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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Update on the very large online genealogy companies

Arrows, Growth Hacking, Marketing, Strategy, Startup



With the changes to the FamilySearch.org website, I thought it might be interesting to take a quick look at all four of the very large online genealogy companies and see wat was going on. I guess I will start with Ancestry.com.

All of the four large online genealogy companies continually add to their huge digital record collections. All of them provide extremely valuable records to researchers and all are constantly growing and adding new programs and features. It is an exciting time to be doing genealogical research (if that can be said at all about doing research). Genealogists worldwide can hardly afford to ignore any one of these companies' holdings.

Apparently, Ancestry.com has moved into their new offices in Lehi, Utah. In looking at their corporate website the location of the Corporate Headquarters is listed as follows:
Lehi, Utah (Corporate Headquarters)
1300 West Traverse Parkway
Lehi, UT USA
801.705.7000

Headquartered in Lehi, Utah, Ancestry is focused on making family history more accessible to millions of people around the world. The company has grown to more than 1,400 employees globally, 1,000 of whom are based in Utah. In addition to phenomenal views of Mount Timpanogos and the surrounding valley, our location helps the company broaden its footprint in attracting and retaining top talent throughout the Wasatch Front.
Since they didn't have much of a view of the mountains from their old location in Provo, Utah, it would seem to be the American dream of moving up on hill. By the way, Ancestry.com has offices in San Francisco, California, Dublin, Ireland (International Headquarters), London, United Kingdom (United for the time being), Silver Spring, Maryland, Stockholm, Sweden, Munich, Germany and Sydney, Australia.

Here is a list of their brands, businesses and products:

  • Ancestry
  • AncestryDNA
  • AncestryHealth
  • AncestryAcademy
  • Archives
  • Fold3
  • Newspapers.com
  • Ancestry Institution
  • Find A Grave
  • AncestryProGenealogists
  • Rootsweb by Ancestry

Actually, Ancestry has eight different international websites:

I reported about the ownership and investment changes recently at Ancestry. See Ancestry Closes Investment Deal

Moving on to MyHeritage.com. The company has offices around the world and far more subscribers than Ancestry.com. But there is much less information online about the company. This may be due to the simple fact that they are headquartered in Israel rather than Lehi, Utah. MyHeritage.com is growing extremely rapidly around the world and in looking at their membership map, they have over 83 million members worldwide in all the countries of the world on all the continents. They maintain a database of more than 6.8 billion records and are consistently adding new features. Their website supports 42 different languages with more than 2.6 billion names in over 28 million family trees.

Personally, I find MyHeritage.com easy to work with and highly professional. The company has considerably fewer employees than the other large online genealogy companies and is much more personal. In my opinion, they are the company driving the innovations in genealogical technology. 

Findmypast.com has been making an aggressive move to increase both its business and influence in the genealogical community. Previously, Findmypast.com was DC Thomson Family History. It is a Delaware corporation and lists an office address in Provo, Utah but also lists a location in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Although is has been identified for some time as a British-based and owned company, it is making a decided effort to expand worldwide and has been adding millions of significant genealogical records from the United States. 

Findmypast.com has the following websites:


Here are some facts about Findmypast from their website

  • There are 850 million U.S. records on findmypast.com
  • More than 2 billion records globally.
  • Part of a network of 18 million subscribers around the world.
  • Records date back to the 1200s.
Findmypast is also a very personally oriented company and very professional in their approach. They have been very innovative in adding specifically targeted collections. My perception is that the company is advancing rapidly and constantly becoming more publically attractive to membership.

I have written a lot recently about FamilySearch.org's efforts to improve the functionality of its Family Tree program. FamilySearch is unique in that it is not a commercial company at all, but a non-profit corporation maintained and supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As such, the number of employees (listed as 1001-5000) and other information about the company is not readily available online. Officially, the company is FamilySearch International headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. However, the company just recently broke ground for a new office building in Lehi, Utah. 

Here is a summary of the company from its LinkedIn listing.
FamilySearch International is the largest genealogy organization in the world. FamilySearch is a nonprofit, volunteer–driven organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. To help in this great pursuit, FamilySearch and its predecessor organizations have been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide for over 100 years. Patrons may access FamilySearch services and resources free online at FamilySearch.org or through over 4,800 family history centers in 132 countries, including the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
If it seems that the companies are moving to Lehi and Provo, Utah, they would be joining many other high tech companies opening offices in Utah Valley.

Well, as I said above, it is an exciting time to be involved with genealogy online.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What to do when you are lost in genealogy

The classic example of being lost takes place in a thick, dark forest. But the feeling or condition of being "lost" really depends on your understanding of your perceived situation. In the past, when I have been lost, I have really been lost. One time, I even ended up in the wrong state.

