Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Friday, March 16, 2018

A Family History Mission: The Challenges of Digitization

No. 46

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission James Tanner" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them.

The document shown above is actually from Rhode Island and not one of the documents we are digitizing here in Annapolis at the Maryland State Archives. After spending a couple of months digitizing and preparing documents day after day, I find that my perception of what I am seeing online has changed considerably so I decided to show some of the digital images and discuss what you are actually looking at when you see the images on

Let's look at the document above. First of all, it is a photograph of two pages in a book. The image also has an "attachment." That is the piece of paper covering up part of the text of the book. Properly, there would have to be another photo of the same page showing the part covered by the attachment. The book is laying on a camera stand and the camera is situated directly over the pages to be photographed. Here is a photo of one of our camera stands.

In this photo, you can see three clamps used to hold the book level. If you go back to the photo at the beginning, you can see a clamp that is just barely visible in the lower left-hand corner of the book page. The idea here is that the pages of the book have to be kept flat and perpendicular to the camera so that the images are in focus at a high resolution. Every time we start taking photos, we have to calibrate the camera. This means we test the focus, white balance, and resolution or lines per inch before taking any photos. We do this to assure that the images are clear and uniform. We have two large lights on either side of the camera stand that need to "warm up" every day for fifteen minutes so that the light is uniform.

Here is a photo of the lights with a "whiteboard."

By taking a photo using the whiteboard, the camera is calibrated to white with the available lighting. This allows the camera to "see" the book being photographed in the existing light and take the best possible photos. It is essentially a way to measure the intensity or temperature of the light. However, since all these photos are in grayscale, it is really a way to set the amount of light entering the camera lens, i.e. the aperture or f-stop.  But since this camera is a fixed installation, the aperture remains the same but the speed of the sensor chip can be modified. The easiest way to understand what is happening is to say that the camera adjusts to the light.

However, the grayscale, or relationship between light and dark areas also needs to calibrated. For this, we use a standard Kodak grayscale strip. The camera reads the strip and makes the adjustments to get the best contrast for the photos.

If we are taking pictures of single page documents, then the distance from the document to the camera never changes. But if we are taking pictures of a book, then every time we turn a page the distance from the lens to the page changes slightly and the level of the pages also changes. As we work through a book, we have to constantly be changing the level of the two sides of the book to keep the plane of the pages level and perpendicular to the camera. We get better at this with practice. We use a series of wedges and blocks to level the books. We also use foam cushions.

Well, that's enough for today.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Family History Mission: Some Random Observations

No. 45

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission James Tanner" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them.

Time is passing rapidly here in Annapolis, Maryland. We are working on our fourth month on a mission, but who is counting? I thought it might be a good time to review some of my random observations. Here they are:

Driving in Washington, D.C. is like the Polar Bear swim at Scout camp. It is terrible to consider and even worse to experience. We quickly realized how much easier it was to take the train into the city. We also discovered the buses. There is a really convenient bus called the DC Circulator that has a loop route around the Museums and attractions in the Mall area near the Capital Building. It is only a dollar and half price for Seniors with the convenient Senior Smart Trip Card.

Traffic on the freeways when there is room and not completely stopped, travels between 75 and 80 mph even though the speed limit is 65. Since that is also the case in the Phoenix area, we are not overly impressed. However, the speed limits in Phoenix are much higher. In Utah, the speed limit on the Interstate outside of the cities raises to 80 mph.

We are getting used to living in an apartment. The last time we lived in an apartment was when we lived in Panama while I was in the Army almost 50 years ago. Our biggest challenges are one small bathroom and two flights of stairs when we have store purchases.

We love working with the other missionaries. Two couples are finishing their mission this week and going home. But we know there is at least one more couple on the way. We like the cooperative nature of the experience and the collaboration on digitizing problems and procedures. The Archive employees are also very helpful and dedicated.

We are attending the Spa Creek (Spanish) branch and that is another adjustment. It is a very small branch with a Sacrament Meeting attendance of only around fifty people including all of the children. Of course, all the meetings are in Spanish and it is a challenge understanding all of the accents from different Spanish-speaking countries. We are warmly received and have had some very nice experiences.

