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17 Jun 12:46

How Genealogy Research Can Save Your Life

by (Diane L Richard)

Before becoming a celebrity blogger I worked as a private detective (I suppose “celebrity” is a relative term here). I’d say that most people probably associate PIs with fedoras and pin-stripe suits, black and white movies, cynical ex-cops nursing a whiskey in their low-rent dives, varied political intrigues and automatics in shoulder-holsters. The reality is- people probably don’t think that’s what it’s about nowadays.

This is unfortunate, because private investigating is pretty much exactly like it’s portrayed in old movies and dime novels- I’ve become very good at dry, wry one-liners and wear a lot of pomade. Plus, I’m not sure if I ever returned to my dimly lit office on the wrong side of the tracks without some mysterious, leggy blonde dressed in black, “grieving” over her mysteriously dead, wealthy husband and packing a little pistol in her garter belt.

As this is the case, I never really thought of applying the processes of the PI biz to preventative health awareness (unless it was protecting my health from some punk hoodlum looking to give me a severe case of lead poisoning, see…). However, that was before the importance of understanding the risks posed by hereditary illnesses hit very close to home.

My experience with genealogy and health began with the loss of an aunt to ovarian cancer. My mother is a microbiologist and in the course of some research following her sister’s death ran across the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. The BRCA mutation is passed down the matrilineal line and those affected are at a considerably higher risk of developing certain types of cancer. The greatest risk is to women- significantly increasing the chances of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. It’s been the subject of increased popularity (“infamy” might be a better term) recently with Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy after discovering that she had the BRCA mutation.

When my mom found out about the BRCA mutation, a practicable test still hadn’t been developed. She kept it in mind, however, and although she didn’t get preemptive surgeries, she made a point of getting check-ups more frequently than she would have otherwise. It was thanks to one of these check-ups that the ovarian cancer she eventually developed was caught at Stage III rather than Stage IV.

Stage III ovarian cancer is a bad diagnosis, no question, and her prognosis wasn’t great: a 20% chance she’d survive four years with the odds decreasing every year after. I’m proud and relieved to report, however, that my mom, due in no small part both to her BRCA-mutation awareness and being perhaps the toughest person I know, is now going strong in year ten and is looking forward to an approaching remission that will very likely last two years or more. Had she been less vigilant, undertaken fewer checkups and the cancer had been caught at stage IV, this would almost certainly be a very different account.

In general, one of the most effective preventative health measures is understanding the health history of your family. If you don’t have a fairly solid understanding of your familial health issues on both sides of your family- don’t be afraid to ask. People generally and understandably shy away from asking others, even family members, details of their medical histories. It’s been my experience, however, that if you explain the purpose of your inquiry, people are impressively forthcoming. It helps that you’re not necessarily prying into the particulars of someone’s current health situation but rather looking for a broader picture of causes of death and illness.

Obviously you should ask about and pay attention to the incidence of ailments like cancer; diabetes; a high prevalence of strokes and/or heart trouble often associated with high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, heart attacks occurring in younger family members, etc. It probably also goes without saying that especial scrutiny should be paid to clusters of disease. The BRCA mutation, for instance, leaves both men and women more susceptible to certain cancers. If there is an occurrence of breast and/or ovarian cancer (particularly on your mother’s side), accompanied by prostate and even breast cancer in the men, get tested for the BRCA. It might not be a bad plan to get tested if there’s even a single occurrence of those.

Don’t neglect to ask after the less well known hereditary disorders including: cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia (if you’re black or have black ancestry), Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, hemophilia or other clotting disorders, hyper- or hypoglycemia, Familial combined hyperlipidemia and Familial hypercholesterolemia, any of the muscular dystrophy variations, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Huntington’s disorder, and so on. Pay attention to which side of the family these genetic issues are occurring on as well. If one of those listed or another hereditary disease is revealed by your inquiries, research it to find out the likelihood it will be (or has been) passed down to your children. Look into preventative steps that can be taken to lessen or mitigate the risks.

In some cases, if the risk is sufficient, genetic predispositions can even influence whether or not you choose to have (or have more) kids. I’m friends with one couple that decided against having children because of shared genetic risk factors and have since happily adopted. While these articles can have the opposite of their intended effect: engendering dread and anxiety rather than encouraging education, finding this stuff out now can help you avoid a great deal of future pain.

As a closing note, though, after my mother’s diagnosis and the verification of the BRCA mutation I got tested and was found negative. It was a relief, although it’s not the sort of thing for which a positive test would have meant despair- just greater conscientiousness and a better excuse to incorporate more preventative life choices. Since then, I’ve also been more aware of my health in general while suffering from less free-floating anxiety about the state of my health. It’s a condition I highly recommend.


About the author:

Colter Brian is a former private investigator/photographer and now a freelance writer.  When he writes, he contributes to sites such as  Some of Colter's hobbies include spending time in the outdoors and perfecting his pasta recipes for his toughest critics; namely his two children.

Editor’s Note: Recent Upfront with NGS post regarding Genealogy + Health are:


copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370.


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17 Jun 02:30

Busch Wedding Gift

by lineagekeeper

As the granddaughter of a very wealthy grandfather, Lilly Dorothy Magnus, granddaughter of Adolphus Busch received $1,000,000 from him as a wedding gift on 8 Jun 1913.  


15 Jun 15:25

New Jersy Bill Gives Adoptees Access to Their Medical History & Birth Records

by Leland Meitzler

The following teaser is from an article in the June 13, 2013 edition of

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Chairman Joseph F. Vitale which would give adoptees in New Jersey access to their medical history and birth records was approved today by the Senate Health Committee.

“Every person deserves to know who they are and where they came from, but for many adoptees sealed records leave them in the dark on their family medical, cultural and social history, making it difficult to make decisions on their own personal well being,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “This bill would give adopted people in New Jersey access to information that is vital to protect their health and establish a line of family history that would otherwise not exist.”

The bill, S-2814, would allow for an adopted person over the age of 18, their direct descendant, sibling or spouse, an adoptive parent or guardian, or a state or federal agency to access an uncertified, long-form copy of the adoptee’s original birth certificate through the New Jersey State Registrar. Additionally, the adoptive person would receive any available information regarding contact preferences with their biological parent and family history information.

Read the full article.

14 Jun 20:00

3 Count: Unhappy Birthday

by Jonathan Bailey

Have any suggestions for the 3 Count? Let me know via Twitter @plagiarismtoday.

1: Class Action Suit Aims To Strip Warner Of ‘Happy Birthday’ Copyright

First off today, Emma Woollacott at Forbes reports that filmmaker Jennifer Nelson has filed a lawsuit against Warner/Chappell, the publishing arm of Warner Music Group, seeking a declaration that the popular song “Happy Birthday to You” is in the public domain and an order that Warner return all license fees paid to it over the past four years, including the $1,500 she paid to use it in a documentary.

The lawsuit, which is seeking class action status, argues that the song has its roots in the late 1800s, where the melody started as the song “Good Morning to All”, which was written by two sisters, Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hill. The song then morphed time into the better-known version. Warner, through a purchase in 1988, acquired the rights to a set of lyrics to the song printed in 1924 and a piano arrangement published in 1935.

Nelson, however, claims that she can prove the song and the lyrics were around well before that and have long since fallen out of copyright. Warner currently earns an estimated $2 million per year in license fees from the song meaning, if successful, it could have to return approximately $8 million on licensed paid to it.

2: BMI to File Lawsuit Against Pandora Over Licensing Fees

Next up today Tom Cheredar at VentureBeat reports that Broadcast Music Inc (BMI), which collects and negotiates license fees on behalf of songwriters, composers and music publishers, is preparing to sue Internet streaming service Pandora over licensing fees.

At issue is Pandora’s recent purchase of a South Dakota terrestrial radio station. Pandora bought the station so that it could piggyback on a deal BMI brokered with other terrestrial radio stations for lower royalties on Internet radio. Reports are that Pandora and BMI were negotiating to reduce Pandora’s royalty rate but, following the sale, those negotiations have broke off.

Pandora also recently backed the “Internet Radio Fairness Act” in Congress, which would have had a panel of judges set royalty rates for Internet radio stations rather than contractual negotiations. That bill failed to gain much support though Pandora is expected to push for a follow up this year.

3: Paramount Wins ‘La Dolce Vita’ Lawsuit

Finally today, Eriq Gardner at The Hollywood Reporter Esquire reports that Paramount Pictures has won its lawsuit over the classic film “La Dolce Vita” and is the owner of the exclusive rights to the film.

Paramount sued International Media Films (IMF) after the latter asserted rights and authorized DVD releases of the film upon its 50th anniversary. Paramount sought a judgment of ownership as both sides presented competing chains of ownership for the film.

In the end, the judge ruled that IMF failed provide evidence for its claims and ruled against them on a summary judgement. The judge also ruled that IMF committed contributory copyright infringement with a damage assessment phase to come.


That’s it for the three count today. We will be back tomorrow with three more copyright links. If you have a link that you want to suggest a link for the column or have any proposals to make it better. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. I hope to hear from you.

Want the Full Story?

Tune in every Wednesday evening at 5 PM ET for the live recording of the Copyright 2.0 Show or wait and get the edited version Friday right here on Plagiarism Today.

The 3 Count Logo was created by Justin Goff and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

13 Jun 13:35

Jumping the Pond: Five Strategies for Finding Immigrant Origins

by Michael J. Leclerc

One of the biggest challenges in researching the origins of immigrants is getting them back to their place of origin. Passenger lists and naturalizations are the first place we look for. But they are often unavailable. Then it is time to turn to other resources that can provide valuable information — or not.




1. Church Records
The records of churches can provide detailed information about immigrant origins. Start with the type of church they attended. For example, people who attended a Polish Catholic church are more likely to be from Poland. The ecclesiastical records (e.g., baptisms, marriages, and burials) may tell you where the couple originated. Administrative records, such as membership rolls, may also give you clues to origins as well.

2. Obituaries
Death notices and obituaries can be extremely valuable. Although they will more commonly name only a country, they can sometimes provide exact places of origin. You must be careful not to trust the information outright, however. Remember that the information in obituaries often comes from the survivors, not the deceased. And people who come from small, rural communities will often give the name of the nearest large municipality once they arrived in America. This same warning goes for other resources as well.

