RootsTech 2015

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ancestry.com reports on growth of online family history research

In a press release dated 19 November 2014 from Ancestry.com in Provo, Utah, entitled, "Online Family History Research in United States Grows by 14 Times in Past Decade," the company stated:
Over the past decade, online family history research has grown in the United States by 14 times, with two-thirds (63%) of respondents in a recent study reporting that family history has become more important than ever. They also say that this growth is motivated by a belief that knowing more about the past is a key part of understanding who we are. 
Announced today by Ancestry.com, the world's largest online family history resource, the new findings are part of the first chapter in its Global Family History Report, a multi-country study that examined trends in the family—both past and present—across six developed countries: the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, Germany and Sweden.
This is certainly good news to genealogists, but what does this really mean? The statement refers to a "Global Family History Report." According to Diane Haddad, on the GenealogyInsider blog, this is apparently a study done by the Future Foundation on behalf of Ancestry.com. Diane states, in part:
The study by the Future Foundation on behalf of Ancestry.com examined trends in the family—both past and present—across six developed countries: the United States, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany and Sweden.

Overall, it indicates that generations are growing closer and families are increasingly interested in their history. Other findings include:
  • The number of grandchildren with a close relationship with a grandparent has risen from 60 percent in the 1950s to 1960s, to 78 percent today. Ancestry.com family historian Michelle Ercanbreck attributes this to advances in technology and medicine: “As grand- and great-grandparents live longer and stay connected with social media, there are now unprecedented opportunities to engage with younger generations and pass on family stories.” 
  • Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of respondents reported feeling closer to older relatives, with half of older relatives saying they had drawn closer to young relatives as a result of learning more about their family.
  • Younger people (55 percent overall) are among those inspired most to learn more about their family history by talking with older family members.
  • The average family history for US respondents stretches back 184 years, compared to 149 years a generation ago.
  • Among Americans who’ve gone beyond talking to family to research their family history, three of the most commonly used resources are photographs (81 percent); birth, marriage and death records (66 percent); and letters (45 percent).
 I am always skeptical of vaguely cited statistics, particularly those that try to prove the "popularity" of genealogy and/or family history. There is always a tendency to translate a vague interest in families into support for the popularity of doing genealogical research.

The problem here is separating the overall growth and impact of the Internet on the world's population from a specific interest in genealogy or family history. One example is the Internet Growth Statistics from the Internet World Stats website. From the statistics cited on that website, in February of 2004 (ten years or a decade ago) there were approximately 745 million Internet users worldwide. By March of 2014, the estimated number of users had risen to 2,937,000.000 users. In other words, the percentage of Internet users in the world population rose from 11.5% in 2004 to 40.9% in 2014. Now the problem is this; how do you compare a statistic that claims a "14 times" growth with the percentage increase in overall Internet usage? Finding exact statistics from Ancestry.com about the number of users and growth is pretty difficult.

Isn't it true that people feel more connected today than they did ten years ago? I can now talk instantly or nearly instantly to my children around the country (an around the world if need be) in a variety of ways, all of which are essentially free results of Internet connections. Doesn't this alone support the cited rise in interest?

I am certain that involvement of people in online programs such as Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, FamilySearch.org and all the other online genealogy programs, has increased awareness and interest in families. We do have current numbers of users from MyHeritage.com. They have a counter on their website showing the number of members of the program. Today, the counter showed 73,293,269 members of MyHeritage.com worldwide. I have observed that in the past few weeks, that number has been increasing by about 100,000 new members a week! Simple math shows that about 2.5% of the world's estimated Internet users are on MyHeritage.com.

All in all, these statistics are interesting and perhaps even encouraging. But they would be more interesting if they could be compared to some actual historical numbers.

Building a Pedigree from Sources -- The Ultimate Challenge

Do you have a source for every conclusion in your family file? Traditional genealogy began with a pedigree chart and a search for names. From my experience, nearly all beginning researchers start out the same way. They begin filling in names and they follow the suggestions from countless books, classes and websites that teach the Research Cycle.


