Saturday, February 28, 2009 Indexing Quirks - 1860 Birthplaces

Any researcher who has been searching the census records online for any period of time has heard the stories about how "people in India" have indexed some of the census records, and when they saw a birthplace of "Ken" indexed it as "Kenya," and when they saw a birthplace of "Ind" they indexed as "India."

I was trying to capture 1860 United States census images today for my database and ancestral files, and I just couldn't find my supposed 3rd-great-grandfather, Ranslow Smith (1805-1875) in the 1860 census in Dodge County, Wisconsin. I had tried searching for him with parameters of (Old Search, Exact Matches):

* Given Name = Rans*
* Last Name = Smith
* Residence = Wisconsin, Dodge
* Birthplace = New York
* Birthdate = 1805 +/- 2 years

I got nothing. I took away the given name, and got a few Smith's but nothing like Ranslow. I tried the same with his son, Devier Smith born 1839 in New York, and got nothing. Hmmm. 'Tis a puzzlement! I'm sure that they are there because I have them transcribed from microfilm in my notebook. Let's see, page 745 in Oak Grove township. I finally went to Oak Grove township, Dodge County, Wisconsin and found page 745:

There they are - very readable. But wait, the Birthplace is listed as "St NY" - State of New York. Not just "NY," or "New York."

The indexer transcribed it exactly as "St NY" and it has remained that way for all these years. There are a total of 453 other persons all indexed with a birthplace of "St NY" in Oak Grove township (and none in any other county in Wisconsin), and a total of 709 in the entire 1860 US census. If I had specified "NY" in the birthplace parameter, the search would have found my Smith family in Oak Grove. Who knew? Oh, I couldn't find Ranslow Smith using just his name because he is indexed as "Rauslow Smith." The indexer misread the "n" for a "u" - an easy letter substitution!

The count in the 1860 US census with New York birthplaces is:

* New York = 3,388,119
* N York = 310
* St NY = 709
* NY = 1319
* State New York = 10

There are small numbers of birthplaces with other state abbreviations also - Mass = 125, and Vt = 114 (that's all I checked).

For the "odd" New York listings, they are only 1,639 out of 3,389,758 total, or about 0.05% of the listings. That is an error rate of one out of about 2,000. My Smith family just happened to be one of the "odd" ones.

What about Kenya and India in the 1860 US Census?

Kenya = 1,592
* India = 9,023. said that they have planned to spend significant time "cleaning up" existing databases like the US census records. I hope they get to this one sooner rather than later.

Does anyone else have Indexing quirks and errors to complain about? Someone should build a web site about them so that users can consult it occasionally.

Saturday Night Fun - Leap Year Day Events

It's time for Saturday Night Fun - or perhaps Sunday Morning Fun, since I didn't get this written until bedtime in the EST zone. Whatever fits your schedule, I say.

Thomas MacEntee suggested to me that since this is 28 February and tomorrow is 1 March, that checking your database to see if you have any ancestors who were born or married on 29 February - Leap Year Day. Since it only comes every four years, we should expect fewer of our ancestors to be born or married on Leap Year Day, notwithstanding the Sadie Hawkins shenanigans.

The Saturday Night Fun challenge is:

* Go into your genealogy database software program and determine which of your ancestors, if any, were born on 29 February.

* Do the same and determine if any of your ancestors married on 29 February.

* If you don't have any ancestors born or married on that day, are there any persons in your entire database born or married on that day.

This sounds like a lot of work at first, but if your software can do this, it's a piece of cake. The problem is figuring out how to do it in your software. Fortunately, I posted a summary about this in Searching for birth dates in software. There are step-by-step directions there for several software programs.

My own results show NO ancestors born on 29 February, and NO ancestors married on 29 February. I have about 2,200 ancestors in my database, so this looks a little fishy to me. There is 1 birth and two marriages of ancestors on 28 February, and 4 births and two marriages on 1 March, but none on 29 February. The law of averages says that there should be about 6 births and 3 marriages on each day (although my database has some births and marriages without a day noted, assuming 2,200 persons).

Okay, what about persons in my database? There are 8 persons in my database with a birth day of 29 February, and 3 marriages on 29 February. That compares with 33/7 for 28 February and 30/6 on 1 March. Since 29 February occurs only every four years, the 8/3 number is not inconsistent with the other dates.

I used Legacy Family Tree 7 to create a list of birth and marriage dates for all of my ancestors. I used Legacy to list all persons in my database with a birth or marriage date in February and March. These lists take just seconds to create once you know how to do it.

Either submit a comment to this blog post, or write your own blog post about what you found out. If you have an ancestor born or married on 29 February, tell us something about him/her or them. Enjoy the challenge!

Thanks to Thomas for the idea...

Genealogy Search Engines: FamilySearch Record Search - Post 2: Wild Card Search

I posted my Search evaluation criteria, the questions I want to answer and the targeted search I want to pursue in this series of posts in Evaluating the Search Engines - Evaluation Criteria.

While performing this demonstration on the FamilySearch Record Search site, I evaluated the four Search criteria in Post 1: Simple Search and started the Search for Isaac Seaver (born in 1823 in Massachusetts) in the 1860 U.S. Census. The process was fairly simple, but the resulting image was on (a commercial site), so I could not see it without a description. Unfortunately, the Source citation did not provide a NARA Microfilm Roll Number so I could not easily find it on HeritageQuestOnline either.

I'm going to start over, this time testing the "Wild Card" capabilities of the Search engine. In the Search box on the home page, I entered First Name = "isa*" and Last Name = "sea*" (note the wild card use of "*" to denote that there may be other letters following these three letters in each name). I decided to also choose a certain event - I clicked on the down arrow on the Life Event box and the drop-down menu had the choices of "All Events," "Birth/christening," "Marriage," or "Death/burial." I chose "Birth/christening since I have a known birth date of 1823 and a birth place of Massachusetts. The Search screen before I hit the Search button is shown below:

I clicked on the "Search" button and this screen appeared:

Harrummpphh. I didn't expect that. The screen said, in red letters, "Wild cards may be used in one Name field per search." Okay, I'll play by the rules. I made Given Name = "Isaac" and kept Last Name = "Sea*." When I clicked on the Search button I got this screen:

Double harrumpphh. The red letters say "Too many results were returned from the wild card search to be displayed."

