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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How or Why I Choose Some BYU Family History Library Webinar Topics

Beginning Danish Research: Sorting out the Places - James Tanner

I often get comments about the topics selected for inclusion in the Brigham Young University Family History Library Webinar project. The comments usually focus on the process of coming up with new topics. Some of the selections (here I am speaking entirely for my own presentations) seem to be generally of interest to genealogists and some, like the webinar above, seem to be aimed a very narrow audience.

The webinar on Beginning Danish Research focuses on the issue of identifying the exact place where an event occurs in an ancestor's (or relative's) life. This is a basic principle of genealogical research. Failure to properly identify the location of an event and then assuming that the information found is applicable to your ancestor is the basis for the very common "the same name = the same person" errors that are rampant in online family trees. It will be somewhat rare when one of my videos, even those that are seemingly of limited interest does not involve a topic of general application.

The entire theme of my webinar presentations is fostering an increased accuracy in genealogical research. The secondary theme is expanding the focus of that same research from names, dates, and places to placing the individual and family in the greater historical context.

Many of the shorter videos from the BYU Family History Library are directed at teaching the missionaries (volunteers) who work in the Library. They may seem to have limited focus, but the idea is to increase the general knowledge and competence of the volunteer missionaries. This is a good goal for anyone involved in genealogical research and especially applicable to those who are helping others.

Personally, I will never run out of topics. There is way too much to say and there is always something to talk about.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Find Data Problems with the The Family Nexus iPhone App

One of my recurring themes is the importance of determining the exact location of events in our ancestors' lives. I have also previously mentioned The Family Nexus, an iPhone app for mapping. This very useful app has an additional use way beyond simply finding ancestral events as we are traveling around. Here is a description from The Family Nexus Blog post entitled, "Visualizing Tree Data Problems."
Open Google Maps and search for “PA.” Although a common abbreviation for “Pennsylvania,” without context Google Maps shows you Panama! The Family Nexus iPhone app automatically maps birth, marriage, death, and burial locations of 6+ generations of your FamilySearch family tree. It uses the “standardized” place associated with locations of life events stored in FamilySearch. Seeing these locations instantly plotted on a map is awesome. It can also be a very convenient way to spot data problems in your Tree. Let’s review 2 ways you can find data problems using The Family Nexus App.
The post goes on to explain a lot about how the Family Tree utilizes dates and places. Here is an example.
FamilySearch stores each date and each place for each event in two different locations. First, it stores it in the white box where you enter the information (the “display” value). Second, it stores a “standard” date or place in the green (or yellow) bar below that. This “standard” is what helps you and others find matching records and individuals. It is a “behind-the-scenes” value the computer uses to match to a specific date in history and a specific location on the globe.
I am not going to reproduce the entire post, but I suggest that even if you do not own an iPhone, you will find the information about the way the Family Tree stores and uses geographic information informative and interesting.

One of the data points for my maternal grandmother from the Family Tree keeps coming up in Japan. Since she never traveled outside of the United States, I have often been puzzled by this. So far, I haven't been able to identify the reason for the erratic location. My strange Japanese connection didn't show up, but I did find a cousin who died in Korea during the Korean War.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Adoption Challenge to Genealogical Research - Part Two: Early History of Adoption

It is almost impossible for someone who was raised in the United States today to understand current adoption procedures without a significant dose of history. The worst possible perspective is to project today's arcane adoption practices very far into the past. The first "modern" law concerning adoption was enacted in 1851 in Massachusetts. The 1851 statute was the first to consider the welfare of the child as part of the adoption process. Up until that time, adoption was unregulated and treated the adopted child as chattel. Before going any further, it is important as a genealogist dealing with potential and actual adoption issues, to have at least a beginning understanding of the history. A fairly good summary of the history of adoption is contained in a Wikipedia article entitled "Adoption." I strongly suggest reading the entire article.

