Showing posts with label Brigham Young University. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brigham Young University. Show all posts

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Crista Cowan and Searching on – #BYUFHGC

Crista Cowan and Searching on Ancestry.comCrista Cowan presented “Supercharge Your Ancestry Searches” at the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.

Crista is the corporate genealogist for She announced that Ancestry now has more than 17 billion records. Crista said that six to eight years ago she was the indexing manager and had the single largest line item in the budget. Back then they indexed 1 to 2 million records a month. Now, they do that much in a day.

I’ve written before about this presentation. (Crista asks me, “Why do you keep coming?”) To read my articles about previous presentations, see

Here are some additional thoughts that struck me this time around:

Looking first at hints (shaky leaves) to other people’s trees might prejudice you. Look at record hints first.

“In some cases the only thing the archive will provide us is indexes,” Crista said. “Where an image exists, always look at it.” Ancestry indexes enough information to get you to the image. There may be additional information in the image. You can also discover indexing errors. You can see nearby people on the record.

When you are going through a person’s hints, to dismiss a hint you previously had to choose either Yes or No regarding the applicability of that record to that person. But sometimes you don’t know yet. Now you have the choice of selecting Yes, No, or Maybe.

Suggested Records are displayed right of a recordCrista has a love/hate relationship with Suggested Records. Those are the records listed to the right hand side of a historical record. [She said love/hate, but it was clear it was a love/love relationship.] She loves it when there is a bunch of suggested records. She also loves it when there are no suggested records. That happens when she is plowing new ground. 

“Our core search has not changed in years,” she said. What they are doing is adjusting what happens when you search from your tree. Depending on the amount of matching information, and what that information is, they rate and order the results, giving you the best records at the top.

When you launch a search from a person in a tree, smart filtering allows you to eliminate from the search results all the records you have already found and attached to that person. (Look for this setting at the top of the search results.)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Gordon Atkinson and Fold3 – #BYUFHGC

Gordon Atkinson presents about Fold3 at the BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.At the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy Gordon Atkinson presented “Getting to Know Fold3.” is owned by Gordon started at Ancestry in the early 2000s. He [and others?] left in waves in 2006 and created the company Footnote. It launched in 2007 and went well because of its relationship with the National Archives and Records Administration. In October 2010 Ancestry acquired Footnote. We went back into “the mothership” as we liked to call them. Afterwards Ancestry rebranded them as Fold3. When the flag is folded there are 13 folds. The 3rd fold honors those who have given their all to their country.

In the last year and a half, they changed their logo from a folded flag to a chevron. They are adding non U.S. content and this logo is more universal. Their colors used to be orange and blue. Perhaps it was because Gordon and their designer liked the Denver Broncos.

They just recently moved their offices from Lindon to the new Ancestry building in Lehi. “We moved in with them. That’s a big step in any relationship,” he joked. Gordon thinks It’s a beautiful place and will allow for better collaboration. And it has chocolate milk on tap!

Fold3’s content is harder to organize than Newspapers are easily organized by location and date. Military records are a whole other ballgame. They are difficult to index. The content varies from record to record. A record often doesn’t have birth and death information; searching by that information won’t find your ancestor.

Not every military record is available to be on the site. Privacy prevents it for some. There are a lot of records that are only on paper. For example, the War of 1812 pension files are being digitized from paper in a partnership with FGS (the Federation of Genealogical Societies) and FamilySearch. It is much more difficult and much more expensive than scanning microfilm. They have been working on Civil War Widows Pension applications.

Google has spoiled us, Gordon said. We type what we want and Google brings it up. But with Fold3, there may be a record over fifty pages long and they have indexed only names and the state.

They are currently in a project to update their search. They’re changing some of the index fields to make it better. You really can’t solve the search problems; you can only make it better.

You have access to Fold3 at FamilySearch Family History Centers because of an agreement with FamilySearch. It is free at BYU. The institutional version looks similar, but slightly different, from the home version. At home, you need a subscription. You can also buy a bundle with and Ancestry Academy.

They do not offer an app, but the website is mobile-friendly…-ish, he said.

If you want help, go to the help page. ( It includes a link to a Fold3 class on Ancestry Academy. (The same group in Lindon launched the Ancestry Academy site.) You will need a free account on to view the free courses, including the one about Fold3.

On the home page you can search right away, or use browse. It is similar to because it shares some of the same code, and there was an attempt to make them similar. When browsing, first select category (mostly wars) and then publication. From there, it depends on the publication. The Revolutionary War Pensions is subdivided by state. A state is divided by surname initial. You can browse in as far as you wish, clear to the individual. At any time while browsing, you can stop and search. The search will include just the records you are browsing into.

They have indexed all the names in a record, rather than just the principal name. Most of their indexing is done overseas. When you consider the indexers are from places like the Philippines, Bangladesh, or China, they do a pretty good job. Fold3 uses grayscale images because they are a little easier to read. When viewing an image, select Annotations to see a list of the secondary names indexed on that image.

The Information tab shows information about the NARA publication, even including a link to the NARA catalog.

In Fold3, when you find something, bookmark it by clicking the star so you don’t have to try to figure out the searching and browsing that brought you to the record.

You can add annotations: names, locations, dates, comments, or transcriptions. These are added to the search index.

The Save to Ancestry button isn’t labeled. It shows only the leaf icon. They are overhauling the process of logging into Ancestry. [I didn’t think it was bad.] You login, select a tree, and then select a person. This is going to improve in the future, with thumbnail and indexed information. Only those with a Fold3 subscription can follow the link and see the record on Fold3.

You can download an entire page or a select a region. They are trying to figure out how to download a multiple page record into a PDF. Today, it must be done one page at a time. You can share it. If you are a paying subscriber, non-subscribers can still see the records you share.

The image viewer uses HTML 5 instead of Flash.

You can zoom in and out and fit to window. You can adjust brightness or contrast or invert the image. You can rotate the document, which is useful for margin annotations found so commonly in historical documents. You can go full screen.

The lines in the filmstrip designate new files.

There is a watch button for search results. For a watched search, Fold3 will send you an email notification for new search matches.

Fold3 has an honor wall. Fold3 has started it with some memorial pages, but you can add your own. (See an example for Charles L Rodeback.) Starting with basic military documents, you can add warmth via stories and photographs.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

FamilySearch Product Road Map by Brian Edwards – #BYUFHGC

At the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy Brian Edwards of FamilySearch presented “FamilySearch Past, Present, and Future (Product Road Map).”

Brian Edwards at the 2016 BYU Family History and Genealogy Conference

FamilySearch is experimenting with a personalized home page. To try it out, go to To permanently use the new design, go to The page will evolve over time. We’ll show different tasks to different people. We’ll look at what you do and give you tasks that match your skill level. Another section of the home page is “Recent Ancestors.” Another section is a To-Do List that you can create.

FamilySearch Experimental, Personalized Home Page

In the new Memories Gallery you can rotate photos. And now there is a list view, launched the week before the conference. It makes it easy to see photos without event dates or event places. In the future, they will allow you to make these changes in place. Today, it jumps to the photo page.

FamilySearch Memories Gallery List View

FamilySearch would like to do video. The challenge is reviewing it for appropriateness. FamilySearch pays a company to do that for photos. We don’t know how to cost effectively review videos to prevent people from using our site as their porn cache.

