30 July 2007

Time out

I'll not be posting here for a couple of weeks, maybe longer, while I take some down time and deal with software issues.

If you need a genealogy blog fix, check out those in the links box to the right.

28 July 2007

This and that

ONS Early Closure Announcement
The Office of National Statistics have announced that in October they will start to remove the large books of BMD indexes from their present location at Myddleton St. in London. Copies of the corresponding microfiche will be available on the upper floor until the building closes next year. It was previously announced that services will in future be available from TNA in Kew. The Society of Genealogists has a longer news item.
Some folks are upset about the withdrawal of service several months earlier than previously announced. Although this is unfortunate it's not something a Canada-based genealogist can get worked up about. We've been long accustomed to using microform and online sources for the BMD indexes.

British Army WWI Pension Records 1914-1920
Ancestry.co.uk announces the availability of this database of non-commissioned officers and other ranks who were discharged from the Army and claimed disability pensions for service in WWI. These were also men who did not re-enlist in the Army prior to World War II. The information includes: name of solider, age, birthplace, occupation, marital status, and regiment number.

Overseas BMDs 1995-2002
FindMyPast.com has introduced an index of civil registration of events for British residents outside the UK. Further information. About 10% of marriages in the period are estimated to have occurred overseas. British registration may not have been made as it is not required.

26 July 2007


A reminder of the DNA interest group meeting on Saturday, 28 July at Library and Archives Canada. Share information on new findings, and ask questions of more experienced members. The meeting starts at 9:30 am. All welcome.

A police officer ancestor?

The Norfolk Constabulary has an online index to records of police who served with the service between 1854 and 1955, not including records for the formerly independent forces of Norwich, King's Lynn and Great Yarmouth.

If you see a name you recognise and require additional information write to: Force Historians, c/o Facilities, Norfolk Constabulary Operations and Communications Centre, Falconers Chase, Wymondham, Norfolk, NR19 0WW quoting the book number and page number as shown in the listings where it is available.

Checking a few other counties, not a complete survey, I found no comparable online index. Many counties do have material on the organization history, best found by googling policy, history and the county name. It may lead to sources of information on individuals. Here are a few examples.

Hampshire indicate records are at the Hampshire Record Office, except for Southampton and the Isle of Wight. Go here and scroll down to FRONTLINE.

The (London) Metropolitan Police have information here.

Cheshire has a Museum of Policing with a query form.

For general information on police ancestors try Martin Rigby's blog posting.

If you are fortunate enough to have access to a digitized local newspaper, and the officers name was not too common, try a search for the name. Police were often in the public eye.

25 July 2007

25 genealogy web sites we can't live without

It must be the season, there seems to a spate of best web site lists. Time.com has a list of the 50 best web sites, and 25 web sites we can't live without. I found the second list interesting:

Amazon.com; BBC.co.uk; CitySearch.com; Craiglist.org; Del.icio.us; Digg.com; EBay.com; ESPN.com; Facebook.com; FactCheck.org; Flickr.com; Google.com; HowStuffWorks.com; The Internet Movie Database; YouTube.com; Kayak.com; NationalGeographic.com; NetFlix.com; Technorati.com; TMZ.com; USA.gov; TelevisionWithoutPity.com; WebMD.com; Wikipedia.org; Yahoo.com

More than half I'd never visited. Having now checked them out I don't feel my life was previously notably impoverished.

Family Tree Magazine (the US one) has just put out its list of 101 Best Web Sites. Again, many are US-oriented, although there is an international section.

Not wanting to swim against the current, here is my genealogy-oriented list of 25 web sites I can't live without, reflecting my own Anglo-Celtic Canadian bias.

amazon.ca; ancestry.com;
archive.org; automatedgenealogy.com; collectionscanada.ca; cwgc.org; cyndislist.com; eogn.com; familyrecords.gov.uk; familysearch.org; familytreedna.com; familyhistoryonline.net; freebmd.org.uk; genuki.org.uk; google.com; loc.gov; nas.gov.uk; nationalarchives.gov.uk; nationalarchives.ie; ourroots.ca; rootsweb.com; sog.org.uk; scotlandspeople.gov.uk; ukbmd.org.uk; + your local library; + your local family history society


Randy Seaver posted his corresponding list of 25 US-oriented web sites here.

24 July 2007

Thank you LDS

July 24 marks the 160th anniversary of the day Mormon pioneers arrived in Utah, celebrated as Pioneers Day in the State. In common with many genealogists who are not members I am grateful to the LDS Church for the genealogical resources they make available free or at cost.

