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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Find All the Stories

The App Gallery on is a very interesting place to find helpful, educational, and sometimes fun apps or programs that are related to family history. Not all the apps are "FamilySearch Certified" and not all the apps may be of interest, but some have proved to me to be indispensable. One of the apps that I recently explored is called "All the Stories." It has a rather simply understood concept. It finds all the stories added to the Memories section. You open the program and then sign in to Once you click to start the searching process, the program takes a few minutes to compile a list of all the stories added to in your ancestry. The program finally produces a linked chart of where the stories are located along with the list. At the beginning of this post is a screenshot of the diagram.

That's it. That's all the program does. But hovering over the spots on the diagram, shows you the number of stories and your relationship to the person with the stories.

If you click on one of the dots, the program gives you a linked list of that person's stories.

Clicking on one of the stories opens a copy of the story directly in the program.

You also have the option of viewing the story directly on This is the kind of an app that has the potential of being added as a future feature directly in the Memories.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Exploring the Limits of the FamilySearch Family Tree

June of 2016 saw nearly all of the inherited problems of the Family Tree disappear. The most obvious issue and the most bothersome, was the limitation on merging obvious duplicates. Since the date of the upgrade to the Family Tree, this limitation has almost completely disappeared. Of course, this does not mean that all the duplicates have been merged, there is still, at the date of this post, a huge number left, but it does mean that the work of cleaning up the Family Tree can now proceed with assiduousness.

Every time I look at any part of the Family Tree, I discover work that needs to be done. The program itself is full-featured but there are some obvious limitations to what can and what cannot be done without resorting to third-party software or giving up entirely.

One of the difficulties is separating out the sourced data from the unsourced data. In some cases, I have found where a source has been added, say with a specific birth date, but that information has not been transferred to the details shown for that particular individual. In other cases, there are many sources listed, but none of them support the birth, marriage or death date of the ancestor. In one case, I found a whole family line, where none of the dates were supported by sources, even though other sources appeared for other events in the their lives. This was particularly true for immigrants, where their time in America was well documented, but there were no sources for the events in their lives that occurred in the country of origin. In these cases, the number of sources can be misleading.

One of the most common issues involves the identification of the places where ancestral events occurred. From what I see in the Family Tree, there is a sad lack of general knowledge about geography, particularly when it comes to making judgments about the inclusion of family members by name. I consistently find that European place names are confused and mis-identified. Abbreviations are endemic as an artifact inherited from the old family group records. There is often no regard for the distance between places, especially when the time period involved makes the distances impossible. For example, I find a family living on the American frontier with a child in the middle of the list of children, born in a different country, when the time it would take the mother to travel to the country would prevent the baby from being born altogether. Specifically, my ancestors who lived in Northern Arizona in the 1880s did not have a random child born in England, adoption possibilities notwithstanding.

Many of the family lines on the Family Tree have the decency to end when the supporting data runs out. But too many of them run on into realms of fantasy, where parents are having children after they die or before they are born.

Here is a good example of the problems that still exist in the Family Tree.

First, and most obviously, there are no supporting sources listed for William Tanner. In the Family Tree as presently shown, he has seven wives, with two sets of obvious duplicates. I have to mention that I have quite a bit of documentation about William Tanner, who was the immigrant to Rhode Island and first shows up in Rhode Island in 1680. In addition, despite repeated requests, I have yet to see any documentation that ties him to any parent in England. The person shown as his father is listed as Francis Tanner born in Rhode Island in 1634 and who died in England in 1719. Whoever entered this information needs to realize that Roger Williams established the Providence Plantation in 1636.

You might also note that Francis Tanner and Elizabeth Symonds his wife, who were married in Rhode Island, had a child, my ancestor William Tanner, who was apparently born in Chipstead, Surrey, England on 10 March 1657 and then another child, John Tanner born in Rhode Island in 1692 when the father, Francis Tanner was 58 years old and 35 years after William Tanner was supposedly born. Elizabeth Symonds has no birth or death information other than a England and Deceased.

I could go on and on, but the point here is that I find the same type of problems with almost every line I examine. The tragedy here is that this Tanner line is extended another five generations in England until 1510. Absent some breakthrough research, the line really ends with William Tanner in 1680 in Rhode Island.

