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

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Moving data -- The Genealogical Quandry

I estimate I have approximately twenty thousand or so record hints on four major, online genealogy programs. Some of those thousands of record hints might be extremely valuable in extending my ancestral lines. The only practical way to advance my research is to focus on one person at a time and evaluate and add the sources for each person, essentially one at a time. The problem is that I do not know which of the thousands of hints and thousands of people they apply to are vital to the objective of extending my research. In addition, I would have to move the information, one field at a time in order to consolidate the information from all four programs.

Guess what? Presently, despite the tremendous computer programs that provide these record hints, there in no efficient way to either review and evaluate them or transfer them to a central consolidation program. In fact, it is very likely that I do not have enough time left on earth to process all of these record hints. What can I do to resolve this predicament?

I have been analyzing this issue as I watch the numbers of record hints mount skyward. At the moment, my only alternative is to ignore this avalanche of information and continue with my present research objectives. The only thing I can do is to check each of the programs for any data relevant to my research objectives. Essentially, each of those record hints, no matter how seemingly helpful, is really little more than a distraction.

In addition, in those programs that match me with potential relatives, I likely have close to 100,000 potential matches in other online family trees. I cannot even begin to think about how to handle those additional invitations to ignore my present research objectives and start off on a tangent.

Can this issue be resolved by me? Not at this time. What is needed is a way of ranking my own research objectives. I need to be able to prioritize research hints and "watch" or receive notices for only those hints that fall within parameters I set for investigating my ancestors. For example, suppose I am investigating the "Parkinson Line" (which I am, by the way) I should be able to set some preferences that says I only want record hints for this line or this group of people. I should be able to modify and add individuals to my "research objective group" at any time, but meanwhile, I only get record hints that are relevant to that defined group. My experience tells me that right now, I would not be getting any or more likely, a very small number of record hints. If I moved my attention to another line, I could then redefine the watch group and glean only those record hints that pertained to the new research objective. In addition, I need a what to quickly and efficiently move all the information I find in all of the programs into one central collection program of my choice.

Given the fractured nature of the online, commercial, genealogical community, I see no way that this solution will become available. So my only strategy is to create the filtering system artificially, by ignoring all the record hints on all the programs unless they are directly in my research path. Yes, I am wasting the vast potential of the programs but do I have a choice? The only other alternative is to randomly jump from individual to individual as I see record hints and spend all my time ploughing the field over and over again. In effect, I feel like the sorcerer's apprentice, I did get my wish, but now I am drowning in the data.

As I utilize the various programs, I will continue to pick off record hints for people I am reviewing, but meanwhile, I will stick to my pre-defined research objectives and harvest only those record hints for the lines I am investigating. I fully realize that there may be valuable information I need to know waiting for me, but if I jump around any more than I regularly do, I will make no progress at all.

What is needed?

To summarize, we need a very effective and easy way to transfer information between programs. I also need a way to establish research goals and set filters that will alert me only to record hints on my pre-defined objectives. I don't want much, do I?

The last word, I fully realize that I find myself in a very, almost unique position. Some researchers would be glad for any record hints. Some reading this post probably don't have any idea what I am talking about. But to those of you out there that see the problem, perhaps you have some additional insight that might help me and the few others that have this problem.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cloud Computing -- The Solution and the Problem for Genealogy?

Business, Client, Cloud, Communication, Computer

I have transitioned from using a laptop to using an iPad Pro computer that is basically a connection to the Internet. Current news reports indicate that Apple's sales of desktop, iMac, computers during Quarter 2, 2016 are down for the first time in years. Intel announces it will layoff 12,000 jobs globally in 2016 and 2017. The workforce reduction is attributed to the fact that most of Intel's microprocessors and chips are sold in the PC market. Intel intends to move into mobile chip support and gaming. In addition, home broadband use has declined recently and the declined is attributed to increased reliance on smartphone connections to the Internet at the expense of home-based broadband. Recent Pew Research Center Studies indicate that cell phone usage among those 18 to 29 years of age has reached 85%.

