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

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Mystery of "?" on the FamilySearch Family Tree

On my startup page for the Family Tree, I got a notification with a link to the following entry:

Here is a copy of the notification:

Hmm. Apparently, someone could not find the wife of one of the people in the Family Tree and decided to put a question mark in as the name. Extraneous markings such as this, probably included to act as a reminder to the researcher, are a somewhat constant background to my work with the Family Tree. The recommended tasks for the above person are certainly correct, this entry needs some data corrected before it can be submitted for temple work. I would suggest that such notices be very carefully reviewed and researched.

Even more interesting is the following fact.

One of the ordinances was completed for Mrs. ? Jensen in 1960, apparently without even a given name. 

When I click the link to "View My Relationship," I see the following:

This is even more interesting because my Great-grandfather, Marinus Christensen, was the only male child in that particular family. He did not have a brother. "Jens Christensen," the name of Marinus' father, has one of the more common names in Denmark. There are thousands upon thousands of Jens Christensens.

Apparently, someone added a second wife to my Jens Christensen and five extra children. Even more interesting is the source added to Christian Marinus Jensen.

This shows that the birth occurred in Torslev, Dronninglund, Hjorring, Denmark in 1859. This is interesting because the last child listed for this second family was also born in Torslev in 1865 when my ancestor, Jens Christensen died crossing the Plains in 1866. Jens Christensen and his wife and children left Denmark in 1866 and came to America where he and one of his daughters died. We have a somewhat detailed account of their lives in a book written by my Great-grandmother. See
"Tanner 26 & 27: Jens and Karen Johannesen Christensen."
In short, this additional wife and five children are attached to the wrong Jens Christensen. If you examine the added entry, you can see that the marriage date for Jens Christensen to Kristen Marie Thomsen is listed as occurring in 1830 and the first child is listed as being born in 1853, twenty-three years later. The children of the added marriage were supposedly born in Raevholt, Torslev, Hjorring, Denmark. However, there is no such place in Torslev. The Jens Christensen who lived in Torslev and was married to Kirsten Marie Thomsen, was a shoemaker and the reference to R√¶vholt, is to a house with that name.

I guess I can be grateful that the Family Tree program alerted me to this extra, wrong family attached to my ancestry, but I did not need to do all the research necessary to detach the family, which will now be done. By the way, I am not going to resolve the issue of the "?" person, since it is not my family line.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Get a Box: A new approach to family history

Back in 2003, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Boyd K. Packer published an article including excerpts from the following book:

Packer, Boyd K. 1980. The Holy Temple. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft.

Quoting from's account of his writing in an article entitled, "Your Family History: Getting Started, " President Packer wrote about the process of beginning your family history. I highly recommend reviewing and internalizing the concepts of this short article. One quote from the article has caught my attention over the years. Here is the quote.
How to Begin 
It is a matter of getting started. You may come to know the principle that Nephi knew when he said, “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do” (1 Ne. 4:6). 
If you don’t know where to start, start with yourself. If you don’t know what records to get, and how to get them, start with what you have.
There are two very simple instructions for those who are waiting for a place to begin. Here’s what you might do: 
Get a cardboard box. Any kind of a box will do. Put it someplace where it is in the way, perhaps on the couch or on the counter in the kitchen—anywhere where it cannot go unnoticed. Then, over a period of a few weeks, collect and put into the box every record of your life, such as your birth certificate, your certificate of blessing, your certificate of baptism, your certificate of ordination, and your certificate of graduation. Collect diplomas, all of the photographs, honors, or awards, a diary if you have kept one, everything that you can find pertaining to your life; anything that is written, or registered, or recorded that testifies that you are alive and what you have done.
Back in 1980, when President Packer wrote his book, the idea that we could use something called the Internet and an online program called to gather our family's memories was still way in the future. Today our box the Family Tree. Now, every time I go to the Brigham Young University Family History Library, I see people using advanced scanning devices to scan their family's history into digital files that can be shared in the Memories section of the Family Tree. We now have a marvelous digital box to store and share all of our precious memories.

