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

Saturday, August 19, 2017

What are the "Restricted" Records on

The current FamilySearch microfilm issue has apparently engendered a sub-topic concern about the "restricted" records on the website. As more people view the records on FamilySearch and as more records are added to the website regularly, more people are encountering notices from FamilySearch indicating that the records are restricted in some way. The restricted records fall into three distinct categories:

  • Records that are only available for review at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, i.e. when the researcher is physically present in the Library.
  • Records that are only available for review when the researcher is in a Family History Center and using a computer connected to the Family History Center Portal.
  • The very small category of records that are only available to researchers who have certain qualifications, i.e. members in good standing of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It is important to understand that these "restrictions" do not come from FamilySearch. The restrictions arise as a result of the following concerns:
  • Privacy concerns
  • Restrictions imposed by the custodians or originators of the documents when they were obtained by FamilySearch
  • Changes in the laws in the country where the records originated
  • Limitations imposed by the contract role arrangements providing for the use of the records by FamilySearch
  • Copyright restrictions
There may be additional reasons why certain records are not available online at all. It is entirely possible that the restrictions imposed by those who originally supplied the records can change over time. As a matter of fact, when FamilySearch and its predecessors began acquiring microfilm records back in 1938, many of the countries in the world today did not exist and many of the countries that existed back in 1938 do not exist today.

I have heard complaints from a very small minority of the users of the website who complain that "all the records" are restricted. In fact, very few of the records are actually restricted even including those restricted to viewing within Family History Centers. Over time, some of these restricted records may become more freely available. However, the opposite can also occur; the original suppliers of the records may choose to have them removed from circulation. This occurs entirely independently of any of the issues involving microfilm.

If you take a moment to think about the situation, you will realize that the discontinuance of the shipment of microfilm has nothing to do with the restriction issue. Of the three types of restrictions listed above, each of the restrictions applies to microfilm and are only more evident now because of digitization. There have always been records that were restricted to viewing in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. As for the microfilm, use of microfilm was always restricted to  Family History Centers. The only thing that has changed is the fact that many more documents are now freely available online without restrictions than ever before.

To repeat, records with restrictions are not the fault of FamilySearch.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Microfilm Issue: Tempest in a Teapot?

During the past couple of weeks, I have been doing an informal poll about the issue of FamilySearch discontinuing microfilm shipments to the Family History Centers around the world. I have asked easily over a hundred people who are attending my classes and therefore likely interested in genealogy. I wrote about the results of my inquiry in a post entitled, "The Impact of the Microfilm Issue" on my Rejoice, and be exceeding glad... blog. What I found was that very few of the people, only one or two, had even used microfilm in the last year.

But I am finding some issues for the "serious" (for lack of a better term) genealogical researchers. The question is do these issues interfere with our present modus operandi? Well, yes they do. Those of us who are wedded to microfilm will have to transition to finding and looking at digital images. Perhaps we need to recall the time in the not-too-distant past when the only microfilm available was sitting in the Salt Lake City Family History Library (aka Genealogy Library). As time passed, we were able to "order" rolls of microfilm from the Family History Library and then after a number of years, began to host "digital" copies of those records. We have watched as that collection of online records grew from a novelty to billions of records.

I think the first thing we need to consider, assuming I include myself in the category of "serious" genealogical researcher, is whether or not we are personally familiar with the existing online record collections on,,, and Of course, these four websites hardly exhaust or even begin to exhaust the number of digital images available for research online. What I am finding for myself and after talking to other "serious" researchers is that more and more of the records we need for in-depth research are being digitized and are available online. Are there still going to be records that are only available on microfilm? The answer is a qualified yes. Given the case of microfilm digitation which I understand to be for FamilySearch rapidly proceeding, I would suggest that it is important to check almost daily for additional new records and certainly to check before becoming disturbed about microfilm shipments.

I'm also certain, that FamilySearch will implement some procedures that will allow those who need a microfilm digitized, particularly from the Granite Vault, will have a way to request that the digitization be expedited. Meanwhile, keep ordering microfilm through 31 August 2017 and keep watching the progress of the digitization of the records.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

CAGR or Computer Aided Genealogical Research

I was overhearing a discussion the other day about slide rules. I still have mine on a shelf where I can get to it easily. I also have an abacus. There is something comforting and physical about these devices that is lacking in computers. But the reality of the day is that I am fully integrated into the computer world.

From time to time, I have written about the digital divide between computer literacy and computer illiteracy. Genealogical research and all the activities associated with it can be done on paper, just as day-to-day calculations could be done on a mechanical adding machine, slide rule or abacus. The advantage of doing those calculations on a computer seem overwhelming obvious, but we have yet to begin realizing the potential of the computer over older systems.

I have titled this post "Computer Aided Genealogical Research" or CAGR. It turns out that there are several genealogy societies with similar names, but otherwise the name and the acronym are both made-up. What I see is that, so far, the computer is acting primarily as a substitute for paper and the devices listed above. It is also becoming a primary communication device. But as far as genealogical research, it is still a paper substitute.

Of course, there are a few glimmerings of progress towards CAGR with a variety of record hints from large online genealogical database companies, but otherwise, we are still doing research in the same way with the same objectives as did our predecessors. Let me start explaining this concept with a hypothetical situation.

Let's suppose that I am doing research on my English ancestors. Let's further suppose that I use a desktop based computer program to store my genealogical data. Going back a few years, I do all my research in libraries and archives and record what I find in my desktop computer program. Hmm. Let's suppose I move forward a few years and now I have this wonderful internet connection. I can now spend fewer hours in libraries and archives, but I am still storing all my information on my desktop computer.

Time passes, as hypothetically, I become connected with an online family tree program. Despite the changes in venue,  I am still doing what I have always done, I have just moved some of my data from my local, desktop program to an online program. Eventually, because of the development of the internet and the establishment of the huge online database programs, I move more and more of my activities to the internet. But because of fear of losing my data and other considerations, I still have desktop genealogy program.

Because of the development of research hints, where the online genealogy companies suggest connections between my ancestors and the documents and records in their databases, I see the need to put my family tree information on several such programs (i.e. websites). What is missing? What have I gained?

