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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

2017 Benjamin Franklin Awards Finalist

I am so happy to announce some very exciting news. My book Genealogy Basics in 30 Minutes has been named a finalist in the 2017 Benjamin Franklin Awards competition in the Craft & Hobby category.  To say I was gobsmacked when I got the email from my editor was an understatement.  

My editor from In 30 Minutes described it as the "Oscars of the independent book world."  From what I understand there is one gold winner (who receives the nifty crystal trophy too) and the other finalists are silver winners.  This means I am now officially an award winning author.  Yeah, that is still sinking in too.

On April 7th at the awards dinner in Portland, OR I will find out if I won the top prize. My flight and hotel are booked. My best friend is attending with me since my husband and kids will be holding down the beach (it is their spring break). Now all I have to do is figure out what to wear!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Meeting my childhood reading friend

Months ago it was announced that LeVar Burton was going to be a keynote speaker at this years RootsTech conference.  I jumped, I screamed, I punched my fist in the air.  Seriously I did!  You see he was a fixture of my childhood and then my teen years.  But, before that he was something much more.

Burton touched the hearts of all in attendance at the opening session on Friday.  He spoke with so much love, and emotion, of his strong mother.  A deep love and respect for the woman who raised him to be the man he is today.  His words spoke to my heart on more than one moment, and had many of those around me in tears.

While I was too young to see his debut performance of Kunta Kinte in Alex Haley's Roots learning from him what the experience was like moved my to the core.  I was able to ask him about how this experience shaped his life and career.  He told me, and the group of bloggers surrounding him, how it was an initiation by fire.  The experience was painful, moving, a moment of learning, but most importantly, of connecting with his heritage.

Heritage, this is why we do what we do...right?  To that end Family Search surprised him with a book of his own family heritage.  At one point Burton turned to the room and asked "is this what you do?"  A resounding "YES!" was shouted back.  Thanks to the wonderful work of Thom Reed, Burton was transported back to ancestor "his people" from the early 1800's living in Mississippi.  What a wonderful gift.

While he will always be my childhood friend who took me over the Reading Rainbow, and the engineer from my informative years taking me where no one has ever gone before, I can now add this powerful persona to my memories.  Seeing the person behind the mask was the best gift I could ever hoped for here.  One I will treasure.

Please, if you have not watched it, go and do it now.  They will be archived so you can watch it over
and over again.

Bill Bennett, VP Marketing from FindMyPast, spoke on Friday morning at RootsTech and unveiled their new project: Catholic Heritage Archive.  This amazing record set was previewed on stage, and you can find the full press release below. 

They are working with various archdiocese in the United Sates and the UK to digitize and preserve the records of the Catholic church which most times are locked in a parish hall.  Access can be hard, if near impossible and for those who have Catholic Roots there is hope for those elusive records to show lineage and relationships to our past. 

In my Interview later that day with Bill he said they are starting with larger dioceses and then moving into smaller parishes.  Most exciting is that you will be able to browse images free online through FindMyPast.  You will only have to use credits if you want to use the index.  I also loved hearing that the churches and diocese who let them digitize records will also have full access to their own collections.  This will be a boon to researchers who can travel to their family churches.

Also touched on during the morning session was that thanks to their association with the Pennsylvania Historical Society there are now over 3 million PA records online.  This large project is nearly concluded with hundreds of thousands of vital records and unusual manuscript collections digitized.  Births, marriages, deaths, congregational records, military records, and more are now available to search.

Finally the US marriage record collection is wrapping up.  As Bill stated in our interview they were saving the best for last.  The records which are being uploaded in this final push are the most unique of all.  Oh, and only found on FindMyPast!  We will have to check them out.

FindMyPast Official Press Release: 

FindMyPast announces plans to create the most comprehensive collection of Roman Catholic sacramental registers for the United States, Britain and Ireland
When complete, this exclusive collection will contain over 100 million records spanning 300 years of Catholic history

Millions of exclusive Catholic records published online with more coming soon
Findmypast also announces new additions to the ambitious United States Marriages project
Release marks significant expansion of Findmypast's US data collection

Leading family history website, Findmypast, today announced the creation of the Roman Catholic Heritage Archive, a ground breaking initiative that aims to digitize the historic records of the Catholic Church in the United States, Britain and Ireland.

