Navigating Places on Ancestry’s New Search Page

Ancestry Place Page for Virginia
Ancestry Place Page for Virginia has posted a new search page:

The search itself does not seem to have changed. I still get some strange results, including names or locales that seem unrelated to the search I entered.

What interests me, however, is that the map at the bottom of this search page leads to a lot of location-specific data. Ancestry, in a  blog entry entitled “Browse the Place Pages,” claims that they have created thousands of place pages. As you would expect, these pages include categorized links to record collections that relate to the place (such as Census and Voter Lists, Vital Records, Military Records). But they also contain links to maps, atlases, and gazetteers; references, dictionaries, and almanacs; and stories, memories, and histories.

The pages also let you focus your navigation on particular localites, such as counties within a state, and some of these have their own place pages.

The tabs “History” and “Resources” provide historical information about the locale and resources for researching in this area. While I will not likely stop using Wikipedia for place information when I research (see the Virginia page at:, this is often a genealogically specific set of information that will help while I’m researching at Ancestry, and elsewhere. I welcome this new locale data.

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FamilySearch Indexing

FamilySearch, the genealogy records arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is busy scanning and indexing the bulk of their 2.6 million reels of microfilm.

The indexing process is a collaborative “crowd sourcing” web project, involving the genealogical community. In fact, since May, the FamilySearch website has released digitized and crowd-source indexed genealogical records containing 500 million names on their beta website:

Indexing is done through a double-blind process, where two indexers independently fill out forms with the index information. The indexed values are compared, and when they match completely, they are accepted. When there is a discrepancy between two index entries, they are sent for arbitration. Additionally, if users pass over records without indexing the, FamilySearch looks at the images to determine if they might need to be scanned again.

If you are interested in paricipating, see

For more information, read the FAQ:

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The Mysterious Death of 57 Irish Immigrants

Fifty-seven Irish-American railroad workers supposedly died of cholera in 1832. It turns out the they may have been murdered, perhaps because of fear that they might be carrying cholera.

Researchers from Immaculata College and Pennsylvania state and local governments have been overseeing an archaeological dig at the site since 2004. In 2009, they announced that the first two skulls unearthed appeared to have suffered from blunt force trauma.

The Pennsylvania historic marker, visible only briefly in the CNN video below, reads:

Duffy’s Cut Mass Grave

Nearby is the mass grave of fifty-seven Irish immigrant workers who died in August, 1832, of cholera. They had recently arrived in the United States and were employed by a construction contrator named Duffy, for the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. Prejudice against Irish Catholics contributed to the denial of care to the workers. Their illness and death typified the hazards faced by many 19th century immigrant industrial workers.

Duffy’s Cut is the name of “a stretch of railroad tracks” near Malvern, Pennsylvania. Below is the latest from CNN.

FGS Conference – FamilySearch Wiki

During the FGS Conference, FamilySearch made a concerted effort to engage people with their wiki, which is at The goal of the FamilySearch wiki is to build a common location for research recommendations.

It has been a while since I looked at the FamilySearch Wiki.

The site now has more than 40,000 entries. Like any Wiki, especially at the beginning stages, there is a wide variety of quality, and especially of completeness. However, it is already a very helpful place to go to find out about researching in a new locality.

I went to the North Carolina Barn Raising (actually started in May 2009) and signed up for the North Carolina Archives and Libraries and North Carolina Bibliography pages, and I have made some edits. As with any wiki, editing is quick and easy, and can be done in a format-based view or in a wiki code view.

This is community work. Join the community!

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Random Notes from the FGS Conference

Here are a few random notes from the FGS Conference in Knoxville, Tennessee.

