Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

RootsTech 2014 Official Blogger

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Look at the Future of Ancestry.com and FamilySearch

In a webinar sponsored by Ancestry.com and presented by Tim Crabb of Ancestry.com, there were a few features about the ability of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will enjoy in addition to the present connections in FamilySearch.org's Family Tree. If you have been into the program lately with an LDS Account, you might notice a FamilySearch icon next to the names in your Ancestry.com Family Tree. Here is an example from a screenshot with an arrow showing the link:


Clicking on the icon link, gives you several options. Here is a screenshot of the options:


 Presently, the only information which can be transferred between the two programs is that contained in the details section. Sources and relationships are presently noted as coming in the future. From the webinar, Tim indicated that comparing and transferring sources and relationships would come in the next few months. In addition, he mentioned a Star Rating system where the matches between Family Tree and Ancestry.com are rated according to whether or not they match. He also mentioned a "Tree Sharing" function which I did not completely understand.

The last item to come, was  the ability to import four additional generations for each end of line in your Ancestry.com family tree from Family Tree on FamilySearch.org. Superficially, this may sound like a good idea but I would only use this if the accuracy of Family Tree were to increase dramatically.

I am assuming we will hear more about these changes in the future since this presentation only had one sentence bullet points for each of these items.

How members are affected by the Family Tree Private Spaces

The recent announcement of FamilySearch.org's Family Tree program's Private Spaces is the topic of my blog post on Genealogy's Star entitled, "Private Spaces announced for FamilySearch Family Tree."


The other post refers to the basics of the new way of handling private information. But there are some issues that only apply to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Quoting from the Family Tree Help Center article entitled, "Understanding Private Spaces" it states:
Additional Information for Members
  • Each living person will have a different ID number or Person Identifier (PID) because each person is listed as a separate individual in each living record. Living records do not sync.
  • For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, membership information will be used to create certain people in their private space to help start their tree (mother, father, children, and so forth). Once created, these living people can be changed by the user, but such changes will not modify Church membership information. See Information that you can see from LDS Church Membership Records about living Individuals (71953).
  • Church members can modify their private space in Family Tree without having to ask the ward clerk.
  • Please contact the ward clerk if you feel the membership records are incorrect. See also Deceased individual's membership record has missing or incorrect information (53636).
  • When a ward clerk records that a person is deceased, then Church membership will create a deceased person in Family Tree, making it public. The ordinances that the person had done while living will be recorded on that copy. This will not affect the copy in your private space, and you will need to add the information that shows the person is deceased in your private space. You will then need to search for Possible Duplicates and merge your copy with the membership version. If a person made his or her personal space copy show the person as deceased, that person should merge these two records together. This procedure will need to be done by each person who has created a living person in his or her own private space.
These links may only be visible to those who log in with an LDS Access Account. You should notice from this explanation that there will be duplicate individuals created in the Family Tree program. At this time, it will be up to the members to resolve the duplicates.

If you understand what Private Spaces means, it means that only the person entering the information will see it. That includes spouses, children etc. No, your spouse will not be able to see the living people you enter and no one else will either.

I would speculate that there is a possibility that the Private Spaces may be enlarged to include other members of the family, but that is not available now, but may be in the future.

Positive Alternatives to the Typical Ward or Stake Family History Challenge

It seems to be the fashion today for Stake or Ward leaders to "challenge" the members of their respective congregations to "take a name to the Temple" within a specified time period. I hear this repeated over and over again. Usually, the leaders originating such a challenge have not spent much time doing their own genealogical research. But more importantly, they disregard those members who have spent considerable time, sometimes years, looking for ancestors and have not found any new names to take to the Temple. I have often heard feedback from these seasoned genealogists who feel that they are failing the challenge and are extremely disheartened by their lack of ability to find a potential ancestor in the time specified. In addition, those making the challenge seldom provide either the structure outlined in the Handbook or the training necessary to properly implement such a challenge. What is most likely to happen is that the members will simply try to "mine" FamilySearch.org's Family Tree program for "green arrows" and the results will be even more duplication.

In the worse cases, which I find repeatedly, people who are desperate to "find a name" will make unsupported changes to an existing family, solely for the purpose of manufacturing a qualified name to take to the Temple.

The idea of having a "challenge" is a good one. It is just that the nature of the challenge has to be positive and not a negative experience. In recent discussions with some family members who are Family History Consultants or in other Church positions, I have heard some alternatives that I believe are much more positive.

I suggest that the challenge focus on participation in family history activities. How about challenging the Ward or Stake members to spend a certain amount of time each week in a family history activity and then, weekly, suggest appropriate activities in the Ward bulletins? Why not suggest a Stake goal for Indexing and then provide Indexing classes and seminars on the how to Index? How about a Stake goal to increase Temple activity through family history and follow the handbook to organize the Ward Councils to fulfill their functions as outlined? How about a goal to train every person in the Ward how to use FamilySearch Family Tree, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and findmypast.com, all of the programs that are "free" to members? How about modifying the "take a name to the Temple" goal to have those experienced members help those with less experience? How about doing a survey of all of the members and finding out those with few ancestors on the Family Tree and assigning experienced Family History Consultants to work with them in their homes (as outlined in the Handbook) to find real names to take to the Temple? How about making a room available during Sunday School each Sunday where the members can come, either with computers in the room or laptops, and have help with their research questions? How about a realistic goal to have the Wards and the Stake follow the guidelines of the Handbook.

