Genealogy Scams – What You Need to Know

A few weeks ago I received an email from a “well meaning” individual I did not know.  He was writing to inform me that based on my DNA results, I am in the “same tribe” as a wealthy man who went missing in Saudia Arabia about 10 years ago and the bank is ready to close his accounts and  disburse the vast amounts of stock he earned from oil revenue. 

Wow, I’m so lucky that this person found my DNA and linked me to a wealthy relative I didn’t know existed, NOT!  This letter was clearly a take on the old Nigerian banking scam that still circulates today. 

Another genealogy scam making the rounds that I never receive is one I found on Wikipedia. The “Death Certificate Scam: Person will get an obituary off Internet. Find out relatives related. Get their emails. Contact them with fake story of another family member near death, which of course, is only told in ambiguous language. It originates out of Ethiopia with the “makelawi” tag in the email, but it can have de (German free email tag) along with it.”

I’m not sure how many people fall for these poorly worded (in English) emails.  I know several of my colleagues weren’t happy to get the DNA scam as they felt that it will make more people hesitant to have their DNA tested.  Although that may make someone pause before spitting, being able to make your results private would lessen the likelihood of fraudulent people contacting you because of your test results, if that is your concern.  (I’ve had people tell me they were hesitant to take a DNA test because they didn’t want the insurance company to get the results and deny them coverage which would be illegal but we all know how that goes.)


My concern is different then my colleagues; as I blogged a few weeks ago, I have been volunteering with an organization trying to obtain photos of American service people who were killed in Europe during World War II.  In contacting a small public library in rural Indiana for assistance, I was surprised to hear back that the family of the killed in action serviceman was found but they were hesitant to provide a photo because they had several questions about the reasons the photo was needed.  


I, too, check out organizations before I affiliate with them so the inquiry was probably a wise course of action.  I forwarded the email to the person I had been working with and the library staff received a detailed explanation, an offer to provide the name and contact information of the local individual who had been maintaining the grave for the past several years, an invitation to attend the upcoming memorial service and the organization’s goal as the 75th anniversary of the deaths approaches.  


I was impressed with the response less than 24 hours after the questions were received but disappointed that the family decided to ignore the information.  This reminds me of a distant cousin I have who absolutely refuses to share photos of our shared ancestor because, well, there is no reason. 

Not every query is a scam.   If you are concerned that you received a possible nefarious email, check out the FTC’s recommended ways to recognize and avoid scams.  If you are contacted for a picture of your great great grandma by someone who writing a history of the town she lived in, most likely it’s a legitimate request.  Check it out and after making a decision, respond to the inquirer with your answer.  It’s the right thing to do.

Ancestry Ghost Hints

It’s October and my surroundings are beginning to look creepy with Halloween quickly approaching. One thing that greatly disturbs me more than the skeletons and witches on every corner is my Ancestry.com ghost hints.

If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, a ghost hint is the term used for those pesky hints that were once available and no longer are. There are several reasons for their occurrence – an individual may have uploaded media and then removed it or made it private or Ancestry may have discontinued the database for the hint.

Every so often I go through the hints as sometimes I miss a new database that Ancestry has added and the hints can give me some information I may have missed. The ghost hints, though, remain and give a false number of the hints that are available. I’ve clipped below the grayed out hints that appear on my All Hints page:

As you can see above, there are 7 and all of them are records. When I look at the hint counter, however, it shows that I have 14 hints, 8 of which are records and 6 that are photos.

Clicking on Records or Photos just gives me the message ” You currently have no photo hints for Reset filter to see all hints ”

Also, look at the count over the leaf of 99+ on the upper right corner. I don’t have over 99 hints as I actually have zero. That count has stayed the same even after leaving the program and signing on a different computer the following day.

This lack of accuracy scares me; how many other data counts are off that we aren’t aware of? How do we know that filtering we set when doing a search is correct?

Ghost hints aren’t a new phenomena; I first noticed them in June a few years ago and when I called Customer Service was informed the problem must be on my end with cache in my computer. Yeah, sure. The following May, at an NGS Conference, I asked one of the Ancestry reps about the situation as my ghost inhabitants had grown. He explained the reasons which I mentioned in my first paragraph and said the company was working on cleaning up the problem by periodically doing a refresh. The problem is the refresh does not work for all the hints as I’ve had the 7 above for YEARS.

