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

Monday, August 31, 2015

There is history and then there is family history

The title to this blog post is "There is history and then there is family history." This is part of a complete statement that says, "There is history and then there is family history and they are actually the same thing." The only difference is that family historians seldom look beyond the dates, names and sometimes, places and historians seldom care about those historical figures that seem ordinary and unimportant. The two categories are mostly artificially maintained by those who emphasize their own agenda. Let me give you a few examples. Here are some questions about some prominent American historical figures. Let's see if you can answer any of the questions.

  • Who was George Washington? This is not a trick question and I am referring to the one that first comes to mind.
  • Who was George Washington's wife? 
  • Can you name any of George Washington's children?
If you did happen to know something about George Washington, why would questions about his family seem unimportant and why would that be missing from your previous studies? 

I may have mentioned this before, but when I was taking U.S. history in high school, we never got past the U.S. Civil War. In all my 21 or so years of formal schooling, I never had a history class that covered events in the 20th Century. What little formal schooling I had about world history, ignored any events that occurred outside of Europe. However, since I studied Spanish at the university level and was a military intelligence officer for Central and South America, I learned a lot about the history of Latin America. Everything else I know about history came from reading books. 

Now, from the other end of the historical perspective, I had about five years of formal, university level classes in genealogy from Brigham Young University focused on North American genealogy. Anything else I have learned has come from reading books, articles, attending conferences and etc. 

What is remarkable about these two experiences is that in the history classes, I never heard a word about genealogy and in the genealogy classes, I barely heard anything about history. What is this remarkable? They both use exactly the same sources for their information except the "historians" ignore the "purely genealogical" records and the genealogists ignore everything that is not "purely genealogical" in nature. Well, with any generalization, there are exceptions. We do have a few formally trained historians who become interested in genealogy and we do have genealogists who become interested in history. However, just because someone has advanced degrees in history does not mean diddle about their interest in or knowledge of genealogy. Likewise, my experience is that the vast majority of those people from the United States, even those supposedly interested in genealogy, have only the most rudimentary knowledge of history. Once and while, I will find someone who knows both but they are the rare exception. 

Some of my grandchildren have already started back to school and a few are now attending the university. Except for a few vague classes in "Social Studies" they have no classes in history and of course, genealogy is never mentioned. Now, I suppose, that I since I am sitting here in Provo, I could register (even at my age) for classes at the Brigham Young University and study (even obtain a degree) in Family History. But job prospects (at my age again) would be rather dim or I could just keep on doing what I always do and that is read books about genealogy and history. 

Whenever I think about this subject, I always remember the class I taught to a group of prospective missionaries at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. I was talking about the types of records that might be used to find their ancestors and asked when the ancestors lived. Someone mentioned the mid-1800s and I asked what happened in the United States in 1862 to 1865? After asking the question a number of different ways, I realized that none of the class members had any idea when the U.S. Civil War occurred. In fact, most of them did not seem to know there was a Civil War. This may seem like an extreme example, but it is not at all unusual. How can we pretend to do "family history" and ignore the history part?

I am certainly not alone in my concern about the state of knowledge about history in the United States. Here is a quote from an organization called the Pioneer Institute on Public Policy Research entitled, "Shortchanging the Future: The Crisis of History and Civics in American Schools," by Rober Pondiscio, Gilbert T. Sewall, and Sandra Stotsky. 
The collective grasp of basic history and civics among American students is alarmingly weak. Beyond dispiriting test results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and other measures, poor performance in history and civics portends a decay of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed for a lifetime of active, engaged citizenship. The reasons for this decline are many: the amount of time devoted to history in K-12 education has demonstrably shrunk over time; demands to make curriculum more inclusive have led schools and teachers to dwell on social history, race, and gender in ways that distort the nation’s historical narrative. These changes are in turn reflected in textbooks and teaching materials used in social studies classrooms. Problems with teacher training and qualification compound the problem, leaving teachers poorly equipped to arrest the decline in history and civics. Past efforts to arrest or reverse the decline, however well intentioned, have had little discernible impact. Attempts to create national history standards have failed, and great caution must be exercised before further efforts are made to write or impose such standards. 
I examined the "Social Studies" book used by one of my granddaughters recently and was appalled at the lack of "history." The entire book was devoted to race and gender issues.

