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

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Where are the state-by-state resources for genealogy?

Did you know that some of the large online genealogy websites has a state-specific resource pages? Did you know that many of these specific links are part of the new website called "The Family History Guide?" State specific resource listings are not a new development. FamilySearch and its predecessors published paper Research Outlines starting many years ago. These paper editions have been incorporated into the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki. See the Research Wiki articles entitled, "Research Guides Now in the FamilySearch Wiki" and "Research Outlines." Because they went out of print in 2009, in most cases, the actual Guides have disappeared except in libraries, but the content was long ago incorporated into the Research Wiki. If you still want to see the original Outlines, you can find a link to PDF copies on the BYU Family History Library Research Wiki article.

FamilySearch.org has the following Research by Location map located through the "Search" link or menu item:


You begin by clicking on an area of the world, in this case, the United States. You then choose a location:


I will use Arizona as an example of the page that results from choosing a state:


Here is a similar page on Ancestry.com that is linked by The Family History Guide:


Here is the Arizona page from MyHeritage.com, once again available from a link on The Family History Guide.


Here is yet another Arizona page from Findmypast.com as linked by The Family History Guide.


Here is the USGenWeb page for Arizona:


Again, another Arizona genealogy research page. This one is from Cyndi's List:


What about the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki?



Each of these websites give a different twist to the research in any given state or country.

Friday, August 28, 2015

No Change in Status of Mesa FamilySearch Library

Last evening in a meeting held with the volunteers and missionaries of the Mesa FamilySearch Library (formerly known as the Mesa Regional Family History Center) the attendees were essentially told that no decision has been made. The reason the attendees were told to attend the meeting was to hear the decision about the Library from FamilySearch.

The Mesa FamilySearch Library was housed in a building located at 41 South Hobson in Mesa, Arizona. It is one of about 15 very large Family History Centers of over 4600 such FamilySearch operations and has had tens of thousands of patrons during an average year. At the end of November, 2014 the Library was closed for renovation and remodeling and found to have serious water leakage problems with the resultant mold. As a result, the entire collection of books, microfilm and other items was put in metal storage boxes and stored in the parking lot. Because of the extreme heat in Mesa, finally, the stored items were returned to the partially deconstructed building. Although there is a second annex building, it has not been used to continue most of the functions of the old building.

So, the Library is closed until further notice and the missionaries and other volunteers have been given no idea of the final decision to be made. I am trying hard not to make my own speculative conclusions.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What is the core value of online genealogical database programs?

The question in the title of this post may seem puzzling. Wouldn't the core value of the large online database programs be their large databases? Well, you might that this would be an obvious conclusion, but if you view the websites' startup pages and the links to get to their digitized documents, you might begin ask the question. It is hard to think about the answer without comparing and contrasting the various websites, but I am going to ask some questions. Here is my list:

  • How easy is it to find a copy of a particular document on the website and how many clicks does it take to do so?
  • How do you find out whether or not a particular type of database is hosted on the website? 
  • If the digitized documents were not on the website would you still visit it?
  • How many other services and programs are offered by the website?
  • Would you be more likely to use a program with an integrated family tree or one without an associated family tree program?
  • How important is the ability to print reports, including fan charts, pedigree charts and family group records?
I am fully aware that the different websites all use a different approach to providing digitized documents. Some have an integrated family tree, others rely solely on their database to attract users. But the issue I am approaching is which of all the activities offered by these larger websites is the deal maker or breaker? What if I decided to create the largest online database of actual digital records in the world (assuming that is now still possible); if I reached my goal, would I then have the most visited website?

My analogy here is the question we used to ask ourselves almost everyday in the retail computer business: what business are we in today? Because we have the technology to do all sorts of fancy things, does that mean that a website needs to be all things to all people? What if I just provide a whole lot of valuable digitized records in a very efficient way? How much more do I need to do?

How important is the integration of photos and text files with a family tree? I sometimes feel that new features are added to programs and online websites merely because they can be, not because they are in any way needed. If a website is getting millions of hits a year, it is very difficult to determine why people are coming to the website. Even if you analyze in detail where they go on the website and what seems to interest them, the real reason for visiting the website might be something entirely different. It appears that some websites are like large department stores with various "profit centers." The add a service to see if they can increase the bottom line of the business. 

In all of this, where are the genealogists? Are we all just "customers" or "users?" I would guess that genealogy has become more like the overall theme of the website rather than a particular concern. The website creates a virtual "Genealogyland" with different sections devoted to DNA, Media, Education etc. 

Now, back to the main question, what are the core values of the various online database programs? Perhaps, we have been faced with the shopping center approach for so long, we no longer want or need the specialist.


Family History for Fun and Profit?