I’d really love for Ancestry to stop being a ghost host and send these phantoms to parts unknown.

Why Sharing Your DNA is Important

There has been much controversy lately regarding law enforcement’s use of DNA results from public sites to solve crimes. I’ve even had a Client who requested the removal of results due to media coverage. Here’s my top five reasons to keep your DNA public:

You’re reconnecting with close family that may hold the key you otherwise wouldn’t ever uncover
You’ve gained collaborators who care about the line you’re interested in learning more about
You gain health information that you otherwise wouldn’t obtain so you can make better lifestyle changes, if needed, to enhance your quality of life
By sharing your information, you’re being altruistic in helping others
You’re leaving a footprint for future genealogists
I understand the cons. No one likes to snitch on family but the real truth is that withholding your DNA results is not going to alter people who make poor choices need to make restitution for their actions. The serial killers who have recently been outed continued to make bad choices that negatively affected others. If DNA results had been available years ago, think of how many families would not have suffered the loss of a loved one.

My long time readers will know from past blogs that my family has made some really awful choices – abusive behavior and law breaking readily come to mind – and I’ve found that other families I’ve researched have a few bad apples or black sheep, too. All humans share DNA, obviously some more closely than others. Just because you share DNA genetically with someone who committed a crime does not make you more likely to do the same. Hiding your DNA is not going to change their actions at all.

No one appreciates Big Brother nosing in on you and your loved ones. A few nights ago, however, the importance of using technology to catch a criminal was really driven home to me. Because their is currently an open police investigation I’m going to be vague in details. Suffice it to say that we were able to possibly prevent a future homicide due to a Fitbit, security cameras and a cell phone record. Giving up a little bit of privacy for the common good of a community is the right thing to do.

If you’re thinking about removing your public results, seriously think again. The information you withhold may save a life.

Unexpected Results of Having My DNA Done


Just read a wonderful article from NPR on dealing with DNA’s unexpected results that I highly recommend – read it here.

I’m still receiving emails from my matches. Yesterday I got an email at 10 AM from a descendant of Samuel Samuelson and as I was responding, I got another email from a descendant of Samuel’s wife, Maria Swanson. I happily connected the two folks who kindly responded to my initial query. I just love those kinds of coincidences! Think about this, both send me a response within minutes of each other and after 150+ years, reconnect. Very weird!

What was even more awesome was that one of the emailers mentioned that his 100+ year old great aunt is still alive. I strongly urged that they share the info I sent. Hopefully, the photo of that woman’s grandfather will spark some memory that can be recorded before it’s too late. That was certainly an unexpected result of having my DNA done. I never thought I’d find someone who was still alive who had personal knowledge of those living in the 1800’s.

Here’s another result that I never anticipated – I’ve connected with a great grandson of one of my husband’s aunts who didn’t know his great grandmother. We have wonderful memories from when we were teens of this lovely lady and I shared via email some of the kind things she did. I’m sure he’ll pass the information to his own children someday and I just love that the connection will go forward. Happy Hunting!

Must Reads

Still catching up from my recent vacations and would like to pass on some awesome articles I’ve just read:

Ancient DNA solves the mystery of the Canaanites (Washington Post)

She thought she was Irish… (Washington Post)

How a rare skin disease links SA to an 18th century Frenchman (The Conversation Africa)

Save the Census (New York Times)

Plus, just announced, Legacy Family Tree will merge with MyHeritage. Special deals coming soon!

Goodbye, FHL Microfilm Rental!


If you haven’t seen the latest news about renting microfilm for use at local Family History Libraries, then you need to check out this link NOW.

I don’t rent as much as I used to because the records for the areas where I do the most research are online at FamilySearch or it just never will be and I’ve had to rely on methods other than microfilm. My last film request was in March and I’ve been going through my pending projects to see if there’s any films I’ll need soon. Of course, I can’t predict the need of the next Client. Genealogy Murphy’s Law will result in a new Client meeting on September 1st for a microfilm need that I wouldn’t be able to obtain.

My advice if you’re planning to rent is don’t delay – you’ve only got 2 months left and most likely will be a flurry of activity on the shipping side. After you get the email from Salt Lake that your films have shipped, make a note to call your local library a few days later to verify the films have been received.

