Connecting with Genealogists Around the World

FamilyLink.com is in beta and is attracting hundreds of new members each day, while we work feverishly to make the site more usable, add new features and new content ever day.

Yesterday we made it possible to browse (like MySpace does) by various fields, so you can find any genealogist living in Australia, for example, who is a member of the site. There are about 35 genealogists in Australia who have joined FamilyLink so far.

And 28 genealogists in the United Kingdom.

We have nearly 150 in California; 360 users of Family Tree Maker and more than 120 users of PAF. We have five people who speak or read Russian so far. And hundreds who are willing to help other genealogists with online or offline research.

Tonight we added a field in the personal profile section so members can list their heritage. This way, people of Irish or German or Swedish descent (for example) will soon be able to find each other, wherever they live around the world.

We have also made it possible to add “historic photos” to any city page. And I’m already seeing members uploading very interesting photos of places around the world.

Some of our members can’t find the city where they currently live in our database, so we are adding more cities and towns around the world. Won’t be long before every populated place in the world has a page on FamilyLink.

I’m going to bed. It’s becoming a habit to stay up till 1 or 2 am using Google Talk with our developers in Utah and with our content research team and developers in Asia.

We are getting tons of feedback from our members, and many suggestions for what we should do next. We read and respond to every email from customers. And we act quickly to incorporate new ideas. While we’re in beta, we’re actually rolling new code every single day. Our development environment allows for that.

The Real Ellis Island Experience

I had a great experience Tuesday at Ellis Island.

Hundreds of people gathered on a historic day, April 17th, to celebrate the lives of some of the immigrants to America who came through Ellis Island. We remembered several individuals whose hands helped build America, and whose descendants have contributed so much to this country.

April 17, 1907 was the busiest day in the history of Ellis Island, with 11,747 immigrants coming through on a single day.

On this day each year, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Foundation remembers all American immigrants by honoring a few famous Americans whose ancestors came through Ellis Island. This year they presented Family Heritage Awards to William D. Novelli, CEO of AARP and founder of Porter Novelli, John Mack, CEO of Morgan Stanley, Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of Duke’s mens basketball team, and Josie Natori, a first generation American from the Philippines (naturalized in 1976), who was given a special “Peopling of America Award.”

Bill Novelli’s grandfather came from Italy in 1897 and worked as a coal miner in Pennsylvania. John Mack grandfather came in 1903 from what is today Lebanon; he sold household goods door to door to make a living in Marion, North Carolina. Coach Mike Kryzyzewski’s grandfather came from Poland in 1906. He too worked in the coal mines of Pennsylvania.

Coach K. couldn’t attend the ceremonies due to weather. But the other recipients were clearly flooded with emotions as they watched the video presentations about their ancestors and reminisced about the sacrifices their parents and grandparents made to make their life and success possible.

It was so moving.

A common thread tied the honorees and all of us in the audience together. We all have ancestors who courageously came here from other lands, leaving the familiar behind, to encounter a new life in a strange new country. Most of the honorees shed tears and expressed a deep love for this country as well as for their ancestors who made it possible for them to live the American Dream.

This was such an outstanding event. I hope I can come in future years to this ceremony. I’ll never forget it.

It was at the same time extremely personal – each honoree has a totally unique family experience — and also universal, as I believe each of us in the audience felt similar feelings as well recalling our own immigrant ancestors, and their sacrifices. I enjoyed being back at Ellis Island and to spend a few hours in the museum, learning more about the immigrant experience. If you haven’t been to Ellis Island before, plan a trip around it. Spend a few hours here, walk through the museum, watch the wonderful movie that shows what it was like here. And let your heart turn back to your own ancestors and what they have done for you. It is a very satisfying experience.

The Secretary of Interior Dick Kempthorne (former governor of Idaho) as well as leaders in the National Park Service were also there. He is hoping for $3 billion in funds for the “Centennial Challenge” to improve the national parks for the 100th anniversary of their creation in 2016. He clearly is impressed that The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Foundation has raised $550 million in private donations (no government dollars used) since its inception for restoring the statue and building the museum, among other worthy purposes. Secretary Kempthorne called this relationship between SOLEIF and NPS the most successful public-private partnership in US History.

Donations are still accepted for future Ellis Island projects, so visit EllisIsland.org to plan your trip there and make a donation while you are at it. (Or do research in the 25 million records that are online at ellisisland.org as a result of a partnership between Ellis Island the LDS Church. And buy a passenger record, or a ship manifest of your own ancestor’s journey here, and provide funds that way to help the Foundation.)

