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

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Family History Mission: Working With the Documents


No. 31

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission James Tanner" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them.

From the photo above, you can dramatically see why we need to digitize documents. The damage shown is actually pretty mild compared to some of the documents we have seen already. This particular document is beautifully written. Some are not so easily read. Here is an example of an unbound book that we will be digitizing in the next day or so.


My wife, Ann, and I are taking turns spending time digitizing and preparing documents. This pile of paper will take some special handling. We will be digitizing the pages in order so we need to take two side-by-side images at the same time. Then turn the page and go to the back side of the right image on the left side and the new image on the right side. So, we work our way through the document. Unbound images, such as this one, are actually easier to digitize than bound books. As you work your way through a book, the distance from the camera to each page changes, so you have to constantly adjust the height of the book with spacers. Here is a photo of a book that is being digitized.


You can see part of a foam wedge used to level the pages on the right side of the image. You can also see black foam mats that are used to mask off the rest of the book. This book is about two to three inches thick and weighs about 25 pounds. If we don't mask off the cover and other pages, the camera will not be able to properly focus and the images will include a lot of extraneous parts of the book.

Here is a photo showing what some of the books look like when we receive them. They have protective wrappings with velcro fasteners.


Part of the job is the moderately heavy lifting of the books. Here is a different set of books. The books come from different repositories. These books are all from counties in Maryland. We work on a project to complete all the probate books from a specific county. We are presently working on several counties. There are four cameras and each camera is assigned a specific set of county books to work on. Our camera is currently doing Mongomery and Harford Counties. We have around 500 books in this project. Here is a closer look at a probate inventory.


You can click on an image to see a larger view. I will be returning to this subject from time to time.


Monday, January 29, 2018

Ten Problems With Using Ordinance Crawlers


Ordinance crawler programs are those programs that purport to find temple ordinance opportunities by searching the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. I returned to this topic because a popular version of one of the programs was prominently mentioned more than once in talks given during a local Stake Conference meeting. Evidently, those advocating the use of these programs are unaware of the nature of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. All of the programs operate on the premise that the information in the Family Tree is correct and reliable. In fact, there is no basis for such an assumption. The accurate parts of the Family Tree are those where people have recently been working and correcting the existing information. These parts of the Family Tree are also the least likely to contain green icons indicating the availability of temple ordinance opportunities.

After attending the conference session, I went back to our apartment and downloaded the app mentioned in the talks. I ran the app for quite a while until it found the first reserved ordinance after examining 5888 names. The person found was already on my reserved list. As I began to analyze the situation, I decided there were, at least, ten good reasons why these programs were more of a problem than a solution. Here I go with my list of reasons why I think these programs are a very bad idea run amuck.

Now, I am not saying that these programs never find valid temple opportunities. There is always the possibility of finding a valid need for temple ordinances just sitting there in the Family Tree. But even if the opportunity appears to be valid, there are some issues that are not obvious and all such opportunities need to be validated.

1. The ordinance crawler programs all assume that the family links in the Family Tree are accurate which is not the case. 

As I have written many times before, the Family Tree is a conglomeration of all of the family history work submitted by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and others outside of the Church for over 150 years. Over the past few years, those of us working on cleaning up the entries have spent a huge amount of time and effort correcting and adding sources to support the entries in the Family Tree. We are far from finished with this work of correcting the entries. Many of the entries and links between individuals, especially those dating back more than 200 years, are either inaccurate or simply entirely incorrect.

How do I know they are inaccurate? Because I can look at any portion of the Family Tree and go back on any ancestral line and fine totally inaccurate information including children born after the death of one or both parents, mothers having children at a very young age, such as three years old and so forth. Not all of these errors are marked by FamilySearch with red icons. Some of the errors are less obvious but only require a minimum amount of research to correct. One error connecting one child to the wrong parents can result in an entire ancestral line being wrong.

Note: As I was writing this post, I kept the ordinance crawler searching. The second name it found was descended from a person in the Family Tree who had two wives and ten children listed and every single child listed was born after the death date listed for the father.

2. Ordinance crawler programs tie up online resources that could better be used to speed up the FamilySearch.org website on Sundays and other days. 

What the developers and users of ordinance crawler programs do not realize is that their programs use up a huge amount of computer resources continually searching through thousands of names. This is one contributing factor to the "slow down" seen while using the FamilySearch.org website on Sunday afternoons. Some of these programs search the Family Tree for hours at a time.

3. The ordinance crawler programs are a substitute for research that would add individuals and families to the Family Tree.

I have taken the time to research some of the names supplied to me by the ordinance crawler programs. In every case, I find unverified or obviously wrong links leading up to the conclusion that I am related to the specific individual found by the program. This may not be true for some users, especially if the links shown are quite recent and if relatively few of the ancestral links have been discovered previously. But the real tragedy here is the fact that additional research usually corrects the deficiencies and provides more viable and supported and entirely new people to add to the Family Tree. This is an opportunity lost on those who are fixated on finding the "easy" names which are usually unrelated to the person using the ordinance crawler.

4. Because they present the Family Tree as a place to look for ordinance opportunities, the ordinance crawlers discourage real research.

