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

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Family History Guide: Now an official public charity organization

I recently announced that The Family History Guide is now an official 501 (c) (3) corporation, i.e. a publicly approved U.S. Internal Revenue Service charitable organization. Quoting from Wikipedia: 501(c)(3) organization:
A 501(c)(3) organization is a corporation, trust, unincorporated association, or other type of organization that is exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of Title 26 of the United States Code. It is the most common type of the 29 types of 501(c) nonprofit organizations in the United States. Many charitable non-profits in the United States that Americans commonly know of, and often make donations to, are 501(c)(3) organizations, ranging from charitable foundations to universities and churches. These organizations must be approved by the Internal Revenue Service to be tax-exempt under the terms of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
501(c)(3) tax-exemptions apply to entities that are organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes, or for testing for public safety, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition, or for the prevention of cruelty to children, women, or animals. 501(c)(3) exemption applies also for any non-incorporated community chest, fund, cooperating association or foundation that is organized and operated exclusively for those purposes.[1][2] There are also supporting organizations—often referred to in shorthand form as "Friends of" organizations.[3][4][5][6][7] 
26 U.S.C. § 170, provides a deduction, for federal income tax purposes, for some donors who make charitable contributions to most types of 501(c)(3) organizations, among others. Regulations specify which such deductions must be verifiable to be allowed (e.g., receipts for donations over $250)
I left in all the links and footnotes in case you wanted to know more.

The practical reality is that organizations such as The Family History Guide rely on contributions to exist. A huge project like this one cannot survive on the efforts of a handful of devotees. Some such organizations rely on a few large grants from major contributors, but many subsist on the smaller contributions from individuals. The fundraising organization for the website is The Family History Guide Association which also owns and operates the website.

Contributing to The Family History Guide Association will help to preserve and expand this valuable website.

Please consider going to the website and becoming familiar with the program. We are reasonably sure that becoming aware of the program will quickly show you how valuable this website already is and what it can become with generous contributions.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The 2017 Worldwide Indexing Event
The Worldwide Indexing Event starts tomorrow, October 20, 2017, and continues for three days over the weekend. 

You may take indexed records for granted. Whenever you search on or any other genealogy website, you are taking advantage of indexing done by someone else. Without that effort, you would be reduced to searching records in the "old way" page by page and line by line. By providing an index, you are helping yourself and others find valuable records about your own and their own ancestors. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Google Photos to FamilySearch Memories Pathway Now Available

You can now move your online photos directly from Google Photos into the Memories section of The connections have also been expanded to allow the same additions from Instagram and Facebook.

All you have to do is to click on the the green plus sign from the Gallery View and the links to the three other websites is now available. If you are using Google Photos free, automatic backup systems to store your photos online, you will immediately see the advantage of being able to move photos from Google Photos directly into the Memories program. There is also an option to use the file names as titles.

In my case, I have all my hundreds of thousands of images backed up on Google Photos and this new development with expedite moving the appropriate images onto the Memories program and then linking them by tagging the individuals to my ancestors and relatives in the Family Tree. The advantage is that now, when I capture an image on my iPhone, that image is automatically backed up to Google Photos. Then is it a simple process to move that image onto the Memories where I can tag the images and attached them to my ancestors.

The Family History Guide Now A 501 (c) 3) non-profit charity

Note: this announcement also appears on my Genealogy's Star blog website.

The official FamilySearch training partner, The Family History Guide, has achieved IRS 501 (c) (3) status. This means that anyone donating money to support this fabulous, genealogical training and now, charitable resource, can get a corresponding deduction from their Federal income taxes.

By keeping the website free, the developers hope to fulfill their mission to get more people involved in family history by providing training and research guidance on a major scale with a free website. Up to this point, the website has been self-funded with all the support coming from the people who have developed and maintained the website so far.

The Family History Guide has been vetted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and made available to over 5,000 Family History Centers throughout the world and on LDS.orgThe Family History Guide already has users in over 150 countries and most recently released training paths for, and, as well as maintaining its support for This week they are rolling out a national pilot project to recruit, train and utilize Regional Training Specialists to serve in specific geographic regions throughout the United States (initially). These individuals will extend the reach and facilitate quality training and presentations for the website.

The actual entity that supports the website is The Family History Guide Association
There are links on the Association's website to an explanation about how to donate.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Review Existing Sources in the Family Tree Before Making Changes

If you are concerned about changes to anyone in the Family Tree, then you need to "Watch" those individuals. There is also a section in the Settings menu under your name when you are registered that will allow FamilySearch to send you email notifications every week of any changes to any of the people you are watching.

 The notification can be quite extensive depending on the number of people you are watching.

 This particular screenshot is actually the shortest list I have received in months.

Now, the real issue here is the changes that are made that contradict the sources attached to the individual. In the case of David Nathan Thomas shown above, there is some dispute in the existing records as to the date of his birth. However, there is a christening record and a census record that both agree as to the place of his christening and birth. In this instance, the change that was made changed the birthplace without adding any additional sources to substantiate or contradict the existing sources.

