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26 Jul 14:41

Elephind -- a new newspaper search engine

by (Diane L Richard)

With so many newspapers becoming digitized, it can be challenging (and time consuming) to check them all out!  Never mind figuring out what ones exist online and what they include.

Unfortunately, GoogleTM (or other search engines) searching might yield some results from newspapers and they are not systematic, nor comprehensive.  Besides Google News Archive (which does contain some really neat historic newspaper collections), you are more likely to come across current newspaper articles or abstracts.

There is a new search engine,, which was created to “search the world’s historical newspaper archives.” It encompasses free online newspaper collections. Currently, the coverage includes newspaper collections from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States.

It was neat to search on “WakeCounty” and find articles in The New York Tribune (6 April 1842), The Rutland Herald [VT] (2 May 1843), The radical [Missouri] (23 November 1843) amongst the results. 

You can help expand this collection by e-mailing with any other appropriate free online historic newspaper collections you know,  Since it is a work in progress, do check back often and you can also subscribe to its mailing list.

Did you search using and find a newspaper article that you probably wouldn’t have come by otherwise?

Are there any other online aggregate newspaper search engines?

Other Upfront with NGS posts about newspapers:


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23 Jul 01:12

How to Tell If a 500-Year-Old Skeleton Is Jewish

by Adam Chandler

When I saw a story with the headline 500-year-old Jewish skeleton found in Brazil, my mind immediately raced to a dark corner. Rather than marvel at what is no doubt a fascinating discovery, I wondered instead: What makes a skeleton Jewish?

I skimmed through the details: skeleton found in Recife, Brazil, near the first synagogue of the New World, perfectly preserved male adult, no mention of horns, buried in the 16th century, perhaps a refugee of the Spanish Inquisition…A-HA!…jackpot!

Continue reading "How to Tell If a 500-Year-Old Skeleton Is Jewish" at...

22 Jul 20:11

What Exactly is "Indirect Evidence?"

by Randy Seaver
There was a spirited discussion on the Transitional Genealogists Forum message board earlier this month.  The first message I see in July 2013 was by Michelle Lewis, titled "direct vs. indirect."  There are many responses to this post that involved many of the best minds in the genealogy world.

Thomas W. Jones new book, Mastering Genealogical Proof, defines "Direct Evidence" as (page 14):

" information item that answers a research question all by itself.  When we consider the possibility that an information item describes what actually occurred we are using that information item as direct evidence."

And "Indirect Evidence" as:

" ...a set of two or more information items that suggest an answer to a research question only when they are combined."

The discussion on the TGF board quickly went to "it depends on the question being asked."  Example questions and answers included (my interpretation, I hope I got them right!):

*  With a question of "How old was John Doe on 1 June 1850?" an answer of 49 years old is "Direct Evidence" (because it answers the question - it doesn't have to be exact, or correct).

*  With a question of "What year was John Doe born if he was age 49 on 1 June 1850?" (and therefore he was born in either 1800 or 1801), the answer would be "Direct Evidence" (because it answers the question, but not exactly).

*  With a question of "What was John Doe's birth date if he was age 49 on 1 June 1850?"  The answer would be "Indirect Evidence" because it does not answer the question exactly.

*  With a question of "What is the birth date of John Doe if he died on 1 June 1850 and his age at death was 49 years, 4 months and 3 days?" the answer would be "Direct Evidence" (because this single piece of information provides enough data to permit calculation of an exact birth date).

*  With a question of "What is John Doe's birth date?" if a death certificate says the birth date was 29 January 1801, the answer would be "Direct."

Elizabeth Shown Mills added this in the discussion:

"If we assume that direct evidence gives a full answer and anything less than that is INdirect, then we have simplified both our expectations and our research. If we redefine INdirect as "something that addresses the question but doesn't give a full answer," then our focus--and our research  methodology--stays at base level."

In my assignment of Direct or Indirect Evidence to source citations that provide information about an exact date (day-month-year), I've been using "Direct" for information that states a specific day-month-year, and "Indirect" for information that requires additional information to determine a specific day-month-year.  

My practice has been to assign "Indirect" to the first four examples above if the question was "What is John Doe's birth date?" My view was that I needed more information to determine an exact day-month-year in the first three cases, and that I need to make a calculation in the fourth case (since there were two different pieces of information - a death date and an age at death).  I find age at death quite a bit in the Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1915 collections and use them to determine birth dates.  Some gravestones list a date of death and an age at death also. 

Is a death record that includes both a death date and an age at death one piece of information or two?  I've been treating it as two, but it seems like it's one now to me.  Am I quibbling over a small point?

The TGF message board also highlighted that assigning Direct or Indirect to evidence items was not the most important factor here - the purpose of the assignment of the term is to help the researcher evaluate all of the available evidence and apply the Genealogical Proof Standard to draw a soundly reasoned conclusion that answers the question at hand.  

Elizabeth Shown Mills summed it up nicely with:

"Success with a BCG portfolio--indeed, success with genealogical problem solving--doesn't hinge upon learning textbook definitions or knowing what label to apply to something. What makes us successful is (a) the ability to recognize evidence that doesn't jump off the page and slap us in the face; and (b) the ability to use that unobvious information to solve a problem. "

I encourage interested readers to read the entire thread of responses.  The TGF message board is one of the best freely available forums to ask questions and receive answers from knowledgeable and respected genealogists.  

Am I correct with my assignments of Direct vs. Indirect in the five examples above?  What examples do you have that you are puzzled about?

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver

15 Jul 16:25

PERSI to Move to FindMyPast?

by Dick Eastman
PERSI (the PERiodical Source Index) is a great tool for genealogists. It is the world’s largest and most widely used subject index to genealogy and local history periodicals written in English and French (Canada). The collection dates from approximately 1800 and contains more than 3 million searchable records from nearly 10,000 different periodicals indexed by staffers at the Allen County Public Library. Since its release in 1986, PERSI has gained wide recognition as an essential tool for high-quality genealogy research.

Periodicals indexed in PERSI include magazines, newsletters, journals, and other publications produced as a series that deal with topics of interest to genealogists and family historians. Each year, these publications add thousands of records, histories, articles, pedigrees, and other materials that can point researchers to new or obscure sources, record types or repositories, or family histories. PERSI gives family historians a way to learn of and access these materials, which otherwise may not be easy to find.

PERSI has been produced by the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana since 1986 with new additions being made monthly.

The first volumes of PERSI were printed as books, eventually published as about 30 volumes that went from 1996 back to 1847. The Allen County Public Library later switched to publishing on CD, which dropped the price dramatically, making it affordable to individuals. While the price dropped dramatically, the increase in sales made up for the lower prices.

About the same time, the library began working with what was then a small startup company called Ancestry. Most of us know that the company has since grown into a genealogy powerhouse. PERSI was Ancestry’s first product. Ancestry paid ACPL for the index, then charged its customers for access to it.

In 2006, the library contracted with Heritage Quest to publish PERSI. While still available to the general public, Heritage Quest is only available through participating libraries.

According to an article by Dan Stockman, published in the (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette, the Allen County Public Library is working with Brightsolid, an online publishing firm in the United Kingdom. Brightsolid is the parent company of FindMyPast and a number of other genealogy sites. Dan Stockman's article also states that Brightsolid hopes to do something no American firm has been able to do: Link the index to the full text of the article.

The library’s collection is so big, the index now contains about 2.5 million citations, and ACPL adds about 100,000 more a year.

You can read a lot more about the beginnings of PERSI and especially about the work of Michael Clegg, associate director of the Allen County Public Library, at
13 Jul 15:07 Has NEW "Save to Ancestry" Feature - FAIL!

by Randy Seaver
I received this in an email from Fold3 about their new feature - you can save a record to a person in your Ancestry Member Tree by clicking a link.


When you discover an ancestor's record on Fold3, have you ever wished you could link it to a family tree on Well, your wish has come true!
Whenever you see a green "Save to Ancestry" button above a document or on a Fold3 memorial page, you can link that document or page directly to someone's profile on Ancestry. The lure is hard to resist with this eye-catching green button.

The process is effortless and intuitive. When you find a document you want to attach to someone you've already recorded in a family tree, simply click the "Save to Ancestry" button and follow the instructions.
You'll be asked to log into your account, and then you'll see a drop-down list of your trees. Locate the tree you wish to save the document to, begin typing the name of the person to whom the record should be attached, choose the correct name from the list that appears, and then press save. Yes, it's that easy.
You'll then be given a choice of closing the window and continuing your search on Fold3, or viewing the profile of the person you attached the record to on Ancestry. If you choose the latter, you'll be taken to the profile page of the person you were just linking to where you can view the record link. It will appear under  "Source Information" on the right-hand side of the page as a citation link to Fold3. The document image is not added to your ancestor's profile, but the link is. If you click that link, you'll return to Fold3 where the image appears immediately in the Fold3 viewer.
You will also find a list of all Fold3 document links you've attached to someone's profile under "Source Citations" within the Facts and Sources tab on the tree. If you also want to see the actual document image, download it from Fold3 and then upload it through "Add Media" on the profile page.
If you've created a memorial page on Fold3, you can also add it to your ancestor's profile page on simply by clicking the "Save to Ancestry" button at the top of the page. Never has it been so easy to bring all your sources together in one place.