During the time I was deciding whether to transition to an iPad Pro or buy another MacBook Pro, I read and studied out the trends. As I have previously written, I also went through every program on my MacBook Pro and determined exactly how I was using the program and whether or not the iPad Pro could do the same things. The reviews of the iPad Pro focus on the things it "cannot" do rather than the things that it can do. If, as the news and research studies show, people are beginning to transition from home broadband Internet connections to using their smartphones, such as the iPhone, then it must be the case that the smartphones perform enough of the functions of a desktop computer to erode the sales of desktops. The sales figures support this view.

What does this mean for genealogy? It means that unless the genealogy companies begin more aggressively to move into the mobile market and support all of the functions they deem important by online apps or programs, they will ultimately be marginalized. When I say ultimately, I mean within a year or two, you will see real changes.

Now, if you are sitting and reading this on your old PC or Mac computer that is sitting on a desk, then you are now in the distinct minority. If on the other hand, you are reading this on an iPad, Android tablet or smartphone, you are part of the trend. One interesting aspect of this transition is that I had the option of buying a laptop such as one of the new MacBooks and docking it with a large monitor and some hard drives. Essentially, I could then have a single computer rather than an iMac and an iPad Pro. For the time being, I have opted to retain my iMac and upgrade it at least one more time, but I may well move to a laptop only at some point or an iPad only if they evolve even more than they have already.

There is nothing that the average genealogist does on a computer that cannot be done on a laptop and there are very few things that any genealogist does that cannot be done on an iPad Pro or a Microsoft Surface 4. The key to this transition is that most of the programs that used to reside on a local, desktop computer have now moved online, to the cloud so to speak, and there is no need for the local machine to be desk-bound.

Let me take one example. I use word processing more than any other single function on the computer. For years, I have used Word Perfect and now Microsoft Word. I also use spreadsheets in Excel and I do a lot of PowerPoint presentations. I have now moved to Apple's Keynote for making presentations. I have Keynote on my iPad Pro and it works just fine. The main issue is inserting graphics and I have mostly solved that problem by moving my graphics to the cloud. I can also buy Microsoft Office for the iPad Pro. Issue resolved.

Why do I still need a desktop computer? I still do a significant amount of high-end, graphic intensive editing and photo manipulation using multiple programs. This is where the mobile computers still cannot compete. But if you do not use Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop extensively, you probably will never run into this particular problem. I also have over 3.5 Terrabytes of data and it is not convenient to use a laptop or iPad because they do not have the ports to connect to all my hard drives, scanners and etc., so until that issue is resolved, I will still need to return to a desktop iMac.

One final example, we now have a WiFi enabled HP printer. I can print from my iPhone or my iPad Pro directly without a wire connection. In fact, I can print from anywhere I have a WiFi connection to my own printer.

There is no end to this story.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dates, Dates and More Dates -- Understanding History

From time to time, I have written about the sad state of history education in the United States and its impact on genealogists understanding of their ancestors. I thought I might discuss some dates that are particularly important to genealogical research. I might also throw in some observations on the type of errors I commonly encounter because researchers do not correlate the historical dates with what they are putting into online family trees. Surprisingly, there aren't that many crucial dates, but they are so often ignored that, for me, looking at the family trees online is like living in a pesky swarm of mosquitos.

Here are the dates in a roughly chronological order with a discussion of the importance of the date and what kinds of problems I usually encounter.

6:00 pm, Saturday, October 23, 4004 BC

This is the date calculated by Archbishop James Ussher in the 17th Century. If you would like to see how he calculated this date, you can read an extensive analysis the Date of creation. I am more than aware of the various controversies that surround this date and the religious fervor the various positions engender, but genealogists really shouldn't be worried about extending their pedigrees "back to Adam." There is no benefit that accrues from spending the time copying one or more of the unsupported genealogies into your own records whether you believe the date and the religious justification for the date or not. If you want to see my summary of the issue then you can view my video entitled, "Why You Can't Trace Your Lineage Back to Adam."

