—the new kid on the block

A web developer that I really respect, Nic Johnson, recently left FamilySearch to join I hadn’t heard of the company yet, so I signed up to be notified of launch. A couple of days ago, they notified me of an update to their homepage with a preview of what is to come. Here is my first impression of

Please note that any opinions expressed here are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer, FamilySearch. has an audacious goal of becoming “THE personal and permanent place for everyone…” I applaud the company for taking on such a noble cause. I have to admit that I’m a bit skeptical of the service’s permanence, but that may be an unfair statement at this point. had a similar claim of permanence, but when acquired them, the website gave a notice that they would be shutting down the service and gave users a window of time to download their data. On the other hand, FamilySearch has a similar permanence goal, but has a long-term (permanent) funding commitment from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as family history is a core part of its doctrine.

The design of the is beautiful. The colors, typography, and images on the homepage are gorgeous. The design of their Lifepage looks very modern and engaging. It looks like they are incorporating many of the same features as the FamilySearch Family Tree such as Sources, Memories, Conversations, etc. It seems to focus more on the posting of short stories, audio clips, videos, etc. Perhaps this will help draw a younger crowd.

The marketing copy is fantastic. Just reading the content on the homepage makes me excited to see what is coming. The message targets more than today’s genealogy enthusiasts. Clearly, the company has assembled a very talented team of designers, writers, and engineers to launch this product.

It appears that will be launching with a mobile strategy out of the gate. This seems necessary for any product that wants to keep users engaged with the product at frequent intervals.

I have questions about that I hope to find answers to—eventually.

1., FamilySearch, findmypast, and MyHeritage have historical records that go with their tree services. They use the historical records to drive data into their trees. What is’s historical records strategy?

2. How will assure me of the long-term permanence of the service and data?

3. Is pursuing a single, shared tree for all of humanity? Or will all users control their own individual trees? Or will there be a hybrid of sorts that bridges the two worlds?

4. Will have an API? If so, will it implement the GEDCOM X RS specification? If it did, it could potentially pick up a lot of clients that have already integrated with FamilySearch’s platform.

I am in favor of more innovation in the family history field, so I hope for the success of new and existing companies. There are a ton of problems to solve and many audiences to reach. The genealogy industry is relatively small in comparison to other industries and it has largely been dominated by a few big players. I believe there is room for our industry to grow. This isn’t a zero-sum game and I’m optimistic that amazing things are around the corner.

Marshall P Felch’s Dinosaurs

As I’ve been researching Marshall P Felch (FamilySearch: L7PD-KY3), one of my most surprising discoveries was that he discovered dinosaur bones while living in Colorado! There are several resources that discuss his dinosaur quarry.

Marshall’s ghost stories would have made him a very interesting ancestor by themselves, but add the fact that he was a dinosaur fossil hunter on top of that makes him a fascinating individual.

Marshall P. Felch and Ghost Stories

My great-great grandfather, Marshall P. Felch, has a lot of interesting life stories. One of the most interesting of his stories is a ghost story that my grandfather captured in his auto-biography titled “Canyon of Ghosts”. I’ve found a few other variations of the story here:

These all pretty much reference the same characters:

  • “Captain” Marshall P Felch – though I’ve found no evidence that Marshall ever held the rank of Captain in the Union Army.
  • Oliver Kimball – the poor fellow who was murdered.
  • Gertrude Osborn – the fiancé of Oliver who had bad dreams that something horrible had happened to Oliver and had sent letters to Marshall’s wife.
  • David Griffin – the man who murdered Oliver Kimball and left his knife with the initials D.G. in the back of Oliver as it was left in the canyon.

I decided to do some looking for the other characters in the story to see if I could find them in census, or other vital records. So far I haven’t found any luck. It was said that Marshall reported this story to a Colorado newspaper, and that would match the story that my grandfather recorded in his auto-biography. So, I began looking for mentions of Marshall in the Colorado Newspaper Archives. The website is free and allows you to search papers back in the 1800s to early 1900s.

I found no mention of the ghost story, but I did find this:

Marshall P Felch Death Announcement

I was quite surprised to find this information as I had seen no mention anywhere that Marshall had committed suicide. He sure had an interesting life of adventure, and I’m sure he suffered from all sorts of mental conditions that wouldn’t have been understood back in the day. I really feel sorry for him. Hopefully, I will get to meet him in the next life and listen to some of his stories.

Alfred Custom Searches for Genealogists

Here are some of the Alfred custom searches I’ve set up for genealogy related things. To install these in Alfred, simply click on the links.

Genealogy is the Game

I keep hearing the statement that a game is going to pull a younger generation into genealogy. We don’t need a game. Genealogy is the game. The problem is that nobody has invented the plastic Little Tikes hoop.


In the U.S., basketball is a sport that is wildly popular. The NBA consists of elite players who have mastered the game over a lifetime of practice. Players and coaches have devoted their lives to the study of the game’s strategy and technique.

My kids, ages 1 to 6, love to play basketball. They have fantastic technique in dribbling the ball, in the form of their shots, and in the plays that they run. Our dinner table conversations often revolve around the team trades that they are planning in order to win the next big title. No, my kids aren’t crazy. And no, they don’t do any of the above. Their version of the game only remotely resembles the NBA game.

My kids play “basketball” on a plastic Little Tikes hoop that sits in Zeke’s room. When we play 1 on 1, Zeke rarely dribbles the ball. We foul each other like crazy, and goal-tending is a regular part of the game. Zeke’s best move is a running dunk followed by a quick rebound and another dunk, scoring twice in one possession. We love to pull trick moves such as bouncing the ball off of the wall or stuffing the ball in our shirts in order to sneak it to the hoop.

Imagine that same basketball game between Zeke and I, played on a full-sized NBA court, with their full-sized hoops, and a full-sized ball. The equipment alone would prohibit a meaningful experience. Zeke could not dunk the ball. Neither of us could goal-tend. And Zeke would be lucky to get the ball all the way up to the 10 foot hoop. The ball would be too big to stuff in our shirts, and the game would be no fun.

Let’s take it a step further. Let’s add referees to the game. The game would stop every time Zeke travels, double dribbles, fouls, or throws the ball out of bounds. The game would be so constipated that there would be zero enjoyment in the game. The game would be “boring.”

Genealogy is a great game. But, we will never bring the young kids into the game if we require that they play with full-sized equipment and that they play by “the rules”. We need someone to invent the Little Tikes hoop.

What would the Little Tikes genealogy hoop look like? How would people play differently? Please leave a comment.

Genealogy People to Follow on Twitter

This is my list of genealogy industry people I follow in Twitter:


Do you know of anyone else I should be following? Please comment.

[Update 3-17-2009]

Individuals and companies listed here were discovered largely from browsing “Follow” and “Follower” lists throughout the Twitter network; and by identifying individuals that I have worked for (paulballen), associated with via the FamilySearch Developers Network, or met during various family history conferences. I also subscribe to a #genealogy hash-tag feed to find other individuals that post about genealogy.

Some Twitter profiles were discovered from TamuraJones‘ “Follow List” based on the following tip: