Wednesday, January 15, 2020

What’s New In FamilySearch 2019-2020

Did you know that FamilySearch International, formerly known as the Genealogical Society of Utah, celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2019 and that the FamilySearch website is now 20 years old? It seems like just yesterday (1999) when first opened its website to fanfare and a rush of users and then promptly crashed due to the unexpected stampede of enthusiastic genealogists. During all those years, FamilySearch has been an innovator and leader in the genealogy world, transforming the way we do family history research while providing access to billions of records.

So, what happened in 2019? First of all, the number of registered users for the FamilySearch website grew by over 2 million from 11.8 million in 2018, to 13.9 million in 2019. Those users contributed 72 million new individuals and 262.5 million sources to the Family Tree. In addition to that, the users contributed more than 8.75 million photos, stories, documents, and recordings from their own collections to the Memories in Family Tree. FamilySearch also did its part by adding more than 123 million name-searchable records and another 832.5 million new record images to their collection. All of these sources and records help to build and prove the relationships between people and contribute to “The Story of You”, the theme for RootsTech 2020, through encouraging people to discover who they are by bridging the gap between the past and future.  

Beyond just adding records, FamilySearch also provided some upgrades and improvements to their website. One of these additions was the long awaited ability to edit indexed names for some records. This allowed the users to correct indexing errors as well as errors in original documents by editing the names. Future improvements in editing, expected in 2020, will allow for dates and places to be editable.

There were also some additions to the ways families are presented in the Family Tree. Now, same sex marriages can be added as well as indicating “no marriage” and “no children” events between couples. These will help reduce the number of notifications and research tips users receive.

We are all grateful for the work done by others, whether that be indexers or fellow researchers, to help build our family trees. Now, we are able to express our thanks. When viewing the indexed information for a record you will see a box in the lower left indicating that the record was indexed by a volunteer. You can then click on “Thank the volunteer” and send them a short message. Also, occasionally, you may see a popup which informs you of the top contributors in your family line and provides a way to thank them for their work.

Another new feature is the ability to see how you are related to a contributor. Many times we get messages from other users asking how we are related to the family. Now they can just click on the contributors name and see that connection, if the contributor has their relationship indicator turned on. This can be found in your user profile, just click the box to turn it on.

Also, new advancements in computer learning are pushing the boundaries of technology. BYU Linking Labs is working on several huge projects. One is the Community Reconstitution Project. This project works to reconstitute communities (groups of people, populations of towns or counties, etc.) by pulling names from record sets. Another is the Census Tree Project. They presented this project at RootsTech 2019. The project links the 188 million people that lived in the US between 1900 and 1940 across the census records. In my opinion, the most amazing project they are working on currently is the Automated Indexing Project. This project provides the technology necessary to automatically index records, including handwritten records. They recently completed indexing the 122 million people in the 1930 US Census and are also working on the 1940 US Census and Ohio death records. Volunteers can help teach the AI computers by using the app located at

These are just a few of the many updates in FamilySearch during 2019 but what can we expect in 2020? Well, we should see improvements in the merging features. Some of us have already seen this improvements as it was tested with random users last fall. There will be new ways for us to manage and share our Memories. We will be able to better track our contributions to the Family Tree, and there will be an increase in our ability to find new records. The Explore Images tool will open up new digitized records within days of the records being collected. 2020 will be another groundbreaking year in family history research at FamilySearch.

To read more details about these improvements visit the following pages:

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Researching My Hometown Ancestors

It is nearly Christmas and winter still hasn't arrived for us. We had two weeks where the temperatures got down into the 50s and 60s but this week it has been in the mid to upper 70s again with frequent rain showers. It is hard for us here in Florida to realize that many parts of the rest of the country are having winter storm advisories. With weather like that we really don't get forced into staying indoors for days to do our family history research but when I do get a good chance to research, I want to make sure I am getting the most out of my time. So, here are some suggestions on making sure you are focusing on sources with the potential for high returns.

Map of Ohio where my research is focused.
I am one of those lucky people who don't have far flung ancestors to research. My research focuses on a very small area of Ohio consisting of parts of four counties; Auglaize, Darke, Mercer and Shelby. And within those four counties it is mainly within the four corners area as shown in the red square on the map.