I was searching in a used book store here in Provo, Utah the other day and found and purchased a copy of a book written in part by my friend, Arlene Eakle. Here is the book:

Jones, Vincent L, Arlene H Eakle, Mildred H Christensen, and Genealogical Institute. Family History for Fun and Profit. Provo, Utah: Printed by Community Press for the Genealogical Institute, 1972.

The original name of the book was Genealogical Research: A Jurisdictional Approach. Even back over forty years ago, the title to a serious book on genealogy had to be popularized to get attention and sales. Here is a quote from the book on page 122 which makes a point that I have been emphasizing for years.
Research must be jurisdictionally oriented. If you approach research properly, you must do it through the jurisdictions which produce the records upon which research is dependent. A thorough study should be made before the records are searched.
I will likely come back to this book again and again. Without any contact with what Arlene and other have been teaching for years, I came to exactly the same conclusions. The idea here is basic and rather simple. Records are created at or near the places where events occur. In addition, they are created by different "jurisdictions" or entities that have some reason to record the events. For example, military records are likely kept and maintained by national governments, whereas church records are probably recorded on a local level. It is this idea of jurisdictional research that differentiates the competent and experienced researcher from those with less understanding and experience. I did a search on my previous blog posts and found that I have written about this subject at least 153 times in the past.

Why does this subject keep coming up again and again? Because too many researchers abandon their efforts at finding their family members simply because they do not understand the principle.

One unfortunate effect of using online research is that the concept of jurisdictions is blurred and obscured by indexes. If you go to any one of the large, online database programs, you will find a way to "search all the records." What happens when you make such a search is that you are relying on the information you already know about the person (or family) and trying to find a match with records that may or may not have been indexed completely or accurately. Two possible outcomes can be the result of such a search. In one case, you may have so many responses to your search that you could not practically review them all. At the other end of the spectrum, you may have no results at all. But what have you really determined? Not much.

When you search a record using an index, your search says more about the index than it does about the content of the record. Indexes are finding aids, not records. What is more, most index searches will return records from a variety of locations giving the impression that the named ancestor might have lived in a variety of places. But where did the ancestor really live? That is the question that should be addressed first before searching blindly for names in an index. The results of such unstructured searches is seen when people add children in online family trees who were born in locations that are impossible, given a particular family. For example, I wrote recently about a child added to my Arizona family who was born in England. This happens when people focus on indexes at the expense of ignoring jurisdictional limitations.

One thing I can say for certain, both Arlene Eakle and I are still teaching about the need to identify the jurisdictions where the family lived. Arlene started a little earlier than I did, but we both teach the same thing every chance we get.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Where are all the photos?

It is one of the more remarkable features of the technological phenomena that millions of digitized photos go online every day. How many of these photos are of your ancestors? When I show people the Memories section of the FamilySearch.org website, they are very often amazed at the number of photos that have been uploaded of their ancestors. It would be a mistake to conclude that only people who are registered with FamilySearch.org or have ancestors that are Mormons [members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS)] have photos on the program; just because I am a member, does not mean that all my ancestors were members of the LDS Church.


Have you ever searched online for photos of your ancestors? Do you know where and how to look?

It is interesting to know that all the tagged and captioned photos on FamilySearch.org are searchable by Google. The best way to find these photos is to search by your ancestor's name in Google Images program. If you want to see more photos, search by surname and add the term "genealogy" or put in the places where they lived. For example, here is a search for my Great-grandfather Henry Overson with the term genealogy added:


Every one of these photos relates to Henry Overson or his family in some way. Now, I must admit, that I put most of these photos online, but the interesting thing is that some of them are not familiar and came from sources completely unknown to me. If you click on one of the photos, you can see which website it came from. Here is a screenshot showing what happened when I clicked on one of the photos:


Granted, this is my daughter's website, but I was not familiar with the photo. This is an interesting and fairly simple way to make some extraordinary photographic discoveries.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

More about the surprising relationship between MyHeritage and the FamilySearch Family Tree

Note: This particular post is based on some recent observations reported in a previous post entitled "Some Unexpected Information from MyHeritage.com." What I have to say in this present post elaborates on my observations over the past few years and explains my opinion of what is going on with both MyHeritage.com and the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. Please understand that MyHeritage.com is functioning exactly as it is designed to function. The problems and issues I discuss can only be attributed to the reality of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. MyHeritage.com is merely the messenger and it is only because it works so well that the message is coming through.

Now a fairly brief summary of the history of the data in the FamilySearch.org Family Tree.

