genealogy – Stay N Alive

Sample Proposals for RootsTech Presentations – Which Would You Choose?

I’m putting together a proposal for a presentation or two at RootsTech, a conference put on by around family history technologies. The focus will be on Social Media. I have a few ideas – what else do you think would be interesting in terms of interesting uses of social media for family history?

Opening the Web for Humanity (This would actually make a great Keynote if they’re interested) – This would cover ways to make our human data more open, more searchable, and easier to find. I would talk about ways to help Google recognize individual ancestor records better, and ways to help Google and other search engines traverse the social connections available for each family history record on the internet.

Facebook – It’s Not Just for the Living – In this presentation I’ll show how to use Facebook as a way to not only connect living individuals to each other, but ways people can use Facebook Pages, Events, and Groups to connect people around historical records. I’ll also show ways people can turn their own individual records on their own websites into Facebook Pages and store timelines of information about each individual in history.

Facebook for the Living – I’ll show unique ways people can use Facebook Timeline and Groups for storing records about living individuals. I’ll share experiences I’ve had with storing my own personal history on Facebook, tagging old friends, uploading old photos, and getting back in touch with my past as a result.

Connecting the Living to the Dead Through Social Media – This will be a much broader presentation on all the different means of using social media for identifying living connections to identify dead connections. I’ll show examples of ways companies have identified the dead through the social graph of living connections we have. I’ll show other companies and products that are using social media in unique ways to collaborate and identify dead ancestors through social media.

What do you think? Any other presentations you’d like to see? I will likely only pick one, but I’m going to submit a few to see which they prefer. Buys Top Facebook App We’re Related

In the early days of Facebook’s developer platform (2007, to be exact), as apps were going from 0 to 2 or more million users in just a matter of days, family history apps were among the first to rise to the top. The link between family connections and friend connections seemed like a natural fit for apps that were built to connect one another. It appears that, according to Ancestry Insider, one of the pioneer Facebook apps in this industry, We’re Related, was just acquired by for an undisclosed amount (both are Utah-based companies where I am located).

We’re Related quickly went to the top of the Facebook app store as number 1 where it sat as the top-used app by users worldwide on the Facebook Platform. The app, founded by Paul Allen (ironically the founder of, intended to show how Facebook friends were related through their family history. The app allowed users to enter their family information, and would then notify family members that they had been added to one’s family tree, asking them to confirm the addition. This “peer-pressure” amongst family members no-doubt led to the app’s popularity on Facebook.

The app was soon expanded to the site, which built a standalone site around connecting families through their social networking connections. Shortly after Facebook started imposing restrictions on how app developers could advertise, the app started losing money and FamilyLink had to pivot to more of a site-based model.

According to Ancestry Insider, FamilyLink was sold recently to, but the assets of the We’re Related Facebook app were retained by Paul Allen. It would appear that some time before July, Paul Allen sold the final assets of the We’re Related app to for somewhere under $11.7 million. According to the SEC Form 10-Q filed by, “In March 2012, the company completed two acquisitions for a total of approximately $11.7 million in cash consideration. The company acquired the DNA assets of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, a non-profit organization with a diverse collection of DNA samples and corresponding genealogical information. The company also acquired We’re Related, LLC, which operates the We’re Related Facebook application.” It is unclear how much of that $11.7 million went to We’re Related.

Ancestry Insider also notes that also has started their own Facebook app, which operates somewhat similar to the We’re Related app on top of data. It’s unclear as to whether has used the assets of We’re Related to create their own app.

This acquisition marks the end of a golden era of Facebook app development. This was an era where apps could integrate with every element of the experience, advertise as they wanted, and see incredible results as a result. The playing field has since shifted to a much cleaner approach by Facebook of focusing on the News Feed, while encouraging developers to integrate Facebook Platform outside of the Facebook environment. These apps were truly the pioneers in this era, and deserve all the credit they can get.

Disclosure: We’re Related was one of my first clients when I went out on my own as an entrepreneur. I helped them with some initial wireframes of the app, and later on with some help in publicity for their app. This app is near and dear to my heart.

