Family History Survey Results

A couple of months ago I set out to gather more information about the general level of interest in family history by creating a short online survey. Unfortunately, I could only coax 18 people into taking the time to complete the survey. For those of you who did respond, thank you very much!

I’m not sure that these results are particularly valid due to the small sample size, and also because of issues such as respondent bias (I posted the survey to Geneabloggers and the Association of Professional Genealogists and assume that most people who answered the survey are probably already involved in genealogy in some way). Also, I’m no statistician. There may be a multitude of other reasons to ignore these results. But, for what it’s worth, this is what we learned.

Age and Gender (78% response rate)

Four out of the eighteen respondents chose to skip the two questions about age and gender, so only 78% actually responded. Of these, about 79% were women and 21% men; 14% were between the ages of 40-49, 43% were in the age range of 50-59, and 43% were age 60 or older.

Knowledge of Respondents’ Own Families (100% response rate)

Most of the respondents (83%) knew the names of all eight of their great-grandparents, 17% did not know the names of all eight. Every respondent knew the country of origin of their immigrant ancestors, although 29% did not know in what year their ancestors had arrived in their new country. Not surprisingly perhaps, 89% wanted to learn more about their family history.

Family History Research (100% response rate)

Most respondents (66%) agreed or strongly agreed that they would prefer to research their family histories themselves. The remainder, 33%, disagreed or strongly disagreed they would like to research their family histories themselves. 78% have already started their family history research, 11% said they planned to start researching their family history in the coming year, and 11% said they would not start researching their family history any time soon. Of those who have started their family history research, none considered their research completed, half indicated that they were satisfied with their results so far, 27% did not know where to look next, and 60% indicated they had hit a brick wall in their research.

61% said they would be willing to hire a professional genealogist to help them find research resources. 44% said they would be willing to hire a professional to help them organize the research they had already conducted. Only 35% felt it would be worthwhile to hire a professional to examine and verify their research results.

DNA Research (100% response rate)

Exactly half of people in the survey indicated they would like to use DNA testing to learn more about their family history. 17% had no interest in this type of service, and a third weren’t sure if they would be interested in using DNA testing as part of their family history research goals.



As I’ve indicated already it’s a bit difficult to draw any absolute conclusions from this survey. However, the age and gender data do support other studies about genealogy that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. It’s encouraging as a genealogical professional that most people would be willing to hire a professional to help with their research in some way. However, there doesn’t seem to be much interest in hiring professionals for organizing, examining, and verifying research results. That is a finding I find a bit disturbing, when I think about some of the questionable family history research results I’ve seen on sites like

I’m not sure if these findings would be true in a larger population sampling, but they do seem to indicate that people don’t mind paying for help in finding additional resources in particular. I think it’s also not surprising that people would prefer to carry out their own family history research. It’s a hobby; why wouldn’t they? Professionals, this might be something to think about when considering what services you can offer.

If anyone would like the raw information in Excel format, please feel free to contact me at, and I’ll be happy to forward the data to you.

Online Genealogy: Tips for Getting the Most Out of Search Engines

Part I.  A Look Under the Search Engine Hood

There are two types of search engines we use frequently in online genealogical research: Internet and database. Most of us probably use one or more of Google, Bing, or Yahoo! on a regular basis and we’re pretty familiar with how to use them. As family history researchers we often come across searchable genealogical databases, too. In order to maximize our family history search results it’s important to understand that these two types of search engines work somewhat differently.

Search engines are like cars. You don’t need to know what’s going on under the hood to use them. Still, there are times in the life of every driver when something goes wrong. The engine stops working for some reason and they suddenly find themselves sitting on the side of the road wishing they knew more about how their vehicle worked.

Just like cars, search engines can leave us stranded sometimes, too. We can find ourselves stuck, unable to move our searches forward. But there are ways to roll the search engine down the hill and kick it into gear, or wrap some pantyhose on the pulleys as a quick-solve. In order to understand how to do that, we have to take a look under the hood.