First of all, the computer is still acting as automated paper. I am still doing all of the research, the analysis, the data entry, the recording of sources etc. I see that some of these activities are now aided by the computer systems but only those that were formerly done on paper. Searching for documents has become easier, I make even fewer trips to archives and libraries, but the essence of genealogical research has not changed. Again, what is missing?

The answer is integration. I have data scattered across the internet. I have my family tree in several different online and even several desktop programs. These online programs are very much like warring nations. I can talk to each one of them, but they do not talk to each other. In this case, the computer and its connection to the internet actually interfere with my research. Remember, we are in the middle of a hypothetical situation. Let's suppose I search for information about my hypothetical English ancestors. Let's suppose that the information I am seeking does exist but I do not know where it is located. I am forced to search each separate repository where that information may be located. If the information is sitting in one website, search a hundred others is waste of time, but there is no mechanism to tell me which of the repositories has the information. The internet has essentially become an almost infinite shell game. Despite Google searches, the information I need is really locked up tight in some database on some computer and I have to guess where it is. Presently, I have many separate programs all telling me that they have data for me when what I need is not really there at all.

CAGR should help me find my ancestors' data but it does not yet exist. There is a measure of discussion about "smart assistants" and robo products. We have offensively stupid programs such as SIRI and other such programs that do things like look at the clock or tell me where to buy pizza, but sophistication at the level of active assistance in doing research is almost entirely missing.

I am not here to decry the advances that have been made. I am merely pointing out that we have a long way to go before a computer attached to the internet can do what I do when I am doing research. Perhaps we should start talking about how such a system might work. Perhaps we need to find a way to allow universal access and data exchange of genealogical information between all the presently closed systems. Perhaps I will not live long enough to ever see such systems.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Using the Brigham Young University Libraries for Family History Research

We Family History Expos have a three-hour webinar series on Thursday, August 17, 2017, on using the Brigham Young University Libraries for Family History Research. You can still register for this series. Here is the description of the classes:
After you view these classes you will know how to access the BYU collections online and in person. You will know about LDS resources available and how they apply to your research. You will know about some other incredible collections that deal subject from Illinois County histories to the American Revolution. 
Don't miss out on this unique opportunity to learn about collections that reach across the world.
Click Here for more information.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Acquiring History Skills Can Improve Your Genealogical Research

Performing adequate genealogical research is a skill that requires time and effort to acquire. Simply opening up a genealogy program and adding names to a pedigree does not magically confer the ability to do research. I read an interesting article quoting Keith A. Erekson,  the Director of the Church History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is quoted as saying:
“One of the things you want to do is expect citations,” he said. “There are publishers who will publish things without citations. That’s the first the sign: If they don’t even care enough to tell you where they found their historical information, don’t worry about spending the time to figure out if they’ve made it up or if they haven’t.” See Church News, 8 August 2017.
By changing one or two words, this quote would apply to all those who are posting their genealogical information online. I would change the word publishers to researchers. The quote precisely expresses my own attitude towards those who post unsupported information about their ancestors in online family tree programs. Essentially, a name, a date, or place provided about an individual is completely useless without a supporting citation as to where the information was obtained. That may seem like a harsh statement but it is the reality of doing genealogical research. An unsupported entry in a family tree is actually worse than no entry at all.

From time to time, I hear people trying to defend sloppy research by saying that the entries give us suggested topics for further research. I simply do not agree with that position. Those who argue this position apparently believe that we should give unsupported entries the benefit of the doubt. The biggest problem with this position is that the information present in a pedigree (a family tree) is often accepted as correct even when it is unsupported. The key here is the last statement above: "don't worry about spending the time to figure out if they've made it up or if they haven't."

I suspect that if we took out all of the fluff in the form of unsupported entries in the online family trees the number of trees and the number of entries with practically collapse.

The Catalog and the Microfilm Issue

Summary of this post:
On June 26, 2017, FamilySearch announced the next phase of its digital fulfillment strategy which included discontinuing its microfilm rental service (See Digital Records Access Replacing Microfilm) for digital access. It said that over half of its vast 2.4 million rolls of microfilm were now digitally available for free online. The question is, where? The answer is first in the FamilySearch Catalog, and then in the Historic Collections. FamilySearch is digitizing 1,500 microfilms per day and another 150,000 images from digital cameras in the field. Those images are being published right into the Catalog.

Watch this quick video "Where are the digital records on" to find how to locate and use this rich resource.

Where are the Digitized Records on

The Catalog is more than a reference tool, it is actually the primary window into the vast, ongoing FamilySearch digitization project to digitize the 2.4 million rolls of microfilm in the fabled Granite Vault. The short video that the Brigham Young University Family History Library uploaded describes where the links to all these records are located.

I frequently mention the value of the FamilySearch Catalog in classes and other presentations and I am frequently surprised at the lack of awareness of the value of the Catalog even among experienced genealogical researchers. I have done two additional videos about catalogs.

Catalogs: The Key to Using and - James Tanner I

Catalog Searches by James Tanner

It looks like it is time to write about catalogs more than I have in the past.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Hidden Emotional Side of Genealogical DNA Testing
This rather long newspaper article from the Deseret News highlights a "hidden" concern that is the byproduct of the current push for general DNA testing for genealogical research. The article points out that the results from a series of DNA tests may not always be positive and may involve some serious family issues and cause unintended disruption.

Ever since genealogically oriented DNA tests became generally available, I have been hearing stories of the sometimes unpleasantly surprising results of the tests. DNA tests work best in determining close relatives: siblings, parents and so forth. The generally vague ethnicity reports are interesting but rarely disturbing or surprising. But as the "Baby Switch" story above illustrates, not all the results can be easily assimilated into our traditional world view.

My own DNA test results have been mildly interesting but not yet helpful in my genealogical research. So far, I have 432 matches from and 159 DNA matches from Two of DNA matches are close relatives that I recognize. Some of the other matches have recognizable surnames, although I have yet to see anyone I have met or know personally. This compares to over 100,000 Smart Matches on and thousands of family tree matches. In addition, on the Family Tree, I can already see thousands of my deceased close relatives. I am not quite sure what to do with the living ones.

