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

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Genealogists Using the Cloud -- Pitfalls and Promises

I received a suggestion from my Australian friend, Wayne, who reportedly lives somewhere in the Australian Out Back. At his request, I will write some of my thoughts on the topic of Cloud Storage for backing up our genealogical data and all other data for that matter.

For me, the practical reality of storing my data online is the simple fact that my data files exceed the capacity almost all practical online storage plans or companies. This is merely a cost analysis decision. Here are a few of the more popular programs and the advertised cost of storage. I now have very close to 4 Terabytes. In addition, is the time it takes to transfer these massive files from one storage device to another and the time it takes to move that much information online.

Note that some of these companies have special introductory pricing. I am not particularly interested in having a "free" account for only a short period of time. I am also ignoring those "backup solutions" that involve a separate hardware server. This could be an alternative, but, once again, cost is a factor. Right now, a Seagate 8 TB Hard Drive is selling for $237.49 on and the price will most likely come down in the near future. I presently use multiple backup hard drives and regularly store data offsite. Hard drives seem to last about two to three years. Remember, the fact that I am talking about a lot of data. You may have a lower cost and the option of online storage to supplement your own local storage may be more attractive. I do find determining exactly how much a certain level of storage to cost is very difficult in almost all the programs. Also, bear in mind that the prices may change at any time.

The crucial issue is what happens to your data if you fail to renew your subscription for any reason? This is the hardest question of all to answer from the websites. This could be one of the most important issues. Another issue is ownership and control of the data. You will likely find, by reading the "fine print" that all you get is a license to access your own data. Remember, you must also have and maintain Internet service to use this type of system.

Another important factor. You must still maintain enough local capacity to host all your own data. These services back up data on a particular computer and/or hard drive. You still have to have the computer or the hard drive.

Now, on to the list:

  • -- Starting Plan is $59.00 a year for an individual computer that does not include external hard drives. In some plans, any file over 4 GB must be manually added to the backup. The size limitations are directed at backing up specific devices. The starting cost for my setup begins at $269.99 a year.
  • -- Based on 1 TB of storage, a 24 month contract, the cost is $104.28. There are additional charges for external hard drives and for files over 5 GB. 
  • -- $5.00 per month, per computer, claims no file size limit and no data limit. As with all the services read the Terms and Conditions of use carefully.
  • -- Free to $250 a month for 2.5 TB. 
Now what about the popular online storage companies that do not specialize in backing up files? Here is a breakdown of the amount of storage available and the cost. These systems could be used to backup your genealogy data files but the rest of your files would be at risk. It is even more difficult to determine what you are getting and the terms of use. Files can be synched with your local drive. 
  • -- Free up to 2 GB, Dropbox Pro is limited to 1 TB. The Business Account is unlimited storage for $5 per month per user. This is not a backup service, individual files must be copied and organized. 
  • Google Drive -- Google Drive for business clients get 1 TB for less than 5 users. 10 TBs is $99.99 a month.
  • Microsoft Onedrive -- 15 GB basic, 1 TB for Office 365 for $9.99 per month. 
  • iCloud -- Up to 5 GB free and $9.99 per month for 1 TB. 
Remember, with all these systems, you still have to purchase and maintain your local storage capacity. So I would have to purchase hard drives that would back up all my data (3+ TBs) and then pay the cost of online storage. Also remember to ask what happens to your data if you stop paying. You might also find a "better deal" than the ones I have reviewed. I suggest that you still explore the limitations. 

One practical alternative is to store crucial files online and keep the rest backed up locally. This does not avoid the issue of what happens to your data if you stop paying, but it does limit the cost. 

Registration Now Open for RootsTech 2016

Registration is now open for RootsTech 2016. As a RootsTech Ambassador, I registered some time ago, but now registration is open to all who want to attend this great Conference. Quoting from the official announcement:
RootsTech is the largest family history conference in the world, attracting tens of thousands of participants! The upcoming sixth annual global conference, “Celebrate Families across Generations," takes place is February 3–6, in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is a great way to discover and share your family’s stories and connections, regardless of your knowledge or experience level. 
The Family Discovery Day events on Saturday, February 6, are free. The events are popular with family and youth, so you might consider registering soon. If you plan to attend other days and sessions, registering early can save you as much as $100.

