RootsTech 2014

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

Friday, September 19, 2014

8000 Historic Norwegian Maps Online


Thanks to a comment from a reader with a link, I found the following Local History Section of a Norwegian website with an article entitled, "Map heritage." The article by Marianne Herfindal Johannessen, refers to an online collection of 8000 historical maps of Norway from the Norwegian national mapping Authority. These websites are in Norwegian and if you do not read the language, you can use Google Translate to almost instantly translate the pages into pretty acceptable English.

The Historic Maps are on the a separate website called appropriately, Historic Maps. Here is a screenshot of the website:


I used Google Translate to render the page in English. I am always interested in any more map sites around the world. These early maps in Norway would be of great assistance to those doing research in the early years.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Generation Compulsion

Which of us in the genealogy world can resist the generation compulsion? We always want to add just one more generation to our pedigrees. The same compulsion moved the pioneers across the United States. The country was apparently empty, except for the people who were living there already territory, and beckoning them to risk life and limb to explore. Those blank spaces in a fan chart format are irresistible. But unlike the early pioneers in America, we can jump over all the intervening territory and start with the search for the blank space. In some genealogists, the compulsion is so strong that they cannot control themselves and they add name after name to the pedigree chart with no research or sources at all. They just need to feed their compulsion with names. Any name will do and at the same time, why not add random dates and places?

Here is an example of this compulsion from the FamilySearch.org Family Tree:


Of course this Colgrove person has no sources. But it is even more interesting to look at his detail page (By the way, I am sure that Colgrove and his wife, Mrs., were very happy).


Apparently, his parents could not decide on a given name and simply called him "Colgrove." You can see that there are two entries confirming that this was his birth name. What is even more interesting about this person are his birth and death places. He was evidently born in "South Kingston, Washington, Rhode Island, United States" in 1630. 

Now that I think about it, this entry makes groundbreaking history. Not only was the United States around in 1630, but the town of South Kingston and Washington County were also there and as a bonus, we get the state of Rhode Island!!!

My, I did not know I had such remarkable ancestors. Just think of all the things I can learn from poking around in FamilySearch.org Family Tree.

Well, the last time I checked, the United States didn't actually come into existence until sometime after 1776. Most historians date the existence of the "United States of America" from the date of 1776, even though there are those that refer to the United States going all the way back to 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

As for Rhode Island, I would suggest that there is little controversy over the fact that Roger Williams was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635 and established the first colony in the area we now call Rhode Island in 1636 on land "purchased" (???) from the Narragansett Indian Tribe. 

Unless South Kingston and Washington County pre-existed the settlement of the land in 1630, they did not exist either. I am wondering what a lone European White lady was doing wandering around in the Indian territory having a baby, but I guess it was entirely possible. 

Too bad we can't develop a vaccine against the generation compulsion. Wait, I assumed that Colgrove and his Mrs. were happy. I think I will revisit that conclusion. I think having a baby out there in the wilderness was not likely a very easy or happy event. Maybe I should go look for a photo of the lovely couple standing beside their rough hewn log cabin out there on the Atlantic coast in 1630. That is about as likely as finding a source for the claim. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Orphans and Orphan Trains


During the years between 1854 and 1929, over 200,000 (estimate) children were taken from the orphanages and streets in the larger cities and shipped off to the Midwest and the West to families willing to take them in. Tragically, some of these children ended up in virtual slavery. As you are researching your ancestors and find an "adopted" child in America during the above time period, it is possible that the child was one of these orphans.

For more extensive history about the Orphan Train Movement see the following:

I would suggest that you read the last referenced document first as it is the most detailed and has dozens of further citations. It is entirely possible that an unrelated person residing with a family and listed as a "laborer" in the U.S. Census, could, in fact, be a transported orphan. 


Discovery of your ancestors vs. Setting out to prove who they are

I have had several discussions lately about two opposing views of genealogy. The first of these opposing views came in the context of an application for admittance into the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and similar organizations. Mind you, I think ancestral organizations fill an important roll in genealogy by promoting interest and maintaining valuable records. For example, the DAR have a substantial genealogical library. The two opposing views involve the way membership in such an organization is sought. One method is to begin genealogical research from the premise that the researcher is a descendant of someone who fought in the U.S. Revolutionary War and the opposing view is to do ancestral research and discover from the research that such a relationship exists.

In the first instance, the researcher is generally motivated by a family story or tradition linking him or her to a particular historical person. In Mesa, Arizona over the years, this issue came up most commonly in the context of researchers' attempts to prove Native American ancestry for the purpose of claiming benefits from an established Indian Reservation. Less frequently, the researcher would be trying to prove a connection with a specific historical figure or European royalty. In most of these cases, the researchers are firmly convinced that the connection exists, long before any valid genealogical data has been obtained.

This a priori assumption of some kind of historical connection to a famous person or group of people, is often viewed as a positive motivator for interest in genealogy. In fact, there are several programs, including ones in major online genealogy databases, that encourage these assumptions by linking people to famous celebrities or other historical people though the online family trees. I am certain that there are many very dedicated genealogists out there who were initially motivated by such a desire. Where this motivation breaks down is when researchers begin to modify their findings and manufacture connections that do not really exist so that they can gain entrance to the organization or claim a famous historical relationship.

During a period of American genealogical history, there were a significantly large number of genealogical businesses whose main purpose was to prove heirship to unclaimed fortunes in Europe, particularly England. This is not be confused with the research done to find heirs to unclaimed probate matters or other similar activities.

The opposite viewpoint involves the careful examination of ancestral lines beginning with the researcher and following lines back in time. In this case, it is entirely possible that an ancestor could be located who fought in a war or was a member of a European Royal Family, but that discovery comes about as a result of careful research extending family lines.

In my own family, the ancestral lines have been extended to five potential ancestors in early Colonial Virginia all of whom have the exact same name. In the published accounts of this family line, the assumption is made that one of these families is related to a distinguished New England banking family of the same name; Morgan. This view is held, notwithstanding the lack of a provable connection between any one of the five possibly unrelated Morgan families in Virginia and the New England family.

Both my wife and I have had similar experiences with patrons when we were working in the Mesa, Arizona FamilySearch Library. On several occasions I was asked to help people with proving the last connection to a famous family line. Most recently, my wife had a patron who just needed to prove that one more of her ancestors was a descendant of a Native American to substantiate a link to an Indian tribe.

I think that the amazing stories of my ancestors is more than adequate compensation for the time and effort spent in discovering who they were. I certainly do not wish to discourage anyone from investigating their family, but I would suggest that searching back in time may bring more satisfaction that attempting to prove a connection to an ancestor merely for the reason of establishing membership in some sort of organization.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The 23 Wives of Philip Taber II

I have been watching and interesting development in FamilySearch.org's Family Tree. My ancestor Phillip Taber, (b. abt. 1644, d. bef 4 March 1892/3) was married to Mary Cooke (b. abt 1652, d. between 26 April 1708 and 25 January 1714/15). She was the daughter of John Cooke (b. abt 1806, d. 23 November 1695) and Sarah Warren (b. abt 1614, d. aft 15 july 1696). John Cooke was a passenger on the Mayflower and his wife, Sarah Warren, was the daughter of Mayflower passenger Richard Warren, (b. abt 1579, d. 1628). All of these people have been the object of intense genealogical research and subsequent scrutiny for over 200 years. Although the dates are approximate, there is absolutely no controversy over their identity. See the General Society of Mayflower Descendants aka The Mayflower Society.

