RootsTech 2014


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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Google adds back in time to Street View

I am still amazed at the number of people who do not know about Google Maps' Street View. When I teach classes on Google, I click down to show the Street View and there are always oohs and awes. Just in case you haven't looked at this valuable tool, here is a screenshot showing the current Street View of the Mesa FamilySearch Library:

The blurry parts of the image are probably people that have been edited out. Now, you can go back and look at previous Street Views of the same location. Presently, this only goes back to about 2007 or the earliest Street View after that date available. This only works if you see a clock in the upper left-hand portion of the screen. I wasn't able to find any of these new clocks in the Phoenix area, but the whole program has just now been introduced. To read more, go to the Google Blog entitled, "Go back in time with Street View." adds Find-A-Record Links

If you are at all interested in an online family tree program that promotes careful research and extensive documentation, you should be familiar with Quoting from the website, "WeRelate is a free public-service wiki for genealogy sponsored by the Foundation for On-Line Genealogy in partnership with the Allen County Public Library. It is the world's largest genealogy wiki with pages for over 2,548,000 people and growing." I have long considered to be one of the most important and viable alternatives to almost all of the other online family trees.

Now, has teamed with Find-A-Record to provide links from each individual in the wiki to that geographically centered record finding website. Here is a screen shot of an individual page in the database with an arrow indicating the link to Find-A-Record.

Here is a screenshot of part of the resultant list of records from Find-A-Record:

This is a major step for a program such as because now it is essentially directly connected to searches in both's Historical Record Collections and Maybe this is a reason to look at both programs more closely.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Liking a company could lead to giving up legal rights

A local law firm in Mesa, Arizona sent me their Newsletter, (Gunderson, Denton & Peterson, P.C.) with an article entitled, "You Might Be Giving Up Legal Rights by “Liking” a Company on Facebook." This was an interesting thought. The article points out the following:
General Mills, the big company that makes cereals like Cheerios and Chex and also makes many other food products, has added language to its website about arbitration. GM is now telling consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they join the company in online communities like Facebook or do a number of other things, such as download coupons or enter company sweepstakes. Instead, consumers who do those things will have to resolve their disputes by arbitration, which might be less favorable to them.
The idea with arbitration is the following:
You many have heard that many companies, especially larger companies, have tried to alter the terms of their agreements with clients to avoid jury trials and resolve disputes exclusively through arbitration. Arbitration is usually interpreted as being more favorable toward defendants, especially defendants in big, expensive litigation such as class-action lawsuits.
There are a lot of different levels of "arbitration." In Arizona, the local courts have mandatory arbitration for cases involving claims of a certain minimal amount. What is usually going on in these online agreements is that the arbitration is not the limited, local action contemplated by the local courts. Instead, it is usually set out that the arbitration will be held pursuant to the rules of the American Arbitration Association.  For example, here is the pertinent clause from
If a dispute arises between you and Ancestry, our goal is to provide you a neutral and cost effective means of resolving the dispute quickly. To that end, you agree to first contact Ancestry Customer Support at 1-800-262-3787 to describe the problem and seek a resolution. If that does not resolve the issue, then you and Ancestry agree to the following methods to resolve any dispute or claim between us. First, you agree that this Agreement is governed by the law of the State of Utah, without regard to its principles on conflicts of laws, and the federal law of the United States of America. Second, you agree that you will seek arbitration consistent with the rules before initiating any litigation. If arbitration cannot resolve the issue, you agree to submit to the personal jurisdiction of the courts located within Utah County, Utah for the purpose of litigating all such claims or disputes.