The Salt Lake Tribune recently ran an article under the headline "
Don't sanitize history, Mormons say" which reflects on the Church's uneven attitude toward its own history, and revealing the results of a survey of 2,000 LDS Church members involved in genealogy online. Those surveyed are "... looking for the whole story, accounts of real people and a wider scope of history than early 19th-century (Mormon) pioneers" and for it to be easily available online.

The survey doesn't contain much of interest to non-members of the Church, but the call for information to be easily available online is one genealogist users of LDS web services would echo. I'm looking forward to helping that along with something more applicable to my interests and background than the 1900 US census, currently the only data-set offered for indexing on the Family Searching Indexing web site.

The Great Irish Famine was in process at the same time as the Mormon pioneers were in migration. It be timely to move ahead with making available the promised Irish civil registration indexes for online indexing.

23 July 2007

Top 10 ways DNA technology will change your life

From the HealthNex blog:"The genome revolution is upon us. New reports of gene-disease associations pepper the news each day. DNA technology is advancing so fast there are rumors that sequencing a person's entire DNA sequence will eventually cost no more than $1,000. Are you ready to take advantage of all that DNA can offer? Here are top 10 ways DNA technology will change your life." ... more

I was unaware of Quebec's CARTaGENE Project, a databank and biobank containing information and samples from around 20,000 randomly selected people aged 40-69 years based on records kept by the provincial health insurance board. It appears the data won't be available for genealogy owing to privacy restrictions, but other DNA sources for genealogy will likely open up as testing costs fall.

21 July 2007

The genes that build America

A well written article in the 15 July issue of The Observer

"From the discovery that presidential hopeful Barack Obama is descended from white slave owners to the realisation that the majority of black Americans have European ancestors, a boom in 'recreational genetics' is forcing America to redefine its roots. Paul Harris pieces together the DNA jigsaw of what it really means to be born in the USA" ... read the full article

20 July 2007

As others see us

Canada and Australia have some obvious historical and geographical similarities. William Lion McKenzie King's "If some countries have too much history, we have too much geography" applies equally.

The similarities mean that scholarship and public administration benefit from Australia-Canada exchanges and visits. Often the perceptions gained from such visits fly under the radar, certainly for clients. It was refreshing to read a long blog entry by the Curator of Manuscripts at the National Library of Australia who visited Library and Archives Canada in June. Looking though her eyes makes it easier to appreciate some of LAC's strengths, and the issues with different approaches.

I was especially taken with her view of online exhibits which allow LAC to tap funds outside their budget, but need to be managed with care to ensure the organization isn't diverted from its own mission. Would genealogy benefit more if the temptations of such external funding were resisted and less internal effort divert from digitizing major record groups, notably the 1861 to 1891 censuses?

Read the LAC entry from the "Love Archives, will travel" blog here. There is also a posting on the Association of Canadian Archivists conference in Kingston, Ontario earlier in June.

19 July 2007

Summer museum getaways

What was life like for your ancestors? It's easy to slot those folks and their BMD data into our ancestral database without thinking about the life they had. Things have changed so much it sometimes seems as if my childhood in England is what's found today in a museum. That's even more true for previous generations.

Take the time to get away from the computer and visit a museum or two. I've added yellow markers to show Ottawa area museums on my Family History in Ottawa map . Or just Google your community name and the word museum.

The photo, taken at the Billings Estate Museum by Mariae Boreális, is found at Flickr.com

18 July 2007

Free Family History Videos

If you have access to high-speed internet you might want to check out four short videos by Robert Ragan who "has been actively involved with computers and genealogy since the 1980s and is a former director of a Family History Center in Jacksonville, Florida."

He has three videos with the series title Online Genealogy Information Gathering Method. Find them here: Part1, Part 2, Part 3. In parts 1 and 2 he shows step-by-step how to assemble and search a word processor file using the results of a Google search for a name and place combination. It will ensure you preserve the information found, even if the website disappears. I haven't done this on a consistent basis, as he recommends, but do use the technique from time to time when compiling information for an article. Part three shows how to do this using Google Docs and Spreadsheets rather than a stand-alone word processor.

A fourth video shows the use of the Google toolbar, not something I personally use.

You might want to check out Ragan's other free genealogy resources and commercial home study course.

17 July 2007


Having written about Rootsweb statistics yesterday I though to go back and look at the more recent genealogy initiative of its founders, Karen Isaacson and Brian Leverich. Linkpendium is styled "the definitive directory" and contains 5,869,376 genealogy links; also 8,346 outdoor activity links.

The genealogy section is in two parts. Localities: USA is a state-by-state directory with 678,746 links.