I have written about this particular line on various occasions over the years. I am focusing on Philip Taber because of a situation existing in the Family Tree program. In Family Tree, Philip Taber  Here is a screenshot illustrating this portion of the Family Tree:


Note that Philip Taber is entered as Philip Taber II. Also note that Mary Cooke's parents are missing. Rather than simply being wrong, this situation points out several issue that are common to all genealogists no matter what their experience level or their degree of meticulous care. The situation that exists in Family Tree is in absolutely no way the product of anything done or not done by FamilySearch. In this case, the situation merely reflects about 150 years of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of different researchers doing and redoing research on these same families. All FamilySearch has done is to collect all that research into one place at one time. Now, if we look at Philip Taber's details we see the following:


First, the information contained in the Family Tree entry is wrong. The correct information has been verified and re-verified and has also been subject to challenge for at least a hundred years. If anyone had valid proof of any alternative dates or places, they would have been accepted or proven wrong years ago. That is not to say that there is no controversy surrounding this particular family. It is relatively easy to find alternative claims and information online. In addition, Family Tree shows Philip Taber with 23 wives.


Of course, not all of the wives shown can fit in one screenshot. My question is which of these alternatives would you choose as correct? How would you do your research to determine your choice? Why would you believe the Mayflower Society over some other online claim to the truth about the family? Oh, by the way, the 23 wives is just the beginning. You need to realize that Philip Taber has hundreds of copy variations in the Family Tree program inherited from combinations made in New.FamilySearch.org and when they exceeded the limit, are still waiting to be merged.

The tendency here is to blame FamilySearch or the ignorance and/or incompetence of the contributor researchers. However, as I said, FamilySearch is merely the messenger here. In addition, the research was done by well-meaning people over the last 150 years or so and reflects the individual variations in the research. The real challenge here is arbitrating the hundreds of variations across thousands (perhaps millions) of individuals who are already entered into programs such as FamilySearch Family Tree.

If you look closely at the information for Philip Taber II above, you will see that the variations sometimes fall within the range of dates given by the Mayflower Society. So how is anyone supposed to decide which of the various claims is correct if the Mayflower Society cannot come up with a definite date of birth or death? This points up a serious genealogical issue. It is sometimes impossible to make specific determinations from scanty or non-existent evidence through lack of sources. This is especially true when research extends back into the 17th Century.

I do know one definite fact: Philip Taber (II or whatever) did not have 23 different wives. It is very likely that with one or two exceptions the names listed as wives are duplicates caused by variations in the way the name, dates or places are recorded. What if I were to merge all the "duplicate" files and impose my personal research facts on the whole genealogical community? I should note at this point that none of the long list of alternative names in the supposed duplicates has a valid source. Many of the so-called sources are merely acknowledgements that the records were copied from another family tree.

In this list there is one non-conformist challenge in the form of a claim that Philip Taber was really John Thomson. There is a long narrative attached to the file describing the history of this person and claiming that "he married 26 Dec 1645, Mary Cooke, b. 1626, dau. of Francis Cooke, one of the Pilgrim Fathers who came over on the "Mayflower."" This claim would seem to invalidate the entire extensive narrative since Mary Cooke was born in 1652 and was the granddaughter of Francis Cooke, not his daughter.  Francis Cooke had a daughter named Mary who did marry a John Thomson, but this particular entry seems to have confused the different Mary Cookes.

So, overlaying the diligent, although unsourced attempts at representing this particular family, there is a layer of research not only lacking in sources but confused and patently inconsistent on its face. Unfortunately simply washing our hands of the entire issue will not solve the problem. It is also not helpful to dismiss all of the variations as the work of misguided and incompetent amateurs. The fact that the correct information is vague but readily available adds to the problem rather than solution.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What I have learned from Presenting at Genealogy Conferences

You might not have noticed, but the list of my upcoming conference presentations is very short. In contrast, in the past, there were months when I had three or even more presentations scheduled for conferences around the country and I had over twenty conferences scheduled. Although I am teaching perhaps many more hours than I have in the past, I am doing this locally where I now live in Utah Valley. Part of this change in emphasis comes from fundamental changes in the genealogical community. Other reasons for the change are personal in nature. I am still scheduled to present at #RootsTech 2015, but so far, that is the only conference I have scheduled in 2015.

This past week, I taught seventeen classes on various subject about genealogy that included five full days, about 10 to 12 hours in some cases, of additional helping people one-on-one. I am by no means announcing my retirement from the conference circuit, but I am acknowledging that my focus is on smaller groups and more individual assistance. In the meantime, I will be featured in YouTube videos and webinars that are already in the planning stage. Because of all this, I thought it appropriate to have a retrospective.

For many of us, genealogy is a solitary and very research focused persuasion. Attending and presenting at conferences became a way for me to add a social aspect to my consummate interest in genealogy. I have always enjoyed teaching and presenting at conferences enabled me to expand the reach of my classes. But the gains from presenting at a major conference do not always outweigh the benefits from person-to-person contact in smaller classroom situations. I find the most enjoyable aspect of teaching genealogy to take place when I am working with one person and helping them succeed in finding their ancestors.

There are some advantages to traveling around the country and meeting with all the wonderful, friendly and very dedicated people who attend the conferences. But my focus has continued to become more centered on those people in my immediate area of contact. Even though I have enjoyed the opportunities to speak to large audiences, I find more satisfaction from working with much smaller groups.

In addition, I find the genealogy conference scene to be changing. Many of the presenters I would meet at local conferences have moved on to the "big time" and only present when the numbers in attendance justify their expenses in attending. Many conference regulars now appear frequently in world-wide webinars, attend genealogy cruises and even appear in the national media. This is especially true of those former small conference presenters who are making their living from their presentations or from spin-off products. I am in no way disparaging this phenomena, but I am not in this for the money and have no desire to start promoting my own products by starting another company. For this reason, I have chosen not to submit a number of proposals to the bigger conferences and then have the expense of traveling to locations around the country and world. RootsTech is an exception because it is in my own backyard.

So, I have learned several things about myself and whole lot about the genealogical community at large. One thing I have learned is that I will be spending even more time writing. I have been working, off and on, on several book ideas, but those ideas are now firming up into plans for more frequent publication. The books will most likely be published online as ebooks and will cover a variety of genealogical topics.

Early on, I viewed my blog, in part, as a vehicle to promote opportunities to present at conferences. That view has changed and I now see the writing and blogging as being more far reaching and important than personal appearances at conferences. As I mentioned above, my teaching is now more focused on the BYU Family History Library and other Family History Centers and more local opportunities to teach.

Meanwhile, my focus will be on writing, teaching on a local level, working with individuals and organizing and researching my own genealogy.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Starfish of Genealogy

All my life I have heard a series of stories with "moral lessons." This type of story is always told with the intent of producing an emotional response in those who hear the story. Because of this emotional response, these stories get told and retold regularly, sometimes with new twists or variations to meet the needs of the teller. Sometimes the stories reach parable status or even started out as parables. One such story involves starfish. This particular story has been the basis of whole books and movies. I find hundreds of thousands of references to the story online. This particular story actually originated as part of a 16-page essay of the same name by Loren Eiseley (1907–1977), published in 1969 in The Unexpected Universe. The Star Thrower is also the title of a 1978 anthology of Eiseley's works (including the essay), which he completed shortly before his death. See Wikipedia: The Star Thrower.