But the idea of where to start is just the same as it was when President Packer wrote his book. We need to start with ourselves. As President Packer counseled, we need to start by writing our own stories. As he continued,
Family history work has the power to do something for the dead. It has an equal power to do something to the living. Family history work of Church members has a refining, spiritualizing, tempering influence on those who are engaged in it. They understand that they are tying their family together, their living family here with those who have gone before. 
Family history work in one sense would justify itself even if one were not successful in clearing names for temple work. The process of searching, the means of going after those names, would be worth all the effort you could invest. The reason: You cannot find names without knowing that they represent people. You begin to find out things about people. When we research our own lines we become interested in more than just names or the number of names going through the temple. Our interest turns our hearts to our fathers—we seek to find them and to know them and to serve them. 
In doing so we store up treasures in heaven.
Technology has now advanced to the point where you and your family can, through your combined efforts, share all of your work and thereby avoid duplication of effort. We now have our box and it is sitting there on each of our computers and other devices, waiting for us to fill it with our memories and our research into our ancestral families. We need to recognize that as much as things seem to change, they really do not change at all. We are still working towards the same goals of our personal salvation and the salvation of our kindred dead as we were back in 1980 and before. But now we can do the work with the assistance of wonderful digital tools.

Even though our tools have changed, I hope that you can see that the work itself has not changed. It is still work and it still requires a substantial effort, but it is certainly worth all the time and effort we can muster. Let's start with our new, sparkling digital box, the Family Tree, and begin our learning process about our families.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Where do your FamilySearch Family Tree lines actually end?

Some users of the Family Tree find themselves with extensive pedigrees. Most of those with such pedigrees are already aware that their relatives and ancestors submitted ancestral information to the predecessors of FamilySearch, including the Genealogical Society of Utah and other organizations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Family Tree is a compilation of essentially all those submissions so extensive pedigrees, in many cases, can be expected, even if the member-user is totally unaware of the prior involvement of his or her family in submitting names.

Some new users of the Family Tree, even those who are not members of the Church and have no knowledge of any previous submissions to the Family Tree, are surprised to see the amount of information that has been compiled. In many cases, the amount of information, i.e. the number of names in the virtual pedigree, is overwhelming and gives the impression that "all the work is done." This impression is more pronounced among members who are aware of relatives who spent a considerable time doing their "genealogy." Some of us can also remember seeing relatives with huge piles of family group records in large binders collectively referred to as Books of Remembrance. Incidentally, I was recently at the Brigham Young University Family History Library and one of the patrons was there with a large suitcase completely filled with those binders. I would estimate that there were more than ten thousand pages of family group sheets. The patron was in the process of scanning the entire stack. So a lot of that paper genealogy is still floating around.

I frequently write about the confused records and duplications that have resulted from the combining of so many years of genealogical submissions. But there is a simple question that every user of the program needs to ask as they approach these extensive pedigrees: where does it all end? I mean when do each of the myriad family lines end from a practical standpoint? Are we to believe that some of our family lines actually and correctly extend "back to Adam?" In fact, I often encounter users of the Family Tree who firmly believe that everything they see is correct because it came from the Church and "they" have obviously checked it all before "they" put it online. This impression, by the way, is constantly reinforced by references being made to using the Family Tree to find your ancestors who need temple ordinances. An illustration of this reinforcement is a recent FamilySearch Blog entitled, "Using FamilySearch's Green Temple Icons to Focus Your Search for Temple Names." The premise of this post is that you can randomly "choose an ancestor born in the early to mid 1800s" and use that ancestor to find ordinance opportunities. The danger of this approach is simple: how do you know you are related to the person selected unless you make the unsupported conclusion that each of the ancestral links between you and that person in the Family Tree are all correctly identified?

