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

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Untangling the Tangles of Family History

As you research your family history, it is inevitable that the number of people in your file will begin to grow. Over time, the numbers can become impressively large. Remember, even if you concentrate only on direct line ancestors, the number of grandparents doubles every generation and each of those grandparents (great, great, great, etc.) starts a new line that can potentially double every generation. Many researchers ignore most of their family lines and concentrate on the surname line or try to find one that connects with a famous person or event. But the numbers are still lurking out there. 

The increasing number of people involved in your research soon outstrips the ability of of anyone to remember all these relationships and without a dedicated and concentrated effort, parts of the lines will soon be all tangled up. I have a standing challenge to anyone with a record of any substantial family history, that I can find inconsistencies and mistakes in your family lines in less than 15 minutes. I have been challenged again and again and I have always been able to find the problems. 

If tangles are the rule, then what hope is there? 

Part of the answer lies in systematically documenting every addition to your family tree. The rest of the answer will come through a cooperative effort on the part of huge families. This is basic concept behind the development of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. It is a "unified" and self-correcting program. The unified part means that everyone can see and work with the information. The "self-correcting" part is a little more difficult to understand. As I say in classes and discussions over and over: Family Tree is the solution, not the problem.

Let me give an example of what I mean. 

Let's say I am working on one of my family lines. I have a limited amount of time and limited access to the documentation about my family. However, I have a pool of relatives who are descended from the same ancestors. Since all of us have access to the same data pool in the Family Tree, we can all add, correct and document. Together, we have more time and more resources. Unfortunately, many people focus on the negative aspects of cooperation. They see any changes to the Family Tree as a threat and not as cooperative help. This is primarily a result of thinking that "I am right and everyone else is wrong." The reason the Family Tree is self-correcting is that the people with the most correct information will ultimately prevail in any interchange. 

Time for a hypothetical situation. Let's further suppose that you have a "relative" that is mentally, not quite stable. He or she disregards logic and "messes up the content of the Family Tree" continually. Guess what? This was going on all along. The data in the Family Tree is derived from "all" of the previous submissions that were available. The mess is already there. So how do you sort out the additional stuff put into the Family Tree by your less than responsible relatives? The answer is that they were there all along. The difference is now you can see them and their work in real time. 

If you view the changes and the magnitude of the work as "your personal responsibility" then you are going to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. The answer lies in the first point: this is a unified tree. You have to form coalitions of family members, perhaps with people you do not now know. You do this, in part, by talking to people. In my family, we are slowing creating these coalitions of responsible relatives. I now have a number of family members that can work on maintaining the integrity of the Family Tree on various lines. Accurate information and documentation is flowing into the Family Tree and will eventually overwhelm any minor problems caused by uncooperative and irresponsible people. 

The Family Tree is like a vast battlefield. The soldiers in the battle are the researchers. The opposition forces are simply irresponsible and in some cases incompetent. It is not much of battle really. Adding sources and documentation, with extensive explanations where appropriate will prevail. The rallying cry is "Truth will Prevail."

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Which line do I choose for my family history?

Note: This post is being written from Cardston, Alberta, Canada.

The reality of modern family life, at least in the United States, is that the children may grow up in what is coming to be called a "non-traditional" home. In fact, the genealogical terminology has yet to catch up with the changes. The FamilySearch.org Family Tree program currently recognizes several different relationships between child and parent. Here is a screenshot of the selections.


The pull-down menu choices for both mother and father include the following:

  • Adopted
  • Biological
  • Guardianship
  • Foster 
  • Step

You can designate more than one type of relationship for each person. So, for example, you could have a record of the biological parents as well as adoptive parents or any other combination. For each selection, the user can choose to follow any one of the alternative lines. See the Help Center article as follows: "Adding a record for biological, adoptive, or stepparents."

The questions that come up in this context concerning Temple ordinances are summarized as follows:
  • Can a child be sealed to adoptive parents, foster parents, or guardians?
  • Can a child be sealed to stepparents or grandparents instead of the biological parents?
  • Can a child be sealed to divorced parents?
  • Can a child be sealed to multiple sets of parents?
  • Can an illegitimate child be sealed to parents?
  • Can a child be sealed to parents without a name for the father?
The answers to all of these questions is addressed in the Help Center article entitled, "Policies for sealing deceased children to adoptive parents, grandparents or others."

