Saturday, March 2, 2019

RootsTech 2019 - Saturday - 2 March

Last Day of RootsTech
Well, RootsTech 2019 is now over. It was a great week and the crews did a wonderful job of keeping everything running. Since I was speaking today I decided to take it easy on the classes and try to get a few things done before I left.

Today I attended a joint class by FamilySearch and The Family History Guide called Discover, Gather and Connect Your Family Together. This presentation focused on activities we can do with our families and others to encourage family history. It has been found that children with a knowledge of their family history have greater self confidence, self worth, sense of identity and belonging, and can handle stress better. As they learn about their ancestors they gain a better understanding of their world and the trials and celebrations that have come before them.

Elder Bradley D. Foster said "We want everyone to have that discovery experience, because that is what changes their hearts."

So, how do we get our families excited about family history? FamilySearch and The Family History Guide have provided a variety of activity videos to help us. FamilySearch's activities can be found at The list of activities on The Family History Guide can be found at These activities are designed to be age appropriate and suited to any size family, from the individual up to multiple generations. Families can do simple activities such as recording their ancestor's recipes at Or they can take on more complex projects such as recreating a part of an ancestor's life ( Check out the activities pages and see which ones are designed for your family.

I also attended the BYU Family History lunch. The presenter talked about the Family History program at BYU and some of the innovative projects the students are working on. These projects included the Tree Sweeper and Virtual Family Tree. Information about their projects can be found at They also discussed the Family History degree program and the conferences and webinars they produce.
Tear down of RootsTech 2019

My talk on the Tour of Online European Archives went well. I had good attendance considering the location of the classroom and it being the last class session of the conference. The audience had lots of questions about their favorite archives and seemed to be genuinely interested in the topic.

Now the crews are taking down the conference and getting ready for the next event. We will all have to wait another year for RootsTech 2020 which will be held on February 26-29. I hope to see my friends, both new and old, there next year.

Friday, March 1, 2019

RootsTech 2019 - Friday - 1 March

Crowds at RootsTech
Three days into RootsTech and I am still alive. There are so many things to do here that many genealogists are overwhelmed trying to learn everything we can in only 4 days. They have said there were 15,000 pre-registered attendees for the conference. Saturday is Discovery Day and the crowds are expected to increase by several thousand more.

Today was my day to focus on some German research classes. One class I attended focused on German Family Research in the Digital Age. This class was led by Dietmar Cziesla of FamilySearch and Andreas Hedwig from the Hessisches Landesarchiv. There were a couple major points presented concerning how Germans feel about the use of social media and sharing information. While 50-60% of Germans have Facebook accounts, they don't share information like Americans. They tend to use the WhatsApp app because they feel it is more private. This is evidenced by the fact that between 83% and 96% of Germans, depending on age group, have WhatsApp accounts. Also, Germans are not as likely to do DNA tests but Ancestry and MyHeritage are trying to increase the comfort level so more will provide DNA samples and more matches might become available in the next few years.

Currently there are 50 million German record images available online, 30 million of those are from Hesse. The physical records in Germany are held in 65 different archives and consist of over 1,000 miles of shelves. One collection that was mentioned was the War Maps collection. I found it interesting that this collection contained detailed maps of the east coast of the US. The oldest records in the German archives date back to the 8th century and church parish records start in the 14th century. The partnership between FamilySearch and the Hessisches Landesarchiv has resulted in 11 million digital record images being put online. They are now working on hand writing recognition applications and expect surname indexes to be available within the next couple years. Place searches are already available for these records. One great resource in the German archives is the website Check it out to see the number of collections already available. Additionally, FamilySearch has five digital camera crews currently working in Germany to digitize new records and they have a partnership with Ancestry to index the German Lutheran Church records.

MyHeritage DNA AutoCluster
MyHeritage talked about some of their new DNA tools - AutoClusters and the Family Theory of Relativity. Both of these will make DNA relative discoveries much more efficient. The AutoClusters organizes shared DNA matches into clusters of related individuals. Each cluster likely has a common shared ancestor. Once you find a cluster (a block of similar colored boxes), you can begin to determine how that group is related.

