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.

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:

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!

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.

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.)

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.”

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

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.

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.