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

RootsTech 2014 Official Blogger

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Peek at the New FamilySearch Family Tree Interface

We were working at the Brigham Young University Library helping patrons when my wife drew my attention to one of the patron's computer. He had logged into FamilySearch and when he opened Family Tree, he had the "new look" of the not-so-recently announced Family Tree upgrade. In asking the missionaries at the Library, I found more who logged into to Family Tree over the past week or so and found the new interface on their computer. What they were seeing on their view of the "Landscape" selection in Family Tree looked very much like the Beta version in this screenshot below:

It looks like the rollout of the new interface is being done in stages, with some users seeing the new changes and others in line. Meanwhile, as of the date of this post, my interface looks the same as it has for some time now:

Watch for the upgrade. It may be coming to you soon?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Find a Family Discovery Day in Your Area

A recent post on invites members and others to find a Family Discovery Day scheduled nearby. Here is a screenshot of the locator:

When I tried out the locator, I found five locations during the rest of 2015. Theoretically, I could attend all five, but it looks like only two were already on my own calendar. I found even more Family Discovery Days when I put in a location a little further north of Provo.

If you don't find one in your area, you should speak to your Stake Leaders about the possibility of sponsoring one in your area. For information, see Host a 2015 RootsTech Family Discovery Day.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What is the difference between a photo, a document or a story in FamilySearch Memories?

I have been asked the question in the title of this post several time recently. I am somewhat surprised that the question is not answered on the website in a way to make the decision as to where to put images and text more obvious. There are a number of online helps to getting started with the Memories section of the website. Here is a screenshot of the first page of the Memories, A Quick Start Guide:

The difficulty in determining what type of image goes in each of the categories in the Memories section of the website arises from the issue that there is some overlap. In a sense, the designation "Photos" is ambiguous as many of the images created for documents are in fact photographs. The divisions seem to be more based upon the content of the image rather than the physical process by which it was created. For example, a written document could either be imaged by a camera or a scanner, but in either case, it is still an image of a document.

Of course, it is my opinion, but I feel that the category of Photos includes images of people and places and other items pertinent to the history of a particular family. This is a very broad category and includes anything that the family feels is relevant to preserving family history. Of course, there are guidelines as to what are and what are not acceptable images, but within these guidelines there is great latitude.

The distinction between Photos and Documents involves the issue of whether or not the image is used as a "source" and attached to a source citation in the Details Page of an individual. For example, if I have a copy of a birth certificate, it may be a photograph but it is also a supporting source document for a source citation on the Detail Page. It appears to me, that FamilySearch intended that the source documents be segregated into the Document section. A reasonable extension of this definition would require that every document that is uploaded into the Documents Section be attached as a source on an individual's Details Page.

The third category, Stories, it is rather easily distinguished from the other two categories. The story is a text document. That means that the information put in the Stories Section of the Memories is in the format of a text file. The text can either be entered directly into the FamilySearch Memories Stories section or can be copied and pasted in from another document. I suggest that the story be written in a word processing document and copied into the Stories Section. This enables the person submitting the story to use the spell checker and other features of a word processing program.

By the way, the program does allow an image that was categorized as a photograph to be re-designated as a document and an image that was designated as a document to be re-designated as a photograph.

All documents, stories and photos should be tagged to the appropriate individuals that appear in the images or in the text files. For more information on the subject please see the "Get Help" section from the link in the upper right-hand corner of each page of the website. For more complete instructions on how to change a photo to a document or document to a photo see the following help Center document:

Changing a photo to a document or a document to a photo

I would also strongly suggest reviewing the Family Tree Training Lessons and Videos in the Learning Center of the website. You may not be aware that there are both video and written lessons that explain in great detail all of the features of the Family Tree program.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Videos from RootsTech 2015 now online

I count 32 video recordings of classes and presentations online at RootsTech 2015. In addition, I counted almost 100 videos on I finally got tired of counting and realized that I was probably missing some anyway. You can search on for "RootsTech 2015" and you can also go to the FamilySearch Channel.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Limits of Possibility -- Finding Elusive Ancestors

Family History is history. I would guess that if you took a poll among all of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you would find that the subject of history was about as popular with members as with the general population. The number of postsecondary degrees conferred in the United States in the area of Humanities has remained fairly constant over the past thirty or so years. See the Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Bachelor's, master's, and doctor's degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by field of study: Selected years, 1970-71 through 2011-12. What is significant is that degrees in the humanities hover around 16 to 17%. Other than a course or two in high school (if that) few people have much of a background in history.