Any arbitration will be governed by the Commercial Dispute Resolution Procedures and the Supplementary Procedures for Consumer Related Disputes of the American Arbitration Association (collectively, "AAA Rules"). The AAA Rules and costs are available online at or by calling the AAA at 1-800-778-7879. . YOU AND ANCESTRY AGREE THAT EACH MAY BRING CLAIMS AGAINST THE OTHER ONLY IN YOUR OR ITS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, AND NOT AS A PLAINTIFF OR CLASS MEMBER IN ANY PURPORTED CLASS OR REPRESENTATIVE PROCEEDING. Further, unless both you and Ancestry agree otherwise, the arbitrator may not consolidate more than one person’s claims, and may not otherwise preside over any form of a representative or class proceeding. Notwithstanding the foregoing, this arbitration agreement does not preclude you from bringing issues to the attention of federal, state, or local agencies. Such agencies can, if the law allows, seek relief against us on your behalf. This arbitration provision shall survive termination of this Agreement.
If you have any idea what you are reading in the above statement, you will realize that your options in any dispute resolution with are seriously limited. Now, you may not view this as being a bad thing. Companies such as do business all over the world. They can't be expected to have to defend lawsuits in every small jurisdiction around the world, This type of agreement has been upheld by many courts around the country. 

Now, is this one of those "calculated to scare you, come to our law firm first" type observations? I can assure you that the law firm in question had no idea about the existence of the provision. 

On a very local level, when I was practicing law, I thought arbitration was almost always a viable and useful alternative to going to trial in a court. However, the expense and time involved in conducting an arbitration through the American Arbitration Association is another level of dispute resolution and not nearly so convenient or inexpensive. You might want to read the fine print. I am not saying that liking on Facebook invokes the arbitration clause but do you know whether it does or does not? Here are some links you might want to read:

The Good and the Bad of Names, Dates and Places -- Part Two More about names

There are several other important topics dealing with the way genealogists record names in their genealogical database programs including online family trees. Here is a list of some of the categories of issues associated with entering names:

  • abbreviations
  • initials 
  • nicknames
  • spelling variations
  • capitalization
  • scripts
  • name changes
  • titles
  • other words

If you think about it, the rules that I mentioned in my last post on this subject will clarify and regularize most of the these issues also. I will repeat the rules for convenience here:
  • All names should be entered as they are spoken in whatever language they were originally given.
  • All names should be recorded as they were given at the time of birth with variations in notes or alternative name sections.
  • Use normal (i.e. upper and lower case) transcriptions.
  • Use all specific characters (now generally available in all computer operating systems) used in the original languages.
  • Do not use Mr., Mrs. or other such designations, titles, etc. unless they were part of the name at the time of birth. 
  • Do not use abbreviations unless they were actually part of the name at birth.
Let's look at each of the above categories one-by-one:

In genealogy there are two main sources when we see names abbreviated. One of those consists of abbreviations used by the people entering names in original records. If you have done any research in original documents such as deeds, parish registers and such, you will very soon learn that early manuscripts contain a lot of "standard" abbreviations. Here is a link to a list of common English language genealogy abbreviations from It was also very common to abbreviate names. Here is another link to a GenealogyInTime Magazine list of common English name abbreviations

Now, should we record the name as it is found in the original record or take artistic license and expand the abbreviation into its equivalent? You will note that my rule says that names should be recorded as they were given at the time of birth. What if the birth record has the name as an abbreviation? I think the rule still stands. You record what the original document says. For example, if the child's name was William and it was recorded as Wm. then your records should reflect what was in the record. Your notes and alternative names etc. can reflect the fact that Wm is a common abbreviation for William, but unless you find another record showing the name spelled out, you should not go beyond the original. Why is this? Suppose you record the name as William and someone else records the name as Wm? Are they automatically to be assumed to be the same person? This type of issue lies at the heart of many of the duplicates in online family trees and other places. Record the name as it is found in the original documents. Expand abbreviations in your notes but record the abbreviation until you find a source showing the full name. 

The other source of abbreviations came from the limitations of handwritten genealogy forms and other forms. How many times have you tried to fill out a form to find out that the originator of the form did not leave enough room for you to fill in the entire name? Hence, the origin of many abbreviations. I will come back to this issue when I discuss place names. 

