some sort of national armed forces and the organization and structure of these military units are different for each country and for genealogical record purposes discovering the records kept and whether or not they are available is a major challenge. But it is worth the effort when you find the military records of one or more of your ancestors. As the description of the fire at the Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri illustrates, not all of the records will have been preserved. 

To begin to locate military records in any country, including the United States, you first need to do some extensive historical research. Although you might be fortunate enough to know that your ancestor or relative was "in the Army" or whatever, finding further information is a challenge. For example, from some memorabilia from my Grandfather, I knew that he was in the Army. I have photos of him while he served in the "Border War" with Mexico sometime during the years from 1910 to 1919. I also knew from family tradition that he "fought in World War I." Finding the records and the information about his service took considerable research and finally was resolved when it turned out that my father had his military records in a box that I inherited when my father died. It turned out that he didn't really fight in World War I because he enlisted and discharged just as the war ended. 

For example, here is a list of the usually accepted major wars and military actions involving the United States including those that occurred during the colonial era. 

  • King Philip's War
  • King William's War
  • Queen Anne's War (War of Spanish Succession)
  • King George's War (War of Austrian Succession)
  • French and Indian War(Seven Years War)
  • Cherokee War
  • American Revolution
  • Franco-American Naval War
  • Barbary Wars
  • War of 1812
  • Creek War
  • War of Texas Independence
  • Mexican-American War
  • U.S. Civil War
  • Spanish-American War
  • World War I
  • World War II
  • Korean War
  • Vietnam War
  • Bay of Pigs Invasion
  • Grenada
  • US Invasion of Panama
  • Persian Gulf War
  • Intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Invasion of Afghanistan
  • Invasion of Iraq
  • War in Northwest Pakistan
  • Somalia and Northeastern Kenya
  • Operation Ocean Shield (Indian Ocean)
  • Intervention in Libya
  • Lord's Resistance Army
  • US-led Intervention in Iraq
  • US-led intervention in Syria
  • Yemeni Civil War
  • US intervention in Libya
What do you know about each of these wars? What records were kept for each conflict and where would you go to find the records? That is basically the challenge of one country's involvement in military action. By the way, the list above is not exhaustive. For example, it does not include the War in Texas usually called the Texas Revolution and it does not include the Mexican Border War. 

Once you identify some military conflict that MIGHT has involved your relative or ancestors, you still need to find the records and see if you can identify your ancestor in those records. Unfortunately, many of the military records in the United States are not digitized and are only available in the original repositories such as the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and its branches. 

The good news is that some military records such as pension records can contain a huge amount of information about not only the military veteran but also his or her entire family. Here is a list of some of the types of military records that you might find in the United States:
  • Bounty awards including land grants
  • Citations
  • Disability
  • Discharges
  • Muster rolls
  • National Guard
  • Pension application and awards
  • Ribbons
  • Selective Service Board (Draft Registration)
  • Service records
  • Veterans records
From time to time, I will be writing more about specific record sets. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Underused Genealogically Important Websites: ArchiveGrid

Quoting from the OCLC Research webpage

ArchiveGrid is a collection of over four million archival material descriptions, including MARC records from WorldCat and finding aids harvested from the web. It is supported by OCLC Research as the basis for our experimentation and testing in text mining, data analysis, and discovery system applications and interfaces, and it provides a foundation for our collaboration and interactions with the archival community.

ArchiveGrid provides access to detailed archival collection descriptions such as documents, personal papers, family histories, and other archival materials held by thousands of libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives. It also provides contact information for the institutions where these collections are kept.

The website contains information from over 1000 archival institutions around the world. Quoting from the website itself,

Some collection descriptions include links to images, sound recordings, or other online materials. You can narrow your search results to those that have links to digital content by adding " has_links:1" to your search.

For example, when I search for "Tanner Family," I get 2,110 items which include items that are about my own ancestors. Here is a screenshot with the relevant collections marked. 

