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

Monday, October 16, 2017

Revisiting Search Engines for Genealogy


Over the years, I have from time to time examined the relative search capabilities of the various search engines available to genealogists and the rest of the world for that matter. I have varied the methodology and search criteria and without fail have always come up with similar results. But since I had not done this for quite a while, I decided it was time to check and see if I might get any different results.

During that same time period, the dominance of Google Searches has increased dramatically. As I noted in a recent post, Google presently has about an 86% market share worldwide. Here is a graph showing that dominance.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/216573/worldwide-market-share-of-search-engines/
One reason that this is an interesting statistic is that many of the computers sold come with preloaded software and give a preference to another search engine, most commonly, Microsoft's Bing. Apparently, users switch to Google. There are four search engines in the above graph. The fourth one is Baidu,  a Chinese search engine. However, if we look at the statistics for the United States, the differences are not quite so dramatic.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/269668/market-share-of-search-engines-in-the-united-states/
I think that if this particular study targeted genealogists, my impression is that the differences would be even less. I find a significant number of genealogists using search engines other than Google. Product selection is based on a huge number of criteria. Why people use a certain product is often based merely on the fact that it was the first product that they used. It is also a question as to why one product so dramatically dominates an entire market. This is the case with Google. From my perspective, I use Google almost exclusively because I get the most pertinent results from my searches. For example, already this morning while writing I have done around 70 searches.

I am fully aware that some people who use other search engines have specific reasons why they choose to do so. But I'm also aware that most people I deal with simply do not think about it. I'm also aware that many people would not know how to change their search engine even if they wanted to do so. By the way, you can find instructions about changing your search engine by doing a search. For example, searching for "change my search engine to Google" or some other search.

One problem with trying to show different search capabilities that developed during my past attempts was the fact that Google records all of the searches made and if I repeat a search I will get different results than if I make a search that has not been made previously. If you do a search repeatedly, Google will note the fact and provide results that are more targeted each time you do the search.

If you have difficulty finding the results of your searches, perhaps you need to learn different search techniques.

But I am going to do a search on the name of an ancestor that I commonly use as an example. Here are the results:

  • Google: 498 results in .5 seconds
  • Bing: 759,000 results with no time specified
  • Yahoo: 767,000 results with no time specified
  • AOL: 746,000 results with no time specified 
  • Ask: 9 results with time specified

In the past, the results showed a clear advantage in using Google for doing searches. But now, because of the targeted searches returned by Google, the differences are more in the quality of the items returned rather than sheer numbers. I think all of us could agree that having hundreds of thousands of results is really not very helpful. What I do suggest is that individuals review their ability to produce any results from searching online and get help if they feel frustrated in their ability to find meaningful results. I also suggest trying a variety of search engines to get a feel for their responses. You can do searches in various search engines by simply searching for the names and going to their individual websites. For example, if you search for "Bing.com" you can make a search using Bing.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Genealogy in the Abstract

http://www.mdpi.com/journal/genealogy
In our cloistered world of "family history" and genealogy, we seldom realize that from an academic and philosophical standpoint, genealogy is a rather controversial and far-reaching concept and discipline. Shown above is an online an open access journal published by MDPI.com. The journal is described as follows from its website:
Genealogy (ISSN 2313-5778) is an international, scholarly, open access journal devoted to the analysis of genealogical narratives (with applications for family, race/ethnic, gender, migration and science studies) and scholarship that uses genealogical theory and methodologies to examine historical processes. 
Open Access - free for readers, free publication for well-prepared manuscripts submitted in 2017.
Rapid publication: manuscripts are peer-reviewed and a first decision provided to authors approximately 34 days after submission; acceptance to publication is undertaken in 7 days (median values for papers published in this journal in first half of 2017).
It is published online by MDPI. Here is a short summary of that publishing company:
MDPI (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute) is an academic open-access publisher with headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. Additional offices are located in Beijing and Wuhan (China), Barcelona (Spain) as well as in Belgrade (Serbia). MDPI publishes 182 diverse peer-reviewed, scientific, open access, electronic journals, including Molecules (launched in 1996; Impact Factor 2.861), the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (launched in 2000; Impact Factor 3.226), Sensors (launched in 2001; Impact Factor 2.677), Marine Drugs (launched in 2003; Impact Factor 3.503), Energies (launched in 2008; Impact Factor 2.262), the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (launched in 2004; Impact Factor 2.101), Viruses(launched in 2009; Impact Factor 3.465), Remote Sensing (launched in 2009; Impact Factor 3.244), Toxins (launched in 2009; Impact Factor 3.030) and Nutrients (launched in 2009; Impact Factor 3.550). Our publishing activities are supported by more than 15,700 active scientists and academic editors on our journals' international editorial boards, including several Nobelists. More than 263,500 individual authors have already published with MDPI. MDPI.com receives more than 8.4 million monthly webpage views.
These articles would only be of interest to those who are concerned about the position of genealogy in the larger academic community. I have written on this subject a number of times in the past but not recently. A good introduction to the subject and the scope of the articles is the article entitled,  "What is Genealogy? Introduction to the Inaugural Issue of Genealogy" by Phillip Kretsedemas, Department of Sociology, University of Massachusetts, 100 Morrissey Blvd., Boston, MA 02125-3393, USA. Here is a quote from his article:
As a result, the genealogical method can be used to dissolve standards of truth that have been posited as timeless and universal (this is its non-teleological moment). And after it has established the fluid and contingent nature of truth it can go on to fashion narratives that are told from a specific cultural-historical locus (the point at which it re-engages teleology, with a small “t”). But again, this is where genealogies get into trouble with the modern paradigm of knowledge; because they draw attention to another disturbing truth. It’s not possible to cleanly separate the analysis of historical processes from the creative work that is used to steer history in new directions. The genealogist is always, at some level, participating in making the histories on which they are reporting.
If you would like to spend some time thinking about genealogy as a concept and as an academic subject you may find many of these articles interesting. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Refine Your Searches with Google Search Operators


Searching online using Google Search becomes almost automatic over time. But unless you become aware of some of the additional tools available from Google, you may be driving in first gear without knowing how to shift gears.

