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

Monday, October 16, 2017

Revisiting Search Engines for Genealogy

Over the years, I have from time to time examined the relative search capabilities of the various search engines available to genealogists and the rest of the world for that matter. I have varied the methodology and search criteria and without fail have always come up with similar results. But since I had not done this for quite a while, I decided it was time to check and see if I might get any different results.

During that same time period, the dominance of Google Searches has increased dramatically. As I noted in a recent post, Google presently has about an 86% market share worldwide. Here is a graph showing that dominance.
One reason that this is an interesting statistic is that many of the computers sold come with preloaded software and give a preference to another search engine, most commonly, Microsoft's Bing. Apparently, users switch to Google. There are four search engines in the above graph. The fourth one is Baidu,  a Chinese search engine. However, if we look at the statistics for the United States, the differences are not quite so dramatic.
I think that if this particular study targeted genealogists, my impression is that the differences would be even less. I find a significant number of genealogists using search engines other than Google. Product selection is based on a huge number of criteria. Why people use a certain product is often based merely on the fact that it was the first product that they used. It is also a question as to why one product so dramatically dominates an entire market. This is the case with Google. From my perspective, I use Google almost exclusively because I get the most pertinent results from my searches. For example, already this morning while writing I have done around 70 searches.

I am fully aware that some people who use other search engines have specific reasons why they choose to do so. But I'm also aware that most people I deal with simply do not think about it. I'm also aware that many people would not know how to change their search engine even if they wanted to do so. By the way, you can find instructions about changing your search engine by doing a search. For example, searching for "change my search engine to Google" or some other search.

One problem with trying to show different search capabilities that developed during my past attempts was the fact that Google records all of the searches made and if I repeat a search I will get different results than if I make a search that has not been made previously. If you do a search repeatedly, Google will note the fact and provide results that are more targeted each time you do the search.

If you have difficulty finding the results of your searches, perhaps you need to learn different search techniques.

But I am going to do a search on the name of an ancestor that I commonly use as an example. Here are the results:

  • Google: 498 results in .5 seconds
  • Bing: 759,000 results with no time specified
  • Yahoo: 767,000 results with no time specified
  • AOL: 746,000 results with no time specified 
  • Ask: 9 results with time specified

In the past, the results showed a clear advantage in using Google for doing searches. But now, because of the targeted searches returned by Google, the differences are more in the quality of the items returned rather than sheer numbers. I think all of us could agree that having hundreds of thousands of results is really not very helpful. What I do suggest is that individuals review their ability to produce any results from searching online and get help if they feel frustrated in their ability to find meaningful results. I also suggest trying a variety of search engines to get a feel for their responses. You can do searches in various search engines by simply searching for the names and going to their individual websites. For example, if you search for "" you can make a search using Bing.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Genealogy in the Abstract
In our cloistered world of "family history" and genealogy, we seldom realize that from an academic and philosophical standpoint, genealogy is a rather controversial and far-reaching concept and discipline. Shown above is an online an open access journal published by The journal is described as follows from its website:
Genealogy (ISSN 2313-5778) is an international, scholarly, open access journal devoted to the analysis of genealogical narratives (with applications for family, race/ethnic, gender, migration and science studies) and scholarship that uses genealogical theory and methodologies to examine historical processes. 
Open Access - free for readers, free publication for well-prepared manuscripts submitted in 2017.
Rapid publication: manuscripts are peer-reviewed and a first decision provided to authors approximately 34 days after submission; acceptance to publication is undertaken in 7 days (median values for papers published in this journal in first half of 2017).
It is published online by MDPI. Here is a short summary of that publishing company:
MDPI (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute) is an academic open-access publisher with headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. Additional offices are located in Beijing and Wuhan (China), Barcelona (Spain) as well as in Belgrade (Serbia). MDPI publishes 182 diverse peer-reviewed, scientific, open access, electronic journals, including Molecules (launched in 1996; Impact Factor 2.861), the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (launched in 2000; Impact Factor 3.226), Sensors (launched in 2001; Impact Factor 2.677), Marine Drugs (launched in 2003; Impact Factor 3.503), Energies (launched in 2008; Impact Factor 2.262), the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (launched in 2004; Impact Factor 2.101), Viruses(launched in 2009; Impact Factor 3.465), Remote Sensing (launched in 2009; Impact Factor 3.244), Toxins (launched in 2009; Impact Factor 3.030) and Nutrients (launched in 2009; Impact Factor 3.550). Our publishing activities are supported by more than 15,700 active scientists and academic editors on our journals' international editorial boards, including several Nobelists. More than 263,500 individual authors have already published with MDPI. receives more than 8.4 million monthly webpage views.
These articles would only be of interest to those who are concerned about the position of genealogy in the larger academic community. I have written on this subject a number of times in the past but not recently. A good introduction to the subject and the scope of the articles is the article entitled,  "What is Genealogy? Introduction to the Inaugural Issue of Genealogy" by Phillip Kretsedemas, Department of Sociology, University of Massachusetts, 100 Morrissey Blvd., Boston, MA 02125-3393, USA. Here is a quote from his article:
As a result, the genealogical method can be used to dissolve standards of truth that have been posited as timeless and universal (this is its non-teleological moment). And after it has established the fluid and contingent nature of truth it can go on to fashion narratives that are told from a specific cultural-historical locus (the point at which it re-engages teleology, with a small “t”). But again, this is where genealogies get into trouble with the modern paradigm of knowledge; because they draw attention to another disturbing truth. It’s not possible to cleanly separate the analysis of historical processes from the creative work that is used to steer history in new directions. The genealogist is always, at some level, participating in making the histories on which they are reporting.
If you would like to spend some time thinking about genealogy as a concept and as an academic subject you may find many of these articles interesting. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Refine Your Searches with Google Search Operators