To register, click the Register Now link on the FamilySearch home page.
For more details about RootsTech 2016, keep watching the RootsTech website at

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mesa FamilySearch Library begins opening on Mondays

According to the Family History Tech, the Mesa FamilySearch Library has begun a limited opening in the Family Search Training Center at 464 E. 1st Avenue in Mesa, Arizona. It is apparently open Mondays only from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm. Check this out.

Genealogy and Reading the News
For years we took a daily newspaper.

Even though we refused to have TV in our house while our children were growing up, we went through a period of time when we had cable TV.

I used to listen to the news radio station for many, many years, including many years of listening to National Public Radio.

So far in 2015, there have been over 50,000 wildfires in the United States that have burned over 9 million acres of land. See National Interagency Fire Center. Over a thousand homes have been destroyed and many people have died in the fires. Many of these fires continue to burn into October, 2015.

The persistent drought in the Western United States has contributed to the fire situation and has now been going on for years. See image above.

All of these statements are interrelated.

I now get 95% of more of my news from the Internet. I have an interesting observation (interesting to me anyway). Both the fires in the West and the drought are "big news." They will affect millions of people in ways unimaginable. But there is virtually nothing in the mainstream news about either the drought or the fires. Over a thousand homes are destroyed in fires and people killed and it doesn't make the news.

At the same time, the news in our area is filled with stories of killings, violence and crime. On the date of this blog, there is a huge storm over the East Coast with flooding and loss of life. In the Google News stream, the lead story is about people killed in an airstrike in Afghanistan. There is no mention of the floods and dangerous rainstorm in the U.S.

OK, as usual, you are asking yourself what this has to do with genealogy. There are two important things going on here. The way we obtain news about our world is rapidly changing due to technology. But at the same time, the news that gets through to the major news outlets focuses on very transient events. Droughts and fires are "old news" in the United States. Floods and disasters are no longer "interesting" to report. What is in the news involves what is politically correct to report.

The same thing has happened in genealogy. Very little of the "real news" or those things that will affect the most people and are truly important developments are no longer "interesting." The genealogical equivalent of the long-lasting drought in the Western United States and the huge wildfires is now ignored and we focus on the trivial and what is politically and socially acceptable.

What is the biggest genealogical news story of 2015? What genealogical event that has already happened in 2015 will affect the most people? What attention was paid to the biggest genealogical disaster of the year that affects thousands of people's ability to find their ancestors?

Can you answer these questions? Are you aware of genealogical database contents that are being removed from online collections? Are you aware of the closing of state library genealogy collections and the closure of two large genealogy centers?

I have been pointing out for some time now that there is a dramatic decrease in genealogical blog traffic. The most popular online bloggers keep writing but the background traffic of hundreds of other bloggers has disappeared to a whisper.

Here is my point. Over the years, my use of the news media has changed dramatically. I gave away my last TV many years ago when I realized that over 50 cable stations were not providing anything I was interested in hearing or watching. I stopped listening to news radio, including National Public Radio, when it became a propaganda outlet and stopped carrying any news. I mentioned the drought and the fires because neither story was or has been featured in any of the major news outlets. Once a story has been "reported" it is dropped, even if the story is ongoing.

Genealogy as a topic is subject to exactly the same political and social forces as the rest of the media.

By the way, the big story today is that J.K. Rowling has revealed Harry Potter's lineage. See if you can find it.

For the time being, I will keep reading the obscure, the neglected and the impossible to find and trying to make some sense out of what is really going on around the genealogical community.

Friday, October 2, 2015

What is online and what is not?

My attention was directed to a post on the Heritage Family History blog, entitled, "Time to Improve Online Coverage Details." I have since subscribed to this blog posted by an English genealogist named Celia.

