Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

RootsTech 2014 Official Blogger

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Impact of the Collaboration between RootsMagic and MyHeritage

For some time now, I have been pointing out that the automated search functions of programs such as MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org Family Tree are a revolutionary step in family history research. These programs have the ability to produce accurate source hints, leaving the actual designation of the sources up to the individual user of the programs. I have also been pointing out that unless the desktop database programs negotiate a pathway to these automated sources, they will begin to lose market share as the overall online community realizes the advantages of these programs. I pointed to the fact that The Master Genealogist program had ceased to be available. The answer is that no matter how good the program, the new paradigm includes a pathway to automated searching.

As a clear message of this very obvious situation, RootsMagic.com and MyHeritage.com have announced a pathway so that RootsMagic users can utilize the advanced MyHeritage search functions. Here is a quote from the announcement as it appeared on the BusinessWire.com.
TEL AVIV, Israel & SPRINGVILLE, Utah--(BUSINESS WIRE)--MyHeritage, the popular family history network, and RootsMagic, Inc., today jointly announced that MyHeritage’s Smart Matching™ and Record Matching technologies have been integrated into RootsMagic’s latest version of its popular genealogy software. This enables RootsMagic users to discover the life stories of their ancestors thanks to highly accurate matching between their family trees and millions of family trees and billions of global historical records available on MyHeritage. 
RootsMagic, first released in 2003, is an award winning genealogy program for documenting and preserving family history. Its latest version 7, released this week, includes among its highlights a new feature named WebHints powered by MyHeritage matching technologies that transforms the program into a powerful research tool. WebHints also include hints from genealogy website FamilySearch for authenticated users. Information sent by RootsMagic to MyHeritage for matching is never collected or shared, and is deleted after matching to ensure the complete privacy of RootsMagic users and their data.
As noted, the RootsMagic program will also include hints from FamilySearch.org.

The impact of these new technologies is just now beginning to be felt. It is evident that as these technologies mature, entry into the documented world of family history will become much less labor intensive.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Genealogy Program Should I Use?

When I think of some of the most commonly asked questions I hear from the patrons at the Family History Centers and in discussing genealogy generally, which genealogy programs to use is always one of the most frequent questions. This question is immediately followed by the question of which genealogy program I use. Many years ago, the answer to this question would have been rather simple. For a number of years, when I was using Apple computers, there were very few programs and Personal Ancestral File (PAF) for the Mac was an easy choice. It was almost free and I considered it to be one of the best programs available. Unfortunately, the last version of PAF was version 2.31 back in 1994. It only took a couple of years before advances in the Macintosh computer operating system made the program obsolete. The Windows version of the program continued to be available and during that time period, I maintained both a Macintosh system and a Windows-based computer system so I could continue to use the genealogy programs and for other business-related programs.

Over the years, dozens of different genealogy programs were developed for the DOS/Windows computers. As I continued to be involved in genealogy, my program needs became more and more complicated. The normal processes of product differentiation began to affect genealogy programs and feature creep became a reality. Every year or so, the genealogy program developers would release a new version of their programs. Because of my almost total involvement with computers, I was always tempted to try out the new programs. This developed into a constant search for the "ultimate" genealogy program.

I carefully watched the genealogy software reviews and tried almost every program I could find. When the Internet became generally available, my search for a perfect program began to expand around the world.

It is not my intention to recommend any particular program. This post is directed at the process of selecting a program that suits your particular needs. Your needs may be vastly different than my own and any program I suggest will reflect my own point of view.

Eventually, a complicating factor was my need to support a variety of programs. This came about as I began to volunteer regularly in the Mesa Family History Center (now the Mesa FamilySearch Library) about ten years ago. The process became even more complicated when I started to write my Genealogy's Star blog almost eight years ago. I began the process of comparing different programs in order to answer questions and to write about the programs themselves. However, I decided very early on, not be become a partisan for any particular program. Most of the popular programs had similar features. Those programs that lacked basic functionality failed to interest me at all. I have never been attracted to that class of programs known as "shareware" or "freeware" that usually lacked any significant amount of support and with a few notable exceptions, came and went with the changes in operating systems for the computers.

