RootsTech 2014


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

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Good and the Bad of Names, Dates and Places -- Part One Names

Yesterday I listened to my daughter tell me a long explanation about trying to merge two duplicate individuals in Family Tree. One of the problems she encountered was that a female ancestor had been entered into the program with her married name rather than her maiden name. I have mentioned this issue previously but thought it would be appropriate to review again.

When I first started going through Family Group Records (FGR) 32 years ago inherited from my family, I quickly saw the variations in ways names, dates and places were recorded. Unfortunately, over the years those same problems crop up continually as I review my own and others' entries. Some of the reasons they occur reflect changes in the way entries were accepted at the time. Other issues are just incomplete or sloppy research. Let's take the name "Jane Alice Doe" as an example. Jane Doe marries Alan Edward Roe. Here are some of types of variations you could easily see from review a few hundred FGR over the years for exactly the same person :

  • Jane Alice Doe
  • Jane Doe
  • Jane A Doe 
  • Jane A. Doe
  • Jane Alice DOE
  • J. A. Doe
  • Jane
  • J. Doe
  • DOE
  • Mrs Jane Alice Doe
  • Mrs. Roe
  • Mrs. Jane Alice Roe
  • Mrs. Jane A. Roe
  • Mrs. J. A. ROE
  • Mrs. J. Roe
  • Mrs. ROE
  • ROE

and so forth. In addition, do you put the Last Name (Surname) first or do you put the name in capital letters or what? Now some of these issues are inherited from the way standard FGR forms were printed. For example, here is a common form that I would encounter:

You can see dozens of variations of this form by searching online for "family group record form" or something like that. This particular sheet shows the wife's name to be entered in two parts, Given Name and Maiden Name. Here is a sample of different forms from the first part of a Google Image search for a FGR:

Here is one that I commonly found

Here, the name for both the husband and the wife are simply a line without any designation as to the order of the names or whether to use any particular variation of the possible naming patterns. Earlier sheets usually limited the amount of space given in the form for any individual entry. This became a really important issue with place names, but this is a series and right now I am talking about names of people.

Using FamilySearch (and its predecessors) as an example, if you go back in history, you will see that the standard changed from time to time and from place to place. Early on, say about 1900 to 1920, there did not seem to be any standardized method of recording names. Eventually, there were guidelines such as using maiden name for females but if the maiden name was unknown, then use the prefix "Mrs." with the husband's surname. For a while, with typewritten FGRs, there was a standard that all surnames be capitalized. The immediate problem with this was the issue with names such as McDonald and MCDONALD.

I could probably go on for an entire book outlining the history of all these changes but let's fast forward to today. Do we have any standard way of entering name information? Well, actually we don't. We have a lot of different genealogical database programs, we have a huge number of online programs and very, very few of them give the user a clue as to how to enter names. If they do, the instructions are likely buried in some manual that never gets read. So when we go to an online family tree such as we still see all of the variations, faithfully preserved, from the old FGRs.

It has been pointed out recently in comments to this and other blogs, that we do not have any "Genealogy Police" enforcing standards. But here are a few suggestions. Of course, I expect that there will be disagreements. Oh, before doing this let me mention that computers, rather than solving these issues, merely added another layer of variations. Most genealogists who were accustomed to entering their information in a particular way, simply used the computer to duplicate what they had be doing all along, even though it made no sense. Some of the genealogical database programs let you record surnames in all capitals or with upper and lower case and make the changes from one to another automatically. Why? I can see the reason for the editing changes but WHY ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO PUT SURNAMES IN ALL CAPS? You might get my point.

One more observation, early computer programs were as bad as paper forms in limited the way names, dates and place due to character limitations built into the programs. Oh well.

Here are some general rules I suggest.

  • All names should be entered as they are spoken in whatever language they were originally given.
  • All names should be recorded as they were given at the time of birth with variations in notes or alternative name sections.
  • Use normal (i.e. upper and lower case) transcriptions.
  • Use all specific characters (now generally available in all computer operating systems) used in the original languages.
  • Do not use Mr., Mrs. or other such designations, titles, etc. unless they were part of the name at the time of birth. 
  • Do not use abbreviations unless they were actually part of the name at birth.