I did correct the change.

In my experience, almost all of the changes made to the Family Tree that invoke some kind of dispute, are made without citing any supporting source for the change. For some time, there have been suggestions and discussion about requiring a source before making any changes. Of course, the requirement should not apply to changing back or reverting an improper change. The difficulty, of course, would be to distinguish between a correction and a change to existing data.

 On the website, where FamilySearch gathers comments about all of their programs, the section on changes to the Family Tree has over 6000 comments. The topic of requiring citations or an explanation at least has been discussed extensively for many years. From my own experience, this is the number one complaint about the Family Tree. Perhaps, it is about time to start addressing this issue in a meaningful way.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The FamilySearch Family Tree SourceLinker

The Family Tree is rapidly becoming more reliable with the addition of millions of source citations from records provided by Record Hints. As with almost everything about the Family Tree, there is always some background grumbling and criticism. The main issue is that some users seem to think that anything they see from FamilySearch is somehow accurate and applicable when the Record Hints are clearly hints that need to be reviewed and evaluated for applicability to any particular family or individual.

We recently attended a local Family History Conference in Springville, Utah. Even though I was teaching one class, we took the opportunity to attend two classes presented by Robert Kehrer, Senior Product Manager for FamilySearch's Search Experience. His classes are always excellent and provide a lot of information about the operation of the website. Some of the new features highlighted involved the FamilySearch SourceLinker. This is the program that attaches the sources supplied by the Record Hints to the Family Tree.

When you click on the blue Record Hint icon, you get a summary of the suggested source. In this case, I clicked on a Record Hint for my Great Grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner. the hint is from the Utah, Missionary Department Missionary Registers, 1860-1937. After looking at the hint and making a preliminary decision that it applies to my ancestor, I can click on the "Review and Attach" blue button.

This is a screenshot of the SourceLinker page. The idea is to evaluate the information and, if appropriate, link the source to your ancestor. One new feature pointed out by Robert Kehrer is the ability to change the person of focus. This feature helps to add the source to multiple people who may be in the Family Tree but not directly related to the default focus person such as in-laws, cousins or others that may appear on the record. Here is a screenshot showing the link to the drop-down menu listing possible other people who could become the focus person.

Changing the focus person adjusts the relationships to allow the record to be added to additional people in the Family Tree that have not been automatically available in the past. This one added feature will save me a lot of extra time spent in adding the source to others in the Family Tree.

This is a good example of the benefits of holding and attending local, smaller family history events.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Check Your Record Hints Carefully

We have to remember that Record Hints are hints. There is nothing about a Record Hint that supposes that FamilySearch has done anything to verify the content of the hint. A "hint" is a suggestion, nothing more, nothing less. The accuracy of the hints, by the way, is based on the accuracy of the information already in the Family Tree. For example, if the name in the family tree is incorrect, even if the program provides a "Record Hint" the hint will probably be for the wrong person.

There are a number of other reasons why the record hints for any of the programs that provide them might be wrong. One of the most common is the lack of records. For example, if I am searching in England or Scandinavia I may run into a situation where there are hundreds of people with the same or similar name is my ancestor. The existing records will also contain very little information differentiating people with the same name. In this situation, the computer program creating the record hints will often suggest people who have the same name and similar information but not be the same person.

Advanced searching techniques can make the searches more accurate such as those done by, but inevitably there will always be "false positives." A false positive is when the program indicates a match when no match actually exists. The goal of the programmers is to reduce false positives but in reality because of the discrepancies in genealogical records, this task is nearly impossible as we go further back in time. It is relatively easy for a record matching program to find a match for a person living within the last 200 years in an English-speaking country. But as we go back in time, the number of records decreases, the number of people with the same names increases and the difficulty in finding accurate matches eventually becomes nearly impossible.

Record match technology is a tremendous aid to research. has done an incredible job in improving the technology on the website for the Family Tree. But, there will always be limitations and as the program evolves there may be difficulties in maintaining accuracy. As the records come online and the indexes are done. We should also remember that the accuracy of the record hints depends on the accuracy of the indexing. Obviously, Record Hints cannot be supplied for unindexed records. Therefore, indexing is crucial for the expansion of record hints technology.

All this means that you should closely examine record hints for accuracy and consistency. In every case, be sure and incorporate the information you learn from the accurate records. Determining whether or not a record hint is accurate may involve a degree of additional research.