Now, what does this mean to those interested in family history? It means that the collective lack of knowledge about history creates a major disability of the average person in the U.S. from doing adequate research in their own family history.

Where do we start? Let's start by reading a history book or two or more about the countries where your ancestors lived. Let's find out what happened around the time our ancestors lived. Perhaps once we know the history, finding them and learning about them will become a natural consequence. History is about people and what they did and how they lived. Genealogy is about people and what they did and how they lived. Let's learn and remember the "history" part of family history.

Now, if your reaction is that "I am not interested in history" and I don't read books. Then how can you expect to be interested in and find out anything about family HISTORY?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

FamilySearch Blog Update -- August 2015

I spent some time accumulating and sorting all of the blog posts from FamilySearch during the past month. This list is not quite complete, mainly because some of the published posts get deleted, but it has almost all the ones I could find. Even if you are on some of the FamilySearch mailing lists, you may not have seen all of these posts.

Here I go with the list:

Blogger, Guest. “Following the Mormon Battalion’s Route.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Using the Family History Guide.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “‘We Had a Weighing Frolic’ - The Mormon Battalion Weight Loss Plan.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Brimhall, Dennis. “Family Stories Cut to the Heart of Family History.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Clarke, Gordon. “Partner News – August.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Decker, Steven. “Delaware Tombstone Project Nears Completion.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Native American Genealogy Is Still Problematic.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Advancements in Technology Aid Genealogists.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Greener, Glen N. “Past Persecutions Make Irish Information Difficult To Discover.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Pioneers Are Now Found in Local Jails.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Hardy, Bethany. “Pioneers of the Westward Expansion.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Henson, Kevin. “Following the Mormon Battalion’s Route.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “‘We Had a Weighing Frolic’ - The Mormon Battalion Weight Loss Plan.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

“How Can I Add a Record That I Find on to My Ancestor’s Sources in Family Tree?” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Hyde, Jesse. “Thank You for Helping to Fuel the Find*!” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Kemp, Thomas Jay. “Searching for Rufus, I Found Little Eugenie.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Slave Stories.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Kuehn, Duncan. “Three Stooges’ Story Told in Their Obituaries.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

McBride, Lisa. “Find, Take, Teach: Building Your Own Discovery Tree.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Just for You: Announcing the Updated Family History Center Director Page.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Try Something New—The FamilySearch Personal Home Page Experience.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

McMurdie, Greg. “Genealogists Share Heirlooms and Tell Stories from Their Family Tree.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

McMurdie, Greg. “3 Tips to Celebrate Ancestors from Your Family Tree at Gatherings.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Murphy, Nathan. “Public Invited to East European Genealogy Presentations.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

“Newspapers: A Genealogist’s Best Friend.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Ross, Richard. “First and Only in My Family: #IAmAPioneer.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Sagers, Diane. “No Life Is Ordinary—Please Write Your Story.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Shelley, Savannah Kate. “Service to God and Country: Discovering the Mormon Battalion.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Stories That Inspire: Removing the Rocks.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Slaugh, Eric. “FamilySearch Library Events along the Wasatch Front.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “How To: Help Your Ward Members Get Hooked on Family History.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Second Chances: A Life Touched by Family History.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “The Mormon Battalion: Blazing a Trail That Helped Settle the West.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Sorenson, Yvonne. “The Family History Library Announces Free Classes for September 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Steele, Logan. “New FamilySearch Collections: Week of August 11, 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “New FamilySearch Collections: Week of August 17, 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Quiz: Are You a Modern Pioneer? #IAmaPionner.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Steve Anderson. “August 25, 2015—Teach Yourself and Others: New Online Training Now Available.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “In What Way Is Internet Indexing and Buying Potatoes Alike?” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “What’s New in FamilySearch—September, 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “What’s New on FamilySearch—August, 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Warburton, Kathy. “Discovering the Stories of Your Early Ancestors.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

“What’s New on FamilySearch—August, 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Woods, Debra. “Expanding Your Family Tree: Through Descendancy Research.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Wright, Matt. “FamilySearch Messaging on” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

New Search Features on

New features are being added regularly to the website. Most of these are unheralded, however, for the past few months, FamilySearch has posted a blog post summarizing the new features. The latest version is by Steve Anderson and is entitled, "What's New in FamilySearch -- September, 2015." Just as regularly, I try to comment on the changes and elaborate on those that need more explanation. There are two features highlighted in Steve's article: the new Messaging system (which I have already discussed in a previous post) and several enhancements to the Search function of the Historical Record Collections. I decided to write some thoughts on searching on

