Sunday, September 7, 2014

IAJGS 2014 - Friday, August 1 - A tour of

The woman on the right is Crista Cowan from
She accompanied us on the bus trip from
Salt Lake City, sharing little "tidbits" of info
as we drove along
My last day in Salt Lake City was Friday August 1. Arrangements had been made for a bus trip to Provo, Utah where has its headquarters. I was eager to see what my annual $300 subscription was paying for! By the way, I recently learned that AARP members can get a 30% discount on their Ancestry subscription - good deal! It's only for a 6 month membership, but the rep said I could renew it again for another 6 months.

We were allowed to take pictures throughout the facility so long as we didn't photograph any specific records. However we were not allowed to use any writing implements! Since it's been over a  month since this visit I can't remember exactly why.

I hope you enjoy this "trip" through the facility!

When we entered the guide told us that Ancestry employs 1400 employees, not including contractors in 10 offices worldwide. The company originally was founded in 1983 as Ancestry Publishing and focused on publishing typed books.

The tour guide said some of the oldest indexed collections date back to the 11th century.  We were informed that there are approximately 75 million searches done per day and that , since going online in 1996, Ancestry has accumulated over 1 billion records from 67 countries.

The Inventory room is shown behind our guide.

We started our tour in the DPS area - Document Preservation Services area. I'm pretty sure this is where we couldn't use pencils as the graphite might affect the materials stored there.

I had never thought about all the steps (translate that to costs) involved in getting images online.

Items waiting to be inventoried.

First, of course, is the cost of obtaining the original material. Once obtained, the material is inventoried. Each item is given a bar code. The code is crucial in keeping track of the multitude of items that arrive each day.

 Next, the images are cleaned and prepared for imaging.

Imaging Services

Close-up of computer screen

Imaging books that can't be taken apart is quite time-consuming. To speed up the process only the odd number pages are scanned, then the book is flipped around and all the even number pages are scanned. The computer then re-paginates the book correctly. I plan to use this tip when scanning material myself in the future!

The process of imaging a book is quite tedious.
Following imaging is indexing - the process of recording the information so it becomes easily searchable by keywords. The indexing area was a huge room filled with (mostly) young people each sitting in front of two computer monitors. On one screen was the image (record) and on the other was the form to complete with the information from the record. Watching this work, all I could think of was how tedious it must be to do that for 6-8 hours day.

Another area was "Content Management." Here we learned about the process used in obtaining records. I never realized how difficult it could be to acquire some of the material. We just take for granted that "they" get the content, "they" put it online and we enjoy the fruits of their labor.

There may be many roadblocks (again, translate to costs) to obtaining original records. Ancestry works with archives in many countries to obtain records. Sometimes, the archive is encouraged to participate because Ancestry's teams are able to preserve and save their treasured information. However there are often difficulties encountered along the way. Some documents are so fragile they literally fall apart as they are being imaged. Some governments flat out refuse to cooperate, making access to their archives impossible. We, the everyday genealogist, have no idea of the work being done behind the scenes to gain access to these important documents.

According to our guide, a trained archivist can process 20,000 - 40,000 documents a week. Amazing!

I really enjoyed the next portion of our tour where we learned about Ancestry's products. Yes, I know. It is rather self-serving of them. The more you learn about a product, the more likely you are to buy it. It's business. It's what businesses do. It works. I bought the $29.99 Family Tree Maker even though I have RootsMagic and love it!

After hearing about all the "bell and whistles" in Family Tree Maker
I ended up buying a copy. Maybe I'll use it.......

Interesting point by tour guide, " Product managers try to understand and solve problems genealogists are having and create products to help them.

Some of the recently acquired and newly created Ancestry products.

Our visit with Kenny Freestone of AncestryDNA was pretty interesting as well. I finally did get a DNA test while at the conference. Haven't gotten the results back yet.

He suggested people test with multiple companies as each company uses its own procedures each producing different results. Smart idea or sales pitch? Not sure. I loved his quote: ".....turning spit into information."

The final product we learned about was the Shoebox app. The Shoebox app allows you to take a picture with your phone and instantly upload it to your Ancestry tree. I used this product a couple years ago but recently deleted it as I needed space on my phone! After hearing more about it, I may re-install it.

We ended our tour in a large room where we had some tasty treats. Before we left we each were handed a "goody bag." Thanks Ancestry! One can never have enough pens and thumb-drives.

I am really glad I decided to go on the Ancestry tour. I have a new appreciation for all the work that happens in order for me to sit at my computer at 11:00 at night, in my pjs, finding records of my ancestors all over the world.

This is my final blog entry about my trip to the 34th IAJGS conference in Salt City. Considering I am 17 weeks behind on the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge maybe I'd better get back to work on that!! 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

IAJGS 2014 - Thursday, July 31

Whoops! Thought I would have finished blogging about my trip by now. Guess I got distracted. I have good reasons though. (Have you noticed I always have a good reason?)
1) I was helping plan and hold my daughter's bridal shower
2) I attended my retirement party (yay!)
3) I started my part-time jobs (all 3 of them!)

This is the latest in my series of posts about my recent trip to the 34th IAJGS Conference.


My plan for Thursday was to do some sightseeing and then spend a good chunk of the day doing research at the Family History Library.

I started the morning by going to the UK SIG meeting (United Kingdom Special Interest Group.) I almost didn't go because I wanted to hear Roger Lustig's presentation on "A Hundred Germanies." But, considering I am really struggling trying to find information on my father's family in England, previous to 1795, I thought it best to chat with those in the know about English genealogy. Glad I went. Rather than being a lecture or a discussion of the group's research projects or financial woes (as I've experienced at other SIG meetings) this was truly an opportunity to network.