First of all, I want to discuss the general process of finding the sources for your locations. This step, developing a locality guide, can help you learn more about the area you are researching and help you find the important resources that you need to be successful. The FamilyLocket blog and podcast have some great tips on creating locality guides. They have three podcasts on this specific topic: RLP 4, RLP 5, and RLP 18.

Where are some good places to begin developing your locality guide? First, I would suggest using the FamilySearch Wiki. If you aren't familiar with the FamilySearch Wiki, it is "a free, online genealogical guide created and maintained by FamilySearch. It contains links to genealogy databases, websites, other resources, research strategies, and genealogical guidance to assist in the search for your ancestors. Articles included are locality pages for countries around the world and topic pages that include pertinent genealogy record types explaining how to use the record, what it contains, and how to find it." The Wiki is developed and edited by teams of users, much like Wikipedia, who are familiar with the research topic and want to help provide the resources necessary for you to have successful discoveries. The Wiki can be searched by genealogy topic as well as locality. Since the topics are developed by volunteers, some sections may be more complete than others. For example, in my research of Auglaize, Darke, Mercer and Shelby counties in Ohio, I would look up each county in the Wiki to see what information is readily available: Auglaize, Darke, Mercer, Shelby.

Another website that I would use to help develop my locality guide is The Family History Guide. The Family History Guide is generally seen as a tutorial for learning how to use the big four genealogy sites (FamilySearch, Ancestry, FindMyPast, and MyHeritage) but it is also a great resource for finding locality information to help research your ancestors. To find the location information, click on Countries in the menu bar at the top of the Family History Guide web page and select the country you want to research. In my case I selected United States. Once on the US page, I selected Ohio from the list of states under the title bar and before the general lessons on US Records and Searches. On the Ohio page there are a series of general lessons to help you understand researching the state and there is a list of county resources at the bottom of the page. This list has the name of each county and a series of letters (for example, Auglaize A L G U). Clicking on the county name will take you to the FamilySearch Wiki page for that county. Clicking the A links you to the Ancestry card catalog for that location, L goes to the Linkpendium list for that location, G goes to Genealogy Inc's list for the location, and U goes to the USGenWeb page for the location. Each of these sites may provide you additional resources to add to your locality guide.

Google is another source for your research. Make sure you do a thorough search on Google and its various sites. Searching Google can help you find the local historical societies, libraries and museums which may have resources of information that can assist you. The search can also link you with others researching the same families and locations. Searching Google Books can provide county histories and other resources that can help build the historical context for your research. For example, I was able to find a book titled "History of Western Ohio and Auglaize County with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Pioneers and Prominent Public Men" published in 1905. These county histories can provide excellent hints for your research.

Newspapers are also an important resource when researching a particular location. I was lucky enough to have several of my local newspapers already online for free. One of my favorite free sites to look up newspapers is Ancestor Hunt. They have a general page about using newspapers for your research and a more specific page for finding resources by state. For Ohio, they have links to several hundred newspapers around the state in various collections. Two of my most used newspaper resources are the Community History Archive of the Coldwater Public Library and the Minster Historical Society's Newspaper Collection. These collections have more than 100 years worth of local newspapers for the Auglaize County area available online. You might also have luck finding local newspapers on the Library of Congress' Chronicling America site. Other locations to look for newspapers are University collections. For example, Bowling Green State University has their collection of newspapers here.

I also suggest that you look at maps for your area as you are researching. Historic maps will show boundary changes and potentially towns that no longer exist. Plat maps will show land ownership changes over time. Current maps will help provide current landmarks for you to use during your research. One of my favorite mapping sites is Historic Map Works. They provide a variety of old maps including plat maps and gazetteers.  Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps can provide details about buildings in an area. These maps show the footprint, construction materials, and floor plans of various building. Examples of these maps can be found in the Library of Congress map collections.

