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

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Save Your Stuff App

There are now 123 apps (or programs) listed in the App Gallery. Among the newer items is one called "Save Your Stuff." This website is essentially an offer for a free book called "Save Your Stuff, Collection Care Tips." Written by Scott M. Haskins, a preservation specialist, the book is advertised as follows:
  • Full of videos, photos and fun stories to make learning easy. A $27 value!!
  • Cheap, easy and fun techniques to make immediate progress at no cost.
  • Includes FREE continuing education – you get easy tips and lots of help.
  • Nothing to buy, no credit card.
  • Not a “report” or a pamphlet but a full sized book download for continual reference
  • A valuable gift from your genealogical research and records company to help you save and preserve YOUR history... with no strings attached. YOURS 100% FREE!
Of course, this is really an advertising ploy. But not all advertising ploys are bad. In this case the book is real. It comes in PDF file format and has 215 pages. The book raises a lot of conservation issues and gives some real advice. This is an interesting direction for FamilySearch to take.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Blocked from Sealing Adopted Grandchild to Grandparents

I got an interesting error message last night while helping a patron at the Brigham Young University Family History Library. During the wars in Europe, there were many instances of women who had children out-of-wedlock with partners who could not be identified by genealogical research. In the patron's case, the children were "adopted" by the grandparents, the parents of the women. The patron went to request the sealing of these children to their grandparents as is allowed in the rules for sealing children, and was blocked by an error message that said, "Mother to old to have children." Of course, the mother was too old to have children, she was the adoptive grandmother of the children.

This points out an interesting issue with genealogy programs in general. They are failing to keep up with the complexity of the data. We are in a world-wide community now where information can move across international boundaries in seconds. My wife was recently carrying on a text conversation with one of my daughters while the daughter was in Italy. I routinely get email and posts from around the world and carry on conversations with people in Australia, New Zealand, India, Europe, and Africa.

I read a statement recently that said essentially that our biggest challenge was not technological change, but our own ability to process and adapt to the changes. I have been in the process of restructuring how I gather information and how I use it. I will continue to adapt, maybe fast enough to take advantage of the Information Technology Revolution.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Loss of Life Sketches on Merger?

I got the following comment from one of my daughters as she was cleaning up some entries in the Family Tree. I would suggest that there should be a work-around or at least a warning to prevent this problem. Here is issue the note:
Here is a potentially annoying problem that I discovered this morning.

FamilySearch is currently importing a huge Church Membership database. Although many “new” duplicates are appearing in FamilySearch, this seems to be good news, since it means we are one step closer to having all the various databases available on FamilySearch. Maybe at some point, when all the various bits of information are imported, we will be able to deal with the IOUS records.

This morning, I began to work on merging records to resolve these new duplicates. I started with Charlotte Stapley which had an obituary posted in the life sketch section. Since I had not seen that obituary before, I took special note of the life sketch.

When I began to merge the duplicate record for Charlotte, FamilySearch informed me that "These two people can be merged, but only if the possible duplicate is the surviving individual. These two people can be merged if they are switched." In other words, I had to keep the newly imported Church Membership record, instead of the record with all the memories, sources, etc.

I have seen this message before, and so I chose the “Switch” button, and continued with the merge. Since the old record had more information, I transferred all the information over. All the sources, photos and memories transfer automatically with the merge. I finished up the merge and looked at the merged record.

The life sketch had disappeared! I was pretty sure that I had transferred it, but maybe I had made a mistake. Fortunately the obituary was attached in the “memories” section of Charlotte’s record.

This family had 5 new duplicates, so I went to the record for Charlotte’s husband. Worried that FamilySearch was deleting Life Sketches during a merge, I copied his life sketch into a Word Document and merged his duplicates, making sure that the life sketch was being included in the merged information. When the merge was complete, the life sketch was gone. I posted what I had copied back into the record.

I now know to copy the life sketch before a merge, but I see this programming glitch as a potential problem for those who have spent time writing life sketches that will be lost in the transfer. I am worried that less experienced FamilySearch users will not notice the lost life sketches, especially since the FamilySearch Merge function shows the sketch being transferred. I may not have even noticed the missing life sketch if it had not caught my attention just before I merged the records.

I am undecided as to how important this is. Hopefully people will post the life sketches in “memories” as well as in the life sketch section.
Be advised.

Comments on the Changes in the FamilySearch Family Tree

I recently received the following two comments about the Family Tree.

