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

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Impact of The Family History Guide on Family History

A short time ago, I became formally associated with The FamilyHistory Guide or when my wife and I agreed to serve on their Advisory Board. We were motivated to help out this non-profit corporation due to our belief in the importance of the program in educating those who wish to participate in family history and increasing the numbers of people who are involved in family history worldwide.

The Family History Guide is a free, innovative educational website that is already beginning to have a profound effect on the genealogical community. The Family History Guide is also one of the programs featured on the Portal, used by all of the nearly 5000 Family Centers Worldwide.

The website has several different educational functions. First, it is a self-paced, structured and sequenced, individual learning program. You can start from any level, complete beginner, to more advanced topics and work your way through the subjects you choose to learn. There are several online videos that explain the entire program. Here is a list of some of the current video offerings on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel:
Next, the website also provides a complete set of lesson outlines for teaching individuals, families, groups, and Family History Consultants the resources and methodology of family history. In addition, the website contains a fully developed tracking system to monitor your own progress or the progress of those you are teaching.

As a result of our involvement with The Family History Guide, I will be teaching quite a number of classes at RootsTech 2017 at The Family History Guide booth. I will also be teaching for some of the other vendors, but most of my teaching will be done for The Family History Guide. The schedule of the classes will be posted at The Family History Guide booth and also available on a handout. We will also have a volunteer staff there to help answer questions about the program.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

16 video series for training Family History Consultants added to BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel

1 - FamilySearch Registration and Settings - Judy Sharp

The Brigham Young University Family History Library has uploaded 16 new videos to assist in training local Family History Consultants. These videos can be accessed through the BYU Family History Library website or through the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel. You can subscribe to the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel and receive notification of any new videos that are uploaded.

These videos were produced by Judy Sharp for the Library. There had been some discussion lately about the need for shorter videos that could be integrated into a meeting or class for Family History Consultants. There are now 221 videos on the BYU Family History Library YouTube channel available for your review and use in instructing others.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Are you a genealogical victim?

My years in court helped me to become well acquainted with victims. Those who were sued in court, the defendants, always felt like victims. Even those bringing lawsuits, the Plaintiffs, felt like victims because they had been "wronged" by the defendants. I was literally immersed in a society of victims.

As I gained experience in representing clients, I began to see that many people, not just those involved in court actions, have a distinctive "victim mentality." Quoting from Wikipedia, Victim mentality,
Victim mentality is an acquired (learned) personality trait in which a person tends to regard themselves as a victim of the negative actions of others, and to behave as if this were the case even in the lack of clear evidence of such circumstances. Victim mentality depends on habitual thought processes and attribution. In some cases, those with a victim mentality have in fact been the victim of wrongdoing by others or have otherwise suffered misfortune through no fault of their own; however, such misfortune does not necessarily imply that one will respond by developing a pervasive and universal victim mentality where one frequently or constantly believes oneself to be a victim.
The term is also used in reference to the tendency for blaming one's misfortunes on somebody else's misdeeds, which is also referred to as victimism.
Genealogists are part of our larger society and so many of the genealogists I now work with also evidence symptoms of victim mentality.  How does this victim mentality manifest itself in a genealogical context?

One of the most common manifestations for me is the reaction people have to changes made by others in the Family Tree. Aside from the problem of assumed ownership, the people who see changes made to "their family" exhibit many of the symptoms of "victim mentality." Here is a list of some of the common reactions suffered by those who see themselves as victims:
  • Ascribing non-existent negative intentions to other people
  • Negative, with a general tendency to focus on bad rather than good aspects of a situation.
  • Self-absorbed: unable or reluctant to consider a situation from the point of view of other people or to "walk a mile in their shoes"
  • Exhibiting learned helplessness: underestimating one's ability or influence in a given situation; feeling powerless
  • Stubborn: tending to reject suggestions or constructive criticism from others who listen and care; unable or reluctant to implement the suggestions of others for one's own benefit
Some genealogists I have talked to are possessive to point of refusing to allow even family members to view "their" work. Let me illustrate with a hypothetical situation.

Genealogist A who is 84 years old has been working on researching her family for most of her lifetime. When her family members show interest in her research, she becomes defensive and says that her work isn't done and she would rather they wait until she has everything in an acceptable condition. She is persuaded by one of her younger relatives to take a look at the Family Tree. When she is shown the Family Tree she immediately begins criticizing the content. She states that she is not interested in seeing anything more. Since this is my hypothetical, I could have it end the way I want. In the most common real life situation, when A dies, all of her work is lost because no one wants it and no one appreciates what she has done. 