Okay, let's narrow the search a little. I clicked on the "More" button at the left bottom of the Search box, and saw more Search box parameters. I put "Lucretia" in the Spouse First Name box, as shown below:

When I hit the Search button, I got the same message as before, in red letters: "Too many results were returned from the wild card search to be displayed."

I went back to the main screen and entered just Last Name = "Sea*" with Al Events = 1823 and Place = "Massachusetts" with "Exact and close match" and got too many matches.

I entered Last Name = "Seav*" and the other selections and got 745 matches in all of the databases. At least now I know that the Wild Card Search works. It just doesn't work the way I expected it to!

I entered Last Name = "Seav*" and the other selections, but changed the parameter to "Exact matches only" and got the message "At this time, wildcards may not be used with the 'Exact matches only' search option."

I entered Last Name = "Seave*" with the other selections and the "Exact and close matches" option and got 2,655 matches. Now I'm really confused - how can I narrow the search (going from "Seav*" to "Seave*" and get more matches? My conclusion is that the wild card search is unreliable!

I clicked on "More" and entered Spouse = "lucretia" and received one match - the 1880 US Census. Lucretia Seaver is indexed with Isaac Seaver in this census.

Even though Lucretia was in the same family as Isaac Seaver in the 1860 US Census, she was apparently not "associated" with Isaac Seaver in the indexing done by FamilySearch Indexing. This is a "nuance" (and many would say a "flaw") for the specific database. If a user is not aware of the nuance, s/he may think that the desired record does not exist. S/he would be wrong, of course. I could have searched for "Lucretia Seav*" and found the 1860 US census record (but "Lucretia Sea*" resulted in too many records.

Is there any documentation that tells us what information is indexed for a specific record collection? Well, of course there is - but you have to be in the specific record collection to read it! The description for the 1860 US census is here - but it does not mention associating others in the household with a specific person, such as Lucretia Seaver with Isaac Seaver. A researcher new to this record collection might put their Search information in the home page Search box without understanding that each database may have unique Search parameters.

The lessons learned during this testing of the FamilySearch Record Search wild card feature are:

* The user can specify a wild card (at least three letters at the start of a name) in only one of the names
* Wild cards can be used, but the results seem flaky.
* Wild cards can be used with only the "Exact and close matches" option.
* Some record databases on this site do not associate family or household members in the index, therefore a search for a Spouse, or Parents, will not result in matches.

The next FamilySearch post will be done using the specific database.

Friday, February 27, 2009

ProGen group in the newspaper

My ProGen study group colleague, Sheri Fenley, alerted us to an article by Stefani Evans CG about the ProGen (PROfessional GENealogist) Study Groups published in the Las Vegas Sun newspaper on 25 February 2009 titled "Online groups help genealogists study." Please see Sheri's blog post and Stefani's article for more information. It's good to see genealogy portrayed positively in the news.

I have enjoyed the year I have been involved in the ProGen Study Group. Our group is mentored by Elissa Scalise Powell, a professional and certified genealogist, who has wonderful experience and insights, and acts more like a patient professor than a hand-whacking instructor. The group has accomplished quite a bit, learned a lot, and become good friends and colleagues of each other in the group (although I've never met any of them in person (except Elissa) - that will probably change in June at SCGS Jamboree!). The online chat session is always fast-paced, helpful and even fun, since we've gotten to know each other's personalities and attitudes.

I am also involved in a monthly Transitional Genealogists Study Group that is studying, and then discussing in the online chat, periodical articles by notable genealogists using the Lichtman method of reading, analyzing and discussing. By reading, analyzing and discussing these articles, we improve our family history knowledge, hone our research skills and get to know other genealogists trying to make the jump from amateur status to professional status.

From the beginning, my thought has been that a focused collegial group of people can learn more together than the individuals can learn on their own, and that collaboration really works well as long as everybody does their share of the effort. Our groups, and the others, are putting this hypothesis to the test. This sort of long-term collaborative group may become more frequent in genealogy education.

If you are seriously interested in joining one of these groups, please contact me offline by email at and I'll put you in touch with the organizers of the groups.

Thank you, Sheri, for the link to Stefani's article.

Thomas MacEntee is Genealogy and Technology Examiner

Are you reading Thomas MacEntee's near-daily articles that are online at His column, which consists of articles about family history, genealogy and technology (let's call it Genealogy 2.0 for short!) is at

The last five articles are:

* Facebook Terms of Use update - encourages user review (26 February)

* Twitter and how it can help genealogists (26 February)

* Photo editing - get focused for free (25 February)

* Facebook and dead members – another policy gone bad? (22 February)

* A favorite ingredient: URL Shortening (21 February)

As a bonus to his Twitter article, Thomas provided a link to a PDF to his one-page Twitter Quick Reference guide. Excellent!

This has become a near-daily feast of information about Genealogy 2.0 for me - how about for you? Interested? You can sign up for an email or an RSS feed of each article.

Working with the MyHeritage Search Engine

I received the press release from MyHeritage earlier this week concerning their improvements and database additions to their Search web site. You can read the announcement at Dick Eastman's blog here (I know Dick appreciates the hits!).

Rather than just print the press release, my preference is to try out the "improved" web site and report my experiences, and draw conclusions about the claims in the press release.

I had an ulterior motive too - I'm about to start my massive online genealogy database search for the parents of Devier J. Lamphere, who changed his name to Devier J. Smith in 1865 in Dodge County, Wisconsin. He is one of my second great-grandfathers. What better way to look for any records of him than in a Search Engine that queries over 1,500 genealogy web sites! I decided to just look for the Lamphere surname on MyHeritage rather than also search with a first name.