After all that discussion, that's it. If you think about it, most or nearly all of the problems I encountered over the years could be solved with these simple rules.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Digital Map and imagery Collections

I have a son who is presently working at the University of Florida and because of this I noticed that they have one of the premier academic map collections in the entire United States. From their Map and Imagery Collections page I found the following statistics:
The Map & Imagery Digital Collections includes materials from the University of Florida's Map & Imagery Library andDepartment of Special and Area Studies Collections, particularly the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History and theUniversity Archives. The physical Map & Imagery Library Collection contains more than 497,800 maps, 266,500 aerial photographs, 2,250 remote sensing images, and 7,215 atlases and reference books. It is the largest academic map collection in the Southeast, and among the top five academic map collections in the entire United States. The Map & Imagery Library has general map coverage world-wide. Specialties of the collection include Florida, Latin America, the United States, Africa, and the Holy Land.
Well, so now I was interested in finding out the other four huge university collections. Oh, I might note that the University of Florida also has the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Florida.

Before I go on in my search for the other four, I think it is important to note that maps should be the genealogists constant companion. Too many times when I quiz people about their genealogy, they have no idea where are of the places they find are actually located. For this reason, many of the places are incorrectly identified or confused. I suggest that identifying on a map each and every location you cite in your research is important. Many of the current genealogy programs will do this automatically except not so well for places that no longer exist.

The next major university collection I came across was the Library of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Their collection is described as follows:
MIL's collections of maps, aerial photography, satellite imagery and other spatial data exceed 5 million information objects. As of 1992, MIL was ranked as the number one spatial data collection in the top 100 members of the Association of Research Libraries. According to the 2006 Guide to US Map Sources, MIL is the third largest academic map collection in the country. 
Aerial Photography and other remote sensing data 
The imagery collection is composed of 2.8 million aerial photographs and an unknown amount of satellite images stored as part of the legacy Alexandria Digital Library collections. New to aerial imagery? Check out our aerial photography tools to learn how to find flights covering your area of interest and read indexes. We also have a page that describes major portions of the collection.
OK, so UC Santa Barbara is the third largest academic collection. Where are the others? It turns out that most universities have a map collection. That means there are thousands of map collections around the world. Another large collection shows up at Yale University. Here is the description from the website:
The Yale Map Collection has the largest collection of maps in Connecticut and one of the largest university collections in the United States. Its collections are geographically comprehensive and consist of over 200,000 map sheets, 3,000 atlases, and 900 reference books.
There seems to be some overlap between claims to the largest collections and the largest digitized collections. Some of the libraries have extensive collections of paper maps with only a small percentage yet digitized. I would think that there would be a huge amount of duplication in these collections. For example, the USGS has all of the U.S. topographical maps with many of them digitized. I assume that most of the other map collections contain these topographical maps. This is the case with the claim by the University of Kansas T.R. Smith Map Collection as follows:
The Thomas R. Smith Map Collection, located on the first floor of Anschutz Library at the University of Kansas, is among the largest academic map collections in the United States. The map collection includes over 440,000 paper maps and air photographs, covering all areas of the world, with particular strengths in maps of Kansas and of the U.S.A.
It would probably be a really good idea to search for maps from universities in the areas where your ancestors lived. This would be a good place to start. As for identifying the largest map collections in libraries, it turns out finding out which are the largest is very difficult due to differences in the way the collections are described.

Here is one compilation of websites that you might want to see: Images of early maps on the web. Have fun looking at maps. 

Can I do genealogy on my tablet? My smartphone? My watch?

Google glasses have started to be sold generally. Google held a one day sale to the public and it is supposed that thousands of the new products were sold online for $1,500. See CNN "Google Glass signals a wearables revolution." I would guess that most genealogists are either entirely uninterested in this new product or are wondering how in the world it might be of use. You might be more interested in these predictions from Forbes in a recent article entitled, "IDC: 87% Of Connected Devices Sales By 2017 Will Be Tablets And Smartphones." The article quotes IDC Technologies as stating:
  • During Q4 of this year, tablets will outsell by desktop and laptop PCs. IDC also estimates that tablet sales will surpass PCs on an annual basis by 2015.
  • IDC is predicting the worldwide smart connected device market will accelerate past 2B units by the end of 2015, attaining a market value of $735.1B. PCs will drop from 28.7% in 2013 to 13% in 2017. Tablets will increase from 11.8% in 2013 to 16.5% by 2017, and smartphones will increase from 59.5% to 70.5%. 
Over the past couple of years, I have been watching tablets, including of course iPads, from being something people noticed and that were a novelty, to seeing parents hand their babies an iPad and watching the baby (less than a year old) play with the screen and make it work. Now that we are going to live only a few blocks from the Brigham University Campus, we see a lot more younger people as we drive to stores and such during the day. My wife and I were remarking that almost half of the students walking around had a cell phone of some kind glued to their ear. It was not unusual to see three or four young people walking together, all talking on separate cell phones and probably not to each other. 

