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

Sunday, September 21, 2014

26 Classes Taught in Two Weeks

During the past two weeks, I have taught 26 one-hour or longer classes. Along with all the support before and after the classes, that is a lot of talking. More importantly, this experience has re-emphasized the need for basic genealogical instruction. Most of this time was spent helping individuals get started with and Most of the people attending, with a few notable exceptions, were only slightly acquainted with A few more of the people had been using In some cases the participants, all of whom were directly involved in genealogy, described the experience as "life changing."

The main reason for this reaction is the effect both of these online programs are having on the way genealogy is approached. From their respective websites, it is very likely that neither company is aware of the effect their programs are having on genealogical research. They both promote their products as innovations but if they do understand the impact of their technology, they have not communicated the impact in their promotional material.

To understand what is going on, it is necessary to describe the "traditional" method of genealogical research as exemplified by the "Research Cycle." For an example, see the Research Process. As this is translated into common practice among genealogists; the process involves obtaining the names of ancestors and then searching a variety of records to "find the ancestor." The main task is trying to find the names.

What if this process were just redirected 180 degrees? What if genealogical research became more about finding sources and extracting the information and less about names? The transition from name-based to source-based genealogical research began with the creation of indexes to collections of different types of records that could be searched all at the same time. The next step in this process of revolutionizing the way genealogical research is conducted was when programs began doing the searches automatically.This was followed by the important step of automating the search process with a high degree of accuracy, first introduced by about two years ago.

In order for this new way of approaching genealogical research to work, it was also necessary for the programs to acquire a sufficiently large number of source records to make the automated searches useful to a huge number of people. Presently, most of these records are focused on Western European countries, English-speaking countries and the United States, but millions of additional records are being added almost daily. The results of this accumulation of records, coupled with the automated search techniques, has eliminated most of the steps of the Research Cycle for those involved in these programs.

For example,'s revolutionary Record Search and Record Detective programs can examine billions of records and match the records to individuals in a family tree with more than 97% accuracy. The average person with ancestors that match the record set, can expect to have the program supply records (sources) with the claimed high degree of accuracy after entering only a very minimal amount of information about his or her family. During the past week or so, I have seen's Record Detective program find almost 100 source records for one family after just a few minutes of entering known names and dates.

Rather than spending time searching for available records, the programs themselves,'s Shaky Leaves and's Record Match and Record Detective technologies provide many, if not most, of the more common records for any beginning family tree, but may also provide some records that would remain entirely unknown to most researchers. In both cases, the researcher's pedigree is built by reference to sources rather than hearsay from family members. Both programs add newly discovered individuals by making a few clicks.'s Family Tree is also working its way into the automated search arena by adding Research Hints and semi-automatic searches for records based on the individual's details.

The process is simple and anyone with access to either or (or both) can experience the benefits of this change in the way research is accomplished. Here are the steps involved in getting started:

  1. Sign in to either program.
  2. Start a new empty family tree and avoid the temptation to upload an pre-existing GEDCOM file.
  3. Enter some basic information about two or three generations
  4. Watch the programs find research hints
  5. Click on the hints and evaluate the information to make sure the right person has been selected
  6. Attach copies of the sources to each individual found
  7. Continue following the chains of suggested sources adding in any new individuals found in the records
  8. Continue until all of the research hints have been applied to your family tree
  9. Watch your pedigree grow from sources
Make sure you examine each source to determine if it is correct. Extract only those facts that are correct and complete. Keep building your pedigree. You will soon realize that this process is substantially different than the traditional methods. 

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