In order to perform a search on MyHeritage, you need to have a UserID and a password, and Login to the site. The UserID is free. Here is the Research page on MyHeritage with a simple Search box (first name and last name, and a selection of types of Search - Exact, Soundex or Megadex). I input only the surname and chose Megadex to search with:

I clicked on the Advanced Search link below the Simple Search box and got this screen, which I filled in with my information, adding born in 1839 in the USA (no state allowed):

Note that I could have selected a record type from the list, and I could have selected one database from the next list down. I resisted the temptations! I clicked on Search and the system gave me a list of possible spellings for the surname. I was allowed to pick up to five, or the program could pick them for me. I chose Lamphere, Lamphear, Lamphire, Lanphere, and Lanphear. I could not add another variation (I really wanted Lamphier and Lanphier too):

I clicked on the Search button and the web site started to check out a number of databases. After about three minutes, the Search had found over 179,000 matches in 48 databases. It said that it had checked 137 top genealogy databases, 13 had timed out, and 685 had no results. Here is the top of the list of Matches:

The databases that it found matches for included:

* - 8,711 matches in UK records (but I requested USA)
* - 21 matches
* - 49 matches in the WorldConnect family tree database
* - 750 matches
* - 31,689 matches for each surname variant - something tells me they didn't use an Exact search here! This totals out to be 158,445, or more than 88% of the total matches found by MyHeritage.
* - 2 matches
* - 6,698 matches (all UK matches, I requested USA)
* Tribal Pages - The Deaths Master File (Deaths) - 8,273 matches - this is SSDI results
* Tribal Pages - The Deaths Master File (Births) - 8,270 matches - same as the persons in the Deaths.
* USA People Search - more than 500 matches (living people)
* 15 MyHeritage user-contributed databases containing the surname variants.

The Search seemed to perform as advertised, although I'm wondering why it didn't search all 1,500+ databases. Perhaps because I specified a country to search. That doesn't explain why it searched or, but perhaps those are included in a list of USA databases.

The Rootsweb WorldConnect, Wisconsin newspaper, and Sons of Union Veterans matches look intriguing, so I will check them out soon.

I chose a fairly uncommon surname Lamphere, to perform the search with. If I had not specified a birth year or a country, I would have had many more matches. I have searched on just the surname Seaver before, and the Search process took over 30 minutes to find many matches. In order to limit the search time, I recommend that a user input a given name and a last name, especially for fairly common surnames.

Are you using this MyHeritage Search engine to find databases that contain your ancestral names? If not, you might consider it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Genealogy Search Engines: FamilySearch Record Search - Post 1: Basic Search

I posted my Search evaluation criteria, the questions I want to answer and the targeted search I want to pursue in this series of posts in Evaluating the Search Engines - Evaluation Criteria.

While performing this demonstration on, I evaluated the four Search criteria. The results for this FamilySearch Record Search search were:

* Exact search and/or Fuzzy search ("Fuzzy" meaning variations in names, dates and locations that might result in a match even if the record was enumerated or indexed poorly, e.g., Soundex). YES, the main Search box has options for "Exact Search," "Exact and Close Match" (the default), and "Exact, close and partial."

* Use of a specific database vs. many or all available databases. YES, the home page Search box uses All databases. For a specific database, the user has to select the Region of interest on the home page, and then can search of of the Region databases or select one specific database.

* Use of Wild cards in names. YES, a wild card "*" can be used after three or more letters (e.g., Isa* for Isaac), but only for either the first name or the last name, not both names.

* Use of dates and locations as search criteria. YES, this can be done in the home page box, and the user can select the event for the date (the default is All dates).

This post starts the demonstration of finding the Isaac Seaver (born 1823 in Massachusetts) family in the 1860 US census using's Record Search user interface.

I do not have as much experience using Record Search as I do using, so I may have missed some of the more nuanced Search techniques during this demonstration and evaluation process. I have confidence that more experienced Record Search users will "help me" if I mess something up!

We start on the home page with the information filled in the search box at the top of the screen (I input "Isaac" in the Fitrst Name box, "Seaver" in the Last Name box, "1823" in the Year box, and "Massachusetts" in the Place box (and the system "helped me" with the standard name, "Massachusetts USA"):

The options for the user in this Simple Search box include First or middle name(s), Last or family name(s), Life Events (drop-down menu), Year range (from - to), and Place (type a place name and select from provided list, as shown above). The user can also select "Exact match only," "Exact and close match," and "Exact, close and partial match" using the drop-down menu, as shown below. The default is "Exact and close match."

I picked the default "Exact and close match" for my search for Isaac Seaver in the 1860 United States census. I clicked on the "Search" button (click 1) and the list of 11 search results came up:

Isaac Seaver born in 1824 and on the 1860 census is the sixth result on the list (it's really hard to deicpher some dates on my 22 inch monitor! Why can't they use bold type - is there an electron shortage?). I put my cursor on the name and a popup box appeared that summarized what is indexed for this entry:

I think that is him, so I clicked on the link (Click 2) and the summary of the indexed record shows on the screen :

It is exactly what was on the popup box. OK, a lesson learned!

That is my Isaac, so I clicked on the Image (Click 3) in the upper right-hand corner of the result page (I could have clicked on the "Record Image" link on the far right margin).

A new Window opened because the record image for the 1860 US Census is on, an affiliate of FamilySearch Record Search.

If the user does not have a Footnote subscription, then this is as far as you can go (you could try to read the image with a magnifying glass, but the image is fuzzed up). If the user has a Footnote subscription, s/he can login and see the 1860 census image on the Image Viewer.

Back when I had the list of the 11 matches in all of the databases, I could have clicked on the little indicator just to the left of the link to the name. The little green arrow on the indicator denotes an affiliate site houses the image.

We will look at the Wild Card and Advanced Search capabilities of FamilySearch Record Search in the next post in this series.

UK's site is disappearing

The web site of the Federation of Family History Societies in the United Kingdom is going offline on 2 March 2009.

If you check all of the databases that they had online (see, you see that many of these are not just census, vital or military records. This web site was an excellent resource for listing which records are available at local or regional repositories, including the County Record Offices and the FFHS county societies, and for obtaining index entries and some images through the FFHS.

The good news is that the databases are not going away, they are just changing the location where they are stored and ordered from. Almost all of these databases will be at the FindMyPast commercial web site - There is a FAQ page about this transfer of data at

Obtaining a copy of, or an image of, these records usually cost money through the FFHS site in the past. They will also cost money when obtained through The FAQ says:

" offers a choice of ways of accessing the data: pay-per-view or subscription. Payment can be accepted online by credit card or by ‘BT Click&Buy’, and vouchers are available from an international network of stockists including libraries, archives, family history societies and by mail order. The costs of viewing individual records have been reviewed to bring them into line with other datasets."