Watch the "Save to Ancestry" tutorial, along with other helpful video tutorials, in the Fold3 Training Center and learn more ways to make the most of your discoveries on Fold3.
That sounds really easy and useful. I watched the "Save to Ancestry" tutorial just to make sure I couldn't foul it up.
I went to, and searched for Martin Carringer in the Revolutionary War Pension Files.  Here is the screen in Fold3 for the first page of his Pension File:

There's the big green "Save to Ancestry" button above the image, over to the right.  I clicked on it, and a popup window opened showing my user name.  I selected one of my trees, which contains Martin Carringer, from the dropdown list, and started typing the name:

The video said that it would show me candidate persons to pick as I typed.  It didn't.  I got to the end of the name, and waited.  I waited for 15 minutes.  Nothing.
I tried it again.  I tried other pages.  Nothing.  I signed out of and signed back in.  Tried it again.  Nothing.  Waiting.  Still.  It's been 45 minutes of waiting now (I did go do other, more useful, things while I was waiting).  
I'll try again another day.  Maybe they're overloaded.  Maybe they've flagged my account so that i'll complain about it.  Maybe users have to be allowed to use it.  I have no clue.  I expect that a feature like this will work when I try it out after a public announcement.  Frustration!
Here's a screen shot from my Ancestry Member Tree containing Martin Carringer (1758-1835):

I had really high hopes for this - these records are golden.  Maybe it will be ready to use the next time I try. 
Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver
11 Jul 14:45

So the Parish Council Knocked the Headstones Over…

by Leland Meitzler

The following teaser is from an article posted in the July 4, 2013 edition of
Councillor Philip Owen by the overturned headstones

Nuthall Parish, Nottinghamshite, UK: FAMILIES thought vandals had run amok in a cemetery when around 50 headstones were knocked over. Some were in tears when they saw the state of graves at Nuthall Cemetery in New Farm Lane.

But the “culprit” was Nuthall Parish Council. One shocked woman, who did not want to be named, was convinced vandals were to blame. Then she saw messages attached to each headstone explaining that the council had moved the headstones for health and safety reasons….

In 2000 a six-year-old boy from Harrogate was killed when a sandstone headstone fell over. And, in 2003, a nine-year-old boy collecting conkers in Burnley was crushed.

Read the full article.

11 Jul 14:44

Why the New ‘Holocaust Music’ Is an Insult to Music—and to Victims of the Shoah

by James Loeffler

In the never-ending search for ways to remember the Holocaust, the newest media contrivance to appear is “Holocaust Music.” National Public Radio recently profiled an Italian conductor who has embarked on a quixotic campaign to record every note of music composed inside a Nazi concentration camp. Two months ago, New York’s Lincoln Center played host to the Defiant Requiem, a traveling revue that presents a dramatic reenactment of a performance of Verdi’s Requiem that took place in the Terezin concentration camp during World War II. The concert tour has crisscrossed the globe, with headquarters in a summer institute in the Czech Republic. A related documentary film has aired on PBS. On the face of it, these artistic efforts certainly sound legitimate. Aren’t they merely the musical analogue to the literature depicting the horrors of the Holocaust?

They are not. In fact, I’d argue that these efforts represent a tragically misconceived approach that distorts the memory of the Holocaust and slights the very musicians that they purport to honor.

Continue reading "Why the New ‘Holocaust Music’ Is an Insult to Music—and to Victims of the Shoah" at...

10 Jul 14:58

The maybe anniversary

by Judy G. Russell

The odd history of the 14th amendment

Today is the 145th anniversary of the ratification of the 14th amendment.

Unless maybe it wasn’t ratified until the 21st.

Or maybe even the 28th.

It depends on how you count, you see, and on who’s doing the counting.


   Ratified amendment pre-certification, 1866–1868
   Ratified amendment pre-certification after first rejecting it, 1868
   Ratified amendment post-certification after first rejecting it, 1869–1976
   Ratified amendment post-certification, 1959
   Ratified amendment, withdrew ratification (rescission), then re-ratified
   Territories of the United States in 1868, not yet states

The amendment was proposed in Congress on the 13th of June 1866,1 and received by the Department of State on the 16th of June.2

That receipt by the State Department was what triggered the process of sending the amendment to the states for ratification. Like any amendment, it needed three-fourths of the states to ratify it,3 and with 37 states then in the Union, the approval of 28 states was required.

The first to ratify was Connecticut, on 25 June 1866.4 And a string of other northern states followed in 1866 and 1867:

Connecticut Jun 25, 1866
New Hampshire Jul 6, 1866
Tennessee Jul 19, 1866
New Jersey Sep 11, 1866
Oregon Sep 19, 1866
Vermont Oct 30, 1866
Ohio Jan 4, 1867
New York Jan 10, 1867
Kansas Jan 11, 1867
Illinois Jan 15, 1867
West Virginia Jan 16, 1867
Michigan Jan 16, 1867
Minnesota Jan 16, 1867
Maine Jan 19, 1867
Nevada Jan 22, 1867
Indiana Jan 23, 1867
Missouri Jan 25, 1867
Rhode Island Feb 7, 1867
Wisconsin Feb 7, 1867
Pennsylvania Feb 12, 1867
Massachusetts Mar 20, 1867
Nebraska Jun 15, 18675

And that’s where things sat until early in 1868, when things went wonky.

On the 15th of January, 1868, Ohio changed its mind and rescinded its ratification of the 14th amendment. It was joined in that on-again-off-again vote by New Jersey on the 24th of March 1868. In the meantime, on the 16th of March, Iowa had ratified the amendment.6

Arkansas ratified on 6 April, Florida on 9 June, North Carolina on 4 July, and Louisiana and South Carolina on 9 July.7

So… as of the 9th of July 1868, 28 states had ratified the 14th amendment. But two had changed their minds. And nobody was entirely sure what that meant. Secretary of State William Seward sent a certification to Congress on the 20th of July in which he took the position that it was “a matter of doubt and uncertainty whether such resolutions are not irregular, invalid, and therefore ineffectual for withdrawing the consent of the said two States, or of either of them, to the … amendment…”8

And he then hedged his bets:

I … do hereby certify that if the resolutions of the legislatures of Ohio and New Jersey ratifying the … amendment are to be deemed as remaining of full force and effect, notwithstanding the subsequent resolutions of the legislatures of those States, which purport to withdraw the consent of said States from such ratification, then the … amendment has been ratified…9

That’s how today could be the 145th anniversary of the amendment. The 28 states needed would all have ratified it by the 9th of July.

And there are two different ways to think of the 21st of July as the anniversary. First, Congress went ahead on the 21st, in reliance on Seward’s certification, and passed a joint resolution declaring that the amendment had been ratified.10

And by that date, two more states had ratified the amendment. Alabama ratified the 14th amendment on the 13th of July,11 so that’d make up for Ohio. And Georgia ratified it on the 21st of July,12 and that’d make up for New Jersey.

So you can count the 21st because that’s when Congress acted, or you can count the 21st because there were 28 states no matter what the story was with Ohio and New Jersey.

But what about the 28th? Well, see, Seward wasn’t so sure about Ohio and New Jersey. So after official word of Georgia’s ratification reached him, he sent Congress another certification on July 28th unconditionally saying the 14th amendment had passed.13

So maybe it’s the 28th that’s the anniversary.

But no matter when the anniversary really is, the amendment itself is one of the most far-reaching ever adopted. It provides, in § 1, that:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.14

And just think of the lovely records that kind of language has led to…


Image: Wikimedia Commons, user Snowfire.

  1. Joint Resolution (no. 48) proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” 14 Stat. 358 (16 June 1866); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 8 Jul 2013).
  2. Ibid., 14 Stat. at 359.
  3. See U.S. Constitution, Article V.
  4. Ratification of Constitutional Amendments,” U.S. Constitution Online ( : accessed 9 Jul 2013).
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Certification of William H. Seward, 15 Stat. 707-708 (20 Jul 1868).
  9. Ibid., 15 Stat. at 708.
  10. Congressional Globe, 21 July 1868, at 4295-4296; digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 8 Jul 2013).
  11. Ratification of Constitutional Amendments,” U.S. Constitution Online ( : accessed 9 Jul 2013).
  12. Ibid.
  13. Today in History: July 28,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 8 Jul 2013).
  14. §1, 14th Amendment.
09 Jul 13:38

Copyright, plagiarism, and citing your sources

by Michael Hait, CG(sm)

UPDATE 13 March 2014: Apparently the posts referenced (and linked) in the SlideShare presentation bleow have been removed. Though the offending party has started a new blog, it does not appear that the posts based on my content have also been migrated to the new site (yet). MH

The Code of Ethics of the Association of Professional Genealogists contains two similar statements:

[I therefore agree to:]

2. . . . fully and accurately cite references. . . .