In my experience, the real issues involve the politics in the family. This all seems to work unless the family is dealing with recently deceased relatives. You might also keep in mind the 110 Year Rule.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Comments on having a family tree in more than one program or place

The FamilySearch Blog recently posted an article by Lynne C. VanWagenen entitled, "Why Should I Put My Family Tree in More Than One Place?" Since I have always had more than one copy of my family tree in more than one program, this is not a problem or challenge for me. But I do frequently have to address the question of multiple family trees. The main issue, as mentioned by the article, is the concept of "keeping the information updated in all those places." Frankly, I do not find that issue a concern at all. I guess I should explain.

No matter how many family trees I have out there, and I have about a dozen or so I would guess, I only focus on and maintain one or at the most two programs as my "primary" database or databases. I do not try to keep the other family trees "up to date," I merely use them to gather sources and to attract contacts with distant relatives. I hesitate to mention any particular program or programs because my use of the program is not necessarily an endorsement. As I have written many times  previously, I am always searching for the perfect program. Right now, there are a number of programs that I feel are perfectly adequate, but no one has yet developed the ultimately perfect genealogy program.

I would certainly advocate having your family tree on each of the FamilySearch.org Partner programs, i.e. Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, and Findmypast.com. The main reason I would take this position is the fact that each of these programs has well-developed record hint or record searching capabilities. Each of these programs provide a solid base of research that I would otherwise leave undone. It would be really nice, if these programs would synchronize their data with FamilySearch.org. But absent that feature, I find that the utility RecordSeek.com  is an adequate substitute. If FamilySearch.org was finished with the process of transferring the data from new.FamilySearch.org, I would be persuaded to use the Family Tree program as my primary database. Absent the completion of the transfer process, I am compelled to use a standalone, desktop-based program as my primary database.

Bear in mind, that I am primarily Mac-based and so my choice of programs is somewhat dictated by that inclination. However, as with any of the online programs, I can use whatever program I choose.

I would strongly suggest reading the above referenced FamilySearch blog article. I agree with nearly everything in the article. I would point out that your ability to manage multiple programs with different commands in different file structures is probably the greatest challenge. Since I began recording my data in computers about 30 years ago, I have moved the data through a substantial number of programs. However, as time goes by and as the programs incorporate more media items, the process of transferring the data from one program to another becomes very complicated. Presently, there is simply no easy way to transfer all of the information in any one program to another program without some loss of data. The only time that there would be an exception to this rule would be if your data was very limited and you had no attached media, notes or other items that could be very program specific.

I do notice a couple of problems with the FamilySearch blog post. The MyHeritage.com program referred to is called quote Family Tree Builder. I think you should also know that these various programs have dramatically different user ratings. As I have in the past, I would recommend that you review the user comments in GenSoftReviews.com before buying a program.

To summarize, I essentially use one designated program as my primary database. Any information that I gather through the online programs or through my own research I add to my primary program. It is very useful if the program I decide to use also synchronizes with FamilySearch.org Family Tree. It is also helpful if the program is as full-featured as is presently possible. Not that I use all the features, but I do appreciate the ability to do so if I need to.

Oh, Wilderness

One of the benefits of living in Utah and Arizona is the wonderful summer camping season. We are off for a week to points north, including Yellowstone, the Lewis and Clark Caverns, Glacier National Park and visit to Canada at Waterton Lakes National Park. Much of this time we will be "off the grid" so take the time while I am gone to read or re-read some of my very long series. See you soon.

FamilySearch chooses new CEO/President


Effective October 1, 2015, current President and CEO of FamilySearch, International, Dennis Brimhall, will be retiring and the new President and CEO of FamilySearch will be Steve Rockwood. In a letter sent to Church-service missionaries, Elder Allan F. Packer explained as follows:
The last few years have been a time of change and growth for the Family History Department and FamilySearch International as we continue the important work of connecting families and individuals to their ancestors.

Today we announce a transition of leadership in the family history team. This change will occur over the next few months and will become effective October 1, 2015.

We announce that effective October 1, 2015 Dennis Brimhall will be retiring and Steve Rockwood will be the new managing director for the Family History Department as well as President and CEO of FamilySearch International. Steve will be responsible for the continued development of family history and building on the solid foundation and momentum achieved by you, our ambassadors, under Dennis' leadership.

Steve's dedication to the Family History Department, along with his in-depth experience and passion make him the ideal candidate to assume the responsibilities associated with this role. He has the full confidence of the Church's senior leadership.