From a genealogical standpoint, this date of 1851 marks the point at which a researcher could expect to find consistent court records reflecting adoption. My own experience in this working through adoption issues relating to genealogy is that they are focused on the first one or two generations of a person's pedigree. In cases where the birth record of the adopted child was altered to show the adoptive parents as the birth parents, there is seldom a way to detect the existence of an adoption unless family records somehow indicate the possibility. For example, in 1917 a Minnesota law, for the first time,  required that all placements be investigated and began the process of limiting access to the court's adoption records. Our present focus on adoption assumes the present legal and social environment and all of the concerns and conditions imposed by these laws. There are also significant efforts in the United States to radically change adoption laws and make the process more transparent.

Prior to the enactment of the adoption laws, most orphans were cared for in orphanages or orphan asylums. The orphanages originated in Europe were cared for by the churches, if at all. Before orphanages became common, orphans almost always became homeless, slaves or indentured servants. In England and to some extent in the United States, one response to orphans and other dependent people was the creation of Poor Houses. This movement was well developed in England during the 1800s and became the dominant method of dealing with the poor and orphans.

As I mentioned above, currently the genealogical issues raised by adoption are confined to individuals attempting to identify their birth parents and as I pointed out in the first installment of this subject, one avenue open to those individuals is to take a DNA test and post the results in one or more of the online programs.

If you are familiar with the history, you will realize that there are several results that become manifest in doing genealogical research beginning with the present.

1. During the time from the present back to the early 1900s, genealogical research into adoption must deal with the reality of sealed court records and "faked" birth records. There are methods that have evolved to both locate adoption records and obtain information on birth parents. See the Research Wiki article, "United States Adoption Research."

2. During the 1800s, records concerning adoption may be difficult to obtain. Research focus is on orphanages, indentured servants, and poor houses. An adopted child may appear in a census or other record as a "farm laborer" or "servant."

3. Prior to the 1800s, an orphan would likely show up as an individual servant or laborer but there would be no way to connect the individual to his or her parents. For example, one of my great-great-grandfathers was from Denmark and family tradition implies that he was "adopted." He may have been the son of one of the daughters in the family, but if this was not the case and he was "adopted" from a relative or third party, but in either case, no records exist showing his actual parentage. In this particular case, a DNA test would not help since my only connection to this "adopted" grandparent is through maternal lines. Even with a DNA test associated with extensive online family trees, the relationship is such that isolating those relatives who may have a DNA test that would apply is very complex and as yet, few of the matches reported are for people who have family trees in the program.

To be continued.

Posts in this series:

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.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Daily Artwork from the BYU Museum of Art

The Brigham Young University Museum of Art recently started a project to send out a copy of their art collection every day by email. We signed up for this service and it has brightened each of the days this past week. Since this is Easter Sunday, I thought I would share the latest offering. You can click on the image above to get a larger copy in your browser.

An Easter Message

#Hallelujah—An Easter Message about Jesus Christ

Take some time to learn about Easter and the life of Jesus Christ. I will be back on Monday. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

DNA Report: The Story Continues

After gathering enough spit to fill the DNA test container, I sent the test off to Ancestry and got back this receipt. I decided to "Learn about our lab" and the link took me to this webpage:

I linked my tree to the DNA test and searched on my surname.

Since the "Tanner" surname is prevalent in both the United Kingdom and Switzerland, I was not at all surprised at the number of documents has available for that name. The numbers merely point out the need to do careful research to avoid equating a name with a valid ancestor. I was a little bit surprised to see that the name was also found in Finland. That probably adds to why the name is so common in the United States although recently, it has become a given name more than a surname.

The Tanner name distribution showed me what my experience has been in the past, that the Tanner surname originated in several separate areas of America. My particular family originated in Rhode Island and there are still a lot of Tanners in that state. Part of my Tanner family moved from Rhode Island to New York, but I suspect that there are other unrelated Tanners in that state as well as in the New England States. My research shows that there were several probably unrelated Tanner families in Rhode Island and in Connecticut.

