RootsTech 2015

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

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Comments on Becoming an Excellent Genealogist -- Chapter Fifteen

This is an ongoing series of chapter by chapter comments on the book,

Meyerink, Kory L., Tristan Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen. Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: ICAPGen, 2012.

I am now commenting on Chapter 15: "Jurisdictions: Who Created the Record?" by Loretta Evans, AG.

Whether the analogy is the one used by the author of this chapter, Russian dolls, or my own, a stack of pancakes, the idea is the same. Records about individuals and families are kept at various geographic levels of the entities making those records. The concept of jurisdiction is not an easy one for most people to understand. The word is used in a very general sense to include all sorts of divisions of all sorts of organizations. This chapter of the book contains a list of examples of the types of records created by different jurisdictions of government, churches, fraternal organizations, social organizations, schools, businesses and many others.

Two of the largest online resources for genealogists, the FamilySearch Catalog and the Research Wiki are organized to reflect the real-world way records are located. If you begin a search in either resource by entering a place name, you will see a list of available records for that place organized by category. You can also see links to any enclosed area where additional records may be kept. The complicating factor, of course, is the that records tend to move. Older records may stay in the place where they are created, but may also be moved to larger archives, libraries or other repositories. Records may also be created on a local level, such as a death certificate in the United States, but maintained on a state level.

There are really two main questions to ask about records:

  • Where were the records created originally?
  • Where are the records located today?

In both cases, it is implicit in the process of researching your ancestors that you determine an exact location where an event occurred in the individual's life. I have been teaching a class on research beginning this past week, and it has become abundantly clear that finding records about an ancestor absolutely requires knowing an exact location where an event occurred. It is all too easy to choose the wrong person from those with similar names and dates, unless you are extremely careful in recording the places where each event identified occurred.

Knowledge of the place of an event allows you to then identify the jurisdictions of the various record keeping organizations or entities that may have created records pertaining to your ancestor.


If you are researching back on a particular line, you must move from place to place. You cannot begin a search for records until you identify the next level of places. General locations such as "Ohio" or "Prussia" are absolutely useless. This is especially true because jurisdictions change over time. The date something happened can be approximate, but the place has to be exact.

How exact is exact? In many cases, you may have to identify the house where the family lived. This is true whenever there are a number of people with the same or similar names living in the same area. Some countries where this is the common rule include Wales, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and other areas where similar names are found in abundance.

What happens if you find a pedigree and none of the places where events occurred are listed? This is really common when people list their "ancestral royalty." It is also common on a very localized level with records that came from family Bibles. In each case, the list is nothing more than a suggestion to start doing research. As I have said many times previously, when copying starts, genealogy ends. When you start copying dates and names out of a book, off of a family tree or other similar source without verifying the information, you have left reality behind and are now in fantasy land.

This chapter seems rather simple, but in fact, it is the core concept of genealogical research and cannot be emphasized too much or too many times.

You may wish to review some of the preceding chapters:

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Digitizing Genealogy -- Scanners vs. Cameras

If the entire world is buying smartphones and cell phones with cameras, why are we worried about separate cameras or even flatbed scanners at all? Can't we just take a photograph of our documents with our phone and leave it at that. Why bother with a bulky, less-than-portable, scanner? If scanners are needed, why do the FamilySearch Document Acquisition people use cameras? Why have cameras been used for archiving since about 1938? Why don't they just scan the documents?

The answers to all these questions involve complex issues, some practical, some economical, and some chiefly political in nature. The answers also involve the evolution of technology and the rate at which technological changes are adopted by archivists and document conservators.

To start this particular discussion, I need to show three images. One, obtained by a camera and then developed as a microfilm image and subsequently digitized, the second, an image altered by modern image enhancement techniques, and the third taken by a modern digital camera directly from a document.

