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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Surnames, Surnames, Surnames

Genealogists encounter a lot of surnames since the number will increase with each succeeding generation of ancestors. It is always a good idea when starting out with your genealogical research to have a basic understanding of the surname usage in the country where your ancestors lived. Quoting from the Wikipedia article, "Surname:"
The concept of a "surname" is a relatively recent historical development, evolving from a medieval naming practice called a "byname". Based on an individual's occupation or area of residence, a byname would be used in situations where more than one person had the same name.
In the English language speaking parts of the world, a surname is usually synonymous with a "last name," or "family name," or the name written at the end (reading from left to right) of the person's name. The order of the surname can vary around the world. Again quoting from the Wikipedia article:
In many cultures (particularly in European and European-influenced cultures in the Americas, Oceania, etc., as well as the Middle East, South Asia, and most African cultures), the surname or family name ("last name") is placed after the personal, Christian (in Europe) or given name ("first name"). In other cultures the surname is placed first, followed by the given name or names. The latter is often called the Eastern order because Europeans are most familiar with the examples from the East Asian cultural sphere, specifically Japan, China and Taiwan, Korea (Republic of Korea and Democratic People's Republic of Korea) and Vietnam. This is also the case in Hungary, parts of Romania, Bavaria, Austria, Albania and Kosovo, parts of South India, Sri Lanka,[2] and Madagascar.
I wonder how many researchers have made the mistake of failing to consider regional naming order?

Inexperienced genealogists often focus on the spelling of this surname and use variations in spelling to differentiate the relationship between individuals. In addition, while interesting, the origin or meaning of certain surnames is usually not useful in determining relationships except with very specific or rare surnames. In fact, some surnames, such as my own, developed independently in different languages and different countries. There are Tanners in Switzerland and in England.

The standardized spelling of surnames depends entirely on the literacy level of the population and in most European countries and in America, standardized spelling is not common until towards the end of the 19th Century.

There are also some significant variations in the way surnames are formed. For example, historically, almost every language and culture of the world used patronymics as a naming pattern, i.e. the use of the father's given name as a surname with a relationship marker such as the European markers -son, -sen, mac-, -is, and -iz.

If you really want to understand surnames and names in general, here is a list of books on the subject.

Black, George Fraser, and Mary Elder Black. The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning, and History, 2015.
Bowman, William Dodgson. What Is Your Surname?: Surnames, Their Origin and History. London: Faber and Faber, 1932.
Bruner, Gerald J. The Bruner-Robinson Family History and Genealogy: Surnames: Paternal-Bruner, Riggins, Owens, Simpson, Slinkard, Wentz ; Maternal-Robinson, Fisher, Winkler, Crites, Neiger. Franklin, NC; Blakely, GA (P.O. Box 705, Blakely 39823): Genealogy Pub. Service ; Correspondence and orders to Gerald J. Bruner, 2006.
Burmaster, Sandra Lee Sporter. Family History, Surnames of Hilf, Canair/Knorr, Miller ... Margate, Fla.: Place of publication not identified S. Burmaster, 1980.
Clark, Gregory. Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility. Princeton University Press, 2060.
EWEN, Cecil Henry L’Estrange. Additions and Corrections to A History of Surnames of the British Isles ... May 1946. (Reprinted.). Baltimore, 1969.
Ewen, C. L’Estrange, and C. L’Estrange Ewen. A History of Surnames of the British Isles: A Concise Account of Their Origin, Evolution, Etymology, and Legal Status. Baltimore; Clearfield, 1995.
Fiennes, Joslin. The Origins of English Surnames, 2015.
Finlayson, James. Surnames & Sirenames: The Origin and History of Certain Family & Historical Names ; with Remarks on the Ancient Right of the Crown to Sanction and Veto the Assumption of Names. And an Historical Account of the Names Buggey and Bugg. London: Simpkin, Marshall and Co., 1863.
Haskett-Smith, W. P. Surnames. London: Society of Genealogists, 1917.
Kephart, Calvin. Origin of Heraldry in Europe, Also of Miscellaneous Surnames and Insignia: A Contribution to Genealogy and History. Baltimore: Heraldic Book Co., 1964.
MacLysaght, Edward. The Surnames of Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1978.
Mansfield, G. M. Family History Index: A List of Less than Common Surnames Found in 25 Selected Family Histories. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 2001.
McKinley, Richard. History of British Surnames, A. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2014.
Paxinos, George. Passage to Ithaca: History, Surnames, Identity, 2012.
Redmonds, George, Turi King, and David Hey. Surnames, DNA, and Family History, 2015.
Rowlands, John, and Sheila Rowlands. The Surnames of Wales. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2014.
Weaner, Arthur, and William F Shull. History and Genealogy of the German Emigrant Johan Christian Kirschenmann Anglicized Cashman: With References to Other Cashman Surnames in America of German, Irish, Jewish, Other and Unknown Origins. A. Weaner Press: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 1957.
Weaner, Arthur, and William Frederick Shull. History and Genealogy of the German Emigrant Johan Christian Kirschenmann, Anglicized Cashman: With References to Other Cashman Surnames in America of German, Irish, Jewish, Other, and Unknown Origins : Documented, Illustrated, Indexed. Gettysburg, Pa.: Priv. Print. by A. Weaner, 1957.;glhbooks;Genealogy-glh51721504;-1;-1;&letter=H.
Whyte, Donald. Scottish Surnames and Families. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 1996.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Where are we today with voice recognition software 2017

I made a reference to voice recognition software in a recent post about using the Bluetooth interface that came with my hearing aids to dictate text to my computer. I decided to expand on that topic and write about the current status of voice recognition software in general.

Not too long ago, my wife discovered that she could dictate text messages on her phone. As a result, the number of her text messages has increased exponentially. She has also found a tendency to insert commas and periods into conversations in other contexts. We have also been frequently amused by the misinterpretation of her speech by the voice recognition program built into her phone. 

About once a year, I write a post focusing on the issue of the status voice recognition software.