Over the past 100 years or so, many people have contributed their user compiled data to FamilySearch and its predecessors: The Genealogical Society of Utah and various other entities and organizations. Eventually, all this information, usually in the form of Family Group Records and pedigrees, was compiled into huge databases containing many millions of records of individuals and families. These databases included the Ancestral File, the Pedigree Resource File, the International Genealogical Index, The membership records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the records of the names submitted to the LDS Temples. In an attempt to search all of these records simultaneously, these separately submitted records were all combined into one database that was used as the basis for the program called "new.FamilySearch.org." (See various notes similar to the one in this FamilySearch.org Research Wiki article).

Some of the individuals recorded in the final compilation of all these previously submitted records had multiple records. Over the years, the individual records of people with thousands of descendants in the Church, had been submitted hundreds (thousands?) of times. For example, many of my ancestors were represented by multiple entries (duplicate entries) in the combined database. In an early attempt to minimize that duplication, the new.FamilySearch.org program "combined" the duplicates into one composite individual. The existence of these "combined records" turned out to be a difficult concept for some of the users of the new.FamilySearch.org program. The automatic combining process was imperfect and some individuals who were not the same were mistakenly combined. On the other hand, many duplicated records were ignored by the program and, in addition, subsequent users of new.FamilySearch.org submitted even more duplicates of the same individuals.

The results of this combining effort and the subsequent submission of "new" but duplicate records to the new.FamilySearch.org program resulted is even more duplicate records. Many of these duplicate records were not isolated submissions. Users of the new.FamilySearch.org could upload their entire files by using the GEDCOM submission process, thus resulting in entire pedigrees being duplicated again and again. This same database, containing all of these duplicate records, became the basis for the FamilySearch.org Family Tree program [my references to the Family Tree (capitalized) is to this program only].

The Family Tree inherited all of the duplicates. This was not a bad thing. It was, in fact, the only way to avoid future duplication. We had to face the fact that all these duplicates had been created by the submission system over the 100+ years it had been operating. THE FAMILY TREE IS THE SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM, NOT THE PROBLEM. The Family Tree program provided a way to "merge" the duplicate records. Merging the records would ultimately eliminate the vast bulk of the duplicates. There is one huge limitation in the data however. The Family Tree was using the same database created for new.FamilySearch.org and that imposed some limitations on the information. One of those limitations is that there was an absolute limit on the number of records that could be merged. The unfortunate result of this fact was that there were still a huge number of un-merged, duplicate records in the Family Tree database that could not be merged at all. See this screenshot for an example:


Now, what does this mean? It means that there are duplicate records that are out there and until the limitation on merging these records is complete, some of the information about this individual is fragmented and any one copy of the individual's record may be incomplete or inaccurate. Deleting the duplicate records is not a viable option for too many reasons to be addressed in this post. Basically, deleting records results in a possible loss of valuable information that cannot be easily retrieved. There are several reasons why the records cannot be merged by the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. Knowing the reasons a record cannot be merged is interesting but not helpful to resolving the problem. Essentially, this can only be done by FamilySearch.

Looking at the above record in the Family Tree, it is evident that not only is there a duplicate that cannot be combined, there is also another duplicate record that the merge function cannot find. Here is a screenshot of the family showing three duplicate records for this individual, not just two.


There are, in effect, "hidden" duplicates in the program that the search engine of the Family Tree cannot or does not find. Here is the results of a search on the name "Calvin Christensen Morgan."


I have written about this issue many times over the past few years but it is still a problem and until all of the data and whatever else is necessary to clean up that data occurs and the new.FamilySearch.org program is finally put to rest, it will remain a problem. We have been told many times by FamilySearch that this merging problem (read unresolvable duplication problem) cannot be resolved until the process of moving the data to the Family Tree is complete. There is presently no firm deadline for the completion of this process.

Now, what has this got to do with MyHeritage.com? Really nothing directly. MyHeritage.com just happens to have a search engine that works and does not ignore all the duplicates. Let me move to a more serious example of the problem. I will go back to my New England ancestor, Nathaniel Potter. According to my own records, Nathaniel Potter was born in 1637 in Rhode Island and died on 20 October 1704. Here is a screenshot of the record from the Family Tree:


The important thing to note here is the Personal Identification Number (PID): 9MK1-NZT. Each individual in the Family Tree is supposed to have a unique PID. OK, so what happens if we search for duplicates for this Nathaniel Potter in the Family Tree?


Note that there are 75 results. But this is not the whole story. If we drop down to the bottom of this screen, we see the following:


There are 24 additional results that cannot be merged at this time. Oh, which one of these do I have in my Family Tree? Are all these the same person?



