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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Family History and Handbook 2

Clear back in about 1998, I recall when the General Church Handbooks of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were divided into two paper copies. Handbook 1 was distributed to Bishops and Stake Presidents and Handbook 2 had a wider distribution to various auxiliary heads and had some limited access to the members in general. In 2010, the Church began the transition from paper copies of the Church's Handbooks of Instruction to electronic copies. Eventually, the general membership of the Church was given open access to Handbook 2. Today, copies of the Handbook 2 are posted on and are available through the Gospel Library app on both iOS and Android devices.

There are specific sections of Handbook 2 that apply to the organization and functions of family history callings in the Church. With the very recent announcement of the change in the designation of Family History Consultants to Temple and Family History Consultants, those changes are already reflected in the wording of some of the online versions of the Handbook 2. Previously, there were three additional family history oriented handbooks: the Member's Guide to Temple and Family History Work, the Instructor's Guide to Temple and Family History Work and the Leader's Guide to Temple and Family History Work. Only the Leader's Guide is presently available online on However, in light of the letter of instruction dated February 9, 2017 there have been some changes to the Temple and Family History Callings in the Church that are not yet completely reflected in the Handbook of Instructions in PDF versions still online and in the Leader's Guide. It will obviously take some time for the changes to be applied to all of the versions of the publications, even though they are electronic. Just as in days past, older versions of the manuals and handbooks should be discarded.

The latest version of the description of Temple and Family History Callings is on The directions to the leaders of the Church are on on the page entitled, "Leader Resources for Family History." There is also a section on entitled, "My Family History Calling" with more specific instructions about family history and the callings of Temple and Family History Consultants.

Years ago, my wife and I were called as Stake Family History Consultants. Eventually, these Stake positions were discontinued although there are still some Stakes that have a Stake family history calling still in operation. However, the February 9, 2017 letter makes clear that the Stakes may now call various Stake Temple and Family History Consultants. Questions concerning these callings are addressed on the Frequently Asked Questions page for Family History on

In ancient times, the Children of Israel spent forty years in the desert for the purpose of instructing them about some fundamental changes that they otherwise would not accept. In our own day of almost instant electronic communication, it still seems to take a number of months and even years for some of the changes made by the Church to take effect and become generally adopted. Let's hope that it doesn't take forty years for the new family history changes to become generally available to the members.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Ethics, Leaks, Sources and Genealogy

A Deseret News article published on February 18, 2017, entitled, "MormonLeaks in the Age of Transparency" raises some difficult issues that bear directly on the information provided or not provided in the context of online family tree programs and especially the Family Tree.

Genealogists have been cautioned to maintain the personal privacy of the "living" while at the same time recognizing that the dead have no privacy claims. In most cases, the "privacy" of the living is partially maintained by online programs that mark living people and prevent the general dissemination of information about those so marked. But beyond this attempt at maintaining privacy, the inclusion or exclusion of any other information is left entirely up to the individual users.

But the core issue for both those who supply "leaked" information and for genealogists generally does not so much involve privacy as it does in providing sources. The online "leaks" websites maintain the governments and other large organizations should be "transparent" in their operations while at the same time claiming confidentiality for their own sources. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If transparency is a positive virtue then transparency should work both ways. Why do the leaking organizations think that they need to keep their sources confidential? Obviously, for some of the same reasons that organizations, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintain the privacy of some aspects of their own internal business.

Why does this have anything to do with genealogy? Because we are in the business of acquiring and publishing information. As the article cited above points out about the information being obtained through MormonLeaks:
McKnight won't reveal who is providing the leaks to him other than to say it is more than one person. In fact, he said he doesn't know who they are. News consumers should consider that, said Kirtley, the Minnesota professor of ethics and law. 
"If you're interested in the content, then I think how the organization that posted it got it, might become a relevant issue, because how they got it could raise questions about the authenticity of the article, whether the material was being leaked for motives that might tend to skew your perception of what's there. You might for example get part of something that is not really representative of the whole but could be misconstrued. How do you know that if you can't as a reader judge who the source was who provides the material?"
This is the heart of the matter. How do we know if the information provided is reliable or not if we do not have a "source?" Exactly. This is the core issue with genealogy as it is portrayed in online family trees. For example, in my own family line I have a rather vocal "genealogist" who has entered some information about an ancestor without disclosing the origin of the information. The genealogist claims that she hired a "professional genealogist" who supports her conclusions but refuses to provide either the supporting documents or any other documents that might have been used to make the conclusion. The genealogist is, in effect, doing the same thing that is being done by the "Leaks" organizations, claiming that they are above the need to supply information about their sources.