The plan is to limit photos to 5,000 per person, Brian said. But we are seeing good stuff, so we aren’t yet limiting the number.

FamilySearch is always asking, “How do we engage new people in family history?” One of their attempts is Family Discovery Centers. They are trying out new things. One is a station where family members can stand in front of a camera and get a photograph of them standing at various locations around the world. Another station allows you to replace the face on a historical photo with one of your own. Another is a “Are We Related” experience similar to BYU’s Relative Finder. You’ll see some of this migrate onto the web.

The current Family Discovery Center in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City has a lot of expensive equipment. FamilySearch is looking at ways to package it into a smaller, less expensive set of equipment for expansion into more places.

Coming very soon is a Helper portal. The portal would help step you through the process taught by Mike Sandberg at RootsTech for helping members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints become engaged in family history and temple work.

It is now possible to send messages to the contributor of a GEDCOM in the Genealogies section, if the contributor is known. (If a person submitted a GEDCOM to Pedigree Resource File on the old website, but has never registered on the new website and claimed their old submission, the messaging system is not able to contact them.)

GEDCOMs have been added to the Genealogies section of from the Guild of One-Name Studies and from African Oral Genealogies.

FamilySearch is hoping to provide hints from more record types, even other websites.

A fairly new feature is that when you are about to change information for a person who is being watched, you are informed of the number of watchers.

Badges are relatively new. They indicate your ancestor belonged to a historical group around which FamilySearch did an email campaign. They appear along the right-side at the top of the person page.

Badges for membership in special groups are displayed on the person page.

FamilySearch decided delete person was too powerful. You can no longer delete a person unless you added the person and no one else has made changes to it.

We had built Family Tree on a system that was supposed to scale for a long time into the future, Brian said. We built a system for 10-time the traffic we were then experiencing. It ought to have lasted for decades. We since exceeded that by 20 times. We needed to build a new system that handled all that traffic. We’ve made the transition and the system is now out in the cloud. We can add servers as traffic changes. We moved all the data to a new Family Tree database. We’re still ironing out a few things. For the most part it should be pretty fast on Sunday. If you couldn’t merge before, for the most part you can merge now. With the new system we can add things that we wanted to but couldn’t because of capacity, Brian said.

FamilySearch is working on the future of the messaging system. They are looking at

  • Integrating with an address book
  • Allowing people to opt in to sharing more publicly
  • Adding new ways for people to form communities for sharing

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

FamilySearch Hinting by Robert Kehrer #BYUgen #BYUFHGC

Robert Kehrer addresses the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyRobert Kehrer presented a session titled “Using FamilySearch Hinting” at the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. Robert is the senior product manager for research technologies. I’ve written previously about some of the information, which I won’t repeat here. (See “Searching for Sources at FamilySearch (Part 1)” and Part 2.) Here are some new information items:

When you make a change to someone in Family Tree, or add someone to Family Tree, it takes a little while for FamilySearch to check for new hints. Today hints are recalculated in less than 15 minutes, sometimes less than five. It is counterintuitive, but the busier the tree is, the faster the hints are recalculated. They are working on getting the latency between changes and new hints down to less than a minute, perhaps seconds. Until then, when you make changes to the tree, check back in about a quarter hour to check for new hints. When FamilySearch adds a new record collection, it works differently. About every 6 to 8 weeks they take all the records and search for new hints.

There are a couple of things Robert’s team is working on. They are reworking the SourceLinker attachment tool. There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes right now to make it better and faster and easier to use. Lastly, they are looking at something that might concern some people. FamilySearch has some high quality genealogies—trees—put together in a high quality way. FamilySearch doesn’t want to represent these sources as the same quality as FamilySearch’s historical records, but at some point they will let you know when they have a hint in one of these high quality datasets.

One change under consideration is the ability to change tree data while attaching a record. The difficulty is allowing users to do this while still exposing the sources already attached to that fact.

Robert showed an example demonstrating how powerful hinting is. The name Speak was misindexed as Sipelak in a family in Missouri in 1900. The hinting system was still able to match up the record to the tree because of everything else that matched between the family in the record and the family in the tree:

FamilySearch hinting found the misindexed Sipelak family was actually the Speaks.
(Click to enlarge) 

That’s impressive.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

“FamilySearch Mobile Tree App” by Todd Powell #BYUgen #BYUFHGC

Todd Powell presented the topic, “FamilySearch Mobile Tree App” at the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.Todd Powell presented the topic, “FamilySearch Mobile Tree App” at the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy held last week in Provo, Utah. Todd is the Product manager for mobile apps at FamilySearch.

Todd assigned us homework. Our first assignment was to go install the app. Check. I’ve done that. It is supported by Android or Apple in the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. Our second assignment was take something that we learned today and teach it to someone else. With this article I’m putting a check in that box also.

There are two apps, Family Tree and Memories. FamilySearch makes a new release every two weeks (with rare exceptions). New releases were made the week before the conference. New releases will be made the week after the conference. Make certain you are getting updates. They are releasing new features all the time. The version number can be found on the setup screen. [I don’t think you need to check it. At least on iOS the app prompts me when I need to update. It also shows up on the list of apps needing to be updated.]

For the year ending 31 January 2015, 2 million sources have been attached using the app, 1.2 million persons added, and 9 million photos viewed. There have been 300,000 people who have created new FamilySearch accounts. About 100,000 people use the app each week.

Todd said that using the mobile app engages young people better than using a computer. If you have the chance to work with them, have them go out four or five generations. Take 10 to 15 minutes to find a photo or story they haven’t seen before.

If you prefer a typed story over recorded audio, rather than trying to type on the little keyboard, dictate the story. Use the microphone key on the phone keyboard. If you speak slowly and clearly, the phone does a good job of converting your speech to text.

To give you ideas of questions to ask an older relative, FamilySearch will soon release a feature that has suggested questions. They have just started working on this today, for release a couple of weeks out. Tap the question and it begins an audio recording using the question as a title.

you can use the app to search FamilySearch records. In the future they will add the ability to search

The app doesn’t current check for or merge duplicates. They will be adding the ability to check for duplicates, but they are hesitant to add the ability to merge duplicates. They are working through ideas on how to impede bad merges before they offer merging.

On the mobile app, you can see JPEG and PNG, but not PDF. They don’t separate photos and documents.

The system will not allow the same, exact photograph file to be uploaded multiple times. But if there are differences, even if it is the same original photo, the program will let you upload a duplicate.

The “Descendants with Tasks” screen will show icon tasks for three generations of descendants of the focus person. This works for record hints and temple opportunities but does not include research suggestions or data problems.

The “Ancestors with Tasks” is the killer feature of the app. Tap and the app lists persons with tasks for your ancestors, up through five generations, plus their children and spouses. It also checks anyone you visit in the mobile app. The first time you run this report, it takes a while because it downloads the list to your device. Subsequent runs will be faster.

This week on iOS you will see a new map feature. From a person view, you tap on a map icon next to a location, such as birthplace. The map will show pins for the locations of the events associated with that person.

The mobile app has become complete enough that you can do 85% of the top 100 tasks that you do on the web. What can’t you do?