Searching online using Google Search becomes almost automatic over time. But unless you become aware of some of the additional tools available from Google, you may be driving in first gear without knowing how to shift gears.

Searching is the lifeblood of genealogists. Every time we sit down to find our ancestors or relatives, we are searching. How we search changes as we learn more about what we are trying to accomplish, but we can get to the point where we are stalled in our search efforts both by the availability of records and by our own limitations in understanding more effective ways to search. Online searching is a learned skill. No one is born with online searching skills. Everyone has to learn how to do effective searches.

First a word (really lots of words) about browsers and search engines. Browsers are the programs that run on your computer or other devices that connect you to the internet. Some common browsers include Chrome, Internet Explorer (now obsolete), Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Edge. There are dozens of other browsers out there. See Wikipedia: List of web browsers. Google's Chrome browser has well over half of all the market share for browsers worldwide. None of the others garner more than about 12% with Safari in second place and the other down in very low percentages. See Brower Market Share Worldwide. If you purchased a Windows-based computer, you probably inherited a Microsoft browser and have never changed. I usually have four browser programs on my computer and can switch between them if I encounter an issue with a website not functioning or displaying properly. There is a good reason for Chrome's popularity: it works and has a huge number of add-ons and extensions.

What about search engines? A search engine is a web-based program that uses your browser to search for information from websites on the internet. Search engines are browser independent so you can use any browser with any search engine. Google Search is the most popular browser in the world and has about an 87% market share in 2017. See Worldwide desktop market share of leading search engines from January 2010 to July 2017. There is always a reason for this kind of dominance. Microsoft's Bing, the second most popular search engine has a 5.7% market share. If you are using one of the other search engines, such as Bing, Yahoo, AOL or whatever, you might consider doing your serious genealogical searches using Chrome with Google. Enough said at this point, but I do think it is time I came back to this subject. In the past, I have done test searches and reported the results to show what happens with several search engines. I will do that again when I finish this post.

Google has several "search operators" which include special typographical symbols or commands that enhance or focus your searches. Google Search Help has a web page called "Refine web searches" that lists some of the commands and symbols available. I suggest looking through the list and selecting a few such operators to add to your search arsenal. I frequently use phrases in quotes to search for individal's names. Some people frequently use wildcards. I also use the command define: to define words and phrases.

There is also a list of search operators, power tips and other useful information on the MIT Libraries website in an article entitled, "Google Search Tips: Getting Started." One comment, however, is that the "+" or plus sign has been removed from Google's search operators. It has been deemed unnecessary.

I use very few search operators because I rarely need them. I have noted in several posts and presentations, that I can usually make a number of searches and find what I need in the time it takes to construct special formulaic searches.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Returning to the subject of searches

In a previous blog post, I focused on the idea of searching in the large online genealogy database programs using a rather complete entry. But what happens when the details about the person we are searching for are missing or scanty? That presents another more troublesome aspect of genealogical research: finding the information when you are not sure what documents might contain those records.

I recently spoke with the patron of the BYU Family History Library. She was getting back into genealogical research after a long absence and was asking for some direction as to areas she might pursue. The main issue was that she did not know what she did not know. She started asking about doing some research for missing German ancestors in the early 1800s. We were looking at the Family Tree and found that a considerable amount of research it been done on one German line. Her approach was similar to that of many others, i.e. looking at a fan chart and choosing to research a missing ancestor without knowing anything about the connection between the present and the past.

A basic component of genealogical research is moving from the known to the unknown. Obviously, this methodology implies that you know something. In the case of my patron of the BYU Family History Library, she had no knowledge whatsoever of the individuals, their history, the geography of Europe, or any other subject that would assist in doing research into German-speaking people. There is really no difference between this patron and anyone who starts to do research beginning with an entry in a genealogical database program that has little or no data.