The Search functions on have been the subject of considerable discussion in the genealogical community. Not all of this discussion has been favorable to The real issue is based on a comparison between FamilySearch and other websites. To be fair, search engine technology is rapidly evolving and is in the forefront of websites developing sophisticated search technologies. The capabilities of the FamilySearch search functions is colored, in part, by the fact that there are a number of separate search functions which are not directly related. Those search functions include the following:

  • Searches made for individuals in the Family Tree including duplicate searches, searches for individuals, searches for existing individuals upon adding family members
  • Help menu searches
  • Searches within the Memories section of the website
  • Searches within the digitized book section of the website
  • Catalog searches in the FamilySearch catalog
  • Wiki searches in the FamilySearch Research Wiki
  • Searches in the Genealogies section
  • Searches within the Historical Record Collections
Although most of these searches involve similar processes the information involved either assists or limits the searches made.

It may seem obvious, but all searches are limited by the amount of information available for the search. In the case of the Historical Record Collections that limitation is absolute and limited to indexed records only. That means that any search of the Historical Record Collections searches only a percentage of the entire records available on the website. From time to time, I hear people complain that they can find no information on the website about their family. Usually, the person making such a complaint has done what they feel to be, an exhaustive search using the search engines. Unfortunately, they have missed the vast majority of the records on which are still in microfilm or digitized microfilm format and remain unindexed. For this reason, even for searches concentrating on the Historical Record Collections should include a detailed search in the FamilySearch Catalog.

A second important point about searching is that all searches are limited to the accuracy of the underlying indexing system. Indexing systems are not perfect and therefore any search of historical records that fails to produce specific results should move from using a search engine in a website to examination of the original, paper or digitized records. One common indication of the limitations of search engines in general is the fact that a particular family may be found in only certain years of the US Federal Census records. Obviously, if a family is found in the 1910 census and again in the 1930 census, they must of been in existence during the time of the 1920 census. Although, there is always the possibility that the family was missed during the census, more likely, the real reason the family cannot be found is because the indexing of the census is incomplete or inaccurate.

Given those limitations, it is also important to understand the details of the searching process as it has been implemented on any particular website. Because the new features outlined in the FamilySearch blog post referenced above involve the Historical Record Collections, I will focus on those new changes. Quoting from the article:
When doing a new search, when you enter information you want to find (such as marriage information), you may be surprised to see census records or death certificates in the search results. That happens because the census record and death certificate contain some marriage information. But sometimes you may want to look for a person in a specific type of record for a specific place (for example, Henry Huff in marriage records for Nova Scotia, Canada).
 Let's suppose, that I were to search for my great-grandfather Henry Martin Tanner. I could begin by entering his name in the search fields as shown in the image above at the beginning of his post. However, without some qualifying limitations on the search, I am likely to have too many false results. Therefore, it is necessary to limit the search by more specific information, assuming I know more information. However, as with any search engine of this type, you should always begin with entering as little information as possible to obtain results and then proceed by adding additional information. It is always useful to restrict the records to a specific country or region.

In this case, I will restrict my search for my great-grandfather to the United States and the state of Arizona. Here's a screenshot showing the area of the search that can be restricted geographically:

It is always more effective in searching records is to restrict the scope of the search to a specific geographic area before beginning the search. There is however a danger here that you will eliminate records because you are unaware that your ancestor lived in a different geographic area.

Here are the results of my search:

As you can see from the search, there is more than one instance of a person with the name of "Henry Tanner" in the state of Arizona at about the same time and interestingly, they both had a wife named Eliza. Without more information from the user, a search engine will probably never be able to differentiate between this type of similar individuals.