Tommy Lasorda, a Foundation board member, and honoree last year provided the laughter for the day.

He had us all rolling when he explained why so many Italians are named Tony, and why every person in the US has an Italian friend named “Tony.” Because so many Italians had their foreheads stamped “TO NY” when they came here on the ships. He also said if it hadn’t been for his parents who immigrated here, he’d probably be addressing us as “Pope Thomas the XXVth.”

His father immigrated here, with the attitude that “maybe I’ll have to take tough jobs but my children will be able to be anything they want to be.” He said he shed tears last year while seeing the photos of his own parents on the big screen.

It was nice to see an LA Dodger welcomed so warmly in NY Yankee territory. (I guess the Dodgers used to be in Brooklyn, and Lasorda pitched for them early in his career.) It was nice to see that the ties that bind us in this country are so much deeper than the differences that separate us. It was nice to see how deep the feelings for our respective heritages run, whether Italian, Polish, Lebanese, or Philippino, and how much those feelings have in common, including gratitude for the family members who made the American experience possible.

I was especially moved by Bill Novelli’s speech. He is one of the world’s great idea marketers. He said that all 4 of his grandparents had emigrated from Italy. They had raised 14 children, but only 1 of them, his Uncle Nick, had made it to college. But they made it possible for their children to go.

He said it is so important that we teaching our children the immigrant values of hard work, strong families, sacrificing for each other and respecting our heritage. As the head of the AARP I think he can do something to make sure grandparents are able to share these values with their grandchildren.

The music for the event was performed by Josh Tanner, whose magnificent voice is heard on Broadway each night. He plays the adult Simba in the Lion King. He sang a song about the hands that made America. And then he closed with God Bless America.

Nearly 30 million people have visited Ellis Island since the museum was opened in 1990. Mayor Bloomberg issued a proclamation that Tuesday was “Ellis Island Family History Day.”

Ellis Island is one of the most memorable historic sites I’ve ever visited and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to have a moving experience thinking about the hardships that tens of millions of immigrants went through to make a good life possible for their families in America.

If we don’t remember what they did for us, and as Bill Novelli said, teach those values to our children, we risk losing what made this country great in the first place.

FamilyLink.com soft launch

I have been in NY and Chicago this week, and haven’t found the time to blog about this yet, but our wonderful sleepless team at World Vital Records has quietly opened up FamilyLink.com to the public.

We are hoping for a few thousand early users, experienced genealogists primarily, to set up personal profiles, tell us what cities they do research in (and where they live), create some ancestor pages, and most of all, give us lots of feedback about the site features and design.

So far, without any promotion, we’ve gotten more than 700 users, 100 pieces of feedback, and nearly 200 ancestor pages. Yesterday more than 300 email invitations were sent out by users to family and friends. Yesterday we had almost 20,000 page views on FamilyLink. That is for a three day old site. World Vital Records usually generates 30-40,000 page views each day, and it is 10 months old.

I have blogged recently about how FamilyLink, based on social networking and user generated content, is the key to our success at World Vital Records. Because of its unique value to genealogists, it really has a chance to attract millions of users worldwide.

I really appreciate our early users. At first, FamilyLink won’t be a tremendous experience, because like any social network, the main value comes from the connections you can make with others.

Can you imagine being one of the first 100 users of eHarmony.com? You spend 20 minutes filling out a detailed profile, hoping to be matched using 29 criteria with your soul mate, your true love, only to find out at the end of the process that you don’t match a single person? That must have been devastating to the early adopters at eHarmony. I hope they have all since recovered from the emotional trauma, and are among those that are now happily married eHarmony graduates. :)

As the eHarmony registrations grew into the millions, the likelihood that new users were going to see five potential matches, that would be in many ways compatible with them, increased dramatically.

Same thing with FamilyLink–although we are not trying to match singles with potential mates. We are trying to match you (the genealogy researcher) with other genealogy researchers who are experts in the very locations where you are looking for answers.

If you have an ancestor who lived in Groton, Connecticut, and you are not able to travel there, what do you do? Perhaps you go online and hope to find some databases that contain something about your ancestor. But it is very unlikely that you will understand much about how records were kept there, how far they go back, the local history, religion, and culture, and what the best strategy would be to get started in your research there.

Hopefully you will randomly meet someone at a Family History Center or at your local genealogy society that might know something about research strategies and available records for Groton. But the chances of that are extremely slim. (Although in the field of genealogy research, there do seem to be a high number of these kinds of “chance” meetings that turn out to be very serendipitous.)