In genealogy, we have our own starfish throwers. These are people that save dying collections of genealogy produced during the lifetime of another individual.

These genealogical starfish come about as a result of the death or incapacity of a long-time researcher. For whatever reason, it seems that many genealogists, perhaps because of the solitary nature of the persuasion, have made no plans or accommodations for the preservation of their lifetime work. In some cases, an obsession with ownership has blinded the researcher to the need to share their work with relatives and others and as a result the heirs, if there are any, of the researcher, upon their death, throw the entire collection into the trash bin. In other cases it is merely neglect.

Some of these collections, quite frankly, are not worth saving. But others consist of material that may contain documents and information that is irreplaceable. From time to time, I hear stories of such collections being snatched right from the dumpster. During the researcher's life, it seems almost impossible to save the dying collection. During the past few weeks I have met such researchers who were antagonistic to the point of anger at the suggestion that they share their work to preserve it. Many insist on keeping their work either on paper or on "their own program on their computer."

The tragedy of these genealogical starfish is that they are so short-sighted about the need to preserve their own work.

Fortunately, there are sometimes genealogical starfish throwers who manage to save a very few of these collections. One such person is Arlene Eakle. You can visit her website and see her monumental efforts to save these collections. For this purpose, she has established the Genealogy Library Center, Inc. at 62 West Main St. Tremonton UT 84337. You may wish to read our own "starfish thrower" story on the pages of her website.

We really do need to be vigilant, as a genealogical community, to the loss of research caused by these stranded stars. If you know of someone who is in danger of losing their research, please take the time to kindly attempt a rescue. There are many places that good and valuable research can go. You may wish to contact a museum, a genealogy society, a state archive, a university special collections library or some other institution, but in the end, you may also need to take the time to preserve the collection yourself as Arlene has done over the years.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Identifying Maiden Names

One of the lamentable problems facing genealogists is the fact that some older sources in many European countries and the United States tend to omit the maiden names of spouses. Of course, depending on your ancestors' origin, this problem may not even exist. In Spanish speaking countries, it was the custom for the wife to retain her maiden name after marriage. Rather than repeat all of the possible methods of finding maiden names, I decided to list some websites that had information about the process. Here is the list:


No, really. There weren't that many articles online. I was quite surprised. However, from digging through old family group records and looking at family trees online (about the same thing) you could think this was a much larger problem than it is in real life. That is not to say that the problem does not exist but the solution is usually doing research in greater breadth and depth. Some of the articles above list dozens of types of documents that can supply the missing maiden name. 

Finding Grandma Jones

One of the biggest challenges of genealogical research is the the unknown ancestor with the common name. Differentiating between people with the same or similar names, especially those that live in the same area, can be a daunting and seemingly impossible challenge. However, since no two objects can occupy the same place at the same time (at least in our macro-atomic world), there should be a way to differentiate between these people and pick out the correct ancestor. Fortunately, there are some methods that work most of the time.

First, I am not talking about the endless instances where I find pedigrees ending with a "Mary, b. abt 1800 in Ohio." Many of these instances are merely evidence of incomplete or sloppy research, especially when the entry, as is the case most of the time, is unaccompanied by any source citations that could give a subsequent researcher some idea what has been done previously. In addition, anyone who thinks that they have the identity of such a person established needs to explain exactly how and why they came to that conclusion. It certainly is possible to come to the end-of-a-line with little or no information identifying a wife, other than a mention of her first name in a will or other document, but any such entry should be accompanied by the evidence that does exist and certainly accompanied by copies of the document or documents.

Now, back to the initial issue, the multiple identity problem. This problem is most commonly found in Scandinavian countries, Wales or other places were the pool of surnames is either missing because of patronymics or severely limited. In times past, genealogists who encountered this type of problem, especially in small towns, have simply assumed that everyone in the town with the same surname was a relative of some sort and included them all, as individuals, in the accumulated family group records without any particular effort evidenced in sorting them all out into families or pedigrees. I have seen this happen more than once with the research done by some of my own ancestors. Whether or not you inherit this problem or encounter it yourself, the challenge is about the same.

Immediately upon determining that this situation exists, the research should begin backtracking to the first positively documented and identified ancestor in that particular line, rather than banging repeatedly into the issue. The research of this identified ancestor should be expanded sideways to learn everything possible about the ancestor's family, neighbors, friends, occupation, religion, education, material possessions. Every type of record available in the area where this identified ancestor should be carefully examined. Further, the researcher should become very well acquainted with the history of the area where the identified ancestor lived. Every history of the area should be carefully examined for clues. It is reasonable to expect that this more in-depth type of research will result in the problem of multiple individuals with the same name being resolved in the process. The main theme of the investigation should be to identify, as much as possible the exact location of each family in the community. This is particularly true in Scandinavian countries, but the same methodology applies to countries such as Wales.

As the information is gathered, it must be organized in a way that provides a way to see the way the families are distinguished. I have heard several ways this can be accomplished. With today's technology, it is possible to construct a spreadsheet with all the candidate individuals listed and then compare the facts concerning the the individual facts obtained by the research in columns so they can be compared and the individuals eliminated by the research easily marked

I usually hear some kind of claim in these situations that the researcher or researchers have "search every record available." If this were even possibly true, then they must conclude they have come to a legitimate end of line. It is not acceptable in these situations to "adopt" an ancestor merely because separating the similarly named individuals is difficult. In almost all of these cases the possibility of continuing depends on the time-frame involved. If we are talking about ancestors back into the 1600s or further back in time, it may be the case that the records do not exist to make the determination. But the same rule applies to backing up to the descendants and doing more in depth research.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Images added to PERSI

The Periodical Source Index or PERSI has been a valuable source for genealogical research for years. Here is some of its background and history from the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki:
The Periodical Source Index, or PERSI, is the largest subject index to genealogy and local history periodical articles in the world.[1] Created by the staff of the Allen County Public Library Foundation and the ACPL’s Genealogy Center, PERSI is widely recognized as a vital tool for genealogical researchers. PERSI indexes articles in 11,000 periodical titles (including 3,000 defunct titles) published by thousands of local, state, national and international societies and organizations, arranging 2.25 million entries by surname or location and 22 basic subject headings. An important tool for genealogists looking for new avenues of investigation, PERSI’s usefulness is not limited to family history researchers. Local historians and academics, archaeologists and demographers, as well as students from elementary to graduate school and beyond, will all find PERSI an important asset in their research. 
The PERSI project began in 1986 with efforts directed at indexing both “current” issues, to be published in annual volumes, and “retrospective” issues, to be published in a 16 volume set covering 1847-1985. The Family History Library made the 16 volume set available on microfiche, but the print volumes provided the principal access for researchers until Ancestry began to briefly issue CDs containing the entire retro set, all annual volumes, plus additional pre-1986 material. 
In 1997, the last year for which an annual print volume was produced, PERSI was made available as an online database at Ancestry.com $. However, it is no longer available at that site. 
PERSI is searchable at HeritageQuestOnline.com. (Available only to organizational subscriptions) 
Under the auspices of the ACPL Foundation, the project currently employs a staff of eight, including a full-time supervisor and assistant supervisor, as well as part-time encoders (indexers), editors, and request fulfillment personnel. 
PERSI is also available and searchable at FindMyPast.com $.
The last statement is significant. Findmypast.com has been adding both links and document images to the program. If you monitor the findmypast.com blog, you will see announcements concerning newly added images from time to time.  Both the links and the images enhance the value of this already valuable resource. Here is a screenshot of the findmypast.com website showing the search page for the PERSI:




What constitutes genealogical evidence? Part One: Beginning the Process

I have had a couple of posts recently about sources, but it is time to move on and discuss the difference between a "source" and evidence. The main reason for providing a citation trail is to give those who come after you the ability to determine the reliability of your conclusions. One place to start this analysis is to examine the Research Cycle. Here are two examples; one fairly simple and the other with a lot more detail.

https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Restart_the_Research_Cycle

Here is the more detailed example:

https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/File:Research_Process_Steps.png
The cycle or process can be rather complicated but essentially involves the basic genealogical and historical principle of moving from what you know to what you do not know through investigating "sources" or records of the past that contain information about your family. There is a substantial amount of discussion in the genealogical community about the degree of reliability of sources. Perhaps it would be helpful to put the Research Cycle into words with my own comments.

I would describe the process as follows with a hypothetical research issue.

Let's suppose that you began your investigation about your ancestors by talking to your father  (who is fortunately still alive), He tells you the names of your paternal (father's) grandparents. The natural inclination of a beginning genealogist would then be to try and discover more "information" about these paternal grandparents. (Of course, this hypothetical could apply to any generation of ancestors going back in time). Hypothetically, you never knew either of these grandparents because they died before you were born. The standard Research Cycle shown above, would have you off looking for information about your grandparents, likely searching for their names in some online record or another. But since this is my hypothetical, the search turns out to be unproductive, no matter how much you search, you cannot find anyone with the names given you by your father (or aunt or grandmother or whomever).  You search for years and finally conclude that your grandparents (or great-grandparents etc.) may have appeared on the earth as aliens from another planet.

One day, it finally occurs to you that your father may have been wrong. So instead of looking for the names of your grandparents, you begin investigating your father. Where do you begin? Well, since in this hypothetical, you are now gaining some experience, you happen to read a blog post by someone living in Provo, Utah that says to start with a place rather than a name. Since you (hypothetically) now are beginning to realize that genealogy involves mostly searching for documents and than just names, you think back and remember that your father said he lived in Virginia while he was very young. You get permission from your father and dig around in the few old documents your father has stashed away and find your father's old grade school report card. (This old grade school report card is a source, that is a document that contains information about the past). You now have a specific place where your father lived at a specific time. You then begin looking for documents about your father that may have been created at the specific time and place you identified from a source. That source, the report card, contains "evidence." That evidence is valuable because it establishes the time and date of an event, in this case school attendance, for an individual in the past.

How good is the evidence? Well, you can get all bogged down in that subject, but remember, this is my hypothetical. The report card purports to be a document created at or near the time of an event (school attendance) that can be used to establish where that even occurred with some degree of certainty. (More about evaluating documents and evidence in the future). The information contained in that report card is evidence of the place where your father lived at a particular point in time.

Now, you begin the next step, identifying where additional sources might be located. Having just attended a class at a local genealogical society, you remember that there are two good ways to begin your search for historical documents (sources). You can look in the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki or in the FamilySearch Catalog. Because you aren't looking for names at this point, but you are looking for records that may contain a name, you find a huge list of documents that could pertain to your father and his family; church records, probate records, land records, etc. You begin to realize that without an awareness of the types of documents that may contain information about your family, you may have been wasting your time searching for a name.

You also realize that before you launched off looking for your paternal grandparents you should have nailed down some very specific "evidence" about your father. In this hypothetical, you are successful in identifying additional documents that contain information about your father. That information becomes "evidence" when you have examined it closely and then take the time to evaluate the information for consistency and reliability. Guess what? Your father told you the wrong names for his parents. With the information (now evidence) you have obtained about your father, you find further documentation about your grandparents and you are on your way to learning about your ancestors. But, guess what? You are just beginning the process.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Is there an iWatch in your genealogical future?

On Tuesday, 9 September 2014, Apple introduced its new "iWatch" aka "Apple Watch." First, the Watch will not be available until sometime in 2015. If you read this blog regularly, you have probably picked up my long term enthusiasm for Apple products. Whether or not I think the concept (dating back to Dick Tracy) is "cool" or whatever, really depends on whether I view this as another gadget or an essential tool. I think I need to note that I do not wear a watch, or any other jewelry, rings etc. at all. Period. So, personally, not matter how spiffy or useful, I am not inclined to be much interested. From my standpoint, I would have to agree to wear the watch (or anything) even before I was inclined to use it.

But let's suppose that you are fascinated by the new device. Other than the functions now performed by some other device or your own watch, is there anything that this watch will do that will benefit genealogy or genealogical research? The answer is very simple: not yet.

Of course, we also found out about the newly updated iPhone 6 with larger screens in two different configurations. Now here we have something of interest. I use my iPhone more or less constantly. It has a whole range of genealogical applications from apps connecting with online databases such as FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com to its ability to take high resolution photos and videos. What are the chances I will upgrade my iPhone? Very good, thank you.

The Challenge of Sources

During the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to teach the volunteer missionaries and patrons at the Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History Library. This has involved up to 12 hours of teaching and support a day. This reminds me of my sometimes 16 hour days when I was teaching at Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona. One of the benefits of this intensive teaching and support schedule is that I get a feeling for some of the underlying issues involved in learning how to do genealogical research. I have been interested to discover that one of the most challenging concepts of genealogy is the idea of using a source to establish a fact. Over the past few weeks, I have confronted this challenging topic over and over again.

To illustrate this problematic issue, I will start with rather complex hypothetical situation involving comparing two researchers. In the time honored fashion of my legal background, I will call the first researcher "Researcher John Doe" and the second "Researcher Robert Roe." I will also work hard at keeping the two straight and try not to be too confusing. Let me introduce my two researchers:

John Doe is a entirely new to genealogy. He has limited computer skills and cannot remember is ancestral lines past his grandparents. He approaches the subject of seeking out his ancestors more out of a sense of duty than passion. He has trouble with basic tasks such as logging on to websites and using more than one program at a time. He has attended a few classes about genealogical research, but is unsure how to proceed with his own investigations.

Robert Roe is an experienced genealogist. He is mildly challenged by the changing new technology but has a good grasp of his ancestors going back four or more generations. He is involved in a number of activities including recording oral histories and is in the process of publishing a book about his Great-grandfather.

I am not trying to say that either of these hypothetical individuals is in any way "typical." In a sense, they are both arbitrary constructs. But they do represent two of the levels of experience I find every day in helping both the missionaries and patrons at the Library.

The surprising this about both Doe and Roe is that they are challenged by the concept of adding sources to support their research into their families. Roe, the experienced one of the pair, is very familiar with his ancestors. So familiar in fact, he views the process of looking for sources as unnecessary. For example, he cannot see why he needs to attach a source to his father or mother, when he knows from personal experience all of their basic facts: birthdays, anniversaries etc.

