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

Sunday, July 15, 2018

What is the Relationship Between Mormons and Genealogy?
First of all, the name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The term "Mormon" is a nickname that came from the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. So correctly, the title of this post should be "What is the Relationship Between Members of The Church of Jesus Christ and Genealogy?"

The answer to that question is that members of the Church have fundamental beliefs that our Heavenly Father has given us a plan whereby our family can be together forever. We believe that this  Plan of Salvation was taught by our Savior Jesus Christ while he was on this earth and through his prophets both anciently and in our own day. We believe that life continues after we depart this world to live in a place called the Spirit World. We also believe that through the ordinance performed in our sacred Temples, during this life, families can be sealed together and live as families in heaven. We also believe that by identifying our ancestors and their descendants (our cousins) we can provide the blessings available in the Temples by acting for and on behalf of our ancestors and other relatives as proxies in the Temples. However, we also believe that in order for those ordinances to take effect, the ancestor or relative has to voluntarily accept those ordinances and become converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here are some links that explain more about these beliefs.

Essentially, we use family history (genealogy) records to help us identify our ancestors and other relatives in order to provide them with the opportunity to receive the blessings available in our sacred Temples. This is a personal responsibility of each member of the Church. 

Now, on a practical level, not all of the members of the Church are involved directly in family history and even among those who are interested, there are considerable differences between the members in their level of interest and involvement. As with all things in the Church, the members can choose to be actively involved or not. There are those in the Church who develop a very high level of interest in genealogy and become competent genealogists. 

Becuase of our basic beliefs, the Church has been involved in actively promoting genealogy and family history since the 1800s. Further, as a result of these beliefs, the Church has maintained a worldwide effort to find and preserve valuable genealogical records. Presently, the Church genealogical organization is called FamilySearch. The records that have been accumulating since the 1800s are now made available on a website called The website,, is free and open to everyone whether they are members of the Church or not. Some members of the Church are so interested in the whole genealogical process that they are willing, at their own expense, to serve as full-time volunteer representatives of FamilySearch. This is what my wife and I do presently. We are serving as Record Preservation Specialists (camera operators) in the Maryland State Archives digitizing records that will become available to both the Archives and FamilySearch. 

The idea of doing family history from the aspect of a religious motivation might seem strange but when you understand the reasons and beliefs of those who are so involved, you understand and realize that this interest is simply a natural outgrowth of those fundamental beliefs. 

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.