  • RootsTech Conference: Just prior to the commencement of the FGS Conference, FamilySearch announced the RootsTech Conference:

    “Technologists and genealogists from around the world will gather at the first annual RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, February 10-12, 2011. The new conference, hosted by FamilySearch and sponsored by leading genealogical organizations, aims to bring technologists and genealogists together to help deepen understanding of current technologies and discover new ideas in applying technology to genealogy. Learn more at”

  • FamilySearch digitization continues to deliver records from the FamilySearch vaults, with most of the indexing done by volunteers. At the time of the NGS Conference in May, they announced 300 million names. In August, they have announced that another 200 million names have gone online. The results of this work can be seen at, and by the end of the year should replace the older site at
  • FamilySearch Wiki ( now contains more than 40,000 articles, many written collaboratively by volunteers.
  • The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) has launched a new website, The site name reflects the fact that while the NEHGS has a focus on New England, they have also developed substantial database holdings nationally, especially in New York, the mid-Atlantic, and in ethnic topics such as Irish and African American research. The new site contains all of the NEHGS’s databases., features, articles, and resources, and have a very contemporary feel about it, with the latest in social media integration and blogging and interaction with users on the site.
  • The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) is partnering with the National Archives to digitize the War of 1812 pensions. Three sample pensions, as well as information on donating for this project are available at

It has been a great conference, and there has been a lot of excitement in the air.

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FGS 2010: Knoxville – The Museum of Appalachia

This evening at the 2010 FGS Conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, there was an outing to the Museum of Appalachia.

The museum is “a living history museum of pioneer, frontier, and early artifacts of mountain life in the Southern Appalachians.” It includes a collection of buildings, folk arts and crafts, and music, commemorating and extending the life of the mountain arts and culture. I had no idea how vast the collection would be, nor how affecting.

At the heart of the whole enterprise is John Rice Irwin and his daughter Elaine Irwin Meyer. John Rice Irwin began collecting Appalachian artifacts in the 1960s. In 2000, he donated the museum and its nearly 40 structures, to a non-profit organization. He and his daughter, as well as Former Senator Howard Baker and three others, serve as unpaid board members to direct the educational goals of the museum.

The museum has a stage from which we were treated to excellent musicianship, tongue-in-cheek songs, and humorous banter. John Rice Irwin came on stage, and in describing a song about a disaster in a coal mine, recited a bit of it. When he invited the band to sing it, one of the musicians said, “You already sang it.” After which, John Rice Irwin turned to the audience and said, “I’m glad you enjoyed it… We have a smart aleck in the band….”

It was an entertaining evening with good food, good music, and it served as a tribute to the work of John Rice Irwin to preserve Appalachian culture. If you are ever in Eastern Tennessee, you need to drop in on the Museum of Appalachia. Keep an eye out especially for their Tennessee Mountain Homecoming, at the beginning of October. (In 2010, this will be 8 — 10 October.)

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FGS 2010: Knoxville – David S. Ferriero

Today was the beginning of the 2010 Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Knoxville, Tennessee.

There have been quite a few good lectures, and it has gotten off to a promising start.

What was most powerful for me was attending the FGS luncheon and hearing David S. Ferriero, the 10th Archivist of the United States describe the future of the National Archives. There were minor items, such as the fact that the National Archives in Washington, DC and College Park, Maryland, will have open wi-fi networks, allowing researchers to access the Internet. (This will be especially important for researchers who want to access cloud-computing applications such as Dropbox and Evernote.)

More importantly, he described the release of the 1940 US Census. It will be released on 2 April 2012, per the census statute that requires 72 years to pass before the individual census records can be released to the public (92 Stat. 915; Public Law 95-416; October 5, 1978). Because of this stipulation, the National Archives (NARA) is digitizing the 1940 census in-house, without the participation of a technology partner (such as,, or FamilySearch, all three of which have a strong working relationships with NARA). The 1940 census is not being microfilmed; it will only be available digitally, both on computers within the NARA facilities in DC and the states, as well as over the Internet.

One of the key reasons that Ferriero (pronounced like “stereo”, if the first letter were an “f”) came to the FGS Conference, is that NARA is partnering with the FGS to digitize the War of 1812 pension papers, which consist of 180,000 files and will include 7.2 million images when it is completed. The FGS is raising the money from donations. To make a donation, or to learn more, see It will take approximately fifty cents per image, or $3.7 million to digitize the entire collection. Ferriero pointed out that these pensions are among the most accessed items at NARA. Digitizing them will help preserve the documents, as they will not be handled as much.

The collaboration with FGS and with genealogists in general fits well into Ferriero’s vision of citizen archivists, as well as into President Obama’s Open Government initiative. He knows quite well, he said, from his experience leading the New York Public Library, that the users of the collections often know more about them that the librarians and archivists, because the users are delving deeper into particular documents and record groups, while the archivists need to be more wide-ranging in their attentions.