The Ancestry Tanner Family Origin cites the New York Passenger List. But none of my Tanner surname family came through New York so none of their people were my ancestors. But the list still confirms what I knew about the surname

Likewise, the Tanner immigration information fails to go back far enough to account for my Tanner ancestor who arrived in America or was born in America in the 1600s.

The rest of these analysis lists only serve to point out the need for careful research and the further need to avoid generalizations.

Well, it will be interesting to see what the DNA test results bring. If it takes as long as the estimate, I will probably have forgotten about the test by the time it comes.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Genealogy One Byte at a Time -- Part Two

The benefits that have accrued to genealogists because of the advances in technology are limited, in some ways, but extremely significant. For example, record hints are a marvelous innovation, but ultimately they rely on the research ability of the user to fully evaluate whether or not they apply to a particular person. Ultimately, the decisions about the applicability and accuracy of the historical records and documents depend on the research abilities of the genealogist. Technology can augment those abilities but not replace them.

The greatest impact from technology comes from the increased availability of records due to digitization. We are in a definite period of transition. Presently, it is still necessary in many many cases to still refer to paper or microfilmed records. In this particular area, the impact of technology will be cumulative over time. Other aspects of technology such as organizational programs, communication programs and other generalized utilities such as translation programs offer the potential of making greater impacts as genealogists began to implement these programs and use them in their particular and personal methodology.

A couple of examples are probably in order at this point. Google Translate is a tremendously valuable program for doing research in languages with which you are not personally familiar. However, in my experience, relatively few genealogists use the program at all. The reason for this is that using any one particular computer program requires that you first learn how to use the program and secondly, can appreciate the features of the program to the extent that you incorporate them in your own research methodology. Over the years, I have probably acquired and used thousands of different computer programs. However, it is only very rarely that any of these thousands of programs are regularly incorporated into my workflow. The reason for this is simple. I have to see an appreciable benefit to incorporating a new program.

I've used this next example previously but it fits here well. There is a bibliography program called Some years ago, I downloaded the program and played around with it for a short period of time. Later, I felt a need for a program that would help me format citations for original records and books. When I investigated programs that might help, I rediscovered I realize that I had already looked at the program and registered as a user. But I had not used the program enough to keep using it. Since I now saw a need for the program, I began to incorporate it into my workflow. As a result, I now use the program regularly. This experience, however, is definitely the exception to the rule. Most of the time when I examine a new program, even if the program is attractive in many ways, I may not see any way to implement the program into my then current workflow and therefore see no need to keep working with the program. In fact, I believe that some programs are solutions for problems that do not really exist.

So technology is only useful if you can appreciate the need and see a way to implement the program into your daily lifestyle.

Technological advances fall into two major divisions: those products are advances that are generally enjoyed and applicable in a general way or those advances that apply to a very narrow need. One example of a general technological advance is the innovation that produces large, flat screen TVs. This is a general advance in that having or using a 60 inch TV is not something that particularly advances what I do each day. It certainly does not apply to anything I can particularly think of that applies to genealogy. On the other hand, a general advance such as increased memory storage capabilities at a much-reduced price immediately affects how I implement my backup storage. From the standpoint, there are very few technological advances that have been developed particularly for use by genealogists. That is one reason why I made the earlier observation about the fact that the benefits of technology to genealogists are limited.

I am presently using a threshold major technological advancement in a very particular way for genealogical purposes. This happens because a significant amount the writing that I am doing is being transcribed by voice recognition software running on my computer. Unfortunately, voice recognition software is still in the developmental stage and not as accurate as I would still like it to be. Although voice recognition software is apparently a substitute for using a keyboard, the learning curve to achieve full use of the software is so steep that very few people unless compelled to do so by disability will really use the full potential of these programs.

