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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What is FamilySearch?

I have found a great deal of confusion about the identity of the entity known as "FamilySearch." Basically, FamilySearch is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Any confusion about the name of the company owned by the Church comes from usages of the term "FamilySearch" in a variety of ways. For example, the term "FamilySearch" is often used when referring to the website maintained by the Church under the name of

Previously, you could look on the Utah Corporation Commission website and see the public record corporate filings for Utah corporations. However, now they charge $2 per copy to see the PDF filings. I assume that applies to your own corporation in Utah. Since I am too cheap to pay the fee, I guess I can't show the recordings.

But before Utah began imposing the fee, I found out that legally, the name "FamilySearch" is a registered tradename of the Genealogical Society of Utah, which is in turn a DBA or "doing business as." Here is the explanation from the Research Wiki:
The Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) is dedicated to gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical information throughout the world.

Established in 1894, the GSU is an incorporated, nonprofit educational institution entirely funded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its headquarters are in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA with local representatives in all parts of the world.

In the 1990's, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expanded the Genealogical Society of Utah and it eventually became known as FamilySearch. During the 1990's, Monte J. Brough, a General Authority and Executive Director of the Family History Department and president of the Genealogical Society of Utah, conceived of an Internet genealogy service which he proposed to church leaders. His ideas eventually developed into what today is known as In 1999, the new website,, went live, providing an online medium for making genealogical records easily available to the public anywhere in the world at no cost.
The corporate entity of FamilySearch is known as FamilySearch International and does business as Genealogical Society of Utah and FamilySearch. The Genealogical Society of Utah is listed as a former business name. See FamilySearch International.

Not too long ago, the Genealogical Society of Utah had a separate website. However, it appears that the site has been taken down. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism has this explanation of the history:
The Genealogical Society of Utah, organized in 1894, became The Genealogical Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1944. In 1976 it became The Genealogical Department, and in 1987 the name was changed to The Family History Department. Each name change brought renewed emphasis and expanded resources to further the search for ancestors. The name Genealogical Society still continues as the microfilm section of the Family History Department of the Church.

The central purpose of the organization is expressed in a statement by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith: "Salvation for the dead is the system whereunder those who would have accepted the gospel in this life, had they been permitted to hear it, will have the chance to accept it in the spirit world, and will then be entitled to all the blessings which passed them by in mortality" (DS 2:100-196). Provisions have been made, therefore, for the living to provide, vicariously, ordinances of salvation for their deceased family forebears and friends. This cannot be done without information about the dead.
If you want a very detailed history of the entire organization and the process of how the Genealogical Society of Utah became FamilySearch, see the book

Allen, James B., Jessie L. Embry, and Kahlile B. Mehr. Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894-1994. Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, Brigham Young University, 1995.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Who are our kindred dead?

In the 1986 October General Conference, Elder Franklin D. Richards made the following comment:
Temple worship provides an opportunity to do ordinance work for our kindred dead and for others, an opportunity for us to serve the dead. This service is the source of eternal satisfaction. However, it is well to remember that vicarious service for the dead by the living does not affect the right of the dead to accept or reject such vicarious service.
 In a more recent General Conference in October 2003, Elder James E. Faust said something similar:
Searching for our kindred dead isn’t just a hobby. It is a fundamental responsibility for all members of the Church. We believe that life continues after death and that all will be resurrected. 4 We believe that families may continue in the next life if they have kept the special covenants made in one of the sacred temples under the authority of God. We believe that our deceased ancestors can also be eternally united with their families when we make covenants in their behalf in the temples. Our deceased forebears may accept these covenants, if they choose to do so, in the spirit world. 5
 These and hundreds of other similar quotes that I could cite, all talk about doing Temple work for our "kindred dead." What does this mean? What is our responsibility? Who are our kindred dead? All of these are valid questions.

Elder Richard G. Scott explained this principle a little more in his talk at the October 2012 General Conference, where he said:
Yet there are many members of the Church who have only limited access to the temples. They do the best they can. They pursue family history research and have the temple ordinance work done by others. Conversely, there are some members who engage in temple work but fail to do family history research on their own family lines. Although they perform a divine service in assisting others, they lose a blessing by not seeking their own kindred dead as divinely directed by latter-day prophets. …

“I have learned that those who engage in family history research and then perform the temple ordinance work for those whose names they have found will know the additional joy of receiving both halves of the blessing.”6
In a First Presidency letter dated 1 March 2012 entitled "Names submitter for temple ordinances" it states:
Our preeminent obligation is to seek out and identify our own ancestors. Those whose names are submitted for proxy temple ordinances should be related to the submitter.

Without exception, Church members must not submit for proxy temple ordinances any names from unauthorized groups, such as celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims. If members do so, they may forfeit their New FamilySearch privileges. Other corrective action may also be taken.
Although this focuses the responsibility for Temple work on our ancestors, there is even more specific information posted on 6 December 2013 in a Help Menu document entitled "Temple policy regarding who members should be performing proxy temple work for and the 110 year rule." The link will not work unless you are signed in with an LDS account. Clearly, the obligation of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to seek out their kindred dead is to their own ancestors and not to those to whom they are not related. But everyone has this responsibility equally.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

What is the Spirit of Elijah ?

In the Doctrine and Covenants 110:13-16 relates the visit of Elijah to the Kirtland Temple on 3 April 1836. This is how the visit was recorded:
13 After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said: 
14 Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come— 
15 To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse— 
16 Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.
This appearance of the Prophet Elijah was in partial fulfillment of the prophecy spoken of by the Angel Moroni at the time of his visit to Joseph Smith where he quoted Malachi 4:5-6 with some significant variations. Moroni's words are recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants 2:1-3:
1 Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and  dreadful day of the Lord.