In summary, do not blindly rely on record hints in any of the online programs.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Reclaim the Records liberates New Jersey Marriage Index, 1901-2016

With help from a volunteer, the Reclaim the Records organization has done it again! They have "liberated" the entire New Jersey Marriage Index for 1901-2016. Here is a quote from their 17th Newsletter:
Introducing the NEW JERSEY MARRIAGE INDEX, 1901-2016! These records are now totally digital, and totally free -- forever! Now you can research anyone who got married in the Garden State right from your home, still in your pajamas. 
We've posted these images at our favorite online library, the Internet Archive ( You can skip right to any year you want and flip through all the images, or you can download the records to your hard drive as JPG's, PDF's, and/or other formats. Each file is listed year-by-year (or occasionally by a year range), and then the marriages are listed alphabetically by surname. 
Just to be clear: these are images of the index, so this isn't a real text-searchable marriage database just yet. But rest assured that the usual genealogy websites we all know are going to start indexing projects and will make that happen eventually. (Yes, the Internet Archive does run automatic OCR on the text contained in the images, but the recognition quality isn't that great, so you're probably better off just reading through the images instead of trying to text-search.)
I am vitally interested in this effort as evidenced by the fact that my wife and I are preparing to move to the Washington, D.C. area to be full-time FamilySearch missionaries/record preservation specialists for FamilySearch and its sponsor The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our responsibilities will include helping to digitize records which will then be available to genealogists.

Here is a screenshot of the Introduction to the New Jersey Marriage Index, 1901-2016 on the Internet Archive or
I strongly suggest reading the entire newsletter article. It is really a primer about how to go about helping make even more records available across the country. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

When is a source not a source? A Family History Challenge

A genealogical source citation should answer, at least, two questions:

  • Where did the information come from?
  • How can someone else find the same information?
How those questions are answered has developed into a major issue among genealogists. At one end of the spectrum are an extremely small number of academic/professional genealogists who have developed an elaborate "citation" system based primarily on various published systems such as the Chicago Manual of Style. 2017 and others. The professional/academic system of recording sources has become so elaborate that my 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style is 956 pages long.

Clear at the other end of the spectrum is the system of citations included on the standard family group record for many years Here is an example of the source field:

Unless you use very small letters, there isn't enough space here to encourage the entry of a source. 

Hmm. It is time to start defining my terms. 

The word ambiguous is defined as a word that has more than one meaning or interpretation. The word "source" as used by genealogists falls into that category. One meaning of the word focuses on where the information used by the genealogist to enter names, events, and other information was obtained. Another use of the word "source" is used as a synonym for the word "citation." The first use of the word "source" answers the first question above. Citing the source involves recording the identity of the place where the information was obtained. For example, if I find a reference to my ancestor in a book, the source is the book. When I use that information to enter names or dates or whatever and to my own records, i.e. a genealogy database program, the citation is the information I enter telling others about the book.

A genealogist's failure to record where the information was obtained renders the information useless to subsequent researchers. The concept here is that any information recorded about our ancestors, i.e. historical figures, needs to be documented with detailed information about where the recorded information was obtained so that subsequent researchers can verify whether or not the information is correct and also determine the degree of reliability of the information. 

Yes, I do have to keep repeating myself in order to make sure that what I'm saying is absolutely clear. No, I do not have detectable dementia yet. :-)

So when is the source not a source?

Even if the information supplied is referred to as a "source" if it fails to tell where the information was obtained it is essentially not a source. For example, here is an entry from

Accompanying this entry are three photographs showing the grave marker for Dr. David Shepherd. The only information on the great marker is the name "Dr. David Shipherd" and the two dates. The information contained on grave markers is commonly considered to be a "source." However, the origin of the remaining information in the entry except for the identity of the cemetery is missing. It is helpful to have a citation to this entry and to see the photo of the grave marker, but there is no real way to determine where the information came from or when it was recorded. There is a link to David Shepherd's wife's grave in the same cemetery. However, that entry although also detailed, does not has the same three photos shown for her husband. Although a reference or citation to the memorial tells us where the researcher found the information, it does not tell us how we can find the same information since the information must have come from some other source. 

So, simply copying information that does not answer the questions above, does not help us determine the origin or reliability of the information and therefore has little or no value. By the way, grave markers are not necessarily accurate as to birth information. You cannot also assume that they are accurate as to the death information either. The marker could have been placed many years after the actual events. 

The real issue here is our ability to determine the reliability of the information we find in genealogical compilations such as online family trees and other types of publications of collected information. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

How to Analyze a Record in the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part Three -- What is missing?

In this post, I am continuing to show the process of analyzing a record in the Family Tree. Continuing from the earlier posts, the easy part is now done. The entry for Dr. David Shepherd Jr. has received its first clean up and the Record Hints have been added. What is next?

I am still concerned about the name including the title and the designation as a "Jr." The grave marker photo on has the name spelled "Shipherd" with the birthdate and death date as shown in the details above. There is also a second grave marker with the name "D Shipherd" and yet a third photo of a grave marker with the name, "Dr David." Does the existence of three grave markers imply three different people?

None of the sources suggested in the Record Hints gives any specific and timely information about his birth or the original spelling of this name. The information on the website is not supported by any documents. You would have to make the assumption that the grave marker with the "Dr David" and the one showing "Shipherd" with the dates of birth and death, to be the same person. The date of burial reflects the place in but the date is estimated from the death date. So we are missing any documents or records that show the birth and death information other than the guesses.

