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

RootsTech 2014 Official Blogger

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Free Access to Ancesty.com, MyHeritage.com and findmypast.com begins

Various notifications have gone out from FamilySearch.org about the impending free access to Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and findmypast.com. There now seems to be a schedule for FamilySearch to send out email notifications granting access to the three programs. As a Church Service Missionary, I got a notification today. Within a very few minutes, I was able to get complete access to all three websites. From the schedule I have seen, this process will go on for a few months before all the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have access to the programs.

There is no way to speed up the process. Because I had accounts with Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com, the existing accounts will all of the links and documents were carried over to the new free accounts. I could even use the same login and password to access the accounts. Both entities suggested that a connection between the programs and FamilySearch Family Tree would be possible in the future.

There seem to be a lot of rumors going around and some misinformation. As a long time user of all three programs, I am extremely impressed with the ease of getting access. Of course, I know all about logins and passwords and all that. I expect that there will be a significant number of people who will not be able to follow the directions and will need help logging into the three websites. I predict this because we are still working out problems in getting Church members into FamilySearch.org.

Just be patient, the email will come. I will report about my experience using all three programs once I get a chance to use them with the LDS Access.


Answering specific issues in FamilySearch Family Tree

There are a lot of questions and issues with the information contained in FamilySearch.org's Family Tree program. Most of the functions of the programs are adequately covered in the Reference Guide. See Using the FamilySearch Family Tree: A Reference Guide (18 October 2013). In addition, the FamilySearch.org Blog contains valuable updates of new features added to the program. See FamilySearch Blog. For example, a blog post on 18 April 2014 had the topic of a "New Way to Move a Person to the Main Position on a Fan Chart." In addition, I try to keep up with the changes when they are major and affect the way the program operates.

But most of the issues that come up from day to day that involve the data in the program rather than its operation. How do we resolve those issues? For example, what if two researchers in the same family have different ways of spelling an ancestor's name? Or what if two or more people disagree on dates and places? These types of issues are inevitable given the nature of genealogical research and the state of the historical record. The key here is to contact the people involved in making the changes and request source information substantiating the changes. If the person refuses to respond or does not have an email address, then edit the change and see if the person returns to make the change again. Repeated changes without source information or failure to respond or lack of email address should be reported as abuse. Here is a screen shot showing the link to report abuse:


The most common issue I hear from patrons and missionaries at the Mesa FamilySearch Library involve names that change to people who are completely different than the actual ancestor. In other words, an ancestral name becomes something entirely different and the surname does not match. This may possibly be caused by merging individuals who had been combined with the wrong individual in New.FamilySearch.org. However, this also might have occurred because someone deleted the correct individual, substituting the wrong one. Be aware that this issue does not mean anyone in Family Tree needs to be deleted. These issues involve relationships and editing issues not deletion.

I suggest a two step solution. First, search for the correctly individual in the program. If the correct individual is not found, then he or she may have been deleted. Carefully examine the Latest Changes and all of the previous changes. You may simply be able to restore the change and take care of the problem. Here is an example of a Change List showing the Restore links:


If this does not work, then search to see if the correct person is in the program. At this point, the issue is that your relative and siblings are not the children of both of the parents showing in the program. You can then continue the editing process by deleting the relationship of each of the correct children from the incorrect parents. Remember, if one of the parents is wrong, then the child is not the child of that relationship and the relationship needs to be deleted. Do not delete the individuals, only the relationship. See the Reference Guide above for specific instructions.

One very good idea is to be sure to write down the identification numbers of each child first, so that if the child disappears, you will be able to find them again. then add the correct parents as parents of the children. Do not delete the "wrong" person as this will cause even more improper relationships.

Almost all the other problems with Family Search involve the same or very similar issues. I constantly hear complaints about "wrong" information in the program. The people making these complaints have almost never made the corrections to the program. Sometimes they are embarrassed at how simple it is to correct inaccurate information.

One type of information that causes consternation involves problems with the way the program does or does not show living people. Although living people can be added to the program, if these people are members of the Church, they are duplicates. Further, the living people can only be seen by those having a direct relationship to them, usually only the person who entered the information. If you find wrong information about living people, including yourself, who are members of the Church, then these errors reflect errors in the Church Membership program and need to be addressed by contacting the Ward Clerk where the living people reside. Obviously, this can only be done by the person involved.