The use of initials could be considered a sub-set of abbreviations except for one rather unique practice, that is giving children an initial for a name. I have an uncle whose name is Rollin C Tanner. The "C"doesn't stand for anything. His middle name is "C." This practice became fairly common during the major wars when soldiers in the United States were "required" to have a middle name.  In other words, the Army would not accept the form with the middle initial left blank. In some cases, the Army would require the soldier to put "NMI" in the empty field or "No Middle Initial." Now, I have actually seen genealogists who have recorded the name of their ancestor with the middle name of NMI. 

On the other hand, giving only initials for the names of an ancestor usually indicates a failure to do enough research. It is an easy, lazy practice. Unless you confirm that the baby was given the name with an initial at birth, I would suggest that all the single letter initials in your database are an open invitation to do some more research.

By now, you can probably predict my answer to the question of how to record nicknames. If the name was given at birth, it is not a nickname. If the child's name was Margaret and she was always called Maggie, Meg, Peg, Peggy or whatever, then record the name she was given at birth as the name and show Maggie as a nickname or variation with an exclamation in a note. If you never find a reference to her "real" name but only find her nickname recorded, then your records should reflect the name as it appears in the original source record, not your interpretation of the name. 

Spelling variations
This is a sore spot with me. The mark of an inexperienced and/or dogmatic genealogist is one who insists that their ancestors' names were spelled one way or another. It is not unusual to find ancestor's names spelled various different ways. Remember that the people who were recording the names often did not hear the name correctly or simply spelled the name the way they felt was right. Your ancestor may not even have known the "correct" way to spell his or her name. Here, more than any place else, the variations in spelling should be preserved in your database. Take the time to show all the variations as they appear in original records and explain where the variations come from. In some cases, family members will simply have to come to a consensus as to which spelling of the name to use. This is another major contributor to duplication in family trees. You might want to start with Name variations: tips & tricks. 

I have very often had people become upset because their own name or the name of an ancestor was not capitalized properly. This issue is very closely related to spelling variations. In some cases, you simply must record all the variations and choose the one you like as the primary way to record information. 

As you go back in time, you will undoubtedly run into scripts that are hard to read, an s that looks like an f and such. Even in Western European countries, the alphabets and characters used to record names and everything else vary from country to country. For example, here is the Danish alphabet from Wikepedia:

  • A, a: /æːˀ/
  • B, b: /b̥eːˀ/
  • C, c: /sʰeːˀ/
  • D, d: /d̥eːˀ/
  • E, e: /eːˀ/
  • F, f: /ef/
  • G, g: /ɡ̊eːˀ/
  • H, h: /hɔːˀ/
  • I, i: /iˀ/
  • J, j: /jʌð/
  • K, k: /kʰɔːˀ/
  • L, l: /el/
  • M, m: /em/
  • N, n: /en/
  • O, o: /oːˀ/
  • P, p: /pʰeːˀ/
  • Q, q: /kʰuːˀ/
  • R, r: /æːɐ/
  • S, s: /esʰ/
  • T, t: /tˢeːˀ/
  • U, u: /uːˀ/
  • V, v: /ʋeːˀ/
  • W, w: /dʌb̥əlʋeːˀ/
  • X, x: /eɡ̊sʰ/
  • Y, y: /yːˀ/
  • Z, z: /sʰeð/
  • Æ, æ: /ɛːæˀ/
  • Ø, ø: /øːˀ/
  • Å, å: /ɔːˀ/

Notice the three letters at the end that are not part of our common English alphabet. In some cases words written with those letters are different than a word appearing with the alternate. Presently, all computer operating systems have the ability to reproduce the characters in all the different languages. I would suggest that genealogists start making this a priority and record the names of their Danish, Norwegian, German etc. ancestors as they were given at birth.

Name changes
Names change. This is a fact of life. There are hundreds of reasons why people change their names, many of them trivial. Genealogists begin to find this issue almost immediately upon trying to research ancestors born in another country. Very often, the ancestor would adopt a new name, officially or very often, unofficially, when they moved to a country with a different language. Just remember the rule about recording the name at the time of birth and then recording name variations in notes or alternative names. I could write a book on this subject. but the rule usually sorts out the issue. 