· Check dups and merge

· View the change log

· See data problems and research suggestions (they will add these)

· Multiple tabs for research (they are looking at ways to facilitate this)

· Traditional, horizontal pedigree (they won’t change this as they like what they have)

· Miscellaneous things Todd didn’t enumerate

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Nobody Told Me – #BYUgen #BYUFHGC

image“It’s the stories that we remember,” Paul Milner said. Paul delivered the Thursday keynote at the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. Paul is a native of England and a noted expert on British Isles research. He has authored six books on English and Scottish research.

Paul began by quoting from the novel Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks. One of the characters, Elizabeth Benson, was driving through the French countryside, trying to comprehend World War I. As she drove she saw something odd.

Through the fields to her right Elizabeth saw a peculiar, ugly arch that sat among the crops and woods. … it was made of brick or stone on a monumental scale. It was as though the Pantheon or the Arc de Triomphe had been dumped in a meadow.

She entered the huge structure and was struck to find that every surface was chiseled with names. She asked a man there who they were.

“These?” The man with the brush sounded surprised. “The lost.”

“Men who died in this battle?”

“No. The lost, the ones they did not find. The others are in the cemeteries.”

She looked at the vault above her head and then around in panic at the endless writing. … When she could speak again she said, “From the whole war?” The man shook his head. “Just these fields.”

“Nobody told me.” … “Nobody told me.”

clip_image002 The Thiepval Memorial names 72,000 men of the British Empire who died in the Battle of Somme whose remains were never identified.

“Why does it matter to me?” Paul asked. “Corporal Robert Finnegan, my mother’s uncle’s name is listed on that monument.” Paul related the story of the first day of the battle. It began 100 years ago on 1 July 1916. The battle resulted in the death of two of his granduncles. (See Paul’s blog article, “Remembering those who died on the First Day of the Battle of the Somme – 1 July 1916.”)

Paul encouraged us to find the soldiers on our trees.

“We all have stories to tell. They don’t have to be big and fancy,” he said.

Paul told us the story of his first 4th of July celebration in this country. (“That’s not a holiday I would normally be celebrating,” he joked.) It had snowed the day before. We all have family celebrations and traditions. Have we told those stories?

Paul told the story of how a northern English lad ended up living in America. “Have you told your children why you came to this place?”

Paul related his long faith journey. “Part of your mandate [as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] is to find out about your ancestors. But do you tell your faith story as well?”

You all have stories and the Church is making it easy for you to tell those stories, he said.

“Do you tell those stories, or are your grandchildren going to be like Elizabeth. ‘Nobody told me. Nobody told me.’”

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Turning the Model Upside Down #BYUgen #BYUFHGC

Steve Rockwood addresses the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyFamilySearch wants to turn upside down the usual order in which people engage in family history, said Steve Rockwood in his keynote address at the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.

Steve is president and chief executive officer (CEO) of FamilySearch International. He is the managing director of the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors FamilySearch.

Steve said in the past we presented people with a chart or a computer to start them in family history. Those that were willing to stay with it long enough eventually experienced the positive emotions associated with family history. In the Church today, that amounts to 2% of the members.

“We want everyone to feel those emotions [they experience] through the act of doing family history,” Steve said. “We believe that this is primarily an emotional movement.” He said doing family history brings feelings of love, joy, peace and other strong positive emotions. (The Church ascribes these to the Holy Ghost, he said. He pointed us to Galatians 5:22-23 and Ephesian 5:9 in the New Testament.)

“We are concentrating on how everyone can experience and feel those emotions.” By giving them immediate, emotional experiences, FamilySearch hopes they then engage in family history. FamilySearch decided to concentrate on stories. “We are serious” [about this change]. Steve said. “We changed our logo, our entire branding.” The FamilySearch logo now looks like a set of picture frames. FamilySearch starts people with photos, audio recordings, anything that anyone can participate in. That makes it an exciting world of change. “Now, more and more people are getting involved in this thing called family history.” For example, FamilySearch has seen a 47% increase in young people involved in family history.

This change can be discomforting to existing genealogists. Steve likened it to the situation when society started shifting from agricultural to urbanized life. Our great-grandparents said things like “How can you learn how to live life if you don’t grow up on a farm?” And “How can you learn the law of the harvest?” Somehow we all turned out okay, even though we didn’t grow up on farms. The same will occur with this change in approaching family history.

Steve assured us that we were still valued and accuracy is still important. “We’re all standing on your shoulders. We honor you and thank you.” We will not compromise on the integrity of the genealogy, he said. It needs to be accurate. “Accuracy is paramount,” he emphasized.

Steve talked about five experience areas, as he did at the last RootsTech. (See “RootsTech is a Gathering of Heart Specialists” on my blog.) One of these is searchable records. “They have to be searchable,” he said. Most people are not willing to wade through microfilm or unindexed images. Steve said FamilySearch is doing all they can do to digitize the films in the vault and hope to be done in three years. But they still need to be made searchable. FamilySearch is doing so by pursuing three strategies: FamilySearch Indexing, commercial partnerships, and automation. If computers can be programmed to index the documents, let them do it.

The Memories experience area will continue to stay core to FamilySearch’s strategy. Steve pointed out that photos and stories that are valuable now will have “unbelievable power” for generations to come.

While we think of Family Discovery today in terms of brick and mortar Discovery Centers, FamilySearch is looking at opening it up to experiences that are less expensive to deploy to almost any family history center, or on your computer screen, or even on your phone. FamilySearch is looking at packaging Family Discovery in new, appealing ways. The idea is to package your tree in a way that gives others an engaging taste of it.

Steve gave some indication of the countries where FamilySearch may be expanding efforts. He said that Lehi in the Book of Mormon sent his sons back to Jerusalem to get a record of their genealogy. “We have to concentrate on the question, ‘Where’s your Jerusalem?’” If it is America or Scandinavia or England, then FamilySearch can give you a pretty good experience. But if your Jerusalem is China or Ghana or most other places, the experience is not as good. He said that because of a partnership with, in five years the experience will be good for those whose Jerusalem is Mexico. Steve said if you ever want to know some places where we are diversifying, listen to the Church’s General Conference and see where the Prophet [Thomas S. Monson] is announcing temples. When that happens, opportunities open up for us, he said. Look where there are 27 temples still under construction. Steve said that 60% of visitors to Temple Square (across the street from the Salt Lake City Family History Library) speak Chinese. What kind of discovery experience can we provide for them?

Steve said that what FamilySearch is doing is trying to bring all of God’s children into family history and providing them records according to their Jerusalem.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

That is Where the Love Is #BYUgen #BYUFHGC

Credit: Ivan Majc, Adriatic North Mission
“As you talk about the ancestors, that is where the love is,” said Paul Cardall. “That is where the heart starts to turn.” Paul has learned this through multiple visits to Slovenia, the homeland of his wife’s family.

The 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy opened this morning, Tuesday, 26 July 2016, with a keynote address by Paul Cardall, a pianist known for his hymn instrumentals.

“Literally, seven years ago I had a change of heart,” said Paul. That’s when Paul, who had suffered all his life from a congenital heart defect, received a transplanted heart.