The benefit to researchers is that these records from the FFHS databases will augment the large collection of online databases already indexed and imaged at It has become even more of a "one-stop-shop" for United Kingdom genealogy records.

They're everywhere, they're everywhere!

I was cruising through today (thanks, Schelly, for the idea!) - using genealogy, family tree, ancestry, ancestors, family history, etc. as the keywords and laughing at the occasional "good one." Then I noticed - there are ads on the web page - in three places (top, right side next to the comic strip, and further down on the page just in case you want to read the Terms of Use, I guess).

I thought, "well, they're probably using the keyword I put in to target the ads." That may be the case, but the ads still appear when I use keywords like politics, garden, boobs, etc. [Note to the curious - try "boobs" in the keyword - go ahead, it won't hurt! - and laugh!]
Perhaps the "cookie" on my computer is coded with the first keywords I used? Or does an ad show up for everybody who tries to see comics?

Genea-Gazing Into the Crystal Ball

I see that DearMYRTLE is gazing into her crystal ball and trying to predict what is coming to the genealogy world in 1 year, 5 years and 10 years - see here and here so far. She apparently is not the only one - Lisa Alzo is writing an article for Family Chronicle magazine and has asked several "inside the library" folks to opine and pontificate about the future. Great - I can hardly wait to read what they think.

Like many other bloggers, I have considered this question in past posts, including:

* The Crystal Ball: Part 1 - Will all records be digitized? (11 April 2007)

* Crystal Ball: Part 2 - Digitizing Records (21 June 2007)

* The Future of Genealogy - Part 1 (1998 version) (31 October 2007)

* The Future of Genealogy - Part 2 (2004-5) (1 November 2007)

* The Future of Genealogy - My Turn (1 November 2007)

* Genealogy in the 21st Century - Predictions (9 February 2009)

I really tried back in 2007 to sort it all out, but seemed to be hampered by not being inside the genealogy industry (and I'm still not an "insider") and having a lack of vision. Just two years ago, I doubt that many genealogists even knew about Facebook or Twitter, genea-blogging was relatively new, genealogy videos and webinars were in their infancy, and the genealogy software programs did not have the web search, maps or source citation features that many programs now have.

I wasn't asked, but I will ask my questions and provide my opinions anyway (because that's what I like to do!):

1) Will New FamilySearch live up to its' potential? New FamilySearch is coming online slowly to LDS members (and still isn't available in Utah and Idaho), as it tries to sort out the problems of the latest "Mother of all Genealogy Databases." It's hard work! I don't doubt that it will become a reality, but it may be several years away. Likewise the volunteer FamilySearch Indexing project. The databases already imaged and indexed are a small fraction of what is on the FHL microforms - they say it will be done in about ten years. Realistically, I doubt that - perhaps 20 years (have you read all of those films? My God, some are hard to read).

2) What is the next great thing in genealogy web sites? Coming onto the near-future horizon is GenSeek - will it be available when FamilyLink says it will be (in about March 2009), and will it really link to every available online database? What is the next great new genealogy idea after GenSeek?

3) How will economic conditions affect commercial genealogy companies? We don't know, do we? Some companies may go out of business, some may be bought out by another company, some may merge together. Some will survive and be stronger, and compete with others. A freely available FamilySearch (they are partnering with commercial sites, so some images won't be free at FamilySearch) competing with (or its' successor), other commercial providers, and social network sites (not all are free, and more will probably charge for premium services) may be the future in database indexes, images and family tree providers.

4) What about genealogy magazines and periodicals? I think some may cut back the number of issues but increase the page count and all of them will go with an online version for a reduced price.

5) How will Information Technology integrate with genealogy software and databases? We recently saw the Reunion software for Macs become an application for the iPhone. Cell phones and PDAs can access the Internet, take and send pictures, messages and videos - all for a price, but will people pay the price and learn the technology? The Kindle can store so much reading material on a carry-it-around reading device. In 20 years, will each genealogist have a chip implanted in their brain so that they can remember and recite their ancestral files, recall and use "how-to" tutorials, all of Google Books or purchased book files, and if so, how much will it cost? Will we have holograms of genealogy speakers from the past available for society meetings and conferences? That's a scary thought, isn't it?

6) What about collaboration and communication? We use email, message boards, discussion groups, social network sites, online chats, blogs, podcasts, webinars, and genealogy videos routinely today. Is real-time video-conferencing of genealogy speakers in our genealogy society near future? I think so - but the technology sticking point may be on the receiver's end.

7) Call me a stick-in-the-mud if you want - I believe that the basics of genealogy and family history research won't change that much, and that we will still need brick and mortar repositories to hold the archival material. Researchers, whether amateur or professional, will still have to collect source records in a reasonably exhaustive search process, analyze and correlate the information, provide source citations, resolve conflicting evidence and draw convincing conclusions in order to prove their cases. Not every record will be available on the Internet - ever. On the other hand, having so many imaged and indexed source records available on the Internet will solve many "elusive ancestor" problems heretofore thought to be hopeless (I have hope for this!). Unfortunately, many more unsourced and unreliable family trees will be put on the Internet as time goes on.

8) What I do know is that it is impossible to predict the future 10 or more years out with any accuracy. But it is fun trying! I look forward to Lisa's article and what the "inside the industry" experts tell us.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"The Lost Colony" presentation at CVGS today

Susi Pentico presented "The Lost Colony" today at the monthly program meeting of the Chula Vista Genealogical Society. She said that she had enough material for three presentations, and we believe her!

The "Lost Colony" was Sir Walter Raleigh's colony that was established on Roanoke Island in August 1587 in the Outer Banks of what is now the state of North Carolina. 115 men, women and children were left there in late 1587, and the ship sailed back to England for more supplies. The ships didn't return until May 1590, and there was no sign of the colonists, except for the word "Croatoan" carved on a post.