MyHeritage's other new DNA tool, the Family Theory of Relativity, uses data from various sources including family trees from MyHeritage, FamilySearch and Geni, along with records such as censuses, and DNA matches to build an estimated family tree which shows how you may be related to a DNA match. All that is required to develop a theory is for both individuals to have a family tree on MyHeritage with at least 1 person in the tree connected to the DNA sample. Users are expected to review these matches and provide feedback as to the accuracy of the estimates.

MyHeritage also announced an extension to their DNA Quest program which was started at RootsTech last year. That program contributed 15,000 DNA kits to adoptees and provided support to find their biological families. This year, they will provide an additional 5,000 kits. The program starts today and runs through April 30. Adoptees can register for the program at

I hope you have enjoyed reading my posts about what is happening at RootsTech. I will be speaking tomorrow so I don't know how many classes I will be attending. So, I'll say goodnight for now. 

RootsTech 2019 - Thursday - 28 February

Are these your ancestors?
Hi there, day two of RootsTech is now over. It was another busy day and I am going on only 4 hours sleep (time change problem). So, what happened today? I spent more time in the Expo Hall today talking to vendors and seeing what new things were available. I also ran into these guys in the picture. I wonder if they are related to me?

My first class was New FamilySearch Record Innovations. This class discussed how records will be changing over the coming years. One thing they discussed was indexing. Last year there were 260 million records indexed by 327,696 indexers. In 2019, researchers will be able to thank the indexers for the records they worked on. Each indexed record will be linked to the indexers and arbitrator that worked on that record and there will be a Thank You button which the researcher can click to send a message to the indexers and arbitrator. This will probably be released sometime around July/August. Also, later this year, indexers will be able to take advantage of automatic name and place lookups. Names and place names will automatically be filled in as the indexer types the information for the record. This is currently in final testing. Additionally, there will be new ways to volunteer so that more indexers will be available to handle the increased number of digitized records. If you remember from my post yesterday, we are currently 40 years behind in indexing and each year enough new records are digitized to add another decade to the backlog. That means by the end of 2020 we will have a 60 year backlog of digitized images needing to be indexed. Another new item is that users will be able to edit records in the record details screen of the search results. This will start with being able to correct errors in names but will eventually expand to include places and other fields.

And what about all those unindexed records? There are currently 3.65 billion images available on FamilySearch. 1.36 billion of those images are browse only while 915.4 million of them are in the Family History Catalog. Only about 20% of the total number of images are indexed and that percentage is decreasing every year as new records are added. Currently it takes an average of 249 days for an image to go from digitization to being published on the FamilySearch website. Soon that time lag will be decreased to only 24 hours. Imagine that the images are scanned one day and available online the next day.

Explore Historical Images beta site
FamilySearch is now beta testing the Explore Historical Images function. This page allows you to search by place, date, event or film number and will provide a list of images not yet searchable or browseable through the regular FamilySearch website. As an example, I took the screenshot of the results for Auglaize County, Ohio. There ended up being 93 record sets for this area that are not yet available on FamilySearch but I can see them here and search through the tens of thousands of new images.

Additionally, FamilySearch again reiterated their work with computer aided indexing. The computers aren't as accurate as human indexers but they can more quickly index large numbers of typed records. The example of the GenealogyBank Obituary Collection only taking 3 weeks to provide 50 million indexed records was discussed and they also announced plans to add another 38 million more records very soon.

Ancestry Labs beta projects
The General Session featured and some of their big news. Ancestry announced that they currently have more than 15 million people in their DNA network and they announced the release of DNA ThruLines in beta this week. This is another way to look at your DNA results and see connections between people. They also announced MyTreeTags which allows users to tag information to highlight details or tag for future research. These products can be accessed at Ancestry also announced several new expansion areas including 12 new state vital record collections, expanded US immigration/naturalization collections, expanded US WW II draft card collection, the world's largest obituary collection (, global expansion by adding more records for Denmark, France, Finland, Mexico and Norway, and 94 new African American DNA Communities.

