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

RootsTech 2014 Official Blogger

Sunday, July 27, 2014

More than guilt

How many of us feel "guilty" because we do not do our "family history." From my perspective, and in my experience talking to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I find that many, many of the members feel that "doing their family history" is just one more burden or just one more program that they will get around to sometime, maybe when they are older and retired. Right now, children, work, callings in the Church and many other responsibilities have a "much higher" priority.

My wife expressed it by saying that genealogy is just "one more brick in our backpack." You can feel guilt when family history is not part of who you are. The same guilt is felt when you are not attending the Temple, keeping the Word of Wisdom or failing to observe any of the other things that make us who we are as members of the Church. We can always find a way to justify our inactivity if we try hard enough. What is different about family history is that so many so-called "active" Temple-attending members of the Church continue to feel guilty and do nothing about it.

Part of the process of putting family history into a more important position in the Church is recognizing these negative feelings and trying to find ways to overcome them. You can ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do I feel the need to do my family history?
  • Do I really have an interest in learning about my family?
  • Do I feel that taking family names to the Temple is important?
  • Have I ever made an effort to learn about my family?
  • Have I spent any time looking at my family on Family Tree?
  • Have I helped with Indexing?

This list of questions could go on and on, but the basic question here is do you feel the need to become involved in family history or do you view it as just another program?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Remember, Research and Record

I was reading a blog post by Irinna Danielson on the FamilySearch Blog entitled, Discovering the Faith of Our Forefathers" and the last paragraph caught my eye. It says,
Recording, researching, and remembering the stories of faith of those who came before help us to better understand who we are. We do stand on the shoulders of giants. Remembering that can help us extend that legacy of faith for generations to come.
I would put those steps into a slightly different order: remembering, researching and recording.

The process of remembering our ancestors involves not only our own efforts to remember stories told to us from our parents and grandparents but also taking the time to talk to older relatives and even the friends of our older relatives for stories about their lives. This may include a formal oral interview or simply taking time to sit down and listen as they talk. The FamilySearch blog post refers to an April 2014 General Conference Talk by Elder William R. Walker of the Quorum of the Seventy. Quoting from the post:
In Elder Walker’s General Conference address he shared how his grandmother was proud that her grandfather had served in the Mormon Battalion, and that she wanted all of her grandchildren to know it. 
“She wanted to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers,” he said. “She wanted her grandchildren to know of their righteous heritage—because she knew it would bless their lives. ” 
He went on to say, “Whether or not you are a descendant of pioneers, the Mormon pioneer heritage of faith and sacrifice is your heritage. It is the noble heritage of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” 
Standing on the shoulders of giants. That is what Elder Walker suggested we keep in mind as we reflect on our forefathers.
Irrina makes the following observations:
Capturing memories from family members is the easiest place to start. Those living memories disappear if not recorded, which makes oral histories so important. 
A few years ago, I interviewed my paternal grandmother at length to capture her story. I used the opportunity to ask her questions about when she was introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what callings she held during her lifetime and which ones she enjoyed the most. I recorded the conversation, and then transcribed it later to put in a book that I can keep forever. 
During the interview, I learned that she was introduced to the Church as a youth after she met my grandfather at a youth dance. I learned that as a new convert, she served in the presidency of the MIA, and at times felt inadequate to do so. I learned that the example of an older brother who chose to be baptized influenced her decision to do the same, even though they did not have the support of their parents. I learned that she chose to stand in holy places, even when it wasn’t the popular or easy thing to do. I learned that her faith in the gospel was rooted in love. 
I had always known my grandmother to be a faithful member of the Church. Hearing the courage it took for her to accept the gospel when her parents did not approve helped me see a new side of her. The stories behind the ordinances in her life—her baptism, her temple sealing, and the blessings she has received as a result—strengthened my resolve to stand strong as a youth, to choose the right even when it’s hard, and to always treasure the blessings of the temple, particularly the power to seal families forever.
I have had a number of opportunities to record my parents, older members of my family and others about their history. It is too bad that we do not take this opportunity more seriously and spend the time necessary to enlarge our knowledge of our living relatives.