Nobody knows for sure what happened to the English colonists - were they killed, did they assimilate with a local Indian tribe, or did they move on to another site, or all of the above? A serious search for any survivors was not made until 1607 when Jamestown was settled by Englishmen. The Lumbee tribe of Native Americans (that currently resides in this area) has oral traditions about being descendants of the Lost Colony, and some had blue eyes, light hair, and European features.

Susi used overheads to present summary statements about the timeline and the events before, during and after the settlement. She had four pages of handouts from the Lost Colony Genealogy and DNA Research Group with the mission of the group, the surnames of the early Roanoke colonists, and information about the Research Group. Several of Susi's ancestral families are from this area of North Carolina and are on the surname list.

The Lost Colony Genealogy and DNA Research Group is trying to prove that some of the colonists survived by comparing DNA samples from descendants of early Outer Banks ancestors with those in England or other parts of the USA. You can read more information on the Group web site at

There is more information about the Lost Colony at There is a Lost Colony blog at .

This was an informative and interesting talk about an aspect of early American colonial history that does not get much attention in the history books. Perhaps that is because it is a real history mystery.

Genealogy Search Engines: - Post 3: Advanced Search

I posted my Search evaluation criteria, the questions I want to answer and the targeted search I want to pursue in this series of posts in Evaluating the Search Engines - Evaluation Criteria.

While performing this demonstration on, I evaluated the four Search criteria in Post 1: Basic Concepts and started the Search for Isaac Seaver (born in 1823 in Massachusetts) in the 1860 U.S. Census. In Post 2: Simple Search, I demonstrated the Simple Search for Isaac Seaver, using the search parameters [isaac seaver massachusetts].

I'm going to start over, this time using the "Advanced Search" option and search for [Is* Sea* Massachusetts] - note the wild card use of "*" - and specify the 1860 US Census. The home page of has a Simple Search box at the top of the page, and you can find "Advanced Search" in the drop-down box next to the "Search" button, as shown below:

I clicked on "Advanced Search" (Click 1) and the Advanced Search box appeared with parameters of First Name, Last Name, Place, Year, Keyword and Title or Collection. I entered First Name = "is*" (meaning I'm looking for names beginning with "Is" which might include Isaac, Isidore, Isabella, etc.), Last Name = "Sea*" (meaning I'm looking for names beginning with "Sea" which might include Seabury, Sears, Seaver, Seaton, etc.), and Place = "Massachusetts." The Search box looks like this:

I want to select a specific database, the 1860 U.S. Census. The drop-down menu for "Title or Collection" shows many titles and collections - I clicked the 1860 U.S. Census title and it appeared in the "Title or Collection" box:

OK, I'm ready to hit the "Search" button (Click 2):

I got 19 matches for my Search parameters. How can I narrow the Search? The available parameters in the left column are First Name, Last Name, Place, Age, Race, Birth Place, county, Family Number, Minor Civil Division, and Sex. I chose Last Name, which had 4 entries for "Seaver":

Clicking on "Seaver" (Click 3), there were four search results. Note the narrowed search terms in the yellow boxes near the top of the page:

Scrolling down, there are the other two search results:

I clicked on the third search result (Isaac Seaver in Westminster MA, page 44) thumbnail image (Click 4) and the 1860 US Census page appeared:

I described all of the features on this page in Post 2. The user can run the mouse over each name and the indexed name appears. There is a "More info" link in the popup box. Clicking on it gives this view:

In the screen above, I closed the filmstrip at the bottom of the page so that all of the popup box information was visible.

The four questions that I wanted to answer about this Search capability, and my answers, are:

* Does the Search find the record I'm seeking? YES, the record was found.

* How many clicks does it take to find the sought record? In Simple Search, it took 5 clicks (in Post 2), and in Advanced Search (Post 3) it took 4 clicks.

* Does the sought record provide a source citation? YES, but it is incomplete. The NARA Microfilm Roll number is not provided. On the other hand, the source is provided on the same page as the record.

* Was the process easy to use? YES, once the learning curve was climbed. Knowing about the "Narrow the Search" possibilities, the "Advanced Search" box, and the ability to search a selected Title or Collection really helps navigation and narrowing the search.

In my opinion, the Search process could be improved by:

* Providing the Advanced Search box on the home page. At the present time, it is well hidden behind the Search button.

* Putting more than 20 Search results on a page 50, say, would be easier to quickly review without another click to the Next page).

* Adding necessary information to the source citation (for the 1860 US Census, the NARA film roll number is a must, IMHO).

The things I like about the Footnote Search include:

* The use of a wild card for any number of letters (e.g., I*, Is* or Isa* for a first name - other Search engines require 3 letters before the wild card character)

* Being able to select the Title or Collection in the "Advanced Search" box is very useful.

* When the user narrows the search, the number of results for each sub-category is shown. I would rather search through 4 "Seaver" matches than 14 "Isaac" matches.

* The ability to manipulate the image magnification, brightness, and contrast is useful.

Family Photographs - Post 44: Harvey Edgar Carringer

I'm posting old family photographs from my collection on Wednesdays, but they won't be wordless posts like others do - I simply am incapable of having a wordless post.

This photograph is from my grandfather's photo album that I scanned during Scanfest last month:

This is a photograph of Harvey Edgar Carringer (1852-1946), the older brother of my great-grandfather, Henry Austin Carringer (1853-1946). I'm guessing that the photograph was taken around 1915 to 1920 in San Diego, perhaps in 1918 at the time of Lyle Carringer's, his nephew, wedding.

The family called him Edgar, just as they called his brother Austin - they used the middle names. Edgar moved to San Diego from Boulder CO with his parents, David Jackson and Rebecca (Spangler) Carringer, before 1900. He never married, lived for a time in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego, and was always part of the Carringer family events throughout his life. In Della (Smith) Carringer's 1929 Journal, Edgar would come over to the house on 30th Street, mow the lawn, and receive his weekly pay of $5 or $10.

This photograph was in Lyle L. Carringer's 1910 to 1925 album, which was pased to his daughter, Betty (Carringer) Seaver in 1977 and to his grandson, Randy Seaver, in about 1988.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Use Google Language Tools to aid Hispanic Research

I wondered in the post Are There Genealogy Research Aids in Spanish? if there were books or articles available in Spanish to aid persons doing research in Mexico and other Latin American countries. I received several useful tips from Drew, Pat and Eileen, but when I followed up on them, there wasn't much already available online. I did find that the Chula Vista Public Library has three of George Ryskamp books about researching Hispanic heritage, but they are all in English.

