Thursday, September 18, 2014

Recent Client Comments

It's no secret that we here at Family ChartMasters love our clients.  One of the most fulfilling things about our job is when we receive happy feedback from our clients once they have received a chart we have worked to create with them.  Customer satisfaction is always our goal and when we hit the mark with a client, we love it when they share that with us.  Here is some recent feedback from our customers:

Eric Benjaminson says, "I got the chart in the mail last night and it's superb -- it looks so much more impressive in "real life"! Thank you so much for working with me on this -- I'm off to get it framed this evening!"  He also added, "You all were great and imaginative to work with!"  Thanks, Eric!

Our next customer is a regular.  Dave Davenport has ordered from us many times, not just for himself but for his friends!  He exemplifies our real purpose here -- to help people learn more about their family history.  Dave helps his friends put the information together, then collects the pictures, and they learn tons in the process.  He then orders charts to give to his friends as gifts so they can display the work they have all done together.  We really love Dave and we never fail to meet him for lunch whenever he's in town (an added bonus for us).  Thanks, Dave, for your great loyalty to us over the years! Here are a couple of pictures of Dave's happy friends and their charts:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

You Don't Know What You Don't Know

DNA testing.  It's the current buzz term in the genealogy world right now.  For good and for bad.  So let's discuss it today, shall we?  Why not, everyone else is!  Today's post is spurred on by a pretty vigorous online discussion that is happening at the moment and I think there are some important points that aren't getting enough attention in the process.

The original story, that you can see in original form here and is also referenced here by Dick Eastman, is of a biologist who, after teaching a college course on the genome, thought it might be fun/informative/interesting/helpful to take a DNA test in order to discover his susceptibility to certain familial cancers.  The fun part, he thought, came in by buying tests for his parents too.  Because honestly, if you are him, why not?  In his defense and in complete sympathy for him, what else could he possibly expect the outcome of a saliva swab to be?  Apparently a bouncing baby boy was not on his list of standard deviations.  Obviously.  So this poor man and his family were thrust into the gaping jaws of a personal family soap opera all because of an opt-in button for finding close relatives.  It's ended quite tragically for his family, and I recognize that in every possible way, but I don't think that this story, or the very many others like it, should cause us to dismiss DNA testing out of hand, without really examining the root of the conflict the "insta-family" button is creating for some folks.

First and foremost, the scripture that keeps coming to mind when I hear this story and so many like it, is actually found in the New Testament in Luke 12:3.  It says: "Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops."  The takeaway from that?  We can't hide what we've done.  Eventually everything comes to light.  And now, with these DNA tests, which George Doe (above) discovered and points out, we are dealing with highly advanced paternity tests.  Now, George's story, as tragic as it is, is also very vague on certain details.  How old was the half-brother and did his age indicate that he was born before or after the creation of the author's family?  Did George's father even know (chances are no because the author seems to indicate his dad was just as shocked as he was at the discovery) that this lost child even existed.  There are so many variables to this story that we just don't know.  His father even thought that the test he had taken was defective -- a very common reaction many people are having when unexpected results come back.  And at first, my reaction was that he had to have had some idea that there was a possibility of it when he sent off his cheek swab but now... maybe not so much.  We just don't know how everything went down.  Or when it went down.  So to say that DNA tests are bad or that the "opt-in" button on the results is bad is pretty extreme.  I am a believer in owning our actions.  One hundred percent, all the time, every day.  You do it, own it.  Especially when it comes to light, as Luke has so clearly told us it will, own it.  So to blame the opt-in button is a bitter pill for me to swallow.  I agree with George that it is easy for people to not understand the ramification of clicking that button but part of me still thinks that you've got to go in with eyes wide open knowing that maybe something might come back that you aren't expecting.

There are two sides to this coin though.  The other side of the narrative is referenced beautifully by Kerry Scott in her blog post here.  I seriously wanted to give her a virtual high-five after reading this.  Discovering unknown half-siblings, or that your parents (one or both) aren't your parents, while stunning and possibly devastating, may not be something that needs to be judged as harshly as some people are wont to do.  It may not be what we think it is.  This is especially in the case of long ago generations where life and social expectations were so very different from today.  I loved her comment about a "statute of limitations" for our family judgement.  Good food for thought, isn't it?  People did the best they could do with the knowledge they had and the environment in which they lived.  Sometimes what looks like a shocker family revelation may have been a sincere horror for a woman in our family line.  So that's something to chew on as well.

