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

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Visiting Wards around the Church as a Genealogist

As I travel around the United States and this time, Canada, and attend genealogy conferences, usually the conferences are on Saturday and frequently, I get the opportunity to attend a Church meeting of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the following day. I also travel to see family and for vacations and get the same opportunity. Over the past few years, as I have attended meetings, I have made a point to inquire about the status of genealogy in the various Wards I visit. I must say, it is very, very rare for me to find an active on-going genealogy program in any of the Wards I visit. Sometimes I talk to the Ward Family History Consultant. Sometimes I talk to the Bishop and/or High Priest Group Leader. In some Wards, I never do find anyone who knows about what is going on with the "genealogy program." Many of the comments made in this particular blog come from my interactions with these Wards I visit.

Here are some random observations from my visits:

  • Most of the time, I find that there is a "Family History Consultant." Usually, if I can find that person to talk to, they indicate that "right now they don't have a class going, but one is planned for the future." It is usually a challenge to find this person because no one seems to know who they are. 
  • Sometimes if I finally find a Family History Consultant, I am asked as to why I am in town. When I explain that there was a local genealogy conference, most of the time they are surprised and have never heard of the conference. In many cases, when the conference is sponsored by a local genealogical society or other organization, the local Ward members are unaware at all of this local genealogical organization. 
  • Most of the time when I talk to the Bishop or High Priest Group Leader about attending genealogy class, they indicate that they are in the process of calling a Family History Consultant or that they already had a class that year and another one has yet to be planned. 
  • Sometimes I am able to talk to the Director of the local Family History Center. These conversations are always interesting since the amount of activity of the centers are so varied. From time to time, the Directors vary in experience and motivation. Some have been directors for many years and appear worn out, others are newly called and are overwhelmed with their responsibilities. The degree of experience they have in doing genealogical research varies considerably. 
  • I have met several Family History Consultants who are "newly called" and most commonly they have not been given any specific instructions as to what they are to do other than start up a genealogy class. This contact has also extended to recently called High Counselors and other Ward Leaders. 
  • Every so often, the Ward Family History Consultant has a good idea about what is expected by feels like there is little support in the Ward for family history. 
  • I can remember two or three times over the past few years when the Ward was organized and actively engaged in family history. In these Wards, there is always good support from both the Bishop and the High Priest Group Leader.
These experiences and many others have convinced me that following the guidelines in the General Handbook of Instruction and the Guide to Temple and Family History will result in a successful Ward family history effort where new and old members of the Ward benefit from the participation in Temple activity. Ignoring the handbooks results in the much of the discouragement and lack of activity I have noted around the country. Wards that follow the manuals prosper. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

FamilySearch adds significant error checking and research suggestions

FamilySearch.org Family Tree is beginning to emerge from its cloud of data and become a much sharper tool for doing accurate genealogical research. In a blog post entitled "Helpful New Additions to the Descendancy View" from FamilySearch, Jeff Hawkins outlines some recent tools that will measurably increase the overall utility of the program. The emphasis here is adding information while at the same time avoid duplication and merging existing duplicate individuals. The new descendancy view is a boon to careful research. As the post suggests,
Two powerful new features have been added to the Descendancy view—Research Suggestions and Data Problems. They help you identify where people might be missing in your tree and where you might be able to improve the quality of your data.
This is certainly true. When I tried out the new features, the program immediately identified one of the individuals in the family I selected that needed to be merged with a duplicate and also indicated which members of the family lacked documentation through sources. I am impressed that this addition will encourage those who use the tree to document their entries. Anything that can be done in this regard will assist in improving the accuracy and integrity of the data.

The article is quite detailed and I will not copy the whole article into this blog post. I would note that changes and additions to the Family Tree program are being documented primarily through the Blog posts and that anyone interested in the program would be well advised to refer to the blog frequently or better yet, add it to a reader program so you get notifications of any additions or changes. I have written several blog posts in the past about reader programs. There is an easy way to search my past posts since they are all online and searchable by Google. For example, if you wanted to find an article on readers, all you would have to do is search for "James Tanner blog aggregator programs" and Google will find the articles immediately. But you might have to dig through a lot of commentary since I have posted a lot of articles. But here is a link to one such article on subscribing to the FamilySearch.org blog.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Is Genealogy Getting Easier? FamilySearch will add automatic record searching

If you have read my blog for a while, you probably have guessed that I do not view genealogy as "easy" or necessarily "fun." Fun and easy are overworked and overused in too many ad campaigns to be much use to me anymore. What is either fun or easy is open to personal interpretation. That is one reason the title of a recent blog post from FamilySearch.org entitled, "Family History Research Keeps Getting Easier!" caught my attention. But fortunately, the content of the post has important news about an important development in FamilySearch.org technology, so I can ignore the reference to "easy." 

Now that my fussing is over, I can talk about what is going on. Basically, FamilySearch.org is implementing some form of the same type of technology that has been available for some time from Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com. That is, automatic search capabilities. In both of the other large online programs, this technology is far superior to individual searches conducted on limited information by individual users, when it works. You will notice the qualifier here. This technology can also be a constant bother if it does not work. There are several other online database or family tree programs that suggest sources but their accuracy in linking that suggested source to one of your own ancestors is so poor, the suggestions become nothing more that additional background noise from the Internet.

Now, what about FamilySearch.org? We will have to wait and see. The blog post states:
FamilySearch will soon release a feature called “hinting.” With this powerful tool, the site will automatically search for records that match people in your family tree. When you go to an ancestor’s page we will show you what we have found just for that person amongst our vast collections of records. That’s right—FamilySearch does the searching, and finding, for you! 
The high quality matches the site finds will automatically be provided in the new Record Hints box added to the ancestor page in FamilySearch Family Tree. No more looking through hundreds of search results. The system does the heavy lifting for you!!! It really is that easy! 
When launched, this new hinting feature will go through the vast FamilySearch database of records and find the records for you that hinting thinks might be about your specific ancestor. Just click and confirm the ones that are correct! We think you’ll be impressed.
One thing about this type of search program needs to be remembered. These searches only work with Indexed records. Many, if not most of the records presently on FamilySearch.org exist only as images with no indexes. Any automatic search capability will only search the indexed records, leaving the resot of the searches to be made page by page through the images. Additionally, there are many of the records that are only partially indexed. No technology yet exists to search the handwritten records of the past.

This is a big step for FamilySearch.org and they are to be highly complimented. This is also a difficult field to enter when two other major online databases have already developed sophisticated technology of their own. Perhaps this new search technology is one of the trade-offs received from the partnering agreements?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Increasing involvement in genealogy in the Church

One of the challenges facing the genealogical community is the demographics of the average genealogist. If you use my blog as an example, my average reader is over 55, a female, has a college or university degree and has no children at home. From my perspective, as I attend genealogy conferences all over the United States, I can confirm this demographic each time I look out at those attending my presentations. Unless the class has been arranged to include a larger group, such as all the people in a Ward or Stake, the demographics of the attendees always match my blog readership.

Personally, I see no problem with the current demographics of those interested in genealogy. However, there has been an almost constant background discussion, all be it one that has little attention from the community, about the need to involve a younger demographic in genealogy. I have written blog post about this issue from time to time, but it seems to me little progress is being made.

From the perspective of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the concern about involving a younger demographic stems from the statistics that only a small percentage, less than 3%, of the Church's members are involved in genealogy to the extent of submitting names for Temple work. It seems one obvious solution to this problem would be to involve younger people in doing genealogy. I guess my question is why is that an obvious solution? One reason I would ask such a question is that there is such a paucity of real statistical data about who makes up the genealogical community so most assumptions about the community at large are based on speculation and, like my own opinions, personal observation.

