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

Monday, March 29, 2021

Genealogy: Ethics, Ownership, Work Product, Plagiarism, and Privacy, Part Four: Plagiarism


By NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng) - originally posted to Flickr as Gutenberg Bible, CC BY-SA 2.0,

The classical definition of plagiarism is the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own. Plagiarism does not rise to a violation of copyright because ideas are not copyright protected. However, plagiarism is close to fraud. Plagiarism becomes a concern when the people involved are concerned about priority. One common situation is when a university professor develops a new theory in his or her chosen field and someone hears the idea in a class and runs off and publishes a journal article before the originator can do so thus trying to establish priority. For examples of plagiarism that went to court, see "Plagiarism Lawsuits. Top 10 Most Interesting Cases." 

Unfortunately, plagiarism is rampant in the genealogical community but claims are almost always unenforceable. If I do some research about one of my ancestors, say John Doe b. 1880, d. 1950, and I post that bit of information on one of the millions of online family trees and then someone else, who is one of my relatives, comes along and, without doing any research, copies the information and puts the information in their own family tree without mentioning where the information came from; what can I do about it? How would I even know where my relative got the information? 

When I began accumulating my own family history, I made some obvious errors. For example, my Great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner, was born in California in 1852. The records that I had at the time showed his birthplace as San Bernardino, San Bernardino, California. The problem was that San Bernardino County was not created until 26 April 1853. Generally, the location of genealogical events should be recorded as they existed at the time of the event so the correct county is Los Angeles. See However, because I was one of the earliest online contributors of my family's genealogy, members of my family copied my information as online family trees became popular. The vast majority of my relatives who put their information online either copied the wrong information from me or used the same incorrect source I did to replicated the error. However, this example is even more complicated. Some genealogists insist on recording the "current" jurisdiction of the event rather than the historical one, claiming that the current location is more reliable for finding information. Could I claim plagiarism because people copied my research? Did I really want everyone to know that I had disseminated inaccurate information?

The dividing line between copyright protection and plagiarism is vague, to say the least. This is especially true today in the United States since the adoption of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in 1989. The major change in copyright protection added by the adoption extended coverage to all works whether or not any type of claim of copyright was made. So, this post is copyright protected even though I have not made any attempt to give notice of my claim. Hmm. 

It is entirely possible to imagine a situation involving writing about genealogy where a claim of plagiarism might be made and I have heard of a few such instances primarily involving commercial or semi-commercial enterprises. However, if failure to cite a source in a family tree can be considered to be plagiarism, then genealogy is rampant with examples.

Before someone gets all huffy about a supposed plagiarism occurrence, I suggest that they make sure that the idea they had was original and not just copied from someone else. I also suggest a greater effort to convince everyone to document their sources. 

Previous posts on this topic.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Is genealogy easy or hard or just complex?


Whether or not you think genealogy is easy or hard depends heavily on your background, experience, and interests. Genealogy involves using a tremendous amount of very detailed and specific information. In the online, commercial genealogy media, for some inexplicable reason, genealogical pursuits are often depicted as fun and easy. Many times the images that accompany genealogy websites show what appear to be families with very young children or younger, obviously well-to-do couples or individuals who would appear out of place in an archive or library surrounded by stacks of books. In addition, there is presently a proliferation of family activities that are intended to help children become "interested" in their family history and turn them into budding genealogists as they grow older. 

To provide my reference point, I am not a good example of growing up with any kind of genealogical support or connections. During my childhood, I was not particularly involved with anyone outside of my immediate, core family; my parents, brothers, and sisters. None of my close family members were involved in genealogical research. I did not become interested in genealogy until I was in my mid-30s and even today, I am unaware of any of my close family members that are at all interested in genealogy or family history excluding my own children. 

Genealogy can be viewed as a hobby or pastime. It can also be viewed as an academic professional pursuit. Can you imagine developing "fun and easy" legal activities to promote the idea that your children grow up to be lawyers? Unfortunately, the number of real, monetary rewarding jobs available to full-time genealogists is extremely restricted. Hypothetically, if we were to believe that genealogical research has some cultural or social benefit, it could be promoted along with entering the economy as social workers or counselors of all kinds. 

