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

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Can Family History Bridge the Gaps?

Over the past few years, the large online genealogy companies have spent millions of dollars selling their products. Recently, some of the largest companies have created a new market for genealogy related products by selling DNA tests. Ultimately, however, all of the companies face the gaps in the demographics of the genealogy community: age and technological sophistication. For example, do the companies dumb down their products to increase their appeal to a larger audience or do they risk losing the hardcore genealogical community entirely by directing their products to the 18 to 20 something crowd who could care less about history and ancestry. As it is, almost none of the websites or advertising used by large online companies visually represent the main users of their products.

Underneath, these superficial manifestations of gaps between an anticipated, ever-expanding genealogical market and the reality of the demographics of those who are actually interested in genealogy, is a more serious problem: there are real gaps between those who are willing and able to do genealogical research and those who the large genealogical companies assume are their target markets. The success of selling DNA test kits has accelerated the widening of these gaps and will ultimately result in a crash in sales when the potential market for DNA test kits becomes saturated. The sale of DNA test kits is currently a classic example of a marketing fad. A fad product usually doesn't have much actual utility, which is one of the reasons sales drop quickly after the initial public fascination subsides. See "Fad: Definition & Examples." The utility of a DNA test lies in direct proportion to the amount of actual genealogical research done by the recipient of the test.

Long term, the only companies that will expand their genealogical customer base are those that can bridge the gap between serious genealogical research and the products they offer. For example, FamilySearch has introduced the concept of a "Family Discovery Center." This is a quasi-entertainment experience tied to some very basic genealogical concepts. The main challenge for the long term utility of the concept depends on whether or not FamilySearch is able to add value to the experience by adding technology. Once someone has visited a Family Discovery Center, what is the possibility that they will repeat the experience multiple times? Aren't the Family Discovery Centers in the same position as DNA testing in that repeat sales are unlikely?

But in both the DNA test example and the Family Discovery Center, the real gap is that between the initial experience and the utility of the experience considering the need for educated, serious genealogical research to take advantage of both. Herein lies the challenge. Can genealogy as a persuasion create a bridge over the gap between passive interest and valid research? Presently, there is no clear path to the bridge much less a bridge to cross absent an extensive and lengthy education process. If you want an easily observable metric for measuring the gap, we already have one: The Family History Guide. This one website encapsulates the basic instruction and knowledge that will begin the process of learning how to do adequate genealogical research. Rather than present essentially limited, dead-end experiences such as an isolated DNA test or a single trip to a Family Discovery Center, the path to the bridge is a systematic, structured and fully educational experience such as The Family History Guide. But as long as there is no clear connection between the needed education, i.e. The Family History Guide website, and the limited experiences, many potential genealogists will get stopped at the gaps. Simply put, The Family History Guide website is an excellent example of what the bridge between passive interest and competent research looks like.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

What is The Family History Guide?
This past week, I presented at a very well organized and well-attended genealogy conference or seminar in Yuma, Arizona. Besides having fabulous winter weather, Yuma is a small, mainly agricultural town on the Arizona border between Arizona and California and Mexico. It has also become a major winter destination for "snowbirds" or people who migrate from their homes in the cold country to warmer areas every year.

What I find almost every time I give genealogical presentations is that many people are "interested" in genealogy but either have no idea how to get started or do not know how to progress past the "casual interest" stage. I often talk to people who pull out a stack of paper and say something to the effect of what should I do now? The answer to both these questions and many others is simple: The Family History Guide.

So many people out there in the larger genealogical community are, in a real sense, remaking the wheel. They are talking and teaching about "how to get started in genealogy" when the blueprint for success is already free, online and readily accessible. But before going further in answering the question in the title of this post, I need to explain my interest and involvement in The Family History Guide website.

Almost five years ago, I was introduced to the newly developed website of The Family History Guide at a meeting of the UVTAGG or Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group. I immediately recognized the value of a comprehensive approach to teaching family history or genealogy in a concise, sequenced, and comprehensive way. Subsequently, I volunteered to help the developers with publicity and over time, both my wife and I became even more involved and both of us presently serve on the Board of Directors of the sponsoring organization, The Family History Guide Association. Why would we do this? Basically, because we are interested in advancing genealogical knowledge around the world and see this website as a major solution to this challenge.

We do not get paid. We are volunteers. The entire website and all the development and support is provided through donated funds handled by the 501 (c) 3 non-profit corporation known as The Family History Guide Association. By the way, you can donate to the Association through the website. Detailed information about the corporation is on the website. See is the world's largest source of information on nonprofit organizations.

