Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On Evaluating the Information in the FamilySearch Family Tree

As a veteran of many years of representing clients in court, I have become increasing skeptical of any factual claim. Of course, this attitude has carried over into my family history research. Lately, I have run across accounts of people who consider the entries on the Family Tree to be the "gospel truth" for the rather simple reason that the website is sponsored, indirectly, by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In short, they place the reliability of the entries on the same level as a religious belief. This is certainly not the position of the Church or of FamilySearch.

To have such a simplistic attitude towards the entries in the Family Tree, the user has to ignore the icons with warnings and cautions. See Data Problems. But even taking into account these automated warnings, it is essential that anyone using the program spend some time and effort to assure that the entries are as correct and reliable as possible.

This is especially true if the user is contemplating relying on the entries back more than five or six generations. It is important to understand that as we go back on any given line, the accuracy of each successive generation depend heavily on the accuracy of all the proceeding or supporting generations. It is also important to understand that all of the information in the Family Tree came from individuals submitting the information to the Church, the Genealogical Society of Utah and FamilySearch for over 100 years. None of the information entered into the Family Tree is verified by anyone at FamilySearch or the Church.

At the initial level, you need to focus on whether or not there are any sources substantiating the information in the Family Tree. Historically, adding source citations was not emphasized so many entries lack any such citations to where the information was obtained. The bare fact of the matter is that any entry without a substantiating source citation is automatically subject to question. My own experience is that it is also necessary to review any source citations that appear. It is not uncommon that the sources do not pertain to the person to whom they are attached. It also not uncommon to find that the information in the Detail Section is different than that recorded in the sources.

Relatively recently, FamilySearch implemented a program of providing "Record Hints" for the individuals in the Family Tree. These Record Hints are limited to the indexed records in the Historical Record Collections. The more indexing that is done, the more Record Hints will be come available. I have found these Record Hints to be extremely valuable. The suggested records are not 100% applicable to the individuals, but they are accurate enough to be very useful in adding and correcting information. I strongly suggest that all Record Hints be evaluated and added where applicable. FamilySearch encourages adding all the Record Hints because that helps the program find more accurate records.

As an example, I have been systematically working back on my Parkinson line. Here is a screenshot showing how far I have gone. I am presently adding sources to the Charles Parkinson line back in the mid-1700s.

I have substantially verified the entries back to Charles Parkinson (b. 1766, d. 1846) and his wife Hephzibah Newton (b. 1773, d. 1856). when I started there were no source records for anyone of the family members past Charles' grandson, my Great-Great-Grandfather, Thomas Parkinson (b. 1830, d. 1906). The purple icons on William Parkinson and his wife indicate that there are no sources attached. As far as I am concerned, I do not consider any of the information past Charles to be reliable. In fact, Family Search has detected a situation where a child was born after the mothers' recorded birth date, hence, the red exclamation point. Here is the Detail Page for William Parkinson.

Right off, I can see a major problem. This person was not baptized (christened) on his birthday. One of these two dates is wrong. The second issue not so obvious. Could he have been christened in Great Raveley, Upwood, Huntingdon, England? In short, was Great Raveley a parish? I ask this question because of the use of the word "Huntingdon." Huntingdon is a market town. Upwood is also a town in Huntingdonshire. So for the birth and christening place we have the names of three different towns. The county is Huntingdonshire. It is mistakes like this that make me question the accuracy of any of the entries. Do we even have the right person considering we are back into the mid-1700s?

As I already mentioned, there are no source attached to this person, so I am forced to search for sources to verify the information. If I were to simply assume that "everything in the Family Tree is correct," I would be way off base with this entry.

I will begin my search in the FamilySearch Catalog. I immediately find that there are entries for the following in England, Huntingdonshire:

  • Great Raveley
  • Little Raveley
  • Raveley (Great)
  • Raveley (Little)
  • Upwood
  • Huntingdon
and so the investigation begins. Because of the ambiguity of the entries, I am forced to examine records for all six places. Needless to say, this correction process has been going on for years and will likely continue for more years. 

The only way that the Family Tree will become a "book of all aceptation" is to make all of these changes and corrections. Meanwhile we also have to watch all of these ancestors so that our hard earned research is not erased by someone who has not spent the time to review what is already in the record. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

RootsTech 2016 Family Discovery Day Keynote Speakers Announced

I received an announcement of the speakers at the FamilySearch RootsTech 2016 Family Discovery Day Session on Saturday, February 6, 2016 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The Family Discovery Day at RootsTech is FREE for all LDS families and members and will provide opportunities to learn how to find family names, prepare and take those names to the temple, and share that experience with family and friends. 