4. . . . refrain from knowingly violating or encouraging others to violate laws and regulations concerning copyright. . . .[1]

At first glance these two issues seem to say more or less the same thing. “Cite your sources”—a refrain I have often repeated in this blog and elsewhere.

There are, however, two separate issues at play here: one of documentation, the other of attribution.

Documentation is ultimately a good research practice, but not necessarily an ethical issue. Is it unwise to jot down that birth date on your family group sheet without noting the death certificate making the claim? Of course it is. One will quickly regret not citing the sources for information. Is it unethical not to cite that death certificate? I’m not so sure that it is.

Violating copyright laws, on the other hand, is definitely unethical (and illegal). Plagiarizing someone else’s work is unethical. Quoting someone else’s work without attribution is unethical. Even copying large portions of someone else’s work with attribution is unethical. For those of us who make a living from our intellectual property, plagiarism and copyright violation quite literally constitute theft.

There simply is no legal or ethical way to copy someone else’s intellectual property. “Fair use” does not allow wholesale copying, despite what one might think–even with a citation of the source. Without attribution, any copying whatsoever  is unacceptable.

Copyright violation and plagiarism have been discussed quite a bit among genealogists lately. Rather than repeat all of the information, I will simply provide this list of recent articles on the subject, most by authors far more knowledgeable on the subject than myself. If you write content for a blog or website or society newsletter or anywhere else as part of your genealogical career, please take the time to educate yourself on this subject.

The following posts all involve recent cases alleging copyright:

Edited to add the following two additional links:


[1] “Code of Ethics,” Association of Professional Genealogists ( : accessed 6 July 2013).

09 Jul 13:34

What is Wrong with this Tombstone?

by Dick Eastman
Feb31OnTombstoneLook closely at the picture to the right. Do you see what is wrong with it? (You can click on the image to see a larger picture.)

Christiana Haag's gravestone is in the Old Mission Church Cemetery in Upper Sandusky, Ohio.
09 Jul 13:25

Evidence-based Genealogy

by Philip Trauring
Most people who research their family carry out conclusion-based genealogy. Entire family trees are built solely based on conclusions, i.e. who a person was, when they were born, where they died, etc. sometimes with little evidence to back up the conclusions being made. While building a tree without sources does not necessarily mean the tree has faulty information, it is impossible to show what is right and wrong. Where we especially run into trouble is when we try to collaborate with others in our research. Most of the popular genealogy programs that people use (Family Tree Maker, Legacy Family Tree, MacFamilyTree, Master GenealogistReunionRootsMagic, etc.) are conclusion-based. One can use them to build a 10,000-person tree without entering a single piece of evidence. That's not to say anything bad about these programs, they all have the ability to cite sources for each piece of data added to their databases. The problem is they do not require citations.

There is another model for genealogy research – evidence-based genealogy. This model starts with the sources. Instead of the individual being the core of the tree, the sources become the core. In most cases these programs are designed as a kind of companion app for conclusion-based apps like those mentioned above. The focus of these apps are not producing nice charts, but create a solid chain of evidence to back up each piece of information you are researching.

One of the ways evidence-based applications work is by developing a series of source templates for all kinds of sources, insuring you extract all the information out of a source when entering it into the system. One example of this are templates for each year of a census having their own templates, as each year the questions were slightly different.

In general the applications available for doing evidence-based genealogy seem to be intended as companion apps to traditional conclusion-based apps like those mentioned above. Below I've linked to the evidence-based applications I was able to find under active development, with blurbs from their web sites describing their applications. My observations follow this listing.

What is Clooz 3?
  • A Program to Consolidate, Index, Analyze and Report Document and Image Data
  • A Family History and Genealogy Research And Analysis Tool
  • A Windows Desktop Application
Why Should I Use Clooz 3?
  • Gather, Analyze and Validate Clues and Evidence About Potential or Suspected Ancestors
  • Analyze Family History Challenges Using Factual Document-based Research Strategies
  • Organize and Index Collected Documents and Images
  • Support "One Name" Surname Studies (large or small)

Welcome to Custodian 3, the database software which helps you to store, index and organise the information you have gathered from all kinds of family history records.

Use Custodian for general family history research, one-name studies, indexing projects, local history and one-place studies. Keep a computer-based version of all your paper records, documents and lists in one place and minimise endless searching for paperwork.

A New Kind of Genealogy Tool
  • Evidentia is genealogy software created from the ground up for the user who wants to take their research to the next level. It turns what you know into evidence you can use.
  • Too many conflicting sources about Grandpa William’s birth? Evidentia presents all your evidence on one screen, making it easier for you to separate fact from fiction.
  • Not sure how strong your evidence about when and where your great grandparents were married is? Evidentia’s reports help you to identify the gaps in your sources.
  • Evidentia is the software program that will help you feel confident in your research.
The Family Pack is an ambitious open source project to create a new cross platform genealogy program. The project will involve designing a new genealogical database, creating a program to make use of it, and finally, organising ways of providing some standard universal data sets. 
The database design owes much to the impressive GenTech Genealogical Data Model. One idea taken directly from the GenTech GDM is that of Personas. A personas is a small separate particles of information that relates to a person. We can collect these personas from separate sources and then build them up to create individual person. The database uses the concept of a Reference Statement to link together Personas, Events, Dates, Places and Attributes (Characteristics) records. This idea is loosely based on the GenTech's Assertion record. The Reference Statement is the heart of the new database and provides a very flexible way of entering and organizing evidence. It can consist of any typed statement and could be a simple statement by the researcher reviewing other statements, a transcription of a historical documents (certificates, census, parish records etc.), a description of a photograph or transcribed tape recording.

What is GenQuiry? 
GenQuiry is designed to help you manage your family history research. It was born through my own experience of researching families in Wales, trying to make sure that I made the most of my visits to archives 300 miles away, keeping track of the searches I had done and the clues I still had to follow up, and recording my reasoning for deciding which was my ancestor out of three "John James" all living in the same small Pembrokeshire parish around 1800! 
If you've ever had problems:
  • keeping track of searches you've made — and their results, positive or negative — and the searches that you plan to make
  • planning what to do on a visit to some archives, making sure you don't forget anything vital at the far end of that long trip
  • keeping track of which sources are relevant for a particular place and how to access them, so that you don't overlook an important clue because the existence of a source slipped your mind
  • citing your sources consistently, so that you always know where a particular piece of information came from
  • recording how you reached a conclusion from a variety of conflicting evidence
then GenQuiry may help you. 
GenQuiry can support: family history research, one-name studies, one-place studies or research into more general topics. You can use any or all of the features, to suit the way you choose to work, and integrate it with your existing physical or electronic filing system.
While some of these applications have been around for a long time, more of them are new. This category is emerging, and I suspect there will be more applications and services that will enter this space in the future. Ideally the features of these apps would be combined with a mainstream conclusions-based application, to allow one to carry out both aspects of genealogy - person-centric conclusion-based genealogy, and document-centric evidence-based genealogy.

Clooz has been around since 1997, and is available for Windows only. Originally developed by Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens, it was sold in 2011 to Ancestral System LLC, which developed version 3 in 2012. Clooz has a mailing list, Facebook page and a separate Rootsweb mailing list.

Custodian has been around almost as long as Clooz, coming on the market in 1998. It is also Windows-only. Developed by husband-wife team Sonja and Phil Smith, the latest major version, Custodian 3, was released in 2003. Developed in the UK, it is my impression the application is a bit skewed towards UK sources, but it does provide many templates for sources in the US and elsewhere. I couldn't find any community forum or social media page for Custodian.

Evidentia is a relatively new application, released in December 2012. Its developer, Ed Thompson, previously developed a Wordpress plugin called RootsPersona for publishing family trees online. Developed using JavaFX, the application can run on Mac, Windows and even Linux. Evidentia is under very active development, and it is evolving quickly. One thing the author has tried to do recently is bring his templates in line with the formats from Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Explained. Evidentia is also designed to support the Genealogical Proof Standard. Lastly, Evidentia has a very active Google+ Community where the author interacts directly with users. It has been interesting to see the fast evolution of Evidentia, and I'm looking forward to see how it continues to evolve. One thing the author recently mentioned in the Google+ community is that version 2 will directly support images of sources, something it does not currently do.

The Family Pack is an open-source evidence-based genealogy program being developed by Nick Matthews. The application is roughly based on the GenTech Genealogical Data Model which was developed by NGS. Currently it is in pre-alpha, meaning it's not ready for regular use. It's also currently only being released for Windows, although it is being designed to be compiled for Linux and Mac as well (it is written using the cross-platform framework wxWidgets). The first version released was only a few months ago in March. It is still a long way from reaching production stage, but it's worth keeping track of...

GenQuiry is a Windows application being developed by Helen Wright. It is based on Microsoft Access, and thus is unlikely to make it to another platform. It is currently in beta testing, and supported by donations. It's not clear if that model will continue after the program reaches production. The first beta was released in January 2012. One can communicate with the author in the applications' forum. GenQuiry was a finalist in the Rootstech 2012 Developer's Challenge.