I also recognized that there were programs that were popular in certain parts of the world that were not particularly marketed in the United States.

One criteria, because I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was whether or not the programs seemed suited to maintaining the types of records that are particular to members of the Church. In that regard, my selection of programs used that criteria as one of the make or break issues in program selection. With the release of New.FamilySearch.org (NFS), connectivity with that program became a big issue. Members of the Church who want to move on from using PAF, were attracted to programs that could share data with the online NFS program. For me, the absence of an Apple OS X operating system program that would talk to NFS became a big issue.

After the introduction of FamilySearch.org's Family Tree program, there was a period of time when none of the programs would share data with the new Family Tree program. By the time NFS was made read only, some programs had qualified as Family Tree Certified programs. But at the same time this was happening, there was another major shift in genealogical software. Online family tree programs began to develop most of the characteristics of the desktop-based programs. The issue of providing sources for facts and events in an online family tree became more and more mainstream.

The issue of adding sources to genealogical data files had been developing for a considerable period of time. In my own mind, sourcing my existing data became one, if not the top, consideration. At the same time, the genealogy software developers started implementing more and more sophisticated method of citing sources and including the citations in the programs. Ultimately, the idea of adding sources became a prominent feature of the FamilySearch Family Tree.

Most recently, FamilySearch began the process of adding other major online genealogy programs as "partners." This added an entirely new aspect to the questions of the need for a particular genealogy program. Now the consideration of which program to use as a primary program became more and more complicated. In addition, the issue of searching for and adding sources to the individuals and families in a genealogical database became more and more important. The large online genealogy database programs began to automate their searching functions and integrate and attach those sources directly to the individuals in a user's family tree. I could see the advantage of this type of system immediately and my interest was further increased by claims coming from FamilySearch and the other companies that they intended to open a pathway whereby source citations obtained from these automated programs could one day be added to FamilySearch Family Tree directly.

During all this time starting with the introduction of online family trees, there was the background issue of where to store all your information; online or on the desktop or both places. This is where we are today. We have stand alone programs that do not communicate or synchronize with any online genealogical database. We have other programs that share their data with the online programs.

Where do we go from here? The sharing function of the online family tree programs and the FamilySearch Family Tree are presently limited. Meanwhile, I continue to wait for the FamilySearch Family Tree program to become fully functional. See FamilySearch Announces Milestones for Retirement of new.FamilySearch.org.

The question of which genealogy program I should use is now more complicated than ever. The question is unlikely to be settled in the near future. Meanwhile, I will keep using the desktop programs that best reflect my personal needs. This can only be determined by using the programs with real data. So, for the time being I am adding sources to my online family trees and waiting for the resolution of the FamilySearch issues.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why attend #RootsTech 2015?

#RootsTech 2015 will be held on February 12-14, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah. This upcoming conference sponsored by FamilySearch, will also be held in combination with the annual Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in the same venue, the Salt Palace Convention Center. Even if you have just a passing interest in family history, these two combined conferences will have classes and activities that will spark your interest and be worth the time and registration fees charged. In addition, FamilySearch will have a free Family Discovery Day for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and anyone else who would like to attend.

Here are some of the descriptions of the reasons for attending the combined conference:

From FGS here are ten reasons to attend their conference:
  1. Network with other society leaders, sharing the latest ideas.
  2. Visit the world’s largest collection of family history materials, just minutes away.
  3. Get tips from the pros for finding those elusive ancestors!
  4. Spend time relaxing and socializing with other genealogists from around the world.
  5. Find the latest family history gadgets and gizmos in the Expo Hall.
  6. Go behind the scenes of family history on TV at the FGS Opening Event.
  7. Explore genealogical societies from across the U.S. at the FGS Society Showcase in the Expo Hall.
  8. CONNECT with new genealogy friends and blaze new research trails.
  9. EXPLORE presentations on a variety of topics in the classrooms and the new tools you learn about each day.
  10. REFRESH your interest in family history, and leave FGS 2015 ready to tackle those challenging research projects!