3. Grave Markers
We are used to thinking of grave markers providing the names of the deceased, and dates of birth and death. But they can also provide much more information. For example, Jewish grave markers will often have the names of the father of the deceased, written in Hebrew. But grave markers can also provide immigrant origin clues. They may provide places of birth as well as the date. Just remember that the place of birth may not be the place from which the immigrant left his or her original home country.

4. Organizational Records
Social organizations of all kinds can provide valuable information on origins. Membership records for groups such as the Masons can be very helpful. These records won’t usually tell you where someone is born, but they will often give the name of the place from with they came to the United States. Mutual benefit organizations proliferated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many of these groups were based on nationality or ethnic origin, and their records may provide more specific information about places of origin.

5. Compiled Genealogies — Maybe!
Many authors of compiled genealogies include information on immigrant origins. Many genealogies published in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries included information on European origins, especially those with origins in the U.K. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these are undocumented. Even worse, the origins are incorrect. Unscrupulous researchers at the time made up entire lineages (or made vast assumptions, linking families hundreds of years apart with no evidence). If you see an immigrant origin in one of these genealogies, you need to conduct research in primary source material to ensure that the lineage is correct. In most instances, it will likely be easier to start from scratch entirely. Modern published genealogies that meet the scholarly standards of sources are more trustworthy, but in most instances you may want to review the original sources to be certain that the authors interpreted them correctly.

13 Jun 13:33

Before You Were Born: We had Online Communities

by Leslie Johnston

My first foray into online communities was in the mid- to late-1980s, when the organization I worked for got some of its online services through UCLA.  We got limited access to email and access to the Usenet discussion system. If you’re not familiar with Usenet — which went live in 1980 — surprise! It’s still around. I read threaded discussions on technical topics, but I don’t remember actively participating.

Compuserve-screen, by Ripple Blogger, on <a href="" target="_blank">Flickr</a>

Compuserve-screen, by Ripple Blogger, on Flickr

My real introduction to active participation in online communities was CompuServe, which went live in its first incarnation in 1969. I got my CompuServe account in 1988. One dialed in using a modem (I still remember my first 24K baud modem) and signed up for what was a set of topical bulletin boards. I know that I participated in a gardening board, a board dedicated to mystery books, one for science fiction, and I don’t remember what all else.  These were active and lively discussions, and private messaging between members.  In fact, my first real email address came through CompuServe in the late 80s, when they activated accounts that could send and receive email to any host.

I have a friend who has been a member of The Well for more years than I can remember. That was an acronym for Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, and launched in 1985 as a companion service to the Whole Earth Review and the Whole Earth Catalog. Want another surprise? The Well is still alive and running, and a version of the Whole Earth Review is still online for its members.

In the 2000s I was part of a vibrant online community called Readerville, dedicated (mostly) to discussions about books across all genres. I met many people who remain my friends today. I miss it every day.

And, of course, there is a lengthy history of online community bulletin board systems (or BBS) — starting in the late 1970s — that have come and gone over the years. And that mostly, they have gone. These BBS’s often play an important role in researching and documenting computing history, or for cultural historians studying underground culture, or studying the history of computer game development and game play, or even documenting the development of a RL (Real Life) community.

If you want to learn about BBS’s, their history, and the role they have played in various communities, you could not do better than to watch the documentary BBS.  The film’s director, Jason Scott, is also the founder of, dedicated to the preservation of BBS content. We interviewed Jason for the Signal, and his ArchiveTeam web archiving effort has just been announced as a 2013 NDSA Innovation Award winner. ArchiveTeam has been a key participant in the preservation of many web communities as well.  Separate from these communities serving as source of documentation for research or technology preservation, the participants in BBS’s and online communities often have little opportunity to document their participation and contributions when a service needs to shut down out of economic necessity or corporate decision. These communities have become a highly visible digital preservation target.

As a sidebar, in the late 1990s I needed to gather my personal records related to my seven years on the board of the Museum Computer Network, and much of my early official email was through my CompuServe account.  I still had my application floppy for CompuServe Navigator, which I was able to launch on a older Mac, retrieve my account, export my mail as text, and add to my records archive.  And I have been migrating that data forward across media ever since.

13 Jun 13:21

How do the online family tree programs compare?

by James Tanner
There are dozens and dozens of online programs allowing people to either enter or upload their family information. Most of those programs store the information in the form of a modified pedigree format based loosely on a traditional family oriented pedigree. Here is an example of a standard-type format for a pedigree which is also called an ancestor chart:

This particular chart came from some free forms online from the Mid-Continent Public Library. This format is very efficient and it would be hard to improve on this basic form. a few of the genealogical databases have experimented with variations, some more successful than others. I thought it would be interesting to see how three of the major online family tree programs approach this issue (with my usual comments, of course).

I had to stop for a minute and think about which program to talk about first. So I decided to start with the newest one,'s Family Tree. Arguably in setting up the tree, they would have had the cumulative experience of all of their predecessors. Here is the first screen shot showing the basic FamilySearch Family Tree format.

The design is clearly adapted from the basic pedigree or ancestor chart. The main difference is that the basic chart starts with a single individual with space for a spouse. Family Tree has a space for a husband and a wife. I find this to be somewhat confusing and even disconcerting, for single people who look at this chart for the first time. Those never married or widowed often question what they are supposed to do with the blank spaces, particularly with the admonition to "Add a husband" or "Add a wife." I have had several comments questioning the form for that reason. I think you can emphasize the family without making singles feel left out.

This format is also confusing to people for the first time, because they have to sort out which line they are following. It does an adequate job of allowing users to navigate as long as people realize that the families are represented by the parents and that not all parents are showing. Navigating up the pedigree is fairly easy and the layout is clean and uncluttered, if that is a virtue.

FamilySearch Family Tree most recently added a fan chart view of the pedigree. Here is a screen shot of the fan chart view of the same person:

You may already know from my pervious posts that I am not a fan of fan charts. But it is a nice display and certainly gives a graphic representation of the families in the file. It is interesting that in this format the individual is treated as unique and no spouse in mandatorily shown next to the center name and there are no blank spaces for the missing spouse except at the bottom of the chart.

Next is Here is a screen shot of the same individual that I used in the Family Tree examples:

It is readily apparent that the Family Tree is about the same as the roughly equivalent FamilySearch Family Tree. The major difference is that it starts with an individual and has a spouse, if there is one, in a pull-down menu. The problem of how to depict the family is then solved by putting the spouses in different boxes. If for no other reason, I like this view better because it shows a sensitivity to those who may not have and have no hope of having a spouse's line to work on. The lack of a spouse in not then emphasized. When navigating with both  FamilySearch Family Tree and Family Trees, you are forced to navigate up through the tree unless you happen to know the name or ID number of the person you are searching for. has another even more traditional family tree view called the "Family View." Here is a screenshot of the Family View"

Of course, you can zoom in and out on this format, but I find it relatively more difficult to use and seldom go to this view on purpose. Rather than being informative, it is mostly confusing. I am glad has provided a different pedigree type view. I am sure that this is a matter of personal preference.

Next, I am going to which also has two different ancestor chart views to choose from.  Here is a screen shot of the Modern View:

As you can see, has a view similar to's Family View. Both of these suffer from a difficulty of finding ancestors and navigating around the huge chart when the words are large enough to read. I resort to using the search function rather than trying to find anyone using the family tree view. The Classic View is almost the same, except it is more compact and easier to navigate. Here is a screen shot of the Classic View:

Neither of these views is particularly easy to use. I would prefer a horizontally oriented chart, but that is a personal opinion. As with most of the other examples, if a spouse is missing, there is no line shown. In fact, to save clutter, the spouse's tree, if present, is not shown unless selected.

There are, of course a multitude of other forms of family trees, but combined these three trees probably contain more individuals that there presently are alive in the entire world: not to say everyone is represented, counting for duplicates, of course. With those large numbers it is extremely important to have an interface that is easy to navigate. Both and FamilySearch Family Tree fall into that category, but there are other concerns that make each of the trees strong in some features and views and weak in others.

All that said, I would not make a decision to use or not use a family tree program based on the user interface alone. The other features of the program are much more important to me.
13 Jun 13:13

Helen Keller's Graduation

by (footnoteMaven)

In keeping with the Golden Rule Days Theme of Shades Of The Departed Magazine, I give you Helen Keller in her cap and gown. Below is an excerpt of an essay she wrote upon her graduation. I admire her optimism.

"As my college days draw to a close,I find myself looking forward with beating heart and bright anticipations to what the future holds of activity for me. My share in the work of the world may be limited, but the fact that it is work makes it precious. Nay, the desire and will to work is optimism itself."

Keller, Helen. My Key of Life, Optimism: An Essay. London: London, Ibister & Co., 1904.

13 Jun 12:53

Digitization vs Cataloguing -- Which is More Valuable?

by (Diane L Richard)
Classic Rock'em Sock'em Robots -- remember, they can always battle since you can just push their heads back down.  Can the same be said for our modern debates over terms, technology, etc?

We recently debated genealogy vs family history.  This is not the only debate occurring within our sphere of research.

Chris Patton (British GENES) shared an article, Debate: “Although digitization is useful for accessibility, detailed online item-level cataloguing is even more so” (ArchivesNext) which mentions comments he had made and quite a debate ensued.

Who doesn’t love digital content?  I think we all love the ability to sit at our computers, in our jammies, and pull up digital copies of original documents.

On the other hand, it is critical to our research to know “who” or “what institution” holds the documents that interest us.  Without a readily accessible and detailed catalog, we don’t know what is out there that might help our research.

I have to say that though I applaud and appreciate digitization projects, I also appreciate detailed cataloguing.  So much content will probably not be digitized in my lifetime or possibly ever (based on copyright and other restrictions).  At least, with detailed cataloguing, if I know where there is content, I then have the option to try and access it either directly, via the facility or via a surrogate researcher.

This is why I am constantly visiting Worldcat and Linkpendium and Cyndi’s List.  Never mind checking out the FamilySearch catalog, individual state archive and local repository catalogs, Chronicling America and it’s U.S. Newspaper Directory, and any “catalog” I can access (hopefully online though I’m game to walk into a place to check it’s physical catalog (or have someone else do that for me)).

I am searching to find out what records are extant.  As I like to say “I don’t know what I don’t know” and so I need to do research to learn what might not be digitized and which might be important to what I am researching.  If I know the records exist, then I can figure out how to access them!

Will some digitization projects possibly make detailed item-level cataloguing possibly moot? Probably eventually ... and, how long are you willing to wait for an item of interest to be digitized?  How do you know that it will ever be digitized?