Doe, on the other hand, does not know any of the dates or other details of his family. But he is disturbed by the fact that what he finds as "sources" are either incomplete or, from his standpoint, wrong. He is very disturbed when he finds a U.S. Census record that has misspelled his father's name and sees no reason why he should attach a record that has wrong information to his family.

Roe is not challenged by any of the mechanics of attaching a source to an individual in his genealogy program, but Doe cannot remember the steps he needs to take and has no motivation to overcome this limitation when he cannot see why attaching the source in necessary, especially when the information the "source" is inaccurate (from his viewpoint) and incomplete. He is also disturbed at the suggestion that he needs to attach more than one Census record. He says, "Why should I attach more than one Census record when they all say the same thing about my father?" He likens this to finding more than one birth certificate. On the other hand, Roe adds sources, because that is what he was told he needed to do.

What is missing in both of these hypothetical researchers is the concept of a "source." That is moving from what you know, to what you do not know by accumulating sources or evidence of the missing data. There is certainly hope for both of them, but explaining the concept of moving from the known to the unknown seems to have little effect on their activities. Neither of them grasp the need to work methodically through a pile of records, each of which may add only one or two small facts to their knowledge of their ancestors. They both have difficulty differentiating between someone's opinion, such as an entry in an online family tree without a source, and facts gathered from sources made at or near the time of the event.

I am not particularly surprised at this difficulty, because I realize that many budding lawyers fail to learn the connection between evidence and proof even after three years of intensive study in law school. It is the part of the process where a record substantiates obvious or known facts that makes the whole idea of adding sources, difficult to understand. They "know" their father's birthdate, why do they need to spend time looking for a document to "prove" what they already know.

The idea that "sources" may be contradictory or wrong is also disturbing. I find this most commonly manifested by the commonly asked question about "how many sources are necessary to prove a point?" My answer is always the same; "all of them." Neither of the researchers has a clear concept of adding data by examining sources. They are missing the concept that additional unknown information is obtained by evaluating documents and that recording the documents is necessary both to substantiate the researcher's conclusions and a way to allow subsequent researchers a method to check or verify the conclusions. Adding sources, all of them, is not a meaningless activity, it is the basis for progress. Had our ancestors documented their own lives and those of their immediate family members, we would be out of a job as genealogists. We are essentially working to put our descendants out of the job of verifying our own conclusions. We do this by documenting every fact and every conclusion with a source.

Neither Roe nor Doe will be able to advance very far in their research without a consistent and careful documentation (citation if you will) of their sources of information. They may feel like they are accomplishing something by copying unsupported pedigrees but they will simply be perpetuating the problem and passing it along to another researcher.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

MacBridge for RootsMagic Announced

http://rootsmagic.com/
RootsMagic, the popular genealogical software program, announced the availability of MacBridge for RootsMagic, enabling the program to run on an Apple Macintosh computer without the use of Microsoft Windows. Here is a description of the program:

One of the most common questions we are asked is, “When will RootsMagic run on a Mac?” With today’s release of MacBridge for RootsMagic 6, the answer is“right now”. MacBridge for RootsMagic 6 allows you easily install and run RootsMagic on your Mac in mere minutes with almost no additional setup or configuration.

MacBridge for RootsMagic is different than other solutions you may be familiar with. For starters, it does not install Windows on your Mac. It also does not create a slow and bulky virtual computer. It runs right on your Mac, using your Mac file system. You can even put the RootsMagic icon on your dock for easy one-click access! So while we are busily working on an actual native Mac version of RootsMagic, MacBridge for RootsMagic 6 gives you the ability to work on a Mac today.
This is a long awaited development and comes at almost the same time as Apple announces new versions of the iPhone and the new iWatch. As a long-time Apple user, I have never quite understood why genealogy software was available so exclusively on Windows computers. But over the past few years, that barrier has almost been erased. I used to maintain a PC Windows computer just for the purpose of running genealogy software and my accounting. Now, I run only accounting software and seldom use the PC. With the advent of online programs, the need to move from one computer to another has also practically disappeared.

I certainly welcome the entry of RootsMagic into the Apple world and hope that other vendors make the transition soon.

Ramp Up to #RootsTech begins



Registration has opened and the ramp up to #RootsTech 2015 has begun. Just as I have from the beginning of this marvelous conference, I will be attending, blogging and once again, presenting. We are waiting to hear the announcement of the Keynote Speakers.  The Conference with be a little bit more complicated with the inclusion of the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference (FGS) at the same time in the same venue. This is the explanation of how that will happen:
Every year FGS sponsors a national conference for genealogists of all levels of experience to help link the genealogical community of member societies, libraries, archives, and other member organizations. The conference features genealogical lectures on a wide array of topics, including those of local, regional, national, and international importance, and it offers organizational leadership training for member societies. This year, RootsTech is teaming up with FGS to offer two great conferences in one venue. We’ll share keynotes, activities, and the Expo Hall. Classes will be separate for each conference. If you purchase a RootsTech three-day pass, you can add access to FGS classes for just $39.
RootsTech will be held on February 12–14, 2015, at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Innovator Summit will be held on February 11, 2015, also at the Salt Palace.

This year, since we are living in Provo, Utah, we plan on taking the Utah Transit Authority Train to Salt Lake for the Conference and avoiding the need to stay in a hotel. I did this recently when I attended the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies Conference and it worked out really well, although I ended up doing a lot of walking, some of which I would have done anyway even by driving my car. 

I will be attending beginning on Wednesday with the Innovator Summit. The Innovator Summit gives vendors, innovators, and developers an opportunity to focus on content specific to developing emerging technologies in family history and genealogy. Class sessions are held mainly on Wednesday, with a few sessions on Thursday and Friday. Topics are specific to improving technologies, introducing new concepts, and enabling collaboration through networking. I found this to be some of the most interesting parts of #RootsTech 2014. 

You will have to go to website for the latest pricing information and details as they are put online. As always, if you see me there, please take time to say hello. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Intelligent Indexing

One of the projects being developed by the Family History Technology Lab at Brigham Young University (BYU) is the "Intelligent Indexing Research with Downloads." This project includes two of the most sought after goals in genealogy: handwriting recognition and automatic data acquisition. I guess it is one of the mysteries why FamilySearch.org has not been working on these two issues when it comes to Indexing. Maybe they are? But the larger companies in the private sector seem to guard their internal developments rather closely.

The program is described as follows:
The Intelligent Indexing project's aim is to improve human indexing of records by leveraging technology that will make indexing faster and easier. The project currently involves an intuitive interface that reduces context switching for the user and a novel handwritten word recognition algorithm to reduce the amount of work done by the user. The handwriting recognition algorithm is able to identify words that look similar, allowing the user to index a word once and have their response filled into any other occurrences in a document. 
This project is providing steps towards better human guided automated indexing which will greatly enhance the amount of work any one indexer can do. 
The current stage of the project is in need of testers, so if you would like to contribute, please use one of the links below to download the use-study program. 
Current Research: 
Owing to the scarcity of repeated names in a single document, the current word matching algorithm is ineffective when working with names. We are currently working on techniques of automatically separating handwritten words and letters and on performing single handwritten character recognition. These should allow use to populate helpful suggestion lists when a user is indexing names. 
We also hope to develop the project into a collaborative indexing tool where multiple users will be able index portions of a document from their handheld devices.
I have seen some similar ideas from Mocavo.com, but this BYU project carries the implementation of the automatic handwriting recognition and data acquisition much further. Here is a demo of the program:



Implementing a program like this would take indexing to a whole new level of efficiency. Presently, the indexer is forced to move across field linearly, even if the fields are very repetitious. I would handle this in way that quickly identified all the repetitious information and then let the indexer focus on the variables. The time savings of avoiding the need to enter the same information into the same field every time would be significant.

