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

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Family History Mission: Expanding our Horizons

No. 37

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.

Quoting J.R.R. Tolkien from the Lord of the Rings,
“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
To paraphrase, it is an interesting business going out your door to go on Senior Full-time Mission, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to. 

In our case, we have been swept off into a whole catalog of new and different experiences. Most recently, we started to attend the Spanish speaking branch here in Annapolis and we were certainly swept off. Besides Sunday meetings in Spanish, teaching family history class in Spanish, singing hymns in Spanish and speaking in Sacrament meeting, in addition, we have attended a wedding in Spanish and the lively reception that followed and a baptismal service for the newly married husband and wife and all this is only the first week or so of our involvement. Even after speaking Spanish for over 54 years, this was the first Spanish speaking wedding I have ever attended.

Part of our new experiences are those that accompany moving from one city to another for an extended time but many are new and unique. Obviously, we have never both worked in an archive digitizing records, but after almost two months, we are getting used to that activity. But it is decidedly different for both of us to have the same job and the same schedule.

One thing is certain, the traffic is part of the overall experience and easily the greatest (and most dangerous) business. This week saw our first extended driving in downtown Washington, D.C. I am sure driving in D.C. is one of the major challenges in the entire U.S. road system, heightened by the fact that there are almost no right angle intersections in the city. I have driven in every one of the ten most populous cities in America and none of these come close to D.C. which has the densest population in the country and I am sure they are all out driving cars.

As to the weather, I think my daughter put it right when she observed that "It looks like they take every kind of weather and temperature and then randomly assign it to different days or times of day." The weather can start out warm in the morning with sunshine and then rain, followed by snow and by the next morning sun with warm temperatures. This is the first place I have lived in recent memory where the temperature can go up when the sun goes down. Continuing on with my daughter's comment about D.C. weather, "Over a few days this week, we had sun, clouds, wind, rain, sleet, snow and temperatures from 20 to 70 degrees."

We are adjusting to living in an apartment and having two flights of stairs to carry in all our groceries and such. We are also have figured out things like where to shop, buy gas for our car and get the oil changed. Interesting adapting.

The Impact of Billions of Records

Family history is all about records. Many of the members of The Chruch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the United States are descendants of those early members of the Church who crossed the plains back in the 1800s. Even those who are not new members or who have joined the Church since 1900 are surprised to learn that they have "Mormon Pioneer" ancestors. I talked to one such individual this past week at the Maryland State Archives.

There is an inaccurate and very nearsighted common belief among those who ancestors were early members of the Church that all of their "genealogy" was and is done. This was usually accomplished by some very active "genealogist" in the past. There is also another related myth that "someone in my family is doing all the work." This person is usually a sibling, a parent, or some other relative. This near relative may be "providing names to the family members" sometimes hundreds of names.

I am one of those who has an extensive LDS heritage. Of those in my direct ancestral lines, all of my great-grandparents and some of my great-great-grandparents joined the Church during the 1800s and nearly all of them crossed the plains as pioneers. My personal experience with genealogy parallels the experience of many of those who claim that their work has all been done. But, fortunately, I realized very quickly many years ago that the claim to completeness was illusory and false.

What has changed? Why couldn't our relatives "do all the work" years ago?

We are presently helping as full-time Record Preservation missionaries/volunteers at the Maryland State Archives. There are presently four cameras digitizing records and a significant number of volunteers processing the records for digitization. After being here for a while and seeing the number of images produced by the camera operation, I estimate that we will produce between 1.5 and 2.0 million digital record copies during this year. Most of these records have not been touched by anyone since they were created and initially stored away in the county record repositories. None of our ancestors had access to these records. They were not on microfilm. They were not even available unless the researcher went to the individual counties and accessed the records. Now, they are being put online for anyone to access with a computer and an internet connection.

Multiply the number of digital images we are producing by the 303 cameras in operation and you can see that there are millions of records being uploaded every month. There is absolutely no comparison between what we are doing today and can do to find our ancestors and what could be done even five or ten years ago. If we add in the billions of records on the FamilySearch Partner Websites, we have billions of records that were not available to our expert genealogist ancestors.

There is no excuse for not becoming involved in family history and there never was.