I am guessing that everyone who eventually begins doing genealogical research has their own personal reasons for developing enough of an interest to actually start learning how to do genealogical research. From my own experience, I know that only a vanishingly small percentage of the people in the world have a background that enables them to pursue a serious involvement in genealogical research. Further, as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I firmly believe that seeking out our kindred dead is an important part of our religious observance. See Vicarious Work. In essence, this is the only motivation that I personally need to be involved. 

The reality of genealogical research is that it is a difficult and complex pursuit that is most closely related to other serious historical research. Successful and validated genealogical research involves an extensive knowledge of history, geography, languages, and such specialized areas such as DNA and paleography. Yes, genealogical research involved complexity on many levels. I might also note again, that there are very few of us who are in any way monetarily supported by our involvement in genealogy. 

First, genealogical research is complex due to the sheer number of your ancestors. No matter how much work you do, every person you add to your own family tree increases the potential number of your relatives exponentially. The number of supporting documents needed also increases exponentially. Out of a sense of survival, many genealogists end up working on one or two family lines or even focusing on an individual family. However, genealogical research is also complex due to the concepts involved. As I have often noted, I would not be interested in doing genealogical research if it wasn't difficult and challenging. 

If you have been confronted by the difficulty of educating your children during a pandemic, can you reasonably believe that children want to look forward to a future that involves day after day sitting in a library or archive doing research in old records or spending endless hours online looking through the same types of records? How do you sugar-coat the reality of genealogical research? 

Now, what about people like me? I started doing research in libraries when I was about eight years old mostly by myself. How many people really envision their children sitting in a library all day or reading all day or staying up all night reading and learning? The key here is that there are people like me that are compulsive researchers. We do not need to be told what to do, we learn what we need to learn and we will do research about our families or anyone else's family as long as we can function. This is a passion, not a job. It is not taught, it is inherent. All I ask is that people don't try to prevent me from doing my research. If, as has happened, that some of my children also enjoy doing research, then that was not something that they decided to do because of a fun game we played or a particular family activity. 

Hopefully, the large genealogy organizations and companies will begin to recognize that it the core genealogists who are their most ardent supporters and that enabling us to do our work is the best way to ensure that people will in the future, become genealogists. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

FamilySearch Creates a New Webpage for Beginning Family History

Here is a screenshot of the new Getting Started page from

You have to explore the startup page options a bit to find a link to this page. The link is in a dropdown menu under the question mark icon. Here is a screenshot of what you see when you click on the question mark icon. 

As with many resources on the website, what is presented changes if you log in as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or as someone who is not a member of the Church. Here is a screenshot of the webpage for those who are not members. 

The missing information deals with subjects that apply only to members of the Church. 

Recently, I have fielded a number of questions about "Restricted" records on the website. This is NOT an issue of whether or not the person trying to view the records. It is primarily a licensing issue created by the restrictions imposed by the originators of the records themselves. These records are only viewable in a Family History Center or Family History Library. Unfortunately, this issue has come up repeatedly due to the fact that almost all of the Family History Center and Libraries are closed due to the pandemic. No, I cannot view the records and yes, I do not have access to a Family History Center or Library. This issue will resolve as the Centers and Libraries open. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

New Look for the FamilySearch Community

I guess the first question that usually comes up with something new from FamilySearch is where is it? The FamilySearch Community link is located under the Question Mark Icon on the top-right of every website page. 

Here is the webpage when you click on the link.

Here is a brief quote from the blog post cited above about this newer part of the website. 

The FamilySearch Community is an online resource that helps people interested in family history connect with each other worldwide. In the community, you can learn research strategies, view genealogy events, join various groups that have the similar interests, and connect with specialized research experts.

Members of the FamilySearch Community can answer questions you may have—and on the flipside, you can help others by sharing what you know. Whether you have questions, need expert help, or want to connect with others who share your passion for family history, the FamilySearch Community is a great place to be!