As I examine each of the ordinance crawler programs, I note that there is no mention by the programs of the fact that research into original, historical records will produce many more opportunities than the superficial ones that are already on the Family Tree. Since our family has been coordinating research into historical records, many of which are now available online, we have added hundreds perhaps thousands of people to the Family Tree. Each of these additions is completely supported by sources to carefully examined historical records. Clicking on the start button of an ordinance crawler is no substitute for actual research.

5. The number of ordinance opportunities that are "just waiting" for someone to find are decreasing every day. 

I was able to do research and find so many temple ordinance opportunities that recently I began unreserving the names on the temple list so that others who could find validly researched names to take to the temples. But even with this type of addition to the "green icons" with the ordinance crawlers allow people to harvest hundreds of names at a time, the number of green icons is dramatically being reduced. What will happen when the programs cannot magically produce green icons?

6. There is no emotional connection to a person who is only known by a line of unfamiliar relatives.

If one of the purposes for doing genealogical research is to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, how can this happen when the name is simply produced with a line chart showing a distant relationship? Attending the temple can be an uplifting experience but taking a name that is produced by a program does not particularly add to the experience.

7. Ordinance crawlers reinforce the idea that FamilySearch somehow manufactures temple opportunities.

It is not unusual for me to talk to members of the Church that somehow have the impression that FamilySearch is doing all the work to locate their ancestors. We have had people come into a Family History Center and ask to see their family tree, expecting that someone somehow has already done the work. This idea is reinforced by ordinance crawlers that give the impression that FamilySearch or someone else is doing all the work and, of course, they don't have to do anything but click and print.

8. Many of the ordinance crawler apps are commericially created and involve an advanced fee-based level.

FamilySearch.org is a free program. There is absolutely nothing wrong with add-on programs that are commercially based and charge a purchase price or annual fee, but for a Church leader to tacitly endorse such a program in a Church meeting seems to contrary to the intent and spirit of doing ordinance work in the temples. Most of the ordinance crawlers have a free component, but most have an advanced version the costs money. I think this distracts from the entire concept of FamilySearch as a free program.

9. Ordinance crawlers are not like training wheels on a bicycle, there is no incentive to learn or do more. 

There is an undercurrent of ideas about family history that it can be caught like a cold or the flu. You don't catch a case of family history. Competent researchers may have a variety of backgrounds but they have some things in common. They all have a desire to strive for perfection and a large measure of tenacity and persistence. They also spend years and decades doing research. Some learn to read foreign languages and old handwriting. Others become familiar with obscure record sets. Trying to make genealogy/family history into a simple activity that can be done with no preparation and little or no effort denigrates the time and effort spent by these valuable human resources. Why should I spend a year of my life digitizing records so someone can ignore those same records and find a name to take to the temple in a few minutes with no involvement in the records I digitized?

10. Let's face it family history is a difficult, time-consuming avocation. It is a disservice to our tradition as family historians to reduce the activity to a mindless clicking of buttons. 

Do I sound put out? I hope so. Enough said.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

More Changes to FamilySearch.org

Announced and unannounced changes keep me closely watching the FamilySearch.org website. Since I go to the website dozens of times a week, I am usually doing some specific task and so I do not notice all the changes. From time to time, I get an email listing all the changes, but inevitably I fail to look at all of them immediately and some, I am just not interested in using or exploring. For example, FamilySearch has introduced a "Customize Your Family Tree" option.


We do so much work on the computer, we seldom print anything. We also have almost every spot on our walls in our house covered with artwork. The designs suggested are lovely, but we haven't decided to print out a design. The suggested photos would either require a personal color printer, which we do not have, or a service to make a paid print. I think this is a wonderful idea but we haven't gotten around to it. I know these are all excuses. I also have friends who have been in the chart printing business for years and have other lovely designs. I do recommend these print outs for reunions and other gatherings.

Some of the changes to the FamilySearch.org website are not noticable. For example, I recently wrote about a suggested "Temple Opportunity" sent out by FamilySearch that was not related to me at all. I then noticed the following in an email from FamilySearch.
Temple Opportunities removed from temple menu 
Impact: The temple opportunities from the Temple menu is using old technologies and not as useful as other related enhanced tools like Recommended Tasks on the homepage or Ancestors with Tasks in the Family Tree mobile apps. It will be removed from the header menu and from the options at the top of the temple page. This will also remove the red asterisk which appeared when opportunities were available. Patrons will need to use the other options, or partners, to find temple opportunities.
Timeframe: Possibly January 24th
 I welcome this change.

Other changes are even more subtile. Another example is that new languages are being added to the Indexing program. Another note indicated the following languages will be available in the Web Indexing program by April 2018.
  • Albanian
  • Croatian
  • Czech
  • Danish
  • Finnish
  • Hungarian
  • Icelandic
  • Latin
  • Norwegian
  • Slovak
  • Slovenian
By the way, here are the Indexing statistics from the website as of the date of this post. 


FamilySearch is also sending out emails to registered LDS users of the website informing them of Temple Opportunities and Obituary availability. The emails go to a link that will show the user how he or she is related to the person. My only suggestion, from my recent post, is to check out the relationship carefully. If you are related to the person, go to the Temple and do the necessary ordinances. 