DNA testing has huge benefits.  It just recently positively identified the remains of Richard III in England, as well as positively identifying Jack the Ripper.  It has gotten innocent people off of death row and it has helped find matches for all sorts of medical miracles.  So, I guess my opinion on DNA testing is we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water (go ahead and insert your tongue firmly into your cheek as you read that too).  Like I say all the time, every family has some scoundrels and some heroes.  Even the scoundrels have heroic qualities and vice versa for our heroes.  The beauty of family history is coming to know who you are and dealing with the good and the bad and healing from all of it.  Things come to light, even things we think we can hide.  Eventually, everyone will know everything.  And maybe that creates some uncomfortable (and even presently damaging) situations for some people. But for now, we don't know what we don't know until we know it.  And to blame all of that on some test is a bit on the extreme side.  Those things existed before the tests are ever taken.  And even then, whose to say we'll really know even then.  But my big takeaway is this, when we research our family history (via records or DNA) we're going to find stuff we may not want.  It may seem like the world is ending in that moment, but eventually, it could be the most healing thing in someone's life.  So I tend to feel, overall, that we should all walk into this with the clear expectation that discovering the unexpected is not a bad thing.  It's an opportunity.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Interesting new video from MyHeritage and Gilad Japhet

Our good friend Daniel Horowitz sent us a clip about his company MyHeritage that was shown on Israeli TV recently.  I had no idea that Gilad Japhet, their CEO had been working on such an important project.  But, not only was it great to see the great work that MyHeritage is doing, it was fun to see the offices and some of the history in the clip. Take a look:

I think Daniel and his team may have found an intriguing new marketing message for MyHeritage. Build a family tree in our database and you may be connected to a wealthy ancestor. I like that one :)

Congratulations to them for the great attention they are getting for this important project.  We really value our partnership with MyHeritage.  We enjoy printing and sending their users' charts all over the world.  They have an incredible reach.  We appreciate Daniel and Gilad and their passion for family history--not just as a business, but as an important force for good in the world.  That is something we care deeply about too and it is good to partner with another company with similar goals and passions.  Kudos, and thanks to them for being such a great asset to the genealogy community. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thank You, San Antonio!

Our view of the Riverwalk from our hotel.
What a beautiful city!  Erin and I had such a great time meeting with everyone, putting on all of our "Outside the Box" sessions with Lisa Louise Cooke, Maureen Taylor, and Diahan Southard, and just soaking up the city.  Everyone raves about the Riverwalk and now I see why.  I have to say, San Antonio, you did not disappoint.

Even though I was able to take Erin to England with me, she has never been to a national conference outside of Rootstech before.  I loved having her with me and introducing her to the national genealogy community.  Everyone was so warm and welcoming to her and she has said many times how well everyone took care of her after I needed to come home early.  My favorite part of this conference really was spending time with all of my genealogy friends that I see online regularly but don't get to see as often in everyday life.  And I was so happy to show Erin what an amazing community we have.  Going out in the evenings to have dinner together and socialize was so fun and rejuvenating and letting Erin experience the close-knit society that we all share was such a happy thing for me.  I am reminded again how great all of you are and how well everyone takes care of each other in our community.  Erin has been my right-hand person for seven years now and to let her see the friendship and support we all have for each other was so great.  And it doesn't hurt to see how much everyone loved and embraced Erin, just like I do.  Having Erin with me was such a highlight of this most recent trip.

I could ramble on and on about the city and how beautiful it was, but I think I would rather just show you some pictures instead:
Our view of the Alamo from our hotel.

The Alamo!  Look at how beautiful that building is.

Erin on our River cruise.

River cruise friends: (left to right) me, Lisa Alzo, Maureen Taylor, and Erin.

