RootsTech 2015

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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Note About Migration Patterns

Our ancestors' movements across the world did not happen in a random fashion. A combination of the availability of transportation, natural barriers and the routes available through and across those barriers determined where and when they moved from place to place. Population movements were determined by the availability of land for farming or settlement, political unrest or wars, natural disasters and many other factors. In many cases, when an ancestral family seems to disappear from the historical record, they were just following the general trend of the greater population and moving on to a new home.

I came across the impact of this historical context several times this week as I helped people with their research in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. In one case, a family moved from Connecticut to upper New York state in the late 1700s. There was another move in around 1816. The researcher seemed entirely unaware of the circumstances that would have initiated such moves. I pointed out that at that time, upper New York state was the frontier and that 1816 was the "year without a summer" due, in part, to the eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies. 

The history of the world is replete with huge population migrations and awareness of those particular migrations that affected your ancestors is a necessary part of understanding their movements as well as an adjunct to finding those families that seem to disappear. In the U.S., most of these movements are reflected in the development of the available land. So many researchers seem baffled by the historically very predictable movements of their ancestors. Much of this confusion could be completely eliminated by spending a little bit of time reading up on the history of the country both from a national and local perspective. 

If you think about your own life, you can ask several simple questions such as the following:
  • How did my parents meet each other?
  • Where did they get married (if they did)?
  • Why was I born where I was born?
  • Why did my family move from one place to another?
  • Why did they stay in the same place?
These types of questions seem highly personal, but if the answers are looked at in the general context of the time periods involved, they become part of a larger pattern of economic development (or the lack thereof), employment opportunities, wars, and other developments. There are always some anomalies, but over time, the general trends determined your ancestors movements. 

What is generally missing from history education in the United States is enough detail to allow students to understand and visualize these migrations. As I have mentioned previously, I had the opportunity to review a granddaughter's junior high school "American History" book. There were a total of four pages of text (mostly pictures) devoted to the entire western expansion across the United States. Such a treatment will guarantee that she is only vaguely aware of major historical factors such as the 1849 California Gold Rush and the Oregon Trail, much less some of the lesser known, but equally important issues in the European settlement of the West. 

You can start this education process by simply asking why. Why did your ancestor leave his or her European homeland and come to America? Where did the settle? Why did the choose that location to settle? Where did their descendants move and why? These types of questions will start the process of analysis. Here is a very good website of books and links to learn about migration:
American Migration Patterns

National Library of Estonia to Introduce Digitized Newspaper Portal

I have written about the National Library of Estonia (Eesti Rahvusraamatukogu) previously. The latest news is that the Library is opening a digital newspaper portal. Here is a quote from the press release:
The National Library of Estonia launched DIGAR Estonian Newspapers portal (, which is one of a kind in the world considering the searchable text and the planned amount of the data. The portal will be presented on 15 October at 11.00 in the National Library of Estonia. 
The new portal DIGAR Estonian Newspapers has been compiled in order to provide searchable full-texts of Estonian and foreign Estonian newspapers since their publishing. This goal will be fully achieved by the end of 2015, since the papers from 1944-2013 are still missing and are currently added. Fresh papers can be found from the portal no later than on the following working day of the publishing, but their full-texts are made available according to the agreements with publishers.
The project is designed to do the following according to the statement:
Currently the portal gives access to 85 newspapers, including over 100 000 pages published before 1944 and papers issued since 1 January 2014. Also the newspapers digitised by the cooperation partners of the National Library will be made available through the portal. The newspapers provided by the Tartu University Library and Estonian Literary Museum are the first to come. 
The prospective key users of the portal are the researchers of language, media, history and genealogy and other fields, information specialists, creative industry and others in addition to the consumers of the everyday information.
DIGAR is a user environment created by the National Library, which currently provides access to the digital editions stored. Among them are e-books, newspapers, magazines, maps, sheet music, photographs, postcards, posters, illustrations, audio books, and music files. Books and periodicals format is usually pdf or epub, jpeg pildimaterjalil recordings and wav.

I managed to get all this information from the website in Estonian using Google Translate. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Second Keynote Speaker Announced for #RootsTech 2015

FamilySearch has announced the second Keynote Speaker for #RootsTech 2015. In addition to the already announced Donny Osmond, they have arranged for the following, quoted from their press release and blog:

What do George and Barbara Bush, Daniel Radcliffe, Abraham Lincoln, and Gwyneth Paltrow have in common? They’re all cousins of RootsTech 2015 keynote speaker A.J. Jacobs!

We are excited to announce that best-selling author, Esquire magazine editor, and founder of the Global Family Reunion, A.J. Jacobs will be joining RootsTech 2015 as a keynote speaker on Friday, February 13. Through his unique ability to be sincere, laugh-aloud funny, and intelligent, he will inspire you to discover and share your family stories and connections—past and present.
FamilySearch explains the "Global Family Reunion" with the following comment:
Jacobs’s fascination with genealogy started when he got an email from one of his readers in Israel pointing out that he and Jacobs were distantly related along with 80,000 other relatives the reader had tracked down. Since then, Jacobs has made it his mission to connect with as many cousins as he can find and to organize the world’s largest family reunion.