Friday, February 16, 2018

A Family History Mission: Planning for a Mission

Nauvoo Temple Sunstone
No. 36

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.

This particular example of the Nauvoo Temple Sunstone is in the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History NMNH in Washington, D.C. Back in 1992, the Museum purchased this original Sunstone for $100,000 from the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams Counties in Illinois. When we recently visited the Museum, seeing the Sunstone in D.C. was like seeing an old friend. We have a day and a half off each week to recuperate from our work schedule and take care of all things we need to do to live in Annapolis. 

For example, we are required to provide our own transportation. That means bringing a car across the country and maintaining it in Annapolis which includes oil changes, tire rotation and etc. We also purchase and fix all our own food. Of course, we did that at home, but here we have to take the time to go to the stores and work out where to do all the things we need to do to survive. We have a very nice apartment and it is centrally located very near the Archives where we work. So we do have only a five minute or so drive to the Archives. 

My previous full-time missionary experience as a young missionary in Argentina was dramatically different than our experience here in Annapolis. We have wonderful opportunities to help the local members with their family history and we have other opportunities to serve and help, but we are not out on the street every day proselyting. We have a very defined position in the Archives and limited interaction with the staff. Fortunately, here in Annapolis, we have other Senior Missionaries. This gives a small, but important, support group.

If you have ever thought about serving as a full-time Senior Missionary, I suggest you think seriously about how you would like to serve. I can only imagine, but I am pretty sure that serving a FamilySearch mission in Annapolis is vastly different than serving a CES Mission in New York City or as a Farmland Reserve Church-Service Missionary. Every month the Church publishes a Senior Missionary Opportunities Bulletin. In thinking about a mission, you should take a look at the opportunities available. You will likely find something that uses your own special talents as well as sounds like a wonderful opportunity. 

Moving to a new city, town or village for a year or more has its difficulties, but so does living at home. For us, the biggest challenge has been getting mail in a timely fashion. This could be solved by having someone at "home" who can forward the mail or sort through it and follow instructions. In planning for a mission (and old age) we have almost all of our periodic bills paid online automatically. This saves us from having the mail situation impact keeping our payments current. 

Before we left, we got referrals for doctors and had our prescriptions transferred to a local pharmacy. This can be done through most of the major pharmacies. We sold one of our cars and have debated whether to stay a one-car family or not when we return. There are a lot of other such considerations that do not apply at all to younger missionaries. 

Since there are both full-time and part-time missionary options that allow the missionaries to serve while staying at home, many of these issues can be avoided. 

For some, financial considerations and leaving family for a period of time are the most important factors. As I have pointed out previously, neither of these issues was much of a challenge for us. We are sorry to leave the children we left behind in Utah, but we have children all over the country and we have already had the opportunity to visit with some of them while here in Annapolis. Ideally, we would love to have all of our children and grandchildren living close by, but that is not our reality. 

In visiting with the other senior missionaries, health and finances are the two major considerations. One way to prepare for a mission is to work at staying healthy and saving for the time when the money might be needed. These are both a lot easier to talk about than actually put into practice. I think every senior missionary couple I have talked to has had one or the other of these issues. The difference is that they "put up with" the problems rather than letting their lives be ruled by those same problems. 

What it seems to come down to is making up your mind to do something productive when you are older and not expected to do anything. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

FamilySearch Mobile Apps and FamilySearch Family Tree Hinting

FamilySearch Mobile Apps

FamilySearch has posted two new videos: FamilySearch Mobile Apps and FamilySearch Hinting. 

These videos are presented by Bryce Roper, FamilySearch, Senior Product Manager and by Andrew Hair, UX Designer Mobile Team, from FamilySearch. This is a close as you can get to getting it straight from the source at FamilySearch. 

Not Everything Works the Way You Think It Does on the FamilySearch Family Tree

No matter how easy or uncomplicated you think something is, there always seems to be someone who doesn't quite get the message. The Family Tree is an amazingly well done and, from my perspective a rather easy program to use. But there are always questions and misunderstandings with even the most obvious features.