The actual documents are not on the website or available through the searches. Here is what I saw when I clicked on the link to the George S. Tanner photograph collection.

To see this collection, I would have to go directly to the University of Utah Special Collections in the J. Willard Marriott Library on campus. Because the collection is in the Special Collections Library, Here is a screenshot of the Special Collections Library page.

If you look at the requirements for doing research in the Library, you will see that it will take some time and effort just to make an appointment and gain access to the collections. You will really have to do a lot of your research in advance so you know what to request. These requirements vary from archive to archive but most require a research account creation before entry is allowed. If you understand all this and have been through the process, you can see why many of these resources are "underused."

Friday, October 9, 2020

And should we die...

Utah is a microcosm of the world's reaction to a pandemic. A recent news article in a local news outlet, Deseret News, summarizes the problems facing not only the State of Utah but countries throughout the world. The article is entitled, "‘Moment of reckoning’ for Utah? Something has to change, doctors say."

Here is one quote from the article:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome,” Pavia told the Deseret News Thursday, hours before state officials announced a new daily record of 1,501 COVID-19 cases amid a nearly weeklong streak of over 1,000 cases a day.

“It’s clear we are at a point we need to pull out some new tools and do something differently.”

The excerpt is quoting Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of pediatric infectious disease at the University of Utah. One of the responses was from the governor Gary Herbert who is quoted as saying:

“Well, it’s all about behavior, and so the question really is what’s going to modify my behavior, your behavior,” the governor replied. “Is it somebody’s got to pass a government rule, a law, an ordinance to make you do that? Maybe for some that’s the only way you’ll do that, but for some they’ll rebel even harder against it.”

Herbert said Utahns must “do the right things for the right reasons,” and those decisions should be made at local levels.

“But at the end of the day, heavens, I hope we don’t have to have government tell us what to do to do the right thing,” he said. “That’s probably an indictment upon us as people. 

I live in Utah. I am surrounded by people who daily, consciously disobey laws in obvious ways. For example, on any given day driving to a store or doctor's visit, I can count up to five cars and trucks that run red lights. Not just entering on yellow, but clearly red. Interestingly, according to crash data from the State of Utah, although the number of crashes each year increases, the number of fatalities has been decreasing. Why is that? If you analyze the reasons, you will see that government intervention has forced car manufacturers to improve the safety of their cars. One of the best ways to prevent serious injuries and death from car accidents is to wear a seat belt. However, it is clear that unrestrained crash occupants were 24 times more likely to die than restrained injured occupants. See "Utah Department of Public Safety, Crash Data and Statistics." Can you possibly support an argument that wearing a seat belt infringes on your constitution rights? The question of whether or not we have a constitutional right to die has been argued before the U.S. Supreme Court but whether or not we do have a right to die does not extend to having a right to kill others. 

Back to the pandemic. Why is there such a violent objection to simple safety measures? Is protecting your life and the lives of those around you a political issue of constitutional importance? The principle here is one expressed by many people over the years but probably originated from John B. Finch who was the Chairman of the Prohibition National Committee for several years in the 1880s and died in 1887. See Quote Investigator, "Your Liberty To Swing Your Fist Ends Just Where My Nose Begins." Quoting from the article:

This arm is my arm (and my wife’s), it is not yours. Up here I have a right to strike out with it as I please. I go over there with these gentlemen and swing my arm and exercise the natural right which you have granted; I hit one man on the nose, another under the ear, and as I go down the stairs on my head, I cry out:

“Is not this a free country?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have not I a right to swing my arm?”

“Yes, but your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.”

Here civil government comes in to prevent bloodshed, adjust rights, and settle disputes.

We are in exactly that position. Your right to refrain from wearing a mask ends where my right to avoid infection begins. In an airborne virus initiated pandemic, you right to refrain from wearing a mask in public infringes on the rights of those you potentially infect and thereby kill. We have a perfect example of this issue presently developing in the White House in Washington, D.C. 