So far, I do have one result from a sibling and that probably puts to rest any fears I may have had of being switched at birth or adopted, but there are possibly still some surprises out there.

The real question is what am I supposed to do with the results from my DNA tests? I am not inclined to start contacting all the thousands of relatives listed by just these two programs. To the extent that I can determine, none of these "DNA relatives" have extensively documented family trees. In fact, the family trees I have available to view, do not show that any of these people so far have added sources or tried to documents their online family trees. In fact, some of the genealogical information I have seen from the family trees of the matches is totally inaccurate. At best, the information I have received is an incentive to me to correct the information in my portion of the Family Tree.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

MyHeritage Major Census Collection

In celebration of MyHeritage's recent milestone — surpassing 8 billion historical records on SuperSearch — they are happy to announce that they are making all of their major census collections from the U.S., U.K. and Ireland, Canada, and Nordic countries free for all users for one week beginning August 14, 2017. Quoting from the blog post:
Starting on Monday, August 14, and for a period of one week, no Data subscription will be required, and you can search through this treasure trove of census records for free. That’s 94 collections, containing over 1 billion census records! 
With our earliest census records dating as far back as 1657, and the latest ones extending until 1940, these records are an excellent way to learn more about the lives of your ancestors and to add details to your family tree.
Visit the blog post for a detailed list and links to the free records.

Three Years at the BYU Family History Library: A Retrospective

The Brigham Young University Campus from the Y Mount. The BYU Harold B. Lee Library is the building in the middle with the blue glass structure as an entrance. Most of the Library in underground.
Just over three years ago, my wife and I were getting settled into our new-to-us home in Provo, Utah. We had moved to Utah after spending over 40 years living in Arizona. Even before leaving Mesa, Arizona, my wife and I had volunteered to serve at the Brigham Young University Family History Library, a part of the Harold B. Lee Library (Lee Library) on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Over the past three years, I have often pondered about the change from Arizona to Utah and from the Mesa FamilySearch Library to the much larger BYU Family History Library. I decided to put down some of my thoughts.

During our time here in Provo, I have become more and more aware of the tremendous resources of the BYU Lee Library. Having spent many years working in university libraries, I have always appreciated the access to books and records these large libraries provided to their patrons. One of my early observations was reinforced after moving to Provo. While working at the University of Utah Library or the Arizona State University Law Library, I was always amazed that so few of the students used the libraries' resources, especially during semester breaks and other vacation times. I had this impression reinforced this week when I entered the BYU Family History Library and found only one student employee in the entire Family History Library.

While on a recent camping trip in Idaho and adjoining states, we stopped to wash clothes at a laundromat in Sandpoint, Idaho. While some washed clothes, the rest of us, including five of my grandchildren went to the local public library to wait. The children immediately began finding books to read and I set up my computer to do some catch-up writing. This was a really impressive library for a smaller town. It was also extremely busy even though there was no apparent special activity going on. We passed a very pleasant waiting time.

Back to the BYU Family History Library. From my perspective, this is easily the second largest specialized Family History Library in the world. But by adding the huge collections of the entire Lee Library, I am privileged to be at a world-class library. Every time I start to do some serious research on another family for myself or others, I am impressed by the Library's resources.

What I do see is the most of the patrons of the library, including the other missionaries serving in the Library, fail to use the Library's resources. Books go untouched. Microfilm and microfiche are only rarely accessed. I almost never see patrons or those serving in the Library using the fabulous collection of reference books prominently displayed in the Library. In fact, it is just exactly like my year's ago experience at the University of Utah Library during the times the students were on breaks between classes. From the full-time students' perspective, the Library is a place to study for their classes and socialize. From the perspective of the non-student patrons, the Library is a place to come and use electronic devices. It is very much like going to a world class restaurant to eat your peanut butter and jelly sandwich from a brown bag.

Why is this the case?

After thinking about this phenomena for about 60 years, I have come to the following conclusions.

  • Very few people know how to use a library's collections.
  • The internet is giving everyone the idea that it is the only source of information available to the world.
  • Even those are comfortable in libraries lack the research skills to fully utilize their contents.
  • Most people do not see study and research as positive leisure activities. 
  • Libraries, in general, do a poor job of promoting their research collections and university libraries are among those who do the least to promote their facilities.
  • Public libraries are facing serious challenges in funding and support.
There are a lot of other reasons also, but that is enough to give some idea of the issues involved. Basically, the BYU Family History Library is part of an academic institution that does not view itself as "serving the general public." Whereas the famous Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah does everything it can to promote family history and included public use. Universities, in general, do not view themselves and their facilities as "public" at all. Visitors to most universities are tolerated at best unless the university sees a way to promote its own financial support. Universities love to have people come to sports events and other entertainment but discourage any other outside involvement. Prospective students and supporters of the university are given a "tour" of the university, but these tours seldom emphasize the academic resources of the library. 

In living close to the university, I have an opportunity to talk with a lot of people who also live close to the university. I am constantly surprised at how few of those living within five minutes or so of BYU even know that there is a Family History Library on campus and many who do, usually comment that it is too inaccessible and they don't know where to park. However, those same people go to football or basketball games at the university and park blocks away from the stadium or Marriott Center. 

For example, there is nothing at all on the BYU campus that would indicate either the existence or location of the Family History Library. If you manage to find the Lee Library, even if go inside, there is nothing indicating that the Family History Library is down the stairs in Level Two except a general map of the Library's sections. To find anything on campus, there are only a few cryptic signs that only help you if you know what you are looking for in the first place. In walking on the campus, even I am asked for directions. 

If the BYU Family History Library is supposed to have, as its primary goal, the support of the students and faculty, then why don't the students and faculty use the facility? The answer to my own question is probably because they do not know what it is or where it is. 