In short, any information provided even in the context of genealogical research, that lacks a citation to the source is suspect and patently unreliable.

Sunday, February 19, 2017 products and services

One of the exhibits at RootsTech 2917 caught my eye because it was being run by some old friends from Mesa, Arizona. But the real interest came when the programs were explained to me. The first is an app called, "Called to Serve." Here is a screenshot of the app from the Apple App Store.

The next app is called MyMission.

They also produce a product called Missionary Display. All of these products are on the website. The programs look interesting, but there is little or no information on the website disclosing the owners or developers of the programs.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

For We Without Them Cannot Be Made Perfect

I have often reflected on Doctrine and Covenants 128:18 which indicates that our own salvation, both temporal and physical, is dependent on the temple ordinance work that we do for our kindred dead. Joseph Smith wrote:
I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands. It is sufficient to know, in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.
If there has been any time in history when there is an apparent curse on the world, then that time is now. At the same time, almost every day, I see wonders beyond wonders as records are made available and electronic devices and programs are developed that make the work of the salvation of the dead more immediately available. At the same time, I hear the "voice of warning" coming from God's disciples as is stated in the Doctrine and Covenants 1:4
And the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days.
An explanation of this passage is contained in the following at page 1538.
Ludlow, Daniel H. 1992. Encyclopedia of mormonism. New York: Macmillan. 
In modern time as in antiquity, a solemn responsibility envelops both the messengers and those to whom the message is delivered. The Lord informed Ezekiel, "I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth and give them warning from me" (Ezek. 3:17). Only those who hearken to the warning are spared the punishments and receive the blessings. The messengers who deliver the message also save their own souls; if they fail to deliver the message they acquire responsibility for those whom they failed to warn-"[their] blood will I require at thine hand" (Ezek. 3:18-21). 
It is a covenant obligation of all who are baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ to "stand as witnesses of God at all times, and in all things, and in all places" (Mosiah 18:9). Once warned, "it becometh every man…to warn his neighbor" (D&C 88:81). The messengers who deliver the warning will be present at the day of judgment as witnesses (D&C 75:21; 2 Ne. 33:11; Moro. 10:34). The essence of missionary work is for each member of the Church to become a voice of warning to those who have not been warned (see DS 1:307-311). NEIL J. FLINDERS
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we often apply this principle to the missionary work for the living, but less frequently to the work for the salvation of the dead.  Quoting from an article published in the Ensign for October 2014 written by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from an address given at the seminar for new mission presidents on June 25, 2013:
At a solemn assembly held in the Kirtland Temple on April 6, 1837, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel.”1 
Almost precisely seven years later, on April 7, 1844, he declared: “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead. The apostle says, ‘They without us cannot be made perfect’ [see Hebrews 11:40]; for it is necessary that the sealing power should be in our hands to seal our children and our dead for the fulness of the dispensation of times—a dispensation to meet the promises made by Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world for the salvation of man.”2 
Some individuals may wonder how both preaching the gospel and seeking after our dead can be simultaneously the greatest duties and responsibilities God has placed upon His children. My purpose is to suggest that these teachings highlight the unity and oneness of the latter-day work of salvation. Missionary work and family history and temple work are complementary and interrelated aspects of one great work, “that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Ephesians 1:10). 
I pray the power of the Holy Ghost will assist you and me as we consider together the marvelous latter-day work of salvation.
Why is it then that I encounter such a high degree of resistance among my fellow members of the Church to becoming involved in the vast work for the dead? 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Introducing BillionGraves Tree

One of the major benefits of going to the RootsTech Conference over the years has been the opportunity to meet and get to know some of the genealogy software developers from around the world. I have known the developers of for the past few years and watched the website grow from a small and interesting website into the huge, online genealogical powerhouse that it is today. Using the website, the employees and staff of will sometime this year (2017) finish digitizing the grave markers of all the cemeteries in Israel. At the end of this project, Israel will become the first country in the world to have all of their cemeteries online and digitized. See "We’re Halfway to Digitizing Every Cemetery in Israel."