I have been going to the Annapolis Stake Family History Center every Tuesday and Thursday evening. I have been having quite a bit of success helping others and finding my own records. I am starting to talk to people and meeting them at the FHC for help. That works out very well. We might also have access to the FHC during Sunday School so we can help the Branch members find their ancestors.

The weather here is very different from both the Salt River Valley and the Wasatch Front. The temperature seems to go up and down sort of randomly and there is a lot more rain than we are used to. We are watching some of the flowering plants start to grow and so we think that Winter might end sometime and we will see what the town looks like with leaves on the trees.

Before we came to Annapolis, we kept hearing about how beautiful the city was and that it was quite an attraction. It does have some nice old buildings but the streets are extremely narrow, there is almost no parking anywhere near the old downtown area near the dock, and the rest of the town looks pretty much like the rest of the United States with malls, fast food restaurants, and other businesses. We have found the stores we need for shopping and our apartment is very centrally located.

The apartment doesn't have assigned parking unless you want to pay for a covered space. If you come back late in the evening, we have to park almost a block away from our apartment.

We enjoy working at digitizing the records. The records are an endless source of interesting names and other information. We really appreciate the local volunteers who come to help prepare the records and even help with the digitizing.

I would still strongly recommend a Senior Missionary experience. We have a great time. We would have to grow old and live our lives anyway, so we might as well be doing something useful and enjoyable.

All the missionaries get to work right around 7:00 am despite traffic and weather. This shows me that they are all enjoying their experience here in the Maryland State Archives.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What are good and bad changes to the FamilySearch Family Tree?

According to my Watch List on the Family Tree, I am watching 289 people. That means that if any changes are made to those people FamilySearch will send me a weekly list of the changes. As you can see from this last week's notice, I had 210 changes to 28 people. By the way, most of those changes are to the same people every week. I review all of the changes every week. I look at the type of change made and who made the changes. For example, the change shown above was made by my daughter. Since the change involved adding a document and was made by a person I know to be competent, I don't have to do anything at all about the change. This is a "constructive" change.

It is the nature of the Family Tree to change. Interestingly, almost all of the complaints I listen to about the Family Tree deal with some kind of change. Those complaints started within a day or two of the first introduction of the program years ago and I just received a long list of complaints from my blog readers about some new changes to the Family Tree. The complaints haven't changed since the first day I began to hear them. I have written dozens of blog posts on the subject of change in the Family Tree on both this blog and on Genealogy's Star. Some time ago, when I started writing this blog, I transferred all my topics dealing with FamilySearch and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to this blog. There is some spillover but this blog deals with issues that are raised mainly for members of the Church and about the Church.

The FamilySearch Family Tree has a lot of users who are not members of the Church. Since the Family Tree is immensely useful for everyone, regardless of their membership status, there are issues that extend well beyond the main focus of this blog. Change to cooperative online family trees such as the Family Tree is one of those issues.

Most of the online family trees are "owned" by one individual. For example, I have family trees on,,,, and many other websites. I am the only person who can make changes to some of those online family trees. Both and are collaborative websites based on the wiki model just as is the Family Tree. The website is somewhat unique in its association with the Church and its open collaborative nature. Because of this association, there are a substantial number of users of the Family Tree that do not have a significant amount of experience with other online family tree programs. There are also many of these people who also have little or no online computer experience beyond social networking and other popular online venues. In addition, the number of people who are interested in genealogy and familiar with genealogical research and who also are on the Family Tree is vanishingly small.

Since the Family Tree is open to the world and because change is part of the nature of the program, there are going to be a lot of changes made that are not constructive. My attitude towards this is so what? It comes with having a program where the benefits far outweigh the annoyance of having changes made to the information available in the program.

The underlying concept of the Family Tree is to collaboratively allow incremental changes to any of the information (data) to thereby increase both the amount and accuracy of that information. Initially, the Family Tree was seeded with a huge amount of information that had accumulated for over 100 years. The core of this information was accurate, but much of it was duplicative or inaccurate. The challenge was to provide a venue where this accumulated information could be corrected and the duplicate information removed. The Family Tree does all that admirably. As more sources are added to the Family Tree it becomes more accurate and therefore more useful. However, the number of changes will not necessarily decrease over time because more information will always become available and more people will be added to the Family Tree.