So let's start with the most fundamental and basic technological skill necessary to implement any of the advanced products or services available. That skill is keyboarding. As is made abundantly apparent by supporting patrons at a major family history library, keyboarding is really the basic key to using the majority of the remaining technological advances that benefit genealogy.There are a few people who are the exception, that is, they have very poor keyboarding skills but still take advantage of most of the other technological advances available. But the general rule is that a lack of keyboarding skills is a barrier to understanding and using most of the advantages that have accrued.

What is tragic is that those who lack keyboarding skills seldom recognized the extent to which that lack is a barrier to their implementing much of the technological advances available that actually benefit genealogical research. If you have difficulty entering logins and passwords you certainly are not going to enjoy learning some of the more complex features of an online genealogy program. Unfortunately, much of what has been acquired in the way of technological advances does not particularly benefit people who are either physically or mentally challenged despite claims of being user-friendly.

There are literally hundreds of programs online both free and fee-based for learning keyboarding skills. All that is really necessary, is for the user/learner to make the effort and spend the time to increase their keyboarding skills.

To get started, simply type the following words into a Google search: learn keyboard typing.

 To be continued.

My Next DNA Adventure

Not too long ago, I wrote about my experiences with doing a DNA test. While I was at RootsTech 2017, I purchased another DNA testing kit from

Unfortunately, I got very sick and then went on a trip to present at the North Florida Genealogy Conference in Jacksonville, Florida and then got sick again for a couple of weeks. Then I spent a week on vacation in Costa Rica. OK, so I finally got well enough to take the test. This is what I saw in the box.

The idea here was to provide some saliva (spit) to for the test. You had to refrain from drinking any water or whatever for half an hour and then spit into the container, seal it up and send it to

Before you begin, you have to activate the program.

You continue with the activation procedure.

There is even more.

Then I got to watch a short video about Genetic Communities. As a side note, it is interesting how corporations in the U.S. can trademark generic terms.

Then I got to the last screen.

I am assuming it will be some considerable time before they get around to my DNA test since they sold a bundle of them at RootsTech 2017 and I suppose afterward as well.

Then I took the test.

It took me a while to get enough spit to fill the container but now it is on its way to

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Dred Scott, Pure Blood, Race, DNA and Genealogy

A photograph of Dred Scott, taken around the time of his court case in 1857
Many of the members of the larger genealogical community are now taking or have taken DNA tests from one or more of the large online service providers targeting DNA's genealogical application. As a result of taking these DNA tests, many are surprised to learn that they have ancestry in places they never imagined.

Before the advent of genetics and DNA testing, the concept of lineage was dependent on "bloodlines." As an attorney, I was familiar with the U.S. Supreme Court case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857). Not too long ago, I visited the building in the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri where the courtroom once stood. The building has been extensively renovated and the courtroom no longer exists. The Dred Scott case is summarized by the Library of Congress as follows:
The Supreme Court decision Dred Scott v. Sandford was issued on March 6, 1857. Delivered by Chief Justice Roger Taney, this opinion declared that slaves were not citizens of the United States and could not sue in Federal courts. In addition, this decision declared that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional and that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories. The Dred Scott decision was overturned by the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.
 The decision is marked by the one genealogically interesting conclusion found on page 400 of the decision:
The defendant pleaded in abatement to the jurisdiction of the court, that the plaintiff was not a citizen of the State of Missouri, as alleged in his declaration, being a negro of African descent, whose ancestors were of pure African blood, and who were brought into this country and sold as slaves.
In light of the use of DNA by genealogists today, I was interested in the meaning and significance of the term "of pure African blood." Some genealogists, even today, refer to their "direct line ancestors" as their "bloodline." I would be facile to dismiss this whole subject as a merely linguistic reference, but the implications of using and maintaining a "pure bloodline" are seriously in question in light of DNA testing.