I might mention that following the birth of "Francis Tanner" in Rhode Island in 1634, his ancestors as shown in the Family Tree were subsequently born and died in the following locations. I am listing the places as they appear in the Family Tree:

  • William Tanner, b. 1610, England, d. 22 October 1688, Bromley, Kent, England
  • William Tanner, b. 24 February 1573, Kington St. Michael, Wiltshire, England, Deceased
  • William Tanner, b. 1537, Kington St. Michael, Wiltshire, England, d. 1590, Wiltshire, England
  • Matthew Tanner, b. about 1510, Kington St. Michael, Wiltshire, England, d. 1565 Kington St. Michael, Wiltshire, England

I might mention that there are 24 sources listed for the William Tanner b. 1537, 6 sources listed for the William Tanner born in 1573 and 11 sources listed for the William Tanner born in 1610, but no sources listed for the Francis Tanner supposedly born in Rhode Island in 1634 and, of course, no sources tying my ancestor, William Tanner to anyone in England before his arrival in Rhode Island in about 1680.

If you look carefully at your own lines, assuming they extend at all into the past, you will find exactly the same types of problems. When you are looking at the entries in the Family Tree, why not spend a few minutes thinking about what you are looking at. Do the dates and places make sense given the time period in question and the methods of travel available? Do the entries correspond to the historical context, such as births occurring before the places existed? Do the ages of the parents and the sequence of the births make sense? Could all the children be physically born in different counties or even different countries?

In my own line, it appears to me that the person designated as "Francis Tanner" who was supposedly born in Rhode Island before Roger Williams arrived, is not a real person. The person listed as his wife, Elizabeth Symonds, is another issue. A search on shows that during the early 1600s, ten years before and after the birth date listed for her husband, there were about 459 Elizabeth Symonds in England.

Even assuming that the name is correct, which one was the correct one? There were also about 136 people named Francis Tanner and born within two years of 1634. Where is the data connecting these two individuals?

Now, please remember, that I have yet to see anything showing a connection between my ancestor William Tanner and anyone in England. End of story. But remember, if you have any old family lines in your portion of the Family Tree, you probably have exactly the same challenges.

Monday, August 22, 2016

What to Look For in Cleaning Up the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part Three

Some people are overwhelmed with the obvious errors in the Family Tree. They immediately conclude that the Family Tree is either not working or there are so many errors that the job itself of cleaning up the Family Tree is overwhelming. Neither conclusion accurately represents the reality of the Family Tree. Yes, there are a lot of problems, but these problems are really opportunities to correct the Family Tree and thereby add individuals who need Temple ordinances.

I will repeat my first two Rules for cleaning up the Family Tree:

Family Tree Accuracy Rule No. 1:
You and your family are responsible for the accuracy of your portion of the Family Tree.

Family Tree Accuracy Rule No. 2:

No one has or will verify the accuracy of your portion of the Family Tree except you and your family.

Now I will add another rule:

Family Tree Accuracy Rule No. 3:
Accuracy in the Family Tree is like cleaning a house. There are different perceptions of what is already clean and what needs cleaning.

Looking at the screenshot above, you can see some very obvious issues. The red exclamation icons indicate serious errors. Using the house cleaning analogy, they are mold and dirt. But the purple tree icons are also serious indicators of problems. Usually, they indicate either no sources or missing children. These icons are a first line indication that this section of the Family Tree needs some major cleaning. What do we get for cleaning the Family Tree? The answer is almost always additional individuals added that were previously overlooked or lost.

We have a good analogy in the parable of the lost coin from Luke 15:8:
8 Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
Some of those searching in the Family Tree think it is possible to ignore all these obvious warning signs and proceed to "harvest the green icons" without regard to the consequences. What are those consequences? One of the most likely consequences is that the person with the green icon is not your relative at all. Of course, you are probably benefiting someone else, if the person actually exists, but you are certainly not doing your own family history work. 

On the other hand, by doing the Family Tree cleaning, you will almost always find additional family members who have been overlooked in the past.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Read the entire instructions before attempting to use this product

When you are trying to use the Family Tree and the rest of the website do you ever feel like you are lost in the woods? Perhaps you should look around a little on the website and notice that there are some signs offering help to find your way out of the fog.

In fact, there are many different parts of the website that offer support and help. First, what you see on the website is determined to some extent by whether or not you are registered and sign in. The website is "free" and most of the content is visible whether or not you register and sign in, but there are portions of the website that can only be viewed by registered users who sign in. Also, there are some additional parts of the website that are limited to viewing by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My position on this is that since the website is free and sponsored by the Church, there is no reason to expect otherwise.

There are many levels of support and help for the website and all of its parts. In the upper, right-hand corner of the screen there is the Help Menu.

Each of these links goes to a different type of help and support. But the basic, question answering help is in the Help Center. When I am asked a question, I usually sit down with the person asking and show them the answer in the Help Center.

There is another set of help links on the Family Tree program. They are referred to as "Tips" and appear as a link in the lower, right-hand corner of the screen.

The Tips menu is contextual and changes to accommodate the particular pages or sections being viewed.

