Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ben Affleck Kills PBS Genealogy (Sorta)

The New York Times reports that PBS has suspended Henry Louis Gates' Finding Your Roots television show, citing the controversy over Ben Affleck's successful efforts to keep his slaving-owning ancestors off the show.

One of my very first posts was about the initial controversy.

PBS wants the next season to be reviewed by an independent fact genealogist and a fact checker, and will not commit to another season.

I have mixed feelings about the whole situation.

On the one hand, none of these television genealogy shows highlights every ancestor of a famous person, because there isn't time.  I am not surprised that the choice of which line to review and which ancestors to discuss is one that sometimes includes input from the subject of the show.  I bet if we dug into the development of all of these shows, we'd find more creativity than we imagine.

On the other hand, Finding Your Roots typically examines issues related to the troubled history of the United States regarding slavery.  That Dr. Gates allowed slavery to be overlooked with Mr. Affleck is out of character with the show, and could reasonably be viewed by its viewers as a betrayal.

Genealogy often digs up unpleasant truths about ancestors. Some lied, some cheated, some drank themselves to death, some were criminals, and some were bigamists.  In other words, they were human beings.  They lived in a particular culture and world.  They represent the best and worst of us, sometimes at the same time.

Television genealogy shows are entertainment.  They are not documentaries.  They are not news programs.  They aren't even particularly educational.  They are about celebrities, they are interesting, and they may inspire others to search their own trees.

But they are curated entertainment, edited and packaged with narrative structure and with some story to tell.  Once we accept that to be the case, then we can enjoy them for what they are and not for what they aren't.

New Bookcase is a Godsend

So my wife Cynthia and I went to Ikea on Saturday and picked up a lovely Hemnes bookcase.  I assembled it, and over the past few days it has been filled up with stuff from my other bookcase and otherwise unsorted materials.

The process of making room for the bookcase led to a major relocation of materials from all over the spare bedroom that we call the study.  This has resulted in me finally organizing all sorts of materials, none of which are genealogical in nature, that have been resulting in clutter.  Much has been recycled, some things have been filed away, others have been gathered into organized piles awaiting processing.

It is actually liberating to have things less messy.  I think that my mind is less cluttered when my environment is better organized.

Now, I am a very busy person with lots of interests and who was raised to be a pack-rat.  It has been a real challenge for me to let go of a lot of things, especially anything unique, irreplaceable or potentially useful.  Combined with a certain type of perfectionism, it is often easier to just box up problems and avoid them rather than deal with all of the decisions connected with severing the emotional ties connected to "things."

Also, I haven't been spending as much time in the study as I would like. I had once hoped that Cynthia would join me (she has a comfy chair) and read, but she prefers to do that by the pool, in bed, or basically anywhere else in the world other than the study.  So we spend a lot of "us" time in the bedroom watching television or reading, and me working on my laptop in bed.

It is my hope that a clean and tidy study will be more enticing, as Cynthia is really averse to clutter.

But I still have to organize all of my genealogy materials.  This is LGBT Pride weekend here in the SF Bay area, and so it may be rough getting time to do it this weekend.  Still, over the next week and a half I should get things well settled into their proper places, and I hope that will lead to things being better than ever.

I might even get some genealogy done soon!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Heredis 2015 Released - Looks Good in Theory

I just received a promotional e-mail this morning about the release of Heredis 2015, and I immediately upgraded from my existing Heredis 2014.

If you have followed this blog, then you know that I have a continuing angsty relationship with genealogy software, and I have been unable to commit to one, so I try several.

Heredis has a video of the changes to Heredis 2015, and it looks very impressive:

For those of you who don't want to sit through a 9 minute video, the key features include a souped up photo and document management system that can tag individuals in the photos or information referenced in the document and automatically link them to events and multiple people in the tree, including pulling signatures out of documents; provide contextual online searches of public databases from within the software; provide basic photo and document image editing; and create online albums from all of this information.

Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the proof of the genealogy software is in the entry and manipulation of the family tree.  So I will experiment with these new features, and see if they are as amazing as they look in the video.  Also, I will play around with the software in general to see if it is all glitz and no substance.

Compared these kind of features to what we had in software a few years ago, and the development of this field becomes clear. These are not just pretty tools but practical ones. They assist in search and integration of citation into the tree.  The latest versions of the other major software are similar, but it is not surprising that this newest software has some of the best new bells and whistles.