From #RootsTech 2015:
  • February 11th, in conjunction with RootsTech, the Innovator Summit is a technology event for programmers and technologists to share, collaborate, and innovate together in the family history industry.
  • On Saturday, February 14, 2015. Family Discovery Day will be a free one-day event for LDS church members, including families, that will help you discover and share your family stories through interactive activities, inspirational messages from church leaders and other popular speakers, and access to an expo hall with hundreds of exhibitors to help and assist. 
  • If you are just getting started in family history, sign up for a Getting Started pass (three days for $39 or one day for $19), offering you more than 30 classes to learn the basics to build your family tree and discover your family history.
  • If you are a Family History Enthusiast or an Experienced Researcher, plan to attend all three days of RootsTech (three-day pass for $159 or one-day pass for $89), with over 200 classes to help you expand your skills, learn about new and emerging technologies, and explore best practices to overcome research brick walls. You can also add access to all the FGS classes (an add-on to the RootsTech three-day pass for $39), and get a full schedule of research-related topics.
One of the highlights of the Conferences will be the combined Expo Hall. The RootsTech 2015 Expo Hall features hundreds of technology and family history exhibitors for you to explore all in one fun, informative place! Stop by the Expo Hall to:
  • Scan a family photo or book
  • Record your story
  • Get one-on-one help
If my experience is similar to past years, as an official RootsTech International Ambassador, I will be spending much of my time at the Media Hub in the Exhibit Hall. You are more than welcome to come by and say hello. 

Plan now to attend. Click here to see a full list of the classes being taught at the #RootsTech 2015 Conference. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Yes, there is a way to separate incorrectly merged or combined records

When the New.FamilySearch.org program was made READ ONLY, many users of the program were upset because there did not seem to be a method for either correcting wrongfully merged records in Family Tree or using Family Tree to correct records wrongfully combined in New.FamilySearch.org. Contrary to the common understanding, both situations can be solved using the FamilySearch.org Family Tree program.

Actually, there are two complete sets of instructions in the Get Help section of Family Tree that explain, in detail, how to unmerge and uncombine records. Before jumping into this type of situation, it is imperative that you take the time to study the procedures carefully so that you can successfully correct the Family Tree record. The types of problems addressed by these procedures are listed in the a Get Help article entitled, "Dividing incorrectly combined records in Family Tree" and in more detail in the Family Tree Training Lessons and Videos section of the Learning Center.

From the Get Help - Help Center article, here is a list of the issues addressed:
  • A Family Tree record represents two similar but distinct individuals.
  • The record is about a completely different person who is linked into the family by mistake.
  • The record was incorrectly merged in Family Tree.
  • The record was incorrectly combined in new.familysearch.org and moved to Family Tree.
  • Ordinances can be adversely affected.
  • Ordinances for the newly created person are buried in the incorrectly combined record.
  • Can FamilySearch find the ordinances and restore them to Family Tree?
  • How do I restore the ordinances to avoid duplication?
Separating incorrectly merged records is explained in a separate article entitled, appropriately enough, "Undoing a merge." The main catch to this process is the warning that if changes have been made to the record since the merge, the Unmerge button will be visible. In this case, you will need to click on the blue name of the deleted person, open their person card and restore the person. I suggest that you really must read the instructions about this issue carefully and follow the instruction equally as carefully.