I would like to congratulate Steve as he takes this new leadership role.

Dennis expressed confidence in this new appointment. "There's not a better leader to move the department forward than Steve. He understands our passion and unrelenting commitment to our patrons and the important role of our ambassadors and members of the Church. I am confident Steve will continue to lead the department in a way that benefits our patrons and the worldwide interest in family history."
I look forward to the new leadership and wish Steve Rockwood my congratulations on his new appointment.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The News, the Supreme Court, the Marriage Decision and Family History

Since writing my short response about the recently decided case of Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, et al. No. 14-556, Decided June 26, 2015, I have read several commentaries and news accounts about the case. (Note: the official citation to this case is still pending its publication in the U. S. Supreme Court Reports and will ultimately appear as 576 U.S. ____ (2015). Also, the case is a consolidation of four cases, 14-556, 14-562, 14-571, and 14-574. It is the customary to name the case after the action with the oldest filing date, hence this case is called Obergefell). I fully realize that this is primarily a family history blog, but as a former trial attorney with some experience in constitutional law and as an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I hope that you will permit me to make a few more comments about the decision of the Supreme Court in this case. Please note, that I am not writing in any capacity as an official representative of the Church. All my opinions are my own. I am also completely retired from the active practice of law. But this does not mean my opinions are in any way retired.

My first comment is directed at those who accuse the United States Supreme Court of being an oligarchy. The Supreme Court does not rule the United States. By definition it cannot be an oligarchy. Simply because you or I disagree with a ruling made by the Supreme Court (or any other court) does not change the basic nature and function of our court system. We must always remember that our judges are appointed or elected by our legal processes. Ultimately, responsibility for their actions lies with those whom we ourselves have elected to offices within our government. Those who summarily dismiss the actions and the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States or any other court need to study their history and the organization of our court system more carefully. On many occasions, when the Supreme Court has made controversial decisions, the U.S. Congress has passed laws clarifying or changing the rulings of the Court.

We must always look to our history to understand what is going on at the present time. Back in 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt was riding a wave of popularity and found that the biggest obstacles to his sweeping social reform legislation were the decisions of the Supreme Court holding, in case after case, that the laws were defectively unconstitutional. Here is a brief summary of what occurred from the University of California, Davis History Project in an article entitled "FDR and CourtPacking (University)" by Roland Marchand.
Roosevelt presented his solution to Congress on February 5, 1937, in the form of a bill to reorganize the judiciary. The bill was not limited to the Supreme Court and it was couched in terms of "efficiency," but the important clause was one that stipulated that for every justice over seventy years old who did not retire, the President could enlarge the Court, to a total of fifteen, by appointing a second justice. Since the conservative justices were all over seventy, the bill would put Roosevelt in a position to appoint six new liberal judges unless the conservatives resigned. Much to Roosevelt's surprise, there was immediate and vocal opposition to the bill. “The History Project.” The History Project at UC Davis. Accessed July 1, 2015. http://historyproject.ucdavis.edu/.
Every President of the United States since Roosevelt has faced the same challenge and tried to influence the Supreme Court through carefully (from their perspective) choosing the new justices as they become vacant through death or retirement. Attempts to influence or control the Supreme Court have been an issue since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. You might want to remember that it took the colonies/states two more years, until 1789, to convene the first U.S. Congress. The history of the Supreme Court is long and involved. Before you start making uninformed comments about the most recent and publicized decisions of the Court, I suggest that you read a few books on the subject. I might suggest the most recent version of a textbook I used in law school as a start:

Nowak, John E, and Ronald D Rotunda. Constitutional Law. St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West, 2010.

My next comment is a reminder that the present marriage case, only came to the attention of the Supreme Court after 37 states (including my own present residence in the state of Utah) and the District of Columbia had already legalized same-sex marriage. The fact that the Supreme Court was asked to decide the issue should not be much of a surprise and given the fact that 37 of the states had already legalized the process, the decision is not much of a surprise either. Now, before you start arguing about the process of legalization, remember that the court rulings were accepted by the various legislatures and administrative agencies of the various states.