Step One of the Research Cycle is and has been to do the following:

  • Use Appropriate Forms
  • Recall Information
  • Gather Family Information
  • Gather Low-Hanging-Fruit Sources
  • Record Useful Information
  • Organize Your Records
For a more complete explanation, see the Principles of Family History Research in the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki. 

Of course, it would be heresy to either question this time honored method of approaching genealogy or even to dare suggest that the approach was outmoded and even misleading. But that is exactly what I am going to do. Times and methods change. It is past due time to revise this traditional approach and realize that it is no longer necessary. I have been advocating a change for many years now, however, I have no expectation that the paradigm will change during my lifetime, even though the tools and procedures have been available for many years. 

Why is it time for a change? I can give the entire explanation in two words: the Internet. What is the new methodology? Building a pedigree strictly from sources. How does it now work? Here is the explanation.By the way, I am assuming two things here; that the potential researcher has access to the Internet and that he lives in a country where digitized records are available. Here are two statements from the U.S. Census Bureau:

  • In 2013, 83.8 percent of U.S. households reported computer ownership, with 78.5 percent of all households having a desktop or laptop computer, and 63.6 percent having a handheld computer.
  • In 2013, 74.4 percent of all households reported Internet use, with 73.4 percent reporting a high speed connection.
I might also point out that a significant portion of the rest of the population has free access to computers at libraries and other providers across the nation. 


Let's construct a hypothetical beginning research situation. Doe is a new researcher. For a variety of reasons, he has become interested in his ancestry. What is the best and most efficient way for Doe to get started? The old method would have Doe searching for records in his home and filling our a paper Family Group Record or Pedigree Chart. He would then move on to asking relatives for records, slowly filling in his chart and accumulating a pile of records. What has changed? 

Today, Doe can go onto any one of several online database websites and begin by filling out his name and his parents' names on a pre-constructed family history form. He could use Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, findmypast.com, Geni.com, FamilySearch.org or other programs. 

Now, before I go much further with this hypothetical, I need to make some assumptions. Some of these programs are subscription services. You could argue that the "traditional" method of starting genealogy was "free." Well, access to all of these programs is already available to over 70% of the U.S. population (actually higher in some countries). I am going to assume that Doe can either afford the nominal cost of subscribing to one or more of these programs or that he can use a computer in FamilySearch Family History Center and gain access for free to some or all of them. 

Now how does Doe begin his research? He doesn't. If he is using either MyHeritage.com or Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org, all he has to do is enter a minimal amount of information about himself and his parents and perhaps a name or two of grandparents. The programs then begin to suggest sources for further information. Guess what? 
  • The programs automatically use appropriate forms
  • The programs supply information and do not rely on the researcher's memory
  • The programs gather information automatically and suggest sources
  • All of the sources in the programs are, in a sense, low hanging fruit
  • The programs let Doe record pertinent information with a click
  • Doe's records are already organized
What is more, this process of finding sources is cumulative. The more Doe adds to his growing family tree from sources supplied by the programs, the more sources the programs find. I have seen people build a four generation pedigree in a matter of hours, all based on sources. 

The results of this new paradigm are not hypothetical. During the past two or three years, I have sat with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of researchers and have gone through this scenario, adding only a few names and then letting the programs build a pedigree from scratch based on sources, not on hearsay from their families. In many cases, I have seen those same sources correct information that the researcher "knew" to be true. This has had a rather dramatic impact on people, especially when they find out for the first time that they were adopted or that their parents were not married when they were born.

I have to say that many people have to see this happen on the computer screen before they believe it is possible. Many researchers want to "cheat" the system and upload a GEDCOM file or start with entering all of their own research. In these cases, the person has to be willing to change any information they may already have in favor of what is supplied by sources. 

By the way, I have heard dozens of arguments from researchers as to why this doesn't work. These criticisms come mainly from people who have no idea how or why these programs work. The ones who try this out with a fresh, newly added family tree, find out that it does work. The system is not perfect. The researcher still needs to carefully review each suggested source to make sure the program has found the right person, but usually, at least in the first 200 years or so, this is not a problem. 