I have to say that our "Outside the Box" sessions were so great.  We had such a blast with our Genealogy Game Show and we've decided that this will be the centerpiece of our "Outside the Boxes" for Rootstech 2015.  I had fun, Erin had fun, everyone who played had fun, and even better--PRIZES!  Lots of prizes.  The most fun moment was when Marian Pierre-Louis won one of my books and she was so excited.  I have known Marian online for so long but haven't met her in person until this conference.  I was so happy to finally meet her face-to-face and then to see how happy she was when she won was just icing on the cake.
Marian (in the striped shirt) winning one of my books.
Teaching an "Outside the Box" session.

San Antonio, thank you for such a lovely time.  All of my dear friends on the national genealogy circuit, thank you for being you!  You all are so warm and caring and after trips like this, I simply appreciate each of you all the more. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

An Open Letter to MyCanvas Users

As Ancestry announced recently that they are shutting down MyCanvas as of September 5th, we have been inundated with calls from their concerned users about how they can print charts.  Of course we'd love to help, and while what we offer is a little different, they may find options with us that go beyond what MyCanvas could provide.  I thought you might be interested in what we've been sending out to inquires that come through email:

When we create a decorative genealogy chart, we put together a preview and mail you a link to it so you can check it and make sure it is what you are envisioning and the information is all right.  We can create virtually any design you can describe to us.  We work back and forth with you with previews until it is perfect and then when you give us the ok we'll take payment and print and ship it to you.  You can look at some of the custom charts we have done in the past here: and here:  Unlike the set styles in MyCanvas, anything you can dream up we can do for you here. 

We also do what we call working charts that go far beyond the capabilities of MyCanvas. Here you let us know what you want, ancestor, descendant, etc, you tell us the number of generations, and who you want to start with.  Then we create the chart, we print on inexpensive paper and then ship it to you.  We don't include a preview on these in order to keep the pricing low.

To download your family tree from Ancestry: When you are logged in, scroll down on the home page to where you can see your family tree box (under the "recent activity" box).  Click to "view this tree".  At the top of the tree you'll see "tree pages" with a down arrow.  Click once on the down arrow and you'll see the menu item "tree settings."   On the right you will see a green button that says "Export Tree"  After processing, the button will change to say "Download your gedcom file."  Click on that button and save the file to a place where you will remember where it is (the desktop is a good place to put it if you are unsure.) 

Give us a call and we will help you in uploading the information to Family ChartMasters.  Or you can go to and follow the directions there to upload it to us.  You can also upload any graphics that you want included in your chart.  As soon as we hear from you, we'll take a look at the file and get right back to you with options for sizes and prices and a mock up if you are looking for a decorative chart.

As another option, we can also print straight from your Family Tree Maker file.  You are welcome to send us any FTM file or backup and we can take your family information from the file to create a decorative or working chart.  Or if you want to create a chart in FTM yourself, just save the chart in your file and then send it off to us through our free consultation.  Just let us know the name of the saved chart and we can pull it up and print it on any of our seven papers. 

Please don't hesitate to call us if you are having any trouble with it.  We are happy to walk you through it over the phone at 801-872-4278  We want to make it easy on you.  Once you get us the information, we'll take it from there and create what you are envisioning. 

Thank you for your interest in Family ChartMasters, I hope together we can make you a beautiful chart.  Let us know what we can do to make it easy for you.
We hope to hear from you soon.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

FamilySearch Blogger Dinner part II

So I promised to tell you about the rest of the blogger dinner.  They had some really interesting things to say about searching on FamilySearch

First Mark Gowan talked about the Record Hints.  They've been there for a while, but they are making things slicker with three new icons.  1) A gold icon for Record Hints.  These are places where indexing has uncovered a document that FamilySearch has been able to determine fits into your tree.  This is the same as the "Record Hints" that were previously on the right hand screen.  But the cute little magnifying class icon fits into other parts of the user experience--the pedigree chart, the descendancy view, etc.  That will help lead alot of the beginner users to the sources more effectively.  A good step in the right direction.  Other icons include 2) a blue icon for Research Suggestions and 3) a red icon for Data Problems.  These weren't really explained, but I'm excited to explore these more.  Anything that brings real research skills closer to the beginner is a good thing.

