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

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Privacy and Genealogical DNA Testing

We recently had some business to conduct at the Department of Motor Vehicles to replace a lost vehicle title. As we entered the building, I observed long lines of people waiting to have their photo taken for driver's licenses. I also had to present my driver's license for identification before I could talk to the clerk processing the replacement title. I also recall that during a recent trip to the bank, I had to present my driver's license before the bank employee would talk to me about my account. In driving down the freeway, I noticed a few cars stopped by the highway patrol due to an increased emphasis on enforcement over the holiday season. If you have ever been stopped, you know the first thing they ask for is your driver's license. There is also an automatic check on your car's license plate number and registration. The officer also routinely asks to see your insurance.

When you applied for car insurance, you filled out a form with a lot of "personal" information including your social security number. I recently got a prescription refilled, and I had to give my date of birth to obtain the prescription. We live in a complex world society and identification of every individual is a fact of life. So what is and what is not "private?"

What about genealogy? My bank still uses my grandparents' names for a second level verification for online banking even though this provides a trivial level of security. I have written about privacy dozens of times in the past and repeatedly pointed out the disparity between what is commonly believed and accepted about privacy and the reality of our society. If you really want privacy in the old, outmoded sense, you would have to avoid all forms of electronic communication including telephones. You would also have to give up driving or owning any form of titled vehicle. You would have to give up going to doctors or the hospital. You would have to avoid talking to or communicating with any of your relatives. You would need to avoid interstate travel and not make any purchases with credit cards. Even using cash to make purchases would mean you could make no major purchases. You would have to live somewhere that did not make use of any security cameras. Of course, you could not vote or ever express an opinion in writing. The list could go on and on.

Guess what? You would have to give up doing any genealogy at all. The whole idea of genealogy involves making connections with your ancestors and relatives. Today, it involves a lot of online research. Even if you eschewed online research completely, you might still have to have a library card and a permanent address. The point is that all current interactions in our worldwide society require giving up some measure of complete privacy.

The last time I checked, a Google search on my name and any associated term, such as genealogy, results in tens of thousands of results. On any given day, I probably spend anywhere from ten to fourteen hours online. I also spent 39 or so years doing "discovery" to support litigation in courts including the Federal courts. Essentially, the word "privacy" simply means there are some things I don't talk about.

If you do genealogy in a vacuum, like I did for the first 20 years or so, you can get the impression that you are the only one interested in the subject. The reality is that all your research will likely be merely a duplicate of what has already been accumulated. Can you really believe that with millions upon millions of online family trees that you don't have at least one relative looking at the same family lines you think are so unique? It does not really matter where your family came from either. For example, has members in every single country of the world.

The essence of genealogy is the idea of a shared heritage. "Private" family trees practically insure inaccuracy and duplication of effort. Genealogy is about making connections and the DNA testing is all about making, even more, connections than was ever before possible. Do we give up some "privacy" when we take a DNA test? Perhaps, but from my own perspective, nothing that is not already available online and easily obtained with the right connections and a willingness to pay for data.

In my recent posts about DNA testing, I referenced newscasts that highlighted the use of DNA evidence in criminal investigations. With a little research, I found Guide for Law Enforcement. You might also want to read, "Setting the Record Straight: Ancestry and Your DNA." The information from shows that many of the uninformed online statements regarding genealogy, DNA testing, and privacy are pure fiction.

If you read the news, you will realize that very few criminals are identified through DNA testing; far fewer than are identified from video CAMs now all over most developed countries. If you are a criminal or thinking about becoming one, you might want to stay away from DNA testing and genealogy altogether.

Lastly, dead people have no rights to privacy. Period.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Don’t Expect Your Children to Read Your Life Story

Genealogy has always been part of my life. From the time I was a young child, I have heard stories about my ancestors. When I was very young, these stories centered around those ancestors who were "pioneers" and crossed the Plains to the western part of the United States. As I grew older, the stories became more specific and I learned about a series of books that had been written about various ancestors. I usually date the beginning of my genealogical research from the time I actually began looking at pedigree charts and adding and correcting information which was much later in my life.

I am certainly not claiming that my family and my specific set of ancestors is in any way representative, but one thing I do know is that unless you are "interested" in genealogy or family history in more than a casual way, such as when I was much younger, you really aren't that aware of the codified stories of your ancestors. I used to give short tours of the Mesa FamilySearch Library that included looking at the huge collection of "surname books." The people on the tours we almost uniformly surprised to learn that there could be a published book about one of their ancestors.

Over the years, I have observed that very few people outside of the active genealogical community are even aware that their ancestors may have left a record of their lives or that some descendant compiled a history or pedigree of an ancestor's descendants or progenitors. What is more interesting is that even if these people outside of the genealogical community have a copy of a book or manuscript, it is highly likely that they have never looked at it or read it.

Even among the active adherents of genealogical research, there is a commonly held belief that "surname books" are unreliable sources for genealogical data. Likewise, biographies and autobiographies are also suspect.

So why are genealogists so intent on either compiling or writing family histories? The reality is that these compiled histories are extremely valuable. The genealogists who compile such documents are personally the greatest beneficiaries of the process. Those who find the books and other records years after their publication also benefit from the effort. But what is usually the case, those who are directly related to the author usually do not have enough interest to even read the entire work. The main interest lies in those who are more distantly related; grandchildren, great-grandchildren and so on.

If your only motivation in compiling a personal history is to benefit your immediate family, you may be disappointed at the results of all your work. But if you realize that your work will only become appreciated over time, you will see how that work will affect future generations that you may never have a chance to see or meet in this life. If you focus on your more distant descendants and families, you will not be disappointed at the lack of interest shown by your closer relatives.

From my perspective, a true genealogist is not motivated solely by what others may think or how they may benefit from his or her work. A true genealogist is motivated more by involvement with the search and the pleasure of discovery rather than the expectation that someone will be benefitted.