This is a good idea and a lot more focused than any Facebook page. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

Genealogy: Ethics, Ownership, Work Product, Plagiarism, and Privacy, Part Three: Ownership and Work Product


Ownership is divided into two distinct categories: real estate and personal property. The laws governing ownership go back into antiquity. In Western European derived cultures and governmental organizations, such as the predominant one in the United States of America, very little of our vast legal system dealing with ownership is original. The U.S. land and property law primarily comes from English Common Law with vestiges going back to the Romans and Anglo-Saxons. 

I might note at this point that if you have a copyright, it is considered to be owned as personal property. I have intentionally not included copyright law in my list in the title of this series, mainly, because copyright is just an ad hoc overlay of common law ownership. This is mainly the reason why I do not think that copyright deserves consideration as a separate "issue." Copyright ownership interests are merely a complex construct based originally on Constitutional law. 

Some genealogists, without a shred of logical or legal support, are fixated on assumptions of ownership and its distant cousin work product.  As an initial example of our "Western European" derived ideas of ownership,  in the United States, in spite of our historical underpinnings in English law, we think we "own" real estate and our own personal property. I could have called this particular post, "The Myth of Ownership" but I thought that it would take too long to explain. But now that I have begun, I am persuaded that using that title might have been a good idea. Whatever attitude you have about ownership, the entire concept of ownership can be reduced to a series of rules or statutes granting individuals and other entities rights to possession, use, and control, and those rights can be modified, ignored, eliminated, or suspended depending on the greater interests of societies and governments. 

Let me start with a hypothetical situation. Let's suppose that for the first time in his life, John Doe wants to buy a home somewhere in the United States. He spends some time looking at houses and hires a real estate agent to represent him in his efforts. He finds a home he likes and puts 20% cash down on the sale and finances the rest with a conventional mortgage. He is now a "new homeowner." Except he doesn't "own" the home in any realistically defined way other than be looking at his particular rights of possession and use. To put it another way, he has merely acquired a certain set of legally defined interests that we call ownership. Let's further suppose that he soon finds out that he has to pay a real estate tax bill every year. He might be surprised that the amount of this bill increases regularly. He also finds out that if he fails to pay for his utilities, the power company can file or levy a lien against his property. He also discovers that his credit card company has also levied a lien recorded with the state office where he lives. Incredibly, he is given notice that the state is building a new freeway through the area where he "owns" his house and they want him to move immediately. They offer to pay him half of what he thinks his home is worth. 

I could go on and on with the hypothetical but the real issue here is that real estate "ownership" involves an ongoing series of monetary obligations that all have the potential of canceling the individual's idea of ownership. By the way, this same hypothetical example applies to your personal property also. If you have ever had to go through a bankruptcy proceeding, you will recognize that your personal property may also be confiscated through court proceedings. 

Now how does all this apply to genealogy? The simple rule is that you do not own history and more specifically you do not own your ancestors. You do not have any rights to possession, use, or control over historical sources or over information acquired about your ancestors. Why then do some genealogists (people) claim a work product ownership? First of all in answer to this question we need to know the legal definition of "work product. Here is the definition.

Legal Definition of work product

: the set of materials (as notes), mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal theories developed by or for an attorney in anticipation of litigation or for trial. See Mirriam Webster Legal.

What about work product for non-attorneys?

The party claiming the work product privilege must prove that the materials are: 1. Documents and tangible things; 2. ... The most difficult matter to prove for non-attorney work product is that it was prepared in anticipation of litigation.

How many of you are doing your ancestor's histories are doing your research in anticipation of litigation?

You do not obtain any arguable ownership interest for your research. 

What about copyright? Determining what is and what is not covered by the United States' copyright laws or those of any other country is a complex and extremely difficult. It is easy to claim a copyright interest and hard to prove. 

Time for another hypothetical. Jane Doe is a genealogist. She spends years doing research and finally publishes her family's history. Is that book subject to a copyright claim? There are obviously temporal limitations. Presently, published works before 1926 are in the public domain. If the work was published this year, 2021, then this would be the term of the copyright. 

Copyright protection generally lasts for 70 years after the death of the author. If the work was a "work for hire", then copyright persists for 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever is shorter. See Copyright law of the United States.

But with a family history book, the issue of copyright protection is much more complicated. You cannot own or claim a copyright, facts so most of the information in a family history book is not protected. How do you know if what is written in Jane Doe's book is copyright protected? I wouldn't want the job of trying to sort out the answer to that question at all.  The real question is why should Jane Doe even try to claim copyright protection? Does she really expect to make money publishing her family history? 