After marrying Tina, a Slovenian-American, his heart turned to her ancestors. Paul talked to his wife about her family, but she only knew so much. Tina’s grandfather (I think it was her grandfather) was a freedom fighter during World War II, so he was forced to flee to the United States after the war. After scouring and subscription sites like, Paul found there were no records online. He asked a friend, FamilySearch’s Suzanne Russo Adams, what to do. Suzanne connected him with Lidija Sambunjak, an expert in Slovenian genealogy. She informed him that, unfortunately, a lot of the Slovenian records are available nowhere else but in Slovenia.

When invited by Brigham Young University to write music about a documentary about the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Yugoslavia, he joked that he would love to do it if they would fly him to Slovenia.

He was delighted when he received a call from the Adriatic North Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints inviting him to come and perform for church members in Slovenia. His wife was excited to accompany him and, being Catholic, asked why they couldn’t perform in a Catholic church. They asked and Father Jože Kokalj in Ljubljana agreed to host the concert at St. James Church.

At the same time, they reached out to the Slovenian Heart Foundation, an organization that helps children with heart defects. What had begun as a Mormon event was becoming something much bigger.

“All of this was happening as I was doing genealogy,” Paul said. Tina was not certain they would see any of her family, but when they arrived at the airport, they found many cousins waiting. Their hearts were turning.

Paul played for us the first several phrases of the opening number from the concert. (Listen to the song on Facebook.) At the concert family showed up that they didn’t know they had. “Just to be there and to feel the love of everyone [was amazing],” Paul said. “Just to be there with these people was wonderful.”

They visited Tina’s mother’s village and met more family.

Six months later Paul and Tina were on their way back to Slovenia for the Slovenian Heart Foundation's 25th anniversary charity concert. The Adriatic North Mission wanted two artists this time, so they invited David Archuleta to perform with Paul. This time he would perform in the Slovenian Opera Theatre and Ljubljana Archbishop Msgr. Stanislav Zore would attend.

Tina’s mother had declined going on the first trip because of lingering fears over the communist past. This time she wanted to come. She was able to visit her village for the first time in 43 years. They went to her own house and found cousins living there. She met family members she hadn’t seen in 43 years. “War tears families apart,” Paul said. “You [genealogists] help put the puzzle back together.”

They visited the archive where the parish registers are kept. Tina’s mother got to see the names of her ancestors. “These books are old,” Paul said. “They are older than the constitution of the United States.” Each book is the record of a parish for a couple of hundred years. “Each priest carefully wrote down the names, one by one. It is so powerful.” Paul told us that we, genealogists, understand. We also add the names, one-by-one, into “the book of life.”

I haven’t mentioned much of it, but religion was a big part of Paul’s presentation: His love for his wife’s church, the Catholic Church. His love for his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His love for the Savior. He finished his presentation by playing a recording of a new hymn. Elder David A Bednar, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and a grandson of Hungarian immigrants, asked Paul to help him write a song titled “One by One.” Paul played a recording of it for us. (Listen to it, read the lyrics, or print the sheet music at //

Monday, July 25, 2016

BYU Conference Center Handicap Parking Changes #BYUgen #BYUFHGC

BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyAttendees of this year’s BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy should be aware of the impact of construction at the conference center. The conference center address is

730 E University Parkway
Provo, Utah 84604

The normal parking lot—adjacent to the center on the west side—is still available, but the normal entrances to the building are closed. The remaining entrance for that parking lot is near the southwest corner of the building and “does not meet ADA requirements.” If memory serves correctly, you have to go up a staircase to get to the door.

Handicap parking has been provided near the main entrance on the south side of the building. That entrance does not involve any stairs and opens onto the main floor of the building where all the classes are held. The parking is southeast of the building, on 1550 North. This handicap parking is in lot 23A, which is normally closed to the general public. If all the handicap spaces are full, BYU says you can use any space in that lot.

Map of BYU Conference Center handicap parking during construction

Also, parts of University Parkway will be under construction at times during the conference. Give yourselves a little extra travel time.

BTW, if you haven’t yet registered (and the travel and parking problems haven’t driven you away), just show up and you can register onsite. The first keynote starts tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at 8:30am. I can’t find what time that registration begins, but I imagine it will be 45 to 60 minutes beforehand.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy #BYUgen #BYUFHGC

BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyThe BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy starts Tuesday, 26 July 2016. If you are thinking about your pioneer ancestors this weekend, then you should come. BYU’s Elizabeth Richards tells me you can register clear through the last day of the conference on Friday, 29 July 2016.

Registration is $185, including a syllabus on USB. There is a $50 discount for Family History Consultants for the full conference. Or Family History Consultants can attend the Consultant track on Friday for free. You may purchase a printed syllabus at the conference or anytime after the conference until the end of the year.
Paul CardallTuesday’s keynote speaker is Paul Cardall, a pianist known for his hymn instrumentals. His current album, 40 Days for Forty Hymns, débuted on Billboard’s New Age Album chart at #1 in May of last year and was still in the top 10 earlier this month. Paul is an avid genealogist with Eastern European roots. He is a heart transplant survivor, having suffered from congenital heart defects his entire life.
Steve RockwoodWednesday’s keynote speaker is FamilySearch president and CEO, Stephen Rockwood. He is the managing director of the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Prior to taking the helm he was the director of the International Division. He has continued a world-wide emphasis as president. Steve is a graduate of BYU with an MBA from the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Paul MilnerThursday’s keynote is Paul Milner. Paul is a native of northern England and while he now lives in the United States, he continues to focus on British Isles genealogy, resources, and methodology. He is actively engaged in the genealogical community and is a past board member of APG, FGS, and GSG. He is a professional genealogist, instructor, and lecturer.
The conference program includes many noted national and regional experts. Last year’s keynote speaker, Lisa Louise Cooke, is back, teaching five sessions (if I counted right). Paul Milner is teaching five sessions in addition to his keynote. Rick and Pam Sayre are teaching three and two sessions, respectively. And there are many more. FamilySearch and both have tracks. To see a complete list of presenters and topics, visit

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Insider Named Official Blogger for BYU Conference

imageI’m honored to announce that Brigham Young University has asked me to serve as an official blogger at the BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.

The conference will be held 26-29 July 2016 at the Conference Center (730 East University Parkway, Provo, Utah) on the BYU campus. Registration is now open. There will be more than 100 classes on topics including

  • Youth and Genealogy
  • LDS Family History Callings
  • FamilySearch Family Tree
  • DNA Research
  • Google Genealogy
  • ICAPGen (The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists)
  • U.S. Research
  • Methodology
  • International Research
  • Scandinavian Research

Keynote speakers will be Steve Rockwood, president and CEO of FamilySearch and Paul Milner. Paul is a professional genealogist, author, and lecturer. He authored Discover English Parish Records, Genealogy at a Glance: English Research and coauthored A Genealogists Guide to Discovering your English Ancestors and A Genealogists Guide to Discovering your Scottish Ancestors. As you can see from his book titles, he is one of the leading experts on British Isles research and migration. While born and raised in England, he has lived in the states since 1975, so he has lots of US research experience as well.

The conference draws members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as members of the general public. Steve’s address will be spiritually centered and some tracks are LDS-specific. But there is definitely something for everyone. The conference is held about an hour away from the Salt Lake Family History Library, so you may wish to combine a trip.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

#BYU Family History Technology Workshop

Amy Harris gave her wish list to developers and researchers at the BYU Family History Technology Workshop.Before #RootsTech, before #InnovatorSummit, there was the Brigham Young University Family History Technology Workshop. Now in its 16th year, the one day workshop brings together developers and researchers tackling some of genealogy’s most thorny challenges.

Amy Harris, an associate professor of history at BYU and an accredited genealogist, provided the workshop’s keynote yesterday. Amy currently serves as the director of the Family History Program at BYU. She spoke to the topic “A Genealogist's Technological Wish List: Teaching, Filtering, and Mapping.”

“We are engaged in similar work,” Amy said of genealogists and technologists. “We are solving puzzles or mysteries.” Amy went through her wish list of things she wished technology would do to improve the work of historians and genealogists.

Amy wishes applications could be more instructional, teaching users to be better. It doesn’t have to be FamilySearch that makes the FamilySearch website more usable. It could be a popup app that explained in which situations a record collection might be useful. Developers wouldn’t need to develop the instructional resources. It could point users to existing resources. Apps could help with situation-specific research problems, walking users through the process of figuring out which records should be used at each step of the process.

She wished there were instructional OCR technology. She wished there was help for citation standards. She wished there was technology helping users evaluate record hints in Ancestry or FamilySearch trees. She wished tree software better assisted users work through the challenges of naming schemes that didn’t carry the same surname from one generation to the next.

Amy wishes programs helped users understand and use changing jurisdictions. It would be great to have an app that showed all the different jurisdictions for a place, overlaying the boundaries on a map and allowing for boundaries that changed over time. Just a few examples of different jurisdictions in England are civil registration districts, poor law unions, Church of England parishes and dioceses, and Quaker monthly meeting boundaries.

In short, Amy wishes there were apps that were informed by advanced research methodology and helped users utilize them.

For Technology: Some Problems, Some Solutions

Welcome to the 2016 BYU Family History Technology WorkshopAfter the opening keynote yesterday, speakers at the BYU 2016 Family History Technology Workshop gave rapid-fire, five-minute presentations for the remainder of the morning, first on genealogy problems needing technology solutions and then on some new genealogy technology solutions for genealogists.

Some Problems

Dallan Quass talked about judging tree quality. There are a lot of bad online trees. When you look at an online tree, how do you tell how good it is? Dallan feels it should be possible to apply computer technology to identify tree quality. Machine learning could examine the number of sources, including their type and variety, the number of warnings, the specificity of dates, the number of people in the file (too many signal the work of name gatherers), and how many of them are early people.

Mark Clement said there was a need for technology to help handle duplicates in Family Tree. New users find duplicates very confusing and disheartening when they see that message: “Merging is a complex process…” Mark said, “I think that this is a prime place where computer technology could assist.”

James Tanner complained about the lack of data transfer technology. There are hundreds of places where genealogical data files exist. If I put my data on MyHeritage, what do I do if I want to move it to another tree? Or how do I exchange a copy with another person? There needs to be standards for data exchange and GEDCOM is broken!

Heath Nielson spoke to several problems extracting data from Historical Documents. One of the biggest problems is image quality. There should be metrics produced as soon as a camera operator takes a picture. This could immediately alert them to the need to retake an image. Another issue is duplicate images. FamilySearch has done some work to see if it could be identified automatically. Another problem is identifying a zone of interest in a document, such as an obituary on a newspaper page. Image enhancement is an issue. Handwriting recognition of historical documents still presents a challenge.

Scott Woodfield addressed the 2016 BYU Family History Technology Workshop.Scott Woodfield spoke to the topic: “I Have No Control over My Own Information.” His mother was disheartened recently when someone changed her father’s name in Family Tree. Sometime in the past pencil and paper were replaced by PAF. Then PAF was replaced with Family Tree. This was characterized as a good thing, but users have the perception that “bad” people are out there changing their information. This triggers the fight or flee response. Users either enter into toggle wars, or they give up using Family Tree. Users believe they are the best job and that they have loss of control of their information. Some possible solutions are to give a personal view, to use branching version control, or enable better communication between users.

Some Technologies

About a dozen presenters talked about their new technologies and products. Most were applications that captured multimedia (video, audio, or photos), shared it (with flexible privacy), and preserved it. A couple unlocked memories and informed the recipient at some future time. Studio by Legacy Republic includes a scanner for photo albums.

Wesley Eames showed AncestorCloud, a website that allows users to post a need for some research, along with how much they are willing to pay. Researchers can then accept jobs of interest. They are still working the kinks out; about 1% of requests end in dispute.

James Tanner showed The Family History Guide – This site teaches users how to use the FamilySearch website. It features a structured, sequenced way of approaching the subject of genealogy. Learning resources are scattered all over the web and all over The Family History Guide breaks learning down into measurable resources. It also includes lesson plans for teaching family history.

Joshua Mathias showed Grandma's Pie, a website that shows your ancestors’ nationalities as a pie chart.

The Ancestry Insider's ancestor nationality pie chart

Kevin King showed a concept under development, Wheel of Family Fortune. As the user guesses letters, more information comes up to teach players about their ancestors. Kevin hopes games will get younger people interested in genealogy.


Justin Rasband and Tom Sederberg showed One Page Genealogy, which tries to solve the problem of packing together a family tree chart and still making it look good. You can download the chart as a PDF for printing. Click on a person to change the size of the person’s box, or that of their generation, or the whole chart. By using boxes of different sizes, you can best utilize the space.

Still to come: presentations by FamilySearch employees. Be warned, however. I may not be able to write them up until after Innovator Summit and RootsTech. Innovator Summit started today and RootsTech is close on its heals.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Guiding Principles for Cleaning Up Messes in Family Tree – #BYUFHGC

Ben Baker gave guiding principles about cleaning messes in FamilySearch Family TreeThis is the second of two articles about Ben Baker’s presentation at the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. Ben’s topic was “Help! My Family is all Messed Up on FamilySearch Family Tree.” His slides and syllabus are available at and, respectively.

Ben presented a list of guiding principles to use when cleaning up messes in Family Tree.

Play Nice With Others

Remember this is a shared tree. Don’t be too bullheaded. Apologize when you’ve messed up. Be nice how you approach people. When people mess up, it’s generally because they don’t realize what they are doing. Some users delete people thinking they are operating in a private tree.

Watch out for mytreeitus. Ron Tanner came up with the term; Ben Baker gave a dictionary-like definition:

mytreeitus \mī-trē-ˈī-təs\ (noun)
An inflammation common to many genealogists,
particularly heavy users of PAF. Symptoms include
extreme anxiety over others modifying their extensive
genealogical research, possessiveness of ancestors,
unwillingness to work in collaborative family trees and
disregard for others when removing erroneous
persons from their family. Usually occurring in more
mature adults and rarely seen in those under 40.
[Ouch! Ben didn’t score any points with his largely older-than-40 audience.]
Learning to use FamilySearch Family Tree has been
shown to be an effective treatment for this affliction.

Make Your email address public. To do so, click on your name in the upper-right corner of the screen. Click settings. Click Contact. Enter your email address and check the Public box next to it. There is a messaging system coming soon that will allow you to send messages to others, even if their email address is not public. [Since the conference, that feature has been released.]

