Friday, March 30, 2018

Thinking Outside the Box

I have been somewhat busy with conferences and speaking engagements lately. As you all read in my previous posts, I was in Salt Lake City for a week earlier this month attending Roots Tech 2018. The week after that I did a presentation for our local German Genealogy Interest Group and a couple hour talk for the Treasure Coast Genealogical Society then went up to Jacksonville for three talks at the North Florida Genealogy Conference. The next week I did a radio spot where I talked about genealogy research and had a presentation at the Martin County Genealogical Society and did a two hour program for our Stake Family History Consultants. So now I am getting ready for the Indian River Genealogy Conference coming up on April 14th where I have three more talks and am the conference coordinator. 

One of the talks I have been giving lately is called Thinking Outside the Box. This talk discusses websites that some may not have considered. The following post is a shorter version of that talk, explaining how some of the sites I included have helped me with my research. I hope you enjoy it and find something useful to take with you.

We all tend to begin our genealogy research in similar ways by looking for names, dates and places. We gather family information, visit cemeteries where our ancestors are buried, look at the books in local libraries and search the major online databases. But limiting yourself to these sites may result in you missing out on some important clues and great stories. Thinking Outside the Box is all about finding those rare and little-known stories that may be stored in the corners and attic of the internet. The sites discussed here are the ones that you may not have considered in your genealogy research but just may turn out to be treasure troves of information.

To begin thinking outside the box, you need to consider what information may have been important in an individual’s life. Consider their career, land ownership, writings, travel, accomplishments, voting, and pictures. For example, I have a relative who was a veterinarian. I happened to find an article that he had written in a veterinary journal. My wife had a relative who ran a lumber company. We were able to find a picture of his company's steam locomotive that was used to transport the lumber. In this discussion, I will give you some hints on web sites that may help you find these little known treasures by thinking outside the box.

First of all, Google is your friend. Beyond the standard Google search engine, Google has many very specific search engines.
1.    Google Books ( is a great source for out of print and out of copyright books, especially regional histories. One example that I have found is the 10th reunion of the Princeton University class of 1895. This book had a short one page biography of one of my wife’s relatives. The biography included his wife and son’s name, date of marriage and birth date of son, and some details about his business ventures.
2.    Google Scholar ( is a search engine for professional, educational and government journals and documents. While researching a family name, I ran across an article from the Smithsonian Institute about the restoration of a 19th century English papier-mache chair. You may wonder how this could provide relevant genealogical information. Well, in one of the footnotes it discussed the invention of a new papier-mache technique developed by Charles Bielefeld, one of my wife’s relatives. The footnote referenced a London newspaper from August 1853 where a story of Mr. Bielefeld had run. The newspaper story described how his new technique was used to construct houses that could be shipped in pieces (early modular homes) from England to Australia. Builders were then able to use these modular pieces to construct a small town in just a matter of days.
3.    Google Patents ( searches the US Patent Office records. If any of your relatives submitted a patent, the record would be found there. I have discovered that several of my relatives, as well as my wife’s relatives, were inventors. One of them invented the insulation for the Arctic pipeline.
4.    Google Images ( searches a large collection of images from all over the internet. These images can be used to help tell the story of your ancestors. You can find images of places, events and even people that might be important to your research.
5.    Google Maps ( is a great tool that many of us probably use frequently to find directions. But did you know that you can actually add features to the map? You can add information, like addresses and dates from a census, to a Google Sheet and then import it as a map layer. I have used this to trace migration patterns of families. You can also see landmarks such as towns, cemeteries, churches, schools, rivers, mountains, etc., that might have influenced your ancestors’ lives. These maps can be used to place your ancestors in context with their surroundings.

Now that you have explored some of the Google world, we can move on to some other outside the box sites. Since we were talking about maps, let’s look at a few real estate sites. I use Zillow and Trulia quite often to research residences. Using the address from a given record, such as the census or city directory, you can search these real estate sites to see if the residence is still there. They often give you information like the year it was built and details about the floor plans. One example of this showed that my great-grandparent’s home in 1930 was built in 1925.

Have you ever gone to an auction and found some antique that intrigued you? You might have wondered what the story behind a photograph or painting might be or who was in that image. Internet auction sites provide a great opportunity to find old treasures. One of my favorite auction sites is eBay. There you can find old family bibles, photographs, books and other memorabilia. Some of it might even belong to your families. I have been able to find tokens for a bakery that my family had run as well as Westerheide Cigar boxes and other items. You can set up e-mail notifications by saving your searches. Our most prized discovery was found in an online second-hand store in Seattle, Washington. That was a painting on my wife’s 4th great-grandmother, Sarah Pullen Walters (1816-1896). Not only is it a great painting of her, but it also had some family history information written on the back.

