Saturday, May 14, 2016

Yes, You CAN Download Your Tree From – Here’s How – Family History Daily

I don't have a tree on, but I've found that a lot of people who do don't know how to download their data, so some may find this useful.

Yes, You CAN Download Your Tree From – Here’s How – Family History Daily:
Can you download your family tree from The answer is yes. We see this question quite a bit so we thought we’d quickly show you how you can easily download a GEDCOM from Ancestry that you can use as a backup, or to import in to virtually any family tree program or family history tree website.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Instant Messaging for genealogy?

I recently got a message from someone (no names, no pack drill) extolling the use of Instant Messaging for genealogical research.

It seems that some people think that Instant Messaging is the best thing since sliced bread. I hate sliced bread, except when I have to make a snack in a hotel room far from home late at night. That happens to me about once every 17 years.

Anyway, here is what they said, and my response. I'd be interested in knowing what other people think about this kind of thing.

> Would you be interested in using a real time mobile/cell phone instant
> messaging tool to help your family history research and contributions to
> Xxxx.


> Messaging is like email but a lot simpler, quicker and is in real time,
> so you could be texting or sending pictures to a Xxxx member on a
> different continent and on different time zones.

One of the great advantages of e-mail is that it is NOT in real time. I
can send someone a message and it won't interrupt whatever they are doing
(often at a very inconvenient time).

Instant messaging is great for messages of the "I'll be late for lunch"
variety, but those have lost their value by late afternoon, and I hope my
genealogy research is less ephemeral than that.

For anything other than ephemeral stuff like that, I find instant messaging
clumsy, inconvenient, and very hard to use.

Have you ever tried copying an instant message from your phone to a
computer? You get it on the phone, type the first word, and then the phone
switches off. In trying to switch it on again you press the wrong thing
and find you are adding the person who sent it to your contacts or
something else you don't want to do. You have to undo that (which often turns out to be even more difficult and time-consuming), and then find the message again, and start typing with one hand, and our other hand poised over the phone to press something the moment th screen dims, and hope that you don't set off another unwanted chain of events. Getting genealogy messages  on a cell phone is time-consuming, annoying and horrible.

> It is best used for free via a wi-fi connection otherwise mobile/cell
> service provider could apply data roaming charges.
> My preference is to use Facebook Messenger. There are other tools but I
> think Facebook Messenger would be our best option because group sizes
> are limited to 250 users and you may also benefit from using Facebook
> itself for communicating with close family and friends. If more than 250
> Red1st members accept this invitation I will set up multiple groups of
> 250 users.

When people send me genealogy messages on Facebook messenger, I ask them
to contact me by e-mail, which is simpler, easier to use and manage, and a
lot more convenient.

> If you wish to be take part in one of these groups please ensure you are
> registered with Facebook Messenger (find the mobile/cell app on Google
> Play) then reply to this email requesting to join a group and I will fix
> you up.

I've just learned how to turn off Facebook notifications on my cell phone,
to my great relief. I only look at Facebook on my cell phone when I'm away
from home or if there is a power failure.

Among other things, note how e-mail (as copied above) allows you to reply to a message point by point, and gives you a record of what the other person has said. Instant messaging doesn't let you do this, which can lead to ambiguity and misunderstandings, and often means that you have to type long-winded explanations of which point you are replying to. 

If I am communicating with someone about genealogy research, then the means of communication are, in order of preference:
  1. Face-to-face
  2. E-mail
  3. Snail mail
  4. Voice phone call
  5. Instant messaging 
Ideally, e-mail should be used to prepare for and follow-up a face-to-face meeting. Snail mail can also be used for this purpose, but is more expensive and less convenient. In this situation, Instant Messaging can be useful for things like "I'm in a traffic jam and will be late for our meeting", but for little else.

Obviously a face-to-face meeting is not possible for people living on different continents who are unable to travel, but then the best method is e-mail alone.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Do you have any genealogy documents hiding in your home?

This article is a timely reminder of what can happen if you have unfiled genealogical documents lying around at home.

Do you have any genealogy documents hiding in your home? - Organize Your Family History:

In an extreme example of the perils of letting household filing pile up, I found my grandfather’s birth record over the weekend.