More next time.

For the previous posts see the following.

Part One:

Part Two:

Monday, March 15, 2021

Genealogy: Ethics, Ownership, Work Product, Plagiarism, and Privacy, Part Two: More About Ethics

 During the time I was practicing law as a licensed attorney in the State of Arizona, I was subject to the State Bar of Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct. The State Bar in Arizona acts under the jurisdiction of the Arizona Supreme Court. This gives the Bar Association the authority to investigate and essentially prosecute attorneys who violate the Rules of Professional Conduct. In addition, if an attorney is involved in a court matter, the judge in any matter before the court can impose sanctions on an attorney for violating one or more of the Rules. Disgruntled clients who are aware of the Rules will sometimes try to "get back" at an attorney or harass an attorney for an opposing party by filing a complaint about an ethics violation with the State Bar Association. These complaints are taken seriously and sometimes attorneys who were acting in the best interests of their clients end up being censored because the State Bar agrees with the clients. 

During my years of law practice, I was painfully aware of the imposed ethics requirements. Most of the provisions in the Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct were understandable and logical. However, there were some that defied logic. Each year, we were required to take a certain number of hours of "continuing education" which included a number of hours dealing with a class on ethics. However, by attending law school, taking the Bar examination, subsequently being admitted to practice law in Arizona, and then actually practicing law, I essentially "bought into" the system. I was bound by the rules and laws of practicing law in Arizona. 

I must note that attorneys operate in an adversarial environment. This means that they are almost always questioned about their actions either by an opposing party, their own clients, or the court (the judge). The Rules of Evidence are just that: rules. They are enforceable not only against the litigants but also, in some cases, against the attorneys representing the litigants. What was always of interest to me as an attorney that the Rules of Professional Conduct had little or nothing to do with morality as defined by religion. During the time I was practicing law, several attorneys were arrested and sent to prison for crimes and usually only removed from the practice of law after their conviction. 

What has this got to do with genealogy and genealogical research? Well, back in the mid-1900s, genealogists began teaching and referring to the legal Rules of Evidence. See The Federal Rules of Evidence. Here is one example of an article in the following book.

Rubincam, Milton, and Jean Stephenson. 2014. Genealogical research methods and sources, The Rules of Evidence: A Standard for Proving Pedigrees, page 37.

As a result of these influential genealogists' advocacy of applying a legal standard to the genealogical community, many genealogists now talk about evidence, proof, and even further, a standard of proof. Overlaying this adoption of legal jargon is a patina of some of the provisions of legal ethics. 

I have written about the issue of trying to apply a legal standard to genealogy a number of times but this topic seems to come up regularly online and it is time to visit this topic again. What is also an issue is the application of an imposed ethics standard to people (genealogists) who are not bound by any membership qualification and did not "buy into" an imposed system of either proof or ethics. Ethical conduct is ultimately a matter of personal choice. Those professional organizations that require their members to adhere to a codified ethical code can set their own standards and are fully justified in canceling the membership or anyone who fails to follow their particular code. But the reality of the greater genealogical community is that the number of those genealogists who belong to such organizations is vanishingly small compared to the number of people who view genealogy as a hobby, a pastime, or act out of some duty to do their family history. For example, there are about 250 Certified Genealogists® (CG®). Compare this number with the number of people who recently registered for the RootsTech Connect 2021 Conference of over a million. 

Given this, is there a generally accepted genealogical ethical code? There is an understanding among many genealogists about what is and what is not ethical behavior but only those genealogists who have qualified for membership in the professional organizations are subject to a codified ethical code. 

Let's assume that an ethical code would be helpful to the genealogical community. Who could enforce such a code? Who would draft such a code? What kind of penalty would there be for noncompliance? The questions could go on and on. There are very few standards that generally apply to genealogical research except those imposed by websites, archives, societies, and other organizations that require a membership. What can we do about this situation? Perhaps you have a suggestion or two but meanwhile, those of us who think that someone should do something about it will just have to wait and endure. 