Good changes add to the cumulative information in the Family Tree and good changes also correct inaccurate or incomplete information. Good changes also provide sources that explain where the changed or added information originated, i.e. a source in Memories or a citation to an outside source. Bad changes are those that remove correct information and substitute incorrect information. Bad sources also include information that is added without a source. By the way, personal knowledge is a source, but most of the time it cannot be validated. But if you don't know where the information came from, it is probably inaccurate. Many bad sources are added to the Family Tree by people who fail to read the information and sources already attached to a person. If a person in the Family Tree has multiple sources, why would you assume that the information already in the Family Tree is inaccurate simply because your unsupported records differ from what is already there?

For example, my ancestor John Tanner KWJ1-K2F has 231 Memories and 96 sources. Notwithstanding this massive amount of information, people still add wives and children and then those relationships are deleted. These kinds of "bad" changes give the whole Family Tree a bad reputation.

The bad changes to the Family Tree are like weeds in a garden. No matter how many times you pull weeds, there are always more. But you don't stop gardening simply because you have to pull weeds.

If there is a real dispute about the identity of an ancestor or whether or not a child belongs in a certain family, then these issues should be resolved through collaboration. Think about it.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Remember, the MyHeritage Tree Sync is in Beta

I have been seeing some semi-hysterical comments about the Tree Sync program with This is a subtle reminder that the program is in BETA testing. When the CEO of MyHeritage, Gilad Japhet, gave his presentation at RootsTech, he mentioned that they had about 100 BETA testers. In order to use the program, you have to request a code from MyHeritage. This alone should be a clue that there might be problems with the BETA program. So why are there such emotional complaints about the functions of a program that is still officially in development? Who knows?

Some of the most serious complaints are about difficulties with the BETA test and sources in the FamilySearch Family Tree that have now been fixed.  If you aren't able to take the bad with the good in a BETA test, I suggest that you wait for a final release of the program. Personally, I have been using the program for a couple of months now and I am thrilled with the program. You can read what I think in some of my previous posts.

Also, if you do have a real issue with the BETA test, the whole idea is to communicate your concerns back to MyHeritage. Venting in public about the problems is not responsible or logical. By the way, the Tree Sync program will be considered one of the most important steps in the development of online family trees. It basically gives LDS members who now use the Family Tree the ability to use, MyHeritage, a hugely effective program with nearly 9 billion records in a way that will enhance both programs immensely.

The Duplicate Source Issue on the FamilySearch Family Tree

First of all the duplicate source issue is really a bogus issue. The Family Tree allows you to add sources to records supporting any entry made. The real issue is people who make changes and do not add a source for those changes, not people who add more than one copy of a single source. There is absolutely no harm done to the information in the Family Tree when someone adds a "duplicate" source. If you are bothered by the duplicate source, then detach it. But before you do, think about whether it is a duplicate or an alternative source for the information. There is a real difference.

If I attach a reference (source) to the Family Tree saying I got my information from FamilySearch for a 1930 U.S. Census record for a family and someone comes along and adds another reference or citation or source to the same record, so what? Why do you care? But what if I find the same record on or or whatever, is that a duplicate source? Or is it another "source" for the same information. Maybe I want to know I can find the U.S. Census records on more than one website. In that sense, the second reference or citation is not a duplicate and when you remove or detach the duplicate, you are removing valuable information from the Family Tree.

Let's move on from this issue of "duplicate" sources and focus on getting as much information into the Family Tree as we can.

See What are Sources on the FamilySearch Family Tree?

Answering questions about the MyHeritage Tree Sync

I received the following comment from a reader of my recent post about the new Tree Sync feature for LDS users of the Family Tree. I have responsive comments about this on a number of levels. Here is the comment.
What concerns me is that there is no chance to review what changes MyHeritage is going to make to FamilyTree before the synch happens. The synch is apparently automatic and you only get a report of what was changed after the synch is complete. It seems to me it would be much better to require users to individually approve each change to FT before the synch occurs. I have nightmares of MyHeritage making all kinds of changes to FT, many of which users may not have actually intended to make. Then, it's left up to all us FT users to try and fix the mess.
First of all, the Tree Sync feature is not "automatic" in the sense that it "automatically" copies changes from your Tree Sync family tree to the Family Tree. You have to go to the menu and select the function and then let it run for an hour or so to make any changes. But my response to the comment is not quite that simple. The entire idea of having the ability to synchronize information on two different family trees inplies that they will be kept as close to identicle as possible. Right now, I can manually "sync" any of my online family trees by merely comparing the entries and copying and pasting in any changes. That is exactly the problem being addressed by the idea of creating a way to do this without the work of individually transferring changes.