In my case, the suggestion that I can find an ancestor born in the mid to early 1800s assumes that I had any such ancestors who were not already members of the Church. In fact, in my case, all of my ancestors who were born in that time period joined the Church. The first ancestor who was not a member was born in 1815.

Unfortunately the blog post avoids this issue entirely and simply reinforces the attitude that everything in the Family Tree is correct and reliable. I guess we really need to ask ourselves collectively, do we really care if what we are trying to accomplish with the Family Tree involves any degree of accuracy and consistency? Does it matter that every single ancestral line for every single user comes to a point where the information is no longer verifiably accurate? Sooner or later, every line ends. Period. The tragedy of this situation is not that the lines end, but that there are more names in the Family Tree after the line has in fact ended.

Of course, confronting the reality of the Family Tree's accuracy is very disturbing to a "new user" who might be frightened off from working on family history if we let them know the problems they face. Superficially, it seems more "productive" to ignore the real issues and let people have a "good experience" in finding names to take to the temples and let them find out later, if ever, that they were not really related to any of those people.

There is even a more serious question. Why should someone, like me for instance, spend my time helping people research their families, if all we need to do is add unrelated names to the Family Tree? Why do research at all if all it takes to advance the work is to mine the names already in the Family Tree?

I do not need to use a hypothetical situation to illustrate this problem. I can choose any one of my existing family lines as shown in the Family Tree and rather easily and quickly find the point at which the next generation relationship is either missing or unverified and probably wrongly attached. If the lines have been properly supported by reasonably accurate research, they will end with a blank for the next unresolved generation. But, because of the eclectic nature of the Family Tree, there are lines the continue without any sources or even logic and you can only rely on the information if you take the attitude that the entries, despite any support, are correct.

Am I being negative because I don't believe that the these additional unsupported names are unreliable? Perhaps. Actually, I use what is already in the Family Tree as a basis for specific research to extend the family lines, but often as not, I find the information incomplete, inaccurate and I am then required to change the entries to conform to the records and other sources that I find. This happened recently when we discovered that one of our relatively closely related, direct line ancestors had been misidentified for years. The mistake is on literally thousands of family group records floating around in our family. In this case, the line ended with this ancestor, but it could have just as easily been extended using the wrong person as the basis for research.

It only takes me a few seconds of clicking on the Family Tree to find an example. As shown in the Family Tree, one of my direct line relatives is Sarah Sanderson, b. 10 June 1774 in "South Carolina, United States" (ignoring the problem of the date and the conclusion about the United States) all of her siblings and her supposed parents were born in Vermont. She was supposed to have married her husband, my 2nd Great-grandfather in Carlisle, Nicholas, Kentucky on 10 June 1794. She supposedly died in 1838 in Greensburg, Decatur, Indiana. First of all, Carlisle County, Kentucky was established in 1799, five years after the supposed marriage date and the town of Carlisle was not founded until 1816. See Wikipedia: Carlisle, Kentucky. Am I supposed to ignore this history and assume these entries are correct? Apparently so.

You may ask, why haven't I made the changes? This line happens to be a "legacy" line and we (my immediate family) are working our way back through the generations and have been stopped before we even get to this generation. When we decide what to do with the more recent generations, it is likely that much of what is now in the Family Tree will change or simply disappear. We have this problem on every single line.

Can we continue to ignore this problem with impunity? Am I really out of a job?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Map your ancestors with KinMapper

The App Gallery currently has 123 interesting and useful apps (programs etc.) that are associated with family history. If you haven't taken the time to explore the apps listed, when you do, you may be surprised at the variety. Many of the programs, such as this one,, are easy to understand utility programs that add a specific feature to the Family Tree.

To use the program, all you have to do is open it, sign in to with your login and password and watch the program map your first eight generations on the world map. You can click on any one of the dots and see the details of the events in your ancestors' lives. Here is an example.

I have to admit that my ancestors in the first eight generations did not come from many locations. My European view is even more restricted.