What do you think? Digitization or detailed online item-level cataloguing or ???


copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370.


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12 Jun 15:48

Genealogy as a Fraud

by James Tanner
Likely, one of the major reasons for the lack of acceptance of genealogy by academic circles is genealogy's history of rampant fraud and misrepresentation. One of the most blatant and successful fraudulent genealogist wrote dozens of books and compiled dozens of pedigrees for clients in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His name was Gustave Anjou. A quick check in shows over 150 books and other documents attributed to this man during his whole life was a fraud and charlatan.  By no means was Anjou the only fraudulent genealogist. To starting a feel for the extent of the fraudulent material, I suggest beginning with the FamilySearch Research Wiki article, Fraudulent Genealogies

This practice was so prevalent that almost any compiled genealogy is suspect. Even if the compiled genealogy pertaining to your ancestors was not fraudulent and came from a different time period, the author may have inadvertently included information from a fraudulently compiled earlier source.

Compiling a fraudulent genealogy was often motivated by an expectation that the recipient would be connected to a claim against an estate in England or the rest of Europe. The bogus genealogists preyed upon the gullibility and greed of their clients, giving them what they expected rather than accurate, correctly documented pedigrees. If you think this was just a passing problem of years gone by, you are misinformed. There are still unprincipled genealogists today who will provide a connection to royalty or a Coat of Arms for a price. 

One of the problems we frequently encounter in Arizona is people who are trying to "prove" their relationship to an Indian ancestor. The motivation for this proof is a supposed and wished for connection to a reservation so as to get reservation economic benefits. In some cases, because of the huge incomes of the reservations, people are motivated to try to "get a piece of the action" by proving their Indian heritage. Of course, not all such claims are false, but it is interesting to see the number of people over the past few years we have helped who are so motivated. 

The mere existence of this problem should be reason enough to examine any such claims, to royalty or Indian ancestry, with suspicion. It is important to carefully document any claim in a compiled genealogy before accepting it merely because it is written in a book. However, as noted by the Research Wiki article, "Armchair historians, family-tree climbers, and professionals are all among the guilty. Many are well-meaning folk who "just got carried away" by imagination, enthusiasm, or inexperience."

Here are some links that will help with avoiding genealogical fraud and scams:

12 Jun 13:59

Shades The Magazine - GoldenRule Days

by footnoteMaven

The relaunching of a magazine is far more hazardous than the launching of a new
battleship; for the latter is intended to be dangerous to its foes, whereas the former
is fraught with danger to its friends. Nor can the quality of the magazine, like that
of the ship, be tested by its trial trip; for the vast ocean of literature is covered with
the wreckage of periodicals that started out with every indication of making a long
and profitable voyage. Still, an enterprise that smacks not of peril makes no appeal
to a brave and aspiring soul; and in these piping times of peace, the pen is mightier
than the sword.  

William Lyon Phelps with a few adjustments by fM

It’s been dinosaur years, but Shades is back! Thank you for your support, letters of encouragement and ideas for a better old photograph centric magazine. It’s so good to be back. 

It has been a learning curve. The online world changes so rapidly we're learning all over again. But enough jawing, let's get started. Select the image above or Golden Rule Days to read the new Shades Magazine.

Yes, Shades The Magazine is back.

The Table Of Contents:

The Future of Memories - Painting A Life History
Documenting a Career At Sea
Denise Barrett Olson

The First Class Photograph

The Healing Brush - Graduation Day
A Gelatin Silver Print
Janine Smith

Penny's Dreadful Secrets
Unlocking the Clues in Old Photographs
Penny Dreadful

A Picture's Worth
The Friends Album Finds Its Way Home
A Face Study
Missy Corley

To The Nines
School Days
A Little Class
Maureen Taylor

The Golden Rule Album
Surely it would give us a sense of space if we could see clearly a little
further behind us. Would it not be a good plan if every family appointed
a historiographer. 
The Living Age, 1913

Prom Photographs
When did the custom of proms begin in America?

Behind The Camera
Yearbooks and Their beginnings

A Family School Album
Sheri Fenley

How Will You Know?
You Must Look!
Caroline Pointer

My iLibrary
Denise Barrett Olson

School Photo Souvenirs
When This You See Remember me

The Last Picture Show
From The Cornell University Art Gallery

12 Jun 13:55

Word Processing: The Enduring Killer App

by Bill LeFurgy

I started writing before computers were commonly available. But, unlike some who are nostalgic for the era of pen and ink, I feel only joy about relying on machines in my struggle to communicate with written language.

Wang Laboratories, USA, 1978; source: Powerhouse Museum,

Wang Laboratories, USA, 1978; source: Powerhouse Museum,

My handwriting was inelegant from the start. I never bothered to ask if neatness counted, because it didn’t matter–my penmanship in elementary school could not, even with abundant time, ever aspire to crisp clarity. Hard as I tried, the results were always disappointing.

Later in high school and college I moved on to typewriters, which offered their own torment, such as the anguish of spotting a misspelled word on a freshly completed page, or worse yet, realizing that a paragraph needed to be restructured or deleted. I noticed early, to my great annoyance, that a typewritten manuscript read differently, and often called for revisions that were not obvious in a handwritten draft. It took some time before I appreciated that this was actually a good thing, as the additional editing tended to make my writing better. But I still wince at the memory of retyping papers over and over to deal with multiple rounds of edits.

When I got my first office job in the late-1970s there were secretaries who would take a handwritten draft and return a typescript. This often meant the secretary appearing at my desk with illegible words circled in the draft. “Really? That’s what that says? I never would have guessed.”

Around 1980 the secretary started using “the Wang,” one of the first popular office word processing systems. It simplified the secretary’s job greatly, as edits now only involved changing words on the screen and reprinting the document. But it didn’t take long before I began to imagine what it would be like to write directly on the machine with no secretarial mediation. This was a little bit radical for the time, as “aspiring professionals” were supposed to avoid “clerical work.” But the lure was strong: writing freed from messy scribbles and the labor of manual retyping; writing that actually encouraged multiple rounds of self-editing.

Ngram graph showing frequency of "word processing" in books published from about 1975 to 2008

Ngram graph showing frequency of the term “word processing” in books published from about 1975 to 2008

My dreams were fulfilled in the early 1980s when I was able to use personal computers in a local university computer lab. I always had a quick answer when the lab overseer asked what I wanted to do: “word processing!” This was one fantasy that not only came true, it exceeded my fondest hopes, even when saddled with a clunky DataPoint terminal during a job in the mid- to late-1980s.

I am, of course, far from alone in embracing computer-aided writing, and the change in our homes and our workplaces has been profound. One way to think about the extent of the change is the degree to which it has faded into the background of everyday life.

Today, word processing is increasingly assumed and requires less notice. A quick search of a very large online collection of books dating from about 1970 to 2008 shows the rapid rise and fall of the term “word processing” over that time. We’re using it more and more but marvelling at it less and less.

Except for me. There is nothing like a memory of past suffering to make one feel gratitude for present blessings.

12 Jun 13:43

Technology helping us access previously unreadable documents!

by (Diane L Richard)
Image from original piece published by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

It’s often hard enough to find extant documents with relevance to our research.  What about when we find them and then we cannot access them because they are too fragile and so unreadable?

Jean-Yves Baxter (GeneaNet) posted Reading the Unreadable: 'Unopenable' Scrolls Will Yield Their Secrets to New X-Ray System which refers to an article in the ScienceDaily with the same title who information is from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (UK).

Old parchment is often extremely dry and liable to crack and crumble if any attempt is made to physically unroll or unfold it. The new technology, however, eliminates the need to do so by enabling parchment to be unrolled or unfolded 'virtually' and the contents displayed on a computer screen.

You can find a YouTube video here (about 6.5 minutes) which talks about the process.

This is fascinating to me.  Anyone who has ever handled old documents or photos knows that once rolled, folded or otherwise found in a not flat condition, we are limited in how we can handle such and what information we can obtain from them. Never mind, horrible hand-writing, bleeding ink, faded ink and other challenges we often face with such older documents.

Are there other “new” technologies that you are aware of that are helping make previously inaccessible/unreadable documents available to us?


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12 Jun 13:12

The Problem with False Creative Commons Licenses

by Jonathan Bailey

cc-nc-hugeYesterday, Pamela Vaughan at HubSpot wrote about a legal threat her company had received over an image she had used in an earlier entry.

According to the letter, which came from an unidentified stock photo company, her blog had unlawfully used two images owned by them on their blog. However, Vaughan, who wrote the entry in question, was confused as she strives to only use images she has the rights to, including buying microstock images and using some Creative Commons-Licensed works.

Unfortunately, it was the latter that brought about the threat. According to Vaughan, she had used the images under a Creative Commons License but the person who placed the images in their Flickr account did not have the license to use them, much less relicense them under CC-terms.

The result is that both Vaughan and HubSpot are both dealing with a legal threat despite their attempts to be legitimate and the rest of the Internet gets a stark reminder, that the CC-licensed work you’re using may not really be CC-licensed at all.

While this problem isn’t a common one, with the increased use of Creative Commons Licensees, it is going to be a growing one and something that everyone who uses CC-licensed material should be aware of.

The Nature of the Problem

The truth is that the problem is not limited to Creative Commons Licenses nor to free licenses in general. Even if you pay for a license to use a work, you can still be bit by this problem, even if Creative Commons Licenses may be the most common way this issue manifests itself.

The issue is that for a person to put a work under a CC license, or any license, they have to be the owner of the copyright in that work. The problem is that more and more work is passed around online by people other than the copyright holder, often without permission and they often place the works they post under a CC license, regardless of whether or not they have the right to do so.

There are a lot of reasons for this, including:

  1. Accidental Licensing: It’s easy to set up many photo sharing accounts to automatically place all uploaded images to be CC-licensed. Some forget to turn that off when they’re uploading images they don’t hold the rights to, even if they are uploading content legitimately.
  2. Unclear on How Licensing Works: Some mistakenly believe that because they have a license to use a work, they own it and can relicense it as they see fit. Likewise, many are confused about what CC-licensing is and does and might think it can be applied to works they don’t known or have a license to.
  3. Intentional Licensing Misuse: Others, though they might be perfectly clear about the terms of the license and what putting something under a CC license means. They ignore those terms and violate law maliciously, whether to serve their own purpose, cause confusion among users or harm the copyright holder.