The gist of the blog post is contained in an introductory statement which says,
It is my opinion that genealogy websites should provide full source details and coverage dates for each of their databases. They should also clearly state where a database is not yet complete.
I don't think anyone would disagree with this statement, but as the blog post goes on to point out, this is apparently not the practice of very many of the online genealogical programs containing historical genealogically important records. In some cases the lack of details provided in the search results, even when the correct individual has been identified is highly truncated and, in some cases, misleading. This is especially true when the original record is not easily reviewed.

This problem can arise at various levels within the structure of the searches conducted by various programs. The blog post cited above addresses one aspect of this issue, the lack of a reference list showing the coverage of any given set of records. For example, the name of the record collection may imply that it covers a certain time period, when, in fact, some of the records are missing from the collection.

I should also point out that's Historical Record Collections are linked to Research Wiki articles where some of this missing information is often outlined in detail for each collection. The cited blog post focuses on and

However, the issue raised goes well beyond merely identifying the content of a record collection. The real issue involves the search results obtained. In many cases, the search results do not contain enough information to adequately identify the individuals produced and omit crucial information that is contained in the original record. For example, I may search for someone with a relatively common name. The results of the search may produce thousands of individuals, but in each case, I must try to examine the original records, if they are available, before I can make a positive identification right or wrong of those records produced. In some cases, the search results have included only some of the contents of the record. In my example, assuming the original record has the parents' names, if the search results omits those names, then you must look at each record individually to determine which of the entries is the correct individual.

In addition, as pointed out by Celia's blog post, the results of a search often fail to provide complete or even accurate sourcing details or any limitations in the coverage of the records.

Some search techniques involve comparing several records in a spreadsheet format to determine the identity of an ancestor. In some cases, hundred or even thousands of names are compared from a certain geographic area in an attempt to find an elusive ancestor. The failure of the genealogical database to include vital information in the original records, such as the name of the parents, makes this process next to impossible. Even though the advanced genealogist uses a powerful took such as a spreadsheet program to analyze the data, the missing entries force the research to look at each individual entry thereby making examining large numbers of records practically impossible.

The decision to truncate the record search is probably made by the programmers with consideration for speed and the amount of data shown, but there is a sound genealogical reason for including the entire contents of the record in a search. Most indexes are still compiled by individual effort. Expanding the number of fields indexed would very likely cause recored to be indexed at a much slower rate. These issues may have been seen to be more important than displaying the entire record. But if you are faced with many pages of search results all showing the same or very similar name, you will wish that those who chose what to display had to actually use those same records.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Genealogy and the Digital Divide

My recent blog posts about the fact that the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah is systematically digitizing all the books in the library and then removing many of those books from the shelves has caused a considerable amount of comment. Because I had the opinion that digitizing the books and making them available for free online was beneficial to the genealogical community, I received comments concerning the fact that not all of the potential genealogists had access to the Internet or their access was so slow as to make the book impractical. This particular problem is called the Digital Divide.

Let me illustrate the issues with a not-so-imaginary hypothetical. Let's suppose the the Family History Library has a book that is unique. That is, a book that was written where there is only one, single copy of the book in existence. Unfortunately, this particular hypothetical situation is not so uncommon in real life. The Family History Library has many unique items, including many submitted by myself. To see these items, you must visit the Family History Library in person. Many of these unique items cannot be viewed outside of the library itself. So, any genealogist who cannot afford to travel to Salt Lake City, Utah is effectively barred from using those unique items in their research.

Now let's further suppose that the Family History Library digitizes the unique object and makes it available for free online. Was further suppose that the person who did not have physical ability, either through economic disadvantage or other limiting circumstances, now has the ability to view the object online. Is this a benefit or not? Now I suppose, that same person lives in an area that is so remote that he or she has neither Internet access nor access to a library and also has neither the means nor the physical ability to visit the library in person. How is this person harmed if the Family History Library digitizes the unique record and puts it online for free? The person could not consult either the paper copy before it was digitized or the digital copy.