I recently had a friend pass on this comment after trying to help a patron in a Family History Center. The comment really illustrates two different issues.
Today, I was helping a young woman with her research, and I asked if she looked for information on FamilySearch. She said, "oh yes, I have a tree there with sources."

I said let's look at it. She went into FS and pulled up her person. There was not one source, document or memory attached. When I asked (very nicely) where the source was, she responded -- "oh, it's right here". She pointed to the hints under the Research Help column on the right. Her perspective was that was a place where the sources were kept and that she did not have to do anything further.

We were trying to estimate a marriage date and I noticed that there was only one child listed under the couple. I asked if there were any other children in the family, and she said yes, it was a very large family but she is only interested in her direct line ancestor.
When a program is designed, the programmers are not usually the people who will ultimately use the program. That is one reason why FamilySearch and other developers use Beta tests to let the real users give feedback on the issues with the program. Here we have two excellent examples of program difficulties that are not going to be found by bug reports. The reason is simple. There is nothing wrong with the Family Tree program at all. However, the Family Tree, as well as most of the other parts of the website do make assumptions about a user's competency and awareness of the terminology and usage of parts of the programs. 

People who focus only on one line and fail to "fill in" the rest of the people in their ancestral families are quite common among those who are "interested" in genealogy. If you go back in time, clicking on family lines on the Family Tree, you will quite possibly find family lines that have only one child in each generation. So this part of the quote does make some weird sort-of sense. 

Quite frankly, this is the first time I have ever heard of the issue with Record Hints. I know people who ignore them both negligently and intentionally but thinking they are the same thing as sources is really strange, especially if you manage to open one of the Record Hints and look at what it says. 

It is situations such as these that make my days interesting while helping in Family History Libraries and Centers. Let me know if you agree with the patron. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Family History Mission: Extremely Interesting Discoveries

No. 35

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.

Since we are involved every working day with 200 to 300-year-old documents there are a lot of things going on every day that are interesting and surprising. The documents and books become a constant source of entertainment and amazement. For example, we got a series of books that had been sent to the conservation section of the Maryland State Archives. They were infested with mold and had to be irradiated. However, working with the documents requires the use of gloves and a dust mask. Here is a look at one of the books.

This is after the book had been treated for mold. Here is a photo of the workstation.

When you see the condition of some of these records, you begin to understand the importance of what we are doing to digitize and preserve the records and all the information they contain. Here is how the books come to us.

Of course, not all the books are in this condition. Most of what Ann and I have been doing involves books in a lot better condition than these. We make interesting discoveries. Here is a pedigree chart that was found among the records we are digitizing.

Here is a photo of the entire chart. This particular chart was accompanied by a stack of original records from Ireland.

One last photo. Here is a notation about a court document. Can you read the date?

It took me a couple of minutes to figure it out, but now I can read all of the dates from this court and time period without much of a problem.

The things you learn on a mission!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

New Family History Photo Activity

I got an email inviting me to a new family activity from The email says:
We created a fun, new family activity to remember your ancestors! Strengthen your knowledge of what they looked like in this personalized photo challenge.
By clicking on the blue button, I got the following series of screens:

The series continues for ten people. If I guess the right person, then it gives me a link to that person.

This feature is apparently a promotional campaign and may or may not translate into a permanent feature of the website. Look for this when you sign on to or look for an email.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Home Page Updates for The Family History Guide

By subscribing to The Family History Guide blog, you can keep up-to-date with all the new features and additions to this extremely useful website. The link to the post about "Home Page Updates" is above in the caption to the screenshot. Here is a list of the updates.
  • Menu Help – Just above the banner area is a small open / close link titled “Menu Help”. Click it to get a brief description of the menus at the top of each page in The Family History Guide. This is a gentle reminder that you can find whatever you need on the website by using the drop-down menus; you don’t have to use the tiles or links on the Home Page.
  • Search – Also just above the banner area is the Search link; it has been moved into the header area on each page of the site so you can find it without scrolling. For more details, see our blog post The “Search” is On.
  • Font size and color – We’ve reduced the text size in the banner in order to fit two tiles on the right, and we’ve made the green color consistent on the page.
  • Mission recap – We’ve added a shortened version of our mission statement at the bottom of the banner: “Family history made easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable!”
  • Get Started – see the description below.
  • Quick Tour – This is a link to our Quick Tour video, but it will change when more videos are added (see “Sneak Peek” below).
  • Google Translate bar – This has been moved higher up the page so it’s visible without having to scroll down.
Here is a screenshot of the Home Page as of the date of this post.

