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

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Family History Mission: Conferences, Webinars, Presentations, and Posts

Maryland State Archives
No. 72

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission James Tanner" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them or click back through all the posts.

This past week we were asked by FamilySearch to help with a conference in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. We traveled up to Pennsylvania and stopped off to have a nice dinner with my daughter and her family who live outside of Philadelphia and the continued on to the conference. It was the 91st Conference of the Registers of Wills and Clerks of Orphans' Court Association of Pennsylvania

The purpose of our attending the conference was to help the representative of FamilySearch meet and offer to help the individual counties of Pennsylvania preserve their records and share them with FamilySearch. It was a busy conference and we met dozens of Registers of Wills and Clerks of the Orphans' Court. It was very successful in making a lot of attendees aware of what FamilySearch can offer in the way of records preservation. The FamilySearch representative made a lot of contacts. We spent two busy days and then drove back to Annapolis in time to work on digitizing records on Thursday and Friday. 

For us, a major part of our full-time mission has involved doing the same things we have been doing for years, that is, teaching, presenting and attending conferences. So far, I have done a few presentations on genealogical research and a couple of webinars. I recently did one for the Brigham Young University Family History Library and have more planned for each upcoming month. Here is one I did this last month.

Technology and Genealogy: A Perfect Match

I have also been spending every Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at the Annapolis, Maryland Family History Center helping patrons and doing a lot of genealogical research. Every Sunday, under the direction of the Branch President of the Spa Creek Branch (Spanish) we are also helping the branch members with finding their own ancestral names to take to the Temple. They recently had a successful excursion to the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Temple to do ordinance work. The Washington, D.C. Temple is closed for two years for renovation. We spend the Sunday School time in the Family History Center and assist the members in signing on to FamilySearch and as a result, they have seen an almost 100% increase in activity. That is really an accomplishment for such a small Branch. This increase has come about from the direct involvement of the Branch President and the Elders Quorum President in encouraging the members to meet with us.

In addition, we have been helping the other missionaries serving with us with their own family history and several other people we have met while here in Annapolis. I also carry on my usual round of posts on my blogs and helping people remotely using the Consultant Planner. I just finished helping the wife of one of our friends from Provo find some ancestral names.

A full-time Senior Mission can be a wonderful opportunity to serve and use your own talents to assist the members and others in your area with opportunities to learn and grow in their testimonies and activity. We will continue to have opportunities to help both members and those outside of the Church during the rest of our mission. As I mentioned, I have more webinars coming for the BYU Family History Library. See the schedule on the Library's webpage. I will also be presenting at the Washington, D.C. Family History Center in August. We joined the Anne Arundel County Genealogical Society and I will be presenting a conference on October 27th. I will also be presenting for the Family History Expos Virtual Conference in October. I will also do additional webinars for the BYU Family History Library. That is what is planned so far.

As we are able, we are still involved in helping The Family History Guide. We do plan on helping more actively when we return to Provo however.

Meanwhile, we work all day every weekday that the Maryland State Archives are open digitizing records for FamilySearch and the Archives.

Please consider taking advantage of your opportunity to serve a full-time or part-time mission as a Senior. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Real Issues with the FamilySearch Family Tree Continued

Yes, I am back to the post I just wrote about "Is there really a fundamental issue with the Family Tree?" One of my regular commentators and a few others have made comments that greatly expand on the issues raised in the original post. Because the original post and the subsequent comments raise such important issues dealing with the Family Tree, I decided to continue writing about these topics.

Because the comments are so extensive, I will simply highlight quotes from the comments and then respond with my own commentary.

Comment Quote "I have detached a completely empty source, and re-attached a number of US census entries"

This quote goes to one of the most basic but contentious of the Family Tree; the ability of any user to make changes, additions, corrections, and etc. to any of the entries in the Family Tree. This is the real distinguishing feature of a wiki-based program. As I have written several times in the past, historically, genealogists have been mostly solitary, individual researchers. They are not used to operating in a public forum or collaborative environment. They also have a tendency to believe that their own conclusions are "perfectly accurate" and disbelieve that anyone else is competent to understand what they are doing. So the "changes" made to the Family Tree are upsetting and threatening to their worldview of how genealogy should operate.

Here, an "outsider" is able to make changes to an entry merely because he or she wishes to do so. This is easily the most persistently made complaint that I have had to contend with throughout the existence of the Family Tree. This brings us to the next comment.