It would probably be interesting to map what is in the Family Tree and then compare what is shown with a DNA test to see if they agree.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Huge French Website Geneanet now a FamilySearch Partner

The huge French website,, has now been added as a free, partner website with for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here is a screenshot of their Collections page. For those who take advantage of this extensive database, there is the usual option of adding in a family tree.

Quoting from the FamilySearch announcement about the new partnership,
FamilySearch Partners recently partnered with Geneanet to provide free access to the Geneanet services for family history center users and for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Free access includes a premium account consisting of family trees and many record databases containing over 3 billion individuals. No log in is required in family history centers, and the site is accessed through the family history center portal. For personal access, Church members can go to FamilySearch Partner Access to set up a free account. An email invitation will also come to Church members in the coming weeks. 
Geneanet is a French website and has tremendous value to those with French ancestry. If you have early French ancestors or French ancestors who immigrated to other countries, you may find numerous family trees showing generations of cousins who may be new to you. However, don’t overlook Geneanet’s value for European records and worldwide family trees. The Geneanet record databases often reach far beyond France into other European countries. Recently, two FamilySearch employees were happily surprised to find new information for ancestors in Finland and Holland using these databases. These users are convinced of Geneanet’s value to them as they build their family tree. Most records and all family trees are included with the premium account. Be aware that some records and books shared on Geneanet require payment to the library or society who submitted the records. 
Some of the features of Geneanet include the following:
  • Geneanet members share more than 400 million individuals in their online family trees. As a member, you can build your own family tree, contact other members, and find and share ancestors. You can also build a family tree on Geneanet using a GEDCOM file. You can learn more here.
  • Geneanet members have access to hundreds of thousands of free digitized archival records and hundreds of mostly free digitized registers.
  • Many Geneanet members share their indexes for free. Some genealogy society indexes are available with paying access.
  • Geneanet members have access to hundreds of thousands of digitized books (some require paying access), postcards and family pictures, a wiki, a blog, and a genealogy community.
  • Geneanet is available in French, English, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Impressions of an Indexing Activity with Boy Scouts

A short while ago, I had the opportunity to conduct a FamilySearch Indexing activity with a Boy Scout Troop in our neighborhood. The boys were between the ages of 12 and 14. The boys all came prepared to learn the basics of Indexing. They each had brought a computer or a tablet to work on and had them all set up in a line in the classroom where they held their meetings.

The idea was that the Scouts could do some Indexing for service hours needed for advancements.

I started with a short video from the Indexing website and some addition instructions. They all logged in to and worked successfully through the test drive. The next step was to get started. Of course, the first step is to download the program to your computer. Hmm. The boys with the tablets were out of luck. The Indexing program would not install on their iPads or Android devices. The next group with problems were those working on MacBooks. The program refused to install and kept getting a Java error. Even when the boys could get to the point of downloading the program, we had to have their parents' passwords, to install the programs. In one or two cases the Scouts could not sign into the computers to allow the download in the first place. Then the Java error started showing up on the PCs. Out of about fifteen Scouts, only two managed to get the program downloaded and operational.

Unfortunately, with that many boys, we did not have time for me to work with each one individually. The two boys who did manage to get into the program were making progress and quickly understood what they were trying to do.

For the past few years, I have been hearing about Beta tests of the Indexing program which would move the program entirely to the web. In this case, that would have solved almost all the problems, especially for those using iPads or Android tablets. I could easily help supplement the number of people doing indexing if the program were web-based. In fact, I could probably find some time to index records, if I could do the work on one of my mobile devices.

Granted, some of the connection and password problems could have been resolved if I had had more time and the opportunity to work with the boys individually to resolve the problems. If you are planning on conducting such an activity, I suggest further preparation to make sure each of the boys has the program available on their device before starting the class.