First, let’s compare some of the functions of Internet and database search engines:

The Same, But Different

So, as you can see, a major difference between the two types of search engines is in the amount of information they’re searching through. This requires different means of returning results to the user. It also raises questions about the relevance and authenticity of the data we’re searching through. Each type of search engine is useful in its own right, and one is not necessarily better than the other. We use them for different reasons. We just need to know how to get the most out of each.

An Internet search engine is trying to return as many possible items that match any or all of the search terms, even if this is the same information duplicated on numerous websites. It prioritizes the search returns first by the number of pages containing all of your requested terms, followed by pages that contain at least some or one of the terms. This can result in millions and even billions of returns.

A database search engine, however, is looking for your specific search terms within a limited dataset. Further, many of these search terms are pre-defined by the database itself because that’s how the information is catalogued within the database, much like a spreadsheet. In other words, each dataset contains elements of all of the pre-defined search terms; they are interrelated in one dataset.

Database Terms and Conditions Apply

For example, in a database a person with surname A, living in location B, age X, with occupation Y, is catalogued by terms A, B, X and Y. Each of these terms has a specific value, such as A=Smith, B=Toronto, X=38, Y=lawyer. So when you input Smith as the value for A, the database searches for all entries where the value for A is Smith without regard to what the values for B, X, or Y are. When you specify another term, such as B=Toronto, the database looks for entries where A is Smith and B is Toronto, ignoring the values of any other search terms. If there are no entries where A=Smith and B=Toronto, you don’t get any returns. The database needs to have entries where both these conditions apply in order to match what you’re searching for.

You can search on any or all of the allowed database terms. If you searched only B=Toronto, you would get back all As, Xs and Ys where term B=Toronto.  A person A, living in location D, would not show up if you search on terms A and B but would show up if you search only term A. All of the terms you search for must be satisfied in order for the search to successfully return a result. The more specific your choice of search terms the more (or less) likely your success, depending on what information is available in the database. You will have more results the fewer search terms you employ since all the search terms you choose need to be satisfied in order to get a result.

As you can see, Internet and database search engines are doing almost exactly the opposite in the way they search. The more terms you enter into an Internet search engine, the more results you’ll get back (usually). The more terms you enter into a database search engine, the more likely you won’t get any returns at all because the database wants to solve every term and if one doesn’t fit, your search is essentially discarded.

This is a very limited look at how search engines work. If you would like to learn more about search engines, a good starting point is Wikipedia. They have a list of search engines for a wide variety of purposes. You’ll also find web directories, lists of academic databases, and more on this page.

Next: Closing the Google Gap

Would you like more articles about how to use search engines? Comment below or contact me at and let me know!

Family History Research Survey Update

Last week I announced my Family History Research Survey.

When I first decided to become a professional genealogical researcher, I put together a detailed business plan in order to understand the business I was getting into. Finding online statistics about the state of the industry (particularly trying to discover a profile of the average genealogy researcher) proved to be a bit of a challenge. All I could find at the time were some very outdated studies (1990s and early 2000s). Over the past decade, the availability of digital records and, I think, participation in researching family history as a direct outgrowth of that, have grown unbelievably quickly. How else could have become a $1.6 billion company? In short, the industry has changed mightily.

I’m not sure if other professionals have faced the same challenge trying to understand this industry. I decided that conducting my own survey might prove useful. I wanted to know who is into family history research, how old they are, whether they’re male or female, and if they had enlisted or planned to enlist the services of professional genealogists among other things. How much did people know about their own families before they started their research? With the data I’ve collected so far, it seems that women are more likely to research family history than men, which actually confirms the earlier studies I mentioned. But maybe that’s not really that surprising.

I think these are all valuable bits of information. This is a chance for all of us to understand our industry a little better as professionals. It’s also a chance for hobbyists to know a bit more about this wonderful pastime they are part of and how they fit into it. That’s my intent, anyway. If you have already shared this, thanks! If you haven’t, please let others, especially amateurs and newbies to family history research, know about this survey. I’d like to get as many respondents as possible to increase the accuracy of the survey.

As I mentioned when I first posted this survey, I do intend to publish these results so that everyone can benefit from them. So I’m putting out the call again today to ask everyone to recommend this survey to others. If you have already completed the survey, Thank You. If you looked it over and didn’t find it useful I would very much like to know why. I appreciate everyone’s responses so far.


