Genealogy Blog

Faster is Better: Turbocharging our SEO

02 Oct 2015

At Mocavo we take a lot of pride in our technology. Whether it’s a core product like Mocavo’s custom-built genealogy search engine, or experimental tools like our handwriting recognition technology, we have some incredibly talented engineers creating technological breakthroughs to bring family history resources online.

One particular challenge about searching over 275,000 datasets for billions of names is to ensure that results are lightening-quick. A fast site is good for many reasons; importantly, our users can quickly find new discoveries and search engines like Google can expose our free content to new people.  In fact, over the past few years Google has incorporated site speed as a critical factor in its ranking algorithms; through meticulous testing, they found that faster sites = happier browsers. And they reward swift sites accordingly.

In the summer of 2013 our engineering team set out to re-architect the way we serve up our site, to make it lightning fast for users as well as search engines. This process of optimizing our site for search engines is known as SEO (Search Engine Optimization). I’d like to share the progress.

Size Matters

First, let’s put some context around the size of our collection: my colleague Derrick provided an excellent overview of how we manage our datacenter, which includes over a petabyte of storage. A petabyte is a unit of data storage, represented by a 16 digit number. That’s over 1000 times larger than the storage capacity of the average new PC sold today. For context, a petabyte worth of music would play continuously for over 2000 years; a petabyte of movies would fill over 223,000 DVDs.*

That’s a huge amount of data!

So to create a lightning fast site, we had to figure out a novel way to distribute this massive (and growing) dataset across the servers in our datacenter and retrieve results very quickly with our genealogy search engine.

Changing Search Retrieval Time

Last summer before we started this project, our average end-user load times were more than 4 seconds. Roughly a quarter of this load time was spent on retrieving search results.

After several weeks of testing out different methodologies, our engineering team created a system of custom caching servers that can store and index all of the content very quickly. That means that our site stores a ‘copy’ of every record on our servers and can retrieve this content without a lot of processing overhead. This new caching mechanism allows us to retrieve some records from our search engine in under 20 milliseconds and most book pages in under 75 milliseconds.

Additionally, we spent some time simplifying other client- and server-side code, further reducing page load time. Once all of these changes were deployed in October, our aggregate page load times dropped in half:

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 11.26.43 AM

Other SEO Friendly Changes

Another important SEO consideration for us was to update and standardize our URL structure. During the previous two years of rapid growth, our URLs assumed various different styles, some legible to users, others not so much. And some of these versions were less-than-ideal in terms of search engine friendliness.

For example, for our popular Social Security Death Index collection, we had all of the following URL styles at the same time:


As a user browsing through a set of results on Google, which style most intuitively indicates what the page is about? Indeed, the third version quickly tells you the who, what and when about the page. Something like /ssdi/16889126271618839064 doesn’t communicate a whole lot of context.

So after careful considerations like this, we overhauled the entire URL structure of the site and then submitted new sitemaps to Google.

Google Crawl Rate

With the combination of a faster site and consolidated URL structure, Googlebot is now eating up our content as fast as it can. In August 2013, Google crawled as few as 75,000 pages per day as the site took over 1.5 seconds to deliver a single page. But after we rolled out and tweaked the custom caching solution, the time for Googlebot to download a page dropped to roughly 242 milliseconds.

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 11.28.25 AM

As the page loading time decreased, Googlebot increased the number of pages per day that it crawled. Today they’re accessing about 2 million pages per day; that’s over 23 pages per second!

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 11.29.42 AM

It took a few weeks for Google to digest the various changes, but we’re proud to report that the number of Mocavo pages indexed by Google has increased nearly 10-fold in a few months. Here is a great screenshot from Google Webmaster Tools showing the evolution of our site in the Google index:

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 11.30.25 AM


A Big Slice of the Web

But just how big is that?  According to estimates from, there are somewhere between 20-50 Billion webpages online. That means Mocavo’s index represents somewhere between 0.11%-0.29% of the entire web. And it’s growing every day!

