Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Rootsweb southern African mailing lists still down

On 16 June 2014 there was a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack on Ancestry.com, which hosts the Rootsweb mailing lists.

These mailing lists are still down after a week, and there's been no information about when they will be working again.

This has affected some of the lists dealing with parts of Africa, especially the southern African ones.

Until they are working again, people who are feeling cut off are welcome to post things in the general African genealogy list, which is not hosted by Rootsweb and so is still working. After all, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape are just as much part of Africa as Tunisia, Mauretania and Somalia.

African genealogy list


Group Email Addresses

Post message: afgen@yahoogroups.com
Subscribe: afgen-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
Unsubscribe: afgen-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com

I've posted this to some of the people who I know have recently been active in the southern African Rootsweb lists.

When the Rootsweb lists are working again, of course you can go back to posting material of purely local interest in the specialist local lists, but I hope you will continue to post material of general African interest
in the African list.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Mundia to close -- Ancestry.com

For some years now Mundia has been functioning as a kind of Ancestry Lite -- a place where you could upload your family tree and look at other people's family trees, including those on Ancestry.com. We discovered it about 3 years ago when we were doing research into the Ellwood family, and it had some usefulness in enabling us to get in touch with some Ellwood researchers, but it also had many flaws, some of which I have described here: Genealogy notes and news: Mundia -- yet another flawed family history site.

Now comes the news that Ancestry.com are planning to close Mundia down in September, along with a few of their other services Genealogy Insider - Ancestry.com to Retire Five Genealogy Services:
Mundia family trees also are on Ancestry.com, where you can search them for free (you must subscribe in order to contact tree owners, which is the case with all of Ancestry.com's member trees). Mundia tree owners can download their family trees in their native language before Sept. 5.

This tends to confirm what I thought when I first saw it -- that Mundia was a "honeypot" site, designed to persuade people to give their family history information to Ancestry, so that Ancestry could then sell it to others.

Well, their announcement that the site is to close also says that they will not sell it to others, but that it will still be available free, but you will not be able to contact any of the people who uploaded their family trees without paying. And there is nothing to stop Ancestry charging people, including you, to look at your tree later.

It is for this reason that I did not upload my family tree on Mundia. Their terms of service were quite clear:
For each item of content that you post, you grant to us and our affiliates a world-wide, royalty free, fully paid-up, non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, transferable, and fully sublicensable (including to other Website users) license, without additional consideration to you or any third party, to: (i) reproduce, distribute, make available, transmit, communicate to the public, perform and display (publicly or otherwise), edit, modify, adapt, create derivative works from and otherwise use such content, in any format or media now known or later developed; (ii) exercise all trademark, publicity and other proprietary rights with regard to such content; (iii) use your name, photograph, portrait, picture, voice, likeness and biographical information as provided by you in connection with your content for the Service, in each case, in connection with your content. For example, after your registration or subscription has ended, we may continue to use and display any content that you previously posted, and other users may continue may access, change, edit, add to, subtract from or otherwise amend such content. If you do not want to grant us the rights set out in these Terms of Use, please do not post any content on the Website.
Much of that is fairly standard for social networking sites as well as genealogy ones. It is to obviate complaints from people, who, having posted their information publicly, then complain that their privacy has been violated. But in several respects it goes well beyond that, especially in this clause, "(ii) exercise all trademark, publicity and other proprietary rights with regard to such content".which gives them the right to stop you from publishing your family tree anywhere else.

One of the problems with Mundia is that it encourages people to add people from other family trees to thsir own, and makes irt very easy to do so without checking the accuracy or validity of the information. And a lot of people have in fact posted inaccurate information, so that faulty family trees on Mundia sometimes outnumber good ones. We've given an example of this here: Jane Ellwood and the perils of online family trees | Hayes & Greene family history, where about 90% of the trees on Mundia are wrong.

In the light of that, and other examples, perhaps it is a good thing that Mundia is to close. But the closure will not make the bad information go away. It will just make it more difficult for people to correct it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Some DNA ancestry services akin to 'genetic astrology'

DNA testing seems to have become quite popular in some genealogical circles, but according to this report the testing, and the results, tend to be overrated.

BBC News - Some DNA ancestry services akin to 'genetic astrology':
Scientists have described some services provided by companies tracing ancestry using DNA as akin to astrology. Some test findings tell people that they have links to groups such as Vikings, to particular migrations of people and sometimes to famous figures such as Napoleon or Cleopatra But researchers working with a campaign group say DNA tests cannot provide accurate information about ancestry.
The article is interesting, but seems to skirt around the point that most concerns me.