Huge New York Databases Added to MyHeritage's SmartMatch

Some time ago, I wrote about Reclaim the Records' success in obtaining the New York Marriage License Index, 1908-1929 records from New York through a Freedom of Information action. Now we are seeing these records appear online, completely searched by's SuperSearch technology. Here is the announcement from MyHeritage about these new liberated records and others that are now available to those who subscribe to You can read more about these valuable records on the MyHeritage Blog.
We’re happy to announce we’ve just added New York Newspapers, 1806–2007, and the New York Marriage License Index, 1908–1929 to SuperSearch™
The collections are valuable to everyone looking to discover new information about their ancestors, especially those with connections to New York State. Newspapers and marriage license records provide key insights into what our ancestors’ lives were like throughout history. 
Here is why each collection is important to your research and what you can learn about your family through these records. 
New York Newspapers, 1806–2007 
This collection includes more than 1.9 million pages of 56 newspapers published in New York State’s various cities and towns, dating back to the early-1800s. Historical information is included on celebrities and important 19th-20th-century events.
You can find obituaries, birth, marriage and death announcements in newspapers, as well as important events and activities in the communities where your ancestors lived. Newspapers may also include previously unknown stories about both known living family members and ancestors. 
Some publications included in this collection are The Rochester Evening Express, Schenectady Gazette, The Newburgh News, Hudson Valley News, and more. These publications are rich with genealogical information about New Yorkers, historical events, and US national news. 
When you search this collection, all relevant local New York newspaper articles will appear in your search results and your keywords will be highlighted in each source. Every source will include the location of the publication, the date of the article, the language in which it was written, its periodicity, as well as the written text. You will then see the original newspaper article, which you can enlarge to full screen to read the print clearly.
 New York City Marriage License Index, 1908–1929 
This collection is an index to marriage licenses filed at the New York City Clerk Offices from the five boroughs of New York from 1908–1929 and includes more than 1.5 million marriage license records. 
Each index record contains the given names and surnames of both bride and groom, the date of the license application, and the license number. While the records include all New York marriage license records from 1908–1929, year ranges vary slightly for Queens and Staten Island. In Queens, the marriage license records cover 1908–1930, and the Staten Island records are from 1908–1938. 
The images in this collection were obtained through the outstanding work and efforts of Reclaim the Records. Images are organized by borough, bride and groom, and then sorted alphabetically. We have linked the bride and groom together, when possible, using the license number. 
Marriage records contain important genealogical information about the bride and the groom, including their residence when the marriage occurred, birth dates, birthplaces, occupations and whether they were single, widowed or divorced at the time of marriage. Marriage licenses often contain information about the parents of the bride and groom, such as their names and birthplaces. 
Copies of the original marriage records in New York City are available for a fee from the Office of the City Clerk. All marriages that took place 50 or more years ago are classified as public documents and are available to all researchers. Any marriage that took place less than 50 years ago is restricted and only available under certain circumstances.
To search these valuable collections, see the following links:

New York Newspapers, 1806–2007

New York City Marriage License Index, 1908–1929

MyHeritage DNA Black Friday Sale
Through Monday only, MyHeritage DNA kits will be available for $49 instead of $99. That's a whopping 50% off! They are also offering FREE shipping on orders of 3 kits or more.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Little More About DNA and Criminal Investigations

DNA testing as used in criminal investigations is very similar to the use of fingerprints and the testing for alcohol consumption. In the United States, there is a long line of court cases challenging all three types of tests. Subsequently, because of the court decisions, there are rules that criminal investigative agencies must follow when using any of the three types of evidence in court. Those rules are fairly strict and any deviation from the rules may cause the criminal prosecutors to lose their case and allow the suspect to go free.

The current plethora of criminal investigation TV series would lead you to believe that the investigative agencies merely have to gather the "evidence" to have criminals convicted. These shows portray the investigative agencies as "solving" the crimes in the same way that detective shows used to do so in the past. Matching fingerprints, producing an alcohol test or matching DNA does not automatically produce a criminal conviction. For example, if you refuse to take a sobriety test, in most U.S. jurisdictions, you could suffer some severe consequences.

Now, what could happen if you take a genealogically motivated DNA test? Well, if you are criminal, it would be the same as voluntarily giving your fingerprints to a law enforcement agency. So, if you plan on becoming a criminal, providing a DNA test falls into the same category.

As I sort-of explained in my last post, even if you voluntarily give a DNA sample to a genealogy company, there is really no practical way the sample and the testing results could be used in a criminal prosecution absent another test done by the investigative agency that showed you were the one submitting the test. The reason is that when the genealogy DNA test is administered, there are no procedural controls over the way the test is conducted. You could have submitted someone else's DNA or even the DNA from your dog or cat. Of course, you might also have done the test correctly and the sample really is you. But that would have to be proven in a court of law.

At best, an investigative agency might be able to use a matching DNA test from a genealogy company to make you a suspect in an investigation. But it is unlikely that the genealogical test alone would help to establish your guilt or innocence. It is much more likely that a criminal would have left some other sample of their DNA at a crime scene that would be used with a properly obtained sample after arrest than that the DNA would be used from a genealogy test.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Is genealogically submitted DNA discoverable in a criminal investigation?
A lead online news article from Jacksonville, Florida CBS47, Fox30 Action News JAX,  is getting some traction with the alarming headline that police could gain access to DNA data given to the large genealogical DNA testing companies such as and As a 39-year veteran trial attorney, all I can say is well duh? What did anyone really expect? If you read the fine print when you voluntarily give a DNA sample for testing, say from, you will see that you have agreed to that eventuality.