I hope these links will help you develop your locality guide and set you on the way to successful researching. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Color the World - Comparing Various Colorizing Web Sites

My puppy, Tyrion, stealing my chair
It has been a bit over a month since my last blog post. Back in October I was in London speaking at RootsTech and doing some sight seeing with my wife. We had a great time visiting her ancestral homeland and even got to see where one of her ancestors was buried at the Tower of London and another in Westminster Abbey. Since then I have been pretty busy. Our new puppy is very demanding and every time I sit down at the computer he begins to cry, so I haven't had much opportunity to write lately. My wife named him Tyrion after her favorite character in Game of Thrones.

But, I finally have a chance to write a short blog post so I decided to provide some input on the current interest on colorizing old photographs. I wanted to compare three of the leading colorization websites - Algorithmia, Colourise, and DeepAI. I had written a blog post about Algorithmia back on July 26, 2016, but decided to do this updated comparison now that there are competing sites out there.

All three of these sites are one step colorizing pages. All you have to do is upload the photo and hit the button to colorize the photo. I will show you the images from each site so you can compare them yourselves.

The first set of images is a photograph of a little girl's First Communion. The original was a sepia toned photo and I have no idea as to the color of the actual items.

This photo was colorized at Algorithmia. The photo seems to be a bit overly pink in the skin tones in the face but almost grey for the hands. The piece of furniture that she is leaning on has a deep wood tone while the floor is an odd brown color with blue tinges. The background appears to be a vibrant blue sky with clouds and trees. The vine drapped over her has a blueish tint.

This photo was colorized at Colourise. The photo seems to be overly green and the skin tones are a bit muted. The piece of furniture in this photo seems to be made of metal with heavy steel colors or could be a darkly stained wood. The floor is grey and could easily be interpreted as concrete. The background here looks almost abstract with little discernible image compared to the other two images. The vine draped over her has a green tint and looks like leaves.

This photo was colorized at DeepAI. The piece of furniture appears to be wood at the top and then transitions into a darker color toward the bottom. The background in this photo has good colors but the blues are a bit muted compared to the one from Algorithma. The skin color is good but appears to fade off along the edges. The vine draped over her appears to have some red flowers with the green leaves.

This is the original photo of the Stueve family from Ohio. Hopefully we will see various colors in each set of clothes and have nice green grass when it is colorized.

This photo was colorized at Algorithmia. The grass looks fine but the other parts of the photo are not correct. Most of the skin tones are grey. The clothes tend to remain black or grey with red tones randomly placed.

This photo was colorized at Colourise. It is much more vibrant than the one done at Algorithmia. The skin tones look more natural but there are some random red spots around the chins of the men on either end.

This photo was colorized at DeepAI. The colors here are similar to those provided at Colourise but the random red spots are gone. 

This is the original photo of Jim Botkins. It is a nice sepia head shot.

This photo was colorized at Algorithmia. It has a blue tone to the image background which is also present in the image from DeepAI but not from Colourise.

This photo was colorized at Colourise. This photo seems to have a lot of darker tones around the face and the hair isn't as blonde as I would expect.

This photo was colorized at DeepAI. This image has a more consistent blue tone to the background and the hair and eye color look more natural compared to the other photos.

As you can see, the results of colorization depends greatly on which application you use. Also, Algorithmia adds a mark on each photo with their website. The other sites do not add a visible mark on your photos. Overall, I liked the results from DeepAI the most, followed by Colourise, and then Algorithmia last.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

RootsTech London 2019 - Day 3 - October 26, 2019

Day three of RootsTech London is over and everyone is getting ready to head home but it was a great three days of genealogy. Yesterday I spent my day attending German classes. Today I attended FamilySearch classes.

The first class I attended was FamilySearch's Helpful Hidden Tools by Darris Williams. He discussed some of the things many of us might overlook while using FamilySearch. One of the things he talked about was the map of England Jurisdictions in 1851. This map shows county, parish, civil registration, diocese and many other boundaries of England at that time. This map can be found at This is a great tool for those who are researching English ancestors. He also pointed out that there are many genealogies on FamilySearch including the IGI which can provide important hints. They are also beginning to add Affiliate Library pages to the FamilySearch Wiki. If you know of an affiliate library let them know that they can build their own page. Instructions can be found at Did you know that there are now over 97,000 pages in the Wiki? Those pages are important resources that can help you discover how to research an area or topic. Then there is the Guided Research page which steps you through the process of your research. You go from page to page by selecting the appropriate response and at the end you should have a list of potential sites that will help you do the specific research. The Guided Research page begins at These are some great new tools that we should all try.