It is axiomatic that a family tree is a network of interrelated individuals. Starting with you or me, we did not spring into existence out of nothing. The more we know about the events that occurred in our own lives the easier it will be to determine who our parents are. Likewise, extensive knowledge about her parents will lead to our grandparents. This concept is fundamental. Here is a quote from the Bible in Luke 15:8:
8 ¶ Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
This is a perfect metaphor for genealogical research. First of all, the woman has 10 pieces of silver. From our standpoint, we have known relatives. The woman knows that she is missing one of the coins. If we organize our genealogy into a family tree we can easily see what is missing. But it is important to focus on what the woman did when she discovered that a coin was missing. She did not begin looking for the coin, she began by lighting a candle, i.e. learning about the environment where the item was lost and then began cleaning the entire house. The point here is simple. We need to clean our genealogical house before we do the search or while we are searching.

My BYU Family History Library patron was a perfect example of failing to understand this basic principle. She knew little or nothing about her family and yet she wanted to begin searching even though she was unaware of what was "lost."

Here is a classic example of a lack of information:

I take this example from the Family Tree because it is so easy to find them. According to the Family Tree, his father was Charles Peterson Garoutte, (b. 1810, d. 1896) who was both born and died in Adell, Dallas, Iowa. Garoutte was supposedly married to one of my cousins, Sarah Adeline Shepherd, (b. 1821 in Vermont, d. 1905 in Adel, Dallas, Iowa. Because of the dates of the places, it would seem to be reasonable to begin searching immediately for this individual. They should appear in a US Census record. But in doing so, we are ignoring the parable. First, we need to clean our house. There is the entry showing the family:

We can begin by looking at where each of the family members is recorded as being born and dying. With only two exceptions, every one of the family members was born and died in Iowa. But there is also a very evident duplicate entry. We have a child with exactly the same name. Are these the same person?

This is a very simple example. Cleaning up this family by adding in all the available records should resolve this issue immediately. In this case, the lost person will probably be found by merging him with the duplicate. Meanwhile, adding in all of the available records will clarify and verify each of the family members providing a basis for continuing research into their descendants.

Remember to clean your house before you search.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Using the Library of Congress for Genealogy

Don't underestimate the resources of the largest library in the world, the Library of Congress. Here are a few statistics:
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with more than 164 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 38 million books and other printed materials, 3.6 million recordings, 14 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 8.1 million pieces of sheet music and 70 million manuscripts.

The Library receives some 15,000 items each working day and adds approximately 12,000 items to the collections daily. The majority of the collections are received through the Copyright registration process, as the Library is home to the U.S. Copyright Office. Materials are also acquired through gift, purchase, other government agencies (state, local and federal), Cataloging in Publication (a pre-publication arrangement with publishers) and exchange with libraries in the United States and abroad. Items not selected for the collections or other internal purposes are used in the Library’s national and international exchange programs. Through these exchanges the Library acquires material that would not be available otherwise. The remaining items are made available to other federal agencies and are then available for donation to educational institutions, public bodies and nonprofit tax-exempt organizations in the United States.
Here is a breakdown by category:

24,189,688 cataloged books in the Library of Congress classification system

14,660,079 items in the nonclassified print collections, including books in large type and raised characters, incunabula (books printed before 1501), monographs and serials, bound newspapers, pamphlets, technical reports, and other printed material

125,553,352 items in the nonclassified (special) collections, including:
  • 3,670,573 audio materials, (discs, tapes, talking books, other recorded formats)
  • 70,685,319 manuscripts
  • 5,581,756 maps
  • 17,153,167 microforms
  • 1,809,351 moving images
  • 8,189,340 items of sheet music
15,071,355 visual materials including:
  • 14,290,385 photographs
  • 107,825 posters
  • 673,145 prints and drawings
3,392,491 other items, (including machine-readable items)

The biggest draw for genealogists is the Local History and Genealogy Reference Services
If you don't live close enough to Washington, D.C. to visit the Library of Congress, then you can access its digital collections online. But I might add that only a very small percentage of the entire library's content has been digitized.
If you are fortunate enough to live close to the library were able to travel, you can do research in the library. Unless you are just a tourist, you probably need to prepare for your visit to do research in the collections. Here is the page with links with information for researchers using the Library of Congress.
 Here is an explanation about reader registration. Those who do research in the library are called "Readers."
Users of the Library's research areas, including Computer Catalog Centers, and Copyright Office public service areas are each required to have a Reader Identification Card issued by the Library. Cards are free and can be obtained by completing a registration process and presenting a valid driver's license, state-issued identification card, or passport. Researchers must be 16 and above years of age at time of registration. Questions should be directed to 202-707-5278.
A Reader Identification Card is a permanent card which remains valid for two years. To ensure patron information has remained unchanged, at the end of the two year period, each reader must renew their card in person by returning to the Reader Registration Station and presenting a valid form of identification.
One area I am always interested in is the policy on copying records. Here is a screenshot of the explanation of copying and printing services with a link to the page.

