Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, January 16, 2017

Dreaming of Medieval Manuscripts: A Genealogical Nightmare

  • [Planta, J.], A Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Cottonian Library, Deposited in the British Museum (London, 1802), p. 220.
  • Tite, Colin, The Early Records of Sir Robert Cotton's Library: Formation, Cataloguing, Use (London: British Library, 2003), pp. 605-06.
Other than being written primarily in Latin and in an ancient script, their availability, their lack of reliability and lack of any indexing, there is not too much preventing genealogists from using ancient manuscripts to extend their genealogy back into the Dark Ages. However, by examining online family trees, you might get the impression that the current genealogical community was brimming over with medieval specialists.

Just in case you wake up in the middle of the night and have an insatiable urge to delve into this highly specialized area of genealogical research, I thought I would provide a sampling of where you might find some online offerings.

It might take you a while, but you can find a huge number of medieval manuscripts on the website.

This website has over 250,000 images and over 22,000 texts related to medieval documents. Almost all of these, unlike some other online sources, are available for re-use. You will be amazed at the quality of the images and your ability to enlarge and view the images. Here is a sample page.

Vincent de Beauvais , Miroir Historial [ Speculum historiale ], vol. 1, 2, 4 , traduction en français par Jean de Vignay. Miroir historial , vol. 2, Livres IX-XVI. [Paris, BnF, MSS Français 313] | Jean de Vignay (1282?-13..). Traducteur, Vincentius Bellovacensis (1190?-1264). Auteur du texte, Maître de la mort. Enlumineur, Pseudo Perrin Remiet. Enlumineur, and Perrin Remiet. Enlumineur

Most of the museums and larger libraries of Europe participate in providing content to and the website presently has 54,214,141 artworks, artifacts, books, videos and sounds from across Europe.

Some of the countries of Europe are very protective of their collections and subsequently, they limit their online availability and utility. Great Britain claims a Crown Copyright, for example, that applies to a work is made by Her Majesty or by an officer or servant of the Crown in the course of his duties". The Crown can also have copyrights assigned to it. There is, in addition, a small class of materials where the Crown claims the right to control reproduction outside normal copyright law due to Letters Patent issued under the royal prerogative. This material includes the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. See Wikipedia: Crown Copyright. Unfortunately, many items kept in the British Library are restricted even where Crown Copyright does not apply. By the way, Great Britain is not at all alone in this practice, many institutions in the United States and elsewhere restrict access to old or even ancient documents for all sorts of reasons, none of which involve enforceable copyright claims.

Here a sampling of other sources of information and content about medieval manuscripts:

Sunday, January 15, 2017 Reports Record Sales for DNA Products

Ancestry announced that it sold 1.4 million AncestryDNA test kits during the fourth quarter of 2016. The announcement indicates that Ancestry:
  • Sold more than 560,000 AncestryDNA consumer genomics test kits globally over the holiday weekend starting on Black Friday
  • Sold 1.4 million kits in the fourth quarter
  • Sold 390,000 more kits in Q4 than were sold in all of 2015
Quoting from the press release:
The company also announced that AncestryDNA has reached a new milestone as its consumer DNA platform became the first to exceed three million participants, further establishing the company as the leader in the rapidly growing consumer genomics industry.
AncestryDNA is owned and operated by DNA, LLC, a subsidiary of, LLC.

Planning for #RootsTech 2017: Don't forget the Expo Hall

While most of the people who attend RootsTech 2017 will attend classes don't forget to spend some time in the Expo Hall with the exhibitors. Many of the exhibitors have booths where they teach about their products and programs. Not all of these are commercial enterprises. There are usually quite a few of the exhibitors that have a place where they teach classes and provide support for their products. In addition, there is the Demo theater where you can sit and rest while different presenters give 15-minute presentations and demonstrations.

This year, I have opted to do all my presentations in the Expo Hall. So far, I will be doing presentations for The Family History Guide and As we get closer to the Conference, I will post my own presentation schedule. RootsTech 2017 has apparently not yet published a list of the exhibitors, but once that list is made available, perhaps in the program handed out when you register, you should review the list to make sure you visit the booths of the exhibitors you would like to contact. But also remember that the Conference gives you a valuable opportunity to learn about new products and services you may not now know about.