However, there is a simple legal problem involved in using DNA samples from genealogy companies: how do they know you are the one supplying the sample? In order for physical evidence, such as a DNA sample to be used in a criminal prosecution, it must be proved to have an uninterrupted chain of custody. Here is an explanation of the chain of custody from the Office for Victims of Crime of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.
To maintain chain of custody, you must preserve evidence from the time it is collected to the time it is presented in court. To prove the chain of custody, and ultimately show that the evidence has remained intact, prosecutors generally need service providers who can testify—
  • That the evidence offered in court is the same evidence they collected or received.
  • To the time and date the evidence was received or transferred to another provider.
  • That there was no tampering with the item while it was in custody.
As the article further shows,
A challenge in proving chain of custody can arise when service providers fail to properly initial and date the evidence or fail to place a case number with it.
Since a DNA sample submitted for genealogical purposes is "collected" by the person submitting the sample, there is no real way to "prove" that the sample actually came from the person listed as submitting the sample to the company. The only way to prove that the sample is from a specific individual would be to retest the individual suspect. But let's suppose that in the course of a criminal investigation, the investigative agency (police is a rather non-specific term) decides to send the results of a DNA sample to one or more of the online DNA companies for a match. Could the investigative agency do this? Obviously yes. Especially if the agency obtained s search warrant from an applicable court. Could the company, or whatever, be compelled to disclose whether or not someone in their database matched the agency's sample? Hmm. That is a little bit more problematical. Given the current status of the law, my opinion would be yes, but the agency might be required to pay for matching the test results.

But then, the more important question is whether or not the agency could use the DNA test in a criminal case presented to the court? Now, we get to the issue of chain of custody. Who handled the DNA sample after it was submitted the DNA sample to the company? I can guess that the company has records after they received the sample, but there are no records about the time before the sample was sent. End of story.

The news story is nothing but a really poorly sensationalized scare tactic to sell news.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Voice recognition software: Boon or Bane?

For me, functional voice recognition software has been one of most elusive goals of my many years' fascination with computers. I always dreamed that by talking, the computer program would magically convert my speech into text thereby creating a more effortless way to write. But the reality has always been far from the imagined goal. Until quite recently, the transcriptions from voice recognition or VR software have been cranky and most of the time more trouble than they are worth.

From time-to-time over the years, I have written about my experiences with voice recognition software and now it is time, once again to return to the subject. The programs available today are just barely adequate. However, to achieve the present level of marginal functionality, both the hardware and the software had to reach a certain level of sophistication and speed that is only, just now, becoming available. If you want to use voice recognition software, I suggest you will need the fastest computer you can possibly afford and a relatively expensive software program and even then, the product will still be barely satisfactory.

There are a number of different levels of voice recognition software in common use today. The most basic level, almost a toy, involves recognizing voice commands and some speech. Good examples of these types of programs are Apple's iOS program Siri and Google's Android program Assistant. These programs are designed to provide vocal interaction with a computer but provide only marginal text recognition. We use these programs for dictating short text messages and have a good time laughing at the mistranslations and mistakes.

The next level includes programs such as the integrated voice recognition software in both the Apple MacOS operating system and Microsoft's Windows operating system. Both of these programs to an adequate level of recognizing the spoken word, but both have only very rudimentary editing capabilities. From my experience, most people are not even aware that their computer can transcribe speech into a variety of existing programs. The lack of basic editing capabilities renders these programs useless for other than casual note-taking.

Many years ago, IBM initiated a program to develop speech recognition. This culminated in a program called Via Voice. Eventually, the program was evidently abandoned and the program was sold off to Nuance Software. Nuance has very slowly improved their VR programs over the years, culminating in programs for both Windows and Mac, now called simply Dragon but previously known as Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Unfortunately, several of the low level, rudimentary programs such as Siri and Google Assistant, are touted as voice recognition software. If a program produces text that requires more time to edit than it takes to type by hand, then it is useless. That is the case with Apple, Microsoft and Google at this point in time. The following is an example of using Apple's voice dictation program to read this paragraph.
Unfortunately,Several of the full level,Riddimentary program such as SiriAnd Google assistant,Are touted as a voice recognition software.If a program produces textThat requires more time toEditThen it takes to type by hand,Then it is useless.That is the case with Apple,MicrosoftAnd GoogleAt this point in timeThe following is an example of using apples voice dictation program to read this paragraph.
As you can see, the program interprets commas as periods and messes up the word spacing. To go back and "fix" the dictation is a waste of time. If I wanted to actually use this dictated text or make modifications, I would spend an inordinately large amount of time doing so. I have a hard enough time editing what I write without throwing in a bunch of time-consuming errors.

That brings us down to the only consumer-level product available today: Nuance's Dragon. First of all, it is a relatively expensive program. The Mac version is presently $300.00 and upgrades are usually nearly as expensive as re-purchasing the program. In addition, the program is buggy and needs to be restarted periodically to stop the program from adding in random characters. The Mac version bugs seem to persist over upgrade versions. But it is apparently almost the only game in town. In addition, to add insult to injury, the program is licensed to only one computer or device and so people like me who use two or three or more personally owned computers are limited to using the program on only one unless we want to spend another $300 to add another computer. Interestingly, the PC version starts at $59.00.

During the past few months, I have been using Dragon on my Mac to write many of my blog posts. I am certain that no one could tell when I am using the software and when I am not. For me, the increased level of productivity and speed is worth the price, but I am surprised that there is not a little bit more competition out there. Voice recognition is becoming ubiquitous, but until the editing capability catches up with the recognition, the programs will not replace Dragon.

One last note. There are a lot of different versions of Dragon on sale on These are almost all older, even less useful versions of the program. Be careful when purchasing the program.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Photo+Story Competition at #RootsTech 2018
Read the competition details, and then submit the perfect photo and story combo by clicking the button below. Don’t forget to share your submission on social media using #RootsTech. See the link to the competition page above for details.

Friday, November 17, 2017

How would you like to live in a condo built over a cemetery?
If you have ever unsuccessfully looked for burial information about an ancestor, you should realize that cemeteries and burial plots are not necessarily permanent. The above news story points out what can happen when a cemetery is on privately owned land. Even cemeteries that are owned by public entities such as towns or cities can be subject to changes in land development. In my own ancestral lines several of the graves turned out to be unmarked and in one case the grave was moved long after the person died. In the above case, the development company intends to move the graves.But this is not always the case. See "New website for Chicago and Cook County Cemeteries."