Searching is the lifeblood of genealogists. Every time we sit down to find our ancestors or relatives, we are searching. How we search changes as we learn more about what we are trying to accomplish, but we can get to the point where we are stalled in our search efforts both by the availability of records and by our own limitations in understanding more effective ways to search. Online searching is a learned skill. No one is born with online searching skills. Everyone has to learn how to do effective searches.

First a word (really lots of words) about browsers and search engines. Browsers are the programs that run on your computer or other devices that connect you to the internet. Some common browsers include Chrome, Internet Explorer (now obsolete), Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Edge. There are dozens of other browsers out there. See Wikipedia: List of web browsers. Google's Chrome browser has well over half of all the market share for browsers worldwide. None of the others garner more than about 12% with Safari in second place and the other down in very low percentages. See Statcounter.com: Brower Market Share Worldwide. If you purchased a Windows-based computer, you probably inherited a Microsoft browser and have never changed. I usually have four browser programs on my computer and can switch between them if I encounter an issue with a website not functioning or displaying properly. There is a good reason for Chrome's popularity: it works and has a huge number of add-ons and extensions.

What about search engines? A search engine is a web-based program that uses your browser to search for information from websites on the internet. Search engines are browser independent so you can use any browser with any search engine. Google Search is the most popular browser in the world and has about an 87% market share in 2017. See Statista.com: Worldwide desktop market share of leading search engines from January 2010 to July 2017. There is always a reason for this kind of dominance. Microsoft's Bing, the second most popular search engine has a 5.7% market share. If you are using one of the other search engines, such as Bing, Yahoo, AOL or whatever, you might consider doing your serious genealogical searches using Chrome with Google. Enough said at this point, but I do think it is time I came back to this subject. In the past, I have done test searches and reported the results to show what happens with several search engines. I will do that again when I finish this post.

Google has several "search operators" which include special typographical symbols or commands that enhance or focus your searches. Google Search Help has a web page called "Refine web searches" that lists some of the commands and symbols available. I suggest looking through the list and selecting a few such operators to add to your search arsenal. I frequently use phrases in quotes to search for individal's names. Some people frequently use wildcards. I also use the command define: to define words and phrases.

There is also a list of search operators, power tips and other useful information on the MIT Libraries website in an article entitled, "Google Search Tips: Getting Started." One comment, however, is that the "+" or plus sign has been removed from Google's search operators. It has been deemed unnecessary.

I use very few search operators because I rarely need them. I have noted in several posts and presentations, that I can usually make a number of searches and find what I need in the time it takes to construct special formulaic searches.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Returning to the subject of searches


In a previous blog post, I focused on the idea of searching in the large online genealogy database programs using a rather complete entry. But what happens when the details about the person we are searching for are missing or scanty? That presents another more troublesome aspect of genealogical research: finding the information when you are not sure what documents might contain those records.

I recently spoke with the patron of the BYU Family History Library. She was getting back into genealogical research after a long absence and was asking for some direction as to areas she might pursue. The main issue was that she did not know what she did not know. She started asking about doing some research for missing German ancestors in the early 1800s. We were looking at the FamilySearch.org Family Tree and found that a considerable amount of research it been done on one German line. Her approach was similar to that of many others, i.e. looking at a fan chart and choosing to research a missing ancestor without knowing anything about the connection between the present and the past.

A basic component of genealogical research is moving from the known to the unknown. Obviously, this methodology implies that you know something. In the case of my patron of the BYU Family History Library, she had no knowledge whatsoever of the individuals, their history, the geography of Europe, or any other subject that would assist in doing research into German-speaking people. There is really no difference between this patron and anyone who starts to do research beginning with an entry in a genealogical database program that has little or no data.

It is axiomatic that a family tree is a network of interrelated individuals. Starting with you or me, we did not spring into existence out of nothing. The more we know about the events that occurred in our own lives the easier it will be to determine who our parents are. Likewise, extensive knowledge about her parents will lead to our grandparents. This concept is fundamental. Here is a quote from the Bible in Luke 15:8:
8 ¶ Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
This is a perfect metaphor for genealogical research. First of all, the woman has 10 pieces of silver. From our standpoint, we have known relatives. The woman knows that she is missing one of the coins. If we organize our genealogy into a family tree we can easily see what is missing. But it is important to focus on what the woman did when she discovered that a coin was missing. She did not begin looking for the coin, she began by lighting a candle, i.e. learning about the environment where the item was lost and then began cleaning the entire house. The point here is simple. We need to clean our genealogical house before we do the search or while we are searching.

My BYU Family History Library patron was a perfect example of failing to understand this basic principle. She knew little or nothing about her family and yet she wanted to begin searching even though she was unaware of what was "lost."

Here is a classic example of a lack of information:


I take this example from the FamilySearch.org Family Tree because it is so easy to find them. According to the Family Tree, his father was Charles Peterson Garoutte, (b. 1810, d. 1896) who was both born and died in Adell, Dallas, Iowa. Garoutte was supposedly married to one of my cousins, Sarah Adeline Shepherd, (b. 1821 in Vermont, d. 1905 in Adel, Dallas, Iowa. Because of the dates of the places, it would seem to be reasonable to begin searching immediately for this individual. They should appear in a US Census record. But in doing so, we are ignoring the parable. First, we need to clean our house. There is the entry showing the family:

We can begin by looking at where each of the family members is recorded as being born and dying. With only two exceptions, every one of the family members was born and died in Iowa. But there is also a very evident duplicate entry. We have a child with exactly the same name. Are these the same person?

This is a very simple example. Cleaning up this family by adding in all the available records should resolve this issue immediately. In this case, the lost person will probably be found by merging him with the duplicate. Meanwhile, adding in all of the available records will clarify and verify each of the family members providing a basis for continuing research into their descendants.

Remember to clean your house before you search.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Using the Library of Congress for Genealogy


Don't underestimate the resources of the largest library in the world, the Library of Congress. Here are a few statistics:
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with more than 164 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 38 million books and other printed materials, 3.6 million recordings, 14 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 8.1 million pieces of sheet music and 70 million manuscripts.