Before presenting the three examples, I need to explain what you are going to see. Document reproduction (and all photographic processes) depend on the quality of the physical document. Old documents are seldom in pristine condition and are subject to a variety of natural forces that may destroy the original documents and make them unreadable: fires, floods, mold, insects, chemical changes, rough handling, and many more. Original reflective light photography could do very little to improve the readability of the original document. Microfilm images were often unreadable. The advent of digital imagery and the technology involved has developed ways to restore unreadable images and even reveal images that are invisible to the naked eye. But much of this image enhancement technology depends on access to the original documents. There is only so much that can be done to enhance a poor microfilm image of an unreadable document. In addition, if the original document is unreadable, there are both temporal and economic issues the arise if document restoration techniques are to be used. More about this later on in this post and the series.

Here is the first image without any particular photographic enhancement. This is a copy of a U.S. Census record directly from the original documents as shown on;

You may have to click on the image to see any detail. Here is a screenshot of the section of the document pertaining to my Great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner:

Again, you may need to click on the document to see the detail.

Here is the same page of the same U.S. Census record from

Here is a screenshot of the two documents side by side:

You might not be able to tell, but the second image, from, has the contrast enhanced to show more detail. Both are fairly good images, but the second one probably shows more detail than than the first even though it appears darker.

Here is a current digitized image from The format of the way the image was taken reveals that it was taken directly by a digital camera. This is a sample of the Tennessee, Freedmen's Bureau Field Office Records, 1865 - 1872 from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Here is an enlarged section of this same Tennessee document:

You can see that the quality of the digital image is still very good even with some bleed through from the backside of the document.

The point here is that the limitations of the original often eclipse the sophistication of the technology and that there is little that can be done to enhance an image even with modern technology because of time and cost constraints. Would a modern scanner produce a better image? Yes, likely, but the problem is that the originals are not in a place nor do they have the format that would lend itself to using some type of scanner.

Most of the discussions about making a comparison between using a scanner versus using a camera revolve around the issue of resolution. Cheap scanners could make a higher resolution image than a cheap camera. Archive quality digital cameras were extremely expensive. The main issue was and still is, the resolution of the image. It was not until relatively recently that consumer or prosumer digital cameras achieved an acceptable resolution. I will have a lot more to say about the technical aspects of making digital images in successive posts.

Here are some the basic considerations, pro and con, between using a camera and a scanner:

Pros for using a camera:

  • Easy to set up.
  • Relatively fast imaging.
  • Quick transfer of images to a computer or storage device.
  • Can be used with very large documents.
  • More likely to be allowed by a record repository.

Cons for a camera:

  • The cost of a good quality camera is considerably more than the cost of a good quality scanner.
  • Depending on the digitizing requirements, additional equipment, such as a camera stand and lights might be necessary. 
  • Maintaining the proper focus across the entire image may be difficult, i.e. keeping the document flat with damaging the document. 

Pros for using a scanner:

  • High quality images.
  • Avoids much of the bleed-through on pages.
  • Relatively inexpensive for good quality.

Cons for a scanner:

  • Bulky, cannot be used at all in some document locations.
  • Much slower than a camera.
  • Original documents may be injured in the scanning process.
  • Some documents cannot fit on the scanning bed and would have to be scanned in sections.
  • Not as frequently allowed by record repositories.

One of the most common discussions about the use of scanners and/or cameras revolve around the distinction between scanning a photo and scanning text (i.e. documents without pictures). In this series, I hope to show that digital cameras have evolved to the point where they are more than just an alternative to scanners, but now have become the most effective tool for genealogists and archivists of all kinds.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Famberry launches “Famberry Search” & GEDCOM Upload

The private collaborative family tree builder program,, has made the following announcement:
London, England (February 27th, 2015) Famberry (, the private collaborative family tree builder, is please to announce the release of “Famberry Search”, an interactive search facility that uses key indicators from your family tree to give you the most relevant search results and an opportunity to connect with related family. The more you add to your family tree the better the Famberry Search results. 
In addition to the standard checks for matches as you grow your family tree on Famberry, the Famberry Search facility will help users who have hit brick walls with certain names and want to check for any other families that have connections to specific names.

As part of the announcement Famberry is also releasing GEDCOM import and export facilities to allow users to transfer family tree information from their private applications to the sharable family tree environment of Famberry.
This seems to be a concept that is getting more popular, the idea of having a relatively simple family tree structure that allows collaboration and connectivity. I think the die-hard genealogists are not going to be attracted to this type of program as their primary database, but it could be very attractive for families not entirely embroiled in family history, not as a substitute for more detail, but as an adjunct.