A colleague has concerns that not everything will be available online due to legal agreements previously made with the record holders. That means, waiting patiently until 2020 will still not allow you to view the films online. In those cases, you’ll have to either travel to Salt Lake or hire someone local to do a look up for you because those films will not be shipped locally any longer. If your research is extensive and you’re on a budget, it would probably be best for you to do the research in person. My favorite time to go is late winter into early spring as it’s not so busy. I’m thinking I may skip the NGS Conference next year and travel to Salt Lake instead.

If you can’t make a trip and need to hire someone, I’d highly recommend asking your local genealogical society for referrals. If they haven’t used anyone, then check out the Association of Professional Genealogist’s site. APG members sign an ethics agreement and in the unlikely event your have a problem, you can reach out to APG for assistance.

I have such mixed emotions about the end of microfilm. I’m not sure what my attachment is; I sure didn’t shed a tear when the world moved from Beta, 8 tracks, my Garmond GPS, or hardwired phones. Maybe it’s because I have so many memories of so many places and so many finds that make me a tad sad about the demise. Perhaps it’s becoming one with the record in a dimly lit room and the comforting whirring sound of the machine as I rewind it speedily. I’ll miss sharing in a happy dance when the stranger sitting next to me makes a phenomenal find.

Of course, there’s so many reasons why this move is a good thing. It’s just, well, like the old song says, “Breaking up is hard to do…” RIP Microfilm Distribution. 1859* – 31 Aug 2017.

*Based on the first patent issued to Rene Dagron

Ancestry.com and RootsMagic Synch Now Available!


RootsMagic has just announced that their new version 7.5 has been released. I’m so excited to again be able to synch my large tree from Ancestry to my desktop. I know it works because I’ve been one of the Beta Testers and I tried synching my 70k+ tree, along with smaller trees I’ve done over the years, in the past two months. Kudos to the RootsMagic staff – awesome job!

Beta testers were sworn to secrecy as the hardworking IT staff at RootsMagic toiled away to remove bugs we found. I’ve been very satisfied with the company’s response to comments and their diligence in getting it right before releasing it to the general public. Not like the other company that shall not be named.

It does take a good 12 hours to synch my largest tree so be forewarned it’s not going to be instantaneous. When I say synch, I mean truly synch – as in all of my people, over 21,000 photos, 2000 stories and 248,000 records will be accessible to me on my desktop. When I change anything online at Ancestry or on my desktop, the trees will match.

What’s really cool is that RootsMagic also provides hints with FamilySearch, MyHeritage and FindMyPast. It is simple to use, too. If you already are a part of RootsMagic, simply update to the newest version by clicking the link they provide at Help – Check for Updates. Then, click the Ancestry.com icon on the ribbon (it’s between Family Search logo and the open book on the right). Sign into Ancestry with your sign on and password. I clicked “remember” so that I don’t have to redo it each time I log on to RootsMagic. You’ll have two options – upload your RootsMagic tree to Ancestry of download an Ancestry tree to RootsMagic. Although I have a gedcom of my Ancestry tree saved on RootsMagic, it did not have all the goodies I wanted – meaning the media (photo, stories, audio) so I selected the option on the right – Download an Ancestry tree. I began that process as I started writing this blog and it’s already 21% complete. Keep in mind, this is a HUGE tree so that’s to be expected.

I’m walking away from my tree now and knowing it’ll be all synched and ready to go tomorrow morning. Oh, joy!