As with most of the problems with technical subjects, the answer usually involves reading the manual.




Sunday, April 20, 2014

How do you choose a genealogy program? -- Part Two

It is a fact of life in the larger genealogical community that there are still a huge number of would-be genealogists who have varying amounts of their research in old, unsupported programs such as Personal Ancestral File (PAF). This seems to be more prevalent among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than those who are not members. It is almost inevitable, that even more than 12 years after the last upgrade made to PAF, that I will talk to someone who still has their entire genealogical data file locked up in PAF. Let me try to explain why this is a problem and also why moving to a newer program is desirable.

Because the Church introduced PAF, many members took that as an endorsement that PAF was the "official" program for members of the Church. At the time PAF was introduced back in 1984, the idea of universally connecting individual computers through the Internet was not even a dream. The personal computer industry was in its infancy and connecting anything electronic to telephone lines was extremely rare. Do you remember the first audio-modems where you put the telephone handset in a receiver to relay signals, usually in electronic format? I do. Now that I have established that I am practically ancient, the point is that what we accept today as commonplace with smartphones, tablet computers, laptops and desktop computers, not only did not exist, but could not be imagined at the time PAF was introduced.

Now, think about this for just a few minutes. PAF did not advance with the network and interconnectivity. Changes or updates to the program were discontinued just about the time the Internet really got functioning in about 2002. In fact, I would guess that it may be just about the only program in the entire world that old that is still being used by a significant number of people.

The question is, why do so many people still use the program? I see two major reasons; it was and is free and it performs the basic genealogical functions. In my experience, there is also a third reason and this is that it was being actively supported and taught by Family History Centers around the world and probably still is.

I used both the PC and Mac versions of PAF for many years. I found it to be well written, rock solid and not subject to crashing or freezing up and very useful. However, compared to the programs available today and from today's perspective, it was clunky, slow, poorly designed for data entry and does not support some of the most common functions of the present-day programs. What is even more important, given the current understanding of the needs of genealogy, it had a very limited sourcing and even in its latest versions, a limited support of media. It basically supported and even promoted, a limited, name centered, method of viewing and storing information about families.

What do we do about data that is still wrapped up in PAF files? There are still quite a few commercially available and brand new programs that will read PAF files directly and salvage all of the information contained in those files. This usually requires that the information be in the last version of PAF or PAF Version 5.2, but the current programs such as RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree and Ancestral Quest, will read the files directly with no need to convert the data to a GEDCOM file. Any one of the three programs, in fact all of the programs listed as FamilySearch Certified for Tree Share and LDS Support will read PAF files directly.

What will the new programs not do with old PAF files? They will not convert source information in notes into any form of current source information. Many old PAF users realized that the source capabilities of the program were sadly lacking and so they put their source information in notes. The good news is that the information is preserved in notes in the newer programs. The bad news is that it is still in the notes and there is no way to get the sources into the source fields in the new programs. All of the sources locked up in notes have to be re-entered into the source fields of any of the programs.

Therefore, if you or someone you know is still a PAF user and is thinking about moving to a newer program, you might want to look at one or more of the FamilySearch Certified Programs for the possibility of reading all of the old PAF file information. One other detail that is important to understand. FamilySearch.org Family Tree incorporates data from Church membership records and nearly all of the Church Temple records. I have found that people who have old PAF files usually do not realize that most, if not all, of the information they gathered years ago is now readily and freely available online in Family Tree. If you are in that situation or know someone that is, I suggest sitting down and comparing the data online in Family Tree with the old PAF file and you will see, most of the information is likely already online.

What I see is that many people do not want to upgrade to a newer program at all if they think that they will have to re-enter all of their information into the computer. This is almost never the case, but even if it were to be needed, that is really no reason not to upgrade to a newer program. Another objection I get constantly is the fact that it might cost something to pay for upgrades to the newer program. Yes, that is true. Every so often, these new programs are upgraded and sometimes the upgrade have an additional cost. This is a fact of life. There seems to be an attitude among genealogists that everything about genealogy should be free. I could speculate where this attitude arose, but that is the subject for other posts. I do understand the annoyance at having to pay for upgrades, but as long as technology and innovation continue, upgrades will be a fact of life.