Here is another hypothetical. Genealogist B is a meticulous researcher. He is certified by one of the major genealogical certification organizations and has exhaustive support for all his conclusions. As in the first hypothetical, he is persuaded to view the Family Tree and is immediately angry. He cannot believe that anyone would make such obvious errors and he immediately starts correcting everything he considers to be wrongly entered. The next time he goes into to view the Family Tree, he sees that someone has recopied all of the "wrong" data back into "his" Family Tree. Rather than make the corrections again or try and contact the person making the changes, he dismisses the program as "broken" and determines that he will simply ignore it. 

Some of the people I have worked with over the past few years on the Family Tree have reached the point where they say they are going to give up doing family history at all because "they" will not stop making irrational changes. These are actually real situations and are a composite of a lot of the people I deal with almost every day. I am not sure that there is a cure for victim mentality once it takes hold. If you sympathize, they feel justified. If you try to talk them out of their single-minded opinions, they reject any suggestion that they can take charge of the situation and resolve the problems.

I have always had a tendency to believe that education was the answer. Once in while, if I explain how and why the Family Tree works, the person becomes pacified, but often they just dismiss everything I say and refuse to follow any of my suggestions. 

We are not victims of the Family Tree. We will all need to adjust to the instant collaborative environment and realize that not everyone is a professional level genealogist and that many people need to be cut some slack. Most of all, we need to stop thinking we are victims and start being proactive by adding sources, notes and collaborating with those making entries in our portion of the Family Tree.                                       

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Family History Consultants as Family History Missionaries

The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah
During the past six months or so, I have been hearing references to the fact that Ward Family History Consultants should be, in effect, family history missionaries. I think the concept is an important way to move Family History Consultants from their commonly passive mode into a more active participation in Ward and Stake activities. Despite specific, existing instructions in the organizational manual, Leader's Guide to Temple and Family History Work, To Turn the Hearts, in my experience most Family History Consultants are ignored by the Ward organization and very few are even given any form of training or even orientation to their function.

The idea that the Family History Consultants should be proactive and take the initiative in contacting and helping members with their family history should have been obvious given the statement from page 20 of the Guide:
Working with Members Consultants take the initiative to reach out to members, especially those who are not comfortable using technology, by: 
Helping a few individuals or families at a time to work on their own family history so they can perform temple ordinances for their deceased relatives. The most effective place to do this is in members’ homes. The ward council could determine specific individuals or families for the consultant to work with. The high priests group leader assigns these families to the consultant. 
Answering family history questions from ward leaders and members.
The unresolved obstacle to this process has always been the lack of involvement of the responsible Ward leaders, including the High Priests Group Leader in training and supporting the Family History Consultants.

At the Brigham Young University Family History Library when a new missionary is called and begins to serve, they are mentored with an extensive training program that has been developed over the past two years based in part on The Family History Guide. Unfortunately, there is no corresponding type of instruction for Family History Consultants and even though resources such as The Family History Guide exist, few Ward leaders know of their existence.

A recent Blog post entitled, "Find Others to Teach" by Mike Sandberg highlights this issue directly. The post says,
Helping others with family history work is a lot like being a missionary. Why?
  • You are focused on bringing others to the ordinances of salvation.
  • You are focused on uniting and strengthening families on both sides of the veil.
The Holy Ghost will help you find others to teach as you seek its guidance. It will prompt you because Heavenly Father wants His children to have positive temple and family history experiences that build faith.
The post also suggests that Family History Consultants see themselves "as a missionary as you help others with family history. You are on the Lord’s errand." This post should be widely disseminated to all Family History Consultants. Our job here is to be proactive and become involved in helping people directly rather than passively waiting for someone to ask us for assistance.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Watching the Genealogical Weather

When I was living in Mesa, Arizona in the low desert watching the weather was not all that entertaining. Our move to the mountains of Utah has changed that to some extent. We are never quite certain what the weather will be like and checking the weather can mean the difference between being prepared and having a cold, wet walk to the library.