In all this there is one large nonconforming fact. It appears from the streaming list of new members on the MyHertitage.com website, that those putting family trees on MyHeritage from around the world are much, much younger than the demographic as it appears to be in that part of the genealogical community attending conferences. Whatever it is that MyHeritage.com is doing, it seems to attracting exactly those individuals sought by the Church and by the larger genealogical community. If you would like to see what I am talking about, you go to MyHeritage.com and scroll down to the bottom of the startup page, and take a look at the Member Map. Here is a screenshot of the bottom of the MyHeritage.com startup page with an arrow showing the location of the link:


You will then get a link to open the "Member Map" showing the present number of members of MyHeritage.com and a streaming slide show of the new members who are signing up for the program. Herr is a screenshot of the page showing the ever-changing new membership. You may also want to click on the map to view the number of MyHeritage members in various parts of the world. You can hover your cursor over the flags that appear to see the exact number in any country.


This MyHeritage.com map is worth exploring for a number of reasons. It shows dramatically that at some level there is a huge interest in genealogy, even to the extent of putting a family tree online. Again, it would certainly seem from the numbers of younger people involved that there is some need that is served by MyHeritage that is being missed entirely by the larger genealogical community as it is presently viewed. 

I would think that the first thing we would need to do is find out exactly who is "doing genealogy." To my knowledge, this kind of information is not available. In addition, there is no standard definition for genealogy or family history or any of the the associated activities. Any such definition would have to include those involved in MyHeritage.com and similar activities in other online programs.

In addition, there is no standard way to measure a person's interest in actually doing family history research, assuming you could come up with a definition of genealogy or family history. Some of the polls cited on the subject of overall interest in genealogy, fail to define the subject matter of the survey. People are asked general questions about their interest in the their family and ancestors. The way to determine interest is to see how many people are participating in genealogical activities, such as the comment made about Church members involvement and the number of people involved in Indexing or utilize one of the major online genealogical database programs. All of these methods would give us a practical standpoint for having a discussion about whether or not involving the youth in an activity will lead them to involvement in finding ancestors needing Temple work. What has MyHeritage done to attract many more members than there are in the entire Church membership? Currently, according to their website, MyHeritage.com has over 71 million members. That should say something to those pushing for more involvement of the youth. There must be something being done by MyHeritage that is missing from the generally perceived genealogical community.

One interesting observation that comes from the MyHeritage.com Membership Map is the number of people on MyHeritage.com in my own states of Arizona and Utah. The numbers (I will let you look them up for yourself) are many times greater than any other indication of involvement in genealogy would indicate. Who are these people and how do we involve them in the genealogical community as it is now composed? Are we who consider ourselves to be "genealogists" looking at genealogy in a completely inappropriate way? It would seem from the numbers of members of MyHeritage.com that both Arizona and Utah must have members of the Church on that program who are otherwise not involved in their Wards and Stakes in genealogy. Why is that? Maybe the key to involving more of the members in genealogy is sitting right there online with MyHeritage.com and all we have to do is figure out why the answer is staring us in the face. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

What is the Genealogical Society of Utah?

FamilySearch announced today that they were celebrating being 15 years old. In a blog post entitled, "Happy 15th Birthday FamilySearch!" they explained,
It’s hard to believe, but FamilySearch.org is 15 years old today. Originally launched on May 24, 1999 by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch has played a key role in dramatically changing the landscape of internet genealogy. When President Gordon B. Hinckley launched FamilySearch Internet, he commented, “I hope you understand this is far from just a new website. . . . Today we take the long-awaited step of allowing home access via the Internet to some of the most significant materials in our Family History Library.” That step mentioned by President Hinckley was just the first step in a long and remarkable journey to what was to become the development of one of the world’s leading genealogical websites.
The origins of the FamilySearch go back a lot more than just 15 years. Its predecessor was the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) which was established in 1884.

From 1894 to the present, there have been a number of other organizations involved in genealogy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most recently, in 1975, Church established the Genealogical Department which later became the Family History Department. In 2000, the Church consolidated both the Family History and Church History Departments into the Family and Church History Department.

During most of this time, the GSU continued its existence as an entity and the name of the GSU was still used for some genealogical purposes. In about 1999, the GSU began using the trade name of FamilySearch and on 2 March 1999, FamilySearch International was registered as a corporation in Utah. The Genealogical Society of Utah is shown as the former business name of FamilySearch on the Utah State Corporation Commission records.

For a very complete history, see

Allen, James B., Jessie L. Embry, and Kahlile B. Mehr. Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894-1994. Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, Brigham Young University, 1995.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

FamilySearch Family Tree is a Cooperative Effort

In a recent post by FamilySearch CEO, Dennis Brimhall, entitled "FamilySearch: It’s Not a Party Without You!", he makes the following observation:
So it is with FamilySearch.org. Your presence here, whoever you are, adds life to the site and enjoyment for those who come behind you. In fact, it’s almost impossible to do anything on FamilySearch.org without making the experience better for someone else.
Genealogy has always been a very solitary pursuit. Of course, we could have family reunions and such, but usually the dedicated genealogist was busily working away on ancestral lines without much contact, help or even the good wishes of family members. I could discuss the reasons for this isolation, but I think I will do that another time. The key point made by Dennis is the statement about the possibility of making any changes on FamilySearch.org Family Tree without helping others. This is due to the fact that the Family Tree is a "unified" family tree program. All of the people working on the program can see and interact with any of the other user's changes.

Family Tree is unified in the sense that all of the information about each individual is only in one place on the family tree. If you and I were related and looking at a common ancestor, we would both be looking at the same individual, not two different copies on our own family tree files. For this reason cooperation is not an option, it is required. Anything done on the Family Tree program; entering data, uploading photos, sharing stories, all of these events are visible to everyone who logs into the program.

Literally, anything we do to benefit the information on FamilySearch.org, benefits all of the people visiting the program. This not only applies to adding genealogical information, photos, stories and documents, but it also extends to participating in the Indexing program. Dennis concludes his blog post with an invitation:
FamilySearch.org offers the same kind of opportunities to everyone who attends its “party.” Thousands of people come to FamilySearch.org every day for the express purpose of giving back to make life better for others. The most visible of these opportunities is FamilySearch indexing. 
Do you realize that most of the billions of searchable names on FamilySearch.org were transcribed (or indexed) from historic documents by ordinary people? The vast majority of this work is done by volunteers, individuals like you and me who want to use their spare time to do something good for others. Like a stitch or two in a quilt, every record indexed really matters. In fact, all it takes is one indexed record for someone else to find a missing connection in their Family Tree. 
So next time you visit FamilySearch.org, how about you take a few minutes to give back? I would like to extend to you an invitation in 2014 to join us in the “One Patron” experience. For example, if you like to search for records, learn to index and submit a batch of indexed records. If you’re already a regular indexer, how about adding a photo, story, document, or source to help others find or learn about their ancestor? Or how about performing the ultimate act of service of using your time to submit a name to the temple? 
With everyone doing a little and some doing a lot, we can all enjoy and be a part of this entire party we call FamilySearch.org.

Friday, May 23, 2014

What are FamilySearch Certified Products

FamilySearch certifies a number of different programs, including different types of programs, that work with FamilySearch.org's Family Tree program. Essentially these programs share data back and forth with Family Tree at differing levels. To find a list of these Certified Programs, go to the bottom of the FamilySearch.org startup page. Here is a screenshot of the bottom of the page with an arrow showing the link labeled "About."


This link takes you to following page where you need to click further on the "Products" link. Here is a screenshot of that link:


The Products page has recently been redesigned. Presently, it looks like the following screenshot:



Clicking on each of the icons takes you to an individual page telling about the specific product. There are changes to these pages frequently and not all of the products have been discussed or reviewed. The various levels of Certification used to be explained, but that explanation, along with the tiny icons, has disappeared. I suspect these pages are in transition and will change again soon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Comments on Exciting Times for Mormon Family History

My daughter Amy Thiriot is also a very active genealogist, historian and writer. She also has an excellent blog entitled TheAncestorFiles.blogspot.com and is a guest blogger on the Keepapitchinin.org blog also. She recently posted a very thorough explanation of the new free genealogy websites available to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. the post on the Keepapitchinin.org blog is called, "Exciting Times for Mormon Family History: Free Access to Ancestry, MyHeritage and findmypast."