Patricia Heaton, from Everybody Loves Raymond, finished off the General Session by talking about her family and the stories around them.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
I attended the Ancestry sponsored lunch where Henry Louis Gates, Jr. spoke about a short film project called Railroad Ties. Railroad Ties was based on the story of the underground railroad and more specifically the escape of Mary Weems from slavery. The story revolved around 6 strangers and how genealogy research was able to connect them all to this event. If you want to see the story you can go to

I thought Henry Louis Gates, Jr. made some very profound statements during this discussion.  He said "One of the biggest misconceptions today is the idea of racial purity." The average African American is 25% European. He himself is 50% European based on his DNA. Even European Americans are mixed ethnicity, having portions of their DNA represented in several different countries. He also said "We are all united in our amnesia of our ancestors." At one time he thought the lack of knowledge of ones ancestors was specific to African Americans. He believed that they didn't know about their ancestors because of the impact of slavery but after researching the genealogies of various people for his TV shows, he realized that we all have a lack of knowledge that basically begins with our great grandparents lives. We have very little concept of who our ancestors were beginning only 3 generations ago. He believes that "Genealogy can revolutionize how we teach American and World History." If we realized how our ancestors were involved in history or affected by it, we would have a greater appreciation for the history that we study in schools.

As always, there was so much to learn today that I can't provide everything in just one blog. If you want to see some of the talks that were given this week, you can visit the RootsTech YouTube page at I hope this information is helpful to you. Now, it is time for me to get some sleep because tomorrow is another packed day.  Goodnight!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

RootsTech 2019 - Wednesday - 27 February

Crowds gathering for the first day of RootsTech 2019

Wow! Day one done at RootsTech 2019. Another great day of genealogy and networking down and the crews and volunteers have been doing a wonderful job keeping everything going. So, what did I learn today and how will it affect your genealogy research in the future?

First of all, I attended the Access and Preservation sessions this morning. These sessions were developed to help archivists learn more about what various archives are doing to make their records more available and useful to the public. David Carmichael, archivist for Pennsylvania, commented that archivists know what they do but many don't know why they do it. They need to talk more with the users to see how the materials they have in their archives are being used and hear the stories those records provide, not just know that they have so many linear feet of records on a particular subject. Mr. Carmichael also discussed the different problems they experience with storing digital records versus the physical records. Many archives have records that are several hundred years old but often have difficulty maintaining digital records in a usable format over the period of a few decades. Back in the 1980's his archive scanned many of their collections in a digital format developed by IBM but that format is no longer supported. Luckily they had maintained their physical collections and could scan them in a more modern format. Now they store their records in PDF-A format which is an archival pdf format and should last for the foreseeable future. Another problem they have today is that many modern records have never had a physical presence. These records, such as e-mails and digital photography, have only been digital. Several positive features of digital archives is that they can be monetized and there are companies that are producing digital records for the marketplace at a rapid pace. Additionally, digital records allow cooperative efforts and virtual communities to develop. Groups of people can get involved by providing and indexing collections that might not have been available otherwise.

Joe Price of the BYU Linking Lab discussed several projects his students are working on. One project is working with computer AI to learn handwriting recognition. The billions of digital records that are currently available can be compared with what humans have indexed so the computers can begin to learn to recognize the handwriting patterns. Another project is using these large record databases to begin statistical analysis of communities or groups of people for scientific studies. This moves the records that we think of as genealogy records into a new realm of users which may provide us more insight into their lives. For example, they are taking the 1850-1940 census information and the computers are linking them together into a census tree to follow people and their migration patterns. This analysis can follow individual families across the range of census records and also link them to other records such as school yearbooks and directories to gather more information. They are now linking records from the major genealogy databases to build the stories of individuals. This helps to find people who are not yet in FamilySearch's Family Tree through Tree Extending Hints. One example of this is a webpage called the Social Networks and Archival Context (

The third talk in the Archives and Preservation series was from Kris Rcepzynski, archivist for Michigan. He talked about the website and how their partnership with FamilySearch has provided increased access to various Michigan records. This website is undergoing a major facelift and will re-emerge later this year as They are currently working on putting up county probate records as well as county naturalization records. They currently have naturalization records for 70 out of the 83 Michigan counties online.