I haven't used any of these applications, but I hope to work evidence-based genealogy into my genealogy workflow soon. Have you used any of these programs? Do you know of others? What do you think of them? The authors mentioned are certainly welcome to chime in as well.
05 Jul 12:59

Explaining metadata collection with Alan Turing, Theresa May and Winston Churchill

by Cory Doctorow

My latest Guardian column is a one-act historical drama about metadata, starring Winston Churchill, Alan Turing and UK Home Secretary Theresa May:

May: Mr Turing and his colleagues have laboured hard with every hour that God has sent, but try as they might, they can extract nothing of use from the Enigma cipher.

Churchill: (roaring) Nothing? All these years, all this work, and you have nothing?

May: Well, not precisely nothing, prime minister. The lads have got far enough that they are able to extract "meta-data," but I stress again that this is of no strategic import and would in no way help us to compromise the foe.

Churchill: Meta-data? Tell me more of this meta-data? Is it a Greek word?

(May turns to Turing, who wipes his palms on his trousers)

Metadata – a wartime drama

30 Jun 16:05

DNA: life after death

by Judy G. Russell

Collecting DNA samples at death

DNA testing was something that could always be done.

Down the road. Someday. When there was time.

And then, suddenly, there was no more time.

So reader Pat Rand and her husband turned to the funeral director they had chosen for his mother’s funeral and asked for help in getting that last precious sample of DNA.

And ran into a brick wall.

And so, Pat asks, “Do the next of kin of a deceased person have the right to ask a funeral director to take a DNA sample after death? It wasn’t that my mother-in-law wouldn’t have given one if we had asked earlier, it’s just that suddenly I realized it was the last chance we had to get one. The funeral director went absolutely ballistic on me, did everything but froth at the mouth when I asked.”

Oh brother. Was that funeral director ever wrong. Because Pat, her husband and their family should have gotten that sample taken, they should have had the chance to preserve that last genetic connection with the older generation that would live on after their loved one’s death.

And all it would have taken is what you see here: a couple of q-tips and a paper bag. No drawing of a blood sample. No surgical taking of a tissue sample. Just a couple of q-tips and a paper bag.

Let’s deal with the practicalities first. Obtaining a DNA sample from a deceased person is a very simple thing to do. I put the question to Bennett Greenspan, president of Family Tree DNA, the one DNA testing company for genealogy that doesn’t require saliva for its testing.

And he advises that all that’s needed is to have the mortician use a q-tip and scrape inside the cheek of the deceased. Getting one sample from each side of the mouth is best; it gives the greatest chance of collecting enough DNA on the swab.

But, Greenspan says, there’s nothing difficult about handling the swabs after the samples are taken: “Just let the swabs air dry, place in a paper baggie, not plastic, and mail to us with instructions.” (You can contact Family Tree DNA for more information using the contact information here.)

Now let’s turn to the law.

There is no law anywhere in the United States that I could find that bars the next-of-kin from authorizing the taking of a DNA sample from their loved one except, perhaps, in the extraordinary situation where the loved one had expressly stated in writing beforehand that he or she did not want DNA testing to be done.

How could there be such a law? The next-of-kin get to decide what’s done with the body: will there be a burial? A cremation? And every state in the United States — without exception — allows the next-of-kin of a decedent to consent to organ donation.1

And this is pretty much the law around the world: either the next-of-kin can consent to what happens with the body parts or, in some jurisdictions, consent of the deceased is presumed.2

Compared to this grant of authority, taking a tiny bit of DNA on a q-tip is small potatoes. It’d hardly be illegal to do that when you can give away eyes, organs — even the entire body.

As noted, the one exception is where the person, when living, refused to consent to DNA testing. In the organ donation scenario, no means no and if your loved one has a written directive that says no, the law won’t allow the family to override that.3 (And conversely there are now laws in some states that prevent a family from overriding the loved one’s written directive that says yes.4)

American laws don’t speak specifically to that situation for DNA testing — but British laws do. The Human Tissue Authority there dictates that the express wishes of the person, while alive, will control (if the person had been asked and said no, that no remains in force). If the person never was asked, then the next of kin may certainly act.5

And in states that do have laws about genetic testing generally, there’s usually some provision for decisions by a legal representative of the tested person. For example, Oregon has one of the toughest genetic privacy laws in the nation, and it authorizes consent to be given by a person’s personal representative — meaning someone appointed by the court or, in order, the person’s spouse, adult children, parent, or adult siblings.6

This authority of the next-of-kin to act is generally recognized by funeral directors and others involved in the death process around the United States. In Ohio, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner accepts the consent from the decedent’s legal custodian and/or next-of-kin.7 The National Funeral Directors Association has an authorization form (online at the Virginia Funeral Directors Association website) for the collection of DNA samples, to be signed by the spouse or next-of-kin.

And by 2013, DNA testing was such a routine part of the funeral business that exhibitors at the industry’s 2013 convention offered preservation kits for sale.8

Moreover, because the funeral home represents the last clear chance to obtain a DNA sample, some industry representatives are advising that funeral directors may face civil liability if they don’t tell the families that they can get a sample at that time. One industry lawyer even advises funeral homes that they should get customers to “sign a form releasing the funeral home from any liability for claims that a DNA sample should have been taken.”9

It’s a darned shame that the Rands’ funeral director went absolutely ballistic when asked to get a DNA sample in this case. His actions deprived that family of a part of their genetic legacy that can’t be completely recovered by testing other family members. The family’s wishes should have controlled.

For the rest of us who may face this situation in the future, a word to the wise: get testing done now. But if time runs out, present the funeral director with your own signed authorization form to take a DNA sample … and a few q-tips and a paper bag.

  1. See “Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (1968),” “Anatomical Gift Act (1987),” and “Anatomical Gift Act (2006),” National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws ( : accessed 29 Jun 2013).
  2. See Table 1, Legislation by nation, in Rosenbaum, et al., “The authority of next-of-kin in explicit and presumed consent systems for deceased organ donation: an analysis of 54 nations,” Nephrology Dial Transplantation (June 2012) 27(6): 2533–2546; reprinted online, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health ( : accessed 29 Jun 2013).
  3. See generally “The Donation of Human Organs,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ( : accessed 29 Jun 2013) (“Even if the family want to donate, the deceased’s objection will veto retrieval”).
  4. See, e.g., N.Y. Public Health Law § 4310. Under that law, “you become a designated donor. It means that you are giving legal consent for the recovery of your organs, tissues and eyes for the purposes of transplantation and research at the time of your death. Your legally binding decision may not be overturned by any other person.” “What do you mean when you say this is a registry of legal consent?,” Frequently Asked Questions About the NYS Registry, New York Organ Donor Network ( : accessed 29 Jun 2013).
  5. See “Consent requirements – Part 2: Tissue from the deceased,” Code of practice, Human Tissue Authority ( : accessed 29 Jun 2013).
  6. See generally Oregon Rev. Stat. §§ 192.531-192.549, Genetic Privacy. And see Oregon Rev. Stat § 192.573, Personal representative of deceased individual.
  7. Deceased Patient Custodian/Next-of-Kin Consent for DNA Testing,” Cuyahoga County Regional Forensic Science Laboratory ( : accessed 29 Jun 2013).
  8. See “DNA Preservation Kits at ICCFA,The Family Plot blog, posted 22 Jun 2013 ( : accessed 29 Jun 2013).
  9. Harvey I. Lapin, “The Legal Obligation to Disclose DNA Sample Requirements to Families,” International Cemetery & Funeral Management, March-April 2003, reprinted at ( : accessed 29 Jun 2013).
28 Jun 16:27's 2 Percent Speak Up

by Diane
A radio station I listen to in the car does a contest where you have to guess something like "The average person doesn't do this on Mondays until 11:16 a.m." (The answer was "smile." Depressing.)

So my challenge to you is "Two percent of users have this in common."

Can you guess what it is?

They use the Old Search. Remember Old Search?

It's on its way out. sent the Old Search users a letter (read it on Dick Eastman's blog) on Wednesday announcing that Old Search would be discontinued as a separate search experience within the next six months.

The letter asks for the users' input into improvements that will bring together the Old and New search experiences into one search. It states that "Maintaining two systems limits the resources we can use to make improvements and increases the complexity of every improvement we try to make."

New Search was introduced in 2008, and that's the default you see when you log onto the site. It's hard to even find Old Search—it's a tiny link in the top right corner of the Search page:

The Advanced Old Search looks like this:

For comparison, here's the Advanced New Search:

It's easy to see why Old Search hung around so long: Those 2 percent who use it are extremely loyal to it, and vocal on Facebook (here's one example) and the blogosphere (see the comments on Dick's post).

Many of the Team Old Search comments I've seen say it's more accurate and finds specific records faster, with better-organized and fewer irrelevant results, and that more people would use it if it were more visible on the site (and if Old Search users weren't randomly rerouted back to New Search).

As for me, I haven't used Old Search in a long time. My usual technique is to use the Card Catalog to find the specific database I want to search, then add a place (filtered to the exact place or to a county plus surrounding counties) and/or an exact year of a life event (such as birth or residence) with a range of plus/minus several years.

