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

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Changes in the Record Search for Historical Records on


The website had undergone another change. The Historical Record Collections feature has been completely redone. Yes, the screenshot above is what it looks like. Missing from this view are the options to search film/fiche and other specialized searches. You can essentially search by a name, a place, or collection title. There is a more options link that gives you the following:

which includes all the previous search fields. A search gives you a different view also. This is beginning to look like a way to make last year's model look older and out-of-date. 

You now have a preference area. 

That apparently lets you export search results to a spreadsheet (that is what those XLC, XLSX, ets. are referring to). I never thought about exporting my search results to a spreadsheet especially when I got several thousands of possible results. There is an option for translated text. I tried a search for a name in Argentina (with 363) results with both the translated text option checked and the original test option checked. The main thing I saw was that the dates changed from standard genealogy dates (5 November 1874) to a shorter format (5 Nov 1874). So are they accepting the shorter form of the dates as standard? I guess I will have to try it to see. That will make it a lot easier to import information from

Browse places on the first page gave me a new larger map. 

Browse all collections still gives your the list of Historical Record Collections with 3,098 Collections. I initially thought this was a major change but it turns out to be mostly cosmetic. The old website is still there it just has one or two new faces. 

Monday, September 27, 2021

The Accuracy of Catalog Entries in the Catalog

Many of the digitized documents on the website are not indexed. If you want to view the images you need to search in the Catalog. The main way to search in the Catalog is by the places that events occurred in your ancestors' lives. To find the proper records to search, researchers rely on the catalog entries to identify the records. For example, here is a record of a birth in Cambridge, Middlesex, Massachusetts.

The link takes us to this record for citation: "Massachusetts Deaths, 1841-1915, 1921-1924", database with images, FamilySearch ( : 27 October 2020), Sarah Borstell, 1894.

The image linked is as follows with Film # 004212538;

The information link at the bottom of the page takes us this entry:

I searched the list for the film number given for the record above and found the record among the those on the list. 

I would think I was going to find a death record, but what I found was a birth record. 

This example might be a little bit obscure but it raises an issue with how the FamilySearch Catalog is working or not working. Presently, while looking for records in the catalog, I get this newer page of information that is not consistent with the actual records.

From this entry, you would think you had a death record. But there is not one in the sources listed on on the record shown as the reference. 

This confusion comes primarily from the initial faulty catalog entry. What this should indicate to a careful researcher is that when you see a list of documents such as this one from Uruguay,

that apparently has records for births, you should look further. In this case, the first entry listed says that it has births from 1879 to 1891. If you work your way through 2930 images, you will find that the first set of records begin in 1920. Here is the link to the list of these collections.

 In this particular section of hundred of collections of Uruguayan records, many of the catalog entries are wrong.  For example, the next section, Sección 8. Nacimientos 1881-1889 does begin with records in July of 1881 and the collection that starts with 1920 ends with the rest of 1881. 

Jumping down a ways in the long list of collections, there is another section from the same time period. 

The first one in the list is Sección 10. Nacimientos 1879-1893. Hmm. This on starts off with records from 1928. 

I could go on and on with these examples. Unfortunately, I do no have the time or access to the Catalog database to audit all these cataloging errors. But as genealogical researchers using the FamilySearch Catalog, I would suggest that you take the time to examine all the collections in a country. You may find that the 1920 records you are looking for are located in a collection that says it ends in 1881. Just beware. In this post, I have not even started to give examples where the records are not only not in the correct years but are scrambled together without being in any chronological order. 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

What does it take to have access to genealogical records?


Each of the large online genealogy family tree/record websites advertises the large number of records they have available for doing user research. In many cases there are various levels of indexing to support the records they claim to have available. But access is not determined by the number of records digitized or otherwise available. 