Findmypast is today releasing over 3 million exclusive records including sacramental registers for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1757 to 1916 as well as for the British Archdioceses of Westminster and Birmingham from 1657 onwards. This builds on last year's publication of more than 10 million Irish Catholic parish registers.

The Catholic Church holds some of the oldest and best preserved genealogical records ever created. However, as many of these documents memorialize important religious sacraments such as baptism, marriage and burial, their privacy has long been protected and access to original copies has traditionally been hard to come by.

In collaboration with various Archdioceses of the Catholic Church, Findmypast is helping to bring these records online in one unified collection for the first time ever. Exclusively available on Findmypast, images of original documents will be completely free to view in many cases. Fully searchable transcripts will also be included, providing family historians from the around the world with easy access to these once closely guarded records.

The next phase of the Catholic Heritage Archive will include records from the archdioceses of New York and Baltimore as well as additional records from Philadelphia. There are over 30 million records in just these three dioceses. The digitization of the whole archive is a monumental undertaking and, when complete, will contain hundreds of millions of records for the USA alone.

Brian Donovan, Licensing Manager at Findmypast said; “The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the world. Despite the popular perception that it had few adherents in Britain, or was not that important in American settlement, it has always been a significant component (up to 25%) of the population. The Catholic Heritage Archive will uncover the history of millions of Irish, Italian, German, Polish and many other nationalities as they made a new home in the USA.”

Kate Feighery, archivist at the Archdiocese of New York said; “The Archdiocese of New York is delighted to begin the process of opening their sacramental records for historical research.  As one of the major immigration hubs in the country, and the second largest diocese in the United States, many Catholic Americans can trace their ancestors back to New York. The Catholic Heritage Archive will allow interested amateur and professional historians to more easily find out more about their family’s roots in Catholic New York.”

Cait Kokolus, Director of the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Records Center said; “ The digitization of parish records is a great gift to the Catholics in the Archdiocese. Now they will be able to find where their grandmother was baptized, or when their great-grandparents married. In such a quickly changing society, many people are discovering that knowing their family history gives a sense of identity and stability.”

10 million new US marriage Records
Findmypast has also just released a further 10 million United States Marriage records in association with Family Search International. The new additions cover 45 states, over 1,800 counties and date from the early 17th century up to the present day. Over 65 million records are currently available to search within the collection.

Covering 360 years of marriages from 1650-2010, when complete this landmark collection will form the single largest online archive of U.S. marriages in history and will only be found in its entirety exclusively on Findmypast.

The launch of these new US records is central to Findmypast's growth strategy in the U.S. They will complement Findmypast’s massive collection of British and Irish data, providing many more connections and a more comprehensive experience to family historians in the US and all over the world.

MyHeritage Announcements From RootsTech

This week has been a whirlwind of activity for the team at MyHeritage.  Each day has been a new press release about the products and changes happening within the company.  

Photo Discoveries:
Friday was the launch of a brand new feature - exclusive to MyHeritage - Photo Discoveries™.  A Photo Discovery provides users with a set of photographs of ancestors and relatives, originating in family trees contributed by others. Users can add the photographs to the matching profiles in their family tree, in a single click.

Photo Discoveries is an innovative feature which transforms family trees by automatically adding matching historical photos. A Photo Discovery provides users with a set of photographs of ancestors and relatives they may have never seen before, originating in family trees contributed by others. Users can add the photographs to the matching profiles in their family tree, in a single click.
Layered on top of MyHeritage's highly accurate Smart Matching™ technology, which locates matching profiles in other family trees, and Instant Discoveries™, which enable users to add entire branches to their family tree in just a few clicks, Photo Discoveries identifies the profiles that have no photographs in the user's family tree and provides photographs of these individuals from matching profiles on other family trees.

Users can add up to ten photographs per Photo Discovery, reject specific ones they do not wish to receive, and apply Photo Discoveries as many times as they would like. The photographs are then copied over to the associated profiles, preserving all useful metadata such as people tags, dates and place names.

