Posts Tagged ‘New FamilySearch’

Teenage Genealogy Tuesday

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010


Like Randy Seaver, I’m running a little low on tombstone photos, but instead of looking for something to compare with Randy’s Star Wars-themed post, I’ll share a few experiences from my shift at the Wilmette FHC tonight.

Some Ways To Interest Teenagers in Genealogy

A group of about 9 young men aged 12-18 from a nearby LDS congregation came to visit our Family History Center this evening. We didn’t have a meticulously-rehearsed plan to make it a fun experience for them,  but we did try a few things that worked. Here’s a list:

  1. We had lots of adults on hand: three FHC volunteers and two youth leaders. That allowed us to break the boys up into smaller groups and give them plenty of focused attention.
  2. The boys had received a modest “homework” assignment ahead of time to gather info from their family members. Only a few followed through, but those that did had a better experience as a result. The others were able to retrieve some info via cell phone.
  3. We did a minimum of talking at the beginning and let the boys get right into hands-on experiences quickly. Four sat down at PCs and began registering for New FamilySearch; the remaining five got a quick intro to microfilm resources, picked a film and learned how to put it on a reader.
  4. The boys looked bored when we told them about records, but when they started cranking through microfilm their interest level increased dramatically. There’s just something about records from hundreds of years ago that seems to excite curiosity.
  5. My wife had previously created a scavenger hunt listing fun questions that could be answered in the FHC with our guidance. An example: “Find Helen Keller in the 1900 MA Census. Who’s that boarding with her?” The boys each picked a different question to work on and seemed to rise to the challenges involved.
  6. Halfway through the 60-minute visit, we swapped groups so everyone got some one-on-one time at the computer with a consultant. Not everyone found a cool record online, but the ones that did enthusiastically shared their finds with the others.
  7. In a brief wrap-up, we thanked them for coming and told them they we’d love to help them make more progress in a future visit. We also suggested possible follow-up ideas to their leaders.

With “Kids Camps” planned at both NGS and the SCGS Jamboree this year, there are obviously plenty of good ideas out there for interesting teenagers in genealogy research. If you’d care to share, I’d love to hear your success stories!

New FamilySearch: An Enormous Endeavor with Enormous Rewards

Sunday, April 4th, 2010


Here at Genlighten, we’re working on ways to collaborate with the folks at FamilySearch so we can become “FamilySearch Certified.”.

With that thought in mind, I was intrigued to hear Russell M. Nelson, a member of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, discuss New FamilySearch (NFS) in an address entitled “Generations Linked In Love” at the Church’s 180th Annual General Conference today. Here are some excerpts from his remarks that got my attention:

“When our hearts turn to our ancestors, something changes inside us,” Elder Nelson said. “We feel part of something greater than ourselves. Our inborn yearnings for family connections are fulfilled when we are linked to our ancestors through sacred ordinances of the temple.”

“No matter your situation, you can make family history a part of your life right now,” Elder Nelson said.

The New FamilySearch system helps members find their ancestors, decide what ordinances to do and prepare the names for the temple. It’s accessible wherever the Internet is available and about 60,000 [family] history consultants serve throughout the world who can assist those who need help.

The new system reveals errors needing correction and members may be frustrated as they work through these challenges, but the Church understands these concerns. “The Church… is working diligently to assist you in solving these problems,” he said. “Together we are striving to organize the family tree for all of God’s children. This is an enormous endeavor with enormous rewards.”

I was gratified to see Elder Nelson acknowledge the frustration that some have experienced in using NFS. I don’t have access to any inside information on the process beyond the notifications I receive as a member of the FamilySearch Developers’ Network and what I read on the FamilySearch Labs blog. But I sense that the people behind NFS are indeed working very hard, and that “enormous endeavor” is a rather pleasant euphemism for what in reality is a ridiculously difficult programming and database administration task.

“FamilySearch Certified” Done Right: Family Photoloom

Sunday, March 28th, 2010


Here at Genlighten, we’re eager to get on the “FamilySearch Certified” bandwagon. It just seems like a natural fit for us. Here’s what the ad copy might look like when we become certified:

Want to make sure your genealogy data on New FamilySearch (NFS) is accurate and well-documented? Come to Genlighten and get help finding the offline documents you need, delivered to you in digital form. Then attach those documents to your ancestors’ NFS entries as sources with just a few clicks. It’s easy and affordable!

OK, so that’s just a draft.