I love working at the BYU Family History Library. I can't think of anything I would rather do in my dotage and old age. I am grateful for the fabulous collections of information in the Library. But I am also sad that it is so underused by its own patrons and others who could benefit from its great resources. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

New Rules Added to the Old: The Rules of Genealogy Revisited

Back on July 1, 2014, I published the first six Rules of Genealogy. See "Six of Basic Rules of Genealogy." This short list included the most famous and basic rule of genealogy: "When the baby was born, the mother was there." Here is a list of those original six rules:
  • Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.
  • Rule Two: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive.
  • Rule Three: Every person who ever lived has a unique birth order and a unique set of biological parents.
  • Rule Four: There are always more records.
  • Rule Five: You cannot get blood out of a turnip. 
  • Rule Six: Records move. 
If these rules are new to you or you need a refresher, you can click on the link to the post back in 2014 above and read through them again. Given the reception of the original six rules, I should have added another one about genealogists, but I refrain from genealogical profiling. Considering my recent experience with contributions to the Family Tree, apparently, genealogists are not inclined to listen to or follow rules.

I finally think it is time to reveal the next four rules, rounding out the number to an easily remembered ten.

Rule Seven:
Water and genealogical information flow downhill

This is one of the most obvious of this small collection of rules but also the most difficult to understand. However, this rule was not codified until it was introduced by Claude E. Shannon in his paper written in 1948 called, "A Mathematical Theory of Communication." The concept is that of "Information Entropy." Here is a definition from the Wikipedia article, "Entropy (information theory)."
Generally, entropy refers to disorder or uncertainty. Shannon entropy was introduced by Claude E. Shannon in his 1948 paper "A Mathematical Theory of Communication". Shannon entropy provides an absolute limit on the best possible average length of lossless encoding or compression of an information source.
Entropy is a lack of order or predictability and includes a gradual decline into disorder. How does this apply to genealogy? The answer is relatively simple. As all of the events in our lives occur, only certain events are recorded and become "history." Genealogical research is basically the process of discovering, evaluating and re-recording those recorded historical events. However, over time, historical records tend to be lost, i.e. the historical record gradually declines into a state of disorder. At some point, all of the information about a person or event disappears from discoverable historical records. Occasionally, re-recording of the historical information preserves portions well beyond the average, but for most individuals records of their lives cease to exist after a certain period of time. Hence, like water, genealogical information disappears into disorder over time.

This means that proving that you are related to a certain king or other prominent figure is highly suspect.

Rule Eight:
Everything in Genealogy is connected (butterfly)

The Butterfly Effect is well publicized. It is generally stated as the phenomenon whereby a minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. Most genealogists have the unfortunate propensity of viewing their ancestors as isolated individuals rather than in a cultural, social, religious and political complex. In my years of helping people with their research, I find that most genealogists stop searching at the "Big Three" records sets: censuses, vital records, and cemetery records. They fail to see the advantage gained by extending their research to all of their family members, their friends, and associates. Sometimes it is necessary to research an entire community to find one person.

Rule Nine: 
There are patterns everywhere

A family unit forms a pattern. It so happens that computer search programs are very good at detecting these patterns. If we use the programs to find patterns rather than focusing on the mundane names, dates, and places, we will begin to use the full power of the huge online genealogical database programs.

Rule Ten: 
Read the fine print

The idea of reading the fine print is to study and use all the information in the records and documents you discover. All too often, I find entries in family trees with a list of sources and upon examining the sources, I discover that the information in the sources has not been used to correct or modify the conclusions shown in the main entries. Read the fine print. Look at what you have and use the information you have already discovered.

There you go. All ten Rules. There might be more rules but these will work for a while.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

An Extreme Example of the Same Name = Same Person Problem -- Part One

Note: This series is a summary of the research into the origins of the Tanner family of Rhode Island. It is the culmination of many years of research and in past posts, I have discussed the progress of the research several times in past posts and some of the information is cumulative. 

Many people living today in the United States have ancestors whose lives and descendants were chronicled in a "surname book." In my own family, this book by a distant relative named George C. Tanner is a prime example. The conclusions of this book and a subsequent one published in 1910 by the same author have become the basis for establishing the ancestral Tanner line. This statement from page 5 of the book sets the stage for one of the most extreme examples of assumptions that a person with the same name is the same person.
This work will contain only the descendants of William Tanner of North Kingstown, R. L, whom we assume to be the the oldest son of William Tanner of South Kingstown, R, I. The genealogical indications and indirect evidence all point to this conclusion.
Tanner, George C. William Tanner of North Kingstown, Rhode Island, and His Descendants. Minneapolis, Minn.: Pub. by the author, 1905.

Tanner, George C. William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and His Descendants: In Four Parts. Faribault, Minn.: G.C. Tanner, 1910.

The tens of thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of descendants of the Rhode Island Tanners in the United States have accepted the conclusions of these two books without question since their publication. In over thirty-five years of intensive genealogical research, I have not encountered even one descendant who questioned the conclusions of these two books or has done any independent research into the original Rhode Island records.

Most of the interest in the Tanner family line comes from John Tanner (b. 1778, d. 1850) who was born in Hopkinton, Kings, Rhode Island. John Tanner is famous as an early member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and stories of his life have achieved the status of legends among his descendants. John Tanner is my Third Great-grandfather.

Missing from any of the records of John Tanner's life before my research was any documentation of his birth or parents other than the traditions and the two Tanner books cited above. After reading through the Hopkinton, Kings, Rhode Island Town Record, I found an entry made by his cousin Abel Tanner as Town Clerk documenting the marriage of his parents and the birth John Tanner and his siblings.

John Tanner's father's name was Joshua Tanner (b. 1757, d. 1807). The next question is obvious. Who was Joshua Tanner's father? Ultimately, the question is whether or not "all of the Tanners" in Rhode Island were descendants of one progenitor. As I will show, this assumption is wrong.

Stay tuned if you have a strong constitution.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Resources of the BYU Immigrant Ancestors Project

"Overlooked" and "under used" are words that are commonly heard in genealogical circles. But they both apply to the Brigham Young University Immigrant Ancestors Project. Here is the explanation of this Project from the website:
The Immigrant Ancestors Project, sponsored by the Center for Family History and Genealogy at Brigham Young University, uses emigration registers to locate information about the birthplaces of immigrants in their native countries, which is not found in the port registers and naturalization documents in the destination countries. Volunteers working with scholars and researchers at Brigham Young University are creating a database of millions of immigrants based on these emigration registers.
There is a good search page provided for beginning your investigations.

However, you may fail to notice the link the "Resources." Here is an example of the types of links and resources available.