Many people feel lost when experiencing an unfamiliar situation. Confronting the complexity of genealogical research can make you feel lost. Fortunately, there are some common rules for those who find themselves lost. Over the years it is evident that the real danger and damage to being lost comes from disregarding these rules. Some of us have taught these rules to our children with varying results. I did not put these rules into any particular order and you may wish to rearrange them.

Rule Number One:
When you find yourself lost, stop moving around and stay in one place.

If I translate this rule for genealogists, I would say a little bit more. I would suggest that much of what we see as problems with online family trees, to take one example, comes from people who do not recognize the fact that they are lost. Even when they have taken a wrong turn by adding someone who is unrelated or any of a number of other choices, they fail to recognize that they are lost. But the rule applies, none the less, but in genealogy it is necessary to review your trail. Are you supporting all of your entries and conclusions with records or documents? Are you recording your sources? (i.e. leaving a breadcrumb trail that you can follow back to where you got lost?).

Rule Number Two:
Stay on marked trails and don't travel alone.

Genealogist tend to work alone. For some reason, they wait until they are really lost before seeking help. If you find yourself wondering where you are and what you might be doing, seek some help from someone who may have done some research in the area where you find yourself.

Rule Number Three:
When you find yourself alone and aren't sure where you are going, stay calm, find a place to stop and don't try to hide the fact that you are lost.

Too many genealogists take the attitude that they are right and everyone else is wrong. They are like the people in the wilderness who just keep walking even though they should have long since reached safety. Working on an unsecure genealogical line does not make any sense at all. You should stop at the first hint that there is a problem and start looking around at your surroundings. This applies doubly to genealogists. If you don't know the territory, you will probably make a mistake in adding new unsupported information. One simple example is people who add names to a family when the places attached to those names do not match the family's location at the time.

Rule Number Four:
Find a safe place to stay where you can keep warm and dry.

One of biggest issues with genealogical research is identifying when you left the trail. When you find yourself lost, don't try to backtrack. Unlike being physically lost in the forest or where ever, you need to go back to the first place in your research where you could positively identify an ancestor with validly evaluated sources. Then redo your research until you can see a positive way to proceed.

Rule Number Five:
If you must keep moving, always go downhill.

This rule applies more frequently in the southwestern part of the United States, where I live, than in other localities. It can be translated to say, unless you know what direction to go stay put. A related rule says to follow the water, i.e. go downstream. After reading many, many accounts of people who were lost, the biggest problems begin before the person leaves home. They are either too young, too naive or limited in some other way to be wandering out into the wilderness. The same goes for genealogists. Take some time to learn what you need to know about doing genealogical research before you march out into the wilderness of genealogy.

I am reminded of a couple of examples where the lost person lit a fire to signal that they were lost and ended up burning down have the state of Arizona. Unfortunately, some researchers not only fail to recognize they are lost, when finally do, they do even more damage by adding even more wrong information. If careful, competent people are telling you that you are lost, perhaps you need to start listening to them.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Findmypast gives free access for the 4th of July

Findmypast.com is celebrating the 4th of July with access to over 1 billion records for free. Here is a list of the records included in this offer.
  • From June 29th until July 6th 2016, over 1 billion UK, US and Irish records will be completely free to search and explore on Findmypast 
  • This includes all 118 million “Travel and Migration” records, 116 million US marriages, and all UK, Irish and US censuses 
  • Over 7 million new US Naturalisation records and over 1.7 million US Passport Applications have also been released, marking the first phase of two brand new collections ideal for uncovering early immigrant ancestors
Here are some more of the details from this interesting offer.
Leading family history website, Findmypast, has just announced that they will be granting 8 days of free access to over 1 billion records as part of a new campaign designed to help US family historians learn more about their family's path to red white and blue. This will include free access to their  entire collection of Travel and Migration records, all US, UK and Irish censuses and all US marriage records. 
The campaign has been launched to coincide with this year’s 4th of July celebrations and will provide customers with exciting new opportunities to uncover the pioneering immigrant ancestors who started their family’s American story.Researchers will be provided with daily getting started guides, expert insights and useful how to videos designed to help them trace their family’s roots back to their earliest American ancestors and beyond. A special webinar will be hosted by expert genealogist, Jen Baldwin, at 11:00 MDT, July 1st, in which she will be sharing essential tips and tricks for getting the most out of Naturalisation records.  
The campaign also coincides with the release of two new record sets that will prove incredibly useful to those looking to explore their family’s pre-American roots. Over 2 million US Passport Applications & Indexes (1795-1925), and over 7 million US Naturalisation Petitions have just been released in the initial phases of two brand new collections that will allow family historians to learn more about the first members of their family to become US citizens.  
Over 1.1 billion records  will be free to search and explore on Findmypast from June 29th until July 6th 2016. This will include free access to: 
  • Over 106,000 US passenger list records
  • Over 116,000,000 US marriage records
  • Over 690,000,000 US & Canada census records
  • Over 265,000,000 UK & Irish census records
  • Over 10 million new and existing Naturalisation records
  • Over 1.7 million brand new US Passport applications 
  • Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960 
  • Over 827,000 convict transportation records 
This vast collection of travel and migration records coupled with unique UK, Irish and US data, makes Findmypast the best place for tracing ancestors back across the Atlantic and uncovering their English, Welsh, Irish or Scottish roots. Findmypast is home to more than 78 million exclusive UK parish baptisms, banns, marriages and burials, the largest collection of Irish records available online (totalling more than 110 million), and over 100 million United States marriages including millions of records that can’t be found anywhere else online. 