Comment Quote: Much of the trouble people have stems from a lack of historical background, a lack of understanding of parts of Family Tree, a tendency to assume the worst of other people, and refusing to ask, “Why?”

OK, this is a multi-part quote. Some of these comments may apply to some people. There is a general lack of awareness of the historical background of the people in the Family Tree. There is also a general lack of knowledge about the Family Tree and specifically about how and why it works so well. I also see a significant number of people who assume the worst about those making changes. I find the opposite. Most of the people who I deal with on the Family Tree are simply trying to help. They are either apologetic or embarrassed when I explain what they have done. I don't find much collaboration or cooperation outside of my own family, but that is mainly a function of the size of the Family Tree and the small number of people who actually work at cleaning up the entries. 

Comment Quote: Family Tree [originates] from multiple different databases created from multiple different computer programs from multiple different decades for multiple different reasons with the goal of not losing any information it was inevitable that a certain amount of static would accumulate through the multiple conversions of the data.

I guess static is a better term than garbage, but the effect is the same. Before getting upset about the information in the Family Tree it is a good idea to analyze where it came from. Was it user submitted? And even if it was user submitted, did the user simply copy some handed down copy of an accumulated family history? If you realize that the Family Tree is the composite of over 100 years of accumulated genealogy, you can begin to see that even as people make "corrections" what they think is "correct" can come from unverified information they inherited from family members. There is still a huge amount of this type of information in the Family Tree and even more, sitting on family group records and other programs waiting to be used to "correct" the accurate information in the Family Tree. 

It is extremely easy to determine if the information either already in the Family Tree or that has been added is accurate or verifiable. If there is no source given for the information, it has to be assumed to be unverified and very possibly inaccurate. 

Comment Quote: Considering history, would one rather have no sources transferred, trust an automatic, illiterate computer routine to discard certain sources, or have all the sources transferred and need cull them oneself? I think the third was the only viable option and I’m glad FamilySearch programmers choose that.

I very much agree with this comment. 

Comment Quote: Hmm, this pertains to a lot of comments about using the term Jr.

Depending on the time frame, the term Junior, abbreviated Jr., does not imply a relationship between the parties. It was commonly used to distinguish between two people with the same name living in the same community based solely on age. It is not appropriate to add this as a suffix or title or whatever unless you a record showing that the person was given the name Junior at birth or used it during his lifetime. By the way, adding Roman numerals such as I, II, III etc. is also a really bad idea. Again, unless this found in a source record about the person while they were alive, it is not part of a name and should be avoided. 

Comment Quote: Nothing done since complete implementation of the Change Log is lost. Every bit of information the person ever had and everything ever done to the person is there. Admittedly, it is not always the easiest document to wade through but the information is there.

Again, I completely agree. You should not be worried about losing information. But, it is a really good idea to have your own separate program if you have a tendency to worry about such things. 

OK, I will probably come back to this again, when I have more time to address the rest of the comments. 

Remember: The Family Tree is the solution, not the problem. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Is there really a fundamental issue with the Family Tree?

Note: Please take time to read the extensive comments to this post. I am also writing another post to answer the issues raised in the comments.

Here is a long comment I recently received by email.
At one point I hoped to clean up my pedigree in FamilySearch and retain all useful information--even potentially useful information. 
For instance, in merging duplicates, I would copy to the preferred record all worthwhile and unique information from the less-preferred record--including details, sources, notes, discussions, memories, relationships, and ordinances--so that no valid (or even potentially valid) information would be lost.

But crowd-editing has prevailed and I am really too late at this point to save the information. I fear that MUCH VALUABLE information has already been lost through merges, deletes, detaches, and other editing. And this by people who have very little understanding about what they are doing.

There are many who just want a name to take to the temple, including young people. They often do not check for duplicates and may take the name of a duplicate person for whom there is very little information, when the ordinances have already been completed and there is much more information for the same person, but under another FS ID.
While the addition or attaching of pictures and stories gets some degree of scrutiny before becoming part of FamilySearch, there is no scrutiny that I know of for merging, deleting, and detaching. While a providing a "reason" for a change is suggested, I often see that no meaningful reason has been given. 
And I don't know how one might recover the information lost through such merges, deletes, and detaches. 
Is there any way that the bar might be raised for and scrutiny applied to actions resulting in loss of information (or loss of the attachment of information to a person), and thus minimize loss and damage by the inexperienced and uninformed?
In one case that seems especially bad ( LLC9-JYG), I believe that a person was morphed completely into another person through a long series of uninformed removals of information, one piece at a time, with frequent uninformed replacements by other quite different information. These changes include baptism, christening, father relationship, mother relationship, residences, and sources for vital events..
Is there really some fundamental issue with the way the Family Tree works that is losing "MUCH VALUABLE information?" Can a person on the Family Tree "morph" into another person?

