Alex Haley – Genealogy Hero or Heel?

alex haley

Today is the birth anniversary of Alex Haley, author of The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Roots: The Saga of an American Family who was born on 11 August 1921 in Ithaca, New York. Earlier today I posted about Haley at GeneaBloggers and shared the post on social media including Facebook.

Who knew that after almost 40 years since the publication of Roots and even over 20 years since Haley’s death in 1992, the impact of Alex Haley along with his deeds and misdeeds still seem to hit a nerve in the genealogy community.

Your Opinion: Has Haley Helped or Hindered Genealogy?

Up until this morning I didn’t realize that wishing someone – even a dead someone – happy birthday could be controversial. If you’ve been involved in genealogy for the past few decades you should be aware of the impact and presence of Haley through the book Roots and the television miniseries which appeared in the United States in 1977 and took the country by storm.

However, many genealogists may not know that Haley’s work was not without its critics including accusations of plagiarism.

Just from this morning’s comments I can see that there are many opinions which is a good thing. And it means there is still a desire to talk about Haley and his work. Use the comments section below to do so, and let’s keep the focus on facts as much as possible; if you want to share your opinion and view on Haley’s influence, make it clear it is your opinion (but still try to back it up with facts). Comments will be moderated.

Haley Was a Hero To Me

I’ll be honest – when I was 14 years old I was glued to the television in 1977 watching Roots. I watched some of the episodes with my great-grandparents who helped raised me and I started asking questions about our own family. I owe my genealogy journey to Haley and I feel comfortable in thanking him for raising the awareness of genealogy and family history in this country and around the world.

I also feel that Haley deserves credit for making sure that African-American genealogy research was not neglected and he galvanized many African-Americans to go out and search their past.

As for plagiarism – I do believe that Haley plagiarized earlier work and likely padded his research to create a more engaging story. I also know that Haley was a master of the media of that time and some of the criticism is directed towards his methods of “marketing” the Roots phenomenon. Haley’s misdeeds have helped me put his work in perspective especially now as I am directly involved in the genealogy industry. But I hope I never lose that sense of amazement and wonder which Haley inspired in me.

I urge you to read both articles authored by Elizabeth Shown Mills and Gary B. Mills which are linked below – they are some of the best analysis of Haley’s work from a genealogy perspective and will help you understand the issues involved in terms of Haley’s research.


This is only a partial list and a starting point for research and discussion, which I have curated. You are free to add your own resources in the comments section.

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Image: Alex Haley Speaks, digital image, The Alex Haley Roots Foundation. Used by permission.

First Look: Who Do You Think You Are? Story

wdytya story review by geneabloggers

Recently I received an invite to beta test the new Who Do You Think You Are? storytelling platform at The premise of the website is to get visitors to replicate the family tree often shown on the television show using their own family history data and photos.

Storytelling has taken a big leap into the digital world over the past few years. DC Thomson Family History Limited, owners of Find My Past and other genealogy research sites, provide Who Do You Think You Are? Story as one storytelling option.

How WDYTYA Story Works

The Who Do You Think You Are? Story site is easy to use and the premise is similar to that of other family tree-building sites: create a login, verify login, create a profile, add info about yourself and family members, etc.

The process of uploading photos is quick and what I like is this: if you can’t find a photo with just that one ancestor in it, you can upload a group photo and then select the face image for your ancestor – a nice touch! Another nice feature is the ability to email a family member to get additional information for your story.

Once all the data is input, the story has a “play” button which tells your family story via the photos and text. One aspect of the storytelling about which I’m undecided is the addition of “events.” I understand the need to put a family’s history in historical context but this seems to clutter the story in my opinion.

Finally, at the end you can share your story via Facebook and Twitter or even email. What isn’t clear is that your story is hidden until you share and then you can make the story hidden again. As with the birth date privacy issue below, I think Find My Past needs to be more upfront about where my uploaded data will appear and who will have access. I realize there is a Terms and Conditions for the site, but it is always better to call out privacy control mechanisms than to bury them in a governing document.

