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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Long Live the Genealogy Blogs!

I recently wrote a dystopian post about the future of blogs and blogging, especially genealogy blogs. Although blogging has changed considerably, it is far from dead. There will always be those of us who think and write more than a sentence or paragraph at a time and we will keep writing. Where else can I go to write? Facebook? Twitter? Snapchat? Give me a break. These websites and others like them are the junk food of the internet. They are children standing on the playground yelling, "Look at me, Look at me."

Technology has certainly impacted communication and there are those of us who have taken full advantage of the new venues. Yes, I post on Facebook and all the other options so I do spend my time yelling on the playground. But I also spend some time in class writing my assignments. There may come a time in my life when the words stop pouring out of my brain, but I don't look forward to that time at all. Meanwhile, whether they are read or not, the words will spill out and cover virtual pages with virtual text. If I miss a day or so, it is probably because life or travel has become too complicated. But I will always return. When the day does come when the words stop, I will never gracefully retire, but I will fight to the end.

Meanwhile, genealogy goes on and on and on. Since genealogy deals with history, we are always making more of it and it will never run out.

Fly to Your Ancestral Home on the Newly Updated Google Earth

Google has enhanced the online version of Google Earth to add a huge number of interesting features. You can now view the entire earth in 3D and fly instantly to anywhere you would like to go. The interface has added a card with information supplied by Wikipedia and by clicking on a card, you obtain even more information.

There are additional links and maps of the area. I chose Ramsey, England. One of the places where my ancestors lived.

Here is the 3D view.

You can zoom into a closer look almost anywhere you choose.

When you get tired, you can fly home again in a second. No long lines, No cramped airline seats.

Just go to the Chrome version of Google Earth.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Adoption Challenge to Genealogical Research - Part One: DNA

Any genealogist who does research back a few years will very likely encounter someone who was adopted. In fact, whole families of children could be adopted and in some cases into different families. For the researcher, this possibility often constitutes a "dead end" or as genealogists usually refer to the event; a "brick wall." The adoption issue can be further complicated when the adopted child is a "foundling" or a child who is abandoned on the doorstep of a church or other institution. There are also genealogists who begin their interested in investigating their family heritage because of their own adoption.

If adoption is a part of your family's history, it can produce some of the most challenging and difficult research issues you may face. This series will focus on the history of adoption in America and the methodology for researching this issue. Before I get into the history and other concerns of researching an adopted relative or ancestor, I need to emphasize the importance of DNA testing for resolving lineage issues including those very personal relationships between birth parents and their children.  DNA testing first gained traction in the courts where there were identity issues in both criminal law and paternity cases.

The first criminal prosecution that involved a conviction based on DNA evidence took place in Leicestershire, England. It was the case of Colin Pitchfork, the first murder conviction based on DNA profiling. DNA profiling for forensic uses was first developed by Sir Alec Jeffreys in the 1980s. Here is a short account of his discoveries from the University of Leicester, Biography of Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys.
Professor Jeffreys’ research at Leicester focuses on exploring human DNA diversity and the mutation processes that create this diversity. He was one of the first to discover inherited variation in human DNA, then went on to invent DNA fingerprinting, showing how it can be used to resolve issues of identity and kinship and creating the field of forensic DNA. The subsequent impact of DNA on solving paternity and immigration cases, catching criminals and freeing the innocent has been extraordinary, directly affecting the lives of millions of people worldwide. 
His current work is aimed at trying to understand how variation is generated in human DNA, by developing new and very powerful techniques to detect spontaneous changes in the genetic information as it is transmitted from parent to child.
The conviction came as a result of a mass DNA testing. Here is an excerpt from Explore Forensics, a website from Great Britain entitled, "Forensic Cases: Colin Pitchfork, First Exoneration Through DNA." The exoneration referred to in the title involved a suspect arrested during the investigation of the murder of two girls who was exonerated due to the DNA evidence. Colin Pitchfork was later convicted after an extensive DNA testing survey. Here is the quote:
In 1987, in the first ever mass DNA screen, the police and forensic scientists screened blood and saliva samples from 4,000 men aged between 17 and 34 who lived in the villages of Enderby, Narborough and nearby Littlethorpe and did not have an alibi for murders. The turn out rate was 98%, but the screen did not find any matches to the semen samples. The police and scientists expanded the screen to men with an alibi, but still did not find a match.

In August 1987, a woman overheard a colleague, Ian Kelly, boasting that he had given a sample posing as a friend of his, Colin Pitchfork. Pitchfork had persuaded Kelly to take the test as he claimed he had already given a sample for a friend who had a flashing conviction. The police arrested Colin Pitchfork in September 1987, and scientists found that his DNA profile matched that of the murderer.
The first forensic DNA conviction in the United States was in the case of The People v. George Wesley. Here is the full citation to the case.