To read the previous blog posts in this series see the following:

Saturday, March 13, 2021

18 TB Hard Drives drop in price


During the past year or so, I have seeen the hard drive industry jump from 8 Terabyte (TB) hard drives to double that number at 18TB. You can now buy an 18TB drive for around $350 to about $400. There are additional 18TB drives for a lot more because the price hasn't stabilized yet. You can also buy a 1TB Flash Drive (SSD) for about $150 however, a 2TB SSD jumps up to almost the cost of an 18 TB hard drive. Just think about how much information you can lose if one of those 18 TB drives bites the dust. 

OK, so some people estimate that you could store almost 86 million pages of Word documents on a 1TB. So multiply that by 18 and you get over 1.5 trillion pages. I have been working on computers solidly for the past 40 years or so and I have accumulated just a bit over 3TBs of stored documents that include tens of thousands of digital images. But I don't store full-length movies or hours of music in that number. 

What about genealogists? Well, a 1TB hard drive costs about $50. Now, if you think about this, most people can get by with a 1 TB drive but if you multiply that by 18 you are paying the equivalent of $900 for the storage in an 18TB hard drive. So which size drive is the most economical? The 18TB drive is about $20 a Terabyte which is about the same price as a 10TB hard drive. An 8TB hard drive is slightly less at about $144 or $18 a Terabyte. What happens here is that $20 per Terabyte becomes the default figure but smaller capacity drives actually cost a bit more than larger storage drives. If price is your only consideration and you can't believe you will fill up a 1TB hard drive, then spring for $50 and buy one online or at the nearest store that sells hard drives but realistically, I would buy a minimum of a 4TB hard drive for four times the capacity for about $90. 

The moral of this story is simple. Failure to backup your years of genealogy on an external hard drive is inexcusable. If you have all your genealogy on the hard drive in your computer, go out today and or go online today and buy an external hard drive and start backing up your data. Oh, by the way, it takes me about 4 full days running day and night to back up one of my hard drives. 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

MyHeritage Adds Millions of Lithuanian-Jewish Records From LitvakSIG has announced the release of a new collection of historical records: Lithuanian-Jewish Records from LitvakSIG, 1795–1940. Quoting from the email announcement:
The records in this collection were originally translated and indexed by LitvakSIG, and represent almost the entire corpus of LitvakSIG's work over more than twenty years. These records have tremendous genealogical value, and together with MyHeritage's search and matching technologies including Record Matching and Global Name Translation™, which overcome language barriers and provide matches to family trees in English, Russian, and Hebrew, among other languages, will open a new frontier of discovery for individuals who are researching their Lithuanian-Jewish heritage.

The Lithuanian-Jewish Records from LitvakSIG, 1795–1940 collection consists of several million historical records and covers the era from the Russian Empire (1795 to World War I) to the period of independent Lithuania (1919–1940). The majority of records are from places in present-day Lithuania. However, due to various geopolitical changes during the time period covered, the records are not limited to the modern boundaries of Lithuania; they also cover areas located in present-day Poland, Belarus, or other neighboring countries. The records in this compilation include vital records, census records, tax and voter lists, conscription lists, household registers, directories, emigration lists, and more. 

This wonderful addition is part of our efforts to expand the Jewish genealogy resources on MyHeritage, and is a valuable resource for anyone of Lithuanian-Jewish origin. 

A long time ago, I was hospitalized for about a week. I had a lot of time to watch the in-room TV. I watched a documentary about Lithuania and wondered how long it would be before Lithuanian records became available to researchers.  I guess I have lived long enough to see that happen. is making it happen. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Genealogy: Ethics, Ownership, Work Product, Plagiarism, and Privacy, Part One


Over the past almost 40 years of doing genealogical research and interacting with the genealogical community, I have encountered the same issues over and over again. These issues are summarized by concerns involving ethics, ownership, work product, plagiarism, and privacy. Genealogists are generally the most pleasant, cooperative, and kind people I know. The exceptions always seem to revolve around these five topics. Of course, there are other issues such as the digital divide and basic competence but I keep coming back to the BIG FIVE. 

This post is intended to explore all five of these issues. Over the course of this series, I hope to address some of the day-to-day considerations involving genealogists and the four interrelated topics. 