Enter FamilyLink. For the first time in history, you can list all the cities where your ancestors lived or where you are doing further research, and in one click you can see a map of that city and the photos and names of other genealogists who live there or who have experience doing research there. Again, one more click and you are contacting those people to see if they can give you any suggestions or even do a local record search for you, or an online search for you to help you out.

A wonderful organization called Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) has thousands of volunteers who have been helping other genealogists with these kinds of lookups for years. (If you want to do something nice right this very moment, visit RAOGK and make a donation even a few dollars, to help the organization pay its expenses.) There are good, kind and unselfish people everywhere who love family history. There are tens of thousands of volunteers who work at LDS Family History Centers, and thousands of dedicated genealogy societies all over the world.

Our hope is to enable the wonderful people in the field to connect with each other in meaningful ways, far beyond what genealogy message boards have allowed in the past.

Our feature rich social network will enable people all over the world to connect around ancestors, cities, languages, and even the software they use for family history.

We are excited also to enable our experienced researchers in each location around the world to help us create lists of the best sources (online and offline) for genealogy research as well as the strategies they use to make new discoveries and to validate their conclusions.

People who are actively involved in genealogy tend to be older. Some of our surveys at Ancestry years ago showed the average age of our paying subscribers was 47.

People have asked questions about whether older people will jump into social networking the way kids jumped into MySpace and college students rushed into Facebook. But industry reports show that the average age of MySpace users is climbing fast, and now only 50% of Facebook users are college students. LinkedIn.com has demonstrated how people of all ages will join a social network with a serious purpose. And if Quantcast’s data about Eons.com is correct, then 4 million people over 50 are using that social network every month.

Increasing your odds of success in your family history research by connecting to other family history researchers in any location in the world is a very compelling reason for people to sign up for FamilyLink.

We haven’t yet invited the 100,000 genealogists on our mailing list to join the site yet, but as we improve the site experience, we will soon do that as well as start other promotional efforts to spread the word.

Please don’t check out this site and sign up if you are a 22-year old Techcrunch reader with no real interest in family history. There are a hundred other social networks for you to join. We aren’t interested in cluttering the site with inactive personal profiles.

But if you are into family history, and want to get help with your research around the world, or help others, or share information that you have about your ancestors with all your relatives, then please, try FamilyLink.com. There is a feedback link on every page of the site, so you can tell us what we should do to make the experience better for you. Together, with your help, we can create a social network for family historians around the world that will forever change how genealogy is done.

Genealogy doesn’t have to be a lonely, isolated and troubling experience where you are often stuck, wondering what to do next, and quite possibly duplicating the research already done by one or more people somewhere else. Genealogy can be a real-time, ongoing, exciting, social experience, where collaboration across time and space enables more discoveries than ever before, and more shared connections to important people and places.

All over the world are people who are extremely knowledge about locations where they have lived most or all of their lives. But when you are doing genealogy research 5,000 miles away, you don’t know who they are, or what they might know that can help you. That’s why genealogy travel is so much more productive than trying to do genealogy remotely, using only microfilms or online databases.

When I was in London recently, and mentioned Islington (where my wife’s ancestor was born) in a conversion with a stranger on a train, I learned in a few minutes a lot about that place several important facts about that town (now a borough of London) including that it had been the home of John Wesley, founder of Methodism, about 150 years before my wife’s ancestor was born. Those facts gave me an entirely new appreciation for the town where she came from (and some new ideas about where to visit next time I’m in London!)

Imagine every time you discover a place where your ancestors lived that you are just one click away from seeing names, photos, and profiles of a dozen experienced genealogists who live there now, or who have done extensive research there already, and that you are another click away from connecting with them, and getting the help you need.

That is our vision for FamilyLink–but only with the help and involvement of many thousands of family historians will this be possible.

So please, start spreading the word slowly to your more helpful genealogy industry friends. Then, when we’re ready for the big launch, we’ll let you know, and you can help us open the floodgates and invite everyone around the world with even a passing interest in family history to come join the party.

Seth Godin Will Speak in Utah! (if we want him badly enough)

Utah blogs are buzzing about the chance we have to get the legendary Seth Godin to visit Utah as part of his new book tour. We just need 500 people to each pay $50 (and get 5 copies of his new book) so that he will stop here on his tour.

I took a trip to NYC two years ago to hear Seth speak, so I paid a lot more than $50. He was the keynote speaker at an advertising conference, and he slammed traditional advertising and explained in a powerful way how the internet changes everything. To hear him speak in Utah would be incredible.

I still think his “Permission Marketing” is the best book ever written on appropriate email marketing. I refer people to it all the time.