Let's see if I can answer these questions and the rest of the questions from this comment. Here is a screenshot of the person mentioned by ID number in the comment.

James Mellor, Jr. LLC9-JYG is apparently the son of James Mellor, Sr. KWJW-2HG. To become familiar with these entries, I through the sources listed for both and the entire Change list for both. From the comment above, it would seem that I should have found that the information concerning James Jr. to be substantially inaccurate. However, almost all the sources about this individual who was born in England are from his time in the United States. It also appears that both James Jr. and his father designated James Sr. (These designations do not seem to appear in the records and have been added by the contributors) came to America as a family. However, the sources attached to James Sr. with a few exceptions, also pertain to his time in the United States. My first question is where are the sources about this family from England? By the way, I find this to be a common issue with early immigrants. Sources easily obtainable from US sources are attached but little information is provided about their origins in Europe.

Despite the designations, is James Jr. the son of James Sr? The main, and seemingly only record attached is an 1851 English and Wales Census record leading us to believe that these to people are related. I am sure that other documentary evidence such as a cited diary and biographies etc. may add further support for the relationship, but it is interesting that all of the other English records are missing. There is a copy of the 1841 English census attached to James Sr. but that was taken before James Jr.'s birth.

Now, I can see the origin of the comments cited above. There is some dispute over the parents and place of birth of James Jr. When doing research in England, it is very important to specifically identify a location associated with an event in a person's life. It may seem surprising, but James Mellor (with spelling variations) is not a particularly uncommon name. However, there seems to be no particular issue with the identity of James Sr. here in the United States. Also, both the 1841 and 1851 English and Wales Census records attached as sources agree on James Jr. being part of the family. What is missing is a birth record for James Jr. But he might not have been baptized in the Church of England and there may be no baptismal/christening record. Other missing records include the English Mission records although the immigration records, including the Church records, confirm the identity of the family.

I note that there are 4 people watching these individuals. This means that there is a substantial interest in maintaining the accuracy of the records and maintain scrutiny. It is the nature of the Family Tree that there will be additions, changes, and the need for corrections. The Family Tree was specifically designed to allow user changes and contributions. I see these two individuals in transition. They both need substantial additional research especially in England, but I fail to see that anything in the Changes made to them is out of the ordinary of what I encounter repeatedly and correct repeatedly. The best way to proceed is to enlist the help of all of those who are watching this record and find others in the family who are willing to watch and help maintain the entries.

I suggest that it would be appropriate to provide more specific information about the family in England and then respond in a positive way to those who try to make changes with non-existent, contradictory, or inaccurate information. That is the purpose for watching the entries. In my experience, the number of changes declines dramatically over time except for very prominent people.

If any pertinent information has been lost through merges or otherwise, it is always a good idea to maintain a separate program containing all of the pertinent information that can then be restored to the individuals if lost through changes or merges. There are several programs that work well and synchronize entries with the Family Tree. See RootsMagic, Ancestral Quest, and for examples. Failing to back up vital information always runs the risk of loss.

It is also a good idea to attach copies of specifically important records in the Memories section. These cannot be deleted or modified by anyone except the person who uploaded the information.

In summary, there is nothing dramatically wrong with the Family Tree program that needs to be fixed. Issues with the data or information in the program can be corrected, modified, or replaced if lost. Defending the integrity of the data in the Family Tree is the responsibility of those who enter and maintain the entries. There are already several major program innovations, such as watching the entries, that assist the users in maintaining the integrity of the entries.

There will always be those who negligently or ignorantly enter inaccurate information, but the Family Tree program provides a way to safeguard the information without creating another "supervisory" level of people who do not really know anything about your particular family members, ancestors or relatives.

Here are some links to some of the videos I have made for the Brigham Young University Family History Library YouTube Channel on this subject.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

What is the Relationship Between Mormons and Genealogy?
First of all, the name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The term "Mormon" is a nickname that came from the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. So correctly, the title of this post should be "What is the Relationship Between Members of The Church of Jesus Christ and Genealogy?"

