Genealogy Basics

Family Names on a Quilt

If you have ever used the Etsy web site, you obviously already know what it is all about. However, if you are unfamiliar with Etsy, I will first offer this description from Wikipedia:

“Etsy is an American e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items and craft supplies. These items fall under a wide range of categories, including jewelry, bags, clothing, home décor and furniture, toys, art, as well as craft supplies and tools. All vintage items must be at least 20 years old. The site follows in the tradition of open craft fairs, giving sellers personal storefronts where they list their goods for a fee of US$0.20 per item.

“As of December 31, 2018, Etsy had over 60 million items in its marketplace, and the online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods connected 2.1 million sellers with 39.4 million buyers.”

The Evolution of the American Census

What changes each decade, what stays the same, and what do the questions say about American culture and society? Alec Barrett answers those questions in an article that probably will interest all genealogists who are researching U.S. ancestry.

Here is a quote from the article:

“The census is an essential part of American democracy. The United States counts its population every ten years to determine how many seats each state should have in Congress. Census data have also been used to levy taxes and distribute funds, estimate the country’s military strength, assess needs for social programs, measure population density, conduct statistical analysis of longitudinal trends, and make business planning decisions.

A Word About the Privacy of Your Genealogy and Other Information

A newsletter reader wrote recently and asked a question that I think many people should think about. I replied to him in email but thought I would also share my answer here in the newsletter in case others have the same question.

My correspondent wrote:

I am relatively new to genealogy technology. Are there tips you can provide to ensure the security of personal information? Would building a family tree in software only my computer be more secure than syncing it to a webpage (like MyHeritage)? Is it a good idea to not include details (name, date and place of birth) for all living relatives and maybe back a generation or two? Thanks.

My reply:

Great questions! However, I don’t have a simple answer. In fact, I can offer several answers and suggestions.

The various web sites have lots of options to control your privacy, except for Facebook, a web site designed to steal as much of your personal information as possible and then to resell that info. You do need to read about each site’s privacy policies before using it. However, most of today’s online services have excellent methods of protecting your personal privacy and your sensitive information.

Unfortunately, the computer on your desk and your laptop computer and tablet computer probably have no such controls. Neither does your “smartphone” which probably contains more personal information about you than does any other computing device you own.

Converting My Personal Library to Digital

NOTE: This is an update to an article I published several years ago. I have changed hardware since then and have updated my procedures significantly. This updated article reflects those changes.

I keep my computers and genealogy material in a small room in our house. I am sure the folks who built the house intended this room to be a child’s bedroom, but there are no children in the house, so I have converted it into something I call “our office.” I bet many people reading this article have done the same with a spare room in their homes.

bookscanningI have several computers and a 32-inch wide monitor in this room, a high-speed fiber optic Internet connection, a wi-fi mesh router, two printers (inkjet and laser), two scanners, several external hard drives used for making backups, oversized hi-fi speakers connected to the computers, and various other pieces of computer hardware. Luckily, these are all rather small, and advancing technology results in smaller and smaller devices appearing every year as I replace older devices.  The newer devices are almost always smaller than the old ones. However, I have a huge space problem: books and magazines. They don’t seem to be getting any smaller. My older books still take up as much room today as they did years ago.

“My office” has two bookcases that are each six feet tall and four feet wide, along with two smaller bookcases and a four-drawer filing cabinet. Pam and I share this “office,” so we have two desks, each laden with computers and printers. We squeeze a lot into a ten-foot-by-twelve-foot room.

I don’t want to count how many books I have purchased over the years, but I am sure it must be several hundred volumes. I don’t want to even think about the bottom-line price. I only have space in my four bookcases to store a tiny fraction of them; the rest are stored in boxes in the basement. Out-of-sight books are books that I rarely use. “Out of sight, out of mind.” I probably wasted my money by purchasing all those books as I rarely use most of them. I may have looked at them once, but I rarely go back to them again and again.

