Sunday, June 18, 2017

Easy OCR and Document Conversion

MOTIVATION: In a recent Ensign article we were encouraged to upload our journals and personal histories to FamilySearch Memories. So long as they are tagged to living people they are hidden, which means my personal history will be hidden during my lifetime. A dear relative kept a lengthy personal history and gave an extra printed copy to her bishop for safe keeping. Both copies have long since vanished and so the details that she so carefully preserved are now lost. I don't want this to happen to my journals and personal histories. So I decided to follow this counsel. One document existed only in printed form. I scanned it as PDF but the file size exceeded the maximum limit allowed by Memories.

OBSTACLE: After struggling for hours to get my printer's OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software to work, I decided to scan my 21 page history at the Family History Center during my next scheduled shift.

Guess what!  I found I could scan from the Automatic Document Feeder to PDF, but I could find no option to convert the PDF to Word or any other editable text format.

SOLUTION: I finally found that by scanning my 21-page document and saving it as a PDF file, I could then upload it to an online OCR site to convert it to a Microsoft Word document, then download the results.  I made sure to select the OCR option.

In Word, I could update the 5-year old file and easily save a new PDF version. The 16 MB PDF file was now a 135 KB PDF file, about 1/100th of its previous size, and I now had a version in MS Word format for easy updates in the future.

The beauty of using this free site is that it handles such a wide range of files and it does not require installing software on the computer. Consequently it should work on any kind of computer, with any operating system. It is ideal for use in a FHC. I can also use it on my computer at home without having to fight with my printer or my word processor. 

The site claims to convert these types of files to a wide range of formats, but I have only tried the PDF to Word conversion, which I found to be quick and accurate.
  • Audio converter
  • Video converter
  • Image converter
  • Document converter
  • Ebook converter
  • Archive converter
  • Hash generator

No registration is asked for. You just upload your file, choose a conversion and wait a few minutes then download the new version of your file. 

I thought this would be a useful tip for all FHC workers. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Downloading Pedigrees from FamilySearch Family Tree

Some people will tell you that it cannot be done, but it can, and it is easy.
What cannot be done is downloading pedigrees in GEDCOM format.

But if you use RootsMagic or Ancestral Quest that is not an issue. You simply download the data directly into your RM or AQ database. No GEDCOM file is needed. It should be possible using Legacy Family Tree as well, but I have not tried it personally.

Last week a patron came into the FHC with her MacBook and asked if we could help her download a copy of her genealogy from the Family Tree.

Step 1 was to download and install the free Macintosh versions of RootsMagic and Ancestral Quest. After looking at them both, she decided that AQ was most similar to PAF and so she decided to use it for now.

Step 2 was to create a new (empty) database in AQ, then sign into FS using the FamilySearch menu in AQ.

Step 3 was to create a record of herself in her AQ database, and record the ID number from Family Tree.

Step 4 using the FamilySearch menu she chose to import 10 generations of family lines from Family Tree. She forgot to put a check mark in the box to import spouses, but still ended up importing records for nearly 900 people from Family Tree into her new AQ database.

Step 5 was to link her parents to herself. in her AQ database. I am not sure why this did not happen automatically, but it was easily accomplished.

She was very pleased with the results. From AQ (or RM or Legacy) it is possible to print charts and do searches and analyses that are not possible in FT.

For example, you are going on a family history trip to Chippewa County, Michigan and want to create a list of everyone in your database who was born, married or died there? This is easily done using the software but not on the FamilySearch website.

If patrons come to your FHC with similar requests, this posting will help you provide any assistance needed. If their questions become too technical do not hesitate to refer them to the support system of the appropriate software company, They have instructions for doing this process with their own software.

CAVEAT: FamilySearch does not provide support for "third party" software. i.e. software that is certified by FamilySearch but produced elsewhere,  So this is one instance where you would NOT call FamilySearch Support.

Friday, March 17, 2017

New Tool for Maiden Names of Mothers (England and Wales)

Those who research England and Wales in the time period starting on 1 July 1837 probably have FreeBMD already on their Bookmarks Bar. This is the free index to the civil registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths. It is especially useful for finding the maiden names of brides. (From the census or other records you determine the probable time and place of the marriage, and search for it by using the husband's given name and surname and the wife's given name. Bingo! There they are with the wife's maiden name... if there is only one woman on that page with that particular given name.)

What is new?
The General Register Office, the agency of the UK government that looks after government records, now allows the general public to register for online accounts, where they can do free searches for births, where the mother's maiden name is given. And searches of deaths where the age at death is given. This information has been available in FreeBMD for searches of births after 1910 and deaths after 1865, but these new searches give that information for earlier births and deaths. Suddenly you may be able to research the ancestors of mothers where you did not know their maiden names. Note that Free BMD has a more powerful search engine, but once you have identified the year and place of an event in FreeBMD, the new tool becomes very useful.

I have known for a long time that Robert Teal and Jane Constable had a son Robert Teale, christened 13 Jul 1845 at Holme Upon Spalding Moor, Yorkshire, England.
Searching with the new tool I found the death of a Robert Teale aged 2 in 1847 in Howden registration district (which includes Holme). So obviously, our little Robert died at the age of 2. Without the age, I might have thought it was the death of a different Robert Teale.
Then I discovered:
Name:                         Mother's Maiden Surname:  
GRO Reference: 1850  S Quarter in HOWDEN  Volume 23  Page 60
Obviously, this Robert Teale is also a son of Jane Constable (and Robert Teal). "Order" is a link so I can easily order an official birth certificate, if I want to pay for it.