Are you on Team Old Search or Team New Search? What's your take on this announcement?

28 Jun 11:15 Why Did A Good Idea Go the Way of the Flash Mob?

by Janice Brown
It’s close to midnight Some sap is dripping from my family tree Under computer screen light You see search results that make you want to flee You try to shriek But a zillion family hits just blur your vision You … Continue reading →
28 Jun 11:14


by (Bill West)
((If you are an subscriber you have received an email today 
announcing several changes to how our searches will function. Among them is
the end of Old Search. I tried New Search a few years back and disliked it. It
was frustrating to use and seemed to me to violate the "Keep It Simple" ideal
that makes it easier for me to deal with the internet. At any rate, Ancestry claims
only 2% of researchers use Old Search, yet it seems that many of my genealogy
friends are among that minority. So I'm speaking out on my displeasure with this
change in hopes others will add their voices.

I know change is inevitable, but as people often say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".

Here's my post from May 27th 2011 on the subject:))

It had been a really nice day, blessed with nice weather and a pleasant walk
in the woods. After I spent a few hours watching tv I settled in for sometime
working on a collateral line of my family, the Barrows. I was adding the
siblings of my 6x greatgrandfather Moses Barrows to my tree
with information from the book The Ancestors & Descendants of Asa
Freeman Ellingwood and Florilla (Dunham) Ellingwood
and then searching
Ancestry for records. I'd entered Samuel Barrows, then clicked on "search
rewcords"....and my pleasant day came to a screeching halt.

I was on the "new search" screen.

I don't like the "new search" screen. Not at all.

I looked in vain for the "use old search" link which I'd clicked on back when
"new search" was first introduced and continued using the "old search" right
up to this evening. Could Ancestry have decided to move everyone onto the
"new search" much in the same way Facebook handles such matters?

Speaking of which, I had Facebook up in another tab on Firefox. I made the
comment that "I hate  Ancestry "new search". Just saying" and several people
commented back that they agreed with me. A discussion started and Tina
Sansone helped me figure out how to get back to "old search". Phew! Thanks,

What surprised me was that at this late hour of the day(it was actually early in
the morning, after 1am)six of my fellow genealogists immediately agreed that
they didn't like "new search"either. I thought it was just me, grumpy old fart
that I am, who found it cumbersome and tedious to navigate but apparently that
is not the case.(and I haven't heard yet from my fellow East Coasters who were
still slumbering peacefully in bed at the time).

Now I know Ancestry and Family Search (who also is moving to a new "improved"
search engine) feel the need to  refine their sites, but  somebody has to say it:
not all change is good.  All the filters and search fields just clutter up things, make
it more confusing and more frustrating for users like myself.  The beauty of the
"old search" is its simplicity.  The most relevant items are right there at the top.
I still dig through the succeeding pages but I like having some of the answers
right there at the start of the search.

If this makes me a genealogical old fuddyduddy , well then, so be it, I'll just
happily fud and dud along in "old search" while you younger more hip folks
use "new search" and more power to you!

Just stay off my lawn, you dang kids!
28 Jun 11:11

Someone Help: A Personal Digital Un-Archive

by Bill LeFurgy

We don’t usually repost other’s content here, but this graphic is such a perfect illustration about the challenge of personal digital archiving that it deserves special attention. It’s from Doghouse Diaries.

Information graphic about personal digital archiving challenges

28 Jun 11:10

"Who Do You Think You Are?" 2013 Celebrity Lineup (Bazinga!)

by Diane
TLC has announced the full lineup of starpower on the fourth season of "Who Do You Think You Are?," which premiers Tuesday, July 23. TLC picked up the series after NBC dropped it last year.

These are the season's celebrity guests. I added a bit of info on where you might recognize them from and on their ancestry:
  • Zooey Deschanel:You may know this actress (she's pictured in the screenshot above) and musician as the quirky title character of “New Girl” on Fox. Her surname comes from her French paternal grandfather; she also has Swiss, Dutch, English and Irish roots.

  • Chris O'Donnell: As his parents’ surnames—O'Donnell and Rohs von Brecht—would suggest, this “NCIS: Los Angeles” actor (he also was on the big screen as Robin to batmen Val Kilmer and George Clooney) has Irish and German ancestry.

  • Christina Applegate:This “Married … with Children,”  and “Samantha Who?” actress was born into the business: Her parents are record company executive Robert W. Applegate and singer and actress Nancy Lee Priddy

  • Jim Parsons: The episode featuring this "Big Bang Theory" star (trademark line: "Bazinga!") is the one I'm most anticipating. BBT is a favorite in our house, and I'd love to see what Parsons is like when he steps out of the role of Sheldon Cooper. The Houston native reportedly has English, Scottish, French and German heritage.

  • Cindy Crawford: German, English and French make up the bulk of this supermodel’s ancestry. She was “discovered” by a newspaper photographer as she detasseled corn in her DeKalb, Ill., hometown. Her appearance at the Connecticut State Library in May clued us in that she was filming for WDYTYA?

  • Trisha Yearwood: This country singer does it all: She's also an actress, cookbook author and host of her own cooking show on the Food Network. She was born in Monticello, Ga.
  • Chelsea Handler:A comedian, actress and talk show host from Livingston, NJ, Handler has a German Mormon mother and a Jewish father.
TLC's "Who Do YouThink You Are?" website is here.

Watch a short teaser for "Who Do You Think You Are?" season 4 here.

27 Jun 18:40 Changes Search Functionality and Removes Old Search

by Thomas MacEntee

ancestry ends old search

That’s right! More changes in genealogy technology! This time changes to various search functions at and the end of Old Search. Despite what the cover above looks like, there is no reason to panic and there are good reasons for change . . .

What The Changes at Will Mean

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call with product managers and saw a demo of the changes to search.  Not only was I impressed, but I was actually blown away by some of the new ways in which search results can be displayed.  For me, the most important features were those where you could customize what you did or didn’t want to see.  With any site that relies on Big Data and ways to display it,  I appreciate it when I site doesn’t “assume” what I want right away but allows me to select the data fields I want.

As noted in the email from to its users (see full email below), here are the anticipated changes:

  • More relevant search results with the best results at the top
  • Easier refining and control of your search results
  • Keeping a better history of the work you have done
  • Publishing more new content and more corrections to existing content
  • Performance improvements to return results faster

The Death of Old Search on

One change, which some might see as radical, is the removal of Old Search. I have to confess that I am still among the 2% of Ancestry subscribers who still rely upon Old Search.  I know that things changes, that platforms have to change in order to improve performance.  PAF is going away (understandable), Google Reader is going away (still blows my mind), and now Old Search.  I’m actually surprised it took so long; I know it isn’t easy to support two different search mechanisms and then continue to make changes to each.

During the conference call, I and other genealogy bloggers on the call urged to “manage expectations” when it came to announcing the removal of Old Search and to get input from the community.  From the email below you’ll see that and I urge those users passionate about Old Search to click the survey link and send your feedback.

Technology Changes – Get Used To It

I’ll admit it isn’t easy even for a tech guy like me to keep up with changes in technology, and yes I get frustrated too.  But I’ve come to realize that I need to evolve and “change with the changes.” I also think about how my ancestors reacted to technology changes: the automobile, the telephone, etc.  Yes the changes seem to come more rapidly nowadays, but we use way more technology than our ancestors.

I look forward to the changes in search at and I’m keeping an open mind, especially knowing that they want feedback and want search mechanisms that best serves its user community.

* * *

Here is the text of the email to its users: is continuing our efforts to improve the search experience across and will be making changes to our search functionality in the upcoming months. Some features will be added and some will be discontinued. As part of the 2% of our subscribers that use the old search function on the site, we know that you are passionate about the search experience on and we are reaching out to you to get input on potential improvements. We hope you will take the opportunity to share your insights and feedback on our plans.

To identify which areas of the experience we should focus on this year, we have drawn on customer input, usage data, usage patterns and our old search function for inspiration. From all of that, we are looking at making your time on more productive by improving these areas of the search experience in 2013:

  • More relevant search results with the best results at the top
  • Easier refining and control of your search results
  • Keeping a better history of the work you have done
  • Publishing more new content and more corrections to existing content
  • Performance improvements to return results faster

As we begin to make these improvements, we will no longer maintain two separate search systems for the site. Maintaining two systems limits the resources we can use to make improvements and increases the complexity of every improvement we try to make. Additionally, continuing to maintain the two systems limits our ability to direct more investment into other areas like adding more record collections and correcting existing collections.

Based on that, as a part of the work this year we will be bringing together the two search experiences into a single search experience on We hope to bring forward the best features of both the old and new search systems into the consolidated experience to facilitate the transition for our users and to improve the overall search experience. We expect to discontinue the old search function as a separate experience within the next 6 months.

As a user of the old search feature, we wanted to give you advance notice and let you influence the changes we are making in search. Please take this survey to share your feedback and ideas on key features to improve.