This post is an excellent introduction to the whole subject of the new free websites. I was not too surprised to see that most of the comments seemed to be from members who were learning about the new free access for the first time from Amy's blog. Even though this subject has been widely discussed in the genealogy community since October of 2013, it is still (and will be) a new topic for many of the members who may be surprised to find an invitation in their email box. I wonder how many of them will not believe the offer and ignore it or delete it without looking at it?

I have been working with the missionaries at the Mesa FamilySearch Library, many of whom got their invitations about two weeks ago. Even as late as yesterday, I was still hearing comments about how they needed to "get around" to signing up. These types of comments reinforce the need to involve more of the members of the Church in genealogy (or family history or whatever you want to call it).

If you haven't received an invitation, you will in the next few weeks or months. It may take as long as September or October before all the members are invited. You also might want to know that MyHeritage.com is in 40 different languages and FamilySearch.org is in 10 different languages.

Please take the time to read Amy's post and pass it on to anyone in your Ward or Stake who might need to know about these programs. Thanks.

Away for a while

Any posting over the next 22 days is likely to be very spotty if at all. We will be traveling to the Qualicum Beach Family History Society Conference on Vancouver Island, BC and then doing some touring afterwards. As I stated in an earlier post, Internet connections may be sporadic or non-existent. See you all when I get back.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What is the Pedigree Resource File?


Unless you have been involved in genealogy and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for some considerable time, you may not be familiar with some of the many programs available through FamiySearch.org used to research and gather genealogical data. One of these programs, that is sill active, is the Pedigree Resource File (PRF).

The Pedigree Resource File began in 1999 with the ability to contribute names by uploading a GEDCOM file to the then recently implemented FamilySearch.org website. The original idea was to use the PRF to "backup" your data from Personal Ancestral File. These backup files were then compiled into a series of CDs. These CD collections, usually four CDs to a set, were then available through the Church Distribution System. Ultimately, some of the contributed set of files have been made available on FamilySearch.org.

The Pedigree Resource File contains user submitted family history information. There are certain important limitations on the data. These are set forth in the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki article as follows:
Limitations
  • Submitters are responsible for the accuracy of the information. FamilySearch does not check the accuracy of any contributed genealogy.
  • Information in Pedigree Resource File is second-hand. Verify the information before accepting it.
  • Submitter information, previously available, is now hidden for privacy reasons.
  • Pedigree Resource File contains many errors and unlike the new FamilySearch Tree, corrections are not accepted. Submitters are advised to make another submission that includes corrections. However, both old and new submissions are left in Pedigree Resource File.
To find the current copy of the PRF, click on the Search link from the FamilySearch.org startup page. The collection is available in the link entitled "Genealogies." Here is a screen shot of the Genealogies page showing the PRF:


You can either click or not click the check box to include or not include a search in the PRF. Remember, none of the information is verified and all information should be checked for sources. 

If you go to the bottom of the Genealogies page, you will see instructions for contributing your own file to the PRF collection. Here is a screenshot showing the explanation for doing this:


Contributing a file to the PRF is also a step in the process of uploading a file to the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Pre-vacation warning

I guess I should post something every day for a while. My wife and I are going on a real vacation. This time to Canada and Alaska. I understand from some preliminary research, that I may not have much of a connection to telephones or computers. So I may disappear on May 22nd and not reappear until sometime after June 12th. It is our 47th Wedding Anniversary, so it is about time we took a non-working vacation. If you feel the need, you can always go back and re-read some of the more complicated posts and make your appropriate comments. I will respond to all the comments once I get back online. The backlog of email and reader posts should keep me busy for a long time after we get back. Oh, by the way, when we do "get back" we will be making our nearly final move to Provo, Utah, just in time to have a reunion with most of our children and their families.

Deleting Legacy Disputes on FamilySearch Family Tree

As the remaining data is converted from New.FamilySearch.org to FamilySearch.org Family Tree, there is sometimes a measure of out-dated or no longer appropriate information transferred over. Some of the areas where this shows up are the Notes section and the Discussions. I suppose you could just ignore these issues, but to prevent further problems, these "additions" become part of the general housekeeping activities of the Family Tree program. Here is a screenshot of the bottom of a Details page showing the two areas where this carried-over information may show up:


Some of the notes carried over have already been deleted, but there is a new entry called "Legacy Disputes." Most of these disputes arose out of the inability of the users to make changes to the data in New.FamilySearch.org. Here is a screenshot showing the results of clicking on the Legacy Dispute and expanding it so the whole Dispute could be seen.


This particular Dispute arose out of the fact that someone had added in a person who was not a child in that family. This issue is now easily resolved in Family Tree by editing the relationship of the inappropriately added child. Hence, there is no longer a need for this particular Discussion and it can be deleted also.  Which I did after using it as an example. You can see a more expanded discussion of this issue on the FamilySearch Blog at "Discussions: Users Can Now Delete Legacy Disputes."

The Mission and Spirit of Elijah

My children all write so much better than I can. My son, Jared, recently wrote a blog post on his blog, By Study and Faith, entitled "The Mission and Spirit of Elijah." This is one of the most touching and outstanding articles on this topic I have read. Rather than make comments of my own, I recommend reading Jared's. Please take the time to do so.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What is the Patron File?

During the early days of the Genealogical Society of Utah, the predecessor of FamilySearch, the GSU established the Research Bureau. One of the three departments of the Research Bureau was the Research Department. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could receive help searching for ancestors and compiling records for the payment of a small fee. See Research Department Patron Files 1928 to 1966 in the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki.

In my early years doing research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, these records were still available in paper format in large binders on the shelves of the Library. This research service ended in 1966. Eventually, the sheets were all microfilmed and made available on 4018 rolls of microfilm.

The files are described by the FamilySearch Catalog as follows:
Consists of genealogical research notes, family group records and pedigree charts, and correspondence between the Research Department and the person sponsoring the research. 
Access to the files is provide by the indexes listed below under the heading "Major Indexes to Research Department Patron Files." Following the indexes, description of several other indexes are includes. These other indexes were compiled for internal control purposes and do not provide access to the files. However, they may occasionally provide information of value to researchers. 
-- CARD INDEX TO PATRON'S PEDIGREE SURNAMES -- Includes name of locality where patron's ancestor resided, surname of ancestor, period of years in which the ancestral family was known to have lived in the locality, and the name of the patron having the research done. Index incomplete; includes four counties only. 
-- INSTRUCTIONS -- Located desired ancestral surname in the portion of the index covering the ancestor's place of residence. Then find the microfilm numbers for those patrons' research files by using the Card Index to Microfilm Patron Files.
This vast collection has yet to be digitized and must still be accessed in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.  You can find the complete list of the microfilms in the FamilySearch Catalog on FamilySearch.org.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Are you registered as a Ward Family History Consultant?

Pursuant to the agreement between FamilySearch and Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and findmypast.com, some of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are already receiving notification to join the three other database programs with a free account. Access to the free accounts is being staged over the next few months. Some of those who should receive early invitations included Family History Consultants. Some of the Consultants in my Ward did not yet get an invitation and so I decided to check to see that they were all registered as Consultants.

There are two place that need to be checked. Each Family History Consultant should make sure that their personal settings, located in a pull-down menu from your name when you sign in to FamilySearch.org, reflects that you want to receive email newsletters etc. There is also a click-on menu item that selects your calling. If you are already receiving newsletters from FamilySearch it is likely that this selection has already been made, but it is always a good idea to check if it has.

In addition, the Ward records in the Church's MLS program (Ward records) should reflect that you have been called as a Family History Consultant. I found by looking at the Ward Directory in the LDS Tools App on my iPhone, that most of the Consultants in our Ward were not listed. I contacted the Ward Clerk in charge of maintaining the callings and alerted him to the problem. As of the writing of this post, there is still only one of the six other Consultants listed. If you are not listed in the Directory with your calling, Ward members cannot find you or your phone number.

