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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Lost in a Family History Center?

Most Family History Centers are so small that there is little chance of actually getting physically lost in one of them. But there is a real problem with being lost in the sense of having an active and viable Family History Center with real patrons and a supportive and actively involved staff. I have a friend who was the Director of a local Family History Center, who told me that he went to the Center every day for a year and did not have even one patron come in. He was truly lost in a Family History Center.

What defines a Family History Center? Simply put, a Family History Center is a place that has an internet connection to the Family History Center Portal. Facilities with computers and other equipment may have family history activities and even a staff but technically they are not Family History Centers. The current Family History Centers are listed in the Help menu on under the "Contact Us" drop-down menu choice.

Family History Centers are recognized as such by FamilySearch, a corporation owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, the facility and staff, including the director, are the responsibility of the local sponsoring Church unit or units. One Stake can sponsor a Family History Center or even sponsor more than one Center in the same Stake. It is also possible that two or more Stakes can combine resources and sponsor a multi-stake center. Over the years these multi-stake centers have undergone several name changes. The current name for large centers is a FamilySearch Library. Even more recently, FamilySearch Libraries are evolving into centers that sponsor a Family Discovery Center with the electronic equipment or software equipment to support such a designation. The prototype Family Discovery Center is now located on the first floor of the Salt Lake City main Family History Library.

The key here is the support and involvement of the local Stake leadership. The Family History Centers either thrive or die depending on this interest and support. If the directors are promoting the Center then it can survive with benign neglect for some time, but eventually, the operation of the Center suffers due to lack of staff and equipment maintenance.

Ultimately, the Director or Directors and the staff determine the amount of activity in the Center. If they have adequate support from the Stake leaders, they need to be proactive in making the Family History Center a place to come and do research and get help. One key component of a viable Center is training and classes for both the staff and the patrons. All of the successful Family History Centers are also open both during the day and in the evenings. Sundays, the Centers should be available for use by the resident Wards. There are a lot of variations as to staffing, equipment, and the actual facilities, but innovation is profitable in producing interest.

Don't feel lost in the desert. There are plenty of good examples online of successful, vibrant, and growing Family History Centers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Family History Mission: Challenges and Blessings

Hall of Records, Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, Maryland
No. 71

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 or click back through all the posts.

Working in the Maryland State Archives as Record Preservation Missionaries for FamilySearch and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has its challenges, concerns and a great measure of blessings. We are now well into our mission, but it is interesting to reflect on the time we have been here in Annapolis, Maryland. 

As I have written in the past, our missionary experience is quite different than what we expected. Previously, I had only been aware of the proselyting side of missionary work mostly done by the full-time young Elder and Sister Missionaries. In our specific calling, we have limited contact with the younger missionaries. But as an exception to the rule, this past Saturday we helped the full-time Sister missionaries take an investigator to the Washington, D.C. Temple Visitors Center. It was interesting to see the progress of the two-year renovation of the Temple from the Visitors Center. 

If you look closely, you can see some construction on the third spire from the left. For a few hours we got to talk to an investigator and work with the Sister missionaries in the Visitors Center and those serving in the Spa Creek Branch of the Annapolis, Stake where we serve. One of our two Sister missionaries is finishing her mission this week and the other is being transferred. We are getting two Elders to replace them in the Branch.

Another blessing in our lives in the opportunity to work with the Spa Creek Branch of the Annapolis Stake (Spanish). My wife, Ann, has found her place in the Primary where the children all speak English. We have also been able to help the Branch member find family names to take to the Temple. They have just had a Branch Temple excursion and have another planned for the Fall. We have seen the members' temple and family history activity increase.

We have the normal challenges of age. We all bring our physical condition with us and have some of the same problems as we would have had even if we had stayed at home. None of the missionaries serving here with us have had to leave, but we have had a few trips to see doctors.

One very persistent challenge is driving the Washington, D.C. area. The average speed on the freeways when there is a moderate traffic flow is about 80 miles per hour. Every so often we have freeway racers go by weaving in and out of the traffic at well over 100 miles an hour. I have estimated some of the racers at over 120 mph. This is extremely scary.