Let's suppose that you are looking for a record in the U.S. National Archives. First of all, only a vanishingly small percentage of the National Archive's holding are digitized or even on microfilm. However, all of the present microfilm publications from the National Archives are digitized and available on CD or DVD. See Record Reproduction and Microfilm. By the way, during the COVID pandemic, all reproduction and digitization services have been suspended. What this means is that research in the National Archives will often require the researcher to personally visit the facilities or hire someone to do the research. Here is a description of all of the National Archives repositories across the United States. See National Archives facilities

If we expand our concept of valuable historical and genealogically helpful records to other repositories. We will find the same conditions. Some of the records are digitized and available online, some are indexed but not digitized, and some are sitting in piles and boxes and no one really knows what is there. For example, one major state archive has millions and millions of stored paper records. The index to these records is a huge 3x5 inch paper card catalog like the one I used 50 years ago at the University of Utah. Not even the indexed catalog is entirely digitized. So, once again, research in the archive will frequently require the researcher to personally visit the facilities or hire someone to do the research.

You might get the impression, with all the hoopla about huge online collections that almost everything is available. Here is one example: Indonesia. Her is the link to the Indonesian National Archives. Here is the statement about record availability. 

The National Archives of the Republic of Indonesia (ANRI) through the work unit of the Archives Service Center carries out services in the field of services that are offered, namely the creation of archival guidelines and applications as well as improvement, maintenance, maintenance and archive storage. Archival services are provided to central and local government agencies, educational institutions, BUMN, BUMD, private companies, and the community. Service tariffs are fixed and definite based on Government Regulation Number 53 of 2019 concerning Types and Tariffs for Types of Non-Tax State Revenues Applicable to the National Archives of the Republic of Indonesia (download). Likewise, the mechanism for providing services must comply with regulations according to the mechanism for non-tax state revenues where the Archives Service Center is not a business entity. See Records Services.

My point is that the pile of records online on the large genealogy websites is helpful but not complete. In addition, the records, when digitized, have to be online, indexed, and accessible for someone who does not have physical access to the repository.  Just for information's sake has some Indonesian records. Neither or seem to have any records at all. 

What does it take to have access to records?

1. The records need to have been preserved. Obviously, if the records were destroyed they are no longer available in any format. 

2. The records need to be stored and preserved in way that researchers have access to examine the records and do research. This may involve fees, restrictions, and other impediments such as the times the archive is open for research. Some libraries and archives require a membership or even an academic certification to gain access. See The Huntington Library for an example. 

3. For most genealogists, the records need to be online, available in digital format, and reasonably accessible. This may include a pay wall or subscription.

4. For genealogists, indexes are a help and can expedite research where they are accurate and complete. 

This outline does not include the time and effort it takes for researchers to find out that records exist and where they are located. It does not include the time and effort to actually access the records as my visit to the Philadelphia City Archives is a good example.  

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Is Microfilm Really Dead or Just Mostly Dead?


The announcement by that all of its 2.4 million rolls of microfilm have been digitized does no begin to herald the end of microfilm. I am told that still backs up its data to microfilm and will continue to do so for many years. In addition, those who claim that microfilm is dead are denying reality. For example, if you want most of the documents that are available from the United States National Archives, you need to rent their microfilm copies. 

Here is a screenshot of part of the National Archives' microfilm collection that can be ordered online.

The microfilm collection held in the Granite Vault and available in the Salt Lake Family History Library isn't going away anytime soon. Many researchers need to check the microfilm when the digital copies are unreadable or missing pages (yes, this does happen). 

Additionally, the Brigham Young University Family History Library has an extensive collection of microfilms and microfiches that is not all available readily online. Don't expect to see all the microfilm readers in the BYU Family History Library disappear suddenly. 

Unlike some old digital formats, microfilm is still usable and its life-span is 500 years. Do you really think that your present computer files will still be readable in 500 years? I have a bunch of old CDs and other storage devices that cannot be read by any device or program presently available. It is only through the process of migrating my data periodically to newer devices and formats that the files have been saved. 

Let's not get too enfusive about the end of microfilm. Some of us are glad the technology is still available and usable. 