Problem is, it’s not at all obvious how to do this yet. FamilySearch has an API that let’s us “pull” NFS data to our site if we want, but they (understandably) don’t let us “push” document images to the NFS tree. So our basic option would be to reproduce a user’s tree on our site and “decorate it” with the documents that user gets through us. We’re considering that, but not yet actively pursuing it.

Family Photoloom’s Take on “Decorated Trees”

In the meantime, though, I’m super-impressed with what the people at Family Photoloom are doing. First off, their site just looks good. Clean, spare, simple — not too many bells and whistles. And their copywriting is marvelous — it says just what they need it to, and no more.

But here’s where it gets really cool. They let you pull in close family connections from NFS, then associate photos you upload to Family Photoloom with your NFS data. From the demo video they show, it looks straightforward and intuitive. You haven’t modified anything on NFS itself from what I can tell, but the name-photo associations are maintained in your Family Photoloom account. So basically, they’ve got the “decorate your tree” thing down perfectly. And in the process, they’ve become a “FamilySearch Certified” affiliate. To me, they’re a great example of what the FamilySearch affiliate program is intended to accomplish.

I’ve met Family Photoloom’s co-founders — Scott and Renee Huskey — at numerous genealogy conferences, and I’ve listened to them pitch their product. They’re just great people. They love what they’re doing, and their product arose as a solution to a problem they had themselves — how to organize photos around family history data.

I plan on checking their product out in more detail so I can write a full review, and I’d encourage you to do the same.

Follow Friday: FamilySearch Labs Blog

Friday, January 29th, 2010


Like many genealogists, I’m anxious for the LDS Church to  open up New FamilySearch (or whatever it’s eventually going to be called) to a broader (i.e., non-LDS) audience. In the meantime, I’m eager to hear the latest from their development team: new features, new records collections, opportunities to get involved or give feedback… you get the idea.

An Inside Source

One place I can go to get this info is the FamilySearch Labs Blog. Here, various members of the group developing NFS cover the latest progress they’ve made. The most common post author is Senior Project Manager Dan Lawyer, but Grant Skousen and several others also contribute from time to time. They don’t post every day, and they don’t offer tons of specifics, but at least I can get a feel for the major milestones they’re hitting, even if the news is mostly after-the-fact.

A Thought-Provoking Post

One recent post that caught my attention was entitled Obstacles in the Genealogical Workflow by Dan. Though extremely low-key, I thought it hit on a crucial point that genealogy software needs to address but seldom does: recognizing the chaotic thought processes most researchers experience  and trying to tame them to allow greater productivity. Ideally, genealogy software wouldn’t just store records or offer them up for searching… it would accompany us on our genealogical journey and offer coaching, support, and encouragement at just the right times. Here’s the key workflow diagram’s from Dan’s post:


I’m sure it’s pretty obvious why I liked this diagram: notice that box in the lower right corner. It indicates that gathering and searching for genealogical records involves three stages: tapping personal knowledge, mining online records, and finally, retrieving offline records. Naturally, we think Genlighten can become a huge help in the offline record retrieval stage of the genealogical workflow process.

Its Continuing Mission

I look forward to hearing about the NFS rollout to Southeast Asia, and about NFS’  eventual availability to those without a membership number and a confirmation date. Sure, the Ancestry Insider will probably be all over that news when it comes, but I suspect Dan and his team will offer a perspective on those accomplishments that won’t be available anywhere else. I encourage you to include their blog in your RSS feed subscription list.

Genealogical Typosquatting — Two Annoying Examples

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

One of the things our recent AdWords experiment has helped us understand is that in trying to advertise a genealogy website, good keywords are hard to find. Or rather, search terms that are both popular and relevant for a website like Genlighten tend to be few and far between.

I’ve also been amused to discover how the curious phenomenon of typosquatting plays out in the online genealogy marketplace. Let me focus on two familiar examples: and

New FamilySearch

Genealogy enthusiasts attempting to visit the LDS Church’s eventual replacement for might be excused for mistakenly typing the URL into their browser as But this turns out to point to a site that has nothing whatsoever to do with New FamilySearch:

Typosquatting example: fake NFS page

Instead, the site is a bland collection of generic stock images and carefully-chosen keyword links, each of which points to a page filled with Google Adsense Ads. If the unwitting genealogist looking for NewFamilySearch clicks on the link “LDS Genealogy Search”, for example, they’ll see this page:

Adsense click harvest page

which is populated prominently with various paid ads from genealogy websites: some highly reputable and others less so. If the confused visitor clicks on one of these ads, the owner of the typosquatting site immediately earns a few pennies (or perhaps more) from Google.