I am not sure which of these issue may cause a delay in receiving an invitation to the free programs, but it doesn't hurt to check these setting out anyway.

Friday, May 16, 2014

What is the Ancestral File?

The Ancestral File is a huge pedigree linked online database with about 40 million people. It is presently searchable on FamilySearch.org from the search page. Here is a screenshot showing the link from the Search page called "Genealogies" that gives access to both the Ancestral File (AF) and the Pedigree Resource File (PRF).


Clicking on the link brings up a page to choose which of the two database files to search, either individually or together. You choose which of the files to search by checking or unchecking the boxes next to the names of the files.


Detailed information about the Ancestral File is found in the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki article, appropriately titled, "Ancestral File." The Ancestral File was included in the original version of the FamilySearch.org website back in 1999. Many people believe that the Ancestral File program disappeared when the present FamilySearch.org website was introduced, however, as you can see, the file is still alive and well on FamilySearch.org.

The Ancestral File is a compilation of Family Group Records, Pedigree Charts, and even GEDCOM files submitted to FamilySearch over the years. All of the submissions were examined closely and then merged to eliminate errors and duplication. About 100,000 of the individuals in about 25,000 families in the Ancestral File date from before 1500 A.D. All of this pre-1500 information was carefully scrutinized before it was included in the file.

The Ancestral File has some significant limitations. These are outlined in the Research Wiki article as follows:
  • It contains no notes or sources.
  • Submitters are responsible for the accuracy of the information. FamilySearch did not check the accuracy of any submission.
  • Submitter information, previously available, is now hidden for privacy reasons.
  • Ancestral File contains many errors and corrections are not accepted.
  • Unlike the new FamilySearch Tree and Pedigree Resource File (PRF), Ancestral File is static.
  • As previously mentioned, information in Ancestral File is second-hand. Verify the information before accepting it.
It is unfortunate that sources were not included with the original file as the users of FamilySearch.org Family Tree are now adding sources to those same individuals. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Where do the Alternate Names come from in Family Tree?

If you are relatively new to FamilySearch.org Family Tree and your family has been members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for some time, you have probably noticed a list of "Alternate names" associated with individuals already in the system. Here is a screenshot showing such a list:


In this example, there are 10 variations on the name of the person. Here is a list of the names:
Alternate Name
Birth Name Henry Sutton
Birth Name Henry Lyon
Birth Name Henry
Birth Name Henry Howarth
Birth Name Henry Howarth Sutton
Birth Name Henry Sutton
Birth Name Henry Jr Sutton
Birth Name Mr. Sutton
Birth Name Henry (Senior) Sutton
Birth Name Henry Suttond

Where did all these variations come from and should they be preserved? Both these questions raise issues that date back up to 150 years. In essence, what you are seeing are all the variations in the name of the individual recorded by researchers over the years. Some of these may actually be legitimate variations in the name as found in various documents. Unfortunately, none of these listed names has any source documentation attached. In addition, they are likely all wrong or merely duplications of the primary name shown above in the Vital Information section. This particular individual has an attached source showing his birth name as it was recorded at the time of birth. Some of the "birth names" listed are obviously wrong and as such, should be simply deleted with a comment about the fact that the correct name is now sourced. There is no need to preserve the mistakes of the past.

In some cases, there may actually be a dispute as to the way the name was recorded from different records. All of these variations should be preserved with proper documentation and references to the original sources. There is always the possibility that more than one individual is being referenced in the records and so this possibility should be preserved. In the case of a mere duplication or repetition, there is no reason to list the name more than once in the Vital Information section. I suggest that mere duplicates also be deleted. This is in the nature of a housekeeping task to "clean up" the records. In the list above, unless there is some documentation showing actual alternate names, all of these supposed variations should be deleted with the proper notation unless some existing record shows a variation in the name as given at birth.

So there is no misunderstanding. The issue here is names recorded as "birth names" not just alternate names such as a name change or later variations in the name. This list should only exist if there are records showing variations in the same individual's name in different source records.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What happened to the Instructions? Linking FamilySearch Family Tree to other online databases

I got the following comment to a recent post about the agreement allowing members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to obtain free account from Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and findmypast.com.
I just got my free access today (yay!) and I've got lots of questions about this same thing. I see that if you go to the "family trees" tab at the top of Ancestry, you can click on "import tree from FamilySearch" and it will automatically import your 4 generations. But is there a way to get other people from FamilySearch too without having to type them each individually? It doesn't show my husband or any of his family (he doesn't have access yet). And if new info is entered, is it automatically transferred between my Ancestry tree and FamilySearch Family Tree? Are there instructions anywhere beyond just how to sign up?
The comment highlights exactly some of the issues I have been discussing for the past few months in my blog posts. First, to answer some of the questions.

When you sign in to Ancestry.com with an LDS account, the program gives you the option of importing four generations of your family from FamilySearch.org Family Tree if you do not already have an Ancestry.com family tree. If you already have an Ancestry.com account and a family tree, the current information in Ancestry.com will transfer over to the new account.

I am getting mixed reports about this import process. Some people seem to have seamless success and others do not.

Once individuals are in a family tree on Ancestry.com, if you are signed in with an LDS account, there is a link to connect the person to FamilySearch. See the following screenshot:


Clicking on the link will give you the option of linking the person to FamilySearch.org Family Tree after signing into FamilySearch.org. Here is a screenshot of the option to select a match for the individual:


In this case, you might note that there are two selections for the individual. This may indicate that there are duplicates in FamilySearch.org. I suggest that the issue of the duplicates be resolved before attaching the person from Ancestry.com to the person in FamilySearch.org. You may wish to write down the personal identifier numbers of the two or more individuals shown as duplicates as the FamilySearch.org Family Tree program may not find the duplicates. In fact, they may be people of the same name rather than actually duplicate individuals. It is also possible, that the two individuals cannot be merged because of issues with FamilySearch.org Family Tree which have yet to be resolved. See the following screenshot:


In this case, you could choose to wait until the issue is resolved by FamilySearch.org or you could simply choose the individual with the same identifier number as the one showing in your family tree.

Once you have decided on which person is the one you wish to connect, you select them in the screen from Ancestry.com as follows:


Again you have the opportunity of comparing the two individuals to make sure you have the right person from each of the two different family trees. If you are satisfied, you can click on the link connecting the two individuals. The link on the Ancestry.com family tree will then show that the link is "completed." This completed link gives you several options, one of which is grayed out and will be implemented in the future when it is possible to synchronize information between the individuals in the two family trees. The link from Ancestry.com will presently allow you to view the status of the Temple ordinance work for the individual. There is also a link directly to the individual in FamilySearch Family Tree.

The next question posed above was whether or not it is possible to get additional people out of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree without typing them into Ancestry.com. Presently, the only way to do this is to have your own database in your own program and export a GEDCOM file and upload it to Ancestry.com. You could also allow Ancestry.com to search for sources for the individuals shown in your family tree and allow the program to suggest additional people to add to your family tree on Ancestry.com. This would be a way to find sources which could be later added to FamilySearch.org Family Tree and also verify that the information in FamilySearch.org Family Tree was correct.

Another way to get information out of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree program is to use a third-party Certified program such as RootsMagic, Ancestral Quest, or Legacy Family Tree.You would then still have to export a GEDCOM file and then upload the file to Ancestry.com.

The reason why the four generation information imported from FamilySearch.org Family Tree does not show a spouse is because most people are not related to their spouse. Family Tree shows only your relatives. There are exceptions to this rule for family trees that were incorporated from information where the spouses information was previously shown. But essentially, your spouse needs to create their own FamilySearch.org Family Tree. You could certainly add in your spouse to the Ancestry.com family tree and allow the program to assist you in finding your spouse's ancestors.