Checking the genealogical weather has become a lot more interesting lately due to the huge movement of digital records into the major genealogy companies. For years now we have been witnessing secondhand, the digitization of over 2.4 million rolls of microfilm stored in the famous Granite Vault in Little Cottonwood Canyon just north of where I now live. Watching the numbers increase and seeing the effect of the availability of digital records online, firsthand, is akin to watching the weather. I guess the analogy comes from watching the snow pile up outside my window as I am writing this post.

The effects of that massive digitization effort are not nearly as visible as the snow piling up outside, but the impact of making those records more available will last a lot longer than this snowfall. One interesting part of this phenomena is that so few people are even aware that it is happening, even among the more active genealogists.

Every week, FamilySearch sends out an updated list of the newly added or indexed records. You can see the newest list in the Historical Record Collections by clicking on the link to Browse all Published Collections and then by clicking on the link in the words at the top of the "Last Updated" column. Here is a screenshot showing the latest updates from the date of this post.

The interesting thing about this list is that many of these digital records have been available for some time through the Catalog. They take a while to show up in the Historical Record Collections.

The Indexing of these records is ongoing. They have been indexing records using volunteers now for 10 years as is shown by this news release from today.

Those numbers appear to be cumulative totals. The records that are identified with the label "Browse Images" in the Historical Record Collections are waiting to be indexed. The entries with numbers mean at least some of the records have been indexed but not necessarily all of the records in the collections. If you want to check to see how many of the records have been indexed, you click on the name of the collection and compare the total number of records to the number on the list of the indexed records. For example, the Sweden, Västmanland Church Records, 1538-1901; index 1622-1860 records currently show 43,976 records, but the total number of records is actually shown after clicking on the name of the collection.

The number of records in this collection is 480,952 and the difference is the number of un-indexed records.

Watching these numbers change is not quite as interesting as the weather, but it does have more of an impact on my own research than the weather usually does.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Listen and Watch December Webinars Live

We have shortened schedule for December at the Brigham Young University Family History Library. I thought it would be a good idea to mention that these webinars are broadcast live through Adobe Connect. You can go to the schedule at this link:

You can tune into the live webinar at the time on the date indicated by clicking on the name of the webinar. The advantage of listing and watching live is that you can ask questions or make comments through the "Chat Room" which is really nothing more than a place to type.

Of course, if you miss the live version, you can see the recorded webinars either on the BYU Family History Library webinar page or on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel.

We now have over 200 videos on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel and there are still more to come. We will be back on our full schedule of videos in January. If you have a suggestion for a video add a comment to this post and we will consider the suggestion.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Strategy for Helping Those New to Family History

Engendering newly hatched genealogists or family historians seem to be the objective of many of the more prominent programs and advertising campaigns from some of the larger online genealogy websites, especially The challenge is how to move these "fledglings" from their status in the nest to fully functional researchers who can make a real contribution to our collective and collaborative Family Tree. The overriding fear of the promoters seems to be that some of these fledglings will either starve or be pushed out of the nest. So what is our collective strategy for helping those new to family history? More importantly, what do we need to do to recruit more people, especially those who presently show no interest at all or are antagonistic to the whole idea of discovering our ancestors?

Over the years, it is my experience that classes and formal instruction are effective only after people have both a desire and an interest in doing family history research. Sitting through a class, especially when you have no real desire to be there, is largely a negative experience. So holding classes are no the solution to attracting new adherents. I am also of the opinion that sugar-coating the process of doing genealogical research is also not the solution.

When I decided to get a Masters Degree in Linguistics, I did not make my choice of study based on my idea that doing linguistics would be "fun" or "easy." I was attracted by the challenge and my own interest in languages. My interest was what motivated me to take my first linguistics class.

Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have heard something about "searching for their ancestors" or doing their genealogy. But this does not mean that they understand either the importance of the work or anything about the process of finding the names of their ancestors to take to the Temple. From my own experience, this is best accomplished by having a dedicated mentor (Family History Consultant) sit down one-on-one and help each member individually through the process. This interaction where the mentor/Family History Consultant has spiritually prepared to teach and has previously reviewed the member's portion of the Family Tree for some Temple opportunities is not only the most effective way to attract new adherents but is, in my opinion, the only effective was to increase participation.

Those wards and stakes where the leaders realize the importance of having a one-on-one experience with each member are the ones that are advancing most rapidly in increasing the members' participation in family history work.