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

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Use the Find function in addition to Merge on FamilySearch Family Tree

There is a serious issue with the merge function in Family Tree. With certain individuals, the program fails to find obvious duplicates. This issue extends to the use of the "Find Duplicates" function also. Let me give an example.

I will use one of my ancestors, Sidney Tanner. He is one of those individuals in the Family Tree that is considered to be an IOUS or Individual of Unusual Size. This comes about because of the large number of descendants who have submitted records on his behalf. In, he had dozens of combined records. By the way, will be "turned off" on February 1, 2015. Anyway, let's just say that there are problems with his entries in Family Tree also. But for the purpose of illustrating the problems with searching for duplicates and merging, he is an adequate example.

Here is a screenshot that shows the results of clicking on the "Possible Duplicates" link on Sidney Tanner's Details Page:

You will note the warning message, "Can't Be Merged At This Time (1 result)."

Since I cannot merge the two obvious duplicates, this creates a problem in knowing which of these individuals will be survivor if and when the merge function begins operating. The two duplicate individuals are as follows:
  • Sidney Tanner KWJ6-DZX
  • Sidney Tanner LZXK-Y57'
What am I able to do at this point? The two records actually contain different information. Will all this information be preserved if the two entries for the same individual are finally combined? This is a real question since the merge process is somewhat based on the judgment of the person effectuating the merge. Here are screenshots of the pertinent parts of the two entries showing the differences:

This is the second one:

One important difference, besides the "Other Information" contained on each record, is the changes that have been made. If people think they are correcting the record concerning Sidney Tanner, they are mistaken since the changes to one instance of the record do not show up on the other record. Apparently the people making changes are not aware that there are two different Sidney Tanner entries. Which changes will survive? Will all the work done by one group of people on one of the entries be entirely lost?

Now to the second issue. If I search using the Find function, after having searched for duplicates, then I will find at least one more duplicate record. In fact, the list of "Sidney Tanner" entries is quite large; 58 results. Here I find a "Sidney Tanner MSSC-K9X" born in Beaver, Beaver, Utah in about 1835. Interestingly, there is no further information on this potential duplicate. But note, that the date, 1835, is well before the arrival of the pioneers to Utah in 1847 and many years before the founding of Beaver, Utah. Here is a screenshot of the entry:

This is a good example of entries that were made with insufficient information and without searching the existing records for a duplicate. It is also a good example of entries made without thinking about the historical context. However, I consider this to be a duplicate entry. Which of the two entries above should I consider it to be the duplicate? The last step is to search to see if this duplicate that was found from searching for a duplicate with the entries above, will itself find a duplicate. Here is the result of the search for a Possible Duplicate. Bear in mind, I know of two actual duplicates already.

The results: No results found. The Family Tree program did not match to either of the existing duplicates even when this record was found by searching for duplicates.

The conclusion is that doing any more editing to Sidney Tanner or anyone else in the family line before him is a risk that all of the work will be lost with an improper merger when that is possible.
In addition, if you fail to do a Search for additional copies of your ancestors in addition to using the Merge function, you are running the risk of missing obvious duplicates and there may still be more duplicates out there the program has missed as shown by the last results from the search. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Living to Deceased and Deceased to Living in FamilySearch Family Tree

The consequences of a person who is dead showing up in's Family Tree program are interesting. The creation of a "Private Space" for living people results in the following notice showing up on the individuals' Detail Page;