Many states have Memory Projects. Florida’s is located at This site has a variety of records that you can search through. They have voting records, vehicle registration records, military service cards, and a huge collection of photographs and post cards. It was interesting to learn that a relative drove a Cadillac Touring Sedan in 1913, or that one served on the USS Wissoe during WW I. We have found photographs of a relative’s front porch and even a steam locomotive with their company name emblazoned on it. All of these small items provide just that much more to the story of their lives.

There are many more sites that you can discover beyond the standard sites when you start to think outside the box. But before I end, I want to recommend that everyone take a more detailed look at social media as a research tool. Facebook has thousands of genealogy related groups and pages. A document at lists nearly 12,000 Facebook groups related to genealogy and is about 400 pages long. This list is updated regularly so you should check it often. I have found these groups to be invaluable in discovering new research sources.

I hope some of these sites give you ideas on how to think outside the box as you research your family history.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

RootsTech 2018 - Synopsis

As I promised in my previous post, here is a highlight of the social life at RootsTech. By the way, it took me a couple days to recover from the exhaustion and jet lag. It is an exhausting week.

Many people attend RootsTech to catch up with old and new friends. Those friends may be personal friends from around the country or world, or they may be virtual friends from our social networks. This picture includes a personal friend, relatives she has found while researching, and a Facebook friend. We all managed to meet up at RootsTech.

RootsTech had an app which identified your relatives attending the conference. Many people discovered new relatives while they were at the conference. I, on the other hand, had no relatives attending.

Beyond finding friends, many attendees love the entertainment that is offered. These pictures are of the BYU Ballroom Dancers performing a tribute to "The Greatest Generation". The BYU Jazz Band performed the music. The audience of several thousand enjoyed the big band music and some even were dancing in the aisles.

Other entertainment included Natalia Lafourcade talking about her heritage and singing on stage, and talks by Scott Hamilton and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

MyHeritage sponsored an After RootsTech Party featuring a jazz band, lots of dancing, food and fun. We all appreciate the work MyHeritage puts into their events. It gives us an opportunity to wind down and network with our fellow researchers.

Many of the sponsoring groups have lunches during the week. The picture to the right was MyHeritage's Friends Breakfast the morning after their After Party. Many of us were very tired but it was a great breakfast and we got to talk to other researchers about our ideas.

And finally, the closing ceremony. We were at the Conference Center where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed with several Hispanic dance and music groups to celebrate the cultural heritage of our neighboring countries to the south.

By the way, what does it take to put on such a large conference? See the info graphic to the right for a general ides.

All-in-all RootsTech is not only a great place to learn research techniques but is also a social experience beyond compare. The days can be long, but the rewards are great. If you have never been to RootsTech I recommend that you add it to your bucket list.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

RootsTech 2018 - Day 4

Day 4, the final day of RootsTech 2018, was an incredible event. We started the day with a talk by Ken Chahine of Ancestry DNA. He talked about the progress that has been made in DNA and genetic genealogy since 2014. In 2014, they had 300,000 DNA samples in their database. Now they have over 7 million. Ancestry DNA has found 350 global DNA regions to provide users with more detail on their ethnicity.

After that, we were entertained by Natalie Lafourcade. She is an Hispanic singer who sang on Coco. Tomorrow night she is performing for the Oscars. She performed several songs and talked about her heritage. Ancestry presented her with their research on her ancestry. They traced one of her lines back to France. Her other line was from Chile. They found that several of her ancestors were musicians. The whole presentation brought many in the audience to tears.

Natalie Lafourcade

After Natalie sang we heard from Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He started the discussion by saying how the miniseries Roots inspired him to look at his ancestry. He talked about discovering his several great grandmother Jane Gates (1819-1888). The experience of his search then led him to develop several TV series including "Faces of America" and "Finding Your Roots". He is now working on a curriculum based on students doing their genealogy. Every child would complete a family tree and take a DNA test. The results of the tree and DNA test would help the students learn about different cultures, social sciences, biological sciences, math and other subjects. He has put this program to a test with a summer camp and series called "Finding Your Roots - The Seedlings".

