Thursday, August 25, 2022

FamilySearch Place Names Chaos redux

Yet another example of the way in which FamilySearch is gradually destroying the records it has taken decades to collect. This is the third post in a row on this blog showing how FamilySearch is mangling place names in its records with its faulty algorithms. 

 Ralph Carr was my wife Val's great-great grandfather. He was a mariner, and died at sea. He was indeed buried at La Coruña, Galicia, Spain, because that happened to be the nearest port, but Croatia is quite a long way from Spain.

FamilySearch's algorithm seems to have translated "At Sea" to "Ocean", and then identified it with a place in Croatia.

It really is high time that the people at FamilySearch recognised that their algorithm is faulty, and stopped it moving people from town to town, from country to country, and even, in some cases, from continent to continent.


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

FamilySearch Place Names Chaos

A few months ago I posted an article about FamilySearch's "standardized place names" introducing errors (see FamilySearch Introducing Errors) but not only does nothing seem to have been done to fix the errors, but they seem to be getting worse. 

I am not talking here about errors in indexing. There are many indexing errors, some of which give rise to place name errors, especially when the original document is not available to correct it. 

The errors I am talking about here are not indexing errors but algorithmic errors, when the place name in the index is correct, or almost correct, and FamilySearch's algorithm changes it to something wrong. 

Also, FamilySearch flags many correct place names as wrong,  with warnings like !Missing Standardized Death Place, which encourage users to change a correct place name to a wrong one.

These errors can destroy the hard work of indexers, and that of family historians who have contributed to FamilySearch Family Tree. These algorithms should never have been let loose on the database before being tested to avoid such errors. 

 This record, when attached to Family Tree, inserted the place name "Milnerton, Red Deer County, Alberta, Canada", which was altogether wrong. The error was not on the part of the indexer, nor on the part of the person who attached it to a record. The error was in the algorithm, which shifted the event not only to another country, but to a different continent. I copied this event to my RootsMagic database, and corrected the place to "Milnerton, Cape Province, South Africa" (which was more correct for the time of the event) and then copied it back to FamilySearch. But many people might just accept it, and copy the wrong place to their own family tree, and simply think that the family must have emigrated from South Africa to Canada. 

Here is another example:

In this case, it seems that large numbers of people who lived in Nebraska, USA, migrated to Northumberland, England, to die. The one shown above is just one example of many. 

People in Trans-Caucasia, on the other hand, seemed to prefer to die in Cleveland, UK in the town of Guisborough:

These errors seem to be multiplying rapidly, and the longer the faulty algorithms stay in place, the more degraded the FamilySearch database will become.


Friday, October 29, 2021

FamilySearch introducing errors

Genealogists using FamilySearch should be aware that FamilySearch, like some other interactive genealogy web sites, has begun introducing automated errors in place names.

This is likely to affect the collaborative family tree on FamilySearch, and records copied from that to researchers' own family trees. Because the errors are automated,  they are likely to multiply rapidly, thus reducing the overall accuracy and qalue of the collaborative family tree and other records on FamilySearch. 

The errors appear to arise from the laudable desire to encourage the use of standardised place names, which makes it easier to search for places. The downside of this is that when non-standard but correct place names are changed into standardised but incorrect ones, it makes places and people much harder to find. 

One example is that in the 1841 Census of England, several people are shown as bring at St Martin, Essex. This refers to St Martin's parish in Colchester, Essex, but if one attaches such a census record as a source to a person in the collaborative tree, the FamilySearch software automatically changes the place to Chichester in Sussex, about 130 miles away. And if you then copy that record to your own family tree, the wrong place name will be copied too. 


It is, of course, possible to change it to the correct place and copy it back to FamilySearch, but many researchers, unless they have studied several generations of a family in a place, will be likely to leave it, and just assume (wrongly) that the family moved around a lot. 

One way to check in the instance I mentioned is that if the census record gives a street address, you can do a web search for the street in both towns. In this case, a search for Stockwell Street Colchester shows that there is such a street there, while searching for Stockwell Street in Chichester shows that there isn't one. But this might not work for common names like High Street or Main Street. 