Genealogy Evolution


One of my local libraries was spring cleaning and decided to give away back issues of old magazines. I picked up a few of Ancestry from the late 1990’s and last weekend, decided to sit outside to enjoy our beautiful weather and page through the September/October 1999, Vol. 17, No. 5 issue. Holy Smokes did it jar me!
The main feature was a story entitled “Victorian Rites of Passage” which focused on changing burial practices. Interesting but nothing new. In fact, I remember reading the article back in the day. I was about to just move on to the next magazine when I decided to thumb through the rest of the issue. Glad I did as I paused at “FamilySearch Online: The New LDS Web Site.” I had to stop and think for a moment. Has it really been 18 years since FamilySearch has been active online?! That was my go to place then and continues to be so today.
Genealogy has moved by leaps and bounds since home computers became a norm and we have continued to adapt to the changes. Prior to 1983 when my husband purchased our first home computer, a TI/99 with a genealogy program on a cartridge, all my work was handwritten group sheets and pedigree charts. I diligently typed the information into the computer program while I was pregnant with my first child. We had no printer so I don’t have a printout of those records but it did help me neatly organize names and dates.
By the time our second child was born a few years later, we had moved on to a Compaq system with a printer. Genealogy software in the late 1980’s and 90’s was primarily CD-ROMs which were pricy and always on my birthday/Christmas list.
As educators, my husband and I had FIRN accounts, a text only email and list serv, that we had used beginning in 1994. That was strictly for the education world and no genealogy information was available. Thanks to the free software at Kmart while back to school shopping, my family went America Online (AOL) in August 1995. I remember the date because our oldest had started middle school and wanted to know if we could also get a fax machine so she could fax group assignments to peers. We bought a HP printer-fax-scanner that lasted for years. That was the machine I used to scan all my family photos and documents.
There was little genealogy information available online during those days and I used the internet mostly for the AOL interest groups or emailing distant relatives mining for information. Most of that was done late at night as we had dial-up and if we were online, the home phone was out of service. We got our first mobile phone about that time but it was hardwired into our car and looked like a home phone of the day – cord and all!
I’m not sure when I first downloaded the LDS’ free Personal Ancestral File (PAF) but I remember grumbling about having to re-enter all the data that was stored in the old cartridge program. The Ancestry article mentions the release of PAF 4.0. I used PAF, World Family Tree and Ancestry Family Tree at the time. These were pre-Gedcom days. These were pre-smart phone days. These were limited search engine days. These were pre-gotomeeting days. These were pre-facebook-twitter-linkedin, etc. days.
Wow, isn’t it amazing how far the genealogy world has progressed in less than 20 years? Think about how far we’ve yet to grow. How exciting!

Dropbox Shoutout!

I’ve blogged before about the importance of saving your work in numerous places and trying to practice what I preach, but I goofed big time!

There are several cloud based companies that you can use as another place to store your genealogical research, or anything else, for that matter. I’ve used the free versions of Microsoft One Drive, Google Drive and Dropbox. Earlier this month I received an email notice from Dropbox that my “free” account was going to come with a price tag at the end of the month. Why? When I purchased a new desktop system last March, it came with additional Dropbox storage space for one year. The year was up so I had to pay if I wanted to continue service. Dropbox offered a special price of $79.00 for 1 terabyte of storage with the understanding that the following year, the price would be $99.00.

The email notice came the week we were having the tile removed from our home so I saved it with the intention that I would look at it later when I had time. Here’s where the situation gets messy – I actually have 2 Dropbox accounts; one is for my primary job as an educator with a large public school district and the other is for my genealogy and personal information. I try very hard to keep my educator business only at the workplace and my genealogy only outside of that worksite but good intentions aren’t enough. Sometime between the initial email from Dropbox and the time I decided to act on the special offer, I logged into Dropbox from my home computer with my educator account. In hindsight, I remember doing this as I needed to print an itinerary for a field trip the night before so that a last minute added chaperone would have the information. In my haste, I didn’t log out of that account. My bad!

So, when I decided it was time to purchase a year subscription with the special offer pricing, I didn’t catch that I was purchasing a year’s rate for the wrong email account. Unfortunately, as soon as the confirmation came through and I clicked to open my account, I realized the mistake.

I searched high and low on the Dropbox site for how to switch the accounts but it wouldn’t allow me to as the popup stated there already was an account for the email address I was trying to switch to. Yep, that would be me! Couldn’t find instructions online on what to do or who to contact to fix the problem so I cancelled the transaction, or so I thought, logged out of the academic account, logged on to my personal account, went back to the email offer and followed the link again with the intention of repurchasing a year’s subscription for the correct account. Well, that didn’t work either as a popup told me the offer was “expired.”

I then looked again for a way to contact Dropbox and discovered they have NO LISTED PHONE NUMBER anywhere on their site. When you click “Contact,” your options are departments and none was billing. I selected “Customer Support” which turned out to be technical and not financial. I online chatted with an associate who told me he would transfer the chat to the correct department. I was transferred but I only got a form filler, no chat option available. I filled out the form and figured I’d hear in a few days.

A week went by and I never received a response so I decided to again try the link from the original email. Hey, maybe they reactivated the offer! They hadn’t. I panicked and removed everything from my personal Dropbox account to my home desktop. I resigned myself to checking out other cloud storage companies.