As I just mentioned, I have been hearing the excuses and criticism of this method of building a pedigree for years now. In order for this to work, the person who is doing the research for the first time needs to be patient. Sometimes it is necessary to prime the pump so to speak and add a little bit more information to the online family tree before the programs begin to supply information, but so far, I have not had anyone who did not get assistance in building a sourced family tree. 

I will undoubtedly get comments from users of all three programs who will tell me their disappointed reactions from their own database. Usually, this comes from people who expect to have the programs supply ancestors back in the 1700s or even the 1600s. This is not going to happen yet and I do my yet. I also hear criticism from those who want to ignore the more recent in time sources and jump back to a remote ancestor. You have to build the pedigree step-by-step and use the sources. Each time you confirm a source, you are providing more information to the program and so it can be more accurate. Take your time. Use the sources provided. 

What will happen if you do upload a huge genealogical database file? In each of the three programs, you will get more suggested hints than you can handle. For example, today, I have over 8000 suggested sources from MyHeritage.com. Let's start using these newly developed programs as they were intended to be used and stop trying to fight against the change in methodology. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Moving Beyond Myths

Some issues just keep making the rounds. I can't even begin to imagine how inexperienced genealogical researchers can know so little about sources and repositories and yet can repeat, verbatim, every one of the genealogical myths. Of course, I have written about this subject before, but since during the past couple of weeks I have heard a reference to a good handful of myths, so I decided it was time to fire up the jets and take on the issues one more time.

Why do people believe myths? Why is it so much easier to believe something such as the three brothers story, than it is to examine the historical facts from reliable sources and determine a more probable course of events? I'm not talking about the complex belief systems such as Greek Mythology, but the just the ordinary false ideas that seem to get passed around as facts. Genealogy is not at all unique in this regard. I would guess that every human activity has its core of myths. It is just amazing to me how the genealogical ones seems to persevere despite the lack of any rational support.

I guess a stranger question is why don't I believe the genealogical myths? No one had to tell me that the descent from an Indian Princess was a myth. But is is true that some myths are so persistent because they either have or once had a basis in fact. Take the burnt courthouse story for example. It is a historical fact that courthouses do burn down. What is not necessarily true is the conclusion drawn from that fact. Not every courthouse fire occasioned the loss of every record in the county and some of the destroyed records had to be reconstructed as rapidly as possible after the fire. What is frustrating is when a researcher substitutes the myth for the reality and uses the myth as an excuse to stop searching. What is even worse than that is when the myth is accepted as reality without a shred of evidence to support that conclusion.

Some myths are not universal. Every family seems to have a story or tradition that defies verification. Some of these stories when proved inaccurate or even false, defy refutation. They persist in face of overwhelming evidence that the claimed event or document is not accurate. I have such a myth in my own family involving a photographs of a remote ancestors.

Here is a screenshot showing the first of the myths:


This image shows the Memories page for John Tanner (b. 1788, d. 1850) in the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. The arrows show three identical copies of a daguerreotype purportedly showing John Tanner seated on the far left. My daughter Amy and I examined this photo and reported our findings in an extensive analysis published on TheAncestorFiles Blog. By the way, there are five more copies of the same photo attached to the same Memories page in FamilySearch.org's Family Tree. The analysis boils down to historical facts but the myth persists.

Here are a few historical facts about the daguerrotype process and the life of John Tanner.

1778: John Tanner born in Hopkinton, Washington, Rhode Island.
1837: Louis Daguerre invents the Daguerreotype process in France. At this time John Tanner is 59 years old.
1838: After joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, John Tanner moves to Far West, Missouri. John Tanner is now 60 years old. John Tanner is mobbed in Missouri. Here is the account:
The mob had come up to Father Tanner in his wagon, and Captain O'Dell pointed his gun at him and pulled the trigger twice, but it refused to go off. This enraged him, and with a fearful oath, he took hold of the muzzle and struck Elder Tanner over the head with the breech of the gun. This blow would probably have killed him had it not been for his heavy felt hat, the double thickness of which saved his life, but he had a large, ugly gash on his head which bled profusely. "His skull was laid bare to the width of a man's hand" above the temple, and "from the bleeding of his wounds he was besmeared from head to foot," and "the blood ran into his boots" according to various accounts (this incident was mentioned in several affidavits which the Saints wrote up of the wrongs which they had suffered in Missouri, and submitted to government officials. They emphasized Father Tanner's age, that he was an unarmed farmer simply returning home from the mill, and that he was hit over the head for no reason at all). See Troubles in Missouri from the RootCellar.us
1839: John Tanner and family reach Illinois after being driven from Missouri.
1841: Albert Sand Southworth opens the first daguerreotype studio in Boston, Massachusetts. John Tanner is now 63 years old.
1841: The Tanners are living in Montrose, Iowa across the river from Nauvoo, Illinois.
1844: John Tanner is called on a mission for the Church to the Eastern States.
1845: John Tanner returns to Nauvoo. He is now 67 years old.
1846: John Tanner and his family begin the Exodus from Nauvoo, ultimately to the Salt Lake Valley where he dies in 1850.