Despite the development of sophisticated voice recognition programs by Apple, Google and Microsoft, there is still a paucity of programs available for purchase. There are some very expensive, high-end programs for specialized applications such as medical transcriptions. My view of the program set a somewhat skewed by virtue of the fact that I am using exclusively Apple computers.

By the way, this entire post is being dictated using Dragon Dictate (Dragon Naturally Speaking for Windows) voice recognition software. Because of this fact, you might see some strange words and sentence constructions. I tried to go back through and edit the text but my editing isn't always complete. The need for careful editing usually cancels out any input speed gains. Any sudden increase in background noise or if someone in the room suddenly starts talking results in a garbled dictation.

So why continue to try to use voice recognition software? The answer is a little bit complex. I did find out a number of years ago that the Dragon Dictate program that finally gotten to the point where it produced more clean text than errors. Since that time, computers have increased in speed and the program has continued to improve. Unfortunately, the price is also increased. The reason for this is rather simple there are no other competitive products.

If I really wanted to use all of the features of the Dragon Dictate program, I could probably eliminate nearly all of my keyboard interaction with the computer. However, because there are limitations on the internal dictionary of the program and because of transcription errors, it is still necessary to occasionally use the keyboard to make corrections or add in words that the program simply cannot understand. As I noted briefly in my previous post, none of the programs seem to accommodate research or data entry, especially for genealogical research. I have yet to find a program that I would use to fill in a family tree entry for example.

All in all, the program works very well if you enunciate each word separately and distinctly. With a good microphone hooked up to a fast computer, you can dictate as fast as you can speak. But if you speak too quickly, the program will have a tendency to misinterpret some of the words more frequently.

If your typing skills are limited, I would certainly suggest that voice recognition software could be a viable alternative. I would suggest starting with the built in programs available on both Apple OS X and Microsoft Windows operating systems. If you decide you can use voice recognition, you will still have to decide if your usage would justify the cost of a dedicated program.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Is there a new computer in your future? Laptop or desktop?

Computers have become ubiquitous. Demographically, genealogists generally fall into the "senior" category. On May 17, 2017, the Pew Research Center published a study entitled,"Tech adoption climbs among older adults." Of course, as time passes, those who are defined as "seniors" continues to change. What were then known as "personal computers" were introduced back in the 1970s. Therefore some of us who are considered to be "seniors" adopted computers going on 50 years ago. However, the Pew Research Center study cited above clearly shows a correlation between computer usage and age. Another recent Pew Research Center report indicates that 77% of all Americans now own a smartphone while smartphone usage among those 65 years of age and older is only 42%.

Although I am not aware of a study supporting my own observations, I see that older adults (seniors) are much less inclined to update their technological equipment. It is not unusual for me to sit down with an older friend or acquaintance to help them with genealogical research and find that I am confronting a computer that is almost 10 years old and an operating system that has never been updated. The resistance to updating technology definitely increases with age.

In many cases, people have the attitude of using the "appliance" until it breaks. Depending on the amount of usage, some computers could conceivably continue to operate indefinitely. My experience, the mechanical parts of the computer fail much more quickly than the electronics. But I seldom keep a computer long enough for it to fail. I am always pushing the speed of the computer. When I buy a new computer that seems fast at first but over time my perception is that the computer slows down considerably. Eventually, I get so frustrated I buy a new computer. Most recently, that cycle runs between 3 to 5 years.

Most people that I find that have very old computer equipment are usually completely satisfied. This is really a dilemma for the entire technological community that relies on people upgrading their equipment regularly. Car manufacturers have addressed this issue by producing new models every year and heavily advertising the features of the new models. Unfortunately, the features of new computers are rather esoteric and harder to understand. Computer manufacturers are not very good at explaining why you need to buy a new computer.

As we approach the end of the year 2017, computer technology is poised to take another major technological advancement. Intel Corporation is announcing major chip upgrades with vast increases in speed.  If you sit in front of the computer all day like I do this announcement means that I will be considering upgrading my equipment again. If you are the average genealogist, you're probably not even aware of the processing chip in your present computer.

If you do find yourself looking at your old dusty computer and deciding to purchase a new one, you may come to the question of whether or not to replace your desktop computer with a laptop. I am seeing up-to-date laptop computers with adequate memory for genealogical purposes selling for around $400 brand-new. I have also seen complete desktop computer systems including a monitor for as low as around $600. For me, the deciding factor as to whether or not to have a desktop computer is the size of the screen. Technically, I could buy a laptop computer and plug it into a large monitor but to buy a comparable laptop and a large monitor and a separate keyboard and a separate trackpad or mouse has never made a lot of sense to me. I choose to have a separate laptop and a desktop computer.

But for most genealogical purposes, if you can manage with a smaller screen, a laptop makes more sense than a desktop computer. One problem I do see with laptop computers is the fact that most of the users do not backup their entire hard drive. With a desktop computer, I can leave the computer plugged into several external hard drives and set up a constant backup program. With a laptop, it is likely that I will back up the internal hard drive less frequently if ever.

We fully realize that there is not a whole lot I can say that will change the buying habits of older genealogists. When it comes right down to it, they are not likely to read my blogs or attend any classes or watch any online videos. But for those who do, I suggest a review of your computer equipment might be appropriate.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Voice Recognition with hearing aids

I have worn hearing aids off and on for years, usually more off than on. I recently got a pair that connects to a Bluetooth receiver and microphone. To my surprise, the Bluetooth microphone connects to my iMac computer and I can use the Dragon Dictate program to do voice recognition. Every once in a while, I write an update on the use of voice-recognition software for genealogical purposes. Because of this new development, I thought it was a good time to do an update. So, you are reading a post dictated by the use of hearing aids.

Voice recognition software works very well if you are accustomed to dictating. In my early years as an attorney, I did a lot of dictation. That generally stopped when I got access to a computer. Because of the way I write, it is much easier to type in some cases rather than dictate. In addition, even with the updated voice recognition programs available, you have to constantly reread everything that you dictate because the accuracy is still not perfect. This is doubly true for me because I edit as I type.