You should also be ready with some kind of business card. Many of exhibitors have drawings and giveaways and collect entrants' business cards or have the entrants fill out a paper. Some attendees print off pages of labels with their contact information to avoid the need to stand there and fill out a card or paper. Some just bring a stack of pre-printed cards. Some of the exhibitors have shopping bags as giveaways. The attendees can then use these bags to collect information and giveaways from the other exhibitors. My wife then uses these same bags when she buys groceries instead of using the stores' plastic or paper bags.

There are food vendors in the Expo Hall, but bear in mind that the lines can be long. Last year, it turned out that several of the food vendors were tucked away from the main part of the Expo Floor and if you find a long line for lunch, you might want to check to see if there are other vendors whose lines are not so long.  Of course, you can fill up on soda pop and candy if that is all you want to eat.

In past years, I have tried using a wheeled pull-tote or rolling suitcase or briefcase. All of these are a real bother and hazard when moving through crowds. It is much easier to bring a backpack or over-the-shoulder bag to carry items than try to maneuver through the crowds with a wheeled pull device. I carry a backpack with my computer and other things I need. I have a coat that stuffs into a compact bag and that helps to avoid having that extra item to carry around in my hands.

The Salt Palace is really big and you will find that outside of the Expo Hall places to sit are at a premium. In some cases, you can find a seat in the large presentation halls between classes or at other times.

During the first couple of years of RootsTech, there was considerable congestion in the elevators. Now that the Conference has spread out over more of the Salt Palace, the congestion is not so bad but you still have to keep moving to get a seat in some of the classes.

If you are driving to the Conference, you need to plan ahead for parking. This year we are going to take the Trax light rail downtown and avoid the parking problem altogether. We will park at one of the Trax stations and then ride downtown to the Conference sessions. Remember that there are some events that go on late into the evenings and your parking may expire before the event is over (speaking from experience).

We have been having some cold and very snowy weather lately and you might want to be prepared.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Expanded Access to Ebooks from the Digital Public Library of America

The Digital Public Library of America or DPLA has been awarded $1.5 million to expand its efforts to provide broad access to widely read ebooks across America. Here is a summary of the grant from the announcement:
The Digital Public Library of America is thrilled to announce that the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has awarded DPLA $1.5 million to greatly expand its efforts to provide broad access to widely read ebooks. The grant will support improved channels for public libraries to bolster their ebook collections, and for millions of readers nationwide to access those works easily.
 The announcement goes on to explain further:
The Sloan grant will help DPLA build upon its existing successful ebook work, such as in the Open eBooks Initiative, which has provided thousands of popular and award-winning books to children in need. Recently, DPLA announced with its Open eBooks partners the New York Public Library, First Book, Baker & Taylor, and Clever that well over one million books were read through the Sloan-supported program in 2016.
The DPLA's collections of free, online documents and books have now expanded to well over 15 million items available through its list of partners.

Genealogists benefit from this increase in ebook availability because any such increase inevitably adds books of genealogical interest. There is no accurate way to determine the total number of completely digitized and freely available books online, but the number has to be in the tens of millions. The website, alone, has 5,733,350 ebooks in the public domain and, the Internet Archive, has 10,809,874 ebooks and there are hundreds of other websites with ebook collections.

I have commented previously on the phenomena that very few genealogists do research into these millions of available books even though the records in the books are in some cases the only available source for certain genealogical records.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Connect with Archives

The National Archives of the United Kingdom has a clickable map of the archives in the UK and a list of national archives across the world. By the way, there are 2,246 archive institutions in England alone.

As shown above, there are 1,206 special archives, 488 local archives, 300 university archives, 96 private archives, 81 national archives, and 75 business archives. Hmm. What would constitute a reasonably exhaustive search in England? Of course, not all these archives genealogically significant records but how do you know which ones don't? Here are some more interesting numbers.