This is the entry for Nathaniel Potter that I get if I click back through my lines as shown on the Family Tree. Is this the same Nathaniel Potter? No. Note the PID of KN42-LSZ. There are three "Nathaniel Potters" in my own database. My records show my direct line ancestor was born in 1615 and was married to Dorothy Wilbur. The record in the Family Tree shows this Nathaniel Potter as being "Read Only" and having 17 children named Nathaniel Potter. See the following screenshots:


Here is the top part of that same screenshot:


The read only designation means I cannot make any changes to this individual's record, but this happens to be the "wrong" Nathaniel Potter judging from my own records. Any relationship calculated from this individual would not be accurate.

This would be of passing interest were this situation unique or rare in the Family Tree, but what has happened is that this type of individual, with a multitude of descendants, always has the same problems.

Now where does MyHeritage.com come into this picture? One of the functions of the MyHeritage.com program is to search for Record Matches, that is records that match the people in my family tree on that program. As I mentioned previously, I have 14,420 Record Matches waiting for my confirmation and inclusion in my family tree on MyHeritage.com. The search capabilities of the MyHeritage.com program are overwhelmingly impressive. Because of the partnership between MyHeritage.com and the FamilySearch.org program, MyHeritage.com's Record Matches now search the Family Tree entries. Here is a screenshot sorted by people showing the Record Matches with the individuals with the most matches on top:


Nathaniel Potter just happens to be at the top of this list with 247 matches. This means that he has that number of potential sources. What I previously pointed out as surprising is that nearly all of these "matches" are to the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. Here is what the first part of the list looks like if I review the matches:


The entry at the bottom shows the first of many entries linked to the Family Tree. In fact there are dozens and dozens of entries.


This is not a problem with MyHeritage.com. It is only doing its job extraordinarily well. It has found the duplicate entries in the Family Tree program. But what is more, it has found not just the few found by FamilySearch, but many, many more. When I checked the PID of one of the entries, the MyHeritage.com Record Detective search showed even more duplicates:


There are 246 Record Detective results, almost all of which are entries in the Family Tree; roughly two times the number found by FamilySearch. In other words, there are roughly a hundred or more additional duplicate entries in the Family Tree that are not found by searching with the FamilySearch.org program. I say "roughly" because the actual number is not ascertainable.

What does all this mean? One conclusion is that once you encounter this issue in your lines on the Family Tree, there is not a whole lot you can do about it presently. Will all these hundreds of duplicates be eventually merged into one individual? Will users add dozens or hundreds more copies of Nathaniel Potter before the program is fixed? I cannot answer these or many other similar questions.

On the other hand, if I only use the first six generations or so of the Family Tree, then the information is fairly accurate. As a side note, many of the duplicate copies of Nathaniel Potter show ordinances reserved and printed. People are still adding duplicate individuals to the program. I also found green icons for Nathaniel Potter allowing the Temple work to be duplicated yet again.

Here is a screenshot showing another search for duplicates, for the same Nathaniel Potter KN42-LSZ, this time with only five results, including one allowing the Temple work to be done again.


You might notice that this "Nathaniel Potter" has no sources, no date for birth, death or any other information.

What is happening here? MyHeritage.com apparently has a more complete and expansive search capability than FamilySearch. It has found many more duplicates than are found in searches using the tools on FamilySearch.org. The issue of "accuracy" is a red herring. Searches on both MyHeritage.com and the FamilySearch.org Family Tree are "accurate." The issue is not accuracy, but completeness. Obviously, the MyHeritage.com Record Matches and Record Detective find more complete information than FamilySearch. In this particular case, the fact that the searches in MyHeritage.com graphically showed the number of duplicates in FamilySearch was a surprise. I would guess that neither FamilySearch, nor MyHeritage.com were aware of what would happen when MyHeritage.com searched the Family Tree.

I could speculate as to the reasons why MyHeritage.com finds more information than FamilySearch, but that would not be helpful.

What do we do about all this? Nothing. We wait until FamilySearch says they have fixed the issues remaining from new.FamilySearch.org which are implicit in the data. This is not FamilySearch's fault. It is the reality of the data inherited from 100+ years of duplicate work. What does this mean to some of the users of the Family Tree. I can summarize this as follows:

  • Many entries of individuals with a number of descendants in the Family Tree are duplicated
  • The duplicates mean that the particular information showing in your own lines may be inaccurate or incomplete
  • The availability of green icons does not mean that the work has not already been done
  • There is no present way for users to "fix" the entries completely
  • If you use MyHeritage.com, you can tell that any given ancestor has the problem by looking at the number of multiple links to the Family Tree for any that individual. 


Monday, August 24, 2015

Researching US Civil War Records


I often find a considerable lack of knowledge, even among genealogists, about history. Every researcher should have at least a general understanding of the national and local history of the areas where their ancestors lived. This information is especially valuable in helping to find elusive ancestors. This short video will not give you all the information you need, but if you listen closely and use the resources I mention, you should get a good understanding of both the records and the background of the U.S. Civil War aka The War Between the States.