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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

RootsTech 2018 in Review
I guess I can look forward to attending RootsTech 2019, but I will have to wait and see what the future brings. I do note that the attendance for RootsTech 2018 was up from 2017 but still down from 2016 when there were more than 26,000 attendees. Looking at the figures for the Family Discovery Day, maybe FamilySearch is really trying to run two different conferences at the same time? Maybe Family Discovery Day needs to be a multi-day conference separate from the RootsTech oriented conference?

I have been catching up slowly with the online presentations. This is a great benefit for those of us unable to travel to the live conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Computer Storage in the Future: A Concern for Genealogists
I ran across this excellent summary of the status of hard disk storage vs. Solid State Drives (HDD) or Devices (SSD) from the blog entitled, "HDD vs SSD: What Does the Future for Storage Hold? — Part 2." I really can't do justice by summarizing the article, but I think anyone dealing with computers and storage needs to see that the future will hold almost unlimited storage at a very low cost. Good for genealogists.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Observations on the Large Online Genealogy Database Websites

While the various online genealogy companies are not actually blind, they do have individual disparate views of genealogy and genealogical research. Although the differences may not be readily apparent, they exist none-the-less. As I was thinking about these differing philosophies, which seem to me to be fairly obvious, I was wondering whether to identify the websites in question or leave that task up to the readers to determine from my descriptional analysis. Since the whole idea is totally mine, I decided I would have to identify which website was which so there would be no misunderstandings. I am not going to indulge in value judgments. There will not be a series of "star" ratings or anything like that. I am merely writing about my perceptions concerning how each of the large websites works. I am also writing this without the benefit of using any explicit references to the websites' own corporate missions or objectives.

Disclaimer: My observations are not intended to be critical of anything done or not done by the various websites but I cannot guarantee that you may think that some of my observations are intended to be critical.

I will start with Nearly every promotional statement made by refers to the claim to be the largest online genealogy company. A quick look at the basis for that claim indicates that in at least some categories it is the "largest." But since detailed information about collections, records, users, members and other factors are not readily available in a format that can be compared to the other websites, the claim cannot be accurately substantiated. certainly has the lion's share of the online market measured by internet traffic.

The first question that is raised by a claim to being the "largest" in any field is to determine whether large equates with useful, good, helpful, etc. In short, what good does it do to be large if large isn't the main issue? Which immediately brings up the question of what is the main issue. Simply put, the best website is the one that has what you are looking for. Like many other online commercial websites, is fee-based. There is a significant level of "blow-back" from genealogists about the whole idea of charging a fee for what is essentially information about their own families, but the reality is that all of the large online databases incur substantial costs and those costs have to be paid from either donations or revenue. I think it is time to write about this subject again, so look for a post in the near future.

Back to I have been watching the website (and all of the others) for years now. In the past, Ancestry would participate actively in large and small genealogy conferences and support local genealogical societies. That involvement has been dramatically curtailed. In addition, because of the dramatic increase in DNA testing, Ancestry has begun emphasizing DNA testing at the expense of any mention or promotion of their genealogical records. According to, "In the past 30 days, Ancestry has had 5,041 airings and earned an airing rank of #123 with a spend ranking of #76 as compared to all other advertisers." See Ancestry TV Commercials. My perception of those commercials is that almost all of them are promoting Ancestry's DNA testing kits. What happened to the rest of genealogy? Well, DNA is the part making a lot of money right now.

It is also my perception that this emphasis on DNA testing has been at the expense of any significant growth in their online database records. I used to get notifications about new records but that has almost completely stopped. The current records on are extremely valuable for genealogical research in some areas of the world and there have been some notable acquisitions such as in Mexico. But by and large, even though record collections are continuing to be added, there is little promotion of that aspect of the website.

In addition, there has been little or no changes or improvements to the family tree program on the website for some time now. will likely continue to promote DNA testing. It is too early to tell if the testing itself without a major involvement with a family tree supported by genealogical research will keep the company growing.

Next, FamilySearch is the only one of the very large online database companies that is completely free. Its main limit is the reduced number of indexed records compared to the huge number of unindexed records. FamilySearch is growing very rapidly due to the digitization of its vast microfilm collection and its ongoing digitization projects around the world. The number of records online and available increases every week. Currently, many of the digitized records are only available through searching in the website's Catalog. Over time, however, there is no doubt that the website will continue to grow at an increasing rate.