The answer to that question is that members of the Church have fundamental beliefs that our Heavenly Father has given us a plan whereby our family can be together forever. We believe that this  Plan of Salvation was taught by our Savior Jesus Christ while he was on this earth and through his prophets both anciently and in our own day. We believe that life continues after we depart this world to live in a place called the Spirit World. We also believe that through the ordinance performed in our sacred Temples, during this life, families can be sealed together and live as families in heaven. We also believe that by identifying our ancestors and their descendants (our cousins) we can provide the blessings available in the Temples by acting for and on behalf of our ancestors and other relatives as proxies in the Temples. However, we also believe that in order for those ordinances to take effect, the ancestor or relative has to voluntarily accept those ordinances and become converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here are some links that explain more about these beliefs.

Essentially, we use family history (genealogy) records to help us identify our ancestors and other relatives in order to provide them with the opportunity to receive the blessings available in our sacred Temples. This is a personal responsibility of each member of the Church. 

Now, on a practical level, not all of the members of the Church are involved directly in family history and even among those who are interested, there are considerable differences between the members in their level of interest and involvement. As with all things in the Church, the members can choose to be actively involved or not. There are those in the Church who develop a very high level of interest in genealogy and become competent genealogists. 

Becuase of our basic beliefs, the Church has been involved in actively promoting genealogy and family history since the 1800s. Further, as a result of these beliefs, the Church has maintained a worldwide effort to find and preserve valuable genealogical records. Presently, the Church genealogical organization is called FamilySearch. The records that have been accumulating since the 1800s are now made available on a website called The website,, is free and open to everyone whether they are members of the Church or not. Some members of the Church are so interested in the whole genealogical process that they are willing, at their own expense, to serve as full-time volunteer representatives of FamilySearch. This is what my wife and I do presently. We are serving as Record Preservation Specialists (camera operators) in the Maryland State Archives digitizing records that will become available to both the Archives and FamilySearch. 

The idea of doing family history from the aspect of a religious motivation might seem strange but when you understand the reasons and beliefs of those who are so involved, you understand and realize that this interest is simply a natural outgrowth of those fundamental beliefs. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Lost in a Family History Center?

Most Family History Centers are so small that there is little chance of actually getting physically lost in one of them. But there is a real problem with being lost in the sense of having an active and viable Family History Center with real patrons and a supportive and actively involved staff. I have a friend who was the Director of a local Family History Center, who told me that he went to the Center every day for a year and did not have even one patron come in. He was truly lost in a Family History Center.

What defines a Family History Center? Simply put, a Family History Center is a place that has an internet connection to the Family History Center Portal. Facilities with computers and other equipment may have family history activities and even a staff but technically they are not Family History Centers. The current Family History Centers are listed in the Help menu on under the "Contact Us" drop-down menu choice.

Family History Centers are recognized as such by FamilySearch, a corporation owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, the facility and staff, including the director, are the responsibility of the local sponsoring Church unit or units. One Stake can sponsor a Family History Center or even sponsor more than one Center in the same Stake. It is also possible that two or more Stakes can combine resources and sponsor a multi-stake center. Over the years these multi-stake centers have undergone several name changes. The current name for large centers is a FamilySearch Library. Even more recently, FamilySearch Libraries are evolving into centers that sponsor a Family Discovery Center with the electronic equipment or software equipment to support such a designation. The prototype Family Discovery Center is now located on the first floor of the Salt Lake City main Family History Library.

The key here is the support and involvement of the local Stake leadership. The Family History Centers either thrive or die depending on this interest and support. If the directors are promoting the Center then it can survive with benign neglect for some time, but eventually, the operation of the Center suffers due to lack of staff and equipment maintenance.

Ultimately, the Director or Directors and the staff determine the amount of activity in the Center. If they have adequate support from the Stake leaders, they need to be proactive in making the Family History Center a place to come and do research and get help. One key component of a viable Center is training and classes for both the staff and the patrons. All of the successful Family History Centers are also open both during the day and in the evenings. Sundays, the Centers should be available for use by the resident Wards. There are a lot of variations as to staffing, equipment, and the actual facilities, but innovation is profitable in producing interest.

Don't feel lost in the desert. There are plenty of good examples online of successful, vibrant, and growing Family History Centers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Family History Mission: Challenges and Blessings

Hall of Records, Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, Maryland
No. 71

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission James Tanner" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them or click back through all the posts.

Working in the Maryland State Archives as Record Preservation Missionaries for FamilySearch and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has its challenges, concerns and a great measure of blessings. We are now well into our mission, but it is interesting to reflect on the time we have been here in Annapolis, Maryland. 