Titles should be recorded as titles. Almost all genealogy database programs today provide for a way that titles can be recorded separately from the names as given at birth. There is one issue, that is children who were actually given the name of captain, major, doctor or whatever at birth. If the ancestor's name is the same as a common title, then there should always be an explanation. 

Other words
I am at the end of my list. What I find is genealogists who feel compelled to record occupation or other information in the name fields of their databases. If the word or words are not part of the name as given at birth, then don't record it as a name. Occupations should be recorded as occupations etc. 

The inventiveness of genealogists can never be underestimated. I am sure that I will continue to find an amazing number of different words and spellings in name fields in the future. Maybe this will change? Never. Not as long as I make my own typographical errors. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Good and the Bad of Names, Dates and Places -- Part One Names

Yesterday I listened to my daughter tell me a long explanation about trying to merge two duplicate individuals in Family Tree. One of the problems she encountered was that a female ancestor had been entered into the program with her married name rather than her maiden name. I have mentioned this issue previously but thought it would be appropriate to review again.

When I first started going through Family Group Records (FGR) 32 years ago inherited from my family, I quickly saw the variations in ways names, dates and places were recorded. Unfortunately, over the years those same problems crop up continually as I review my own and others' entries. Some of the reasons they occur reflect changes in the way entries were accepted at the time. Other issues are just incomplete or sloppy research. Let's take the name "Jane Alice Doe" as an example. Jane Doe marries Alan Edward Roe. Here are some of types of variations you could easily see from review a few hundred FGR over the years for exactly the same person :

  • Jane Alice Doe
  • Jane Doe
  • Jane A Doe 
  • Jane A. Doe
  • Jane Alice DOE
  • J. A. Doe
  • Jane
  • J. Doe
  • DOE
  • Mrs Jane Alice Doe
  • Mrs. Roe
  • Mrs. Jane Alice Roe
  • Mrs. Jane A. Roe
  • Mrs. J. A. ROE
  • Mrs. J. Roe
  • Mrs. ROE
  • ROE

and so forth. In addition, do you put the Last Name (Surname) first or do you put the name in capital letters or what? Now some of these issues are inherited from the way standard FGR forms were printed. For example, here is a common form that I would encounter:

You can see dozens of variations of this form by searching online for "family group record form" or something like that. This particular sheet shows the wife's name to be entered in two parts, Given Name and Maiden Name. Here is a sample of different forms from the first part of a Google Image search for a FGR:

Here is one that I commonly found

Here, the name for both the husband and the wife are simply a line without any designation as to the order of the names or whether to use any particular variation of the possible naming patterns. Earlier sheets usually limited the amount of space given in the form for any individual entry. This became a really important issue with place names, but this is a series and right now I am talking about names of people.

Using FamilySearch (and its predecessors) as an example, if you go back in history, you will see that the standard changed from time to time and from place to place. Early on, say about 1900 to 1920, there did not seem to be any standardized method of recording names. Eventually, there were guidelines such as using maiden name for females but if the maiden name was unknown, then use the prefix "Mrs." with the husband's surname. For a while, with typewritten FGRs, there was a standard that all surnames be capitalized. The immediate problem with this was the issue with names such as McDonald and MCDONALD.

I could probably go on for an entire book outlining the history of all these changes but let's fast forward to today. Do we have any standard way of entering name information? Well, actually we don't. We have a lot of different genealogical database programs, we have a huge number of online programs and very, very few of them give the user a clue as to how to enter names. If they do, the instructions are likely buried in some manual that never gets read. So when we go to an online family tree such as we still see all of the variations, faithfully preserved, from the old FGRs.

It has been pointed out recently in comments to this and other blogs, that we do not have any "Genealogy Police" enforcing standards. But here are a few suggestions. Of course, I expect that there will be disagreements. Oh, before doing this let me mention that computers, rather than solving these issues, merely added another layer of variations. Most genealogists who were accustomed to entering their information in a particular way, simply used the computer to duplicate what they had be doing all along, even though it made no sense. Some of the genealogical database programs let you record surnames in all capitals or with upper and lower case and make the changes from one to another automatically. Why? I can see the reason for the editing changes but WHY ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO PUT SURNAMES IN ALL CAPS? You might get my point.