Until the people at FamilySearch fix this bug, genealogists should keep a sharp lookout for erroneous place names. Standardising place names is not a bad idea, but the software should suggest such names to users, and not just change them willy nilly. 

Experienced genealogists might be capable of interpreting the various place names used by people like census enumerators, but there is no way that software programmers can interpret them, sight unseen, and they shouldn't even try. It is better to have an accurate but non-standard place name than one that is fully standardised, but wrong.

Monday, September 07, 2020

JSTOR resources during COVID-19 | About JSTOR

JSTOR resources during COVID-19 | About JSTOR:
Expanded free access for everyone through December 31, 2020 26 journal archives in Public Health 6,000 selected journal articles related to COVID-19 — articles cover important topics such as coronavirus, communicable disease control, distance education, health surveillance, and more. Free read-online access has expanded from six to 100 articles per month.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

A shirt-tail cousin, and other relationship terms

About 45 years ago I had a letter from a distant cousin on the Growdon side of the family, Monica Louise Deragowski of New Orleans in the USA. In her letter she referred to someone as a "shirt-tail cousin", and somebody else as a "kissing cousin". Those terms were unfamiliar to me, and I wondered what they meant but was too shy to ask her, even in a letter. For what it's worth she was my fourth cousin, but I wasn't sure if that made me a shirt-tail cousin or a kissing cousin. She died many years ago.

Over the years since then I've tried to find out what those terms meant, but most of the people I asked didn't know, and even web searches didn't provide a definite answer. Definitions I found were vague, and it seemed that other people were as puzzled by the term as I was -- see here A Shirt-tail Cousin | SmallTownWordNerd:
“I think he might be a shirt-tail cousin of mine,” my Dad said during a conversation about someone in town whose last name is Jaeger (as opposed to Jager). This discussion took place during my recent trip back to my hometown of Devils Lake, North Dakota, for Christmas. Shirt-tail? Say what? My Dad always seems to come up with words I haven’t heard before, or at least haven’t heard for a very long time. For example, garlic toes, which resulted in a blog post back in 2012 about making pickles with him.
But earlier this week I I was reading a doctoral thesis for which I am external examiner, and there I found the word used authoritatively by someone for whom it is a part of their active vocabulary. He was discussing two people who were first cousins once removed of the same person, but one was related to that person through his mother's side and the other through his father's side, and so they were cousins of the same person, but not blood cousins of each other. That kind of relationship, he said, was a "shirt-tail cousin". People who are cousins of the same person, but not of each other. In other words, a shirt-tail cousin is a cousin by marriage. So Monica Louise Deragowski's husband was a "shirt-tail cousin" to me.

Monica Louise Deragowski nee Growden
I've always referred to that kind of relationship as a "cousin-in-law". But, now that I know what it means, "shirt-tail cousin" will do as well. It will also do for the daughter of the first husband of the wife of my wife Val's third cousin once removed, who is a friend on Facebook. I've referred to her as my step fourth cousin-in-law, but "shirt-tail cousin" will do as well.

Now I just have to find out what "kissing cousins" are. I've had conflicting information on that. Some say they are cousins close enough to greet with a  kiss, and others that they are cousins distant enough to marry, should the kissing get enthusiastic enough. And in these days of Covid-19 you don't greet any cousins with a kiss anyway.

Kinship terms can be confusing as they vary from place to place and from culture to culture, even within the same family. Once you start moving into other languages, it becomes even more confusing. Zulu, for example, has no term to translate the English term "uncle". If it's your mother's brother, it's umalume. If it's your father's elder brother, it's ubaba, which is the same as "my father", but if it's your father's younger brother it's uyihlokazi, which translates back into English as "your aunt". And I've probably got some of the nuances wrong, for which somebody who knows more Zulu than I do please correct me!