Our problem was that a young lady came in to the CVGS Table Talk several weeks ago who did not read English - and we didn't have anything in Spanish to help her.

Gena Ortega described Google Language Tools during her talk at CGSSD last Saturday, and I decided to "play" with it today to see if I could turn a useful English article about Hispanic research into a useful Spanish article. I chose Kimberly Powell's excellent two page article titled Mexico Genealogy 101 -
Tracing Your Family Tree in Mexico.
The screen showing Kimberly's article is below:

I highlighted the URL and went to Google Language Tools, and entered the URL in the "Translate a web page" box, and picked "English" to "Spanish":

The resulting page - in Spanish - looked like this:

The neat thing is that you can run your cursor over a translated sentence and see the English equivalent, as shown below:

That's wonderful, isn't it? I wondered how well the text in Spanish would translate back into English. So I highlighted and copied two paragraphs of the Spanish text:

I went back to Google Language Tools, pasted the highlighted two paragraphs into the "Translate text" box, and checked "Spanish" to "English," as shown below:

Voila again, the next screen showed both versions (Spanish on the left, English on the right):

Comparing the two versions in English - the first two paragraphs from Kimberly's article in the first screen and the two paragraphs in the last screen - shows just minor differences.

OK, that looks like a useful tool to help persons who have Internet access. How can I use it to help the young lady, or some other inquirer, with a Spanish translation if they don't have Internet access?

Ah, I could print out the Spanish translation from the Google Language Tools page! I did that, and now have a nice little handout for anyone who comes along and doesn't read English well. At least we can get them started.

Genealogy Search Engines: - Post 2: Simple Search

I posted my Search evaluation criteria, the questions I want to answer and the targeted search I want to pursue in this series of posts in Evaluating the Search Engines - Evaluation Criteria.

While performing this demonstration on, I evaluated the four Search criteria in Post 1: Basic Concepts and started the Search for Isaac Seaver (born in 1823 in Massachusetts) in the 1860 U.S. Census. In the post, I hit a dead end with my search because I had not read the information about the 1860 United States census - the birth year was not indexed but the age of the person was. If I had searched for [Isaac Seaver 36 Massachusetts] or searched fot [Isaac Seaver 1860 Massachusetts], then I would have found the 1860 U.S. Census listing.

I'm going to start over, still in the "Simple Search" (my term for the one line Search box at the top of the page), and search for [Isaac Seaver Massachusetts]. The screen with the Search parameters filled in is shown below:

I clicked on the "Search" button (Click 1) and received this screen:

I had 1,819 matches for my Search parameters in all of the Footnote databases, which is probably too many to search one by one (Footnote offers only 20 matches on the results page - you have to keep clicking to the Next Page in order to find a specific match).
It is far easier to narrow the Search by clicking on the "Title or Collection" link (Click 2) in the left hand column. A list of the titles or collections, with the number of matches in each, is provided in a drop-down menu. I scrolled down until I saw "Census - US Federal 1860" - the screen below shows the drop-down menu on the left:

I clicked on the "Census - US Federal 1860" link (Click 3) in the drop-down box on the left, and the three matches for my Search parameters were on the next screen:

I scrolled down to the bottom of this page:

For each search result, the information given is the location (in this case, Massachusetts>Worcester>Westminster>Page 44), the name of the person, and the person's birthplace. There is also a thumbnail image of the actual record, with a "View Image" link.

Which one of the three matches for an Isaac Seaver in Massachusetts in the 1860 Census is the one I want? I know that he was born in 1823 and probably resided in Westminster, Massachusetts in 1860. The user can click on the "Quick Look" link (Click 4) below the record - I did that for the third result and the Quick Look box looked like this (it obscured the third record summary though):

The Quick Look summary told me the Page number, the NARA Film Series (but not the roll number), and the location of the record - Westminster, Worcester County, Massachusetts. That didn't tell me much more than the result summary, did it - it added the NARA Microfilm Series number. It also provided a small image of the actual record, in which the names are almost readable.

I still don't know if this is the right Isaac Seaver, so I clicked on the Image itself in the Quick Look box (Click 5, I could have clicked on the "View Image" link in the result summary too) and got this result:

This is the actual record image of the census page with Isaac Seaver, age 36 in Westminster MA. The user can manipulate the image with the "magic hand" feature - drag it up or down, right or left, etc. There is a menu bar above the image with a slide bar for magnification on the top left. There are icons in the menu bar to rotate the image, adjust the image (for brightness and contrast), Find information on the image, Spotlight the image, Annotate the document, Connect the document (to other documents), Save (to a file folder), Share (with a friend), Print, Watch, and View full-screen. On the right is the source citation information (again lacking the Roll Number needed for a complete citation). On the bottom is the "film-strip" which includes the pages before and after the particular page. The user could browse pages before and after using the film strip.

At the top of the page, the "Footnote Viewer" link takes the user to the home page, the "Go Back" link takes the user back to the Search results page, and the "Search Footnote" link opens a simple Search box.

In the Search process above, it took five clicks to get to the desired image. We found out that one of the clicks, the "Quick Link" one, was not really useful. If I had not been lucky and picked the right Search result, there might have been more clicks to find the desired result. I could have gone over to the left-hand side of the search results and clicked on "Age" and then selected the Isaac Seaver aged 36 also - but that would be another click.

I will explore the wild card feature and the Advanced Search box in the next post and we will find one of the quickest ways to get to the desired image.

Tombstone Tuesday - Alpheus Smith in Medfield MA

Alpheus B. Smith (1802-1940) was one of my 3rd-great-grandfathers. I believe that his gravestone stands in Vine Lake Cemetery near the center of Medfield, and is probably next to or near that of his wife, Elizabeth (Dill) Smith. I received this photograph from a friend in the early 1990's (thank you, Linda T!):

The stone has an interesting symbol on the top - it looks like the back of a head, but it probably symbolizes something I'm unaware of. The text reads:

B. Smith
who died
Jan. 12, 1840:
aged 37 years.

Farewell my wife & children too,
I can no longer stay with you:
My portion in heaven I wish to share,
Prepare for death & meet me there.

