Thank the Millennials! A Response to Thomas MacEntee & the Demise of Family Tree Maker

Ancestry’s software for family history – Family Tree Maker – is being discontinued. It will no longer be sold after the end of the year and no longer supported by the end of 2016. This has caused an uproar in the genealogy community and posts include complaints as well as alternatives like RootsMagic or Legacy Family Tree.

One response in particular caught my attention. Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers created a post called, “Blame the Millennials: The End of Family Tree Maker Genealogy Software”. To sum up the post, he discusses how millennials have changed the “purchase” economy to a “subscription” economy – thus being part of the reason Ancestry is discontinuing Family Tree Maker.

I don’t think Thomas is particularly torn up about the demise of Family Tree Maker. He can recognize that this is a part of the evolution of genealogy. He’s looking forward to what comes next. I share this sentiment.

Blaming the millennials?

It is my strong belief (and I realize, as a millennial, I’m bias) that we should be THANKING the millennials!


  • Family Tree Maker’s TreeSync function was notorious for having bugs that lost sources or disconnected relationships
  • Any software on your computer is subject to a hard drive crash and thus all of your data would be lost
  • Any software on your computer cannot be accessed by the public if you want to share your tree
  • Even if your hard drive did not crash – if you died you would have to have a loved one secure & preserve your data
  • Lastly, convenience – get your tree off your computer and online now!

That last point is not referring to “shared trees” or any subscription service. Of course, I’m promoting webtrees. This is free software that, instead of loading on a computer, gets loaded onto a website address.

Benefits include:

  • Totally customization of privacy that can be specific to the record or event level – default is living people are private
  • Access anywhere with internet – including mobile
  • Allowing others to participate by providing a username/password – administrator can review before approving changes

So yes, let’s thank the millennials. They’ve provided some movement in the field of family history and in the future we will be growing out of desktop software and into the “cloud” where our data can be backed up by multiple servers in the world & shared easily with family members. All the benefits of a “shared tree” with all the benefits of desktop software. You’re welcome.

Categories: Cheap, Rant, Tech, webtrees | Leave a comment

Gratitude via Preservation of Family History on this Veteran’s Day

Last week was Veteran’s day and I got so many gems through Facebook. As most genealogists sometimes struggle with having family all over the country, if not the world, Facebook becomes an invaluable tool for contact.

During gatherings have you ever had “the look” or generally gotten the sense that family members are bored with your family history stories or questions?

Facebook saves the day again by allowing a sort of “passive” observance of those you’re connected with and their friends. This thing is basically built in with family-finder if you know how to use it.

First, connect with as many family as you can. Do not just stop with the ones you know or have met, continue and attempt to connect with any cousins that reach out…or at least respond. :)

After initial connection I have to cool my jets. Yes I want to know everything – birth dates, death dates, family stories, pictures, newspapers – you name it! I want it all but at the same time I’ve just met this person. They may not share my passion. (Still trying to figure out why not?)

Then simply make sure you’re “following” them – meaning that their posts pop-up on your feed. You know that main page where you can scroll through posts by everyone you’re connected with? Well, that can be customized and in my opinion should be. Some folks I want to be connected with but not see everything they post. Others I want to be closer to – *and thus I filter my “feed”. It’s a mix of those friends I’m closest with, those whose posts & shares I enjoy and family, any family at all that will connect.

*I suppose if you don’t mind everything in your feed that’s fine too – I just found a healthy filter to increase my happiness while “facebooking”.

Now, as we’re passively connected to distant cousins and brothers and sisters alike, we naturally take note of any interesting family information. This past Veteran’s day was a great example.

  1. My Great Uncle Mike’s wife posted an old photo of him in uniform that I’d never seen before.
  1. My cousin whom I’ve only met once (I think?) updated his profile picture to one in his Marine uniform.
  2. Lastly, my recently connected 3rd cousin – Vanessa.

With all of my “cousin bait” out there in the form of my database, my blog and the rarely updated scrapbook site, most of my cousin-connecting is coming at me rather than me having to search people out. Which is great because then the likelihood of them accepting as friend request is greater!