Here is another very short demo of the handwriting recognition function:



I am aware that the FamilySearch Indexing program is in the process of changing from a local program based system to a completely online program. Maybe some of these types of features will be incorporated?

Virtual Pedigree Pre-release or Elastic Paper

I have been looking at some of the programs under development by the Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History Technology Lab. One of the most interesting and obviously useful programs is called "elastic paper" or more formally, "Virtual Pedigree Pre-release." Here is a YouTube video with a demo of the program:



From the website, the program is described as follows:
Virtual Pedigree is a dynamic interface that allows a genealogist to see a pedigree chart in a smooth and dynamic way. Instead of each person in the chart being statically placed on the screen, their position is adjusted to make room for ancestors coming into the screen from the right. This enables a quick and seamless traversal of the chart. 
Virtual Pedigree also uses animation to find and display individuals anywhere in the chart, preserving context for the user while searching their entire ancestral data. 
The development of Virtual Pedigree has also extended beyond viewing ancestral data. Dynamic Descendancy is an extension to Virtual Pedigree that allows a similar seamless view of descendancy data. 
The aim of the Virtual Pedigree project is to enable genealogists to scan, search, and discover their ancestral data in a way never done before. By removing contextual switches with the seamless transition the genealogists can better understand their data. There are more features to come that will further enable genealogists in their work. Some of those features are dynamic content zoom (where a person in the center of the screen has more data showing than people around the edges), integration with Google maps, and others.
The inclusion of descendants in the elastic paper chart is an extremely valuable aid to research. My wife and I had an extended demo of the program the other day and it would dramatically improve the user experience of all of the major online family tree hosting programs. Considering FamilySearch.org's emphasis on researching cousins, this program would be a particularly valuable add-on. I guess I see this as a puzzle as to why FamilySearch.org, at least, has not taken advantage of this clearly superior technology considering it is being developed in their own backyard by BYU.

One major program that would benefit from this technology is MyHeritage.com. Their family tree interface could use improvement. Presently, it is difficult to visualize relationships and for large pedigrees, becomes almost unmanageable. I view this as the weakest feature of the present MyHeritage.com program. In every case, this "elastic paper" view could, at least, be an alternative to the present views in the online programs. I think they would ultimately find this type of view to be the most popular, especially for tablets and smartphones.

Here is another short video on the project:



Can a bunch of undergraduate computer science students contribute to the world of high powered, high funded programming? I would think so from these examples.

Relative Finder


Relative Finder is a beta test program from the Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History Technology Lab that enables you to find relatives, famous or otherwise, from your FamilySearch.org Family Tree. These programs are not intended to be completed projects. They are works in progress. 

The Relative Finder program works well if your Family Tree ancestors are accurately displayed. There are presently some limitations in the way the people in Family Tree are handled due to it continued connection with the old program, New.FamilySearch.org. As a result of these limitations in Family Tree, Relative Finder may not be as complete or accurate as it would otherwise be. As the program explains:
To get started, try finding some famous relatives. Use the 'relatives' page to select which groups of people to find people in. 
User created groups 
User defined groups let you find out how you're related to someone else. To learn how you are related to another person, you need to join a group they're in, or vice-versa. If neither of you have a group, try creating one. 
Currently, you have to set a password on your group, and whoever wants to join needs to know it. 
More options can be found on the "manage" groups page. The site's under heavy development and things will shift around as we add features.
As you can see, the program is under construction. But I thought it might be interesting to see how the program is developing. As explained above, the Relative Finder works from a category list such as this:


When I choose a category, the program will search for connections with anyone in FamilySearch.org Family Tree who is in that category:


I understand that many people get interested in genealogy because of their desire to have a "connection" with some famous person or another. Since most of my genealogy was researched long before I was born, I already had a pretty good idea that I had very few famous ancestors and no proven royalty (yet). My own claim is to be a descendant of the Mayflower passengers and a Revolutionary War veteran or two. 

I did find it interesting that the program did not find any of my documented LDS Pioneers, even my direct line ancestors. However, the problem may likely originate with Family Tree, because the merge function breaks down about the generation of the pioneers. This could also be a limitation of the beta version of the program due to a limited view of the entire Family Tree. 

It is fun program anyway and will undoubtedly evolve in the future.



Sunday, September 7, 2014

MyHeritage Founder & CEO Gilad Japhet - Savior of the Lost Artworks

I heard the story of the lost artworks and Gilad Japhet's efforts to return the artwork to its rightful owners when I was at RootsTech this past March. I am really happy to see this news account with more of the story. If you do nothing else today, take time to hear what MyHeritage.com and Gilad Japhet have done.



I think more of us need to realize that genealogy is more than an idle pastime. Knowledge of our ancestors can literally change our lives and change the lives of those around us.

My wife and I have both benefited from the MyHeritage.com technology. We have found documents and people in our family lines that neither of us suspected existed.

Why do I focus on the technology? Part Two:

In the first installment of this series, I talked about some of personal history that taught me lessons about sharing genealogical data and overcoming the limitations of paper-based genealogy. I guess the real question is why the attitude of ownership by genealogists gets so developed that they act in ways that are counter to their own self-interest? I think that there is tendency that verges on hoarding disorder. I have found that this tendency to accumulate vast quantities of names and then act as if the accumulator was defending the names from some-sort-of threat is very common among genealogists.

In these cases, technology is seen as an additional threat. Rather than embracing new technology as a means of more efficiently and comprehensively doing research, it is viewed as a threat to the genealogist's ownership of their data. Because the genealogists are uncomfortable with the changes caused by technological developments, they feel that their ownership and control is also threatened. This is no where more evident than the antipathy some genealogists feel towards online family trees and particularly those using a wiki programming base. Rather than viewing changes made by others as an opportunity for collaboration and possibly education of those less sophisticated in the genealogical methodology, they see the changes merely as a threat and react with anger.

On the other hand, I have always viewed technology as being primarily enabling. At a very basic level, I have always found physically writing, spelling and punctuation to be almost insurmountable challenges. For this simple reason alone, I am enthralled with technology that allows me to overcome, to some extent, those limitations. I also see that genealogical research can very quickly exceed my capacity to remember the myriad facts and relationships as I increase the number of people in my files. This limitation drives me to want even faster and more efficient ways of recording data and manipulating it. In fact, I just noticed that my most current computer system is starting to appear slow.

During the past few weeks, I have been teaching a very basic class on the status of certain online genealogy programs, primarily those very large online database programs such as FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and findmypast.com. The classes have been in conjunction with the BYU Family History Library on campus at the Harold B. Lee Library. The BYU Family History Library is staffed by Church Service Missionary volunteers and as such are a pretty accurate representative sample of genealogists of all levels of interest and experience. To some extent, my classes have focused on the changes in technology and how that affects the ways open to genealogists to change the way they have traditionally done their work. There are two or three daily shifts of volunteers seven days a week and so my classes have been spread out at different times during the day and evenings. You can see my schedule on the BYU Family History Library's Facebook page and, by the way, anyone who is interested is invited to attend the classes.