I think that is enough to say on the subject.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Comments on FamilySearch: Past, Present and Future

A recent FamilySearch blog post entitled, "FamilySearch: Past, Present and Future," reported on a presentation done by Brian Edwards of FamilySearch at the Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History and Genealogy Conference on July 26-29, 2016. Most of the post centered on the "personalized homepage" that appeared some time ago as an option to users of the website. Here is an example from my own page:

This custom-generated homepage focuses on research hint opportunities, educational and inspirational ideas and recently added content. The post also mentions recent updates to the FamilySearch apps for iOS and Android products.

The post goes on to mention Family Discovery Centers. Here is a quote from the post.
The Family Discovery Center located in the Joseph Smith Building on Temple Square has been so popular that it is expanding to other venues—the bottom floor of the Family History Library is being remodeled to create a similar center to provide engaging and interactive experiences to youth and those who are dabbling in, interested in, or slightly curious about their family tree, time periods of their ancestors. People can also learn about new opportunities to contribute to family history work. Smaller discovery units will be placed in various family history centers around the world, and a mobile version is being packaged to take to stake centers for activities.
There has been some discussion recently about the future of the existing Family History Centers. It is interesting to learn that the Family Discovery Center concept is being expanded not only into existing Family History Centers, but also in a "mobile" version that could be used at Stake Family Discovery Days and other conferences and activities. My question is whether or not activity at the existing Family Discovery Centers has been connected to an increase in family history activity overall or even to increased activity at the Family History Center locations where they are now being used? Just a question from the perspective of having recent conversations about the difficulties faced by the existing Family History Centers.

The last part of the post is directed at "Future FamilySearch Innovations." Here are the upcoming innovations with my comments.

FamilySearch is working on a more user-friendly portal to provide step-by-step instructions to assist researchers in finding names for temple ordinances and extending their family trees.

In light of the interest in The Family History Guide and its success in helping people get started and continuing in family history, I would suppose that the need for this type of instruction would become even more apparent. Presently, the website does not provide this kind of entry level assistance in any meaningful way and any improvement in helping people start to do research rather than simply harvest available opportunities would be greatly appreciated.

Tree Buds is a new feature that will reveal problems in Family Trees so families can sort through and help correct data.

This is another area where existing apps such as are so useful and needed. Perhaps rather than develop new features for the Family Tree by copying existing apps and programs, FamilySearch could help the developers of these third party programs to become more available and used by the Family Tree users. 

The FamilySearch website in enhancing the fan chart feature by creating color-coded fan charts by date of birth and place of birth as a guide for users’ research. It will be similar to the Grandma’s Pie app created by BYU Students.

Here the intent to incorporate an existing app is stated. If the app is free and available online like Grandma's Pie, why add those features to the Family Tree. Doesn't this act as a disincentive to the developers of these programs?

The Hints feature on the Family Tree app is becoming more and more precise. Currently, the app is at about 98 percent accuracy according to Edwards. However, the accuracy depends on location, so always check the data before accepting the hints. For example, because of the Scandinavian patronymic naming system, Scandinavian hints are less often correct. International search and hint improvements are underway. Currently, because so much of the information in FamilySearch is for North America and England, most of the hints are for those places.

This statement confirms my own observations of the value of the Record Hints feature which, by the way, I find extremely valuable. This is not a feature available from a third-party app, however, there are several apps and programs that incorporate these hints in innovative ways. I think the concept is a good idea but I also think that FamilySearch needs to be more aware of the damage they might do by undermining a third-party program. 

FamilySearch is also developing methods for attaching unindexed images to the Family Tree app.

This feature is already present and I have written about it previously.

They are also working on more efficient ways for multiple people to work on the same line of ancestors so people can more easily collaborate. “New ways are coming for people to form communities for sharing and collaboration—bit by bit and piece by piece,” Edwards said.

I would very much welcome any innovations that improved our ability to collaborate. This is a really good objective. 

More efficient search methods are also being developed for searches all across the FamilySearch website. Badges at the top of the person pages already show links of the person to sites as the Mormon Pioneer Overland Trail, Mormon Battalion, Pearl Harbor, etc.

Any improvement in the search capabilities of the program would be also appreciated. This is probably the biggest challenge mentioned.