I will start with a short overview of each topic. 


Ethics are moral principles the govern a person's behavior or the conducting of an activity. Ethical behavior involves establishing concepts of what is right and what is wrong. Over time, as people become involved in genealogical research, they usually become aware of the existence of a greater genealogical community made up of people with similar interests in researching their ancestors and other family members. However, genealogical research attracts people from all types of ethical backgrounds. But as people recognize and begin to work in the genealogical community they usually get a feel for what is ethically acceptable and what is not. Notwithstanding the existence of a commonly observed ethical system, there are always those people who disregard ethical norms and act in ways that are destructive and harmful. 

The basis of many ethical systems is the concept of doing to others as you would have others do to you. This may seem like a reasonable and simple concept but it is the cause of endless discussion and in some cases, dispute. Those genealogists who follow the path of monetizing their activities sometimes become involved with professional genealogical organizations that have codified their acceptable ethical practices. For example, see the Association of Professional Genealogists Code of Ethics and Professional Practices. All genealogists would do well to review and seriously consider this particular code and other such codes from other professional organizations to see concrete examples of the type of conduct that should apply to all genealogical activities. But this is only the beginning of what needs to be considered. 

Let me give an introductory example of what I and many other genealogists would consider unethical behavior. 

One of the places where we have the opportunity to interact with the greater genealogical community is online using the collaborative, shared, and universal Family Tree. Some of those who participate in this interesting experiment in constructing a universal family tree, seem to be unaware of the huge number of other people who are involved. The activities of these people, who are seemingly unaware that they have entered into a huge, international, genealogical community, almost immediately become destructive and blatantly inconsistent with the assumed ethical standards of the greater community. This is not to say that these people are intentionally violating ethical restraints but even if they are acting ignorantly or negligently, the effect of their behavior is the same. At a fundamental level, they fail to recognize that anything they do in this community is open to immediate view and consideration by every other participant in the community. In this Family Tree community, there are no claims to ownership, claims to work product, claims to plagiarism, or even claims to privacy. If you disagree with this reality, then you should not be involved in the Family Tree. If you think my statement is extreme and unrealistic, I suggest you read the entire FamilySearch Terms of Use (Updated 2019-12-10)  linked from the startup page of the website. 

More about ethics and genealogy in future posts in this series.


The interaction between genealogy and the ownership issue can be summarized in one simple statement: you do not own your ancestors or relatives. If you do research about a family member and find some information about an event in that person's life, that is historical information. No one "owns" history. More about this as I continue to write. 

Work Product

The concept of work product is codified in the legal community based on another concept of attorney-client privilege. The attorney-client privilege refers to a legal privilege that works to keep confidential communications between an attorney and his or her client secret. Because there is an attorney-client privilege, the notes, and documents created by an attorney in the course of representing a client referred to as the attorney's "work product" are also covered by the privilege and usually cannot be discovered or used by an opposing party. Many people have focused on the words "work product" to extend a claim of ownership to their own research. If you don't own your relatives or ancestors, you certainly do not own information about these people. Genealogists have developed a multitude of excuses for claiming ownership and for preventing others in the community from benefitting and duplicating their research but all of the excuses boil down to the fact that you can own history or relatives. 


You can probably see where I am going with ownership and may already guess what I will say about plagiarism. Yes, plagiarism is just another excuse for a claim of ownership. However, the concept is more complicated and directly related to copyright protection. You can own a copyright, however, plagiarism is not necessarily a copyright issue. Issues of plagiarism most commonly arise in the academic community where professors and other professionals advance in their standing in the community by publishing papers on various subjects. Having unique or original ideas can result in fame and fortune. When someone steals an idea and claims it as his or her own, that is considered plagiarism. This spills over into the genealogical community among those genealogists who are publishing papers either for profit or prestige. Again, this is basically an ownership interest. 


Privacy claims are another smokescreen for ownership. Dead people do not have any claims to privacy. Information about dead people cannot be private. This is another topic that I will reserve for further discussion. 

Why aren't I also writing about copyright? I have written a lot about it in the past and will probably mention it in conjunction with everything else I am writing about in this series. Copyright is part of what is now known as intellectual property law. What is and what is not copyright protected is the subject of statutes and case law. It is not something you can claim without knowing exactly what is and what is not covered by copyright. Yes, you can own a copyright, but you can't copyright ideas and facts. To say that again, facts are considered to be in the public domain. They are not protected under copyright law. Copyright protection does not extend to news events or the facts or ideas which are the subject of news reports or your genealogical research. 

Stay tuned for more.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Genealogy in a Zoom World


During the recent RootsTech Connect 2021 Conference, I participated in an outreach program sponsored by the Salt Lake City, Utah Family History Library. The Family History Library has an extensive system of online consultations. Here is a screenshot of the Research Consultations web page. 

Research Consultation

This is an ongoing program that is still functioning and will continue to function in the future. Essentially, anyone around the world can sign up for a twenty-minute consultation with a Family History Library consultant. The consultants are primarily missionary/volunteers with the Library. When you sign up for a consultation, you are asked to fill out a brief summary of your experience and the questions you would like to discuss. The sign-up process asked you to select an area of research and then the program matches you with a volunteer who can help you in that area including matching you with someone who speaks your native language if that is possible. You are then offered a time slot that matches the availability of the consultant and a Zoom meeting is arranged. 

When you connect to your Zoom meeting, assuming you have a device with video capabilities, you will be able to see the consultant and he or she will be able to see you. You can then ask you questions and receive help from the consultant. If you need to share your screen then you will able to do so. The consultant can also share his or her screen to help you set some research goals. The consultants are not there to do the research for you but to help you understand how to find the information you need to do the research. 

The instructions for the entire process are on the website. See this screenshot for an explanation of the Virtual Research Strategy Sessions

During the week of RootsTech Connect 2021, I was scheduled for 36 twenty-minute consultations. The preparation time was significant. Many of the questions involved challenging research issues. Also, some of the sessions were in Spanish. It was interesting and somewhat of a challenge to switch quickly between English and Spanish and to work with questions dealing with South America, Italy, Spain, England, Ireland, the United States, and other areas of the world. The sessions were scheduled in two-hour blocks with ten minutes in between the three twenty-minute segments. I was able to schedule the segments according to my personal schedule. 

Let me emphasize: this is an ongoing program. You can click on the link and set up your own research consultation session. I am not presently participating because I was only scheduled for the week during RootsTech but I hope to help out in the near future. There is also a possibility that the same program will be established at the Brigham Young University Family History Library utilizing our own staff of missionary/volunteers. I will keep you all posted if and when this happens. 

I am guessing this program will be expanded and continue even after the COVID-19 restrictions are eased (if that ever happens). 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Visiting the RootsTech Website


RootsTech Connect 2021 is hardly over. In fact, you might say it has just started. The website has links to over 1,200 videos and presentations. The intent is to have a huge online, library-like resource for the entire world. There is an interview with Elder Kevin S. Hamilton, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International. Jen Allen, the FamilySearch Representative in charge of the conference,  that was printed in the Deseret News for March 3, 2021, entitled, "How RootsTech Connect went from 130,000 to 1.1 million." About the impact of the conference, Elder Hamilton is quoted as saying,

The 1.1 million participants over the weekend was interesting. But to me, more interesting was the 242 countries that were represented. That just blew me away. I Googled it — there’s only 251 countries and territories officially recognized by the United Nations. We had 242 of the 251 with representatives at RootsTech. We had a large contingent from Oman. We had people from Greenland. So to me, that globalization across the globe was just really heartwarming.

Living here in Utah County, in my neighborhood where most of the people are members of the Church, it is interesting that very few of the people around me, except for the missionary volunteers at the Brigham Young University Family History Library, were even aware that RootsTech was happening and are completely unaware that the website with all that content will be online for the next year. It usually seems like they have been inoculated against hearing or learning about family history or genealogy. I am pretty sure that there are fewer than a dozen people in my neighborhood that even know or remember that I write a genealogy blog or that I am a volunteer/missionary at the BYU Family History Library. Sorry, I have to comment on this from time to time. 

Anyway, the RootsTech Connect 2021 website has now become a "go-to" place on the internet to get a lot more information about genealogy. If you do go to the RootsTech website, you might notice this statement.