I expect to see this type of development in other programs in the near future as they compete to offer new features and polish.

Of course, with Legacy I would be happy if I could just enter my marriage.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Family Trees Catching Up to the Times (Or Not) - Pride Edition - Part Two

After recounting some developments in how two popular online family tree providers have adapted to the increasingly public recognition of same-sex marriages, I realized that mentioning the way that several of other companies handle this might be helpful., which largely handles British, Irish and Australian records, uses the term "spouse." is an Israeli company that is positioning itself to be the major rival to They use the term "partner" for each person in a same-sex married  even though partnership is also a relationship option. Hence, regardless of whether one lists the relationship as a marriage or a partnership - it will always display as a partnership in reports, etc.  Still, it is an acceptable response.

Oddly, MyHeritage Family Tree Builder, their software that syncs to their online trees, lists my wife and I as "wife" and "wife." Go figure.

RootsMagic 7 allows for the manual selection of labels for both persons in a marriage: for one the label "Father," "Husband," or "Partner" and for the other "Mother," "Wife," or "Partner."  It does not seem to have a problem with the person being of the wrong sex of the label.  Pretty weird, actually - it  must be a fix to a database structural problem that assigns to each marriage a first (male) and second (female) position.

Heredis uses the term "spouse" for each person in a marriage.

Of the various major software progframs, only Legacy 8.0 doesn't allow recording same sex marriages in some form, and although there are work-arounds, the software will "correct" these if the user takes advantage of the error-correction features of the software.  (These work-arounds require a entering one spouse as the opposite sex and then changing it afterwards.)  This appears to be intrinsic to the data structure of the program, and would need either a major revision to the architecture that I don't see coming until comes around, or some weird fix like RootsMagic made.

It would be nice if a single program had all of the features and functionality that I want. Sadly, none quite make it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Family Trees Catching Up to the Times (Or Not) - Pride Edition

There have been some really positive developments regarding the way that the online tree companies record and display same-sex marriages.

Family Tree Maker can record same-sex marriages fairly simply.'s online trees had this annoying feature: they listed my wife's relatives as "xxx of husband." This has changes, and now they list them as "xxx of spouse." 

Yesterday was an interesting day for, the free service of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). has been in a tough spot, because the Mormons do not accept same-sex marriages and yet genealogists have to record all sorts of things that some people find uncomfortable or objectionable.  So does not allow entry of same-sex unions.

Some genealogists noticed an interesting change in some language on the website, which suggested that this was going to change in the near future.  Thomas MacEntee posted about this change on Geneabloggers.

Within an hour of that post, the website was changed to remove the language suggesting that a change was planned.

This is both disappointing and ridiculous. Same-sex marriages happens (I am in one), not just in one state but in thirty six U.S. states and approaching two dozen countries outside of the United States.

The job of a genealogist is that of any historian (and like journalists), to record what actually happened.  Same-sex unions are happening. 

The Mormons have always been strong partners in genealogy, but if they cannot enter the twenty-first century, then genealogy may eventually leave them behind.  Genealogist may research the past, but we do not live in it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Need Another Bookcase

OK, I mentioned last week that I now had too many books to fit on the lone bookcase in my study, and I was trying to figure out what to do.

I decided to gather up all of the stray magazines, journals and books that were scattered about the home, and made some nice tidy piles (I make piles, it is what I do).

So here is the problem: I have more stuff than I realized. A lot more. I cannot just prune a few things off the existing bookcase. I need to remove an entire mini-collection.

Once upon a time, I would have just squeezed another bookcase in. However, there is no room. I have too many racks for DVDs (I have more DVDs than I know what to do with.)

I have 165 inches of bookshelf space, and 670 inches of DVD/Blu-Ray space. Yes, we have that much lovely video hanging around. Those racks take up almost every spare inch of wall-space.

I've looked. I really have. There is no obvious room for a bookcase.

Then I used all of my engineering, organizational, and creative skills, and I figured out how to rearrange the room to make some room for another bookcase.

OK, I won't be able to easily access it. It will be between the printer/office table and the window, jammed in alongside my desk here so that I can't really easily access it. But it will be there, holding books.

I can take all of the things I don't use much, and put them there. All of the decorative things that we want displayed in the house. And it will free up room for books.

Glorious books.

Time to go shopping.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Explaining Jamboree to Non-Genealogists

There were two questions that I received almost every universally from friends, colleagues, and acquaintances after Jamboree.