It is interesting that a search in the Apple App Store on the term "genealogy" brought up only the following from a screen shot:

There are actually quite a few more apps available, but apparently, the developers haven't figured out how to get their products to show up when someone searches for genealogy. A search for "family history" in the App Store gives only two of the above programs. For example, I know that has an app for iOS (Apple) and it does not show up in a search in the App store. 

However, in the iTunes App Store, there are over 100 apps for iPhone and only slightly less for the iPad. Here is a screen shot of the first few offerings:

Many of these apps connect and synchronize with desktop computer programs such as the ones shown for RootsMagic, Reunion and Heredis. Some also allow direct entry into an online family tree, such as the one from

There are similar offerings from the Android Market:

I guess the real question is whether or not you can do your genealogy entirely on one or more or these devices? I think that the main limitation is data entry. I cannot yet imagine doing a lot of data entry, especially into various data fields in a genealogy program without using some sort of keyboard. Now, granted, when I was thinking about upgrading my iPad, I seriously considered it as substitute for my laptop, but the functionality, even with the addition of a keyboard, was not yet there. But I do suggest that it will be possible very shortly, to function entirely with a keyboard and a tablet computer. I say this as I am working, and have been working almost steadily for the past few weeks, on my laptop. All my travels and moving from Arizona to Utah has made it necessary to work off of the laptop almost exclusively. Since I can now plug my laptop into a large screen, I may have to consider whether or not I even want to have a desktop computer. I am also using a touch pad now exclusively. I finally have given up using my mouse at all. 

So, back to the question of the title. The answer is a qualified yes. It really depends on the development of the programs and your degree of involvement with technology and with genealogy. Can I run a full-blown genealogy program on my iPad? Not quite yet. Attaching peripherals such as a scanner can be really tricky. But I see this all moving in that direction in the not too distant future. For example, not too long ago, FamilySearch issued an Indexing app for smartphones and tablets. It did not work very well and was retired. Now, they are back again. The new version of Indexing coming shortly will support Indexing from a tablet. See New Indexing Program: Tablet Support and the New Learning Experience by Janell Vasquez

If you don't have a tablet computer Android or iOS yet, you will have no idea what you are missing. You cannot imagine how integrated smartphones and tablets (iPads) can become in what you do every day including genealogically related activities. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Update on the millions upon millions of records being added online

One of the overwhelming developments of access to the Internet is the unimaginably huge number of digitized genealogically valuable source records that are being added online every day. I don't think anyone can keep up with all of the new records becoming available, but it is always something that researchers should become aware of on a regular basis. From my viewpoint, bloggers do a pretty good job of pointing out the new records and this is one strong point for becoming involved in the genealogical blogging community.

For a very good reason, a lot of the attention in the genealogical community concerning newly added records focuses on the biggest online genealogy database programs. Here is a brief update on each of the larger programs and their recent additions. Bear in mind that this list will be out dated within a few days as even more millions of records are added to these huge websites.
Here is a screenshot of the updated and newly added collections as of the date of this post:

You can see the latest list of newly added or updated collections by going to and clicking on the Search link at the top of the page. Then you scroll down to the Browse All Published Collections link near the bottom of the page and when you get the list of all the published collections, you can click on the "Last Updated" column head and the list will sort by date entered. This is actually a lot easier than it sounds to find.

It is hard to pick any particular new collection. If you have relatives in that place and time, you think it is great. If not, then you don't really care right now. I am sure FamilySearch has a well-thought-out plan for adding new collections, but in the last three days there are records from five different countries and four different states, and WWII Draft Records from the United States. This is definitely a place that you need to look at regularly.
Now also has a place to check out all the newly added records. The key here is going to the Card Catalog and sorting the list by date added. Here is a screen shot showing the results of sorting by date added:

One notable new addition is Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1924 with over 2 million entries. Just as I stated above for FamilySearch, if your ancestors happened to live in the place during the time period the new records may be extremely helpful. Otherwise, keep looking. The first five entries on this list were published on in the last three days before the date of this post. So both and are making a lot of new records available.