“We’re not alone,” Jacobs has learned. “We’re connected to people all over the world. Some of them are going to be great, and some of them are going to be irritating. But they are all related to me.”
See for more information.

It's time to push ahead with technology and stop being pulled

Are you one of those people who feels overwhelmed by technology? Perhaps you are not just a passive recipient of technological change, but an active luddite decrying the changes and advocating a return to the simple, more pastoral days before computers? There is a refrain from a popular song by Bob Dylan (originally Robert Allen Zimmerman, b. 1941 Hebrew name שבתאי זיסל בן אברהם [Shabtai Zisl ben Avraham])
Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.
The Dylan song refers to political and social change, but both of those blow past genealogists, it is the technological changes that make genealogy's older demographic go off the deep end. The inexorable march of digitization and online programs forces even the most reluctant genealogist to acknowledge that genealogy is indeed changing and doing so rapidly.

It is time to face reality. Technology, i.e. computers, are here to stay and are going to keep becoming a more important factor in genealogical research. There are ways to learn and grow with this new technology. In one of my last posts, I wrote about the issues raised by the nearly constant changes to's Family Tree program. Some of the reactions to these changes include anger, frustration, exasperation, despondency and other negative emotions. Rather than seeing the changes as an opportunity to grow and develop new, more efficient methods of finding ancestors, many people reject the changes and cling to their paper records as if they were some kind of totem that would make all the changes go away.

Granted, there are both positive and negative aspects to the technological changes. At the time I am writing this post, I am sitting in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. As I look around, I see six people with all of their research spread out on the tables. All six are in the "older" demographic category. Each of them is completely adsorbed in their work. Three of them have computers and three do not. The ones without a computer are hand copying records from books. I decided to walk around the library on the 3rd Floor and see how many other patrons were working on computers vs. those who were copying records by handwriting. The results of this straw poll were overwhelmingly in favor of computers. I did not count the people who were here working on the Family History Library computers, but only those who had their own laptops. There were 21 people using computers and only 6 who did not have a computer.

But even though many of the patrons were using computers, that did not mean they were happy doing so. Maybe those who complain to me about technology are simply in a very small, but vocal, minority? But my point is that we should not be so much reacting to technological changes as we should be anticipating them. It reminds me of my grandmother who I never saw drive a car. In fact, I was quite old when my own mother got her first driver's license.

Another impression from the Family History Library here is Salt Lake is the increasing number of patron computer stations. I am aware that the Mesa FamilySearch Library, where I used to serve, will be remodeling their entire facility during the weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year officially from Monday, Nov 24, 2014 through Saturday, Jan 3, 2015. One of the main changes will be do nearly double the number of computer stations. This is the reality.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How do you master FamilySearch Family Tree?

The answer to the question in the post's title is simple: practice. But what do you practice? The answer to that question is also simple: you use the Family Tree Training Lessons and Videos. Here is the description of the Lessons and Videos:
This curriculum is a set of individualized lessons designed to give the user an extensive understanding of Family Tree. Level One has 28 short lessons that are done on your own account and 21 short lessons that are done on a fake or sandbox account. This level is designed for the very beginner. Level Two is an intermediate course with 35 lessons that are done in your own account and 57 lessons that are done in a fake or sandbox account. Level Three is an advanced problem-solving curriculum designed for those who need to understand how to fix the big problems encountered in the tree. Level three has 30 lessons done in a fake or sandbox account.
If you are having the slightest difficulty learning to use the Family Tree, you need to seriously consider viewing the videos and working through the lesson based on the "sandbox." The sandbox is a "dummy" version of the real program where you can practice entering data and making changes without using the "real" live version of the program. There are enough problems with the real version of Family Tree without inexperienced and unknowledgeable folks trying to learn about the program by making random changes.

I am familiar with the "sandbox" concept since I have been using it for years as part of the structure of the Research Wiki. In fact, I have my own sandbox pages I have used when working on difficult formatting and development of pages. We have also collaborated on proposes changes by constructing the proposed page changes in a sandbox where we could make comments before implementing the changes in the live version of the Research Wiki.

The Family Tree Training Lessons and Videos are a boon to Family History Centers and Family History Consultants around the world. Here is a screenshot of the startup page for the Lessons:

You don't just watch the videos and think you have learned something, you actually need to work through the written lessons. If you are flailing around and drowning in a sea of uncertainty about Family Tree, here is the life preserver. Get busy. Here is screenshot of the lessons:

As I said above, get busy learning and stop drowning. 