Heredis 2022 Released is the most popular desktop genealogy program in Europe.

The program is available in English, French, and German. Heredis is headquartered in France that began in 1994. The program is Apple Mac native and also runs on PCs. Here is a quote from 

Today, Heredis is the most widely used genealogy software in France and around the world. For the past 27 years, the entire team has been at the service of people passionate about genealogy and the history of their ancestors. The ongoing creation of new software programs – which are at the same time easy to use, state-of-the-art, and complementary – definitely helps genealogy enthusiasts progress in their work in the most efficient manner. Heredis’ ambition is to offer the very best genealogy software program available. Each new version is tested by beta testers and redesigned based on user feedback.

Since 2012, Heredis has also been helping English-speaking users to find their ancestors, create beautiful family trees, and do their research online. To further its commitment to providing quality software to its English-speaking users, Heredis collaborates with genealogy organizations in several English-speaking countries.

I do not generally give product reviews because they make more enemies than friends, but I have been downloading the Heredis program now for years and find that some of the features, such as the charts, alone make the program worth the cost and more. 

 Here is a video that will introduce you to this very full featured program.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

FamilySearch Completes Massive Microfilm Digitization Project (sort of)

Here is a quote from the article.

Huge news: after 83 years of filming the world’s historical genealogical records, FamilySearch has completed digitizing its 2.4 million rolls of microfilm.  The best part? The archive, which contains information on more than 11.5 billion individuals, is now available for free on 

Over 200 countries and principalities and more than 100 languages are included in the digitized documents. All types of genealogically significant records are included—censuses, births, marriages, deaths, probate, Church, immigration, and more. Now that the project is completed, it’s much easier for users to find members of their family tree and make personal discoveries within these records.   

Want to check out these digitized microfilms for yourself? Explore FamilySearch’s free collections of indexed records and images by going to, then search both “Records” and “Images.” The Images feature will let you browse digitized images from the microfilm collection and more. You will need a FamilySearch account to access digitized records—but don’t worry, signing up is completely free!

This is an incredible accomplishment. There is nothing like this amount of preservation and free publication in the history of the world. So why the snide comment about "sort of?" Well, for many people, a significant part of the total records are restricted in some way and of course all these records are not indexed and searchable from the Historical Records Collection. The conversion process may be complete but many of the records still show up as still being on microfilm. 

For an example of such records see this screenshot from today. 

Due to restrictions in the agreements with the originators of the records, they many never be available outside of a Family History Center or Library and some of them may never be available except for some people who qualify and go to the Salt Lake City, Family History Library in person. 

Basically, the job of indexing, cataloging, negotiating contract to display the images online, and updating the website is still ongoing. But the collections that are available are truly a blessing to us all. Time to write more about the collections that are available right now. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

The Virtual Help Desk from the BYU Family History Library


The Brigham Young University Family History Library (BYU FHL) has a virtual help desk. During the past year or so of the pandemic, the Family History Library had been expanding its online presence. The BYU Family History Library is part of the university's Harold B. Lee Library (HBL) on campus. The Family History Library is physically located in the main building of the library. 

If you don't already know, my wife and I have been serving as Church Service Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the past seven, going on eight, years. We both provide one-on-one help to the patrons of the library, teach classes, record webinars and shorter videos, and teach the other missionaries. Because of our isolation during the pandemic, we have done all this primarily online. There are now about a hundred volunteers and missionaries who support the libraries programs.

The Virtual Help Desk is a rather recent addition. 

When you click on the link show above at the beginning of this post, you will see this link to the computer running an open Zoom program in the library during the hours shown right above, Monday- Thursday, 10 AM – 8 PM, Friday, 10 AM – 6 PM, Mountain Time. 

During the time the missionaries are in the library, one of the missionaries will be present to help you. There are other missionaries who are working from home and are also available to help during the time the library is open and here is an example of the current schedule for help in other languages. 