Voice recognition software is indispensable for people who have limited keyboarding ability or skills. People are becoming more accustomed to using voice recognition because of the smartphone apps such as Siri. But genealogical research involves a fairly large number of names and the voice recognition software does not do a good job of distinguishing between similarly sounding names. But for pure text writing tasks such as this post, the software is adequate.

If you wish to experiment with voice recognition software, I suggest using the programs that are integrated into the Apple OSX and the Microsoft Windows operating systems. You can find instructions for using both systems online.

14,228,779 Ebooks and Texts to Search for Genealogy

One of my favorite websites and one that I frequently mention is the Internet Archive or The vast numbers of different resources on this website make it an important research tool for genealogists. As you can see above, they have expanded their holdings of ebooks and texts to over 14 million. The additional holdings of the Internet Archive include the following:

  • 304 billion webpages saved into the Wayback Machine, a website archive
  • 3,553,259 moving images including movies and television archives
  • 3,592,080 audio and music recordings
  • 1,416,000 TV news show clips since 2009
  •  188,853 archived software programs including vintage and historical software
  • 1,502,827 images
  • 175,740 live music recordings including 11,354 Grateful Dead concerts
  • 288,882 media collections
I have mentioned the Internet Archive in 190 previous posts. Of course, that is out of almost 5000 posts. The reason I have mentioned it so many times is that every time I teach a class and talk about the Internet Archive I draw almost uniform blank looks. Most researchers today spend all their time on the big online genealogy database websites and subsequently mostly ignore any program that is not specifically identified as a genealogical resource.

Just within the last week or so, I used the Internet Archive for a digital copy of one of the old Tanner surname books that I needed to refer to. I consistently find genealogically relative material on the Internet Archive that is apparently much harder to find on any other website. A year ago, I even did a webinar on using the Internet Archive for genealogical research.

Using the Internet Archive for Genealogy - James Tanner

The reason for revisiting the topic in this post is that the number of e-books and texts has increased well over 2 million items since that webinar was presented in 2016.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

What are the "Restricted" Records on

The current FamilySearch microfilm issue has apparently engendered a sub-topic concern about the "restricted" records on the website. As more people view the records on FamilySearch and as more records are added to the website regularly, more people are encountering notices from FamilySearch indicating that the records are restricted in some way. The restricted records fall into three distinct categories:
  • Records that are only available for review at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, i.e. when the researcher is physically present in the Library.
  • Records that are only available for review when the researcher is in a Family History Center and using a computer connected to the Family History Center Portal.
  • The very small category of records that are only available to researchers who have certain qualifications, i.e. members in good standing of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It is important to understand that these "restrictions" do not come from FamilySearch. The restrictions arise as a result of the following concerns:
  • Privacy concerns
  • Restrictions imposed by the custodians or originators of the documents when they were obtained by FamilySearch
  • Changes in the laws in the country where the records originated
  • Limitations imposed by the contract role arrangements providing for the use of the records by FamilySearch
  • Copyright restrictions
There may be additional reasons why certain records are not available online at all. It is entirely possible that the restrictions imposed by those who originally supplied the records can change over time. As a matter of fact, when FamilySearch and its predecessors began acquiring microfilm records back in 1938, many of the countries in the world today did not exist and many of the countries that existed back in 1938 do not exist today.

I have heard complaints from a very small minority of the users of the website who complain that "all the records" are restricted. In fact, very few of the records are actually restricted even including those restricted to viewing within Family History Centers. Over time, some of these restricted records may become more freely available. However, the opposite can also occur; the original suppliers of the records may choose to have them removed from circulation. This occurs entirely independently of any of the issues involving microfilm.

If you take a moment to think about the situation, you will realize that the discontinuance of the shipment of microfilm has nothing to do with the restriction issue. Of the three types of restrictions listed above, each of the restrictions applies to microfilm and are only more evident now because of digitization. There have always been records that were restricted to viewing in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. As for the microfilm, use of microfilm was always restricted to  Family History Centers. The only thing that has changed is the fact that many more documents are now freely available online without restrictions than ever before.

To repeat, records with restrictions are not the fault of FamilySearch.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Microfilm Issue: Tempest in a Teapot?

During the past couple of weeks, I have been doing an informal poll about the issue of FamilySearch discontinuing microfilm shipments to the Family History Centers around the world. I have asked easily over a hundred people who are attending my classes and therefore likely interested in genealogy. I wrote about the results of my inquiry in a post entitled, "The Impact of the Microfilm Issue" on my Rejoice, and be exceeding glad... blog. What I found was that very few of the people, only one or two, had even used microfilm in the last year.

But I am finding some issues for the "serious" (for lack of a better term) genealogical researchers. The question is do these issues interfere with our present modus operandi? Well, yes they do. Those of us who are wedded to microfilm will have to transition to finding and looking at digital images. Perhaps we need to recall the time in the not-too-distant past when the only microfilm available was sitting in the Salt Lake City Family History Library (aka Genealogy Library). As time passed, we were able to "order" rolls of microfilm from the Family History Library and then after a number of years, began to host "digital" copies of those records. We have watched as that collection of online records grew from a novelty to billions of records.

I think the first thing we need to consider, assuming I include myself in the category of "serious" genealogical researcher, is whether or not we are personally familiar with the existing online record collections on,,, and Of course, these four websites hardly exhaust or even begin to exhaust the number of digital images available for research online. What I am finding for myself and after talking to other "serious" researchers is that more and more of the records we need for in-depth research are being digitized and are available online. Are there still going to be records that are only available on microfilm? The answer is a qualified yes. Given the case of microfilm digitation which I understand to be for FamilySearch rapidly proceeding, I would suggest that it is important to check almost daily for additional new records and certainly to check before becoming disturbed about microfilm shipments.

I'm also certain, that FamilySearch will implement some procedures that will allow those who need a microfilm digitized, particularly from the Granite Vault, will have a way to request that the digitization be expedited. Meanwhile, keep ordering microfilm through 31 August 2017 and keep watching the progress of the digitization of the records.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

CAGR or Computer Aided Genealogical Research

I was overhearing a discussion the other day about slide rules. I still have mine on a shelf where I can get to it easily. I also have an abacus. There is something comforting and physical about these devices that is lacking in computers. But the reality of the day is that I am fully integrated into the computer world.