In the above case also, think about the consequences of having the developer move the graves. What records might be available to show the new locations of the existing graves in the developed cemetery? This important understand from the standpoint of doing genealogical research, that any particular record concerning an individual may have either never been created or may have been lost.

As I pointed out in the title to this post, how would you like to live on an abandoned cemetery site? By the way, you may be living on an abandoned cemetery site and not know it.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

FamilySearch to require users to sign in

Beginning December 13, 2017, for a number of very good reasons, the highly visited website will begin requiring users to sign in before using the website. The announcement came in a blog post entitled, "FamilySearch Free Sign-in Offers Greater Subscriber Experiences and Benefits." Quoting from the post:
Beginning December 13, 2017, patrons visiting will see a prompt to register for a free FamilySearch account or to sign in to their existing account to continue enjoying all the free expanded benefits FamilySearch has to offer. Since its launch in 1999, FamilySearch has added millions of users, billions of various historical records, and many fun, new features like Family Tree, Memories, mobile apps, digital books, and dynamic help. In order to accommodate continued growth of these and future free services, FamilySearch must assure all its partners that its content is offered in a safe and secure online environment. Patrons creating a free account and signing in fulfills that need.

Patron sign in will also enable FamilySearch to satisfy the ongoing need for user authentication. This authentication can deliver rich, personalized discovery, collaboration, and help experiences. Simply put, signed-in visitors can access more searchable content and enjoy more personalized services.
The online world is rapidly changing as circumstances mandate a higher level of website security. Requiring all of the users to sign on will not change the user experience but it will help to preserve the integrity of the website.

An Emotional Reunion between mother and daughter from MyHeritage has shared an emotional reunion between a mother and a daughter who met for the first time on Good Morning America. This all came about as a result of the DNA test from Quoting from MyHeritage,
Angie was a teenage mother who placed her baby Meribeth for adoption in 1986. She never got to hold Meribeth after she gave birth to her, and she always hoped that she was adopted by a loving family. For thirty years, they both wondered about one another. MyHeritage DNA enabled Meribeth and Angie to finally find one another.

Link to video:
This is a remarkable illustration of the power of genealogically related DNA testing when coupled with a huge collection of online family trees. 

The Advent of the 12 TB Hard Drives

Presently, an 8 TB external hard drive is going for under $200 online. Actually, the price has been going down on this level of storage for some time now and has bounced back up recently, perhaps in anticipation of upcoming holiday sales. Interestingly, overall worldwide sales of hard drives have been falling for the past year. When I refer to "hard drive," I mean mechanical, spinning storage devices or HDD. The alternative is Solid State Device (SSD) or flash drive storage. Quoting from the Statistica Portal article entitled, "Global shipments of hard disk drives (HDD) from 4th quarter 2010 to 3rd quarter 2017 (in millions):"
The main competing technology for secondary storage is flash memory in the form of solid-state drives (SSDs). HDDs are expected to remain the most used secondary storage because of a greater recording capacity, a better price per unit of storage, and a longer product lifetime. The advantages offered by SSDs over HDDs is that they are faster, generally more durable, and consume less power.
For example, the new Apple Macintosh Pro model scheduled to ship beginning in December will offer up to 4 TB of internal SSD storage rather than the tradition HDD or hard disk drive storage.  The recent advent of 12 TB HDD devices is slowly making some headway., a major online backup company oriented towards the online genealogical community, recently released its "Hard Drive Stats for Q3 2017" and indicated that they had introduced both 10 TB and 12 TB hard drives into their data centers.

What does this have to do with the average genealogist? Not much, I am afraid. But it does mean that overall data storage costs will continue to trend down with some fluctuations depending on holiday sales and supplies. What is important to note is that backing up your data is relatively inexpensive and the cost of adequate storage should no longer be a major factor in making sure you have an adequate backup system in place. Genealogical Standards are still an Issue
One of the constant background issues in the larger online genealogical community is the lack of coherent and consistent standards for sharing data between both online and desktop genealogy database programs. Over the past few years, several popular genealogy programs have been abandoned by their developers leaving their users with the prospect of moving all of their data to some other program. The only available method for transferring information from one program to another has long been FamilySearch sponsored GEDCOM program. Moving information with GEDCOM is like trying to move water with a sieve. A loss of data is inevitable.

Some members of the genealogical community have recognized the need for uniform data entry standards for genealogical programs in order to enable the complete transfer of data between programs. For example, if I have a family tree on and I wish to share the data with someone who has a family tree on any other program, the only option I have is to download a GEDCOM file and for the other person to upload the GEDCOM file. The problem is that a considerable amount of the information in my file, including any attached sources or media items, will be lost in the transfer process. Hence the analogy to moving water in a sieve.

A few years ago, I was very effectively writing about the subject. At the time, there seem to be a considerable amount of interest in creating a new standard for the transfer data. It appeared, after a very short time, that any interest in the subject had fizzled out although the problem remained. About that time a group of genealogists formed the Family History Information Standards Organization or This organization has existed since 2013. The challenge of this or any other such organization is that any recommendations made by the organization are not binding on anyone. The major commercial genealogical companies have little or no interest in establishing standards for data transfer. The reason for this is simple; they are competitors and facilitating transferring information between such competitors is against their interests.

Why should any company that creates its own database facilitate the transfer of that information to some other database? Especially, if the company makes its income from selling access to the database. The only way that any progress is going to be made towards data-transfer standards was for an independent organization to establish such standards and then attempt to lobby the genealogical community into acceptance. This is the goal of

For further information on this topic see the blog post entitled "Thither FHISO."  As the article points out, in the past, FHISO had substantial support from some of the large online genealogical programs. However, that support evaporated over time. Part of the reason was that some of the larger online programs negotiated their own data-transfer standards through the development of other information sharing avenues.