Best regards,
The Product Team

©2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee Changes Search Functionality and Removes Old Search is a post from All rights reserved.
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27 Jun 16:16

SCOTUS and the Genealogist

by Michael J. Leclerc

The Supreme Court is often in the news for its decisions. Certainly today’s decisions have been a remarkable step forward for civil rights. But we often forget that these decisions actually filter down and make a huge impact in records for genealogical research. When the court makes decisions, oftentimes the ramifications impact recordkeeping.




Let us take today’s decisions about DOMA and Proposition 8 for example. How will this one decision of the court impact recordkeeping, and thus resources for future genealogists. In some ways, it will actually reduce the number of records available in the future. In others, it will increase them.

For example, same-sex married couples until now have been required to file three different tax returns. Their state taxes would be filed jointly as a married couple. But federal returns were required to be filed separately. Now, they will be able to file a single, joint return. This reduces the number of tax records from three to two.

Of course there will now be many new marriage records as well. California is the most populous state in the U.S. In the coming years, millions of same-sex couple will now be able to get married. The multitude of complicated (and expensive) legal documents that were previously needed to ensure the rights of these couple will no longer be necessary. This includes many documents regarding parental rights.

Existing records will also become more accurate. Census records, voter lists, etc., currently do not correctly reflect relationships. Now couples would be able to accurately state that they are legally married. American citizens will now be able to sponsor their foreign-born same-sex spouses for citizenship.

The list goes on and on. Supreme Court decisions may seem far removed from your day to day life, but they often have real-life impact. And part of that impact pertains to records, both old records that will no longer be kept, and new records that will occur because of those decisions. Future genealogists will have volumes of paperwork to work with to more fully document our lives.

27 Jun 12:36

I Made Metadata Fun: A True Story

by Susan Manus

The following is a guest post by Madeline Sheldon, Junior Fellow with NDIIPP.

Most of you who follow this blog have an interest in digital preservation and will already be familiar with the following information. This particular post is more for the individuals who are just beginning to understand the implications of their digital footprint and what it means to store/preserve and retrieve their data.

Recently, an acquaintance of mine asked about the progress of my research, curious to learn more about the nature of my work. I did my best to relay some of my recent findings about digital preservation stewardship, but when her eyes started to glaze over, I knew I had to employ a different approach. I tried to think of topics that would translate easily into popular culture without losing my friend’s attention, or confusing her with technical jargon. I had the most luck with metadata, mostly because this person had heard mention of its existence in the news and wanted to hear more about how this “new” term existed within her own life.

In order to make metadata relatable, I explained that she inadvertently created metadata every single day by logging onto her favorite social media site, sending an email, text or even taking photos with her digital camera. I used a metadata guide that I found online, followed by real-time demonstrations to further illustrate my point. Together we looked at source code from her newest social media update, pointing towards the time stamp and text of her most recent post:

In the same way, I explained, emails and text messages create metadata which highlights sender/receiver information, such as location, and the day/time a person sends/receives a new message. When taking photographs with a digital camera, the resulting image often has data encoded into the file, such as size, resolution and camera make/model.

This revelation piqued her interest, though she still didn’t fully comprehend why I needed to relate metadata to my research with digital preservation planning. I did my best to keep my explanation as simple as possible, using digital photographs as a relatable example. Digital material, I explained, is not a stable medium, eventually degrading or becoming obsolete. Cultural institutions dedicated to digital stewardship work to prevent this by creating policies or strategies within their organization to plan for long-term preservation of this material. The use of metadata is a major component in this process because it holds valuable, descriptive information, which allows the digital object to be accessed or discoverable in the future.

After our conversation, I felt a sense of accomplishment because I made metadata fun and relatable to a person completely outside of my profession, which rarely happens. Despite this, I think the conversation went so well because metadata appears to be a hot topic at the moment, though that may (or may not) change in the future.

Whatever the case may be, I can revel in the satisfaction that I successfully brought a new convert to the (meta) side.

26 Jun 12:57

Thoughts on DNA Testing

by James Tanner
I got a comment recently that I thought was worth commenting on:
You said "We are not talking about science here. I can't conduct an independent experiment and validate your findings." 
Two years ago this argument may have been mostly true. 
Today, genealogists do have the ability to scientifically verify the results of their paper "proofs". DNA does not lie. Autosomal DNA testing and the tools developed for working with this data is available now. It allows us to scientifically prove the validity of our methodology findings.

It is not cheap ($100 to $200 range depending on current sales), but it is getting there very fast. It is already less then the cost of traveling to a distant repository.

It does require the participation of other descendants, but social networking and on-line trees make them easier to find then ever. 
It does require time and does not replace paper based proofs, but it certainly is science and it can produce your "proof".
Hmm. You may or may not have noticed that I stay well away from certain topics. The reasons for this are complex. For example, I am an active and participating member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a Church Service Missionary at the Mesa FamilySearch Library, but I do not usually comment in this Blog on either Church doctrine or Church procedures. It is not they do not impact my beliefs and practices, but I have chosen to address the larger genealogical community as such from the standpoint of genealogy. In this position, I mirror the attitude of the FamilySearch Centers around the world. Normally and if things are operating properly, anyone should be able to utilize the FamilySearch Centers and Libraries without concern that they will be "proselytized" by the Mormon missionaries. I feel the same way about this Blog.

In the proper context, I am very much involved in all the religious aspects of my beliefs about genealogy. There is a time and a place for everything. Likewise, I refrain from expressing political viewpoints unless they relate directly to genealogy. However, I am very opinionated and vocal about the impact of law and legal matters on genealogy.

Now, about DNA. Does DNA testing allow us to "scientifically prove the validity of our methodology findings?" I think that this statement is a little too conclusive for my part. What people believe about the efficacy of DNA and what DNA testing actually establishes are sometimes two entirely different things.  It is true that DNA is "scientific" in the sense that it takes a fair amount of specialized knowledge and semi-medical procedures to establish relationships, but the results, without a sizable database sample, can be pretty tentative. Quoting from Wikipedia: Genealogical_DNA_test about each of the three different types of genealogical DNA testing:

SNP based testing: "The reliability of this type of test is dependent on comparative population size, the number of markers tested, the ancestry informative value of the SNPs tested, and the degree of admixture in the person tested." 
STR tests: "As most STR analysis examines markers chosen for their high intra-group variation, the utility of these particular STR markers to access inter-group relationships may be greatly diminished." 
Biorgeographical ancestry: "As studies from more populations are included, the accuracy of results should improve, leading to a more informative picture of one's ancestry."

Now, some people are overwhelmed with the results of their DNA testing and firm believers in its efficacy. Others, with less useful results are skeptical of the usefulness of the procedures."

As discussed and used by various DNA service providers, there are some things they do well and other things they do not do well. I strongly suggest that if you are interested in DNA testing, you become adequately educated as to the procedures, types of testing and validity of the results. 

As for me, I think that although it may be a scientific procedure and has been used for years in both criminal and civil actions, I am not personally convinced that it can provide generally useful genealogical evidence except in some very limited cases. For that reason and others, I have stayed away from getting involved either for or against the use of DNA in genealogy. For a fairly good analysis of the problems and challenges from a legal standpoint, see DNA Evidence

So I guess I would agree with the last statement made by the commentator above, DNA does not replace paper proofs.

25 Jun 13:51

Preparing for Family Interviews

by lineagekeeper

Family Interviews

The First Rule of Genealogy is to start with what you know, and work your way back.1c You’ve already identified what you know about your family and learned to record it on the proper forms. Now it’s time to learn how to gather information from family members.

Correspondence Types:

1.Oral interviews

  • In person
  • By telephone


  • Letters (snail mail)
  • E-mail


1.Tasks (in order)

  • Call your relative to ask her for help.
  • Mail pedigrees and family group sheets the same day you call. Whether you’re interviewing her personally or just corresponding by letter, the forms are the best way to begin.
  • A couple days after you think the forms have arrived, follow up with a phone call, preferably on Sunday when she’s not as busy. This call accomplishes three things:

1.Assures that the relative received the forms.

2.Gives you the opportunity to teach her how to fill out the forms.

3.Shows your relative that you’re going to keep calling her until she mails the forms.

2.Content of initial letter:

  • Initial Information — send the information you’ve already collected, such as partially filled-out forms, rough biographical sketches, etc
  • Why send the information you already have?

1.Sometimes things that you remember will spark your relative’s failing memory.

2.Mistakes in your records will goad even a tight-lipped relative into making corrections.

3.Wave a Carrot:

Show the relative that his information will serve as a launch pad, allowing you to then gather and share information that he doesn’t already have.

1.Tell him your class will teach you how to find records he has not yet found, like birth, marriage, and death certificates, family photographs, censuses, obituaries, wills, deeds, immigration records, diaries, and court records.

2.Ask him what he’d like to know about the family, and make arrangements to research these things for him.

3.Guerilla Tactics: Sometimes, the interviewee will not provide any new information because he is embarrassed about the family member in question. Living family members often withhold information on illegitimate births, abusive parents, or criminals. If the interviewee seems to be withholding information out of embarrassment, explain to him the following….