Over the last few years, I’d put some effort into figuring where he was born. It was mysterious to me because the census records said he was born in Oregon, yet his residence was always Washington. My father, his son, had no recollection of any family history in Oregon. Two years ago, I blogged about it when I discovered a birth announcement in a Portland paper. At that time I said I had written away to the state archives for a copy of the birth certificate. Alas, I received a letter from the Oregon Health Authority saying that no birth record was found.

The problem is, even when you have rediscovered such long-lost documents, how do you file them so you can find them again?

My solution, for the last 25 years, has been to use the Research Data Filer (RDF), but, since it is that old, it really needs an update, or at least another program that will perform the same function.

It's a question I've been asking for years, but I'm not sure we are any closer to the answer. At one point I wondered if Clooz might be the answer, but it seems so much more complex. One of the advantages of RDF was that it did one job, and it did it well and simply. Clooz seems much too complex.

Are there any programmers out there who would be willing to reverse engineer RDF, and produce something that would work as well, or better, and also import data from the old version?


Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Review: BillionGraves Plus - GeneaBloggersGeneaBloggers

BillionGraves is one of the better ways of recording gravestones in cemeteries, and here's a review of the Plus version that is about to be released.

Review: BillionGraves Plus - GeneaBloggersGeneaBloggers:

The folks at BillionGraves have given me a behind-the-scenes look at BillionGraves Plus and after putting it through several tests with my own search criteria, I can say that going premium is definitely worth the price!

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

DNA Tests Prove Retired Postman Has Over 1,300 Illegimitate Children Infamous Tribune

"The father was the milkman" is a somewhat clichéd old joke, but perhaps there is more truth to it than many people realise.DNA Tests Prove Retired Postman Has Over 1,300 Illegimitate Children Infamous Tribune:
Private investigator Sid Roy never could have imagined a simple gig would end up in a 15-year quest for the truth. “It all started in 2001 when two different men that had nothing to do with each other hired me to find their biological father. I was astounded after further investigation to realize they both originated from the same person. That is when the mystery started unraveling and it became a personal mission of mine, whenever I had some free time, I’d try and track down other testimonies. Eventually, DNA testing became really cheap and easy to use and helped me gather a lot of information in the latest years,” he acknowledges.

... unless, of course, this story is itself one of those clichéd old jokes. All it actually says is that two people had the same father, and it says nothing about how the father was discovered, or how DNA testing was done on the other alleged children.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Our Free Weekend starts this Friday! - Findmypast - Genealogy, Ancestry, History blog from Findmypast

Our Free Weekend starts this Friday! - Findmypast - Genealogy, Ancestry, History blog from Findmypast: We're delighted to announce that from noon this Friday 22nd until noon on Monday 25th, our world records* will be available for anyone to view, completely free of charge. You'll be able to explore… Millions of records you won't find anywhere else, including fascinating World War 2 Prisoner of War records, millions of England & Wales Crime records and the incredible British in India collection

DNA study reveals that the English are 'one-third' Anglo-Saxon -

DNA study reveals that the English are 'one-third' Anglo-Saxon -
Historians have long debated how extensive was the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, which took place between the mid-fifth and early-seventh centuries. It was during this period that several Germanic peoples arrived and colonized parts of the England, but it was unknown how large this migration was and whether or not they mixed with the native population.

An opportunity to resolve these issues emerged with the discovery and excavation of three sites near Cambridge - five samples from Hinxton, four from Oakington and one from Linton. The Linton sample and two Hinxton samples are from the late Iron Age (~100 BCE), the four samples from Oakington from the early Anglo-Saxon period (fifth to sixth century), and three Hinxton samples from the middle Anglo-Saxon period (seventh to ninth century). The two Iron Age samples from Hinxton were male, while all other samples were female.

Friday, December 18, 2015

What happened to BillionGraves?

Four months ago I lost my cell phone when trying to take a photo of a gravestone for BillionGraves.

This month my cell phone contract came up for renewal, and when looking for a replacement phone one of my important criteria was a camera of 5 megapixels or better, so that I could use it for the BillionGraves app that I had on my old phone.

The cheapest phone that met those criteria was the Vodafone Smart Grand, so I opted for that, and once I had got it charged up and running I set off (virtually, of course, by pressing the screen icon) for the Google Play Store to download the BillionGraves app.