So, a few months back, Vanessa asks if I’d created this video. I say yeah & ask how she’s connected to the family. I get some great information. A few months go by and she changes her Facebook profile to a picture of a man getting the bronze star circa WWII.

I have a guess on who it is but have never seen his picture. My guess was correct which sparked a conversation which included pictures, newspaper articles and of course names, birth dates and other vital information. FANTASTIC!

This provided an opportunity for an entire unfamiliar branch to open up. Plumping up Branches baby!

Lastly I want to share why this system works for me. First, everything is automatically recorded on Facebook so, since I’m usually just browsing Facebook and not in full family search mode, I simply take a screen shot. Then, when I have more time, as in tonight, I’m able to find those screenshots, then scroll through the last week of Facebook to find the original post. Or in the case of the Facebook messenger conversation – I simply open that app and see what was said/shared. My phone even prompted me to see if I wanted to automatically back-up the screenshots in “the cloud”.

Isn’t technology wonderful?

So, to the Veteran’s. Thank you for your service. We still need you. I honor you by documenting your family, your service and your life. Thank you.



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WWII Letters – Part 2: The Cast of Characters

*This is a multi-part series discussing a stack of WWII letters from my wife’s ancestors. She went home in Spring 2015 and went through some old closets (knowing I’m a genealogy nerd) and brought back a treasure trove of things. Lots of great photos, some I’d never seen before!

Each “stack” was in it’s own separate zip-lock bag and one of these bags contained what we originally thought were “Papa’s” letters from World War II. However, when I got around to organizing them, I discovered that there are letters from at least 4 ancestors!

The Receiver

Newspaper highlighting 50 years of happy marriage between Marguerite Helen Leach and William Robert Loose in Terre Haute Indiana

Newspaper highlighting 50 years of happy marriage between Marguerite Helen Leach and William Robert Loose in Terre Haute IndianaMost letters were addressed to “Mrs. William Loose” while some were varied, “Mr. &  Mrs. William Loose” or “Mrs. Bill Loose” – basically all sent to one woman.

Marguerite Helen Leach Loose was born May 1st, 1907 in Indiana. Her parents were William Ijams Leach and Louise Katherine Zimmerman. You can see an entire family group sheet here.

Marguerite or “Marg” (which at times I thought was “Mary”) must have been somewhat of a family historian herself. She collected all of these letters and my wife said she was the one who put together the family history scrapbook. I feel honored to carry on her legacy.

The Senders

Newspaper with Leach Brothers in WWII

Newspaper with Leach Brothers in WWIIShe had 3 brothers in World War II and they all wrote to their sister – sometimes even asking about one another. Her brothers, William, Richard and Charles – a.k.a. Bud, Dick and Charlie – were highlighted in the newspaper.

In addition to these 3 brothers, Marguerite’s son wrote to her. William Harry Loose is son of Marguerite and William Robert. He is the direct ancestor of my wife and is still alive today.

In addition to her brothers and son, Marguerite also got letters from friends in the war. Mainly a man named George K. Gates. A brief search confirms George was close to the family in Indiana. It is likely that Marguerite and George’s wife Alice were in contact.

Lastly there’s a mystery name – Bruce or Pvt R.B. Thrasher. There’s only one postcard from him in 1943 but I have no information on how he might be connected.

As this series continues, letters from the Leach brothers will dwindle. William Harry Loose has the abundance of letters and we’ll largely focus on his experiences.

So far it doesn’t seem we’ll get glorious stories of war. All of these letters appear to be from the U.S. and they were stationed throughout the country.

Do you know these characters? What experiences do you have exploring WWII veterans during their time in service?

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WWII Letters – Part 1: Organizing, Scanning, Editing

Charles Leach - 1.1.43 Envelope

This will likely be a multi-part series discussing a stack of WWII letters from my wife’s ancestors. She went home in Spring 2015 and went through some old closets (knowing I’m a genealogy nerd) and brought back a treasure trove of things. Lots of great photos, some I’d never seen before!