As I have written in the past, our missionary experience is quite different than what we expected. Previously, I had only been aware of the proselyting side of missionary work mostly done by the full-time young Elder and Sister Missionaries. In our specific calling, we have limited contact with the younger missionaries. But as an exception to the rule, this past Saturday we helped the full-time Sister missionaries take an investigator to the Washington, D.C. Temple Visitors Center. It was interesting to see the progress of the two-year renovation of the Temple from the Visitors Center. 

If you look closely, you can see some construction on the third spire from the left. For a few hours we got to talk to an investigator and work with the Sister missionaries in the Visitors Center and those serving in the Spa Creek Branch of the Annapolis, Stake where we serve. One of our two Sister missionaries is finishing her mission this week and the other is being transferred. We are getting two Elders to replace them in the Branch.

Another blessing in our lives in the opportunity to work with the Spa Creek Branch of the Annapolis Stake (Spanish). My wife, Ann, has found her place in the Primary where the children all speak English. We have also been able to help the Branch member find family names to take to the Temple. They have just had a Branch Temple excursion and have another planned for the Fall. We have seen the members' temple and family history activity increase.

We have the normal challenges of age. We all bring our physical condition with us and have some of the same problems as we would have had even if we had stayed at home. None of the missionaries serving here with us have had to leave, but we have had a few trips to see doctors.

One very persistent challenge is driving the Washington, D.C. area. The average speed on the freeways when there is a moderate traffic flow is about 80 miles per hour. Every so often we have freeway racers go by weaving in and out of the traffic at well over 100 miles an hour. I have estimated some of the racers at over 120 mph. This is extremely scary.

As I have written recently, we worked our way through the last of the court books and have started doing flat paper, i.e. documents submitted to the court. We are not even going to make a dent in all the documents that need to be done. We are finding that digitizing the documents is more physically demanding than the books. All four of the cameras at the Archives are now working on the same type of documents.

The weather here in Annapolis changes frequently. After living in Mesa, Arizona for so many years where the weather is always sunny and warmer unless there is an infrequent storm, we find the weather to be interesting. Some days are cool and nice, some are warm and humid. The 4th of July was very hot and humid even until late at night. I like the variability of the weather.

We are really blessed with the Senior Missionaries and Volunteers who work with us at the Archives. We can't imagine how hard this job would be if you were out there alone as a couple. We have enjoyed have frequent Mexican dinners together and a few other activities. However, mostly we all do things on our own.

Overall, we are extremely blessed to be here. We love our Branch. We love the people we work with and we love the area. We are glad we came on a full-time mission.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Promoting a Local Family History Center
I have visited and learned about dozens (hundreds?) of small and large Family History Centers over the years all across the United States and into Canada. Recently, there is a lot of talk and interest in the future of the smaller centers. With the demise of a major Family History Center such as the Mesa, Arizona FamilySearch Library, I have received a new wave of comments and questions about the viability of Family History Centers.

One thing about a Family History Center, either large or small, they only thrive with a constant stream of promotion. The Centers where the director and staff simply show up to open the door and wait for patrons is the clear path to being completely ignored. I can easily give examples of Centers that are bucking the trend by focusing on a consistent and broad range of outreach promotion and varied activities. The page above is a good example of a Center that is pushing back and refuses to be ignored and unused.

Of course, promotion is not the only ingredient in establishing a viable and active Family History Center, but it is the key to keeping the operation going. Here is another example of an active, vibrant Family History Center.
These Centers obtain a high level of visibility and attendance by promoting a constant stream of activities and classes by means of websites and newsletters. While some Centers seem to struggle to have enough staff, others, with consistent promotion and innovative activities overflow with people every time they are open.

Here is another example.

Who is going to promote your Family History Center if you do not? I suggest that you start by looking around online at all the websites and newsletters available from other successful Family History Centers and get to work in working with your local Center.

By the way, it also helps to have Temple and Family History Consultants that realize that working with Ward and Branch members in the local Family History Center is a very effective way to keep busy and happy.

Since I have been here in Annapolis, Maryland, I have had terrific support from the Spa Creek Branch Presidency.  They are working with the members of the Branch so that my wife and I have people to work with every Sunday during the Sunday School time. This is in contrast to Wards where the leaders ignore this golden opportunity and put family history at the bottom of their list of things to do and think about. Even if you do not have a permanent facility, I have worked with Wards that had the members bring computers every week and used the time for help and instruction.

There is no reason to have an inactive Family History Center other than lack of commitment and interest on the part of the directors and staff.

I will have a lot more to say about this subject.