The reactions of those attending the classes have been interesting. They certainly reflect the overall attitudes of the genealogical community as a whole and are consistent with the reactions I observe in classes and other encounters in the past. Some of the most significant reactions clearly show how so many genealogists get caught in eddies and backwaters. For example, there are still a significant number of genealogists that are stuck with the Personal Ancestral File program. At one time, these people were progressive enough to adopt a computer program, but for whatever reason, they stagnated at the Personal Ancestral File level and never moved beyond that one program. The tragedy of this decision is that they are presently locked out of an further technological developments. In addition, the jump in technology to online programs and family trees is so great now, that it is as if they were starting from scratch and many resist this change with anger and frustration. Sometimes I feel more like a therapist than a teacher.

I am reasonably sure that this attitude towards advances in technology is not limited to genealogists because I am also reasonably sure that genealogists are merely a representative sample of the greater population. I think good examples of this tendency are the statements made about the fact that younger people are more open to technological changes and therefore can "do the new tech based genealogy" better than older people. Well, my experience is that younger people have the same set of limitations and attitudes as their parents and grandparents. Being able to text or use a game machine does not equate into an ability to do genealogical research. There seems to be a dichotomy here between the tendency some states in the United States have to raise the driving age and the assumption that young people can manage technology better than old people. What would happen if we lowered the driving age from infinity to age 65? There is something else going on here.


BYU's Family History Technology Lab

One of the more interesting things about being more closely associated with a large university is the chance to meet and talk to people who are working on interesting genealogy projects. This past week, my wife and I had such a meeting with the Family History Technology Lab at Brigham Young University (BYU). This particular Lab develops new software with the purpose of advancing genealogical technology. It is staffed by mostly under-graduate students and the things they are accomplishing are truly amazing. It made me wish that something like that had existed when I was going to school (but not enough to make me want to go back to school).

I met with Dr. Bill Barrett. Dr. Barrett is perhaps best known for his landmark research with interactive segmentation tools, namely Intelligent Scissors, introduced in 1995. Intelligent Scissors was adopted into Adobe Photoshop™ as Magnetic Lasso and is used by millions of people throughout the world. Recent follow-on work to this, titled Live Surface, has also received international attention. He has also been working on the compression, recognition, and extraction of information contained in digitized microfilm for Family History research.

Sometimes we speak about being on the cutting edge of technology, but this is where they make the tools that cut the edge. Back in 2005, Dr. Barrett was awarded the Eliza R. Snow Fellowship to help work on taking the 2.3 million rolls of microfilm stored in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Granite Mountain Vault, and will scan, extract, store and make accessible via the internet these records. So we have access to the records on FamilySearch.org, partially as a result of Dr. Barrett's work. Just think about the opportunity to talk with someone like this for a while!

Why don't we hear about all this as genealogists? Well, partially because most genealogists really aren't interested in new technology. In fact, if my own experience were any indication, most genealogists resent the changes in technology rather than welcome them. I notice from the news that Apple is about to introduce yet another iteration of the iPhone. How many genealogists do you think will be lined up at the stores to buy the new phone the day it comes out?

I also think there is a tendency for private commercial enterprises to be rather close about their activities and this carries over to FamilySearch and even universities even when it is in their interest to publicize their new developments.

The Family History Technology Lab at BYU presently lists three projects; the Relative Finder (beta), the Virtual Pedigree (pre-release) and Intelligent Indexing Research with downloads. I would characterize these projects as being in the concept and design stage. But each of them are very interesting and could lead to some substantially important developments in genealogical software. These programs are not so much standalone applications, although they could be, as they are adjuncts or features to other already-in-use programs. I decided that I would write a blog post about each of them with comments about how the programs move genealogy forward. This will give me three shots at the topic.

Sometimes we reflect on the choices we made in the past that put us where we are today. In some ways, I regret making decisions that put me on the path away from technology. On the other hand, now that I am old and gray, I am getting a chance to rub shoulders with the tech world. You never know what might happen.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Attaching Records to Your findmypast.com Family Tree

The findmypast.com family tree is rapidly evolving. Unlike the other three very large genealogy database companies, findmypast.com is a relative newcomer to hosting a family tree that is integrated with their data collections. Recently, they took a major step by providing for a way to attach records to your Findmypast family tree. The connection between the people in the family tree and individual records is not yet complete, you must search for the person in your file before you can attach the record. There is no way to use the person in your file to search and then automatically attach the records found to that person or to attach the record to other people shown in the record as can be done in the three other large online genealogy database programs.

You can find a complete explanation in the findmypast.com post entitled, "Attach records to your Findmypast family tree." I suspect that findmypast.com will continue to develop additional features of their program in the not-too-distant future.

Why do I focus on the technology?

Isn't it really the case that technology is just one aspect of genealogy? Does the genealogical community revolve around any one group or central core of a certain type of genealogist? Let me go back in time and see whether this type of question can be answered. I believe it might help to understand the current technological focus of my own interest in genealogy.

My Great-grandmother, Mary Ann Linton Morgan, lived alone as a widow for about thirty years. By todays' standards, she was extremely poor and lived in a one or two room apartment with the bathroom down the hall. Her only cooking facility was a hot plate (a small electrical heating unit). She worked nights cleaning offices. Her apartment was in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah on South Temple, directly across the street from Temple Square. For the last thirty or so years of her life, she spent most of her free time compiling and researching her ancestry and that of her deceased husband, John Morgan. She died when I was seven years old, but I have no memories of ever meeting her. She did not get along at all well with her grandchildren and the very few accounts I have been able to find of her reflect that antipathy.

Mary Morgan's efforts to extend her genealogy were primarily focused on then very limited collection of records in the predecessor to the current Family History Library and what she could learn through letter writing. What were the results of all that effort?

When I was growing up, I was told repeatedly by relatives, that "my genealogy was all done" by people such as my Great-grandmother and other relatives. The evidence for these statements consisted of a series of books written specifically about several of my ancestors. I have mentioned these books previously. When, through a series of incidents in my own life, I became interested in researching my family, I very quickly discovered that the research about my family was far from complete. Here was the quandary: my Great-grandmother was supposed to have done all this genealogy, but as far as I could tell,  all of her research papers etc. had vanished without a trace. As I went to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah year after year, to attempt to piece together my ancestors, I hardly found any trace at all of anything Mary Morgan had done. What happened to all that genealogy she supposedly worked on for thirty years? I had heard reports from family members that Mary's accumulated research had been stored in a huge pile of boxes in a garage somewhere. But had no idea what happened to all of her work.

After I had been working on my family lines for many years, my mother finally revealed that Mary Morgan's life work had been sitting in my aunt's basement all this time. My mother agreed to retrieve the boxes if I wanted them. I spent many years going through the records, ultimately digitizing all of them and then donating the records to the Brigham Young University, L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library. Digital copies of all the records were made available to several libraries and other entities. You can presently see the entire collection on the computers at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I relate this story for several reasons:

  1. Because of Mary Morgan's family's antipathy towards her and lack of interest in genealogy, her records were almost lost.
  2. As I reviewed the considerable amount of data and records she had accumulated, I found she had recorded some of her family members up to three times. I expect that she did the research over at least that many times.
  3. The records were difficult to process because there was no master index or similar document to the records. All of her research was done well before computers became available.
  4. Even after the records were "discovered," they were still unavailable to family members until I digitized the records and had the original records and the digital copies made generally available. 

