Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Can your public library help you with your genealogy?
It may not occur to you but your local public library may be an excellent source of information for genealogical research. For example, the Hedberg Public Library in Janesville, Wisconsin has a long list of databases available both for use in the library and online with a library card. Some local public libraries, such as the Allen County Public Library headquartered in Fort Wayne, Indiana has one of the most extensive genealogical collections in the United States.

Here is a screenshot of the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center website.

Your local library may be sponsored by your town, city, or county or all three. In Mesa, Arizona where I lived for many years, we had an excellent local Mesa Public Library. We also had an excellent county library system, the Maricopa County Public Library System, and a State Library in Phoenix. We also had an extensive system of Family History Centers around the Salt River Valley including the one where I was a volunteer, the Mesa FamilySearch Library.

It was interesting to me that many of the people I met in the Phoenix area who professed to be interested in genealogical research had never visited the Mesa FamilySearch Library and some had not even heard of its existence. There are over 5000 Family History Centers around the world and it is likely that there is one near you. See the Get Help menu for a location near you.

Sometimes we tend to judge a library by whether or not it has a particular book or other items we are searching for. But libraries can be surprising in the resources they have in their collections. If you are going to travel to an area where your family lived to do research, take the time to contact a local library in the area and ask about their resources.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Artificial Intelligence, Chess, Voice Recognition and Genealogy
It may be one of the more obscure "news" events of the year, I found a reference to this "news" event in a blog post by my friend, Louis Kessler, up in Canada. The post the piqued my interest was entitled, "Chess and Artificial Intelligence: The Future Changed Today." This post talks about the Alphabet (Google) owned company, DeepMind.

You can get the details and watch the videos on Louis's blog post. If you have any appreciation at all for the advancements in technology, you will realize that this particular development is probably the most important change in our collective future to come along for quite a while. To understand the perspective here you need to focus on these paragraphs from Lewis's blog post:
Long, long ago, when I was a student at the University of Manitoba, I had a hobby I had dabbled in: programming a computer to play chess. I had reached a point where my program, Brute Force, was then one of the best in the world. I went to Seattle, Washington in 1977 for the 8th North American Computer Chess Championship, and followed that up in 1978 in Washington, D.C. for the 9th NACCC. (If you’re interested, see my writeup on my chess program, Brute Force).

The program was called Brute Force because I concentrated on doing the minimum possible to evaluate positions, and simply let the program iterate as many moves as possible to determine the best move. I had the full use of the University of Manitoba’s IBM 370/168 mainframe, which likely was as powerful then as your smartphone is today. Smartphones today can play better chess than the big computers did back then in the Computer Chess Championships of the ‘70s.
Here is a description of the DeepMind company from their website:
DeepMind was founded in London in 2010 and back by some of the most successful technology entrepreneurs in the world. Having been acquired by Google in 2014, we are now part of the Alphabet group. We continue to be based in our hometown of London, with additional research centres in Edmonton and Montreal, Canada, and a DeepMind Applied team in Mountain View, California.
 As usual, I must ask the question how does this affect genealogy? I can think of a number of areas, to begin with. For example the following:

  • Handwriting recognition
  • Intelligent indexing
  • Document recognition and cataloging
  • Correction of existing family tree entries i.e. standardization
  • Increasingly accurate record hints
  • Increasingly accurate duplicate record resolutions

From my own standpoint, the main area of the I would be concerned with the voice recognition software. As I have written recently, the current domination of the commercial market for individual voice recognition software is dominated by one company. The current product referred to as "Dragon" from is based on research done by IBM. Unfortunately, because of the lack of competition,  the products have been upgraded slowly and still contain numerous bugs. The biggest problem with all of the voice recognition software over the years has been its inability to improve performance by learning from its mistakes. The programs require individualized human intervention in order to learn new terms. User corrections to the text are not incorporated into the program. In the case of Dragon, new words must be individually entered. With the new developments in artificial intelligence outlined by Lewis's blog, someone or some company may be able to create a voice recognition program that actually works.

Friday, December 8, 2017

How Accurate is DNA Testing? Really?
DNA testing is not without controversy and unforeseeable consequences. The article shown above highlights some of the serious issues facing the forensic use of DNA evidence. With the popularity of genealogical DNA testing, it is important to understand the differences and similarities between forensic DNA testing and that done by the large genealogically motivated testing companies.