Monday, August 24, 2020

Getting the best out of FamilySearch

On several online forums I have been reading complaints from people who are upset because they "started their family tree" on FamilySearch, and then found that someone has changed it without their permission.
The first important thing to remember here is that the proper place for your family tree is on your computer at home, and not on a remote site. There is plenty of free genealogy software out there, and two of the best programs interact easily with FamilySearch. They are RootsMagic and Legacy Family Tree, both of which have free versions, and paid-for versions with extra features. Try the free ones first, and pay for the one you like best.
With either of these programs you can log in to FamilySearch and exchange information, one piece at a time. The only person who puts anything in your tree is you.
The tree on FamilySearch is a collaborative one, which means that it doesn't belong to anyone, and anyone can contribute, and obviously some contributions will be better than others.
But for the collaboration to work properly, you need to do a few things.
  • Register with FamilySearch and include your email address.
  • If you find information that differs from yours, think twice about changing it. Check the sources first, and only if you are certain, change it.
  • It is easier to create a duplicate person and merge them later than to merge two people only to discover that they are not the same, and then have to separate them.
  • In both RootsMagic and Legacy (and also in the online version). there is a Discussion section for disputed or unclear facts. Use it.
  • There is a record trail of everyone who made any changes. If someone made a change you disagree with, ask them about it. That's why including your email address is important -- you can contact them right away, and not leave a message on FamilySearch that they will only see the next time they log in.
Those are things you should always be doing on FamilySearch.

This is my method of working for a lot of things on FamilySearch.

I keep at least two family trees on my computer. One is my Research file, which includes a lot of speculative and unrelated information. So if there are two unrelated families with the same surname living in the same place at the same time, I colour the unrelated one blue in RootsMagic. But it's there for comparison, and for eliminating people you're already looked at and found to be unrelated.

If someone sends me a Gedcom file that links to someone in my family tree, I link them, then check them on FamilySearch by looking at the link person on FamilySearch family tree. Maybe someone else has already put in their spouse and kids. But don't just copy them to your tree; check the information and sources to see how accurate they are.
 I recently found a woman named Isabel Richardson born in 1813, married in 1821, had her first child in 1822. Think about that. She cannot be the right Isobel Richardson. So what did I do?
On the FamilySearch web site I clicked Search --> Records, and asked if there was an Isabel Richardson born in that area between 1793 and 1807 (based on the dates of her oldest and youngest children. There were several, but I couldn't determine which one she was. So I left it, but left a note in the Discussion section to say that I did not think the Isabel Richardson born in 1813 could be the mother of the eldest of the children, and left it there. And, of course, I checked to see if anyone else had said anything about it in the discussion section..
That's how collaborative research works -- you spot an error, you leave a warning to other researchers, so everyone should be helping everyone.
Or, having linked the person in my tree with one on FamilySearch, I may have a spouse and kids. If I'm reasonably certain off the accuracy, I copy them to FamilySearch, then go to the web site and look for research hints. If there aren't any, I go to the "Record-->Search" (see above) and search for one of them in the general or specific area. I usually add a year or two on either side of their given birth date, which often finds ones that the "hints" miss. If name, date and place match, then I add that source and info to mine. Sometimes you can't find the parents, but you can find them through a child.
If the place name spelling is different, then I do a web search for it. And sometimes boundaries change, so I try to use the description closest to the date of the event in the life of the person concerned.
There also some pitfalls to watch out for. Many records have been transcribed by volunteers, and some, perhaps by paid people who did not know much about genealogy. In several records, the name of the record office where the records are or were kept is used in the transcription for the name of the place where the people lived or an event took place. A lot of people are thus said to have married in Cumbria, England United Kingdom, which did not exist as a place before 1974, and just happens to be the place where the marriage record is kept, but was not where the marriage actually took place.
Or people are said to have died in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa, because that is where their wills were processed after they had died, even if the place where they died was hundreds of miles away. If there is an image of the original document, you may find the actual place of marriage or death from that, otherwise you might need to look for it in other sources. FamilySearch is often unhelpful here, showing you the less reliable records first. But a resourceful genealogist will usually find a workaround.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Blackstone to Acquire Ancestry, Leading Online Family History Business