The larger genealogical online community is hardly uniform. In reality, it is composed of a vast number of individual objectives and concerns. The larger participants vary from nonprofit charitable organizations to giant corporations. As I already mentioned, very few of these participants share a common objective. Getting them to agree is like pushing a rope. In most cases, data-transfer standards must be arbitrary and presently, even the large online database companies cannot agree on any consistent standard for data entry.

I do not have a solution for this problem. As I have done in the past many times, I can only comment on the lack of a present solution.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Newspaper Clippings and Copyright: Another Thorny Problem

Newspapers are one of the most valuable resources for genealogical research. Millions upon millions of newspaper pages have been digitized and are available online. Some of the major digital newspaper repositories are fee-based, but many other websites are free. One thorny issue with newspapers is that their content is subject to claims of copyright just like any other publication. It is fairly obvious that most of the genealogical community is entirely unaware of the fact that additionally reproducing a newspaper article may involve the violation of the copyright. Some online family tree programs that allow the addition of digital copies to support the entries in their family trees will refuse to post a full page of a newspaper but will allow the reproduction of an individual article. I thought it would be interesting to explore the parameters of the restrictions that may be imposed by the copyright law on posting copies of articles from newspapers by genealogists.

Before we get to the issue of whether or not a newspaper article is subject to a copyright claim, we must know if such a claim could exist at all, i.e. whether or not the law extends to the publication and the time of the publication of a particular newspaper article. For one of my recent posts on this issue, see "The Copyright Boat Anchor on Creativity and Research."

Another of the fundamental issues here is the idea that facts cannot be copyrighted. In the case of Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Services Co., Inc., 499 US 340, 111 S. Ct. 1282, 113 L. Ed. 2d 358 - Supreme Court, 1991, The Supreme Court of the United States stated essentially that while compilations of facts may be subject to copyright protection insofar as the arrangement of the facts reflects creativity, the facts themselves are not subject to protection against copying or distribution, thereby decisively repudiating the "sweat-of-the-brow" theory. If I were to apply this ruling to genealogy, I would say that a pedigree chart was not subject to a claim of copyright unless it was presented in some original or artistic fashion. Even in that case, the information contained in the pedigree would not be subject to a claim of copyright. Also, you are not entitled to a claim of copyright merely because you spent the time and effort to compile the information. See also, Barclays Capital Inc. v. Theflyonthewall. com700 F. Supp. 2d 310 - Dist. Court, SD New York, 2010.

This distinction between the actual facts presented in the publication and the format of the publication is the underlying issue governing claims of copyright for newspapers. Copying an entire page of a newspaper copies their unique arrangement. Copying a single article may not.  This distinction is not trivial. Here is an explanation of the newspapers' position from the Arizona Republic newspaper's website.
Copyright law evolved a great deal during the last quarter of the 20th century, but civil litigation continues in the 21st because the U.S. Code Title 17 allows much subjectivity about what constitutes an outsider’s “fair use” of a newspaper’s work. Generally, if you want the material for a business purpose, consider any newspaper editorial content off-limits for reproducing in whole without written consent. If you plan to do more than briefly excerpt the work, you're in a gray area. You will definitely need a lawyer, because the newspaper almost certainly has attorneys on staff or on retainer.
Further on in the article, it states:
A newspaper might sometimes label a specific important article as, say, “Copyright 2012 by The Arizona Republic.” Actually, all the newspaper’s original material is protected by copyright law, but the copyright credit line makes the article stand out. The AP, as a newspaper collective, has the right to distribute news content from member papers. The copyright designation tells the AP and member newspapers that the originating newspaper must be credited with breaking the news, even if your news entity competes against it and is likewise an AP member.
Fair use is a complicated legal doctrine. There are no clear guidelines as to what is and what is not fair use. Every case is decided on its own merits by the District Courts and ultimately by the U.S. Supreme Court. Because of this case-by-case need to review the application of the fair use doctrine, it is difficult for anyone, even an attorney experienced in copyright law to give more than an opinion in any given situation. Read my post cited above for more information on this subject.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Entering Non-Engiish Character Sets for Genealogy

Many languages have an "alphabet" set that has some characters that are different than the standard English language set of 26 letters and a number of symbols. Genealogists need to be aware of and use the character sets for the languages of the countries where they are doing research. The best practice in today's world is for these researchers make their entries in their family tree using the correct set that reflects the time and place where their ancestors lived.

I am always surprised when those attending a class I am teaching are surprised that there are computer programs that allow typing on alternative character keyboards. The standard English ASCII Character set, used by almost every English language computer system, contains 128 characters. Here is a screenshot of the list.

This, now traditional, set of characters is limited to 128 because of the original limitations of the computer processors. This standard set is arbitrary. That means that any programmer who wishes to use a different set merely has to define the alternative set of characters in the program being written. This is usually not a very good idea since there is also a standard English language keyboard layout. As a side note, there have been many attempts over the years to implement alternative keyboard layouts without much success.

The screenshot at the beginning of this post illustrates a configuration for using a standard keyboard layout with Hebrew characters. Most keyboard sets can be expanded by using some of the keys for switching to alternative letters, i.e. shift, control or command, shift-option etc. Of course, if we move to an alternative keyboard, we usually lose our ability to "touch type" and are reduced to hunting and picking out the letters one by one.

Thinking that there is only one keyboard layout is really parochial. For example, here is a German language layout.

CC BY-SA 3.0,
Obviously, it is impracticable to buy a new keyboard for every change in the language needed to transcribe genealogical data. The alternative is to use a keyboard designed to work within the confines of either the operating system of your computer or one designed to allow "virtual" typing. All of the currently popular computer operating systems allow you to change the character set of your keyboard to a target language. Here is an example from my Apple OS X operating system.

This option is usually found in the preference or setup section of your system. You can do a Google search for specific instructions. Unfortunately, changing the character set does not change the hardware keyboard symbols so you have to have a reference either on the screen or printed out to find the characters you need. If you happen to live in a country where English is not the predominant language, you can probably purchase a keyboard that reflects your character set. (You might notice that I needed to charge my keyboard. I plugged it in and fixed that when I saw the level.)