Information is not presently transferred between Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org Family Tree but that feature is going to be implemented in the near future.

The last question in the comment above is the most problematic. Presently there is virtually no documentation on this entire project. I would expect some documentation to be forthcoming from FamilySearch and possibly from Ancestry.com. The Mesa FamilySearch Library will be creating a series of webcasts on their website addressing the issues. So far, I have done to webcasts explaining what is going on with the agreements between FamilySearch and the other large database programs. Presently, the only webcast I have done so far is for MyHeritage.com. There is another webcast on Ancestry.com that was posted recently by Kathy Percy. Please refer to the following link for further information:

Mesa FamilySearch Library Webcasts

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What about duplicates and merges on FamilySearch Family Tree?

This post was written on 13 May 2014 and because of changes to the FamilySearch.org Family Tree program it may no longer apply. If you are reading this post sometime after that date. The program is constantly changing and the issues discussed in this post may no longer be an issue.

At the time this post was written, one of the most common issues and complaints about the FamilySearch Family Tree program pertained to problems incurred with merging duplicate individuals. The reason for this issue in the Family Tree program, dates back to decisions made in the New.FamilySearch.org program. Duplicates in that program were resolved by "combining" individuals rather than merging the individuals. As the program progressed, there was a limit of the number of combinations that would be allowed in New.FamilySearch.org. When Family Tree was introduced two years ago as a replacement for New.FamilySearch.org, FamilySearch began by sharing the same database used for New.FamilySearch.org. As a result, the limitation on combining individuals carried over to Family Tree. Unfortunately, it has taken some considerable time to resolve that particular issue.

The limitation on the number of combined individuals has created a situation in Family Tree where the merge function will not work for individuals who exceed the limit set in New.FamilySearch.org. From conversations with FamilySearch representatives I am certain that this issue is being addressed and will be resolved as soon as the New.FamilySearch.org program is entirely separated from Family Tree. I am not presently aware of any firm timetable for this to occur.

 It is possible that you will see a message such as the following shown in this screenshot:


The message says,
These records cannot be merged because the corresponding combined record in new.familysearch.org would be too large. To merge these records, please wait until new.familysearch.org shuts down.Contact FamilySearch.
Meanwhile, if you have ancestors in your family lines that appear to have duplicate entries but those entries cannot be resolved, you will need to wait until the official announcement of the discontinuance of New.FamilySearch.org before the problem can be resolved. While you are waiting, you can certainly spend a great deal of time on those parts of your ancestry where this is not a problem. Primarily the only individuals in the program involved are those who exceed the limit placed in New.FamilySearch.org. If your family has been active in the Church for several generations it is extremely likely that some of your ancestors fall into this category.

As the transition from New.FamilySearch.org to Family Tree continues there may be some other data issues, however, these issues will be resolved as the programs are separated.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Let's set a goal to do four generations

Many years ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a program to have every member of the Church submit Family Group Records establishing four generations of their family history. The Church's Ensign magazine of March, 1972 in an article entitled, "What Is the Four-Generation Program?" described the program as follows:
In 1965, the Priesthood Genealogy Committee announced the three-generation program. Each family in the Church was asked to prepare documented family group record forms for the first three generations: one form for you and your spouse and your children; one form for your parents, with you appearing as a child on the form; and two forms on your two sets of grandparents, with your father appearing as a child on one form and your mother appearing as a child on the other form.

Later this program was expanded to include the fourth generation—families of great-grandparents with each of the four grandparents appearing as a child on one of the four forms.

Each adult member of the Church is to document (not just copy) a family group record form for each family in the first four generations of his ancestry—seven sheets for each individual plus one for the immediate family of the husband (or wife) and children, making fifteen sheets per family (seven sheets only for single individuals).
Obviously such a program created a lot of duplicate work, especially if each member of the family submitted the same records. In reality, the families often appointed one member to provide the information. Incidentally, this is how I became involved in genealogy. However, the program was intended to duplicate the work, as the article states:
To the question, “Should everyone submit the forms when they have already been submitted?” the answer is yes. Each adult should submit the sheets on his or her family. Once an individual has submitted them, he need not do so again.
What happened to all the forms? The article goes on to state:
The forms are to be submitted to the ward, where they will be checked by the ward records examiners, and then sent to the stake, where they are alphabetized for the stake and submitted at the end of each year to the Genealogical Society. These forms are microfilmed and filed in the patrons section, and microfilm copies are sent to branch genealogical libraries.
Ultimately, this Patron File was accumulated by the Research Bureau of the Genealogical Society of Utah from 1928 to 1966. Part of that file is available in digitized format to members of the Church on FamilySearch.org as the Family Group Records Collection, Archives Section, 1942-1969 in the Historical Records Collection. The submissions also helped to compile the Ancestral File. Quoting from the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki:
The current version of of Ancestral File is available online as part of FamilySearch Genealogies. Previous editions of Ancestral File have been available as computer databases on compact disc, and online. In addition, the paper family group records submissions 1983-1996 were made available on microfilms arranged by AF submission number.
Much of this information was included in the original database that was used to create New.FamilySearch.org and is now being ported over to the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. Hence, part of the reason for duplicates in the Family Tree.

The practical results of all this is that many members of the Church open Family Tree for the first time and see a significant amount of data already entered into the program. Granted, it is sometimes inaccurate, contradictory and incomplete, but there is a good start for many members of the Church.

As I have quoted recently, many members of the Church still lack this basic genealogical information.
Quoting again from a Deseret News article entitled, Family History Is about Hearts before Charts, Says Elder Packer and quoting Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventy and Chairman of the Board of Directors of FamilySearch,
"These numbers are a cry for change,” Elder Packer said regarding the statistics he cited, though he did say he was happy to report progress. “In the last year the number of members submitting names for temple ordinances is up 17 percent over last year. It has gone from 2.4 to 2.7 percent of the members,” he said. 
But he supported the call for improvement by noting that in the United States 25 percent of Church members do not have four generations of ancestors in the Family Tree section of the Church’s FamilySearch Internet site. Internationally, 70 percent of members don’t have both parents in Family Tree, 90 percent don’t have their grandparents in it, and 95 percent don’t have their great-grandparents included.
Now, if this is the case, and it certainly is, then why not start another "Four Generation Program" for the Church members?

This time, the process would be a lot simpler. Each member could be asked to go onto Family Tree and verify the information contained in that program back four generations. The Ward Family History Consultants could help with this process and the Wards could report to the Stakes and the Stakes report to the Church on the progress of having each member review and add in their Four Generations.

It has now been more than 30 years since the last program ended. Many new members have been added to the Church membership. We presently have the means to record all of the information without the need to submit paper copies. For those members without computers, the program could be administered by the local Family History Centers, with the Wards participating.

Why isn't this an option?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Failing to open the gift

Imagine that you received a beautifully wrapped gift. Would you simply set the gift aside and fail to open it or find out what was inside? I fear that many of the members of the Church will gain access to the three online genealogy websites and, just like my hypothetical, fail to take advantage of the gift they have been given and in a real sense, fail to open the gift. There are several reasons why this might happen. I would like to list a few of those reasons. But first a little background.

FamilySearch has negotiated agreements with MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com and findmypast.com. In each case, over the next few months, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will receive an email inviting them to participate in these three online programs for free. Over the past few weeks, in classes and conferences, I have discovered that most people familiar with genealogy are aware of Ancestry.com merely from their saturation advertising. On the other hand, sometimes only two or at most, three people in a large class have heard of either of the other programs. The following list analyzes the reasons why these other two database programs are relatively unknown.

One other note, this is not at all intended to be a criticism of the FamilySearch agreements. They are wonderful and fantastic. As genealogists in the Church, we now have an opportunity to capitalize on this arrangement and seriously increase genealogical activity in the Church. This post is directed at that effort and the understanding and attitudes of the general Church population both interested in genealogy and those who are not.