Undoing a combined record from New.FamilySearch.org is a much more complicated procedure. Until you become very familiar with this process, you will need to carefully follow the rather complicated instructions. I strongly recommend working through the lessons in the Family Tree Training Lessons and Videos to give yourself the necessary background in working with the Family Tree program so that you can understand what has happened and what will happen with an incorrectly combined record. From the article cited above, here is an explanation of the problem:
Ancestral File was a database that listed the names and vital information of millions of individuals, organized into pedigrees. The information was taken from pedigree charts and family group records submitted to the Family History Department beginning in 1978. When the database for new.FamilySearch.org was created, submissions from Ancestral File were sometimes incorrectly combined with each other or with new submissions in new.FamilySearch.org to create a single record for two similar but distinct persons. In new.FamilySearch.org, users could separate combined records, but the Separate feature seldom corrected all of the errors. In fact, sometimes it caused more errors. Consequently, new.FamilySearch.org has become read only. Unfortunately, the incorrectly combined records from new.FamilySearch.org are displayed in Family Tree.
The article goes on to explain how to identify badly combined records in Family Tree and gives detailed instructions (the same as those in the Family Tree Training Lessons and Videos, that are needed to rectify the problems.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Find and take your own ancestors to the Temple

In a recent FamilySearch Blog post, FamilySearch CEO, Dennis Brimhall, wrote an excellent summary of the need to do our own family research in a post entitled, "Making Your Temple Experience More Sacred When You Find and Take Names to the Temple." He makes reference to a First Presidency Letter, quoting from his post:
On October 8, 2012, the First Presidency letter contained, among other things, this very important clarifying statement, “When members of the Church find the names of their ancestors and take those names to the temple for ordinance work, the temple experience can be greatly enriched.” 
These words contain both instruction and promised blessings. They also provide for us the focus for our efforts in the Family History Department. As we strive to help Church members fulfill their divinely appointed responsibility of enabling the salvation of the dead, one of the keys to success is to enrich the experience of finding the names of ancestors and having their ordinances completed in the temple.
He suggests using a three-step process:
Recent instruction to General Authorities, which in turn will be provided to local leadership, builds on the October 8, 2012, letter from the First Presidency. That instruction is profound in it simplicity and focus: 
  1. Use the FamilySearch website or the booklet My Family: Stories That Bring Us Together to find the names of one or more of your ancestors or their descendants.
  2. Take these names to the temple or share them with others so they can take them to the temple. (When possible, do this as a family.)
  3. Finally, teach your family and others to do the same thing.
The promise is that if we do these three things, we will not only fulfill our divinely appointed responsibility, but we will have enriched joy.
To some family historians, these suggestions might seem over simplistic, but in a presentation at the Mesa FamilySearch Library Conference in Temple, Arizona, Elder Brimhall gave statistics that indicate a very high percentage of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not have four generations of their ancestors in the FamilySearch.org Family Tree program. In fact, a significant percentage do not have their own parents in the program. My guess is that most of these people would have ancestors' names to take to the Temples if they went back to their grandparents.

As Elder Brimhall admonishes, we can make significant progress if we just follow the counsel of the First Presidency.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Can you manually merge IOUS records in FamilySearch Family Tree?

I ran across an interesting statement in a Help Center article on FamilySearch.org. The article is entitled, "Understanding records of Individuals of Unusual Size (IOUS)." The article says, in part:
The FamilySearch Family Tree program was created with the ability to merge IOUS records. However, at the present time, Family Tree is still synchronizing with nFS and must abide by the constraints that have been placed in nFS. When nFS is permanently shut down, and Family Tree no longer synchronizes with nFS, then all records will be allowed to be merged in Family Tree. In the meantime, though, some merges in Family Tree will fail if the merge would cause nFS records to exceed the size constraints. While waiting for Family Tree to cease synchronizing with nFS, some patrons may want to attempt to manually merge these IOUS records.
The last statement about manually merging these records caught my eye. I have attempted to do this quite a few times without success. Is there a way to merge these IOUSs in the present program?

There is another Help Center article entitled, "Merging duplicate records in Family Tree."  The article starts with a Note of caution:
Note: Merging is a complex process. You must decide if two entries are for the same person. If the same person, you decide the information to keep. Please take the time necessary to carefully review each possible duplicate.