The Library receives some 15,000 items each working day and adds approximately 12,000 items to the collections daily. The majority of the collections are received through the Copyright registration process, as the Library is home to the U.S. Copyright Office. Materials are also acquired through gift, purchase, other government agencies (state, local and federal), Cataloging in Publication (a pre-publication arrangement with publishers) and exchange with libraries in the United States and abroad. Items not selected for the collections or other internal purposes are used in the Library’s national and international exchange programs. Through these exchanges the Library acquires material that would not be available otherwise. The remaining items are made available to other federal agencies and are then available for donation to educational institutions, public bodies and nonprofit tax-exempt organizations in the United States.
Here is a breakdown by category:

24,189,688 cataloged books in the Library of Congress classification system

14,660,079 items in the nonclassified print collections, including books in large type and raised characters, incunabula (books printed before 1501), monographs and serials, bound newspapers, pamphlets, technical reports, and other printed material

125,553,352 items in the nonclassified (special) collections, including:
  • 3,670,573 audio materials, (discs, tapes, talking books, other recorded formats)
  • 70,685,319 manuscripts
  • 5,581,756 maps
  • 17,153,167 microforms
  • 1,809,351 moving images
  • 8,189,340 items of sheet music
15,071,355 visual materials including:
  • 14,290,385 photographs
  • 107,825 posters
  • 673,145 prints and drawings
3,392,491 other items, (including machine-readable items)

The biggest draw for genealogists is the Local History and Genealogy Reference Services

https://www.loc.gov/rr/genealogy/
If you don't live close enough to Washington, D.C. to visit the Library of Congress, then you can access its digital collections online. But I might add that only a very small percentage of the entire library's content has been digitized. 

https://www.loc.gov/collections/
If you are fortunate enough to live close to the library were able to travel, you can do research in the library. Unless you are just a tourist, you probably need to prepare for your visit to do research in the collections. Here is the page with links with information for researchers using the Library of Congress.

http://www.loc.gov/rr/main/inforeas/
 Here is an explanation about reader registration. Those who do research in the library are called "Readers."
Users of the Library's research areas, including Computer Catalog Centers, and Copyright Office public service areas are each required to have a Reader Identification Card issued by the Library. Cards are free and can be obtained by completing a registration process and presenting a valid driver's license, state-issued identification card, or passport. Researchers must be 16 and above years of age at time of registration. Questions should be directed to 202-707-5278.
A Reader Identification Card is a permanent card which remains valid for two years. To ensure patron information has remained unchanged, at the end of the two year period, each reader must renew their card in person by returning to the Reader Registration Station and presenting a valid form of identification.
One area I am always interested in is the policy on copying records. Here is a screenshot of the explanation of copying and printing services with a link to the page.


Here is a further copy of the portion of the list that qualifies the use of cameras.


For me, the most valuable collection on the Library of Congress website is the Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers.

http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/
Every genealogist should become familiar with this website. You will find a wealth of resources and hopefully an incentive to visit the library in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

FOIA Primer from Reclaim the Records' Efforts with the New Jersey Marriage Index, 1901-2016

http://mailchi.mp/reclaimtherecords/bfvk8vew84-1573069?e=87d2371d01
The Freedom of Information Act or FOIA is a powerful but somewhat controversial tool in liberating documents from the recalcitrant bureaucracy of the United States government and similar laws also help in the various individual states. Reclaim the Records, a 501 (c) (3) organization, is taking the lead in using the various acts to obtain public domain copies of various records that have been locked up by governmental inefficiency and incompetence.


In conjunction with a volunteer, Reclaim the Records has recently obtained copies of the New Jersey Marriage Index, 1901-2016. In their 17th Newsletter, you can read what is essentially a primer on how the process works. You may even be inspired to participate in the process yourself. Here is an explanation of where the newly liberated records can be searched.
Introducing the NEW JERSEY MARRIAGE INDEX, 1901-2016! These records are now totally digital, and totally free -- forever! Now you can research anyone who got married in the Garden State right from your home, still in your pajamas. 
We've posted these images at our favorite online library, the Internet Archive (archive.org). You can skip right to any year you want and flip through all the images, or you can download the records to your hard drive as JPG's, PDF's, and/or other formats. Each file is listed year-by-year (or occasionally by a year range), and then the marriages are listed alphabetically by surname. 
Just to be clear: these are images of the index, so this isn't a real text-searchable marriage database just yet. But rest assured that the usual genealogy websites we all know are going to start indexing projects and will make that happen eventually. (Yes, the Internet Archive does run automatic OCR on the text contained in the images, but the recognition quality isn't that great, so you're probably better off just reading through the images instead of trying to text-search.)
 The FOIA is described as follows in the FOIA.gov website:
Since 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.
Each state in the United States has its own version of the FOIA. Here is a link to a list giving a link to each of the states. State FOI Resources

Monday, October 9, 2017

Genealogy's Star and the future of blogging


Probably, by the time you read this post, I will have published over 5000 posts on my Genealogy's Star blog. If I include the number of posts on my other blogs, Rejoice, and be exceeding glad... and Walking Arizona, as of the date of this particular post, I have published 9,958 blog posts. If I include the number of posts of some of my short-lived other blogs, I have easily written over 10,000 blog posts. In addition, during the same time these blog posts have been written, I have authored or co-authored over 25 books on genealogical research. By the way, if I continue to write at my present rate, I will shortly have over 10,000 blog posts from just my three current blogs. You can also add in over 100 genealogy videos on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel and innumerable handouts for classes and presentations. 

Blogging does have a history. Here is a short overview of the Wikipedia article on the "History of blogging."
While the term "blog" was not coined until the late 1990s, the history of blogging starts with several digital precursors to it. Before "blogging" became popular, digital communities took many forms, including Usenet, commercial online services such as GEnie, BiX and the early CompuServe, e-mail lists[1][2] and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). In the 1990s, Internet forum software, such as WebEx, created running conversations with "threads". Threads are topical connections between messages on a metaphorical "corkboard". Some have likened blogging to the Mass-Observation project of the mid-20th century.
During the past couple of years, I have written about the decline in genealogy blog posting. Numbers don't tell everything. There is still a lot of information being put online by individual bloggers as opposed to institutional or commercial bloggers. There are some very active and very impressive new additions to the international blogging community. But notwithstanding those observations, much of the online communication is now going through Facebook and its subsidiary, Instagram.

This topic brings up my own present participation in the online community. As I mentioned recently in a blog post, my wife and I have been called as full-time FamilySearch missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve in the Washington D.C. area for one year beginning in December 2017. The calling process actually involves us volunteering to serve and then being officially "called" so it is not a surprise or anything like that. We will be serving as record preservation specialists helping to digitize original genealogically valuable records for FamilySearch.