If you are not familiar with The Family History Guide, be sure to click on the Get Started link and take a quick tour. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

A Family History Mission: Why Am I Here?

No. 34

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.

Why do older members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leave home and family for up to three years to serve missions all over the world? Since I presently have an opportunity to work with a number of senior missionary couples and have talked to hundreds over the years, I have asked the same question. Interestingly, some of the senior missionaries, even ones I am working with right now, are on their second or even third mission. What motivates these people? What is more personal, why was I motivated to come on a mission?

It would be too easy to say that they are motivated by their testimonies of Jesus Christ, the reality of the restored Gospel and latter-day prophets on the earth. This is too easy a way to explain the choice to serve a full-time mission because many older members have strong testimonies but do not serve full-time missions. There must be something else going on here and there is.

Life becomes almost unbelievably complicated as we grow older. There is this falsely advertised view of old age as the "Golden Years." They are mostly years filled with worries about medical, financial and family issues. Almost every one of the senior missionaries I have talked to has had or is still having serious medical challenges. The missionaries serving here in Maryland are no exception. Of course, there is a threshold where medical conditions prevent serving some kinds of full-time missions but fortunately, the senior mission system is highly adaptable and some can serve while living in their own homes where medical and other support is already in place. Visits to doctors and even hospitals by senior missionaries are not uncommon. However, our schedules are flexible enough to accommodate most of these challenges. What is different about those who serve full-time missions is their ability to put physical limitations in perspective.

There is a financial hurdle to overcome. But this is also less of an issue than might be imagined. The main part of the financial issues are ongoing obligations that prevent service. All of the senior missionaries have planned their lives to avoid excessive debt and have either the support of family or their own resources to pay for a mission. The decision to "put their houses in order" was made years or even decades before they choose to serve. I am guessing that this is the one most important deciding factor after physical health that prevents some from serving.

What does it cost to serve a full-time mission? To some extent that depends on the place and type of mission served. One of the missionary couples serving here with us sold their home to go on a mission. They presently have no home to go back to and are deciding where in the country they want to live after their mission is finished. Some missions are much less expensive than others. The key here is that senior missionaries have much more control over where and how they serve than the young missionaries. Of the six couples serving here in Annapolis, all but one couple asked to serve with FamilySearch.

We chose to serve a FamilySearch mission because we have been so totally involved with family history and were already serving as Family History Church Service Missionaries. We see the value of digitizing records and understand how that service fits into the overall effort of Temple work and the salvation of the dead. Personally, I have been closely involved with FamilySearch for years and I simply appreciate the opportunity to be involved in this aspect of genealogy. It is interesting that we have dozens of volunteers helping in the digitization effort in the Maryland State Archives, almost all of which are local genealogy society members or genealogists and not members of the Church. They see a need to help where the local members do not even know the opportunity exists and would not help if they did.

One of the issues, perhaps the one most talked about, is the "leaving" our families issue. In my own situation, my children and grandchildren live all over the United States. I am just as likely to see some of them when the come through or to Washington, D.C. as I would by living in any other place. But if, as grandparents, you are actively involved in the day to day care of family members either parents, children or grandchildren, you may need to think in terms of serving our of your home. This is a difficult decision to make. However, as Senior Missionaries, there is some latitude in attending important family occasions, even outside of your mission boundaries.

When we get right down to the motivation for serving a mission, it turns out to be highly personal. I do think more older members would consider a full-time mission if they knew more about the opportunities and the commitments involved. We are very happy to help in the Archives for a year and then we will probably find some other way to serve.

Take some time to seriously think about it and look on for the missionary service opportunities. If you do not think you can serve a full-time mission, seriously consider a part-time Church Service mission.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Comments on the online connections to

Obviously, to use the website and all its resources, you need to have some sort of device that connects to the internet and a connection. We had a discussion last evening at the Annapolis, Maryland Family History Center (FHC) about teaching a group of young people about Indexing. The entire Indexing program is now online and web-based. Most of these youth did not have laptops and would be depending on smartphones of some kind. The main issues were the size of the device's screen and the lack of a regular keyboard. Oh, the activity was taking place outside of the FHC so they would not have access to the Center's computers.