Fortunately, malicious misapplication of licenses appears to be relatively rare. Most issues are caused either by confusion or by simple thoughtlessness. But regardless of the reason for works to be mis-licensed, they have an equal opportunity to cause problems for those who might seek to use them.

However, while the cause of the problem is clear, the solution is much less so. Largely because there is no way to completely solve the issue, no matter what.

Solving the Problem

The truth is that there is nothing stopping someone who wants to infringe copyright from taking a work and placing it under an open license, or any license for that matter. If you don’t care about legality, you can just as easily put a CC license on an image or upload it to a stock photo site and sell it to unsuspecting buyers.

Fortunately though, those particular cases are still extremely rare. Very few infringers are trying to re-license works maliciously.

That means there is a lot of good that can be done by striving to prevent accidents and mistakes and part of that means educating users as to what a Creative Commons License means and when it can be used.

Services take various approaches to this right now and the approaches vary from providing no guidance to spelling out the terms clearly. However, there’s obviously a need for more services to step up and offer more clear documentation.

This might be an area where the Creative Commons organization itself can help by providing draft documents for services and programmers that integrate CC Licenses into their tools. These documents would be user-facing, warning users of exactly what it means to select a CC License for a work and what they are saying about it.

Beyond that, especially in environments where people upload a hybrid of content they create and from elsewhere, there’s a potential to create an option that lets users designate whether they created a work or not. This could be used not only to prompt a fair use challenge, to ensure that the upload isn’t infringing itself, but also remove the Creative Commons License if one would have automatically been applied otherwise.

Basically, it’s all about taking steps to ensure that the person applying the CC license both knows what the license means and that they have the right to apply it. While they can’t stop someone from sabotaging these checks, they might prevent some mistakes.

However, the bigger problem is that these steps increase friction in applying the licenses, adding clicks and steps. Services aren’t too keen on making things more complex for users, even if the additional information can help avoid copyright problems down the road.

All in all, the confusion is likely to grow…

Bottom Line

The good news is that, HubSpot aside, these problems are still relatively rare. Though such mistakes and problems probably happen more often than are realized as few rightsholders are actively setting about tracking and threatening over images beyond the major stock photo sites.

Even then though, the stock photo sites are primarily targeting business, large and small, where they hope to be able to get money. So if a false CC-licensed image winds up on a personal blog or a site, the odds of there being a problem are small.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. As more images (and other types of content) are mistakenly or maliciously placed under false licenses, the issue is going to grow.

HubSpot may have a fairly unique problem right now, but it won’t be unique for long.

For those using CC-licensed works, my advice is simple: Keep track of where you find things, use the licenses correctly and try to check out your sources the best you can. If a Flickr account, for example, looks suspicious, don’t pull from it.

Sadly, there’s no easy way to avoid this problem because, as shown in the link above, even major stock photography sites can have plagiarism issues.

Your best bet is to comply with the law as well as you can, keep good records and remember this is at least a small danger.

After all, whenever you use the work of someone else, there’s always a danger that person is lying to you. There’s no way to avoid that completely, just to be prepared for it.

12 Jun 13:07

Compiled Genealogies

by Michele Simmons Lewis

I have spoken to you several times about compiled genealogies.  The trees you find on, FamilyTree and other websites are compiled genealogies. Family history books are also compiled genealogies.   I have always said to view these with caution but use them for clues to find the original documents you need for your own research.  Betty Lou Malesky, CG has written an excellent article I think you should read.  She lists ten things you should consider when evaluating the validity/credibility of a compiled genealogy. 

GENEALOGY: How to evaluate a compiled genealogy

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

07 Jun 00:46

Human ancestors 'the size of mice'

An ancient fossil of a tiny monkey suggests our ancestors started off the size of mice - and weighed less than a bag of crisps!
06 Jun 15:39


by (Bill West)
There's a scene in Monty Python & The Holy Grail where the Dead Collector
is going through a village hit by the plague with a cart. One of the villagers
 tries to put a dead man into the cart, but there's one problem: the dead man
isn't dead. "I'm not dead!" he insists.

I thought about that scene yesterday after reading an article on The Verge
website. It's entitled "Who am I? Data and DNA answer one of life’s big questions"
It's an interesting article, especially the parts with Thomas MacEntee. But I'm not
in agreement with the writer of the article. Near the beginning she makes the
following statement:

"Genealogy’s next phase, which is quickly approaching, is actually its end game.
The massive accumulation, digitization, and accessibility of data combined with
recent advances in DNA testing mean the questions we have about our families —
who they were, how they got here, and how they’re related to us — will soon be
instantly solvable. Realistically, the pursuit of family history as it exists now probably
won’t be around in 20 years: most of the mysteries are disappearing, and fast."

Now as I mentioned a few posts back, I'm an online genealogist. I do most of my
research online. But I don't think that every single record from every courthouse
and archive in the world is going to be online in 20 years. I think it might happen in
50 years, but even then, I don't think that will sound the death knell for genealogy
as we know it. Nor do I think DNA testing is going to tell me how many of my
ancestors were blacksmiths. Heck, I've had a y-DNA test done and the only answers
were vague generalities that told me very little. It was like using a genealogical
"Eight Ball".

Let's say for the sake of argument they do get every document, every diary, every family
genealogy or local history scanned and online. It's not going to be the end of genealogy
It's just going to mean more things for us to hunt for, find, look at and analyze. It's not
just finding all that information that's important, it's understanding what you are looking
at and what it means for your family's history. Nor is having everything online going to
knock down all our brick walls. There will always be something left to find.     

I wish I could write a longer more philosophical piece about this, but I'm not that smart, and
the hour is late and my brain is turning to Swiss Cheese. There's the effect all this is going
to have on local genealogy societies and perhaps on professional genealogists. But  I think
you can get my gist from what I have been able to say in these ramblings.

Suffice it to say, to paraphrase Monty Python, genealogy's not dead yet, and not likely to
be for a very long time.
06 Jun 15:30

Simplifying Your Online Genealogy Life

by Amy Coffin, MLIS
One of my favorite people in one of my favorite places.

I received many thoughtful and supportive comments on my Simplifying My Genealogy Life blog post and I want to thank you for that. I did a lot of social housecleaning and priority switching. I think you might benefit from something similar, so here's an argument and path for simplifying your own online social life:

Paring down my genealogy social interaction was a wise choice on my part. Often we feel compelled to be present at every hip and popular website. Are you pinning enough? Feeling the pressure for more "likes" on your page? Worrying about Klout scores, when you don't even understand how they work?

Why? With a finite number of functional hours in each day, why worry about those things? Is it worth it?

Life is short, people, and the clock is running.

How many social networks, websites and apps do you handle each day? What do you monitor or participate in...and how much time do you devote?

Do you get anything out of it? Think before you answer. Do you check Facebook out of habit? Do you scroll and scroll through others' updates without actually reading them? Why are you skipping them? Why do you even have them in your feed if you don't read them?

The genealogy social media scene is like a giant, untamed and overgrown garden. If you try to do too much, everything gets crammed and jumbled. It's time for some pruning and maintenance.

I'm not telling you to drop everything and tune out. There's probably a lot of excess in your social media life and you don't even know it. Now we're going to take care of it. Bring your pruning shears.


Take a look at your friends list. Anyone you want to unfriend for any reason? Do it. If that is too harsh, you can always boot people from your news feed or limit what you see from them. They'll never even know.

Block games and apps you don't want to see. Stop getting mad at people for inviting you to play games. Block the games and apps yourself. You'll never see them again. Do the same for folks who send too many cat pictures, witty sayings, political statements or whatever else sticks in your craw.

Unfollow or unlike any Facebook pages you don't want to see anymore or no longer update. No need having your name associated with them.

Get Social Fixer

I love Social Fixer so much. It basically gives you the power to control many of the irritating things about Facebook. I haven't seen a sponsored ad in months, and my newsfeed is always set to "most recent."

Social Fixer also lets you know who unfollows you, so get all your own unfollowing done before more people discover this handy tool.

Later, Rinse, Repeat

Take inventory of all your other social media accounts, determine what you want and don't want to see from them and act on it. Pinterest, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, etc. Unfollow if necessary. It's ok. I actually unfollowed several friends on Twitter because they share the exact same information there and on Facebook. No need to read the same thing twice. Simplify is the name of the game.

Reduce Email Notifications

Somehow I get a ton of genealogy-related sales pitches, sale flyers and such in my inbox. You probably do, too, and delete most without a look. Take an hour and unsubscribe from these things.

Also take a hard look at email discussion lists. They're handy, but they generate a lot of messages...especially where there's a debate over the definition of professionalism. It is ok to unsubscribe if you feel it is not worth the stress. Anything that makes you upset needs to go.

Final Clean Up

Social media fatigue is a real thing. It is possible to have too much information coming at you. When that happens, you miss the good stuff because you're too busy dealing with the noise. Eliminate that noise.

Simplifying your genealogy social life sounds scary, I know. It won't make you less social. Instead, it will bring you a better interactive experience and improve your social connections. I promise.

06 Jun 15:27

My Ancestor’s Menu: Researching Food History in Newspapers

by Gena Philibert-Ortega

I recall reading as a child the book, "What Did George Washington Eat for Breakfast?" This post reminded me of that.

My Ancestor’s Menu: Researching Food History in Newspapers was originally published at - GenealogyBank Genealogy Blog.

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena searches through historical newspaper archives and finds old menus—and shows how these provide social history that helps us better understand our ancestors’ times.

When was the last time you ate out? How often did you eat out as a child? While for some of us eating in a restaurant was a rare treat growing up because of where we lived or finances, eating out in today’s world is a more common occurrence. For modern families whose time is overscheduled, sitting down to a meal that mom prepared (with love) can seem like something out of the 1950s. Increasingly we are relying on restaurants to help with our cooking chores. Although it can seem like going out to eat is more of a recent phenomenon, the truth is that our ancestors, depending on circumstance, may have enjoyed a meal out once in a while.

Probably not surprisingly, restaurants originated in France in the 18th century and catered to upper class patrons. Early Americans, typically men, had the opportunity to “eat out” as they traveled and stayed in taverns and inns. One restaurant that opened in the early 19th century and still exists today is the New York institution Delmonico’s, which originally opened in 1827 as a pastry shop. Early customers of Delmonico’s were treated to a vast selection of foods; its 1838 menu was 11 pages in length and included French dishes with their English translations.