This year, as last happened last year, there is a limit to the number of free tickets that will be issued. So I suggest that you reserve you tickets early. The information that I have been given is that more than half the allocated tickets have already been reserved. 

Here is the announcement of the speakers:
At Family Discovery Day, you will experience:  
  • Inspiring messages from General Authorities, Church leaders, and popular LDS speakers, including Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; his wife, Sister Ruth Lybbert Renlund; Primary general president, Sister Rosemary M. Wixom; and Young Men general president, Brother Stephen W. Owen.
  • Interactive activities in the expo hall, where families and friends can create a visual family tree, call grandma and record an interview, and scan photos to share with family.
  • A selection of classes designed to teach you how to discover family names, prepare them for temple blessings, and teach others how to get started on building connections with their own families.
  • A closing event with special guest entertainers to be announced soon.
Family Discovery Day at RootsTech is the perfect place to discover and share family connections through technology. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced family historian, Family Discovery Day at RootsTech has something for you.


In returning to the App Gallery, I recognized that I should have written more about a long time ago. This is especially true since the program now connects to the Family Tree. is an online unified family tree very similar to the Family Tree program. Here is a quote from their "Vision."
WikiTree is designed to balance privacy and collaboration so that living people can connect on one world tree to common ancestors. 
We privately collaborate with our close family members on modern family history and recent connections. As we go back in time, the privacy controls loosen. Collaboration on deep ancestors is between distant cousins who are serious about genealogical research and careful about sources
Because all the profiles are connected on the same system our collaboration is creating a single family tree that will eventually connect us all and thereby make it free and easy for anyone to discover their roots.
Here is another brief quote about how the program works:
WikiTree is for family history collaboration. This happens at two levels. 
At the modern level, the collaboration can be private and tightly-controlled. Use WikiTree to collect and organize your personal family history and privately collaborate with family members. If you invite non-genealogist family members they might not move beyond this level. 
At a deeper level, we are connecting our personal family histories with a growing worldwide family tree. As we go back in time our collaborations become wider and more public. To keep order, we trust each other to abide by a Wiki Genealogy Honor Code
It's possible for all this to happen on one single, shared family tree because every profile has its own Trusted List and privacy setting.
Here is a view of my own Navigation Home Page:

 You can customize your home page to show less information. It did not take me long to connect to the existing people in the WikiTree. I have to admit that I have not yet entered much information into the WikiTree, but I am intending to add more. I am particularly interested in connecting to any existing research on certain family lines so it will take me a while to get enough information into the WikiTree to get back that far. I am also interested that searches the WikiTree.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Privacy and the FamilySearch Memories

Posting photos and stories online is an extremely valuable adjunct to the bare bones of information contained in a family tree. As many people try to inaccurately point out, genealogy is a names and dates and "family history"is much more. Actually, genealogy is much more than names and dates and always has been. The reaction against doing "genealogy" is a cultural manifestation of an attitude that has developed in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over the past 100 years or so.

But putting all that aside, the activity of adding millions of photos and stories to the Memories section involves some considerations of privacy. As I express in my post entitled, "Privacy and life online -- A Genealogist's Viewpoint," The concept of "privacy" is very complex. It is currently a concept that is the basis for continued controversy on a national and local level. Some of the most complex legislation and Federal rules are directed at preserving some limited aspects of "privacy." The program is designed to create a "private space" around every living person in the program. Anything entered into that private space cannot be viewed by anyone else.

But as we are finding out, there are definite limits to the concept of privacy. First of all, dead people do not have any privacy. Privacy, in whatever form you want to believe it exists, only applies to living people.

The basic information in a family tree does not intrude on anyone's privacy. There is nothing in the information about births, deaths and marriages that is not very public information. Where privacy concerns do become important is when we get into the area of photographs and stories. The Memories section of is directed at sharing exactly these types of documents. The information in the Memories section is "open to the public" and can be discovered with a Google search. However, that is not true for untagged photos or stories or for photos of living people. The basic concept here is that if you don't want something broadcast to the world, do not put it online.