I recently got an email outlining upcoming changes to the website. I will be commenting on the changes in a future post. 


Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Family History Mission: Some Random Impressions on Being A Senior Missionary

Digitizing Camera 
No. 30

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission James Tanner" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them.

I had quite a number of rather random impressions about being a Senior Missionary here in Annapolis, Maryland. None of these seemed long enough to be the complete topic of a blog post so I decided simply to put them in separate paragraphs. Here I go.

One of the biggest challenges we found upon arriving in Annapolis was the traffic. We are used to living in Mesa, Arizona where there are wide straight streets. We have become accustomed to much narrower and winding streets in Utah Valley, but the streets here are even narrower and more winding. I don't think there is a 90° angle street crossroad in the entire city.

The drivers here in Annapolis and in Washington DC are about the same as they are in Utah Valley, so that much feels right at home. Of course, you have to remember that driving in Utah Valley is dangerous and awful.

I am amazed at the dedication of the Senior Missionaries. We are all roughly around the same age and have similar challenges. Despite being in the mission field, we still have to attend to medical needs, taxes, family situations, and the rest of the baggage of being old. The missionaries all get to work at 7 o'clock in the morning rain or shine or snow. Oops, we have yet to see the sun at 7 AM.

Working with old documents is not boring. The work of preparing and digitizing the records requires full concentration. However, some of the missionaries can listen to music while working. I have started listening to audiobooks. But I have to turn off the recordings while I think about the documents. But I can listen while I turn pages as long as no error messages show up.

 The missionaries don't talk much while they are working. It interrupts the flow of the work.

There is a distinct benefit from having a group of missionaries with more experience than we have. The work is fairly complicated and it takes some time to work out all the details. It is immensely useful to have someone who can clarify problems and issues with the work.

We found some of the working conditions can be improved. We went out and bought a new drafting chair to help with the digitizing process.

The books we are scanning right now are very large and weigh about 25 to 30 pounds each. Sometimes it takes two of us to arrange the book on the scanning surface.

Our apartment is nice but it is an adjustment from our very nice house in Provo.

Annapolis seems to have more emergency vehicles than any other place we have lived. We hear sirens day and night.

The weather here is about what could be expected. It is not as cold as Provo and it is definitely more humid than Mesa. We are getting used to rain about once a week.

We enjoy the work. We certainly enjoy working with missionaries. We are glad to have opportunities to help people with their own personal genealogical research.

All in all, we are happy to be here and serving. We certainly recognize the immense value of the records we are digitizing and appreciate the opportunity to help those in the Spirit World who cannot help themselves.

President Dallin Oaks to Speak at #RootsTech Family DIscovery Day


I received the following announcement from the FamilySearch Newsroom:
#RootsTech 2018 Family Discovery Day is pleased to welcome President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Kristen M. Oaks, as the keynote speakers at Family Discovery Day at 1:00 p.m. MST on Saturday, March 3, 2018. They will share insights from their family experience in family history work, the importance of individual families and family connections, the corresponding importance of temples and temple work, and insights into how each person can contribute to family history based on their circumstances. Family Discovery Day is a one-day, free event, but registration is required at RootsTech.org.
Additional Family Discovery Day special guests are Hank Smith, Jason Hewlett, Evie Clair, Kenya Clark, and Alex Melecio, who will celebrate families, the inherent strength of family, family history, memories, and family support.

You can read all about the remaining speakers and their backgrounds on the FamilySearch Newsroom post entitled, "President Dallin H. Oaks to Speak at RootsTech 2018 Family Discovery Day."


Friday, January 26, 2018

FamilySearch.org no longer supports Internet Explorer


Beginning February 1, 2018, the entire FamilySearch.org website will no longer be supporting Microsoft's Internet Explorer, including Internet Explorer 11 and all previous versions. Those continuing to use the Internet Explorer browser program will begin to experience bugs. FamilySearch will not be fixing those Internet Explorer bugs. Users of the FamilySearch.org website are being encouraged to use Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

I recently wrote about the issues accompanying continued use of the old Personal Ancestral File program. This is another example of how software continues to change and, in some cases, abandoned by its developers. Microsoft discontinued support of the Internet Explorer back on January 12, 2016. Quoting from a Wikipedia article on Internet Explorer:
On March 17, 2015, Microsoft announced that Microsoft Edge would replace Internet Explorer as the default browser on its Windows 10 devices. This effectively makes Internet Explorer 11 the last release. Internet Explorer, however, remains on Windows 10 primarily for enterprise purposes.[10] Starting January 12, 2016, only Internet Explorer 11 is supported.[11][12] Support varies based on the operating system's technical capabilities and its support lifecycle.[13]
I left in the links and footnotes for further information. I would guess that many genealogists are still using Internet Explorer. Some of them are probably experiencing problems with their internet activities and I would assume that some of them do not realize that the problem is with their continued use of Internet Explorer.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Desktop Indexing ended? And other changes to FamilySearch.org


I realize that this is a fuzzy image, but basically, it says that the desktop version of the Indexing program was discontinued "around December 31, 2017." The only way to do indexing presently is through the Web-based program.