Can Computers Create and Maintain an Accurate Family Tree?

Pods, Space, Deisgn, 3D, Render, Pod, Organic, Green



During the past few years, we continue to see amazing advances in computer technology from self-driving cars to virtual reality experiences. Genealogists are certainly part of all of these changes. An interesting aspect of all these technological advances is that none of this was anticipated, even by the most imaginative science fiction writers. You only have to go back to some of the rather primitive technology in the original Star Trek series to see how much has changed in our present world.

Regularly, I talk to genealogists that, rather than embracing the new technology, are being dragged into the future kicking and screaming. Well, there really isn't much actual kicking and screaming going on, but none the less many genealogists are actively resistant to technological change. One disturbing fact about the technological changes is the constant replacement of human jobs by computers or robots. There are estimates that over half of the jobs now done by humans will be automated over the next 20 years. There are dozens of commentaries online making these predictions. In fact, many lawyers may lose their jobs to technology. See "Robots threaten these 8 jobs" from CNN Money.

Online genealogists are now being "supported" with semi-automatic record hints. Consequently, much of routine research needed in the past has been dramatically reduced by computerized programs that feed us endless lists of suggested sources from huge online databases. Some online websites, such as MyHeritage.com and FamilySearch.org already give many of us an extensive suggested pedigree the first time we sign in and provide some minimal information about ourselves and our families. I believe that it is entirely logical that this trend will continue. If may well be that our basic research as genealogists may consist of clicking on buttons and evaluating the options presented.

Before you start to expound on the complexity of making genealogical decisions, I would call your attention to the fact that many lawyers have already been replaced by semi-automated kiosks that provide the complete forms necessary to conduct your own divorce or bankruptcy. Genealogists tend to focus on the "difficult" relationships and the obscure research issues. In reality, most people today could likely discover four or even five generations of their ancestry by relying entirely on record hints from the very large online genealogical database companies.

If you are quick to point out that record hints are "unreliable," just think about the last time you incorporated one into your family tree. Oh yes, if your family came from a non-European background, you are yet so generously assisted, but what about the near future?

The main limitation today is still the lack of digitized records. I spent many happy hours last evening staring at a roll of microfilm. But at the same time, I was checking what I found against a significant number of online, digitized records. As it turned out, almost everything I found on the microfilm was already on digital records. The problem was that there was not yet enough information organized online to identify the records that had been digitized and once I entered enough information, the programs found the records immediately. If the programs can match records to our ancestors with any degree of accuracy, it is only a relatively small step to when the programs provide extensions to our genealogy automatically. Oh, wait. There are already programs such as MyHeritage.com that give us "Instant Discoveries."

Before you begin to rail about the inaccuracy of computerized genealogy, think about the inaccuracy of human-created genealogy. Couldn't computers do a better job than some of us humans? Think about it.

Monday, June 27, 2016

For more on the upgrade

I am switching back to posting my comments on the FamilySearch.org Family Tree upgrade to my Rejoice and be exceeding glad... blog. I have been posting most of my comments about the FamilySearch.org website on that blog just so I didn't have to post everything twice.


A New Beginning? The FamilySearch Family Tree Saga -- Part Four: The Merging Begins


Who would think that this screen was a reason for celebration? This was my "test case" of an entry that could not previously be merged. The fact that I can now merge these two duplicates signals the dawn of a new age on the FamilySearch.org Family Tree.

However, no matter how important this particular change is, there are still some residual problems that cannot be yet immediately solved. Here is an example of duplicates that cannot, even now, be merged.


The reason given is "These two people cannot be merged. Both people must be in the same public or private space." I can't figure this out and will have to send in a Feedback.

This duplicate will have to be resolved by some other method. However, there were two duplicates and one of them could be merged.

The next previously blocked merge goes through without a hitch.



Congratulations!!! FamilySearch.org you finally did it.

A New Beginning? The FamilySearch Family Tree Saga -- Part Three: The Website Pops Up

The good news:


This may not seem to be much news at all, but this change signals the fact that FamilySearch.org has finally, after years of waiting, separated the new.FamilySearch.org program from the old new.FamilySearch.org program and we are off to an entirely new experience in functionality. We were told that if the last three changes showed up after the maintenance, then the change over is successful. 

One significant effect is that the "Cannot be Merged At This Time" people can now be merged. 

Stay tuned. I am going to start working on the program.