Each “stack” was in it’s own separate zip-lock bag and one of these bags contained what we originally thought were “Papa’s” letters from World War II. However, when I got around to organizing them, I discovered that there are letters from at least 4 ancestors!


I simply went through them and organized by year. I have piles for:

  • 1942
  • 1943
  • 1944
  • 1945
  • 1946
  • 1947
  • 1948
  • Unknown

Once I started scanning, I created a “Scanned” pile and a “Not Scanned” pile. This is because some things I won’t scan – Christmas cards that don’t have any writing or empty envelopes for example.


I started scanning at 600 dpi but this takes considerably longer with my old clunker scanner. I dropped it down to 300 because I’ve got a lot to scan. I meant to scan in Tiff but didn’t realize the first round was all scanned as jpeg’s.  I got about 8 letters scanned (most are multiple pages) before I realized I had the wrong setting set up on the scanner. I’m not going to go back but future letters will be scanned as Tiff files then the edits will be saved as jpeg’s for Google Drive Storage or web upload.


Although I’m a big fan on Google’s Picasa program, it does not play nice with Tiff files. Also editing can be more time-consuming than I’d like – after all, I got lots of letters. With a quick search I discovered…or should I say re-discovered…FastStone Image Viewer. Not only does it play nicely with Tiff files but the editing process is a breeze! After only 8 letters I know exactly which hotkey shortcuts will open my most used features!

This will simply make the process easier so I’m more likely to follow through and stick with my goal of digitizing these letters.

What’s the point?

Don’t worry, this series will not just be the tech-side of archiving old letters. I will be highlighting the people involved – both senders and receivers. We’ll be looking at geographic location and trying to map out their travels. I’ve also got to try to place the un-dated letters based on context. And I’m guessing there’s some hidden genealogy gems in those letters too.

Here’s a snippet of one of the first letters. Have you scanned old WWII letters? What have you learned? How was your scanfest?

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Why I attend meetings from my local genealogical society – from a young(er) perspective

Anyone who’s been interested in their family history, have read some blogs or even attended a local genealogical society meeting knows the general demographic. Even if you’re reading this blog, you’re likely in your later years and female, perhaps retired. There’s nothing wrong with this demographic but for anyone that doesn’t fit that mold, attending meetings can be intimidating and awkward.

So, why do I go?

1. Experts attend regularly

Although being young gives me an advantage with technology, it does not give me an advantage with everything genealogy. I recently learned about probate records and how they can help. This actually saves me time because searching all of those terms can make someone crazy! Having experts in DNA, regions or software can be extremely helpful. I can get opinions, bounce ideas off of people and get advice about what steps to take after I’ve hit a brick wall on the internet! That’s right, these people know the value of searching outside of the 2D screen!

2. I can help

With my savvy tech skills I’ve been able to answer questions, help presenter’s get hooked up to the speaker system and have even become my local society’s webmaster. We recently did a survey asking members what technology they would want to see and got an overwhelmingly large response for sessions to be recorded in case they couldn’t make the meeting. I’m leading this front and it should help our members when the weather prevents them from attending.

3. To be inspired!

This last reason was the inspiration for this post actually. By listening to presenter’s, by talking to folks and simply being in the excitement of family history research is inspiring! I left the meeting with lots of ideas on how I can create my own presentation and teach people how to use some easy tech tools that are fun and free! I left inspired to clean up the society archives and use modern technology to make every board members job a little bit easier. After all, these positions are volunteer and nobody needs to be stressed by a volunteer position!

So, young or ol..ahem, wise, I encourage you all to attend a local meeting. If you feel they’re antiquated then do something about it! Stay humble and learn from the experts. Offer your expertise if you’re able. Never stop learning and never stop chasing those elusive ancestors!

What’s your reason for attending your local genealogical society meeting? What do you gain? What would you like to see different?