The survey is hosted on SurveyMonkey:


Surveymonkey (Photo credit: cwasteson)



Genealogy Hobbyist Survey


Surveymonkey (Photo credit: cwasteson)

I have done more than a bit of research to try to find meaningful (freely available) statistics about who is into genealogy. Sadly, I’ve found very little information on this subject. What I’m curious about is how much people know about their own families before they get into the hobby, how old they are, and whether they are male or female. I think this would help a lot of researchers out there, as well as providers of online genealogical resources. So, I’m asking everyone to support the hobby (and the business) of genealogy by completing a 10-question survey on SurveyMonkey created by Pearce Heritage Research. Please share this survey with as many people as possible so that we can get the greatest number of responses possible.
The survey is available here: You can also access the survey from our website at:

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to complete this survey! I will share the results in a few weeks.

Wall of Remembrance

(Photo source: Library and Archives Canada)

Pearce Heritage Research Associates supports the

Canadian Wall of Remembrance Project

According to WOR:

  • A total of 152 Canadian Forces have died in Afghanistan with approx 1,442 wounded since 2002.
  • 125,000 Canadians have served in some 50 UN peacekeeping missions since 1949, with 116 deaths.
  • Canada sent 26,791 troops to fight in Korea in 1951; 516 died, 1,042 were wounded.
  • Over 1,159,000 men and women served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the Second World War (1939-1945); 44,093 lost their lives, and another 55,000 were wounded.
  • Over 600,000 men and women enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) during the First World War (1914 -1918) as soldiers, nurses and chaplains. Of these 66,655 were killed and another 172,950 were wounded.
  • The South African War, 1899-1902, is a key event in the military history of Canada. It marked the first occasion for which Canada dispatched troops to an overseas war. A total of 7,368 Canadians and 12 Nursing Sisters served in South Africa. Of these, 267 died and 252 were wounded.

Please visit their website today to learn more and show your support:

We say “thank you” to all our military veterans.

A Little Booke of Blackbeard, Ye Infamous Pyrate

The book I wrote for our Kemptville Pirates Day event is now available at the Pearce Heritage Research Associates website. You’ll find it at the bottom of our Links page at:

You’ll learn some interesting facts about Blackbeard the Pirate. I also look at some of the legends about Blackbeard, and provide you with some links to additional resources, including primary sources, to learn more about one of history’s most infamous buccaneers. The free ebook contains a complete transcription of the chapter about Blackbeard (Edward Teach) from Captain Charles Johnson‘s 1724 book.

There is no charge for this ebook, however, if you like what you read, please like us on Facebook and follow us here on WordPress. I still have copies of the original print version if anyone is interested. Contact me using the Contact Us section of the PHRA website.

Enjoy! Ahoy, avast, and all that!

Sudoku as a Genealogical Tool

Okay, maybe I’m a bit off the wall with this one, but I truly believe that completing Sudoku puzzles is a good way to develop your genealogical skills. To be more precise, this activity is a great way to increase your powers of deduction, logic, and inference. I’ll explain how in this post.

 What is a Sudoku Puzzle?

A Sudoku (pronounced “soo-doe-koo”), if you’re unfamiliar with it, is a number puzzle. Like most things, it has an interesting history all on its own. I won’t go into that here, but it actually didn’t originate in Japan as the name suggests. (Your assignment is to go research the history of Sudoku. There will be a test.)*

The puzzle is a grid made up of a total of 81 squares divided into smaller grids in nine smaller squares of nine numbers each (i.e. the numbers 1 through 9). The numbers are in a 3 by 3 arrangement in the smaller squares. To start, some of the 81 numbers in the larger puzzle grid are already filled in. Your task is to fill in the remaining numbers. The catch is that no number can be used twice in any of the smaller squares, vertical columns or horizontal rows. So how do you solve it with so little information?