Let's further suppose that the Library digitizes every single book and record in its entire collection and makes that entire digital collection free online. Going back to our hypothetical person, the person who cannot visit the library and does not have Internet access, how is that person harmed if the library's collection is now only available online? Changing the format of books from paper to digital hardly affects those who had no physical or Internet access to the library in the first place.

What if a person had no Internet access at home but could physically visit the Family History Library? Then, the fact that the books were digitized means that a person could come to the library and use one of the free computers to access the Internet, download a copy of the book on the fast servers in the library, and take the books home and read it on a computer at home or other device. No home Internet connection would be necessary. At this point we should note that the person visiting the library can obtain a digital copy of most of the digitized books for free. Even if the person could not utilize a digital copy of the book obtained from the Library, they are no worse off than if they came to the library and had to use the book while physically in the library. This Internet deprived person can use both the Internet and the digitized book copy in the Family History Library.

If you persist in your objections, you would finally have to admit that those people who would never visit the library and will never have an Internet connection are not deprived. I do not think, unlike Facebook, that an Internet connection is a basic human right.

So, we have, of course hypothetically speaking, a class of people who have no Internet access. In addition, once again hypothetically speaking, we have a class of people who have no physical access to the Family History Library or any of the branch libraries around the world. Guess what? It absolutely makes no difference to them as to whether or not the books are in paper or digital format.

Back to reality. The hypothetical is not so hypothetical after all. In the real world, we have a huge number of people who have access to the Internet but do not have the means or the inclination to visit the Family History Library or one of its branches. Remember, there are over 4600 FamilySearch Centers around the world but there are still places where visiting a Family History Center is impossible or very difficult. The idea that there is something unfair about the process of digitizing the collections in the Family History Library makes no sense at all.

Essentially, the items in the Family History Library fall into several different categories.

  • Unique items which exist in the Family History Library and in no other library or repository
  • Rare items that exist only in a few libraries or repositories
  • Items that are fairly common, but difficult to find
  • Items that are so common as to be available in most libraries in the United States
  • Items that are so common as to be available in many libraries around the world

Let's suppose that you live a long distance from Salt Lake City and you wanted to consult a book in the Salt Lake City Family History Library. Would you rather travel all the way to Salt Lake City or to the nearest high-speed Internet access point?

 Of course, this whole discussion ignores the existence of the Digital Divide. Many people around the world have little or no access to the Internet either because of age, economic deprivation, lack of education, political restrictions or a multitude of other limiting issues. The high-speed, world-wide movement to digitize records and books pertinent to genealogical research has no effect, one way or another, on the people who find themselves deprived. The digitization effort is not cause of the Divide. Digitization does not cause poverty. It does not cause lack of education. It does not cause people to fear computers. In short, none of the root causes of the Digital Divide have anything to do with digitizing books at the Family History Library or anyplace else for that matter. In law, raising the issue of the Digital Divide as a reason why there is something wrong with the Library's digitization of paper books and then removing them from the shelves, would be called a "red herring," that is, irrelevant to the issues.

You don't have to look at even one of the more than 200,000, free, online, digital books put there by the Family History Library. You can still come to the Library and find all sorts of information. You don't even have to use any of the computers in the Library (free also). But I can assure you that there will be a huge number of genealogically pertinent documents you will never see that are now, and always will be, available only on line from

Digital vs. Paper -- A Genealogist's Viewpoint

The Leader of the Luddites
When I was in the sixth grade, I had one of the most unusual teachers in my whole school experience. One of the things she did was to create a debate between some of the students over the issue of solar power vs. atomic energy. This was way back when solar power was no more than an idea and the issues of using atomic energy were still in the future. Both groups (I was in the atomic energy group) did research and then presented their side of the story.

I have often thought about this debate over the years and when I moved to Mesa almost forty years ago, we immediately installed a solar hot water system. I had come to understand the pros and cons of both solar and atomic and had moved from being an ardent supporter of atomic power plants to being a solar energy enthusiast. In later years, I even won an important lawsuit against home owners associations that would limit the installation of solar energy collectors.