Blackstone to Acquire Ancestry, Leading Online Family History Business, for $4.7 Billion - Blackstone:
New York, August 5, 2020 – Blackstone (NYSE:BX) today announced that private equity funds managed by Blackstone (“Blackstone”) have reached a definitive agreement to acquire Ancestry from Silver Lake, GIC, Spectrum Equity, Permira, and other equity holders for a total enterprise value of $4.7 billion. Current Ancestry investor GIC will continue to retain a significant minority stake in the company. This transaction represents the first control acquisition for Blackstone’s eighth vintage of its flagship private equity vehicle. Ancestry is the global leader in digital family history services, operating in more than 30 countries with more than 3 million paying subscribers across its Ancestry online properties and more than $1 billion in annual revenue. The company harnesses the information found in family trees and historical records to help people gain a new level of understanding about their lives. Ancestry also operates a market-leading consumer genomics business, which informs consumers about their heritage and key health characteristics.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Farm and family in early nineteenth-century Fife : the diary of Thomas Graham Bonar of Greigston

Farm and family in early nineteenth-century Fife : the diary of Thomas Graham Bonar of Greigston:
The Greigston diary was written by Thomas Graham Bonar between 1824 and 1833. It is mainly a record of happenings on the small family estate of Greigston in east Fife, which comprised two farms and subsidiary holdings for much of the diary period. Besides farming matters, it records visits and visitors, and a note was kept twice-daily about the weather, including a temperature reading for part of the period. This electronic book comprises an introduction to the diary in four chapters, the transcript of the diary itself (274 pages), and a postscript.
A Margaret Graham-Bonar (1794-1852) married Henry Cowan (1797-1830) and their son Robert Leslie Cowan (1829-1863) married Caroline Green (1836-1863). They both died in a cholera epidemic in Shanghai, China. Robert Leslie Cowan was a ship's captain and tavelled the world. Caroline Green was a daughter or William Goodall Green, who went from Canada to the Cape Colony in the 1840s, and several of Caroline's brothers made names for themselves in Southern Africa.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Notes from a small island

Notes from a Small IslandNotes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For years I've been living under a totally mistaken impression of Bill Bryson. Seeing his books in bookshops I had the idea that he was a neo-Victorian polymath, with doctorates in fields like astrophysics, geology, botany, zoology and history. Anyone who could could write A short history of nearly everything must know everything that's worth knowing about anything, right?

So I grabbed this book from the library because nothing else had taken my fancy, and thought I could always bring it back if I found it too erudite. And it turns out that it's a rather idiosyncratic and funny travel book about his own wanderings around Great Britain, with observations on the weird customs of the natives (Bryson is American, and a journalist).

So his book was a much lighter read than I had been expecting, and some of his experiences rang bells for me too -- such as working on a small-town newspaper with hot-metal press, and writing about the exciting doings of the local Women's Institute.And his observations on the differences between the South and the North of England also resonated.

Durham Cathedral, described by Bill Bryson
The things I liked about this book were the familiar things, where he described places I had visited or lived in, like Durham, where I was a student for a couple of years, and Blaenau Festiniog, where he spent a wet Sunday waiting for a train, and we spent a wet Saturday afternoon driving up and down the main (and apparently only) street looking for an Orthodox Church that we were sure was there but couldn't find, and couldn't ask the priest because he was in Turkey that weekend.

And there were some not-so-familiar things I really appreciated too, such as his description of Morecambe. It's one of the places I haven't been to, and he described its meteoric rise and abrupt fall as a seaside resort in the space of about 100 years. I had become interested in it because of family history. One branch of my family, the Cottams, had farmed at Heaton-with-Oxcliffe, somewhere between Morecambe and Lancaster, and I'd only discovered most of them after our last visit to England in 2005, so was unfamiliar with that bit. But when they lived there, Morecambe did not exist as a town, it was just the bay. Several members of the family, perhaps those who couldn't fit in Oxcliffe Hall, spread out to the surrounding villages, including the three that later became Morecambe -- Poulton (le-Sands, not le-Fylde). Bare and Torrisholme. So I thank Bill Bryson for giving me a picture of it.