Many genealogists find themselves in exactly the same position as Mary Morgan. They have accumulated a significant amount of genealogical data and either because of the attitude of their immediate family members or their own unwillingness to share the data with others, have put themselves in the position of losing all of their work once they die.

I also suspect that paper-based genealogists, in many cases, have duplicated their own efforts due to an inefficient system of recording all of their ancestors. While I was entering Mary Morgan's research into a variety of successive genealogy programs, I found it necessary to search for duplicate entries every time I entered a name into the programs. This was extremely time consuming. Even though I did this consistently, I still find duplicates to this day due to the lack of any of the program's ability to detect all of the duplicates.

Keeping track of over 16,000 names became more and more difficult. My personal experience makes me strongly doubt that people who claim huge numbers of accumulated ancestors really comprehend what they have in their files. There are certainly genealogical database programs that can handle huge numbers of entries, but simply having names listed in a file does not confer the information necessary to document each individual. I suspect that, in many cases, very large files consist either of copies from unverified pedigrees or extractions of names from documents without individual verification of each entry.

Very many current genealogists, despite the availability of online methods of sharing their files, still cling to their genealogical research and refuse to share it, even with interested family members. With the exception of some of my own children, over the past 32 years of doing research on all of my family lines and sharing that information online, I have had relatively few individuals interested in collaborating on any research on any line.

What I find puzzling is that there are some people who are not only unwilling to share their genealogy and thereby risk losing everything they have done when they die, but are antagonistic about putting their genealogy online. Even if these people have adopted some sort of computer program, they still refuse to share the data they have in their files for a variety of reasons which they feel entirely justify their actions. I do not believe that my Great-grandmother intentionally failed to share her research. She did not have the tools to do so. But even assuming she had been willing to share, it was the negative attitude of her immediate family towards genealogy in general that caused the records to be almost lost to the entire family.

Obviously, I am not through with this subject.

Idaho Genealogical Society and UGA Combined Fall Conference


The Idaho Genealogical Society and the Utah Genealogical Association (UGA) have joined in presenting a Fall Conference on Family Ties Crossing Borders. Here is the full press release concerning the upcoming conference:
Do you want to know how to interest your kids in your family tree? Would you like to know more about the “jail bird” in your family or how your grandpa came to own the family farm? Does learning about DNA, exploring railroad records, plumbing the depths of the special collections in various repositories and probing into your Native American roots get you excited? Are you interested in learning how to preserve old photos or interview and film living relatives? You can choose from all these subjects and many more at the first annual Idaho Genealogical Society Family History conference, “Idaho and Utah, Family Ties Crossing Borders” on Saturday, October 11, 2014 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Pocatello, co-sponsored by the Utah Genealogical Association.

The keynote speaker is Susan B. Hawkes who will speak on “What the 42nd Parallel Meant to the Settlers of Utah and Idaho in 1863.” Susan was born and raised in northern Utah. She is the Site Coordinator for the Idaho State Historical Society at the Franklin Historical Site, which was the first Idaho Mormon settlement. She is the co-author of several historical fiction novels as well as other historical publications, and also conducts classes in family history. Susan serves as a member of the Idaho Pioneer Association and works with the Utah/Idaho Pioneer Byway Committee, Bear Heritage Area, Idaho Heritage trust, Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to promote the historical value of northern Utah and Southern Idaho. Susan has been able to collect over 250 histories on the settlers of southeastern Idaho and northern Utah. 
The conference offers 16 classes taught by well qualified instructors such as Steve Barrett from the Idaho State Archives, Juvanne Martin, president of the Idaho Genealogical Society, Laurie Francis, special collections librarian at BYUI, and Robert Mallory, former ABC news anchor and producer. A lunchtime panel on special collections throughout Idaho and Utah relating to the early families of this area is staffed by specialists in repositories such as Boise State, BYUI, Utah State and Idaho State. A workshop for Family History consultants and up to date technology classes are also available.

An exciting and marvelous service will be offered at the conference, the FamilySearch Book Project. This is what FamilySearch does at Rootstech where people can bring their personal family histories and after signing a copyright release, we will scan the book, give them a copy and then place it on the FamilySearch Book site. If you miss the conference, the Pocatello FamilySearch Library is the scanning location for Idaho.
A syllabus will be offered both in printed form and electronically. Boxed lunches can be ordered at the time of registration. More conference information and online registration can be found at http://ugagenealogy.com/aem.php?eid=13 For questions or offline registration please call (801) 259-4172.

The annual Idaho Genealogical Society meeting will be held immediately after the conference in the Idaho State University Student Union Building. Society business will be discussed and voted upon.
I would guess if you know how to get to Pocatello, Idaho, you can probably find the Idaho State University, Student Union Building since they didn't give an address. I am sure you can find the Student Union on Google Maps.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Have I mentioned the FamilySearch Research Wiki Recently?


The FamilySearch.org Research Wiki is the one most valuable genealogical resource on the Web. I make no qualification in making that claim and have repeated it time and time again. The Research Wiki presently has almost 80,000 articles. All of these articles contribute to the general information about genealogy: how to, where, why, when, and every other question you can think up. No other innovations of the computer age show more promise to provide such an extensive benefit to genealogists than the systematic digitization of millions of original source documents and the systematic organization of those documents in a program called the FamilySearch Research Wiki. Understanding the organization and structure of the Research Wiki should be an indispensable part of every genealogist’s basic education.

An active website is ever changing. By its very nature, a wiki may change daily as contributors add and edit the information contained in pages and articles. The Research Wiki is no exception, on the average over the past few months, the contributors to the Research Wiki have added hundreds of new pages. In this sense, the Research Wiki is always under construction. Although the content of the Research Wiki will change, the basic functions and structure of the Research Wiki will not substantially change.

It is important to realize that the content of the Research Wiki, just as with any other wiki, is user driven. Any registered user of the Research Wiki can edit content, add content, delete content or make any other changes. Although many people initially view this collaborative element of the Wiki to be a flaw, it is really the Research Wiki's greatest strength. However, the Research Wiki is not a "pure wiki." It is a moderated wiki. Moderated wikis generally have a hierarchy of access depending on factors influencing and allowing access set by the wiki owners or supervisors. In this case there is a Wiki Support Team, which watches over the Wiki. The purpose of these watchers is to maintain the integrity of the Research Wiki. They are partly concerned that the content of the Wiki does not violate the Wiki's guidelines. See FamilySearch Wiki:Guiding Principles.

Essentially all of us who have been working on the Research Wiki, have put into its articles (pages) our combined knowledge about the process and sources for discovering our ancestors. When I say "our ancestors," I mean the combined ancestors of all those living on the world. It is a work in progress. It will continue to change and evolve. Unless it is consciously abandoned, it will continue adsorb information as long as there is information to adsorb.

From my perspective, it is interesting that so few researchers utilize the Research Wiki's potential. The more people that use the Research Wiki, the more information it will accumulate. Certainly, there are parts of the Research Wiki that are deficient. Instead of dismissing it because of its deficiencies, these holes in the data should be an invitation to share your own information with the rest of the genealogical community. Oh, by the way, the Research Wiki contains all of its own instructions. It is it's own guide book and manual.