What has this got to do with genealogy? Don't worry, I will get there eventually.

We have a lot of technological alternatives. Some of the options appear to be very appealing at first, but turn out to have extremely undesirable consequences. Then, collectively, we have to deal with the fact that adoption of a technology has caused us more problems than benefits. On the other hand, some technologies are so demonstrably superior, they soon become pervasive and eventually, universal. For example, if you go back in history, you will find that many industrial innovations (new technologies) were violently opposed by the very people who would ultimately benefit the most from their implementation. See "What the Luddites Really Fought Against," from the As this article point out, the term "luddite" has come to mean something quite different than what those early 19th Century Luddites were really trying to accomplish. Today, we apply to the term to those who oppose technological change.

There is an implication that all technological change is good and all opposition to such change is bad. I don't think we can put value judgments on technological change at all. Technology is neither bad nor good. It is just that: technology. If you want to get into this aspect of technology, just read some of the arguments concerning the issue of "gun control."

Whether or not you believe any particular technological change is beneficial or detrimental depends on your own preferences in using the "newer" technology. For example, whether or not you "like" or "dislike" cellphones will depend on how you use this particular technology. Now, to the genealogical aspects of this topic.

I have had a book for some years about my family. I have written about this before and told how this particular book, written by my Great-grandmother, has stories and photos of family members going back almost two hundred years. Like many such books, the print run was extremely limited. The book has almost 800 pages and is extremely valuable to reconstructing and identifying family members. It lacks almost any documentation and has been accused of being full of errors, but the information is priceless, nonetheless.

Here is a citation to the book:

Overson, Margaret Godfrey Jarvis. George Jarvis and Joseph George De Friez Genealogy. [Mesa?, Ariz.]: [M.G. Jarvis Overson], 1957.

Most of the people who can trace their ancestors back to those in this book are not even aware of its existence and finding a copy would be very difficult. Some years ago, I took advantage of an emerging technology and had the book scanned at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. Ultimately, the book was included in the digitized book collection online. Here is the link to the book:

Now, there are a whole bundle of technologies that make this book available for free to anyone who cares to look at it from any location in the world. Those technologies include the entire Internet, computers, book scanning equipment, and so forth. Before all this happened, copies of that book were sitting on the shelves of about nine libraries, one of which, the Mesa, Arizona FamilySearch Library, is currently closed. I can now access that book and search every word of the text, from any device attached to the Internet.

What will happen to the original copies of the book? Will the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, leave its paper copy on the shelf just for "old times" sake? How many people used that specific paper copy of the book over the years? The reality is that very few of the people who can trace their ancestors back to those in this book are even now, aware of its existence (I said that didn't I?). Guess what? They still have no idea the book exists even though it is in digitized form and universally available.

Should the Family History Library be compelled to keep the "paper" copy of the book on a shelf in the Library, merely on the chance that someone will come along and use the book in that format? Isn't the real issue here the availability of the information contained in the book, irrespective of the format? If the Family History Library people decided to utilize the physical space in the Library building in another way, rather than have shelves of books, but provide universal access to all the books on a free website, is there really a loss to the genealogical community? Isn't the assumed loss rather an issue with a personal preference?

As far as being able to find a copy to buy, it turns out that someone has violated the copyright, which I hold, and published the book on a CD and is trying to sell it for $79.00. There do not appear to be any paper copies of this book for sale online unless the CD copy is really a paper copy for sale.

Just because you personally prefer to hold a paper book for your research, does not mean that there are not some extremely good reasons why digital books are not preferable over paper ones. I still use and read paper books, I have large pile of them sitting next to my computer. I just purchased a paper copy of a book that I am in the process of re-reading. But notwithstanding all this, I am still very much in favor of digitizing every genealogically significant book that exists. Let's move them out of the libraries and make them available to everyone, everywhere and those that legally can be, let's make them all free. Let's liberate the information is these books once and for all. And let's stop wringing our hands over the loss of the venerable paper books on library shelves when digital copies are freely available.