I'm not likely to take a DNA test, mainly because of the expense, and doubts about their accuracy. Not, in the sense that the article suggests, of claiming that you are related to Napoleon, but how does one know that the samples that are sent to them are not contaminated, or mixed up with other samples, or even tested for DNA at all?

There's nothing to stop someone who wants to make a quick buck from advertising a mail-order DNA testing service, tossing any sample sent in the bin, and sending out prefabricated reports, just as there is nothing to stop mail-order astrologers from doing the same thing. And that is the thing that most concerns me. It is not the reports they concoct on the testing, but the method and accuracy of the testing itself that bothers me.

Assuming that the DNS testing is accurate, then, if it were also affordable, I might be interested. I belive it can show whether you are or are not likely to be related to a particular person whose DNA has been accurately tested. Thus if a a cousin and I are supposed to be descended from the same ancestor in the unbroken male or female line, a DNA test could show if it was so or not. I'm not sure that it it could show that as clearly in the case of mixed sex descent -- if my cousin is descended from my great great grandfather's sister, or great great grandmother's brother, for example.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ancestry.com, Mundia, Find-a-Grave, DDoS attacks & closures

Over the last few days it has been difficult to get into some genealogy sites, including Ancestry.com, Find-a-Grave, Mundia and others. Rumours and conflicting reports have abounded. One story was that there was a DDod (Distributed Denial of Service) attack on the servers. It's not clear why anyone should attack generalogy sites, but perhaps they did.

It also seems that reports that the attack had been neutralised are premature, since I've had no mail from any of the Rootsweb mailing lists since 16 June -- unless the mailing lists are one of the services that Ancestry is dropping, as described below.

Another story is that Ancestry.com are planning to retire some of their services -- see here Genea-Musings: BIG News from Ancestry.com - Announcing Retirement of Several Features and Websites:
Mundia.com Retirement:

* Mundia trees have always been part of Ancestry and are available in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish.

* Members can download the family trees they've created in Mundia in their native language before 5 September 2014.

* Mundia trees can be accessed for free on Ancestry.com.

That is rather sad. Mundia was a bit clunky, but it was a kind of "Ancestry-lite" for those who couldn't afford the full subscription to Ancestry.com.

The DDoS reports also seem to be true, as some Ancestry services, like the Rootsweb mailing lists, appear to be suffering from delays. And it had a weird spin-off for us this morning. We've started getting phone calls from people wanting the Castle Wine and Brandy Company.

Very odd, since if you go to the web site of the Castle Wine and Brandy Company, their phone number is clear, and it is not ours.

But if you search for it on Google, the top three search results are:

  1. [SOUTH-AFRICA] Castle Wine & Brandy Co. - Archiver

    archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com › SOUTH-AFRICA2007-09
    From: "Steve Hayes" <> Subject: Re: [SOUTH-AFRICA] Castle Wine & Brandy Co. Date: Sun, 09 Sep 2007 18:06:44 +0200. In-Reply-To: ...
  2. [SOUTH-AFRICA] Castle Wine & Brandy Co. - Archiver

    archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com › SOUTH-AFRICA2007-09
    From: "Rod Gebhardt" <> Subject: [SOUTH-AFRICA] Castle Wine & Brandy Co. Date: Sun, 9 Sep 2007 09:57:06 +0200. Good Morning to all, I am trying to find ...
  3. [SOUTH-AFRICA] Castle Wine & Brandy Co. - Archiver

    archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com › SOUTH-AFRICA2007-09
    From: Andrew Rodger <> Subject: Re: [SOUTH-AFRICA] Castle Wine & Brandy Co. Date: Sun, 9 Sep 2007 23:12:45 +1000. References: ...
Those are messages written in a Rootsweb mailing list seven years ago?

And other search engines (eg Bing) are not much different.

So what seems to have happened is that the extra traffic generated by the DDoS attack has pushed the old Rootsweb messages up in the search engine rankings (did any of the SEO fundis predict this?)

The bad news is that Castle Wine and Brandy may lose some business, and I may get some nuisance phone calls. Also, that responses on Rootsweb lists may be slow as the servers try to cope with the bombardment.

The good news is that some old and long-forgotten genealogy queries may float to the top of Google and other searches, and so researchers might get some responses from people who might otherwise never have seen them.