One Of The Best ‘Hidden’ Museums In New York Might Unearth Your Ancestors

If you are researching Jewish ancestry, whether they lived in New York City or elsewhere, one of the best resources is the Center for Jewish History.

It is an amazing complex of five different Jewish organizations, and the whole creates a look at the Jewish experience, from around the world to America—from poets to baseball pitchers to scientists, to bagel-makers. Close to 50,000 visitors a year come to the Center.

You can read more in an article by Gerald Eskenazi, published in Forbes, at

The museum’s web site may be found at

My thanks to newsletter reader Neil Barmann for telling me about this resource.

Explore FamilySearch’s Historical Images Tool to Unlock Data in Digital Records

The following is an excerpt from an article by Sharon Howell published at

“FamilySearch, FamilySearch partners, and volunteers worldwide have worked to make over 3 billion records easily findable online with a very simple name search. But did you know that these indexed records represent only 20 percent of the historical records FamilySearch has available online?

“If you haven’t found your ancestors by using the main search form on, it may be that their information is locked inside a waiting-to-be-indexed digital image. In 2018 alone, FamilySearch added over 432 million new record images to its online collections. But it can take years to catalog and index these images so they can be readily searched.

Why Mapping Your Family History Will Help You At Work

According to an article by Remy Blumenfeld and published in Forbes: Your family’s story, including things you may not have been told, have a big effect on what you see as being ‘normal’ in your behavior and relationships. He then goes on to describe the value of family mapping.

NOTE: Family Mapping is not a standard tool of genealogists. Instead, family mapping describes the use of genograms, a frequently-used tool of psychologists and others. Wikipedia describes the use of genograms as:

How I Create Multiple Backup Copies of Critical Information Stored in my Computers

I recently republished an article that I post here every month: It is the First Day of the Month: Back Up Your Genealogy Files. A newsletter reader wrote and asked a simple question: “How do I make backups?”

I answered the question in email but thought I would copy that reply into a new article here in the newsletter in case other readers have the same question.

I cannot write a precise answer that will work for everyone as computer owners use a wide variety of hardware and software. Also, each computer owner’s needs may vary from what other people need. Do you need to back up EVERYTHING or only a few files that are important to you?

I decided to answer a few generic questions about how often to make backups, how many copies, and so forth. Then I will describe what I currently use. Admittedly, I constantly experiment with new things so what I am using today might not be what I will be using next month. Still, this article should give you some ideas about how you should constantly back up the important files that you do not wish to lose. I will suggest you do not need to do exactly what I do. Instead, this article will hopefully give you some ideas for creating a plan that works best for you.

So…Who is Randy Majors and What is the Research Hub Anyway?

Randy Majors is well-known within the genealogy community. He is the person who has created all those add-ons for Google Maps, adding county lines and much more information to the maps than what Google ever imagined.

To read a LOT of Randy’s past announcements by starting at:

Randy is now looking to expand. He wrote:

How Many Ancestors Do You Have?

NOTE: This is a repeat of an article I published 2 years ago. The subject popped up again recently so I decided to republish this article again for the benefit of those new readers of this newsletter who did not see the original article. I also made a couple of minor updates to  the original article.

A newsletter reader asked a simple question this week that generates a longer answer:

How many individuals does it take to make up 42 generations? Is there a website or other source that would help me calculate the answer?

I am sure there are such web sites, but you can also calculate the same numbers within a few seconds by using Excel or any other spreadsheet. I used a spreadsheet to generate the following:

Encouraging Professional Researchers to be the Best

The following announcement was written by the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives:

The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA) is organising an event for professional genealogists encouraging them to join the Association. It will take place at the St George’s Centre in Leeds on March 16 March 2020.

AGRA is the largest professional organisation of accredited members in the UK and we promote high professional standards in the field of genealogy and historical research. AGRA also acts as a representative voice in matters relating to genealogy.

AGRA is looking to encourage other paid researchers to join. Members are generally acknowledged to be the best in their field.