To begin to understand those differences and the inherent limitations of DNA testing, here is a quote from the above JSTOR Daily article:
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a code that programs how we will develop, grow, and function. Humans are thought to have DNA that is 99.9% identical, but the remaining 0.1% makes us individuals, marking us out as unique. The fact that humans and chimpanzees have just a 1% difference in their DNA further highlights how meaningful a small difference can be. Generally, the more closely related we are to someone, the more similar our DNA will be to theirs.
Continuing with a discussion of the limits of DNA testing in a criminal investigation, the article states:
Realistically, then, DNA profiles should only be thought of as being likely to have come from a specific individual. Statistical approaches such as “match probability,” which is based on comparisons between crime scene DNA and a hypothetical “random” person, often are misunderstood. A more rigorous statistical approach is likelihood ratio, which directly compares two hypotheses: the likelihood of the DNA coming from the suspect vs. the likelihood of the DNA coming from someone else. If the likelihood ratio is less than one, the defense position (the DNA is not the suspect’s) is better supported; if it is greater than one, there is more support for the prosecution case. Still, the ratio at most provides scientific support for a theory, not a yes-or-no answer.
One issue that has been ignorantly raised in several online articles is that the genealogical DNA testing being done, could ultimately be used in a court of law for a criminal prosecution. I wrote about this issue previously in two posts entitled, "Is genealogically submitted DNA discoverable in a criminal investigation?" and "A Little More About DNA and Criminal Investigations."

In reality, the standards for criminal justice in the United States would be extremely unlikely to admit genealogical data as evidence in a criminal trial. Here is one of the most limiting of the standards for DNA Evidence from the American Bar Association:
Standard 2.4 Collecting DNA samples from Persons in a group by consent 
A law enforcement officer should be permitted to obtain a DNA sample from a person by consent, except that: 
(a) consent should not be sought from persons based primarily upon their membership in a constitutionally protected class;
(b) consent should not be sought from a large number of persons based on grounds other than individualized suspicion that each committed the crime under investigation unless seeking such consent has been authorized by the head of a law enforcement agency or the chief prosecutor in that jurisdiction; and
(c) when consent is sought as provided in subdivision (b) of this standard, each person should be informed of the reason for the request and of the right to refuse it, and the consent should be obtained in writing.
Note that when DNA testing is directed at a group, those tested have a right to refuse testing based on the proposed forensic use. So, if you have your DNA test done by one of the genealogy companies, the results are not useable in court unless your consent was obtained in writing prior to the test. Standard 3.1 goes on to state the standards applied to forensic DNA testing laboratories.
Standard 3.1 Testing laboratories 
(a) A laboratory testing DNA evidence should:
(i) be accredited every two years under rigorous accreditation standards by a nonprofit professional association actively involved in forensic science and nationally recognized;
(ii) be governed by written policies and procedures, including protocols for testing and interpreting test results, and permit deviation from protocols only by a technical leader or other appropriate supervisor;
(iii) use quality assurance and quality control procedures, including audits, proficiency testing, and corrective action protocols, that are consistent with generally accepted practices and in writing;
(iv) use protocols for testing and interpreting DNA evidence that are scientifically validated through studies that are described in writing;
(v) follow procedures designed to minimize bias when interpreting test results;
(vi) timely report credible evidence of laboratory misconduct or serious negligence to the accrediting body; and
(vii) make available to the public the written material required by this standard.
(b) A laboratory testing DNA evidence should make available to the prosecution the information and material that the prosecutor must disclose to the defense pursuant to Standard 4.1, and to defense counsel the information and material that the defense must disclose to the prosecutor pursuant to that standard.
(c) When an accrediting body receives notice of credible evidence of laboratory misconduct or serious negligence concerning DNA evidence at the testing laboratory, either as provided in subdivision (a) (vi) of this standard or through other means, it should audit laboratory procedures and cases that may have been affected by the misconduct or serious negligence and issue a written report.
I could probably give many more examples of the limitations imposed on forensic DNA testing but here are a few links to get you started if you are interested:
For genealogists, the issue is the accuracy of the DNA data supplied by any testing company. Coupled with the use of online family trees, DNA testing can be quite accurate for near realatives of no less than three or four levels of separation, i.e. 2nd or perhaps 3rd cousins. Every level of "removal" or separation decreases the accuracy and thereby the reliability of the results. However, when reliable, traditional genealogical research is coupled with reliable DNA testing, the results may be extended further. 

Presently, testing done by different genealogically oriented testing companies will differ because of the fact that their testing procedures and databases are, in some cases, significantly different. These differences are presently unresolvable. 