2 And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.

3 If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.
Malachi 4:5-6 in the King James Bible says:
5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:

6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
Quoting from the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith at page 193:
This doctrine presents in a clear light the wisdom and mercy of God in preparing an ordinance for the salvation of the dead, being baptized by proxy, their names recorded in heaven and they judged according to the deeds done in the body. This doctrine was the burden of the scriptures. Those Saints who neglect it in behalf of their deceased relatives, do it at the peril of their own salvation. The dispensation of the fullness of times will bring to light the things that have been revealed in all former dispensations; also other things that have not been before revealed. He shall send Elijah, the Prophet, &c., and restore all things in Christ.
These special manifestations prepared the way for the Spirit of Elijah to do its work throughout the world. Elder Russell M. Nelson, in a talk entitled, “A New Harvest Time,” at the May 1998 General Conference, explained about the Spirit of Elijah:
With that [the restoration], natural affection between generations began to be enriched. This restoration was accompanied by what is sometimes called the Spirit of Elijah—a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family. Hence, people throughout the world, regardless of religious affiliation, are gathering records of deceased relatives at an ever-increasing rate. (comment in brackets added for explanation).
The effect that this should have on each of us is well said by Elder Richard G. Scott in the 1990 General Conference in a talk entitled, "Redemption: The Harvest of Love."
I testify that the spirit of Elijah is touching the hearts of many of Father’s children throughout the world, causing the work for the dead to accelerate at an unprecedented pace.

But what about you? Have you prayed about your own ancestors’ work? Set aside those things that don’t really matter in your life. Decide to do something that will have eternal consequences. Perhaps you have been prompted to look for ancestors but feel that you are not a genealogist. Can you see that you don’t have to be anymore? It all begins with love and a sincere desire to help those who can’t help themselves.

This is a spiritual work, a monumental effort of cooperation on both sides of the veil where help is given in both directions. It begins with love. Anywhere you are in the world, with prayer, faith, determination, diligence, and some sacrifice, you can make a powerful contribution. Begin now. I promise you that the Lord will help you find a way. And it will make you feel wonderful.
This says very well much of my own motivation for working in the vast field of genealogy.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

What if your genealogy appears to be all done? -- Part Three

In the last two segments of this series, I have been discussing the problem of inheriting a huge genealogy file with a pedigree going back a number of generations. To summarize and repeat some of the issues, I realize that this is not a unique problem with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I run into the problem much more frequently among members of the Church rather than those who are not members. The reason is simple. Many of the families in the Church have two, three or even more generations of “genealogists” who have compiled family history information. When reviewing pedigree after pedigree with members of my Ward, I found that at least three quarters of them had completed lines back 4 or more generations.

The challenge is what to do in those circumstances. If your view of genealogy consists entirely of identifying only the “direct” lines of your ancestors and you lack any interest in pursuing information about any other “collateral” relatives, then you find yourself in the position of being confronted with a filled in pedigree chart. You may well believe that the information is complete and nothing more needs to be done, but then we come to the subject of this particular blog post: crucial errors in pedigrees. A “crucial error” is one that leads you off onto a wrong ancestral line.

I think following the wrong ancestral line happens more often that we would care to admit, but short of redoing our entire pedigree lines, how can we tell if we have gone off the track?

The answer is not as easy as saying go through and look at dates and places, as I have discussed in the past posts. Sometimes the bogus ancestor fits all too nicely into the pedigree. So how do we test to see if we are on the wrong line?

Here’s where we have to get down to the nitty-gritty of background and history. Suppose I start with myself. What degree of certainty do I have that I am really biologically related to my known parents and that the circumstances of my birth have been correctly transmitted to me? Is there ever room for doubt? Well, frankly, yes, there is always room for doubt. But you have to make a judgment call as to whether or not there is any evidence that seems strange or would lead you to doubt the accepted dogma. Now, without doing anything more than using what you already know about each individual, make the same analysis for every ancestor in every one of your ancestral lines. When you get to the point, sooner or later, when you are relying entirely on copied material that you personally haven’t verified, then you have reached the level where you need to do your own research.

This point may be with your parents or some remote ancestor. But my guess is that most people cannot get past this point with their own grandparents unless they have been doing their own family history for a while. If you want to test this statement, simply start asking your friends and family members to name each of their direct line ancestors by their full name (including maiden names) and see how far back you get.

The next step is to go beyond simple recognition. If you want to see if your line is consistent and verified, then start learning about the background of each of the people listed on your pedigree. Can you name them all? Do you remember where they were born? Where they died? What they did as an occupation? Follow this kind of analysis as you go back in time. When you get to the point where you have to start looking up information, you are there! You now know what to do when your genealogy appears to be all done.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Keep Up-to-Date with FamilySearch Blog Posts

If you are a Ward or Stake Family History or Indexing Consultant, you need to keep up-to-date with what is going on with the FamilySearch programs. There are monthly newsletters and such but the best way to keep in touch is to follow the FamilySearch Blog posts for your area. In fact, it is a good idea to read all of the blog posts from FamilySearch. The blog posts are put into separate categories but all of them are relevant to your callings.

Here are some links to some recent blog posts. If you are not subscribed, you can use a reader program or news aggregator (the same thing) to subscribe to these websites. Notices of the blog postings can be sent to your email address also, it you keep that current and check your email often. You should also make sure that FamilySearch has you listed as a Family History Consultant or Indexing Consultant. If not, you can check with your Ward Clerk or Stake Clerk to make sure your calling is in the Membership system.