Draw Pictures and Take Notes

Most of the problems that Ben runs into are messed up families. To help sort things out, draw a picture showing the relationships as they should be. Here’s a diagram with a father who fathered his first child with his first wife and his second child with his second wife:

One of Ben's diagrams showing relationships

Pay attention to the PIDs. Each record has a PID. If a person has two different PIDs, then there are two different records that need to be merged. If two different persons have the same PID, then they aren’t really two at all. They are merely showing up twice in the same diagram. I’ve created an example, below. While Imaginary Child (LKPR-R95) and Imaginary Child (LKPR-R9N) are the same person, there are two PIDs. That means there are two records that need to be merged. Also notice that there are two of Imaginary Child (LKPR-R9N). By paying attention to the PIDs, we see that there are not really two; it is the same record showing up twice.

An imaginary family showing 1 person with two PIDs and one person shown in two places

To keep track of things, open up multiple browser tabs. To open a new tab or window when clicking a link, use a middle click or a right click of your mouse [or hold down the control-key while clicking].

If you are really worried about how to do things, try things out on Beta has almost the same information as the real Family Tree, changing stuff on beta doesn’t change the real tree. If you are uncertain how to go about making a change, go over there and try things out. FamilySearch also tests new features there. To see features that might be coming, you can go over there every once in a while and see what looks different.

Family Tree has two relationship types: parent-child and couple. FamilySearch developers call a parent-child relationship a tertiary relationship because there are three people involved: a father, a mother, and a child. Family Tree uses the same innards for a single parent situation, but leaves one parent empty.

Two relationship types in Family Tree

A married couple with one child is represented in Family Tree with two relationships: a couple relationship (because of the marriage) and a parent-child relationship. Ben showed the screen snippet, below, with little icons overlaid showing the couple relationship and the parent-child relationship. To edit or delete the couple relationship, click the pencil icon to their right. To edit or delete the parent-child relationship, click the pencil icon to the child’s right.

Parents and child with relationship icons overlaid

Let me make an aside here. A nuance sometimes lost on people is that there can be a parent-child relationship with parents who don’t have a couple relationship with each other. The biological father might be nothing more than a sperm-donor, for example. In the Imaginary family, above, there is no couple relationship between Imaginary Father and Imaginary Mother. Instead of showing a marriage date between them, Family Tree shows a link to “Add Couple Relationship.”

We return now to Ben’s presentation, already in progress...

“Let me reiterate! Above all! DO NOT CLICK THERE!” [Oops. Makes me wish I had been listening. Oh well.]

Ben showed a family not unlike the imaginary family I showed previously. Imaginary Child (LKPR-R9N) is shown once with both parents and once with just his father. This is a common scenario. Ben asked attendees how to fix it. One suggestion was to add the missing mother. That was not the correct answer. The child is part of two parent-child relationships. The first parent-child relationship has both parents. The second parent-child relationship has just the father. It is incomplete and unnecessary; delete the extra relationship.

Deleting a person, on the other hand, is rarely the right thing to do. When there is an extraneous person in a family, don’t delete him, delete the relationship. (This makes sense when you think about it. Family Tree is intended to be the family tree of all mankind. Everyone who ever lived needs to be in there. Keep the person, just get him out of the family.)

There are probably only two times when you should delete a person: If you find a fictitious person such as the god Odin or Mickey Mouse, you should delete him. Or if you have just barely added a person and realize that was a  dumb thing to do, delete him. In fact, FamilySearch will soon make changes so the latter condition is the only one in which you can delete a person. For a fictitious person, you’ll have to call support and ask them to delete him.

“I think delete person is evil, personally,” Ben said only half-jokingly. “It’s doing really bad stuff in the tree.” Deleting a real person can be a double-whammy (my description, not Ben’s). When you search for a person in the tree, including spouse and parent names is very powerful. When you delete a person’s spouse or parent, that person becomes harder to find. If the person is left with absolutely no relationships, they may never be found again. FamilySearch employees call such persons “dark matter.”

I had to leave early, so I didn’t get to hear the remainder of Ben’s presentation. I’m guessing he didn’t have time to finish all the material he prepared, but it is covered in his slides and syllabus. Let me call out a few more  guiding principles:

  • Base your actions on verifiable sources.
  • Provide good reason statements.
  • Act on icons to achieve regular, small successes with the possibility of adding new persons to the tree.
  • Contact support when you need to and ask to escalate if necessary.
  • Report abuse if you believe someone is purposefully destroying data.
  • Use the Watch List more effectively.
  • Learn to understand and use the Change Log better.
  • Read, maybe even subscribe to, the blog.
  • Embrace change.
  • Realize that some things are not fixable yet.

Well, that’s it for this year’s BYU Conference on Family History and Technology! It only took me a month to cover the small part of it that I attended. I leave you with this photo of conference bloggers, Jana Last, the Ancestry Insider, and Lynn Broderick.

2015 BYU conference bloggers, Jana Last, Ancestry Insider, and Lynn Broderick
Photo credit: random passerby.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My Family is all Messed Up on FamilySearch Family Tree – #BYUFHGC

Ben Baker addressing the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyBen Baker spoke at the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. His topic was “Help! My Family is all Messed Up on FamilySearch Family Tree.” Ben’s presentations are always packed with useful information and this was no exception. Fortunately, he posts his slides. You can see them for yourself at This is the first of two articles recounting his remarks.

FamilySearch Family Tree is somewhat like a wiki. Anyone can make a change. Everyone sees the changes. It is maintained by volunteers. It’s free. It reduces duplication and encourages collaboration. Your research outlives you. You can link to photos, stories, and sources.

Ben posed the question, “If collaborative family trees are so great, how come everything is so
messed up?” To begin with, Family Tree was created from multiple kinds of sources. And Family Tree has imperfect patrons. It astounds him how “creative” people are when they make changes. “People do really crazy things. It never ceases to amaze me,” he said. The third factor is that FamilySearch has done things in the past to try to clean things up, and sometimes have made them worse.

There are three special usernames that frustrate users when they show up as a contributor in Family Tree. They sometimes introduce or re-introduce errors.

FamilySearch This value means that a FamilySearch administrator, or an automated FamilySearch tool, has changed the information. This happens when someone at FamilySearch is fixing problems that can’t be fixed in any other way.

This value indicates that Family Tree doesn’t know who the contributor was. On the slides Ben gave Pedigree Resource File contributions as an example. In his presentation, he mentioned the old four generation program (by which, I suppose he meant Ancestral File). I don’t think either of those are correct. I think Family Tree doesn’t know the identity of some contributors to the International Genealogical Index. When FamilySearch keyed in paper submissions to the IGI, they didn’t key in contributor or source information. This value exists for original contributors only; current contributors are all known.

LDS Church Membership

This value means that FamilySearch brought the information into Family Tree from the Church membership system. FamilySearch synchronizes Family Tree with the Church’s membership database on a regular basis.

When you call support, you get different tiers. The first tier consists of volunteer missionaries. They can escalate to  higher tiers. One of the higher levels is the Data Quality team. They can escalate bugs to the software developers; that’s when Ben would get involved. Ask support to escalate if the first tier is not able to solve your issue.