First, I was asked if I enjoyed myself. I could honestly say that I had a great time.

Second, I was asked if I learned anything new about my family. That still leaves me flummoxed.

Most people don't want a real explanation (I learned that the hard way, back when people would ask how I was doing and I would actually tell them). So I just say that I learned some new strategies for researching.  If I am particularly non-chatty, I add that I learned some new ways to manipulate Excel spreadsheets of DNA data and that ends the conversation dead in its track!

In general, most people seem to think that genealogists either jump onto and click on some shaky leaves, or engage in some mysterious process of diving through musty tomes containing old documents with original records. I think this because that's what they see on television.

One of my frustrations with televised genealogy programs is that they show results and not processes. These shows are great at showing the results and the powerful stories of found ancestors, but give no idea of how we actually do this.

The online database companies have no real desire to see this change. The goal of these companies is the streamline their processes even further, to make them more accessible to mobile users, and to get people clicking and adding to their trees immediately.  This is the climate that increases the chances for errors in online trees.

And on that happy note, I will end this post.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Back From Jamboree

I flew back home last night, missing the final day of Jamboree. I was right - I was already brain-dead and I slept for many hours upon getting home.

Sadly, the purchase of a few books this weekend has caused a bookcase crisis at home - I need to remove something to fit the new materials on the shelves.  This means one of two things: (1) taking one aspect of my multi-faceted personality and boxing it up for a while; or (2) pruning those things and boxing up a portion of them.

Neither is a pleasant thought, although inevitable.  The best, although most time consuming, may be the second option.

You may wonder why I just don't add a bookcase. Well, there is no room for one.  I could remove one of the DVD shelves, but that just creates another whole angsty-thing (I already have half of my anime collection in storage, and the Doctor Who collection is itself in a crisis state-the spin off series may need a new home).

Another solution is to offload stuff to my chambers (office), but that is already over-crowded since relocating to Oakland.

As I have been writing this, I have been taking breaks to stare at the books. I have resisted the urge to pick them up and start reading (a danger for me of organizing anything).

However, I think it is past time to write and to start organizing.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Ads ON the Elevator Doors

Every hotel has its own quirks.  Some are endearing, some are bizarre (I will post at some point the photo of the hot tub in the living room of a mini-suite).

I have been in numerous hotels with advertisements IN the elevators. This is the first one that I've seen with advertisements ON the elevators.

(I am not including the owl noises that I heard on two consecutive nights, because everyone else here thinks I am hallucinating or something.)

Officially Really Open For Business

Well, now the secret is kinda sorta out. One of the things about this soft opening of my blog has been that nobody other than me really has been reading it (I see the statistics, so I know).

But now my beloved wife Cynthia is reading it, and posting to Facebook about it. My mother sent me an e-mail this morning. She started reading it.

But most importantly in terms of official-ness, this blog is now listed in the blogroll at Geneabloggers! This is even one of the highlighted blogs this morning, so it must be super-official.  Which is why I now have the snazzy GeneaBloggers widget to the side there.

In honor of this accomplishment, I am now posting a picture of the blogger beads that I received from Thomas MacEntee that I referenced yesterday.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Being Transgender and Doing Genetic Genealogy

One of the unfortunate consequences of my being transgender is that I have what appears to be a normal set of chromosomes for somebody of an apparent obvious sex.  To wit, I have an X and a Y chromosome. This is very anomalous, and can be the source of some confusion.

Because most women do not have this Y chromosome, some software and websites do not like that I say that I am female and have a Y chromosome in my tests. (If I recall correctly, won't let me link the Y results to my entry because I am female in their system.)

You see, many people administer tests for their relatives, and it is just assumed that I am administering tests for my brother or father.  It is hard to explain that the results are for me.

So, I pretty much have to out myself whenever I talk about this stuff to anybody, which is an unpleasant way to introduce a subject that I honestly don't really want to discuss with strangers without some specific purpose (such as this post, which explains part of my unique journey through genealogy).

Sometimes things are more confusing than one might initially expect.

Ribbons and Badges

I guess that genealogists love putting ribbons on the bottom of their badges. 

Mine came with the three that I immediately attached to the bottom: SCGS (Southern California Genealogical Society), Blogger, and Social Media Champion (yay!). 