In addition, the name here includes both a title (Dr.) and a suffix (Jr.) neither of which show up on any of the records so far.

From my experience, most beginning genealogists would think they were finished at this point. The entry is complete. There is a "source" for the information and it would seem to be time to move on to other people. Is that realistic? Not at all. It is still time to do some more research. According to what is in the record already, he lived until 1877. So he should be in the 1850, 1860 and 1870 U.S. Census records. This is an obvious record to find. Here is the 1870 U.S. Census record.

This supports the designation as "Dr." because his occupation is defined as "Physician." It also provides support for his wife's name. The record has "Sally Smith" but Sally is a common nickname for Sarah. The ages of David and his wife are also approximated by the ages in the census record. That provides a little more information and confirms what we already have. Next we find the 1860 U.S. Census:

This additional record raises some questions about the names of the children, but otherwise supports what is already in the Family Tree. However, David Shepherd is not shown as a physician, but as a farmer. Checking on, I found eleven more Record Hints.

Here is the 1850 U.S. Census record from

There are a number of additional records and the children still need to be corrected and sources added. This is an ongoing project. I can keep adding records and correcting the entries until the sources become much harder to find.

As I continue to add sources, the confidence level of the entries become higher and higher.

Here are the previous parts of this series:

Sunday, October 8, 2017

How to Analyze a Record in the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part Two -- Cleaning up the Entries

I selected Dr. David Shepherd Jr. as my "test subject" in this series focusing on analyzing the records in the Family Tree because of a lack of sources and some obviously serious issues. By the way, finding such a situation in the Family Tree is extremely easy for me with my ancestors because even after many years of cleaning up the entries, there is still a huge amount of work to be done. One reason, as I mentioned previously, for selecting this person as an example is that the entry is apparently complete and detailed even with the lack of sources. The information must have come from somewhere.

A little bit of research in the form of reading about the family in my daughter's blog, TheAncestorFiles, disclosed that there is apparently a book about the family. Here is the citation.

Barnett, Eula Mae Garrett. 1983. Shepherd family history, 1605-1966. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah.

The book is a typed manuscript that has been microfilmed and the only copy is in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I have not yet made a trip to Salt Lake to view the microfilm, but I am guessing that the information came from that book.

The first step in cleaning up and adding sources to this record is to look at the list of "Birth Names." As I explained, these names are merely an artifact of the numerous submissions over the years and unless there is a real dispute about the person's birth name, these duplicate entries can be deleted especially the one about "Dr." being a title of nobility.



I could also delete the reference to the census as a source, but the date and place might be helpful, so I left that entry alone.

Next, there is a whole list of sources. Here is are the before and after screenshots.


I had already added one source that had a reference to both a birth and death date. The entry is technically not a "source" because the information is usually not supported by documentation other than a photo of the grave marker but in this case, adding the entry supports the information already in the Family Tree. Here is a screenshot of the original entry from

There is a long list of Record Hints.

The question always comes up about whether or not to add the Record Hints if they appear to be duplicates. It is a really good idea to add all the Record Hints, whether or not they appear to be duplicates in order to notify the computer program that it has made a right selection.  If it bothers you, you can detach the "duplicates" later, but be sure they really are duplicates and not just references to the same record. Duplicates come from the same source website etc.

Most of the sources were actually for children in the family. Here is the after screenshot of the sources added.

There were several copies of the same marriage record but the record was of a marriage license and would not necessarily change the date of the marriage. In addition, some of the records had been mistranscribed and had the date of 15 December

The entry was now "cleaned up" but the only record of his birth and death dates came from the record that had no further source for the information. Further research is certainly necessary, especially for the children.

Here is the first part of this series:

Saturday, October 7, 2017

How to Analyze a Record in the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part One -- The Initial Review

This record of Dr. David Shepherd Jr. has no supporting sources in the Family Tree website. Although the information appears to be detailed and complete, without sources, everything here is open to question and revision. Further, there is nothing showing that this person is even my relative. The titles of "Dr." and "Jr." make the entry look more certain, but where are the records that would support either designation?

The idea here is to carefully examine and analyze the information in the Family Tree for consistency, supporting sources, reality, and believability. It is also important to make sure the dates and places are standardized and that the places reflect the names of the locations at the time of the events. This process may seem difficult and time-consuming, but with practice, you can spot the problem areas almost immediately.

Some things in the Family Tree readily tell me that no one has been working on this entry with any degree of knowledge of the Family Tree or with any sophistication in genealogical research. They are also indicators that the information may be incomplete or inaccurate. This is both good and bad. It is good because that means that I have an opportunity to do some research and possibly add names to the Family Tree and bad because the amount of clean up necessary is probably overwhelming.

Of course, the first indication of a lack of involvement is the lack of sources does not automatically mean that the information is not correct. Research may support the entries or change them.