There is some uncertainty about whether it will be possible to continue to write at my present level simply because of the time commitments of a full-time mission. But on the other hand, there is always the consideration of the time commitment to writing almost every day, day after day for years. Most recently, I have been relying on voice recognition software, Dragon Dictate on my iMac, to transcribe much of what I write. Although voice recognition software facilitates entering information, there is a trade-off in the increased number of typographical errors caused by the inaccuracies inherent in voice recognition. Additionally, I am accustomed to proofreading and rewriting as I go along. Right now, it is a matter of waiting to see exactly what the requirements will be in the future as to how much writing I will be able to if any at all.

One thing is certain, when I return to Provo I will have a lot to write about.

Cristoforo Colombo, Libraries, and Genealogy


Most of my "free time" as a child as I got older was spent reading. Consequently, I spent a great deal of time in libraries looking for books to read. It also seems inevitable to me now that I would end up working in a library. While I was both an undergraduate and a graduate student at the University of Utah, I was employed by the Marriott Library as a bibliographer so I spent, even more, time in the library. For one of my classes, I wrote a research paper on Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo). Because of what I had learned from working in the library, I extended my research to different physical areas within the library.

Now, this needs some explanation. As I worked in the library as a bibliographer, my job was to "verify" book orders from the university's professors. When a professor ordered a book, we had to verify the author, title, and publication information and then determine if the library had a copy of the book already. It was a challenging job because of the use of the old paper catalog and the usually vague information supplied by the professors. We were not supposed to contact the professors and so it was sort of a game to see if we could identify the books and other materials without making the obviously needed contact. We would commonly find a high percentage of the book orders already in the library's collections.

Our work frequently entailed physically searching the shelves in the library to find the book to make sure we had the right book. Our searches also included the books in the basement of the library that were waiting to be cataloged. After a couple of years of working in the library added to my years of searching for books to read, I had a pretty good idea about how to find almost anything.

Back to my research paper on Christopher Columbus. In looking for books about the "discovery" of America, I found several different places in the library where there were books about Columbus. I realized that the people who had cataloged the books and other publications had made individual decisions about categorizing books that were ultimately had the same topic. As I continued to search, I continued to find more information in different parts of the library.

This was probably my pivotal research experience. This experience prepared me for doing searches online that were not even imaginable at the time I was working in the library. In essence, I learned that the more you look, the more you find. When you think you have exhausted your search, you are really just beginning to find all the information that is likely available.

Looking back on the University of Utah library, I now realize how limited it actually was compared to the wealth of information now available on my home computer. But the concepts learned in working and doing research in the library are still helping me today to find things that seem to be impossible to find.

What does this have to do with genealogy? If you have to ask this question, you need to spend some time doing research in a library or online. Not browsing. Not looking at Facebook. But actual research with a definite goal in mind. Not giving up when your first few searches are unproductive. But real, extra effort searching that includes a broad spectrum of places and topics.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

More Unanswered Questions


Some years ago, I posted a short list of some of my unanswered questions. I am here to report that over the intervening years a few of those questions have become irrelevant or outdated, but the rest are still unanswered. Since that blog post, as they say, a lot of water and few other things have gone under the bridge and now I have a lot more unanswered questions.

I am still starting my classes by asking those in attendance if they have any questions about the known or unknown universe and I am still getting the same blank looks from those in the class. I am not sure now if they are weighing my sanity or just don't have any questions. But usually, after a few minutes of thought, there are a few questions. I do have a lot of questions and, as I mentioned in the old post, some are serious and others not so serious. Here go the questions for today. But in this post, I am going to expand on these questions somewhat.

1. Why am I still writing this and my other blogs?

Comments: I am still observing a decided change in the amount and content of blog posts about genealogy. I have decided that there is only a limited number of new and interesting topics to write about and most bloggers seem to get discouraged in coming up with new material to write about. As you can probably guess, I don't seem to have that problem, but some ideas and topics do get recycled regularly. Genealogy is rapidly changing with the technology and the times and there aren't a lot of things you can say on Instagram or Twitter that are going to maintain the interest of those now becoming more interested in the topic.

2. How many genealogists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Comment: With many things in our world, technology is affecting lightbulbs. I am pretty certain that my grandchildren will not get this question at all for the reason that they may never see a lightbulb replaced.

3. What happens to all the microfilm in the world when there are no microfilm readers?

Comment: See. I told you that some of these questions were serious. Unfortunately, you will have to figure out which ones are and which ones aren't. Microfilm needs a specialized machine to be read. If you have visited the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, you may have noticed that the number of microfilm readers has dropped considerably and their use has also dropped considerably. Microfilm readers are mechanical devices and they will ultimately break down. I have been hearing reports for some time now about the lack of replacement parts. How will we access the microfilm that never gets digitized without readers?

4. Where is Carmen Sandiego and who were her parents?

Comment: You can probably guess that most of my real questions revolve around the impact that technology has had and will continue to have on genealogy and genealogical research. Perhaps, as those who grew up with computers, get older, the issue of the effect of technology will become about as obvious as the effect of automobiles on American culture. You might not be aware but Netflix is considering releasing a Carmen Sandiego series. Perhaps Netflix will do a series on genealogy?

5. When was the last time you went to a major genealogy conference?

Comment: OK, I realize that this question does not really follow the rules of my own game. But it is a serious question and not a silly one. With another session of #RootsTech 2018 coming online, I might note that for every major genealogy conference still being held, there are dozens (perhaps hundreds) of online webinars. It is not a trivial observation that some of my own webinars from the BYU Family History Library have more views than the entire attendance at a major genealogy conference. There are still a number of good reasons to go to a major genealogy conference but maybe no longer a need to go. I think the promoters of the larger conferences are struggling with that reality.

6. How does genealogy compete with cats and dogs?

Comment: This is another really serious question but rather obscure at the same time. We have been doing presentations at the BYU Family History Library and posting them on YouTube.com for some time now. We have garnered some respectable numbers of views compared to the rest of the online and video producing genealogical community but compared to many of the "popular" videos on YouTube, we are definitely small potatoes. An instructional video about how to fix a faucet can get more views in a few weeks than all of our 300+ BYU videos in three years. The reality is that genealogy is a pretty obscure subject. 

7. Can genealogy survive online family trees?

Comment: No comment.