Finally, here are several reasons why members may fail to take advantage of this opportunity.

1. Lack of previous knowledge of the three programs.
Even though a significant number of people have heard of Ancestry.com, among genealogists generally in the United States the other two programs, MyHeritage.com and findmypast.com are relatively unknown. The qualifier here is the genealogical community. There is no doubt, that MyHeritage.com, for example, has millions of users worldwide. I simply find lack of knowledge of these programs to be generally the case in the Church.

2. Lack of interest in genealogy in the general Church population.
As I have quoted in previous posts, there is a relatively small percentage of the Church who actively participate in genealogy. This lack of general interest translates into an even smaller percentage of the participating population who are aware of the online genealogical resources presently available.

3. The need to become actively involved in an online family tree in order to utilize the advantages of these online programs.
For some time now, I've noted that the general demographics of those inside the Church who are interested in genealogy indicates that they are less computer literate and less inclined to participate in an online family tree program than younger populations of users, most of whom are outside of the Church. For example, at the Mesa FamilySearch Library, the Church Service Missionaries were early recipients of invitations to use the three online programs. Although the invitations were received some time ago, I find a significant number of the Missionaries who have yet to take advantage of the invitation. I attribute this to the lack of understanding or of the need for these online programs.

So, there are different levels of nonacceptance that need to be overcome in order to utilize these programs i.e. "opening the gift." First, the potential user must be convinced of the need for an online family tree. The reality is that I have been personally trying to get members to put their genealogical research into FamilySearch.org for some time without success. Even if a member is currently using FamilySearch.org, they may not see the need to use other programs with which they are unfamiliar. The invitations themselves do not come with any instruction, links to any instruction, or explanation of the way to take advantage of the three programs. It is my guess, without prior instruction most of the members who receive these invitations will ignore them for the above reasons.

How do we overcome this problem? There needs to be a serious concerted effort by the knowledgeable family historians and genealogists in the church to educate as many members as possible to the advantages of the three programs. Of course, this will also involve educating the knowledgeable genealogists. It is interesting to me, that we have known about this impending arrangement for many months and yet an examination of the class listings of several large family history centers fails to disclose any changes in the subjects of the class offerings to accommodate the new programs. For example, the upcoming Saturday seminar schedule at the large Riverton FamilySearch Library does not include any presentations on any of the three programs. Likewise, the Salt Lake City Family History Libraries class schedule for the next week also has no classes on these new programs. I could go on.

It is my opinion, that unless there is a change in the general awareness of the need to educate members concerning this fabulous opportunity, very very few will take advantage of it.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Genealogy in the Church

Among genealogists generally, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are known for their interest in genealogy based on religious beliefs. Many genealogists outside the Church recognize the sincerity of these beliefs, but others , mainly because of adverse anti-Church activities, not only question the beliefs but reject members participation in genealogy altogether. The surprising thing about this issue of Mormons' participation in genealogy is that so few of the members actually participate.

In the April, 2014 General Conference, Elder Quentin Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave a talk entitled, "Roots and Branches." In that talk, he noted,
In the worldwide membership of the Church, fifty-one percent of adults currently do not have both parents in the Family Tree section of the Church’s FamilySearch Internet site. Sixty-five percent of adults do not have all four grandparents listed. Remember, we without our roots and branches cannot be saved. Church members need to obtain and input this vital information.
These statistics provided by the Church's Family History Department illustrate the dichotomy. On one hand, the Church members are for good or bad, known for their participation in family history, while the reality is that only a very small percentage of the members are actually involved. As I previously quoted an article published in the Deseret News for 10 February 2014 entitled, "Help all Church members find their ancestors" by R. Scott Lloyd. (The article may no longer be online see now,
Family History Is about Hearts before Charts, Says Elder Packer) that states, quoting Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventy and Chairman of the Board of Directors of FamilySearch,
"These numbers are a cry for change,” Elder Packer said regarding the statistics he cited, though he did say he was happy to report progress. “In the last year the number of members submitting names for temple ordinances is up 17 percent over last year. It has gone from 2.4 to 2.7 percent of the members,” he said. 
But he supported the call for improvement by noting that in the United States 25 percent of Church members do not have four generations of ancestors in the Family Tree section of the Church’s FamilySearch Internet site. Internationally, 70 percent of members don’t have both parents in Family Tree, 90 percent don’t have their grandparents in it, and 95 percent don’t have their great-grandparents included.
Why is this the situation? Why do members profess to believe in searching out their ancestors and yet so few actually participate? I have been thinking about this issue for some time now. One fact is now apparent. The technological changes now being implemented will provide a way for these numbers to change dramatically. But presently, only a vanishingly small percentage of the members know about the changes and understand the implications of those changes.

Here is what is happening. FamilySearch, the Church's genealogy company, has partnered with three huge online family history companies, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and findmypast.com. Two of these companies, Ancetry.com and MyHeritage.com presently have technology that can potentially automate the process of identifying and adding at least four or more generations for the living members of the Church. The family trees on Ancestry.com are already linked to the FamilySearch Family Tree. MyHeritage.com is planning a link in the future. All Church members will get free access to these programs. So, the potential is now in place for a huge number of the existing members to add their four generations to FamilySearch Family Tree by simply letting the online programs do the searching and then synchronizing the information with Family Tree.

At this point, there is a massive need to educate millions of members about the advantages of putting their basic family information into these companion programs and allowing them to do a significant amount of research. Presently, I see the technology being made available, but I have yet to see the education effort begin. Looking at the programs being taught at the Church's FamilySearch Centers (Family History Centers), I still do not see Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com or even findmypast.com, being scheduled to be taught. Who is going to teach the members how to do this massive amount of data entry and then teach them to transfer that information to Family Tree?

I expect to do my part, but there is a need for the genealogists of the Church to get busy and learn how to do this themselves and begin the process of teaching others what to do.

Friday, May 9, 2014

An argument for increased competency in family history

My daughter Amy posted a comment to one of my previous posts that needs to be more completely examined. Here is a copy of her comment which was made in response to an anonymous comment about the previous post entitled, "Why you can edit the information in FamilySearch Family Tree."
Anonymous, are you claiming that "every time" you put something on FamilySearch Family Tree, someone comes along and corrupts it? 
A few questions for you. 
How accurate and complete is your own work? Is it well-researched and thoroughly sourced? How accurately and completely are you demonstrating the reliability of your work on Family Tree? How often are people making changes?
Are you adding sources to Family Tree? Do you understand the principles of genealogical proof?

Some of the people I work with in the local FamilySearch center get very angry about changes to their lines, but when I sit down to work with them, I notice that they don't understand some of the basic functions of Family Tree and the use of sources and standards of genealogical proof, so we're working on increasing their skill level. 
In the cases I've seen, anger does not equal competence. In other words, in order to make some of the genealogical claims they've made in the past, they're now having to demonstrate a higher standard of proof than they've needed to previously. 
It's a steep learning curve, and it is creating a lot of anxiety, but like I said, we're working together to increase the understanding of how the system works including what a unified tree is (its strengths and weaknesses and how to deal with problems that arise), and what a reliable and well-sourced entry looks like.

And once the steep learning curve is over, I am hoping that the aggravation that these users feel for the system itself -- anger like you're expressing here -- will dissipate and that they will have a much more positive experience overall.
I have also frequently observed this response in my dealing with people both inside the Mesa FamilySearch Library and elsewhere. As Amy points out, the issue here is competence. With an online family tree program such as the FamilySearch.org Family Tree, there is a huge disparity in the genealogical competence of the users of the program and a wide field for conflicts between those who have done careful, documented research and those who do not care to do any such documentation or research or have no knowledge how to obtain such information. In addition, you have people entering data who have personal knowledge of their ancestors, i.e. oral history, but no formal way to document such information. Maintaining the program requires a balance between these differing interests.