Some Tweaks Needed to WDYTYA Story

Understanding that the product is still in beta testing mode, I took the opportunity to send the following feedback about my WDYTYA Story experience:

  • Privacy concerns: I had to enter my birth date and I was unable to hide that date (or at least, I couldn’t figure out a way to do so). I noticed that when I added my parents’ birth dates, I could provide a decade range (“the 1940s”) but not for myself. I consider this a “show stopper” which would prevent me from sharing my story publicly via social media (and why I’ve chosen not to do so).
  • Location issues: I was born in Liberty, New York – a very small town in upstate New York – and all I could select from in the drop down list was Liberty, Missouri and Libertyville, Illinois. I had to settle for New York, United States. I recommend that the programmers somehow leverage the Google Maps API for concise location selection. Also, there could be a benefit in the future if I could then pin events to a Google Maps generated map similar to Pinterest’s map function.
  • Generated family tree: I didn’t see any method of taking all the work I had performed – manually entering family tree information – and then joining Find My Past and importing such information into a tree. This seems like a lost marketing opportunity if you ask me.
  • My profile image. I swear I look like the Sun Baby in Teletubbies when I view my story. I’d love it if I could decide on the cropped area of my photo instead of letting WDYTYA Story decide.


The Who Do You Think You Are? Story site is fun and easy to use. Right now it is a bit UK-centric which is understandable given where the WDYTYA originated and where Find My Past is based. It would be nice if given all the effort it takes to add family members and photos that this could then be converted to a Find My Past family tree if a user were not already a member of Find My Past. Also, there need to be some changes in terms of privacy (see above).

Overall, the Who Do You Think You Are? Story platform is a great way to get a friend or family member interested in genealogy and family history.

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Disclosure statement: I have material connections with various vendors and organizations. To review the material connections I have in the genealogy industry, please see Disclosure Statements.

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Domain Name Issues for Bloggers – Part Two

Domain Name Issues for Bloggers - Part Two

[Editor's Note: Here is a continuation of our series on domain name best practices. Click here to read last week's entry entitled Domain Name Issues for Bloggers - Part One.]

Domain Name Privacy

Many registrars will offer a way for you to protect your identity and personal details used when registering a domain. Normally, anyone can use the WHOIS database to look up a domain and determine the owner or registrant. But with privacy protection, which is offered for free or a small price by registrars, you can “hide” your details. There are plusses and minuses of using privacy protection:

  • Plus: Your home address and phone number are not searchable on the Internet.
  • Plus: Domain name scammers can’t get your contact information and send you fake renewal notices or try to “slam” your domain (see Beware of Domain Name Scams! below)
  • Minus: The cloak of privacy makes your domain name and site seem less reputable.
  • Minus: If your registrar goes out of business, it might be difficult to prove you own your domain.

Personally, I don’t use the privacy controls offered by my registrar; I also use my business address and phone number instead of home address, etc.

Forwarding Domain Names

I highly recommend that you reserve any domain name that you feel might become popular or attractive. And once registered, forward that domain name to your main domain name.

Here are some examples using my own domain names, of which at any one time I may have 15 to 25 registered.

  • One of my marketing brand names is “genealogy ninja” so I registered when it came on the market (it had expired). I have the domain forward to my main business site, High-Definition Genealogy.
  • I registered the domain name which forwards to my Author page on Amazon. The main reason: the URL “geneaguides” is easier to remember than the long URL that Amazon offers up.

Consider registering different domain names depending upon trending product names, etc. and then have them forward to your main domain. Also check your traffic each year before renewing this domains and see if the renewal price is justifiable.

Renewing Domain Names

When you purchase a domain name, the standard period is for one year; however, registrars will offer an discount incentive to register for more than one year. In addition, many registrars will default your domain to “auto renew” meaning it could renew as many as 90 days before the expiration date and your credit card or payment method will be automatically billed.