8. Why do governments keep trying to protect the privacy of dead people?

Comments: One of the recurring topics in the genealogical community is the actions taken by various governments and governmental agencies to restrict access to genealogically important records. In some cases, this is an attempt to rewrite history, but mostly it is a ploy to get more revenue from selling us back our own family's information.

9. If I reach a brick wall, can't I just make up the rest?

Comment: At this point, I realized that my questions really were all serious. I guess I don't have much silliness in me today.

10. If a genealogical record falls in a forest, does it make a sound?

Comment: Here is the answer to the question from Wikipedia:
Albert Einstein is reported to have asked his fellow physicist and friend Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, whether he realistically believed that 'the moon does not exist if nobody is looking at it.' To this Bohr replied that however hard he (Einstein) may try, he would not be able to prove that it does, thus giving the entire riddle the status of a kind of an infallible conjecture—one that cannot be either proved or disproved.
That is enough for today. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Place Names and History: The place at the time

Covering: Dulwich, Brixton, Denmark Hill, Herne Hill, Stockwell, Peckham, Nunhead, Camberwell and Lambeth. LSE reference no. BOOTH/E/1/11 Printed Map Descriptive of London Poverty 1898-1899

It is a basic historical fact that place names change over time. There is also a well-known, genealogical rule that we record place names as they were at the time an event occurred in our ancestors' or relatives' lives. There are a number of basic reasons why place names change and the reasons include the following:
  • Changes in political jurisdictions such as from British Colonial America to the United States of America or changing county boundaries
  • Changes due to socio-political pressure such as a mountain in Phoenix, Arizona that was renamed Piestewa Peak from its previous name of Squaw Peak 
  • Changes because of bureaucratic rules such as the town named St. Joseph being changed to Joseph City due to "too many places with the same name on the train route"
  • Changes due to conquest such as the fact that the country of Poland did not exist after it was partitioned by Russia, Prussia, and Austria in 1772, 1773 and 1795
  • Changes due to traditional, local names being renamed for a famous person such as the Argentine city of La Plata being renamed Ciudad de Eva Peron
Some places have undergone a whole series of changes. Parts of Phoenix, Arizona have gone through several name changes: Swillings Mill became Hellinwg Mill which became Mill City which became East Phoenix and ultimately just Phoenix. 

The reason for recording events with the place name that existed at the time is to preserve the history and also to enable historians to find a record originating in the location with the historic name. Genealogically and historically valuable records are created at or near the time an event occurs by someone who had an interest in the event or a duty to record it. The ultimate disposition of the record almost always depends on where and when it was created. 

How does this relate to the "Standard Names" in the FamilySearch.org Family Tree program? Standardization in the Family Tree is intended to help clarify the information entered and assist in matching events to existing historical records. For these reasons, FamilySearch as adopted the long-standing genealogical rule that places be recorded as they existed at the time of the event. For example, an event that occurred in Arizona in 1875 should be recorded as follows:

St. Joseph, Apache, Arizona Territory, United States

Instead of the current name as follows:

Joseph City, Navajo, Arizona, United States

To accurately record the place names may require some detailed historical investigation and significant effort, but the results will be increased accuracy and a higher probability that records of the event will be located. 


Friday, October 6, 2017

#RootsTech 2018 Keynote by Gold Olympian Scott Hamilton

http://scotthamilton.com/

From a Press Release dated 6 October 2017: 
RootsTech 2018 is delighted to announce that Scott Hamilton, American champion figure skater, Olympic gold medalist, motivational speaker, author, philanthropist, cancer survivor, TV broadcaster, and husband and father will be the RootsTech 2018 keynote speaker on Friday, March 2, 2018, in Salt Lake City, Utah. 
Hamilton is hailed as one of the greatest male figure skaters of all time. He won a gold medal for his stunning performance in the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. He won four consecutive US figure skating championships and four world championships from 1981 to 1984. In 1990, Hamilton was inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame and the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame. In all, he has earned more than 70 titles, awards, and honors for figure skating. 
For the past 30 years, his broadcast analysis of national and global skating competitions has provided firsthand insights, and his speeches and books are uplifting and motivating.
Besides his many accomplishments in the public arena, Hamilton says his family members have always been an integral part of his success and are the most important people in his life. He is excited to share more of his personal and family stories at RootsTech 2018. 
Born August 28, 1958, in Toledo, Ohio, Hamilton was adopted when he was six weeks old by Dorothy and Ernest S. Hamilton. He has overcome many obstacles on his path to success including an illness at age two when he stopped growing. Doctors were unable to determine the cause, and over time the condition corrected itself. 
His parents supported his figure skating passion from the time he began skating at age 13. “Family in my early years of skating were all in the ice show. I remember taking pictures on our front lawn in April, all in our costumes and ices skates. . . . Once I started skating, everybody was involved. . . . We were all in, 100%. It was our ‘candy,’” he said.
His highly publicized battles with cancer that interrupted his skating career have inspired millions. Following his mother’s passing from cancer and his own survival, he established the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation (Cancer Alliance for Research, Education, and Survivorship) to improve cancer survivorship. In 2014, he founded the Scott Hamilton Skating Academy to rebuild figure skating and offer fresh ways for students to fall in love with skating, as he did as a child. 
His wife, Tracie, and four children are now the center of his life. While helping with recovery efforts in Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake, he and Tracie fell in love with two amazing orphans. “Now they are our own children; so now we have four,” said Hamilton. “It’s fun, and it’s crazy, and it’s non-stop, and [we] just keep going, going, going. Life is full. Life is good. And I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities to be a part of this very fun—we put the fun in dysfunctional—family." 
When asked how he feels about keynoting RootsTech 2018, Hamilton says he looks forward to soaking in the RootsTech experience and sharing his story. “We all have a story to tell. All of us. And we all have great lineage and heritage. And we’ve got all of these generations and generations and generations [before us]—nothing started with us.” While at RootsTech, Hamilton says he is excited to meet as many people as he can and hear about how they have found their lineage, ancestors, and their families.
“All of us have a legacy to leave for future generations,” he said. “It’s hard to be memorable in this world, but through our children, we have a chance to really make an impact,” he said. 
Hamilton feels his legacy is compassion, kindness, and generosity, “If I can raise money for cancer research and be successful in that, if I can be a good father and allow my kids to have everything they need to be successful in their lives and for their children and for their children and their grandchildren, then I think I’ve done my job." 
Go to RootsTech 2018, February 28 to March 3, 2018, to learn more about Scott Hamilton’s incredible journey, discover your roots, make family connections, and catch the spirit of belonging to generations of your family.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Searches and Searches and Searches! Oh My!