Next is a comment on the relationship between the present ruling of the Supreme Court on marriage and its relationship to religious practices. In an article in the student newspaper for Brigham Young University, The Universe, on June 30, 2015, a BYU law professor, Lynne Wardle, is quoted as saying the following:
"A host of religious liberty issues are going to erupt." Wardle said. "There will be an undermine of religious issues of individuals." He referenced several previous rulings regarding bakers and florists who were sued for refusing to provide services for gay and lesbian weddings. "The gays are going to force religious individuals to lose religious liberties," he said. (copied from newspaper report)
Now, I have no way to know if this is what the professor actually said, since this is a newspaper report, but the subject matter of the quote shows that there are some extremely complex legal issues involved in this current decision of the Supreme Court. It might be a good idea to remember the exact wording of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
 The First Amendment is not directed at decisions of the Supreme Court. It is directed at the United States Congress. We will undoubtedly face some very disturbing issues concerning the enforcement of the current Court decision, but the focus of those possible issues will be a different set of Court decisions and laws. Before you get emotionally involved in the First Amendment issues, you might want to review what the Supreme Court has already decided. Here is a link to a list of the Supreme Court cases involving First Amendment issues. Wikipedia: List of United States Supreme Court cases involving the First Amendment. This list may not be complete, but it is a good start. Off-hand and emotional comments about this subject are not very helpful. Here is another list of cases: First Amendment Center: Supreme Court Cases.

One final comment. I would suggest that any reaction you might have to the decisions of the Supreme Court or any other court should not be based on commentary in the news, including speculation about the relationship of the present marriage decision to possible First Amendment issues. There is no doubt that this decision and its social and religious ramifications will be a topic of discussion as well as litigation in the future. I suggest that those who are members of the Church listen to and carefully consider the official announcements of the Church on LDS.org. Here is a quote from a comment on LDS.org directed at the Young Women, entitled, "Why is it important to listen to and follow the living prophets?"
We sustain the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators. Their teachings reflect the will of the Lord. They give us instruction, warnings, and counsel from the Lord for our day. We are blessed with safety, peace, and spiritual strength when we listen to and obey their counsel.
It is a good time to remember this counsel.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Response to Supreme Court Decision on Marriage

Those who framed our constitutional government recognized that there was a need for balance between the various governmental institutions. During a crucial time at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in July of 1787, the Convention was deadlocked over the issue of representation. Quoting from the United States Senate website, "July 16, 1787, A Great Compromise:"
In the weeks before July 16, 1787, the framers had made several important decisions about the Senate’s structure. They turned aside a proposal to have the House of Representatives elect senators from lists submitted by the individual state legislatures and agreed that those legislatures should elect their own senators. 
By July 16, the convention had already set the minimum age for senators at thirty and the term length at six years, as opposed to twenty-five for House members, with two-year terms. James Madison explained that these distinctions, based on “the nature of the senatorial trust, which requires greater extent of information and stability of character,” would allow the Senate “to proceed with more coolness, with more system, and with more wisdom than the popularly elected branch.” 
The issue of representation, however, threatened to destroy the seven-week-old convention. Delegates from the large states believed that because their states contributed proportionally more to the nation’s financial and defensive resources, they should enjoy proportionally greater representation in the Senate as well as in the House. Small-state delegates demanded, with comparable intensity, that all states be equally represented in both houses. When Sherman proposed the compromise, Benjamin Franklin agreed that each state should have an equal vote in the Senate in all matters—except those involving money.

Over the Fourth of July holiday, delegates worked out a compromise plan that sidetracked Franklin’s proposal. On July 16, the convention adopted the Great Compromise by a heart-stopping margin of one vote.
The Senate article further explains the Great Compromise as follows:
Their so-called Great Compromise (or Connecticut Compromise in honor of its architects, Connecticut delegates Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth) provided a dual system of congressional representation. In the House of Representatives each state would be assigned a number of seats in proportion to its population. In the Senate, all states would have the same number of seats.
Another crucial issue in the formation of our system of government was also established by the Constitution; the Separation of Powers. The history of our government since the passage of the Constitution has been, in part, a struggle between the three governing bodies: the President, the Congress and the Supreme Court. When the balance of power shifts towards any one of these entities, at the expense of the will of the people, we are in danger of tyranny.

One idea that came from the Constitutional Convention concerning the Separation of Powers, was to organize the Congress with a system of checks and balances through different methods of representation and that the other branches of the government would also moderate each other's actions. To refer to a quote from James Madison in the Federalist Papers, No. 51 (1788):
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
I speak about this subject both as an experienced trial attorney who has taught and argued constitutional law, and also as an active member and supporter of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My comments are not made as a representative of the Church in any capacity. The position of the Church has been made clear in press releases available on the LDS.org website. I wholeheartedly support and affirm the position of the Church.