As I have written recently, we worked our way through the last of the court books and have started doing flat paper, i.e. documents submitted to the court. We are not even going to make a dent in all the documents that need to be done. We are finding that digitizing the documents is more physically demanding than the books. All four of the cameras at the Archives are now working on the same type of documents.

The weather here in Annapolis changes frequently. After living in Mesa, Arizona for so many years where the weather is always sunny and warmer unless there is an infrequent storm, we find the weather to be interesting. Some days are cool and nice, some are warm and humid. The 4th of July was very hot and humid even until late at night. I like the variability of the weather.

We are really blessed with the Senior Missionaries and Volunteers who work with us at the Archives. We can't imagine how hard this job would be if you were out there alone as a couple. We have enjoyed have frequent Mexican dinners together and a few other activities. However, mostly we all do things on our own.

Overall, we are extremely blessed to be here. We love our Branch. We love the people we work with and we love the area. We are glad we came on a full-time mission.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Promoting a Local Family History Center
I have visited and learned about dozens (hundreds?) of small and large Family History Centers over the years all across the United States and into Canada. Recently, there is a lot of talk and interest in the future of the smaller centers. With the demise of a major Family History Center such as the Mesa, Arizona FamilySearch Library, I have received a new wave of comments and questions about the viability of Family History Centers.

One thing about a Family History Center, either large or small, they only thrive with a constant stream of promotion. The Centers where the director and staff simply show up to open the door and wait for patrons is the clear path to being completely ignored. I can easily give examples of Centers that are bucking the trend by focusing on a consistent and broad range of outreach promotion and varied activities. The page above is a good example of a Center that is pushing back and refuses to be ignored and unused.

Of course, promotion is not the only ingredient in establishing a viable and active Family History Center, but it is the key to keeping the operation going. Here is another example of an active, vibrant Family History Center.
These Centers obtain a high level of visibility and attendance by promoting a constant stream of activities and classes by means of websites and newsletters. While some Centers seem to struggle to have enough staff, others, with consistent promotion and innovative activities overflow with people every time they are open.

Here is another example.

Who is going to promote your Family History Center if you do not? I suggest that you start by looking around online at all the websites and newsletters available from other successful Family History Centers and get to work in working with your local Center.

By the way, it also helps to have Temple and Family History Consultants that realize that working with Ward and Branch members in the local Family History Center is a very effective way to keep busy and happy.

Since I have been here in Annapolis, Maryland, I have had terrific support from the Spa Creek Branch Presidency.  They are working with the members of the Branch so that my wife and I have people to work with every Sunday during the Sunday School time. This is in contrast to Wards where the leaders ignore this golden opportunity and put family history at the bottom of their list of things to do and think about. Even if you do not have a permanent facility, I have worked with Wards that had the members bring computers every week and used the time for help and instruction.

There is no reason to have an inactive Family History Center other than lack of commitment and interest on the part of the directors and staff.

I will have a lot more to say about this subject.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Save African Heritage: Support FamilySearch's Oral History Program

Save African Heritage: Support FamilySearch's Oral History Program

I have had several contacts over the years with people involved in preserving oral histories in Africa and elsewhere. I have also done a lot of oral histories, some of which have been preserved in the Brigham Young University Special Collections Library. I am an active supporter of oral histories and plan to do more when I get back to Provo, Utah.

Here are some in-depth articles about the FamilySearch oral history projects.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Many New Videos on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel
The Brigham Young University Family History Library YouTube Channel continues to grow with the addition of new videos. There are 17 new videos uploaded in the last month. If you haven't taken advantage of this free resource for learning about different aspects of family history and genealogical research you are missing out on a great opportunity.

I did one webinar this month and plan to do one a month until I get back to Provo. Meanwhile, the wonderful contributors there in Provo and the surrounding area have been keeping busy with new offerings on a regular basis. Here is a partial screenshot of some of the new videos.