"Relative Finder", Using, Shows the Future of Social Genealogy

Family History, or Genealogy as it is also known, is one of the most popular hobbies in the world. There’s something fascinating about learning whom your ancestors are and where you come from. In a way, we all want to figure out how we’re linked together as a world. Imagine if you could index the entire, living, human family tree. If a new app on Facebook gets its way, you may just see this some time in the near future. The Facebook App, “Relative Finder”, seeks to do just that by searching family tree data provided by a new beta of (owned by my employer), and find out which of your Facebook friends are related to you based on the family trees of those individuals.

The new beta is currently limited to congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and some select test audiences, but allows for individuals to type in simple information of their immediate relatives, and if a tree exists for those individuals it automatically links your existing family tree with that of other people in the database. So in essence, much of the family history research for many of your friends, and yourself, is already done, and will be available to everyone on the site to use in due time, according to the what FamilySearch says on their site.

Relative Finder, written by a group of BYU Computer Science students working on a class project, takes advantage of this data, and uses your social graph on Facebook to scan your friend list and go into the family trees of each on, identifying the relatives found in the FamilySearch database. It then gives you a list of your friends that are related to you, and tells you how far you are related. For me, most of my friends were between 7th and 10th cousins, but I found out very quickly a couple of my Facebook friends that were actually 3rd and 4th cousins. The great thing is, unlike apps like Geni or FamilyLink or others that rely that you manually upload your data to match living relatives, all of this happens automatically because of the data provided by FamilySearch!

Right now Relative Finder requires each of your friends on Facebook to authorize Relative Finder through Facebook before it identifies them as relatives (as far as I can tell). I’m unsure though why they require this (maybe for load balancing purposes?). If they wanted, with Facebook API they could retrieve the same data about your friends by just authorizing you, and not requiring your friends to authorize. If they did it that way, then I could find out how many of all of my friends I am related to, instead of just those that authorize the app and have a beta account. Regardless, this is truly revolutionary, and shows the tremendous potential for indexing the entire family tree of every living individual on this earth. Can you imagine the world-changing potential to find out how we are all related?

At the moment only members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the most part, will be able to use this app due to the limitations of the new FamilySearch. However, as soon as the new beta opens up to the public (it says “look for a future announcement” on the website), everyone should be able to use this feature. Once we do, can you imagine how fast an app like this will grow?

To me, the future of Genealogy is social. In many ways, the future of Social is genealogy. In the end this is all about finding out how we’re all related, what our common connections are, and how we can work together better as a society based on those common connections. My hope is that other sites, like Facebook and Google+ also realize this connection, and can find ways to integrate technologies like this into their own platforms so we can all learn more about each other, and share through common connections (I’m happy to make introductions if anyone at either company is interested).

Relative Finder has really exposed the tip of the iceberg in what social genealogy could look like. I really love this app, and can’t wait for everyone in the world to be able to start using it. I’ll include some screen shots below.

Disclosure: is owned by my employer, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While I don’t work directly with them I do occasionally talk to them. I have not talked to them or consulted with them specifically about this though, nor have I had any participation with Relative Finder, produced by a group of BYU students (BYU also owned by the Church). This is just really cool technology that, no matter where it came from, I thought needed to be shared!

The Perfect Family Tree

I’ve talked before about how I think there needs to be more semantic standards adoption in Genealogy. I’ve been thinking a lot about what that would look like. Here are the key factors I think the perfect “Family Tree” would include:

  • Each individual has their own, unique URL. In a sense, this would give the dead identity.
  • Individual pages should be wikis, ie, anyone can edit them, and they can add *anything* to the page (not a pre-defined list of fields). A predefined list of fields can be defined through semantic markup though, which should aid search. There could be discussion pages for each individual similar to wikipedia for any disagreements.
  • Each individual page lists parents and siblings and other relationships through simple, standardized markup such as FOAF or XFN
  • Each “owner” should own an additional “family tree” index. This is where all the relationships between individuals are mapped out. A simple site map syntax ought to solve this (which could be organized in a pretty tree like format through CSS if you chose). Individuals in that tree ought to be able to identify their place in the tree.
  • It should be 100% open (perhaps with privacy controls just for living individuals – still need to work that one out, but we already have many examples to learn from)
  • The system hosting the “family tree” should be 100% open source – this ensures that anyone else who wants to host a compatible system can host it with no worries. I foresee many of these, all compatible, federated, and individuals and family trees linking across multiple domains and hosting environments. I’d like to host one of these for my extended family, for instance, where we can store all the stories and family histories we’ve archived over the years – others could easily contribute.
  • Content within each individual page (for dead individuals, at least) should be licensable according to specified, open licenses, similar to Flickr.
  • The system hosting should detect when there are other duplicates on the web – perhaps Google could provide an API off their index to make this easy (or maybe could do something like this). It should automatically flag records that are potential duplicates and share where the duplicate records are.
  • If I want to host my own family tree, I should have the option to download my family tree from any system, and be given all the files necessary to host my own system on my own servers for others to access. It would work exactly the same as all the other systems, be 100% compatible with all the other systems, and ideally, if I agree another record is correct, ought to link to records on other systems when I don’t need to host the data myself (to avoid duplicate records if I don’t want them).
I think with all these factors in place, a fully distributable, 100% owned by the community, system can be created to host genealogy data. No one organization ever has to own the data, and anyone who wants to own their own piece of the puzzle can take it, free of charge. Any search engine on the planet can help index this data. It’s the essence of open.
So who will be the first to create it? Or maybe someone wants to fund it/donate and I’ll hire the developers?
These opinions are obviously my own and not necessarily those of my employer.