During lunch I attended the FamilySearch talk. They discussed the three major problems they are experiencing.
1) My country's records are not a priority. - Priorities are being set by the number of requests they have gotten for various records. Some areas have very few requests and are therefore lower on the priority list.
2) There is a backlog for indexing records. - The current backlog is 40 years. By the end of 2019 the backlog will be 50 years and by the end of 2020 it will be 60 years. This is due to the large number of new records that are being digitized. We either need to find a way to increase the number of indexers from the 300,000 we currently have or find a new way to index records.
3) We aren't getting records fast enough to avoid loss. - Every year more records are lost due to various reasons. There just aren't enough crews out there indexing these at risk documents to avoid losing some.

So, what is FamilySearch doing to address these problems? Imagine is everyone, from individuals to public archives, had the ability to upload any documents they have and those records could be processed, indexed and published all within 24 hours. That would provide unlimited record access and allow communities to work together to preserve their own sets of records. This is happening in several test areas now. Another advancement is the ability of computers to perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of not just typed documents but also handwritten ones. Last year in a test of the computer's abilities they were able to OCR 50 million obituaries in only 3 weeks. This is now the GenealogyBank Obituary Collection we find on FamilySearch. They were able to use the Amazon servers to perform this task in record time. Now FamilySearch users are able to go in and fix indexing errors from this test. They are also working on a new image search process where the computer will estimate where a record should be in an unindexed collection of digital images based on the information you put in the search process. This will save countless hours of searching image after image trying to find your ancestor. Once you find the proper record you can attach it to the person as a source and index it right there.

Martin Luther King III speaking live at RootsTech
In other news, tonight Elder David A. Bednar announced a $2 million contribution to the International African American Museum. This money will be used to construct the Center for Family History which will be part of the museum in Charleston, South Carolina. The Church and FamilySearch have been major partners in the development of this museum and will continue to support its mission of providing a source of education about the period of slavery and life after slavery. Martin Luther King III also spoke about the importance of everyone, but especially African Americans, being able to discover their roots.

Devon Noel Lee interviewing me at RootsTech
FindMyPast announced several big items. One is that the Catholic records from the Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia and Liverpool Diocese are now available on their site. They also discussed their acquisition of RootsFinder and their partnership with Living DNA. These partnerships, along with their exclusive rights to the digital UK 1951 Census collection make it one of the best sites for researching your English and Irish ancestors.

What else happened? Well, I was interviewed by Devon Noel Lee for her Family History Fanatics YouTube channel. We discussed doing research in the European archives. I also manned a table with several of my fellow members of the Second Life Virtual Genealogical Society. We were talking about the benefits of becoming a member of SLVGS to people who came by. All in all, it was a very productive day and I learned some new things about the genealogy world. But now it is time to get ready for some sleep so I can do this all again tomorrow. Good night all.

SLVGS crew manning a table at RootsTech

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

RootsTech 2019 - Tuesday - 26 February

Do you know what RootsTech is? Have you attended a RootsTech Conference in the past? RootsTech is the largest genealogy conference in the world, held in Salt Lake City, the mecca for genealogy. They are expecting over 14,000 people per day to attend. The conference runs for four days, from Wednesday, February 27 until Saturday, March 2 and today was the day of preparations for many of us.

View flying over the Rocky Mountains
So, what was today like? Well, for me it consisted of flying from Orlando to Salt Lake City. I left my home at 4am, boarded my flight in Orlando and spent the next 4 1/2 hours in the air. The flight was great, there was almost no turbulence, and we even arrived 25 minutes early.