The only problem was, the app wasn't there.

The icon for the Play Store is on the screen, and there are other apps that can be downloaded (like Evernote), but of BillionGraves there was no sign.

So what has happened?

The BillionGraves web site still seems to be there, but the BillionGraves app has vanished from the Google Play Store.

Has BillionGraves had a fall-out with Google, that they are no longer distributing the app through the Google Play Store so that it has to be sideloaded? Or should I have got a more expensive phone? Or is there something wrong with Vodacom's phones that they don't connect correctly to the Google Play Store?

I'm sure there are lots of other genealogists who have found the BillionGraves site and the related app useful, so can anyone tell me what has happened? Is it still working for you?


The good news is that the BillionGraves app is still available. 

The bad news is that if you bought an Android phone in South Africa, which came with pre-installed apps, it will not take you to the real Google Play Store, but only to a very-much censored South African version, which has a much smaller selection of apps.

Here is a workaround:

Go to the Play Store, select the category Communications, and scroll down till you find the Firefox browser. Ignore all the distracting junk it displays about signing in and registering and all the rest. 

Just enter the URL

That should take you to the real Google play store, and not the lame South African one, and there you will find BillionGraves and a lot of other apps that have been withheld from South African Android users. 

It seems that some (many? all?) Android phones sold in South Africda come with the Google Chrome web browser pre-installed as a Wed browser, and the browser is pre-programmed to take you only to the toy Play Store, and not to the real one. Firefox is an independent browser, and is not pre-programmed like that, and will take you where you want to go.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Research - Somerset Remembers

Here's something for Somerset researchers -- Somerset records relating to the First World War are now on line.

See here:

Research - Somerset Remembers

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

5 Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - Amy Johnson Crow

Here's some good advice for photos you should take at a cemetery. I've often forgotten to do this, and regretted it later.

5 Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - Amy Johnson Crow:
It’s sad — and rather frustrating — to go to a cemetery, take some photos, and realize when you get home that those photos don’t really help you. (It’s especially frustrating when you’re not able to get back to take more photos.) To help ease the frustration, here are 5 cemetery photos that you should get in the habit of taking every time:
And there's one thing I would add to that useful article: if you have a smartphone, take a photo of the full gravestone with it and send it to BillionGraves.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

New Genealogy Software to Save Thousands of Man Hours

For years we've had a lot o0f genealogy programs that do the same thing, and for the most part they do the same things as eacjh other. When someone writes a new program, it turns out to do the same things as the old ones did. But here, at last, may be something different.

New Genealogy Software to Save Thousands of Man HoursGeneaBloggers:
Ged-I (which stands for GEDCOM Interpreter) is an innovative genealogy software that automates the extraction of ancestral information from genealogical texts. It takes a process that currently takes months, even years, and condenses it into a matter of hours. Nothing like this currently exists. Ged-I is the first of its kind. Ged-I is still in the development phase. Logique LLC, the creators of Ged-I, is running a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo starting October 23, 2015, to accelerate development and get the product out to the people who need it. You can find more info here:

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Plugging genealogy's 30-year gap - BBC News

Good news for UK genealogists: Plugging genealogy's 30-year gap - BBC News:
The findings of a one-off survey of the public from 1939 are about to be released, allowing genealogists to fill a 30-year gap in census records. What will it reveal of a country just beginning to fight a war? The war with Germany had just started and officials had little time to lose in preparing for the fighting and privations to come. So on 29 September 1939, just 26 days after hostilities had been declared, a survey nicknamed the UK's only "instant census" took place. The findings enabled the issuing of identity cards and ration cards. The register applied to all civilians.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

How to Work With Dates Before 1900 in Excel

Many people people use spreadsheet programs for simple database tasks in their genealogical research.

One of the difficulties with this, however, is that genealogists frequently need to record dates before 1900, and many spreadsheet programs can't handle them.

If you are using Microsoft Excel, however, there are some workarounds.

How to Work With Dates Before 1900 in Excel:

If you work with dates prior to the year 1900, Excel's standard date-handling system will be no help. However, there are several ways around this problem. Excel stores recent dates as a date serial number, which allows us to sort those dates and perform date arithmetic. Unfortunately, Excel's serial number begins on January 1, 1900; and negative serial numbers aren't recognized.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Why I am still using a 22-year-old genealogy program

People are sometimes surprised when I tell them I am still using a genealogy program that is more than 20 years old. It is the 1993 version of the Family History System (FHS) by Philip Brown.