The UK Archive search only lists 276 archives in the United States of America. However, there is a Wikipedia article entitled, "List of archives in the United States," that lists a few and then links to additional pages with more lists. Notable among archives in the United States is that of State of Georgia which was scheduled to be closed in 2012 and then remained open for another year by order of the Governor after public outcry from around the U.S. The Georgia State Archives was then transferred to the University System of Georgia. By the way, the Wikipedia article is out of date.

The Society of American Archivists has a webpage entitled, "Finding and Evaluating Archives."

Of course, if you are really interested in doing some reasonably exhaustive (and exhausting) research you should be using ArchiveGrid to search over 1,000 archival institutions.

The challenge for genealogists is that few archives have comprehensive catalogs of their holdings. In many cases, you will see entries such as the following, that list only the general contents of the papers and manuscripts in their collections:

If you look carefully at this entry, you might notice that this collection contains 9 linear feet of documents in the Cline Library Special Collections in Flagstaff, Arizona. Hmm. If you are a careful researcher, you might also find the following:

This collection contains 21.25 linear feet of documents including the following:
The George S. Tanner papers (1912-1992) contain personal and family materials related to George Tanner, a teacher and historian. Included are correspondence, arranged chronologically and alphabetically; biographies and autobiographies; journals and family histories; financial and medical records; writings and speeches; newsletters and news clippings; programs and brochures; and materials relating to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).
There is no way to find out exactly what is contained in this collection short of visiting the University of Utah and spending time examining the 21+ feet of documents.

Here is another interesting example of collections in a national library.

Here are 9 private collections in the National Library of Australia. Here is a screenshot of the reference to one of those collections.

If you were searching for information about this person, could you find it in the National Library of Australia?

What is my point? There are more places to search for information than there is time in any one person's life to look. But by using the search capabilities of the internet, including, but certainly not limited to, Google searches, you can find some very surprising resources.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Win a Free Pass to the MyHeritageDNA RootsTech After-Party

Last year, had a fabulous after RootsTech party. This year for RootsTech 2017, is sponsoring a similar party. Attendance at the party, to be held on Friday night, February 10, beginning at 8 pm is by invitation only. Last year, my wife won a brand new Apple iPad Mini at the party. Pretty fabulous. has planned another event this year at the Grand Ballroom at the Marriott Downtown at City Creek across from the Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. Here is a description of the event from the announcement.
This year's theme is "Amaze Yourself". In keeping with last year's legendary evening, karaoke will be back, plus light refreshments. We've also taken the entertainment up a notch and added new games and fantastic prizes. You could also be the lucky winner of a DNA test.
I have been given the opportunity to give away 5 invitations to the event that include the opportunity for each winner to bring 1 guest.

Although I am not a fan of contests as such, I am holding a contest to select the five winners. Of course, you must be planning on attending RootsTech 2017 to win. Responses need to be by email to my address at Winners will be randomly selected from all those who submit correct answers between midnight January 12, 2017, Mountain Daylight Time (MDT) and Midnight January 13, MDT. All winners will be notified by return email on Saturday, January 14, 2017. Please only send one entry. Please do not enter if you either are not attending RootsTech 2017 or are not planning on attending the party, it is not fair to the other contestants. Also, attendance at the party is reserved to those 21 years of age and older.

In my last contest, I was still receiving entries weeks after a winner had been selected, so I suggest that you re-read the contest rules and stop sending in entries after midnight MDT on Friday, January 13 since I will simply trash all the entries time-marked after that cutoff time.

OK so here is the contest. It is ridiculously simple.

Go to the website. Open the "About us" tab link and copy the first full paragraph and include it in your email. That's it. Send the email during the 24 hour period indicated above and then I will randomly select five winners and they will be notified on Saturday as soon as I get around to it. I will not respond to any of the other emails unless I choose to. It does not matter if you send in an early email, so don't worry about entering right after midnight; it won't make any difference when you send the email during the 24 hour period.