Here are my recommendations on auto-renewing domains:

  • For a new main domain name, select a two-year registration at maximum. Who knows if you’ll keep the blog or website two years from now. Also, will your registrar still be in business two, five or ten years from today?
  • Never enable auto-renew features – just make sure you are adequately notified of an expiring domain name. I usually wait until the last two weeks prior to expiration before renewing.
  • Check your renewal price! Many registrars will renew a domain as much as five times the initial price! Call or email the registrar and tell them you plan to transfer your domain to another registrar. It is likely your current registrar will offer a discount and refund the difference to you.
  • For domain name variations, renew on a year basis, after you’ve checked the traffic and can justify maintaining the variant name.

Transferring Domain Names to a New Registrar

There are times when you may want to move your domain name to a different registrar: your current registrar is forcing you to renew at an exorbitantly high price or your registrar goes out of business. Here are some issues to consider when transferring domains:

  • If you’ve just purchased a domain, there is a 60-day waiting period before it can be moved to a new registrar. ICAAN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) controls what domain registrars can and cannot do, and this is one of several restrictions.
  • To start a transfer, basically shop around for a registrar much like you did when you initially registered your domain. Many registrars offer an incentive to transfer, such as $1 the first year. Check for coupons and promo codes.
  • Most registrars will outline all the steps needed to transfer your domain once you’ve made the transfer purchase at the new registrar. You will need to complete an Initial Authorization for Registrar Transfer form so your current registrar knows that the request is coming from you and is legitimate. You may also be asked by your current registrar to confirm or prove your ownership of the domain name being transferred.
  • Watch out! Some registrars are now charging a fee to transfer a domain to a new registrar and this is permissible under the ICAAN rules.
  • Once the transfer has been processed, you may need to update nameserver locations etc. – your new registrar should outline all these procedures for you.
  • You may encounter some “downtime” at your site or blog during the transfer; communicate pending outages and changes to your visitors before and after the transfer.

Consult the ICAAN FAQ page on domain name transfers here for additional information.

Beware of Domain Name Scams!

A domain name is a commodity – and a pricey one depending upon the domain name. The domain name is currently value at $3.2 billion USD; even my domain name is currently valued at approximately $73,000.

Just like any valuable, you need to keep it secure and watch out for scammers. Here are some tips and some scams to watch for:

  • If your domain registrar offers a “lock” provision on your domain, make sure it is enabled or enable it now! That means someone needs your login and password at your registrar to make any changes to your domain name registration.
  • Make sure your domain registrar has your correct e-mail address for notifications; also make sure that these emails don’t end up in your spam or junk e-mail folder.
  • Scam: you receive an email from a company stating that your WHOIS info is missing and offer to fix it. NEVER click a link in these emails; login at your domain registrar and correct any name, address, or telephone info manually.
  • Scam: you receive a renewal notice in the mail for your domain. Verify the sender – very often it is another company attempting to “slam” your domain and get you to unwittingly transfer the registration to their company. Again, always check at your registrar’s website to verify any mailings or information.
  • Scam: you receive an email from China which starts with “We are a Network Service Company which is the domain name registration center in ______, China . . .” which goes on to say that another person or company wants to register your domain name in China. Again, the company is attempting to “slam” your domain and trick you into transferring the domain name registration to their company.

Summary – Domain Name Issues

  • Keep your website or blog hosting service separate from your domain registrar; don’t be tempted by bundled offers with a domain name purchase.
  • Order variations of a domain name only for one year; then review and see if you still want to keep the variant name.
  • Consider all the implications of changing a domain name, especially impact on SEO and site traffic.
  • Leverage forwarded domain names to your advantage for marketing purposes.
  • Transferring a domain to a new registrar is a complicated process; make sure you think through all the steps and requirements.
  • Watch out for domain name scams and periodically sign in at your domain name registrar’s site to ensure that your domain is in good working order.


©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.