The power behind these icons is what is important though.  According to Robert Kehrer, FamilySearch has developed a really good algorithm that brings back good hints--not just hints-- an all important distinction.  Robert explained that the algorithm collects all of the person's data, and then collects all of the person's relatives and their data.  They take that whole cloud and compare it with the documents that have been indexed.  Then Robert showed us the new functionality that shows the whole family in that record and puts them on one side of the screen and shows the family from the tree on the other side of the screen.  Seeing those relationships helps a new researcher to make better decisions.  They can then go through and attach the source to each person in the tree.   This is a vast improvement over the previous user interface where you had to attach everyone separately through several steps. 

I applaud the movement toward source centricity and FamilySearch's continued efforts to make it easy for the beginner researcher to get into the documents easily.  This is a great step toward making it easier for newbies to play together with more advanced researchers.  FamilySearch will always need to work more on "newbie proofing"  One of FamilySearch's main agendas is to attract the 90%+ members of the LDS faith to genealogy.  Every step towards making it easy for newbies to focus on documents is a step in the right direction.  And as I've said many times before, that new person may have a box in the attic that solves all of your issues.  We have to love newbies if we are going to thrive as a community. But most of these screens work best with simple documents like the censuses.  Once you get into more complicated documents, it gets a little trickier.

There were the typical concerns in the room about the common tree aspect of FamilySearch.  What about the sources that are hard to interpret?  Once you get out of the censuses it gets trickier.  Judy Russell mentioned a source where her Uncle is listed as Bertie and is listed as a girl when his real name was Bert.  The regular criticism of creating a common tree rather than having individual trees like Ancestry and MyHeritage is that the records aren't clean enough to come to a common consensus.  Robert and Mark had the best answer I've heard yet about FamilySearch's position on that.  He said they are "Idealists" that they believe most of the disputes will come to a consensus.  Lots of people think they are too optimistic.  While there will be some unending disputes, we can hope that they are right.  Time will tell.  I personally love that they ask for a reason when adding a source to the tree and give us a place for discussions.  While that won't help in some sticky situations with ongoing cousin wars, at least they are providing an avenue to capture that all important document *analysis* that most databases have overlooked in the past.  I remember talking to Ransom Love and others about this in our affiliate meetings years before new.familysearch was launched.  Even back then, one could see that the person with the most time to track the database is going to win the dispute--not necessarily the person with the most knowledge.  FamilySearch has always had that optimism.  In a couple more years, it will be interesting to see if the breakdown is 98% settled vs. 2% disputed, or 80% settled vs. 20% disputed, or 30% settled and 70% disputed. One can hope.

It was also good to hear the clearest explanation I've heard yet about copyright issues related to uploading images to the database.  FamilySearch is not policing copyright upfront--they don't require you to click a button to state that you have copyright permission (like we do at  Their approach has been to state in the Terms of Use that the user is responsible for copyright and then deal with any complaints and problems that arise.  Hopefully the users will respect the copyrights of the record holders.  I know I have found some really great stuff that I'd love to add to the database, but really can't--I can only write good source citations that will point people in the right direction.  It was good to hear what the official policy and plan of attack FamilySearch is working with on that.

Finally, the best part of the night was when Robert went to attach a source to a person on the tree and lightning struck outside at that exact moment.  Considering that FamilySearch is sponsored by the LDS church, does that mean that your genealogy research can come with Divine approval?  Now there is something to really hope for. I only wish it could all be that correct.

Report from the FamilySearch Blogger Dinner Part I

I got to go to the blogger dinner last night to catch up on everything that FamilySearch is doing.  It was great seeing everyone and getting a chance to listen to the FamilySearch presenters and have some time to talk to them.  Lots of exciting new things going on.

David Rencher started out by talking about how they are ramping up the camera teams.  They are hoping to have 500 teams around the world doing digitization by next year.  He also said there are 10 images created for every one image that is indexed.  So we are in great need of more indexing.  That's still a great problem to have though.

He also said they are getting better at tracking what is going on in the Family Tree.  They are tracking people with multiple parents (especially many sets of parents--obviously a problem) and that number is starting to go down.  We are making progress on cleaning up the data that was brought in from the myriad of FamilySearch databases when Family Tree was created.  And we are getting better at putting in good data.  So that is good news too.