The People etc. v. George Wesley, 83 N.Y.2d 417, 633 N.E.2d 451, 611 N.Y.S.2d 97 (1994).March 29, 1994

Acceptance of DNA testing as a standard tool of forensic science move slowly across the United States and has since become so well established that DNA testing is used routinely in criminal investigations and leads to the conviction and exoneration in a huge number of arrests. DNA testing also became common in cases involving alleged family relationships, particularly paternity cases. 

Genealogists began picking up on DNA testing as a possible tool in resolving family relationships only quite recently. DNA testing is quite useful in establishing family relationships in the first four generations. It quickly becomes less useful as the number of generations increase. The key to using genealogical DNA testing for this purpose is the existence of large online collections of family trees. If enough people have taken a genealogical DNA test, the chance of finding a relative or close family member increases. 

In my next installment, I will start discussing the history of adoption in America. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Am I a "professional" genealogist?

What is a professional genealogist?

Some time ago I acquired the following book and studied it all the way through.

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 2001.

I do fall into a couple of these categories. I certainly do a lot of research for myself and many other people. I do a lot of writing. I lecture a lot in classes, presentations, and webinars. For example, in the last week or so, I have averaged one a day if you count webinars, classes, and presentations. I have also worked for many years in libraries as a bibliographer and reference librarian. So when did I suddenly become a "professional?"

To become a professional lawyer, I went to law school for about 2 1/2 years (I finished early) and got a degree (there were a lot of other requirements, but I won't go into that). But even with that degree, I couldn't "practice law." I had to pass a three-day long examination and be admitted to the Arizona State Bar association before I could charge money for representing people in the Courts of Arizona. Since I have now retired from the Arizona State Bar Association and moved to Utah, I cannot "practice law" in either state. But I didn't suddenly forget all of my 39 years of experience as an attorney. So am I now a "professional lawyer?"

Is being a professional a certain degree of experience and education or does being a professional have something to do with certification and recognition? Hmm. I do not have a degree in library science, so it is unlikely that I could get a job working in a library especially at my advanced age. But I likely know about as much about libraries as any recent university graduate with a degree in library science or maybe more. If I wanted to join the American Library Association, I could pay my dues and I would likely fall under one of the many categories of membership especially as a library volunteer for almost 15 years and based on my previous work experience.

But what about genealogy? I have 35+ years experience doing genealogical research. I spent about five years taking genealogy classes from Brigham Young University. I have attended and taught at untold numbers of genealogy conferences and attended and taught hundreds of classes on at least that many genealogy subjects. I have read a pretty good percentage of all the books published about genealogy as a profession. I have authored or co-authored over 25 published books on genealogical research subjects and that is just the beginning. So when did I become a professional, if I did?

Oh, I get it. You have to charge money for your services, then you get to be a professional. I have been paid, off and on, some money for my genealogical efforts, so does that fact make me a professional? I could put a bunch of letters after my name and call myself a professional. Is that what does the trick?

As I have written about previously, there is really no specific criteria for becoming a "professional" genealogist. There are, of course, those, as is the case in all areas of activity, that set themselves up as authorities, experts and professionals. But there are very few opportunities in genealogy to obtain a degree or work as a full-time genealogist. There is an Association of Professional Genealogists, to which I belonged for a number of years, but essentially all that is required for membership is to agree to its Code of Ethics and pay your dues.

The dictionary definition of a "professional" is extremely vague and for that reason, almost anyone who is working in any capacity in our society can claim to be a professional. I know quite a few people who quietly work in Family History Centers and libraries who would not consider themselves to be "professionals" who are really more professional than most of those who do.

I am really a lot more interested in doing my own research and helping others do theirs than worrying about whether or not I receive any money, recognition or whatever for doing what I love to do. I am more interested in results and competence than any certification by any "professional organization." I have known a lot of incompetent attorneys over the years who had passed all the requirements for practicing law and I also know a lot of people who are doing genealogy that really have no clue how to do research, but that is always the case. What I think is most important is to do a good job and to keep learning how to do a better one and I really don't care a lot about whether or not anyone considers me to be a professional or not. Of course, I will keep writing and teaching and talking because that is what I do.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Are We Nearing the End of Genealogy Blogging?