Comment #1
Sometime during the past month my tree expanded along various branches back to dates unimaginable- one even tho Jesus and beyond. Is there some hacking going on of late?
Comment #2
How do you get people to stay excited and interested in continuing to use the family tree, instead of working on closed family trees on other sites, when every time they open up their branch of the family tree they find information has constantly been changed by well meaning individuals. Unfortunately most of these changes are made without any solid sources, and people just tire of having to constantly make corrections.
 Hmm. I had to think a while before coming back to this perennial question. Of course both comments are about exactly the same issue. Here is what is going on with my portion of the Family Tree. You might want to notice that there is an option on the menu bar for the Family Tree called "Lists." There are two options for the Lists entry: "People I'm Watching" and "Changes to People I'm Watching."

You might have to look closely, but you can see that I am presently watching 110 people. That number keeps going up as I continue to work on the Family Tree. The second tab on this Lists page shows you exactly all the changes made to your "Watched" people. Here is mine:

There are a couple of issues here. First there are sixteen changes listed for today, 23 May 2016. Second, every one of these changes was done by either FamilySearch or LDS Church Membership. In addition, all sixteen changes were done to two people. Now, what is changing? That is first of many issues that you need to think about before venting your frustration and throwing your hands in the air and declaring that you are going to stop using the Family Tree.

In both these cases, all of the changes reflect additions or corrections to the huge mass of original data we have inherited from our ancestors. If you want to blame someone, blame all those who have "worked" on your family lines for the past 150 or so years. The simple explanation is that FamilySearch is still correcting and adding to the data in the Family Tree. So changes like these will continue to occur until the work is all done. There is nothing wrong with the Family Tree and it is not being "hacked." It is merely doing what it is supposed to do. That is, it is changing with corrections and additional data.

You cannot stop the changes. They are part of the system.

What about changes from your relatives? These cannot be stopped either but they can be minimized. Here are the things you need to do.

  1. Watch every person you are working on or are concerned about
  2. Read the list of changes you will get each week from FamilySearch
  3. Address the changes, if you care about them, as soon as you see them
  4. Contact anyone who seems to be making irrational or unexplained changes and ask them what they are doing
  5. In the meantime, if you have documentation and sources, add everything you have to each individual in the program
  6. If you have sources and documentation and have added both to the program, change everything back to reflect the information in the sources
  7. Do this every time someone tries to change the data without putting in a valid source
I can assure you that the number of changes will drop as you do this consistently. If someone continues to make the same change without support, just keep changing it back and adding more sources and information. Eventually, the person will get tired or answer an inquiry.

Remember, you can send messages directly through the program. You do not need to rely on whether or not the person has a visible email address. 

In some cases, you may need to make sure you keep your own copy of the data for these changeable people in case all of your information is deleted. 

I find the changes to be manageable. In some cases, the changes have shown me that my own data is incomplete or inaccurate. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Conclusions on the Accuracy of the FamilySearch Family Tree

Although accuracy does not seem to be priority with the promotional materials accompanying the Family Tree, it is a fundamental aspect of the Family Tree program. Because it has a collaborative wiki-based structure, the Family Tree will, by its nature, continue to become more accurate. This does not mean that those using the Family Tree do not have a personal responsibility to be as accurate as possible, it just means that over time, the Family Tree will become more accurate as the users become more sophisticated and the information becomes more complete.

My analogy is that the Family Tree is like a beautiful garden. But it can only become beautiful and stay that way with a lot of work. Just as we need to be vigilant about weeds in a garden, we also need to be vigilant and root out the weeds in the Family Tree. They will seem to pop up during some seasons in profusion, but if we ignore the Family Tree the weeds or bad data will soon take over. Just as weeding a garden is best done consistently and regularly, the Family Tree will grow and blossom into a beautiful, well organized and corrected Family Tree with hard work and dedication.

My admonition to all who want a lovely Family Tree is to get to work and be as perfect and correct as you can be. Add sources, correct the entries and think about what you are doing. Have faith that your efforts are worthwhile. Start to work and you will soon learn to love the garden (Family Tree) like I do. Take my word for it, it is worth the effort.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Update on Webinar Videos from the BYU Family History Library

In the last week, the following videos have been added to the long list of instructional videos no on the Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History Library Channel on

Using the Google Goldmine for Genealogy by James Tanner

BYU Resources and Initiatives for Family History - Amy Harris

Roots Magic 7 by Judy Sharp

Fold 3 by Joyce Whiting

LDS Census Records by Ann Tanner

The Family History Guide: Part 1 Introduction and Projects 1-3 by Bob Taylor

Can You Afford to Lose all your Genealogy? Backing it Up by James Tanner

Land and Property Ownership for Genealogist by James Tanner

It looks like we are averaging about one a day or more. The number of views has now exceeded 54,000 and the number of subscribers has gone over 1,300. What are you missing? Perhaps it would be a good time to subscribe?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Returning to the accuracy of the FamilySearch Family Tree -- Examining root causes

The Family Tree is unique in its accumulation of genealogical records accumulated over the past 150 years. Long before the Internet and a long time before computers were even a glimmer of a possibility, way back in 1894, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began formally accumulating genealogical records through the Genealogical Society of Utah. Microfiliming of records around the world began many years later in 1938. By the time computers became available to assist in the this vast work, millions of records had already been amassed.