Here are some links to show you what you need to know"

You may wish to copy or forward this post to anyone else in your Ward or Stake who might need to be subscribed to the FamilySearch Blogs. 

Add your own photo or document to Family Tree souces and other new developments

I have given a complete explanation of the new features in Family Tree in Genealogy's Star. Please click here to go to the post. I decided I didn't want to repeat it here.

This is a major update of Family Tree. We have been waiting for the ability to add our own documents and photos to sources for some time. It is a nice Christmas present from FamilySearch.

Monday, December 23, 2013

What if your genealogy appears to be all done -- Part Two

I deal with two very extreme and opposite genealogical situations at the Mesa FamilySearch Library (and elsewhere); the patron who has tens of thousands of names in a database and those who have none. For the patrons who have no names, the way to start is obvious. They start with themselves and their parents and so forth. The other extreme, a very large data base, is much more of a challenge. This series is about the challenge of the very large database.

I guess I need to go back and define a few terms. Let me discuss some of the characteristics of what I consider to be a very large database. Very occasionally, when I am confronted with this issue, I'm actually speaking to the person who compiled the information contained in the pedigree file. Some of the larger files I have seen contain well in excess of 100,000 names. In some cases, this can be attributed to name gathering, but in a small minority of the cases, the files have been compiled over sometimes 50 years or more of genealogical research. I have not talking primarily about these extraordinary individuals because they seldom ask questions or are concerned about what research they need to do next. The people I see most frequently are those who have inherited these files from someone else and have no idea what to do with all the informatin.

Since the introduction of Family Tree, I've seen a marked increase in the number of people who are for the first time confronting a huge genealogy file. This particular phenomena may not be unique to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but usually, when a patron has a huge file that extends all of the family lines back at least five or six generations, they are members of the Church. Also, it is not unusual that person will have a huge file or ancestors from one parent and not from the other. I recently spent five consecutive Sundays introducing FamilySearch Family Tree to the members of our Ward. A significant number of the people who were reviewing their family tree for the first time, or nearly the first time, had no missing ancestors even at four, five, six or more generations in the past.

I might point out, that when I began my genealogical research, I found myself in this exact same position. Not only had I been told that all of my genealogy was "done" but that appeared to be the situation. The first missing ancestors and my pedigree chart were six generations in the past. Today, after more than 30 years of research, the first missing ancestors are seven generations in the past. What does this mean? It means, that the first missing people in my family line were born in the early 1700s. We are not talking about easy or low hanging fruit. These particular ancestors have resisted discovery by concerted research efforts of dozens of people over the past 100 years. So what have I been doing for the past 30+ years? Because of the lack of any computerized systems when I started doing genealogy, it took me nearly 15 of those years to merely get to the end of the research that is already been done. This does not mean that I found all of the information to be correct, because I often had to do research to verify contradictory information from different researchers. Since then, I have been adding sources and correcting information and trying to get to the point of extending some of the lines.

If you view your genealogy is that of being confined to direct line ancestors, then I can understand a perception that viewing such a file with names going back into the past meant all the work was done. Take for example my children who now are one generation removed so their pedigree chart goes back to the first missing ancestor eight generations in the past. But, of course, once you begin to work with such a file, you realize the limitations and the perception that the file is "complete" rapidly disappears.

So this brings us to the question of what do you do if your genealogy appears to be all done? The answer to this question is highly individual and complex. I have often wondered, when there is a discussion about involving the youth in genealogy, what the youth are being told when they see their own pedigree chart with no missing ancestors back into the early 1700s? Previously, with, the newcomer to genealogy could simply harvest the abundant crop of green arrows. Now that this is no longer possible, everyone will be confronted with exactly the same situation of having to start to do research. Do you know what to tell the youth in this situation? Suppose you help a teenager sign on to Family Tree. What do you say to them when records on both sides of their family seem to stretch back into the dim past?

I expect that we will have a very interesting time at the Mesa FamilySearch Library beginning in January 2014 with the read only status of In my next installment of the series about very large genealogical files I will discuss why I believe that the majority of these files are based on inaccurate information. I will also begin discussing the strategies I have taken over the years to work on particular areas of my family.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What if your genealogy appears to be all done? -- Part One

One common issue among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have ancestors who joined the Church is the overwhelming amount of genealogical information that shows up in's Family Tree. When opening the program and looking at Family Tree, it appears that the folklore handed down that the "work is all done" seems to be true. I can assure you that the impression obtained from looking at an extended pedigree in Family Tree has little or no relationship to whether or not all of an individual's ancestors have been identified.

While teaching classes on genealogy, I commonly state that if you give me fifteen minutes with your online Family Tree pedigree (or any other online pedigree) I can show you enough inconsistencies and inaccuracies to dispel any thought that the "work is all done" from your mind. If you approach a large pedigree file with the same attitude, you can also do the same thing. Focus on the dates and the places. I might mention that I can do this with my own files and find huge inconsistencies.

The main difference between today and the past when our ancestors were doing genealogy is that we have the ability to see a compilation of all of the efforts of all of the researchers' submissions, all at the same time. Unfortunately, the Family Tree may not show the best or most accurate choice in each instance. Hence, I am extremely safe in making the above claim. My goal for some time has been to correct as much as possible and document with sources, my first four generations. You would think that I would have finished that a long time ago. But if you try to verify every name, date and place in your first four generations, you will soon see that such a task is very difficult. When you extend the same level of examination and proof to the fifth generation, you will start to find serious questions that need to be resolved. It also applies even more to the sixth generation. I am not talking about your surname line, I am talking about all of the lines from all of your direct line ancestors. What happens with the common LDS pedigree is that the first few generations are pretty well established. There are errors but the errors may not be very evident. If you keep going back in time, you soon find end of lines, inconsistencies, obvious errors and all sorts of contradictory situations.