GEDCOM or not to GEDCOM, that is the question

My apologies to Shakespeare, but there is a real issue over the now ancient GEDCOM standard. I liken it to those undersized spare tires that come with many modern cars; useful in an emergency but lethal if used too long or too much. It is sort of in the category of the venerable Personal Ancestral File program. It still has adherents and almost fanatical defenders. For me, of course, this journey down memory lane reminds me of the "good ole' times" when we were embroiled in the issues of genealogical data standards. It looks like to me that the partnerships being forged between the larger genealogy companies and the concomitant agreements concerning the APIs back and forth, have predictably obviated the need for a separate genealogical standard. This is especially true due to the background of discussion about the ability to move data from one online tree program to another.

At a very practical level, I consider the use of GEDCOM files to transfer the data from one large family tree to another, to be the point at which the family history industry moves decisively away from source-based reality into the never-never land of imaginary pedigrees. Uploading a huge unsourced family file into the Family Tree, for example, would be a disaster for the descendants of all those whose ancestors have now been duplicated. Notwithstanding my fear of this eventuality, I still hear a constant background of noise about the need to upload an entire file and using the GEDCOM file format is presently the only way this is possible.

But using the GEDCOM format is like taking photos through a screen door. You get some of the details and lose others. Individual programs have addressed the need to move the entire data set from one computer to another, but the idea of moving an entire file from one program to another has languished. So here go the pros and cons of GEDCOM as I see them today (February, 2015).

Before I get to the list, I have a comment about large genealogical data files. I have seen files that contain well over 100,000 individuals and some that have grown much larger than that. I am certain that people with such huge files have either spent their entire lives adding people one by one or have copied huge amounts of data from other files. Do you realize that if you had 100,000 people in your file, it would take over 1600 hours just to look at each person for a maximum of one minute? Enough said on that topic for this post.


  • GEDCOM is presently the only practical way to move a large genealogy database from one program to another. There are limited methods of transferring and synchronizing data between two programs, especially when those two programs are owned by the same company such as an online family tree and the supporting desktop program, but there is no other way to move an entire file from two unrelated programs.
  • For basic data fields, GEDCOM does an very good job of preserving the existing file structure.
  • It is relatively easy to understand and export a GEDCOM file and then import the file into another supporting program. 
  • GEDCOM exports and imports are still supported by the majority of genealogical database programs on all computer platforms and operating systems.
  • GEDCOM has been a way to maintain reasonable data correspondence between different program. 


  • Depending on the program, a considerable amount of the existing file data may be lost in the transfer process since there are fields and types of media that GEDCOM could, but does not usually support depending on the program. For example, source documentation in Personal Ancestral File does not transfer well into almost all other programs. 
  • Using GEDCOM facilitates the transfer of large, unsupported, unsourced and inaccurate data files. Much of the proliferation of inadequately sourced, online family trees is a result of the use of exporting and importing GEDCOM files.
  • The need to support the GEDCOM standard has imposed arbitrary limits on the way genealogical information is stored and disseminated. 
  • Adding GEDCOM files to an existing family tree may create a large number of duplicates. For this reason, FamilySearch (the organization that originated GEDCOM) now requires uploads to be examined one person at a time and current implementations of the process in the Family Tree does not support notes, sources or multimedia. 

These lists are not exhaustive, I intended them to merely indicate the nature of the problems. I am certain that as time passes, there will be ways to exchange data between two online family trees in unrelated websites, either directly or through the mediation of a third party program.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

31 Sessions of RootsTech 2015 now online

You need to check back on the website for the latest postings of newly added recorded classes from the Conference. There are now 31 sessions online.

If you need a place to start. Watch Ron Tanner.