The lack of sources even more significantly shows that this entry has, so far, been neglected because there is a whole page of Record Hints waiting to be processed.

Here is the present status of Dr. Shepherd's family.

The blue icons show the availability of Record Hints. The purple icons indicate that there are no records and the red icons show serious data errors. It also appears, from the temple icons,  that someone has come through this part of the Family Tree and harvested the "green icons" but has yet to complete the temple work.

As I examine the entries further, I see a long list of alternate "Birth Names."

This is one of clearest indicators of the lack of attention to these entries. As I have written many times, these "Birth Names" are a remnant from the historical contributions to FamilySearch and its predecessors over the past hundred years or so. They are usually either inaccurate or duplicative. In some cases, not apparent here, these entries should be modified to reflect nicknames or other real alternative names. But in their present form, they should be deleted.

If you are unfamiliar with any of the procedures to work with the Family Tree at this level, I suggest you refer to The Family History Guide for step-by-step instructions.

Why do I care? My experience has shown that as I become involved in doing research on these parts of the Family Tree, I will inevitably find additional missing ordinances and individuals and can add them in.

So, the first steps are almost too obvious: standardize and clean up the entries and then evaluate and add in all of the available sources if the Record Hints turn out to be valid. Focusing on Dr. Shepherd, this is exactly what I started to do. Remember to correct or add in any information found in those sources.

Where did all this information come from if there are no sources? I am aware that there is a surname book about the family but at this point, I have yet to discover a copy anywhere. I speculate at this point that any such book has likely included this Vermont family in with Shepherds from Virginia or elsewhere, but perhaps not.

I intend to "clean up" this family and report on my progress. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Serious FamilySearch Family Tree Challenges

It would seem from this view of the FamilySearch Family Tree that the entries are rather ordinary. Most of the entries appear to be somewhat complete and although there are some evident data errors with red icons, the rest of it appears to be manageable. Appearances can be deceiving. I spent two full days working on sorting it out just a few of the data problems with these families. I have not even begun to unravel the problems.

I have previously done some research on David Sheppard (b. 1750, d. 1832). The research was sufficient to establish in fact that his parents were unknown and to confirm his death date and place of burial. The family had been previously confused with one in Connecticut where the father had the same name. The main issues that remained concerned his children. Here is a screenshot of the family as it now appears:

Some of the children are shown to have been born in Castleton, Vermont. But two of the children are shown to have been born in Bennington, Vermont, approximately 65 miles away. Further research also shows that some of the family members moved to Geauga County and Cuyahoga County in Ohio in the 1830s. However, there are several large gaps in the family and we can presume that there may be additional children.

Since much of this information comes from traditional sources, i.e. submissions to FamilySearch and its predecessors over the past 100+ years, much of the information that was already in the Family Tree had to be verified with historical records. The real difficulties begin with the next generation. Here is another example:

The existing records show that Henry Sheppard had two wives both of whom he married in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. However, the only child shown to have been born to Henry and his wife Cynthia is shown as being born in Vermont. It is possible but unlikely that the couple traveled over 500 miles from Cuyahoga County to Castleton, Vermont to have a baby only to have the wife die and the husband travel back to Ohio and get married again the next year. This is especially true since Cuyahoga County was only established in 1810. Additionally, construction only began on the Erie Canal in 1817 so all of the travel would've had to have been done overland.

Further, records for Andrew McClain Shepherd, the child, show that he was born in Ohio. However, I've yet to find any record of his birth other than mentions in the US census records.

 These kinds of problems only become evident as I compare the sources attached with the information in the Family Tree. In this case, the connection between Andrew McClain Shepherd and his parents is completely missing. The only connection is that it may have been born in Ohio.

Significantly, every single child in this family has similar problems. The challenge here is that the information appears to be somewhat complete and supported by sources. It is only when the information is carefully examined that the missing information connecting the family members and the dates associated with each of the family members reveals that there is no supporting data for most of the information that has been inferred. For example, the existing information in the record shows that Andrew McClain Shepherd was born in Vermont however the only sources showed his birth in Ohio. The Ohio birth explained the problem of the traveling parents.

These examples show the importance of looking carefully at each source added to the record and correcting and adding the information to the details shown for the individuals. Many of the apparent contradictions can be resolved merely by following this procedure. The challenge, however, in dealing with the Family Tree, is that this procedure has to be applied consistently to every single member of the family. Given the condition of the Family Tree, there is no way to avoid doing this work.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Participating in the Worldwide Indexing Event