Irinna also talks about one aspect of doing research when she relates the following:
Sometimes it isn’t possible to do an oral history interview with the first convert in your family. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t discover that story through records. I recently started delving into my family history on
I found the records of my maternal grandfather, who I never met in life. Besides the dates that he lived, the information on his Family Tree record that was of interest to me was his date of baptism. Doing the math, I learned that he was converted to the Church as an adult in his fifties. I compared his baptismal information with that of my maternal grandmothers. She was baptized as a child and he was not. Knowing these two things helped me piece together that through the example of a righteous wife, my grandfather joined the church. And, as a result, years after they were married, they were sealed in the New Zealand temple. 
I never got to meet either of them. I never had the opportunity to do their oral histories. But, through the discovering their records, I was able to piece together their story of faith. For me, it reinforced the importance of the example of a righteous woman and the effect that she can have on a husband and her children. As a wife and mother now, that knowledge gives me strength to know that through my example, my family too can follow in faith.
Another aspect of researching the stories is to use them as a basis for exploring your further family history. Not all family stories are accurate as retold. Sometimes the actual facts are more important and fascinating than the oral history. Using the information as a springboard to finding out the documented history of your family can be incentive you need to really get into the substance of the records about your family.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Moving your family tree from one program to another

One of the most common issues for computer-based genealogists is moving information from one program to another. You would hope and perhaps expect that this would be a trivial issue. But, as with many things in life, the reality is complex and somewhat arcane. Since I had to explain transferring files in a class just this week, I thought I should get busy with a post.

Let's start with a basic hypothetical situation. You have a paper copy of a family group record (or sheet, as I commonly call them) of an ancestral family. You want to share that information with someone across the country or world. Well, you could do three or four things:

  1. You could send the relative the sheet by regular mail.
  2. You could photocopy the sheet and mail the relative the copy.
  3. You could scan the sheet and send the scanned image the relative.
  4. You could call the relative on the telephone and read the information to them as they copied it down.
  5. You could type the information into an email or hand copy the information into a letter.
  6. etc.
All of these work for a relatively small amount of information. But what if you have hundreds (or thousands) of ancestors in your file? Where does the practicality of making individual copies stop being a good way to transmit all of the information? I suppose that depends on your tolerance for pain. 

Let's move to a slightly different hypothetical situation. Suppose you have a computer and you have entered your ancestors into Personal Ancestral File (PAF) for the last twenty years and now want to share that information with a relative before you die. Remember, this is a hypothetical situation and I control the facts. You could do anyone of the following:
  1. You could copy the file to you floppy disk and send the disk to the relative by mail.
  2. You could copy the file to a flash drive (assuming your old computer has a USB port) and send the file to your relative. You would have to assume your relative had both a USB port and/or a floppy disk drive and a computer with the Personal Ancestral File (PAF) or whatever to read what you sent.
  3. You could print off the entire thousands of pages of the file and send the pile of paper to your relative in a FEDEX or UPS box.
  4. etc.
Do you think there might be an easier way to exchange data between genealogists? The answer to this question is both yes and no. One of the major concerns with this whole process is the concern that all of the information is transferred and further, that the information transferred is in a format that your relative can use effectively. I might also mention, at this point, that some of the same considerations apply to preserving your file information, but that is another post.

Back to the hypothetical, what if the amount of information you have in your twenty-year-old file is huge? What if it will no longer fit on a floppy disk? Are you out of luck? Maybe. It depends on how persistent and innovative you are and how much time and money you want to spend. File size is a consideration when you consider any of the options I have already mentioned. Some time ago, I estimated the number of pages of paper it would take to print one copy of my family file and it came out about 80,000 pages. I effect, I have exceeded the practical limit for publishing a copy of my data on paper. So, let's take the file sitting on the computer in PAF and see what we can do.

Some years ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints developed a program called GEDCOM. Assuming you know how to export a file from your current genealogy program and assuming further that you have such a program, you can export a copy of your file in GEDCOM format and then send this considerably smaller file to your relative who can then import that same GEDCOM file into his or her program and see your data entirely. There are some limitations with this procedure however:
  1. GEDCOM does not include any media items or attached sources, such as photos, documents etc.
  2. GEDCOM may not transmit all of the data of a file that is not in PAF but in another program. GEDCOM has a frustrating way of chopping off stuff from your file if you use it export from a program other than an old PAF program.
OK, so now you are really frustrated. You could send you file electronically or physically on an external storage device to your relative and make sure that the relative had the same program you are using. For example, you could copy your RootsMagic (or whatever program you are using) file to a flash drive with all your photos, documents etc. and send the flash drive (or hard drive) to your relative. That way you and your relative would have the same exact program and data. 