How effective is The Family History Guide?

Well, it has been used now for years to teach the missionaries at the Brigham Young University Family History Library and some of the missionaries at the Salt Lake City, Utah Family History Library. It is used now by thousands of people around the world to advance family history and genealogy in a major way. It is an official training partner of See FamilySearch Solutions Gallery.

Another challenge to the larger genealogical community is involving younger people in their families. There are numerous online articles about the lack of knowledge of the youth about their grandparents. Significant percentages of today's youth do not even know the identities of their grandparents and even fewer know the identities of their great-grandparents. The Family History Guide has a whole section of activities to help families, youth, and children learn about family history.
The Family History Guide website is not just a superficial, one-hour, treatment of genealogy and family history. There are thousands of supporting links to further information. The Countries section provides links for starting research in most of the major countries of the world.
If you appreciate the value of family history or genealogy, please take the time to investigate The Family History Guide. What else can you do?

1. Take a second to like this post and share it with others.
2. Take a few minutes and visit The Family History Guide Association website and donate to support The Family History Guide.
3. Become involved by becoming a Trainer and teach The Family History Guide to others.
If you are able to attend the upcoming RootsTech 2019 Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, be sure and come by our booth and say hello and learn more about The Family History Guide.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Taking Advantage of Your Weekly Updates from FamilySearch Family Tree

If you are using the Family Tree program, you are probably aware of the background issue with changes to the individual profiles. Individuals' reactions to the "changes" cover the whole spectrum from anticipation to hysteria. I regularly get comments from people who say they will never use the Family Tree because of the changes. Hmm. This topic is something I regularly write about, but this time I am going to focus on one of the most important "solutions" to the problem with people changing entries on the Family Tree: the weekly update of "Changes to People You Are Watching." See above. This notice comes in the form of an email sent to the email account you use when registering for the program.

Where do the notices come from? When you are working on the Family Tree, you can "watch" anyone you are working on or interested in. If anyone makes changes to your watched individuals, all of their changes will show up on your weekly FamilySearch email. This process assumes that you are working on the Family Tree and also clicking on the Watch link on the individuals you are working on. Here is a screenshot of an individual showing the Watch link or star.

In this example, I have already clicked on the Watch link and now it will let me "Unwatch" this individual should I wish to do so.

How do I know how many people I am watching? Here is a screenshot showing the dropdown list under the Search tab.

The Lists link will take you to a list of all the people you have clicked and entered into your watch list. Here is an example. You can see that I am watching 300 people.

Now, as I wrote above, once a week, FamilySearch sends me an email telling me all the people for which there have been changes and giving me a link to all the changes. Part of this weekly list is shown at the beginning of this article.

Now, what do I do when I get the list? I review all of the reported changes. As I do so, I see that the changes generally fall into a number of categories including adding sources or other information, changing existing information, or adding or deleting individuals. Here are examples of some types of changes:

Some people seem to automatically assume that all changes are bad. This is an example of a good or at worst neutral change. This is on a list of 26 people with 109 changes (a slow week, by the way). Unless I am interested, I don't take the time to check on changes such as this one. If the story turns out to be inappropriate, then remember that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other people who are related to this person. Ultimately, someone will make a comment or change the story.

But what about some ancestor that gets inaccurate information? Here is an example.

I have removed the names of those who made the changes for these examples. Again, we have beneficial changes. If you don't recognize the person or what has been changed, you can click on the name of the person and then look at all the changes made to that person. Here is another example.

This particular entry in the Change Report has about 17 changes. Fortunately, in this case, all the changes were minor and took only a few minutes to correct. The main issue was that the entries needed to be standardized.

What about the changes made to people such as Francis Cooke?

I have a few suggestions for this type of situation. First, don't jump into the battle unless you have satisfactorily verified every person in your family line back to the target person. Also, don't bother to get involved unless you have new sources to add that will clarify any disagreements among the contributors. Last, don't think you have to participate unless you really want to do all the work to become a "Mayflower" expert or whatever type of expert required by the entries. Always work systematically from very well substantiated entries.