If you are working online, you can bring up a program that provides an alternative "virtual" keyboard that will let you type with your cursor on the screen. One easily used such set of keyboards is part of Google Translate. Here is a screenshot of the program showing the keyboard for German.

When you select a language, you will usually get an icon showing a keyboard. The icon is a drop-down menu of the keyboard options offered. You can then use your cursor to select the letters you want to type and then copy them and insert them into whatever other program you are using.

There are a number of other options available online also. But you need to be specific in your online searches since the term "keyboard" is also used for music and other topics. I suggest searching for "custom on screen keyboard" and including the target language.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A New Look for The Family History Guide
The Family History Guide is a world-class family history learning system used by learners in over 150 countries and approved by FamilySearch as an official training resource. The website is sponsored by The Family History Guide Association, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation and supported by users contributions and contributions from other organizations and entities.

The newly designed startup page for the website is intended to provide easier access to the ever-increasing number of resources available. The menu bars have been reworked and the options available on the startup page have been clarified and rearranged for the convenience of the user.

Since its inception approximately two years ago, The Family History Guide has become the "go to" place for those who are just now beginning to be interested in family history and genealogy and also for those who are seasoned researchers.

For more detailed information concerning the changes to the website, please refer to The Family History Guide Blog article entitled, "New Look for the Home Page and Menus."
 In the interests of disclosure, I need to point out that I presently serve as the chairman of the board of directors of The Family History Guide Association.

Playlists on YouTube for the BYU Family History Library

With the present count of over 330 videos and many more to come, the Brigham Young University (BYU) YouTube Channel is now presenting playlists organized by topic.

I have been writing recently about the genealogical resources on, but I also need to emphasize the wealth of resources available on Here is a short list of some Frequently Asked Questions about the BYU YouTube Channel and their answers.

Question: Why does the BYU Family History Library have a YouTube Channel?

The staff and the missionary-volunteers at the Brigham Young University are a diverse cross-section of genealogical interests and talents. Some of the missionary-volunteers are experts in certain aspects of genealogical research and many of them are capable teachers and have years of experience in helping patrons and others with their genealogical research. The BYU Family History Library also has an ongoing program of continuing education for all of the volunteer-missionaries and for patrons that come to the library. By extending their expertise online with classes and presentations, they can reach a much larger audience outside of those who can or might come to the Library in Provo, Utah. is a Google website. There are over 1.3 billion videos on the website and over 300 hours of video are uploaded to every minute. Almost 5 billion videos are watched on every day. The BYU Family History Library recognizes that YouTube is a major communication source for information on almost every topic. By utilizing this amazing information outlet, the Library is increasing its outreach worldwide.

Question: How does the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel operate?

The individual volunteer-missionaries at the BYU Family History Library are regularly provided with a series of classes for continuing education. These shorter videos cover a variety of topics pertinent to increasing genealogical skills. Some time ago, it was decided to share these videos online on a BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel. In addition, some longer, one-hour classes presentations were added over time. As the Channel gained some viewers, it was further decided to add a pre-announced series of online, live webinars to the mix. The schedule for these webinars is on the BYU Family History Library website. The presenters are volunteers from around the local genealogical community.

 Question: Can viewers request a specific topic?

Yes, viewers can request a specific topic. Information concerning the library's email address is located on the Classes and Webinars page of the website.

Question: Why should I subscribe to the channel?

Subscribing to a particular YouTube channel enables the viewer to receive notifications of any new videos added to the channel. On the other hand, subscribing to the channel also assists the channel in gaining traction on YouTube. With the millions of videos being regularly added, focused channels such as the BYU Family History Library can be lost in the mass of videos being added. Subscriptions help the channel to gain visibility.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Visiting Facebook Genealogy

I recently began writing about the genealogically related resources on generated by a search on the word "genealogy." Above is a screenshot of the long list of pages with related topics. organizes the pages into categories. Here are some of the categories:

  • Pages
  • Groups
  • Articles
  • Events
  • Posts from Friends
  • Posts from your Groups
  • People are saying
  • Marketplace
  • Public Posts
What is shown in the screenshot in each category is only a small sample of the long list of posts in each of the categories. Here is an example of what happens when you expand the Groups section.

Those groups that appear are marked with the note that they have 10+ posts a day. Here is a screenshot of one of the groups, the Swedish American Genealogy Group.

The help given by the members of the group include answering questions, translating obscure content, help finding records and many other activities.

If I search for Swedish genealogy, I find eight groups. Some of these are active and some are not.

Apparently, you can find groups around almost any country or interest. Here is a screenshot of Latvia genealogy.

Here is the page for the BYU Family History Library.

In summary, you can find support, information, articles, discussion and many other things related to genealogy on

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Are You Safe Online?

Safety is a slippery term and highly personal. When I was an active rock climber, safety meant that we were "protected" from falling, either by a rope belay or by clipping a carabiner into a piton or other protection device in a crack of the rock. Despite the use of safety procedures and practices, some would consider the entire idea of climbing cliffs to be unsafe.

Doing genealogical research would seem to be the polar opposite of rock climbing as far as safety is concerned. This may have been the case a few years ago, but now, with our extensive use of online records and resources, as genealogists, we are confronted with another, far more insidious, risk than merely the physical risks of rock climbing.  While the risks involved in rock climbing would seem to be fairly evident, the threats to our safety online are far less obvious.