To set up your free account, go to and click Order certificates online. On the next screen, click Order Certificates Online and search the GRO historic birth and death indexes. And click Register as an Individual 

Another companion to FreeBMD is FreeReg, which is becoming a "must use" tool in its own right. You might want to check it out too, if you have not checked it lately.

The Consultant Planner

At RootsTech 2017 last month, a new tool was introduced for general use by Temple and Family History Consultants. It is referred to as the Consultant Planner. Its aim is help consultants easily access the accounts of the people they are helping on an on-going basis, and to create lesson plans for finding family names to take to the temple.

To use it, click Get Help in the upper right hand corner of the screen and select Help Others.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Font to Font

Two sister missionaries and an investigator came to the FHC during my shift. "This is Amy, she is being baptized on Saturday and wants to prepare some family names to take to the temple." I was thrilled beyond words!

I explained that until she is baptized and has a Membership Record Number, Amy will not be able to see  anything related to ordinances, but that I would be glad to help her add family members' information to Family Tree now. That way, once he is baptized and has an MRN, she will be ready to reserve ordinances and print cards for deceased family members.

She was happy with this, and she proceeded to copy family information from printed pages she had received from a cousin, She was a fast learner, and it warmed my heart to be able to help. I knew that the probability of Amy remaining strong in the Church was greatly increased by her involvement in family history. The spirit of Elijah is powerful! Family history also strengthens our ties to our extended family, both the living and the dead. Over the years, it has brought me precious experiences that I will always cherish. I hope that Amy will enjoy similar experiences, as she progresses from the baptismal font to the temple font and beyond!

[Note that I have used the name "Amy" in place of her real name.]

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Family History Activities for Young Children

In my "Mini Family Discovery Day" I included activities that should be of interest to children of middle school age and up. But there are many things that can be enjoyed by younger children.

I have seen examples of having young children use LEGO bricks to build sailing ships (or steam ships), covered wagons, tents, homesteader shanties, etc.

And what young child doesn't enjoy a well-told story from an ancestor's life? That was the first thing that hooked me on family history! (... a family fleeing famine-ravaged Ireland in 1847 on a ship that nearly sinks in a storm, surviving a plague and then establishing themselves in a total wilderness ... Who could resist wanting to know more?)

Drawing and coloring pictures based on a family story is something that can be enjoyed by very young children.

One interesting idea I saw was to have a child color outline maps of countries, states, or provinces that their ancestors came from. RootMapper or Grandma's Pie would make it easy to identify those areas.

One superior blog on this topic is That is where I found the map-coloring activity. I quote from the Contact page:

"Welcome! My name is Emily Kowalski Schroeder and I am the creator and author of the Growing Little Leaves blog. After working as a scientist, I made the decision to suspend my career and stay at home with my children on a full-time basis. I soon became an avid genealogical researcher, and began looking for age-appropriate ways in which to engage my young children in learning their family's history. Somewhat dismayed by the lack of family history education options for younger children (toddlers through elementary age), I decided to develop my own genealogy education activities for my children and share them with others via my blog, Growing Little Leaves.

"In July 2014, I entered into a partnership with the Indiana Historical Society. Our goal is to provide quality genealogy educational programming for both young children and their caretakers."


If you want young children to enjoy family history, I suggest you visit Emily's blog.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Bill's Mini Family Discovery Center

Mini Family Discovery Center
Mini Family Discovery Center

Note that the first four sites are not LDS websites and may include some irrevent content.
After each activity below, return to this tab to continue with the next activity.

1. What does my first name mean? 
(Most given names have a meaning, often from an earlier form of the name. Some given names are unique.)

What was happening the year I was born?

3. What is the origin of my family name?

4. Where is my family name most commonly found? For occurrences in the UK and Canada, scroll down to the map

5. Where did my own ancestors come from? To choose the number of generations, click Start.

6. Am I related to some famous historical people? (The further back your lines have been traced in Family Tree, the more relationships you will see to famous people. If you are just getting started there may be none shown, but give it a try!)

7. Can I see a fan chart of my ancestors? Click this link and sign in. You can navigate this fan chart by clicking the name you want to put in the center.

8. Can I find an ancestor to take to the temple? Uncheck all but Ordinances. (6 generations would be your great-great-great-grandparents and their descendants.) You can use the links to view the ancestor's Person page, click the Ordinances tab, and reserve temple ordinances. (Your goal is to take one ancestor to the temple soon, not to reserve large numbers ordinances, thereby preventing other family members from taking them to the temple.)

9. Can I print an ordinance card to take my ancestor to the temple? When signed in your LDS account at FamilySearch,org, click the Temple tab. Find the ancestor you have reserved, put a check mark in the box beside their name, click Print and follow the prompts. Pick up the printed ordinance card from the printer and trim it to size. (If you have no printer, carefully copy the 16-digit number to a piece of paper and take it to the temple office so they can print the card.)

10. Historical photo of me and my family using a camera, phone, or tablet. Get help from FHC staff to upload the photo.

11. Scan an old family photo to
FamilySearch Memories by using the scanner. Get help.

12. Record an interview and upload it to FamilySearch Memories, by using the Memories app. Get help.

Note that the temple-related points, 8 and 9 are for Latter-day Saints only. The other points should work equally well with the general public.

Inspired by a recent visit to the Family Discovery Center in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.
Bill Buchanan, Edmonton Riverbend FHC
This posting may be useful if your Family History Center plans a Family Discovery Day sometime soon, or as an on-going feature. Please feel free to borrow and adapt these ideas. I would welcome feedback in the Comments.