Then Dan Call spoke about the upcoming RootsTech conference.  I'm really excited about the two lectures they accepted of mine, "Family History Adhesive: The Science of Why History Binds Families and the Simple Tech of How to Do It" and "6 Steps to Choreograph Your Research Across the Internet" (More to come on that in a bit) The theme is "Who Inspires You?"  I don't remember seeing that theme in the call for papers. I wish I had known about it because I might have submitted entirely different stuff.  I'm always talking about being inspired by your family history (for example here and here--besides my books).  I think I have alot to say about that.

One statistic that caught my eye was that in 2013 there were 5250 paying attendees of RootsTech.  And in 2014 there were 5500.  I thought that was interesting that the profitable part of the conference only increased by 250 people.  Yet the exhibitors jumped from 140 to 170.  I think the size of the non-paying attendees (Family Discovery Day, etc.) has made this look like a profitable industry and encouraged new companies to enter the waters, but in reality, the market really hasn't grown that much.  It is disconcerting to me that the expo hall has doubled each year, and is going to double in size next year, and yet the financially vested attendees has not.  This, combined with the fact that a select few RootsTech talks have been broadcast far and wide and spawned a multitude of smaller family history fairs--without vendors--has the potential to affect the industry adversely. 

Next, Bryce Roper talked about the FamilySearch Mobile App that is now available on iOS and Android.  It is looking really good.  It can help you discover something new, add stories and links to the database, quickly add photos of sources with your device's camera, and --coolest part-- create and upload a recording.  Bryce said the recordings can be up to 15 meg (about 30 minutes).  Such a great tool for people to do interviews with.  Soon you'll be able to edit vital statistics and add people to the tree.  I'm excited to see this development as I think it will attract a whole new demographic.  We had seen FamilySearch affiliates try to create a commercial app without success--again disconcerting--but I'm glad the job is getting done.  I wish a commercial app had been a viable option because we need a stronger genealogy industry.  The Memories app is also helping to capture stories and pictures etc but according to Bryce is only available in iOS so far and is not connecting those things to the tree yet.  So more to watch for there.  This is big for youth--of course one of my passions.  I think apps for mobile devices is a game changer for anyone under 30.  It is going to be alot easier to work on this with my kids now. 

We're heading out this morning to get set up for the conference.  Mark Gowan and Robert Kehrer also had some really interesting things to say about searching.  I'll cover that in FamilySearch Blogger dinner part II shortly.  In the meantime, what do you think about these issues? 

Monday, August 25, 2014

San Antonio, Here We Come!

We are heading out for the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference tomorrow, bright and early, and we could not be more excited!  It's happening August 27th-30th in San Antonio, Texas.  Erin is joining me this year and we are so looking forward to seeing many of you there.  We hope you'll swing by the booth to visit us but also to participate in our "Outside the Box" sessions that will be happening in between classes.  We're teaming up with our good friends Lisa Louise Cooke and Maureen Taylor, as well as Diahan Southard on Saturday.  We've joined booth space with Lisa and Maureen before to offer these little mini-classes and it was such a great experience that we decided to do it again.  We really hope you'll look over our schedule and watch for Tweets and Facebook posts to remind your of our classes.  They are free to the public and only 20 minutes long, with two full-length sessions being offered on Saturday.  On Friday I am going way, way "outside of the box" with one of my mini-sessions with a Genealogy Game Show and Pedigree Challenge.  A fun story-telling contest with a twist will be thrown in for good measure.  You'll have a chance to unwind, get silly, and earn prizes.  You won't want to miss it.

I'll be there all week, until Friday night, however, Erin will be staying through Saturday.  I am coming home for a family reunion being held in honor of my great grandparents which I am so excited about.  My mother has been hard at work on a 500 page book that details their lives, including five years (!!!) when they lived in the South Pacific building schools and church buildings.  I have been helping mom with the layout of the book and it has been such a wonderful experience that I just couldn't not be there for the unveiling after mom asked me to come.  Of course I am coming!  Still, Erin will be there on Saturday to visit and help you and the classes will still go on with Lisa, Maureen, and Diahan.  Be sure to come by and see us at booth 218.

You will also want to be sure to sign up for a free e-book and a grand prize drawing from all three of us as well.  If you can't go, feel free to drop me an email at janet (at) familychartmasters (dot) com and I will send you the ebook.