I have loved family history all my life. I have loved genealogy all my life. I love digging deep to find out who I am. And I love learning about all the new tools that are available to help me in my journey. Will you take four minutes and see what I saw at RootTech—not just the speakers—but the things that caught my eye as Maurine and I just walked around and met with people at this, the largest family history conference in the world.
Maurine and I love cemeteries. We’ve visited hundreds of them and we take our tours to one of the most significant cemeteries in the country—right in downtown Boston each fall—The Old Granary Burying Ground where John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and Robert Treat Paine are buried. There are 2,345 grave markers here—but probably more than 5,000 buried in this sacred earth.
The founders of BillionGraves.com has set out to do just what the name says—document, find and photograph at least one billion graves. I just looked up my favorite Old Granary Burying Ground and they have compiled 437 records with 336 individual photographic images there. And how did they do this? They use people like you and me—with an app on the phone and a determination.
This not only gives you a photograph of the headstone of your ancestor, it gives you the exact GPS location of the grave. All the data from the headstone is then transcribed and becomes digitally searchable. With Billion Grave’s cemetery maps and location software, you can walk right to your ancestor’s final resting place. What’s more—you can also use their tool called burial proximity which allows you to look at others buried nearby—a great way to find more family that may have been lost. This is my kind of family history service. Check it out here: www.billiongraves.com
I have been doing Church history research for the past 45 years. One of the greatest sources for coming to understand context and flavor of the early Latter-day Saint history and of my own ancestors is through the local newspapers. Ancestry.com has put together a division of their services called newspapers.com. This is no small task because they have not only compiled 572,465,523 (that’s 572 million plus) pages of newspapers, but they have digitized the entire collection so it is searchable!
I just took ten seconds (right now as I’m writing this) and I put in the name of my three greats uncle Truman O. Angell and I have 318 sources from newspapers starting with August 10, 1854 in Washington, D.C. I am restraining myself from looking at these sources because I won’t be able to finish this article.
What’s even more exciting is this: If you find something you want to save, you can connect it right with the name of your own ancestor and permanently attach it to their record in your own family tree. This is the fastest way I have found to search out obituaries. In two minutes I found the obituaries of five of my direct relatives—none of which I had ever seen before. This is a tool I wish I would have had access to in college—but we didn’t even have computers then—so, that is wishful thinking. Check this out here: www.newspapers.com
Maurine and I both have direct ancestors who came over on the Mayflower. My three direct lines are James Chilton, Susanne Furner (his wife) and 13-year-old Mary Chilton, their daughter. By most accounts, Mary is the first to have set foot on land—it makes sense, this enthusiastic teen, ready to get off that ship! Her father never made it off the ship—he died in the harbor before he could set foot on land. Mary died that first winter. All these things are in my DNA. I love studying them and I love drawing close to my ancestors.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the pilgrims to this country. Numerous celebrations and events are planned—especially for descendants. At RootsTech a scale model of the Mayflower was displayed, which I loved.
I noticed in the model on figure near the edge of the ship and he reminded me of 17-year-old John Howland, an actual pilgrim, who was swept overboard in a storm and by miraculous means was spared death. He went on to marry Mayflower passenger Elizabeth Tilley (my 2nd cousin, 12 times removed). Together they had ten children and then 88 grandchildren. They now have more than 2 million in their down line (more than 35 million come from the Mayflower passengers), including famous descendants: Joseph Smith, Emma Hale Smith, Brigham Young, M. Russell Ballard, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Humphrey Bogart and Anthony Hopkins to name a few. You can check out many of John Howland’s descendants here: https://familypedia.wikia.org/wiki/John_Howland_List_of_Famous_Descendants
The Mayflower passengers are endlessly interesting to me and RootsTech did nothing but add fuel to the flames of my passionate interest. To find out more about or get involved with the Mayflower 400th anniversary commemorations, click here: https://www.americanancestors.org/Mayflower-2020-Launch
You know that as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints you have access through your FamilySearch account to numerous partner sites (without paying). One of this many partners is Ancestry.com. I have watched this company from their founding and am constantly amazed at what they do each year. This company has gone on to become the largest database of the human family in the world.