So please check out this message from Phil Burns, and jump on the bandwagon. We’re running out of time:

He started one of the first internet companies, yoyodyne, which was acquired by Yahoo, he then became a VP at Yahoo. He more recently started a Web2.0 company, squidoo. He is always talking about internet marketing – he’s one of the experts on it, and he has one of the most popular blogs on the internet.

…. We have a HUGE opportunity to get Seth to come speak to us here in Utah! People have tried to get him to come speak here in the past but to no avail. Now, it will take the efforts of us all in order to bring him here on May 24th of this year!

To get him here, we need to get 500 people willing to pay $50.00 to hear him. Not only will you have an opportunity to hear him speak, you’ll get 5 copies of his new book, The Dip. We are gathering pledges to pay to hear him to see if we can get 500 people to pledge (instead of gathering money up front).

If you’re interested in hearing Seth speak, there are a few things you need to do.

· First, pledge to pay $50.00 at http://www.pledgebank.com/SethGodinUtah

· Next, blog about it! We’re trying to create a blog storm about this, even a quick simple post advertising this will help a lot

· Third, tell everyone at work or who you think will be interested about it!

· Finally, all the details and updates are being managed at a new site, http://www.wordmob.com keep an eye on the site for details

Here’s Seth’s blog post announcing this opportunity: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/the_dip/2007/03/the_dip_tour.html

There’s a big catch here, we have to have evidence of a large motivation to do this my Monday (like, in 3 days)! We have a tentative date from Seth that he’s been kind enough to hold for us, but we have to show we’re going to be able to make it so, please, if you’re interested, stop what you’re doing and go sign up here: http://www.pledgebank.com/SethGodinUtah RIGHT NOW! Then blog about it asap, encourage other to blog about it and talk about it all day!

This is a pure grass roots effort, it will only work if those who are interested (YOU?) take 5 minutes and actually do something about it – so please help out!

Thanks!

Phil Burns

CEO TagJungle.com

This is a brilliant way for an innovative author to start a new book tour. If he gets 5 cities to get 500 pledges at $50 each, he’ll sell 12,500 copies of his book, generate $125,000 in revenue, visit 5 cities with an energized audience, and generate a ton of publicity for once again, being so innovative.

Let’s hope that Utah will pull this off and make it on his list of cities to visit.

Romney rockets to first place tie in New Hampshire

See Washington Times article, same headline

Mitt Romney’s polling numbers in New Hampshire (Zogby phone poll) now put him in a first place tie with John McCain. This is big news.

Success breeds success, and Romney’s fundraising success is causing many people who had only heard of McCain, Giuliani, and Gingrich to take a closer look at Romney. And it turns out that the more people learn about him, the more they tend to like what they see. He is so presidential in every way–but at the same time he is not a career politician with all the baggage that politicians bring with them to office.

I support Romney for President for numerous reasons, but primarily as a business person, I’m afraid our country is heading for insolvency, unless someone outside of Washington steps in to cut our federal spending, our taxes, and make us competitive in this global marketplace.

Unlike any other presidential candidate I’ve ever known, Romney has the business experience as an extremely successful venture capitalist turning large insolvent companies into lean, mean, profitable machines. That takes an incredible ability to recruit the right people to get the job done, and the vision and determination to make it happen. I think Romney’s cabinet would be the most effective in history. Even during the campaign he is showing an amazing ability of attracting talented people who get the job done.

Our Congress is filled with attorneys. I’ve heard Utah Senator Bob Bennett (with his history in business) say that he has to explain the most simple business principles and practices to other Senators. Many of them have no idea what small businesses have to do to succeed. (Like bringing in more revenue than you spend!)

Wouldn’t it be great if we could send more business people (and more engineers) to Washington, who would actually have the sense to generate results, rather than to create legislation and programs that sound good but have no chance to really work. Our elected officials often boast that they “did something” because they worked tirelessly to pass some legislation. But it takes years before it becomes apparent that the programs don’t work, and by then, everyone has forgotten who passed it in the first place.

I think a Romney presidency would be different. I think his goal would not be merely to pass legislation, but to actually generate measureable results — because that is how a venture capitalist thinks.

I also like his conservative views on social issues. He is polling first in New Hampshire among those who are “conservative” and “very conservative” and I think this will be more and more commmon as he becomes better known in other states.

Romney is also now #1 in Google News searches among Republican Candidates, according to Google Trends. This means more people are hearing about him and wanting to learn more about him. His name recognition will surely begin to soar, as he is clearly now one of the three Republican front-runners, and people will continue to go online to learn more about him.