From time to time, I have written about the digital divide between computer literacy and computer illiteracy. Genealogical research and all the activities associated with it can be done on paper, just as day-to-day calculations could be done on a mechanical adding machine, slide rule or abacus. The advantage of doing those calculations on a computer seem overwhelming obvious, but we have yet to begin realizing the potential of the computer over older systems.

I have titled this post "Computer Aided Genealogical Research" or CAGR. It turns out that there are several genealogy societies with similar names, but otherwise the name and the acronym are both made-up. What I see is that, so far, the computer is acting primarily as a substitute for paper and the devices listed above. It is also becoming a primary communication device. But as far as genealogical research, it is still a paper substitute.

Of course, there are a few glimmerings of progress towards CAGR with a variety of record hints from large online genealogical database companies, but otherwise, we are still doing research in the same way with the same objectives as did our predecessors. Let me start explaining this concept with a hypothetical situation.

Let's suppose that I am doing research on my English ancestors. Let's further suppose that I use a desktop based computer program to store my genealogical data. Going back a few years, I do all my research in libraries and archives and record what I find in my desktop computer program. Hmm. Let's suppose I move forward a few years and now I have this wonderful internet connection. I can now spend fewer hours in libraries and archives, but I am still storing all my information on my desktop computer.

Time passes, as hypothetically, I become connected with an online family tree program. Despite the changes in venue,  I am still doing what I have always done, I have just moved some of my data from my local, desktop program to an online program. Eventually, because of the development of the internet and the establishment of the huge online database programs, I move more and more of my activities to the internet. But because of fear of losing my data and other considerations, I still have desktop genealogy program.

Because of the development of research hints, where the online genealogy companies suggest connections between my ancestors and the documents and records in their databases, I see the need to put my family tree information on several such programs (i.e. websites). What is missing? What have I gained?

First of all, the computer is still acting as automated paper. I am still doing all of the research, the analysis, the data entry, the recording of sources etc. I see that some of these activities are now aided by the computer systems but only those that were formerly done on paper. Searching for documents has become easier, I make even fewer trips to archives and libraries, but the essence of genealogical research has not changed. Again, what is missing?

The answer is integration. I have data scattered across the internet. I have my family tree in several different online and even several desktop programs. These online programs are very much like warring nations. I can talk to each one of them, but they do not talk to each other. In this case, the computer and its connection to the internet actually interfere with my research. Remember, we are in the middle of a hypothetical situation. Let's suppose I search for information about my hypothetical English ancestors. Let's suppose that the information I am seeking does exist but I do not know where it is located. I am forced to search each separate repository where that information may be located. If the information is sitting in one website, search a hundred others is waste of time, but there is no mechanism to tell me which of the repositories has the information. The internet has essentially become an almost infinite shell game. Despite Google searches, the information I need is really locked up tight in some database on some computer and I have to guess where it is. Presently, I have many separate programs all telling me that they have data for me when what I need is not really there at all.

CAGR should help me find my ancestors' data but it does not yet exist. There is a measure of discussion about "smart assistants" and robo products. We have offensively stupid programs such as SIRI and other such programs that do things like look at the clock or tell me where to buy pizza, but sophistication at the level of active assistance in doing research is almost entirely missing.

I am not here to decry the advances that have been made. I am merely pointing out that we have a long way to go before a computer attached to the internet can do what I do when I am doing research. Perhaps we should start talking about how such a system might work. Perhaps we need to find a way to allow universal access and data exchange of genealogical information between all the presently closed systems. Perhaps I will not live long enough to ever see such systems.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Using the Brigham Young University Libraries for Family History Research

We Family History Expos have a three-hour webinar series on Thursday, August 17, 2017, on using the Brigham Young University Libraries for Family History Research. You can still register for this series. Here is the description of the classes:
After you view these classes you will know how to access the BYU collections online and in person. You will know about LDS resources available and how they apply to your research. You will know about some other incredible collections that deal subject from Illinois County histories to the American Revolution. 
Don't miss out on this unique opportunity to learn about collections that reach across the world.
Click Here for more information.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Acquiring History Skills Can Improve Your Genealogical Research

Performing adequate genealogical research is a skill that requires time and effort to acquire. Simply opening up a genealogy program and adding names to a pedigree does not magically confer the ability to do research. I read an interesting article quoting Keith A. Erekson,  the Director of the Church History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is quoted as saying:
“One of the things you want to do is expect citations,” he said. “There are publishers who will publish things without citations. That’s the first the sign: If they don’t even care enough to tell you where they found their historical information, don’t worry about spending the time to figure out if they’ve made it up or if they haven’t.” See Church News, 8 August 2017.
By changing one or two words, this quote would apply to all those who are posting their genealogical information online. I would change the word publishers to researchers. The quote precisely expresses my own attitude towards those who post unsupported information about their ancestors in online family tree programs. Essentially, a name, a date, or place provided about an individual is completely useless without a supporting citation as to where the information was obtained. That may seem like a harsh statement but it is the reality of doing genealogical research. An unsupported entry in a family tree is actually worse than no entry at all.

From time to time, I hear people trying to defend sloppy research by saying that the entries give us suggested topics for further research. I simply do not agree with that position. Those who argue this position apparently believe that we should give unsupported entries the benefit of the doubt. The biggest problem with this position is that the information present in a pedigree (a family tree) is often accepted as correct even when it is unsupported. The key here is the last statement above: "don't worry about spending the time to figure out if they've made it up or if they haven't."

I suspect that if we took out all of the fluff in the form of unsupported entries in the online family trees the number of trees and the number of entries with practically collapse.

The Catalog and the Microfilm Issue

Summary of this post:
On June 26, 2017, FamilySearch announced the next phase of its digital fulfillment strategy which included discontinuing its microfilm rental service (See Digital Records Access Replacing Microfilm) for digital access. It said that over half of its vast 2.4 million rolls of microfilm were now digitally available for free online. The question is, where? The answer is first in the FamilySearch Catalog, and then in the Historic Collections. FamilySearch is digitizing 1,500 microfilms per day and another 150,000 images from digital cameras in the field. Those images are being published right into the Catalog.