The Oxford Living Dictionaries define "bloodline" as "A set of ancestors or line of descent of an important person." Setting aside the now obvious conclusion that inherited characteristics come through the "blood," the real issue here is the entire concept of a line of descent as presently defined by genealogists. We also have to always remember that wars have been fought and millions of people killed because of their assumed membership in a certain "bloodline."

For a very detailed example of an analysis of a genealogical DNA test, you might want to look at "My DNA Results from 4 companies" on the Genealogy Junkie website. A Google search will reveal dozens of other similar blog posts. Essentially, there is no specific consensus in tests from different companies.  But unexpected and seemingly random results are common. What is certain is that the long-held traditions and concepts of "racial purity" or "pure bloodline" are almost entirely unsupported and illusory.

If you happen to be the recipient of an inherited "genealogy file" from some ancestor who, in the past, compiled a pedigree for your family, you have probably used that in part to establish your own personal concept of race, ethnicity and "bloodline." Even if your genealogist ancestor was extremely careful, it is almost certain that lengthy pedigree lines begin to be conjectural at some point in time.

Unfortunately, many official government actions both here in the United States and in many other countries have been based on assumptions about race. It is my opinion, sad events in our collective past such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Holocaust would have been vastly different if the people involved at the time would have had our present DNA testing abilities, in both positive and negative ways. This would have been most dramatically true in the U.S. South where the "One-drop Rule" was widely applied. Here is the discussion of the "One-drop Rule" from Wikipedia.
The one-drop rule is a social and legal principle of racial classification that was historically prominent in the United States asserting that any person with even one ancestor of sub-Saharan-African ancestry ("one drop" of black blood)[1][2] is considered black (Negro in historical terms). This concept evolved over the course of the 19th century and became codified into law in the 20th century. It was associated with the principle of "invisible blackness" and is an example of hypodescent, the automatic assignment of children of a mixed union between different socioeconomic or ethnic groups to the group with the lower status.
Some genealogists view the ability of DNA testing to lead us to a genealogical utopia, but anytime we begin to address issues of race and ethnic origin in the United States, we are entering an area where there are strong feelings and where the same DNA test we use to provide genealogical hints could be used to classify us in ways we may not want or expect. Perhaps we need more careful consideration of the implications of widely available DNA testing.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Interactive map returns to the Newberry Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

For over a year, the interactive map on the Newberry Atlas of Historical County Boundaries has been under construction and unavailable. I received an announcement today that the interactive map was once again online and functional.

The interactive map has always been an extremely useful, free utility that showed the historical county boundaries and an overwhelming amount of additional information of historical interest to genealogists. The new design of the interactive map is extremely easy to use and provides additional information about the county boundaries that was not available using the original map. For example, here is a screenshot of Pennsylvania with the boundary changes that occurred on July 4, 1776.

As you click through the dates listed on the left, you can see the boundary changes applied to the map. As genealogists, identifying the exact location of an advantage in an ancestor's life is crucial to identifying where records may have been kept and where they are located today. When you hover over any one of the counties above, you will see the information in the text box change to correspond to the County.

The Newberry Atlas of Historical County Boundaries should be on every genealogists most used program list.

Adding the Flesh to the Bones

Take a look at your family tree. Is it composed of a series of skeletons? Or does it represent flesh and blood people? If all you have recorded is a name, a date or two and a generalized place, you are looking at the bare skeleton of an ancestor. Wouldn't you like to see what they really looked like and who they really were?

The real benefits of fleshing out the entries in your family tree go well beyond merely establishing an ancestor's appearance, fleshing out the ancestor includes seeing them as real people, who lived in real places and had families and occupations and lived real lives. The further benefit comes from establishing a defensible and consistent family line; not one built on conjecture and name matching.