Just when you think you have looked everywhere, you find something like this website and you might begin to understand that genealogical research is entirely open-ended.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

National Institute for Genealogical Studies

From my perspective, those institutions offering formal training in genealogical research are not at all aggressive in attracting participants from either the online community at large or the much smaller genealogical community. The National Institute for Genealogical Studies is one of those institutions. The Institute offers fee-based courses in a wide variety of subjects from qualified and fully competent instructors. Here is a description of the Institute from their website:
The National Institute for Genealogical Studies was established to assist all genealogists---from family historians to practicing professionals---by providing studies in a variety of genealogical topics. Education provides an important role in raising levels of personal and visible growth and in the certification or accreditation of genealogists.

With this in mind, a group of professional genealogists came together to create courses and programs conforming to recognized genealogical standards, with several objectives:
  1. To assist the family historian research and record information regarding their ancestors in a responsible and professional manner.
  2. To help the serious amateur genealogist gain the skills required to apply for certification or accreditation.
  3. To help the professional genealogist develop a part-time or full-time career in our chosen field.
There is very little formal genealogical training online and during the next few weeks, I will be highlighting where it can be found.

Monday, August 7, 2017

How will the FamilySearch Discontinuance of Microfilm Shipments Affect You?

For almost eighty years, genealogy and microfilm have been closely entwined. Every seriously involved genealogical researcher today has probably either used microfilmed records or has found that the records needed are available only on microfilm. As a technology, microfilm has been a huge success and enjoyed a longer life span than many other technologies. If you think about it, in 1938 when the predecessors of FamilySearch and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began acquiring their ultimately 2.4 million rolls of microfilm, almost none of the electronic wonders we have today were in existence. Computers, the internet, cell phones, online genealogy and much more were all in the distant and unimaginable future.

But as with many of our modern technological artifacts, microfilm has now seen its day. We are now well into the digital age and the transition from analog information storage, such as microfilm, to digital storage is well underway.

Since genealogists are among the few beneficiaries of microfilm technology at a very personal and consumer level, it is only natural that they should be the ones most highly impacted by the change to digital storage. I am certain that absent my interest in genealogical research, I would likely never have looked at a roll of microfilm in my lifetime. So far, the digital revolution has blown by many genealogists. These late adopters have simply ignored the technological changes and continued to work the way they and their own ancestors have for hundreds of years. I continually meet genealogists and others who are almost proud of the fact that they don't use a cell phone and that they are "computer illiterate."

So how will the announcement of the cessation of microfilm shipments by affect you?

Of course, if you are not a genealogist and have no interest in your family history, you probably do not even know microfilm shipments from the Granite Vault and Family History Library exist. It is also a given fact that you are very unlikely to be reading this blog post.

At the next level, you may be interested in genealogy but have never seen a roll of microfilm in your life. This is entirely possible. You have simply never gotten to the point in doing research where you were compelled to go to the Family History Library or a local Family History Center or some other library or archive and view a roll of microfilm. You are essentially in the same category as those who are not interested in genealogy when it comes to missing microfilm.

Now, let's suppose that you are a casual user of microfilm. You occasionally order a roll or two, but you are not extremely involved. Likely, the rolls that you have ordered in the past have already been digitized and have not been available for rental for some time. You may not even know this because you haven't looked at the Catalog for a while. The end of shipments of microfilm will not affect you at all.

The crux of the matter is that there is an extremely small number of genealogical researchers who are wedded to microfilm. They are like me, using microfilm regularly when we are in the mode of doing serious and very challenging research. We can't imagine life without microfilm. Hmm. But what is happening is happening. For some time now, I have watched as digital images of microfilm rolls have replaced the need to find or order microfilm from Salt Lake City, Utah. The reality is that much of the information I would have found while being dependent on microfilm has been adsorbed into the online digital juggernaut. I am finding more and more of the information I would have used online.

Should we be upset about the discontinuance of microfilm shipments? Only if we are genealogical ostriches with our heads firmly planted in the sand. Also, if you get to this point in reading this post and do not know what I am writing about or understand the point of this post, then you are not a genealogical microfilm user and should ignore the whole problem.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Major Announcement from The Family History Guide

On Thursday, August 10, at 6:00 pm MST, The Family History Guide will be announcing a major expansion. The announcement will be in the form of a Brigham Young University Family History Library webinar titled "New Developments in The Family History Guide". In the webinar we will announce a new Beta trial edition that debuts new LEARNING PATHS covering:

The changes will in no way diminish the utility of the existing website's support for learning about the FamilySearch Family Tree. In addition, these new "Learning Paths" will continue to pursue the focus of the mission of The Family History Guide to remove barriers that prevent people from getting started in family history and pursuing their family roots. The Learning Paths will enable those using The Family History Guide to choose the path that most conforms to their primary online program. It will also give those who use more than one of the major programs to learn more about the other options available. 

Please watch the webinar for more details. Click on the following link to sign in as a GUEST for the webinar on August 10, 6:00 pm MST:

Thoughts on Junk Mail, Search Engines and Genealogy

When we got home from our recent camping trip, we dropped by the post office to pick up our mail. As usual, we had quite a stack. Most of the stack fell in the category of "junk mail," i.e. unsolicited mail that usually goes right into the trash. One of the pieces of junk mail caught my eye. It was addressed to one of my sons at our address here in Provo, Utah. My son lives in another state and has lived there for many years. He did attend Brigham Young University here in Provo, but that was more than ten years ago. To my knowledge, he has not had an address in Provo since he graduated from BYU.

The second thing that caught my attention was the fact that the junk mail was a solicitation to join a veterans organization. My son has never been in the military. So how did this organization get an address for my son in town where he does not live for an organization he would not qualify to join?

Keep that question in mind.

One of the underlying issues being discussed today is the issue of "targeted advertising." Large online retailers or advertising companies such as and are often cited as examples of the success of targeted advertising. Here is a definition, just in case you need one:
Targeted advertising is a form of advertising where online advertisers can use sophisticated methods to target the most receptive audiences with certain traits, based on the product or person the advertiser is promoting.
Google, for example, uses sophisticated programming to put advertising as the lead result from any search that you do using their search engine program.  Likewise, Amazon will "customize" advertising to respond to your searches on its website. The ads that appear on my blogs, using another example, often reflect the topics and products I have searched for recently. These ads are just another, perhaps a little more sophisticated, form of the good old junk mail.