"Super Indexing Sunday" Breaks World Record With 2 Million Records Indexed in a Day

Facebook has quite a database with 500 million active users, and rumored total users in the billions.  There are few that can relate to the types of problems engineers and architects encounter with a database of that size. is one of those, with a claimed database size of over 1 billion individual records, and possibly comparable numbers in associated documents and files.  Their Facebook Page claims over 400 million records indexed since 2006, and a goal to do half that number in just 2011!  Today broke another record, with an organized “Super Indexing Sunday”, claiming over 2 million records indexed in just one day, breaking their previous record of 1.9 million.

What is Indexing?

For those unfamiliar with Family History or Genealogy research, “Indexing” is the process of taking scanned in images and putting them in searchable, text form that others can easily find.  Similar efforts are going on in smaller scales with, the Gutenberg project, and other organizations, but seems to have mastered this technique (arguably, is pretty good at this as well).  With modern technology, FamilySearch has found ways to quickly and efficiently scan in records, then use its army of 400,000 volunteers (over half of those aren’t Mormon, the LDS Church being the parent owner of to index those records for searching and attaching those records to applicable individuals in users’ Family History.

Example records indexed are Census records, Birth Certificates, Death Certificates, Civil Registrations, and Marriage Certificates.  With such a worldwide effort it is becoming easier and easier for individuals around the world to prove their lineage and ancestry, and know more about their ancestors.  See the video below for a glimpse at what goes on to make this happen.

“Super Indexing Sunday”

That’s why today is particularly important.  Today, as others were watching the Greenbay Packers play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Superbowl, potentially hundreds of thousands of people were participating in breaking a new world record in the number of records indexed in a day.  The event “Super Indexing Sunday” was organized by a person not affiliated with, Ken Sisler, a Family Historian who lives in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada.  It was a grassroots event started on Facebook, and spread to hundreds or even thousands on Facebook as all rallied around this event.  I’m sad to admit that despite my employment at the LDS Church, I had not even heard of this until the event was over.

This evening the FamilySearch Indexing Facebook Page announced that over 2 million records had been indexed in a single day.  Assuming the 1.9 million record from before is correct, that would make this a new world record, and goes to show that Family History and Genealogy are things that aren’t going away any time soon.  To me this is an amazing feat!

If these types of efforts continue, is going to have no problem growing by almost half its size in indexed records for the year.  As the world’s largest database for genealogical information, I think they could easily say that they could compete for the title of one of the largest databases of individual data in the world.  To me, this makes one Web 2.0 website that is worth paying attention to.

You can participate in the FamilySearch Indexing effort at

Disclosure: is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my employer.  While I am employed by the Church, the statements herein are my own opinion and do not constitute official word or doctrine from the Church or its counterparts.  To be clear, I have not recently talked to and the information contained is all information I gathered from publicly available resources – I have no insider information.  I’m sharing this because I think it’s cool technology and something my readers might be interested in.