To prevent incorrect merges, Family Tree has a Not a Match feature. Choose Not a Match to indicate that the two entries are not matches. You can enter a reason to explain how you know. If you indicate that two entries are not a match, the system no longer suggests them as possible matches. This helps prevent incorrect merges from occurring. (Emphasis in original).
There is a further article entitled, "Cannot merge duplicate records in Family Tree."  Here is the explanation about the IOUS records:
One of the records for the individual is too large
  • These records are often referred to as IOUS, meaning "Information of Unusual Size."
  • Presently, other records cannot be merged with an IOUS record nor can IOUS records be unmerged.
  • This is a known issue, and there is no estimated time for a fix.
If the records cannot be merged for other reasons 
Click the Feedback button at the bottom of the screen, and request that a system administrator merge the records for you. In your message, include:
  • Your full name.
  • Your birth date.
  • Your helper number.
  • The records you want to be merged.
  • The ID number, name, birth date, and birthplace found on the records to be merged. If the records have more than one version of this information, you can include just one. If the record does not contain all this information, provide as much information as you can.
  • A reason or a source that verifies that the records should be merged.
It appears that the mention in the first article about a way to manually merge the IOUS records is not correct. There is a now-dated FamilySearch "White Paper" on this issue entitled, "Dealing with Duplicate Records of People in Family Tree, A FamilySearch White Paper, 21 June 1012." This paper concludes with the statement:
In new.familysearch.org, duplicates are combined. It is very easy to combine records about different people. There is no way to prevent the wrong records from being combined. Once a wrong combine happens, it is very difficult to fix the problem. 
Family Tree will provide a better solution for duplicate records. It: 
  • Solves the IOUS issue because it does not try to keep all of the duplicate records that are stored within a combined record.
  • Lets users correct both inappropriate merges and provides features that allow:  
  • Undo merges if no changes were made after the merge.
  • Easily correct and re‐create the records when records are changed after a merge.
  • Prevent the merging of wrong records with a new “not a match” feature.
Presently, we will just have to wait until New.FamilySearch.org finally is completely, and not just mostly, dead to resolve the IOUS issue.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Solving the Looping Problem and similar issues in FamilySearch Family Tree

One of the most challenging problems encountered in the FamilySearch.org Family Tree program is the seemingly endless loop of ancestors. The problem can manifest itself in, at least, the following circumstances:
  • A child shows as its own grandparent.
  • A son shows as his own grandfather.
  • A daughter shows as her own grandmother.
  • The pedigree loops for one or more generations.
  • A child shows as his or her own parent.
Sometimes these loops are not obvious, especially when the parent or grandparent and child really do have the same name. There is a series of steps that can resolve these issues, but they must be followed in the exact order or the results will be unsatisfactory and may cause even more problems. 

The source for solving this particular type of problem and many other similar problems is the FamilySearch.org Help Center. Interestingly, you can access the Help Center from the Get Help menu from the FamilySearch.org startup page, but the Help Center option disappears if you try to access it from other pages on the website. Here is a screenshot of the location of the Get Help menu:


The pull-down menu looks like this when you access it from the startup page:


The items visible in the Help Center will vary depending on whether or not you are registered with an LDS Account. You will have to return to the startup or home page to see the link to the Help Center. The items relating to the Temple will not appear. Here is a screenshot of the Help Center page:


You could choose any one of the subsections as indicated by the icons, but there is also a search area and the "Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions" near the bottom of the page. You can then search for "loop family tree" and find the following list of help articles:
Some of these obviously deal with other unrelated looping problems, but the solution is the first article found. Here is a screenshot of that article explaining, in detail, how to solve the looping problem:


The screenshot does not show the entire article. I would guess that more than half of the questions I answer regularly about Family Tree and other FamilySearch.org issues can be readily solved by reference to the Help Center.