Watch this quick video "Where are the digital records on" to find how to locate and use this rich resource.

Where are the Digitized Records on

The Catalog is more than a reference tool, it is actually the primary window into the vast, ongoing FamilySearch digitization project to digitize the 2.4 million rolls of microfilm in the fabled Granite Vault. The short video that the Brigham Young University Family History Library uploaded describes where the links to all these records are located.

I frequently mention the value of the FamilySearch Catalog in classes and other presentations and I am frequently surprised at the lack of awareness of the value of the Catalog even among experienced genealogical researchers. I have done two additional videos about catalogs.

Catalogs: The Key to Using and - James Tanner I

Catalog Searches by James Tanner

It looks like it is time to write about catalogs more than I have in the past.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Hidden Emotional Side of Genealogical DNA Testing
This rather long newspaper article from the Deseret News highlights a "hidden" concern that is the byproduct of the current push for general DNA testing for genealogical research. The article points out that the results from a series of DNA tests may not always be positive and may involve some serious family issues and cause unintended disruption.

Ever since genealogically oriented DNA tests became generally available, I have been hearing stories of the sometimes unpleasantly surprising results of the tests. DNA tests work best in determining close relatives: siblings, parents and so forth. The generally vague ethnicity reports are interesting but rarely disturbing or surprising. But as the "Baby Switch" story above illustrates, not all the results can be easily assimilated into our traditional world view.

My own DNA test results have been mildly interesting but not yet helpful in my genealogical research. So far, I have 432 matches from and 159 DNA matches from Two of DNA matches are close relatives that I recognize. Some of the other matches have recognizable surnames, although I have yet to see anyone I have met or know personally. This compares to over 100,000 Smart Matches on and thousands of family tree matches. In addition, on the Family Tree, I can already see thousands of my deceased close relatives. I am not quite sure what to do with the living ones.

So far, I do have one result from a sibling and that probably puts to rest any fears I may have had of being switched at birth or adopted, but there are possibly still some surprises out there.

The real question is what am I supposed to do with the results from my DNA tests? I am not inclined to start contacting all the thousands of relatives listed by just these two programs. To the extent that I can determine, none of these "DNA relatives" have extensively documented family trees. In fact, the family trees I have available to view, do not show that any of these people so far have added sources or tried to documents their online family trees. In fact, some of the genealogical information I have seen from the family trees of the matches is totally inaccurate. At best, the information I have received is an incentive to me to correct the information in my portion of the Family Tree.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

MyHeritage Major Census Collection

In celebration of MyHeritage's recent milestone — surpassing 8 billion historical records on SuperSearch — they are happy to announce that they are making all of their major census collections from the U.S., U.K. and Ireland, Canada, and Nordic countries free for all users for one week beginning August 14, 2017. Quoting from the blog post:
Starting on Monday, August 14, and for a period of one week, no Data subscription will be required, and you can search through this treasure trove of census records for free. That’s 94 collections, containing over 1 billion census records! 
With our earliest census records dating as far back as 1657, and the latest ones extending until 1940, these records are an excellent way to learn more about the lives of your ancestors and to add details to your family tree.
Visit the blog post for a detailed list and links to the free records.

Three Years at the BYU Family History Library: A Retrospective

The Brigham Young University Campus from the Y Mount. The BYU Harold B. Lee Library is the building in the middle with the blue glass structure as an entrance. Most of the Library in underground.
Just over three years ago, my wife and I were getting settled into our new-to-us home in Provo, Utah. We had moved to Utah after spending over 40 years living in Arizona. Even before leaving Mesa, Arizona, my wife and I had volunteered to serve at the Brigham Young University Family History Library, a part of the Harold B. Lee Library (Lee Library) on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Over the past three years, I have often pondered about the change from Arizona to Utah and from the Mesa FamilySearch Library to the much larger BYU Family History Library. I decided to put down some of my thoughts.

During our time here in Provo, I have become more and more aware of the tremendous resources of the BYU Lee Library. Having spent many years working in university libraries, I have always appreciated the access to books and records these large libraries provided to their patrons. One of my early observations was reinforced after moving to Provo. While working at the University of Utah Library or the Arizona State University Law Library, I was always amazed that so few of the students used the libraries' resources, especially during semester breaks and other vacation times. I had this impression reinforced this week when I entered the BYU Family History Library and found only one student employee in the entire Family History Library.

While on a recent camping trip in Idaho and adjoining states, we stopped to wash clothes at a laundromat in Sandpoint, Idaho. While some washed clothes, the rest of us, including five of my grandchildren went to the local public library to wait. The children immediately began finding books to read and I set up my computer to do some catch-up writing. This was a really impressive library for a smaller town. It was also extremely busy even though there was no apparent special activity going on. We passed a very pleasant waiting time.

Back to the BYU Family History Library. From my perspective, this is easily the second largest specialized Family History Library in the world. But by adding the huge collections of the entire Lee Library, I am privileged to be at a world-class library. Every time I start to do some serious research on another family for myself or others, I am impressed by the Library's resources.

What I do see is the most of the patrons of the library, including the other missionaries serving in the Library, fail to use the Library's resources. Books go untouched. Microfilm and microfiche are only rarely accessed. I almost never see patrons or those serving in the Library using the fabulous collection of reference books prominently displayed in the Library. In fact, it is just exactly like my year's ago experience at the University of Utah Library during the times the students were on breaks between classes. From the full-time students' perspective, the Library is a place to study for their classes and socialize. From the perspective of the non-student patrons, the Library is a place to come and use electronic devices. It is very much like going to a world class restaurant to eat your peanut butter and jelly sandwich from a brown bag.

Why is this the case?

After thinking about this phenomena for about 60 years, I have come to the following conclusions.