Utah Genealogical Association DNA Special Interest Group

I received the following notice from the Utah Genealogical Association (UGA). Note that this invitation is for MEMBERS ONLY. Here is the specific information about the meeting:
You are invited to our members-only DNA Special Intrest Group on Wednesday, Mar 4, 2015 at 7:00 PM MST If you are attending in person:  The meeting will be held at the Draper Library, 1136 Pioneer Road, Draper (end of blue line TRAX) from 7:00 pm to 8:45 pm.  A presentation and Q&A will take place from 7:00 to 7:45 and will be followed by a hands-on session with the experts from 7:45 to 8:45 pm.  Please bring your laptop and DNA research questions with you. If you are unable to attend in person:  You may register for the presentation portion of the meeting which will be broadcast via GoToWebinar® from 7:00 to 7:45 pm MST.  You may register here:  After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.  Seating is limited; however, it will be recorded and saved behind the member's wall on the UGA website for future viewing if you are unable to join.

You may wish to join UGA and get in on this special opportunity. Membership is open to anyone, even those living outside of Utah. Here is a quote from the UGA website explaining about the organization:
UGA Mission Statement
The Utah Genealogical Association provides genealogical information, sources and education through personal instruction and published media on state, national and international family history topics, while promoting high standards and ethical practices. 
UGA Information
The Utah Genealogical Association was formally organized on September 25, 1971, and chartered on December 1, 1971, by the State of Utah as a nonprofit educational organization. The Association's interests are worldwide while still providing specific materials of interest relating to Utah. It is not affiliated with any religious or political organization. 
The Association is governed by an Executive Committee comprised of the President, 1st Vice-President, and 2nd Vice-President plus a Board of Governors. Members of the Board are elected by the general membership of the Association and serve for a period of three years. 
In addition, dozens of volunteers serve on various committees, staff booths at conferences, and work behind the scenes to assure the membership a vibrant, collegial, and enjoyable Association. 
The Association publishes Crossroads, a quarterly journal of general interest in the field of genealogy and family history. The journal is sent to the general membership of the Association and is also available to the membership in an electronic edition on this website. 
Association members can share information on specific surnames through our Surname Research page. We sponsor an annual meeting wherein outstanding service and accomplishments are recognized and awarded. 
Also available to members is the opportunity to participate in a monthly "virtual chapter" meeting wherein experts in various aspects of genealogy and family history make hour-long presentations on their areas of expertise. These presentations are then archived for member review and access at any time.
Click here to find out about becoming a member.

1930 Denmark Census now on

I got the following notice today from
We are pleased to let you know that the census conducted in Denmark in 1930 is now available on MyHeritage, with full images and a complete index of 3.6 million names. This is the first time this important collection of historical records has been completely digitized and made available online. It was done as part of a large-scale digitization project by MyHeritage under agreement with the National Danish Archives.  
The email notice went on to state the following about the records:
More Information about the 1930 Denmark Census 
The 1930 census was conducted in Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.The following fields are included and searchable: Given name(s), Surname, Gender, Full birthdate, Residence location, Marital status, Marriage date and Relationship in household. The images contain additional fields such as Birthplace, Occupation, Name and address of the firm or business where employed, and more. In the 1930 census, census workers distributed the booklets and an individual within each household completed the forms.  The handwriting varies greatly between households and in some cases individuals within each household filled in their own information as the handwriting can change between records. View sample image 
The 1930 Denmark census will be automatically compared to your family tree and you will receive notifications on Record Matches whenever MyHeritage finds census records relevant to individuals in your family tree. 
There are more images planned for the near future:
The 1930 census is the first of many Danish record collections that MyHeritage will release during 2015 and 2016. The total data set will include approx. 120 million names, and will include Danish census records from 1787 to 1930 and Danish Parish records from 1646 to 1915. Most people with ancestors from Denmark will be able to find them in this data set, more than once, and learn more about their life stories and relatives. Many family history mysteries will be solved and new leads will be found. People with Danish roots will be able to trace back their ancestors many centuries back. Next on our list: the Danish censuses of 1880 and 1890. We are currently digitizing them and will bring them online on MyHeritage very soon. 
We are committed to digitizing important historical records that have never been digitized before, for the benefit of genealogists and family history fans. We hope the 1930 Denmark Census will be useful for your research and help you make many exciting discoveries.