B. Smith was born 19 May 1802 in Medfield, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, the son of Aaron and Mercy (Plimpton) Smith. He married Elizabeth Horton Dill on 30 November 1826 in Dedham MA. As far as I can tell, Alpheus lived his entire life in Medfield, Norfolk County, Massachusetts. Alpheus and Elizabeth (Dill) Smith had two children - Lucretia Townsend Smith (1828-1884), who married Isaac Seaver in 1851; James Alpheus Smith (1833-????), whom I cannot find after the 1850 census.

I do not know what Alpheus Smith's middle initial - B. - stands for.

There are a number of photographs of tombstones standing in Vine Lake Cemetery in Medfield at, courtesy of Bill Boyington.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Genealogy Search Engines: - Post 1: Basic Concepts

I posted my Search evaluation criteria, the questions I want to answer and the targeted search I want to pursue in this series of posts in Evaluating the Search Engines - Evaluation Criteria.

While performing this demonstration on, I evaluated the four Search criteria. The results for this search were:

* Exact search and/or Fuzzy search ("Fuzzy" meaning variations in names, dates and locations that might result in a match even if the record was enumerated or indexed poorly, e.g., Soundex). I found no way to test anything but Exact search parameters (other than using a Wild Card).

* Use of a specific database vs. many or all available databases. YES, this can be done, but only in the Advanced Search box, or after the initial search request.

* Use of Wild cards in names. YES, a wild card "*" can be used after one or more letters (e.g., I*, Is* or Isa* for Isaac).

* Use of dates and locations as search criteria. YES, this can be done in the Advanced Search box or after the initial search request.

This post starts the demonstration of finding the Isaac Seaver (born 1823 in Massachusetts) family in the 1860 US census using's Search user interface.

I do not have as much experience using as I do using, so I may have missed some of the more nuanced Search techniques during this demonstration and evaluation process. I have ever confidence that more experienced Footnote users will "help me" if I mess something up!

We start on the Home page with the information filled in the search box at the top of the screen (I input [Isaac Seaver 1823 Massachusetts] in the search box):

I clicked on the Search button (Click 1) and the results page said that I had 16 matches. I checked for the 1860 U.S. Census and did not see it listed:

The user can determine the databases for which records were found, so I clicked on the "Title or Collection" link on the left side - there were 9 matches from the Boston City Directories and 7 matches from Massachusetts Vital Records, but none from the 1860 US Census.

Why did it not find the 1860 United States Census for Isaac Seaver born in 1823 and residing in Massachusetts? I guessed that it was because the birth year didn't match the index. It turned out that Footnote indexed the Age and not the Birth Year! If I had asked for [isaac seaver 36 massachusetts] then it would have found him in the 1860 US census.

I went and found the description of the 1860 US Census database on Footnote. It said:

"Browse the 1860 US census by state, county, and civil division. This particular census is especially helpful in researching the Civil War era and the soldiers who fought in the imminent conflict. Information about each member of a household as of June 1, 1860, includes age, race, occupation, real and personal estate values, birth place, if married within the year, and if a person was deaf, dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict. Relationships are not detailed until the 1880 census."

Yep, "Age" not "birth year." If I had done my homework before barging into the Search, I might have saved some time. There's a good lesson here!

Some comments:

* I don't see any "how-to search" or "Search help" links that might provide clues as to how a new user of Footnote can search efficiently.

* Ever time I want to change Search parameters, I have to go back to the original Search screen (or the Advanced Search screen) and re-enter all of my Search parameters. The user can Add search parameters, but not delete or modify them during the Search process. My preference would be to keep the parameters in the Search box and let me modify or add to them.

The next post will look at the Advanced Search box and go all the way to finding the 1860 US Census entry for Isaac Seaver.

Who were the #21's?

Who knew that genealogy bloggers and blog readers would have so much fun doing the last Saturday Night Fun challenge? Look at this list of their father's mother's father's mother (and the blogger's name, linked to the post, or the Commenter's name):

* Hannah (Rich) Richman - Randy Seaver

* Julia Ann (Lewis) House - Wendy Littrell

* Mary E. "Mae" (McArthur) York Randell Richmond - Miriam Midkiff

* Hanna Minka (--?--) Smorgonski -- Amir Dekel

* Caroline (Flory) Saurer - Diana R.

* Ida Peters (Dollman) Buss -- Terri

* Flory (McLean) McFadyen -- Brenda Dougall Merriman

* Margaret (Leehive) Slattery - Thomas MacEntee

* Robert Marshall - Alana Farrell (who doesn't know her #21, so she picked #24)
* Martha R.S.C. (Monk) Norman -- Greta Koehl

* Sophia (Lamucha) Lipa -- Jasia

* Mary Elizabeth (Mitchell) Cooper -- Debra Osborne Spindle

* Anna M. (Zaepfel) Nuwer -- Amanda

* --?-- (--?--) --?-- -- Jessica Oswalt (she's still working on this one!)

* Sarah Nancy (Huntsicker) Schuder -- Becky Wiseman

* Mary Anna (Webb) Wellons -- Leah (who chose #31 since she's still searching for #21)

* Orcelia Jane (Wright) Rury -- Kay B.

* Emily R. (Jamison) Mauzen -- Mary

* Annie Perlick Dudelsack/Feinstein -- John Newmark

* Elizabeth (Coburn) Barker -- Bill West

* Louisa J. (Scarborough) Saunders -- Debbie Blanton McCoy

* Edith (Sharpless) Cheyney -- Russ Worthington

* Mary Elizabeth (Hobrock) Borgstadter -- Sheri Fenley

* Sarah Jane (Ward) McMahon -- Julie Cahill Tarr

* Matilda (Smith) Wheeler - Holly Spencer

* Attje (Bansema) Melensen -- Hank Van Kempen (in Comments)

* Sarah (Wedd) Saggers -- M. Diane Rogers (in Comments)

* Mary S. (--?--) Reynolds -- lib1976 (in Comments)

* Anne Thorstensdatter - Lynn (in Comments)

* Magdalena (Petersen) Boisen -- Becky (in Comments)

* Blanche (Welden) Mertena -- Jennifer (in Comments)

Isn't this a great list? None of the bloggers or commenters (probably) ever met these second great-grandmothers, yet their life has been remarkably shaped by these women and their very being is based on genetics passed down from the women. There are some very interesting and poignant stories in these blog posts.