My wife and her 12th cousin, Donny Osmond
After that class we went to the main auditorium to watch Donny Osmond discuss his family history and perform a few of his hits. The women went wild! He is an incredible performer and his stories were inspiring.

The second presentation I attended was What is FamilySearch? by David Rencher. David provided some good information on the history of FamilySearch, from its beginnings as the Genealogical Society of Utah back in 1894 to the international presence of FamilySearch today. They started indexing in 1927, microfilming records in 1938, and opened the Granite Mountain Vault in 1963. In 1998, they began using digital cameras to record new records, with over 300 cameras in the field. In 2004 they began digitizing more than 2.4 million microfilm rolls and in 2007 they put the first digital collections online. The first version of FamilySearch was released online in 1999 and the current iteration was released in 2013. So what can we now find online at FamilySearch? They now have over 7.4 billion searchable names and over 3.1 billion images, along with over 423,000 digital books.

The third class that I attended was Use an Ancestor's FAN Club to Get Past Brick Walls by Drew Smith, one of the Genealogy Guys. He provided several examples of how expanding your research to the Family, Associates and Neighbors (FAN) can increase your chances for success in researching elusive ancestors.

My wife and I talking to Dan Debenham
We also spent some time in the Expo Hall today. We were able to talk to Dan Debenham from BYU TV's Relative Race. We had a great conversation about the production of Relative Race.

The final event of the night was a fireside with Elder Bednar and his wife talking about family history.

Overall, this was another successful RootsTech prepared by FamilySearch. I am looking forward to the 10th anniversary of RootsTech Salt Lake in 2020.

Friday, October 25, 2019

RootsTech London 2019 - Day 2 - October 25, 2019

Day 2 of RootsTech London is over. It was another great day. I spent most of the day attending classes on German research.

The first talk I attended was Sources and Structures for Successful Genealogical Research in Germany by Dirk Weissleder. This presentation covered primary sources such as church and state registers. Civil registrations in Germany didn't start until 1874. Prior to that church registers are the primary source of information for German researchers. In the lack of primary sources many researchers have to rely on secondary sources such as tax lists, court documents, address and telephone directories, and town or village chronicles. Other sources of information can include Ortsfamilienbuecher (village family books), and Leichenpredigten (Protestant) and Totenzettel (Catholic) which include funeral cards and funeral mass records. More records are going online at various sites including You might even get lucky searching the Familienkundliche Literaturdatanbank at

Marc Jarzebowski presented How to find German Church Records on the Internet. His talk focused on the two major sites for German church records - Archion for Protestant records, and Matricula for Catholic records. Archion has been able to digitize at least part of all but three of the regional churches in Germany. Bremen, Schaumburg-Lippe and the Reformed Church are not included in the Archion collection. Matricula, on the other hand, is not as complete for Germany, with only five diocese being partially represented in its collections. However, Matricula does cover additional countries including Austria, Poland, Serbia and Luxembourg. If you are lucky enough to find records on Matricula, you will not be able to download them. Another difference is that Archion is a subscription site while Matricula is free. As a note, church records found in the state archives are usually the duplicate records while those found on Archion and Matricula are the original records. These original records may include notes that are not present on the duplicates. If you find the duplicate records but can't find the record on these two sites, you will know which parish they came from and can request a copy of the original record from that parish.

Public Records in Germany in 19th Century - Standes- and Zivilstandsregister by Roland Geiger was also a very interesting talk. He went into detail about what information can be found in various record types. One of the interesting bits of information he mentioned was that civil marriages were required even if someone was married in a church. This resulted in two sets of records for the marriage which may have different dates for the marriage event. He also mentioned that civil records are not always held in the local town, they may be in nearby towns or regional archives. This could cause problems if you are trying to research in the local archives.