“At MyHeritage we’re constantly brainstorming innovative new ways to make our industry-leading matching technologies even better,” said MyHeritage Founder and CEO Gilad Japhet. “Receiving a never-seen-before photograph of an ancestor is a delightful emotional experience, and one that we would like our users to enjoy as often as possible. Photo Discoveries deliver this and fulfill the promise of collaborative genealogy in a slick and gratifying one-click experience."

Viewing Photo Discoveries in thumbnail form is free. Applying Photo Discoveries to one's family tree requires a PremiumPlus or Complete subscription on MyHeritage.

Appointment of new CSO
They announced on Thursday the appointment of Dr. Yaniv Erlich as its Chief Science Officer. Dr. Erlich, a DNA scientist of world renown, will lead scientific development and strategy for MyHeritage DNA, the company's newly established DNA service for family history and ethnicity, and ensure that its products are built on a solid scientific foundation.

Dr. Erlich, nicknamed the Genome Hacker by Nature journal, brings to MyHeritage unparalleled experience in the field of genomics as Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Computational Biology at Columbia University and as a Core Member at the New York Genome Center. He is also the former principal investigator and a Whitehead Fellow at MIT's Whitehead Institute, founder of DNA.LAND and the principal investigator of the Erlich DNA lab.

Dr. Erlich completed his Ph.D. at the Watson School of Biological Sciences at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 2010, and has won numerous awards as a cutting-edge scientist, including the Burroughs Wellcome Career Award (2013), the Harold M. Weintraub Award (2010) and the IEEE/ACM-CS High Performance Computing Award (2008). Dr. Erlich has a B.Sc. degree cum laude in Neuroscience from Tel Aviv University.

Dr. Erlich's research interests are diverse and cover many facets of computational human genetics, including population studies, DNA privacy, DNA storage and genetic research in crowd-sourced family trees.

“We're delighted to welcome Yaniv to our management team. Yaniv's expertise in computational genetics and its synergy with family history will provide the solid scientific foundation that is fundamental for setting apart our fast-growing DNA service from the others” said MyHeritage Founder and CEO Gilad Japhet. “We are committed to providing our users with the most accurate DNA results, and helping them understand more about themselves. Yaniv will lead a dedicated team of world-class scientists to help us achieve this.”

“I’m excited to join the talented team at MyHeritage and put my scientific experience to use by the millions of users on the MyHeritage platform,” said Dr. Erlich. “I've collaborated with MyHeritage since 2012 and have known them to be forward thinkers about building tools and platforms that enable massive scale scientific studies. I look forward to opening new horizons in consumer genetics in my new role, and further empowering our users with useful and creative tools that harness the latest scientific discoveries”.

MyHeritage DNA was launched in November 2016, offering simple DNA home-testing kits for determining users' ethnic origins and discovering new relatives. The service is offered in more than 190 countries worldwide, in 42 languages.

Discoveries Pages
The Discoveries pages provide a unified experience for all matches, organizing them into two main pages: Matches by People and Matches by Source. Now you can look at all matches that were found for a particular individual in your family tree, or all matches found in a particular collection of historical records or matching family tree. Whatever you choose to use, the new pages combine Smart Matches (matches with trees) and Record Matches (matches with records) into the same unified and consistent interface.

MyHeritage also will now display the new information that each match provides, and matches are arranged by the value that they add to your family tree, so that those matches that add the most value are listed first.

This saves you time and allows you to focus on the most valuable matches. You can easily save all new and improved information to your family tree.

MyHeritage is known throughout the industry for it's matching technologies, and they have just gotten even better with a great new user interface. The new pages are easier to use, more intuitive and much faster than the previous layout.

Please learn more about the Discoveries page in the official blog post:

Thursday, February 9, 2017

RootsTech keynote gets a renovation with the Property Brothers

The kick off keynote for this years Rootstech was the Canadian twins Drew and Johnathan Scott, aka the Property Brothers.  Hosts of several popular HGTV home improvement shows, the pair had the audience in stitches with stories from their childhood and their family heritage.

If you follow them through social media you know they are passionate about their Scottish heritage.  Their father immigrated from Scotland to Canada as young man in search of the life a cowboy.  After an kind strange paid for his train ticket from Ontario to Alberta he worked on many ranches as a hand.  Then, as fate would happen, meeting the future Mrs. Scott at one of these ranches.