The most important point in this issue is the fact that Family Tree does not compute the likelihood of people being living, even after they are older than 110 years. Users need to mark individuals as deceased and then search for any possible duplicates. The additional consequences of a person being marked living when they are, in fact, deceased are reflected by the additional consequences of the Private Space as outlined in the help menu option "Understanding Private Spaces."
  • Each user of Family Tree has a private space. Private spaces help both protect privacy and allow users to enter information for living family.
  • All living people and relationships are stored in a private space.
  • Currently, private spaces cannot be shared.
  • Each owner of a living record can modify information independently from others.
  • Deceased persons should each be represented only one time in Family Tree and have a common ID.
  • A living person can be represented in multiple private spaces as a different Family Tree person, and each instance has a different ID.
  • Searching Family Tree using the name of a living person returns no results. Searching by the ID Number does not find the living person except the one using the ID entered.
  • Living people cannot be sourced.
You can tell if an individual is marked as living in Family Tree because of the following: (See How Family Tree displays living people)
  • In the tree, the word “Living” appears beneath the names instead of a death year.
  • On the person’s summary card and details page, the word “Living” appears beneath the name instead of a death year.
  • On a person’s details page, the word “Living” appears in the header instead of a death year. In the Vital Information section, the word “Living” appears instead of a date in the Death field.
If a dead person has been inadvertently marked as living, or dies and needs to be marked as deceased, the procedure for doing this is outlined in the Help Center article, "Changing a living person to deceased in Family Tree." Here are the steps:
  1. Go to the Family Tree Person page for the person you want to change to deceased.
  2. In the Death field, click on Living.
  3. Click Edit.
  4. Select the radio button next to Deceased.
  5. Enter the date, place, and reason this information is correct.
  6. Click Save.
If the person was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the membership record of the Church is involved and the procedure becomes significantly more complicated. Please see "Deceased individual's membership record has missing or incorrect information" for the proper procedures.

If a person is marked deceased and is found to be still living, the procedure is also rather complicated. You need to closely follow the instructions in the following two Help Center articles:
Again, if the person is a member of the Church, you should also review:
Information that you can see from LDS Church Membership Records about living individuals (71953)

You may also wish to review:
Rules Used to Determine If a Person May Still Be Living (71928)

Monday, December 15, 2014

FamilySearch adds link to Joseph Smith Papers has created yet another new website, the Joseph Smith Papers/Family Search website will allow users of to search the Joseph Smith Papers for mentions of their ancestors. Here is a screenshot of the new website:

An announcement of the new website appears in the LDSChurch News Section of the Desert News for 12 December 2014 in an article entitled, "Joseph Smith papers project and FamilySearch" (actually there is a typo in the article title and Joseph is misspelled as "Jospeh). It is always comforting to know I am not the only person in the world that makes typographical errors. This website joins another one previously announced called, "Sacrifice, Faith and Miracles" with information provided by the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel website. Unfortunately, this website is down until the first quarter of 2015 for maintenance. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should also be aware of the Brigham Young University, Immigrant Ancestors Project that uses emigration registers to locate information about the birthplaces of immigrants in their native countries, which is not found in the port registers and naturalization documents in the destination countries.

I am guessing that very few members of the Church are aware of these valuable research websites. There is no central place where they are all listed.

The FamilySearch Joseph Smith Papers website has an alphabetical listing of the people mentioned in the records. Here is a screenshot of the list:

One of my ancestors is mention both in the LDSChurch News article and in the website itself. The article states:
“The majority of the papers that were written by the Prophet Joseph Smith or written on his behalf, were about people,” said Reid L. Neilson, managing director of the Church History Department. “These people have living descendants. Now you can see how your ancestor once interacted with the Prophet of the Restoration.” 
FamilySearch patron Ben Godfrey was able to make several family discoveries for his fourth great-grandfather, John Tanner. In the Joseph Smith Papers online, Brother Godfrey was able to confirm a family story that John Tanner had made a generous financial donation to the Church that helped prevent foreclosure on the mortgage for the Kirtland Temple block. In another entry, Brother Godfrey discovered that John Tanner was severely beaten by angry mobs in Far West, Missouri. 
“Seeing the sacrifices that John Tanner made inspired me as his descendant. It gives me courage to face the daily challenges in my own life and to understand how we might be the answer to another person’s prayers,” said Brother Godfrey.
Personally, I find it very sad that a descendant of John Tanner would be learning about these stories from a FamilySearch website for the first time. I grew up with the stories of John Tanner and was had access to several books with these accounts when I was very young.

