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

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Why does have name and date standardization?

Recently the Family Tree started showing red icons with a warning message that dates and places were not in standardized format. Many users are confused about exactly what the message is supposed mean and what they are supposed to do. First of all, it is important that you understand the message and what it is asking before blindly changing both names and dates. The instructions for entering standardized dates and places is easily found in the Help Center. The link to the Help Center is in the upper righthand corner of every page on the website by clicking on the "Get Help" menu link.

Here is a screenshot of the drop-down menu that appears with an arrow pointing to the Help Center.

If one of the Frequently Asked Questions doe not address the standardization issue, then search for "standard date name" and the article will come up. You can also go to the article by clicking on this link to Entering standardized dates and places.

Carefully read and follow the instructions. The most important statement on this page is as follows:
Note: FamilySearch recommends you use the name of the place at the time of the event. This matches with sources and facilitates hinting. FamilySearch is working to connect historic names of places with their modern names.
This is extremely important because it allows you, the program and other researchers to find records that match the individual being researched. Historical records are very often associated directly with the location as it was at the time an event occurred. This is particularly important in Europe and countries where the international boundaries have changed many times over the years.

The key to keeping your place names correct is in this statement in the article:
Instead of clicking the standardized place, click somewhere else on the screen. The system leaves the place as you type it but connects the place with the standardized place.
This is really a simple procedure, but it is crucial to the way the program works. The answer to the question in the title is simple, it enables the program to find your ancestors.

We teach people not classes

Most of the Family History Consultants I have talked to over the years have told me they had been called to teach a "Family History Class." I have learned a hard lesson during my long life. We can only teach people, not classes. Family History is highly individual in nature. We teach people one at a time in an appropriate setting. Classes can be instructed and shown, but teaching comes to the individual. The Leader's Guide to Temple and Family History Work, To Turn the Hearts states, at page 20,
Consultants take the initiative to reach out to members, especially those who are not comfortable using technology, by:
  • Helping a few individuals or families at a time to work on their own family history so they can perform temple ordinances for their deceased relatives. The most effective place to do this is in members’ homes. The ward council could determine specific individuals or families for the consultant to work with. The high priests group leader assigns these families to the consultant. 
  • Answering family history questions from ward leaders and members. 
If a "class" is going to be held, the Guide counsels us to do the following:
Lessons are generally conducted as workshops in which members actually complete their own family history work, either on the computer or on paper. Where feasible, class participants should have access to computers. Many meetinghouses are currently being equipped with wireless Internet connections.
This is how teaching family history is best accomplished. I teach a lot of classes, but I am most careful to teach people, individually, whenever possible.

If you are called as a Ward Family History Consultant, you should be contacting Ward members directly and offering to help them find their ancestors. Let's suppose that you were called but no one bothered to tell you what you were supposed to do or how to go about being a Family History Consultant. The simplest way to "get trained" is to go online and carefully study the following guidelines, manuals and lessons that are aimed specifically at training Family History Consultants. You do not need to wait until the Bishop or the Sunday School or whoever "schedules a class." You do not need to have a dedicated space in the building for Family History. Notice what it says above, "The most effective place to do this is in members’ homes." All you have to do is start offering to help.

The first place I suggest going is to carefully read the Leader's Guide to Temple and Family History Work, To Turn the Hearts. A PDF copy is on Read the entire Guide and study the scriptures quoted.

Next, go to and sign in and go through this entire section: Family History Topics. Pay particular attentions to the section on Family History Callings. Carefully review all of the videos especially for Family History Consultants. There is a link here to the Leader's Guide. If you want to be an effective Family History Consultant and be able to help people go through all of the FamilySearch Tree Training in the FamilySearch Learning Center.

Now, for instructions on and how to do research, go to This new website will provide you with an excellent understanding of how to go about teaching family history and give you the tools to do so.

If you want to magnify your calling as a Family History Consultant, you will have to use your own initiative. You can call on your local Family History Center and others for help, but you need to take matters into your own hands and do your job. Don't wait for someone to tell you what to do. That may never happen. Get busy and do it.

If you are reading this blog post and know a family history consultant, you just might want to give them a copy of this post. It might help to know where the instructions are located.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Keeping up with online family history record collections

I wrote a post about some of my experiences lately with the Historical Record Collections. I just got a list of the newest additions to those collections in an email from FamilySearch. Usually, this list also appears in a blog post from FamilySearch within a few days of receiving the email notification. Now, I usually don't mention this list, but I wanted to illustrate that these collections are very rapidly evolving and expanding. The records you need could be added at any time, so it is a good idea to check back and see if there is anything you are personally interested in reviewing.

In addition, as the Record Hints expand on's Family Tree, there are new collections added to the hints. What is and what is not included is not necessarily announced anywhere. But additions to all the collections eventually will benefit the ability of the programmers to add Record Hints. It is important to understand that the growth is only made available if the records are indexed. Record Hints do not come for records that are not indexed. So indexing is a vital part of this whole process of making the records available. This list shows the effects of indexing. Many of the listed records are added indexed records.

Here is the most current list.

New FamilySearch Collections Update: October 5, 2015

Added indexed records to an existing collection
Added images to an existing collection
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Added images to an existing collection
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Added indexed records to an existing collection
New browsable image collection
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Added images to an existing collection
Added images to an existing collection
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Added indexed records and images to an existing collection
Added indexed records to an existing collection

Monday, October 5, 2015

Putting the Historical Record Collections in Focus

This last week or so, I was asked to help a patron at the Brigham Young University Family History Library with research into her Italian ancestors. After a short review of the status of her family research, we began by searching the Catalog for the place where her ancestors lived. Starting with a general search for "Italy," we looked for "Places within Italy" and found the province where her family lived.

There were a lot of choices, but she already knew that her family came from Udine.

We clicked on the link for Udine and saw the records available for the province.

A further click on the "Places within Italy, Udine" gave us a much longer list. We found the town where her ancestors lived, "Varmo."

One more click took us to the FamilySearch Records for Varmo. There were seven different Civil Registration records for this town in Italy.

We compared the records to the time period when her ancestors lived in this town and began looking at the each of the entries. The first set of records were Civil Registration Records listing births, marriages and death records among others.

Fortunately, the records were digitized and in the Historical Record Collections as indicated by the link in the statement in red. We began our search by looking at the records in the Historical Record Collections.

There were, at the time, 1,262,279 images. These images are not yet indexed as there are no search fields. However, the records are organized by location. We clicked on "Browse Records" and moved into the record collection.

We clicked on Udine, to show the records in that location. After scrolling through a long list of place names, we found Varmo.

We then found a chronological list of record sets that we could search. Within minutes we were finding her family members. We continued to find new people to add to her ancestry until she had to leave.

Now, this is remarkable. She had no idea the records for her ancestors' were in the website. Neither did I for that matter. I had been asked to help her because I could read Italian. But, guess what, I hadn't needed to know one word of Italian to find the records. We found the digitized records by doing a search in the FamilySearch Catalog.

Later, when looking at the new additions to the Historical Record Collections, I found a very interesting fact. The entire Udine Collection had only been added a few days before this patron began her search.

Now, there are several lessons to be learned from this. First, a search of the Historical Record Collections can be started from the FamilySearch Catalog. Second, the list is growing every day and just because you looked yesterday, does not mean the records are not there today. Third, the records can be successfully searched without an Index. Fourth, the records are freely available. Fifth, I didn't need to know Italian to find the record.

What about reading the record once found? Well, that did take a little work in Italian. But, I could have used a Google Translation Search or a dictionary or an Italian Word List online. All of these would have been sufficient to read the records, had I needed them. Which I did not. Another lesson to the missionaries at the BYU Family History Library is the fact that any one of them could have helped this lady. We did not have to wait for someone who could research "Italian" records.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Lesson From Elder Clayton: Teach People Not Lessons

For all of us who regularly spend time helping people learn how to do their family history, this recent blog post about the experiences of Elder L. Whitney Clayton illustrate some important principles. Here is the link to the entire blog post.

Elder Clayton: Teach People Not Lessons

I hope that I can implement these lessons in my own teaching. 

What's New on FamilySearch -- October, 2015 and Comments

Every so often, FamilySearch sends out a list of the new features and other news in a blog post. This month's offering is from Steve Anderson and is entitled, appropriately, "What's New on FamilySearch -- October, 2015."

There is a note that you can now register for RootsTech 2016, but I will be doing a post on that on my Genealogy's Star blog and so I will only mention it here.

Some of the new developments on the website would probably go entirely unnoticed if it were not for these announcements. Not that they aren't helpful or needed or whatever, but they are rather obscure. The first note is about the fact that they added a date to a printed family group record or a pedigree chart. That is always helpful, but since I don't print stuff off, I probably would not have noticed.

Feedback for Auto-Indexed Records

This particular addition to the website is a good step towards improving the accuracy of the searches. Essentially, FamilySearch has added the ability to tell through feedback, when a Record Hint is inaccurate.  I didn't have any trouble finding a record hint and I also had no trouble finding one that was in error. Look for the tab to report the error at the bottom of the page. Unfortunately, I couldn't give a screenshot example because is not working while I was writing this post.I could not see the suggested record hints, but I could tell that they were in error. For example, 1901 England and Wales Census when my ancestor was living in Utah. Further unfortunately, people keep adding this record and as a source without looking at the other sources of the information in the details that clearly show the ancestor living in Beaver, Beaver, Utah in 1901.

Memories: The People Page Now Has a Help Tray

FamilySearch is adding a Tips Icon at the bottom of many of the pages on the website. They have extended this feature to the Memories section. The People Page now has a help tray.


 all you have to do, is click on the tips lightbulb.

Feedback for the Recently Improved 110-Year Rule Request Permission Form

This is another change you would only have seen if you used the 110 Year Rule Request Permission Form.  Here is what they have to say:
In August, What’s New on FamilySearch announced that the form to request permission to perform ordinances for people born in the last 110 years was improved. People had been confused by some of the questions on the old form and were having their request rejected because they weren’t filling out the form correctly. Many areas have sent feedback that the new form is much easier to understand.
FamilySearch also indicates that there will be making the ability to change relationships much easier in the future. It looks like this will be a very helpful addition. For details, please review the blog post. There are several other developments mentioned in the blog post. Some of these I have already mentioned in previous posts such as the ability to directly search Partner websites from a person's detail page.They also indicate that the Memories page will be redesigned.

Personalized Home Page

Research indicates that about 25% of the users have been introduced to the Personalized Home Page. I've had this for some time, but I must admit that I don't spend a lot of time looking at it since I am usually going to a section of the website directly. However, I certainly find it more appropriate and useful than the old design. Right now, if you have the Personalized Home Page, you can opt out.

Mobile Apps: Record Hinting and Manage Relationships

FamilySearch is announcing a major upgrade to the Mobile Apps. Here is their description:
If you are using a mobile app and there are record hints for people in your pedigree lists, you will see a blue icon (the same as the web icon) on the person’s details header. Click the icon to see the list of record hints. 
You will be able to see that an ancestor has a possible record to review. You can attach the record as a source. If you find new ancestors in the record, you can add them to the tree. In the future, we will provide a feature that will expand the list of persons with hints. 
The ability to edit, delete, or remove spouse relationships or parent and child relationships using the mobile apps is coming.
I always think that it is very risky to announce programming changes in advance since no timetable is specified. During the past year or so there have been multiple announcements about the implementation of a new indexing program for FamilySearch apparently they are still having problems implementing such a program.

Portions of Will Soon Be Available in 42 Languages

Here is the explanation of what this entails:
The following portions of will soon be available in 42 languages: the start page and booklet tool for the My Family: Stories that Bring Us Together booklet; log in; create and manage an account; and the Temple section. 
Many Church members who want to participate in family history work don’t speak one of the ten languages currently supported by There isn’t enough budget to translate the entire site, so we selected pages that would allow members to create an account and log in, enter their family into Family Tree, and reserve their family names to take to the temple. 
If users have selected a preferred language, the sections that are available in 42 languages will display in the user’s preferred language. If the user has not selected a preferred language, the system will detect the language of the browser and display the sections in the appropriate language. 
To help users recognize those portions of the website that have not been translated into 42 languages, we left the header and footer for those sections in just the ten languages.
There seems to be a major push towards internationalization of FamilySearch and of the websites. I am guessing that is significant amount of their resources are going into broadening the reach of the website. We will probably see development such as this occurring with more frequency in the future.

There are also references to increased access to the My Family booklet and the War of 1812 Campaign. More on these later.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Mystery of the Disappearing Databases

Prominent genealogy blogger, Randy Seaver, the author of Genea-Musings Blog, has been commenting on the appearance and disappearance of online genealogical databases. See "Here Yesterday, Gone Today: the New Jersey Wills and Probates 1656-1801 Records." Obviously, from the dates of these records, this is not a U.S. Copyright issue. Any such documents would either pre-date the U.S. Copyright Law's protection or would have long since lost the protection. The issue is that certain genealogically valuable collections have been added to large online databases, such as and and then have been summarily removed. So what is actually going on?

The incident reported by Randy is only one of a huge number of similar incidents that have occurred during the past few years. Many documents and collections of family history importance have limited access. The basic reason is simple and has been appropriately expressed in the Doctrine and Covenants Section 121, Verse 39:
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Unrighteous dominion is a complex subject. But in the sense of its application to these types of circumstances, it results in bureaucratic pettiness and over-reaching. There are many complex reasons why access to records is limited. With more modern records, there are concerns of privacy in addition to copyright claims. But why would old records be subject to limited access?

The answer to this question is twofold: control and monetary gain. Governments, agencies and even private record repositories have long recognized that there is a monetary value associated with the possession of vast collections of records. Simply put, you can charge people money to view the records. As an example, take the phenomena of university libraries "special collections." Documents with presumed historical value (read monetarily valuable) are "protected" by only allowing a certain access. This "protection" is usually explained as a need to preserve the original documents. Where this breaks down is when the institution prohibits copying the document. An extreme example of this is the United States Archives. You can get a glimpse of this issue by reading through their Frequently Asked Questions.  Here is a statement from that page that illustrates my point:
Why aren't all the records online? 
NARA tries to make as many records as possible available via the Internet. This is a daunting task, even with records that were created in electronic format. More information on this effort is available at Digitization at the National Archives
The volume of records in NARA's possession that pre-date electronic formats is so vast, that costs and resource availabilities will most likely preclude the conversion of all of them to electronic formats. However, as resources permit, NARA will continue to select records to be digitized and made available electronically.
If you follow up with research on this issue, you will soon find that this "digitization" effort is being done by fee-based entities. In other words, yes, the documents will become available if you have access to those companies collections.

Let me illustrate this issue with a hypothetical situation. Let's suppose that I find a huge collection of genealogically important documents (such as wills, probate, land records, etc.) is located in a certain repository. Let's further suppose that there are no privacy or copyright issues with the documents. Shouldn't I be allowed to make copies of the original documents?

The answer is often, yes, if you pay for the copies. It is also yes, if you have the right credentials. It may also be yes if you fall into the category of those allowed access, i.e. university professors and professional historians. I was once asked to leave a "private" library because I wanted to look at the books. I have been told not to take photos by guards.

It should not be a surprise at all that collections of documents appear and then disappear from online access. These agencies, repositories, special collections etc. will often change their mind about access if they see that there is a monetary benefit to the institution. I am not being cynical. I am merely reporting what happens.

Again, I refer to the U.S. National Archives. There is a website page entitled, "Obtaining Copies of Records." Quoting from that page:
When records cannot be copied 
There are sometimes restrictions that prevent records from being copied. The most common are preservation priorities, copyright, and donor restrictions. Details..,
If you have questions about specific materials, please check with the appropriate reference staff.
Who owns the documents in the National Archives? Why can a "donor" restrict access?

The reality is that these restrictions and interests exist. Those who consider that they "own" certain documents will always limit their access. As researchers, we can only try to work within and sometimes around the system.

By the way, I have a strict personal policy of always honoring access requirements. It does not help me or anyone else if I am banned from access because I violate local policies about copying records. Yes, I sit there with my allowed pencil and a piece of paper and hand-copy out the information from the records where that is allowed.