How to Record Genealogy Information Found Online

A newsletter reader wrote to me and asked a very simple but important question: “How can one consolidate and/or assure that the different online systems have the same, correct information?”

I think there is one quick answer. I wrote a reply to that person but thought I would also publish it in this newsletter as I suspect many others have the same question:

“When finding information online that was contributed by other users, you should always assume that it is INACCURATE until you personally verify it by searching for original records.

“In contrast, information found online that includes images of the original record(s) is generally accurate, with a few exceptions, such as records of two people who have the same name or similar confusing records.

“I record everything I find in Evernote whether I think it might be accurate or not. However, I never record such information in my primary genealogy program, and the title of each Evernote includes the word UNPROVEN.

“Once I prove to myself that the online claim has been independently verified, I move the information to my primary genealogy program and then delete the copy in Evernote.”

Oh No! My Hard Drive Crashed.

If you have been reading this newsletter for a while, you probably know that I often publish articles advising people to make frequent backups of all important data in their computers. Yesterday, I had an “opportunity” to try my own advice.

Yesterday morning, I turned on my trusty iMac to check email messages, check the EOGN web sites, and then to create the weekly Plus Edition email message that I send to all Plus Edition subscribers. There was one problem: Once powered on, the boot process started as normal and then, about a minute later, displayed an on-screen message saying that it was unable to find the iMac’s hard drive.

Oh no!

To make a long story short, after troubleshooting for a while, it seems the iMac’s internal 2-terabyte hard drive was dead. Kaput.

FamilySearch Releases GEDCOM Version 5.5.1

GEDCOM is an abbreviation that stands for GEnealogy Data COMmunications. In short, GEDCOM is the language by which different genealogy software programs talk to one another.

GEDCOM was developed by the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints (LDS Church) to provide a flexible, uniform format for exchanging computerized genealogical data.

(See my 2014 article, GEDCOM Explained, at for a more detailed explanation of GEDCOM.)

GEDCOM is not a program. Instead, it is a specification of the method that different genealogy programs should use to exchange data. The purpose is to exchange data between dissimilar programs without having to manually re-enter all the data on a keyboard. A GEDCOM file is a plain text file (usually either UTF-8, ANSEL or ASCII) containing genealogical information about individuals, and meta data linking these records together.

A Small Wisconsin Company Stored Thousands of People’s CDs, then Suddenly Vanished

This should be a warning to everyone, not just to genealogists. If you save old photos, CDs, vinyl records, videotapes, or most anything else, never store them IN JUST ONE LOCATION!

According to an article in The Verge web site:

“Last month, almost a million CDs stored in Wisconsin seemed to disappear. For years, thousands of people paid a Madison-based company, named Murfie, to rip, stream, and store their CDs, vinyl, and cassettes. But a few weeks ago, Murfie’s website went offline and nearly all communication from the company ceased. Now, customers fear their physical music collections may be lost forever.”

“I’m SO BURNED to the tune of THOUSANDS of dollars,” tweeted a customer. “They have my 100+ cd’s and $1000+ dollars,” tweeted another.

FamilySearch Adds Ability to Document All Family Relationships Including Same-Sex Relationships

The following announcement was written by FamilySearch:

The FamilySearch Family Tree now provides the ability for users to document all family relationships, including same-sex relationships. Nonprofit FamilySearch provides access to the world’s genealogical records and other free services to create family discoveries and memories. FamilySearch is a free service that enables anyone to discover, build, manage, share, and preserve their family’s history. It encourages genealogical accuracy based on original source records and contains over a billion user-contributed lineage-linked records. Patrons are now able to document same-sex relationships, including same-sex marriages and same-sex adoptions.


Family History Hosting Announces a GEDCOM Assessment Tool

An ongoing discussion of GEDCOM versions and compatibility has been in the news lately. See and to find two recent articles about GEDCOM capabilities that were published in this newsletter. Now John Cardinal of Family History Hosting, LLC has issued a new tool for use by anyone interested in GEDCOM data transfers.