If you have any suggestions for new videos you can leave me a comment. You can also see links to the videos on the BYU Family History Library Website.

A Family History Mission: From Books to Paper

No. 70

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 or click back through all the posts.

It took us an entire day to convert our camera station over from digitizing books to digitizing flat paper. Most of the day was spent working out the automation of the program that runs the controls for making the images. We use an external device that is programmed for several different functions and by moving to digitizing flat paper, we have a different series of tasks to perform and so we need to change the programming of the switches. For example, we need to have the digitization program we use automatically crop the area of the photo so the image has a black border. Here is an example of a digital image that has been automatically cropped. 

Maryland, Anne Arundel County, probate
Accounts of sale, T2552/C27-1, EV, v. 1, 17 Feb 1777-27 Jan 1779
Since this is a book, the right side of the image shows the center of the book and a part of the adjoining left-hand page. The software will automatically allow the user to take a photo of the two-page spread and the automatically split the images on the middle of the page with a definable overlap. The main difficulty in digitizing books is that they do not lay flat unless they have very few pages or the binding is entirely broken. If you look closely at the images, you can usually see some of the other pages of the book along the edge of the page away from the binding. 

After only one full day of digitizing paper, we realized that we had to relearn a lot of the commands and procedures that had become automatic to us when we were doing books. Surprisingly, the work also turned out to be considerably more tiring than doing books for some reason. Fortunately, we have the other experienced Senior Missionaries there to help get us out of our mistakes as we go along. We have to constantly keep monitoring our progress to make sure we have overlooked one step. If we do miss a step, we have to figure out how to go back and make the correction. 

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we often talk about Temple work and Missionary Work and other kinds of work. What we learn from these experiences is that the key component of service of any kind is work. Real work. Hard work. Time-consuming work. Tiring work. I see a great divide in Church and in the world in general between those who are willing to work and those who try to avoid working. It is real work to get up five days a week at 6:00 am and get ready to go to work. It is also hard work to sit or stand all day and prepare or digitize documents. 

I think it is a tragedy that so many in our society look forward to "retirement." What would I do if I did not work? I cannot imagine spending time playing some pointless game or whatever. 

One thing happens when we work. We learn to love our work and the people who work with us. This may not always happen when we work in the world's pursuits, but it is inevitable when we work for the Church and serve our Savior in some way. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Are these new developments for the Family Tree?

Just when you got comfortable with the Family Tree, there may be some new developments on the way. Above is a screenshot from showing a possible change to the detail page for all the entries in the Family Tree program. Remember, this is a Beta program and if you accidentally add any information or make any changes, they WILL BE LOST when you leave the program. So this is a place to look and see and try things out not do actual work.

Here is another possible addition to the Detail Pages.

Both the timeline and the map would be welcome additions. But while they are making changes, why don't they make the difference between the "Tree" link and the "View Tree" link more obvious.

Another possible change moves the Life Story to a "Talk" link.

You can see the suggested changes for yourself by logging in to the website.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The End of an Era: Mesa FamilySearch Library is Closing Completely

No other recent event points out the tremendous rapid changes in the world of genealogy and family history than the closing of the Mesa FamilySearch Library (aka Mesa Family History Center, Mesa Multiregional Family History Center). This Family History Center had been in operation since the 1930s and began with a library inside the Mesa Temple itself.

Now, it has been announced that the Mesa FamilySearch Library will be totally closed on Friday, September 14, 2018 at 5:00 pm. I am sad I will not be there for the final day.

Why is the closing of this facility so important? The closing is really a symbolic event. The closing of this very active and vibrant Family History Center represents the changes from all of the traditional ways of doing family history. In the most recent announcement, it was even made clear that the "missionaries" serving there would not be able to continue holding conferences as they faithfully have during even the years when they had no facility to work in. This is the final nail in the coffin.

