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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Google Photos to FamilySearch Memories Pathway Now Available

You can now move your online photos directly from Google Photos into the Memories section of The connections have also been expanded to allow the same additions from Instagram and Facebook.

All you have to do is to click on the the green plus sign from the Gallery View and the links to the three other websites is now available. If you are using Google Photos free, automatic backup systems to store your photos online, you will immediately see the advantage of being able to move photos from Google Photos directly into the Memories program. There is also an option to use the file names as titles.

In my case, I have all my hundreds of thousands of images backed up on Google Photos and this new development with expedite moving the appropriate images onto the Memories program and then linking them by tagging the individuals to my ancestors and relatives in the Family Tree. The advantage is that now, when I capture an image on my iPhone, that image is automatically backed up to Google Photos. Then is it a simple process to move that image onto the Memories where I can tag the images and attached them to my ancestors.

The Family History Guide Now A 501 (c) 3) non-profit charity

Note: this announcement also appears on my Genealogy's Star blog website.

The official FamilySearch training partner, The Family History Guide, has achieved IRS 501 (c) (3) status. This means that anyone donating money to support this fabulous, genealogical training and now, charitable resource, can get a corresponding deduction from their Federal income taxes.

By keeping the website free, the developers hope to fulfill their mission to get more people involved in family history by providing training and research guidance on a major scale with a free website. Up to this point, the website has been self-funded with all the support coming from the people who have developed and maintained the website so far.

The Family History Guide has been vetted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and made available to over 5,000 Family History Centers throughout the world and on LDS.orgThe Family History Guide already has users in over 150 countries and most recently released training paths for, and, as well as maintaining its support for This week they are rolling out a national pilot project to recruit, train and utilize Regional Training Specialists to serve in specific geographic regions throughout the United States (initially). These individuals will extend the reach and facilitate quality training and presentations for the website.

The actual entity that supports the website is The Family History Guide Association
There are links on the Association's website to an explanation about how to donate.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Review Existing Sources in the Family Tree Before Making Changes

If you are concerned about changes to anyone in the Family Tree, then you need to "Watch" those individuals. There is also a section in the Settings menu under your name when you are registered that will allow FamilySearch to send you email notifications every week of any changes to any of the people you are watching.

 The notification can be quite extensive depending on the number of people you are watching.

 This particular screenshot is actually the shortest list I have received in months.

Now, the real issue here is the changes that are made that contradict the sources attached to the individual. In the case of David Nathan Thomas shown above, there is some dispute in the existing records as to the date of his birth. However, there is a christening record and a census record that both agree as to the place of his christening and birth. In this instance, the change that was made changed the birthplace without adding any additional sources to substantiate or contradict the existing sources.

I did correct the change.

In my experience, almost all of the changes made to the Family Tree that invoke some kind of dispute, are made without citing any supporting source for the change. For some time, there have been suggestions and discussion about requiring a source before making any changes. Of course, the requirement should not apply to changing back or reverting an improper change. The difficulty, of course, would be to distinguish between a correction and a change to existing data.

 On the website, where FamilySearch gathers comments about all of their programs, the section on changes to the Family Tree has over 6000 comments. The topic of requiring citations or an explanation at least has been discussed extensively for many years. From my own experience, this is the number one complaint about the Family Tree. Perhaps, it is about time to start addressing this issue in a meaningful way.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The FamilySearch Family Tree SourceLinker

The Family Tree is rapidly becoming more reliable with the addition of millions of source citations from records provided by Record Hints. As with almost everything about the Family Tree, there is always some background grumbling and criticism. The main issue is that some users seem to think that anything they see from FamilySearch is somehow accurate and applicable when the Record Hints are clearly hints that need to be reviewed and evaluated for applicability to any particular family or individual.

We recently attended a local Family History Conference in Springville, Utah. Even though I was teaching one class, we took the opportunity to attend two classes presented by Robert Kehrer, Senior Product Manager for FamilySearch's Search Experience. His classes are always excellent and provide a lot of information about the operation of the website. Some of the new features highlighted involved the FamilySearch SourceLinker. This is the program that attaches the sources supplied by the Record Hints to the Family Tree.

When you click on the blue Record Hint icon, you get a summary of the suggested source. In this case, I clicked on a Record Hint for my Great Grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner. the hint is from the Utah, Missionary Department Missionary Registers, 1860-1937. After looking at the hint and making a preliminary decision that it applies to my ancestor, I can click on the "Review and Attach" blue button.

This is a screenshot of the SourceLinker page. The idea is to evaluate the information and, if appropriate, link the source to your ancestor. One new feature pointed out by Robert Kehrer is the ability to change the person of focus. This feature helps to add the source to multiple people who may be in the Family Tree but not directly related to the default focus person such as in-laws, cousins or others that may appear on the record. Here is a screenshot showing the link to the drop-down menu listing possible other people who could become the focus person.

Changing the focus person adjusts the relationships to allow the record to be added to additional people in the Family Tree that have not been automatically available in the past. This one added feature will save me a lot of extra time spent in adding the source to others in the Family Tree.

This is a good example of the benefits of holding and attending local, smaller family history events.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Check Your Record Hints Carefully

We have to remember that Record Hints are hints. There is nothing about a Record Hint that supposes that FamilySearch has done anything to verify the content of the hint. A "hint" is a suggestion, nothing more, nothing less. The accuracy of the hints, by the way, is based on the accuracy of the information already in the Family Tree. For example, if the name in the family tree is incorrect, even if the program provides a "Record Hint" the hint will probably be for the wrong person.

There are a number of other reasons why the record hints for any of the programs that provide them might be wrong. One of the most common is the lack of records. For example, if I am searching in England or Scandinavia I may run into a situation where there are hundreds of people with the same or similar name is my ancestor. The existing records will also contain very little information differentiating people with the same name. In this situation, the computer program creating the record hints will often suggest people who have the same name and similar information but not be the same person.