  • Very few people know how to use a library's collections.
  • The internet is giving everyone the idea that it is the only source of information available to the world.
  • Even those are comfortable in libraries lack the research skills to fully utilize their contents.
  • Most people do not see study and research as positive leisure activities. 
  • Libraries, in general, do a poor job of promoting their research collections and university libraries are among those who do the least to promote their facilities.
  • Public libraries are facing serious challenges in funding and support.
There are a lot of other reasons also, but that is enough to give some idea of the issues involved. Basically, the BYU Family History Library is part of an academic institution that does not view itself as "serving the general public." Whereas the famous Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah does everything it can to promote family history and included public use. Universities, in general, do not view themselves and their facilities as "public" at all. Visitors to most universities are tolerated at best unless the university sees a way to promote its own financial support. Universities love to have people come to sports events and other entertainment but discourage any other outside involvement. Prospective students and supporters of the university are given a "tour" of the university, but these tours seldom emphasize the academic resources of the library. 

In living close to the university, I have an opportunity to talk with a lot of people who also live close to the university. I am constantly surprised at how few of those living within five minutes or so of BYU even know that there is a Family History Library on campus and many who do, usually comment that it is too inaccessible and they don't know where to park. However, those same people go to football or basketball games at the university and park blocks away from the stadium or Marriott Center. 

For example, there is nothing at all on the BYU campus that would indicate either the existence or location of the Family History Library. If you manage to find the Lee Library, even if go inside, there is nothing indicating that the Family History Library is down the stairs in Level Two except a general map of the Library's sections. To find anything on campus, there are only a few cryptic signs that only help you if you know what you are looking for in the first place. In walking on the campus, even I am asked for directions. 

If the BYU Family History Library is supposed to have, as its primary goal, the support of the students and faculty, then why don't the students and faculty use the facility? The answer to my own question is probably because they do not know what it is or where it is. 

I love working at the BYU Family History Library. I can't think of anything I would rather do in my dotage and old age. I am grateful for the fabulous collections of information in the Library. But I am also sad that it is so underused by its own patrons and others who could benefit from its great resources. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

New Rules Added to the Old: The Rules of Genealogy Revisited

Back on July 1, 2014, I published the first six Rules of Genealogy. See "Six of Basic Rules of Genealogy." This short list included the most famous and basic rule of genealogy: "When the baby was born, the mother was there." Here is a list of those original six rules:
  • Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.
  • Rule Two: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive.
  • Rule Three: Every person who ever lived has a unique birth order and a unique set of biological parents.
  • Rule Four: There are always more records.
  • Rule Five: You cannot get blood out of a turnip. 
  • Rule Six: Records move. 
If these rules are new to you or you need a refresher, you can click on the link to the post back in 2014 above and read through them again. Given the reception of the original six rules, I should have added another one about genealogists, but I refrain from genealogical profiling. Considering my recent experience with contributions to the Family Tree, apparently, genealogists are not inclined to listen to or follow rules.

I finally think it is time to reveal the next four rules, rounding out the number to an easily remembered ten.

Rule Seven:
Water and genealogical information flow downhill

This is one of the most obvious of this small collection of rules but also the most difficult to understand. However, this rule was not codified until it was introduced by Claude E. Shannon in his paper written in 1948 called, "A Mathematical Theory of Communication." The concept is that of "Information Entropy." Here is a definition from the Wikipedia article, "Entropy (information theory)."
Generally, entropy refers to disorder or uncertainty. Shannon entropy was introduced by Claude E. Shannon in his 1948 paper "A Mathematical Theory of Communication". Shannon entropy provides an absolute limit on the best possible average length of lossless encoding or compression of an information source.
Entropy is a lack of order or predictability and includes a gradual decline into disorder. How does this apply to genealogy? The answer is relatively simple. As all of the events in our lives occur, only certain events are recorded and become "history." Genealogical research is basically the process of discovering, evaluating and re-recording those recorded historical events. However, over time, historical records tend to be lost, i.e. the historical record gradually declines into a state of disorder. At some point, all of the information about a person or event disappears from discoverable historical records. Occasionally, re-recording of the historical information preserves portions well beyond the average, but for most individuals records of their lives cease to exist after a certain period of time. Hence, like water, genealogical information disappears into disorder over time.

This means that proving that you are related to a certain king or other prominent figure is highly suspect.

Rule Eight:
Everything in Genealogy is connected (butterfly)

The Butterfly Effect is well publicized. It is generally stated as the phenomenon whereby a minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. Most genealogists have the unfortunate propensity of viewing their ancestors as isolated individuals rather than in a cultural, social, religious and political complex. In my years of helping people with their research, I find that most genealogists stop searching at the "Big Three" records sets: censuses, vital records, and cemetery records. They fail to see the advantage gained by extending their research to all of their family members, their friends, and associates. Sometimes it is necessary to research an entire community to find one person.

Rule Nine: 
There are patterns everywhere

A family unit forms a pattern. It so happens that computer search programs are very good at detecting these patterns. If we use the programs to find patterns rather than focusing on the mundane names, dates, and places, we will begin to use the full power of the huge online genealogical database programs.

Rule Ten: 
Read the fine print

The idea of reading the fine print is to study and use all the information in the records and documents you discover. All too often, I find entries in family trees with a list of sources and upon examining the sources, I discover that the information in the sources has not been used to correct or modify the conclusions shown in the main entries. Read the fine print. Look at what you have and use the information you have already discovered.

There you go. All ten Rules. There might be more rules but these will work for a while.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

An Extreme Example of the Same Name = Same Person Problem -- Part One

Note: This series is a summary of the research into the origins of the Tanner family of Rhode Island. It is the culmination of many years of research and in past posts, I have discussed the progress of the research several times in past posts and some of the information is cumulative. 

Many people living today in the United States have ancestors whose lives and descendants were chronicled in a "surname book." In my own family, this book by a distant relative named George C. Tanner is a prime example. The conclusions of this book and a subsequent one published in 1910 by the same author have become the basis for establishing the ancestral Tanner line. This statement from page 5 of the book sets the stage for one of the most extreme examples of assumptions that a person with the same name is the same person.
This work will contain only the descendants of William Tanner of North Kingstown, R. L, whom we assume to be the the oldest son of William Tanner of South Kingstown, R, I. The genealogical indications and indirect evidence all point to this conclusion.
Tanner, George C. William Tanner of North Kingstown, Rhode Island, and His Descendants. Minneapolis, Minn.: Pub. by the author, 1905.