However, there is one interesting issue about putting photos online. If you put up a photo depicting several people, some dead and some living, and then you tag the dead people, the entire photo is discoverable online and of course, the living people are seen in the photo. If you would like more information about the Private Space on and the Memories section issues, see the following list of links:

Here is a quote from the Adding Photos link above,
You can add memory items for a living person to Family Tree. However, you should be aware of local privacy laws and obtain permission from any living person before posting the item in Memories.
  • Go to the Person page, and click the Memories tab to add a photo, document, story, or audio file.
  • In Memories, linking a living person to his or her memories can only be done by ID. The Find search function does not look for living persons.
  • Tags are linked to ID numbers, not people by name. You will only be able to see items linked to the living person you created in your private spaces or those you have the rights to see.
  • Notes: Living and confidential people are managed in a private space. Only you will be able to see and modify this person. However, anyone could potentially see the photos, documents, stories, or audio files that are attached to this person. For more details and information regarding Private Spaces, please see Understanding Private Spaces (98224).

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Where is FamilySearch online? is well known as a huge online family history website, but that is not the only place FamilySearch has an online presence. It has been a long time since I reviewed all the FamilySearch websites, so I thought I might check to see what's out there in FamilySearch-land.

FamilySearch has a significant presence on, and It has recently begun adding more content on also. In fact, is also becoming a hot spot for family history. In fact, the increasing interest in family history Pinterest boards has motivated me to start pinning to something besides my own Photography board more frequently. There is also a FamilySearch page on

Here are some screenshots of the social networking side of FamilySearch.

Here is the FamilySearch page on

And here is another screenshot of the FamilySearch site.

OK, but FamilySearch also has a lot of other Internet presence. You might want to check out the FamilySearch article on Wikipedia. Of course, FamilySearch has two Apps in the iTunes App Store and the Google Store. Here is a screenshot of one of the ads in the iTunes App Store.

There is a substantial amount of family history content on the website also. You may have to search a bit to discover all the resources.

Here are some other links to FamilySearch related websites:

There are probably quite a few more, but they get buried in the huge number of Google responses to a search for FamilySearch.

Friday, November 20, 2015

On Honesty in Family History

Quoting from on the Articles of Faith,
The Articles of Faith outline 13 basic points of belief of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Prophet Joseph Smith first wrote them in a letter to John Wentworth, a newspaper editor, in response to Mr. Wentworth's request to know what members of the Church believed. They were subsequently published in Church periodicals. They are now regarded as scripture and included in the Pearl of Great Price. [Link added]
I would like to quote Article 13:
We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
One of my ancestors in the Family Tree was converted to the Church during her lifetime and received all of her Temple ordinances and was sealed to her husband while still living. All this was accurately recorded in the Family Tree. Notwithstanding this fact, someone deliberately changed the data to enable the program to authorize her ordinance work to be done again in November, 2015. When this occurs, we are quick to excuse this behavior as done through inadvertence or ignorance. But in this case, the person would have had to disregard what was in the record and deliberately change information showing that the work had been done.

We lock our doors and cars to prevent stealing. Perhaps we need some procedures to prevent what is essentially the same thing from happening in the Family Tree. Another not uncommon practice is that of creating a "new person" with almost the same information, but ignoring the need to merge the newly created person so that the ordinance work can be done over again. This is not a new practice, we have been seeing this happening for many years. It is just so obvious now.

When I have reported this issue to FamilySearch, I get a standard response that excuses the action as a problem with duplicates etc. This is not what is happening. There is a way to "lock" entries or make them "Read Only." Perhaps this is something that needs to be expanded to the people who did their ordinance work during their lifetime?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Digital Collections at the Church History Library

The Church History Library is located just east of Temple Square and about a long block and half from the Family History Library. The Church History Library (CHL) is not at all the hive of activity you might experience in the Family History Library. The CHL does have a significant collection of books and other records on open stacks, but most of the documents held by the CHL are archival in nature and are kept in closed stacks. You have to visit the CHL to gain access to most of the records and sign in as a registered researcher. However, during the past few years, there has been an effort made to put some very significant collections online.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has also produced a series of church history websites. These include the following:
There are also a number of history related sites on
It is not obvious from a visit to the CHL website that there are also quite a few resources available. If you click around long enough, you might find the following:
There is also a page of Featured Collections, the current collections are as follows:
It is interesting to me that several years ago, I offered the Church History Library an extensive collection (approximately 4000 photos many on glass negatives) from Eastern Arizona with photos dating back to the 1860s and they expressed absolutely no interest and so the collection went to the University of Arizona. It looks like they may have expanded their interests more recently.

There may be more digitized collections but that is all I could find.