The talk was peppered with humor, such as the fact that when he met with the administrators of the regional facilities, the administrator of the JFK Library pulled out of a briefcase a copy of a letter the young David Ferriero wrote to President Kennedy, asking for more information on the Peace Corps. (Ferriero remembered being interested in the Peace Corps, but not having written the letter.) Ferriero said he could see the other administrators thinking, “How am I going to I top that?” Of course, other letters to presidents from the precocious boy that David Ferriero must have been, have also turned up.

For more about David S. Ferriero, you might visit his blog:

I would not be surprised if his remarks at the FGS Conference end up on “Speeches and Writings of David S. Ferriero.”

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Book Review: American Passage: The History of Ellis Island

American Passage
American Passage

Vincent J. Cannato’s American Passage: The History of Ellis Island aims to cover the whole recorded history of the island. The book starts with the history of the island long before anyone thought of it as a way station for immigrants.

The Dutch named in Little Oyster Island, as it sat among the oyster beds near the Jersey shore. He notes that the ownership of the island is unclear between the late 17th century and 1785, when an advertisement appeared trying to sell the island along with a couple of lots in Manhattan and “a few barrels of excellent shad and herrings…” (Kindle location, 482).

By the time of the War of 1812, the island had been acquired by the War Department as part of the defense of New York harbor.

Read more

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Preserving Your Digital Legacy: Backing Up Your Data

This post might sound like a public service announcement, like urging you to eat enough fruits and vegetables, but developing and maintaining data backups is a key technical consideration. Genealogists store and share so much research on computers, making data loss a serious risk. A large percentage of research documentation consists of digital images, and the computer of the average genealogist often stores numerous scanned family photos, maps, and documents. We build complex databases of all we have gleaned about the families we are researching. All of that research is at risk in a computer failure, fire, hurricane, earthquake, or theft. At some point, almost everyone will lose data as a result of a computer crash or failure. The fact is that computers and their subsystems, including hard drives, fail from time to time, oft en without warning. This puts critical data, and the time spent collecting and organizing it, at risk.

So how can you maximize the likelihood of being able to restore your data? You should develop, implement, and maintain a comprehensive electronic data backup plan and then carry out your plan. This article will outline some of the strategies and considerations that can help you design such a backup plan, and point out some of the services and software that can help you carry it out.


One of the most reliable backups you can make is to have printed copies of your research findings. For example, you could print out and store paper pedigrees, family group sheets, and narrative reports.

Paper has been a trusted medium for communication for approximately two millennia. It has a number of benefits including that it stands up to a wide variety of conditions, is not destroyed by power surges, and does not need to “boot up.” One important thing to note about paper copies, however, is that not all paper copies are alike. Some inks are not as permanent as one might like. While many computer printers produce a product that will stand up to reasonable amounts of light and some moisture, some inks fade too easily or bleed with only a drop of water. Consider the quality and resilience of your printed output as you plan your backup strategy.

In 1991, a brush fire in the hills above Oakland, California, destroyed numerous homes, including the life’s work of several authors. In some cases, both the computers and printed backup copies were in the houses that burned, leaving the authors with nothing. While most data loss will come because of a system failure, we should not forget that computers can also be lost in conflagrations, storms, and other “acts of God” that might consume paper “backup” copies as well. Paper copies can be handy for your reference purposes, and to recover from computer-only data losses, but if you are using paper copies as part of your backup strategy, you should store these copies away from home in a safe deposit box or at the home of family or friends.

An increasing number of researchers are not as comfortable with paper copies. I, for one, am almost as concerned about clutter, confusion of versions, and waste of paper resources on transitory versions of documents, as I am about losing my data. Additionally, I wonder if I will print out enough of the data I need to recover from a system loss. Will I be likely to continue this month after month? For me, and genealogists like me, paper copies will not be a significant part of our backup plan. We are trying to limit the amount of paper that comes across our desks, and realize that we are not likely to carry through with a paper backup plan anyway. To account for not using paper backups, we need to be even more assiduous about other backup techniques.