Here is a further copy of the portion of the list that qualifies the use of cameras.

For me, the most valuable collection on the Library of Congress website is the Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers.
Every genealogist should become familiar with this website. You will find a wealth of resources and hopefully an incentive to visit the library in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

FOIA Primer from Reclaim the Records' Efforts with the New Jersey Marriage Index, 1901-2016
The Freedom of Information Act or FOIA is a powerful but somewhat controversial tool in liberating documents from the recalcitrant bureaucracy of the United States government and similar laws also help in the various individual states. Reclaim the Records, a 501 (c) (3) organization, is taking the lead in using the various acts to obtain public domain copies of various records that have been locked up by governmental inefficiency and incompetence.

In conjunction with a volunteer, Reclaim the Records has recently obtained copies of the New Jersey Marriage Index, 1901-2016. In their 17th Newsletter, you can read what is essentially a primer on how the process works. You may even be inspired to participate in the process yourself. Here is an explanation of where the newly liberated records can be searched.
Introducing the NEW JERSEY MARRIAGE INDEX, 1901-2016! These records are now totally digital, and totally free -- forever! Now you can research anyone who got married in the Garden State right from your home, still in your pajamas. 
We've posted these images at our favorite online library, the Internet Archive ( You can skip right to any year you want and flip through all the images, or you can download the records to your hard drive as JPG's, PDF's, and/or other formats. Each file is listed year-by-year (or occasionally by a year range), and then the marriages are listed alphabetically by surname. 
Just to be clear: these are images of the index, so this isn't a real text-searchable marriage database just yet. But rest assured that the usual genealogy websites we all know are going to start indexing projects and will make that happen eventually. (Yes, the Internet Archive does run automatic OCR on the text contained in the images, but the recognition quality isn't that great, so you're probably better off just reading through the images instead of trying to text-search.)
 The FOIA is described as follows in the website:
Since 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.
Each state in the United States has its own version of the FOIA. Here is a link to a list giving a link to each of the states. State FOI Resources

Monday, October 9, 2017

Genealogy's Star and the future of blogging

Probably, by the time you read this post, I will have published over 5000 posts on my Genealogy's Star blog. If I include the number of posts on my other blogs, Rejoice, and be exceeding glad... and Walking Arizona, as of the date of this particular post, I have published 9,958 blog posts. If I include the number of posts of some of my short-lived other blogs, I have easily written over 10,000 blog posts. In addition, during the same time these blog posts have been written, I have authored or co-authored over 25 books on genealogical research. By the way, if I continue to write at my present rate, I will shortly have over 10,000 blog posts from just my three current blogs. You can also add in over 100 genealogy videos on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel and innumerable handouts for classes and presentations. 

Blogging does have a history. Here is a short overview of the Wikipedia article on the "History of blogging."
While the term "blog" was not coined until the late 1990s, the history of blogging starts with several digital precursors to it. Before "blogging" became popular, digital communities took many forms, including Usenet, commercial online services such as GEnie, BiX and the early CompuServe, e-mail lists[1][2] and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). In the 1990s, Internet forum software, such as WebEx, created running conversations with "threads". Threads are topical connections between messages on a metaphorical "corkboard". Some have likened blogging to the Mass-Observation project of the mid-20th century.
During the past couple of years, I have written about the decline in genealogy blog posting. Numbers don't tell everything. There is still a lot of information being put online by individual bloggers as opposed to institutional or commercial bloggers. There are some very active and very impressive new additions to the international blogging community. But notwithstanding those observations, much of the online communication is now going through Facebook and its subsidiary, Instagram.

This topic brings up my own present participation in the online community. As I mentioned recently in a blog post, my wife and I have been called as full-time FamilySearch missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve in the Washington D.C. area for one year beginning in December 2017. The calling process actually involves us volunteering to serve and then being officially "called" so it is not a surprise or anything like that. We will be serving as record preservation specialists helping to digitize original genealogically valuable records for FamilySearch.

There is some uncertainty about whether it will be possible to continue to write at my present level simply because of the time commitments of a full-time mission. But on the other hand, there is always the consideration of the time commitment to writing almost every day, day after day for years. Most recently, I have been relying on voice recognition software, Dragon Dictate on my iMac, to transcribe much of what I write. Although voice recognition software facilitates entering information, there is a trade-off in the increased number of typographical errors caused by the inaccuracies inherent in voice recognition. Additionally, I am accustomed to proofreading and rewriting as I go along. Right now, it is a matter of waiting to see exactly what the requirements will be in the future as to how much writing I will be able to if any at all.

One thing is certain, when I return to Provo I will have a lot to write about.