Another topic of conversation was the poor internet connection in the FHC. I found out that for some months now, the Director has been trying to resolve why the connection slows down to zero when there are only a few people using the computers. I was one of those complaining that I could not view the "restricted" digital images because the Center's computers would not load the images. I was having the same problem on different computers in the FHC.

This got me thinking about connecting to in general. As the website gets more functions and features, such as the move to web-based Indexing, the problem of sustaining a good connection to the internet and having appropriate devices will become more and more significant. Working with the website shares some of the same common limitations that everyone has in connecting to the internet, such as, the necessity of having either a paid or free WiFi connection.

Many people rely on publically available computers in Family History Centers, libraries, and other public places because they either do not own a computer or do not have their own commercially available connection. WiFi is appreciably slower and less reliable than a physical cable link using Ethernet. Nearly all of the chapels of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, here in the United States,  now have WiFi available in some form or another. However, I find that a common complaint is that once there is a meeting in the chapel, the WiFi quickly becomes too slow to use. It is apparent that many units of the Church do not either have the resources to solve this problem or do not know who to ask for assistance. The challenge is that many of the Church's programs, not just, are web-based. The leaders usually have a physical cable connection that they can rely on, but the members are faced with using an unreliable WiFi connection. Personally, I have prepared all my lessons, classes, and teaching to presentations that do not rely on an internet connection just for this reason. This last Sunday, for example, we were attending the Spanish-speaking Branch in our area and in the Sunday School Class we attended, every one of the class participants were relying on their smartphones or tablets to participate in the class.

Other examples from are the "restricted" digitized records that can only be viewed in a FHC, I mentioned above. I have written about this recently, see "Restricted Records on" My frustrating experience is only one example of the complex problem in maintaining a workable connection with a complex website.

In addition, in some locations in the United States and around the world, the main issue is having an internet connection at all. One solution is to make more and more of the web-based programs, such as Indexing smartphone compatible. The reality of today's world, especially with the youth, is that most of the population relies on smartphones for their internet experience. Only a few of the Church's web products work well on these small devices. The challenge will be to adapt to the reality of small screens. has some well-developed Family Tree and Memories apps, but many of the other functions are not well adapted for small screens and limited keyboards.

I suggest that these issues of connection and usability will become major obstacles to increasing the use of the internet-based Church programs by members unless solutions are implemented.

Monday, February 5, 2018

77% of the historical records on FamilySearch cannot be found by searching
According to the above blog post, 77 percent of the free historical records on can’t be found by searching. Quoting from the post entitled, "Finding Elusive Records on FamilySearch,"
If a basic search on is the only approach you use to find your ancestors, you might be missing out on a lot of potential discoveries. The records you can find by performing basic searches represent only a small portion of what’s available on FamilySearch. 
In fact, 77 percent of the free historical records on can’t be found by searching. That’s a lot of information about your family just waiting to be discovered! In order to tap into these hard-to-find records, you’ll need to know how to use resources like unindexed image collections and the FamilySearch catalog, as well as some more advanced search features.
This is not new news. Most of us who are extensively involved with know that, in many cases, page by page searching of the records is absolutely necessary. In fact, it may be necessary even if we find what we are looking for by using the Search Engine or function. This is not a particularly appealing prospect to beginning researchers and so is not talked about much by those promoting the large online genealogy database websites such as FamilySearch.

In addition, the hundreds of thousands of records on that are only listed in the Catalog are also unavailable to online searches and must be viewed and searched one record at a time.

Slogging through the records is just a fact of life for experienced genealogists and historians. However, there are a lot of other techniques that may help minimize the need to look at every single record every time. Here is a video from Robert Kehrer, Senior Product Manager for FamilySearch's search and hinting technologies that explains more.

Finding Elusive Records in FamilySearch

Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Family History Mission: Helping the Midshipmen at the Naval Academy

No. 33

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.

Our Stake in Annapolis includes the Midshipmen from the United States Naval Academy who would like to attend church services. There is a missionary couple assigned to handle Military Relations and they have organized some of the other missionaries to help with transportation and support of the Midshipmen. Every Sunday, certain designated Senior Missionaries help with this service.

We are really impressed with the young men and women who are attending the Naval Academy and were happy to be invited to help transport and support them. They can only leave the Academy for a few hours each week to go to Church. It is quite a process to get approved to go on to the Academy and pick up the Midshipmen. We have now gone part way through the approval process and will soon be able to help.

Meanwhile, we have also been invited to meet with the Spanish speaking members in the Spa Creek Branch on Sunday. My wife Ann does not speak Spanish but understands some. We are happy to help with the Branch because we can help the members with their genealogy. I have done a lot of Latin American genealogical research over the years for friends and patrons at the Libraries and I am looking forward to doing some more.

We have had a couple of opportunities now to visit the Naval Academy and are impressed with the lovely architecture and the interesting historical connections.

One thing I am beginning to learn about on this Full-time mission is that there are going to be a lot of opportunities that are unexpected and very interesting. By the way, I am now scheduled to teach at two different genealogy conferences later this year here in Maryland. More about that as the schedules become available to publish. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Family History Mission: A Visit to Downtown Washington, DC

No. 32

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.

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." All full-time missionaries are encouraged to take advantage of local cultural companies on preparation day. We took an opportunity to visit downtown Washington DC and visit the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing and spend some time in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This exhibit of $1 million in $10 bills is at the entrance to the Bureau. Here are some additional highlights of our visit.

We find it convenient to drive to the nearest train station and take the Metro into downtown DC.

About half the ride is in the subway. It was bitterly cold and very windy. We just barely survived walking from the train station to the Bureau. The sunshine didn't help much.

 This is the front of the Bureau.

 We were surprised at the poor condition of the building.

The tour is rather short and so we walked to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and almost froze again.

This museum is huge and we only saw less than about 1/3 of the entire museum. We were impressed by some of the beautiful views inside the museum.

We walked to the nearest Metro station and wrote back to our car. We will likely visit downtown DC many times during our stay in Annapolis, Maryland.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

What works on the FamilySearch Family Tree and what doesn't

The Family Tree is a complex program that has several rather disparate objectives. Some of the aspects of those objectives work very well, others not so well. I will explore what is working and what is not working with a series of hypothetical users and the consequences of their interaction with the Family Tree.

Before getting to the hypotheticals, it is important to understand some of the underlying objectives or reasons for the existence of the Family Tree. The Family Tree is the creation of FamilySearch, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its main objective is to provide a way to "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers" as is expressed in Malachi 4:6. The members of the Church follow this admonition by providing vicarious ordinances for their ancestors in the temples of the Church. See for example, "The Purpose of Temple and Family History Work." All of the real questions about the Family Tree then become centered on how well it is doing in supporting that work.

The Family Tree does not exist in a vacuum. It is the end product of over a hundred years of attempts to provide opportunities to the members of the Church to fulfill their mandate to provide those saving ordinances to their ancestors. The Church has now built or has in progress over 170 temples throughout the world. The Family Tree is the presently the sole provider of names to all those temples (assuming the name extraction program has entirely ended.)

The website and specifically the Family Tree is the culmination of all of the previous programs that were used to prepare names for submission the temples. As such, the website allows and assists members (and others outside of the Church) to identify their ancestors and relatives, document their lives and then provide the saving ordinances for those ancestors and relatives in the temples.

So, the question arises, what does the Family Tree do that assists in this underlying objective and what doesn't it do so well? Where are the flat tires that slow done or prevent the work from being accomplished? Some of the good things about the website are not directly related to the ultimate objective as well as some of the difficult parts of the website that also do not affect the goal of advancing temple work.

Now I can start with the hypotheticals.