Surnames: Worldwide, with 5,190,630 links, is what interests me. It's an alphabetical directory where you can drill down to a specific name, well worth exploring, especially for the less common names in your family tree. Here's an example of the link page for surname Northwood. Try it out here. It will save you hunts at or for other free sites. Worth the detour.

16 July 2007

Rootsweb seasonal trends

Longtime readers may recall an earlier posting analyzing long-term trends in postings to Rootsweb newsgroups. Postings peaked in 2002, in January. The decline since has continued; every month in 2007 has fewer postings than the same month since 2000.

I wondered if folks spend as much time online with their genealogy in winter as in summer. Sorry southern hemisphere folks but this will assume the other hemisphere dominates the statistics. Over the course of a year December has fewest daily postings. January has the most. There's a gentle drop to May, then the daily average stays about the same until the December drop. There are more genealogists online in winter.

As the months with the lowest and highest number of posts are adjacent I was interested in the transition. Here are the trends around the holiday period in more detail.

The figure to the left shows daily Rootsweb postings from December 20 to January 10 for three different periods. The years are remarkably similar. There's a drop starting a few days before Christmas day, and a major increase on 1 January. Apparently genealogists get over their new year celebration hangovers quite quickly, or new year resolutions take effect. It takes until 10 January to see the end of the holiday slowdown; then activity climbs above the pre-Christmas average for the winter peak.

13 July 2007

Citations for Canadians

One of BIFHSGO's most prominent members, and friend, Alison Hare, CG, spent considerable time earlier this year reviewing chapters of a new book, Evidence Explained - Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG. In June Alison gave a talk at the OGS Annual Seminar, and provided a helpful four page handout Citations for Canadians giving examples. These are divided into Basic citations from the original or a microform copy, Archival citations from Library and Archives Canada and Archives of Ontario sources, and Internet source citations.

There's too much content to delve far into it, but let's look at an Internet source citation, an Ontario death registration with information found from ancestry.ca. It's for the death of John James O'Brien in December 1925. Ancestry's sourcing reads:

Source Citation: Roll: MS935_323.
Source Information:

Ancestry.com. Ontario, Canada Deaths, 1869-1932 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005. Original data: Archives of Ontario. Registrations of Deaths - 1869-1932. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Archives of Ontario. MS935, 455 reels.
To this you need to add the year and registration number from the image.

The citation in the format Alison recommends is:

John James O'Brien, Ontario death registration 010717 (22 December 1925); digital image, Ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca : accessed 12 July 2007), citing microfilm MS935 reel 323, Archives of Ontario, Toronto.

I've highlighted in red the information that would apply to all Ontario civil death registrations, you might consider that the master source. Note that the information specific to this particular registration, and my access of it, is found in four different places in the citation.

If you've tried using the source capability in FTM or Legacy Family Tree software you will appreciate that producing a citation in this recommended format, with non-master source information in four different locations, is more than a challenge. I find it very frustrating. Alison comments that "genealogists creating their citations in genealogy software will likely want to order the elements differently ..... The key is to be consistent from one citation to another within any given work."

It's almost as if software companies and the creators of these citation formats were conspiring to make life difficult for the genealogist.

I've previously mentioned the site BibMe which creates citations for books, websites, magazine, newspaper and journal articles. You get a choice of MLA, APA and Chicago formatting. For many books you can go online, enter the title, and it will find the rest and fill in the blanks. Often a blank form is presented which at least does away with the burden of formatting. Wouldn't it be nice to find a similar handy web utility to help with at least the most common genealogical citations, for civil registration and census sources? Is there anyone reading this with sufficient computer skills to do this?

If you're interested in the new book Evidence Explained you might want to take advantage of the opportunity to win a copy as mention on Randy's Musings blog.

12 July 2007

Merseyside genealogy

Rigby is very much a Merseyside name as you can tell from the surname distribution map. The Beatles sang about Eleanor Rigby.

For genealogists with a Merseyside link Martin Rigby's Genealogy Blog is worth a visit. The first postings were in February and started with beginner information. The archive of the site also includes several postings in a "My ancestor was a ...." series for various occupations, including policeman, mill worker, railway worker, seaman and servant.

Martin Rigby writes for the Liverpool Echo where you can find some of his material on their web site.

11 July 2007


On July 12th the Queen, King Albert II of Belgium, and several other heads of state will attend the opening ceremony for the events at Tyne Cot Cemetery, shown at the left, commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele. Also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, it lasted from July - September, 1917. Canadians tend to think of the Battle of Vimy Ridge when WW1 is mentioned. For Europeans it is the horrific Battle of Passchendaele, with its nearly one million deaths, that most symbolizes the War.