October 20th to the 22nd, 2017 will be the annual worldwide indexing event from Instructions for participating in the event are in a blog posted by FamilySearch shown above. The thrust of this year's event is to assist more people and using the new online indexing website. The overall purpose of the event is explained as follows:
As in years past, the purpose of the event will be to unite the international indexing community around the common goal of making more historical records searchable online for free. Last year’s event broke the previous records with more than 100,000 indexers helping to index over 10,000,000 records.
My wife and I recently assisted a large ward youth group in an indexing activity. Because of the web-based program, the activity was a decided success. The activity took place at the BYU Family History Library in two classrooms with computers. The web-based indexing program allowed all of the individuals to participate without having the necessity downloading their program to each computer.  With the now older desktop-based program we would have spent a great deal of time getting the individuals up to speed by downloading programs and then logging in. During the activity, we very much appreciated the features and ease-of-use of the new web-based indexing program.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Temple and Family History Work Open the Heavens
I was particularly impressed with the presentation done by President Russell M. Nelson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Wendy W. Nelson at RootsTech 2017. I was pleased and somewhat surprised to find the entire presentation reproduced in the October 2017 edition of the Ensign Magazine. The article is entitled, "Open the Heavens through Temple and Family History Work."

I commend reading the entire article, but I was most impressed with Sister Nelson's summary near the end of the article. Here is the quote from the article.
Sister Nelson: It is my testimony that however fabulous your life is right now, or however discouraging and heartbreaking it may be, your involvement in temple and family history work will make it better. What do you need in your life right now? More love? More joy? More self-mastery? More peace? More meaningful moments? More of a feeling that you’re making a difference? More fun? More answers to your soul-searching questions? More heart-to-heart connections with others? More understanding of what you are reading in the scriptures? More ability to love and to forgive? More ability to pray with power? More inspiration and creative ideas for your work and other projects? More time for what really matters? 
I entreat you to make a sacrifice of time to the Lord by increasing the time you spend doing temple and family history work, and then watch what happens. It is my testimony that when we show the Lord we are serious about helping our ancestors, the heavens will open and we will receive all that we need.
I have been asked many times how I can write and do so many things. I attribute everything I have been able to do for the last 35 years or so to my involvement in family history. As my wife and I contemplate leaving our home to spend a year on a full-time mission, I continue to reflect on the influence and blessings that have come into my life because of my interest in and work in family history. I hope to be able to continue that work as long as I live.

Read the entire article.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Changes to the FamilySearch Family Tree

You may or may not have noticed, but there have been several recent changes to the Family Tree. The changes are not obvious but do alter the menus and selections. Several items have been moved and/or renamed. The view selections have been moved from a menu bar to a pull-down menu.

In addition, the "Recents" menu has been moved from an arrow link next to the Person menu and been given its own menu item. In addition, the "Options" menu has been moved and relocated.

As with all evolving websites, the website will continue to change. This is a good reason to keep writing and re-making my webinar presentations.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Limitations on FamilySearch Family Tree Ordinance Crawler Applications

Programs that find green icons or temple opportunities in the Family Tree have become very popular recently. In the App Gallery, there are 47 apps listed under the category of "Tree Analyzing." Many of these utility programs are the "favorite" programs for those who have only a casual involvement in family history. From what I see around me, whole Wards and even some Stakes, base their efforts at promoting family history on using one or another of these programs.

These Tree Analyzing programs are called "Ordinance Crawlers" by the programmers who support and maintain the Family Tree. In a recent newsletter dated September 29, 2017, aimed at developers of programs that use the Family Tree, i.e. the developers of the ordinance crawler programs, FamilySearch noted that certification and approval of additional such programs would be discontinued until further notice. This action is being taken because of the high load that these third-party ordinance crawler programs are placing on the internet resources available to FamilySearch.

From my own standpoint, the value of these ordinance crawler programs is marginal in advancing the integrity, value, and growth of the Family Tree. First of all, they all depend to a greater or lesser degree of the accuracy of the data already in the Family Tree. Some of these programs are better than others in determining the validity of opportunities found. In many cases, the "opportunities" turn out to be more accurately an indication that serious research is needed in a particular family. The Family Tree program is constantly becoming more sophisticated in analyzing the validity of the entries. Red warning icons that indicate serious errors in the data are increasingly common. Finding the overlooked or undone temple ordinances in the program is becoming more and more difficult.

When the Family Tree was first released and for several years after its introduction as a replacement for the program, green ordinance availability icons were abundant. However, in many cases, their abundance was an illusion caused by the Family Tree program's inability to accurately determine the existence of duplicate individuals. Beginning in June of 2017, that limitation in the Family Tree was eliminated to a great degree and millions of duplicates were merged. This affected the number of apparent ordinance opportunities because many of those duplicates showed opportunities when completed ordinance work was recorded on two or more duplicate individual records in the Family Tree. For example, one copy of an individual may have some of the required ordinances and another copy might have other completed ordinances. When the two copies were merged, all of the ordinances showed as completed.

The issue of duplicate entries in the Family Tree still exists and to some extent, as information is added to the entries in the Family Tree, additional duplicates can still be found in great numbers. By adding information to the entries from research into the available records, more and more duplicates become evident. I have written about these "Ghost Records" on the Family Tree over the past few months. In one sense, the ordinance crawlers reduce the number of green icons by finding those that are available, but in another, real sense, they also increase the number of duplicate ordinances performed and effectively hide the multiple duplicate entries that exist when research adds information to the existing entries.