Tanner, George C. William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and His Descendants: In Four Parts. Faribault, Minn.: G.C. Tanner, 1910.

The tens of thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of descendants of the Rhode Island Tanners in the United States have accepted the conclusions of these two books without question since their publication. In over thirty-five years of intensive genealogical research, I have not encountered even one descendant who questioned the conclusions of these two books or has done any independent research into the original Rhode Island records.

Most of the interest in the Tanner family line comes from John Tanner (b. 1778, d. 1850) who was born in Hopkinton, Kings, Rhode Island. John Tanner is famous as an early member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and stories of his life have achieved the status of legends among his descendants. John Tanner is my Third Great-grandfather.

Missing from any of the records of John Tanner's life before my research was any documentation of his birth or parents other than the traditions and the two Tanner books cited above. After reading through the Hopkinton, Kings, Rhode Island Town Record, I found an entry made by his cousin Abel Tanner as Town Clerk documenting the marriage of his parents and the birth John Tanner and his siblings.

John Tanner's father's name was Joshua Tanner (b. 1757, d. 1807). The next question is obvious. Who was Joshua Tanner's father? Ultimately, the question is whether or not "all of the Tanners" in Rhode Island were descendants of one progenitor. As I will show, this assumption is wrong.

Stay tuned if you have a strong constitution.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Resources of the BYU Immigrant Ancestors Project

"Overlooked" and "under used" are words that are commonly heard in genealogical circles. But they both apply to the Brigham Young University Immigrant Ancestors Project. Here is the explanation of this Project from the website:
The Immigrant Ancestors Project, sponsored by the Center for Family History and Genealogy at Brigham Young University, uses emigration registers to locate information about the birthplaces of immigrants in their native countries, which is not found in the port registers and naturalization documents in the destination countries. Volunteers working with scholars and researchers at Brigham Young University are creating a database of millions of immigrants based on these emigration registers.
There is a good search page provided for beginning your investigations.

However, you may fail to notice the link the "Resources." Here is an example of the types of links and resources available.

Just when you think you have looked everywhere, you find something like this website and you might begin to understand that genealogical research is entirely open-ended.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

National Institute for Genealogical Studies

From my perspective, those institutions offering formal training in genealogical research are not at all aggressive in attracting participants from either the online community at large or the much smaller genealogical community. The National Institute for Genealogical Studies is one of those institutions. The Institute offers fee-based courses in a wide variety of subjects from qualified and fully competent instructors. Here is a description of the Institute from their website:
The National Institute for Genealogical Studies was established to assist all genealogists---from family historians to practicing professionals---by providing studies in a variety of genealogical topics. Education provides an important role in raising levels of personal and visible growth and in the certification or accreditation of genealogists.

With this in mind, a group of professional genealogists came together to create courses and programs conforming to recognized genealogical standards, with several objectives:
  1. To assist the family historian research and record information regarding their ancestors in a responsible and professional manner.
  2. To help the serious amateur genealogist gain the skills required to apply for certification or accreditation.
  3. To help the professional genealogist develop a part-time or full-time career in our chosen field.
There is very little formal genealogical training online and during the next few weeks, I will be highlighting where it can be found.

Monday, August 7, 2017

How will the FamilySearch Discontinuance of Microfilm Shipments Affect You?

For almost eighty years, genealogy and microfilm have been closely entwined. Every seriously involved genealogical researcher today has probably either used microfilmed records or has found that the records needed are available only on microfilm. As a technology, microfilm has been a huge success and enjoyed a longer life span than many other technologies. If you think about it, in 1938 when the predecessors of FamilySearch and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began acquiring their ultimately 2.4 million rolls of microfilm, almost none of the electronic wonders we have today were in existence. Computers, the internet, cell phones, online genealogy and much more were all in the distant and unimaginable future.

But as with many of our modern technological artifacts, microfilm has now seen its day. We are now well into the digital age and the transition from analog information storage, such as microfilm, to digital storage is well underway.

Since genealogists are among the few beneficiaries of microfilm technology at a very personal and consumer level, it is only natural that they should be the ones most highly impacted by the change to digital storage. I am certain that absent my interest in genealogical research, I would likely never have looked at a roll of microfilm in my lifetime. So far, the digital revolution has blown by many genealogists. These late adopters have simply ignored the technological changes and continued to work the way they and their own ancestors have for hundreds of years. I continually meet genealogists and others who are almost proud of the fact that they don't use a cell phone and that they are "computer illiterate."

So how will the announcement of the cessation of microfilm shipments by affect you?

Of course, if you are not a genealogist and have no interest in your family history, you probably do not even know microfilm shipments from the Granite Vault and Family History Library exist. It is also a given fact that you are very unlikely to be reading this blog post.

At the next level, you may be interested in genealogy but have never seen a roll of microfilm in your life. This is entirely possible. You have simply never gotten to the point in doing research where you were compelled to go to the Family History Library or a local Family History Center or some other library or archive and view a roll of microfilm. You are essentially in the same category as those who are not interested in genealogy when it comes to missing microfilm.

Now, let's suppose that you are a casual user of microfilm. You occasionally order a roll or two, but you are not extremely involved. Likely, the rolls that you have ordered in the past have already been digitized and have not been available for rental for some time. You may not even know this because you haven't looked at the Catalog for a while. The end of shipments of microfilm will not affect you at all.

The crux of the matter is that there is an extremely small number of genealogical researchers who are wedded to microfilm. They are like me, using microfilm regularly when we are in the mode of doing serious and very challenging research. We can't imagine life without microfilm. Hmm. But what is happening is happening. For some time now, I have watched as digital images of microfilm rolls have replaced the need to find or order microfilm from Salt Lake City, Utah. The reality is that much of the information I would have found while being dependent on microfilm has been adsorbed into the online digital juggernaut. I am finding more and more of the information I would have used online.