In addition, most historians focus on the facts of history, while genealogists focus on discovering historical sources. In my experience, few genealogists, even those with a background in history, could tell you what was happening in Europe at the time their ancestors left their country or origin. It is the rare family historian that can relate the movement of their ancestors from say, Virginia, to Kentucky and tell you what was going on in history of the country at the time.

However, general history awareness is not the overriding limiting factor in family history research. What is really at the core of the limits to extending family lines, even among those who reach a expert level of research is the fact that there are limits to the availability and even the existence of historical documents.

Let me illustrate my conclusion with a hypothetical situation comparing two researchers. In the first situation we have Researcher Doe who is a "history buff" and in fact, has an advanced degree in U.S. history. The second family historian is Researcher Roe who has been doing family history for many years but has no particular interest in history, as such. Both of these researchers are looking for an ancestor in the same part of the United States at the same time. In fact, they find that they have a common ancestor. They have both been researching this common ancestor for many years and without any knowledge of the other's research, they have both learned that the common ancestor was abandoned as an infant on the steps of the local church. Despite the years of research and the extensive backgrounds of both these researchers, finding the ancestor's parents have proved to be impossible.

My point here is simple. There are practical limits to family history. Those limits are not set by the amount of specialized knowledge of the researchers, but by the availability of historical source records containing information about individuals and families. It is inevitable that every single one of my ancestral lines will end at the point where records cease to be available. Even though this is an undeniable fact, the reality is that very few family historians ever reach that point. In other words, few family histories are limited by the unavailability of records, they are limited more by the lack of knowledge and motivation of the researchers.

It is further my own experience that most researchers stop long before the sources have been exhausted. This is where a lack of historical context begins to become more and more important as factor in this lack of progress. The most common problem I find is the inability to trace the ancestral line beyond an immigrant. In nearly every case, this occurs at a time when the researcher is not even aware of the identity of the country or origin. For example, many researchers are looking for an ancestor who came from Germany in the 1800s, without a shred of information about where in Europe the person originated or whether or not the person even spoke German. If this reference to "Germany" makes no sense to you, then you need to study a few historical maps of Europe and the boundary changes that occurred to see what I am referring to.

So, what should be our reaction to an elusive ancestor? We need to dig in and discover the history and then realistically evaluate whether or not sources are actually available.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Tag a Photo - Find an Ancestor to take to the Temple

Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson and her twin boys, Evan and Ivan Overson abt. 1909 in St. Johns, Apache, Arizona, United States from a glass negative.
I had an interesting experience last night. I was tagging photos from the Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson Photographic Collection on's Memories section when I discovered a family that had been overlooked by the over one hundred years of family history research.

First a note about the collection.

The original glass negatives, acetate negatives and printed photographs of the historic Charles Jarvis and Margaret Jarvis Overson Photography Collection, is now found in the Archives of the University of Arizona. This collection of photographs date from the 1860s to the 1940s and covers primarily people who lived in Apache County, Arizona during that time. We discovered the collection, which had been preserved by a cousin, and I digitized the negatives and printed photographs. The digital images from the collection, over 6300 images, are being processed by the Special Collections Library of the University of Arizona and will eventually appear online. Meanwhile, I have been uploading and tagging the photos on's Memories section. You can find the photos in the Photos section of the Memories, by searching for the tag, "St. Johns," using the quotation marks. 

Back to the tagging. As I worked through tagging the photos and trying to identify those people that I knew, I referred to Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson's book,

Overson, Margaret Godfrey Jarvis. George Jarvis and Joseph George De Friez Genealogy. [Mesa?, Ariz.]: [M.G. Jarvis Overson], 1957.

Now on Books in a completely digitized edition. I spotted a photo I had not identified previously and went back and began to tag the photo and attach it to the people in the Family Tree. As a result, I found an entire family that had been overlooked by those entering names into the Family Tree and was able to reserve some Temple ordinances that had been overlooked by the family over the past 100+ years. The reason seemed plain. The family had lived far outside of the states of Utah, Arizona and Idaho. Although, some of the people I found were not related to me in a way that I could do the Temple work, there were some that were.