Oh, remember you must include a valid email address. If my reply email bounces, I will simply choose another "random" winner. If I get any spam-like ads from your company or business along with the entry, you will probably not be randomly chosen. I reserve the right to disqualify any objectionable responses.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Guest Post: Disappearing Ancestors: 4 Tips for Tracing Hard-to-Find Relatives

[Note: From time to time, I have had a few guest genealogists post on my blog. This one is from Carolyn Tolman at Legacy Tree Genealogists]

One of the things I love about genealogy is the fascinating variety of names and the many forms that one particular name can take. One memorable name that I encountered recently was Cadwallader Slaughter, often shortened to Cad Slaughter. What a name! It’s a delicate science using names to determine the identity of one person, or distinguishing between many people. Here are the most significant things to remember about names in your genealogy research.

Tip #1: Pronunciation is more important than spelling

Before the standardization of spelling in the twentieth century, people spelled names according to how they sounded. As long as a name was pronounced correctly, it often didn’t matter which letters were used to spell it. The less common a name was, the more likely it was spelled in a variety of ways. A name could be spelled one way at the beginning, and another way at the end of the very same document.

Naturally, the vowels are the most changeable parts of a name. I recently did a project on the Van Wormer family of Albany County, New York. Not only did I observe that the “Van” part was optional, but I also found the following spellings for Wormer: Wurmer, Wermer, Wirmer and Warmer. Another example was the Rhodus family of Madison County, Kentucky who also went by Rhodes, Rhodis, Roads, Rodas, Roders, and Rhoads. I’ve heard families say “My ancestors belonged to the branch of the family that spelled their name this way.” While that could be true, a researcher must keep an open mind and not be hasty to reject other spellings. Other factors such as who they associated with and where they lived should be considered in determining the identity of an ancestor.

Tip #2: Names evolved from their Old World origins

The United States was populated with immigrants from other countries with their own name traditions. As they settled into their new life, they often modified their names, whether to blend in to their local culture or just to suit their personal wishes. For example, we had a hard time finding the parents of my ancestor Margaret Wire until we realized that they spelled their name “Quire.” This name had originally been “McGuire” when their ancestors had emigrated from Scotland. Again, paying more attention to the pronunciation of the name than the spelling helped us keep an open mind and recognize all of the possibilities.

Tip #3: Nicknames and abbreviations might not resemble birth names

A genealogist must be aware of common nicknames and abbreviations for common birth names in order to determine if they are dealing with the same person. Here are some related names that I often come across in my United States research:

Mary, Polly, Molly, Maria, Marie, Mariah
Anne, Hannah, Nancy, Annie, Ane, An
Margaret, Peggy, Maggie, Meg, Marge, Marguerite, Daisy
Elizabeth, Bettie, Betsy, Eliza, Lizzie, Beth
Eleanor, Nellie, Ellen, Ellie
Frances, Fannie, Veronica, Fran
Jane, Jenny, Janet, Genevieve
John, Jno., Johann, Ian, Jack, Ivan
William, Wm., Bill, Liam, Will
James, Jas.
Henry, Heinrich
Peter, Patrick
Francis (male), Frank, Franz
Robert, Robt., Bob

Tip #4: Multiple computer searches are necessary

In this day and age with our computer search capabilities, it is more important than ever to consider every possible way that a name could have been spelled. A Google search for “Rhodes Madison County Kentucky” would not yield the same results as “Rhodus Madison County Kentucky,” and valuable websites would be missed. Multiple searches with different spellings are critical to gather as much information as possible. One important note: the asterisk (*) is often used as a wildcard when one name ends in several different ways. For example, “Rho*” and “Rod*” were two search terms I used with the Rhodus family on certain websites. However, Google does not treat the asterisk in the same way. While it may be used in place of a word or an initial, such as “John * Smith” for a man who used different middle initials or names, Google does not recognize the asterisk as a replacement for letters within a name. (See our previous blog post on Google searching for more tips.)

Above all, remember to keep an open mind, consider all of the possibilities, and enjoy the wonderful variety of names in your genealogical records.

Legacy Tree Genealogists is a genealogy research firm with expertise in everything from finding elusive ancestors to breaking through genealogy bricks walls and genetic genealogy! For more information on services offered by Legacy Tree, visit their website at