I guess I missed the announcement that the desktop version was being discontinued. I do have to admit that with moving to Annapolis and working in the Maryland State Archives, I haven't done any indexing recently. But then even when I was doing some indexing, I was using the web-based program so I would not have noticed that the desktop program is no longer available. I am in three very active indexing groups. I will get busy and do some indexing.

To get started or to return to Indexing, go to FamilySearch.org Indexing. For step-by-step instructions, see The Family History Guide FamilySearch Project 5 on Indexing.




Monday, January 22, 2018

Is Your Family History Center Busy or Empty?


As we travel around and visit different Family History Centers, the contrast between centers is remarkable. The differences are evident even in the same town or city. Some Family History Centers are full of people and finding a place to work can be a problem. The staff in such centers are busy the entire time they serve. The contrasting Centers are those where there are no patrons at all. Dedicated volunteers' only activity is to unlock the door and turn on the lights. Otherwise, there is no activity evident.

What is the difference?

I have spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on why some Family History Centers seem to be busy and others look a little bit like this Nevada road shown above. What is even more interesting is that the level of family history activity of the wards and stakes that participate in a particular Family History Center is directly related to the amount of activity in the Family History Center. There can be two wards that share the same building and one can have a high level of activity and participation and the other's activity can be nonexistent. In this case, the activity in the Family History Center is generated by the active ward.

It would be easy to attribute the difference to the level of involvement of the ward leaders but that conclusion is overly simplistic. There are some Family History Centers that have a high level of participation but have almost no leader support.

One of the main differences as the degree involved in participation in the Family History Center by those who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have observed situations where the level of activity by those who were not members exceeded 70% of the total activity in the Family History Center. In fact, some Family History Centers have a significant number of volunteers who are not members.

One thing that stands out is the involvement and dedication of the Family History Center Director or Directors. If the director focuses on a lack of support from the sponsoring stakes or warrants instead of focusing on attracting patrons and working with those who come then as a result, the Center thrives. Additionally, if the Director and the volunteers actively promote the center and have classes in periodic activities that involve a greater genealogical community consequently the Center thrives.

If the volunteers and the director simply take the position that they are "custodians" of the Family History Center and somehow believe that people will wander in voluntarily without a specific goal or invitation, then nothing will happen. A vibrant Center will have youth activities, a place for young children to play while their parent or parents use the Center's resources, a schedule of classes and presentations, local special interest groups such as those reflecting the ethnicity of the community's population and other such pro-active activities.

The Family History Center should be available to be used during the Sunday School time of the Block meetings. As I have written before, however, genealogy is not a Sunday School class. This time should be used by the Temple and Family History Consultants to help individual members with finding their ancestors and relatives. Quoting from the LDS.org webpage for Family History Center Resources:
Use these resources to help you operate a family history center that invites members new to family history to have personalized experiences finding their ancestors and preparing their names for temple ordinances as well as encourages those seeking to continue their family history efforts to use the resources offered.
Even one person who becomes dedicated to helping others and uses the Family History Center as a support for that helping activity can make a huge difference. Quoting from the Family History  Center Operation Guide on LDS.org:
Family history centers help Church members fulfill their divinely appointed responsibility to discover their families and submit their names for temple ordinances. Centers are a resource for priesthood leaders to minister in the work of salvation, including missionary work, convert retention, activation of less-active members, temple and family history work, and teaching the gospel. Centers inspire and help Church members engage in family history activities, including sharing and preserving family stories and photos, and indexing. Centers provide one-on-one assistance, training, research expertise, and convenient access to family history resources. 
If you visit a Family History Center that seems abandoned, then, using your skills and interest in genealogy, you should be helping make it into the vibrant and useful place it should be. 

Be Prepared for Changes on FamilySearch.org


If you are watching any of your ancestors in the FamilySearch.org Family Tree and have asked to have FamilySearch send you a weekly update, you may "hit the jackpot" with changes to a famous or infamous relative. The list above is for Francis Cooke, a Mayflower passenger. I get about two dozen or more changes to this person every week. The interesting thing is that the information about all of the Mayflower passengers has been printed in the Silver books for years. There is no controversy.


In addition, the New England Historic Genealogy Society has a new website for the 400th Anniversary of the Landing of the Mayflower. Suffice it to say that there is absolutely no reason for any controversy, i.e. changes need to be made to any of the Mayflower passengers or any of their five generations of descendants. The fact that there are this many changes every week is an indication of low level of awareness of these basic sources.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Family History Mission: Who are the missionaries?

The Washington DC Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
No. 29

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission James Tanner" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them.

The diversity of Senior Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is astonishing and their dedication is even more astonishing. The people we have met have varied backgrounds: homemakers, doctors, lawyers, university professors, farmers, government workers, teachers and many other occupations. It would be very hard to find any common background among those serving. What they do share is a strong testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, his life and atonement and the importance of sharing that testimony with others around the world either through active proselyting work or through dozens of other service opportunities.