From a genealogical standpoint, the increased availability of the records, especially those from many parts of the world not covered by other easily available, free websites, will keep FamilySearch at or near the front in the area of providing genealogical records. There is no indication whatsoever that FamilySearch intends to "get into the DNA business." But there are some indications that they might begin to support DNA testing results in the huge cooperative Family Tree program. It is interesting to me that many "serious" genealogists will travel across the country and around the world to visit the famous Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah but those same researchers are sometimes less than knowledgeable about the huge offerings on the website. It is an interesting experience to sit in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and show people how to find records on the website when I could do that from anyplace with internet access.

The Family Tree is somewhat controversial because of its collaborative nature, but as it develops it will become the "go to" place for genealogists to determine the status of research in any particular family line. Currently, there are over 910 million source listings in the Family Tree and over 1.2 billion individual records. There is still a lot of work to do in "cleaning up" the existing records, but that work is being done at an extraordinary rate of progress. The main limitation of the website is its growing pains. Use of the website and the number of records being added constantly taxes the ability of the developers to keep the website working well online. This is a good problem to have and will be solved as time goes on. is the British offering of a huge online genealogical database. It is a relative newcomer to the family tree business but it has an extensive and very valuable collection of records of the British Islands, Ireland and the former British Empire countries. Its record collections in the United States are also growing rapidly. The website's search engines lack some detail, for example, the limited number of options when searching for an individual. When you search for an individual, you cannot add a spouse to assist in finding a match. In other respects, however, their search engine is wonderfully efficient in focusing research on a particular county or parish.

One limitation of the website is not at all the fault of the developers. The limitation lies with the unavailability to see original British records online without paying for copies. The website has some transcriptions of these original records, but it is always a good idea to look at the original if you can. This problem is caused by the fact that most of the records from the British General Register Office (GRO) are only available by paying a rather substantial fee. Sometimes you cannot determine if a person is a relative without looking at the original record and since digital copies of the records cost money, you may expend quite a bit of money without finding the right person. is an excellent online example of an aggressive and rapidly growing genealogical collection. New records are added almost weekly and the website constantly increases in value.

I am constantly amazed that so many people in the United States who have British ancestors are unaware of the resources of this vast website. I helped a man recently who had done extensive research on his Virginia ancestors and was trying to connect his immigrant ancestor back to England in the 1600s. But he had never really looked at to do any research. His loss. is in a class by itself both because of its size and membership but also because it is the obvious leader in genealogical technology in the world. Genealogists in the United States who would be greatly assisted by using the website are, for the most part, totally unaware of its existence and benefits. The website is aggressive pursuing records and recently added 325 million new records in one week to its collection of over 8.9 billion records. Based in Israel, the website has over 93 million registered members in every country of the world. is also aggressively promoting DNA testing and is also implementing and developing the infrastructure of the website to take advantage of the relationships discovered through  DNA testing. During the week of the recent conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, dominated the news with the innovative announcements it made. I have recently written several blog posts about the new developments from MyHeritage and you can be sure there will be more coming.

One example of the breadth of this website is its large online newspaper collections. My family came from a small town in Eastern Arizona. MyHeritage has a connection to the Library of Congress's Chronicling America, Digital Newspaper Project. Because of this connection, MyHeritage provides automatic Record Matches to individual newspaper articles from the local newspaper with references to my ancestors.

If you consider the number of records available from using all four of these websites, you can begin to appreciate the huge impact these website are having and will continue to have in the future of genealogy.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Find out what's really happening in genealogy: A Presentation by MyHeritage's CEO

Perspectives on Combining Genealogy and Genetics

If you want to know what is really happening in genealogy in 2018, then watch this presentation by MyHeritage's founder and CEO, Gilad Japeth. I really can't say much more than that. Near the end of his presentation, he gives the following summary. You need to watch the whole presentation to understand the full impact of what he is saying. Here is the summary:
  • Combining DNA, family trees and historical records seamlessly
  • Offer paper trail theories to explain DNA matches
  • Offer DNA connections to explain paper trails
  • Clustering of triangulated segments
  • Automatic chromosome painting
  • Escalation of segments to ancestors
  • Indication for matches, how they are related to you (estimated path)
  • Resurrecting DNA of dead ancestors, for matching
  • Future: by taking a DNA test, and building a small tree stub, MyHeritage could build someone's tree automatically
You may have to watch his presentation several times to understand what he is saying and also to understand the list above. Basically, he is outlining what he said last year, that, in the future, if you give your DNA to MyHeritage, they will be able to build a family tree for you. This is how it is going to work. 