You might say to yourself “This can’t possibly work — no one would ever fall for this. There’s no FamilySearch logo, no nothing.” And you’d be right. Yet sites like this make money precisely because otherwise intelligent people fall for this scheme hundreds of times per day.

In fact,in a March 14th article about New FamilySearch in the Deseret News, the author originally posted a link to this typosquatting site and included an image similar to the one above with the smiling co-ed. This in a newspaper owned by the LDS Church, the developer of New FamilySearch! Shortly after I pointed this out in an email to the paper, the mistake was corrected and the correct link and screenshot substituted for that of the typosquatter. But that’s how well the typosquatting strategy apparently works.

Here’s a second example. Suppose you’d heard of from their ads and wanted to find their site but weren’t sure how to spell “Ancestry”. If you added a single extra “e” in the last syllable and typed  “” into your browser, this is what would come up:

Here at least the owners of the site went to the effort to use some halfway-relevant graphics. But good luck finding the 1930 census here! Once again, the site is simply a list of links reflecting the most popular Google search terms relating to genealogy. Clicking on any of them leads to a page full of Adsense ads. If you happened to find an ad from there, and clicked on that, you’d finally be brought to the real Ancestry site. But only after Google and the site owner made about $0.50-$1.00 from The Generations Network, owner of

So How Does This Impact Me?

Well of course, you and I would never make these errors, right? Well… maybe you wouldn’t, but here’s the thing. Sites like Ancestry and Footnote have to assume that many of their potential customers will make these kinds of mistakes. That increases the amount of money they have to spend bidding on keywords, paying for ad placements, acquiring mis-spelled domain names, etc.. Ultimately, that increases the price we end up paying for our Ancestry and Footnote subscriptions!

What about the impact on Genlighten? Though we’re still analyzing the result of our AdWords tests, it looks as if typosquatting sites make life more difficult for us in at least two ways:

  1. They compete in the bidding process for popular keywords that might be relevant for those searching for the offline genealogical documents Genlighten’s providers offer.
  2. Because they essentially hijack their visitors’ search queries while delivering little or no value to genealogy enthusiasts, these sites may end up reducing the “quality score” Google associates with genealogy-related search terms. This in turn can potentially diminish the perceived utility of those searches, making it tougher for sites like Genlighten to be found on the web by potential new users.

But all is not lost… it just means we’ll need to be a little more creative and work a little harder to get our message out. That’s a challenge we’re eager to take on.

FamilySearch Family Tree

Monday, July 21st, 2008

A reader of this blog commented on my post comparing collaborative genealogy websites and reminded me that FamilySearch had been working hard on its own flash-based family tree navigation interface, similar to’s. I’d completely forgotten about it when writing my review, and I was glad for the chance to catch up on the progress the folks at FamilySearch have made recently.

Basic Look and Feel

NFS Family Tree

Here’s a screen shot using the same example data I used in the earlier post. As you can see, there are several obvious similarities to Geni’s flash-enabled interface. The compass rose and magnify/minify slider are both there, for example. You can navigate throughout the tree by simply grabbing the tree image with the mouse and sliding it back and forth on the screen, which I really like. Not all of Geni’s bells and whistles are implemented, but the sense of easy and fun exploration has been reproduced well.

NFS’s Family Tree isn’t a shameless knock-off either. Reviewing the FSLabs blog archive, it appears to have been introduced in about December of 2007, about 12 months after Geni first came online. Right from the start, Family Tree was designed around the traditional left-to-right pedigree chart, rather than Geni’s bottom-to-top chronological flow. Though I can’t explain why (other than habit and experience) I think I prefer NFS’ approach, at least so far. The inclusion of the right-hand panel highlighting a particular member of the tree is also a distinctive feature in Family Tree, achieved at the sacrifice of smaller font sizes for the tree itself.

Search Capability

NFS Family Tree search results

Of course, the most distinctive and powerful advantage offered by NFS’ Family Tree lies in the modest -looking “Search” tab. Here you can access the LDS Church’s massive database of genealogical data and potentially tie in new individuals or ancestral lines. Of course, this information will only be truly valuable if it’s well-sourced and documented. As I mentioned in my previous post, it remains to be seen how diligent NFS users will be in entering research notes and source citations. Here’s hoping that many are able to catch that vision.