Now, if you want to learn the website and Family Tree in depth there are two very good sources. First, there is an extensive, audio supported section in the Learning Center called Family Tree Training Lessons and Videos by Leland Moon. Next there is an entire website called The Family History Guide that takes you through the entire process of family history research and the website.

There is really no excuse for not "reading the instructions" before getting lost and befuddled with the Family Tree and the entire website.

One final note, before you get frustrated, remember that the live support for the website and the Family Tree is provided by volunteers. Cut them some slack.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Can DNA really help you find your relatives and ancestors?

The answer to the question posed in the title to this post depends almost completely on your own understanding of the results of a DNA test and your expectations. In talking to people recently who have taken a DNA test, I find their experiences and their reactions to the results of the test are heavily affected by the degree of their involvement in genealogical research and their prior knowledge of their family.

At one end of the spectrum are those who have done almost no genealogical research and know virtually nothing about their ancestors or their immediate family and at the other end are those who are seeking to answer a specific genealogical puzzle. Since some of those who take a DNA test have no online family tree, they can do little more than look at the general report and wonder about the conclusions. Those who were already doing genealogical research and used the DNA test to address a specific problem benefitted from the test. Those who took a DNA test out of curiosity are not inclined to pursue it any further. Obtaining some positive results from the test also depended on how many of their immediate family members had also taken a DNA test and shared the results or how many of those family members shared a common online family tree program.

However, I have seen extremely positive results for people who have done their "paper" genealogy and have specific research issues to resolve. The results range from finding a birth mother to clarifying a previously unknown relationship involving a child born out-of-wedlock. In one case, a family had to revise their entire assumed history due to the combination of both extensive research and DNA tests on family members.

There is a commonly held belief that taking a DNA test can be a prime motivator for doing family history or genealogical research. Although I have talked to a number of people who have taken DNA tests, I have not seen any increase in their interest in doing genealogical research.

To summarize, here are some of the factors I believe to me most important in obtaining positive results from a DNA test other than to satisfy a curiosity about your "family origins."
1. Extensive research preparation in formulating a specific question that can be answered by a DNA test. 
2. Identifying specific relatives whose DNA will address the question being presented. 
3.  Making the results of the DNA known to potential relatives through posting on an online family tree.
4.  Adequately evaluating and sharing the results to allow input from relatives. 
5. Accepting the results as they are determined.  
In case of finding a completely unknown relative, the DNA results were published to an online family tree program and the potential relative contacted the originator of the website.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Video Series on the Four FamilySearch Partner Websites has three major, online genealogy website partners:, and In addition, has partnerships with and

When you are registered with an LDS Account as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, individuals in the Family Tree can be directly searched in all four of the very large genealogy websites. Here is a screenshot showing the links.

During the past week or so, I have been recording four separate webinars with some basic information about each of the four websites. So far, the first two have been uploaded to the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel and the other two will be shortly.

Making the Most of MyHeritage com by James Tanner

Making the Most of by James Tanner

The other two videos have already been recorded and will be uploaded shortly. We are planning another extensive round of webinars and videos from the Brigham Young University Family History Library in September when school starts again for the Fall Semester. 

You can subscribe to the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel by clicking on the subscribe link on the Channel's webpage.

There is an issue that YouTube is blocked in most of the LDS chapels, but you can show a video by connecting to the Internet directly with a hotspot and avoid using the local WiFi connection. 

We are encouraged with the response to the videos so far and we are certainly open to suggestions for future topics. 

Links to the future webinar schedule and links to the entire video library on on the BYU Family History Library webpage

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Heart of the FamilySearch Family Tree

What is the heart of the Family Tree program? For all our talk about compiling histories and making memories, the real heart of the Family Tree is the Spirit of Elijah, President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of this back in General Conference in October of 1994, when the idea of a Family Tree program was just a dream. In part, he said as follows:

Elijah and Keys of Priesthood Authority 
In 1844, Joseph Smith asked, “What is this office and work of Elijah?” The Prophet promptly answered his own question: “It is one of the greatest and most important subjects that God has revealed. … 
“This is the spirit of Elijah, that we redeem our dead, and connect ourselves with our fathers which are in heaven. … This is the power of Elijah and the keys of the kingdom of Jehovah.”27 
Some among us still have neither perceived the Spirit of Elijah nor its power. Yet, we are bound by this warning: 
“These are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over. … For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation … they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect.”28 
Joseph Smith’s responsibility was to “lay the foundation”29 for this great work. Important details were to be revealed later. At April conference 1894, President Wilford Woodruff announced this revelation: “We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it. … This is the will of the Lord to his people.”30
We now have the tools to do exactly what is outlined in President Nelson's inspiring talk. Aren't we now under an even greater obligation to move forward?