Once I arrived, I boarded the UTA Trax which is a train line that runs throughout the city and to adjacent communities. This is one of the best metro lines I have used. It was less than a 10 minute ride from the airport right to my hotel.

After checking into the Plaza Hotel, I went across the road to the Salt Palace, where the conference will be held. They had early registration this year and it was seamless for me. I already had my name card which was sent to me earlier so all I had to do was pick up my bag, lanyard and speaker badge.

After registering, I decided to check out the room that I will be speaking at this year. My presentation is in room 155E at 3:00 on Saturday. That happens to be the last presentation session of the conference. I was surprised at the size of the rooms this year. They seem to be quite a bit larger than in previous years.

Room 155E where I will be speaking.
I walked around the Salt Palace for at least a half hour reacquainting myself with the layout and quickest route between classes. You need to know the layout so you can get to your preferred class. If you get lost you might miss out on that one class you really wanted to take.

One of the things many of us do at RootsTech is network. I had a meet-up planned for lunch for some of the members of the Second Life Genealogical Society. I am the current President of the organization and this is the only chance we get to bring us together and talk about our research. It was great getting back with some of them and meeting some for the first time in real life.

Julianne Trotter (FamilySearch) and me discussing indexing.
I also had an opportunity to meet up with Julianne Trotter from FamilySearch. She was one of the leads for the Zoning project that ran for awhile during 2017-2018. Zoning was a process where indexers selected newspaper articles related to birth, marriage and death events so they could be indexed later. We discussed where the project is now and also how to increase public interest in indexing more records. I mentioned one of the projects that I have been doing for several months which I call Genealogy on the Street. Each month I have been attending a local street market and setting up a genealogy booth where we do genealogy research for random people who come around. This has been a great success and has brought many new people into our Family History Center. I think we had a good discussion and it has made me think more seriously about some of the outreach plans I have been considering for the last couple years.

Now it is time to begin to relax, get things ready for tomorrow, and make sure I know which classes I want to attend. There will be a lot to do over the next couple days and I hope to be able to provide my readers with some insight on this conference and some helpful tips for their research.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

German Immigration Records

I have decided to post a series of articles concerning German genealogy research and this one will be the second. I hope these articles will help those of us who have German roots.

Many times when we are just beginning our research we set a goal of finding our immigrant ancestors. Why is that? For some of us, that seems like a start to our story as Americans - the typical immigrant story of desperation, coming to the land of promise and making a name for ourselves. For others, we want to see how long our families have been in the country and if we qualify for membership in a lineage society. My wife has several waves of early immigrants including Jamestown and the Pilgrims as well as some more recent immigrants. She has nearly a dozen direct ancestors who were Patriots in the Revolutionary War. For me, on the other hand, all of my ancestors arrived during the mid 1800s during one of the mass immigration waves from Germany.

If you are of German descent, your ancestors probably came to the country during one of the major German influxes. The first significant influx of German immigrants was in the 1680s and they settled in New York and Pennsylvania. This group consisted of the Quakers and Mennonites who were seeking religious freedom. Many of them originated from the Lower Rhine region of Germany.

The second group were the members of the Palatine migration in 1709. This migration consisted of about 15,000 immigrants from the Palatine region located in southwestern Germany. These people primarily settled in New York and North Carolina. These immigrants cited poverty as their primary reason for leaving Germany.

Another large influx of German immigrants occurred between 1728 and 1820. About half of these immigrants were known as "redemptioners", poor Germans who came to America as indentured servants.

Distribution of Germans - 1872
One of the largest waves of German immigrants occurred between the 1830s and 1880s. This is when  my ancestors arrived. Between 25% and 37% of all immigrants each year were from Germany. This major influx can be divided into two groups. First, between the 1830s and 1860s, the majority of immigrants came from Hessen-Darmstadt, Hessen-Kassel, Westphalia, Hannover, and Oldenburg. The second group, between the 1870s and 1880s, were generally from Mecklenberg and the Prussian provinces of East and West Prussia, Pomerania, Posen, and Brandenberg. These immigrants tended to be farmers destined for the Midwest states, arriving in cities live Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. They were fleeing the political upheavals and revolutions which were occurring in Western Europe.