What makes up these ancestral skeletons? The answer is simple: a narrow-minded focus on "vital records." If all you know about someone is their birth, marriage, and death how do you know you have the right person? Granted, if you are doing research in the United States in the last hundred years or so, you are likely to pick up a lot of information about your ancestors that you may not realize that you actually have acquired. For example, how closely have you examined those ubiquitous U.S. Federal Census Records? Have you recorded the occupation of each of your ancestors and their family members? Did they own real estate? Have you researched their deeds and land ownership? How much more information have you ignored?

Granted, if you actually did all this for each of the people on your family tree, you would be creating a huge database, but so what? Don't we have a dichotomy here? On one hand, we have people who are patting themselves on the back for filling in some blanks on a pedigree form and on the other hand we have researchers who are finding real historically placed people.

This brings me to a common situation that I find when I'm helping patrons research their families. I usually begin the process by examining the details of the information that they already have recorded. I start with the person first listed on the pedigree chart. Of course, this assumes that the patron has reached the point of recording the information that they know about their parents and grandparents. Next, I asked the patron a simple question: who are these people? The patron is usually surprised at the question because they have never thought about anything more than the names on the page. I ask about where the people lived, where they worked, what churches they belong to and so forth. The point of my asking these questions is to determine the degree to which the patron is aware of the context of the lives of his or her ancestors.

As I go through this process, I inevitably find a point at which the information recorded by the patron is no longer supported by records or documents. What is disconcerting is that usually there are names going well beyond the point at which the family lines are documented. Not only does the patron have no idea who the people are who are listed as ancestors but also they have no idea if they have the right people or not. The fleshing out process is not just an interesting historical exercise it is indispensable in maintaining accuracy.

Where do you place yourself in this historical process? Are you a name gatherer? Or have you finally realized that genealogical research involves more than just names, dates, and places. Finally, she would point out that some of them are the places properly and accurately recorded, but that is a topic for another post.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Genealogy One Byte at a Time -- Part One

Genealogy can be daunting. There is an old Boy Scout joke that asks: how do you eat an elephant? The answer is "one bite at a time." Well, doing your family history or genealogy is really an infinite series of small tasks done over and over again. Because you repeatedly do essentially the same conceptual tasks over and over, you can get to be very efficient in doing each small task.

Over the years, many of the routine genealogical tasks have become semi-automated by computerization. Even some of the more involved tasks, such as researching source records, have now started to be automated by the larger, online genealogy family tree websites. By taking advantage of the technological automation and becoming proficient in doing those tasks that are still manually required, you can spend incrementally short periods of time and still accomplish a great deal.

One of the most important parts of this process of implementing technology in genealogy involves "time and motion" studies. Like many people, I became aware of time and motion studies when I read and then watched the book and movie called "Cheaper by the Dozen." The book, Cheaper by the Dozen is a biographical novel written by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. By the way, Frank and Ernestine were brother and sister. Featured in the book and movie is the concept of time and motion studies, one of the concepts that promoted automation. Here is a citation to the book.

Gilbreth, Frank B., and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. 2013. Cheaper by the dozen.

Here is a description of time and motion study from Wikipedia:
A time and motion study (or time-motion study) is a business efficiency technique combining the Time Study work of Frederick Winslow Taylor with the Motion Study work of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth (the same couple as is best known through the biographical 1950 film and book Cheaper by the Dozen). It is a major part of scientific management (Taylorism). After its first introduction, time study developed in the direction of establishing standard times, while motion study evolved into a technique for improving work methods. The two techniques became integrated and refined into a widely accepted method applicable to the improvement and upgrading of work systems. This integrated approach to work system improvement is known as methods engineering and it is applied today to industrial as well as service organizations, including banks, schools and hospitals.
What has this got to do with genealogy? Well, I have noticed that when people first get interested in searching for their ancestors, they tend to spend hours and hours searching. Then when they start to discover that the whole process is not quite as easy as my first seem, they believe that they need to spend a lot of time and so doing "genealogy" is put into the "time consuming" category for "when I have the time to do that." Usually, this equates to putting it off until the magical years of "retirement" or even later. Many of these would be genealogists just give up. They are, in essence, trying to eat the elephant all in one sitting.