From the standpoint of FamilySearch, the "duplicate issue" has been solved. The Family Tree now detects most of the obvious duplicates. But the duplicates that appear only after research has added new information to existing individuals is still hidden and very extensive despite assurances from FamilySearch to the contrary. I have very recently spent hours working through the duplicates for one family that only appeared when I added information obtained from research and I am certain that I will have the same experience many times in the future.

Now, back to ordinance crawlers. These programs give an appearance of the fact that names for temple ordinance are already identified and waiting to be found in the existing entries in the Family Tree. A very few Family Tree users take advantage of these programs to do serious research. But in my own experience, I have found them to be less useful than simply spotting research opportunities and beginning research.

If the emphasis on working with the Family Tree was changed from "mining" to research, perhaps the problem of the overuse of the FamilySearch resources would be solved. Relying on these types of programs, not a solution to validating and improving the Family Tree.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Standardization: A Controversial Issue

My recent blog post entitled, "USA vs. United States: Standardization?" resulted in some more than ordinary long and involved comments. I am not going to reproduce the lengthy comments in this post, but I do recommend that you read what the commentators have to say. Reading the comments might help to understand the issues I am about to discuss here.

First of all, anyone can impose their own standard in the context of their own activities. Most of us have played a game where the participants agreed on certain rules in advance of the game. We have also been confronted with the statement, "This is my game so you must play by my rules." In this regard, the critics of "standardization" are missing the point. Standards are not generally imposed for the benefit of the users, it is imposed to benefit the supplier, manufacturer or whatever. Granted, some standards do benefit users, such as safety standards in automobiles and electronics, but most are merely ways to facilitate commerce.

Genealogy is not immune to standards. Many of us, who submitted paper family group records to the predecessors of FamilySearch realize that those family group records had to be submitted through Ward and Stake reviewers before they could be submitted. The rules for abbreviations of both places and dates were rather complex. Those particular rules were imposed by the limitations of the physical spaces on the forms. Today's standards from FamilySearch are aimed at improving consistency and communication in a worldwide forum.

Because I speak two languages fluently and for a number of other reasons, I am personally very aware of differences in language standards. For example, because I learned most of my Spanish language in South America and Central America, I have no difficulty in understanding people from those countries. However, I do have substantial difficulty in understanding people from parts of Mexico. In addition, because of my university training in Spanish, I am accustomed to certain standards. The difficulty in understanding people from parts of Mexico is similar to the difficulty I have an understanding some British English accents and those from the southern states of the United States. Broadcast companies usually recognize this problem and have adopted "standardized English." It just so happens that most of the broadcasters in the United States standardize on the English spoken in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Now, if we apply my experiences with spoken language into the rules that are used in by in the Family Tree, we can see the underlying issues involved in imposing any degree of standardization. You may call some rule a standard, but it only becomes one when a whole lot of people or organizations or companies accept it as a standard.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Answering the Questions from Sharing Record Hints and Sources: Part Three

At the start of the series, I listed a number of questions that are commonly posed by patrons as I volunteer at the Brigham Young University Family History Library and elsewhere. I am afraid I wandered pretty far from the subject of record hints and sources but ultimately, as all my topics are ultimately related, it might fit together. It might also be helpful to know that the answers to the questions are my own personal opinions.

Here are the next questions:

If I am concerned about changes made to the Family Tree, do I maintain a separate, personal family tree on another program?

Online family tree programs infrequently provide personal backup copies of your data. The websites are obviously backed up to their own servers. This is especially true of the Family Tree. But in the case of the Family Tree, if anyone changes the data in your portion of the Family Tree, then, the backup preserves the changes. However, many users are concerned about reversing the changes that are made to reflect their own personal data. Hence, the apparent necessity for a separate copy of a personal genealogical database.

The Family Tree already provides a detailed list of every change made to the data in the program. There is a link on every person or detail page showing every change back to the time when the data was first entered. In almost all cases, by showing the list of all the changes and clicking on the "Reference" link you can see exactly what was done in reverse any changes made.

This screenshot shows the first and most recent entry in the All Changes list and the arrows indicate the Reference and Show Relationship links. Essentially, all of the information needed to reverse this change is available right here in the program. However, if you only infrequently view the program you may not know whether or not the change is valid or invalid. Having your own program with your own version of the data does not necessarily mean that the information you have is correct and that the information added or changed on the Family Tree is incorrect. Your information may be incorrect. The information changed or added may be incorrect. Both your information and the information added or changed may be incorrect. The problem of a change may not be easily rectified by simply referring to your own inaccurate information. Whether or not you have your own separate copy on another program may simply mean you need to go out and do some research. From my perspective, in almost all cases, referring back to some previous copy of the data on a separate program is not needed or necessary.