You Don’t Own My Family History – I Do

I think I’ve rebuilt my Family Tree about 20 or 30 different times throughout my lifetime.  The process usually starts with me entering in the names I know on sites like or or  I usually hit a stopping point where I can’t remember any more, then I start doing searches.  I’ll usually start on and get everything I can.  Then I’ll move over to, getting a 7 day free trial so I can get the data I need (do I really need to pay to get my family’s information?), then I’ll try other sources, like the auto-matched data on  Then I’ll ask family members for the family trees they have, import that as much as I can (merging many duplicates in the process), and then hopefully have as complete a family tree as possible.  I’ll feel proud of myself for completing it, move on to other things, then several years later, start over again because I forgot my accounts from before.  Maybe I’m unique in this, but this is the story of my life.  I just did it again tonight, in fact – this shouldn’t be the case for someone who has most of his genealogy already done for generations.

The internet is too silo’d when it comes to Genealogy and Family History!  It is comprised of numerous, private databases of people all linked together as one, but each in its own separate database.  The problem is one database will have some information while another will have other information, and they all want your money to get at the information you are missing, which, in reality, belongs to you and your family in the first place!  Sure, they often provide an option to export your family history and import it into another service, but then you have just one more database, this one lying on your own computer, and any updates to the other databases never update the one that lies on your computer.  Let’s face it – GEDCOM just creates more databases – it does not unify.

With my background in Social Networking I feel I have a place to say in this.  Many Social Networks have had the same problems to get through.  Facebook, for instance, stores your social graph (in this case your friends) in one database – sure, they provide an API to share those friends and let you store them in your own database and retrieve updates via a real-time interface, but the central repository is still on Facebook’s servers.  They did just create the ability to export your data, but that presents the same problem as GEDCOM – it creates more databases.  It does not solve the problem, but I know they have desires to get around this, hopefully eventually (and I truly believe they will).

Google seems to be doing this right, although it’s proving difficult to compete by doing so.  They’ve established a set of standards, FOAF, XFN, and Google Profiles to link relationships on the web together via open means.  Then any service that wants to (right now the company with the biggest capability to do this is, to no surprise, Google) can index these relationships by following the FOAF data and XFN links back to each individual, bringing in all kinds of meta data along the way.  In this way the web is the database, not any single company.  The problem is Google is the only one capable of indexing all this effectively at the moment, but at least they make it available to the public via their Social Graph API.  It’s no surprise Facebook wants to remain private as they try to build their own index through people.

Family History needs to emulate the Google way.  Currently there is no “Google” of the Family History world.  Everyone’s private!  It’s time Family History makes the web its database and not any one single source.  In fact, there are already standards, such as XFN and FOAF that could make this possible.  We just need to be attaching these to our data.  This can very much be a reality if we work for it and make it priority.

I should be able to upload my records to and any other service that wants to index that data should be able to pull that data from Ancestry and render it for me based on the relationships around the web they have indexed.  The records should be stored on the web.  The relationships should be stored on the web.  The entire family tree should come from the web, not any single database or repository.

I understand there are hurdles to jump – it’s not an easy problem to tackle.  There are privacy concerns to get around.  There is competition to get over.  There is technology that needs to be built.

I’m calling for a change in outlook though.  It’s time we stop thinking about single organizations owning and storing our data for us.  It’s time we start, instead, thinking about the user owning their data.  Anything we store should belong to that user, and that user should be able to access that information on any service they visit on the web, and there should be absolutely no limits preventing that user from getting at that data.  We need standards.  We need organization.  We need to unify.  New players need to step up and make this a reality. (I’m talking to you Google and Facebook, or any entrepreneur that thinks they can do it)

How can we make this happen?

Disclaimer: These comments are my own opinions and do not represent the organization I work for in any way. I have worked for or with most of the organizations mentioned in this article, so I feel I have a say in this matter, but these are simply my opinions, and hope that we can start a conversation.

Changing the World Quite Literally Through Social Media

The rumor is out – I thought I’d make it official.  This week I have started as the new Social Media Architect for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  In summary, I am in charge of the architecture and integration of Social Technologies for the Church.  I will be in charge of finding ways that make sense to integrate technologies such as Facebook Connect, the Twitter API, @Anywhere, OpenSocial, Google Buzz, Google Wave, FOAF, Google’s Social Graph APIs, OpenID, and just about any other Social technology you can think of in to the Church’s web properties.  This is quite a task!

The LDS Church (also called “the Mormons” by others) has some of the most visited websites on the internet.  I’ve talked about it before. As of now,, the Church’s site for members of the Church, ranks at number 2,460 in Alexa rankings.  The Church has the largest database of genealogical information in the world.  The Church has one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world, contributing significantly to the efforts in Haiti, Chile, and many other causes (you can donate over on the right).  The Church’s Relief Society is the largest non-profit womens organizations in the world, contributing to the welfare, support, and moral guidance and relief of women throughout the world.  The Church has a global audience, speaking just about every language you can think of, and the Church’s technology has to support that audience.