Advanced searching techniques can make the searches more accurate such as those done by, but inevitably there will always be "false positives." A false positive is when the program indicates a match when no match actually exists. The goal of the programmers is to reduce false positives but in reality because of the discrepancies in genealogical records, this task is nearly impossible as we go further back in time. It is relatively easy for a record matching program to find a match for a person living within the last 200 years in an English-speaking country. But as we go back in time, the number of records decreases, the number of people with the same names increases and the difficulty in finding accurate matches eventually becomes nearly impossible.

Record match technology is a tremendous aid to research. has done an incredible job in improving the technology on the website for the Family Tree. But, there will always be limitations and as the program evolves there may be difficulties in maintaining accuracy. As the records come online and the indexes are done. We should also remember that the accuracy of the record hints depends on the accuracy of the indexing. Obviously, Record Hints cannot be supplied for unindexed records. Therefore, indexing is crucial for the expansion of record hints technology.

All this means that you should closely examine record hints for accuracy and consistency. In every case, be sure and incorporate the information you learn from the accurate records. Determining whether or not a record hint is accurate may involve a degree of additional research.

In summary, do not blindly rely on record hints in any of the online programs.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Reclaim the Records liberates New Jersey Marriage Index, 1901-2016

With help from a volunteer, the Reclaim the Records organization has done it again! They have "liberated" the entire New Jersey Marriage Index for 1901-2016. Here is a quote from their 17th Newsletter:
Introducing the NEW JERSEY MARRIAGE INDEX, 1901-2016! These records are now totally digital, and totally free -- forever! Now you can research anyone who got married in the Garden State right from your home, still in your pajamas. 
We've posted these images at our favorite online library, the Internet Archive ( You can skip right to any year you want and flip through all the images, or you can download the records to your hard drive as JPG's, PDF's, and/or other formats. Each file is listed year-by-year (or occasionally by a year range), and then the marriages are listed alphabetically by surname. 
Just to be clear: these are images of the index, so this isn't a real text-searchable marriage database just yet. But rest assured that the usual genealogy websites we all know are going to start indexing projects and will make that happen eventually. (Yes, the Internet Archive does run automatic OCR on the text contained in the images, but the recognition quality isn't that great, so you're probably better off just reading through the images instead of trying to text-search.)
I am vitally interested in this effort as evidenced by the fact that my wife and I are preparing to move to the Washington, D.C. area to be full-time FamilySearch missionaries/record preservation specialists for FamilySearch and its sponsor The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our responsibilities will include helping to digitize records which will then be available to genealogists.

Here is a screenshot of the Introduction to the New Jersey Marriage Index, 1901-2016 on the Internet Archive or
I strongly suggest reading the entire newsletter article. It is really a primer about how to go about helping make even more records available across the country. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

When is a source not a source? A Family History Challenge

A genealogical source citation should answer, at least, two questions:

  • Where did the information come from?
  • How can someone else find the same information?
How those questions are answered has developed into a major issue among genealogists. At one end of the spectrum are an extremely small number of academic/professional genealogists who have developed an elaborate "citation" system based primarily on various published systems such as the Chicago Manual of Style. 2017 and others. The professional/academic system of recording sources has become so elaborate that my 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style is 956 pages long.

Clear at the other end of the spectrum is the system of citations included on the standard family group record for many years Here is an example of the source field:

Unless you use very small letters, there isn't enough space here to encourage the entry of a source. 

Hmm. It is time to start defining my terms. 

The word ambiguous is defined as a word that has more than one meaning or interpretation. The word "source" as used by genealogists falls into that category. One meaning of the word focuses on where the information used by the genealogist to enter names, events, and other information was obtained. Another use of the word "source" is used as a synonym for the word "citation." The first use of the word "source" answers the first question above. Citing the source involves recording the identity of the place where the information was obtained. For example, if I find a reference to my ancestor in a book, the source is the book. When I use that information to enter names or dates or whatever and to my own records, i.e. a genealogy database program, the citation is the information I enter telling others about the book.

A genealogist's failure to record where the information was obtained renders the information useless to subsequent researchers. The concept here is that any information recorded about our ancestors, i.e. historical figures, needs to be documented with detailed information about where the recorded information was obtained so that subsequent researchers can verify whether or not the information is correct and also determine the degree of reliability of the information. 

Yes, I do have to keep repeating myself in order to make sure that what I'm saying is absolutely clear. No, I do not have detectable dementia yet. :-)

So when is the source not a source?

Even if the information supplied is referred to as a "source" if it fails to tell where the information was obtained it is essentially not a source. For example, here is an entry from

Accompanying this entry are three photographs showing the grave marker for Dr. David Shepherd. The only information on the great marker is the name "Dr. David Shipherd" and the two dates. The information contained on grave markers is commonly considered to be a "source." However, the origin of the remaining information in the entry except for the identity of the cemetery is missing. It is helpful to have a citation to this entry and to see the photo of the grave marker, but there is no real way to determine where the information came from or when it was recorded. There is a link to David Shepherd's wife's grave in the same cemetery. However, that entry although also detailed, does not has the same three photos shown for her husband. Although a reference or citation to the memorial tells us where the researcher found the information, it does not tell us how we can find the same information since the information must have come from some other source. 

So, simply copying information that does not answer the questions above, does not help us determine the origin or reliability of the information and therefore has little or no value. By the way, grave markers are not necessarily accurate as to birth information. You cannot also assume that they are accurate as to the death information either. The marker could have been placed many years after the actual events. 

The real issue here is our ability to determine the reliability of the information we find in genealogical compilations such as online family trees and other types of publications of collected information.