But things are getting better. There are hundreds of millions of sources attached to Family Tree. That is stabilizing things because people are less likely to make changes when there are lots of sources. People are merging duplicates; there are 40,000 merges per day and it has been as high as 50,000. Another sign that things are getting better is the reduced number of times that people undo merges. In the New FamilySearch tree, for every four combines, there was one separate. That was probably a sign that people were making incorrect combines. Today, there are about 30 to 1 merges to restores. Ben takes that as evidence that users feel like most merges are correct. And there are few reports of “edit wars.” That’s when two people disagree about a fact and constantly change it back and forth. There are some. Click the report abuse button if it is happening.

We’ll know Family Tree has “arrived” when it is the first place to go to find out about a historical person. “That’s not true today,” Ben admitted. We want people to say, “Wow, this is amazing. Why would I want to go make my own tree somewhere else?”

Stay tuned for more…

Powerful FamilySearch Partner Apps – #BYUFHGC

Jimmy Zimmerman presenting at RootsTech 2015“Have you ever said to yourself, ‘If only FamilySearch would do this one thing?’ ” asked Jimmy Zimmerman, product manager for FamilySearch Family Tree. Jimmy spoke to the topic “Powerful Partner Apps for FamilySearch” at the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.

“There are an infinite number of ideas out there,” Jimmy said, “and FamilySearch has finite resources.” But what if others could add features? Well, FamilySearch has something called an API which allows that.

Diagram showing arrows between apps, through the Internet, to the FamilySearch API

[Insider’s note: An API is like a wall with holes in it set aside for particular actions. An app or website writes information on a piece of paper and, holding the paper in hand, sticks their hand through a specific hole in the wall. On the other side FamilySearch notices the hand sticking through the wall, reads the information on the piece of paper, writes a reply, and shoves the hand back through the wall. For example, an app might write a person identifier (PID) on a piece of paper and stick itthrough a hole labeled “fetch information about a person in Family Tree.” FamilySearch writes the information on the piece of paper and shoves the hand back through the hole.]

To use the API, companies must adhere to a strict set of rules. These are designed to protect the integrity of data in FamilySearch Family Tree and to guarantee best security practices. The rules are so voluminous they are jokingly referred to as “the tax code.” In the FamilySearch App Gallery, each app page indicates capabilities that the app can exercise within the information at Writing and modifying Family Tree requires far more rules than just reading Family Tree.

Jimmy talked about finding available apps in the App Gallery. If you can’t find a way to get to the App Gallery, you can always go to Find apps by searching for the name or description, specifying category, filtering by platform (Windows, iPhone, web, etc.), price option (free, purchase, or subscription), free trial availability, language, FamilySearch capability (read-only, update), and if a FamilySearch login is required.

Some apps are listed without any certification. According to Jimmy, these have been found to be so helpful, FamilySearch lists them despite the lack of certification. He pointed out’s Family Tree Maker as one example. An audience member asked when MyHeritage will be interacting with FamilySearch Family Tree. Jimmy said that while he couldn’t say, he could tell us it is in progress.

Users can rate apps and write reviews. Please leave reviews. It helps others find the really good apps and it encourages the developers to improve. If you find problems with an app, first contact the company. App reviews may not be a fair place to report problems, as the problems might actually be a FamilySearch API issue.

Some apps with high ratings are:

Jimmy demonstrated a few of the apps. Kinpoint was one that I had not seen before.

Explore Chart of displays a fan chart, or Explorer Chart as they call it. Dots on the Explorer Chart are like a to-do list. They mark things like missing vital information, timeline issues, duplicates, lacking sources, and record hints, although some of these are available only with a subscription. The pane on the left displays information about the focus person. A summary pane on the right-hand side shows interesting facts about the persons displayed in the Explore chart, such as the number of countries of origin, number of children per family, youngest and oldest ages, and range of birth dates. Most of these are available only by subscription. Facts can be used to highlight persons on the chart according to available filters. For example, you could see all ancestors highlighted who were 25-30 years of age at the time of their death. The chart can show ancestors or descendants. The subscription features are available for free in a Family History Center.

Jimmy showed, a website with census and vital records. MooseRoots is a new company in the family history space, but has its roots in the ability to pull together lots of information. [Insider’s note: The parent company is the newly named Graphiq, a data visualization company, with many vertical search engines.] For example, their census records are married to aggregate census statistics, name origins and meanings, historical stock performance, historical place information, and economic data. [Insider’s note: Some of their data looks pretty rough, like the WWII army enlistment records for The first five names from Cache County, Utah are Edson Bcnson, On Roy Pehr, Meroill W Glevn, Grant C Jarsvn, and Eewzp Thompkwo. If I had to guess, I would say they used OCR on a typed or printed source. No images were available.]

Jimmy wanted to show us their Civil War Soldiers collection, but couldn’t find the link to it. I stumbled across it at after a lot of poking around. Graphiq has married the standard Civil War Soldiers database with information about the infantry, battles, and casualty counts.

The same section of the Graphiq website contains information about battles, generals, sailors, and war statistics. They credit the National Park Service for the data and Hal Jespersen ( for the maps.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Future Will Bring Automated Indexing Tools – #BYUFHGC

Jake Gehring presenting at the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy“It’s not that we don’t like our [indexing] volunteers,” said Jake Gehring. “We would just rather have them work on things that only [humans] can do.” Jake is director of content development for FamilySearch and presented at the BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy last month. This article is the third and last article about his presentation. In the first article I reported on Jake’s premise that FamilySearch Indexing is not keeping up with the number of records FamilySearch is acquiring and additional means are needed. In the second article I reported about two of those means: increasing the efficiency of human indexers and working with commercial partners. In today’s article I will report on the third means: increased automation via computers.

In the third part of his presentation, Jake spoke about “the really far-out stuff, HAL9000 kind of stuff.”

Jake showed a screen shot that we saw in Robert Kehrer’s keynote. (See “Kehrer Talks FamilySearch Transformations” on my blog.) The screen showed a color-coded obituary.

Obituary with parts of speech color coded by FamilySearch automated obituary indexing system

FamilySearch trained a computer to identify the different parts of speech. They trained the computer how to discern meaning out of a bunch of words. Notice in the example above that names of people are identified in dark green, places in brown, dates in dark blue, relationships in salmon, events in pale green, clock times in a steel blue (or would you call that a dark sky blue?), organizations in red, and buildings in goldenrod (or would you call that a mustard?).

They basically teach the computer to read. The computer is willing to extract a lot more detail from an obituary than a volunteer can easily do. And it can work really, really fast. For obituaries, computers can do in about a week and a half what it takes all of FamilySearch’s volunteers three and a half years to do. This is why in a few weeks FamilySearch is going to stop having volunteers index the current obituary project. In fact, FamilySearch has already published about 37 million obituaries this way. You may already have found and used an obituary that was indexed by a smart computer.

This applies to obituaries published since about 1977. Since that time, most obituaries have been published and stored digitally. Pre-1977 it looks a lot differently. Because the obituaries are not already digital, it is a pretty nasty OCR problem. [OCR converts the printed page to text so that the computer can subsequently try to make sense of it.] The problem is so severe, computers can recognize only about half of the words in pre-1900 newspapers.