Gossip from Gotham: Delmonico's--The Most Fashionable Restaurant of the Continent, San Francisco Bulletin newspaper article, 19 January 1884

San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 19 January 1884, page 4

One surprising aspect of researching ancestral food history in newspapers is that your assumptions may be proved wrong. A good example of this can be found in this 1898 newspaper article. It reports on Thanksgiving being served at local Cleveland (Ohio) hotels. Today, some families would never think of going to a restaurant for Thanksgiving, labeling it “untraditional”—and you might assume our ancestors felt that way, too. However, judging from this article it seems that eating Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant was something many of our ancestors did. This article states that “Hundreds of guests were entertained by the hostelries yesterday, for many Clevelanders preferred to dine down town rather than at their own homes.” The article goes on to provide names of those who dined at those hotels. What a great genealogical find to see the name of an ancestor and where they were eating on Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving at the Hotels, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 November 1898

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 November 1898, page 10

Restaurant menus found in newspapers show the types of food available to your ancestors. In this example of a 1909 Sunday dinner menu from South Dakota, 25 cents buys quite a meal!

Sunday Dinner at the Model Restaurant, Aberdeen American newspaper article 18 April 1909

Aberdeen American (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 18 April 1909, page 5

This 1903 Sunday dinner menu from Wichita, Kansas, costs 20 cents and includes dishes such as Irish Stew and Prime Beef.

Menu at the People's Restaurant, Colored Citizen newspaper article 31 October 1903

Colored Citizen (Wichita, Kansas), 31 October 1903, page 3

One great aspect of newspaper research is the reminder that fads can and do make comebacks. Case in point: calories printed on menus. Think that the printing of calories is a new idea to get all of us to make healthier food choices? Consider this article about the appearance of calories on menus—in 1918! Makes you wonder why the reporting of calories eventually fell out of favor. My guess is people want to enjoy their meal out without guilt.

Aha! A New One--Restaurants Put Calories Count on Menu, Times-Picayune newspaper article 12 May 1918

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 12 May 1918, page 9

Although today we are familiar with calories and how much is too much, the idea of watching your calories was a new one at the beginning of the 20th century. This article concludes with suggested total amounts of calories needed for different types of people, including laundresses who needed 3000 calories versus a secretary who needed just 2000.

Newspapers provide researchers with rich social history and help us better understand our ancestors’ times. Take an afternoon and peruse the food history printed in the newspaper of your ancestors’ hometown. You just might be surprised at what you find.

Get more great genealogy tips and tools at - GenealogyBank Genealogy Blog and be sure to visit Genealogy Bank to start researching your ancestry online.

06 Jun 15:25


by blogger01
In 1813, the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) was established by Congress to ensure that the American public would have access to its government’s information. Today there are 1,200 depository libraries, including some in the St. Louis area which have publications dating back to the early 19th century. FDLP collections are not necessarily arranged with the genealogist in mind, so it is helpful to know where to look and how to access indexes. In this presentation, Marie Concannon gives strategies for researchers who would like to search FDLP collections for clues about ancestors. She will speak about state government publications for genealogical research as well.

When: Saturday, June 22, 2013, 10:30 a.m.
Where: Lee Auditorium, Missouri History Museum (Lindell & DeBaliviere in Forest Park)
How much: Free. Reservations are not required.
03 Jun 20:21

Copyright and the quilt

by Judy G. Russell

How far does copyright go?

Michael John Neill found a reference online to a quilt made by his aunt, Ruth (Weber) Haase, that was in a museum at Michigan State University. He followed up and found that a cousin had donated the quilt to the Great Lakes Quilt Center at that university.

But, he wrote, he couldn’t post the picture of the quilt he’d found: “I didn’t take the picture and the copyright to the picture belongs to the owner, not me. Even if the quilt were made by an ancestor and I was their only living descendant, I still could not use it. The museum owns the quilt and the image on their site.”1

Michael followed up two days later with an actual image of the quilt, noting:

The image of the quilt, like any image, can’t just be used in whatever fashion I want. I can use it in my personal collection and in my own private research. But the public use of images that I did not create needs to recognize the rights of the original creator of those images and, in this case, the repository holding the quilt that was photographed. It is not enough just to indicate where the original was located–if I’m going to “publish” a picture I did not take that is not in the public domain, I need permission. I emailed the Center and received permission to use the image in a blog post.2

The experience got him thinking. Were there, he wondered, special copyright rules for the use of images of tangible items like a quilt?

Great question. And the answer is that most wonderful of answers you will sometimes get from people like The Legal Genealogist:

It depends.

Copyright law protects a very wide variety of types of original work, including:

     • “Architectural work” — defined as “the design of a building as embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings. The work includes the overall form as well as the arrangement and composition of spaces and elements in the design, but does not include individual standard features.”3

     • “Literary works” — defined as “works, other than audiovisual works, expressed in words, numbers, or other verbal or numerical symbols or indicia, regardless of the nature of the material objects, such as books, periodicals, manuscripts, phonorecords, film, tapes, disks, or cards, in which they are embodied.”4

     • “Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works” — defined as including “two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, diagrams, models, and technical drawings, including architectural plans.”5

For the first type, the “architectural work” — in other words, that iconic building you’re just dying to take a picture of, you’re just fine. Go ahead and take your pictures. The law expressly provides that

The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.6

For the second type, the “literary works” — all those books and magazines and manuscripts we use day to day as genealogists, the usual copyright rules apply. Get permission unless you’re darned sure the item is in the public domain.7

It’s that third type, the “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works,” that can be confusing. Oh, in most cases, it’s pretty easy, sure. You need permission to photograph and publish your photographic copy of someone else’s photograph or map or chart or diagram if it’s protected by copyright. But what about the unusual case — where the work is being displayed on property where you can access it and photograph it?

That’s where things can get sticky. The problem is that just because the item is being displayed doesn’t mean it’s fair game for you to make a copy, even by way of your own photograph, and then publish that photograph. That’s because copyright gives the author of the work the exclusive right to:

(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;…
(5) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly8

For safety’s sake, you have to consider your photograph as a copy of the original or, at least, as a derivative work based on the original,9 and that means getting permission before you publish your photo.

Even press photographers run into problems when they photograph, say, a building and the building has a sculpture on the grounds. The American Society of Media Photographers warns its members that

When art is involved in the photography of a building, however, there could be a problem. If there is a work of art attached to or adjacent to the structure you are photographing, or if you are just photographing that work of art, to be safe you will need to get permission from the copyright owner. If the artwork is secondary to the subject or focus of the photograph, or if your photography is intended for educational, research, news reporting, criticism, or public interest use, your pictures may fall into the area of “fair use” — yet a litigious copyright owner could make your life a living, expensive and defensive hell.10

So, as usual, the rule of thumb is: if you’re going to publish your copy, and you’re not 100% sure what you have is free from copyright restrictions, ask for permission. Always ask.

Now… what does that mean for the quilt? First off, the artwork on the quilt (but not the quilt as a whole) would be a “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural work.” Copyright law distinguishes between artistic elements and utilitarian elements of a useful article.11 (It’s a quilt, not a painting.)

Second, the copyright owner — the daughter of the original artist — donated the quilt and, presumably, all rights to the quilt to the museum. So assuming that the original artist died less than 70 years ago, the artistic elements of the quilt would still be protected.

So if you happen to be at that museum in Michigan, you would need — you guessed it — permission to take a photo at all (museums can have “no photography” rules) and permission to publish that photo later even if you’re allowed to take pictures.

  1. Michael John Neill, “Variation of Cats and Mice with Sawtooth Border,”, posted 9 Feb 2013 ( : accessed 2 Jun 2013).
  2. Ibid., “The Actual Cat & Mouse Quilt,” posted 11 Feb 2013.
  3. 17 U.S.C. §101, “Definitions.”
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. 17 U.S.C. §120(a), “Pictorial Representations Permitted.”
  7. See generally Judy G. Russell, Category Archives: Copyright, The Legal Genealogist ( : accessed 2 Jun 2013).
  8. 17 U.S.C. §106, “Exclusive rights in copyrighted works.” Emphasis added.
  9. See 17 U.S.C. §101, “Definitions.”
  10. Copyright Tutorial: Photos of public buildings,” American Society of Media Photographers ( : accessed 2 Jun 2013).
  11. See 17 U.S.C. §101, “Definitions.”
03 Jun 15:46

Citations vs. Sources

by James Tanner
I guess your first thought is that citations and sources are not the same thing and cannot be in opposition. But, in fact, they are in opposition when someone fails to provide a source merely because they are afraid to "mess up" the citation. Yes, that really does happen. People are intimidated by the forms asking for details about the source and they have no idea what the form is asking for and therefore elect either to forego adding the source or to leave off the citation.

I must admit that some of the systems for citations used by genealogy database programs are intimidating in their complexity. If a program elects to use a simple form for entering a citation, then it is criticized for failing to provide for all the variations found in the Mills book. (Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2007).

OK, before you get all huffy, I am 100% in favor of citing sources and I have a copy of the Mills book sitting here, always within reach. I fully realize that I use Turabian format for all my book citations and that you publishing folks probably use Chicago or MLA or some other format. I use Turabian to annoy all of you anyway.

But there is a problem. Consistent with our desire to attract new, younger genealogy adherents, shouldn't we look at some of the areas of genealogy that might be made a little less intimidating. Isn't an 800 page book on citing sources intimidating? How about we decide that the source is important and as long as there is enough information to find the source, then the source is cited and leave it at that? Maybe the programs with the complex citation formats could be optional and a simple form would be sufficient for most purposes. Aren't the complex citations formats more suited to publications than family trees?

Now lets see, the idea is that we want to know where all this weird stuff came from, isn't it? Wouldn't it be nice if we had some idea whether all these lengthy pedigrees back into the Middle Ages and beyond had sources? Do we want to know or do we want perfectly formatted citations? I know, you want both. Knowledge and Perfection. So what if this is a multiple choice test and you can only choose one? As for me, I would rather have some idea where the stuff came from rather than worry about commas and colons. I'll leave the citation issues to the journal editing folks.

By they way, most of the people I know who are doing genealogical research have never read or even seen a genealogical journal article and wouldn't know where to go looking for one. So the whole idea of a formal citation is missing from their experience. The last time they did a citation was doing note cards in high school. Personally, I was used to citing everything I said in a law brief but, as lawyers, we use our own proprietary method of citation and it is pretty loose. If an attorney uses some weird format, nobody really cares. All they do is make disparaging remarks in the answering brief.