Think of the Weekly Update Report from FamilySearch as an important adjunct to your research that gives you an insight into the problems that need to be addressed in the Family Tree. As you become involved, be sure to communicate with the other people who are working on your lines.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Sneak Peek: The Family History Guide Online Tracker, Reporting Groups

The Family History Guide Online Tracker
Quoting from the announcement from The Family History Guide:
One of the most popular and powerful features of The Family History Guide website is the Online Tracker. There are currently thousands of people worldwide who are using the Online Tracker to monitor their family history learning and progress. In case you’re not familiar with it, here’s a recap of its main features:
  • Secure login and password management
  • Adding personal notes for each Choice in each Goal
  • Setting skill and knowledge levels, using slider bars (correlated with Project Exercises)
And it’s about to become a whole lot better …
I am often surprised that after five years of development, The Family History Guide is still unknown to some of the people who need it the most. The Family History Guide has definitely evolved over the past few years and as a result, its utility has increased dramatically. For anyone involved in teaching about The Family History Guide, the Online Tracker is a valuable tool. The ability to track progress for those using the program has just increased. Here is another quote from the blog post:
We’ve dropped some hints along the way about our intentions to have a full-featured Online Reporting System for the Online Tracker. This system will enable reports to be run against the data in the Online Tracker, for individuals or groups, summarizing the skills levels achieved for any Goal or Choice in The Family History Guide. Imagine being able to produce detailed reports for yourself, or a ward, stake, or genealogy group, to show the skills achieved in any category of The Family History Guide! 
We are excited to announce that we are planning to have our Reporting System available by March 1—in time for RootsTech 2019. There are two main  components to the system: Reporting Groups and Online Reports.
Speaking of RootsTech 2019, both my wife and I will be helping at The Family History Guide Booth during RootsTech 2019. As has been done in past years, the support team for The Family History Guide will be there in full force to provide classes every hour, demonstrate the website, and answer any questions. We are looking forward to sharing all of the new (and old) developments with all those who stop by our booth. By the way, you will be able to see our booth from the main entry into the Exhibit Area at RootsTech 2019. We will be right next to the large FamilySearch booth.  Hope to see you there.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Highlighting the Historical Pioneer Research Group
In academic circles, there is a clear demarcation. History is history and genealogy is genealogy. But in reality, there is a blurred line between "history" and "genealogy." Fortunately, there is a wealth of information about both the history and the individuals that participated in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are a number of exceptionally detailed websites that provide information from historical sources about the early members of the Church. The Historical Pioneer Research Group is one of the most beautifully laid out websites available with specific historical information about thousands of individuals.

Here is a quote from the website explaining the mission of the organization.
Historical Pioneer Research Group, Inc. Our Vision: 
The Historical Pioneer Research Group, Inc. strives to serve descendants of pioneers first, and also wishes to document and establish the history of the Church along the Mormon Trail through the states of Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and into Utah including camp sites, settlements and burial places along its path. 
Journals, letters, diaries, land records, pioneer newspapers, and early building patterns are cross checked with land and property record offices.  These being double checked with ground penetrating radar searches. 
All findings are made available to the public here in the Early Latter-day Saints database. Many of the resources are held at the Nauvoo Land and Record Office, at Parley and Partridge Streets, Nauvoo Illinois and The Pioneer Research Library at the Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters, 3215 State Street, Omaha Nebraska. 
The newly published "Crossroads to the West" and "Mormon Pioneer Cemeteries" join with "Mormon Places" to share people, places and events of the history of the early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This is truly a website that merits investigation. The website contains several interactive history projects:
Additionally, there are links to a number of online Pioneer research databases and help resources:

Monday, January 14, 2019

Gateway to Genealogy at Brigham Young University: The Family History Portal
There is one go-to place on the internet that has links to all of the Brigham Young University family history resources and that is The Family History Portal. The URL is simple: The list of links to other parts of the BYU website is impressive. I am not going to reproduce all the links because there are 39 of them, but I am going to update writing about each of the important links for those doing online research or who are interested in taking classes or learning about the program development that is going on at BYU. Some of the projects are works in progress, but all contain valuable information. Take a few minutes to explore the Portal and then stay tuned for posts highlighting the various resources.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Immigrant Ancestor Project
Quoting from the website:
Immigrant Ancestors is a project sponsored by Brigham Young University's Center for Family History and Genealogy. To create the database, student interns gather emigrant records from repositories throughout Europe, then bring them back to the project team at Brigham Young University (BYU). The contents are then extracted and verified by BYU student researchers before being added to the database.
You can search a long list of archives from the website:

You can read a lot more about the project in an article by Jill N. Crandall and Charlotte N. Champenois entitled, "The Immigrant Ancestors Project: Gathering and Indexing 900,000 Names" published in the online journal MDPI Academic Open Access Publishing.

Here is the citation to the article and the link:

Crandell, Jill N.; Champenois, Charlotte N. 2018. "The Immigrant Ancestors Project: Gathering and Indexing 900,000 Names." Genealogy 2, no. 4: 51.