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

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Deflecting Web Attacks

I continue to experience an increase in unwanted spam emails, bogus comments on blog posts and pernicious suggested links on Google+. Since I review all of these suggested comments and connections, I can eliminate virtually all of them, but I suspect that some people are not quite so efficient in eliminating this terrible background noise of web use.

I routinely receive more than 100 emails a day, sometimes over 200. It is rather easy to spool through them and delete the ones I do not care to read. The trick is knowing which ones to delete. Much of my email is simply periodic announcements and ads from companies. Those are pretty easy to glance at and delete. Occasionally, I have to read an entire message.

Because I am on Google+, I get several offers each day for connections. I would guess about half of these are from outside of the United States and most of these involve obvious or not so obvious objectionable websites and connections. I ignore these or in extreme cases, immediately delete them. One very good indicator of a bogus connection with seriously objectionable consequences is that the person connecting to your account has no other contacts or followers. Google+ seems to be a ripe field for the pornographic industry, terrorist organizations and other types of marginal to really bad online predators.

The last category of unwelcome spam that seems to continue to increase is bogus comments on blog posts in the past. The statement of the commentator is usually couched in really poor English and is highly complementary of the post without referring at all to the topic. I recently got a comment from plumbing company about a genealogy post that had a reference to "plumbing the depths" of some subject. These comments all get erased. You should never open or add a comment or follower without checking first. All content should be reviewed. Do not open email messages that appear to be suspect. This is especially true if someone you know, but have had little contact with, suddenly appears to be sending you a link to a website or a Dropbox folder. Do not click on the links. If you have a question, call the person on the telephone directly or send them an entirely separate email message about the suspect attachment.

There is another category of email that is even more dangerous. There are common emails from companies you deal with asking you to verify information or send a reply with some personal information. Do not click on these emails. Call the company first to verify that the email is valid. You will almost always be told that it is not. The most common of these message come from someone imitating Pay Pal. I get several of these a month. Most of them inform me that my account will be closed if I do not respond. I haven't responded yet and my account has not been closed.

There is a real dangerous world out there and the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Is there a Microsoft Surface in your genealogical future?

Sometimes it is really hard to tell if the competition between Apple and the rest of the computer/mobile device community is really "heating up" or staying about the same. Regularly, new product announcements are stylized as "Apple killers" or whatever and Apple just keeps gaining on the rest of the industry and making tons of money. The real challenge is not between Apple and Microsoft, but between both and Google. Android operating system usage is way ahead of either Apple or Microsoft.

As genealogists we are enticed by the new devices being introduced. Of course, there is the component of the genealogical community that is still using Windows XP or some ancient Apple system, but if you are considering an update, you are going to see some major upgrades in hardware over the next year.

Microsoft has started off their offerings with a new Surface Pro 4 seen above (excuse the background noise to the intro video, just mute the sound, they don't say anything anyway). Here is a quote about the new product from MacRumors, an Apple Mac blog.
Overall, the Surface Pro 4 is 30 percent faster than the Surface Pro 3 and 50 percent faster than the MacBook Air, with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. The company says it compromised "nothing" in the new iteration, maintaining a thin body while offering significantly better performance. Microsoft also introduced a new Type Cover, with a larger trackpad, backlit keyboard, and an integrated fingerprint reader for users on the older Surface Pro 3 who don't have the camera authentication of Microsoft Hello on the Surface Pro 4. The Surface Pro 4 will be available on October 26, starting at $899.
Microsoft is also introducing a new Microsoft Surface Book, their competition to the MacBook Pro. The background music is better in this video.

Here is what MacRumors has to say about the Surface Book:
When comparing the Surface Book directly with the MacBook Pro, Microsoft stated that its new laptop is two times faster than Apple's device. The Surface Book will also let customers remove the screen, turning it into a temporary Surface Pro 4-esque tablet. The Surface Book is priced at $1,499 and will launch on October 26, along with the Surface Pro 4. The new Lumia 950 and 950 XL, Microsoft Band 2, Surface Pro 4, and Surface Book will also be available for customers to pre-order beginning tomorrow, October 7.
 For me, the issue is not the device as much as it is the operating system. I see the handwriting on the wall, I will have to upgrade my desktop computer some time and my laptop. But for now, I am happy with both and I will stay with Apple.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

More on Libraries, Genealogy and Research in General

What do you think of when I write the word "library?" Most of my early library experience was in the then modestly sized, Phoenix Public Library. I spent many days during the hot summers, riding back and forth from the library on my bike and reading the seven books at a time checkout limit. As I grew older, I spent considerable time in bookstores. Over the years, my parents acquired hundreds, then thousands of books on a wide variety of subjects. After leaving home and getting married, as we started our family, we also acquired a sizable book collection into the thousands of books. While my children were growing up, we visited the library regularly. Early on, it was the Scottsdale, Arizona Public Library and then the Mesa, Arizona Public Library.

As I progressed in school, I remember the smaller libraries in my schools. I spent even more time reading. By the time I was attending the University of Utah, my library life began to change. I spent more time researching than reading for enjoyment. I would choose a topic and read everything I could find on that topic. This continued for years. During my time as an Intelligence Analyst for the United States Army, I spent two years of intense research and reading. This reading continued in law school and afterwards.

During my time at the University of Utah, I worked in the J. Willard Marriott Library as a bibliographer. After my active duty in Army, I also worked as a Reference Librarian at the Arizona State University Law Library for nearly three years.

Year after year, I frequented libraries in the Salt River Valley. Most recently, we frequently visited both the Mesa Public Library and the Maricopa County Library branch in Gilbert, Arizona.

Genealogy became a predominant topic during the last thirty plus years and I spent considerable time in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. For the past almost twelve years, I worked at the Mesa FamilySearch Library (previously Mesa Regional Family History Center). I now spend many, many hours, sometimes more than eight hours a day, in the huge Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library.