As I look at the classes being taught at genealogy conferences around the country, I notice that many of the classes focus on one or more very narrow aspects of genealogical research and commensurate activities. For this series of posts, I intend to discuss those areas of genealogy that can be measurably assisted by technology and to acknowledge those that can't. I will also review those specific skills that measurable assist genealogists in today's online world. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at how you can benefit from all those technological advances.

Monday, April 10, 2017

You may not have realized...

If you have been reading my blog for any period of time, you may have formed an impression about me personally. I just wanted to change your impression a little with a few photographs of my recent activities in Costa Rica. This is for all you who think that I never sleep and all I do is write.

This is me starting out on 8,905 combined feet of zip lines across the top of the jungle in Costa Rica. The highest line was 656 feet above the ground and the top speed was about 50 mph.

Here is another shot of starting out:

And here I am underway.

These are just a few of the activities I do in my spare time.

Bits and Pieces of Genealogy News

I ended up with a lot of news stories and decided to consolidate them all in one blog post. So here it goes: has announced the formation of genetic communities. Genetic Communities are groups of AncestryDNA® members who are connected through DNA most likely because they descend from a population of shared ancestors, even if they no longer live in the area where those ancestors once lived. The idea is that by identifying these very specific communities your DNA test can be made more specific. To find out more click here. is a private social network that brings families together to discover, share and preserve their memories. Through our unique online tree builder, you can collaborate with your family members to map out your history while sharing precious moments with loved ones near and far. With the free and easy-to-use tool, you can upload photos and videos, tag keywords, share on social media and search across millions of historical records. The website has added new feature including the following:
In order to help users complete their entire ancestral story, provides FREE access to millions of ancestry records such as marriage, death, military, and more. The site seamlessly enables users to bridge their family’s past with the present.
The website has also added featured family trees of the following:

  • Game of Thrones
  • The Kennedy Family
  • The Clinton Family
  • The Trump Family
  • The British Royal Family
  • The Kardashian Family has announced a new Cousin Research Tracker. Here is the description from their blog:
What is the Cousin Research Tracker? 
Evidentia allows me to create a “Possibility Tree”, a short family tree tracing myself and a potential “cousin” to a most recent common ancestor. It then tracks my progress in creating evidence based proofs for each parent-child relationship in the “Possibility Tree”. Once I have solid evidence and a proof summary for each link, I can reach a conclusion about the relationship between my cousin and I, using the same standards I use in the other proofs I generate in Evidentia. 
At any time I can generate a Cousin Proof Summary Report, which will show me not only my summary conclusion about the cousin relationship, but also the conclusion from each proof used as evidence. 
Want more? The Cousin Proof Detail Report includes everything in the summary, AND it appends a full copy of each supporting proof report at the end of the document. 
Finally, the Cousin Research Log Summary, shown below, will show me the status of ALL my Cousin Research efforts.
 For more information click here. has organized a "Save our Graves" project. Here is a brief video introduction to the process.

Geneagraves from Geneanet on Vimeo.
BackBlaze .com published an article entitled, "The Future of DNA Storage." If you have taken a DNA test or are going to do so, you might want to check out the article.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Family Tree Maker 2017 Hits a Snag

The version of Family Tree Maker designated as version 2017 has hit a snag in being fully released. My source of information indicates that Ancestry shut down syncing between Ancestry and FTM 2014.1 a few weeks ago, however, the new Family Tree Maker 2017 is still in Beta and so syncing is not available at all for those with earlier versions.

Those that preordered the new Family Tree Maker 2017 are still waiting for shipments.

I have heard this same story quite a few times from users who expect software development to progress as announced by the developers. I have also experienced the same story from some construction contractors, courts and other institutions that don't have control over everything that might and does happen with events.