The first step in discovering your German immigrants is probably to trace them in the US census records. This is generally fairly easy since the more recent census records (post 1850) have information such as the place of birth of the individual, place of birth of their parents, and some indication of immigration status and/or year.

Once you determine which influx of immigrants your ancestors belonged to, you can begin to figure out which port of entry they may have used. For example, they could have come in through one of the major ports of entry such as New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Galveston or New Orleans. New York had two ports of arrival, the most recent being Ellis Island (1892-1954) but prior to that it was Castle Garden (1820-1892). Each of these ports have a website that you can search for your immigrants in: Ellis Island - Castle Garden. Records for the Port of Philadelphia are available for the period 1800-1945.  Port of Baltimore records are available for 1820-1948. Galveston has records from 1846-1948. New Orleans records are available for 1800-1945. Many German immigrants who settled in St. Louis of Cincinnati came in through New Orleans and then took river boats, or other modes of transportation, up the Mississippi River.

Once you have found the port of entry you will be able to find the ship's passenger list. Sometimes these are just lists of the names and ages of the passengers but other times they are a wealth of information. You could find the nationality or place of birth of the immigrant, the date of departure and arrival, port of departure and arrival, age, height, profession, last place of residence, name and address of relative they are joining in the US, and the amount of money or number of trunks they are bringing to the country.

Example of a ship's passenger list with excellent information.

Hopefully you are able to find a passenger list like the one above. This one has the name of the immigrant, age, sex, occupation, nationality, city of last residence, name and address of relative in Germany, and destination, along with the ship's name, port of departure and date. You can see that Emil Augenstein was born in Ellmendingen, Germany and that he still had family living there.

Most German immigrants left from one of four major ports; Hamburg, Bremen, Antwerp, or Le Havre, France. Between 1850 and 1891, 41% of German immigrants left through the port of Bremen, 30% via Hamburg, 16% from Le Havre, and 8% from Antwerp.

A complete collection of Hamburg passengers from 1850 to 1934 can be found on FamilySearch and Ancestry. The FamilySearch records must be searched at your local Family History Center due to contract requirements.

Unfortunately, all of the Bremen records from 1875 to 1908 were destroyed because of lack of storage space. Additionally, most of the records from 1920 to 1939 were destroyed during WW II. FamilySearch does have a searchable index of Bremen passenger lists from 1907-1908 and 1913-1914. The Staats Archiv Bremen also has a database of ships and passengers which contains the surviving records from 1904-1914 and 1920-1939. To use this database you need to know the name of the ship and its departure date which can be found in US immigration records. If you can find the person's name in the FamilySearch index you will then know the name of the ship and its departure date and can look up the passenger list from that voyage.

Obituary for Theresa Terling Wise
Most immigrants from southern Germany left from Le Havre but their records are incomplete and consist mainly of passengers on commercial cargo vessels between 1750 and 1886. The Groupement Genealogique du Havre et de Seine-Maritime has placed a partial list of 45,000 passengers, 25,000 sailors, and others who departed from Le Havre between 1780 and 1840 online. You can search to see if your surname is included in the list but you have to pay to see the records.

How else might you find where in Germany your ancestor was born?  You could try to locate an obituary for your ancestor. The obituary pictured here tells me that Theresa Terling, my great-great grandmother was born on January 26, 1839 in Glandorf, Germany.

Another set of records that can be helpful for finding German immigrants are the WW I Enemy Alien Registration Affidavits. These records were required for all non-naturalized "enemy aliens" during WW I. That means that if your German ancestor had not become a naturalized citizen of the United States prior to the beginning of the war he had to register. These records include a wealth of information including name(s), current and previous addresses, length of residency, birth date and place, employer, immigration date and port of arrival, and parent's names.

WW I Enemy Alien Registration

For more ideas on where to find German records check out the German Roots website.

Good luck and I hope you can find your German ancestors.