Not much is said in the article about the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Here is a screenshot of the website:

Ironically, all of this information about John Tanner is listed as sources in's Family Tree program. Additionally, all of these accounts are already attached to John Tanner's entry in the Family Tree. Here is a screenshot showing the entries available:

But it should be noted that many of the descendants of those whose stories appear in the Joseph Smith Papers may not be so fortunate. Here is a link to a Wikipedia article on John Tanner. Here are several other John Tanner links:

There are literally thousands of references to John Tanner online. Maybe this link to the Joseph Smith Papers from will inspire some to investigate the stories of their ancestors.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Linking Living Individuals to Deceased Ancestors in FamilySearch Family Tree: Understanding Private Space

One of the more common problems encountered with's Family Tree program is the need to link living individuals with those who are deceased. When a new user registers for the program or investigates it for the first time, they may encounter a situation where they cannot see any of the people who may already be in the program. This is especially true when the person has more than one generation back to the first deceased individuals, i.e. when their parents and grandparents are still living. This may also involve the "Private Space" created by Family Tree.

According to a blog post published in September, 2014, FamilySearch states the following: is currently in the process of doing the following:
  • Moving the data of all living people from to Family Tree.
  • Removing links that tie information about living LDS Family Tree users to their Church membership records. (This is the case only for those tree users who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those who are not members of the LDS Church never had these links to begin with.)
  • Giving each person a private space for viewing their own private information.
 From the same post, here is an explanation of the Private Space:
Each Family Tree user now has a private space that allows them to manage their own private information. The information in that space can only be seen by the individual user and no one else. All living people, their relationships, and their data will be stored in that space. For example, I can view information about myself and my close living relatives that I have added to Family Tree in this private space but no one else can. Information that someone else has added about living people, their relationships, and their data will be stored in their own private space.
Essentially, the Family Tree program adds a unique Personal ID number for any living individuals who are added by a user. This means that the program creates a duplicate entry for any living person who is already listed in the program. So, for example, if you find that your parents are not visible in the program and they are still living, you can add them in but only you will see the new entries and if they are already listed in the program, the new entry will be a duplicate. These duplicates will have to be merged into the original entry when the person dies.

However, in order to link a living individual to deceased people who do not automatically appear, it is necessary to add these duplicate living people to the Family Tree. One way to do this is to search and find find the first deceased ancestor in the main surname line. This means that you will use this direct line ancestor to create a link back to yourself by adding in the living people between you and the deceased ancestor. So, if your great-grandfather was the first deceased person in your line, you would add your grandfather and father, who are still living, as children and then add yourself as a child. Here is an outline of the procedure as found in the Help Center:
  1. Find the nearest deceased father and deceased mother.
  2. Take note of your ID number.
  3. Take note of the number of generations between yourself and the nearest deceased father and mother for each line. There are four generations in this example. Those marked with hashed lines presently are not linked to you and will be added.
  4. Start with the nearest deceased parent. Edit that family by adding the direct line living child (select Add Child).
  5. Create a new record (select Add Person) showing only the name, gender, and birth information of the living person.
  6. For the living person you just added, go to his or her Person page, scroll down to the Family Member section, and select Add Spouse to complete the couple. Repeat step 5 to add the spouse's information as a living individual.
  7. Repeat steps 4 through 6 for each couple until you are ready to add yourself, using your ID number.
  8. Finally, add yourself to your parents by clicking Add Child (see step 4) and selecting the Find by ID Number option. Enter your ID number, click Find, and then click Select on the next screen.
There are several things to note, also from the Help Center:
  • This is a temporary record for linking purposes only and can be updated and merged when the person is deceased.
  • In the event the spouse is deceased, you can select Add Spouse or Find Person or Find by ID Number (if you know his or her ID number).
  • You can link your living mother to her nearest deceased ancestors using the appropriate steps above to build your pedigree on both lines.
It is really a lot less complicated than it sounds. The main idea is to connect a deceased person with the living user of the program by adding in all the necessary generations of ancestors. In the past, adding in one line would add in all of the other lines, however, with Private Spaces, this may not happen and you might have to repeat the process for each line of ancestors. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Use the birth name

During the past week or so, because of the blog posts I have written about names, there has been a lot of discussion about how to record names. This is especially true in situations where the ancestor's name has changed from its original. The general rule is rather simple, although, in practice this can be very challenging. The rule is that the primary name is recorded as it was at the time the person was born. Any subsequent name changes or usage, is also recorded and documented.