  • You are determined to find the records on the ancestor.
  • If you must rely on sources other than this interviewee, the records you find might paint a picture of the ancestor that doesn’t jive with the interviewee’s information. You will not be able to show his side of the story if he doesn’t share it with you.
  • In order to more accurately research and understand the ancestor, it is necessary to gather all sides of his story.
  • The interviewee can perhaps paint a truer picture of the ancestor by describing the factors, which may have motivated the ancestor’s behavior.

4.Priming the Pump:

  • If the interviewee is still reluctant to tell his story, gather some initial evidence from another source, which will prompt a response. After searching this other source, analyze the data thoroughly, and make some conclusions about it. Contact the interviewee, tell him your conclusions, and see if he has anything to add that will complete the picture.

5.Guilt Works.

  • "My children are beginning to ask me who they are, where they came from. It’s sad that I have no answer for them. Could you help me teach them about their family?"
  • "There’s an old saying that ‘Those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it.’ I thought it would be neat if my kids could learn about their ancestors so they could copy their successes and avoid their mistakes. Could you help me teach them?"

6.Special details by interview type




  • SASE: With your inquiry, send a self-addressed stamped envelope. Don’t expect your relatives to care as much as you do about your family. Make it as easy for them as possible.


  • Make your subject line compelling.

1.Don’t use "Genealogy info." or "Send me all your genealogy research."

  • This tells the receiver you’re interested in taking, but not giving, and that you haven’t narrowed your query to an easily answered question.

2.Use something like "Francis Ritchey: care to collaborate?" This tells the receiver that you’ll share your information with him, and that you’re asking him to send you his records on only one individual, which is an easy thing to do. If the receiver is gung-ho about researching Francis combines Francis’ name with the word “collaborate."


Oral Interviews


Before you call, tape an introduction. Include:

1.Interviewer’s name & location.

2.Respondent’s name, age, & location.

3.Relationship between interviewer & respondent.

4.Date of interview.

5.Example: "This is Michael T. Ritchey of Provo, Utah, interviewing Dora Mae (Harpley) Ritchey of Akron, Ohio. Today is 28 November 1997. Dora is the mother of my father Paul Kenneth Ritchey. She is 80 years old."


  • In many states, it is illegal to record a telephone conversation without permission. Regardless of local laws, however, it is always best to get permission. Failing to do so might cause the interviewee to quit granting interviews.


  • Instead of short-answer questions, ask open-ended ones.
  • Replace "Where did you go to school?" with "What was school like back then?" or "Describe a typical school day back then."


Cassette tapes  — Yes Cassette Tapes.  They can be stored for a very long time.

1.Use 60 or 90-minute cassettes. 120-minute tape is too thin and will break, melt, or stretch easily. The same goes for micro cassettes.

2.After recording, break the tabs off the cassette top. This keeps you from erasing the interview or recording over it. If you later decide to record over the interview, simply cover the tab holes with adhesive tape.


1.Bring extras

2.Rechargeable batteries are cheap and long lasting.

5.Face-to-face interviews

  • Sit at right angles to your subject, with the recorder between you. Psychologically, sitting directly across from the interviewee creates an antagonistic or adversarial atmosphere. Sitting at right angles makes things friendlier, like you’re on the same side. Bring photos, letters, and other artifacts that will jar the subject’s memory.

6.Telephone interviews

Types of microphones


  • This mic is plugged between the phone and the wall jack, and also plugged into the recorder.
  • Produces high quality sound. Takes power from phone line, not tape recorder. Not good for rural lines where electricity is spread thin. Since mic drains some of the remaining power from the line, the recording quality may drop. Fits in the palm of your hand. Costs about $20 at Radio Shack.

2.Suction cup

  • Stick the mic’s suction cup onto the outside of your phone’s earpiece, and plug the mic’s jack into your tape recorder. Has lower quality recording. Takes power from recorder, not phone line. Fits in your pocket. Costs about $9 at Radio Shack.
24 Jun 13:57

A Conversation About Genealogy Programs

by James Tanner
While eavesdropping recently, I overheard the following conversation. I decided it would judicious to change the names of the participants and also take out any localized references. I thought this conversation interesting because of the opposing viewpoints of the two participants. I have also taken out casual conversational interludes in the interest of cutting down on keystrokes. In the time honored tradition I inherited from the legal profession of referring to my conversationalists as "Doe" and "Roe." [Note: The gist of this entirely fictitious conversation is a composite of actual comments and conversations I have had in the past few months, as incredible as it may seem].

As I was saying, I have been working on my ***sen line for about ten years and I have finally color coded all of the collateral relatives and have each family reasonably, exhaustively documented in a separate binder.

I just can't imagine how you can function with that archaic paper filing system. I have Version ** of ** and I can tell you, everything you have done with your color coding is a complete waste of time and paper. My program automatically color codes all of the lines and I can create groups of families and tag them all separately. If I discover new information, I can easily move someone from one family to another.

i'm sorry, but the computer is not the solution to the world's problems. It is the cause of the world's problems. I can't stand to squint at that screen all day. I need to see my information on paper and feel it in my hands. I've seen all the problems you have had with your computer and there is no reason why I would want to assume all those problems.

Have you ever heard about the Luddites from 19th Century England? That's what I think of the paper genealogists.

Now, now, let's not get into an argument. I am fully aware of your technocrat tendencies. There is no law that says I have to even acknowledge the existence of computers. I can do everything I need to do perfectly well on paper. In fact, I just sent for copies of several documents and was told that they were only available on paper copies.

So where do you draw the line? You say you won't do computers, but you still use photocopies. Where do you think the copies come from? I'll tell you. Someone's computer database. So you are really using computers but just not acknowledging it.

I have no problem with your use of computers or anyone else using one. If I want to keep all my records on paper, why do you care? I can get along just fine, thank you.

But, in effect, all you are doing is pushing the computerization of your work to someone else. Computerization is inevitable. There is no way to stop technological change. Which brings up the issue of what will happen to your pile of paper when you die?

Although it is none of your business, I have a will that specifically provides that all my genealogy goes to the *** Society and they are looking forward to getting the information. I might point out that you have the same problem. The issue of what happens to your genealogy after you die has little or nothing to do with the format of the information.

I acknowledge the problem. But changing the subject doesn't solve the controversy. You have to admit that being able to make global changes to all your ancestor's information at the same time is far more efficient than having to go through each record and manually make the changes.

If you were careful and had a consistent format for your records, you wouldn't have to worry about editing the place names to be consistent.

At this point, I had to walk away from the conversation. I was impressed that both had stated valid positions. There seems to be no way to convincingly demonstrate that keep records on a computer is inherently superior to using a paper based system. Both can be inaccurate and both can be accurate. Both can be sourced properly or both can ignore sources. It is only when you look to modern values of time savings and are convinced that computerized records are more convenient, can you make a good case for computerization. I say let well enough alone. I you want to work with paper records, you should be allowed to do so without feeling inferior in any way. On the other hand, just because you use a computer does not validate your genealogy any more than the genealogy of those who do all their work by hand.
20 Jun 13:40

More than 80,000 Digitized Genealogy and Family History Publications are Now Available Online

by Dick Eastman
One of the greatest genealogy resources available today is the huge collection of digitized genealogy and family history publications from the archives of some of the most important family history libraries in the world. When I travel to various genealogy conferences and societies, I am often amazed at how many genealogists are unaware of these free resources. Not only are the books and other publications available free of charge, you don't even have to pay for gas to visit these libraries!

These digital books are available at:
Google Books
Allen County Public Library
Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library
Brigham Young University Hawaii Joseph F. Smith Library
LDS Church History Library
Family History Library
Houston Public Library - Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research
Mid-Continent Public Library - Midwest Genealogy Center
The menus and the search methods will obviously vary from one site to another. However, a few minutes spent exploring each site's holdings could pay big dividends.

I will say that most newcomers search only for names. In fact, I'll admit that I do the same on my first search on a new web site and I suspect a lot of other experienced genealogists do the same. However, after exhausting the search for names, most experienced genealogists start looking for other search terms. I always look for locations. Many times, I have been successful at finding some tidbit about an ancestor by searching for the county or the town in which he or she lived, even after a search for the person's name produced no results at all.

One of my more successful searches came from searching for the name of the small town in which my great-great-grandparents lived. I knew he was a farmer so I searched for his name plus the name of the small town in which they lived. I was rewarded with a scanned digital booklet of only 42 pages, printed in 1842, that listed all the farmers in the county, along with a detailed description of the farm and even the assessed value of the property. It listed the total acreage of their property, the number of acres under cultivation, the number of acres of woodlands, the number of barns and outbuildings, how many head of cattle, sheep, and swine that they owned, and even the number of chickens. It also listed the crops they sold. I learned a lot more about my great-great-grandparents in that small booklet than I ever found in census records!