Many researchers who claim vast genealogical experience have never been challenged previously in their genealogical conclusions. In essence, they have compiled pedigrees and entered information in family groups based on their own personal prejudices and limitations. I must admit that I have fallen into this category. For many years, I compiled my genealogy in a vacuum. I had almost no contact with anyone else who was actively researching my family lines. I certainly had no one telling me that a choice I had made in selecting a particular set of genealogical facts was correct or not. In this type of case, we tend to build our little genealogical empire where we are the absolute ruler of the realm.

Then, suddenly, we find out that there are other researchers with different opinions about "our ancestors." This can come as a shock. Then we find out that we don't really know all that much about the process of doing genealogy in the first place and if we are so inclined, we begin a process of education and communication that completely changes our attitude and our approach to our ancestral research. Personally, I am still in the middle of that learning process.

Now, what if a person has yet to go through this challenge to their empire and suddenly finds themselves confronted with conflicting information on the Family Tree? As Amy points out, the result is often frustration and anger. How dare those people make changes to my genealogical empire? I will call out the troops and defend the borders of my empire to the death!!!

Well, that is really only a slight overstatement. As I have discussed recently, the basic issue is a claim of ownership to genealogical information. You do not own your ancestors. All of the family members, no matter how inexperienced or careless all belong to the same family. Just as you sometimes have to pick up behind small children, you may have to pick up behind inexperienced genealogists. But if you take the position that you have some right to defend your empire and unless you and your empire must rule the world of Family Tree, then you need to reassess your attitude and your competence level. Most very experienced genealogists, who have participated in the rough and tumble of the genealogical community, have evolved a very humble attitude based on the fact that the next document they find could very well destroy the basis for their whole genealogical empire. The FamilySearch.org Family Tree has no room for personal, genealogical empires.

The key here is to take time to listen and learn. No one is infallible. We all make mistakes. The FamilySearch.org Family Tree is a marvelous forum to discuss and cooperatively correct those mistakes. It does its job very well and will continue to improve in the future. Those FamilySearch people working on improving the program know very well about its limitations. They are extremely competent and the program will continue to evolve and improve. But we must also continue to become more competent and adapt to the changes.

You Don't Own Your Ancestors Revisited

In response one of my last posts I got the following comment from my dear friend, Anonymous.
I tried to comment on the Rejoice and Be Exceedingly Glad article, "Why you can edit the information in FamilySearch Family Tree." There is not an option for anonymous comments. My comment is: How would James Tanner like it if every time he created a blog, someone else deleted, added, and changed James Tanner's wording. James Tanner would spend all day cleaning up the garbage and would not get anything done. I rest my case.
As the comment indicates, my post was entitled, "Why you can edit the information in FamilySearch Family Tree." I am really glad to get this comment because it basically proves my point. As I said, "The fact that anyone registered on FamilySearch.org can edit any entry for any individual on the Family Tree program is a huge issue for some people." Apparently, it is a huge issue for Anonymous.

It is also evident that the hypothetical posed by Anonymous is seriously flawed. I do own my blog content. In fact, it is copyright protected. In addition, there is no way for anyone to edit the content of one of my blog posts without my permission. If you or anyone else were to copy the blog post, it would be a violation of my copyright.

On the other hand, the data in an online family tree is not copyrighted. Facts cannot be copyrighted. In addition, the Terms of Use of the FamilySearch.org website confer an absolute license on FamilySearch to do pretty much as they like with the content put on their website by users. If someone adds copyrighted material to an online family tree then only that portion of the family tree data containing the copyrighted material is subject to copyright. But by putting your own "copyrighted" work into a public forum, you are making the job of enforcing your copyright claim much more difficult.

For example, imagine that you wrote a story and published that story in a book. Enforcing a copyright claim involves becoming aware if someone copies your book without your permission. But it also involves expending the time, money and effort it would take to enforce the copyright in a Federal District Court. Now, let's add some levels of difficulty to this hypothetical. Imagine further that your book is a mixture of your own work and facts and figures from the public domain. Since only those portions of your work that are original are protected by copyright, you will have to prove that those sections of your book are your own work and at the same time are original. Now, let's add another factor. You publish your work as a flyer and you scatter the flyer to the wind over a huge city, sending millions of copies of your work down for free on the entire population. How do you enforce your copyright? How will you know if anyone copies your work? This is what happens on the Internet.

The answer is simple, if you want to keep control of your work, do not post it on a public forum such as an online family tree program, Facebook etc. Chose your forum for publication carefully. If you find a violation of your copyright, you can certainly try to enforce your claims. Many large corporations are known for their aggressive enforcement of copyright and trademark claims. But as I have written many times in the past, genealogy is not particularly well suited for copyright claim arguments. I speak from experience that copyright claims are difficult for individuals to maintain as a practical matter. It can be done, but requires some considerable preparation and economic commitment.

Back to Anonymous. He or she obviously feels that the mere act of changing the content of the Family Tree violates some kind of owned right. This is exactly what I was addressing in my post. When you post to a wiki, you give up your claims to ownership. If you don't want to do that and want to lose the benefits of having an interactive, cooperative forum for your genealogy, that is your choice, but you are the one who loses. We also collectively lose because we do not benefit from your research and expertise.

Any content added to the FamilySearch.org Family Tree should be guided by the same principles guiding the FamilySearch Research Wiki. One of those basic principles is to "Relinquish Ownership." For a more detailed explanation of how the program should work, see FamilySearch Wiki:Policies. It is only good sense that these same policies should attach to the Family Tree.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

FamilySearch Family Tree: Ease of Use vs. Accuracy

In a recent lengthy comment to one of my blogs, the commentator said, in part, "I think one of the biggest issues for FamilySearch Family Tree is the ease of using it, or rather, the lack thereof." In reading the entire comment, it appears that the basis for the opinion was primarily in two areas:
the lack of an adequate merging system and the users inability to add multiple sources at the same time.

First of all, the merge system on FamilySearch.org's Family Tree is not yet fully functional. The limitations imposed by its connection with the New.FamilySearch.org (NFS) database is not fully resolved and may not be resolved for many months. I would assume that there is little incentive to "fix" the merge function until the rest of the issues with NFS are resolved. Meanwhile, Family Tree is a rapidly evolving program with new features appearing almost weekly.

The issue of adding multiple sources is related to another issue, adding individuals in groups by uploading GEDCOM files. Both of these issues raise serious concerns with the goal of maintaining the accuracy of the data in the program and at the same time reducing the number of duplicate entries. The main issue is adding duplicate people to the program, but the proliferation of duplicate source citations, photos, stories and other items is also a concern.

From an absolute standpoint, the question is whether or not the program should allow a reasonable number of duplicates within specific tolerances or try for a zero tolerance level. Is it better to allow duplicates or risk the loss of some valuable information that may accompany multiple copies of the same entry?

With regard to uploading GEDCOM files, the answer is simple. The program allows for only one individual entry per person. There is a built-in zero duplicate tolerance. Hence, the process of adding a GEDCOM has been slowed by making the user examine each potential entry to determine no duplication is involved.

The issue of adding multiple sources in more problematic. There are good arguments for allowing multiple sources to be attached to an individual. But at the same time, there are also arguments that the whole Family Tree should require careful one-by-one entries to maximize the possibility that the entries are carefully considered and as accurate as possible. With sources there are many possibilities for errors. The source may not apply to the target individual or it may be totally unreliable. Limiting the method for adding sources raises the chance that these concerns will be addressed on an individual basis.

It is my opinion that the Family Tree should be built a carefully as possible from the start. It already suffers from errors introduced by the incorporation of previous unreliable databases, let's not make it worse by allowing wholesale uploading of information. Family Tree is not a program where you can dump your interim research, it is designed to be the ultimate archive of our collective knowledge about our ancestors and as accurate and complete as possible.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why you can edit the information in FamilySearch Family Tree

Here is my usual warning. You may very well become upset with this blog post. The topic is highly controversial and causes some genealogists fits. Now, you have been warned. Proceed at your own risk.