A board member of the California Genealogical Society gave me that one since I am a member, and I picked up one from ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy) since I am a member (although they may want to rescind it after my post from earlier today).

Now, you will also see that I picked them up from several of the vendors whose products I have used, including some that I was just angsting over.  I debated putting them on, because while I did pay for those products, I do wonder if advertisements on my badge for products that I own really is the best idea. Also, once I put on so many that they all fell off!

I should have included in the photo the blogger beads that I got from Thomas MacEntee so that people would oooo and ahhhh over us bloggers. Maybe I will post that later.

The Genealogy Do Over and Me

An old acquaintance Thomas MacEntee (the only genealogist that I know from outside of genealogy), who runs the insanely popular Geneabloggers website, proposed something of a New Year's Resolution late last year.  Knowing that he, like all of us, began with bad habits (and some, like me, continue with them), came up with the idea of the Genealogy Do Over, a sort of genealogical bankruptcy where he put aside all of his work except source materials that are hard to locate and he started afresh doing things the right way.

An entire community of genealogists has adopted his proposed program of recreating their research anew, and it is something that I have been thinking about a bit.  As I mentioned last week, I need to get better organized.  And the whole point about Genealogy Do Over is go get reorganized the right way.

Okay, this is where things always bog down for me. This is a great opportunity for me to dedicate myself to a new organizational structure and new software. But as I have suggested before, my struggle is with which one.

Do I continue with my tried and true, but somehow not quite satisfying, Family Tree Maker?  Do I switch to Roots Magic like so many others, and if so, do I resist the temptation to sync away with, and what will they do about my marriage if I try to sync?  Do I make my central focus  Do I play with the nice software Heredis, made in my favorite French city, Montpellier?  Do I overlook the fact that Legacy hates my marriage, because it is otherwise a really nice program for doing serious genealogy?

Do I finally break down and really invest myself in Evidentia, which is an evidence based system and if so, how do I incorporate it into my research?

Anybody who has known me for a while knows that I go through this sort of angst with many major decisions. After all, I have five graduate degrees in five separate disciplines. I spent more than two decades going through my "should I go back and get a doctorate in physics" phases.  I cycle through hobbies fairly regularly, with genealogy being the most consistent in a long, long time.

I will figure it out. Then I will second guess myself. It's all good.

I think it is time for a Do Over.

The Joys of Shopping at a Conference

One of my favorite parts of going to any conference is to visit the exhibitors. They sometimes have nice gifts to entice people to visit and shop.

Yes, shop. Vendors have goods to sell.  At any genealogy convention, there are speakers who are also vendors and vendors who sponsor speakers - the difference in being whether the speakers "are" the product or are pitching someone else's product.

Genealogy conferences are one of the last bastions of places where people come and sell these things called "books." I don't mean e-books like on my Kindle, but these big, bulky things made out of paper. You see, many genealogists are nuts about books made of paper, and sometimes these books contain information only available in paper books.

Well, I broke down and bought a few books, including one that I have wanted for a while, "Ukrainian Genealogy" by John D. Pihach. I got to actually peruse a copy before buying, which has deterred me from buying what is a pretty expensive little paperback.

Why, you may wonder, am I interested in a book on anything Ukrainian?  Well, you would never know it from this blog by anything that I have posted to date, but I am 3/4 Eastern European  My mother's maternal grandparents came to the U.S. from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from the region of Galician, and were known in this country as Ruthenian and spoke Ukrainian.  And this is possibly the top book in terms of looking for Ukrainian immigrant records in the U.S. and Europe, notwithstanding that it was printed in 2007.

One of the more frustrating things about these general genealogy conferences is that despite the fact that Eastern Europeans came to the U.S. by the millions in between 1880 and 1914, most conferences only have a single introductory session on our issues, and maybe a few on Jewish genealogy which includes some Eastern European records.  

American genealogy has been driven for a century and a half by people like my wife Cynthia, whose ancestors founded this country. Due to historical patterns and language issues, most people focus on ancestry that traces back to the British Isles. For everyone else, we need to find specialty groups and conferences.

So when I see a cool Eastern European book, I make an excited sound and begin to examine it. And when I see one as important as this one that I haven't already bought, it has no choice but to come to Oakland.

Intermediate Genetic Genealogy Feels Like Immersion Language Learning

One of my frustrations with genetic genealogy education is that there are two levels: introductory and advanced.  There is very little intermediate level training, and not a lot of practical material.