Two years ago I had the opportunity to visit Ypres and the many battlefields in the vicinity. My great uncle, Edward Cohen, was killed on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele, 31 July 1917. It was moving to visit the scene and find his name engraved on the Menin Gate at Ypres.

Have you checked out people with your name who died in at the Battle Use the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site for British Commonwealth folks. You can't restrict the results by battle, but can limit the results by specifying year of death. The CWGC also have a new online exhibit about the battles around the Ypres Salient.

10 July 2007

Family Tree Maker Beta

You can test out a beta version of the new Family Tree Maker 2008 by downloading from http://beta.familytreemaker.com. It's a big file and took 25 minutes to download on my broadband connection. Then you have to download Microsoft .NET -- I think that's to get the maps to work.

In a previous posting I suggested three needed improvements, mapping, sources and DNA. Here are some first thoughts after only a few minutes exploring the capabilities.

Mapping is vastly improved over the lame effort in previous versions. It uses Microsoft Virtual Earth. The program will attempt to find the locations in your file, and you can list events that occurred at a given location. The list of locations seemed limited, it couldn't find Tottenham, Middlesex, England, for example.

The recording of sources also seems to be improved, but I need to do more evaluation.

There is still no specific provision for recording DNA information.

Being FTM it seemed to do a good job of importing earlier FTM files, and claims to import Legacy Family Tree and the Master Genealogist files, as well as GEDCOM.

Although this is only a beta, and didn't always perform as smoothly as one would hope, I'm encouraged by what I saw. I'll try and do a further review later. Do post a comment if you try it.

We have until August 24th until the beta stops working. You are warned not to save any new data you want to recover afterwards as the data formats are not backward compatible with earlier FTM versions.

09 July 2007

Hope for orphan publications

There's progress that could lead to easier access to so-called “orphan works,” publications in copyright whose owner cannot be identified and located by someone who wishes to make use of the work in a manner that requires the rights owner’s permission. Estimates are that these account for a large fraction, possibly even a majority of all publications. Easier access, perhaps through Google Books or Live Search Books, could help your genealogy search. It's often books from smaller publishers and individually published works, including family histories, that become orphans.

A Joint Steering Group established by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions IFLA) and the International Publishers Association (IPA) agreed on five principles to be followed by users of orphaned works:

• A reasonably diligent search should be undertaken to find the copyright owner.
• The user of an orphan work must provide a clear and adequate attribution to the copyright owner.
• If the copyright owner reappears, the owner should be reasonably remunerated or appropriate restitution should be made.
• If injunctive relief is available against the use of a previously orphaned work, the injunctive relief should take into account the creative efforts and investment made in good faith by the user of the work.
• The use of orphan works in non-exclusive.

No doubt this will be more grist for the legal mill as different jurisdictions ponder their response. I'm not anticipating quick action, but the agreement is encouraging.

Read the joint press release here.

07 July 2007

07/07/07 to 07/07/07

On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending a 100th birthday event for prominent local genealogist Elizabeth Stevens Stuart.

Elizabeth's afternoon arrival at the community hall in Vernon, in a vintage car, was heralded by a piper befitting her Scottish paternal origins. The hall was filled with family, including from the eastern US, friends and well wishers.

Before retiring Elizabeth was a teacher. Many of her former students were there to remember her contributions in days gone by. She has retained a passion for learning, and put this into practice in her own life when she started using a computer, a Mac, when in her early 90s.

Elizabeth was and remains a driving force in the Osgoode Township Historical Society and Museum. Eight of her genealogical publications are listed in the catalogue at Library and Archives Canada. A visit to the Museum in Vernon, to the Elizabeth Stuart Room, will reveal a host of research materials for Osgoode Township including a complete nominal card catalogue of all the surviving censuses for the Township. Many other resources, including local family histories, can be found under Our Holdings at the Society web site.

At the event we learned that her genealogy didn't start well as her birth was not registered. She does appear in the 1911 census. Best wishes to Elizabeth for a continuing full life.

06 July 2007

6 July 1957: the day John met Paul

No genealogy today, but perhaps family history ... if the Beatles music has been an important part of your life. This BBC programme re-creates the moment when John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time at a Quarrymen gig at a sunny garden fete in Woolton, Liverpool on 6 July 1957, 50 years ago.

05 July 2007

Is DNA testing over-hyped?

A couple of days ago I blogged on prominent genealogist Michael John Neill's skepticism on DNA and genealogy. He now has a follow-up posting.

He gives an example where, in trying to establish a relationship between two people several generations back, using descendants of those two as surrogates to provide "their" DNA, one has to be aware that there could be a non-paternity event in an intervening generation.