Oh, in case you don't know which handbook I am talking about, here is the name with a link to the LDS.org website: Leader's Guide to Temple and Family History Work, To Turn the Hearts. How about a preliminary goal to learn our duties as leaders and then teach those duties to those with family history callings from the Stake President to the High Councilor and so forth?

There are those Ward and Stake out there that are making progress in family history by following the guidelines and implementing realistic goals. Is your Ward or Stake in that category?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Overcoming Family Tree Phobia

There seem to be multiple levels of concern about using an online family tree and even more levels of concern about any particular family tree program. I thought it would be a good idea to discuss some of those concerns or fears by category as they apply to the FamilySearch.org Family Tree program specifically. Here is the list with the comments on each category of concern.

Lack of computer and program skills
At the most basic level, people do not understand how to use the Family Tree program. This concern is usually coupled with a limited ability to use computers and a lack of keyboard training. This is one of the most difficult issues to overcome. Some of the people who fall into this category have limited physical mobility or other impairments. It is important that these limitations not be the decisive issue in the individual's participation in genealogy online. The best solution is to have a mentor, family member or friend who is willing to help keep the person online and in contact with the greater genealogy community. In particular, it is important that the assistance come from someone with the patience to work through not only the online challenges and issues, but also can be a real help. Helping someone enter their family names into Family Tree is one way of demonstrating true charity.

Fear of compromising an extensive amount of research
Some very competent genealogists have spent a considerable amount of time amassing a huge amount of data about their ancestors. The idea that Family Tree can be modified by any user creates a conflict because they believe that the users of the Family Tree program will substitute incorrect data for correct data. Because Family Tree is a unified family tree program this means that any user can correct, add, merge, or delete information in the tree. However, this does not mean that the information can be changed arbitrarily. There are various safeguards built into the program that allow responsible users to manage the tree and prevent improper changes and modifications. These include the ability to watch any one of the individuals entered into the program and to add sources and explanations for each event documented for any individual in the program. All changes to the program are recorded in any unsubstantiated change can be reverted at any time. In addition, the program sends a weekly email notifying any interested user of changes in the people they have designated as "watched."

As a matter of fact, the entire program of Family Tree was designed to create an environment where documented and sourced data is entirely supported and encouraged. It would be a good practice to maintain a separately verified and documented pedigree in order to provide a master file from which any changes made to the program can be corrected.

Privacy concerns
One of the most commonly expressed fears preventing people from entering names into an online family tree program is the fear of identity theft or violation of privacy. These are real concerns and cannot be easily dismissed. The privacy issue can be addressed by realizing that dead people have no privacy rights. In addition, public family trees are generally structured so that information about living individuals is maintained confidentially and only viewable by the user who enters the information. This does not mean that living people do not appear in online family trees but it does mean that there are safeguards so that information about living people is not readily available. In the case of Family Tree, any information entered by an individual concerning living people is viewable only by the person entering such information. It is also important to refrain from entering information that would be detrimental to living people. It is improper to enter private information such as Social Security numbers or personal contact information. The best way to approach this problem is to refrain from entering any information which you feel would compromise the privacy of any individual who is still living.

The question of identity theft is more complex. Except for some financial institutions who in advisedly maintain the practice of verifying identity by asking questions about mother's maiden name or other identity questions, there is usually no information contained in the family tree program which could be used as the basis for identity theft. I have yet to encounter the case or other instance where information obtained from an online family tree was used to perpetrate an identity theft. Caution is advised, but realistically this should not be a reason for failing to put a family tree online.

Duplication of effort
some people are concerned that maintaining a family tree will involve a substantial amount of duplicated effort in order to synchronize work entered into a local program with an online family tree. FamilySearch Family Tree has entered into strategic partnerships with three major genealogical database programs and allow those programs access to Family Tree so that data can be easily exchanged and synchronized. Of course, bringing another program into the equation increases the complexity and may, in a sense, loop back to the very first item in my list, lack of computer program skills.

These are some of the issues that I see most commonly. Most of these can be overcome through education or mentoring.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

FamilySearch Releases Additional Research Hints for Family Tree

According to a FamilySearch Blog post of 19 August 2014 by Robert Kehrer entitled,"Additional Record Hints Released," "on August 18th FamilySearch released a new update of the hinting data visible on an ancestor’s detail page in the Family Tree. This data update represents advancements in the software that will allow users to view a whole new set of hints for each ancestor. Users of the Family Tree may wish to visit their ancestor pages again and evaluate any new hints that may be displayed."