You can click on the image to see more detail. All times listed may change as the missionaries finish their missions or for other reasons. The library is on the university's academic schedule and so the library is closed for school breaks and holidays. You should check the schedule on the Family History Library's website to see if the library is open. 

Now how does this work? You open the BYU Family History Library website and click on the links. That is all there is to having personal, immediate help. We can help with technical questions and questions about other websites and Zoom. We have a lot of experienced people who are willing to help. 

One of the great advantages of this support effort is that Family History Centers from around the world can virtually expand their support base by over 100 missionaries. Some of these missionaries have extensive research experience in all parts of the world. It does help if you speak some English however. 
If you are a volunteer or patron of a Family History Center, you can click into the BYU Library have your questions answered. If you are sitting at home and are stuck signing into FamilySearch click on the link and get some help. Think about it. The library may not be online 24/7 but some of us are and you can make an appointment to talk to a specific missionary if you know who you want to talk to. That includes my wife Ann and me. There are, of course, some limitations. We cannot do your research for you, we can only help you find what you need. 

Now, we also have classes and webinars. The BYU Family History Library has a schedule of all these.  You might also want to explore the website for other resources. We also have Youtube Channel. See

There are also a lot of additional resources in the library if you decide you want to make a physical visit. 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Restricted Documents on FamilySearch Stopping Research


Every one of the image collections in this list is restricted from viewing outside of a Family History Center. In fact, this screenshot was made using a computer in the Brigham Young University Family History Center but I was not signed into FamilySearch so the collections are still restricted. If I click on one of the camera icons, If I try to open the individual collections, I will automatically be taken to a sign-in page and after signing in, I can see the images. 

If I cannot travel to a Family History Center, I am out of luck. I am finding that nearly all the records on FamilySearch from Latin America, Spain, and Italy are restricted. For the past few months I have been acting as a consultant online with FamilySearch patrons on Zoom from the Spanish speaking countries of  Latin America including South America, Central America, Mexico and Spain (with a few Brazilians included). Most of these patrons are also looking for Italian records which are also restricted. Because of the pandemic, their number one issue is that the documents they need to do their family history research are restricted. However, most of the patrons live in the larger cities and there are often multiple Family History Centers in their area. 

I understand why some of the records are restricted, but I don't understand why nearly all the records are restricted. The records on FamilySearch are usually restricted due to restrictions imposed by the original archive or repository where the records were digitized. The reality of records is that many  governmental agencies make money by producing copies of the records in their collections. Some records can also be restricted due to privacy issues or cultural and religious restrictions. Many of the records on the website were microfilmed long before computers and the internet existed and the original agreements have to be renegotiated. However, this does not explain why almost all the records in countries such as Italy and Uruguay are restricted. 

Fortunately, I live close to and volunteer in the Brigham Young University Family History Library and nearly all the records are available on their computers. For those who are frustrated about the delay in opening Family History Centers, I suggest calling the centers directly to see if someone can open the center for a limited purpose of searching for records. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Ancestry® Signs Agreement to Acquire French Genealogy Leader Geneanet

Yes, did sign an agreement to purchase the large French genealogy website This happens just a short time after signed an agreement to buy the other large French genealogy website

This doesn't have much to do with genealogists in the United States as much as it is an indication of the competition for genealogy websites in Europe. It really doesn't matter which of the large companies made the first move, what is certain is that there are now essentially two very large genealogy database websites that have just grown larger. But I do need to acknowledge that both and have indicated that both French websites will continue to operate independently. You might view these two purchases as a smaller companies associating with a larger company to improve their visibility and customer bases. 

Is large good or bad? In genealogy records database websites, as in many other areas of the commercial  world, big is better for researchers. Of course, this assumes that the researcher knows about the websites and actually uses them. By the way, all four of these websites are currently partner websites, so FamilySearch is certainly not being left out of this expansion by two of the "big players" in the world of online genealogical data. Of course, there is also, the British entry. 