1500 AD

Following up on the "Back to Adam" issue is the significant date of 1500 AD. This date is a rough approximation of the earliest time during which records of ordinary people would have been kept in Europe. There are a very, very few records that go back further, but most of the records that have genealogical significance are not available before this date. Whenever, I make this statement, I always have some that argue that "they have found more information about their family that goes back even further than this date." With a few notable exceptions, these people are merely copying from books published long after this date giving various pedigrees for kings and other prominent historical figures. Almost uniformly, these "older pedigrees" are based on undocumented and unsupported extensions.

There are some "proven" pedigrees that purport to extend the royal ancestry of immigrants to America, for example, but so what? When you begin copying, you are no longer doing genealogical research. If it makes you feel important or whatever to connect to European royalty, then go for it. But don't think you are impressing me or anyone who knows anything about these pedigrees.

I admire those who have the historical background, language skills and dedication to do Medieval research, but I have only met a small handful of these people in my entire life and they are certainly not the folks putting their family trees online. Note, there are a number of places in the world, such as China, where family records and pedigrees go back much further than 1500 AD. I might also mention that there are a few older parish records from Spain, but for most of Europe, this is about the limit.

1538 AD

This is the date that is commonly accepted as the beginning of the keeping of English parish records. If you have any questions at all about this date and want to show me how you got a baptismal record for you ancestor before this date, I would be glad to review it. Here is a book to get you started with your investigations in this area. If you don't know this history, you have no business adding content to online family trees. Keep your poor research and speculations to yourself.

Cox, Charles. The Parish Registers of England, by J. Charles Cox,... London: Methuen, 1910.

You can read a very nice, digitized copy of this book on the website at There are extensive references concerning the earliest records that have been located for each of the English parishes. Meanwhile, as soon as fixes the Family Tree and disconnects it from, I will be editing out all of the unsupported dates in all of my family lines. 

1492 or 1620 AD

This is the date of the arrival of the Mayflower in America. Although some European settlements, especially those initiated by Spain, go back to the original time of Columbus. Arguments about earlier European settlements in America have an academic interest but not for genealogists. 

1620 to 1847 AD

This is the range of dates when the first European settlers entered the area now segmented into the states of the United States of America. Every state and every county in the United States has a date when the first European (or whatever) settlers first entered that portion of the country. Usually referred to as the date of earliest settlement, these dates are commonly ignored by people who locate their ancestors in parts of the country that were not settled at that time. I ran across a reference to one of my ancestors who was supposed to have been born in Utah in the 1700s. This is a really common error. There are lists of the time of formation of every state and every county, try the Newberry Atlas of Historical County Boundaries for a start. 

Obviously this issue blends into the date calculations that seem to show children born before their parents and after their parents died. But I see all of this as a symptom of the same problem; a total lack of awareness of history and dates. Before any of us can take seriously much of what passes as genealogical research, we will have to clean up the mess caused by this gross ignorance of history. 

I could go on with dates such as the dates for the U.S. Civil war, and many others but I think this list gives an idea of the process we should all be aware of when we start putting our research online. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Genealogy, iPads and the Future of Computers

When I first started using personal computers (now there's a term that has disappeared), the main issues were internal memory, memory storage capacity and speed. As the technology developed, I kept moving from computer to computer as the capacity of the computers increased in each of those areas. As I began entering thousands of names into my computers, storage and speed were the big issues. I remember having to wait for a considerable time while the computer chugged along just to search for a duplicate each time I entered a name.

The first mobile devices were mobile only in name. They were first called "portable" which, at the time meant that they could be moved if you were strong enough.

Speeding along in this story, computers finally got so fast that there were almost no appreciable increases in apparent speed with newer models. The main issue in speed increases became the time it took for the computers to startup and to transfer data. I just finished backing up one file from one of my backup hard drives to another, newer, hard drive and it took two full days. Now I am literally swimming in data.