I think I have a perspective about libraries and books that comes from extensive experience.

During the past forty years, my library experience has been changing. I began my work with computers over forty years ago at the University of Utah. Now, most of my research and all of my writing is done on a computer. I now read books on an iPad or an iPhone. The Internet has almost completely replaced my research in libraries. But lately, I have found something interesting. I am finding that the Internet is not all knowing. My visits to the books in the libraries have become more frequent than they were in the immediate past. Access to the BYU Library and the Provo, Utah Public Library, have taken me back to the stacks.

At the core of this interest in libraries and books is the desire to learn. This is not a superficial interest. It is a life-long pursuit. Now with that lengthy introduction, I have some observations.

There is a background of discussion among those who frequent libraries and particularly among those employed by libraries, concerning the future of the whole concept of a library. The question involves their survival in their present form and their ultimate survival at all. Can libraries survive the onslaught of digitization and mobile reading devices? Will Google ultimately end up destroying libraries altogether?

Genealogists find themselves in an interesting position. Most of us are older. Some of us find ourselves in libraries for the first time as we gain an interest in researching our families. Some, like me, come from a strong research background. But we also find that much of the information we need has now moved onto the Internet in digital format. Many genealogists, particularly those just starting out, find that they do not need to visit a library at all. They are already overwhelmed with the amount of information available online. In fact, many younger genealogists have probably never visited a library for the purpose of doing genealogical research.

Many of the discussions about the survival of libraries focus on funding issues. It is a situation where those who make the funding decisions have never visited a library and do not see a need for one. After all, isn't everything we need to know online now anyway?

I find that my present experience is mixed. With some I am helping, everything they need is online. Others, find themselves in libraries rather quickly. One reason I moved from the Mesa Public Library and began using the Maricopa County Library was rather simple. Mesa stopped funding their library and the selection of "new" books was extremely curtailed. The Maricopa County Library seemed to acquire newer books regularly.

In this example, what happens to libraries and decisions made by those who operate them, becomes self-fulfilling. There is a decrease in the perceived need for libraries and then funding is cut and the library becomes even less current and so forth in a cycle of destruction. In the case of a university library, there is a different perspective. Libraries are seen as a "status" symbol. Funding for the library is not viewed as a budget item. In a large research university like BYU, the library is a vibrant, growing entity. Thousands of students a day, come to learn, study and even take classes in the library. Strangely, very, very few genealogists see the advantages of a university library. Most are completely unaware of the resources of these libraries.

The movement of information to the Internet is inexorable. My own experience is a microcosm of the entire issue. Just as my use of the Internet has increased dramatically, so, for a time, did my use of libraries. But now, I am seeing the value of the resources in both a university and a public library. Today, I will visit both and I will probably use books from both. Interestingly, neither of the two books I will be reading are freely available online.

Here is the key. Libraries give patrons free access to their books, even those under copyright. It is this factor that keeps them in business. If I go online and look for a current book, I will find it for sale. If I want to pay a fee, I might be able to download a digital copy. If I do not want to "own" the book, I can usually find it in one of the libraries. In Utah Valley, I can also go to the Orem Public Library, if I find a book there and no place else.

This is the key. I do not need, nor do I want, to own all the books. My shelves are full. Until the libraries find a way to make their collections available to those who read on electronic devices, they will continue to lose patrons and funding. Here is the dilemma. If libraries make their collections available online, including copyrighted material, who will come to the library physically? I think my own experience is the answer. I do research. The fact that the latest books are available online makes no difference to me at all. If every book every written were available online, that might make a difference. But we aren't nearly there yet. As long as I have to pay to look at a new, copyrighted book and do not have access to old books outside of the library, I will continue to go to the libraries.

There is a lot more to this issue besides what I have already written. Stay tuned or not, depending on whether you care about libraries or not. Whatever.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Solving a Mystery with Military Records

This morning, I noticed that United States Headstone Applications for U.S. Military Veterans, 1925-1949, a record collection in the Historical Record Collections, had been updated on 2 October 2015. Today. That reminded me of the fact that I had solved a particularly difficult research problem with a military headstone. A search in this collection quickly produced the record that solved the mystery.

With a further click, I could see the original application record.

Along the back of this document, in pencil, was a summary of my Grandfather's military record.

When I found this original record, I had been looking for information about his military service for some time.

My Grandfather, Leroy Parkinson Tanner, had served in both the Mexican Border War and World War I. For a long time, I could not find his military record. I found the name of his unit from the Veteran Headstone, marking his grave in St. Johns, Arizona. But I still could not find either his name or his unit in any of the World War I records.

The solution came in two stages. First, I found my father had a copy of his discharge papers. Then I found this record on By the way, the record on is in color and it makes the record much easier to read. Here is a screenshot from I don't know what has against putting their records on in color.

If you find a record on one of the websites, always look to see if the same records, in different scans, are on other websites.

It turned out that my Grandfather enlisted in a National Guard Unit that was mobilized for the War. This was a small mystery, but it was solved with a very specific military record, a Veterans Headstone. Had I found the application, before I found the discharge papers, I would have been able to figure out the mystery from these documents.

This points out a very important fact about military records. Just like any other records, there are a lot of them and it pays to keep looking and keep digging. I found this document because it showed up on an search for my Grandfather. But it did not show up as one of the first records or even one on the first page. But now, I could find the record on or on with a quick search. We have a most marvelous tool for research with these digitized records. Let's use them.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Genealogists Using the Cloud -- Pitfalls and Promises

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

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

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

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

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

Now, on to the list:

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

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

Registration Now Open for RootsTech 2016

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

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

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mesa FamilySearch Library begins opening on Mondays

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