If you or someone you know is still using PAF, please help them to see the need to move on. There may be some real challenges especially if their files are locked up on 3.5 floppy disks or are in some really old format but even then the files can be converted by some of the current programs if the files can be physically transferred to some other media than floppy disks.

There are still a number of issues to discuss about choosing a genealogy program and so this series will probably continue for a while.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

How do you choose a genealogy program? -- Part One

If I wanted to do so, I could probably sell you on almost any one of the dozens of existing genealogical database programs out there on the market. They all have good features and lots of enthusiastic users. Frequently, I get asked the question about which program I would recommend. I tell the inquirers that I have a lot of the programs and would recommend them all. The key here is that purchasing a genealogy database and then using it to keep your genealogical information is very personal. I suggest that people download the free copies of the programs available and use them for a while to see which one they like the most.

Because of my technical background, learning a new program is usually a very trivial activity for me. But I am certainly aware that for many people it is a major issue. Moving from one program to another can be a daunting prospect. I also realize that there are a lot of people still using Personal Ancestral File (PAF) who have yet to move on to a current program. I have heard many different reasons for staying with PAF, but none of those reasons are at all convincing. You may like your 1958 Chevy, but you simply cannot convince me to give up the conveniences of my newer cars. Let's face it, you are using the older program out of inertia. You could sit there for an hour and tell me all the reasons you are satisfied with PAF, but none of those reasons would make any sense given the state of genealogy today. You have to realize that PAF was developed and was last updated when the online genealogy community was in its infancy.

For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the field of useful programs has expanded dramatically with the agreements between FamilySeach.org and Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and findmypast.com. Two of these other companies have proprietary programs. Ancestry.com produces Family Tree Maker and MyHeritage.com has Family Tree Builder. These programs are in addition to the FamilySearch Certified Programs listed on their website.

One factor in choosing a program is which of the online family tree programs you are going to primarily use? With the free availability of Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com to members of the Church, this becomes a real question to answer. There is also the announced intention by FamilySearch and the other companies to make it possible to move users' tree data from the other programs to FamilySearch Family Tree. But this is only one consideration.

Since FamilySearch.org Family Tree is presently the only way to submit names to the Temples for ordinance work, ultimately, any information developed by members that they wish to incorporate in Family Tree must be entered into that program before the work can be done. The key question here is how many names and how much information will you need to add to Family Tree. The Certified Programs on the FamilySearch list change from time to time. If you have a lot of names (hundreds) it might be best to stick with one of the Certified Programs but if you only have a few names from time to time, you should understand that it really doesn't matter which of the programs you choose.

Before going too much further, I guess I will list the current completely certified programs and the other programs from the partnership companies, not in any particular order. This list of Certified Programs comes from the FamilySearch.org Product Page as of the date of this post. You might want to check the page before purchasing a program for any possible additions. I am listing only those programs that are completely Tree Share Certified and also have LDS Support. I am also now adding in the other two programs from Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com.

Ancestral Quest $29.95 there is also a free version of the program called Ancestral Quest Basics
Celebrating My Family Tree, $56.00 a program offered by the Celebrating Family History website
Family Tree Heritage, $39.99
Legacy Family Tree, $29.95 the Standard edition is free
RootsMagic, $29.95 also a free version called RootsMagic Essentials

All of these programs are Windows only. There are presently no programs full Tree Share and LDS Support Certified for the Mac OS X operating system.

Family Tree Maker, $29.99 for Windows and Mac. (Ancestry.com)
Family Tree Builder, Free (MyHeritage.com)

To take advantage of all of the features of these programs you will need a full subscription to Ancestry.com or MyHeritage.com until that access is free to members.

Now, this is an important point. There are many other very good and perfectly adequate programs out there for both Windows and Macintosh OS X operating systems. I suggest you evaluate how you intend to use the program and whether you have a need to link directly to FamilySearch.org Family Tree because of the quantity of work you are doing in entering names for Temple work. I might also suggest that if you still have questions, you ask them as comments to this post and also read the next post in this series where I will discuss how each of the programs might be used and also talk about programs I have not yet included on the list. Meanwhile, if you would like to get some reviews of all of the possible programs, you might want to look at GensoftReviews.com.