The Wikipedia definition of Internet Safety is as follows:
Online safety is trying to be safe on the internet and is the knowledge of maximizing the user's personal safety and security risks to private information and property associated with using the internet, and the self-protection from computer crime in general.
One of the fundamental issues with determining safe practices is evaluating the risks involved. A risk is something that exposes someone or something valued to danger, harm, or loss. In our society, the entire insurance industry is based on getting people to recognize risks and pay for protection against those risks. We manage our risks by identifying them and then evaluating the necessary procedures to avoid or minimize their impact. Unfortunately, those who benefit from increasing the fear of some kinds of risks are usually the most vocal about the danger involved. Today, almost any human activity has its own list of risks. Here is a sample Risk Assessment Diagram from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Identifying and evaluating online risks is really difficult because most of the entities involved in providing information about the risks are directly involved in selling "solutions." Most news articles that talk about online risks begin with an extreme example of someone who was harmed in a major way and it is becoming almost impossible to distinguish between those risks that are actually associated with online activity and those that are part of the risks involved in simply being alive.

For example, right now sitting in my home office and looking out the window at the last of the leaves falling off the trees, I would rank old age and driving in Utah Valley as two of my greatest risks. I could worry about global warming, the threat of another world war or other such general risks, but right now I am more concerned with my own personal aches and pains than any of those amorphous risks.

But going back to my earlier days spent rock climbing on the granite cliffs of Little Cottonwood Canyon, I knew there were risks and we took reasonable actions to minimize those risks. The same thing goes with the risks now inherent in using the internet. I take reasonable steps to minimize the effect of those risks.

When I want to find out what risks are involved in going online, I try to avoid commercial enterprises. I prefer to look at government or university websites. Now, there are a lot of lists of suggested activities to help using your computer or other devices on the internet a safer activity. Here are some links to a number of such lists. Evaluate all the of the lists in light of the entity that produced the list. I have included some links to commercial enterprises when I thought the lists were not specifically generated to sell something.

From my own perspective, the most dangerous things you can do online include the following:
  • Opening unsolicited email and links in email
  • Using simple, short passwords such as 1234 or whatever
  • Indiscriminately "surfing" the internet: all internet activity should be purposeful and intentional
  • Replying to anyone you do not know or cannot identify
  • Failing to back up your data
  • Failing to update your devices' operating systems
  • Failing to understand the threats
Genealogy is a reasonably safe online activity, but you still need to be aware of the real dangers and take steps to avoid being harmed. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Coming to America: Ellis Island on MyHeritage

More than 94 million immigration records from Ellis Island and other passenger lists have been added to the collections. Here is an expanded description of the collection from the website.
Ellis Island and Other New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957
94,028,112 records 
During the 19th and 20th centuries millions of immigrants came to the United States. This collection contains millions of records of individuals arriving at the port of New York between 1820 and 1957. This includes individuals who arrived at three well-known immigrant processing stations: Castle Garden (1855-1890), the Barge Office (1890-1892), and Ellis Island (1892-1957). 
Early passenger lists were single page manifests and recorded minimal information about passengers. Over time forms were standardized and additional questions were added. Depending on the year, information recorded about a passenger may include name, age, gender, occupation, destination, and information regarding place of origin—e.g. native country, citizenship status, race, nationality, birthplace, or last residence. By 1907 passenger manifests contained 29 columns and were two-pages wide with left and right sides. Many of the passenger manifests span two pages, and a common omission for genealogists has been to locate the first page and miss the existence of the second. MyHeritage has solved this problem for the first time by stitching the double pages into single document images, ensuring that important information will not be missed. 
Two questions that were included on the manifest beginning in 1907 were: 1) name and address of nearest friend or relative in country whence the alien came; and 2) whether going to join a relative or friend, and if so, what relative or friend, and his name complete address. MyHeritage has indexed the names and relationships of the individuals referenced in these two additional questions, making MyHeritage the only place where these additional names are searchable. 
Records in this collection come from National Archives (NARA) microfilm collections M237 (Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897) and T715 (Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957).
Personally, I have no examples from my own ancestors who I am aware of who arrived in New York during this time period, but I have found the names of the ancestors of many of those who I have helped over the years in these separate databases. The vast advantage this collection adds to those who have their family trees on and also have data subscriptions cannot be understated. What is more, the MyHeritage Record Match technology will be used to match those ancestors automatically to the new databases.

Here is a screenshot of part of my own list of Matches by Source from my family tree on as an example of the kinds of records found automatically.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Gateway Ancestors: Between Fact and Fiction

I have never quite understood the apparent fascination with royalty and noble or royal ancestors. Afterall, my own ancestors fought a long war to establish a nation without kings or queens. Nevertheless, there are and will always be a significant number of genealogically inclined people who will be trying to connect to European kings, queens and the nobility. If you are at all interested in royal or noble lines, then you will need to start doing carefully documented research using only accepted pedigrees and lists.

It is important to understand a few of the terms used in this context. Here are some definitions:

  • Royalty - generally, people who are directly related by inheritance from a king or queen.
  • Nobility - people with hereditary or honorary titles in a given country
  • Gateway ancestor - an individual who is proven or accepted as having some connection to European royal families

One prominent US authority on this subject is Nathan Murphy. Nathan worked for FamilySearch at the Salt Lake Family History Library for a long time and now is employed, according to my latest information, by Ancestry's ProGenealogists. Nathan has provided an excellent starting point for researching both royal and noble lines in a FamilySearch Blog article published back on October 13, 2015, entitled, "Documenting Royal Ancestry." Here are some other links to articles he and others have written that should be mandatory reading for anyone from the United States who is aspiring to have a royal or noble pedigree line.
This list could go on an on. Online family trees are rife with undocumented connections to royalty and nobility and any such connection should be carefully documented. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Is Reading Facebook a Royal Waste of Time?

Superficially, social networking seems tailor-made for genealogists. Afterall, don't we thrive on contacting relatives and keeping up with our families? Isn't Facebook the best of all possible worlds for genealogical research? Or is it just an addictive, drivel-driven, waste of time?

You can literally have your real life consumed by Facebook. Watching soap operas all day used to be the example of the epitome of wasting time, but now, I fear, that Facebook has completely replaced both the supermarket tabloid and the soap opera as the new lows in daily activities.