First, you have to take a step back and ask yourself what the puzzle is already telling you. Even though it looks like there is no useful information at all (i.e. just a bunch of random numbers plugged in here and there), in fact there are logical inferences you can make from the numbers you have. Take a look at the example here:

Now, this is a major cheat since you would not very likely start off in a Sudoku puzzle with two full lines and one sub-grid filled in. However, I wanted to simplify it a bit for the purposes of showing you how the logical part works. What do you see?

The fact that some of the numbers are repeated more than others might be one thing you notice. The 3, 6, 7, and 9 appear more than the five other numbers. The 6 and 7 appear most often. Therefore, we have more information about the placements of the 6 and 7 than we do about any of the other numbers. This is a good place to start, then.

What do we do with that? If you look at the possible locations of the next number 6, you’ll see there are just too many possibilities to say for certain where that next 6 will go. There are from two to four possible locations for any of the squares that do not yet contain a 6.

Moving on, what about the 7? In the three centre sub-grids, from the top sub-grid to the bottom sub-grid, there are three, five, and five possibilities respectively. That’s not enough information. In the left-centre sub-grid, there are two possibilities for placement. Again, this is not enough information to tell us where to put the 7.

But look at the bottom right-hand grid. There is only one possible square in which to place a number 7: the bottom line, middle square. I hope you see this. You have just used a logical inference.

Why is This Relevant?

In order to complete a Sudoku successfully you need to use logic, inference, and deduction. It is just exactly this kind of careful examination of the clues you have that you’ll use in sorting out the possibilities for relationships in family trees and pedigrees. In order to research your family history you often need to use…logic, inference, and deduction.

Don’t be fooled. A Sudoku is not about the numbers or about mathematics (although there is mathematical theory that applies to it). You don’t have to be a whiz at arithmetic to solve one. I have heard many people say, “Oh, I don’t do Sudokus. I’m no good at math.” You don’t have to be! Solving the puzzle is all about you reasoning effectively.

If you’re already a whiz at Sudokus, but you haven’t started researching your family history, I ask you: “Why not?” You’ll likely be very good at it. The skills you honed while solving Sudokus are exactly the same kinds of skills, among many others, that university history professors spend 3 or 4 years trying to drill into their students’ heads. In other words, these skills are excellent building blocks for learning how to conduct historical and genealogical research.

If you’ve never done a Sudoku puzzle and you’re interested in family history research, start doing a daily Sudoku. It won’t get you any closer to learning your great-great-grandfather’s name, but you will have a good grounding on how to figure out who he is from a dozen others of the same name living in the same county once you do start researching because now you will have the powers of logic, inference, and deduction you’ll need to do that. The rest is finding the resources to apply your new skills to in order to create your family tree. (But that’s another blog post for another day.)

I’m Convinced, Where do I Find One?


Most daily newspapers run a daily Sudoku. In the Eastern Ontario area where I live, we have a weekly free newspaper that always features a Sudoku. You can also buy whole books of Sudoku puzzles at bookstores like Chapters-Indigo or at department stores or grocery stores with magazine sections. So they’re not hard to find.


The CBC website has a daily Sudoku on their website in their Games pages (on the main page, click on “More” then look for the “Games” link under the “Sections” heading; scroll down to find the “Sudoku Daily” link under the “Diversions” heading) . The Open Directory Project has dozens of links to daily Sudoku puzzles at .

[Addendum: Kelly Leary, of K.B. Genealogy & Research in Fort Pierce, Florida, informs me that there is a Sudoku app for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. It’s free!]

So do go and get a Sudoku and start working on it! And let us know how it turns out by leaving a comment!

Contact Pearce Heritage Research at if you need help getting started on your family history research. Tell us that you read our Sudoku blog entry and we’ll give you a half-hour free genealogy consultation (offer good until December 31, 2012). Fill in the message area on our Contact Us page and tell us you read this blog post.

*Just kidding about the test. And the assignment.