I have written many times about the significant changes in family history and genealogy as it has been done for a very long time. Even though there are still a lot of people who practice genealogy in a very traditional way, I can see that technological changes, changes in values and the inexorable changes in attitude have finally done their work and forced us to move on.

I will miss the friends and acquaintances I worked with for so many years. My words cannot express the feelings I have for the dedication and huge knowledge bank of experience that is represented by this Family History Center. No new center can replace this storehouse of experience.

It is time to say goodbye and best wishes to all who have made such a significant effort over the years to help people find their family and their heritage.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

A Family History Mission: Finishing Books, Moving to Paper

One of the last books we digitized
No. 69

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 or click back through all the posts.

During our entire assignment here in Annapolis, Maryland at the Maryland State Archives, we have been digitizing books. We also understand that previous volunteers (missionaries) have been digitizing books at the Archives for about five or six years. These books are the copies of the documents made for the court records throughout Maryland since the 1600s. 

We finally digitized the last available book this week. However, there is still one county in question and some books that are in "conservation" that will eventually need to be digitized, but my wife and I are now moving on to digitize "flat paper" or in other words, the documents that were submitted to the courts in Maryland directly by the people involved in the probate actions. 

Our last few books were a real challenge. As you can see from the photo above, they were in pretty bad condition. But we finished all of the books that are readily available. 

Now in moving to paper records, I thought it a good idea to show how these records are processed for digitization. We are digitizing Probate Records from the Maryland State Archives and each of the counties. The individual records are stored in boxes on shelves in the archives around the state. The books are also stored on the same shelves. At the Maryland State Archives, these are all in climatically controlled storage areas. The county records are stored in other locations. Here is what some of the shelves look like.

I have written about the books previously. The paper records are stored in boxes or clamshell boxes. Here are photos of both types of boxes.

Different Archives have different methods of storing their records. They also have different levels of access and restrictions about viewing and handling the records. Note that the age of wearing white cloth gloves to work with paper documents has ended. Archives have learned that bare hands cause less damage to paper than gloves.

The boxes of documents, most of which have never been touched since they were filed away, are delivered to the document preparation (prep) area.

The volunteers and missionaries work at two long tables set up in the Main Reading Room of the Archives. Here is a photo of the table with the missionaries and volunteers working on preparing the documents.

It looks dark, but there are individual lights shining on the table for the workers. Here is a box of the folded documents ready to be sorted and put into folders for the prep work of opening the documents and filling out a target sheet that waypoints the information (i.e. partially indexes the name of the deceased, the date of the probate filing and other information used by the Archives, but not yet used by FamilySearch).

The documents are sorted by date and put in individual file folders a few in each folder to await unfolding.

Now the documents are ready for the missionaries and volunteers to process.

Each folder has from three to eight or nine documents. They are then processed by carefully unfolding the documents and then extracting information from the documents and entering the information in a target sheet. All work is done in pencil and no marks are made on the documents. If there are any metal fasteners on the documents, they are removed. The metal will rust and damage the documents. The processed documents are then replaced in the box. The processed documents are each reviewed to make sure that the information recorded is correct.

The information from the target sheets is then entered into a spreadsheet which becomes an index of the documents.

The processed documents are returned to the control of the Archive staff. The staff of the Archives continues processing the documents and then delivers the documents to the camera workstations.

The camera stations are set up to digitize the documents. During the process, the target sheets are also digitized and the information is cross-checked with the spreadsheet. This is how the processed documents are stacked and ready to digitize.

The camera operator takes each document and digitizes it while checking it off on the spreadsheet. The plastic plate shown sitting on the box is used when the documents will not lay flat.

The digitized documents are then returned to the Archives personnel for storage. The digital images are stored on a hard drive and each week, the hard drive is sent to Salt Lake City for further processing and ultimately, the images are put online on the website and the Archives receives a copy of the digital files for their own use.

This whole process runs smoothly because of the highly experienced Maryland State Archives staff members. The Archives staff are great to work with and provide a huge amount of support to all of the missionaries and volunteers. It is a great privilege to be involved in this great work of preserving genealogically important records.