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

I attended a talk by Jennifer Utley, from Ancestry. Her talk focused on how Ancestry researches several genealogy based TV shows, including "Who Do You Think You Are" and "Long Lost Family".  Each 42 minute episode of "Who Do You Think You Are" requires 1,000 hours of research.

The last talk I attended was Lisa Louise Cooke's "Reconstruct Your Ancestor's World with Google". This presentation focused on the Google toolbox (Google Search Engine, Google Books, Google Patents, Youtube, Google Earth, Google Images, and Google Scholar.) Once you have determined the basic facts of someone's life, you need to use these tools to fill in the gaps such as the life in the community, companies your ancestor may have worked for, what events occurred during their life, etc. She gave an example of one of her ancestors who repaired carriages and then went on to work on horseless carriages later in life. She was able to determine who he worked for and find some images of the company along with images of her ancestor. Lisa also discussed basic search techniques that help to focus your search.

There were many more presentations during the week than I have mentioned in my blog. I was only able to provide feedback on the few that I attended. I plan on providing one more post about RootsTech on Sunday or Monday, once I get back home. That post will focus on the social life of a RootsTech attendee. Stay tuned for some fun.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

RootsTech 2018 - Day 3

Day 3 of RootsTech started with Scott Hamilton, Olympic gold medalist, giving a key note talk on the challenges he has faced in his life and how his family supported him. He discussed being adopted, having several bouts with cancer, losing his mother to cancer, losing his father while he was away announcing an Olympics, being with his coach the day before he died, his marriage and two biological children, serving in Haiti in disaster relief, and adopting two Haitian children. After his talk, representatives from FamilySearch provided Scott with a history of his adopted family and some of the interesting stories associated with them. Later, he was informed that FamilySearch had researched his biological family and will be reuniting them later this week. It was an incredible story.


Additionally we heard from the producer of Relative Race, Dan Debenham. This is season 3 and their 90 minute premier will be airing this Sunday at 7:00 pm Mountain Time on BYUTV. You can watch it on if you don't have BYUTV on your provider. If you haven't heard of this show, I describe it as being similar to Amazing Race but their destinations are relatives they have not known. The challenge is that, as they cross the country, they are not allowed to use any technology other than old flip phones and paper maps. In the past, they have reunited adoptees with their biological family members, found long lost relatives, and introduced contestants to unknown relatives. They had a Q&A session with two of the teams, Red and Green. If you are interested in being a team on future seasons you can apply at During the Q&A session we were told there would be a significant twist and that you should watch Team Blue during the premier.

Relative Race Producer Dan Debenham during the Q&A session

FindMyPast discussed many of their new collections. Their US Marriage collection now contains over 280 million records and another 100 records will be added this year, making the total number of names over 400 million. They are continuing to work on adding records to their US Catholic archives by adding 200 New York parishes this week and will continue to roll out areas including Cincinnati, Baltimore and other diocese over the rest of this year. They are also continuing to add records to their Scotland, Ireland and England Catholic collections. FindMyPast also announced the release of a combined tree in partnership with FamilySearch. This combined tree can be found at

One of the sessions I attended was Beyond Subscriptions - 25 Free Genealogy Websites. This presentation talked about some of the top sites to consider when doing your research. Their top picks for initial research were FamilySearch, Cyndi's List, US Genweb and World Genweb. They also discussed libraries and recommended starting your research with the collections at Allen County Public Library and Midwest Genealogy Center. They also reminded us to discover the collections at the local libraries and universities. Cemetery sites, such as BillionGraves, FindAGrave and a variety of state cemetery projects can provide a wealth of information on your ancestors. Military records can be found at a variety of sites including Preserve the Pensions (War of 1812), and the Patriot and Grave Index from the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).

The number of online searchable books has increased greatly over the last couple years. Some of the recommended sites include the Digital Public Library of America, Internet Archive, and FamilySearch Family History Books. Passenger lists for the majority of immigrants can be found at Castle Garden (1820-1892) and Ellis Island (1892-1954). They also suggested a few ethnic sites including AfriGeneas, JewishGen, and Native Web Genealogy.

The last class I attended was by The Family History Guide. The Family History Guide is a non-profit 501.3c organization. It's resources are free and will always remain free. The site is available in multiple languages and is a great resource for researchers. They are an official training partner for FamilySearch and provide in depth tutorials for FamilySearch, Ancestry, MyHeritage and FindMyPast. You can even track your progress on each of the training modules. There are many age appropriate family history activities included that can help you encourage your children to participate in research. Another great part of the site is the Countries tab. This tab includes hints and links to site that have information on how to research each country. It even goes to the county level in the US.