Now, if you are reading this and had "done" all of your lines and all of the descendants of all of your direct line ancestors back to Adam, you are of course excused from this discussion. So don't make comments to me about how all of your thousands of ancestors and their descendants are correct. But if you are realistic enough to realize that such claims are ridiculous, then read on.

What then do we as genealogists tell a newly interested researcher when their pedigree on Family Tree goes back generation after generation? Where do we start? As I related above, I start by poking holes in the idea that the genealogy is all done. Then I move quickly to suggestions where additional research would likely add more information and identify additional people. Fortunately, we have some wonderful tools that help us to analyze our pedigrees on Family Tree and identify areas where there has been little or no research. One of those tools is a program called This is a series and I will be addressing this program and some other strategies for those who think their genealogy is all done.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Crying in the Genealogical Wilderness

How many Ward Family History Consultants feel as though they are crying in a wildness when it comes to increasing interest and involvement in genealogy in their Ward or Stake? Despite the publicized examples of the success of certain Wards and Stakes in the Church, from my experience, genealogy is mostly "just another program demanding some time" in most cases.

One thing I have noticed as I get older, there is a tendency to move older members of the Ward into less "stressful" callings. In our back row retirement community within the Ward, there are mostly people who have less demanding jobs in the Ward. With very few exceptions, there are few of us oldsters who are serving in leadership positions in Relief Society, Primary, Young Men, Young Women, as quorum leaders or even in the Sunday School. This is not surprising in a Ward where most of the Ward leadership is half or less than my age.

Of course, long term, we need to have the youth start becoming involved in genealogy or family history or whatever you want to call it. But what about that untapped reservoir of old guys like me? What about forming a core mentoring program to help the old folks at home get more involved in doing their family history. I fully realize that I live in a unique area. Mesa, Arizona is not your typical area of the Church. We have a Ward with over fifty High Priests, almost all of whom are active. But even with this huge reservoir of older men, we have a very limited involvement in genealogically related activities among this group except for Temple service.

If every active genealogist in the Church only helped one person to get involved with their own family history this next year, the number of people involved would double. This is really simple. The Family History Consultants should be talking to every one of the older people in the Ward and find out who is even marginally interested in searching out some of their relatives. The Consultants should then take the initiative to not only do their own research, but involve at least one other person in doing active family research. This is not an impossible goal. Maybe if the Family History Consultant feels inadequate in some area, such as computer usage or whatever, the Consultant could involved someone else in helping them with computers while they help that person with genealogy. Maybe the Consultants need to invite someone to go with them to the FamilySearch Center and take a class or go to a conference? How about some one-on-one activities?

Maybe there are some lonely older people in your Ward that need something to give them a reason to get up in the morning. Maybe that something is an involvement in family history. Find them. Seek them out and help them during this coming year to become more involved in genealogy. How about it?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Merry Christmas from our house to yours

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from our house to yours. 

James Tanner and family

How to use this and any other blog site

Like many other blogs, this particular one has a specific theme. I currently write for five different blogs, most under my own name and one for an organization. All of my blog posts provide either information or commentary. Blogs are not strictly "social networking" websites, they are more closely related to traditional newspaper columns. The comments to blogs could be compared to letters to the editor in a traditional newspaper environment. Obviously, because of the interactive nature of online communities, blogs tend to be more immediate and current than newspapers.

Whenever blogs are mentioned in the traditional media, they seem to emphasize the fact that the bloggers are not professional journalists. There is an unspoken criticism that somehow blogs are inferior to print publications simply because of the nature of the contributors. Now it is true, that I do not have any formal training in journalism. I began my writing experience as a reporter for my university newspaper. For short time, I was the editor of a newspaper at the University of Utah. I was an editor of the Arizona State University Law School newspaper for a year during law school. I have written books, articles and tens of thousands of pages of legal briefs and I have a wife, a former English teacher, who tries to correct my grammar, punctuation and content. I give these examples to show that a blanket dismissal of blogs and blog writers is a somewhat dangerous position to take. This is especially true since blogs are, for many purposes, replacing traditional newspaper involvement throughout the world. Most of our nation's newspapers are struggling to maintain a readership and most have moved online. Many newspapers now rely on those same bloggers that they denigrate.

It is true, that the quality of the writing varies considerably from blog to blog. But each blog provides a unique insight into the writer's view of genealogy. You may choose not to participate in the greater genealogical community, but that is your loss. One good example of the use of blogs is the upcoming RootsTech 2014 Conference where bloggers are included as the official media representatives.

Now you could search for a long time in traditional news outlets for information about genealogy. In fact, it is very rare that anything having to do with genealogy makes it into the national news. One of the few places I have seen any consistent mention of genealogical events or articles of interest has been in the Salt Lake City Deseret News. This is not surprising since the Deseret News is located in Salt Lake City, Utah and is ultimately owned by by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I fully realize that the majority of the genealogists that I encounter each week go about their activities blithely ignorant of the fact that there is a genealogical community online. But from my own experience, my persistence in writing a blog has very slowly, over the years, begun to make inroads into that lack of awareness. The present blog is no exception. Obviously, my readership for this particular blog is far less than Genealogy's Star. But in this case, my motivation for writing this blog is somewhat different.