Meanwhile, mobile computers became smaller, faster and were really mobile. I am typing this post on an iPad Pro, looking out the window at the Spring snow on the mountains. The development that makes this possible is the Internet and incredible speed increases. Storage for the iPad has moved to the "cloud" or in other words to online storage such as Google, Dropbox, Microsoft, and many other options. I no longer have to worry so much about the size of my device's internal memory. This iPad Pro has "only" 128 GB of memory, which is more than adequate for operating the programs I need to use.

So, let's get down to the issue of genealogy today. The paradigm is this. I use a mobile device, in this case an iPad Pro, to access the Internet. I can use all of the major genealogy programs, because of the keyboard and the capabilities of the device, that I can with any other computer. In addition, if I wanted to use a desktop program, let's say RootsMagic for example, I could then open that program and have my entire file, assuming I have the file online in Dropbox or some other program. Let me emphasize this. I participated in a genealogical workshop last Saturday and I took my iPad Pro. I worked there for three hours helping people with their family history and used the iPad the entire time. The main challenge was my lack of experience with the iPad. In fact, the entire workshop for fifty people was conducted using laptop computers hooked up directly or through WiFi to the Internet.

Do I still need a desktop computer? Yes, as a matter of fact, I just finally ungraded my iMac and I am waiting for the shipment to arrive. What can't I do as well on the iPad? Hmm. Where the mobile devices, including laptops still lag behind the desktop is in multitasking on a big scale. Although, I could have purchased a laptop and simply attached it to large hard drives and a big monitor. Using a laptop as my principle computer may be in my future. But by that time, the tablet computers will probably have all the same capabilities.

Yes, you need to change your entire approach to computing to use a laptop or an iPad as your "primary" computer. The computer stops being something you have sitting on a desk somewhere that you go to and sit there and use. The computer becomes whatever you happen to be carrying with you at the time. All day long, I seamlessly move from iPhone to iPad to iMac to PC in the Library back to iPhone etc. Why does this work? Because almost every program and most of the data that I am using now in online. I have abandoned an apocalyptic view of computing. Personally, the biggest challenge I face is when I go places that have no online connection which are getting more and more infrequent.

While I was in Canada recently, because of the cost, we abandoned our iPhone connection. But we had WiFi for free almost everywhere we went. That is the reality. In my day to day life here in Provo, Utah I am constantly connected. So my work flow involves using online storage, online programs and moving data from computer to computer automatically.

As I write this on my iPad Pro, I could stop anytime, walk over to my iMac and start typing, right where I left off. I could add a source to the Family Tree from my iPad and then see that same source added on a computer in the BYU Family History Library. This is present reality and the future looks like even more of the same.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

New Vital Records Book Released by FamilyHistoryExpos

Vital Records, A Research Guide, authored by Holly T. Hansen, Arlene H. Eakle and James L. Tanner has been published on Amazon's Holly describes the 192 page book as follows:
As we go back in time, there is a point when vital records for ordinary people were neither required nor kept. Thus, a greater depth of knowledge is required to retrieve the desired information from the records. 
This book contains an overview of vital records, a step-by-step guide to marriage records in their various forms, a review of the laws that govern legality of marriage, regulations regarding birth records and delayed registrations, and diverse strategies for locating hard-to-find evidence in the records. 
You will enjoy this approach to the resources as we take you from common and easily found records to unusual and more difficult-to-find resources that yield vital information for your family history research.
 The Vital Records book joins this list of previously published books on
  • Hansen, Holly T., Arlene H. Eakle, and James L. Tanner. Vital Records: Research Guide. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.
  • Hansen, Holly T., Ruth E. Maness AG, Arlene H. Eakle PhD, and James L. Tanner. Scandinavian Research Guide: Sources and Strategies. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.
  • Hansen, Holly T., Arlene H. Eakle, and James L. Tanner. The Power of Marriage Documents: Research Guide. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.
  • Hansen, Holly T., James L. Tanner, and Arlene H. Eakle. US Land and Tax Records: Research Guide. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.
  • Hansen, Holly T., James L. Tanner, and Arlene H. Eakle Ph.D. The Ins and Outs of Probate for Genealogists: Research Guide. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.
  • Hansen, Holly T., Judith E. Wight, Arlene H. Eakle, and James L. Tanner. British Isles: Research Guide. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.
  • Hansen, Holly T., Ruth E. Maness, Arlene H. Eakle, James L. Tanner, Locating Ancestors in the Old CountryCreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.
  • Hansen, Holly T., Arlene H. Eakle, James L. Tanner, In-depth Census Research GuideCreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.
  • Hansen, Holly T., Arlene H. Eakle, James L. Tanner, Beginning Military ResearchCreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.
  • Hansen, Holly T., Arlene H. Eakle, James L. Tanner, Southern States Research GuideCreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.