In about 1998, the Church made the decision to start a family history website. About that same time the Church began using the trade name "FamilySearch" to refer to its genealogical activities. Ultimately, the Church's genealogical efforts were consolidated in an organization called FamilySearch, International. The website went online in May, 1999. In 2001, the Church began working on a family tree program called The program was released in a trial or Beta version in November, 2005. At the time the program was introduced, the decision was made to incorporate as much of the previously submitted family history information as possible. Included in the original  database were the following huge collections of family names and families:

  • The Ancestral File
  • The Pedigree Resource File
  • The International Genealogical Index
  • Church Membership Records
  • Temple Records
After struggling with for some time, FamilySearch began developing an alternative to the program called the Family Tree. Eventually, the Family Tree program replaced the program and the earlier program was discontinued. However, the original database with all of the additional records that had been contributed to were used to populate the Family Tree. Nearly all of the various genealogical functions and websites introduced by FamilySearch were finally consolidated into the website, including the Family Tree. 

During all of this time from 1894 and earlier, there was no practical or effective mechanism for verifying the accuracy of any of the records submitted. Duplicate submissions were also a challenge and acknowledged as a reason for concern from the earliest times. From the moment when the original contents of all of the huge databases were combined, it was evident that there was a monumental problem with duplication and accuracy. As the Family Tree developed, it inherited some of the limitations and problems of the program, but it also inherited the accumulated issues of all of the data beginning back in the 1800s. 

For example, I began my own efforts to accumulate family information in about 1982. At the same time, I began my first limited efforts to computerize all of my data. Early on, I contributed a GEDCOM copy of my initial data on two occasions to the Pedigree Resource File. Both of my very tentative, incomplete and inaccurate files were directly incorporated into the program and subsequently into the Family Tree. In short, I was faced and continue to be faced with the difficulty of correcting my own errors and omissions with a very public online family tree.

For whatever reason, rather than directly confronting the issue of the tentative nature of the original data and the inaccuracy of some of the subsequently contributed data, FamilySearch has focused on other issues. However, the nature of the Family Tree is that as a wiki, the program is self-correcting. For those using the program, the self-correcting feature may seem like a defect rather than a benefit, but fundamentally, the Family Tree is ultimately the solution to all of the previous issues of accuracy and duplication of effort. Frustration with the program comes from lack of knowledge of the function of a wiki and is exacerbated by a lack of willingness to cooperate with others in correcting the information. 

In fact, the information in the program is being corrected and duplicates being eliminated at an amazingly fast pace. 

Unfortunately, users of the Family Tree have a tendency to focus on their minute portion of the overall data. They fail to see the huge number of sources being added and the corrections going on each day. All they see is "change" and change is disturbing to most people. When I am confronted with a belligerent, vocal and disturbed critic of the Family Tree, it can take me hours to talk them through how the program works and help them understand why there is a need to be critical of the data and make corrections. As the FamilySearch Product Manager for the Family Tree, Ron Tanner, has said over an over again, the fundamental issue is "mytree-itis," thinking we each own the Family Tree. 

In some recent posts, I began the process of analyzing the accuracy of the Family Tree using my own very small portion of the entire tree. Actually, so far, I have found that the information is well based and accurate, as well as complete, back five generations from myself. I might add a side comment, in all my reading about DNA testing, I read over and over how DNA testing is only very accurate to 5 or at most 6 generations. So, having five accurate and complete generations, with mostly correct entries in the 7th generation is an accomplishment especially when we are talking about a lineage that stretches back into the 18th Century and earlier. My efforts to point out the reliability of the Family Tree are directed at demonstrating that this sort of evaluation needs to be done on every line to correct long-standing errors. 

Now, if you feel frustrated with the Family Tree, then get over it. You need to recognize that you are collaborating in a great work and that it is neither easy nor simple. As President Harry Truman said, and as I have previously quoted, "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." 

This is really a series, as such, it is more of a theme. Stay tuned for more comments.