Some of our Senior Missionary friends are doctors and have served as medical resource missionaries in various parts of the world. A few of our friends have served as Mission Presidents, but many more have served as MLS or Member and Leader Service missionaries. What is surprising to me is the number of missionaries that have served multiple missions. One couple we know sold their home and have now served two missions with plans to keep serving in the future. They have decided that owning a home is not their priority but serving missions is.

Presently, we have six missionary couples serving in the Maryland State Archives. The couples reflect the diversity I mentioned above. We are privileged to get to know our fellow missionaries and appreciate their devotion and the help they have given us in learning our responsibilities both in the Archives and as missionaries.

We all arrive at the Archives at 7:00 am. Because of the weather and the darkness at that time of day here in Annapolis, getting to the Archives is a significant challenge. But they are all cheerful and get right to work digitizing documents or preparing them for digitization. We have four cameras and it takes a lot of work to prepare the documents for digitization. With the four cameras, we digitize thousands of documents every day. Because we have couples and we can trade off between working with the cameras and preparing documents. We are assisted by a significant number of volunteers in preparing the documents for digitizing. This is what the documents look like before the preparation process:


This is how we have to prepare the documents:


The documents are identified with the principal name of the person and then put in folders for digitization. No, we do not wear white gloves. We wash our hands frequently. It is no longer an archive practice to wear white gloves for working with paper. It is, however, still the case when working with physical artifacts including photos.

It is a lot of work and the missionaries spend at least nine hours a day at the Archives including a lunch break. We work half a day on Friday and are off on Saturday and Sunday (of course).

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Will the Circle be Unbroken?


The Carter Family - Will The Circle Be Unbroken

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and as a genealogist, I can answer this question. The circle can be unbroken through the sealing power of the Priesthood in the temples. Quoting from "The Family: A Proclamation to the World:"
marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children” (Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 129).
Quoting from the webpage entitled, "About the Temple Sealing" on LDS.org:
The family proclamation also states that “the divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.” 
The sealing power also extends from parents to children, across all generations from the beginning of the world. President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) declared that children who are born in the covenant—which includes all those who are sealed to their parents in the temple—“have claims upon the blessings of the gospel beyond what those not so born are entitled to receive. They may receive a greater guidance, a greater protection, a greater inspiration from the Spirit of the Lord; and then there is no power that can take them away from their parents” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie (1955), 2:90.) 
Children born to parents who have been sealed in the temple are born in the covenant. These children automatically become part of an eternal family. Children who are not born in the covenant can also become part of an eternal family once their natural or adoptive parents have been sealed to one another. The ordinance of sealing children to parents is performed only in the temple. To extend these blessings to all people, those who are living are also able to perform proxy sealings on behalf of those who have died. In this way, all families may be together forever. 
The promise that our families can be together after death brings more meaning in life. It encourages us to be faithful and loyal. It improves and enriches our family relationships. It helps us find joy and hope as we deal with the everyday challenges of life. And knowing that we can be together again brings comfort and peace as we deal with the suffering or death of loved ones. 
The sealing ordinance is the crowning blessing of the temple. It is God’s greatest gift to His children because it enables us to return to live with Him and all of our loved ones forever. It offers marvelous blessings for this life and the next. It is a constant reminder that families are central to God’s plan and our happiness here and in the eternities. It provides peace, hope, and joy for all who faithfully receive it.
One of the basic questions of our existence here on earth has been answered. The faith exhibited by that old country tune is not in vain. There is a purpose to life here on earth. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

How Good is the FamilySearch Family Tree as a Genealogy Program?


I have used a number of different local computer-based genealogy programs over the years and moved my accumulated data quite a few times from an older program to a newer program I thought more useful. At one point in time, I had five or six different local programs as opposed to internet-based programs running on my computer, all with my entire database. I could see advantages in each one. During this same period, I was struggling with online programs such as new.FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com's family tree program.

Over the years, the number of viable local, desktop genealogy programs began to decrease. I always had one issue due to the fact that I used Apple Macintosh computers as my primary system and few or the desktop programs had Mac versions. I finally abandoned PCs for genealogy altogether which forced me to rely even more on online programs. By the time the desktop program developers came out with Mac versions of their programs, I had pretty much transferred all my data and my attention to online programs including all four of the large online database and family tree websites: FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com, and Findmypast.com.

I made a comment about the decrease in the number of "viable" programs. My reference to "viable" means that the programs were supported, updated and had valid connections to the online family trees. As technology developed, online programs, in general, became realistic alternatives to maintaining a separate desktop database. For many years, I supported the idea that the unreliability of the online programs mandated the use of a desktop-based program. But as the online programs became more full-featured and reliable, my point-of-view changed. My original issue with programs that lacked Mac-based alternatives became irrelevant. I could use my Macs to access any of the online programs, in fact, as they became available, I could use any number of devices including tablets and smartphones to access my online family trees. The desktop programs that developed a usable connect to the online database programs remain a viable alternative or supplement to the online programs. For that reason, I now primarily rely on online family tree programs and I am only interested in desktop programs that have useful connections to the online world.

How does a program such as the FamilySearch.org Family Tree compare to the available desktop programs? Some of the desktop programs have some very nice features that are not available online. There is a trade-off, however. There is an extra step in the overhead needed to maintain your database if you use multiple programs. At some point, you need to decide on using one program and then transferring information to any other useful programs on an "as needed" basis.