 A virus is not a living organism. It does not respect your rights or my rights or anyone's rights no matter what those rights may be. I continually ask the question here in Utah. How high does the infection rate have to go before the pandemic becomes a governmental issue? If we were talking about garbage collection, how much garbage would you allow to pile up in front of your house before you would start organizing some way to pick up the garbage?

A few last words about statistics. The graph at the beginning of this post shows the Daily New Cases of COVID-19 in Utah. Look at the graph. There are regular variations in the numbers. The pattern reflects the number of tests given. What is the real measure of the virus's infection? The real number is the percentage of people who are tested that test positive. In Utah right now, that number is over 9% and there current 7-day running average is over 13%. Given the population of the state, that means that there are likely almost 360,000 people here in Utah that are infected. Are you one of them? Could you get a virus test to find out?

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Register for Free for RootsTech Connect

Quoting from the startup page:

Introducing RootsTech Connect: A Free Online Conference Experience

For the first time ever, the world’s largest family celebration event will be entirely virtual and completely free. Get ready to celebrate shared connections with people from around the world. Connect with friends, your family, your past, and your heritage and homelands—all from the comfort of your home and in your browser.

While I was living on the East Coast, I was unable to attend RootsTech 2018 in person. Obviously, the new format due to the pandemic would have solved that problem. RootsTech has always had some classes online but this time, they will all be online. Life is always interesting. 

Finding your Ancestors using Military Records

Storming a Redoubt at Yorktown by Eugene Lami 

Genealogists in the United States tend to forget that not all of the world's history transpired here in North America. Much of the recorded history of the world involves preparing for wars and involvement in wars. When I was studying military history at the University of Utah, we started with the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.E. and ended up with the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Most of the countries of the world have repositories of some military records. As a genealogist, to begin to use military records, you need to know the history of the country you are researching. If your ancestors lived during a time of war, which almost certainly they did, it will take some very specific research to determine if any of your ancestors living at the time of the war were involved in any way.

This is a subject that could consume a lifetime. From time to time, I have been writing about military history and military records. Here is one link: "Why Military Records Matter." Subsequent to my classes in military history, I have spent a considerable amount of time reading about military history, particularly the U.S. Civil War, and I have a collection of books about military history (not all of which I have actually read). If you wanted to get started understanding military history in the United States, I suggest the following 1281 page book:

Leckie, Robert. The Wars of America. New York: Castle Books, 1998.

I am sure that there are similar books dedicated to the wars of almost every country. Here are a few of them.

Black, Jeremy. A Military History of Britain: From 1775 to the Present. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Security International, 2006.
Kaplan, Eran, Derek Jonathan Penslar, and David Jan Sorkin. The Origins of Israel, 1882-1948: A Documentary History, 2011.
Kitchen, Martin. A Military History of Germany: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1976.
MANTE, THOMAS. NAVAL AND MILITARY HISTORY OF THE WARS OF ENGLAND: Including the Wars of Scotland and ... Ireland. Place of publication not identified: FORGOTTEN Books, 2016.
McNabb, James Brian. A Military History of the Modern Middle East, 2017.
Paoletti, Ciro. A Military History of Italy. Westport Conn.: Praeger Security International, 2008.
Pitt, Barrie. The Military History of World War II. New York: Military Press, 1986.
Worthing, Peter M. A Military History of Modern China: From the Manchu Conquest to Tian’anmen Square. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Security International, 2007.

You probably get the idea. Now, what about the military records from around the world? Fortunately, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. The Research Wiki contains a wealth of links to the repositories of military records from around the world.

Search for the country and then look to see if there is a link to "Military Records." I checked a few countries and the links are quite complete. Of course, unless you are prepared to do some extensive research and learn a lot about military organization and where the records might be located, having a link isn't going to do you much good. You will run into the same problems with common names that you do with any other type of records. Make sure the names you find agree with consistent places and other dates of events in the military person's life. 

Another source for links to military records is The Family History Guide. Here is a screenshot of the United States Military Records page.

There is always a lot more to learn about genealogical research.