This is reinforces what I have been teaching for the past years. We need to go through an document our families on's Family Tree. I we are careful to document the families, we will find new people for the Family Tree and have further opportunities to take these ancestor's names to the Temples. I also found that the Record Hints from were now very extensive and extremely accurate. I was able to fully document the families I found and even extend the ancestry back on one of the families. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for someone else, the people I found were not related to me. 

All this happened because I was tagging photos and doing the research to identify the people in the photos. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Quotes from LDS Speakers at RootsTech -- Do I detect a change?

I have been reading the LDS Church News and the Deseret News for the past couple of weeks as they report about the recent RootsTech 2015 Conference. I believe I detected a subtle change in the direction of the talks from previous months and years. Here are some quotes I found very interesting. Note that the quotes come from the ChurchNews not from transcripts of the talks.

RootsTech 2015: Blessings await those involved in family history and temple work
By Jason Swensen
LDS Church News
Published: Friday, Feb. 27 2015 11:29 a.m. MST

The article begins the the following statement:
Family history research can yield rich blessings — but those blessings are typically received after members accept personal accountability and get to work.
Quoting from Elder Enrique R. Falabella of the Seventy in a Spanish language session at the recent Family Discovery Day.
Elder Falabella said that experience taught him a vital lesson: Blessings often follow diligent labor. 
“Claiming blessings is like climbing a ladder — you have to climb the ladder to receive them,” he said. And so it is with family history research. 
The Church leader encouraged the audience to take three key steps up the “ladder.” 
1. Find your ancestors. 
Start by collecting the names and records of living relatives, and then gather those records of ancestors who have died, he said. Then add that information to FamilySearch and begin the indexing process. 
2. Take the names to the temple. 
Become worthy to enter the temple. Then take the names of ancestors to the temple and perform sacred ordinances on their behalf. 
“You will feel a greater connection with those on the other side of the veil,” he said. “It is a great spiritual experience to connect with your ancestors.” 
3. Teach others. 
Share the joy of family history and temple work with family and friends. 
“We have to be willing to help other people,” he said. 
By taking those three steps, members become worthy to receive precious blessings, promised Elder Falabella. Modern-day prophets and apostles have declared that faithful family history and temple work will yield blessings in “all aspects of life.” Such blessings include increased faith in Christ; a better understanding of eternal life; stronger ties to ancestors and living relatives, and an increased ability to withstand temptation. 
“It is your job to climb the ‘ladder,’ ” he said. “Blessings are waiting.”

Apparently, it now takes some work to do our family history.

RootsTech: 'Gathering, healing and sealing families'
By Marianne Holman Prescott
LDS Church News
Published: Saturday, Feb. 14 2015 9:12 p.m. MST
Updated: Saturday, Feb. 14 2015 9:12 p.m. MST

Quoting from Sister Carol McConkie of the Young Women General Presidency:
“The first step is to find the names of your ancestors,” Sister McConkie said. “This work is personal. You learn about the people in your family who came before you, people without whom you would not exist. We challenge you to seek, discover and find the names and the remarkable stories in your own family.” 
As individuals prayerfully seek, the Spirit of the Lord will guide them to find their family. After the names are found, it is important to take those names to the temple to perform ordinances on their behalf. 
“Family history work is the work of salvation, so, family history is clearly linked to the temple,” Sister Marriott said. “As you find the names of ancestors to take to the temple, you join with the Savior and therefore become unified in His mission to ‘bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and [to open] the prison to them that [are] bound’ (Doctrine and Covenants 138:42). 
“There is no greater work, no more significant way to spend your free time, than learning how to find the names of your ancestors who died without the gospel, taking those names to the temple and teaching others how to do the same thing.”
Through finding names, taking them to the temple and teaching others to do the same, individuals are able to strengthen their understanding of their true identity, give hope during hard times, and be a powerful source of spiritual protection.
RootsTech 2015: Elder Andersen adds to temple challenge
By Ryan Morgenegg
LDS Church News
Published: Saturday, Feb. 14 2015 9:10 p.m. MST

Quoting from Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
Explaining that there are often roadblocks with family history and temple work, Elder Andersen explained the need for perseverance. “Just like climbing a mountain, this work requires stamina, patience and diligence. As with anything important, there will be discouragement, disappointment and setbacks but there will be glimpses of eternity never before imagined. As you do your best, you will feel your abilities grow and your desire to advance this work will increase.”
My impressions:
What am I hearing? Family History takes time, effort and yes, work. I strongly agree. It may be fun, but it is not always easy. Let's get to work.