So the real questions are when did daguerreotype studios open in Western Illinois and more importantly, is the man in the proposed daguerreotype about 65 to 67 years old? Here is a link to our conclusions concerning this issue: The Tanner Family Daguerreotype: Conclusion.

Notwithstanding our conclusions, the daguerreotype will continue to proliferate as a photo of John Tanner.

Now to the second photo.


This is another photograph attached to David Shepherd (b. 1760, d. 1832). This is even more interesting since the supposed subject of the photo died almost seven years before photography was invented and the photo is of a child.

Myths are basically irrational, emotional and almost impossible to disprove or eradicate. Good luck if you have one in your family. You might as well enjoy the story and ignore the facts.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

David Archuleta and Studio C to appear at #RootsTech 2015 Closing Event

One of my most popular online attractions is the BYUtv.org comedy show called Studio C. I first learned of this show from my grandchildren who were huge fans. Since then, to my wife's sometimes dismay, I have become another of their huge fans. Studio C is now in its fifth season and show all the signs of continuing their zany antics off into the future. Most of their routines are on YouTube.com on the BYUtv channel. Some of the short sketches have garnered more than a million views. One of the latest, has over a million views in just five days.

I am guessing that seating for the closing of the #RootsTech 2015 Conference will be at a premium.

The second big draw for another group of fans will be the Season 7 American Idol runner-up, David Archuleta. Originally a local Utah celebrity, he is now popular world-wide. Here is the announcement of the event from David Archuleta's website:
David Archuleta is teaming up with popular comedy sketch group Studio C from BYUtv to perform at RootsTech 2015. RootsTech is the largest family history conference in the world and will be happening on February 12–14, 2015. 
Both talents will be launching original pieces at the RootsTech Closing Event at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on February 14. David will perform 4 songs, including a new song written by himself that is sung in Spanish and Portuguese. The accompanying music video was filmed in Costa Rica in 2014 and will also have its debut appearance. What’s more, the event will feature a never-before-seen sketch by Studio C. For more information, go to RootsTech.org
According to David, his family’s heritage and history helped craft his musical style, and being part of RootsTech gives him a chance to celebrate his family and the influence they have had on his music. “Music was always a part of my life growing up. My mother was also big on dancing and would teach my older sister and me to dance to traditional music,” he recalls. “I can’t think about celebrating my family without thinking about celebrating music.” 
The comedy sketch group Studio C from BYUtv is a household name for people of all ages across the nation. Since its launch in October 2012, its loyal fan base has helped grow the show’s online presence to more than 70 million YouTube views to date. 
David Archuleta and Studio C will perform for thousands of attendees at the RootsTech Closing Event on the final day of RootsTech 2015, February 14. To reserve your ticket to see them, visit rootstech.org.
With the present line up of Utah-based celebrities, it is certain that the Conference will attract greater numbers than last year, although I suspect that many will come to see the celebrities and not the genealogy conference.