Putting it into a Jamboree context: one either can go to sessions and learn that there are four types of DNA testing (autosomal, X, Y, and mitochondrial), yada yada yada, or Dr. Tim Janzen talking about chromosomal mapping.  I sit in the latter watching people with blank stares looking at screens trying to figure out what is happening. I later talk with people who say they understood about 40% of what was being said.

Truthfully, going onto most genetic genealogy websites or advanced seminars is like immersion language learning - you jump in and hope to learn by osmosis.  Apparently, this is considered the normal way of learning this stuff, and some people actually recommend this as if it is an ideal pedagogical approach.

Someone needs to come up with a practical training program for genetic genealogy that walks real people through taking real data files to create real spreadsheets about real people. Dr. Janzen is to be commended for trying, but he isn't there yet. Showing Power Points of unreadable rows and columns of data is too daunting for most people.

Until someone can present this stuff to non-genetic genealogists in a comprehensible manner, genetic genealogy will remain a niche area.  It can be as simple as a website that presents links to all of the existing information on other websites in ascending order of complexity.  There are some laudible attempts but nothing really cuts it for me, and if what I want exists, lots and lots of people including me don't really know about it.

I suspect some people may enjoy being part of an elite educated group, but it sucks for the genealogical purpose of sharing useful information.

I disagree with the advice but empathize with the reasons why Diahan Southard recommended in a workshop yesterday that newbies NOT upload their files to - it is too confusing and might scare them away.  My recommendation would be to upload their data (it is free) and then leave, and come back again someday when they know what the tools actually provide.  We need the data so those of us who are further along can learn from their matches.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Social Part of Genealogical Societies

One of the best parts about any type of conference is socializing with people with similar interests. 

Strangely, although I am an extravert, I can be a little shy in these settings, I guess because I think that I am somehow different or weird or something.

Also, because I am a judge and cannot talk about lots of things publicly, I am a little skittish about general chatting with new people. 

Still, the joy of these events is meeting new people, and finding out that people I met before actually remember me.  

In any field there are people who are celebrities in their field, and there are some of those in genealogy as well. Some bloggers and lecturers are very popular amongst the rank and file, and it is fascinating how how star-struck I get by these folk. It is nice when they remember me back.

So the biggest surprise for me from Jamboree is how I have fallen back in with people and feel like I have a community here, especially from the California Genealogical Society (local to me) and some of the bloggers. 

Jamboree 2015 is Finally Here

I am busily absorbing information at DNA Day here at Jamboree 2015, and it is a frustrating thing to try to choose between multiple sessions. And with the App, I can follow all of the live tweets from the other sessions and wish that I could be there too!

This is the first time that I have seriously considered buying recordings of sessions, since the handouts in the books are usually inadequate.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Register for Free Live Streaming of Some Jamboree Sessions

I mentioned last week that Genealogy Jamboree will be free live streaming some sessions, but I didn't know the details.  Well, I don't know how I missed the official blog post describing the free live streaming sessions.

Problem rectified.

Monday, June 1, 2015

For LGBT Pride Month, an Invaluable Resource Tool About Deceased LGBT People

Happy Pride!

June is LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Pride Month.  Pride parades began as annual memorials to the Stonewall Riots in New York City on June 28, 1969.  The Stonewall Riots were a response to police crackdowns on gay bars, specifically the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, Manhattan.

So in celebration of LGBT Pride, I am offering an unusual database resource.  My wife, Cynthia Laird, is the news editor of the Bay Area Reporter, the premiere LGBT newspaper of San Francisco, and she brought this one to my attention.

Until very recently, most families were embarrassed by their LGBT members, and they removed any information from obituaries about the most important people and activities of their loved ones' lives.

So starting in 1972, the BAR has printed obituaries for thousands of LGBT people in the San Francisco Bay area (and some from beyond the area, if prominent or with ties to the San Francisco LGBT community).  During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and early 1990s alone, hundreds of gay men died and are remembered in the BAR.  For many of these people, the BAR obituary is the only remaining record of their true lives.

The LGBT Historical Society and the BAR have an amazing resource: an online database of every BAR obituary searchable by name and date of obituary. The search returns a jpg image of the original obituary or news story about their death. Many contain photographs.

For those of us who research our collateral lines to try to identify cousins, this could be an invaluable resource about people who otherwise would go undetected in normal newspaper searches.