The danger we face as citizens is not so much wrapped up in any one decision of the Supreme Court as it is tied more strongly to the Rule of Law and the ability of the citizens of this country to govern themselves through a representative system.

In reading a number of commentaries about the recent Supreme Court decision, it was interesting to note that very few news articles mentioned the name of the case and almost none referred to the actual Court opinion. For reference, here is the name of the case and a link to the Slip Opinion:

Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, et al. Argued April 28, 2015, Decided June 26, 2015.

I have a somewhat unique background in litigation and court decisions about marriage issues. Some of my ancestors were known as polygamists and convicted in the Federal Courts of unlawful cohabitation. One, that I know of, was sent to prison after his conviction. The law then and now, concerning so-called polygamy, is based, in part, on a series of statutes passed by the United States Congress including the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862 (37th United States Congress, Sess. 2., ch. 126, 12 Stat. 501) and a subsequent law entitled the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1882 and other legislation. The Edmunds-Tucker act declared "polygamy a felony, revoking a polygamist's right to vote, making them ineligible for jury service, and prohibiting them from holding political office. These restrictions were enforced regardless of whether an individual was actually practicing polygamy, or merely believed in the Mormon doctrine of plural marriage without actually participating in it. All elected offices in the Utah Territory were vacated, an election board was formed to issue certificates to those who both denied polygamy and did not practice it, and new elections were held territory-wide." See Wikipedia: Latter Day Saint polygamy in the late-19th century. The climax of this legislation and the subsequent decision of the Supreme Court was that all of the property of the Church was confiscated by the Federal Government in 1887.

The constitutionality of that act and the seizure of church property was upheld by a Supreme Court decision in a case called Reynolds v. United States decided in 1890.

Years before the decision of the Supreme Court, an army under the direction of General Albert Sidney Johnston (who was to fight for the South in the Civil War) was sent to Utah to enforce the Federal Law and to "quell the Utah insurrection." This event is known as the Utah War.

In light of this history, only briefly outlined here, it is not surprising at all that the Church and its members would be concerned about the recent Supreme Court decision on a similar topic; marriage. The concerns expressed that this Supreme Court decision could result in active persecution of the Church and its members is firmly based in history. What happened before, could happen again.

The dissenting opinions to the decision of the Supreme Court in Obergefell strike directly at the issues I raise above. Quoting from the dissent by Justices, Roberts, Scalia, Alito and Thomas:
But this Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be. The people who ratified the Constitution authorized courts to exercise “neither force nor will but merely judgment.” The Federalist No. 78, p. 465 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961) (A. Hamilton) (capitalization altered).
Although the policy arguments for extending marriage to same-sex couples may be compelling, the legal arguments for requiring such an extension are not. The fundamental right to marry does not include a right to make a State change its definition of marriage. And a State’s decision to maintain the meaning of marriage that has persisted in every culture throughout human history can hardly be called irrational. In short, our Constitution does not enact any one theory of marriage. The people of a State are free to expand marriage to include same-sex couples, or to retain the historic definition. 
Today, however, the Court takes the extraordinary step of ordering every State to license and recognize same-sex marriage. Many people will rejoice at this decision, and I begrudge none their celebration. But for those who believe in a government of laws, not of men, the majority’s approach is deeply disheartening. Supporters of same-sex marriage have achieved considerable success persuading their fellow citizens—through the democratic process—to adopt their view. That ends today. Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law. Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.
The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent. The majority expressly disclaims judicial “caution” and omits even a pretense of humility, openly relying on its desire to remake society according to its own “new insight” into the “nature of injustice.” Ante, at 11, 23. As a result, the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are? 
The dissent further quotes Justice Curtis in his historic dissent to the Court's decision in the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford, 19 How. 393 (1857) as follows:
Justice Curtis explained that when the “fixed rules which govern the interpretation of laws [are] abandoned, and the theoretical opinions of individuals are allowed to control” the Constitution’s meaning, “we have no longer a Constitution; we are under the government of individual men, who for the time being have power to declare what the Constitution is, according to their own views of what it ought to mean.” Id., at 621
Exactly my point. I respectfully agree with the dissent. Who do we think we are? I would encourage all who are concerned about the long-term ramifications of the Court's decision to read and re-read the dissent.