I was impressed with how young the entrepreneurial spirit hit them.  One of the stories they told was about how they made decorative coat hangers at 7 years old.  While many thought it was a cute arts and crafts project the Brothers quickly turned it into a very successful, and profitable, business.  they employed the family to help them keep up with the orders!  Do you think their parents knew then that they were going to be successful at whatever they attempted.

As a fellow history buff, and collector of odd medieval things, I was particularly interested in learning about their love of castles and... armor.  Yep, they even have a custom made suit of armor that is worn around the house.

Oh, and bagpipes!  How could I forget the bagpipes.  Truly embracing their heritage they wear kilts and play the bag pipes.  How could anyone go wrong by having those items in their life.

If you can't tell I had a wonderful time listening to them on stage, but an even better time interviewing them with a group of other bloggers in the media hub.  A variety of questions were asked in our session but here is the scoop on what I found out:

* They may be coming to Australia soon.  That made my friends from down under swoon a bit!
*  They shared a bit about what happened behind the scenes with their New Orleans Brother vs Brother.  One of the home owners told them that whatever they did would be wonderful because she would have her home back.  You see, she had been sleeping on a mattress on the floor for the last 10 years.
* This March they will be heading to Nashville and will be recording another round of songs.  What?!  You didn't know they sing??
*  Psstt... you did know that Drew is engaged... right?

Guest Post on The making of a genealogy MOOC (massive open online course)

Written by Tahitia McCabe, Univeristy of Strathclyde

Hosted by our partners, FutureLearn, the Postgraduate Programme in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies at the University of Strathclyde runs a MOOC called Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree. To date, we’ve had just over 48,000 people register for the course!

I am the Lead Educator on the MOOC and the course director of the Postgraduate Programme and though I’ve worked on the Programme developing course content for a number of years, I’d not developed this type of course before. The University and FutureLearn were very happy to give me and my colleague, Graham Holton, Principal Tutor on the Programme, free rein to consider audience, content, level and length which was freeing but also a bit terrifying.  There were very few guidelines but also constraints aside from the considerations of the platform the course would be hosted upon so it was really down to us to shape the entire thing.

We quickly decided that the course would be primarily aimed at beginners and we wanted to make it useful to family history researchers around the world no matter the records they used. This meant we would focus on genealogical research techniques rather than a specific country’s records, though given our personal family backgrounds, many of the examples we use are British and American. The Postgraduate Programme has a strong element of genetic genealogy and we feel it’s important that everyone understand at least the basics of what DNA testing can offer to the family historian so we included a segment on this.

We started working on course development in October of 2015, with filming largely accomplished by December and I then spent a large part of the holiday break writing the accompanying articles. We had content development help from some lovely folks in the genealogy community (Marie Dougan (, Biff and Nan Barnes of Stories to Tell ( and Alasdair Macdonald ( and as with most projects working around everyone’s schedule was a challenge though everything came together swimmingly in the end.

Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree is the 5th MOOC created by Strathclyde and the University’s MOOCs are known for including a storyline. As soon as I was told we’d need an idea for this, Chris popped into my head. She took an on-campus beginner’s course with me in the Autumn of 2014 and was a total novice at that time. Her end project discussed some intriguing findings she’d made with her family tree (I don’t want to give the details away here!) and her methodical approach really impressed me. Thankfully, she was willing to share her story with us and we ended up spending many hours in filming. The storyline develops each week and is the true story of her research journey; I am so thankful for her generosity and her passion for genealogy. A true star!

Though the first run started in March of 2016, FutureLearn and the University’s MOOC support team needed about 2 months to create transcriptions of all the filmed lectures and to make sure what we’d placed on the platform actually worked with the software. It was a nerve wracking time waiting for the quality check report to come back but thankfully, there were just a few tweaks to be done and then it was a case of publicizing the course. Over a month and a half, we saw the enrolment figures grow and finally by the time of the first week of the run, we had 26,000 people signed up. A staggering amount of discussions were generated over the six weeks of the course and it proved impossible to read them all but the willingness to share ideas and help fellow classmates was infectious!