The new tool consists of a specially-constructed GEDCOM file and accompanying help pages designed to assess the GEDCOM import process of a genealogy application. Genealogists who use GEDCOM-aware applications may find it useful. Here is the announcement:

Narragansett, RI – December 2, 2019Family History Hosting, LLC is pleased to announce free GEDCOM Assessment resources including assess.ged at .

assess.ged is a special GEDCOM file you may use to test the GEDCOM import capability of any program that reads a GEDCOM file and imports the contents. By reviewing the results you can determine whether and how the target application handles various GEDCOM records and record combinations.

Many genealogists have evaluated a GEDCOM transfer by exporting from program “A” and importing into program “B”. That is useful for the specific combination of program “A” and “B” but introduces uncertainty into the process because missing information or unexpected results could be the fault of either program. Using a hand-crafted GEDCOM file focuses the evaluation on the import capabilities of the importing program. The results help end-users understand what will and will not transfer properly into the target application and the results help software authors understand how to tailor results for the target application.

We’re Losing Generations of Family History Because We Don’t Share Our Stories

Here is a quote from an article by Rachael Rifkin in the Good Housekeeping web site:

“Most people don’t know much about their family history. This is because people usually don’t become interested in genealogy until they’re in their 50s and 60s, when they have more time to reflect on their family identity. The problem is that by that time, their grandparents and parents have often already passed away or are unable to recount their stories.

“Because of this, we’re losing generations of stories, and all of the benefits that come with them. ‘Because our families are among the most important social groups we belong to and identify with, stories about our family tell us who we are in the world, and who we should be,’ says Robyn Fivush, Ph.D., one of the researchers behind the study The Power of Family History in Adolescent Identity and Well-Being. ‘Stories about our parents and grandparents provide models of both good and bad times, as well as models of overcoming challenges and sticking together.’

Have You Used the FamilySearch Digital Library?

Here is a quote from

“The Family History Library sponsored by FamilySearch is the largest genealogical library in the world. The Family History Library is actively digitizing its family histories, local histories, and other collections to make them searchable and available online to researchers worldwide. Together with other world-renowned genealogical research partner libraries, the Family History Library is pleased to make its collections and its partners’ collections available together in the new online digital library.

“The FamilySearch Digital Library offers a collection of more than 440,000 digitized genealogy and family history books and publications. Here, you can dive into family histories, county and local histories, genealogy magazines, gazetteers, and even medieval histories and pedigrees! “

Indeed, I have used the FamilySearch Digital Library a number of times and have been pleased with the results. Of course, I probably could have achieved the same results had a I purchased airline tickets to Salt Lake City, spent money on taxis or Uber, spent money in hotels and restaurants for a few days, and paid whatever other miscellaneous expenses are incurred on a multi-day trip. Besides that, such a trip also involves an “investment” of several days of my time. There has to be a better way.

Don’t Want to Lose (Parts of) Your Genealogical Data?

The following is an article written by guest author Bob Coret and is copyright by him. The article is published here with the permission of Bob Coret:

Don’t want to lose (parts of) your genealogical data?

A recent research report by Genealogy Online shows that genealogists have a high risk of losing (parts of) their genealogical data when transferring a GEDCOM file from their family tree program or service to another family tree program or service. This is caused by the fact that most family tree programs and services do not follow the GEDCOM specification to the letter and because a lot of undocumented “user-defined tags” are used.

Recently, Nigel Munro Parker, made his GEDCOM validator GED-inline [] available for re-use. GED-inline reads a GEDCOM file and checks if the file follows the rules of the specified GEDCOM specification. You get a report nearly instantly (and free). Besides statistics it shows the number of warnings and user-defined tags, as well as a list of all warnings. Genealogy Online (a service for easily publishing your family tree online) recently deployed the open-sourced GED-inline in its infrastructure. Genealogy Online [] now checks all GEDCOM files it receives to publish online. When there are warning in regards to the GEDCOM file, Genealogy Online notifies the user.