Ranking the Brigham Young University Library

By an interesting set of circumstances, my wife and I now find ourselves very much involved in the Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library Family History Library in Provo, Utah. I began to wonder about the Library, particularly because I was also frequently visiting the renowned Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. For those of you who are not well acquainted with Utah, Salt Lake City is located in the northern part of the state along the western edge of the Wasatch Mountains. The Wasatch Mountain run north and south and western edge of the mountains forms a dramatic ridge line called the Wasatch Front. Along this western edge, for about 150 miles, there are a number of valleys which were settled when the Mormon Pioneers entered the area beginning in 1847.

The population of the Salt Lake Valley dominates the area. But the Salt Lake City, UT Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of the smaller communities in the Salt Lake Valley, is ranked as the 48th largest in the nation. Provo, Utah, where I live, is located in Utah Valley, the next larger valley to south of Salt Lake City. For comparison, we moved from the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ Metropolitan Area which is ranked number 12 in the nation. The Provo-Orem, UT Metropolitan Statistical Area is ranked number 93 in the nation. But the Provo area has a larger population than other more prominent towns such as Spokane, Washington and is about the same size as Augusta, Georgia.

So, from our perspective, we moved from the big city to the country. However, in Mesa, Arizona where we used to live, we were only about a five to ten minutes' drive from the edge of the city and the open desert. In Provo we live across the street from the National Forest Boundary.

Both the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and the Brigham Young University Family History Library in Provo, Utah are operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For many years now, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah has been acknowledged as the largest such facility in the world. The collection includes over 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 727,000 microfiche; 356,000 books, serials, and other formats; over 4,500 periodicals and 3,725 electronic resources.

As I began to compare the two libraries, I wrote about my opinion that the BYU Family History Library was the second largest family history library in the world. Recently, I read several references that seemed to reinforce that opinion. At number 29, the BYU Harold B. Lee Library is ranked among the top 50 university libraries in the United States by putting it above many other very prominent universities. I found that in 2012, the Harold B. Lee Library had been ranked number three in the nation after Harvard and Columbia in the Princeton Review. The Princeton Review currently ranks the library as number 19 in the nation. I also found that the Harold B. Lee Library had been ranked number 1 in 2004 and number 4 in 2007.

It has become clear to me that I have ended up working in a world class library. But what I found interesting is that in the larger genealogical community and even here in Provo, the BYU Family History Library and the Harold B. Lee Library itself are relatively unknown and vastly underused. It is probably important to point out that the BYU Family History Library is part of the university. It is not a FamilySearch Center or FamilySearch Library. It is maintained, operated and staffed by BYU employees. There are approximately 130 Church Service Missionaries that voluntarily staff the Family History Library in addition to the employees. My wife and I are two of those 130 missionaries. The main objective of the library is to support the student population and we certainly do that. But we also have a definite outreach to the community, state and the world.