Friday, April 18, 2014

The Living and the Dead in Genealogy

Apparently, there is some confusion over the post that I wrote recently concerning a question involving a descendancy book starting with great-grandparents. Let me be a clear as I can be without referring to the question or subsequent comments.

The main thrust of the issue is whether or not it is appropriate to include information about living people in a family history book or otherwise.

Point No. One:
FamilySearch.org Family Tree encourages users to upload their own photos and stories to the program. However, if the people are living, those photos and stories as well as the general genealogical information about the person are only visible to the person who submits the information. It is my understanding that this information would only become visible to other users upon the death the person submitting the information to the program or the death of the person about whom the information is submitted. This limitation applies to any information added to the program. As far as I am aware, this is the only guidance given by FamilySearch or the Church on this subject.

Point No. Two:
I have previously expressed my personal opinion that compiling a surname or decendancy book about a family where most of the people are living for general publication was not a real good idea. There are certain to be privacy issues. I did not say and certainly did not want to imply that gathering such information on a family basis is not desirable or that people should not write their own personal histories or maintain journals. I think that publishing a book containing information about living people for general publication falls into almost the same category as adding information to online family trees about living relatives where the programs only identify the person as "Living." I am sorry if anyone cannot see the difference in what I am saying. I regret if anyone understood this to mean that I did not think preserving such history was important.

Point No. Three:
As I have expressed many time previously in my Genealogy's Star blog, I think that identity theft is misunderstood and extremely overstated by the media and because of this, by most people in the community at large. I think it is very sad that people are afraid to include names in the genealogy or let their names be used by others for genealogical purposes out of a fear of identity theft. I have yet to hear of even one documented case where genealogical information was used for identity theft and person using such information was convicted of a crime under either state or federal law. If you know of such a case, I would be very glad to review here or in my other blog. As a side note, I think it is lamentable and highly inadvisable that banks and other institutions use genealogically based security questions such as asking for your mother's maiden name.

Point No. Four:
As members of the Church we have a primary obligation to seek out our ancestors. Yes, we also have a obligation to compile and keep our own family histories, and your opinion may differ from my own as to where our primary effort should be directed. I keep a journal. I encourage others to preserve the oral and written histories of their family members. I become involved in family organizations and reunions where they are available. I see no problem in compiling a family directory for family use only. But with all this, I think our primary responsibility still lies in seeking out our ancestors.

Point No. Five:
I am entirely unaware of any policy statement whatsoever from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that addresses the issue of identity theft as it relates to genealogy. The only statement I am aware of was posted on LDSTech in post entitled Identity Theft (Family Safety).

I am sorry if any one was personally offended by my previous post, but I believe that the criticism was misdirected through a failure to carefully read what I did and did not say.

Disclosures and Disclaimers

There are several things that need to be disclosed and disclaimed when I write a blog post.

I am employed by Family History Expos to participate in the Expos held around the country. I am paid for expenses and some time. Also, from time to time, I have been paid or employed by other entities for presentations and writing.

I practiced law as an attorney in Arizona for over 39 years. However, I am now fully retired. Anything I write in the blog is not intended as legal advice on any current case or controversy. I do not represent Family History Expos or any individual employed by them in any legal capacity. I presently have very few clients left and will not undertake to represent any more clients in the future.

Any mention I make of products, services, websites or any other entity is fully my personal opinion and does not represent the opinion of any other entity, however I may be teaming up with some providers of genealogical services to make special offers to my readers for which I may be compensated. From time to time I have been provided with free products to review, however the reviews are my own opinions and not those of the product supplier.

I am not currently associated with FamilySearch or any of its subdivisions or entities other than in a purely voluntary basis. I am a Church Service Missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently serving at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. This may change as I move to Provo, Utah. I volunteer to help patrons and teach classes on a weekly basis. I am an active volunteer for FamilySearch as a member of the Wiki Support Team and I am Moderator for Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. I also volunteer for FamilySearch in a variety of other capacities.

I am currently writing and publishing books and other publications for profit. Those publications I write are published both on paper and electronically. From time to time, I may promote my own personal writings on this blog. I am also a professional photographer and links to my photography blogs are on this site.

I also drive a Prius but I do not work for Toyota in any capacity. I also had an old Chevy Truck, since sold, and I refuse to work for General Motors. But I certainly appreciate anyone who does.