Beyond the U.S. Census -- Expanding Your Frontiers

Many years ago when I was first starting to research my family, I visited the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had some specific questions about some of my ancestors and was working from a handout called a Genealogical Checklist. It looked something like this:

This particular version of the checklist came from the Capital Area Genealogical Society in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. There are dozens of variations of this form. I have a different paper copy of the form sitting on my desk
Of course, I had no idea what some of the listed records were and I had even less of an idea where to find them. One of the first records that came to my attention was the U.S. Census records. At that time, the only copy of the Census was on microfilm (ancient pre-computer days). I got some help finding a copy of the microfilm for the place where my ancestors lived and got on one of the old microfilm viewers and started looking. I was entirely dismayed. The images were terrible and virtually unreadable. After a short time of searching, I gave up and, to my knowledge, never looked at another U.S. Census record until they were digitized and put online. Meanwhile, I researched all sorts of records, mainly books, and slowly started learning about the other sources on the list.

Now we fast forward to today. All of the U.S. Census records are online in multiple copies and freely accessible. In addition, many of the types of records listed in my original source checklist are also readily available online. Because of my early negative experience with the Census, I was, in a sense, forced to look at a broader selection of records. What do I find today with new researchers? I find a fixation with the U.S. Census and little more. But the tragedy of the easy availability of a core of records centered around the U.S. Census, is that today's researchers are blinded by the bright sun of the U.S. Census and cannot see any of the other useful records. They are spoon fed the U.S. Census and cannot get past that record.

One of the most common symptoms of this lack of vision is the common complaint that they cannot find a relative in a certain U.S. Census year. The dialogue goes something like this:

Q. (Researcher or someone helping the researcher) Can I ask a question?

A. (Me) Sure, go ahead.

Q. We (I) have been looking for this particular ancestor and we find (him or her) in the 1910 and 1930 U.S. Census but cannot find the family in the 1920 U.S. Census. What should we do? We are completely stumped.

Now there are multiple layers of problems with this particular question. The simple answer is that the family is there in the Census but the index is faulty and they need to go look at the Census location page by page. But the issue is much deeper than that rather simple answer. The real question is what do they think they are going to find in the 1920 Census that they cannot find from other readily available sources of the same time period? At this juncture, I should point out that the Genealogical Source Checklist above, while helpful, is far from exhaustive.

The underlying problem faced by this researcher is the inability to view the family in the historical context of the time and visualize the cloud of possible records that might accompany the family. The technique here is to examine the two extant census records and begin the process of discovering other records that might exist depending on exactly where the family lived. At this point, my answer is usually a series of questions:

  • Where did the family live?
  • What was the occupation?
  • Were they renting or owners of their property?
  • Did they speak and write English?
  • Have you tried searching for each family member separately?
The questions can go on almost indefinitely. At some point, the idea that there might be other important records to examine finally occurs to the researcher and off they go to look for a record they had not thought of previously, mainly because they were fixated on the U.S. Census. 

Back to the checklist example I have included above. Here is a sample list of links to different online forms following the same pattern:
Guess what? We have online sources that give us exactly the same type of information. That is, they guide us to various sources. The most valuable of these, of course, is the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki. Basically, this is whole website is nothing more or less than an enormous expansion of the checklist I used to used in the Family History Library. 

I used the example of the U.S. Census in this post to illustrate the point that there are so many types of records available that no one can really claim to have searched everywhere for one particular family. On the other hand, it is also a good idea to milk the records you do find for all that they are worth, especially as suggestions as to where to find additional records. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Remaining issues with FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part Four, the rest of the story

This is the fourth in a series of posts on the issues remaining to be resolved with FamilySearch.org's Family Tree program. You may wish to review the first in this series if you haven't already done so, otherwise, the comments here might be difficult to understand. Here is the first post in the series:
Remaining issues with FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part Three, the wiki word

This post and the preceding one are based on a recent blog post by FamilySearch. The FamilySearch Blog post outlined some of the remaining steps necessary to make FamilySearch Family Tree fully functional. You may also be interested in a related blog post entitled, "120 Years of Pioneering Genealogy" where FamilySearch explains some of the additional history behind the current developments.