Genealogists who ignore blogs and other online resources are like people who shop in the same store day after day year after year. They may have created a comfort zone but have no idea what they are missing.

This blog arises out of my perception that there is a serious disconnect between the members of the various Wards of the Church and the greater genealogical community. I started this blog for the specific purpose of addressing a Latter-day Saint audience about genealogy.

This blog and many others is not like a flyer that you read and throw away. It is more like a reference book with chapters being added daily. To properly use a blog you need to refer back to previous articles. It is true, that some of the material in this or any other blog may go out of date, but most of the material retains its value for a considerable period of time.

When you discover a new blog, go back through the archives of that blog and look for articles of interest. When you search online for information about your ancestors include the word "blog" as part of your search terms and you may find articles of interest.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Preview of the new FamilySearch Indexing Website

FamilySearch is in the process of developing new Indexing procedures and a new Indexing website. Above is a screenshot of the preview site that presently has limited online distribution. The entire process is becoming more streamlined and easier to use. This preview shows that there has been a dramatic advance from the mainly text-based program when it first started.

The basic idea here is to move the Indexing program from the desktop to the Web. The new program will be available some time in 2014. Moving the Indexing program to the Web will also open the program to mobile technology, but because of the nature of the program, Indexing will not work on the small screen of a smartphone and will be confined to tablets including iPads and Android.

One development to come is the ability to correct indexed entries already in the online indexes on's Historical Record Collections.

Many of the instructions and procedures involved in the program are being streamlined and communication between arbitrators and volunteers will be opened up.

In some limited cases when the articles are of interest to both areas, I am sharing blog posts on both Genealogy's Star and Rejoice, and be exceeding glad...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 Goes Read Only

It is official, is Read Only. Here is the proof:

It is time now to see how those who have yet to switch over to Family Tree react to this development. The Mesa FamilySearch Library is closed over the holiday for a while and I don't have any classes. So it might be a while before I get any feedback.

Using the Family Group Records Collection

The Historical Record Collections contains an archive of millions of user submitted Family Group Records. This database consists of digitized copies of the records submitted by LDS Church members to the Genealogical Society of Utah, now the Family History Department, for processing prior to performing proxy ordinances. The completed forms were filed in the Family Group Records Archive collection in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. The online collection is called the Family Group Records Collection, Archives Section, 1942-1969. As discussed in the Research Wiki:
Whenever possible, FamilySearch makes images available for all users. However, ultimate rights to view images on our website are granted by the record custodians. The Family Group Records Collection, Archives Section collection is available only to members of the supporting organization, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
 There are currently 5,337,178 images in this collection. The forms are filed in alphabetical order by husband's surname, given name, and date of birth.

Usually, I'm very skeptical of the value of user contributed records. However, the Family Group Records Collection is an exception. These original records often contain valuable notations giving sources and details about the family which have otherwise not been preserved in subsequent transcriptions of these records. Many of the notes made on these early family group records were on the back of the records. The backs of the records are reproduced in the digitized versions of the files online.

The records contain the following information:
  • Names of husband, wife, and children
  • Dates and places of birth, christening, marriage, death, and burial
  • Parent's names
  • Husband's occupation
  • Relationships
  • Additional marriages of family members
  • LDS temple ordinance information
  • Submitter's name and address at the time of the submission
  • Family representatives
  • Sources of information
For members of the Church, referring to the original  family group records that now appear in transcribed form in the Family Tree, may give insight into the research done by the original submitters. The Research Wiki gives the following cautions for using the records:
  • Use this information as a guideline. Be aware that the information has not been verified and may have come from the submitters memory or from family records.
  • These are compiled records so each sheet may have many sources of information.
  • If you are unable to find your ancestor look for various spellings of the names.
I would add that it is highly advisable to copy the records as they appear. If you see a source citation, you should go to the original source and record the information rather than rely on the ability of the submitter to have transcribed the information from the source correctly.

The advantage of these records is that the submitters or likely one or two or more generations closer to the ancestors being reported than we are today.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Gospel Topics talks about Baptisms for the Dead has posted a substantial series of gospel related topics covering a huge variety of subjects. The section of topics is located in the "Teachings" link on the startup page of the website. The topics are organized alphabetically and it is relatively easy to review all the titles. No one is required to sign into the website to see and read these relatively short essays and links. They are available to anyone going to the website.

I was interested to see an article on "Baptisms for the Dead." There are other related topics on Family History and "Temples." Quoting from the Deseret News in an article entitled, "LDS Church enhances web pages on its history, doctrine" it says:
The improved pages are intended to use scholarship, historical perspectives and outside resources transparently to help parents answer questions children might come across online, church leaders said.
This is an interesting go-to place for authoritative statements from the Church on a variety of subjects, some very controversial in the past.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

What is the effect of the Read Only status for

British Library Flickr Photo Stream
In light of the imminent change of to Read Only status, I thought it would be a good idea to review some of the effects of this change and what it might mean to those trying to process names for Temple ordinances. First, an explanation of the change to Read Only status.

Essentially, by putting (NFS) into Read Only status that means that the program will be unavailable to make any changes or other functions. It can only be looked at or "read" online. However, since the program is still online, the database for Family Tree and will still be "shared." This means that the problems caused by the limitations of the program concerning the number of combined records will still be in effect. The solution to the inability to work with individuals with multiple combined files will still be off in the future when the two programs are finally separated "sometime next year (2014)" or whenever.