One more observation, early computer programs were as bad as paper forms in limited the way names, dates and place due to character limitations built into the programs. Oh well.

Here are some general rules I suggest.

  • All names should be entered as they are spoken in whatever language they were originally given.
  • All names should be recorded as they were given at the time of birth with variations in notes or alternative name sections.
  • Use normal (i.e. upper and lower case) transcriptions.
  • Use all specific characters (now generally available in all computer operating systems) used in the original languages.
  • Do not use Mr., Mrs. or other such designations, titles, etc. unless they were part of the name at the time of birth. 
  • Do not use abbreviations unless they were actually part of the name at birth.

After all that discussion, that's it. If you think about it, most or nearly all of the problems I encountered over the years could be solved with these simple rules.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Digital Map and imagery Collections

I have a son who is presently working at the University of Florida and because of this I noticed that they have one of the premier academic map collections in the entire United States. From their Map and Imagery Collections page I found the following statistics:
The Map & Imagery Digital Collections includes materials from the University of Florida's Map & Imagery Library andDepartment of Special and Area Studies Collections, particularly the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History and theUniversity Archives. The physical Map & Imagery Library Collection contains more than 497,800 maps, 266,500 aerial photographs, 2,250 remote sensing images, and 7,215 atlases and reference books. It is the largest academic map collection in the Southeast, and among the top five academic map collections in the entire United States. The Map & Imagery Library has general map coverage world-wide. Specialties of the collection include Florida, Latin America, the United States, Africa, and the Holy Land.
Well, so now I was interested in finding out the other four huge university collections. Oh, I might note that the University of Florida also has the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Florida.

Before I go on in my search for the other four, I think it is important to note that maps should be the genealogists constant companion. Too many times when I quiz people about their genealogy, they have no idea where are of the places they find are actually located. For this reason, many of the places are incorrectly identified or confused. I suggest that identifying on a map each and every location you cite in your research is important. Many of the current genealogy programs will do this automatically except not so well for places that no longer exist.

The next major university collection I came across was the Library of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Their collection is described as follows:
MIL's collections of maps, aerial photography, satellite imagery and other spatial data exceed 5 million information objects. As of 1992, MIL was ranked as the number one spatial data collection in the top 100 members of the Association of Research Libraries. According to the 2006 Guide to US Map Sources, MIL is the third largest academic map collection in the country. 
Aerial Photography and other remote sensing data 
The imagery collection is composed of 2.8 million aerial photographs and an unknown amount of satellite images stored as part of the legacy Alexandria Digital Library collections. New to aerial imagery? Check out our aerial photography tools to learn how to find flights covering your area of interest and read indexes. We also have a page that describes major portions of the collection.
OK, so UC Santa Barbara is the third largest academic collection. Where are the others? It turns out that most universities have a map collection. That means there are thousands of map collections around the world. Another large collection shows up at Yale University. Here is the description from the website:
The Yale Map Collection has the largest collection of maps in Connecticut and one of the largest university collections in the United States. Its collections are geographically comprehensive and consist of over 200,000 map sheets, 3,000 atlases, and 900 reference books.
There seems to be some overlap between claims to the largest collections and the largest digitized collections. Some of the libraries have extensive collections of paper maps with only a small percentage yet digitized. I would think that there would be a huge amount of duplication in these collections. For example, the USGS has all of the U.S. topographical maps with many of them digitized. I assume that most of the other map collections contain these topographical maps. This is the case with the claim by the University of Kansas T.R. Smith Map Collection as follows:
The Thomas R. Smith Map Collection, located on the first floor of Anschutz Library at the University of Kansas, is among the largest academic map collections in the United States. The map collection includes over 440,000 paper maps and air photographs, covering all areas of the world, with particular strengths in maps of Kansas and of the U.S.A.
It would probably be a really good idea to search for maps from universities in the areas where your ancestors lived. This would be a good place to start. As for identifying the largest map collections in libraries, it turns out finding out which are the largest is very difficult due to differences in the way the collections are described.