If you were at RootsTech you may have seen the last thing Jake showed. A company named Planet entered its ArgusSearch into the Innovator Challenge. ArgusSearch is a system that reads the handwriting of documents that have not been indexed. You type in something like “Steinberg” and the program shows some records that might match that name. It won’t find all the matches. And it may return some results that aren’t matches. But this is still useful. This technology is still young, but an application like this is likely to hit real life in the next ten years.

Planet's ArgusSearch automatically read handwritten names in census records without an index.

Jake summarized by saying that while indexing is going really well—never better—unfortunately, it is just not good enough to give us all the records you need. [FamilySearch does not index all the records they acquire.] “We need to do much better. It’s not that we are not quite there; we are way behind and getting further behind every year,” he said. There are three areas that FamilySearch needs to utilize. FamilySearch needs to increase the efficiency of its indexing volunteers. FamilySearch needs more help from for-profit publishers who can bring more resources to the table. And FamilySearch needs to use computer technology to make images searchable with little or no human intervention.

“It’s an exciting time to be alive. Can you imagine the explosion of document availability once we make a bit more headway in a few of these areas?”

Jake took a couple of questions:

Q. How easy is it to use tools like Google Translate to translate Spanish records?

A. Google Translate is better at modern, generic words. If you type in the text of a letter, you would be able to get the gist of it, but it may not handle archaic words or words specific to a vital record. As long as you know a small set of terms, you can usually get by without a computerized translator. There is no magic tool currently available.

Q. Why do we sometimes key so very little from a record? While we have someone looking at the document, shouldn’t they be extracting more?

A. Because we publish both indexes and images, we index the minimal amount necessary to find the image. Why index something that no one will ever use in a search? Cook County, Illinois death certificates are an example where we indexed something that didn’t need to be. We indexed the deceased’s address, but who will ever search using the address? Sometimes we don’t get it quite right, but that’s the general principle.

Q. When will we be able to correct published indexes?

A. We’re starting now after ten years of being in the top three requested features, we’re starting to implement the feature to allow you to contribute corrections. We are rapidly approaching the point when this will be available. I’m not really authorized to say “soon,” but we have our eyes on that feature.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

FamilySearch Should Increase Indexing Efficiency and Utilize Partnerships

Jake Gehring presenting at the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyFamilySearch is not keeping up with indexing the records it digitizes and improvements in three ways could help fix this, according to FamilySearch director of content development, Jake Gehring. Yesterday I presented the first part of my remarks about his presentation at the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy (#BYUFHGC). Today I’ll present the second part, covering the first two of the three ways, increasing efficiency and partnering. Tomorrow I’ll present the third way, increased use of computerization.

’s FamilySearch Indexing (FSI) system is somewhat inefficient. FSI primarily utilizes a double-blind indexing methodology, sometimes described as A+B+arbitrate. Two indexers independently index a batch of records. If there are any differences, even one letter in one record, the entire batch is sent to a third person to arbitrate between the two values, or supply a value of their own. It turns out that 97% of all batches have at least one difference, even though what is keyed is the same for 70% of the fields. As a result, almost all records are looked at by three people. There’s a good argument that that is wasteful. For certain kinds of records and certain kinds of people [and certain kinds of fields, I might add], only one keyer is sufficient. The accuracy doesn’t get any better when involving two more people. FamilySearch has recently switched to single keying for newspapers in the last year since reading typeset material can usually be done without error. You wouldn’t want to do this for certain types of records or for beginning indexers.

A more efficient methodology is referred to as A+review. One person keys the information and a second person reviews what is keyed. All the reviewer does is indicate whether the information is correct or not. This could easily be done, even on a cell phone. This method is about 40% more efficient than the double-blind methodology because FamilySearch knows when a record needs to be keyed a second time. FamilySearch is actively working on this kind of methodology to increase the efficiency of indexing.

Jake showed three, entirely new, experimental types of indexing. Some do not even have working prototypes: keyboardless indexing, free-form indexing, and casual “micro-indexing.”

Jake showed an indexing system that allows productive use of devices without keyboards, such as smart phones. If you’ve used photo recognition in Photoshop, you have seen the paradigm before. He showed a slide showing 12 snippets of a name, such as “Henry.” (See my version, below.) These had been read from documents by a computerized handwriting recognition system. But since computers aren’t too good at reading handwriting, it presents its results to a person for verification. The person marks any that the computer got wrong. Where the computer had a good second guess, it could present that as well, allowing the person to select an alternate name, such as “Kerry.” For pre-printed forms, this works great and allows easy indexing on devices without keyboards, such as cell phones.

Snippet of name indexed as Henry

Shippet of a name that was indexed as Henry or Kerry Snippet of name indexed as Kerry
Snippet of a name that was indexed as Kerry Snippet from a page wherein one name was indexed as Kerry Snippet of a name that was indexed as Kerry
Snippet of a name that was indexed as Kerry Snippet from a page wherein one name was indexed as Kerry Snippet from a page wherein one name was indexed as Kerry

Snippet of a name that was indexed as Kerry

Snippet of name indexed as Henry Snippet of a name indexed as Kerry

Jake showed the FamilySearch Pilot Tool, another indexing system for free-form indexing. It is currently live, as a pilot. A large portion of the screen is a browser showing a record on Along the right side is a pane where an indexer can enter names, dates, and places extracted from the document. (See the screen shot, below.) A person would use the tool to index any record that they care about and a short time later the record would be searchable. You wouldn’t have to ask for anyone’s permission. You wouldn’t have to index all the names. Anyone could take any collection desired and do some indexing. This tool is in pilot right now. FamilySearch is very interested in tools that let you index as you go. To join the pilot, send Jake an email. (I see someone has also posted the link online. See “FamilySearch Pilots Web-Based Indexing Extension” on the Tennessee GenWeb website.) There is no arbitration. If you care enough to index the image, you probably care enough to be accurate. But that supposition is something yet to be validated.

The FamilySearch Pilot Tool for indexing - Click to englarge

“Micro-indexing” could be used to make images more usable. It would be nice to be able to browse unindexed images easier. FamilySearch is very interested in an upgrade to the current browse experience. Jake showed an animated artist’s rendition of a tool, reminding us that this is just a research and development idea.

FamilySearch is interested in making it easier to find records in images that have not yet been indexed.

In micro-indexing the system might ask you really simple questions, like, “What kind of record is this?” and have you click the record type. By asking volunteers to do tiny tasks, FamilySearch might be able to gather information to make browsing images easier to find my record type, locality, and time. Just because FamilySearch doesn’t have the time to index the images, doesn’t mean they can’t be made easy to browse.

This is a mock-up of what a micro-indexing tool might look like.

In addition to talking about increasing the efficiency of indexing, Jake talked about partnering. FamilySearch is fine with the concept of trading data with other companies. FamilySearch provides images and the partner creates indexes. They may even get exclusive use of the indexes for awhile. For example, a lot of Mexico church and civil records are being indexed right now by We all get the value of it eventually. FamilySearch has similar projects going on with Findmypast (I didn’t catch the projects names) and MyHeritage (Danish census and church records, and Swedish household names). This increases the rate of indexing by bringing more indexers to the table.