One new feature of the search is that I can now click on the entry and see an expanded version of the record. Here's a screenshot showing the expanded version:

One last change, is outlined as follows from the FamilySearch post: has begun publishing collections that contain searchable indexed information that was extracted from images by computers rather than by people. This monumental advancement promises to dramatically increase the indexed information available for the many image-only collections currently published on 
While we are developing these automated indexing tools, your feedback on the accuracy of these records will greatly accelerate the improvement of the tools. On auto-indexed records only, you will see a new tab at the bottom labeled “Errors?” When you click Errors?, you will be able to provide direct feedback to the engineer on the type and specific nature of any errors you encounter.
The addition of an error reporting capability is a step in the right direction but it would be helpful also to have the ability to make a suggested correction to the index and have it added as an alternative search term.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mesa FamilySearch Library to remain closed

As I explained in my post today on Genealogy's Star, the Mesa FamilySearch Library (formerly known as the Mesa Regional Family History Center) will remain closed for the time being. I am disappointed and sad about this outcome. I certainly understand the complexity of the problem and hope that the missionaries and volunteers can have meaningful opportunities to serve in other capacities. I think I am beginning to understand more about the reasons for the impressions I had to move to Provo.

It is my opinion that the jury is still out on Family Discovery Centers. I would guess that they will have to show some measurable positive impact on the family history activity in the areas where they are established before they spread too much further in their present form. I also think that the whole system needs to be examined. If we have 4600 plus Family History Centers and the overall family history activity of the Church is not being positively affected, perhaps we need to reassess the need for the Centers and examine the real way family history is done by those who are "active" in pursuing their ancestors. We have over 100 years of experience in this regard.

I could say a lot more, but I will not. Let's wait and see what ultimately happens in Mesa and elsewhere.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Seeking After Our Dead, Our Greatest Responsibility

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Back in 1928, the Genealogical Society of Utah (the predecessor to FamilySearch) published the following book:

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Genealogical Society. Seeking after Our Dead Our Greatest Responsibility. [Salt Lake City]: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1928.

The book is a course of lessons for the study in classes in family history. At the beginning of the book, there is a quote from Brigham Young on pages 7-8:
Our ancestors back for hundreds of years * * * are all looking to see what their children are doing upon the earth. The Lord says, I have sent the keys of Elijah the Prophet——I have imparted that doctrine to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers. Now, all you children, are you looking. to the salvation of your fathers? Are you seeking diligently to redeem those that have died without the Gospel, inasmuch as they sought the Lord Almighty to obtain promises for you? For our fathers did obtain promises that their seed should not be forgotten. 0 ye children of the fathers, look at these things. You are to enter into the temples of the Lord and officiate for your forefathers." (Brigham Young, Discourses, p. 625.) (omissions in the original)
Most of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been taught and re-taught the doctrine concerning the necessity of redeeming our dead ancestors through performing the vital proxy ordinances for them in the Temples. The Church recently dedicated its 148th Temple in Indianapolis, Indiana. The continued emphasis on building Temples reinforces the importance of this great work. Why then is there such a lack of interest in actually doing the work and in some cases, active opposition?