Unless they make a point of mentioning new records in their blog, just continues to add the records and make them searchable for every person in your family tree. I presently have over 7000 record matches available plus all of the thousands of additional records that will be found with the Record Detective. The number of records and the number of matches is truly impressive, especially with's high degree of accuracy. You benefit most from all these records if you have a family tree hosted on

Here is a screen shot of the first part of the records found for me already:

It is very interesting that each of these websites seem to be publishing a lot of records and every so often, there are some records that move me along with information about my own ancestors. The cumulative effect of all these records is that we have an ongoing opportunity to find even more information about our ancestors. Can you imagine trying to travel to all these different places to find your own records?

This wonderful website with a focus on records from the UK and Ireland is also adding new records regularly. But there does not seem to be an easy way just to see a list of the newest records. There is a list of all the records with a suggestion: "so check back regularly to stay up to date!" Here is a screenshot of the top of the entire list:

For some time now, has been adding 1000 new databases every day. They have a way to look at the new content every day. Here is a screenshot of the startup page with the link to the new content as shown by the arrow:

You can also browse all the records. Here is a screenshot of the browse records page with the first few records showing. You can see that there are 323,620 databases as of the date of this post.

Looking at all the records isn't as intimidating as it might seem since you can filter out any records you are not interested in seeing. 

As you can see, there are a huge number of new records being added daily by just these larger websites. Think of how many more are being added to other websites. 

Find-A-Record adds a blog

If you haven't tried, you are missing one of the most interesting and possibly valuable tools to be developed recently. The idea of the website is that you identify a geographic area where your ancestors resided and the program then gives you suggestions from and other websites of records that apply to that geographic area.

Here is a screenshot of a search for records in Sherman, Texas around 1900 with the paid site option selected:

There is now a Find-A-Record Blog that will keep you up-to-date on the improvements to the website as well as provide historical insight into the results you might obtain from a search. This website can be a very valuable tool for new researchers just starting out, but it can also be valuable as a reminder and help to seasoned researchers.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Genealogists are not immune to propaganda

This past week has been extremely interesting. Oh, by the way, my use of the word "interesting" is always interesting. It can mean anything from life threatening to having a wonderful time. One thing has become apparent to me is that genealogists, just like members of the the communities they live in, are not immune to propaganda. In fact, a lot of what I see out there in the genealogical marketplace would easily qualify as pure, unadulterated propaganda and it is passed around as the truth, usually without question.

Now, you are probably asking what brought this on? Well, there are several things, but one of the most recurring issues involves questions of privacy and identity theft as they related (or do not relate) to genealogy. But first a definition of propaganda. The most inclusive definition is as follows:
Propaganda is a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of a population toward some cause or position.

Propaganda is information that is not impartial and used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or using loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. Propaganda can be used as a form of ideological or commercial warfare. See Wikipedia: Propaganda.
Our modern world of global instantaneous communication is virtually saturated with propaganda and the genealogical community does not escape. Here are some simple rules you can use to identify propaganda and learn to avoid the impact it may have on your life:

Rule #1: Always investigate the source of any information you receive that seems to want you to take some action or form an opinion. 
Not all declarative statements or calls to action are based on propaganda, but many of them are. For example, consider this question:

Do you think identity theft in the United States is:
  1. A major problem and a threat to everyone's safety both online and offline
  2. A problem that needs to be the concern of every person in the United States
  3. Entirely misunderstood and not nearly as prevalent as it is represented to be
  4. A problem in certain very limited circumstances
  5. None of the above
Now, do you further consider that identity theft is a major crime and that it is one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the United States? Consider these questions instead of the ones above:

  • What is the definition of identity theft?
  • How many convictions for identity theft are reported in the United States each year?
  • How do the statistics on the conviction rate for criminals guilty of identity theft compare to other criminal acts in the United States?
  • Where are statistics concerning convictions for identity theft maintained?
If you can not answer these four questions does that make you reconsider your answers to any of the five previous questions? Would it help you to know that statistics for "identity theft" include many different and in some cases, unrelated criminal activities and that few of these involved what you might be inclined to consider as identity theft? 

So where are the statistics coming from? It is very common that the statistics come from "industry sources" or in other words, people who are trying to sell you some kind of identity theft prevention. Here is my challenge. Make a Google Search on these words: "dramatic increase identity theft" and see what you get. See if you can find one resulting article claiming a dramatic increase in identity theft that references a specific source. This goes for statements from the IRS and Social Security Administration as well as private businesses. See if you can find any statistics about actual criminal convictions and determine what they are based upon. 