That’s why this is such an incredible opportunity.  Never in my life have I had the chance to support such a large, global audience in a way that could impact so many.  I see the use of Social Media enabling the Church to reach into areas and touch people in ways it was never able to do before.  I see Social Media enabling the Church to help more people, strengthen, and make the world a better place without boundary.  I will get to not only use Facebook and Twitter to help others benefit society, but on a global scale I’ll get to use Orkut, Hi5, Bebo, and other global networks, and find ways to deeply integrate these technologies into the work the Church is doing, on a global scale and to a mass audience.

Will this affect my business, SocialToo?  I anticipate not.  I am taking a leap of faith here for something I feel has an even greater effect to change the world, but my intention is to continue running SocialToo part-time (at least).  As it needs more attention we will see where things go at that point.  I don’t anticipate anything changing on SocialToo, and I also expect some really amazing new features, new partnerships, and more to appear, even while I am fulfilling my position at the LDS Church.

“I don’t like X about the LDS Church” — I don’t intend to respond to many of these comments, and if they’re persistent I may remove or block them – IMO they are irrelevant to the position I hold.  I am responsible solely for the Social Media-related technologies of the Church, nothing else.  Any post here I make in representation of that position will be technology focused, not Church Policy focused.  I’ve made it clear my intentions are to make the world a better place with this position.  It doesn’t matter what your personal beliefs or motivations are – I think we’re all in this purpose together, and IMO, that’s what matters most.  I hope you can support me in this.  I hope to work for better standards in the realm of Genealogy.  I hope to work for better, more friendly International standards, and better ways people can communicate globally in different languages.  I hope what I do can change the poverty levels, and the welfare of the world through technology.  That is my purpose.

There is no better job where I can “do no evil” better than in what I’m doing now.  This is something where I feel I can truly make a change for the better.  Will it help my faith, my religion? You bet!  What I’m most excited though is the effect this position will have on the world.  My faith and my religion are entirely centered around that, and my hope is that I have an effect on this more than anything else.

Have any questions? Please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments and elsewhere.  I’m very happy, as always, to answer questions and discuss these matters and my beliefs in the Church especially.  You can definitely expect much more from me on some of the related technologies we’re working on as I am able.  I’m excited to where this leads!  There is something very powerful about Social Media technologies and the potential they have to change the world.

As always, the content of this post and any other post on this blog are my own opinions, not the reflections of my employer, nor an official statement on my faith or religion.  Any comment or post outside official LDS Channels are my own opinion and views.

Open Source – Do You Share Your Experiences for This Life or the Next?

01-1.jpgThis is a picture of my Great-Grandfather, Joseph Stay. With a son named after him, I’ve spent some time reading about him and learning about the experiences of his life that I can pass down to my son. One of my favorite things to do in my spare time (when I get any) is to read about the lives of my ancestors. My faith teaches about life both before and after this life, and as such, it’s important for me to know who came before me and how I came to be. Besides that, it’s just plain fun.

Some of my ancestors were very good at tracking their lives and what they did. Some of them kept journals and records, so that their progenitors could learn about them after they passed away. I have a journal like this, as do my parents and grandparents. These journals show a glimpse into our successes, trials, and failures, and what we did to overcome them in hopes that our children and those that come after us can learn from our own mistakes and make their lives better.

This concept is great, except it only applies to those after this life – only they can learn from us because we often keep these details secret. What if we could share the skills we have, let others try them out, play with them, learn from them, just as we’re able to do with the experience we’ve learned from our ancestors, but in this life?

This is the reason I like the concept of “Open Source”, which started with Software, but really, could be applied in all expertise. The concept of “Open Source” is all about sharing the experiences we have in this life and allowing others, still in this life to try those experiences out, apply their own experience, and continue to share with others. It’s just what our ancestors did for us, but applied to this life.

What if we all, in everything we did, shared what we did with those in this life, instead of planning for the next, so that we could start that legacy of learning right here and right now. What if we as a society were working together instead of just us and those that follow us after this life? Why do we have to wait until we’re dead to let others learn about what we’ve done?