Europe is a big market (understatement) for genealogy and probably a lot bigger than anything going on in the United States. Before going much further with this post, I need to point out that percentage wise, very few users take advantage of signing up for all five of the Partner websites. Also, I need to make it absolutely clear that every one of these websites has its own unique advantages and value to the genealogical researcher and yes, there are some records that are duplicated on some of these websites with the other websites but they are not all chasing the same records. If you are trying to do research in some countries of Europe and other places in the world, you will soon realize that there are still an enormous number of paper records out there waiting to be digitized and made available online. Only the very large genealogy companies have the resources to digitize and index huge numbers of records. Local digital projects by libraries and archives are valuable, but sometimes hard to find and otherwise have restrictions on viewing. For example, the has a huge collection of over 8 million digital books but only 39% of this huge collection is available to the public and the rest is only available to students and faculty of large U.S. universities. 

What about the paywall issue? The new acquisitions will, for the time being, continue to operate in the same way they have in the past. Some genealogists seem to think that digital copies of documents magically appear online and that all the copies should be free. But this is idea that everything should be free on the internet ignore the reality of the cost of hosting and maintaining large collections of images. Right now, in the genealogical world, the sale of DNA kits and information is partially funding the digitization efforts of the larger corporations. But if we are going to continue to increase the amount of genealogical data online, we need more than just DNA sales and online subscription promotions to do the job. Meanwhile, continues to digitize records and make them available online for free which, of course, would seem to undermine the other companies. However, the FamilySearch Partner Program, is advantageous to both the partner companies and to users of the website. Let's just say for now that it is complicated but it works to the advantage of both sides of the agreements.

So here is the present line up:

But each of the acquired companies with continue to operate as usual, at least from the user standpoint. 

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Following Your Ancestors on the FamilySearch Family Tree

 In social networking, following has become endemic. In this context, when we "follow" someone, we are interested in learning about what happens in their lives. On the Family Tree, following is considerably different. The function of following is to learn about any changes being made to a particular individual by other contributors (usually your relatives) on the Family Tree. This feature was previously called "watch."

First some definitions for clarification. The Family Tree is a collaborative, universal, user maintained family tree. It is based on a wiki design and that means that registered contributors can add, delete (under some restrictions), and change any information. This concept does not sit well with people who think they own their ancestors and all their ancestral information. But that is a topic for another day. 

The Family Tree is also source-based. This means that if the information entered into the Family Tree is not supported by valid, genealogical sources, it is suspect and of course, subject to change. It is also common that different contributors have different opinions about the content. Because of the structure and basis for the Family Tree, the contributors are, in a sense, forced to collaborate. 

So how do we reach a balance between accuracy and stability? This is an especially difficult concept because of the occurrence of randomly entered wrong information. So we divide the types of information into hierarchical categories. Such as these:

  • Level One: Randomly entered data that is obviously wrong and unsupported by any source citations
  • Level Two: Information that is unsupported but not obviously wrong
  • Level Three: Information that is supported by a source citation but wrong
  • Level Four: Information that is well supported and is subject to opinion
  • Level Five: Information that so well supported by historical, genealogical records as to be accepted subject to future research
We would like all the information in the Family Tree to be at Level Five but obviously, it is not. The "Following" feature encourages contributors to be actively involved in maintaining the integrity of the information. 

Practically speaking, when you click on the "Follow" star you notify Family Search that you would like to receive and weekly notification of all the changes to the people you follow. However, in order for this to happen, you must register and include an email address. You should also review the Notifications section of your settings menu.

Here is one of my own recent notifications.

Depending on the number of people you are following this list can be quite long each week. Of course, you can ignore the changes and hope that some other member of your family will take care of any potential errors. But the whole idea is to be actively engaged in maintaining the integrity of the Family Tree, so you really should review each of the changes as they appear. Granted, this can take a few minutes or hours depending on the changes and the complexity and number of the issues involved. You may also decide to ignore the changes to certain individuals that I call "revolving door ancestors." These people garnar so many changes that maintaining their integrity can be a full-time job. 

There is a lot more that can be said and I will probably say it.