What a relief. No more blogging. A recent post by Julie Cahill Tarr on her blog "Julie's Genealogy & History Hub" has been gaining some traction in the online genealogical community. The post is entitled, "What Happened to Genealogy Blogging." After coming back to blogging after a hiatus, Julie notes the following:
Out of the 350 blogs found in my reader that hadn’t had a post in over 30 days, 63% hadn’t been posted to within the last 12 months! Of the blogs that had been posted to within the last 12 months, just over half had been posted to within the last 6 months. What’s more, of those 350 blogs, over half hadn’t seen a post in over two years. Here’s how the numbers look:
A while back, I made some of the same observations and had a huge amount of blowback from genealogists who took my observations as a personal insult. So, I will refrain from mentioning any blogs or bloggers. But I am even more convinced now than I was a couple of years ago that Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have basically killed blogging. Sure, I get hundreds of blogs clogging up my reader. Today I had over 1000+ blog posts to deal with. But very few of those turn out to be substantive genealogy blog posts. Almost all of the numbers come from commercial enterprises. So how did Julie Cahill Tarr avoid the dreaded blowback from the genealogy bloggers? Statistics.

She sat there and counted how many bloggers had not posted and provided a chart to prove her point. OK, we can fairly easily divide the genealogy bloggers into two camps: those who have an economic stake in their blogs being online and visible and those who blog either because of enjoyment or compulsion. I will leave it to you to decide what category I fall into. I don't see the commercial blogger backing off any from being visible online. So is there really a fallout? Is genealogy a dead blogging subject? Have I just not looked around and found out that I am the last man standing?

Well, for one thing, genealogy as an interest or passion isn't going away. But the basic methodology of genealogy is changing rapidly. You can only repeat stories about your ancestors for so long until you have to do some really heavy duty research and you can do research or you can blog. So why am I still here? That is a really good question. I did go down through my list of blogs and found that there was a significant number who had not posted in years, but I did not take the time to count through approximately 300 blogs. My impression is, however, that blog posting in general except for clearly commercial enterprises is way down.

For me, the clincher is my family's blog posts. Our family has twenty established blogs. Only seven of those blogs had been posted in the last six months or so. Many had not been active for years. But most of my family posts regularly to Facebook and Instagram.

What does this mean for blogging in the future? I will spend some time thinking about it. But I will have to take into consideration that two of my blogs are at or near their highest readership in their history.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Back to the Genealogy Webinars, Conferences and Presentations

During the past few weeks, I have been busy working on webinars and presentations. One of my webinars are the Brigham Young University Family History Library was interrupted by a fire alarm in the Library. Subsequently, we all had to leave the Library immediately, which put a few hundred people standing outside in the Spring sunshine. But despite some interruptions, we have been working away on new topics. I will also be traveling a bit. On April 29th, I will be in San Diego, California for the Spring 2017 Seminar of the North San Diego County Genealogical Society. Here is a screenshot of their flyer:
There is quite a list of local genealogical and historical societies in Southern California. Here is the list from their website:
It has been quite a while since I have been in Southern California and I am looking forward to the trip and meeting with the genealogists in Carlsbad, California. Coincidentally, one of my granddaughters was just called as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and she is called to serving in the California, Carlsbad Mission. She will begin serving in June. 

We have been recording more webinars and presentations here in Provo at the BYU Family History Library and we now have 260 videos. Of course, this number will increase this week and continue to increase in coming months. We invite all to subscribe to the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel. We now have 3,610 subscribers and the number is rapidly growing. We have loaded six new videos in the past week. Here are a few of the new offerings. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Kindex Adds New Batch and Collections Features

Very little of what we do as genealogists is really automated. One of the most frustrating things for me is that when I am adding information, photos or sources to a database, I have to do that one item at a time regardless of the fact that the items may have common characteristics. For example, I might be adding a number of items that share the same metadata or tags or whatever. I do this when I am adding photos to that were all taken by the same person. I may still have to individually tag each photo, but what if the photos are all of the same person? I could combine separate pages into one document using Adobe Acrobat Pro or a similar program, but what if I don't want the items all in one document?

This may seem like a trivial problem, but there are some genealogists who are spending huge amounts of time individually name a collection of documents with the same metadata (title, tags, description etc.) day after day, week after week.

The folks at finally addressed this problem in a direct way for genealogists. Here is the description of the process from the Kindex blog shown above.
1. Add & Organize Records into Collections 
Archive owners can now create Collections within their archives to organize their records. With collections, you can organize your records any way you wish. For example, your collections can be named as family names, record types, dates, or subjects.
2. Add Multiple Records & Assign Record Info (Metadata) to a Batch 
You may now add multiple records to your archive quickly and easily, with the added benefit of designating Record Info (metadata) to a batch of records. This feature allows users to apply common metadata to an entire batch of records, instead of applying metadata individually. Metadata may include Record Info such as descriptions, provenance, dates, places, and keywords.
The blog post goes on to explain the details of creating these batches. is a way to share documents and have family members assist in indexing and transcribing those documents.  Here is a video that shows how the program works.