The fact that anyone registered on FamilySearch.org can edit any entry for any individual on the Family Tree program is a huge issue for some people. I constantly hear comments by genealogists that they absolutely will not put THEIR data on Family Tree because it will become corrupted by the unwashed masses of non-genealogists. I fully realize the futility of addressing these ownership convinced genealogists, but if you are somewhere out there sitting on the fence, perhaps I can explain what is going on and why putting YOUR information on the Family Tree is so important.

First my basic and often repeated rule: You do not own your ancestors. In the United States, involuntary servitude went out with the Thirteenth Amendment.

My second rule in this regard is simple: No one has ever created a perfect pedigree.

Like the Little Red Hen, if you won't help, I will do it myself. But then I will get to eat the bread when it is baked all by myself also.

OK, enough of the rant. Time to get down to reason.

FamilySearch.org Family Tree is a unified tree. It is essentially a wiki, that is, a collaborative program where all of the users cooperate to correct the data. The first rule of a wiki is that no one owns the data. If you fail to provide your input into the Family Tree, it is your loss, not mine nor anyone else's. I am amazed with those who refuse to put their own opinions into Family Tree. Why don't they stay awake all night worrying about all those thousands of online family trees that they can't change instead of being so possessive of their own research that they do not deign to share it with anyone in the only family tree that is self correcting? Wouldn't it be nice if there was one place you could go and be somewhat assured that the information was correct, because you yourself did the research and you KNOW it is correct? Wake up. That place is FamilySearch Family Tree.

Let's suppose someone goes into the Family Tree program and changes my father's birth date. So, I change it back and point to his birth certificate as a source. They decide to change the date back and ignore my source. What then? I change it back and send them a kind note explaining that if they fail to provide a source, they should not be making changes. If they persist, then there is a link to report abuse. Failing to communicate or provide a source for a change in the data is, by definition, abuse of the system. If the offending person persists, they can be blocked from the Family Tree for a time or permanently. Data integrity is a serious issue in the FamilySearch Family Tree. But if you don't want to play the game, no one is forcing you to put your data into the Family Tree or correct any of the mis-information. But by failing to play the game, you don't get the benefit of all my research and you see I am right. So there.

Hmm, maybe I am not so right after all. I keep finding my own errors in Family Tree and correcting them, maybe it works both ways. I get the benefit of all of the other researchers as well as benefiting them with my research. Oh, I get it. It is a cooperative, collaborative family tree and very democratic also. One man or woman, one vote and all that.

So, you see, giving everyone the right to edit the information isn't as bad as it might seem. Since we all have the ability to correct the data, there is a much greater chance that the correct information will prevail. Why? Because only the people who care will take the time to enter data and correct errors. The rest of the huge community that has access to the program simply won't bother. But what about crazies and those who are stupid? Well, yes, they do exist. But since everyone can watch any ancestor they care about, the system will keep you informed and like I already said, abuse of the system can result in banishment, even if the excuse is a psychological disorder or stupidity.

Now what will happen to YOUR genealogy when you die? Who gets to change it then? Maybe, just maybe, leaving all of it on FamilySearch.org will solve that problem of persistence. Personally, I am depending on that being correct.

How to subscribe to the FamilySearch.org Blog

I recently wrote a blog post on Genealogy's Star about subscribing to blog posts on FamilySearch.org. The link to the FamilySearch.org blog is located at the bottom of the startup page. Here is a screenshot showing the link:


The Genealogy's Star post is entitled, "Subscribing to the FamilySearch.org Blog." Click on the link to see the explanation.

The Prophets Speak on Searching Out Our Dead -- George Albert Smith

George Albert Smith was born on April 4, 1870, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Quoting from a short biography on LDS.org,
He became President of the Church on May 21, 1945. He organized the Church's massive welfare assistance to Europe following World War II. He also championed Scouting among Latter-day Saints. Through numerous other civic and Church responsibilities, President Smith lived that portion of his personal creed that declared, "I would be a friend to the friendless and find joy in ministering to the needs of the poor" (Improvement Era Mar. 1932, 295). After six years as President, George Albert Smith died in Salt Lake City on his eighty-first birthday, April 4, 1951.
President George Albert Smith dedicated the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple on the 23rd to 25th of September, 1945. In the dedicatory prayer, he gave thanks for the saving work performed in the temple for the living and the dead:
We thank thee, O God, for sending Elijah, the ancient prophet, to whom was ‘… committed the keys of the power of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, that the whole earth may not be smitten with a curse.’ [D&C 27:9.] We thank thee that he was sent to thy servant, Joseph Smith, to confer the keys and authority of the work for the dead, and to reveal that the plan of salvation embraces the whole of the human family, that the gospel is universal in scope, and that thou art no respecter of persons, having provided for the preaching of the gospel of salvation to both the living and the dead. We are most grateful unto thee that salvation is provided for all who desire to be saved in thy kingdom. 
May it be pleasing to thy people to search out the genealogy of their forebearsthat they may become saviors on Mt. Zion by officiating in thy temples for their kindred dead. We pray also that the spirit of Elijah may rest mightily upon all peoples everywhere that they may be moved upon to gather and make available the genealogy of their ancestors; and that thy faithful children may utilize thy holy temples in which to perform on behalf of the dead all ordinances pertaining to their eternal exaltation.” See Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Chapter 8
President Smith was quoted in the Deseret News, Feb. 13, 1932, Church section, 7 as follows:
In order that we might be prepared for [the celestial] kingdom, the Lord, in his mercy, in this latter day restored the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and placed in it divine authority, and then gave understanding to His children that certain ordinances may be received and performed. For this purpose temples were built and into those temples those who desire a place in the Celestial Kingdom have the opportunity to go and receive their blessings, to enrich their lives and prepare them for that kingdom.
In an article entitled, “The Tenth Temple,” in the Improvement Era for October 1945 at page 561, he wrote,
Each [temple] has been built to one great eternal purpose: to serve as a House of the Lord, to provide a place sacred and suitable for the performing of holy ordinances that bind on earth as in heaven—ordinances for the dead and for the living that assure those who receive them and who are faithful to their covenants,the possession and association of their families, worlds without end, and exaltation with them in the celestial kingdom of our Father.
Again, in the Improvement Era in an article entitled, "Priceless Prospects," of June, 1950 at page 469, he wrote,
If I were to think, as so many think, that now that my beloved wife and my beloved parents are gone, that they have passed out of my life forever and that I shall never see them again, it would deprive me of one of the greatest joys that I have in life: the contemplation of meeting them again, and receiving their welcome and their affection, and of thanking them from the depths of a grateful heart for all they have done for me. 
But there are many, many millions of our Father’s children who do not know that by partaking of certain ordinances prescribed by our Heavenly Father, husbands and wives may be united for time and eternity and enjoy the companionship of their children forever. How thankful we should be for that knowledge.
Perhaps, as President Smith says, we need to teach our youth to appreciate Temples and thereby gain a desire to extend those blessings to their ancestors. Here is another quote from President George Albert Smith from “The Tenth Temple,” in the Improvement Era for October 1945 at page 602,
There are only a few places in the world where we can be married for eternity, and that is in the temples of God. … There are also many of our brothers and sisters, all children of our Heavenly Father, who are denied this privilege because of … unavoidable reasons. But if they live worthily and if they would have availed themselves of the privilege if they had been able to do so, they will lose nothing by these temporarily unfavorable circumstances. But think then how much greater is the responsibility of those who live where men and women can be united for eternity, and where they can go and do the work for their dead! The people of the world do not have this blessing. I wonder if we appreciate it. … 
Let us instruct our young people in these matters from their earliest youth, so that when they approach the time of marriage, there will be no question in their minds as to where or how or by whom that sacred ordinance should be performed—and the only place in which it may be performed for time and for eternity is in a temple. Summarized in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Chapter 8: Temple Blessings for Ourselves and Our Ancestors.