The problem here is not with the DNA test, which shows the lack of a relationship between the two people tested, but rather the assignment of those people as surrogates for another supposed ancestor.

There's a lot of scope for hidden hanky-panky in comparing distant cousins. Suppose the chance of a non-paternity event is 5% for any given child. Then the chance of at least one such event in 10 generations, five up from one person tested to the common ancestor and five down to the second person tested, is 1- (0.95^10) = about 40%. In this case conventional paper records would also be leading one of the two astray in following their ancestry back.

In ending the posting Michael John Neill makes the statement "The problem I have with DNA for genealogy is that it tends to be hyped more than necessary and pitched as a cure-all."

How much hype is necessary? Everyone is entitled to their view and it depends on the definition, "advertising or promotional ploy," "something deliberately misleading; a deception" or something in between. I'd point to genealogical examples where the hype is much greater than that for DNA. Geni.com and Footnote.com are examples, for different reasons.

As for DNA being pitched as a cure all, I don't recall any examples by companies involved in genetic genealogy. Perhaps Michael John Neill would oblige with some cases.

04 July 2007

Legacy Family Tree

About a month ago I blogged about talking to Geoff Rasmussen, a representative for Millenia Corp, and undertook to take a serious look at Legacy Family Tree when the next major release arrives. In the meantime I now have a copy of the full version of Legacy version 6.0 DeLuxe. That's thanks to my namesake, or rather his wife who is not a genealogist but who won a copy at the Quebec Family History Society Roots 2007 conference banquet. John already uses Legacy so I benefited from their prize.

Here are some first impressions of Legacy from a long-time Family Tree Maker user.

Installing the program was painless. I transferred my family files from FTM using a GEDCOM, the only option. The textual data transferred well, but images and multimedia files were not carried over. This remains a MAJOR problem in moving to another database program.

One of the things I really like in FTM, it comes close to being a killer app, is the ability to search ancestry.com for an ancestor directly from the program. Legacy appeared to offer this, plus searches on other databases too. When I tried it an error message was returned. Millenia quickly responded to my email with a work around. I was impressed with the speed and friendliness of the response.

Less impressive was the capability of the search. FTM's ancestry search takes into account not only the person's name but also date and place of birth, husband's name if a women, and seemingly other data. FTM does a fuzzy search and seems remarkably good at guessing the best matches. By contrast Legacy searched only on the name. As my family history is almost all in the UK it was frustrating to find Legacy suggesting mainly US matches. On this one FTM wins hands down.

It will take more to to evaluate Legacy fully, but so far I've found no compelling reason to switch.

03 July 2007

DNA Skeptic

I've never had the pleasure of meeting Michael John Neill. He writes for Ancestry's Weekly Journal, which gives him a measure of credibility in genealogy circles. It was a bit of a surprise to see a posting at rootdig.com attributed to him, Is DNA that big of a deal?

He writes about DNA hype, "in the vast majority of cases DNA does not provide the type of relationship precision we need" and "I do not give one iota about where my ancestors were 100,000 years ago."

Neill is obviously not one, but I do find many genealogists who are interested in the distant origins of their family. They like to get some insight into their ancestors part in the great world migrations to ancestral homelands thousands of years ago. It's a pursuit every bit as valid as conventional paper-based genealogical research.

I was interested in mine, but didn't get especially excited. As only the strictly paternal (Y-DNA) and the strictly maternal (mitrochrondial DNA) lines are traced by normal genealogical DNA tests, you get information on only two of your two to the power N ancestors that lived N generations back. By the time you get to a couple of thousand years back that means practically all of us share many common ancestors. What's so special about those two lines?

What Neill fails to acknowledge is the great benefit DNA can be in the genealogical timeframe.

This may come as a shock, but not everything written on paper or parchment, no matter how musty, is the truth. People lie, especially about paternity. Is there any great genealogical virtue in following a paper trail back when the paternity described is a fabrication?

Neill may have forgotten the situation described by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak where DNA was able to show that two Smolenyak lines from a small village were in fact distinct, there was no common ancestor. That saved much fruitless effort in record offices to try and unite the lines.

Neill argues that less effort should be expended on DNA research, and more in digitizing local records. It isn't an either or proposition. There's room in the this world for the benefits of both.

02 July 2007

FindMyPast adds 1920s passenger lists

Findmypast.com has added another decade of records to the UK Outbound Passenger Lists currently available. Records now include 15,749,960 names within 97,614 passenger lists spanning 1890 to 1929.
Some of the origins in the 1920s are typewritten, many give an age. Some also give an address although often it's that of the travel company.