The book is full of all the personal touches of things that delighted and disgusted and bored Bill Bryson, which could be amusing or confusing. It was definitely the work of a journalist and not a polymath. I could imagine it being bashed out on flimsy copy paper on a worn-out old manual typewriter with uneven keys in a busy newsroom with a couple of dozen other typewriters clacking away in the background with the guy at the neighbouring desk interviewing a fashion model and the bloke on the other side swearing as he rummages through his wastepaper basket looking for page 4 of his six-page story. How else could Bill Bryson write about travelling to Glasgow on Saturday, which was followed by a Friday night, and the next day was Sunday?

View all my reviews

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Society of Genealogists and FamilySearch announce partnership to digitize family histories - Society of Genealogists

Society of Genealogists and FamilySearch announce partnership to digitize family histories - Society of Genealogists:
The Society of Genealogists and FamilySearch are about to start work on a programme of digitization of some 9000 family history books and over 5000 genealogy pamphlets, offprints and unpublished tracts from the Society of Genealogists’ extensive genealogy library. Since its foundation in 1911 the Society of Genealogists has collected the largest assembly of narrative family histories and biographies in the United Kingdom. Some of its collection are unique materials deposited in in the Society’s library for the use of genealogists. This digitization programme not only ensures the preservation of the library’s books, bound monographs and multi-volume histories, but also enables the Society to make them available to a wider audience.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Free pedigree page downloads from JayDax

Free pedigree page downloads from JayDax:
Two free HTML pedigree chart template files are available; a simple chart and an advanced chart which uses Ajax. These are blank template pages designed to be used on your own website. See also the genealogy tutorials at genlinks.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Rootsweb genealogy mailing lists to close

The announcement was made almost secretively: Rootsweb mailing lists for genealogists will be closing on 2 March 2020.

For three decades Rootsweb has hosted mailing lists for genealogists and enabled them to communicate with others around the world and to collaborate in grenealogy and family history research. For more than half the time those mailing lists have been administered by a commercial firm,, which has now decided to pull the plug.

This comes only two months after YahooGroups, another host of mailing lists, made a similar announcement, though a change of management at Yahoo had already resulted in a partial crippling of YahooGroups in 2013.

One result of the Yahoo! debacle was the formation of, which offers a new and improved version of the YahooGroups format, and with the impending closing of Rootsweb many of the Rootsweb mailing lists will be taking refuge there as well.

On the positive side, there will probably be a weeding out and streamlining of  of genealogy mailing lists.

For example, there were about a dozen mailing lists on Rootsweb related to specific areas of South Africa, with fairly sparse traffic. makes it possible to have subgroups, so we are encouraging people to join a new list for the whole of Africa, and we can open subgroups for different regions, but only if traffic from those regions gets too heavy.

You can see the African list here:

and there are also discussions about consolidating various northwest England groups on Rootsweb (Cumbria, Cumberland, UK-Northwest) into a new one on groups io.

The Rootsmagic-users group, for support of users of the genealogy program Rootsmagic, has already opened a new list on, and no doubt others will soon do the same.

The bad news is that thirty years of archives will effectively be lost. 

For thirty years people have been sharing their research on genealogy mailing lists. Many of the people who collected that information are now dead, and much of their work will be lost.

Among the more useful items  were online discussions about published family trees, noting inaccuracies in them and often providing corrections.

Rootsweb was originally an amateur effort, but grew so large that amateurs could not afford the time or the money to maintain the servers and negotiated with to take over the administration on condition that Rootsweb would always remain free. Perhaps, in hindsight, that wasn't a good idea, and it might have been better to set up a kind of non-profit trust, but it's far too late to think of that now.

But there is hope in the migration to, and I only hope that it will be done with consultation, and with weeding out and consolidation of duplicate, overlapping and redundant mailing lists.

Some have sugested that Rootsweb group members should migrate to social media web formats like Facebook groups, but though such forums are popular, they are far less efficient or effective than mailing lists. Because of Facebook's algorithms, one is quite likely to miss the most useful and relevant messages altogether. With mailing lists you decide what is relevant, but on Facebook, it is Facebook's algorithm that decides what it will and will not show you. And finding a message again after a couple of days is often an enormously time-consuming task.