We’re quite proud of this investment in SEO as the growth in Google means our content is available to an even greater audience, all of it free forever.



Congratulations to the #MyStory Contest Winners!

28 Aug 2015

Congratulations to our three winners of the #MyStory writing contest and also a big thank you to everyone who participated. Mocavo really enjoyed reading all that unique stories that were submitted and we especially loved hearing how everyone found their ancestors.  Remember, all submissions will receive a week as a Mocavo Gold member for free.  Those will be issued soon.  The winners are posted below and will also be posted on our website.

First place and the winner of a $100 gift car and free year as a Mocavo Gold member is Nathan James with “Foreshortening.”

Second place and the winner of a $50 gift card and a 6 months as a Mocavo Gold member is Hanah Horlacher with “Mother’s Tears WWII.”

Third place and the winner of a $25 gift card and a month as a Mocavo Gold member is Sheryl Trudgian Jones with “A Man of Faith.”


Here is Nathan’s Story


It started with Stella Atkinson’s skirt. On the first day of school, she walked straight to the first desk in my art classroom with a two-inch black panel hanging like an afterthought at the end of her hem. I had her march right back into the corridor.


“Stella, your skirt violates dress code.”


“I’m sorry, Miss Wheatland.” Her cheeks reddened as she spoke. “I had a growth spurt over the summer. Mother did the best she could.”


“Well, why on earth didn’t she take you to Jessop’s for another?”


Stella shrank before me. When she brought her eyes back up from the ground, they didn’t go any higher than my chin. I noticed stitched-up tear on the shoulder of her white blouse.


“Daddy says people will always need food. It’s only temporary.”


I understood. Atkinson’s Grocery, southern California’s grocery franchise and Stella’s family’s business, was usually full to brimming with neighbors chatting about produce and cuts of meat. But that all changed. The aisles had grown quiet. I was convinced on my last visit that I had entered one of those “other dimensions” the pulp magazines were always writing about. Instead of people, cans of soup and cantaloupe occupied the aisles. The bins of vegetable were stacked higher than I was tall. The newspaper said that grocery stores were experiencing a surplus of goods on account of the stock market crash a few years ago. People just weren’t shopping there anymore, and the white collar business owners here in Whittier, California, began to feel the repercussions of what the newspapers call the Great Depression.


“I see. It’s fine, Stella. Go back to your desk and sketch the still-life I’ve set up.” I smoothed down my own plaid dress, folded a pleat in my favorite cotton cardigan.


Later, I broached the subject in the teacher’s salon. We discussed the little things they’ve noticed. Miss Frankenfield said she’d starting turning a blind eye to the students grabbing third and fourth servings during luncheon, and Mr. Petty told us of Norman Reilly, the student whose family pulled him from school without notice.


“It’s probably best if we relax the rules until the situation improves, Ruth,” Mrs. Grassell whispered as we walked back to class together.


Relaxing the rules proved easy as 1933 progressed. The dress code violations became too numerous to enforce, so we focused on other things: the talent of this year’s tennis team or Dorothy Gibbons’s prize science project. We let the signs of the “Great Depression” recede into the background. I thought about that on the day I taught my students about foreshortening– the illusion of objects receding from our perspective.



Dr. Steven Graves, “The Great Depression: California In the Thirties,”, 2015.


Read more by Nathan James on his blog

Again, thank you to everyone for participating and congratulations to the winners.

A Daring Adventure. . .

27 Aug 2015

When I left the New England Historic Genealogical Society in July 2011, I had some ideas of things I wanted to accomplish, and knew that it was time to move on. Six months later, in January 2012, I joined my friend Cliff Shaw and the Mocavo team. Over the past three and a half years, we have had quite the adventure. And now, it is time for more new adventures. Today is the last day of my journey with Mocavo.

One of the reasons I joined the team was their excitement and desire to bring change to the delivery of important resources to genealogists. And that we did. Through the years we had many exciting brainstorming sessions, and bringing those ideas to life has been quite a trip. You know you are doing something right when the big players in the industry start copying your features, and that has certainly happened on more than one occasion.

Our decision to make all of the data on our site free to use for everyone was certainly groundbreaking. No for-profit genealogy group had ever done that before. It was, and remains, perhaps my favorite of all of our accomplishments.

One of my greatest pleasures has been literally travelling around the world to teach genealogists how to research, and to show them how Mocavo can help them in their work. From California to the Caribbean, from London to Los Angeles, I have been fortunate to be able to meet so many of you in person and help you in the task of finding your family. From small local programs, to Who Do You Think You Are? Live!, it has been so enjoyable to meet with you , teach you, listen to your problems and questions, and help you get on the road to solving your brick walls.

Those of you who have known or read my posts for awhile know of my work on the family of Benjamin Franklin. One of his favorite sayings was “Never put off to tomorrow that which you can do today.” Over the last decade or so, this has become even more true for me, as I’ve reached the point in life where there are more days behind than there are ahead. (Not that I plan on going anytime soon, but unless I outlive every ancestor who has ever come before me, I’m definitely past the halfway mark.) To all of my Mocavo colleagues and to you, our readers, let me say this. Genealogists know exactly how brief that dash can be. We have filled it for far too many people where the birth and death years are far too close together. Get out there and live. Find your family. Share their stories. Make sure that they will be remembered. But at the same time, make sure you live your life so that when the time comes, you will leave an amazing story behind.

Fear not, I have no plans to leave the field of genealogy. My exact new adventures are still being developed. But thanks to the wonders of technology, a quick Google Search, or checking my professional Facebook Profile and LinkedIn Profile will alert you to what I am doing.

Finally, let me leave you with these words. Helen Keller said it best: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”  Thanks for sharing a bit of the adventure with me.

Copyright 2015 Michael J. Leclerc. Used with permission for Daring Adventure post.

Copyright 2015 Michael J. Leclerc. Used with permission for Daring Adventure post.



27 Aug 2015


Today is the last day to submit a story for the #MyStory writing contest, so it is time to rally.  Stories need to be submitted by 9pm  mountain time tonight in order to be eligible for the free one week membership and the grand prizes.  Winners will be posted tomorrow by 3pm mountain time.

Remember all stories need to be submitted to with a title and your name and email.  See more details about requirements for the story at

Best of luck to everyone who entered and thank you for your participation!

Mocavo’s #MyStory Writing Contest

21 Aug 2015


Ever thought about what life was like for your ancestors during the time of their existence? Well, now you can find out! Mocavo is holding the #MyStory writing contest where you get a chance to step into your ancestor’s shoes and write a story about their life from their point of view! Tell us about their life: where they lived, where they worked, what they wore, and if there were any significant historical events occurring at the time (e.g..the Great Depression,  World War II, etc.). Share your story with us for a chance to win a free one-year membership to Mocavo and a $100 gift card to Amazon. Get the details on our website.

How to Enter?

Simply send your story to by the 27th of August. Include your name, email address, and a title for your story. Please limit the story to 500 words. Stories will be judged on creativity and originality, so be as creative as you can. Every entry will receive a free one-week membership.

What can I win?

The winner of the contest will receive a free one-year Mocavo Gold membership and a $100 (US) gift card.

The 2nd place winner will receive a free 6 month membership and a $50 (US) gift card.

And the 3rd place winner will receive a free month membership and a $25 (US) gift card. Remember though, every entry will receive a free week membership.

For more details visit

If you have any questions please message us on Facebook! The details are posted on our website. We look forward to reading your stories! Good luck!

Get Ready for Mocavo’s #MyStory Writing Contest!

19 Aug 2015

Everyday life in the US has changed a great deal over the last century. Transportation moved from the horse and buggy to electric and internal combustion engines. Many went from working on farms to working in mills and corporate offices. At the beginning of the century, many died from illnesses that are now easily treatable. And millions of people relocated, looking for a better life in a new part of the country.  

When we search for our ancestors on Mocavo, we learn so much about their life. We learn about where they work, how many kids they had and where they lived. If we are lucky enough, we might even find an image of our lost ancestor.

Think about what it was like for those ancestors during the time they lived. Were they high or low on the social scale? What did they wear? Where did they work? How many children did they have? Did they have a car?

On Friday, Mocavo is launching a new contest where you get a chance to be your ancestor. Think about all these questions and put together a story about your ancestor’s life from their point of view.

So prepare yourselves and get your thinking caps on. Contest starts Friday and we cannot wait to hear your stories.

Contest details will be posted on Facebook and our website on Friday, August 21st.

Good luck!

Don’t Let Your Work Become a Lost Time Capsule!

07 Aug 2015

This weekend the Wall Street Journal ran a very interesting story about time capsules. Trying to Capture a Moment, Many Lose Track of Time discusses a major problem with these holders of memories of the past. Over time, their location, and even knowledge of their very existence, is often lost. During construction of the Houston Astrodome in 1963, a time capsule was buried on the site. Unfortunately, over time, it was forgotten. When a county administrator ran across a 1963 photo of the capsule being buried, nobody on staff even knew the capsule existed. Even professionals with extensive search equipment could not find it. Eventually it was determined that the capsule likely lies underneath one of the major support pillars, and trying to locate it could result in major damage to the structure. Genealogists often face a similar problem. We spend a great deal of time and effort to put together our family history. But we don’t often give enough thought to what will happen to our materials after we are gone. Don’t let your work become a lost time capsule!

In today’s digital age, it is tempting to think that putting a family tree up online will ensure the knowledge remains available forever. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It will be online for as long as the company that is hosting it stays in business. It will require constant upgrading. And there are no still no guarantees. If you want to be certain that your descendants will be able to use your research and discover your family stories, it is important to have them in a form that will be accessible.

Start by writing up your research. In addition to the dates and places, add some stories about their lives. Once you have the stories and information written up, add some illustrations. Usually the first things people think of are pictures of family members. That is a fine place to start. But think outside the box. Do you have pictures of the home they lived in? If not, can you get photographs of the home today (if it is still standing). I recently visited my childhood home and took some photographs. Quite frankly, it hasn’t changed much at all since we moved out almost forty years ago.


The house at 14 Barberry Hill Road where I grew up. (from the collection of the author, used with permission)

The house at 14 Barberry Hill Road where I grew up. (from the collection of the author, used with permission)


Do you have any family documents, such as letters, diaries, wedding invitations, funeral cards, etc? Take some pictures of them and include them as illustrations as well. If you have letters or diaries, be certain to include some quotes from them in the stories. Once you have that put together, use a self-publishing service to print some books to give away to family members. You can also use the service for extended family members to purchase their own copies. I also suggest you donate copies to historical and genealogical societies and libraries where your family lived.

Finally, gather up your original materials (the aforementioned documents, diaries, letters, etc.) and donate them to a library or archives. They will professionally process your materials and have them preserved and conserved so that future generations of the family will be able to find them and see them. These steps will ensure that all of your hard work on your family history do not turn into a lost time capsule.

Colonial Quandary: A Catholic in an Anglican Church

31 Jul 2015

Every schoolchild in America grows up hearing the story of the Jamestown Colony. For most of us it may bring back memories of John Rolfe and Pocahontas, or perhaps the “starving time” winter of 1609–1610 when 80% of the members of the colony died.

The site of the colony is now co-managed by Preservation Virginia and the U.S. National Parks Service. Over the last twenty years they have worked to discover more about the history of Jamestown. Part of this is an active archaeology program. Over the last twenty years teams have made dozens of major discoveries. Research conducted as part of one of these excavations has presented us with a quandary for colonial times: the presence of a Catholic in an Anglican church.

Back in 2010, the site of the first church was discovered. Archaeologists discovered four bodies buried where the chancel of the Anglican church was. Those buried in this area of a church were usually upper-echelon members of the community. There was nothing immediately available that specifically identified the individuals, however.

Some clues were found during the dig. One body had a silk sash with silver sequins. Another had part of a military officer’s staff. The same grave turned up the most intriguing find, however: a small silver box.

Everything was packed up and shipped to a laboratory where forensic anthropologists started examinations. Meanwhile, researchers started attacking records in the U.S. and in England. All looking for clues that would help them identify these four individuals. The small box, however, proved to be the most intriguing.

This box turned out to be made of silver. CT scans showed that inside the silver box was a small lead capsule containing bone fragments. It was a Catholic reliquary. The bone fragments would have belonged to a saint in the Roman Catholic church. To find such a thing buried in the chancel of an Anglican church in an English colony is very curious. The Church of England had split from Rome in 1534, about 75 years before the burials. During this period, Anglicans did not get along with Roman Catholics.

After five years of research, the bodies have been tentatively identified: Rev. Robert Hunt, first past of the colony; Capt William West; Sir Ferdinando Wainman; and Capt. Gabriel Archer. It is Archer who was the Roman Catholic. All four were less than forty yeas old.

There is still more research to do. Questions such as “How did a Catholic come to be buried in the chancel of an Anglican church?” and “Under what circumstances did they die?” amongst others remain to be answered. And these answers may shed more light on on early English settlers in North America. You can read more about this project on NPR or The Atlantic.

Jamestown Bodies

5 Genealogy Blogs You Should be Reading

24 Jul 2015


There are many blogs out there. It can be difficult to find one to read that is informative and pertinent for you. Here are five genealogy blogs you should be reading that I have found interesting, and I think you will too.

  1. Rootsmithing: Genealogy, Methodology, and Technology

Drew Smith is an Assistant Library at the USF Tampa Library. He is also one half of the Genealogy Guys podcast, and a noted expert on genealogy and technology (he serves as chair of the Family History Information Standards Organisation). He posts periodically on his blog about a wide variety of subjects. Recent posts include A Few Tech/Genealogy Words You May be Typing/Using Incorrectly and In Support of Wikipedia.


  1. No Story Too Small

Amy Johnson Crow is a longtime professional genealogist. In her blog, she focuses on motivating people to tell the stories of family members. In 2014 she issued a challenge which she has continued to this year. 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenges individuals to wrote once a story once each week, choosing a different ancestor this week. This can be a great motivation for those trying to write more from their research.


  1. Kate’s Kin-nections

This is another example to help you write about your family. This is an example rather than a how-to. Kate Lowrie is a former president of the New England chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists. She writes this blog about her family specifically for family members. It is a great example of how easily you can put together a blog to share research with your family members.


  1. Elyse’s Genealogy Blog: On a Journey to Find My Roots

Elyse is a wonderful young lady from Southern California. A full-time teacher, she is a part-time professional genealogist. Her blog is a mix of travelogue, stories, and research tips. I enjoy reading it, especially since it brings a fresh young perspective. She has not been around enough to be jaded or stuck in a rut as we often can when we’ve been doing the same thing for decades. She only posts periodically, but they are interesting. Recent posts include Tracking “Maybe Ancestors” in OneNote and Why Researching Your Ancestors’ FAN Club is Important.


  1. Thinking Genealogically

Dave McDonald is a recognized expert in many areas. His blog is written in a folksy, easy-to-read style. He discusses his own adventures in researching his family’s stories. It is also an  mix of stories and research tips. Among his recent posts are There May be More, Ode to the Cell Phone, and Other Records in the Vault.

Want help with your research? Download your free summer research guide now

24 Jul 2015


Summer is one of the biggest times for genealogy travel. If you are lucky enough to get away, read the Mocavo Summer Research Guide to discover some key tips and tricks to help you have a stress-free research trip.

Can’t get away this summer? No problem! There are many ways you can still “travel” from the comfort of your home. Download the Mocavo Summer Research Guide to find out how you can still take a genealogy research “trip” of your own this summer.

Download your Mocavo Summer Research Guide Now

To help get your research off on the right foot this summer, we’re offering a special discount to Mocavo Basic members. Enjoy your first month of Mocavo Gold for only 99 cents.