The course has run a further two times and is actually currently running and in its fourth week. If you want to join in, it’s not too late, you can enrol at We’ll also be running it again in the summer though exact dates are still to be decided upon. It’s free and open to everyone! 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Press release about the GBA

From Competitors to Community: Two Women’s Mission to Unite the Genealogy Industry As Genealogists They’ve Dedicated Their Lives to Helping Others. Their Competitors Are No Exception. 

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH, February 1, 2017 - Janet Hovorka and Jessica Taylor are both successful entrepreneurs in their own right in the booming family history industry. Hovorka, an industry leader for nearly two decades, has built several genealogy brands, including genealogyDOTcoach, a one-on-one genealogy consulting business, and Family ChartMasters, creating heirloom-quality family charts. Likewise, Taylor started Legacy Tree Genealogists in 2004, which has become the world’s highest clientrated genealogy research firm and has grown into a million-dollar business.

The pair crossed paths at a genealogy conference, and hit it off, drawn to their similarities—working mothers that wanted to take what was considered as “a hobby” by many and capitalize on the potential to grow their businesses and allow them to help bridge the divide between individuals and their ancestors on a much larger scale.

“Genealogy is considered one of the largest online hobbies,” explained Taylor. “But as a small business community, many operations are still learning how to mature into the larger genealogy industry and gain the knowledge necessary to compete.”

Discouraged by the lack of a formal entity available to mentor small business and provide a cohesive community for genealogy startups to bounce ideas off one another, Taylor and Hovorka decided if an organization didn’t exist, they would create one - and the Genealogy Business Alliance was born.

The Genealogy Business Alliance Facebook group was established, and the website created, proudly declaring its purpose “to provide a place for genealogy business leaders to discuss best practices, ask business related questions, network and create a united voice in the genealogy community.” Hovorka and Taylor built it, but would they come?

Clearly others had noticed the lack of such an organization as well, as word of the organization spread within the genealogy community, and membership numbers quickly climbed. Member businesses included operations in all stages of growth, from one-man startups to industry leaders such as FamilySearch and

“The response was exciting and overwhelming,” recalled Hovorka. “Clearly other companies were looking for the kind of mentorship that we had enjoyed on an informal basis between friends in the industry. It was gratifying to find that so many who had found success were now willing to work together and help mentor others.”

However, the initial surge in membership posed a unique dilemma. They were receiving membership requests from some direct competitors. Could the participating company owners co-operate even to the point of giving others an ‘inside look’ into their business operations? Together Hovorka and Taylor decided that if the Genealogy Business Alliance was truly to be established as a genealogy “community” that no exceptions would be placed on membership—including their competitors.

“There was some trepidation as we clicked ‘Accept’ on that first competitor’s request,” explained Taylor, “But the support within the group has been amazing. Business owners can ask for advice on what email server others use, what program they use for event management, questions on taxes—you name it! It’s become an incredible resource to help mentor others and provide a sounding board to those who need it. A sense of unity is now present, and it’s been invaluable.”

Progress of the Genealogy Business Alliance may be validated through a collaborative initiative that has been introduced for RootsTech 2017. Member businesses were invited to participate in the Genealogy Business Alliance Colossal Giveaway, a first of its kind in RootsTech history. Each participating business donated a prize for the sweepstakes, and in exchange, will have their logo displayed on a tabletop sign at each participating booth. RootsTech attendees may receive multiple entries by signing up at any booth bearing the GBA sign. There are a total of 16 prizes with a value of nearly $3,000, from businesses such as, Findmypast, RootsMagic and Family Tree DNA.

“The fact that we as businesses within the genealogy community can come together and offer this
collective sweepstakes, side-by-side with competitors, is truly indicative of the progress that is being made,” said Hovorka. “We all want to succeed, and often the best way to do that is to help others succeed as well.”

The GBA Colossal Giveaway will run from February 9 th – 11th at participating booths in the Expo Hall. For additional information on the Genealogy Business Alliance visit us at this link.

About Janet Hovorka

Janet Hovorka is an author, educator, international lecturer, and the owner of Family ChartMasters, an award winning genealogy chart printing service that is the official printer for all of the major genealogy companies, and the genealogyDOTcoach personalized coaching service. and

About Jessica Taylor

Jessica Taylor is president of Legacy Tree Genealogists, a full-service genealogical research firm that helps clients worldwide discover their roots and personal history through records, narratives, and DNA.

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