When searching old books and other printed information, you have to be creative. You should search not only for locations, but also for fraternal organizations, religious affiliations, veterans' organizations, labor unions, and anything else you can think of.
19 Jun 20:56

Science Fiction and Genealogy

by James Tanner
Oh well, it was inevitable. Technology has progressed to the point where it is impacting stodgy old genealogy. (Where have you been for the past ten years or so? Technology has been impacting genealogy for a long time.) Of course, I knew that, but I have been reading science fiction for the past 50+ years and what is interesting is that science fiction did not predict the kinds of technological changes that impact genealogy. In fact, we are living in a post-science fiction world with changes no one could imagine in the science fiction of the past. No wonder so many of us, old and young, are having a difficult time adjusting to the almost daily technological changes. Even those people who tried to make money predicting the future have failed us.

As genealogists, what is our stock in trade? Information. In fact, we have been working on the same pile of information for the past couple of hundred years. What has changed? Our way of obtaining, storing and communicating that same information we have always pursued. But not all of us have embraced the new technology at the same rate. We have pre-technological folks living right along side early adopters with all the latest gadgets.

Of course new science fiction keeps being written and the most recent science fiction adopts all of today's gadgets. If you want to see the unforeseen changes, go back and read science fiction written before 1970; back when computers were huge and expensive and no one really believed you could call almost anyone on the telephone while standing in the middle of Grand Canyon. As I write this post on my laptop, I am far from home and simply had to open my computer to be connected to the entire electronic world.

So how has technology really impacted genealogy? Fundamentally, I think the biggest change is my ability to almost instantly access huge amounts of very specific information about thousands of families in my file. Speed does not always equal progress but the ability to search through files with thousands of individuals in a few seconds makes a huge difference as to how you manage your data and what you are able to learn from it. But I am still seeing people with huge notebooks crammed with hundreds of pages of photocopies and documents. When I ask about a particular person, they start thumbing through the pile so they can answer the question. Each question I ask creates the same flurry of searching through the pile. It is like the recurring story in science fiction where the primitive society is confronted with aliens in space ships. The cultural rift is enormous.

Why didn't science fiction foresee the huge changes in information technology? We shouldn't be at all surprised because the changes were unforeseen for some of the same reasons that we have people who are unable or unwilling to move from a paper based technology to a digital one. Believe me, I have gotten into that discussion often enough. The justifications for remaining with a paper based genealogy system are exhaustively enumerated; from a simple, "I prefer paper" to impassioned tirades about the evils of technology and changes in genealogy in particular. There are also those who will immediately disqualify any opinions I have on the subject due to the fact I am writing on a computer for those who use computers. Please do not assume I am denigrating your use of paper. I am merely commenting on the effects of the changes.

The real issue isn't whether or not to personally use the new technology, the question is whether or not you can still do genealogy without adopting the newer technologies either now or at some point in the future? How you answer this question depends on how you define genealogy. Let's suppose you were a budding genealogist and you were one of my relatives. You are a "purist" and decide to eschew any and all technology in favor of beautifully organized notebooks full of documents. How will you learn of my existence and all the work I have done and will do? It is unlikely that you will discover my work and even less likely the I will discover yours. We could live in the same town, attend the same church and even work in the same company, but we would never guess the other's interest in genealogy unless by chance, we happened to meet and talk about genealogy. What is missing is the convergence created and maintained by the revolution in information technology. No matter what I do online, if you do not go online, you will never see it or hear of it.

On the other hand, if my hypothetical relative decided to embrace the technological changes and get online, he or she would almost immediately run into me and my work. Why is that? Am I so presumptuous to think that the genealogical world revolves around me? Not so. I am merely confident that searching on any of our mutual relatives will ultimately lead everyone related to me and me to them. In genealogy, literally, no man is an island who is on the Internet.

What is rapidly happening in genealogy is that these historically created barriers are being breached by the constant movement to online engaged individuals. The changes are inevitable as the new generation of genealogists will likely never think of the quaint old idea of writing things down on paper. Genealogy will then have become science fiction.
19 Jun 15:39

Death of the Telegram

by Michele Simmons Lewis

Telegram from George Burns to Bob Hope, 1991.  Library of Congress

According to Fox News, on July 14, 2013, India will signal the end of an era by sending the last telegram.  Text messaging has rendered the iconic telegram obsolete.  When I think of telegrams I think of bad news.  At one time this was the quickest way to notify family members that a tragedy had occurred.  During war time people dreaded seeing the telegram delivery boy.  I opted to post an image of a funny telegram instead.

The first telegram was sent by Samuel Morse 144 years ago and was an important form of communication in our country’s history.  I wonder what Samuel would have thought about text messaging.

[Samuel F.B. Morse, three-quarter-length portrait, seated, facing front, posed with a camera and glass plate negatives]

Samuel F. B. Morse, 1872, Library of Congress

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

19 Jun 13:07

The Pace of Modern Life

'Unfortunately, the notion of marriage which prevails ... at the present time ... regards the institution as simply a convenient arrangement or formal contract ... This disregard of the sanctity of marriage and contempt for its restrictions is one of the most alarming tendencies of the present age.' --John Harvey Kellogg, Ladies' guide in health and disease (1883)
19 Jun 12:57

Lost and Found for Humans

by Megan Smolenyak
As much as I love traditional genealogy, I also enjoy playing at the fringes to discover new applications for our research skills, and that's how I first tripped into the world of unclaimed persons. If you're not familiar with this concept, it's essentially "lost and found," but for human beings, rather than gloves and umbrellas -- and it turns out that genealogists are a tremendous resource for tackling this problem.

It's one of those quiet but highly disturbing epidemics. Because we've become such a mobile, churning society, people are going to their graves with no one to claim them. They aren't John or Jane Does. Their identities are known, but finding their family members is another matter.

Medical examiners and coroners' offices -- overstretched with burgeoning case loads -- are generally required by law to make a best faith effort to locate the next of kin for the each individual, but that's often easier said than done. Disposition of the unclaimed varies from state to state and even county to county, but in most instances, amounts to an anonymous passing and dispersal.

I first learned of this troubling phenomenon almost a decade ago when I read an article about a case in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. I called the coroner's office and offered my assistance, and before long, found myself helping other counties. After some time, a friend and I decided to make a video about some of my cases, and that, in turn, triggered the establishment of a volunteer organization called Unclaimed Persons.

This video shows cases from Pennsylvania (FYI, the Finch case mentioned has been solved) and California, and when we shared it, I was inundated with requests from fellow genealogists saying that they wanted to help. In response to this interest, I set up a Facebook group for volunteers. As you might expect, that group has morphed over time, and I'm delighted that Unclaimed Persons is celebrating its fifth anniversary.

According to hard-working Skip Murray, who now runs the group along with Janis Martin, their teams of dedicated researchers "have tackled 558 cases (some still in progress) from 36 counties in 18 states. Of those cases that have been completed, 340 have been solved and 105 have been closed. That is a 76% success rate!"

340 people who were lost have now been found, and 340 families are no longer wondering - all thanks to a bunch of genealogical sleuths who are willing to tuck aside their family trees for a while and employ their talents for the benefit of others. Volunteerism at its best. Happy anniversary, Unclaimed Persons, and many more.
19 Jun 00:46

History vs. Privacy: Can They Survive Together?

by Michael J. Leclerc

I read a horrifying article in the New York Times yesterday that threatens the very idea of historical research, not to mention destroying genealogy as we know it. And if you think this is overly dramatic, guess again.


NY Times Privacy Initiative


The digital age has brought us an unprecedented age of communication. Official government websites provide access to original records. And commercial websites are also providing resources at an incredible rate. Social media websites allow us to keep in touch with each other. I have lost count of the number of people in my past that have come back into my life through Facebook and other websites. Not to mention the amount of genealogical research I have been able to do.

Now imagine a world where these resources were unavailable. Worse, still, imagine a world where the records don’t exist at all! The European Union is looking at legislation that could achieve just that.

Unfortunately, this age of communication has not come with a better sense of judgement. Many people put information out there that they are ashamed of. Certainly there is more than one photograph floating around that someone doesn’t want to see published. There are also those who are trying to put the past behind them by trying to wipe it off the face of the Earth. This ranges from people who make minor mistakes in high school to those who commit serious crimes as adults.

All of these people are working to erase themselves. They feel that they should have the option to remove themselves from the internet. This includes search engines, newspaper websites, social media, and more. It could even extend to government records.

The European Union is considering legislation that would grant to individuals a “right to be forgotten.” This would allow people to delete references to themselves online, whether they created the references or not. Major internet companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and more, are valiantly fighting this legislation. It is one thing to allow people to delete their own content, it is another thing entirely to allow people to delete content created by others.

The technology companies have now found an ally in l’Association des Archivistes Français (the Association of French Archivists).  The AAF argues that email, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media websites contain the “correspondence of the twenty-first century.” They rightly fear for future historians. “If we want to understand the society of today in the future, we have to keep certain traces.”

This fight will likely continue for awhile. And it will spill over to America and the rest of the world. This is a difficult challenge for us as genealogists. The best part of genealogy is being able to flesh out ancestors. Imagine being able to erase yourself from the record. Descendants might not even know you ever existed. Imagine how poor a place that future would be.