Other types of propaganda are more subtle and harder to detect. Anticipating comments, under my definition above, many of the posts in this blog could be considered propaganda. Now, don't get me wrong. Not everything that falls under the definition of propaganda is necessarily bad. If you are told to lose weight, brush your teeth, keep a journal, exercise to keep fit, and many other admonitions could be considered to be propaganda and separating out the "good" messages from those that are not so good or bad can be really difficult. Not all advertising is propaganda. It is also true that the term has taken on a decidedly negative connotation. 

Why I used the identity theft example is simple. I find that there is little or no support for the extravagant claims and I frequently encounter genealogists who have become obsessively preoccupied with concern over the issue and have curtailed unrelated activities because of those fears.  I don't think genealogists have the same level of concern about some of the other advertised issues. 

Rule #2: Weigh the facts, if there are any.
Never accept claims of success, popularity, effectiveness or any other subjective claim that is unsupported by sound sources. 

Rule #3: Always check the source before you accept the representations.
As genealogists we should be aware of the need to cite our sources. We should also be aware of the need to review the sources cited. If the claimed facts are supported only by some weak reference to "authority" or to "government studies" or whatever, then you can discount nearly everything that is said. 

Rule #4: Listen or read carefully as to what is not being said.
It is easy to make a claim but if certain vital elements of the claim are left out of the discourse, then this is an immediate reason for doubting the validity. Here is a classic example of the type of reporting that is mostly propaganda from NBC News in an article dated 19 February 2013 entitled "ID theft on the rise again: 12.6 million victims in 2012, study shows." If you take the time to read the entire article, you will see some really interesting "facts." Such as the following quoted from the article:
  • It's important to note that despite the rise in new account fraud, simple credit card fraud still accounts for about two-thirds of all ID theft.
  • The survey was sponsored by CitiGroup, Visa, and Intersections LLC, which provides identity theft prevention services to consumers.
  • Javelin's data is based on telephone surveys of U.S. adults, with consumers self-reporting details of their ID theft to survey takers and results extrapolated from their answers.
Notice the following:
  1. There is no actual reference to the study. It is only referenced as a study by Javelin Strategy and Research, which is not further identified. 
  2. The sponsors of the study include those who would most benefit from the public believing the results of the "survey."
  3. The survey questions are not identified. 
  4. There is no followup to see whether any criminal activity or complaints resulted from the problems supposedly reported by the survey.
This type of article is not uncommon. You might guess that a copy of the "survey" will cost you money to purchase. Interesting. Make money at both ends of the propaganda. 

The Digital Public Library of America adds access to millions of records

The Digital Public Library of America is quickly becoming one of the major online portals for access to free information, including a significant number of genealogically pertinent documents and resources.

At its one year anniversary, it made the following announcement:

DPLA is proud to announce the addition of six major new partners and other significant milestones that attest to the tremendous momentum the project has as it enters its second year.

The New York Public Library (NYPL) this week expanded access to the full breadth of its digital collections through its partnership with DPLA, a major increase over its initial contribution of 14,000 records at DPLA’s launch. Over 1 million digitized items from throughout the Library’s research holdings are available, significantly increasing DPLA’s offerings by nearly 20%.
Here is a summary of the expansion of the DPLA during just the past year:

Since launching on April 18, 2013, DPLA has:
  • tripled the size of its collections, jumping from 2.4 million items to over 7 million; 
  • pulled in materials from over 1,300 organizations, up from 500 at launch; 
  • attracted over 1 million unique visitors to its website and over 9 million hits to its API (application programming interface); 
  • added new and innovative third-party apps to its growing App Library
  • received more than $2 million in grant funding from major American foundations and donors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for our work with public libraries, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to give us long-term stability, and an anonymous supporter who gave nearly a half-million dollars in appreciation of DPLA’s democratization of access, and many smaller donors who similarly supported our public-spirited mission; 
  • grown from a staff of four to eight, with two additional positions soon to be filled; and 
  • engaged the energy and support of its distributed, broad-based community through multiple outreach activities, including DPLAfest 2013, a two-day public event in Boston in October 2013 attended by hundreds, its popular volunteer Community Reps program which has fanned out to nearly all 50 states, and dozens of monthly open calls with its Board of Directors and Committees. 
You need to be aware of this website and its resources. You will probably be surprised.