Whether or not you are satisfied with any one program usually depends on the degree of your familiarity with other programs. Whether you think the FamilySearch.org program is a good alternative or not depends on whether you are familiar with a variety of programs. Most of the genealogists I know are "married," in a sense, to one program. They know next to nothing about the features of other viable programs. Many of people I talk to are not aware that other software alternatives even exist. For example, from time to time, I find Personal Ancestral File (PAF) users who do not know that RootsMagic and Ancestral Quest both support and preserve PAF files.

I think there are several very good genealogy programs and would be happy to use any of them. Because I focus on the FamilySearch.org Family Tree is no indication that I do not like the other programs. For example, Family Tree Builder is a full-featured, extremely well-developed program that is free from MyHeritage.com. It is very well supported and currently has a rating 4.17 out of five stars on GenSoftReviews.com. But I would guess that few of those who are hanging on to PAF are even aware of its existence.

Most of the criticism I hear about the FamilySearch.org Family Tree is just trivial and is based on a lack of understanding of the program. I have written extensively about the complaint issues and have some videos on The Brigham Young University Family History Library YouTube Channel about the issues also. We all benefit from having a number of different choices in the genealogical community. If you don't like one program, use something else.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Family History Mission: A Visit to Washington, D.C.

The National Archives, Washington, D.C. 
No. 28

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them.

No, I am not feeling like a tourist. Living in Annapolis gives us both a different perspective. Our first visit to the downtown area of Washington, D.C., which, by the way, is entirely within the area covered by our mission, the Washington, D.C. North Mission, was a major expedition. Annapolis, Maryland is really quite some distance from downtown D.C. It takes from around an hour to two or more hours depending on traffic. However, we realized that traveling downtown was only the beginning of the challenge. We realized we would also need to find a parking space.

We decided to avoid the parking problem by taking the Metro or train into town. After doing some research, we found that there is a Metro SmartTrip Card that works for all the rail lines and the busses. We had to drive into D.C. to buy our cards for $2 and then load them up with some cash, but that made for an easier way to get around.

It has been some years since I rode a subway train. I used to ride the subway all the time in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but I think the last subway we rode was years ago on the Boston MTA. We had an uneventful trip downtown and a marvelous, but limited, initial tour of the National Gallery of Art. I guess it is important to know that being a Senior Missionary has some advantages not readily available to younger missionaries. We are specifically encouraged to take advantage of cultural and historical places in our mission area.

As the photo above shows, we are going to spend some time in the National Archives and the Library of Congress.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Family History Mission: Thoughts on Names


No. 27

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them.

When you are very young, you may think that your name is unique. As you grow older, you often realize that many other individuals share your name. In my case, when I was a teenager I visited the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia and saw a tombstone with the name "James Tanner" near the entrance to the cemetery. I still remember my surprise in seeing my name in a prominent place. Even though I now recognize that the Tanner surname is quite common and that the name "James" is one of the most common names in English, it still surprises me to see my name in a document or somewhere else.

While working at the Maryland State Archives, I ran across this entry in a probate file. This particular record was from the early 1900s. It is a very common misconception that people with the same surname are somehow related. This may be true for very unusual surnames, but the name Tanner is an occupation-derived surname and is very common in England and other places in Europe. Many genealogists, including those with considerable experience, make the mistake of concluding that a person with the same name is (or could be) a relative. If a person has ancestors who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints back in the 1800s and has the Tanner surname, it is very likely we are related. But if a person has the Tanner surname and their family came from a part of the United States other than New England and New York and Rhode Island, it is very unlikely that they are related.

While working in the Maryland State Archives, we take the original documents and prepare them for digitization. One of the things we also do is to record the main name of the document so it can be identified in a database of the potential images. This means we read through the documents for names. This results in many discussions about how to decipher the handwriting and guessing at the names. We find quite a few unusual names, for example, back in the early 1800s in Maryland, one popular girl's name was Achsah. I have no idea how it was pronounced at the time. But it is a Biblical name, Achsah was the daughter of Caleb, a prince of the tribe of Judah. She was the only girl in the family and had three brothers (1 Chronicles 4:15). She became the wife of Othniel, son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. Othniel became one of Israel's judges.

We had to replace our camera this past week since it was making so much noise we could not stand it. FamilySearch sent us a new camera and I installed it in less than an hour, not including the time it took us to find shims to level the camera. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Family History Mission: An Interesting Discovery


No. 26

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them.

One of our main activities at the Maryland State Archives is preparing old documents for digitization. These documents have not been opened for almost 200 years and except for those who put them in boxes, have not been touched for almost that long. Every document is an individual discovery.

While opening and preparing the documents recently, Ann made this discovery. The document shown above is an original conservatorship file signed by John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States, while he was serving as the Secretary of State of the United States. Here are some additional photos of the document. You can click on the documents to see enlarged copies.


This is a close up of the seal on the document.


This is the heading and a closer look at the insignia.


This is the cover sheet, as an actual piece of paper that is wrapped around the filed document. The courts today still require a cover sheet, but it no longer wraps around the document, it is more like a title page to the document.