Miss Anne Powell Travels to Detroit, Pt. III

Miss Anne Powell Travels to Detroit, the final installment

Miss Anne Powell and her party did eventually make it to Detroit on June 9, 39 days after leaving Montreal. Along the way, she met Chief Joseph Brant, and visited Niagara Falls. Her letters describe in some detail her impressions of the Niagara Gorge and the Falls, a council that she witnessed of 200 First Nations chiefs near Fort Erie and some of the event’s participants. From Fort Erie it was a five-day journey from Fort Erie to the Detroit River at the head of Lake Erie, some thirty kilometres below Detroit.  Interestingly, Miss Anne notes that since the British had ceded Fort Detroit to the Americans, a new town must be built across the river from it. This town, named Sandwich, was not actually established until 1796, around the time that the Americans took up residence at Fort Detroit. Later, the town of Sandwich was renamed Windsor. Fort Detroit eventually disappeared beneath the streets of the expanding city of Detroit and has been lost to history.

And so we leave Miss Anne Powell enjoying the social life and the parties and the scenery on the Detroit River, because that’s where her letters leave off. Later, she returned to Montreal and married Isaac Winslow Clarke. Clarke was a Loyalist who had before the American Revolution lived in Boston. In fact, he was one of the consignees for the British East India Company’s shipment of tea that was thrown overboard during the famous 1773 “Boston Tea Party” event, as noted by Old Province Tales author William Renwick Riddell, where we find Miss Anne Powell’s story. Clarke later served in the British army during the War of 1812. He died at sea on his way to England in 1824, in his late 70s. Sadly, Miss Anne Powell died in 1792, barely 30 years old.

One caution here: remember that a resource like Old Province Tales is a secondary source. While it may be a good place to start (not to mention a lot of fun to read), if you’re planning to apply this type of source to your research be sure to cite is as such and don’t take anything the author says for granted. Even though an author may state that someone was born or died at a certain date, for example, this may be incorrect. Always verify these types of claims through primary resources if possible.

As I’ve noted previously, sources other than the traditional genealogical sources like censuses, cemetery records, land petitions and deeds, and so on can often reveal interesting tidbits of information that we might otherwise never discover. However, we sometimes have to go to more offbeat sources online to find records like these. One source I highly recommend you make use of is is a non-profit Internet library founded in 1996 for the purposes of, as the site’s “About” section notes, “offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format”. They hold a vast amount of digital resources, including old manuscripts. I have found and used city directories (another useful resource for locating family members), commercial directories, digitized Canada  and U.S. census documents, books, pictures, even old movies. It is an incredible resource that you should check out. You can download many of these materials in PDF, epub, and Kindle formats. Some are only available through’s collaborator, Google Books (another repository of old manuscripts).

Tips for Using

Although they have a lot of Canadian documents, these are not always found where you might expect them. For example, under the drop-down menu “Texts” you will see headings like “American Libraries”, “Canadian Libraries”, “University Libraries”, “Project Gutenberg”, etc. Even though you might be looking for Canadian documents, many of these have been contributed by U.S. universities and libraries from their own holdings and will be found under the heading of U.S. contributors. I recommend that when searching for Canadian textual materials you search using the “Texts” heading, which will return results for texts from all sources.

Another useful tip is to use the Subject and Author links that you will find in the landing page of the text you’re looking at. So, once you’ve searched on your terms and received links, after you choose a link you will see the landing page. Here you will see “Author”, “Subject”, and “Publisher” headings, which are also linked. Often these links can lead to additional discoveries. An historical author may have written more than one work, a publisher may have related works that have been uploaded, and you may find additional works on the same subject.

Another link to pay attention to on the landing page is the “Book contributor” link. These are the folks who provided the digitized materials to Often they have whole catalogues on the site that you can browse through to find additional materials.

The Wayback Machine

(picture source: Wikipedia)

Finally, the site has a feature called “The Wayback Machine”. If you’re not old enough to remember it, the “Wayback Machine” is a reference to the cartoon “Peabody’s Improbable History” from the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons of the 1960s. Archive’s WM, though, is a function that allows you to search for websites from the past. that no longer exist If you find yourself clicking on a dead link on a website, and you really want the information that just might be on that dead website, try copying and pasting the link into the Wayback Machine and click the “Take Me Back” button. Chances are good that the site is archived and you might still find the information you were looking for.

All in all is a fantastic website. I have spent hours browsing through the resources there. And I always find something new and unexpected.