Do customized electronic ads and junk mail work? Absolutely. However, here is a link to an article that expresses the idea that these forms of advertising do more than just act as an annoyance. See the Harvard Business Review: "Targeted Ads Don't Just Make You More Likely to Buy -- They Can Change How You Think About Yourself." Here is an interesting quote from the article:
This powerful effect of behaviorally targeted ads on self-perceptions does have its limits, however. Our final study tested the role of targeting accuracy. We found that behavioral targeting has to be at least moderately accurate (i.e., plausibly connected to consumers’ past behavior) or people will reject it. A sample of online adult consumers received either accurately or inaccurately targeted ads for hot chocolate positioned as good for the outdoors. If these participants had at least some interest in the outdoors (measured in a shopping task at the beginning of the study session), the behaviorally targeted ad made them feel more outdoorsy and more likely to buy the hot chocolate. If they had no interest in the outdoors and the targeting was inaccurate, behavioral targeting did not lead to changes in self-perceptions or higher likelihood of buying.
However, there is a basic flaw in both junk mail and targeted advertising. I search for a lot of things and get junk mail for a lot of things, I am not at all interested in buying. For example, I recently bought a tent. Now, I am getting a lot of targeted tent advertising. Before I bought the tent, I did not get any such advertising. I might buy another tent in seven or eight years or never. The ads for tents have now become "junk mail" or "junk email" and go directly in the trash. The ads do not make me feel more sophisticated. The ads are just junk.

How does this apply to genealogy? Well, as we use the large online genealogy programs, we essentially get their "advertising." I am constantly bombarded with "record hints" and ads about DNA testing and such that are aimed at increasing my use of the advertiser's website. These ads or record hints or whatever have become a distraction and annoying. They have moved into the category of junk. Some of these "ads" try to modify my behavior to conform to the website's preconceived ideas of what I "need" for my genealogical experience. From the website's perspective, these ads are "engaging, friendly and helpful."

Do I find that the genealogy ads are helpful? Not really. Because I have already bought the product. Just like my tent purchase. Telling me about tents does not help me decide to buy another tent. Likewise, telling me about DNA testing, for example, when I already have taken two or more DNA tests does not help me decide to take the same test over again. Sending me notices of record hints to people I am not interested in working on right now, likewise is unproductive and has reached the level of junk mail.

The same thing happens with the genealogical search engines. When we search for something about our ancestor, the search engines produce junk. They may also produce a few things we are interested in learning, but mainly, they produce junk. Here is an example from I am not particularly picking on that website, I just happened to have it open when writing about this topic. This is an example of searching for information about one of my ancestors:

There are 262 results. There are nine results that fall into the category above the blue line that separates the strong matches from those that are deemed less reliable. But essentially, what I have above the line is a pile of junk mail. I have to go through the "mail" or results and decide if they apply to my ancestor or not. As a matter of fact, at least three of the results fall into the category of the letter sent to my son in Provo, Utah. They are results of passenger and immigration records.

Now, if I did not already know a lot about my ancestor, how would I a separate out the valid entries from those that do not apply? In effect, I am bombarded by junk mail and have to throw out all those things that don't apply to me or what I happen to be looking for.

I guess my point here is that computers are great. I appreciate the advantages of the internet. But I am also well aware that we haven't moved much past the junk mail stage of search engines and computer programs. We have created more quantity, but we still fall short on quality and pertinence. Here is the basic flaw again, I am not really interested in buying all the targeted advertising and search results from the large online websites.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Winter is just around the corner and so is RootsTech 2018

I opened my email today and found the following:

Although we have been enjoying 100+ degree weather along the Wasatch Front here in Utah and elsewhere in the Northwest, we need to remember that RootsTcch 2018 is coming as surely as the snows of winter in the mountains of Utah. Here is the body of the FamilySearch announcement:
Four hotels are now taking reservations for RootsTech 2018, happening February 28–March 3, 2018, at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. These hotels are offering reduced nightly rates to RootsTech attendees and are conveniently located near the Salt Palace. 
RootsTech 2018 officially begins on Wednesday, February 28, with class sessions starting at 9:30 a.m. (MT). The all-new general keynote address will begin at 4:30 p.m. The conference will end on Saturday, March 3. 
Don't wait to make your reservation. Rooms typically fill up months before the event.
I always put it on my calendar a year in advance. Fortunately, my wife has relatives in Salt Lake City that we have stayed with the last couple of years.

Camping and Blogging Don't Mix

Here I am camping in Montana, Idaho, and Oregon with limited internet access. I should leave well enough alone and wait to speculate about genealogical subjects. In my last post, which has now been edited, I made two glaring errors. First, the announcement about the acquisition of Legacy Family Tree clearly said the following:
We are also continuing to develop our Family Tree Builder software separately, and it will not be merged with Legacy’s software. At MyHeritage, we value giving our users the ability to choose their preferred genealogy tools, and allow them to work offline with robust functionality. While some other companies no longer develop genealogy software, we believe that people should be able to discover and preserve their family history on whatever platform they are comfortable with.
Anything I had to say about's program Family Tree Builder was ill advised and specious. I have always wondered why so many people are still using the long discontinued Personal Ancestral File when there are much better and supported free alternatives.

I should have been more careful in my speculations and realized that I got my ideas exactly backward. I also realize that I was too general in my mention of and their handling of the Family Tree Maker software. I have already written on this subject and Ancestry killed off Family Tree Maker sometime before they sold it to I have removed my ill advised speculations and promise to be more careful in the future.