By the way, very few people actually believe my explanation. I think the real issues involve the time and effort of maintaining a separate database apart from the Family Tree. The underlying issue of the changes in the Family Tree involves working with your relatives to develop a consensus concerning the content of the record. In other words, because of the unified nature of the Family Tree, you are essentially forced to collaborate with anyone else out there in the universe who is concerned about your particular entries. In some cases, this may be almost no one but in other cases, such as my own, there are likely thousands of people who are potentially in a position to make changes. It is an overly simplistic view of life and the Family Tree to assume that you do not have to deal with all of these relatives. Retreating back to your own personal and in many cases, unverified database on a separate program is a panacea, not the solution.

All that said, if you want to have your own personal database on any program either online or on your desktop that is your own personal decision to make. But I do strongly suggest that you reconsider imposing your own limited view of the reliability of your own database before imposing your opinions and that of your own traditions when new data is entered into the Family Tree.

Should I use an online program, such as or one of the other partner programs or a separate desktop based program?

 Rather than the complicated explanation of the first question above, the answer to this question is extremely simple. The answer is: it depends. If you're comfortable working online is an online program if you're more comfortable working on a desktop program, use a desktop program. That's the answer. If you have a question about which program to use I would suggest, as I always do, referring to for up-to-date review information on genealogical programs.

Here art the links to the original post with all of the questions listed and the subsequent posts with my answers.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Technology and Genealogy
Considering the number of people I talk to who complain about technology, Kathryn Grant's article "Even with Technology, Family History is "a Spiritual Work" is timely and right on the spot. This article brings to my mind a quote from 2 Nephi 25:23:
23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
This particular scripture is usually applied to missionary work for the living, but I would expand it to apply to the missionary work we call family history or genealogy for that dead. My point is that we must "labor diligently" in whatever endeavor we undertake that involves our own personal salvation or that of others. Read the article and think about your own personal attitude towards technology.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Answering the Questions from Sharing Record Hints and Sources: Part Two

I recently posed a series of questions in a blog post entitled, " Sharing Record Hints and Sources." Some of the questions involved complex issues regarding the Family Tree. I was little bit surprised that I did not get any more comments or questions after posting such a long list. But if you've ever attended one of my classes, you will probably remember that I asked for questions at the beginning of each class. Not surprisingly, I get very very very few questions and the questions that I do get fall into narrow categories. So, because I get so few questions in my classes and as result of posting my blog, I decided to make up my own list of questions. So here we go.

Do I keep all my information in one or all of the four partner programs?

This particular question comes up quite frequently. You will recall, that has a number of "Partner Programs" that are either linked or associated with the Family Tree. Each of the three other Partner Programs also host individual family trees. One of the most important benefits of each of the four programs, including, is the fact that they provide automated record hints. These record hints are invaluable in doing research in the last 200 years or so of our history. The only way to get a benefit from all of these record hints is to have your family tree in each of the four programs.

However, the question that I posed asks whether or not we keep all of our information in all of the programs. Because presently there is no practical way to adequately share information between all of the four programs, unless you have a very small pedigree, maintaining all four programs would be an insurmountable problem. I do suggest putting a copy of your basic, verified family tree in each of the programs. This way you can take advantage of the record hints. I further suggest that you focus on your own personal research goals and not be driven by the huge number of record hints you are likely to receive. If you focus on your own research goals, you will probably be assisted by looking at those portions of your family tree on each of the four programs for record hints. That way, you can maintain those portions of your existing family information on all four programs without the overwhelming need to update those sections of your family tree that you are not presently working on.

If I choose to have four copies of my family tree, how do I keep the copies synchronized?

This is another fairly common question. Unfortunately, the answer is neither simple nor easy. Of course, you can manually update each of the four websites. However, this is a monumental waste of time. There are a number of options however each of the options involve some manual copying, editing or even correcting. Answering this issue also usually involves anticipating the next question in this series of questions. If you follow my suggestion in answer to the previous question, then the changes you need to make for "synchronization" should be quite limited.

To get started, I suggest that you choose one program, either one of the four websites or another desktop program, as your main information repository. This particular program should contain all of your information, sources, photos, memories, etc. Anticipating other questions which will be addressed in the future, it is my suggestion that you transfer all of your information to the Family Tree at some point, possibly sooner than later. I will expand on this particular statement in response to future questions.

From a practical standpoint, in addition to manual updates, some of the programs do share information. Presently, and can be linked by those who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and who have an LDS account. Information can be shared between the two websites individual by individual. Some of us view our family tree as a "backup" to the information we maintain in the Family Tree. There is also a way to bring sources from into the Family Tree. Recently, RootsMagic has expanded their program to synchronize between a RootsMagic database and a family tree on Additionally, both the RootsMagic and Ancestral Quest programs link to each of the four Partner Programs to show outstanding record hints in each program. Unfortunately, most of these methods of sharing information are still uncomfortably complicated.

It looks like in some cases, I will only be able to answer one or two questions at a time. Stay tuned.

Here is a link to the original post with all of the questions listed.