The still-under-development Family Tree capability greatly enhances my opinion of NFS as a fun, friendly site to use for managing my genealogy data online. Thanks to Gary for commenting on my earlier post and pointing me in this direction. I assume Gary is the same one who posts regularly on the FamilySearch Labs blog.

I will be following NFS’ efforts closely in the coming months and I plan to report on my own progress using the site in future posts. If there’s anything you’d particularly like me to try out, just let me know in the comments.

Comparing three collaborative genealogy websites

Monday, July 14th, 2008

A poster on the APG message board last week mentioned that a client was looking for a web-based collaborative genealogy service and asked for recommendations. Requirements included the ability to

  • store contact info for living relatives
  • produce print-outs displaying relationships, and
  • let collaborators edit stored info.

One respondent suggested Darin Lythgoe’s The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding (TNG). I recommended Geni. Several others discussed the merits of WeRelate. It occurred to me today that neither the LDS Church’s New FamilySearch nor Ancestry’s Family Tree had come up at all in the discussion, though both seemed relevant to the requirements listed in the original post.

I can’t claim to be an expert user of any of these web-based services. I’ve explored Geni in some detail and I like what I’ve seen so far. I’ve also begun transferring my own genealogy data from PAF to New FamilySearch. But because I’m trying to be more diligent than I have been in the past in documenting each individual I enter, that process is proceeding quite slowly.

I’ve decided not to let my lack of expertise prevent me from blogging on the subject. I’m interested in all of these services, and I’ll use this post as an excuse to explore them a bit further.


First, Geni bills itself as a free family tree online. The site has received a lot of praise (well-deserved, I believe) for its simple and intuitive user interface. The initial screen for first-time users presents a minimalist pedigree chart and asks you to enter your own name and e-mail address. You’re then guided to enter your parents (and their e-mail addresses). The emphasis here is not so much on dates and places but on e-mail connections to living relatives. The idea is to let relatives know via e-mail that you’re working on your family tree. They can jump in and contribute additional details and connections themselves.

This is the core of the service, but Geni offers a rich variety of additional features. You can share family photos and add them to detailed profile pages for each person in your tree. Gedcom files can be imported if you’ve already collected a lot of info. Geni will map the location of each of your relatives and ancestors, and create a timeline of events in their lives. You can send virtual gifts, reminders and birthday greetings to living members of your tree. Though the interface has become a bit more cluttered as new features have been added, the site remains pleasant and satisfying to use. What’s more, the site is completely free and has no annoying ads. (The business model may evolve over time.)

The printing capability is basic but produces great-looking results. I’ve heard Geni plans to eventually offer poster-size or frameable print-outs as a possible revenue source. I suspect they’ll do an excellent job when they get that going.

Experienced genealogists won’t find the research and documentation tools at that they expect and need, though those capabilities may be offered later.

Geni shines as a particularly fun and simple way for beginners to get started with building their family trees. The site is optimized to make genealogy a tool for social connections among family members. It also offers helpful support forums and a vibrant user community.

Margaret Jordan pedigree on

Ancestry Family Tree

Ancestry has long allowed users to enter their family tree data on their site without the need to pay for a subscription. In its current incarnation, the tree builder utility is set up to prompt users with ‘shaking leaves’ if Ancestry thinks it has info relevant to a particular ancestor. This strikes me as a cute feature that could potentially grow annoying over time, particularly if I wasn’t looking to become a subscriber anytime soon. Ancestry also offers the ability to share information you enter and discover with others, who can sign up to view the site after an e-mail invitation from you. The interface lacks some of the Flash-based bells and whistles that Geni offers, but is nonetheless quite usable.

Where Ancestry’s service particularly shines is in the multi-media elements you can add to enhance your family tree. Photo uploading is supported, as with Geni, but the site also offers a unique audio storytelling service that I find particularly appealing. Basically, you can preserve stories from your living relatives (by interviewing them, even via telephone) or from deceased relatives, by recording them online. I haven’t yet tried it, but this strikes me as a compelling and worthwhile feature. I might be more likely to actually make audio recordings then I would videos (which Ancestry also supports.)

For more serious researchers, the site allows you to enter research notes. But it doesn’t offer a convenient way to organize or annotate source documents in digitized form, which I would find extremely useful.

All-in-all, Ancestry’s offering is full-featured, well-thought out, and provides a convenient (if slightly annoying) gateway to their fee-based research and publishing offerings. For those interested, a much more thorough review than mine was published by Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal back in 2006.