Part of the explanation is given in the quote from the book on page 32:
There are many duties before us in life, claiming our attention and efforts. It is often puzzling to know which are of most importance. Says the Prophet, "The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead." (Times and Seasons, Vol. 6:616.)
 At pages 35 and 36, the book goes on to expand on this issue:
Do we as Latter-day Saints fully realize the importance of the mighty responsibility placed upon us in relation to the salvation of the world? We are doing a great deal in the attempt to convert and save a perverse and wicked generation; we are sending out hundreds of missionaries into all parts of the earth, and are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in this very necessary labor, _with results that are not so very startling. We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the building of meeting houses, church schools and other buildings, and in the education of the youth of Israel * * * and in every way diligently striving to improve our own people, and disseminate knowledge that will convert the world to the gospel; but what are we doing for the salvation of our dead? Many there are, it is true, who comprehend this great work, and are faithfully discharging their duties in the temples of the Lord, but of others this cannot be said. * * * It matters not what else we have been called to do, or what position we may occupy, or how faithfully in other ways we have labored in the Church, none are exempt from this great obligation. It is required‘ of the apostle as well as of the humblest elder. Place or distinction, or long service in the Church, in the mission field. the Stake of Zion, or where or how else it may have been, will not entitle one to disregard the salvation of one's dead. Some may feel that if they pay their tithing, attend their regular meetings and other duties, give of their substance to the poor, perchance spend one or two or more years preaching in the world, that they are absolved from further duty. But the greatest and grandest duty of all is to labor for the dead. We may and should do all these other things, for which re-ward will be given, but if we neglect the weightier privilege and commandment, notwithstanding all other good works, we shall find ourselves under severe condemnation. (omissions in the original)
Now, today, we have electronic resources unimagined by our forbearers who were being taught back in 1928, nearly a hundred years ago. How can we expect to escape this obligation, when we have been given an easier path to follow? The consequences are clear as quoted on page 36:
Any man who neglects the redemption of his dead that he has the power to officiate for here, will have sorrow when he gets to the other side of the veil; if you have entered into these temples and redeemed your progenitors by the ordinances of the house of God you will hold the keys of their redemption from eternity to eternity." (Wilford Woodruff, Deseret News Weekly, Sept. 17, 1898.)
What did they have to say about doing family history research in 1928? Did they say how much fun we would have? Here is a quote from page 39:
Though research may at times prove tedious and disappointing, it holds out the highest compensations. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have it entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." (I Cor. 2:9-10.)
 Now given that introduction, here is a discussion from this book written in 1928, I think some might find interesting. I was wondering about the date of publication of this book, once I read this. It sounds a lot like what many of us have been saying today.
A man was identified by the name of John Jones, who was born in 1566 and died in 1620. His wife's name being unknown, her real name was disguised under the artificial title of “Mrs. John Jones,” and her temple work was done under that name. 
Later it was discovered that this John Jones had been married thrice. The name of his first wife was Anne Weeks and complete identification was found for her, name, parentage, dates of birth, marriage, and death. The name of the third was found to be Anne Thompson; and John Jones was her third husband. Her complete identification was obtained. Nothing was learned of the second wife. 
Can you decide for which of his three wives the baptism, endowment, and sealing of "Mrs. John Jones" may be applied? Nothing but approximated dates were used, which were totally unlike the real ones for the first wife. 
Such guess work would not be countenanced in genealogy; for it leads absolutely nowhere in the tracing of an ancestor. Is it justifiable in ordinance work? Is it a help or a hindrance in the final analysis? Again, if you know that John Jones died leaving a wife Anne, with no further particulars, except that John Jones was the father of eight children, can you truly perform the work for this family, from these facts alone? 
Or, suppose the children in this family were known, and the name of the mother, but the name of the father was unknown. Hence we do his work as “Mr. Jones;" born 1566, died 1620. Is he identified? The records may show that there were about 3,000 males of the surname Jones living during that period, many were born in that same year and many others died in 1620. 
Each individual is known and distinguished by a given name. Since many in the world bear the same given name, individuals are further distinguished by adding the family name or surname of the father.
I think this example says more than enough. What would those who were writing manuals for the Church think of the way work is done today? Some of the rules have changed since 1928, but the principles have not.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Researching your family in Mexico

The Brigham Young University Family History Library has nearly 100 instructional videos about family history. This is the most recent addition to the collection. The BYU Family History Library is part of the University's Harold B. Lee Library on campus and has all the resources of this vast library to assist patrons with their research. The BYU Family History Library videos have had over 30,000 views and new videos are uploaded regularly. You can subscribe to the "Channel" and get easier access and notifications of new videos.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015 and Family History is the source for many valuable family history resources, but is the source for information about the interaction of the members and family history within the Church organization. does not duplicate the resources of FamilySearch, but it does give insight into the way family history functions in the Church.

I am frequently talking to Ward Family History Consultants, High Priest Group Leaders, Bishops, High Councilors, and even Stake Presidents about family history. I find that there is a general lack of knowledge about the function of the family history program in the Church and a particular lack of understanding about the roles the which these various individuals are responsible. This lack of awareness is certainly not due to any lack of resources. The instructions and suggestions available on the website are extensive and specific.

The main entry into the online materials is the Family History Topics page on Links are provided to the following topics:

Combined Lesson
Missionary Opportunities
Media Library
Inspiring Messages

For example, I am aware of Wards that have no Family History Consultants that have been called from among the Ward members. This is surprising given the counsel from the First Presidency in a letter dated October 8, 2012 that says, in part:
The First Presidency said, “Priesthood leaders should assure that young people and their families learn the doctrine of turning their hearts to their fathers and the blessings of temple attendance” (“Names for Temple Ordinances,” First Presidency letter, October 8, 2012).
The Leader Resources teach this important principle and many others.  The instructions and materials on the website provide information for every individual with a family history responsibility, including individual members and families.