I started using it in 1987, when I got an MS-DOS computer for the first time, and tried out a whole bunch of shareware genealogy programs. FHS seemed to be the best of the bunch, and it was so good that I'm still using it today.

It came as a free version, with optional extensions that one could buy, and I soon bought them. And the author was open to suggestions for improvements. One that I suggested, and he adopted, was an option using the yyyy-mm-dd format for  data entry, which is standard in South Africa, and is the only unambiguous system for entering all-numeric dates.

But why do I still use it today?

I don't use it alone. I use it in conjunction with other programs. I use Legacy for its fancy printed reports and fields for extra information. I use RootsMagic for quick 'n dirty research, adding stuff from all over, and sorting it out later (it has a note field for every event, which is good for that).

But FHS still has several capabilities that none of the others have.

First among them, and which is the key to using it in conjunction with the other programs, is that it has the capability of exporting a GEDCOM file with a defined range of RINs. That means I can export records 19257-19643, and when I import them into another program those records will still have RINs 19257-19263, and person 19439 in FHS will be the same person as 19439 in Legacy, PAF, and any other program I import the file to.

That alone is sufficient reason for me to continue using FHS, and using it as my program of first data entry. No other genealogy program that I know of has that capability, or if it has, it is so well-hidden and difficult to access that I have never been able to discover it.

A second reason I continue to use FHS is that it can spit out free-form reports that can be incorporated into e-mail messages, newsgroup posts and other places where ASCII text is useful. Here's one that I used recently:

Family Group Report
For: John Stringer Worrall  (ID=12780)                           
Date Prepared: 30 Jun 2015 

NAME: WORRALL, John Stringer, Born ??? 1823 in Manchester, LAN,  
  ENG, Died May 1879? in Islington, London at age 56; FATHER:  
  WORRALL, Elisha; MOTHER: STRINGER, Sarah; Bookbinder and  
MARRIED 27 Jan 1859 in Manchester, LAN, ENG, to COTTAM, Mary,  
  Born Oct 1838 in Manchester, Died ???; FATHER: COTTAM, Richard,
  Born ??? 1812, Died Feb 1877 at age 65; MOTHER: BAGOT,  
  Margaret, Born 22 Jan 1811, Died Feb 1882 at age 71 
 1. F  WORRALL, Maggie, born 1 Jun 1861 in Manchester, LAN, ENG, 
       died ???; Married 23 Jul 1892 to EDGE, William Edward; 4  
 2. M  WORRALL, John James, born ??? 1864 in Manchester, LAN,  
       ENG, died ???; Married Feb 1910 to GROVER, Harriet  
       Elizabeth; 3 children 
 3. F  WORRALL, Bessie Bagot, born 5 Feb 1866 in Islington,  
       London, died Nov 1867 in Islington, London 
 4. F  WORRALL, Bessie Bagot, born Aug 1868 in London, MDX, ENG, 
       died ???; Married to BUSH, Harry; 4 children 
 5. F  WORRALL, Lucy Naomi, born Aug 1871 in London, MDX, ENG,  
       died Aug 1900 
 6. M  WORRALL, William Harry, born ??? 1874 in London, MDX, ENG,
       died ???; Married ??? 1905 to KNIGHT, Louise; 1 child 
 7. M  WORRALL, George Frederick, born ??? 1877 in London, MDX,  
       ENG, died ???; Married to Lizzie 

I don't know of any other genealogy program that can do that.

A third reason that I still use it is that it can produce relative reports like no other genealogy program, and it can select all the relatives of any person in the database and export those relatioves, and those relatives only, to a GEDCOM file.

So if my third cousin once removed on my mother's side wants a GEDCOM file of his relatives, he is not interested in my father's side of the family, or my wife's side of the family. I can give him a GEDCOM containing just his relatives. It offers a choice of whether to include spouses, and also children of spouses and spoouses of children, who would be related not by blood but by marriage.

As far as I am aware those three features are not available in any other genealogy program, and that is why I continue to use FHS, even though it is over 20 years old.