Here’s where the situation gets even more complicated! The following week I noticed I had a message on the Dropbox ap on my phone. It was giving me a special offer. I know that the phone ap is for my personal account so I was thrilled that I could continue service. I processed the transaction through the phone, went home and moved all the files back into Dropbox and thought life was good.

Imagine my surprise when I got my credit card statement and realized that Dropbox had charged me twice with no credit for the first mistaken transaction and that the accounts were still confused. I tried to put the transactions in dispute online but the situation didn’t meet the drop down menu options. My bank’s customer service person patiently listened to my sob story; she didn’t have a phone number for the organization either which I guess confirmed part of my tale. Two disputes were placed and I am happy to report that in just a few hours, Dropbox issued me a credit for the educator account transaction AND credited the transaction for the personal account to reflect the special offer. I am very happy with the resolution.

Lesson Learned – next year, I will definitely make sure I’m logged into the correct account before I pay!

Saving Your Gedcom

Spring is just around the corner and at the top of your “to do” list, make sure you backup a copy of your gedcom. Yesterday, while hubby and I were painting away as the home renovations continue, I got a call from a former Client I had done some consulting work regarding his Irish ancestry. He called to thank me for making this year’s St. Patrick’s Day even more memorable as I had pointed him in directions that saved him time and money.

I had also recommended that he always save his Ancestry.com tree in another location and we had discussed several options. Why do I recommend that? I’m definitely not trying to start a malicious rumor here as I believe there is no problem at all with Ancestry.com but in this crazy world, you just never know. I’m a planner (and a little paranoid) so I think about the what ifs in life – what if I can’t pay for the service any longer, what if they get hacked and I can’t access my lifelong work, what if they get sold and the service becomes deplorable? (On a side note, my hubby thinks this is a little irrational and he’s probably right. I say some people fear immigrants and I fear losing mine!) So my concern led me to find alternatives for my trees.

My Client decided to download the free standard edition of Legacy Family Tree but he had difficulty following my Ancestry.com download instructions. I talked him through it remotely and understand why he had a problem which you, dear reader, may also encounter.

If you’re new to this process it’s quite simple, just follow these steps:
Log on to Ancestry.com
Click “Trees” on the Ribbon and scroll and click on “Create & Manage Trees”
Click “Manage Tree”
Under “Manage Tree” in the green box on the left, click “Download your gedcom file”

Be patient, it may take some time, depending on the size of your tree.
Once downloaded, if you open the file it will be gibberish so you must install a program that can read a gedcom. You have several options; I’ve listed those that I’ve used that allow you to save the program to your own computer and/or place in your own Cloud (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.) so you have complete control over the data:
Legacy Family Tree – free with the standard edition; small cost for a program that does more.
Rootsmagic – small cost and by mid-April it will sink with Ancestry.com
Family Tree Maker – small cost, used to synch with Ancestry.com but I experienced problems; supposedly works now.

Or, you can join another organization like Ancestry.com and save your tree there. I’ve used My Heritage as an alternative.

There are lots more options that I’m not familiar with – for a review of the opinion based Top 10 click here.

I haven’t done this but am exploring these as other options some day:
Familysearch – free, however, you are donating your tree to their genealogical community and although it is a backup, you don’t control it any longer. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and follow the directions under “Contribute Your Research”
Wiki Tree – free, however, when I tried to upload several years ago my tree was too large for them. Haven’t checked back to see if their system will take it.

Whatever you choose is your personal decision but you have to select one so you can access your data.

Here’s where my Client got stuck – on Ancestry.com, step 4 above, he clicked “Download Tips” and got information on deleting his tree so he panicked and stopped. That was wise as you DON’T WANT TO DELETE THE TREE!!!! Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

When I click on download instructions I get the following:

“If the “File Download” window does not appear and Windows automatically downloads a text file:
Right click on the “Download your GEDCOM file” button.
Select “Save Target As…”
A “Save As” dialog box will display. Select a location for the file that you will be able to find later, such as “Desktop.” Then give the file a name and click on Save.”

He didn’t need to follow the 3 steps above. Once he clicked “Download your gedcom file” he was able to successfully save it to his hard drive. He selected to install the free Legacy Family Tree program and I listened as he followed the Legacy prompts and uploaded the gedcom. He was quite happy when it was finished.

You’ll be really happy, too, when you know you’re hard work is safe and accessible. Personally, I think sitting on my derriere to download and upload a gedcom is the easiest spring cleanup to do!