Categories: Cheap, Fun, Rant, Tech, Youth | 3 Comments

webtrees Version 1.7.1 released 13 July 2015

Wahoo! A new release of webtrees! Let’s see what they have in store.


webtrees version 1.7.1 is now available for download. This release addresses issues realated to servers running PHP5.3
webtrees 1.7.0/1 includes new features as well as a major rewrite and modernisation of backend code. 
Languages:webtrees now has support for 60 languages -- a  new administration option allows for easier management.  There is also a new online translation server ( which makes it even easier to contribute to translations.
Mobile phone support:  If you use Google webmaster tools, you may have received warnings about mobile support. We've made some changes to improve this, and have completely rewriten the administration area (now called "Control panel") to use a mobile-friendly layout.
Administration:  There are a few additions to the administration functions; a renumbering and merging family trees and a function to help you find duplicate records after a merge.  webtrees checks for updates every 24 hours, so next time you log in to your site, you should be prompted to upgrade. An update to the robots.txt file has been made.
Performance:  There are a few performance enhancements. For example, we have reduced the number of database calls by fetching all family members in one operation.
Themes:  The theme system has been completely redesigned. Previously, if you wanted to make just a small modification, you needed to create and update an entire theme. Now, you only need to code the differences from an existing theme. So, if you simply want to change the header or some menus, that's all you need to do. Updates to the core code should be much less likely to require changes to the themes.
For a complete descriptions of this release see 1.7.0/1 Change List

Note: webtrees 1.7.x requires PHP5.3 or later.  However, this will be the will be the last ones to run on PHP 5.3.  If your server only supports PHP5.2, then you should install webtrees 1.4.6.
Note that it is harmless to accidentally install webtrees-1.7.x on a PHP-5.2 server. You'll simply get a message telling you to re-install the appropriate version.
See the wiki site for upgrade tips! (

But what does it all mean?

From first glance the main upgrades have been to the admin area – now affectionately called “Control Panel”


Now, this is a huge improvement from that last version. It’s smooth, has collapsible menus and just really easy to use, navigate and change features. Here’s a view of family tree control.

As you can see, it’s much cleaner, organized and you can easily see what to click for whatever task you need to do. And of course, the always complicated “modules” now looks a bit easier to see and change as needed.

So, in short, I really like what the developers have done with webtrees. My upgrade was nearly seamless – my only complaint is not integrating with the facebook login. This was an add-on that a talented developer shared with the community and not part of webtrees. I thought it was great but I’m willing to let it go in order to upgrade. The only other add-on that I use is vytux menu which has already been upgraded to webtrees 1.7 so thanks Vytux!

Categories: Cheap, Tech, webtrees | 4 Comments

Using user roles in webtrees

If you’re using webtrees, there’s a lot of control over user roles and abilities. I recently helped a man test out webtrees on my own site and made him administrator. Besides us two, everything else has standard privacy settings. That is to say that just because I upload his gedcom doesn’t mean anyone on the web can see private information for living people. The default is that if they’re alive, they’re set to private.

Now, over the last few years I’ve had requests from “cousins” or other family members to become a user on my webtrees site. This is usually not a problem. Most people are googling an ancestor, discover my site and want to see more. They request to be a user, add a little note about who they’re related to in the tree and I approve as an editor. This means they now have access to the whole tree (again this can be set by the admin) AND they’re allowed to edit the tree. However, any edits must be approved by the admin. To date, I believe only 1 or 2 people have actually tried to edit the information and contribute to the ever-growing tree.

Now, recently, and coincidentally, I’ve had 2 users register without any mention of why they want to explore more of my webtrees site. They did not say anything about who they may be related to and their names do not match any surnames in my database. What’s a genealogist to do?

Considering I’m in the game of cousin bait, I approved them. I’m hoping with access to my tree they’ll be inspired to reach out and perhaps contribute as well. Now for them, I can simply set their user role to “Member” rather than “editor”.






As you can see, there are a lot of options for each user. I can set their user role for each tree I have on my site. For me, everyone that visits is set to “visitor”. Unknown folks who register will be set to “member” followed by “editor” then “moderator” and finally “administrator”.