Thoughts on Social Media

Online social media is the phenomenon of the age. The news is filled with articles and analysis of the impact of social media on children, adolescents, families, consumers, social organizations, brand loyalty, consumer decisions, holiday travel planning, software engineering, innovation, travel, learning, corporate greenwash, emergency management, health communication, and ad infinitum.

Well, guess what? Social networking is also changing genealogy and everything else having to do with life on the planet. There are almost as many articles, studies and commentaries on smartphone usage as there are on social media. The current population of the earth is estimated to be 7.442 billion people. Of those billions, 2.53 billion own smartphones. See "Number of smartphone users worldwide from 2014 to 2020 (in billions)." There is a direct relationship between the number of smartphone users and the rise of social media. Yes, one-third of all the people on the face of the earth own smartphones.

To give an example of what social media can do, the most popular YouTube sensation has 61 million subscribers. By the way, the top 50 are almost exclusively entertainers, mostly comedy and music. My additional comment is that most also use language and images that I will not look at or listen to.

However, if I go by my own experience with genealogists, I am guessing that, as a group, they will likely be the last smartphone holdouts in the world. But that is another post for another time.

The key to controlling this huge flood of social media lies in the simple fact that these devices have an off switch. Most of my children and their families have strict "device time" controls. Perhaps, we should all employ some kind of controls. I am best known, by the way, as a social media person. But I do not spend as much as an hour a week on social media. Yes, I write compulsively, but I look at social media, such as Facebook, only occasionally or not at all. Our family now uses Instagram almost exclusively for communicating and that is the only social network I look at regularly.

However, this post will go out over social networking outlets all over the world. Hence, my immersion in the social networking world.

To begin to control social media, I think we need to acknowledge its place in our lives and the lives of others. We can't pretend to stick our heads in the sand and wish that it would go away. It is not going away, it is getting more pervasive. My maternal grandfather was a newspaperman. He worked for newspapers all his life. My main memory of him is that he came home every day from work and read the newspaper. Today, I haven't read a real physical newspaper for a very long time. But I have learned that there is very little "news" that I really care about reading. So, I use "filters" and subscribe to only those news outlets I am interested in learning about. But I am far from the "usual" case. I spend most of my days in front of a computer. Even now, as we are digitizing records at the Maryland State Archives, we are using computers to operate the cameras and store and transfer the images.

I view computers, including all the other devices like smartphones and tablets, as "tools." I use them for specific purposes. The key, for me, is realizing that they are merely tools to do things I want to do. Yesterday, when we went to Washington, D.C. to visit the National Postal Museum, we used our smartphones to see how the traffic was on the freeways. We used our smartphones to find the museum and for information about which Metro train to take. We used our smartphones to find out about the bus system in D.C. and to find bus stops and Metro stations. We looked up things about the exhibits in the museum that interested us. We used the smartphones to keep in touch with our children and monitor email. We used our smartphones to find a way back to our apartment and avoid the crush of traffic on the freeways. Most of these activities would have been impossible just a few short years ago.

I used my computer this morning to look up the statistics cited in this article. Living here in Annapolis would be immeasurably more difficult without our smartphones and our connection to the internet. Uncontrolled usage is when the social media begins to be the object of your activities rather than the tool to doing what you would really like to achieve in life.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Impact of the MyHeritage Family Tree Study on Genealogical Research
One of the common challenges of doing genealogical research is differentiating people with the same or very similar names. This problem is directly addressed by my Rule Nine: There are patterns everywhere. See "New Rules Added to the Old: The Rules of Genealogy Revisited." As the explanation for this rule indicates, computers are very good at looking for and finding these patterns. recently posted about the following scientific article.

Kaplanis, Joanna, Assaf Gordon, Tal Shor, Omer Weissbrod, Dan Geiger, Mary Wahl, Michael Gershovits, et al. “Quantitative Analysis of Population-Scale Family Trees with Millions of Relatives.” Science, March 1, 2018, eaam9309.