I have listed below some of the resources I used in researching and writing this little series. As always, please feel free to comment or ask a question. You can also contact me via my website at I am always happy to answer questions about Canadian heritage.

Sources:, Entries for William Dummer Powell and Richard Duncan,

Brymner, Douglas, archivist, Report on Canadian Archives,  1889, Brown Chamberlain, Ottawa,  Collections Canada

Carp, Benjamin L., Terms of Estrangement: Who Were the Sons of Liberty?, Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Winter, 2012,

Riddell, William Renwick, Old Province Tales, 1920, Glasgow Brooke and Company, Toronto

Hello Cousin!

I know I’m diverging from finishing the Miss Anne Powell train of stories, but I thought I’d throw this post out there. A part of my focus in writing this blog is to give new family history researchers some helpful tips and interesting information. This post fits that focus. I was watching some YouTube videos from Vsauce the other day and one of the videos reminded me of the issue I’m writing about here. If you are new to genealogy, you may not have come across the concept of “pedigree collapse”. The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Genealogy Basics for Canadian Family History Researchers. I’ve added some links so that you can go read more about the concept.

Let’s Do Some Math

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to trace your family back 500 years? 1,000? Would it even be possible to trace all of your unique ancestors on both sides of your family back so far? For most of us, the answer is “probably not”, and not only because there are no historical documents to trace your lineage that far back.

Your family tree is, at its simplest, two separate pedigrees, one for your father and one for your mother. If we consider a generation to be about 25 years, we would be thinking about 20 generations for 500 years of history and around 40 generations for 1,000 years of history. Now consider this: for every generation we go backward the number of our ancestors doubles. You’re number one, you have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, and so on. By the time you go back 500 years, you would be looking for more than half a million people. If you could go back another 500 years to 1,000 years ago, you would be looking for 550 billion people (and by the way, I did the math using a spreadsheet, so please feel free to correct me if you think my math is wrong). Now stop and think about that. There are 7 billion people in the entire world today; the highest number in history. How could you have 550 billion unique ancestors? The short answer is: you can’t.

Pedigree Collapse

In genealogy there is a concept called “pedigree collapse”. This means that, at some point in the past, both your father’s line and your mother’s line will have a single common ancestor and the unique pedigree for each collapses. In other words, both of your parents are descended from the same person at some point.

According to Rhode, et al., in a letter published in the journal Nature, the most recent common genealogical ancestor of everyone living today came from Taiwan about 2,300 years ago. This means that if we could trace our family history back 2,300 years genealogically, each of us could name this person as an ancestor. According to another source, if you go back 20 generations, one-third of your ancestors will be duplicates. So if you could go back 500 years (20 generations), approximately 175,000 of your potential half million ancestors would be common to both your family lines. In fact, anyone in your country in the same ethnic group likely will be your relative. If you’re European in descent, the point where the number of possible ancestors is the same as the estimated population (the entire population, not just the adult population) occurs sometime during the mid-fourteenth century. So, as you can see, it is impossible in this respect to trace your family tree as two separate pedigrees back 1,000 years. Somewhere along the line they are going to converge into a common ancestor.

I have one client whose family I traced back to 1800. This client’s father’s direct ancestor in the surname line had come to Canada from the United States around that time. I wasn’t researching the client’s mother’s line, because the research objective was to prove a bit of family lore about a First Nations ancestor in the father’s line. Surprisingly, when I researched the client’s paternal grandmother and grandfather’s lines to the early 19th century, I discovered that they converged at the same individual, the one who arrived in Canada from the U.S. in 1800. This is an example of pedigree collapse.

Of course, this is only one small part of all this client’s ancestry. There were certainly other immediate ancestors who were in no way so obviously related to that first ancestor in 1800. Early 19th century Upper Canada had a population of, according to the Library and Archives Canada website, 70,718, and so had an equally-limited population available for marriages. This type of limited pedigree collapse is a fairly likely occurrence for most people who trace their ancestry through both lines to early Upper Canada or the same area of another part of early Canada. Further, such convergence demonstrates why the number of your ancestors can never be more than the population of a given ethnic group, country or continent at any given point in history. Thank goodness for immigration.

Til next time, take care Cousin.