This was another great day of learning at RootsTech. Tomorrow is Family Discovery Day and many more classes. I hope you are all taking these tips and finding new research ideas.

Friday, March 2, 2018

RootsTech 2018 - Day 2

Thursday at RootsTech found me focusing on FamilySearch and MyHeritage programs. Each one of them was presenting upcoming improvements and advancements that are planned for this year.

FamilySearch is focusing on connecting with your family through ways to share experiences and stories on their website. When people were asked what information they intend to share about themselves for future generations many answered with things such as birth certificates and other vital records. However, when asked what they wish their ancestors had shared they talked about stories and experiences. So FamilySearch is working on ways to encourage people to share those stories.

The FamilySearch Family Tree is growing rapidly. Currently FamilySearch has over 1.18 billion individuals included in their tree.  They are adding about 3.8 million new individuals each month. Of those 1.18 billion individuals, 915 million have at least one source attached to them and 5 million new sources are being attached each month. That means that there are now 1.28 billion attached sources in the Family Tree. FamilySearch's record collections are also increasing rapidly. They currently have 6.2 billion searchable records and 1.25 billion historical images, with 271 million new indexed records being added during 2017. Users are also adding their own records with 24 million items currently in the Memories section.

Some additional items were added to the user interface of FamilySearch during 2017. These include items such as additional generations being added to the Recommended Tasks section. These recommended tasks now suggest tasks for 7 generations back and 2 generations forward from the user. The indexing now has migrated to a fully web based interface. FamilyTree Lite was released and is now available in 15 languages. The upload restrictions in Memories have been loosened somewhat for living people with tags of living people only being visible to the contributor, but the images are still publicly viewable. Users can now import images from their social media accounts and from Google Drive Photos. Deleted memories remain in the basket for 120 days so you can retrieve them if they are accidentally deleted. And the Map My Ancestors function now allows you to see the places of origin for multiple generations of your ancestors.

During 2017, FamilySearch stopped sending out microfilm. This has allowed FamilySearch to focus on acquisition of new records. They have prioritized the acquisition of important and endangered records. Once the records are digitized by field teams they are sent to FamilySearch for review and are posted within 24 hours of having been received.

In 2018, FamilySearch is expecting to release some major improvements. One improvement is related to the unindexed records. The program will make an estimate of the location on a given set of images where your search results are most likely to occur. This is based on certain search parameters, such as range of years or alphabetical order of names. Also, they are working on improved performance. Under a new initiative they have already reduced the size of pages from 300 MB to 800 K. This means that pages should load substantially faster. They are also working on releasing the shared projects and areas so multiple family members can work on living individuals together. Other items will make it easier to work in the mobile environment. For example, the pages will be scalable from mobile to large screen formats and you will be able to open multiple windows in the mobile environment.

So, what is coming up for MyHeritage? Well, they announced today the release of DNA Quest. DNA Quest is designed to aid adoptees in finding their birth families. MyHeritage will donate 15,000 DNA kits across the US. Adoptees interested in participating in this project have until April 30 to register at If selected, individuals should receive their kits sometime by the later part of May. The program will provide research assistance as well as emotional support for participants. These DNA kits will be added to the 1.25 million kits that MyHeritage currently has in their database and searched for relationships.

MyHeritage also announced a major addition for LDS members. They have released the beta version of Tree Sync with FamilySearch. This will make it easier to sync your family data across the two platforms.

This week, MyHeritage will add an additional 300 million new records to their data set. These new records include the 1939 UK Register including 33 million records, 2 million Canadian obituaries, and 280 million records from over 253,000 US Yearbooks published between 1890 and 1979.

Coming soon, MyHeritage will change their tree view to allow for it to be viewed in a pedigree format and will make maiden names more prominent. They are also working on ways to integrate genealogy and genetics more closely. MyHeritage is also working on a project they call "The Big Tree" which combines all records and data on MyHeritage into a related database with over 10 billion nodes. This "Big Tree" will be recalculated daily to keep it current with new data and changes made in their system. This will help them to develop their "Theory of Family Relativity". This theory will take all of the data available (records, trees, DNA, etc.) and produce the most logical relationship path between individuals. It will use all the data on MyHeritage, Geni and FamilySearch to calculate how they are related.

On Friday, we will see the release of the One-to-Many Chromosome Browser on MyHeritage. This browser will allow users to compare up to 7 individual DNA sets with their own DNA. It will illustrate common DNA segments between these individuals.