Even before MyHeritage made their announcement, there are at least three different ways to manually, one by one, make synchronization changes from a third party family tree to the Family Tree:, RootsMagic, and Ancestral Quest. In each of these three programs changes are made essentially one item at a time. By the way, this is a really great feature of all three programs. But what we are talking about here with MyHeritage takes this a giant step further. It allows me to have the same information on my portion of the Family Tree and maintain what is close to a mirror copy (without the reverse effect of a real mirror) on MyHeritage. I now have what is essentially a backup of my work on the Family Tree (and everyone else's work too for that matter).

The comment starts out with an inaccurate statement, "What concerns me is that there is no chance to review what changes MyHeritage is going to make to FamilyTree before the synch happens." The only changes made are those you yourself make to your own personal family tree. Yes, if I make a stupid mistake on my MyHeritage family tree, I will likely copy that stupid mistake over the FamilySearch Family Tree, but how is this any different than any other mistake I might make while working on the Family Tree? Again, you initiate any synchronization.

I have been working away on my Tree Sync family tree for some time now. Guess what? I am finding errors in the Family Tree that need to be corrected. For example, I find a whole ancestral line in England that has non-specific birthplaces for my ancestors. MyHeritage automatically gave me a pile of Record Matches that gave me the specific parishes where these ancestors were born. Rather than manually copying those changes over to the Family Tree, I simply synchronized my portion of the Family Tree and all the changes were made and sources added to support the changes. Wow.

Let's think for a minute about the random changes being made to the Family Tree by people who don't know enough to add sources for their changes or who are simply making mistakes, stupid or otherwise. What do I do when someone changes my entire family line by adding a different parent or some other major change? I have to manually go back and make all the revisions. Now, I have a backup copy of my portion of the Family Tree that helps to keep those random changes under control. I can still use the manual method of making changes if I want to do so but I have a copy to use that is not out of date that can support my corrections to random changes in the Family Tree.

The second statement in the comment also begs the issue. You are the only one adding anything or correcting anything on your MyHeritage family tree. You made all the changes to your MyHeritage family tree, if there is a mistake, correct your own mistake. MyHeritage isn't going to make any changes to your portion of the Family Tree, you are. If you make a mess, it is your own mess not some other user on MyHeritage.

What the commetator is really trying to say is what if one of your relatives has a mess on their family tree and uses that to make changes to the Family Tree? Hmm. It seems to me that this is already the case. That is the reason I already get a long list of changes to the people I am watching on the Family Tree. What the commentator doesn't realize, apparently, is that all my corrections to the Family Tree will be copied over to the relative's family tree. Hmm. I just corrected my relative's mistakes. His or her family tree on MyHeritage just got a lot more accurate assuming, of course, that I know what I am doing.

The comment also overlooks the fact that the MyHeritage family trees are subject to an extensive error correcting feature with a consistency checker on multiple levels. I have already had that feature correct several errors in my own MyHeritage family tree. I would suggest that the commentator use the Consistency Checker before synchronizing his own family tree efforts.

Now a sense of reality please. The number of people actually working on the Family Tree and making changes is realtively small. Presently, only about 6% of the members of the Church make any real effort to work on the Family Tree and of those only a vanishingly small percentage have an active family tree on MyHeritage. The effect of this is those without a family tree on MyHeritage are losing out on finding more Record Matches that will help them be even more accurate. I suggest that only really serious genealogists will make the effort to use MyHeritage's family tree and synchronize their changes. By the way, there are a huge number of "serious" genealogists who wouldn't dream of putting their family tree on either website or anywhere else for that matter. But that is another topic for another day.

This is a win/win situation. We all benefit from more accurate entries in the Family Tree. If you want to know what is happening, I suggest you watch the presentation by Gilad Jephet, the CEO of on YouTube. See "Perspectives on Combining Genealogy and Genetics"

If you have any questions about the Tree Sync feature or anything else you are worrying about. Please make a comment or contact me directly. You can email me. I am also on Facebook, Google+ and almost everywhere else on the internet.

Sunday, March 11, 2018