Here is a closer view of the signature page. You can see the documents have acquired a permanent fold and must be unfolded and made as flat as possible for digitization. The documents are digitized under a piece of glass which holds them flatter than they would be otherwise.

We keep finding very interesting documents.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

An Excellent Example of a Local Family History Center


Now that we are getting settled into our work at the Maryland State Archives, I am starting to get in touch with the local family history community. I have joined the Anne Arundel County Genealogical Society and made my first visit to the Annapolis Family History Center. I am very impressed.

Here are some views of this very inviting facility.


If you live in the Annapolis area, you can contact me and I will be glad to meet you at the Annapolis Family History Center to help with your research. Here are some more photos. Don't you wish your Family History Center looked like this one? By the way, when I visited the FHC there were only two volunteers there. Apparently, it is not being overused. One comment on the above photo, I guess the microfilm viewers will be getting very little use.


A nice printer with lots of computers for support.


I will be taking time to become familiar with all the resources.


A nice selection of reference books.


Stay tuned for some additional information in the near future. Remember, I speak Spanish fluently.

Here is the FHC's contact information.
  • 1875 Ritchie Hwy Annapolis MD 21401-6229 United States
  • The Family History Center entrance is at the center of the rear of the building.
  • Phone: 1-410-757-4173
  • Email: MD_Annapolis@ldsmail.net
Open Hours:
  • Monday:9:30am-2:30pm
  • Tuesday:9:30am-2:30pm and 7:00pm-9:00pm
  • Wednesday:9:30am-2:30pm and 7:00pm-9:00pm
  • Saturday:9:30am-2:30pm

Monday, January 8, 2018

A Family History Mission: A Genealogist's Goldmine



No. 25

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them.

As I spend time looking at probate, guardianship, and indenture records at the Maryland State Archives, I am seeing records that assist in finding complete families. The guardianship records are from the Orphans Court Proceedings and often contain a way to identify every one of the children in a family. We usually look to probate records and hope to find a will from an ancestor, but so far, I have seen very few will transcripts but a lot of guardianships.

Apparently, when the father in the family died, guardians were appointed for any minor children. This could be the mother or some other member of the family. The purpose of the guardianship to protect the children's inheritances from third parties or in the event that their mother remarried. If the husband left all of his estate to his wife, then, if the wife remarried, all of the estate would then be owned by the new husband. In some cases, husbands left their wives property under the specific provision that the inheritance would be forfeited if the wife remarried. This was not so much a matter of jealousy but of the way the law worked. If the husband wanted the property to stay in his family lines, then the provision was mandatory.

Because of these particular ownership and inheritance laws, when money was left to minor children, it was necessary to protect the children's interests by appointing a guardian. Genealogists benefit immensely from the information contained these probate/guardianship files.

Perhaps, this observation on me types of records we are digitizing at the Maryland State Archives give you some idea of our motivation to spend the time to volunteer as missionaries.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Double Check Your Temple Opportunities


Automated Record Hints are just hints. The suggested records may not be for the person where the hints show up. Remember, they are "hints" and should be verified before attaching. But what about the "Temple Opportunities?" Are they real or merely hints that should be verified?

Everything in the FamilySearch.org Family Tree is subject to verification with valid sources, i.e. records that actually support the information already in the Family Tree. Record Hints are links to records that might support events in your ancestors' or relatives' lives. Temple Opportunities assume that all of the genealogical links to the opportunity are valid. So let's look at the Temple Opportunity illustrated above. Here is the assumed "opportunity."


I can immediately reserve the Temple Ordinances by clicking on the blue button link or I can be a "spoilsport" and question the validity of the genealogical connection between me and the individual. Do I really want to reserve and do the ordinances for someone I am not related to? Isn't this a carte blanche from FamilySearch to do the ordinances? Who am I to question FamilySearch? The last question is somewhat rhetorical but is this a situation where we just go ahead and take advantage of the opportunity without checking the validity of the connection? Who cares anyway?

Well, since I have spent a great deal of my time over the past 36 years trying to verify my family connections, I am too old to be taught new tricks. I still don't believe assumed relationships without some sort of documentary support for the conclusion that I am related to anyone and this goes doubly for anything in the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. I guess the fundamental question is if we are going to have standards about those for whom we can and cannot do ordinance work, why don't those standards apply to "Temple Opportunities?"

So, am I or am I not related to Joseph David Weise?

Here is the chart showing my relationship.


The first question here is am I related to all those people shown as my direct line ancestors. Let's check them off.

  • Yes, I am related to my mother
  • Yes, I am related to my maternal grandfather, Harold Morgan. 
  • Yes, I am related to my Great-grandmother Mary Ann Linton.