Many of the new items on MyHeritage relate to their DNA analysis. A recent survey indicated that 78% of Germans were not aware of personal DNA tests and only 9% knew about MyHeritage. Only 3% were aware of Based on this survey, MyHeritage has taken steps to improve education about DNA within the European countries in the hope that many more will be willing to provide samples and hopefully connect to their American relatives.

There are many changes and new advancements coming to the users of these sites over the next year. My hope is that these will all advance the practice of genealogy and introduce more people to their relatives.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

RootsTech 2018 - Day 1

Day one of RootsTech 2018 is over. It seems like much more than one day, mainly because they crammed so much into the first day. And also because I was up and out by 4:30 am (6:30 am EST) when it was snowing.

Salt Lake City at 4:30 am

Today I volunteered as a badge scanner and helped people find their classes. We had to make sure everyone that entered the classes had the right registration. Generally that went well. But since I was busy working I really didn't get to see that many classes.

The first class I was in was FamilySearch Mobile Apps. The speaker, Todd Powell, talked about the Memories and FamilyTree apps. Currently, about 95% of the activities people do on the FamilySerch webpage can be done on these apps. The FamilyTree app has the capability to search for records and add sources, as well as editing and adding people to your tree. Todd went step-by-step through the process of using the FamilyTree app for many of the most common activities. Additionally, they had an update to the app just for RootsTech. This upgrade allowed the users to find peeople  registered for RootsTech who were related to you.

The second class I attended was How Can FamilySearch Help You with Nordic Research. Even though I don't have any Nordic ancestors, I found this class very interesting. Many of the tips they shared can be used for research in other countries. The speaker for this session was Whitney Peterson. She went through the stats for each Nordic country and told the attendees how many record sets and numbers of individuals for each country were available to search currently. The number of collections continues to grow as new record sets get added. She talked about the census and church records and how they are used to enhance your research. She also explained how to use the Wiki to get more information about each record set. She mentioned the there is a Learn More link on each record set description and that this link goes directly to a Wiki page that provides important details on how to use that set of records.

The last class I attended was Finding Elusive Records at FamilySearch. This class was totally full with about 700 people in attendance. We had to turn people awaay at the door. The good thing is that this class will be taught 2 more times this week, so people who missed it have a chance to catch it later. Robert Kehrer was the speaker at this class. He discussed how to find records that are not currently indexed. He also informed us that 25% of all the records are only found by searching the Catalog. Another tip that he mentioned was using the batch numbers to find ancestores who lived in the same locations for several generations. A good explanaition for using batch numers can be found on the Wiki.

Finding Elusive Records at FamilySearch class

The last event today was the General Session hosted by Steve Rockwod from FamilySearch. The main theme of this session was Discover - Gather - Connect. He talked about when we discover our commonalities we begin to treat others differently, meaning we see them in a different light and see how similar we all are. App functions, such as Map My Ancestors, shows us that we are the product of ancestors from many diverse places. DNA shows us how many traits we have in common with others and provides a basis for understanding our ethnicity. Virtual reality will soon allow us to walk the neighborhoods of our ancestors and, using historic photos, see how they lived. He suggested that we focus on the one and that everyone deserves to be remembered because we all matter. Did you realize that 33% of the world's population is lacking documentation that will allow the next generation to learn about them? Many areas of the world still rely on oral histories, but many of the people who remember those histories are dying and the remaining are forgetting them.

The topic of innovations in DNA testing is an important part of remembering our ancestors. The databases of genetic information continue to grow but some regions are under represented. Non-genealogists are purchasing more kits but failing to connect them to trees. However, some of these non-genealogists are catching the bug and beginning to add their trees to aid in researching their families. As more and more DNA samples are analyzed it makes it easier to pinpoint ancestors based on segment analysis and link them to records. It was estimated that 100 million DNA kits being added to online databases was only a few years in the future.

When asked about predictions of new innovations, the discussion panel mentioned items such as the rapid increase in online records, the blending of DNA and documents for research to verify information in trees, and the large number of partnerships that would help advance record access. For example, the Internet Archives is working to archive the digital memories and is looking for ways to increase the archiving of personal data including photographs and other records directly from individuals.

There is just so much happening in the genealogy world that we need to keep up with. Each of us tends to become specialized because there is no way we can know everything. However, conferences like RootsTech allow us to get the exposure to these new ideas and maybe even find ways to bring these ideas to reality. Well, now that it is after 1:00 am EST, I guess I should be getting to bed. Tomorrow is another early day.