Understanding Audio File Formats for Archiving

Now that's Family Tree and other programs such as's Family Tree Maker and's Family Tree Builder, accept audio files, there is a need to understand audio file formats. The requirements imposed by the program allow only two file formats: .mp3 and .mp4a. The size of these files is limited to 15MB. There are dozens of audio file formats, that is, different ways audio is recorded by a digital device such as a recorder, smartphone, tablet etc. You can review a partial list on Wikipedia: Audio file format. As an example, the new iPhone 6 supports the following audio file formats: AAC (8 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), HE-AAC, MP3 (8 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX, and AAX+), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV.

The simple way to approach this issue is to make sure your audio recording equipment supports the two acceptable file formats and follow the device's instructions about saving files in an appropriate file format. The challenge of encountering an audio file in an unknown format is finding a device and/or program that will play the file format. If you find a suspected audio file in an old hardware format such as a cassette tape or on dictation machine, your challenge will be finding a working device that will "play" the particular media found.

Current digital recorders start at less than $50 and have as good a quality as older recorders costing ten times as much. Many cell phone also have the capability to record audio files. There are quite a few websites that discuss procedures for recording personal oral histories. Here is a limited selection:

The Saga of Utah Court Records

The story of Utah's court records is an outstanding example of how otherwise seemingly innocuous records can find there way into the most outlandish places. Looking for records is one of the basic activities of doing family history research. It is far too easy to just assume that no records exist and just give up the search simply because the records are not in the expected location.

Some time ago, I began a search for my Great-Great-Grandfather's birth place. He was born in Ireland, Northern Ireland to be specific, but the place recorded by his daughter, my Great-Grandmother, does not exist. It is a relatively long story, but after I inherited all of my Great-Grandmother's genealogy files and processed them, this one glaring fact remained unresolved. At the same time, I was facing an interesting social/cultural issue; historic polygamy among my ancestors. By the way, there is an interesting development in this regard, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has very recently published two extensive essays on the subject on the website. The two essays are in the Gospel Topics section of the website under the Teachings tab on the homepage. Here are the links:
There are links to other related topics also. Now back to my narrative. One of the things that was not openly discussed in my family was the existence of plural marriages among my own ancestors. As I did my research, I discovered the plural marriages and documented them. No great secret at the time, but since some of my ancestors ended up being prosecuted for unlawful cohabitation (uc) by the U.S. Federal Government, they certainly had generated court records. In thinking about my Great-Great-Grandfather's missing birthplace, I speculated that perhaps in he had given his birthplace as a part of the court proceedings after I learned that he had been sent to prison for about three months as a result of his plural marriage to a second wife. 

I began my search for Utah Court Records. Presently, the Utah State Archives has a very advanced and easy to use website with both digitized records and an extensive catalog of records not yet digitized. Unfortunately, my investigations took place before the present, very useful, website was created. I assumed that the records of Utah courts would be held in Utah. By the way, links to almost all of the Utah court records are in the State Archives. This seemingly easy-to-find scenario is complicated by the historical fact of "Federal Intervention." Here is an explanation from the Utah State Archives website of what happened:
Each county had a probate court presided over by an elected judge. No federal circuit court was ever established in Utah or with jurisdiction over Utah. Many litigants, especially Mormons, took their cases to the probate court rather than before the federally appointed judge of the district court. The effect was to displace the federally appointed courts with a system of local control. Congress reacted by placing the judiciary firmly under federal control. The Poland Act of 1874 (18 Stat. 253) restricted the probate courts to matters of estates and guardianship, removing all civil, chancery, and criminal jurisdiction. It gave the district courts exclusive jurisdiction for all suits over $300, and it abolished the local offices of the territorial marshal and territorial attorney. Probate courts maintained concurrent jurisdiction with the district courts over suits of divorce until 1887. The Edmunds Act of 1882 (22 Stat. 30) created a five-man Utah Commission to oversee elections in the territory. The Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 (24 Stat. 636) reaffirmed the jurisdictional restrictions on the probate courts imposed by the Poland Act revoking all jurisdiction but in probate and guardianship matters and nullifying territorial laws providing for the election of probate judges. Probate judges then became appointed by the President of United States with the advice and consent of the Senate. Civil and criminal cases were distributed as mandated by law to justice of the peace courts or district courts. Probate courts were abolished entirely at statehood in 1896, and thereafter probate matters were assumed by the appropriate district court.
In my search for the court records, I personally visited the Utah State Archives, only to learn that the records I was seeking had been relocated to the U. S. National Archives in Denver, Colorado.  I began to wonder when I could plan a trip to Denver. After a considerable time passed, fortunately, I noticed a news release stating that many of these records had been digitized and were available on the website. Using the free access in the Mesa FamilySearch Library, I was able to get copies of the complete court file in just a few minutes of searching. Unfortunately, the file did not disclose his birthplace.

The moral of this story is that records move. They can show up in unexpected places. It may take persistent and patient searching to find the records that may have moved across state and national boundaries. Never assume the records are merely lost or missing. That may be the case, but it is always the possibility, that the records you are seeking were not in the courthouse when it burned or were moved for some bureaucratic reason. Keep looking.