I mentioned that the announcement of the closing of Rootsweb was made almost secretively. A web search revealed not a single news article about it. So if you were concerned enough about it to read this far, please help it better known by sharing this article on social media too -- there are little buttons you can click at the bottom of the article to do so.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Put not your trust in the Internet to keep your data safe

Over the last decade I've noticed a change in the way people speak of genealogy software. In the past we assumed that the software was on our computer, as was the data, and people would be warned of the need to keep backups off site in case of fire, theft or other disasters.

Now more and more people seem to assume that your data will only be on a remote site, and will not be on your computer at all. They assume that in order to "start a family tree" you need to subscribe to some or other company like It seems not to occur to many people that it is even possible to "start a family tree" using your own software on your own computer.

So now the danger is reversed. In the past you were advised to "keep a backup in the Cloud, just to be on the safe side." But how safe is that? How safe is your data in the cloud?

The recent closure of YahooGroups shows that it is not at all safe. See this article: The Old Internet Died And We Watched And Did Nothing:
Most likely, you have some photos that are lost somewhere, some old posts to a message board or something you wrote on a friend’s wall, some bits of yourself that you put out there on the internet during the previous decade that is simply gone forever.
The internet of the 2010s will be defined by social media’s role in the 2016 election, the rise of extremism, and the fallout from privacy scandals like Cambridge Analytica. But there’s another, more minor theme to the decade: the gradual dismantling and dissolution of an older internet culture.
This purge comes in two forms: sites or services shutting down or transforming their business models. Despite the constant flurries of social startups (Vine! Snapchat! TikTok! Ello! Meerkat! Peach! Path! Yo!), when the dust was blown off the chisel, the 2010s revealed that the content you made — your photos, your writing, your texts, emails, and DMs — is almost exclusively in the hands of the biggest tech companies: Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, or Apple.
The rest? Who knows? I hate to tell you, but there’s a good chance it’s gone forever.
Though that article does not mention any specific genealogy sites, the principle is the same. And there were numerous family history groups on YahooGroups where people shared their family history data and their research, and advised each other on sources and resources. And now it's going, going, gone.

So if you want to "start a family tree", don't ask which is the best web site to do so. You don't need to subscribe to a web site to start a family tree! Ask rather "Which is the best family tree software for my computer and operating system?"

At the time of writing my recommendation for genealogy programs is Rootsmagic, or Legacy.

By all means back up your data in "the Cloud", but keep your primary data on your computer at home, where you can control it.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Publishing ... and Other Forms of Insanity: Mega-List of Paying Markets for Horror, Dark Fiction and Poetry

Publishing ... and Other Forms of Insanity: Mega-List of Paying Markets for Horror, Dark Fiction and Poetry:
Much like other genres of speculative fiction, horror enjoys a loyal, and possibly fixated, fan base. Horror isn't all blood and gore. The subgenres include everything from the mildly unsettling (like Twilight Zone), to splatterpunk (which is exactly what you think it is). Some of the genres accepted by horror magazines include: humorous horror, holiday horror, psychological horror, science fiction horror, slasher horror, supernatural horror, gothic horror, erotic horror, teen horror and, of course, anything with zombies, werewolves, vampires, or other malevolent creatures. Many of the magazines on this list also accept dark fiction, dark fantasy, and other genre crossovers that evoke a sinister mood. Read the submission guidelines, and make sure to follow them carefully before submitting.

Monday, December 02, 2019

The roots of Westville's historic tree | Highway Mail

The roots of Westville's historic tree | Highway Mail:
FROM the earliest years, the infant colony of Natal depended on transport for its development. One of the first, and most important route, was the road from Durban into the interior. Part of this old wagon route, known as the Old Main Road, still survives. The portion in Westville is today Jan Hofmeyr Road and that in Pinetown Josiah Gumede Road. Sections can also be found in the Upper Highway area as it wends its way towards Pietermaritzburg. Before the opening of the railway line to Pietermaritzburg in 1880 – it only reached the ‘Natal’ border in 1891 and goods were delivered by wagons drawn by oxen.