One example of the Library's efforts to extend its reach is the current series of online, live webinars. These presentations have been ongoing for some time now and the recorded sessions are being posted regularly to the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel. One recent video gave a pretty good view of the part of the Library where we work. This overview begins to explain why I maintain that by being part of this world-class library, it enables the Family History Library to be the second largest such facility in the world.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Analysis of a Relationship for DNA Testing

As I continue digging deeper and deeper into the possibilities of DNA testing as a tool for determining genealogical relationships. It occurs to me that before any testing can be done, there is a need to define one or more specific genealogical issues that could be resolved. At this stage of my investigations and reading, I am not overly impresses with the accuracy of the various companies. It appears that lacking a very specific investigative target, a general DNA test is more of shotgun approach than a well-aimed single shot and as anyone who has shot a shotgun knows, the cluster disbursement of pellets increases with the distance of the target.

Of course, you can ignore all this and blindly get a DNA test. The results will be a general statement of the percentage breakdown of the regions of the world from which your ancestors may have come. This may be helpful or even startling to some, but what about those of us who have been doing extensive research for years and have a very good idea of our ancestral pool? Here is a partial description of the expected results from a test from
Family Finder matches are other individuals in our database who have also taken the Family Finder test and who, through autosomal DNA comparison, are found to share a common ancestor with you from ANY of your ancestral lines within the past five generations. The names and emails of your matches, an estimate of how closely related they are to you, and any genealogical information they have uploaded are provided to you in order to collaborate on genealogy and get past genealogical brick walls.
From my standpoint, the key statement here is "ancestral lines within the past five generations." Why does this statement mean anything to me? I have extensively documented all of my family lines for at least six generations. This information is readily available online and from time to time, I connect with people who are related or possibly related back more than six generations. My least documented lines begin having issues only in the seventh and eighth generations. So, if you are doing your own research, and you have a family tree on, or, you can readily determine whether or not we are related, without a DNA test, by simply looking at the matches or doing some descendancy research.

Further, there is absolutely no controversy over the origin of any of these six generation ancestors. Positive, documented, birth information has been found and is provided online. There is one sole exception to this statement: my Great-grandfather, Marinus Christensen. As I have written previously, Marinus Christensen, (b. 1863, d. 1927) from Denmark, is persistently characterized in family stories as "adopted." Marinus was one of the three children of Jens Christensen and Karen Marie Johannesen. So far, my paper research has not resolved this issue. So the question is, can DNA testing be of any help in resolving the question of adoption. You would probably, if you have been to some DNA presentations, say why yes, of course. But let define the problem with more specificity.

My father is a descendant of one of the two Christensen daughters on his mother's side. This means that he (nor I) inherited any Y-Chromosomes from the Christensen males. My father's mother's mother was the daughter of Jens Christensen. On my own mother's side of the family, her mother was the daughter of Marinus Christensen. So I have no Christensen Y-Chromosomes at all. As a matter of fact, my only ancestral connection with Denmark is entirely through female lines. My father's mother was the daughter of Henry Overson, whose father, Ove Christian Ovesen (or Oveson) came from Denmark and married Jens Christensen's daughter. So I have no Y-Chromosomes from that line either.

Now here are the possibilities.

  • Marinus Christensen was totally adopted and not directly related to the Christensen family
  • Marinus Christensen was a "relative" and adopted by the family
  • Marinus Christensen was the son of one of the two Christensen daughters, who, by the way, were old enough at the time of his birth to be the mother
  • Marinus Christensen is the daughter of Kirsten Marie Pedersen and so was not adopted at all

Absent any possibility of my having a Y-Chromosome, which DNA test would resolve this issue? Resolution of this issue essentially determines if my parents were second cousins or unrelated. Bear in mind, that there are no known male descendants of Jens Christensen except Marinus.

Now, that is one of the exact questions I am writing about when I say that a specific genealogical issues needs to be identified and defined in a way that can be resolved with DNA testing. Absent this why would I want to know generally where my family came from? What would I learn if a DNA test, if it were at all possible, told me I had Danish Ancestors? By the way every one of my documented lines, with the exception of these two Danish families, come from England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland. The earliest continental European ancestors are 10 generations back and may have come from the Netherlands. But since, I have documentation verified only about six or seven generations back on every family, I would have to leave open the possibility that there is another line somewhere out there from the continent. Would a DNA test help me at this time?