It also helps a whole lot that many of the journals use different citation standards and I find that I am always looking for a citation standard in Mills that seems to be one of the ones she left out of the book. For example, how do you cite comic books? No, just kidding. No comments please. I know how to cite comic books.

So what is the point of this blog post? I never thought you would ask. My point is that citation formats are nice but are really intimidating to most researchers. Let's try to be a little more inclusive and less strict. As long as we can find what they are talking about, it should work. If someone wants to come along and correct all my citations, and has nothing better to do, they are more than welcome to do so.

03 Jun 15:41


by blogger01
Great news for Missouri genealogists:

The Missouri Republican newspaper has been digitized for the years 1854-1876, and is accessible on the website of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Click on the link for years of interest,, then click ADVANCED SEARCH-->SEARCH BY DATE.

1854-1860: LINK
1861-1869: LINK
1869-1873: LINK
1873-1876: LINK

These newspapers were scanned using optical character recognition (OCR) software (which means that text is searchable).
03 Jun 15:39


by (Bill West)
Back when I first started researching my family history, I was what was labeled a
"bedroom" or "pajama" genealogist. The image conjured up by that is of someone
sitting at a computer in the corner of their bedroom, dressed in their pajamas as
they surfed the internet looking for family records and documents. And that's pretty
much what I did.

Well, except for the pajamas. I was fully clothed.

Back then, I was working as the manager of a video store and working weird hours.
Many days I didn't get home until well after midnight, and my one day a week off
was for buying groceries and doing laundry. There was no time to visit archives or
court houses, and even if there were, I barely knew where to begin. Some earlier
visits to those places to find information on John Cutter West had not gone beyond
looking for his birth record because I didn't know what else I should look for. After
my friend Diana told me I could download a free PAF genealogy program I did so and
began filling in information my Aunt Dorothy had sent, and then more from Florence
O'Connor's book about my Ellingwood and Dunham ancestors. Then I started Googling
names, and searching Rootsweb and

I started finding things: Google Books editions of the Essex County Court Files, Pension
Files on Footnotes for ancestors I didn't know had serve4 in the American Revolution.
I found birth, death, and marriage records on FamilySearch and Federal Census Records
on When I started this blog, it brought me into contact with distant
cousins who shared pictures and documents with me. I found newspaper stories about
 fatal accidents and a journal entry from a scientist about a conversation with my 2x
great grandfather and the details about what he told the scientist.

All of this I found online.

And it keeps going on and on. FamilySearch is putting more documents online every day,
They've posted Probate Files for Maine and New Hampshire and recently added the
Massachusetts, Land Records, 1620-1986 collection. I've found more things I might never
would have found as quickly and easily as I have found them online. I'm grateful to them,, Fold3, and all the other websites that have made my search much easier.

I know there are still plenty of things out there that aren't online and that I would have
to go see where them where they are kept. Maybe after I finally get a replacement for the
Late Great Ping The Wonder Car I'll have the chance to do that. There is still some who
are a bit dismissive of those who research mostly online.

But for the moment, I will proudly say I am an online genealogist.

Only now I do it in the parlor, with a laptop, and still fully clothed. 
03 Jun 15:18

Google Reader Demise Forces Changes at GeneaBloggers

by Thomas MacEntee

changes at geneabloggers


Well, I’ve put this off as long as I could, but with the Google Reader shutdown taking place on July 1, 2013, I feel obligated to inform members and readers of GeneaBloggers of some upcoming changes at the site.

The “back end” of GeneaBloggers is dependent on Google Reader, from the list of member blogs, to the list of genealogy blogs by type, and especially the rollup-widgets for the Daily Blogging Prompts. After four years in existence, it is time for me to move GeneaBloggers to a more reliable, less proprietary technology-specific platform for aggregating member content.

How Things Work Now with Google Reader and GeneaBloggers

Each day, I review over 500 blog posts from members of GeneaBloggers using my Google Reader account. I manually “tag” those posts which meet the criteria for that day’s Daily Blogging Prompt.  Yes, this is a “handcrafted” operation here at GeneaBloggers. In addition, when new blogs are added, they are added to my Google Reader and tagged by type.

All this takes me about 10 hours a week to do and it has been a labor of love since these listings have been key to the sense of community spirit at GeneaBloggers.

Ch-ch-ch-changes . . .

Here’s what you can expect to see over the next month:

  • Removal of roll-up-widgets for Daily Blogging Prompts: I’ve looked at other means of listing member content specific to a prompt, but none of the options would prevent spammers and the “ugly and toxic ones on the Web” as I call them from taking over the listings.  I will continue to look for new technologies that accomplish an aggregation of content based on keyword or topic, but again, I fear being too dependent upon a proprietary technology that could easily disappear next week or next year.
  • Use of Pinterest: Since January 2013, I have been posting member content to boards at Pinterest set up for some of the Daily Blogging Prompts. Doing so requires that each post have an image of a minimum size.  I will set up new boards for as many of the other prompts as I can.
  • Member blog listing: I will be converting the listing to a database that will include blog type and be searchable by keyword.

These changes will take place during the month of June 2013 and no later than July 1, 2013. Some you will see as soon as tomorrow; some will appear closer to the end of June. Your feedback and suggestions are appreciated and can be sent to geneabloggers at gmail dot com.

©2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Google Reader Demise Forces Changes at GeneaBloggers is a post from All rights reserved.

03 Jun 15:15

Ordering the SS-5

by Judy G. Russell

Ordering applications from the SSA

Reader Janet Buchanan is helping a friend, now in her 80s, with a major conundrum: wading through too many names for her paternal grandparents.

The friend’s father had one sibling and “between the two of them on the birth, death and marriage certificates there are many different sets of names,” Janet wrote. “So, we want to send away for their Social Security applications to see what names they have listed there.”

The father died in 1958, the aunt in 1981. And what Janet and her friend want most to know is exactly what to order from the Social Security Administration, how to order it — and “whether we will spend the money and get nothing.”

What to order

The form you want to order from the Social Security Administration is generally known as an Application for a Social Security Number — the Form SS-5.1 The example below is my grandfather’s SS-5 form from 19372:

Whether it’ll be worth it

From the very beginning of the Social Security system in 1935, the form required a number of key pieces of information, including:

     • First, middle and last name
     • Present mailing address
     • Age at last birthday
     • Date of birth
     • Place of birth (including city, county and state)
     • Father’s full name
     • Mother’s full maiden name
     • Race or color
     • Date and signature

At various times, an applicant may have also had to specify his or her full name at birth, including maiden name if a married female, the name of the current employer and employer’s address, and other information.

Getting a copy of this form is almost always worth it. The information on the SS-5 form was usually provided by the applicant, and so is often the best source of information about what the applicant knew about his or her own birth and parentage.

The worst you’ll get is information supplied by an employer that filled out the form from its employees’ records and had them sign it — which adds another layer of possible human error, or the lie the applicant told for whatever reason. In my family, for example, a cousin of my father’s listed her grandparents as her parents to avoid having to admit that she’d been born out of wedlock. But even that information is worth having.

How to order it

To order a copy of an applicant’s SS-5, you need to make a formal request under the federal Freedom of Information Act using Form SSA-771. And you can do that in one of two ways: online and by mail. Which method you choose should depend entirely on when the applicant was born and died.

Here’s why:

First of all, you can only get a copy of an SS-5 form for a person who is deceased. The living all have a right of privacy that the government recognizes in the information supplied on the form. So you must be able to prove that the person is dead.

As of 2011, the Social Security Administration (SSA) changed its privacy policy and now declares that it “will not disclose information about any person in our records who is under 120 years old, except in those cases where we have acceptable proof of death (e.g., death certificate, obituary, newspaper article, or police report).”3

Generally speaking, the SSA has in the past accepted the fact that the person’s name appears on the Social Security Death Master File (what we know as the Social Security Death Index or SSDI) as proof that the person is deceased. But since 2011 not all deaths have been included in the public version of the SSDI — that’s when the SSA stopped including deaths from protected state death reports4 — and it’s just not clear anymore whether the SSA will look to its own records instead of the public version to determine whether someone is deceased.

So with newer deaths, deaths of younger persons, and as to anyone whose name you can’t find in the public SSDI, you may well need to supply proof of death and that can’t be done using the online system.

Second, under that 2011 privacy policy change, the SSA has made it harder to get the very information most useful from the SS-5 forms: the date and place of birth and the names of the parents. Here’s what the SSA says now: “under our current policy, we do not release the parents’ names on an SS-5 application unless the parents’ are proven deceased, have a birth date more than 120 years ago, or the number holder on the SS-5 is at least 100 years of age.”5

In a large number of cases, people who have ordered SS-5 forms since 2011 have found the copies they receive have had the names of the parents redacted (blacked out) and even on occasion the date and place of birth as well.

To avoid that, you need to provide evidence that the parents are deceased, or that they would have been born more than 120 years ago, unless the person whose SS-5 you’re ordering was born more than 100 years ago. And, again, there’s no way to attach that proof in the online system.

So even though the online ordering system is faster, the only time it really makes sense to use it any more is where (a) the person whose form you want was born more than 100 years ago and (b) you’re darned sure that there aren’t any Social Security records showing the parents were under age 20 when the person was born. If you’re sure about both of those facts, then it’s safe to make the request using the online SSA-771 form even if you don’t have an exact date of death or proof of death (for the person or the person’s parents).

In all other cases, you should probably download the SSA-771 form and send it in by mail with your supporting evidence. The address for mailing is:

Social Security Administration
OEO FOIA Workgroup
300 N. Greene Street
P.O. Box 33022
Baltimore, Maryland 21290-3022

There are lots of ways to prove your case that may carry the day with the SSA. I’ve personally used some combination of the following in a number of cases:

     • An obituary of the person saying the parents predeceased the person
     • Death records of the parents
     • Tombstone photos
     • A census record showing the ages of the parents

And if you happen to get a redacted version of the SS-5 anyway, whether from the online system or by mail, you can appeal the decision to redact it and send in the additional evidence to the address provided in the letter that accompanies the redacted version.