Hypothetical Potential User No. 1

This hypothetical user is entirely new to the concept of finding ancestors. I will call this hypothetical user the "Potential" users. The Potential User does not know about the Family Tree and if anything has only a vague idea about family history or anything associated with family history. So, how does this person fit into the picture of an online website called the Family Tree? By the way, at this level, there is no difference between a Potential who is a member of the Church and one who is not. There are many people who are members of the Church, who may have heard some talks or instruction about "doing family history" who have not yet connected those teachings with any type of personal action that they need to participate in. Outside of the Church, people may have heard the term "genealogy" or "family history" but have no interest or knowledge of what those terms actually mean.

This potential group is sometimes characterized as "having an interest in families" but that interest does not rise to the level of any action. They are part of the huge number of people in the world who are totally ignorant of the existence of an internet program called FamilySearch.

Combined with other large online genealogy-based programs, FamilySearch does a fairly good job of advertising its existence. By no means does it have the reach of a program such as with over 93 million users, but FamilySearch is pretty good at promoting itself. Are new users attracted to the website? Well, yes. Personally, I regularly help people both inside and outside of the Church sign into the program for the first time. I have done this hundreds, perhaps thousands of times.

We can leave Potential now and move on to another hypothetical level where the Potential User becomes an initial user.

Hypothetical Initial User No 2

The next hypothetical user is one who becomes aware of the website. What happens to this user? This is where we begin to see what works and what doesn't.  Quite frankly, the website is confusing and, in my experience, very few first-time users have any idea what they need to do. You would think that a big blue button that says "Get started" would help new users. But it doesn't. Some of these hypothetical Initials will explore the program, but many are put off by the program and give up. The key here is having a mentor, someone to guide the Initial user through the first few steps of becoming aware of what the website has to offer since the website itself does not provide that experience.

In essence, the website assumes an interest and a level of engagement that seldom exists in the Potential User and is only rudimentary in Initial User. If the Initial Users continue to try to use the website, they become Beginning Users.

Hypothetical Beginning User No. 3

The Beginning User comes to the website with some practical knowledge about families, family history, and online family tree programs. The program is still difficult, but with some motivation, this user is able to begin working with the program. Now we get to the issues of what does and doesn't work. The Family Tree has a rather complicated set of "rules" about how information is entered and supported. None of these rules are obvious. The Beginning User immediately is faced with warning icons and all sorts of arcane terms. At this level, the Beginning User is baffled by the program. Even though there are really helpful instructional materials available, the Get Help link is equally baffling. There is no way, easy or otherwise, to tell what information presented in the Family Tree is accurate and what is not accurate. There is no way for the Beginning User to know how to find information about their family or how to "properly" enter such information into the Family Tree. There is an underlying assumption made by the Family Tree that the Beginner can just "figure out" what needs to be done.

After having taught hundreds (thousands) of beginners, I find that there is a long list of fundamental questions that need to be answered for any Beginning User. For instance, The Family History Guide presents an organized and structured explanation of the program, but there are only a few very obscure links to this resource on the website and there is nothing else that instructs a Beginning User about how or why the program exists. At this point, some people would ask, "where is the manual?" Except for third-party programs, such as The Family History Guide, no such manual exists.

At this time, if you go to the program and click on the Get Started button, you will be asked to register. If you register, you are basically lost. There is nothing telling you what to do next. The Beginning User is offered a number of interesting choices but there is no clear way to enter the program except a companion program based on a short paper book called My Family. If you have already begun using the program, you are taken directly to a fan chart. Again, with no explanation about what you are supposed to be doing and no consideration of what the Beginning User would like to accomplish such as finding a parent or grandparent.

Registered users also have a "personalized" and very busy looking startup page after signing into the website. In my experience with Beginners, this page gets mixed reviews. Many of the Beginning Users get bogged down in tasks that they do not want to do and do not understand. If they persist, they may find some of the links useful.

Hypothetical Basic Level User No. 4

Let's assume that the Beginning User somehow gets over the first hurdles to using the program and actually begins entering family information into the Family Tree or in the case of a member of the Church, wants to "find a name to take to the temple." Now the program gets really complicated. Programmers, engineers, and experienced computer users can figure out how to navigate the program, but the average Basic Level User is lost. Once again, instruction from a mentor is indispensable. At this level and every succeeding level, all of the Users begin seeing some of the results of working with a collaborative Family Tree program based on a wiki model. Almost universally, there is frustration with changes initiated by other users are observed and begin to irritate all of the users.