This article is a masterpiece that fully supports Rule 9. The problem addressed by the findings of the study reported in the article and by Rule 9 is that many researchers focus on names to the exclusion of other important information about ancestral families. For example, I commonly find English families with children born in different locations around the country in the early 1700s. Here is one example.

In this family, the parents are shown to have been born and married in Sussex, England. Incidentally, the first three children lack birth information. The last child is said to have been born in Tenterden, Kent, England.

Thomas Byant, 1702-1770 christened in Beckley, Sussex, Kent.
Elizabeth Hovenden, 1700-1734 christened in Northiam, Sussex
daughter May Bryant, 1724 christened in Northiam, Sussex
daughter Elizabeth Bryant, 1727 christened in Tenterden, Kent
son John Bryant, 1730-1762 christened in Tenterden, Kent
daughter Rebecca Bryant, 1734-1801 christened in Tenterden, Kent

There is always an argument, that this was possible. But what about the sources? There is a marriage record for Thomas Bryant marrying Elizabeth Hovenden in Northiam, Sussex. There are also christening records for each of the four children in Tenterden with parents named Thomas and Elizabeth.

Here is a map of England showing where these two places are located.

Could the places in this family be possible? Possible yes, likely no. Why? Now, back to the MyHeritage study. Here is a quote from the blog about the study.
The team found that industrialization profoundly altered family life. Before 1750, most Americans found a spouse within six miles of their birthplace, but for those born in 1950,  [1850?] that distance had stretched to about 60 miles. Before 1850, marrying in the family was common — on average, fourth cousins married each other, compared to seventh cousins today. Curiously, they found that between 1800 and 1850, people traveled farther than ever to find a mate — nearly 12 miles on average — but were more likely to marry a fourth cousin or closer. Their hypothesis is that changing social norms, rather than rising mobility, may have led people to shun close kin as marriage partners. In a related observation, they found that women in Europe and North America have migrated more than men over the last 300 years, but when men did migrate, they traveled significantly farther on average.
Apparently, no problem here. Both the parents were supposedly born and married in Northiam. But what about the children? Would it help to know that this husband and wife were likely related? Let's see how likely it is that the children have the right parents.

Using another program,, I can see how many Bryants there are in the millions of records on this huge website. Searches on show that during the time period of 1702 plus or minus two years, there were 52,027 records of Bryants in England. By editing the search, I find that there are only about 503 records of Bryants in Sussex during that same time period and of those only 41 were named Thomas. Interestingly, none of these records show any births. However, there is a Thomas Bryant who dies in Northiam in 1762. However, the records on do show a marriage for Thomas and Elizabeth in Northiam in 1724.

Is this the same Thomas and Elizabeth that are shown as the parents in Tenterden? That is the question. The study would tend to make me consider the conclusion as unlikely.

Ignoring for the moment that we do not have a source for Thomas Bryant's birth, let's look at the Bryants in Tenterden, Kent about nine miles away. Back to

There are 1.106 records listed for Bryants in Kent in around 1702 and 68 of them are named Thomas. There are again no christening records for a Thomas Bryant but there is one death record in Tenterden. So, we have a Thomas in this time period who dies in Tenterden and another one who dies in Northiam, where Thomas and Elizabeth are married. A search in shows that there are no marriage records for a Thomas and Elizabeth in that time period in Tenterden. only has a death record.

Do we have the right parents for these four children? How does the information provided by the study impact your opinion as to whether or not we have found the right parents? Does the fact that we have no birth information for the father in either location and that there is a Thomas Bryant who dies in Northiam have any bearing on your conclusion?

I think that the study done by et al. is going to become an important factor in determining the reasonableness of many conclusions. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

New Digital Public Library of America Website

The Digital Public Library of America, or the DP.LA is a rapidly growing nationwide website. Here is a description from that website.
DPLA connects people to the riches held within America’s libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions. All of the materials found through DPLA—photographs, books, maps, news footage, oral histories, personal letters, museum objects, artwork, government documents, and so much more—are free and immediately available in digital format. The cultural institutions participating in DPLA represent the richness and diversity of America itself, from the smallest local history museum to our nation’s largest cultural institutions. To learn more about DPLA as an organization, our partners, and the communities we serve, please visit DPLA Pro.
As the DPLA accumulates a vast collection of resources it necessarily includes many genealogical important resources. As shown above, in the image, there are over 20 million images, texts, videos, and sounds from across the United States. Take some time to explore the new website.