  1. See generally Pamela Boyer Sayre, “The SS-5: Application for Social Security Number,” Social Security Sleuthing, Genealogy ( : accessed 30 May 2013).
  2. Clay Rex Cottrell, SS no. (withheld for privacy), 22 June 1937, Application for Account Number (Form SS-5), Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland.
  3. Make a FOIA Request,” Social Security Administration ( : accessed 30 May 2013).
  4. See Kimberly Powell, “Social Security Administration Removing Names from Public Death Master File (aka SSDI),” Genealogy ( : accessed 30 May 2013).
  5. Ibid.
03 Jun 15:14

Can Google Authorship Help Fight Plagiarism?

by Jonathan Bailey

Google LogoThough Google Authorship Markup is well over a year old, it’s been getting a lot of attention recently as a means to prevent plagiarism, or at least prevent some of its worst impacts.

But is this something Google Authorship can actually do? Though most seem to agree that Google Authorship comes with SEO benefits, including at least one case study that indicated content with Google Authorship is indexed more quickly, and it improves your click thru rate due to the larger visual presence, it’s less clear if it actually prevents Google from indexing infringing material ahead of original content.

However, there’s a lot of reason to think that it would. Google Authorship gives the search engine a verification that you are a real person, connected with a Google Account, and that you meet the other qualifications. Why would Google trust a site that has done none of those things over a site that has done all of them?

Yet, Google is always full of surprises and often times the results defy logic, or even its own rules. I decided to try and research this and, though I was only able to find a few examples, the results were far from definitive.

How and Why Google Authorship Works

The basic premise of Google Authorship is simple. You, as an author, create a Google+ profile, add your site to it and sign up for Google Authorship. From there, you’ll have to do three things:

  1. Make sure your profile photos is a recognizable headshot.
  2. Ensure each page carries a byline with your name (IE: Jonathan Bailey) and that the name matches your profile.
  3. Verify that you have an email address at the site’s domain.

Though there are other ways to do it, the above way seems to be the most common and is the most preferred by Google.

Once you do that, when your pages appear in search results your profile picture will be displayed alongside the results as well as information on your Google+ profile.

Google Authorship Snapshot

But while the benefits of having your image and an expanded snippet are obvious, many have theorized that Google will also weigh authorship in the general results. Any site that has jumped through Google’s hoops, theoretically, should get preferential treatment.

Basically, since the spammers and plagiarists, most likely, won’t go through the trouble of setting up Google Authorship for every profile, it makes sense that those who do should have an easier time outranking them.

Whether or not that’s true is difficult to answer.

Putting it to the Test

The problem with testing something like this is that we are testing the exception. Google, to its credit, gets authorship right well over 99% of the time. I tested two dozen links (half with authorship and half without) across a variety of established sites and found none where the original wasn’t at the top.

However, what I did find were several cases similar to the one below:

SERP Example

What you see is that the original site did not use Google Authorship on the article in question and still ranked well ahead of the duplicate created by a questionable site elsewhere. However, the duplicate site was using Google Authorship and had the “authors” pic and information in the snippet.

To be clear, in this case, the duplicate had every disadvantage imaginable. The original site is well-trusted and respected. The scraped page is actually a category page on the site, filled with other content, and, generally, it gave countless signals it was a poor quality result.

Still, this means two things that should be obvious:

  1. Google is weighing other factors in addition to and ahead of Google Authorship.
  2. Spammers, scrapers, etc. have started using Google Authorship as well, likely hurting its usefulness in content protection.

In short, while Google Authorship is definitely a badge of originality, the value of that badge is up for debate and it may not be as valuable as other, more traditional factors.

The Bigger (Potential) Problem

But while Google Authorship may help some with the relatively rare problem of a plagiarist beating original work in the search results, it can’t help with the more broad problem of duplicate content.

With the recent updates by Google, the search engine has gone on the warpath what it sees as content farming and duplicate content. Though it promises not penalize sites that are infringed, Google admits that it isn’t perfect and will sometimes catch sites that are scraped in their nets.

In some cases, sites that are widely scraped or otherwise repurposed find themselves being penalized by Google and knocked down in the results. Basically, Google mistakes the site for a content farm or some other site pumping out unoriginal content and, while the duplicates don’t gain any advantage, the original still ends up suffering.

Authorship can’t protect against this problem and it seems to be the more common issue sites are facing. This is based on my personal experience both with my content and working with others having issues with scrapers.

Bottom Line

To be clear, none of this is to say that Google Authorship is a bad idea or something you shouldn’t do. You absolutely should set it up on your site if you’re able. It’s free, only takes a moment and provides several clear benefits.

However, don’t expect Google Authorship to make all of your content misuse issues disappear. It is at best one metric that’s weighed and observed among many others and its weight will likely decrease as spammers make heavier use of it.

After all, it’s not just something that the good guys take advantage of.

That weight and effectiveness is even less if you don’t actively participate in Google+ and work to grow your following there. After all, an account only in a few circles will, inevitably, be trusted even less than one with many.

The fundamentals remain intact. Good content, good inbound linking and a good social networking presence (including Google+) are all still important. Also, keeping an eye on your content’s use also doesn’t hurt, especially if you can stop anyone who goes too far.

Google Authorship is a great step to take, but like most “silver bullets” against plagiarism, it doesn’t live up to the hype that some have given it.

31 May 18:45

Are Scraping Websites Destructive to Bloggers and Genealogy

by James Tanner
In one of my last posts, I explored the reasons why I believe that "scraping" in the form I found it, may not be a violation of the copyright law. There are still other considerations that apply to this "scraping" type activity. The key issue with this type of website is content. But first, a review and an analysis to try and differentiate scraping from other types of legitimate activities.

There are three characteristics that define a "scraping" website:

  • The scraping websites copy and republish the exact content of other websites
  • The scraping website contains no original content or value
  • The scraping websites provide no unique organization or benefit to the user

The initial difficulty here is differentiating between "scraping," as an activity, and news aggregators or readers. Essentially, what a reader does and what a scraper does are identical. The main, and most important, difference is that a reader or aggregator bases its activity on the voluntary and intentional activity of a user who benefits from the aggregation. Commonly, a reader or aggregator will use an RSS feed that has to be initiated by a specific user of the reader or aggregator program. In contrast, the scraper website collects content from sites determined by the programmer of the website, not for the programmer's personal use, but for the purpose of attracting "hits" to promote advertising on the scraping website and thereby benefit the programmer.

At first glance, you may think that the key difference between the two types of activities is obtaining permission from the target websites; those aggregated by the reader user and those scraped by the website scraper. This is not the case. I can use any number of aggregator programs to "watch" the content of specific websites for changes in content both with or without the permission or knowledge of the target website. So we must look elsewhere to determine the reason why we would accept the actions of a reader or news aggregator and decry the actions of a website scraper.

I think the key difference is the venue where the scraped or aggregated content is used or displayed. If I subscribe to a website through a reader or aggregator, the resulting content is displayed for my personal use in my own program. As I noted already, a website scraper has an entirely different motivation. The content is displayed openly on the Web and is used to attract "hits" to the scraping website with the expectation that the hits will generate income. But then this point raises another issue. Aren't any of the websites that are monetized doing exactly the same thing? Don't those of us who have advertising on on blogs or websites hope that the clicks on the ads will generate some form of income? If I go on Google+ or Facebook and give people a link to a website, I suggest, as is done in many technology groups on the Web, aren't I doing the same thing as a scraping website? It would be nice to believe that the contributors with links to suggested websites were motivated by altruistic desires to better mankind, but their participation is more likely monetarily based. They would like to attract more traffic to their own websites and thereby promote their own economic well-being. But again, on one side we see this activity as "valid" when done in a certain context and other activities as invalid.

So what is it about a website scraper that is objectionable? If a monetary motive is commonly assumed for most web content and the scrapers aren't doing anything too much different from other legitimate activities, why do we think scraping is bad and the other activities are "good" or "acceptable?"

I need to get back to the idea of permission. Do I need your permission to provide a link to your website? Obviously not. Do I need your permission to summarize or quote some of your content? Again, obviously not. But the second question depends on the extent of my quote or copy. This gets back into the issue of fair use in copyright law, which I will leave alone for now. Is then the issue with scraping websites only dependent on the fact that the scraping is done without permission or even knowledge of the target site? It doesn't appear to me that permission is an issue. For example, if my site is included in an article talking about the forty best blogging sites, am I going to be upset? Not likely.

So why is there outrage about scraping? If the scraping website uses more than a link to the target sites, there may well be copyright issues. If the scraping website includes a substantial portion of the content of the target sites, again, there may be copyright issues. But the real issue here is something a lot less obvious.

Scraping websites are more like spam and graffiti than they are like legitimate websites containing content. At the core, they are destructive rather than constructive. They take up time and space on the Internet without adding anything of value in return. It is the lack of content that is the issue. You can't claim freedom of speech when there is no speech. In other words they are worse than the people who drop flyers and business cards in my front yard, because they are using my content to promote their own purposes without either adding value or providing meaningful service. They are essentially spam. In addition to wasting people's time with an unwanted website, spam and scrapers both eat up a lot of network bandwidth. In that way, scraping falls into the category of being destructive rather than constructive.
31 May 13:50

Dear Randy - How Do You Handle False or Wrong Information?

by Randy Seaver
A Genea-Musings reader recently asked in an email:

"I'm recently getting 'serious' about my genealogical research and have just started reading your blog.  I find it very entertaining and helpful.  Because of you, I have ordered 'Evidence Explained!' and will endeavor to be as accurate as possible when citing my sources!

"I was wondering, though, how you handle information you know to be false.  For example, my great grandmother's name was incorrectly recorded on the 1910 U.S. Census as "Domeca," when her name was, in reality, "Domenica."  In another census, her family's last name was very badly misspelled, but I know it's the correct family because it's the same address as 10 years prior and all the first names and ages are correct for the family members (other sources also confirm they never moved).  Do you enter this information into your database as alternate facts in the interest of being thorough, or do you disregard it?"

My response:

For your specific problem, I would enter the names in my database with what I think is correct - in your case, Domenica.  That is your Conclusion based on the evidence at hand.  Hopefully, you have several sources that spell her name that way.  Same with the last name that was badly mangled in the census.  You could discuss in the Note for the Name, in your Person Note, or in your Research Notes, that different records provided different spellings, and you concluded that the correct name was whatever you decided.  If you obtain more evidence, your conclusion may change, or be corroborated.

 I do add Alternate Names for different names used in records, but pick the name (draw a Conclusion) that I think is correct for the "Name" field.  Then I write a Name Note for the Name fact describing the variations and why I chose the Name I did for the person in my database.