The last talk of the day was Getting Started with German Family History Research by Ursula Krause. Ursula is a Progenealogist with Ancestry. She provided a sponsored talk to discuss the resources available on Ancestry for German research. There were a couple things that she said all German researchers need to be aware of in their research. One was that the boundaries have changed over time, from independent cities and states to the consolidated Germany. Another thing that we need to be aware of is that religions might change in an area based on who was ruling. These changes may result in records being found somewhere other than where we expect to find them. We also need to be aware of name variations and how first names may be abbreviated. For example Freiderich may be abbreviated Fred. or Fr. or could be spelled Freiderik. Additionally, some records, such as passenger records from Bremen, were destroyed so it could be difficult to find some of the records we need in our research.

These presentations will help me to increase my success in researching my German ancestors. However, German records were only a portion of the presentations given today. There were many other topics including Irish, DNA, Italian, Chinese, Scottish and others on the schedule for today.

The keynote talks were by Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch; Tamsin Todd, CEO of FindMyPast; and Kadeena Cox, British Paralympian. Kadena talked about her mother's life growing up in Jamaica and immigration to England. Kadeena was a promising Olympian until her stroke at the age of 23. After her stroke she continued to train for the Olympics and then was diagnosed with MS. Now she competes in the Paralympics and will be participating in the Paralympics World Games in in Dubai in November.  Tamsin Todd spoke about a few new collections at FindMyPast including the 1921 UK Census, additions to the British Newspaper Archive, and tree-to-tree matching. The entertainment was provided by Tre Amici.

Tre Amici at RootsTech London.

Tomorrow is the final day of RootsTech London. I hope everyone has a great day and learned something new while they were here or watching the live broadcasts of classes.

RootsTech London 2019 - Day 1 - October 24, 2019

Ok, I know it has been a few months since my last post - actually it was my last day at RootsTech in Salt Lake City. But now I am in London for the first international RootsTech conference. I was even able to get my wife to come along for a vacation in London, sightseeing for several days before the conference started. We had a great time visiting her relatives buried in the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey.

Day one of RootsTech London was great. The RootsTech teams did a great job of organizing the event and everything went very smoothly. I presented my talk on exploring European archives online. It was well attended and I had a lot of people come up after the talk to ask questions.

So, what else did I do on the first day of RootsTech London? I attended great presentations, visited the Expo Hall and met up with old friends. I attended two classes on DNA, one by Angie Bush and the other by Diahan Southard. Angie Bush talked about some of the tools that can be used to assist your research using DNA. She talked about how you can triangulate common ancestors, use DNA Painter, and had an overview of the tools Ancestry has available. Diahan Southard discussed the various DNA tests and compared each company's products. She also talked about the differences in Y-DNA, Mt-DNA and Autosomal DNA and how they can be used to improve your research.

I also attended a class titled The Power of Big Data - Let's Build a Time Machine. This talk described how a consortium of organizations and universities are using data from historic records to create the world of the past. They are working on AI and other technologies to automatically assess records for specific information. More information on this project can be found on their website at The panel of presenters discussed several of the projects that they are currently working on. One project traced the political leaders of Venice by building their family trees and determining how heredity influenced the potential for being elected to offices in the Venice government. Another project they discussed was a population study for a community in southern Spain. This project can be found at There were several other projects including a 4-D urban history explorer. This program searches for online pictures which it then situates in perspective with the landscape. This allows you to "walk" through a model of the town, looking at the images to see the details of the buildings. This project can be found at There are many other projects being developed within the Time Machine consortium. Take a look and explore the future of historic big data.

The last class that I attended was one sponsored by the British Museum talking about their digitization projects. They are working with a variety of partners to digitize historical records and make the accessible to the public. They currently have a web archive storing over 500 terabytes of information. Their collections can be found at The British Library Labs ( is working on a variety of projects including optical character recognition for their Qatar Digital Library and Bengal Collections. Both of these projects use manuscripts with foreign script which has been more difficult to transcribe using computer learning but they are making great strides in making these documents accessible to all. Another project they are working on is an assessment of how the Industrial Age impacted people's lives in Britain. This project is looking for volunteers to help them prepare the documents ( Another project that they are looking for volunteers to help with is the transcription of historic playbills. This project can be found at

There are so many new initiatives working to make the historical data available to us today. I can't wait until these projects are complete and we can explore the world of our ancestors in a more immersive way.

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.