Lions, Tigers, Bears - The Wizard Of Oz - YouTube

When I am asked about my genealogical specialty, I generally respond, "I find things." After all, that is the whole idea of doing historical research, i.e. genealogy. The last two days, I spent considerable time simply explaining to people how to find things; mostly their ancestors. One particular benefit of having huge online database programs is their ability to search through the content of those databases. One of the inquiries I received was a question about which websites would be best for doing research in the United States? In response, I tried unsuccessfully to elicit further information about which part of the United States the inquirer was interested in. But ultimately, the answer was the large online database programs.

In thinking about all of the questions I received, I realized that it had been some time since I had reviewed the large database search engines in a blog post. I thought it might be interesting to go through a sample search in each of the four large online programs; FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, and Findmypast.com. As I have done in the past, the idea is to take a somewhat random name from my family tree and compare the results of simple searches between the four programs. To make this fair, I really need to do more than one search with more than one name. So, here we go.

I decided to focus on searches in the United States and England. All four of the large online database programs have substantial records in the United States but because of Findmypast.com, I decided to add in a second search in England. I further decided to choose someone in the mid-1800s that way I could be assured that there were potentially a lot of records available. I also decided to accompany the searches with some of my usual commentary. One factor that made selecting individuals to search was the issue that I have already researched nearly all of my ancestors in that time. I also decided to eliminate anyone who already had dozens of sources attached to their entry in the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. I also wanted to choose someone who had relatively complete basic information so the results of the search would not be overly affected by a lack of information. Finding someone with only a name and the date and a vague place takes more than a good search engine.

 For my first search, I decided to choose David Sheppard (b. 1802, d. 1877). Here is his detailed summary from the Family Tree. I need to note, that there were no sources attached to this person in the Family Tree.


To be fair, I have to note that this person already had three Research Hints from FamilySearch.org. But the idea here was to see what happened if someone came into the program without any other information and simply did a search. But I do need to include the Record Hints in the number of responses. Using the FamilySearch.org Family Tree makes this rather simple because there are links to the four websites that use the information in the family tree to find additional records. Further, because I happen to have an LDS account with FamilySearch.org, I have access to all four programs. 

Once I got started, I decided that I would only consider fairly obvious sources. In other words, I would not comb through pages and pages of results. I also decided that I would not add any additional information for this initial comparison. I would also not change the default settings in any of the search parameters available in each of the programs. Essentially, I wanted this to be as close as possible to the perspective of a search done by a relatively unsophisticated user.

So here are the results:

FamilySearch.org:
394 results with six immediately identifiable sources.

Ancestry.com:
There were only three immediately identifiable sources out of 387,320 results. However, upon clicking on one of the sources, Ancestry.com identified five additional applicable sources.

Findmypast.com:
There were two results in both of these were identifiable sources. As a note, there were both references to US census records.

MyHeritage.com:
There were 5,646,916 results. All of the initial results were from MyHeritage Family Trees. Since the rules of the game here mandated that I do nothing more, at this level, I would have rejected all of the results. However, recognizing the way that the program works, information that would not be readily available to a novice, I filter the information to look for census records and found a record. However, to be completely fair I would have needed to evaluate the information already contained in the large number of user family trees matches that were found.

The results from this are not obvious. All four of these programs are structured to provide automated record hints. But since my idea here was to show what happens if you do not have a family tree in each of the four programs and in addition, do not have advanced search skills.

Now let's see what happens with the person from England. I selected William Parkinson, (b. 1828, d. 1892). Here is a screenshot of his information from the Family Tree.


I would have to note, that the birthday, as recorded, is undoubtedly wrong. It cannot be the same as the christening date. I should also note that there were already seven sources attached to this person on the Family Tree.  There is also a little twist here and that this person died in Australia. But, in the interests of proceeding from the vantage point of a complete novice, here's the search.

FamilySearch.org:
On an initial search with 227 results, only one of the seven existing sources was found. As a matter of comment, none of the results included any records from Australia. Because I am familiar with the program, I realized that I could increase the number of accurate responses by adding in information not included in the original search. But to do this, I would have to have considerable experience using the program.

Ancestry.com:
The initial search returned 197,587 results. Two of these were the search subject. However, both of the records were from Australia. In this case, clicking on the results did not produce any additional records.

Findmypast.com:
An initial search only returned two results in either of these were the target person. Again, in all fairness, I already know that I found many additional valuable sources about this family on Findmypast.com.

MyHeritage.com:
Once again, I got a huge number of initial results, 1,148,828, most of which, initially, were MyHeritage family trees. There were two results to the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. Because there were sources attached to this individual in the Family Tree, these connections would have been useful. Additionally, examining the other family tree connections may have produced more information supported by sources.

In conclusion, it would seem that an absolute novice with some basic information about the person who lived in the mid-1800s would have a very good chance of finding pertinent sources to support existing information and add information. But it became abundantly obvious that real progress could only be made with some understanding of each of the four programs.

It would appear that each of the programs does an adequate job of finding records based on a name, a birth date, and a place but expanding on that information requires some degree of sophistication and using each of the programs. From the results of this test I would conclude that all four of the programs are very useful I would also suggest that having a family tree in each program would measurably increase the utility of each of them.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Geneanet.org adds automatic record matching



The FamilySearch.org Partner program, Geneanet.org, has added the feature of automatically matching all of the individuals in your Geneanet.org family tree with the Geneanet.org database.


You may not be familiar with Geneanet.org yet, but you probably will be in the very near future.  Here is some background about the website:
Geneanet was launched in 1996 by genealogy enthusiasts to help family history researchers sharing their data and it was an instant success. We wanted our users to pay only if they want and that’s why we created the Premium service. Most of the website pages and features are available for free but you can take advantage of Ad-Free browsing, more effective search engine and access to additionnal records by subscribing to the Premium. Today, Geneanet is the first French genealogy website and the company has 25 employees.
One interesting feature of the website is there extensive partnership with French genealogical societies and with FamilySearch.org. You can search the societies' collections including FamilySearch.org directly from the Geneanet.org website. Here's a screenshot of the list of partner programs.