I also add Alternate Events for different dates and places for a given Event, but I don't do every Alternate date - from census records, for instance, because they are usually inexact.  If there is a range of birth dates, I will write a Birth Event Note that lists the evidence, the analysis of the evidence at hand, and my reasons for the Conclusion.  I put my Conclusions in the Birth Event fields.

In the Person notes, or the record event Notes (e.g., a census Event Note), I transcribe the names exactly as they were written on the record.  If the name was indexed incorrectly by the data provider, I would note that also.  In the Note, I explain why you think the record pertains to your family.

For information in any record that I know (from personal knowledge, or from an evaluation of all evidence) to be false or wrong, I would discuss it in the Event Notes, or the Person Note, or the Research Note, so that others who use/see/find my database understand what I've found, how I analyzed it, and the evidence that drew me to a conclusion.

I also suggest that you become familiar with the Genealogical Proof Standard (Evidence! Explained is a good start, but there are other resources, including websites, blog posts, webinars, videos and books) and practice it in your research and documentation efforts.

Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver

30 May 20:06

Should Technology Deface Tombstones? A Better Idea

by Dick Eastman

Elia Corti tombstoneI had an experience today that got me thinking about today's tombstone technology and what it might be like in the future. A company that shall remain unnamed asked that I write about the company's product: long-lasting display plates containing QR codes. (You can read about QR codes used on tombstones by a different company in my earlier article at The company's products can be attached by adhesive, either to a tombstone (which I am strongly against) or to an urn, marker, or other nearby object that can be inserted into the ground near the tombstone. (I can live with that second idea.)

The second part of their product occurs when a future visitor to the cemetery uses a QR code reader in an Apple iPhone, Android phone, or similar mobile device to read the QR code. That person then would use the device’s wireless Internet connection to display an associated web page that is stored on a web server someplace. This product requires the QR code to point to the dedicated web page on the company's web server. Each QR code points to a different page on the server, and each page contains information supplied by the family that purchased the QR code display plate. That tribute page could either display information directly or redirect the visitor another web site, such as a charity of the family’s choice or a family tree posted on some other web site.

At first, this sounds like a good idea; but, then I wondered, "What happens if the company goes out of business and their web site goes offline?"

I assume the answer is that the customer has wasted the money he or she spent. While I hope this company remains in business for a long, long time, I still don't like the idea of depending upon any one corporation's future success.

The discussion I had with a company rep revolved around a possible endorsement of the product from me. In return, the company would offer a discount to readers of this newsletter.

I declined the company's offer, and I will explain why I am not offering discounts on this product to newsletter readers. The bottom line is that I don't approve of this product as it presently exists. However, I will also offer explanations and list three of my concerns. I will say that minor product changes could quickly remove my objections. However, I think I have an even better idea which I will also describe.

First, there is the concept of attaching a QR code (or any other foreign object) directly to a tombstone. I am against that for a variety of reasons. When discussing historic tombstones, most tombstone scholars would be aghast at the idea of using adhesives or any other means to attach a new object to an existing tombstone.

NOTE: Adhesives are commonly used to repair broken tombstones. However, only certain types of adhesive are used because using an improper chemical mix in the adhesive can actually accelerate the tombstone's decay. Some adhesives also expand or contract with changes in temperature. That would hasten the destruction of the tombstone; the exact opposite of what was planned.

If you are thinking of using an adhesive of any sort on any tombstone for any purpose, please first consult with an expert who knows what to use and especially what not to use! Even then, adhesives are normally only used to restore a tombstone to as close as possible to its original condition, not to add new attachments.

WOGN-QR-codeI do think the use of a nearby "marker" of some sort is a good idea, however. In many cemeteries, we already see many in-ground markers or flags placed by veterans' organizations, fraternal organizations, the Daughters of the American Revolution, church groups, and others. These nearby markers are subject to occasional theft or lawnmower damage, but most of them seem to remain in place for decades. If the item deteriorates or is stolen, it is also easily replaced without damaging anything else. I would think that a SEPARATE marker containing a QR code could be used in any cemeteries that allow separate markers.

My second objection revolves around the question, "What web page or URL should the QR code point to?" I would never purchase a QR code marker that points to a corporation's web site, even if that site then redirects the web browser elsewhere. I would prefer to have the QR code point directly to a web site of my choice, preferably to a web page that I own or control.

QR Code tombstoneTo be sure, even pointing to one of my own web sites is an imperfect idea; but, at least it remains under my direct control. It is not dependent upon the lifetime of any corporation. If I want to change the web page later, I can do so. I can do that even if the original corporation has long since disappeared.

Of course, this assumes that I am still around, alive, and able to make web page updates for many more years. However, since my web site is under my control, I also have the option of finding and motivating younger family members to continue the web site after my demise. Maybe they will even add a new QR code and web page that documents my life! It is not a perfect solution; but, at least it remains under my control. I like that better than depending upon some corporation where I have no control at all.

As to my third objection, I love QR code technology but do question how long it will be available. I doubt if any technology will last more than ten or twenty years. While QR codes are a great solution today, I doubt if my grandchildren or great-grandchildren will use them. I'm reminded of the old proverb, "This too shall pass." That's another reason against permanently attaching anything to a tombstone: if the technology becomes obsolete, the tombstone is left with a permanently-attached memorial of someone's failed use of the technology of that time. That would be embarrassing, even if the person who attached the foreign object has long since departed this world.

In fact, I think I see a better technological solution on the horizon, a solution that is non-destructive and doesn't require any attachments. It also doesn't require an in-person visit to the cemetery by future “visitors.” It even solves the "problem" I have because all of my ancestors' tombstones are buried in the snow for about four or five  months every year. You may or may not have the same "problem."

In a newsletter article published on February 12 of this year at, I wrote, "Tombstone experts have questioned the practice of using any sort of adhesive to attach anything to a tombstone. The new app from Otter Creek Holdings plans to make QR codes obsolete by replacing them with the one thing that never changes: latitude and longitude." In fact, future descendants and others can obtain the information without even visiting the cemetery, unlike today's "solutions" that require an in-person visit to view and use QR codes.

One new tombstone app gives cemetery visitors the power to easily find genealogical information about a deceased individual without the use of QR codes or other displays at the grave site. This is done when one volunteer snaps a quick, in-person photo of a particular gravesite's monument from the app's interface. (I assume the volunteer is not snapping pictures when snow obscures the information.) The photo normally includes longitude and latitude information embedded in the photo's metadata as supplied by the mobile device's internal GPS. That photo and its embedded information can then be uploaded to,,,,,, a personal web page devoted to a deceased relative's memory, or to any of hundreds of other web sites. In fact, it can be uploaded to ALL of those sites and even more, should the photographer wish. When uploaded, still more textual information can be added beyond the embedded metadata. The exact location of the tombstone, complete with a picture, a transcription of the tombstone's text, instructions on how to find the cemetery, and any other information as well as link(s) the uploader wishes can all be included.

I only know of one mobile app available today that can use that data, and I wrote about it at However, if enough people start using longitude and latitude information, I am sure dozens of such apps will appear in the future. I also know of only one web site today that encourages the use of longitude and latitude information for tombstones (, but that also can change quickly. If customers start asking for it, I bet dozens of web sites will add new search capabilities.

Chris-tombstone-1A smartphone or any desktop or laptop computer could then access the online photo and its included metadata. Any app COULD (in the future) instantly recognize the exact tombstone in question and then display all known information about the stone and the person it commemorates. If the first page contains links to the individual's information stored on other web sites, such as on,,,, or others, the person viewing the information can easily click to visit those additional sources of information.

Once the longitude and latitude information is automatically extracted from each picture's metadata, I would envision the possibility of also clicking on an option that says, "Display nearby tombstones" or something similar. That would simplify the search for possible relatives of the first person, even in the largest of cemeteries. Today you can find lots of web sites that list a cemetery's tombstones alphabetically, but very few of them will provide a listing of nearby tombstones. However, that capability would be simple to add if all tombstones' longitude and latitude information was included as searchable database fields. That information already is embedded in most iPhone and Android photos and can be added with a number of other cameras.

Theoretically, this information also could be added manually, but I wouldn't want to do that to hundreds of photos at a time. That would be a tedious task! It's much better to let technology perform mundane tasks for us. Let's use cameras that embed that information for us automatically.

This technology should work when the information seeker is in the cemetery as well as when at home or at other locations. If used while in a cemetery, the process is simple. Since today's smartphones usually include a GPS, an app written for that smartphone or tablet computer could easily determine where you are located and then show you information about nearby tombstones, more information than what is engraved on each stone. If you are at home or elsewhere when you use the app, you would have to enter the name or the latitude and longitude of each cemetery of interest. Perhaps the app will also automatically look up the cemetery's name as well as its latitude and longitude.

For less-common surnames, you could even search for all the entries of that surname in all cemeteries in a given town, county, or even an entire state or province.

The result should be nearly instant identification of any recorded tombstone from any location in the world, accompanied by all known information about the person buried there. That will even work in mid-winter as a personal visit should not be required. All of this can be done without attaching any foreign devices or adhesives to the tombstone.

I would love to go to a web site and say, "Show me all the tombstones containing the word 'Eastman' in the Pine Grove Cemetery in Bangor, Maine, and all tombstones located within twenty feet of an Eastman tombstone as well." No, that isn't available today, but it could become available most any time. The required technology is already available today. All we need is customer demand to encourage the programmers.

In summary, I doubt if any technology will last more than ten or twenty years. While QR codes are a great solution today, I doubt if my grandchildren or great-grandchildren will use them. I am sure an even better technology of some sort will eventually replace QR codes. I wouldn't mind adding a QR code to a small marker that is nearby, but not attached to, a tombstone. However, let's recognize that is a short-term solution. (When talking about tombstones, "short term" means ten or twenty years.)

I will suggest that the use of latitude and longitude will probably never change and is also non-destructive to the memorials. Even if latitude and logitude might drop out of favor at some future date, a web site containing that information could easily be converted to use whatever new location identification methods become popular in the future. Using latitude and longitude also allows for searches for information without a personal visit to a (distant) cemetery. I doubt if the use of longitude and latitude will be perfect forever but it sure sounds good to me for use in the next few decades.

When documenting the past, let's also look to the future to make sure information will always be available as easily as possible, limited only by our abilities to predict future technologies.