What about the hypothetical "young savvy computer user?" The real "savvy" part of the young user is that they know that they can click on icons and buttons and get some reaction from the program and they aren't afraid to do this indiscriminately. Yes, if you begin to click on everything, you will soon get an idea of how the program works. But this is not the way to learn the program's objectives and purpose. Many very young Basic Level Users see the program as a "video game" where the objective is to find "green icons." They are rewarded for finding all the green icons they are able to find and soon learn that random clicking on the extensions of the Landscape and Descendancy views will produce results. They have little or no idea about the major objectives of the program and only in rare cases add anything substantial to the information already contained in the program. What is more serious is that these young users only rarely connect the green icons with real people. If they have supportive parents who provide temple opportunities they can make the connection.

This level of use brings up an important question. Returning again to the topic of extraction programs, is this level of use just a substitute for name extraction programs? What is the real difference between taking a random name to the temple and taking a name randomly located in a vast family tree? Of course, there is the "Show My Relationship" link. However, most people I work with do not understand how these links work or understand their relationship to distant relatives.

Hypothetical Intermediate Level User No. 5

Moving on, the person who reaches the Intermediate Level finally begins to see how the program works. The Intermediate Level person is even more frustrated by "changes" in the program but can see some results from adding sources and looking at the records on the website. Many Intermediate Level users are fixated on the "end of line" people, thinking that this is where they need to focus their attention. But here is where the person reaching this level has the most questions.

Here also, we reach one of the fundamentally fatal flaws in the program's operation: Hoarders. If the objective of the program, as understood at this level, is to "find names to take to the temple," then the person with the "most names" wins the game. I have heard from a usually reliable source that some people have filled their Temple list with hundreds of thousands of names. Given that each person and family has a finite number of opportunities to attend the temple, these huge accumulations of names are defeating the main purpose of providing names for the temples. FamilySearch has imposed a two-year limit on maintaining lists on the Family Tree, but these users bypass that restriction by printing off thousands or names. I see these people all the time with briefcases and notebooks full of names. Some boast about the number of names on their list. The program desperately needs limits on the number of names that can be reserved and a concerted effort to ferret out the large caches of cards. Oh, by the way, it is my understanding, if one of the ordinances on the card is done, then the two-year limit doesn't apply.

Some of this hoarding is justified by supplying "names" to ward and stake members. Again, we are back to the issue of extraction. What difference is there in obtaining a name from a friend or from the temple?

Of course, not all Intermediate Level Users are hoarders. Most of the regular users of the program probably fall into this category and much of the real work of adding new names to the Family Tree likely comes from this group also. But this is also the group who would benefit most from making all of the parts of the program work together. For example, few users of the program realize that the search engines only search through indexed records and that there are millions of unindexed records that still must be searched in the same way they have been for years and years. It is also noteworthy that many resources on the website are underused because they are so obscure. The digitized books are an example in this category.

Eventually, with persistence, the Intermediate Level User gains information and research skills and has a good experience using the website.

Hypothetical Experienced Genealogist User No. 6

Some experienced genealogists have "grown up" with FamilySearch. Some come from different backgrounds and learn about the program after spending years of research. Either way, the program's value is directly proportional to the level of expertise of the user. So advanced researchers appreciate the resources and use them far more than those with less experience. For an Experienced Genealogist, the program still has some of the same frustrations experienced by less sophisticated users. But the resources more than make up for any limitations. An experienced researcher will overlook the less developed aspects of the program and find the wealth of information that is available, so found in no other place.

Personally, I love the program. It works wonderfully for me. I think is it only getting better all the time. But even for programs that I love, I can still find issues and things I would change. For example, I would like a way to opt out of the "personalized startup page." I don't use it and don't find anything helpful in a page full of information about people I am not researching. On the other hand, some users may find the concept really helpful.

The main issue I have with the program is that it sometimes looses its focus on the ultimate objectives set out at the beginning of this post. I am really privileged and happy to be able to help add even more digitized records to the collections on FamilySearch. Some of the older records we have seen so far at the Maryland State Archives really need preserving. Let's all hope FamilySearch keeps improving the program and we keep finding new people to add to the Family Tree.