You may want different settings for your tree. I’m a “millennial” so I understand that privacy is pretty much dead. However, I still take precautions to protect family members. The beautiful thing about this program is that it’s all up to you. With all of the settings and functionality of webtrees, it can seem overwhelming but I’d rather have a lot of options with my genealogy than not enough.

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Drive & Google+ finally together…soon


This is the view from the new “Google Photos” menu on my drive. I have to tell you, I’ve been waiting for this. I had all of my ancestry photos, organized into folders (birth, marriage, death, censuses etc.). I then realized that google drive did not retain meta-data. Meta-data is the information embedded into the image file. It is similar to writing on the back of a photo…only digitally. If you download any photo you can open it’s “properties” (Right-click, properties) to see what the meta-data contains. It’s usually the filename and maybe a caption but could contain location data, date taken or even type of camera used.

So, drive doesn’t allow me to digitally write on the back of my collection of family photos so I moved everything to google+ (after some extensive testing). Google+ was able to not only hold my meta-data but the provide the ability to edit the meta-data…except on mobile. We’re getting close folks.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t easily access the photos in a “explorer” folder style. I had albums and it was generally just more difficult to navigate. Until now…soon that is.

It appears that google had heard the complaints and have implemented “Google Photos” in drive itself. This allows all images in google+ to sync with google drive and allow the user to organize images into folders. This not only provides  simplicity, organization and helps lower storage issues, but allows the user to easily see the folder hierarchy. I wonder if metadata will be synced? It doesn’t look like it yet…


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Father and Son, John & Jonas Marsh – Week 5, Plowing Through

This week’s prompt: We will likely be plowing through a lot of snow by this time. What ancestor had a lot of struggles to plow through? Or take it more literally… It’s up to you :)

A typical Michigan winter scene

The ancestor I chose that had a lot of struggles to plow through would be the father/son duo, John O. and Jonas J. Marsh.

John was born in 1790 in Pennsylvania. The country was newly independent and Pennsylvania was a popular place to settle down. There he had *4 boys and 1 girl.

He and his wife Margaret Gillman (1790-??) had their son Jonas when they were 21 years old.

At the age of 19, Jonas married Philinda Quick (1811-1895) in New York in 1830. He and Philinda had 3 children in New York and then around 1837 or so, Jonas followed his little brother, Harmon Marsh, to Scio, Washtenaw County, Michigan.

Although the research is unsourced, it appears the Marsh father, John, died sometime around 1830. My junk genealogy shows he was in Michigan but other information says that the Marsh family didn’t come to Michigan until 1836 at the earliest. And the death information I have for John says he died the same day his son, Jonas, was married. I suspect the information is wrong.

So, what makes these boys worthy of such a post highlighting tough ancestors? Well, first of all, John was in the Civil War. 140th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry.

And both Jonas and his little brother Harmon helped create a new community in the brand new territory of Michigan. Have you been to Michigan in the winter? That place can be tough!

Map of Scio, Michigan, 1874 (Marsh farmland is listed)


Categories: 52 Ancestors | 1 Comment

52 Ancestors Challenge – Week 4, Closest to your birthday

This week’s prompt: Not too much to think about here. What ancestor has the birthday closest to yours? (I mean in terms of month and day, not the year ;) )

Henry Teats

Henry Teats is the ancestor who’s birthday is closest to mine. There are other relative’s that share my birthday – my great uncle Mike (my closest DNA match at AncestryDNA) and of course my cousin Kyle. However, since we’re focusing on ancestor’s, I found that Henry Teats was born just a day before my birthday.

Henry Teats was born January 4th, 1797 in Rhinebeck, New York. His father died when he was just 12 years old and he married Elizabeth Shook at age 24 (June 6, 1821). Together they had at least 9 children and he died at the ripe old age of 83 in Dickinson, Kansas. (unsourced).


Henry Teats and Elizabeth Shook Family

Henry Teats and Elizabeth Shook Family

I wonder how he came to die in Kansas? I checked out my google map module on my webtrees site and it looks like many of his children were moving to the midwest. And because his death is unsourced he may not have died in Kansas at all! More research on my to do list!



Henry’s mapped life (so far)

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