Assuming that the FamilySearch.org Family Tree program reaches the goal of allowing the IOUS issue to be resolved through merging the duplicates, then there are still other issues to be resolved. These are listed by FamilySearch as follows:
  • Highlighting and fixing other data issues, such as: individuals who are married before they are born, child older than a parent, child who is a spouse of a parent or grandparent, and such.
  • Ability for users to edit the gender of an ancestor.
  • Ability to see current spouse’s line by default.
Why do these three items remain issues after the initial problem of separating Family Tree from its predecessor program, New.FamilySearch.org (NFS) has been solved? The answer lies in a statement made in the original FamilySearch blog post. Here is what they had to say needed to happen before NFS was "completely retired":
However, there are still many tasks that our engineers will continue to work on, such as migrating and synchronizing datasets to Family Tree, as well as verifying and validating all data. Because of the enormity of the task and the desire to not lose any data, we can only give an estimate as to how long it will take to complete these final tasks. We believe it will take a year, possibly more, before we can reach the final milestone.
The key here is the idea that the process of transferring "datasets" from NFS to FamilySearch Family Tree is ongoing. Changes continue to be made to the individuals in the Family Tree by FamilySearch. This is likely evidence that data is still being synchronized with NFS. Here is a recent example from one of my own ancestors:


Many users of the program complain that FamilySearch is making changes to their family members when the information is already been corrected. However, the changes are not coming "from FamilySearch" they are coming from the data accumulated over the past 150 years and poured into NFS that is now being transferred to Family Tree. Until all this data gets processed, Family Tree will remain in a state of flux.

Now the next issue is the statement made by FamilySearch that the data needs to be "verified and validated." The three issues remaining as set forth above, give a good idea of the kinds of verification and validation that is necessary. Right now, it is not hard to find ridiculously incorrect data in the Family Tree. I have said many times that I can examine anyones pedigree as shown in FamilySearch Family Tree and find some totally inconsistent data in a matter of a few minutes. As time goes on, and if the tasks outlined by FamilySearch are addressed, then my claim will become harder and harder to maintain.

Currently, because of the influx of data from NFS and because of the inability to accurately merge some of the individuals in the program, there is a substantial risk in "correcting" the data in Family Tree, especially those containing IOUSs. You may "correct" the information and find that it has been changed by FamilySearch or that some completely unsourced and unsupported data has been substituted. These are two separate problems.

The first problem involves the changes made and tagged as done by "FamilySearch." In most cases this is just a reflection that all the data has yet to be moved over from NFS. The second issue is much more complicated. It involves the users' assumption that "their data is correct" despite any documentation or notes etc. in the Family Tree to the contrary. It is hard to say if this attitude will change over time or not. At some point, the users of the program have to start examining the sources and reading all the notes before making any changes. This may or may not ever happen. If the arbitrary changes keep occurring, then the program will lose all pretense of accuracy and will simply become a sidelined consideration in the greater genealogical community.

However, if the program uses the wiki structure and implements the available wiki resources such as moderators and the ability to lock entries once the information is sources and validated, then the potential exists that the program will become the gold standard for accuracy that it should become.

This is the end of this particular series, but not the end of the problems and challenges of Family Tree. Over the past few years I saw little or no attention to the individuals in my family lines on the Family Tree program. However, in the last few months, it appears that hundreds of people have begun contributing to the data and making changes. This is a good sign that the program is moving out of its infancy into early childhood. Let's just hope that it makes it to adulthood before the negligent class of users kill it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Free UGA Webinar Thursday - “Using Technology to See Things More Clearly” - presented by Peg Ivanyo

Thursday, November 20, 2014, the Utah Genealogical Association is presenting a free webinar at 7:00 pm MDT. This week's webinar is “Using Technology to See Things More Clearly” - presented by Peg Ivanyo. The webinar is described as follows:

Having difficulty figuring out exactly where you are in your research? Have you read through the records multiple times and still can’t see past the brick wall? Consider a more visual approach. There are many technical tools available to us today that can help us analyze problems, develop research plans, understand geographical and social context, and more. This presentation will review simple ways to utilize spreadsheets, mind-maps, geographical maps, census track overlays, timelines, historical photos, and interactive online products to help us see our research more clearly, and perhaps even break through a brick wall or two.

Click Here for more information and to register.

This UGA Virtual Chapter meeting is open to the public but requires registration. To Register for this FREE seminar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3992143464106431233
Can't attend? Remember that UGA Members can watch or re-watch previous webinars on the Virtual Chapter Members Archive.