Just in this past year alone their members have added 6.4 million family trees (I am one of those—I love doing my tree here), 108 million photographs and documents, and a whopping 1.8 billion records. These numbers are staggering and thrilling. What I love about working on my tree on Ancestry is that as soon as I put a new ancestor in place with birth, marriage and death dates (or as much as I have), ancestry hints immediately populate for that ancestor (I’ve seen 26 hints show up on the spot) and I can then search each of those hints with the simple click of the mouse. Family history research has never been so easy, and it’s never been so much fun.
Ancestry has also completed the online collection of more than 36 million draft cards from World War II. This is a massive amount of data that will surely affect nearly every family in the United States. Ancestry now has over 24 billion online records. I remember the promises from teaching genealogy classes in Sunday School years ago, something like: If there is one scrap of evidence of the existence of your ancestor on this planet, if you are diligent, you are promised you will find it. The chances are very high that many scraps of evidence of your precious family are located in the ancestry treasury.
Here’s what ancestry says about itself: Bringing together science and self-discovery, Ancestry helps everyone, everywhere discover the story of what led to them. Our sophisticated engineering and technology harnesses family history and consumer genomics, combining billions of rich historical records, millions of family trees, and samples from over 16 million people in the AncestryDNA network to provide people with deeply meaningful insights about who they are and where they come from to enrich their lives.
Come and search here: www.ancestry.com and be sure if you are a member of the Church, sign up for you free partner account. I use mine almost as much as FamilySearch.
Heirloom Show n’ Tell
I love to have touch with the past. I always love the Heirloom people who come to RootsTech and just show us some really amazing things. This year was, for me, the best ever. I’ve always admired Brent Ashworth and his massive collection of Latter-day Saint historical treasures. Now, he outdid himself. He brought to the show, the Bible that William Bradford brought across the Atlantic in the Mayflower! I nearly burst into tears when I saw it. It even had William Bradford’s signature on the cover page and one other place.
Glenn Beck said, “There are two words that describe Brent Ashworth: ‘National Treasure.’”
He truly is that. He also displayed an original pilgrim blunderbuss and an original hat—these items are more than 400 years old!
When I first saw this booth at the conference my mind just told me it was Autobiography. But no, they have married technology to a need and they have come up with Audiobiography. Their tagline is: Hold onto the memory of someone, by holding onto their voice. It’s quite simple, you get one of their books (like a little scrapbook) and it has a scan code on each page. The page has a prompt question and then you scan the QR Code with your app and it goes to a place where you start recording your voice or the voice of your family member and it will forever be embedded with that page and that question.
This was invented in Utah by a family team of technology and product entrepreneurs and it’s now being used all over the world. The process is easier than it looks, and if you can’t figure it out, just ask someone under 12 to help you.
You can check them out by going here: www.audiobiography.com
I can’t end without mentioning one of the coolest things I discovered at the conference. MyHeritage.com introduced it, and it just blows me away with delight as a photographer. I grew up first shooting black and white images. Most of us have a shoebox full of old family-treasured images in black and white. I actually love black and white. Now, through amazing new technology, almost with the sweep of a wand from Hogwarts, your black and white images can be colorized. This is too amazing. I will show you an image of my Great Great Grandmother Mary Prior Facer. I have known this black and white image for at least the last 30 years. I just saw the colorized image a few months ago and it brought a tear to my eye. Look at these shots:
Aaron Godfrey, VP of Marketing for MyHeritage introduced us to the technology and the whole audience responded with ooohs and ahhhs. It was wonderful to see. I believe you can get your first ten images for free online and then just save them and/or print them out as needed. Here’s another image Aaron showed:
You can check it out and do your own images here:
This is all very exciting. Where will technology and the gifts from heaven lead us next?
Save the date: RootsTech next year will be February 3-6, 2021.
And for all our British readers:
RootsTech will be in London November 5-7, 2020.
Learn about RootsTech London here: https://rootstech2020london.smarteventscloud.com/portal/login.ww