So why would I dare to suggest that Facebook might assist a serious genealogical researcher? The answer lies in the way we approach Facebook and the internet in general. Yes, Facebook can be a cesspool of drivel, but it can also help us maintain contact with our family and the larger community of our friends, former friends and even those who we probably would not care if we ever saw or talked to again in our lives. Whether Facebook is an addiction or a boon depends entirely on our attitude and use of the website. Of course, there are other social networking websites, but Facebook is the most pervasive of time and interest.

But as a genealogist, the content on Facebook can be mined for information. The key is using Facebook as a database for searching rather than a news stream.

Let me use a hypothetical example. Let's suppose that I have been researching my ancestors in Rhode Island in the 1700s. There are hundreds of sources of records from Rhode Island but after spending years doing research in this one state, I need some new ideas. What about Facebook?

I suggest focusing on the little-used search field on Facebook.

I can start with a simple search such as "genealogy Rhode Island."

Will these Facebook groups help me with my genealogical research? The answer is a definite maybe. To a large extent, the answer lies in the level of activity and participation of the group members. But it is another place to start looking. The New England Genealogy group shown above has 6,412 members. That is a large number of people who might know something I don't know about doing research in New England. The Rhode Island group has over a thousand members and very likely has someone who knows more about Rhode Island than I do.

Now, what if your search runs dry? Then either change your search terms or move on to another website. Don't waste your time hoping to glean some particle of information from further involvement. But come back when you have a new search topic. By interacting with Facebook on your terms and not using is a pacifier, you might just avoid addiction.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Wake up! Genealogy on Facebook?

By the way, waking up at 7:00 am is sleeping in for me. I used to get up regularly with the roosters starting at 4:30 am.

I have been writing for some time now about the decline in the popularity of blogging and the decisive movement to other social networking channels. In the past year, several of the "old time" genealogy bloggers have either stopped blogging altogether or moved to Facebook as a primary outlet. By the way, Google Trends shows a steady decline. Here is an example of the long-term search trend.

What turns out to be the case is that there has been a literal explosion in the number of genealogy-related Facebook pages as shown by my recent post entitled, "Remarkable Lists of Genealogy Pages on Facebook." I have begun to realize that we now need to include Facebook as one of the most valuable single resources for genealogical research. This certainly reorients the list of resources in a major way. I certainly need to thank Katherine R. Willson for her wake up call.

I certainly do not want to depreciate the importance of blogging as a way to communicate information in depth. Despite the numbers of individuals and organizations on Facebook, the content is still overwhelmingly superficial. I still resent the fact that I have to wade through a pile of garbage to get any valuable content out of Facebook.

 For now, I think you will see me mentioning Facebook more in the future.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Remarkable Lists of Genealogy Pages on Facebook

Occasionally something comes along that moves from the ordinary to the extraordinary. I have been writing for some time about the movement of online genealogy from blogging to social networking websites such as These lists compiled by Genealogist Katherine R. Willson and others dramatically illustrate that movement. Here is a description of the link to her list from her article shown above:
Download the 337 page PDF file containing 11,700+ links (updated in November 2017) to English-speaking Facebook groups & pages related to genealogy & history here: 
“Genealogy on Facebook” List
She also has a Facebook page and mentions two other lists.
To be notified each time the list is updated, please “like” my professional Facebook page at
Gail Dever has a broader Canadian list that includes French-speaking groups & pages, and that can be downloaded at Facebook for Canadian Genealogy. Alona Tester has an Australian list that can be downloaded at Facebook for Australian History & Genealogy.
This also emphasizes the complexity of the wider, online genealogy community. It also demonstrates to me how impossible it is to know everything that is going on in that community and how small a part I play in whatever is going on.

Learn About The Family History Guide at #RootsTech 2018

RootsTech 2018 is right around the corner and The Family History Guide is going to play a big part in the Exhibit Hall and with non-stop classes. For the full story, see The Family History Guide Blog post entitled, "The Family History Guide at RootsTech 2018." Here is a summary of the article with a few quotes. First off, Vice-President and Executive Director, Bob Ives, will be presenting a class on Friday, March 2nd, at 3 pm. Here is the class description:
Attendees will be able to successfully navigate the free The Family History Guide website ( to get an introduction to family history, and to accelerate their learning and progress with FamilySearch, Ancestry, MyHeritage, and Findmypast. Objectives that will be covered in the class include: • Understand how The Family History Guide helps make genealogy learning and research easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable • Learn how to find and navigate the features available in The Family History Guide • Find online resources for beginners in family history or beginners in computer skills • Understand the unique learning structure of The Family History Guide, based on Projects, Goals, Choices, and links to learning resources • Explore the four Learning Paths of The Family History Guide: FamilySearch, Ancestry, MyHeritage, and Findmypast • Learn how to quickly and easily find resources for doing research • Learn how to track family history learning progress through the Tracker system and Exercises • Get a brief introduction to family history activities for families, singles, youth, and children.Difficulty: Beginner
The class will be held in Ballroom J and the Session Number is RT9938.

At this #RootsTech 2018, The Family History Guide will be front and center with the large online genealogy companies on the main exhibit floor. Here is a quote from the blog post.
We will join hundreds of exhibitors from around the globe in the Expo Hall all four days of the conference! We will have interactive games, “hands-on” help for learning to do family history using the Family History Guide, and mini-classes throughout the event.
Like at RootsTech 2017, The Family History Guide staff will be presenting classes all during the #RootsTech 2018 Conference in their expanded booth. Here is the class schedule at the booth:
We’re thrilled to announce that RootsTech 2018 will officially begin a day earlier than our prior conferences, on Wednesday, February 28, 2018. Join us for class sessions beginning on Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m. MST. Classes will also be offered at 11:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. 
Following these class sessions, the General Session will begin at 4:30 p.m., featuring popular speaker Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International.
There will be a lot of other fun games and prizes at the booth.

I will be unable to attend this year's #RootsTech 2018 Conference in person because I will be serving as a missionary/volunteer in the Washington, D.C. North Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with my wife as a Record Preservation Specialists at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, Maryland.

Be sure and read the rest of the article.