Many of the frustrations encountered in Family Tree that are attributed to the limitations of NFS will continue until the ultimate separation of the two programs. But, I need to note, that real progress is being made in sorting out some of the IOUS (Individuals of Unusual Size) situations in Family Tree.

Anyone who has used a genealogical database program that accessed NFS and who has not upgraded to one of the newly released and certified programs will not be able to access either database with all of the features of what is now called "Tree Share." See Family History Partner Products.

Those are the immediate effects of the change coming on 18 December 2013. There are some other more subtle changes. In the past year or so, there have been some important changes to the rules applying to the availability of certain classes of ancestors to be submitted for Temple Ordinances. The current rules are substantially more restrictive than those in the past, particularly concerning submitting names for people born within the past 110 years and those to whom the submitter is not related. Some of the problems that have been in the background for over 100 years concerning names submission are now being confronted head on.

One of the main problems lies with individuals who do Temple ordinances for deceased individuals who are not the ancestors' immediate relatives, that is a surviving spouse, a child, or a parent and do this without the permission of all of the living immediate relatives. This is a particularly emotionally difficult problem for members of the Church who are beginning their genealogical research for the first time. They are almost always very disturbed to find out shortly after they go on to Family Tree that some distant relative has already completed the ordinances for the new researcher's parents or grandparents. I had this happen this week at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. Fortunately, in the case this week, the ordinances were only reserved and there was still a chance that the patron could do her mother and father's work in the Temple.

The question is whether or not Family Tree will have an impact on this particular, very old, problem? My guess is probably a little. But those who surf the Family Tree looking for ordinances are not likely to be stopped by even the multiple warnings now in effect. I call these people Family Tree Vampires. Rather than encourage newly interested researchers, these people who do work for distant relatives who have living family members, suck the blood (enthusiasm) out of the new researchers. I always instruct every new user of the program to immediately reserve anyone they enter into the program for whom they wish to do the Temple work.

Will the change over to Family Tree have any effect on the problem of clicking on green arrows and redoing ordinances multiple times? Can people still go around the system and create bogus names to take to the Temple? We will have to see, but my personal experience is that it is still remarkably easy to add duplicate names or non-existent people and create a "name" to take to the Temple. I will not go into details lest I be an accomplice in instructing those who want to create names. This practice will not stop until there is either some review process for newly added names or a requirement to provide sources for any names submitted for ordinances. Even then a source would be no guarantee that the source wasn't made up. I would not be discussing this issue if I hadn't seen it happen over and over again and even very recently using Family Tree. This whole system relies on the integrity of the participants and unfortunately, some of those submitting names with Family Tree are sadly lacking in that virtue.

But what effect will Family Tree have on the well meaning but ignorant users who add information found in online family trees, books and other unreliable sources? I am confident that ultimately, it will have a very educational effect, but that depends on the patience of the experienced users in taking the time to educate their less careful relatives. Sadly, I am already seeing the beginnings of revert wars, which I never really expected to happen. We apparently have some uninformed relatives that doggedly and repeatedly insert incorrect information into the Family Tree without a shred of support from any source. Some of these people simply refuse to stop or even acknowledge emails trying to educate them.

Many of the more abused practices of NFS will come to a screeching halt, such as manufacturing a new ordinance request by merely changing the name or a few dates on an existing individual. So, to some extent, we should see some progress in this narrow area.

As to whether the basic problems of NFS will be resolved or reversed, only time will tell. Until the two programs are completely separated this will not likely happen.

Even with all I have said, please understand that Family Tree is a quantum leap in effectiveness over NFS. I certainly have no desire to go back to the older program.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The End is Near!!! Really! becomes read only

The fateful day is December 18, 2013. This is day that the website becomes read only. Here is a screenshot of the announcement:

The long awaited day will finally arrive this week. But when you get into the tangles and duplicates in Family Tree, you realize that the database is going to take a little longer to sort out. Turning off is a huge step, but only one step among many in overcoming the excessive burden of 150+ years of accumulated user submitted family trees.

Many of my friends are despairing that Family Tree can ever be sorted out. I think it can and will. Stay tuned for developments this week.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tracing Your Pioneer Ancestors

Many of the people living in the Western United States have family roots that go back to ancestors who joined the Church and then traveled to the Salt Lake Valley. If your ancestors crossed the Plains between the years of 1847 and 1868 when the railroad arrived in Utah, those ancestors are considered to be pioneers. Over the intervening years, there has been a concerted effort to memorialize these early pioneers. One such effort is the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database.

During the years between 1847 and 1868, over 300 companies of pioneers traveled from different locations and walked, rode in wagons, pulled handcarts or rode horses into Salt Lake.  In all, more than 60,000 LDS Church members traveled in these companies.

Some of my own ancestors died in the attempt to cross the Plains. Of my ancestors, 18 of them either arrived in Utah or died in the attempt, during that time period. A few more arrived later, after the railroad had already been built. But even then, many of them traveled in wagons down into Southern Utah, California and Arizona to settle. I grew up with pioneers that were not just something you read about in a book, but who were members of my family.

The Mormon Overland Travel Database is described as follows:
This database is a compilation of names obtained from rosters and other reliable sources of individuals who immigrated to Utah during this two-decade period. Each company is listed under its captain's name, and basic information is provided, including a photograph of the captain where available. Many companies include a list of diaries, journals, letters, and reminiscences written by company members, as well as contemporary reports about the company. The content of several thousand of those narratives has been transcribed and is included in the database.
Whether or not you had family members who were pioneers, this database helps to provide a living and useful memorial to all those who make the trip and is a valuable historical resource and very helpful to genealogists.