There were at least four major SIG members in attendance who introduced themselves and described their area of expertise. Then we, members of the audience, found the person who best suited our research needs and sat down with them to chat. After sitting with Jeanette Rosenberg (she is an amazing font of ideas), I had several leads: Review the British-Jewry website, check the Old Bailey website for court records, and review the archives of the Jewish Chronicle. Laurence Harris suggested I look at the Sun Insurance policies. Since Lazarus Samuel (my fourth-great-grandfather) was a watchmaker according to the 1841 UK Census, he might have something listed there.

This 1841 UK Census shows Lazarus Samuel, age 26 living at No. 9 Marmon Street,
born in England, working as a watchmaker. He has four children living in the home.
No wife is listed. Son Aaron, would leave England for America in 1859.
I also met a very interesting guy who lives part-time in CA and part-time in NY. Originally from the UK, he now works at a non-profit(?) dedicated to finding and restoring (when possible) old canal lines. He even knew about the Farmington Canal in CT now being used for recreational purposes. Who even knew there were people doing jobs like that?

I stayed in the room for next session "Latest Developments in UK Jewish History", which was presented by several members of the UK SIG (Special Interest Group.) Laurence Harris spoke about the London Registered Insurance Policies as a good resource for information as well as the Jewish Chronicle newspaper, the British Jewry Book of Honour and the use of wills to obtain family information. He also mentioned that the National Archives site is newly redesigned and has a new "discovery service."

Mark Nicholls (Jeanette Rosenberg's husband) discussed the use of the JGSGB website (Great Britain - not Greater Boston!) as well as the resources at JCR-UK (Jewish Communities and Records) which is hosted on JewishGen. He specifically mentioned scanning the Bibliography section for books of interest.

View of  computer banks at the FHL

After a tasty lunch at JB's Family Restaurant (tasty and inexpensive, basically next door to the library) I headed off to the Family History Library.                    

I had attended several talks last year about the Family History Library (FHL) so I felt fairly well prepared. I sat down to use the computer on the International Floor and located the microfilm numbers of some images I wanted. I also found two books about the Great Synagogue in London that sounded promising. Just like those ads on TV, nothing is as good in real-life. One book could not be located, even though the volunteer looked for 30 minutes. The other listed information about a marriage I already had. No luck. On to the microfilm.

I was a bit intimidated by the microfilm machines at first. My last encounter with such equipment was in 1974 when I took a college course AV (Audio-Visual) for Teachers!

All the microfilms are kept
in banks of cabinets

There was no need for concern. It was pretty easy to locate the films I needed. You copy down the film number from the record found online. Then go to the correct section where that film would be found. All the films are in drawers labeled numerically. The most difficult part for me was accessing the films in the uppermost drawers. Luckily they have those rolling stools everywhere - see picture!

The woman in the photo probably thought I was pretty weird. She asked me (in an annoyed voice) why I had left that drawer open. I told her I was taking a picture for my blog to illustrate how the microfilms were organized. She then nicely agreed to being in the photo.

I had a bit more luck with the films. I located several birth certificates for my father's family.
Birth Certificate for my paternal grandmother, Hortense Kesner

To the left is the 1878 marriage certificate of Hortense's paternal grandparents, my paternal second great grandparents. I was pleased to find this as I have conflicting information about G.R. Kesner's birthplace. I also had incorrect information about his mother's last name.

I also located a card from the Mordy Collection referencing my third great grandfather, Aaron L. Samuel. The Mordy collection is an amazing source of information. As described on the Family Search Wiki:

The Mordy Collection is a collection of microfilms containing pedigree information and indexes that deal with the Jews of the British Isles. The information was compiled by Isobel Mordy of Middlesex, England. The original material consisted of individual slips of paper, which have now been placed on microfilm.(

Card from the Mordy Collection

This collection has now been incorporated into the Knowles Collection. I already had the information found on the card, but it was really cool to see an image of the actual card. Imagine the amount of work accomplished by Isobel Mordy without the aid of a computer! To read more about her work see this article written by Todd Knowles on the Family Search website.

Another great find was the birth certificate for my paternal grandfather. Years ago his daughter Jessica (my father's sister) told me that my Pop-Pop had reversed his first and middle names. She said he never gave reason for doing so except that he liked it better. It was terrific to find proof of this story.

1905 Birth Certificate. This is the only reference I have found showing my grandfather's name as Aaron Edgar Samuel. 

But perhaps the best find was the 1815 marriage record of Lazarus Samuel and Sara Nathan. I have been unable to determine Lazarus' mother name nor find any more on his father other than his name.

Image of the actual page from the  1815 Marriage record book

Unfortunately I can't read Hebrew but I plan to post this image to JewishGen's Viewmate page. More than likely one of the wonderful members of JewishGen will provide me with a translation that may assist me in breaking through one of my toughest "brick walls."

Snip of the record pertaining to Lazarus and Sarah's 1815 marriage

Overall, I did enjoy my visit to the Family History Library. But, to be completely honest, I think I could have found the same information accessing the site and ordering the films to be sent to my local Family History Library. I'm lucky enough to live within a 45 minute drive of the Godfrey Library in Middletown, CT. 

Nothing could replace the valuable help of the volunteers at the FHL however. I hope to return to Salt Lake City in the future!

My next post will describe my visit to the campus of