From a legal standpoint, as a retired trial attorney, I would not feel it possible to use genealogically obtained DNA testing for any type of court proceeding.  

Thursday, December 7, 2017

BYU Family History Technology Lab Interview on BYURadio

Julie Rose's regularly broadcast interview program aired a segment interviewing guests Bill Barrett, Ph.D., Professor, Computer Science, Brigham Young University; Curtis Wigington, Masters’ Student, Brigham Young University of the Brigham Young University Family History Technology Lab. Julie Rose is a winner of multiple Edward R. Murrow Awards, and a seasoned broadcast journalist and interviewer. Prior to joining BYU Radio, Rose worked as a reporter and produced spots and feature news stories for NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

The segment is called, "Making Family History Fun (and Addicting?!)" highlights several of the programs developed by the Family History Technology Lab including the popular RelativeFinder App. Professor Barrett also mentions the great strides made by the Lab in developing handwriting recognition software. Click here to listen to the segment of the Interview.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Will Identical twins have the same DNA test results?

The answer to the question in the title of this post is more complex than it might seem. Here is a glimpse into the problems associated with DNA testing of identical twins from Identigene at
Until recently, the consensus has been that identical twins share completely identical DNA, but recent studies show that isn’t necessarily true. Rather than looking at the standard 15 markers analyzed in today’s paternity tests, highly-advanced and impossibly-expensive DNA tests that analyze the entire genome sequence-as many as six billion markers-are able to identify at least a single mutation in one of the identical twins’ genetics that has been passed on to the child (Sapiro). However, DNA tests that are presently accessible to the public do not analyze enough markers to distinguish the two, presenting a serious problem in court cases to establish paternity for child support. 
Hopefully, next-generation technology will be able to identify the differences between identical DNA in a way that’s affordable as well as accessible to the general public. Until then, paternity involving identical twins remains unsolvable.
One major consideration about genealogical DNA testing is that the databases are rapidly increasing in size and technology is also advancing. The difference between forensic and genealogical DNA testing is largely and matter of degree of specificity. Here is a comment on ancestry testing (genealogical DNA testing) from the Government of New South Wales, Australia.
Ancestry testing is commonly offered as an online test through private companies. As different companies compare test results to different databases, ethnicity may not be consistent.

In addition, findings about ethnicity may be different from an individual’s expectations as humans have mixed with different populations throughout history and consequently individuals may have many different variations in their DNA. It is helpful to know what type of testing is being undertaken for ancestry to ensure testing will provide some clues to the questions being asked.
Using identical triplets or twins for a comparison of genealogical DNA testing will only reflect the differences in the databases used by the different companies. These sorts of publicized tests say little about the utility or accuracy of genealogical testing.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Identical Triplets Take MyHeritage DNA Tests on the Today Show

Identical Triplets Take MyHeritage DNA Tests on the Today Show

Correspondent Jeff Rossen revealed DNA results from the three leading brands, for sisters who are identical triplets. MyHeritage was the only test that didn’t require filling a vial with spit, and is more affordable than the competition, without sacrificing accuracy.

DPLA adds Oklahoma Hub

The Digital Public Library of America continues to expand its huge collection of free, online digital content. Quoting from a recent announcement:
Over 100,000 records from our newest partner, OK Hub, are now discoverable in DPLA. The Oklahoma Hub represents a collaboration between lead partners The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, with extensive resources from Oklahoma Historical Society and Oklahoma Department of Libraries. Together, these collections offer unique new resources, particularly in the areas of Native American history and culture, environmental and agricultural science, and the lives and experiences of generations of Oklahomans.
The notice continued with an explanation of the contents of the newly attached records.
Students and scholars of the settlement of the Oklahoma frontier will find thousands of photographs from the collections of Oklahoma Historical Society, including photos from the Oklahoma Publishing Company, which started operating as such in 1903 in Oklahoma City and continues today. Images in these collections capture everyday life for the diverse residents of turn-of-the-century Oklahoma, including members of diverse Native American groups including Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Kiowa. Together with The University of Oklahoma’s Indian Pioneer Oral Histories conducted in the 1930s and the Duke Collection of American Indian Oral Histories (1967-1972), these rich new materials on testify to the tension between cultural perseverance and assimilation as well as a decades-long process of negotiating the allotment of one of America’s most treasured resources: land.
This new addition brings the total number of records in the DP.LA collection to 18,430,270.