What are the practical realities? Here is a list of some limitations:
  • As mentioned, GEDCOM is an imperfect method of transferring files. It is common that not all the information is transferred.
  • Physically sharing a file where both the sender and the recipient have the same program works very well if all the attached media files are included.
  • You might notice that I have omitted the possibility of sharing the information online with an online family tree. This is a very good option, but may have almost all of the same limitations of transferring files using GEDCOM. 
  • There are many other ways of sharing data and files, but this is enough for now. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Role of Senior Missionaries in Genealogy

On Saturday, 19 July 2014, the LDSChurch News published a rather detailed article entitled "Family History Missions 101." The article appeared in the Deseret News Supplement called Mormon Times that includes a copy of the LDSChurch News publication. Although we did not live in Utah, we subscribed to the LDSChurch News by regular mail for years. More recently, for the last two or so years, the LDSChurch News was included with the larger, regular newspaper format Mormon Times. Lately, both were delivered to our driveway in Mesa every Saturday. Now that we live in Provo, we get the two publications delivered every Saturday, just as was happening in Mesa, Arizona. I understand that for residents of Utah, it was necessary to subscribe to the Deseret News, a regular daily newspaper, in order to receive the LDSChurch News with the Saturday edition. I believe that this was modified to present subscription method.

OK, that said, the LDSChurch News is an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The article gives detailed information about both the experience of being a Church Service Missionary or a Full-time Missionary involved in the Church's family history work. I have been a Church Service Missionary for the past nine years or so. Until we moved to Provo, this year, I served at the Mesa FamilySearch Library (formerly called the Mesa Regional Family History Center). My service there as a missionary was one of the most satisfying and important experiences of my life. During my time serving at the Mesa FamilySearch Library, I had the privilege of teaching classes and helping patrons with their genealogy questions. For some of those years, my wife also choose to serve at the Mesa FamilySearch Library.

The Mesa FamilySearch Library is one of 15 such FamilySearch Libraries, mostly located in the western United States with one in London, England. In Mesa, we had approximately 150 missionaries and volunteers. The Family History Centers and Libraries around the world are open to everyone, giving free access to genealogical materials and the FamilySearch Online Portal to a number of usually paid genealogy subscription websites. We had thousands and thousands of patrons come to the Mesa FamilySearch Center every year. The volunteers and missionaries were some of the kindest and most dedicated people I have ever known. It was a comfortable place to be and like a home-away-from-home.

As the LDSChurch News article points out,
There are three different types of family history missionary experiences to help accommodate a variety of life circumstances. Members can serve a family history mission away from home, close to home or directly from home. “If a missionary wants to serve a full-time mission away from home... for 18 to 24 months, we offer that experience,” said Art Johnson, Recruiting & Workforce Development Manager with the Family History Department. “If they want to serve locally in their community, we have those service experiences available. If they want to serve from home, we offer that, as well.”
Since we lived in Mesa, close to the Library, we were able to live at home and work and participate in family activities while serving. When I began my service, I was still working full-time as a trial attorney in a larger law firm. After I retired from the active practice of law, I was able to devote more time to genealogy and helping at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. The Directors of the Library were always extremely accommodating to my sometimes chaotic schedule of presentations around the country in genealogy conferences. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

When we moved Provo, Utah about a month ago, we immediately began serving at the Brigham Young University Family History Library. This Library is actually part of the BYU Libraries and not a FamilySearch Library like the Mesa facility. But the missionary work and genealogy are just the same. My wife and I are both serving and we have had the same warm welcome and the same wonderful people that we loved and worked with in Mesa.

If you are in a position to volunteer time during the week to work with and learn about genealogy, take the time to read the entire article and also see the information on on Family History Missionary Opportunities. In addition, many of the Libraries and Centers have volunteers helping with valuable service. Even if you do not have time to commit to a mission, you can still volunteer and volunteers do not even have to be members of the Church.