Local Backup

One important part of the toolkit is performing a local backup. This can be as simple as creating a CD or DVD of your Windows My Documents folder. The local backup will be faster than any remote backup, and will give you immediate access to data in cases where the problem is limited to the data that you have backed up.

Apple OS X Time Machine Screen Capture
Apple OS X Time Machine

Owners of Apple computers have a decided advantage for local backup software—a built-in Macintosh OS X program called Time Machine. I consider this to be by far the easiest to use local backup method on the market. Time Machine runs in the background to create periodic backups of data that have changed. You configure which files it should back up and when, and Time Machine simply does as it’s designed. If you ever need to restore data, you open Time Machine and navigate graphically backward in time to the data you want to restore. (For more information on Time Machine, visit <>.) Windows 7 includes a utility called Backup and Restore Center that has done well in reviews and is said to approach the Mac OS X Time Machine in functionality. (I do not have any personal experience yet with this product.) There are also backup programs as part of Windows XP and Vista, but these certainly do not compare to what the Mac OS offers. (For more information on Windows 7 Backup and Restore Center, go to <>).

Remote Backup

As with paper backups, having all of your electronic backups stored locally means that you are at the mercy of the elements. Events such as a fire could destroy both your working copies of electronic files as well as your backup. Part of your strategy should be to have remote backups. This can be as simple as mailing full backups periodically to a friend or family member, or storing a full backup in a safe deposit box and updating it periodically. However, while these methods are simple to understand, they require the same kind of month-in-and-month-out dedication that paper backups require. There is some risk that the one month that you skip sending the backup CD is the month that you really need it.

A method of remote backup that is gaining in popularity is the use of a backup service. The way this works is that you contract with a vendor, install and configure its backup program, and allow the system to backup the files and folders you select on the schedule you configure, or dynamically as you save files. Some of the services (iDrive, Memopal, SOS Backup) limit the amount of data you backup, but allow for an unlimited number of home computers. Others allow for an unlimited amount of data, but bill on a per computer basis. Let us compare some of the best known services.

Backup Planning

As you plan your back up strategy, you want to consider rotating full backups with backups of recently changed files. You also want to balance local and remote backups. Whether you are dealing with a local or remote backup, a CD or a hard drive, or a network drive, you could end up with a backup that you cannot store for one reason or another. It’s best to account for this by backing up in more than one way. A strategy could include something like this:

  • An ongoing system-based backup (using Macintosh OS X Time Machine or Windows 7 Backup and Restore Center)
  • An ongoing remote backup (I have successfully used Mozy, but all the vendors in the table have their benefits)
  • A monthly full local backup to an external disk (CD, DVD, or disk drive on another computer) using Macintosh OS X Time Machine or Windows 7 Backup and Restore Center
  • A weekly incremental local backup (of only what’s changed since last week) to an external disk (CD, DVD, or disk drive on another computer) using Macintosh OS X Time Machine or Windows 7 Backup and Restore Center.

The strategy you develop should reflect the frequency with which you add and modify your data. It should also include both local and remote backups. Most importantly, it should be something you will actually do on a regular basis. Just like with eating your fruits and vegetables, backing up your genealogical data is not something you can do only some of the time. The benefit in limiting your risk of data loss only comes from backing up so regularly. This is why I am a fan of online automated services such as the ones listed above and software as intuitive and automated as Apple’s Time Machine. Having your backup set to run on a regular basis, or in the background of your daily work, helps get it done and keep your data secure well into the future. While designing and implementing your back up plan may not be as compelling as finding your great-great-grandfather’s Civil War prison record, the information you are so excitedly gathering, abstracting, and assessing will remain at risk until you “eat your vegetables.”

This article, which originally appeared in a slightly different form in the National Genealogical Society’s NGS Magazine, is republished here by permission.

Jones, Jordan. “Preserving your digital legacy: Backing up your data,” NGS Magazine, Vol. 36, No. 1 (January-March 2010), 63-65.

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Audio-Enhanced Blog

I have added audio to my blog.  This automatically provides a machine-read version of the blog, which can be subscribed to on iTunes or as any RSS feed. In addition to providing another option for anyone, this can be helpful for those with impaired vision.

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