Should we be upset about the discontinuance of microfilm shipments? Only if we are genealogical ostriches with our heads firmly planted in the sand. Also, if you get to this point in reading this post and do not know what I am writing about or understand the point of this post, then you are not a genealogical microfilm user and should ignore the whole problem.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Major Announcement from The Family History Guide

On Thursday, August 10, at 6:00 pm MST, The Family History Guide will be announcing a major expansion. The announcement will be in the form of a Brigham Young University Family History Library webinar titled "New Developments in The Family History Guide". In the webinar we will announce a new Beta trial edition that debuts new LEARNING PATHS covering:

The changes will in no way diminish the utility of the existing website's support for learning about the FamilySearch Family Tree. In addition, these new "Learning Paths" will continue to pursue the focus of the mission of The Family History Guide to remove barriers that prevent people from getting started in family history and pursuing their family roots. The Learning Paths will enable those using The Family History Guide to choose the path that most conforms to their primary online program. It will also give those who use more than one of the major programs to learn more about the other options available. 

Please watch the webinar for more details. Click on the following link to sign in as a GUEST for the webinar on August 10, 6:00 pm MST:

Thoughts on Junk Mail, Search Engines and Genealogy

When we got home from our recent camping trip, we dropped by the post office to pick up our mail. As usual, we had quite a stack. Most of the stack fell in the category of "junk mail," i.e. unsolicited mail that usually goes right into the trash. One of the pieces of junk mail caught my eye. It was addressed to one of my sons at our address here in Provo, Utah. My son lives in another state and has lived there for many years. He did attend Brigham Young University here in Provo, but that was more than ten years ago. To my knowledge, he has not had an address in Provo since he graduated from BYU.

The second thing that caught my attention was the fact that the junk mail was a solicitation to join a veterans organization. My son has never been in the military. So how did this organization get an address for my son in town where he does not live for an organization he would not qualify to join?

Keep that question in mind.

One of the underlying issues being discussed today is the issue of "targeted advertising." Large online retailers or advertising companies such as and are often cited as examples of the success of targeted advertising. Here is a definition, just in case you need one:
Targeted advertising is a form of advertising where online advertisers can use sophisticated methods to target the most receptive audiences with certain traits, based on the product or person the advertiser is promoting.
Google, for example, uses sophisticated programming to put advertising as the lead result from any search that you do using their search engine program.  Likewise, Amazon will "customize" advertising to respond to your searches on its website. The ads that appear on my blogs, using another example, often reflect the topics and products I have searched for recently. These ads are just another, perhaps a little more sophisticated, form of the good old junk mail.

Do customized electronic ads and junk mail work? Absolutely. However, here is a link to an article that expresses the idea that these forms of advertising do more than just act as an annoyance. See the Harvard Business Review: "Targeted Ads Don't Just Make You More Likely to Buy -- They Can Change How You Think About Yourself." Here is an interesting quote from the article:
This powerful effect of behaviorally targeted ads on self-perceptions does have its limits, however. Our final study tested the role of targeting accuracy. We found that behavioral targeting has to be at least moderately accurate (i.e., plausibly connected to consumers’ past behavior) or people will reject it. A sample of online adult consumers received either accurately or inaccurately targeted ads for hot chocolate positioned as good for the outdoors. If these participants had at least some interest in the outdoors (measured in a shopping task at the beginning of the study session), the behaviorally targeted ad made them feel more outdoorsy and more likely to buy the hot chocolate. If they had no interest in the outdoors and the targeting was inaccurate, behavioral targeting did not lead to changes in self-perceptions or higher likelihood of buying.
However, there is a basic flaw in both junk mail and targeted advertising. I search for a lot of things and get junk mail for a lot of things, I am not at all interested in buying. For example, I recently bought a tent. Now, I am getting a lot of targeted tent advertising. Before I bought the tent, I did not get any such advertising. I might buy another tent in seven or eight years or never. The ads for tents have now become "junk mail" or "junk email" and go directly in the trash. The ads do not make me feel more sophisticated. The ads are just junk.

How does this apply to genealogy? Well, as we use the large online genealogy programs, we essentially get their "advertising." I am constantly bombarded with "record hints" and ads about DNA testing and such that are aimed at increasing my use of the advertiser's website. These ads or record hints or whatever have become a distraction and annoying. They have moved into the category of junk. Some of these "ads" try to modify my behavior to conform to the website's preconceived ideas of what I "need" for my genealogical experience. From the website's perspective, these ads are "engaging, friendly and helpful."

Do I find that the genealogy ads are helpful? Not really. Because I have already bought the product. Just like my tent purchase. Telling me about tents does not help me decide to buy another tent. Likewise, telling me about DNA testing, for example, when I already have taken two or more DNA tests does not help me decide to take the same test over again. Sending me notices of record hints to people I am not interested in working on right now, likewise is unproductive and has reached the level of junk mail.

The same thing happens with the genealogical search engines. When we search for something about our ancestor, the search engines produce junk. They may also produce a few things we are interested in learning, but mainly, they produce junk. Here is an example from I am not particularly picking on that website, I just happened to have it open when writing about this topic. This is an example of searching for information about one of my ancestors:

There are 262 results. There are nine results that fall into the category above the blue line that separates the strong matches from those that are deemed less reliable. But essentially, what I have above the line is a pile of junk mail. I have to go through the "mail" or results and decide if they apply to my ancestor or not. As a matter of fact, at least three of the results fall into the category of the letter sent to my son in Provo, Utah. They are results of passenger and immigration records.

Now, if I did not already know a lot about my ancestor, how would I a separate out the valid entries from those that do not apply? In effect, I am bombarded by junk mail and have to throw out all those things that don't apply to me or what I happen to be looking for.

I guess my point here is that computers are great. I appreciate the advantages of the internet. But I am also well aware that we haven't moved much past the junk mail stage of search engines and computer programs. We have created more quantity, but we still fall short on quality and pertinence. Here is the basic flaw again, I am not really interested in buying all the targeted advertising and search results from the large online websites.