FamilySearch Indexing Volunteers Set Historic Record

Following the International Day of Indexing on the 20th and 21st of July, 2014, FamilySearch announced the results of the effort in a blog post by Emma Young entitled, "FamilySearch Volunteers Set Historic Record." Here are the results:
FamilySearch volunteers are amazing! On July 20th and 21st, FamilySearch indexers and arbitrators from around the world joined together to set an international record for the greatest number of indexing participants in a single day! We hoped to have an unprecedented 50,000 contributors in a 24 hour period. FamilySearch volunteers excelled, surpassing that goal by 16,511! That’s right—66,511 participants in one day! Incredible! We are grateful for the patience and persistence of many volunteers who faced technical difficulties due to an overwhelming response.
The rest of the results were outlined as follows:
  • Indexed: 4,682,746
  • Arbitrated: 941,932
  • Total Records Processed: 5.7 million

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

BYU Family History Library Upcoming Classes

The Brigham Young University Family History Library has an extensive schedule of classes. Some of those classes are scheduled for Sunday afternoons and are open to the public. The classes are held of n the 2nd and 4th Sunday each month.

Here is this next Sunday's class schedule:

Sunday, July 27, 2014


3:00 P.M. German Research: Bring Us YOUR Research Problems
Eleanor Wollenzien
NOTE: This class time is 1:00 - 4:00
Kim Hasara Smith

3:00 - 4:00 P.M.
Tour: Treasures of the BYU Family History Library: Dini Hansma
The Work is Not all Done!: Cathy Anderegg

4:30 P.M.
RootsMagic (Basics): John Hendrix
To Add or Not to Add, That is the Question: Cathy Anderegg
Tools for Correcting Relationships in Family Tree: Marily Thomsen
2238 James Tanner

6:00 P.M.
Family History Workshop - For Families: Jill Woodbury
A Survey of Midwest States Records: Ginny Ackerson
FamilySearch Record Hints: Merlin Kitchen
Duplicates in Family Tree: Why They're There, How to Find Them, and How to Resolve Them: Kathryn Grant
Are there Germans in Your Past? Getting Started with German Research: Laurie Werner Castillo

Missionary Assistance Available 10:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
2nd & 4th Sundays of the Month
*Classes subject to change, update or cancellation

Genealogy and the 24th of July

In Utah, the 24th of July is a state holiday. Elsewhere, depending on the number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their awareness of their pioneer heritage, the 24th of July is just another hot summer day or a holiday. As I was growing up, the 24th of July was the biggest holiday of the year. We had pancake breakfasts, parades, dramatic events, rodeos, dances, parties, reunions and the huge pioneer Camporama circle where we would all go out into the desert and cook our dinner over a fire. Let's just say that the 24th was a big deal.

OK, if you still don't get it by this time, you need to bone up on your Church history. The 24th of July is the traditional date the Brigham Young Party of pioneers first entered the Salt Lake Valley. Well, we all know that some pioneers got their earlier and a hundreds of thousands got there later, but the day we celebrate is the 24th of July.

Actually, the 24th of July was a genealogical bonanza. It was a time when I got to meet all those relatives I didn't know. Since most of my ancestors lived in the same small Mormon community at one time or another, going back for the 24th Celebration was like a course in family history. I must admit that I was too young to fully appreciate the opportunity but I did get a sense of the involvement of my family in settling western part of the United States. Much of what I know and how I feel about the pioneers originated in those 24th of July Celebrations.

Now, we can't pass up this 24th without thinking about the pioneers. has sent out an very interesting email inviting some of us to look up our pioneer ancestors. Pioneers are defined as those who crossed the plains before the advent of the railroad. The specific definition of a Utah Pioneer is one who came to the Valley, was born here, or one who died on the way before May 10, 1869. Here is a screenshot of the invitation:

The information gathered is based on the entries in the Family Tree program. The link to the Web page is here. Here is an example of results showing my own "pioneer ancestors."\

Perhaps, from this list, you can begin to understand my interest and obsession with genealogy. Remember you can click on any image to enlarge it.