Now, has added a new tool for those who have their genealogy on the Family Tree. This tool is the BillionGraves Tree. The BillionGraves Tree connects to your family tree and automatically searches billions of records to find the headstones for your ancestors.

The program is designed to soon work with both and Essentially, the BillionGraves Tree links to your Family Tree and automatically searches for grave marker information in its vast database and then allows you to add the information from the grave markers with the digitized photo with a few clicks. 

The red dots indicate that there is a potential match of a grave photo. When you click on the red dots you get a page asking you to confirm the match.

The BillionGraves Tree is one of the free services from the company.

The Family Nexus iPhone App

Genealogical mapping programs aren't new or that uncommon, but this new App called The Family Nexus is outstanding in its utility and ease of use. Basically, the app connects to your portion of the Family Tree, loads several generations of your ancestors and then displays the results in a zoomable map interface. Here is a video that illustrates how this mapping app works.

Introducing The Family Nexus Mobile App

I downloaded the app and waited a few minutes while it compiled the markers indicating where some event occurred in an ancestor or relative's life. Here is a screenshot of what I saw when I looked at the western United States.

When I zoomed in on Provo, Utah, I found that 14 events had occurred right here in Provo. 

When I clicked on the number, I got a specific list of each event and the person involved. 

The trickiest part of this was taking the screenshots with my iPhone. I showed this to my wife and we immediately realized that had we had this app during our trip to the Northeastern United States last year, we could have visited graves and other places of interest that we passed without knowing what had happened in that area. 

I will definitely be using this app. See

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Ultimate Family Tree Challenges: Consistency and Accuracy -- Part One

I start thinking about the problem

Let's pretend that we could somehow zoom out and look at the entire 1.1 billion entries in the Family Tree at the same time. Let's further imagine that we could filter our view of this huge expanse of names to show all of the inconsistent or inaccurate entries in blazing red while the rest of the tree was in some pleasing pastel color. How much of the Family Tree would be highlighted in blazing red?

At the recent RootsTech 2017 Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, introduced a new feature for all of its millions of user family trees. The feature was given the name of the Tree Consistency Checker. In addition, for some time now, the Family Tree has implemented a series of icons like this:

Now, there is no way for me to know how many of these pesky red Data Problems icons there are in my section of the Family Tree. But by using the Tree Consistency Checker I can see exactly how many errors and inconsistencies there are in my own family tree. The answer is a startling 726 errors. This is unsettling as well as discouraging, but not in any way surprising.

This experience at RootsTech started me thinking about how I was going to approach this monumental issue. My first attempts at "correction" lead to a virtual avalanche of related errors, inconsistencies, duplicate entries and other problems. One approach to the Family Tree issues is the utility program, Even if you don't have a family tree in, you can begin looking at the errors and inconsistencies by generations using the program. Here is what happens with my part of the Family Tree when the filter is set to one generation.

It may be some comfort to know that I have entered myself correctly into the program. The fatal flaw in both these error and consistency programs is that you could be making up all the names but neither program would be able to detect fraud or lying.

For example, the "Maud" person shown above in the Data Problems icon is so far removed from reality as to be inaccurate even if either her birth date or marriage date were changed. Such a person probably existed, but not at all likely on any of my family lines. The data problem shown on is a still-born infant who has been included in the Family Tree but not further identified.

But at this very basic, initial level, using the program complemented by the Tree Consistency Checker, gives me a couple of powerful and useful tools to start addressing my own issues in my portion of the Family Tree.