Important Resources for Stake and Ward Indexing Programs

In a blog post of 12 December 2013 by Courtney Connolly, FamilySearch outlined the resources available to the local Church units to support the Indexing program. The list includes the following:
  • Stake Indexing Director Forum Recording: Hundreds of stake indexing directors attended this forum to receive direction and support in their calling. Watch this recording to learn about the upcoming indexing website and web-based indexing program, and also hear from Elder Dennis C. Brimhall, managing director of the Family History Department.
  • Indexing Is Vital Presentation: This presentation was created to help you communicate why indexing is so important to family history and temple work. Use this presentation in a fifth-Sunday lesson, a ward council meeting, or a meeting with your priesthood leaders to help explain the many blessings indexing provides. It is available in both PowerPointand PDF formats.
  • Stake Indexing Director Website: Newly revised, this site is now organized according to the four main responsibilities of your calling. Use the stake indexing director newsletter archive to find all prior stake indexing director newsletters.
  • Arbitration Webinar: Were you able to attend the arbitration webinar for stake indexing directors? The recording and PowerPoint are now available. View this presentation to understand your role in arbitration and how you and your stake members can become qualified to arbitrate.
  • New Website Webinar: A new indexing website has been released to pave the way for the new indexing program, which will roll out in stages during 2014. Learn how to help your stake take advantage of the new site.
At the Mesa FamilySearch Library we are seeing a greater participation by the local units in the classes we are holding for Indexing and for Family History Consultants. Both of these programs are receiving a much greater emphasis on the local level than even was evident a year ago. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

FamilySearch Centers as resources

As I travel around the United States, I find that the FamilySearch Centers are staffed by wonderful, competent people. They do an outstanding job in supporting genealogy research at their facilities. Unfortunately, the high quality of the FamilySearch Centers is not matched by the knowledge of the facility by the surrounding community even in the Wards and Stakes. Another under-used asset is the various websites maintained by the Centers and Libraries around the world. Here are a few of the outstanding websites maintained by FamilySearch Centers:
Many of the Centers have websites incorporated into the FamilySearch Research Wiki. You can find them by going to the Research Wiki and searching for the name of the city where they are located. To find a Center near you, go to and click on "Get Help." You can then click on a link to "Visit Us" and that will let you search for a FamilySearch Center in your area or you can click on this link to the FamilySearch Center Locator.

Here are some basic observations I would make about using a FamilySearch Center;

  1. Make sure of the Center's operation hours. Some of the FamilySearch Centers are only open certain hours during the week. Before making a trip to the FamilySearch Center, make sure that it will be open and staffed during the time of your visit. If you have special needs concerning a particular area of research, make sure that someone at the Center is available to answer your questions. It is entirely possible that only a small number of the volunteers at the Center will be well-versed in any particular area of expertise.
  2. When you visit the center for the first time, take a short tour of the facility to become acquainted with the resources available in any details of the operation of the Center. Some of the Centers have limited resources and mainly provide access to the online subscription services which are free at the Centers. In addition they may only have the capability of receiving microfilm orders which are now made online.
  3.  If you have specific questions that cannot be answered by the volunteers at the Center, be patient with the staff. You may need to call the helpline for FamilySearch regarding some of the questions about Family Tree or other programs that change frequently.
  4. If you are an expert in some aspect of genealogy, please consider volunteering to help at the Center. Volunteers are always welcome and at the very least you could provide telephone service to patrons who have questions in the particular area of your expertise.
Remember that the Centers are staffed by missionaries or volunteers that may not know the answers to all of your questions.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Role of the High Priests Group Leader in Family History

The High Priest Group Leaders in the Wards have a very specific calling and function in the Family History work in the Ward. Their basic responsibilities are outlined in the Leader Resources section of and in the Handbook 2, 5.4 where it says:
“Priesthood and auxiliary leaders teach members to participate in family history work by identifying their ancestral family members, requesting temple ordinances for them if needed, and providing these ordinances in the temple themselves if possible.”
The Family History Consultant's Guide also says:
Guidance from the High Priests Group Leader

The high priests group leader coordinates temple and family history work in the ward. (If your ward does not have a high priests group leader, the bishop assigns a member of the elders quorum presidency to do this.) He oversees your service as a family history consultant. If you need assistance or have questions about your responsibilities, he can help you. The high priests group leader reports in priesthood executive committee and ward council meetings on temple and family history activities. Under the direction of the bishop, members of the priesthood executive committee and ward council identify individuals and families for you to contact. The high priests group leader meets with you regularly to provide you with the names of members to contact, to discuss your progress in
helping members, and to provide counsel.
Of course, it is possible that the High Priest Group Leader in the Ward lacks the specific computer skills presently required to function in Family History callings, but this should not limit him from supporting the work of others and teaching and helping the Ward Members. The qualities of successful Family History Consultants are also those that will assist the High Priest Group Leader in his calling. These are stated in the Family History Consultant's Guide as follows:
Qualities of Successful Family History Consultants

You will be an effective family history consultant as you serve and love the members of your ward and patiently help them with their family history. You do not need to be an expert in family history research. Successful consultants are:
  • Skilled in teaching and working with members.
  • Comfortable using technology to help members with their family history.
  • Able to exercise good judgment and discretion when dealing with sensitive family matters.
(See “Temple and Family History Work” [handbook, 2006], 265.)
Family History work in the Ward works best when the activities are directed by the participation of the Ward Council. Quoting from an Ensign article entitled, "Family History: In Wisdom and Order" by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, he counsels,
Our efforts to promote temple and family history work should be such as to accomplish the work of the Lord, not to impose guilt on his children. . . . In the work of redeeming the dead there are many tasks to be performed, and . . . all members should participate by prayerfully selecting those ways that fit their personal circumstances at a particular time. This should be done under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord and with the guidance of priesthood leaders who issue calls and direct the Church-administered portions of this work. Our effort is not to compel everyone to do everything, but to encourage everyone to do something.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Do you have questions about family history or genealogy?