Wait, how do I know this so far? Let me add one more check: the number of verified sources I find for each of these people.
  • Yes, I am related to my mother: 34 sources
  • Yes, I am related to my maternal grandfather, Harold Morgan: 49 sources
  • Yes, I am related to my Great-grandmother Mary Ann Linton: 29 sources
Also, I simply have not gotten around to entering all of the hundreds of additional sources and memories I have for these near relatives. Let's go on back.
  • Yes, I am related to Ellen Sutton: 40 sources
  • Yes, I am related to John Sutton: 36 sources
  • Yes, I am related to Sarah Yates: 24 sources
  • Yes, I am related to Peter Yates: 25 sources
Of course, I strongly suggest checking the sources. But let's go on.
  • Hmm, am I related to William Yates? There are six sources but he has no birth or christening dates. 
It is time to stop. Here is William Yates.

 
The problem is there is no actual birth or death information and the place of birth is listed as Lancashire County. How many William Yates were there in about 1688 in Lancashire?


 Was Lancashire the right county? There are 161 entries for the name William Yates in that county in that time period. Which one is my William Yates, if that is the right name? The children listed were born in three different locations, all in Lancashire County: Winwick, Wigan, and Leigh. Where were these places? How close are they to one another? The dates here are in the 1600s. One problem is that the listing for Winwick is apparently an ancient parish with three towns: Houghton with Middleton, Arbury, and Winwick of Hulme. Let's use Winwick of Hulme. 


The distances here are enough for me to question the accuracy of the inclusion of all of these children in the same family. The person we are concerned with is his son Peter Yates, my supposed ancestor. Peter Yates is one of the children supposedly born in Winwick. Remember, we have no birthplace for either the listed father, William Yates or the listed mother, Sybil. We also have no records showing the parents of Peter Yates. From this review, Peter Yates is presently the end of this line. We do not know his father's name. There is also a will and probate attached to Peter Yates that states that he is "of Lathom."

Where is Latham compared to the other Lancashire towns? What about Winwick where he is supposed to have been born or christened? It is about 18 miles away from Winwick. Once again, that is enough to make me do more research. How many Peter Yates were there in Winwick at the time listed? How many in Lathom? There only four entries in Findmypast.com for Peter Yates in Winwick at that time, about 1733. All four of them seem to be our Peter Yates. But what about Lathom? Peter apparently died in Winwick. Could be. But the only record is the will and probate. 

From this point on in the Family Tree, the relationships become mere speculation. I could go on and on, but the descendency part of the linkage is just a questionable. Do I really want to rely on an unsupported connection going back ten unsupported generations and then back down six more unsupported generations?

What do you think? I addition, I am not presently adding any more names to my Temple list. In fact, I am unreserving all of them. The reason is that the Washington, D.C. Temple is closing and I will be here for the next year. I will go back and reserve what I need when I am able to go to the temple regularly after my mission. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Some Interesting FamilySearch Statistics for the Beginning of 2018


Well, here we are with a new year: 2018. When I was much younger, my friends and I used to speculate where we would be in the Year 2000. It was almost unimaginable that we would be over 50 years old. Because of my interest in science and technology, I was a fan of the Popular Science magazine.


Almost every month, there were new predictions about the future. Guess what? The future turned out to be far different than I could ever have imagined. One of the things that no one at the time could have predicted was the availability of historical records online. But back then, I could not imagine that one day I would be volunteering to digitize records for the online collections.

As of the beginning of 2018, here are some notable statistics about the digital collections on the FamilySearch.org website:

  • Number of searchable names in the Historical Record Collections  5.84 Billion
  • Number of digital images online of historic documents 1.25 Billion
  • Digital images only published in the FamilySearch Catalog 618.3 Million
  • 3 year rolling average of images of indexed images published 284.5 Million
  • Number of Historical Record Collections 2279
  • Number of digital books online 352,963
  • Number of Family History Centers 5,082
  • Number of digital cameras in operation 306
Four of those digital cameras are here in Annapolis, Maryland. All of this was unimaginable back in 1963 and as a matter of fact, was unimaginable only about ten short years ago. 


Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Family History Mission:Indentured or Enslaved?

No. 24

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them.


One of the sad things about preparing hundreds of documents for digitization is coming across these Indentured Servant Contracts. Here is the cover sheet for the above contract.


I will let you read the entire document so you can see what was done to this nine-year-old girl. Indentured servants were simply slaves for a term of years. In the case of this poor nine-year-old, she would be working for whatever the master decided to give her in the way of food, clothing, and shelter. In return, she learns to do housework for nine long years. Here is a description of Indentured Servitude from the Law Library of Congress:
Before the Civil War, slaves and indentured servants were considered personal property, and they or their descendants could be sold or inherited like any other personalty. Like other property, human chattel was governed largely by laws of individual states. Generally, these laws concerning indentured servants and slaves did not differentiate between the sexes. Some, however, addressed only women. Regardless of their country of origin, many early immigrants were indentured servants, people who sold their labor in exchange for passage to the New World and housing on their arrival. Initially, most laws passed concerned indentured servants, but around the middle of the seventeenth century, colonial laws began to reflect differences between indentured servants and slaves. More important, the laws began to differentiate between races: the association of “servitude for natural life” with people of African descent became common. Re Negro John Punch (1640) was one of the early cases that made a racial distinction among indentured servants.
Here are three more contracts for you to try your skill in reading old handwriting from 1822 in Maryland.  You can click on the images to enlarge them. You can also get some idea of the documents we are working with at the Maryland State Archives.