So I use Legacy for its fancy reports and extra details, but I still enter my data in FHS and export it by Gedcom, first to PAF 4.0, and import from there to Legacy. Thus each person in the Legacy file has the same RIN as in FHS.

If I import the Gedcom direct to Legacy instead of first to PAF, it scrambles the RINs -- something that the people at Millennia have sometimes promised to fix, but never have.

I keep my FHS database on both my desktop computer (running Windows XP) and my laptop (running Windows 7)., so that if I take my laptop to the archives or a library, I can add people there, and transfer to my desktop computer when
I get home. I transfer using a USB flash drive, which therefore serves as an additional backup for both computers. Actually I have two USB flash drives for that purpose, and alternate them weekly, which provides even more backup.

I do the transfers of FHS and other data using four batch files: dsk2flsh.bat, flsh2lap, lap2flsh, flsh2dsk, so all that is requred is typing a single command for all the files to be transferred. That doesn't only concern FHS, of course, so I just mention that in passing.

There may be other FHS users out there, and if you can think of any of the capabilities of FHS that I've left out, particularly those not found in other genealogy programs, please add them in comments.

And many thanks to Philip Brown, one of the pioneers of genealogical computing, whose work remains unsurpassed in some respects to this day.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Which genealogy progam should I use?

I often see people asking in online forums which genealogy program they should use to keep their genealogy data --, or

The do not seem to be aware that these are not programs, but web sites where you can publish your genealogy, and the web sites themselves often do not make it clear that that is what they are.

A genealogy program is a program that runs on your computer and enables you to enter, sort and organise your family history. A web site may have a program working in the background that does such things, but it is running on someone else's computer, not yours, and you have less control over it.

There are many genealogy programs available and it's not my purpose to compare them and make recommendations of the comparisons here. If you want such comparisons of programs, click here.

My main point here is to point out the differences between a genealogy program that runs on your computer, and a web site on which you publish your genealogy, and what they are good for and what they are not good for.

And my first recommendatuion is that you get a genealogy program to run on your computer. Two good ones to try are Legacy Family Tree and RootsMagic.

You can download and install both of them for free, and try them both to see which one you like best. The free versions do an adequate job of keeping your family tree information. Once you've learnt how to use them and decided which you like best, you can buy a "deluxe" version, which has extra features.

If you don't like either of them, go back to the comparison page and look for another one. The point about Legacy and RootsMagic is that they have free versions, so if you try them and don't like them, you haven't lost anything.

The point about using a genealogy program is that you have your family tree on your computer, under your control. You can share your data with other family members because both these programs can import and export GEDCOM files, which allow you to transfer genealogical data to other programs (and also to upload it to online web sites). "GEDCOM" stands for GEnealogical Data COMmunication, and it produces text files with the .GED extension. If you're looking for a genealogy program, make sure that it can import and export GEDCOM files.

Once you have entered enough of  your family in a genealogy program, and are reasonably sure that your information is accurate, then you can think about putting it, or some of it, on a web site like,, etc.

So which is the best web site to upload your family history to?

My recommendation is none of the above.

The best online web site for your family tree is FamilySearch.

And the good news is that both Legacy and RootsMagic can link to FamilySearch and upload or download data. 

FamilySearch is a collaborative family tree, which is eun by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), though you don't have to be a member of the church to participate, and they won't proselytise you if you do participate. 

FamilySearch family tree has many sources of information, one of which is people like me, who upload their family information. Another is information that has been extracted from records around the world. That means that you will find some information duplicated, and you can merge duplicated people if you know what you are doing. And the way to know what you are doing is to get a genealogy program and enter it on your own computer first.

For example, a couple in my family tree are Thomas Henry Sandercock and his wife Fanny Harris, who have several children. FamilySearch has information on the children extracted from the baptism register of the Church of England parish of St Neot in Cornwall. If there are seven children, the parents are repeated seven times, and you can merge them, if you are certain that they are the same people. This makes the family tree on FamilySearch more accurate and more useful to all the users. That is why it is collaborative.

I find and much less useful. I've written about my reservations about here, and about here, and about the perils of online family trees in general here.

So if you are starting your family tree, don't start it on an online web site, start it in a genealogy program on your own computer. Only put it on line when you are reasonably sure that it is accurate.