We recently had one of our daughter's family from out of state visit us for the Thanksgiving holiday. One of the things they wanted to do was visit the Provo Temple so the children could do baptisms for the dead. During the past few months, due to the cumulative advances in the online family history programs, my daughters, my wife and I have finally begun accumulating a significant number of ancestral names of legitimate candidates for Temple work. I have mentioned in previous blog posts that FamilySearch.org's Family Tree has finally matured to the point where there a basis for reliability. Because we can coordinate our efforts using the Family Tree, we have collectively broken through several long standing (a hundred years or more) ancestral end-of-lines to find whole families.
This has been accomplished by a combination of correcting the accumulated errors in the Family Tree by adding substantial sources, while at the same time adding additional family members that have been previously overlooked due to a historical lack of record access. I need to emphasize that this has not been an easy project. It has involved countless hours of both online searching and the use of microfilm records that have still not been digitized. In fact, one daughter and her family digitized their own copy of dozens of microfilm rolls to facilitate the process. Let me outline how this project has proceeded.
The first step was enlisting the help of some of my daughters, the ones with children old enough to begin spending the time to investigate the family lines (the youngest was 11). Next we chose certain lines that needed attention. This decision was based on an examination of the Family Tree where we found several undocumented lines. The key here was beginning the documentation at the most recent level. For years now, I have been working back on all my lines systematically adding sources and making corrections. This activity has provided a basis for making educated and reasonable decisions concerning the reliability of the information in the Family Tree. This initial work supports the accuracy of the extension of the lines. Absent this kind of systematic attention to each generation, it is impossible to accurately determine the succeeding generations and any attempts at using the unreliable ancestral record for descendancy research is foolhardy.
It has been a combination of the use of all of the FamilySearch partner programs, Ancestry.com, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com that has provided some of the pivotal links that have opened the lines to further investigation. I am not neglecting AmericanAncestors.org, but the research we have been doing is presently centered on England, Australia, Denmark and Sweden. We have found that the programs complement each other and supply records lacking in the other partner programs. The increased accuracy of the hints obtained from all four programs has also been a major factor in breaking through the long standing obstacles to research. We are still relying heavily on the availability of microfilm copies of many of the necessary records. We cannot rely solely on what is presently online. The process has also taken many hours of intense analysis on maps to assure ourselves that we are identifying family groups and not adding names solely because they match.
We have used social networking to support our efforts by coordinating the research and keeping up to date with any new discoveries. We have also used the "Watch" function of the Family Tree to alert us to changes made by those who continue to add irrelevant or incorrect information without doing any basic research. We can then coordinate our collective response to the unwarranted changes.
In short, we have applied basic research practices with an emphasis on recording sources and relying on documentation to move from one generation to another. The payoff to this meticulous process has been the steadily increasing numbers of new additions to the Family Tree. The great benefit of the Family Tree is that all this combined research can focus on exactly the same documentation while not excluding the possibility that those outside of our effort will find additional information that is also valuable. If we were to try to do this by relying on a "private" family tree, we would be deprived of the assistance of those who are interested and could possibly contribute.
This entire effort is based on the framework established by the Family Tree and its direct relationship to the underlying need to advance Temple work. We could have focused on any other method of collaboration, but none of them provide the necessary direct contact with the need to do the ordinances.
We are mindful of the ongoing limitations of the Family Tree. We are not ignoring the fact that there are still family lines that are blocked by our inability to merge obvious duplicates, but in the lines we have chosen, this problem does not appear and we have successfully merged any duplicate records. I am ofter overwhelmed at the amount of work that still needs to be done. I am also saddened and often discouraged by the lack of interest of those around me in the progress that can be made through a concerted effort. There are a some people who recognize the potential and take advantage of the Family Tree, but they are few and far between.
Using the knowledge gained from this experience, I have also been able to help several people in the last few months to also break through major ancestral obstacles and extend their family lines. I am most thankful for the progress that has been made by FamilySearch and the other partner programs in supplying some core resources that enable this progress.