Names have taken on a degree of importance because so many search programs (search engines) use the name of the individual as the primary search item. This has been carried to an extreme by researchers who are convinced of the "same name = same person" syndrome. Names are only one of the many factors that need to be considered in determining relationships.

What a person was called during their lifetime, often has little or no bearing on the name given to them at birth. Even in these situations, recording the birth name as the primary name is important to maintain continuity with previous generations. There is a considerable amount of confusion among genealogists when individuals in succeeding generations have the same or very similar names. In this regard, the terms "junior" and "senior" are often appended to a name to distinguish between the generations. Unfortunately, many times these generational designations are included as an actual part of the name of the person even when the designation was not given at birth. Confusion concerning which of the similarly named people belonged to which generation is rampant among genealogists. This is especially true with the "junior/senior" designations. In the past, these terms were not used exclusively to designate father and son relationships, but were sometimes used merely to differentiate two people in the same community with the same or similar names, In these cases, the two individuals may not even be related.

Attempts to sort all these similar names out to the proper parties, often results in adding a number to the persons name. I have examples of this in my own lines with a series of ancestors named Garrard Morgan. Usually, they are distinguished as Garrard Morgan I, II, III and IV. Although this may be helpful in sorting out the relationships, it is important to document and distinguish between names added for convention and the actual names given to an individual at birth.

It is also common to see names where the entire name is not recorded. There are instances where the name given to a person at birth included a single letter. For example, I have an uncle whose birth name was "Rollin C. Tanner." The "C." has no equivalent that I have ever found. Sometimes individuals adopted a middle name or initial merely to satisfy a requirement to have a middle name for school, military or other purposes. I have seen instances where the U.S. Army recorded a name using the initials "NMN" meaning "no middle name" and those initials have been subsequently recorded and used by a family historian.

I am commonly asked about which name should be recorded when it appears that there has been a change of name due to immigration or another occurrence. The answer is simple. Record all of the names, but use the birth name, if known, as the primary name.

There is also a tendency to add names to people when those names were never recorded or used during their lifetime. See my daughter's post on Middle Name Creep: A Cautionary Tale.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Flood of FamilySearch Blog Posts

For a long time, seemed to treat blogging as the last thing on their mind. When FamilySearch blog posts would come out, they came out every couple of weeks in bursts of three or four. Over time FamilySearch blogging became more regular and predictable. Well, presently, it seems like they have become entirely consumed with blog posts. Just as an example, I thought I would go back about seven days and give a list of posts I have received. Hmm. When I started to go back I cut the number of days to three. Yes, folks, this is the last three days of posts from FamilySearch. Now, there are a very few that are very specifically targeted at a very small audience that I have excluded, but here are most of the blog posts:
Mind you, I am not complaining. It is really about time FamilySearch started communicating at this level. The problem I see is that most of these blogs are "trapped" in the obscure link to the blog on the very bottom of the startup page. Here is a screenshot with an arrow pointing to the link:

Putting out that much information is not valuable if it is not getting to the target audience. I have no illusions about blog posting. I have been at this for about 8 years now and have written 3540 posts. But guess what? I can count the number of people in my own Ward that even know I write a blog on one hand, much less actually read it. I still know a lot of people who have no idea that blogs even exist. But it is comforting to know that FamilySearch is now putting forth the effort.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Is there a minimum confidence level for name submission?

I received the following comment from a reader:
I helped out with a ward youth temple trip tonight and one of the names we did was truly epic. It was: "Isabella Ann or Anne or Annie or [Other name I can't remember] [Last Name] or [Last name, different spelling] or [Last name, different spelling] or [Last name, different name]"
Born: about 1785 or 1786 or 1827 or 1840
I thought about this and looked at to see if there was some rule concerning name submissions that would affect this particular case. None of the words used is listed in the "Names and symbols causing Needs More Information Error." I find no other articles in the Get Help section of that would seem to address this issue.

From a very realistic standpoint, it is apparent that the person identified in the submission was certainly more than one individual in more than two generations. It is further apparent that absolutely no effort was made to verify this individual prior to submission, entries were probably just copied out of records containing the same or similar names. Why is this acceptable?