For the last week, we have been camping in the above-mentioned states. Since we traveled into Montana and then northern Idaho, the air quality has been terrible. There are a large number of fires burning and I have taken very few photos because the air is so bad. As I write this in Oregon, my eyes are watering and burning from the smoke in the air. The smoke essentially covers three or four states. This is not an excuse, but it may help to explain my faux pas.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

MyHeritage acquires Millennia Corp's Legacy Family Tree and Legacy Family Tree Webinars

In a surprise announcement, both Millennia Corporation and indicated that MyHeritage had acquired both the Legacy Family Tree program and the rights to the Legacy Family Tree Webinar series. This is an interesting move considering the fact that rival has divested itself of a possibly competing software program when it licensed the popular Family Tree Maker program to Details of the acquisition can be found in the following announcements:

MyHeritage Acquires the Legacy Family Tree Software and Webinar Platform

Quoting from the MyHeritage post:
We’re delighted to announce today that we’ve acquired Millennia Corporation, makers of the popular Legacy Family Tree genealogy desktop software and well-attended genealogy webinar platform, Legacy Family Tree Webinars. This is our 9th acquisition to date. We consider Legacy’s products to be highly complementary to our wide range of features and services. The acquisition will introduce MyHeritage users to Legacy’s valuable genealogical webinars, and will also provide Legacy’s hundreds of thousands of users with improved resources and access to new services.
Contemporaneously with the announcement, Millennia Corporation announced that both the Legacy Family Tree program and their subscription Webinar series are on sale for 50% off.

I will let you click on the links to read the entire announcements. (I had previously added some speculation on my part. I am out camping and when I thought about what I had said, I decided my speculations were not well supported and likely inaccurate and they have been removed.)

The announcement from MyHeritage indicates that this agreement makes the 9th acquisition by MyHeritage. To see an explanation of the MyHeritage acquisitions and partnerships, see Wikipedia: MyHeritage.

Catalogs: Where Do I Start and Where Do I Go Next

I spent a number of years of my life working with a card catalog similar to this one. In fact, I spent so much time working with card catalogs that I developed a high-speed way to thumb through a whole drawer of cards if it were necessary to do so. I write about catalogs and include them in the webinars for the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel. If you do a search on the Channel for the word "catalog," you will find a number of my videos as well as those done by others for the Library. Here is an example:

Catalog Searches by James Tanner

This is a recurring topic because I frequently find people who do not know that even has a "Catalog" and who are also unaware of the catalogs on the other large online genealogy database programs.

A catalog is essentially a way to organize information using systematically, selected identifying criteria. In the old paper-based catalog shown above, The items are arranged alphanumerically thereby allowing the user to "jump" to a catalog drawer. There is a correspondence between the catalog and the way the items in the collection are organized. The overall organization of the collections in the United States usually follows one of the popular categorization systems such as the Dewey Decimal System or that of the Library of Congress. There are other systems used in countries around the world.

The categories selected in any cataloging system are somewhat arbitrary. They usually revolve around pre-selected general categories with some modifications. Individual items usually appear cataloged by subject, author, and title. As computers became more available during the 1970s, large libraries and archives began computerizing their paper catalogs. Unfortunately, they almost always simply took their existing catalog system and transferred it to the computer files. Today, if you walk into a library or archive in the United States, the books and other items in their collections are still in essentially the same order as they were before computerization. For someone like me, who has spent almost my entire life in libraries, finding items on the shelves is fairly easy once I figure out the peculiarities of the individual library.

Catalogs do have their drawbacks. The major drawback is the ultimate limitation of the system. For example, if I am looking for a particular ancestor, I will almost never find him or her listed in any catalog. I must essentially guess which items might contain information about my ancestor. This guessing process is a learned skill and can take years of experience to master. Every time I move to a new library or archive, I have to start all over again learning the particular system used.

As a genealogist, all of the information that is available about your ancestors is locked up in records. Many of these records are in libraries and archives. Consequently, we all have to deal with catalogs.

Online catalogs have their own idiosyncrasies. The basic limitation is that you do not have access to the physical items represented in the catalog so you often cannot tell if you have missed something important. As the video above illustrates, the only sure way to know what is in a library or archive is to "walk the shelves." Those libraries or archives with "closed stacks" will always remain a mystery and no researcher can ever be completely sure that every pertinent item has been found.

The key to learning to use a catalog is practice. You must simply try over and over again to find what you are looking for. There is no other way to find the information. Once you find a book or roll of microfilm, again, you must search the entire book or roll or manuscript or record or whatever.

So, where do we start? I use the Catalog (located in the Search tab drop-down menu on each web page) as my basic starting point. I usually start with the places where events in the lives of my ancestors occurred. Then I look through all of the relevant subject headings for a list of the items in the library. If I find what I am looking for, I start all over again. If I do not find what I am looking for, I expand to other websites by using the subjects and titles I find in the Catalog. I usually end up with a general Google search for related items anywhere else in the world.

This process might take a few minutes or hours or days or years. I have been looking for some information about certain ancestors for over twenty years now. I make the same searches over and over again because I may have missed something or something new might have been added to the libraries or other repositories. By repeating the searches year after year, I learn more about the library or repository each time I do the search. Most of my major breakthroughs have come either because of newly added records or because I finally think of a class of records I have not thoroughly searched.

In searching on the internet, I find that my searches are never complete because an exhaustive search is impossible. As a genealogist, you may hear a reference to a "reasonably exhaustive search." This term is a holdover from paper-based libraries. Today, given the vast number of websites and resources on the internet, one reasonably exhaustive search could last a lifetime and of course, what you might consider an exhaustive search, might be trivial to me.

Whenever you think you are "done" just wait a little while, go to some classes, listen to some webinars, read some books and you will soon discover that you have only begun to do your searches.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Quick Response About Microfilm Availability and Digital Records

I received the following comment:
While I appreciate the issues with microfilm, I wish that the decision to stop distribution would have been put off a little longer. The records from Eastern Europe will likely be among the last to be digitized, if at all. Without the ability to travel to SLC, my research will be severely hampered.
I guess I am puzzled as to why this person believes that Eastern European records are being targeted for the last to be digitized. I thought I would take a look at the Catalog and see what was available from Eastern Europe. Before I discuss what I found, I do have a question as to what the commentator felt the term "Eastern Europe" included? The New World Encyclopedia online gives the following definition:
Eastern Europe, as defined by the United Nations Statistics Division, includes the countries of Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, and Slovakia, as well as the republics of Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine
In some sources, Eastern Europe is defined as the nations bordered by the Baltic and Barents seas on the north; the Adriatic, Black, and Caspian seas and the Caucasus Mountains on the south; and the Ural Mountains. Using this definition, the nations of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro (formerly Yugoslavia), which the UNSD categorizes as Southern Europe, would be included. This definition also includes the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, considered by the UN as Northern Europe. The Transcaucasian countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia are included in this definition, though they are defined by the UN as western Asia. 
The term "Eastern Europe" is often used to refer to all European countries that were previously ruled by communist regimes (the Eastern Bloc), due to the concept of the “Iron Curtain” separating Western Europe and Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe throughout the period of the Cold War. Prior to German reunification, East Germany was often described as an Eastern European country.
Which of these countries does the commentator think are going to be the last digitized? I guess I should give at least one example. Take the Czech Republic. Here is a screenshot of the web page for the Czech Republic showing the collections available and whether or not they have been digitized. I had to do several screenshots to get the entire page:

Here is the next part of the page:

The camera icons indicate records that have been digitized and are freely available online. Perhaps the commentator did not know about the records in the Catalog that have been digitized and not yet added to the Historical Record Collections?

It looks to me from the dates above, that FamilySearch is adding a lot of digital records from the Czech Republic. I think my commentator will find that the records are being digitized. However, I am certain that we do not yet have access to many of the records in Eastern Europe simply because they have yet to be even microfilmed. They are still on paper (or whatever) in the libraries and archives in Eastern Europe.

MyHeritage Passes the 8 Billion Record Mark continues its meteoric growth by passing the 8 billion record mark in July of 2017. Quoting from their blog post entitled, "We’ve Surpassed 8 Billion Records on SuperSearch!":
How big is the number 8 billion? 8 billion seconds is 2,222,222 hours, 92,592 days, or 253 years. According to recent surveys, the world population will hit 8 billion people in 6 years time, Americans check their phones 8 billion times per day, and across the United States, drivers were stuck in traffic for 8 billion hours in 2015. It’s also the number of historical records that we now have on MyHeritage SuperSearch™!
Where are all those records? You need to look in two places. On the startup page, you need to click on the Research tab in the upper right-hand corner of your screen.

There are two selections that will show you all the records: The Research link itself and the Collection Catalog. The screenshot above shows the Research or SuperSearch page. Here is a screenshot of the Collection Catalog page:

Of course, the most efficient way to search all of these records is to have your family tree on the website and subscribe to include the data plan. With this level of subscription, you will get Record Matches and the added hints from the Record Detective. These search programs will automatically search all of the records for hints for everyone in your family tree and do so more accurately than you could ever do yourself. Here is a further explanation from Blog post:
Historical records are invaluable for family history research. They are vital for making new family connections and uncovering information about ancestors. We’re thrilled to have surpassed 8 billion historical records. It is a very important milestone, and we look forward to reaching more milestones in the months and years to come as we continue to add millions of new records to SuperSearch every single day. We are constantly working hard to add more global content and to make researching your family history easier and more accessible than ever before. 
In May we introduced our Collection Catalog, a new section on our website listing the historical record collections indexed and available on SuperSearch. The catalog is useful for beginners as well as professional users, as it details the number of records each collection contains, which collections are new, and the date in which each collection was added or last updated. It is a gateway to our vast historical treasure trove of 8 billion records. 
How we count records 
Each collection of historical records in SuperSearch includes a precise record count. In structured collections, such as census records, birth, and marriage records, each individual name is counted as one record. For example, a marriage document naming both the bride and groom is counted as two records. Nicknames or aliases are not counted as additional records. In family trees, each tree profile is counted as one record, even when it is available in more than one language. Each photo is counted as one record. In unstructured collections, such as newspapers or yearbooks, each page is counted as one record.
To understand more about this vast record collection and features of the website, please read the blog post.

Monday, July 31, 2017

When do you rely on an index? Illusion or Reality?

Accumulations of information eventually reach the saturation point and finding any one item becomes nearly impossible. Linear searches, before computers, were extremely time-consuming. Let's think about this in terms of genealogical research. Inevitably, as we do more in depth research into historical records, we depend more and more on the organization and classification of those records.

Historically, organizing voluminous records required maintain manually created indexes or lists of the records in some order. The utility of these organizational methods depends on the depth of classification imposed on the information. For example, if we are searching for a specific name, the utility of the index, for us, depends on whether or not the index included the individual being searched.

For example, let's suppose we are research county court records. The particular organization used by the county may be chronological or by case number or by the names of the parties. The county may or may not have created an index of the records listing the names of the parties. Even if an index exists, we may be searching for someone who was not a "party" to the litigation and therefore not included in the index. However, there may still be extensive information about our target individual in the file. If we are forced to do a manual search, the only method that will discover the information we are seeking is to do a word by word search through the entire corpus of information.

When I am searching unindexed deeds, for another example, I have to read each of the deeds and look for the names of the individuals who may have signed the deeds as parties or witnesses. The parties (grantor/grantee) may be indexed but the witnesses are not. In this case, a grantor/grantee index does little to help me with my search. I may have to search hundreds or even thousands of deeds to find one name on one deed.

As computers became more and more common, we entered an age where we depend more heavily on indexes. As long as the information stored by the computers is in "text" format, computer programs can search massive amounts of data in seconds and look at every word. This ability gives researchers an illusion of complete searches with or without indexes. However, we need to remember that much of what we are searching as genealogists is locked up in its original format, i.e. handwritten records. Until we develop a reliable and extensive ability of handwriting recognition, we are still heavily dependent on manual indexes.

The good news is that there are a lot of manual indexes. The bad news is that the indexers still select only certain "fields" to include in their indexes. For example, the deeds I wrote about above. I have yet to see a manual index of the names on deeds that included all of the people named in the deeds. If we want to find the information we need, we still have to do our own manual search. Of course, it may be easier to search digital images than either original records or microfilmed copies, but the existences of an index often gives the impression that we are searching the records when what we are really doing is searching the index. This illusion is pervasive. In many instances, the large online database programs provide only an index of records and do not provide access to the original record images. We are essentially locked out of finding the information we need under the guise of doing an adequate search because we rely on the information selected for inclusion in the index.

In every case where we rely solely on an index for our information, we must make every effort possible to examine the original record set in detail before concluding that the information is not available in those records.