These new developments do not seem to be readily visible to the user, but as I searched around and looked at several ancestors in detail, I did see additional new record hints. It would be nice if there was something showing on the Traditional View pedigree that there were source hints available. Even though the program provides these hints, it is still up to the user to evaluate and attach the sources to the individuals in the program. This feature is very similar to the "shaky green leaf" hints in Ancestry.com but without the pedigree view graphic indication of new hints. In FamilySearch Family Tree, you have to go to each ancestor to see the hints, it there are any.

One way to see new or existing hints is to view your ancestors in the Descendancy View. Here is a screenshot of my Great-grandfather's family in the Descendancy View showing the additional Record Hints available. I had cleared off all the record hints previously available.


The blog post goes on to explain the newly added hints as follows:
On June 17th, 2014, FamilySearch released a public preview of the record hinting feature. With this new feature, users can view the details page of any ancestor in the family tree and see suggested records that have a high confidence of being applicable to that specific ancestor. . These hints are identified by comparing the ancestor’s vital information, relatives and the relative’s vital information against all the historical records published on FamilySearch database. 
During the public preview phase of development significant enhancements will continue to be made to the quality and capability of the hinting software. An update system is also being built to provide new hints more quickly. The Hints data will continue to be updated as new records become available (more or less on a monthly basis). That means that as new people are added to the tree, they may not show record hints until the next data update. Later this fall, when the update system is complete, new hints will be generated anytime a tree person is added or significantly changed.
This is a powerful and helpful addition to FamilySearch Family Tree. The blog post from Robert adds these comments:
Genealogical researchers recognize that the first step in understanding an ancestor is to gather as many records about their life as possible. Many of the records that position the ancestor in a place, time and relationships may not be about the ancestor, but about their family members (ex. The ancestor may be listed as the mother on her daughter’s birth certificate). With this data update, the hinting system will now present all the valuable records that mention an ancestor rather than just those that are “about” the ancestor. When a user attaches a record to their tree, they are affirming to Family Tree that the person in the record is the same person they are attaching the record to in the tree. The updated hinting data will make it easier for researchers to use valid sources to document the conclusions they make.
It appears that the accuracy of the hints is very good. I will have to add a few more to be sure, but I would guess that this new development is either a direct or indirect benefit of the partnerships with Ancestry.com and/or MyHeritage.com.


Promoting Family History in the Ward and Stake

When we think about helping our Ward and Stake members to "become more involved in family history," we often think in terms of a super activity kind of project. Just as we often do with youth activities, we think of dance festivals, treks, super activities in exotic locations, and other such projects. We promote the activity by calling a number of members to spearhead the activity and organize the activity over a year or more. We then congratulate ourselves when the "activity" is a success and even get the activity written up in the Church News.

This week, for example, I have already been called by a Ward Family History Consultant who was asking about a Ward Genealogy Plan. He wanted a "plan" that other Wards had used to have a successful genealogy activity, such as challenging the Ward members to "take a name to the Temple."

I have been involved in genealogy for a long time and I have been helping members of my Ward and patrons at Family History Centers with their research for many of those years. I have seen special program come and go and I have seen almost no rise in genealogical activity in the Ward. But during all that time, I have seen valiant individuals quietly and unnoticed work diligently on finding their ancestors and send hundreds and thousands of names to the Temple for ordinance work. These diligent workers are not the stars of the Ward or Stake genealogical super-activity. In fact, their work is almost never acknowledged or even recognized. I would not be surprised if nearly all of the Bishops in the Church were entirely unaware of who was actually involved in genealogy activity.

In one of my old Wards, the Family History Consultants complained to the Bishop when we offered to help with the "family history class" that we were interfering in their callings. In another Ward, we met every Sunday to hold a research help class in a computer filled room next to the Bishop's office and he would come into the room once a year or so and express surprise that we had people working on their genealogy and wondering why we were still there helping!

Involvement in family history will not be "solved" by holding one or more super-activities. In the scriptures, we read about the miracle of the loaves and fishes in Mark 6: 31-46. We can look at this miracle as a very impressive and successful group activity. But were the people's hearts changed? Did they join the Church in multitudes at that time? I think that Ward and Stake leaders are sometimes looking for an instant kind of "loaves and fishes" experience that will "solve the problem of Ward and Stake activity when the solution does not lie in a new or even successful group activity, it lies in the constant and repeated assistance of dedicated family history consultants who work one-on-one with members to help them with their genealogy and overcoming the challenges of computers and family history.

How do you accomplish this work? The answer is not in an innovative program so much as it is in applying the principles laid down in the Scriptures and the handbooks of instruction. Follow the program as it is presently outlined and you will have success.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Teaching at the BYU Family History Library

The Brigham Young University has a schedule of classes ever 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month except for holidays. It also has a Facebook page where you can see a copy of the latest schedule. I will be teaching two classes this Sunday, at 4:30 pm and 6:00 pm. The classes are held in the Family History Library in the Harold B. Lee Library on the campus of BYU. Everyone is invited. The classes this week will be on Ancestry.com and findmypast.com. I am looking forward to teaching both classes. If those don't interest you, check out the schedule for the other classes offered.