It looks like to me that the RootsTech Website and the corresponding RootsTech Section of the FamilySearch YouTube channel may the first of a lot more video presentations. 

Monday, March 1, 2021

MyHeritage extends its offer to let you upload any other company's DNA for free


Wow,  this offer is now extended by to March 7th, 2021. Here are the details:

Due to the enthusiastic response, we’ve decided to extend our offer to upload your DNA data and access advanced DNA features for free! 

Users who have tested with another service can upload their data now through March 7, 2021 and gain free access to all DNA features on MyHeritage!

Uploading DNA results to MyHeritage is easy, and the results will be ready within a day or two.

Enjoy lifetime access to the Ethnicity Estimate and the new Genetic Groups feature, as well as the Chromosome Browser, AutoClusters, Theory of Family Relativity™, and much more! These features will remain free for any DNA kits that are uploaded to MyHeritage this week. Read more about this offer in the blog post

 For more information see: Upload DNA Data


Searching beyond the Ordinary


Online search engines find the most actively used records first. Many genealogists have about the same level of awareness and attention. They always look for the ordinary, comfortable, and usually the most used records first but sometimes also stop there. It is time to break out of the ordinary and look for records that may not be ones you are used to searching but may prove to be extraordinarily useful at the end of your search. 

Very early in my genealogical journey, I started to read some of the books that were on the "reference" shelf in the local Family History Center. This was about 35 years ago. One of those books was the following:

Eakle, Arlene. 1984. The source: a guidebook of American genealogy. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Publ. Co.

Little did I know at the time that this book and another one,

Greenwood, Val D. 1973. The researcher's guide to American genealogy.

would become the foundation for establishing my genealogical research skills. One of the interesting things that happened over the years is that I became friends with Arlene Eakle, the original author of The Source but that is another story. What these books helped me understand was the breadth of types of records that constituted genealogical research. Even before I began to regularly use census records and vital records, I understood that these were only a starting point for research. 

One statement, often repeated, about genealogical research methodology is that you begin with what you know before you jump off into what you do not know. To do this, you must make sure the information in your family tree is as complete and accurate as possible. This includes relying on validated records and documents that support a relationship between each generational advance. It doesn't matter how many documents and records you find about an individual unless those documents and records support a valid conclusion identifying a parent. 

To start, make sure you have searched all of the obvious records first. If you have your family tree in an online, major family tree/database program, you can also begin by processing and validating all of the record hints suggested by the program. Validation involves carefully considering the record hints to make sure they apply to your individual ancestor or relative. Most of these early record hints and searches will involve vital records and census records. However, these sources are usually time-limited. For example, most people in the United States have a birth certificate but birth certificates have only been consistently issued in the 20th century. Many researchers who do not know this fact, keep looking for a birth certificate long before these documents existed. 

If you get stuck trying to find a birth record, you may have to start looking into other records. Some of those that help establish a birthdate include:

  • Death records
  • Social Security applications and the Death Index
  • Census records
  • Cemetery records
  • Church records
  • Military records
  • Bible records
  • and many more...
You will soon realize that the large online genealogy websites seldom suggest some of these categories of records. One way to remind yourself to move beyond the ordinary records is to use a genealogy source checklist. 

Genealogically significant records are those created at or near the time of an event by someone who witnessed the event or had a duty to report it. However, the person who witnessed the event or had a duty to report the event may have reported the event at a time remote from the time of the event. In addition, everything having to do with genealogical research is dependent on identifying an accurate and specific location of an event in each ancestor's or relative's life. General locations such as England or Germany are only marginally useful. So, the main activity of doing genealogical research is locating records that relate to events in your ancestral lines. 

For example, the United States Federal Census records are valuable because they identify a person at a particular location and at a particular time. They are not so useful when they report the country or state where the parents of the person are reported to be born and the calculated year of the person's birth. If you were to find a draft registration card for the same person, you would likely find a record of the person's specific address as well as a specific birthdate. 

For people born back to the 1800s in the United States or in Western European Countries, there are a seemingly unending number of possible record categories to research. Don't give up. The more learn, the more places you will know to look and the more you look, the more you will find.