Geneanet.org also has a companion program, Geneastar.org, that features genealogies of famous people.


 Geneanet.org has a third website called Geneweb. This is a free open-source genealogy software program similar to a wiki.

If you have French ancestry there should be one of your most valuable resources. However, the website is growing rapidly and is becoming more internationally oriented.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

New website for Chicago and Cook County Cemeteries

https://chicagoandcookcountycemeteries.com/

My friend, Barry A. Fleig, has developed an extremely interesting and valuable website featuring Chicago and Cook County Cemeteries. Here is a quote from his announcement of the website:
A bright new Chicago Cemetery Website
Chicago cemeteries offer a wealth of history and interesting stories. How about a liquor license issued to a cemetery or an actual elevator? 
In a new and exciting website, www.chicagoandcookcountycemeteries.com discover 806 Chicago area graveyards and Native American burial listings, In addition, read about funeral trains, undertakers, funeral customs, monuments, mausoleums and more. Ongoing posts contain interesting facts, oddities, and even a few ghost stories. If you enjoy learning more about Chicago cemeteries, searching for lost relatives, or just are curious about local history and burial customs, this website is a must. 
There is a list of 273 cemeteries and almost 300 additional Jewish cemeteries and gates within larger cemeteries. Add in over 250 carefully researched name cross references, more than any other site. The Chicago and Cook County Cemetery Guide, authored by noted cemetery historian Barry A. Fleig, is a result of research spanning many years. The website is online now and new posts are added regularly. 
Cemeteries are a reflection of life. They offer us a rich history of our ancestors as well as local history. Celebrate our Chicago cemeteries with this very helpful and free website.
 If you have ancestors from the Chicago area searching in this website would be very productive. In addition, Barry has made a considerable contribution to genealogy in the Chicago area. Here is a summary of his background.
A resident for over fifty years, Barry A. Fleig is a devoted and a recognized authority on Chicago area burying grounds with an emphasis on vanished cemeteries. He served on the Board of Management for the Chicago Genealogical Society, as their Cemetery Chairman. Mr. Fleig has aided in the identification and preservation of Russell Cemetery near Techny in Northfield Township. His most significant accomplishment was the rediscovery, identification and research of the forgotten Cook County Cemetery, the burial site of over 38,000 bodies on the 320 acre County Farm later known as the Chicago State hospital on Chicago's northwest side. Almost nine acres of cemetery have been preserved under the Human Grave Protection act. As a result of the rediscovery of Cook County Cemetery, Mr. Fleig has received extensive recognition on three major television networks, several radio stations, the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, a feature article in the Los Angeles Times and a major article in the Chicago Reader entitled "Grave Mistake”. Mr. Fleig has made many presentations before community groups, genealogical and historical societies, schools, and churches
Any of my readers who are participating in either FindAGrave.com or BillionGraves.com can use this information to locate and add the gravesites to these programs.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Genealogy and Advertising: What is Real and What is Hype


Times Square in New York City is the epitome of American advertising; loud, in-your-face and totally unfocused. Advertising is as old as commerce. Historically, advertising became a major force with the rise of magazines and newspapers in the 19th Century. Today, advertising is dominated by a handful of online mega-corporations, led by Google and Amazon. Advertising is a multi-billion dollar business, but I am certain that unless you are involved directly in the advertising industry, you could not name even one of the top ten advertising agencies in the world.

What does advertising have to do with genealogy? I can answer that question with another. Have you taken a DNA test in the last year or so? If so, why? Of course, I have taken two tests from two of the major genealogical database/family tree companies. But why? Advertising was probably a major factor in your decision whether you realized it or not.

If you want an example of the power of advertising, you only have to look around you at what you have purchased including your electronics, your food, your clothes, and the car you drive. There are very few aspects of your life that are not touched by advertising.

If you ignored the four or five largest, online genealogy companies, the rest of the genealogical community would probably rank as one of the most unimportant and micro-segments of the advertising world. But nonetheless, advertising does play a part in what we do and how we think as genealogists. By the way, advertising is not "bad" or "good" as such, but of course, there is bad advertising and good advertising. For example, I might strongly feel that genealogy should be a universal pursuit and so I am not annoyed by genealogically oriented advertising. However, there are many other things that do annoy me and I am quick to avoid even the mention of certain types of products and services.

Is there a difference between promotion and advertising? We seem to think promoting a cause or a point of view is acceptable as long as we agree with the basis for the promotion. But advertising has the connotation of commerce and philosophically, it falls into a different category. During the almost forty years that I was an attorney, the law profession moved from an absolute ban on advertising, as such, to a general acceptance. Driving down the freeway today, it would be hard to imagine that large law firms advertising personal injury, domestic relations, and bankruptcy law would have been censored and banned from the practice of law only a few short years ago. We can now see billboards for products that would not even have been mentioned in polite society when I was younger.

Do genealogists benefit from advertising? Yes, in the same way, that we all benefit from the availability of goods and services in the marketplace. If you want an example of the limits of the overall genealogical community, you should look at GenSoftReviews.com. This very useful and almost entirely unique website has been gathering user reviews of genealogy products for years.

http://www.gensoftreviews.com/
Unless you are a dedicated and well-informed online genealogist, you have probably never heard of nearly all the products reviewed. If you have never seen a genealogy software review, you might be very surprised to see some of the "star" rankings of the programs you have seen or use. There are currently 985 programs with 4735 reviews.

Going back to the title of this post; what is real and what is hype? If you really want to know what is real, it will take some work. The reviews on GenSoftReviews.com are a good example of the difference between hype and reality. The part of genealogy that verges on fantasy and unreality is that fact that discontinued software programs such as Personal Ancestral File and The Master Genealogist continue to rank high with their fans despite their abandonment by their own developers. I have mentioned this fact many times over the years and I am still amazed when I see these old programs continue to receive high ratings.

One issue that bears discussion, perhaps in a different context, is the contrast between online websites or programs and those that are standalone and based on your computer. For example, the FamilySearch.org Family Tree is not considered a "program" in competition with the long list of desktop programs available. But, in fact, many people today choose to keep all of their genealogical data in an online program. If you want to see one chart comparing the popularity of online genealogy sites, you can see one on Geni.com, "Comparison of Internet Genealogy Sites." However, it is interesting that the list omits the huge websites FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com, and Geneanet.org and includes both LinkedIn.com and Facebook.com as genealogy websites. Could this illustrate bias and prejudice in advertising?