Margaret Jordan pedigree on

New FamilySearch (NFS)

It’s probably a little early to review this site, since it’s still very much under development and is currently only available to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). It will eventually be made available to the public however, and I’m beginning to use it more and more, so it makes at least some sense for me to consider it here.

NFS’s interface at this point feels substantially heavier and more cluttered than that offered by either Geni or Ancestry. It clearly aims to make a large amount of data and navigation options available on a single page. Whereas with Geni the user can navigate their entire tree almost effortlessly by simply dragging their mouse, NFS requires extensive clicks and page loads to accomplish the same task. Of course, the comparison is somewhat unfair, since NFS’ mandate is considerably more extensive than simply allowing collaborative online family tree management, and its feature set reflects that mandate.

NFS’s ambitious aims include:

  • permitting different users to submit conflicting data on the same unique individual
  • tapping into the LDS Church’s extensive online databases of genealogical information to allow duplicate entries for the same individual to be combined (and disputed).

As a consequence of this approach, NFS does not create a private “online shoebox” into which users can deposit their personal genealogy data, isolated from that of all other users. Instead, NFS provides a single set of scaffolding intended to potentially encompass the family tree of every individual who has lived. Users affix their data to that scaffolding, then work to address the conflicts that inevitably arise in the process. In this respect, NFS resembles Wikipedia more than it does a traditional genealogy program. It’s entirely possible for you to visit your tree one day, enter data on a new individual you’ve identified, and go back the next day to find that someone you don’t know has combined your entry with a similar but nonetheless different one. Other users can’t edit your submissions, but they can add their own to go right alongside yours. This takes some getting used to.

At this point, NFS does not allow for any multimedia content to be uploaded, though that capability is planned for the future. Simple mapping and timeline displays are offered, though they’re not particularly sophisticated. Extensive source documentation and research notes are supported, however. This feature should gradually become more and more valuable as a tool in resolving disputes that arise over key genealogical details between contributors.

From what I’ve seen so far, NFS’s print capability is fairly rudimentary, enabling only basic reports and charts with few options for customization. This likely reflects FamilySearch’s strategy of relying on third-party software developers (e.g. Ohana Software and Generation Maps) to enhance and build on NFS’ functionality through their compatible offerings.

Unlike Geni, which brings interactions with living relatives front and center, NFS treats living individuals primarily as a bridge to one’s ancestors. Connections with other researchers pursuing your same lines can in theory be made via e-mail, but so far most of the contributors I’ve come across are not accessible in this manner.

NFS offers extensive online tutorials and a great deal of context-sensitive on-screen help. Phone support is also available, though it’s definitely a work in progress.

In summary, NFS aspires to become much more than either Geni, Ancestry, or their competitors. As a result, it lacks their nimble, agile feel, and the resulting user experience seems a little more like work than fun. However, because it will eventually become a key access portal for the LDS Church’s extensive (some would say indispensable) genealogical holdings, it is likely to evolve a great deal over the coming years and will likely improve substantially with time.

Margaret Jordan pedigree on NFS


Geni — Strengths

  • Appealing, intuitive, flash-based interface — simple and fun to use
  • Strong social-networking capabilities for keeping in touch with living relatives
  • Supports photo uploading (video coming soon)
  • Dynamic and helpful user forum
  • Completely free and no ads

Geni — Weaknesses

  • Lacks support for research notes, documentation, or source tracking
  • Limited printing options (though this is likely to improve soon)
  • No convenient access to research databases, images, or other resources

Ancestry Family Tree — Strengths

  • Straightforward, familiar interface
  • Excellent multimedia capabilities (images, audio, video)
  • Support for basic research notes
  • Convenient (though expensive) access to extensive research resources and publishing options

Ancestry Family Tree — Weaknesses

  • No easy way to organize or annotate research results or documentation
  • Though it’s “free” users are constantly offered not-so-free options

New FamilySearch — Strengths

  • Collaboration is at the core of the site, not just an add-on feature
  • Free integrated access to extensive FamilySearch databases and other resources
  • Allows for detailed research notes and source information
  • Extensive context-sensitive online help and phone support

New FamilySearch — Weaknesses

  • Dense, static feel to pages; link-heavy navigation
  • Limited printing capability (though 3rd-party software will provide enhancements)
  • No multimedia support (this is planned for a later iteration)
  • Collaborative aspects feel more adversarial than supportive; difficult to contact other contributors

This has been a fairly superficial overview based on my admittedly limited experience with these services. Feel free to let me know in the comments what I’ve overlooked or misunderstood. Also, please let me know of your experiences with other comparable sites. Thanks!