Are you reading all of these genea-bloggers? I found several new genealogy blogs on thisl ist and added them to my Bloglines reader.

In several cases, looking for #21 in the Ahnentafel helped researchers learn about and work with their genealogy software.

I think that I have not found everyone who participated in this exercise - if I have missed you, please let me know via email ( or a Comment here and I will add you to the list. I started this list this morning instead of on Sunday morning.

UPDATES: 2/23, 8:30 p.m. - added John Newmark's post.
2/23, 10:00 p.m. - added Bill West's and Debbie McCoy's posts.
2/24, 8 a.m. - added Russ Worthington's and Sheri Fenley's posts. Up to 29!
2/24: 3 p.m. - added Julie Tarr's post. #30.
2/25: 8:45 p.m. - added Holly Spencer's post, #31.

Questions and Answers - Comments about Genealogy Search Engines series

Many Genea-Musings readers know that I'm in the middle of a series of posts about Genealogy Search Engines. I'm trying to compare the search process on,, Record Search and HeritageQuestOnline and assess them against my own evaluation criteria.

To date, I've written two introductory posts and four posts. These posts have raised some interesting questions and comments, including:

1. In Post 4 - reader 1976lib noted:

"You know that the information exists in the database when you start the search for these tests. In most cases a researcher is just hoping there is some information available on the person being searched. Choosing the most appropriate search, continuing through additional kinds of searches and persisting when you initially get no returns (or an overwhelming number) has to be learned behavior. "

You are correct - I do know that the 1860 census database has the information I'm seeking. I'm trying to start off the Search process, and the posts, as if I don't know that the record is available, for the purposes of assessing each web site and search engine against my evaluation criteria. At some point, I will add some discussion and recommendations for doing the additional searches required when the record you are seeking is "not found" or is really "hard to find." Ah, "learned behavior" is how we all use Search engines, isn't it? I'm still learning, and I hope that these posts help my readers learn faster.

2) In Post 4 - reader Ancestry Insider offered some background about the development of's New Search Fuzzy Matches development. The most interesting parts:

"In the upper-right corner of the list of results is a "View" setting that can be set to "Summarized by category" or "Sorted by relevance." gave users greater control by allowing either view to be used with either search method. Viewing by category inherently adds an additional click. An argument can be made, that it makes no sense to use category summaries with ranked search results. One aspect of's New Search is that it blurs the distinction between exact and ranked searching. That begs the questions, does it ever make sense to view results by category rather than by how well the results match? In my opinion, added the option just to make a transition to New Search easier to old users. I believe it is one of several ways in which old exact search is inferior to new exact search."

There are several excellent observations there - by someone who was on the inside not so long ago. Thanks! The "Summarized by Category" sounds a lot more useful to me than "Sorted by Relevance." I note that I'm using "Summarized by Category" first (I don't remember picking it, it must have been picked earlier!) and then within a specific database the Search goes to "Sorted by Relevance." I really dislike getting results "Sorted by Relevance" early in the Search -- I can never find what I wanted. Perhaps I'll do another post just to test that.

3) In Post 4 - reader geolover commented:

"Regarding this search, if looking for an 1860 US Federal Census entry, why are you using a global search page instead of the search page for the 1860 enumeration? It is easy as pie to bookmark the Census listings, much easier than specifying such a search via the homepage/global search. A lot faster loading, too."

I agree totally ... but I was trying to do the searches as if I was a fairly new user (and that's hard sometimes!) not familiar with all of the nuances of Searching that comes from years of experience. I've watched newbies do this...believe me, they don't know about all of the nuances (but I'm not sure I do either)! I'm also going to compare the process with other web sites, which may not permit that type of Search, so I need to start at the beginning, so to speak. Great tip - thanks!

4) In - Post 2 -- reader Anne Mitchell commented:

"...Just one note on the fuzzy vs exact: you don't have to do all fuzzy or all exact. One of my favorite tricks to find who I am looking for is to fill in the most exact value I can in the "Lived In (Residence)" field and click exact."

Anne has many favorite tricks, I think! She could write many blog posts about favorite tricks. Read her whole comment for an example. This is a great tip - you can specify which Search parameters are Exact or Fuzzy so that you can limit the Search results. As I noted above, I'm trying to be pretty simple here, so that I don't get too confused (or put hundreds of screen captures up!).

5) In - Post 2 - reader Familytreeservice commented:

" problem I have always had is putting on exact information for say, Mabel Molesworth (this is a serious name, honest), born 1890, Redditch, Worcestershire, England. Fairly specific details and name I think you will agree. However, as her name is recorded as 'Mable' in one census, her result comes after about 5 pages, behind every Molesworth name in the whole of England let alone in Worcestershire. I've noticed this happens for William (Wllm) and Thomas (Thos) a lot. Any tips on avoiding that?"

The census indexes are full of "serious names" done wrong...that's the problem with informers, enumerators and indexers, but not the Search algorithm! Your example makes the case for using a "wild card" for names that can be easily "messed up" by someone who heard it wrong or did not ask the correct spelling. I'm guessing that you did a Fuzzy Match search and, since the indexed "Mable" did not equal "Mabel," the star ranking penalized the entry and it ended up on the 5th page. If you had done an Exact Match search, you would not have found her at all, but your list of match results would have been shorter!

A Search using wild cards for the names would have found your dear Mable easily - e.g., use First Name = "mab*" and Last name = "moles*" in the Search box and you would probably see your Mabel near the top of the search result list. I use wild cards for almost all of my Exact and Fuzzy match requests. If I get too many matches, then I add a birth year (if known, with a variance of like +/- 2 years), a birthplace (if known), and a residence (State/County, if known).

I'm going to discuss using "wild cards" and specific Search strategies in subsequent posts.

Thank you all for taking the time to comment and question. I will try to keep up with all of the Comments and post responses to those that have questions, tips and suggestions.