Note: This old website from Geni.com was apparently put up back in 2010. I apparently missed that. But it is still interesting to note the omissions.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Can Your Smartphone replace a DSLR Camera?

iPhone 8 plus image
Smartphones are ubiquitous. It is estimated that over 2 billion people now own and use smartphones around the world and that another one and a half billion will be sold in 2017. Everyone of these devices as a camera. Since genealogists are people, they are included in this estimate. It may seem simplistic, but these smartphone cameras are useful for doing genealogical research and replacing the laborious process of copying books and photographs. Instead of sitting in a library and writing pages of notes, it is faster and easier just to pull out your smartphone and take a photo of every page you are interested in preserving. This also works for what is left of the world of microfilm.

Lately, there have been a lot of news articles online about smartphones ultimately replacing DSLR cameras (Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras) used by professional photographers. One issue is still the resolution of the smartphone cameras when compared to a "real" DSLR camera. I have written about comparing the two devices in the past. But this week, I received my upgraded smartphone, an Apple iPhone 8 plus, and decided to go the rounds again with a comparison.

The photo above was taken with my new iPhone 8 plus. Here is the same view taken a few minutes later with my Sony DSC HX400V 20.4 MP camera. The iPhone 8 plus has a 12 MP camera. I must also note that the Sony costs less than half the prices of the iPhone.

Sony DSC HX400V image
Both shots come right out of the cameras and have not been altered except the iPhone image is stored as an .HEIC image and had to be converted to a .jpg to work in this blog post. I could have the iPhone store all the images as .jpg images, but the .HEIC is the newer format and saves storage. There are some obvious differences in the quality of the color of the two images, but what about the detail?

A 12MP image will never have as much detail as a 20.4 MP image. That is the reality. But the main question for genealogists is whether the 12 MP image is "good enough?" Here is a comparison by using Adobe Photoshop to zoom in on both images at 400%.

First the iPhone:

iPhone 8 Plus
Now, the Sony:

Sony DSC HX400V
Now, here is the difference. The Mega-pixel measurement is misleading. Zooming in with Photoshop does not produce a valid comparison of the detail of the images at any given size. The real comparison is much more complex. To show the same view, the Sony photo only needs to be zoomed in at 200%. So here is approximately the same visual area of the mountain from the Sony photo.

Sony DSC HX400V
If you can't see any significant difference it is because at the size that you would normally view either image, you are actually seeing a screen projection of the digital file. So making any comparisons is really almost impossible. There is more information (detail) in the Sony image, but looking at them in this type of comparison is somewhat misleading. What it turns out is that for most users, the smartphone images are perfectly adequate, especially if they are going to be viewed on a computer screen. You would only begin to see an appreciable difference if you printed both photos at poster size or about 24 x 36 inches.

What does this mean for genealogists who are not professional photographers? It means that you can now use your 12 MP smartphone for practically all your image needs. The reality is that it is true; smartphone cameras are killing off both low cost point-and-shoot cameras and the sales of high end DSLR cameras. Here is an appropriate quote from a Petapixel.com article entitled, "This Latest Camera Sales Chart Shows the Compact Camera Near Death."
“In a nutshell, photography is more popular than it has ever been – take a look at the rise of Instagram or Snapchat, for example,” Skafisk tells PetaPixel. “But literally 98.4% of the consumer cameras sold in 2016 were built into smartphones – only 0.8% were compacts, 0.5% DSLRs, and 0.2% mirrorless.” 
“Where will we go from here? An easy prediction is that smartphones will continue to get better, and compact camera sales will go to near-zero,” he continues. “There will always be people interested in larger, more ‘serious’ cameras, and the camera companies that listen to these people and meet their needs will be fine.”
For genealogists, learn to use your smartphone camera. If you are considering spending a few bucks on a separate compact camera, you might rather consider upgrading your smartphone to one with a newer camera instead. So the answer to the question in the title of this post is a definite yes.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Women, Property, Inheritance and Genealogy-- Part Three: Dower

James Tissot - Without a Dowry aka Sunday in the Luxembourg Gardens
Dower is the wife's interest in her husband's real property upon his death. This is legal concept that dates back into antiquity. Commonly, the widow was legally entitled to use one third of the real property to support herself and her children during her lifetime. Vestiges of this dower interest are still common in many states of the United States and variations on the concept of dower are common around the world. The basis for this interest is the now less commonly accepted concept of coverture holding that a married woman did not have a separate legal existence from her husband. Dower was one of the very few exceptions to this harsh legal concept.

For genealogists, dower rights provide a narrow window of opportunity to identify the separate identity of married women. Quoting from Wikipedia: Dower:
The dower grew out of the Germanic practice of bride price (Old English weotuma), which was given over to a bride's family well in advance for arranging the marriage, but during the early Middle Ages, was given directly to the bride instead. However, in popular parlance, the term may be used for a life interest in property settled by a husband on his wife at any time, not just at the wedding. The verb to dower is sometimes used.
This concept of dower is sometimes reflected in the use of the term, "dowager," for a woman who was a widow and entitled to assert her dower interest. Dower rights were formally recognized by English courts as early as the 1300s.

One important fact for genealogists is that the widow's dower interest had to be waived or relinquished in conjunction with the sale of any real property. As a result, deeds commonly contain a consent by the wife to the transfer of real property by the husband. In some cases, these provisions are witnessed and the witnesses are members of the wife's family thus identifying the wife's maiden name. In other instances, failure to include a waiver of the wife's dower interest resulted in the widow being able to assert her dower interest in the real property either in a probate of the property or even long after the death of the husband. Because of these types of interest, research into land and property records can and should be rather extensive as to the time frame of transactions affecting a particular family's interest in real property.

There are a few states in the Unites States that still recognize a dower interest as such. But many states still base their division of property upon the death of the husband or a dissolution due to divorce on the concept that the wife and children share a percentage of the property interest. The exceptions in the United States are the nine community property states that hold both parties to the marital community to have an equal share in all the property acquired during coverture with some exceptions.

Issues such as dower can be very helpful to genealogists who take the time and make the effort to learn about both history and law.