Here is one compilation of websites that you might want to see: Images of early maps on the web. Have fun looking at maps. 

Can I do genealogy on my tablet? My smartphone? My watch?

Google glasses have started to be sold generally. Google held a one day sale to the public and it is supposed that thousands of the new products were sold online for $1,500. See CNN "Google Glass signals a wearables revolution." I would guess that most genealogists are either entirely uninterested in this new product or are wondering how in the world it might be of use. You might be more interested in these predictions from Forbes in a recent article entitled, "IDC: 87% Of Connected Devices Sales By 2017 Will Be Tablets And Smartphones." The article quotes IDC Technologies as stating:
  • During Q4 of this year, tablets will outsell by desktop and laptop PCs. IDC also estimates that tablet sales will surpass PCs on an annual basis by 2015.
  • IDC is predicting the worldwide smart connected device market will accelerate past 2B units by the end of 2015, attaining a market value of $735.1B. PCs will drop from 28.7% in 2013 to 13% in 2017. Tablets will increase from 11.8% in 2013 to 16.5% by 2017, and smartphones will increase from 59.5% to 70.5%. 
Over the past couple of years, I have been watching tablets, including of course iPads, from being something people noticed and that were a novelty, to seeing parents hand their babies an iPad and watching the baby (less than a year old) play with the screen and make it work. Now that we are going to live only a few blocks from the Brigham University Campus, we see a lot more younger people as we drive to stores and such during the day. My wife and I were remarking that almost half of the students walking around had a cell phone of some kind glued to their ear. It was not unusual to see three or four young people walking together, all talking on separate cell phones and probably not to each other. 

It is interesting that a search in the Apple App Store on the term "genealogy" brought up only the following from a screen shot:

There are actually quite a few more apps available, but apparently, the developers haven't figured out how to get their products to show up when someone searches for genealogy. A search for "family history" in the App Store gives only two of the above programs. For example, I know that has an app for iOS (Apple) and it does not show up in a search in the App store. 

However, in the iTunes App Store, there are over 100 apps for iPhone and only slightly less for the iPad. Here is a screen shot of the first few offerings:

Many of these apps connect and synchronize with desktop computer programs such as the ones shown for RootsMagic, Reunion and Heredis. Some also allow direct entry into an online family tree, such as the one from

There are similar offerings from the Android Market:

I guess the real question is whether or not you can do your genealogy entirely on one or more or these devices? I think that the main limitation is data entry. I cannot yet imagine doing a lot of data entry, especially into various data fields in a genealogy program without using some sort of keyboard. Now, granted, when I was thinking about upgrading my iPad, I seriously considered it as substitute for my laptop, but the functionality, even with the addition of a keyboard, was not yet there. But I do suggest that it will be possible very shortly, to function entirely with a keyboard and a tablet computer. I say this as I am working, and have been working almost steadily for the past few weeks, on my laptop. All my travels and moving from Arizona to Utah has made it necessary to work off of the laptop almost exclusively. Since I can now plug my laptop into a large screen, I may have to consider whether or not I even want to have a desktop computer. I am also using a touch pad now exclusively. I finally have given up using my mouse at all. 

So, back to the question of the title. The answer is a qualified yes. It really depends on the development of the programs and your degree of involvement with technology and with genealogy. Can I run a full-blown genealogy program on my iPad? Not quite yet. Attaching peripherals such as a scanner can be really tricky. But I see this all moving in that direction in the not too distant future. For example, not too long ago, FamilySearch issued an Indexing app for smartphones and tablets. It did not work very well and was retired. Now, they are back again. The new version of Indexing coming shortly will support Indexing from a tablet. See New Indexing Program: Tablet Support and the New Learning Experience by Janell Vasquez

If you don't have a tablet computer Android or iOS yet, you will have no idea what you are missing. You cannot imagine how integrated smartphones and tablets (iPads) can become in what you do every day including genealogically related activities.