If you have any questions about family history or genealogy, I can help you find the answers. Please use this website as a place to ask for help. I may not know the answer immediately, but I can certainly tell you where to go or who to talk to to get the answer. So please, at any time, feel free to leave a comment asking a question.

Now I have been consistently asking that same question to hundreds of classes and presentations that I have done over the years. Sometimes I get questions, sometimes I don't. But the questions always fall into very predictable and definable categories. That is why I feel safe in making this offer. One very important thing however you must know, I am usually more than likely to end up asking you questions back about the problem. Usually the questions asked are too vague to answer and I need more details.

Additionally, I find that when I tell someone the answer to their question they are not usually happy with the answer. Genealogy is very open ended. There are usually no simple answers. My answer may involve a great deal of work on your part. You have to be prepared to do the work and usually, you will find the answer yourself.

We must also be realistic. Some questions have no answers at all. There are real end-of-line situations in genealogy all the time. If that is the case, then you need to know that and move on. Perhaps through time, the answer will become available.

OK. So start asking.

Three useful steps to competency in family history

I have been thinking about what people need to do to move towards becoming more involved in family history. It seems an insurmountable task to go from being mildly interested in genealogy and having no background to finding ancestors that are candidates for Temple ordinances. I think there are three things that are not challenging that will put you on the path to competency in family history endeavors. Here are my suggestions.

The first step is to become involved with your ancestral family on a regular basis. Set aside a time each week to think about your family and organize and review the documents you have. How about an hour every Sunday or some other day, when you organize photos, dig out the old letters and documents and begin to look at them as the history of your family. How about finding and organizing all your own certificates and documents. You could go online to and spend some time looking at the Family Tree program. Take some time to look at the photos and read the stories online about your family, if there are any. If there are no photos online, start putting your own online.

The second step is a little more involved. Look for any genealogy or family history that may have already been done in your family. If there is a book containing some of your family history, do you have a copy? Is there something online in one of the huge digital books sites about one of your ancestors? Have you searched your family's surname in's Books website? If you have or learn of a book about your family, read it. Look online at the Family Tree program and match up the information in the book with what is online. Think about whether the information you have is consistent and believable. Take some time to study the history of where your family came from and how they originally came to America or any other major historical events. Look for prominent or interesting ancestors.

The third step is now the one that puts you on the path to competency. It is the really the first step in your education. This step is to talk to a Ward or Stake Family History Consultant or visit a Family History Center. Don't just talk, ask questions about classes and the training available. Take the time to learn about the local resources you have to help you learn about the process of doing your family history. Find someone who will help you get started. If you are the type of person who wants to do this all on their own, then use the vast online resources available to help you on your journey. Here are some websites that will get you started:

That's probably enough to give you and idea of what is available. So now, take the first step. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Perspective on Local Ward Genealogical Efforts

I have lived in my present Ward now for eight years. During that entire time, with a few very limited breaks, I have also been a Missionary at the Mesa FamilySearch Library (formerly the Mesa Regional Family History Center) and also acting as one of the Family History Consultants in our Ward. Early on in my experiences in this Ward, we focused on holding periodic classes on genealogy using the very well done and basic lesson materials supplied by the Church. What we found was that, for the most part, the class members would sometimes become interested in pursuing their own research, but that the classes did not provide the tools they needed to advance beyond looking at what was already recorded online. It appeared that the main obstacle to increasing family history activity was a way to capture the interest of the members, but at the same time, provide a pathway for them to advance in finding their ancestors from a practical standpoint.

In our Ward building, we do not have a FamilySearch Center, but we do have room with some computers. After some discussion, we decided to change the focus of our efforts from holding periodic classes to providing an open forum for members of the Ward to come to us every Sunday during our class period and work with individuals on their particular needs. Although response was slow at first, our persistence in the being available for consultation every Sunday eventually resulted in a marked increase in research activity among the Ward members with the results of some discovery hundreds of their ancestors. It is not unusual now to have every chair in our small computer center filled and people standing around asking questions.

Two events in the last month or so have dramatically changed the family history atmosphere in our Ward. First, the Stake implemented an Indexing program among the youth with active Stake representatives organizing and teaching the youth about Indexing. In addition, during the past month, our Bishop gave us permission to visit, very briefly, with each of the member families as they came for Tithing Settlement. We agreed not to do anything to interfere with the appointment times, but since our computer room was right next to the Bishop's office, this was not a problem.

We have now had a full month of meeting with most of the members of our Ward. The key factor to the success of this effort was using the Photos and Stories on's Family Tree program. We took less than five minutes, in most cases, to have one of the members of the family sign on to and showed them what the program had in the way of photos and stories. If their family did not have any photos online, we showed them briefly a file where there were a lot of photos and stories.

The results of this effort have been dramatic. What has been missing from the genealogy efforts in the past is engaging the class members in their own families. With stories and photos the reaction from the members, most of whom had not seen anything like this before, was extreme. We had people burst into tears and become so involved we had a hard time getting them to go to the Bishop's office for their appointment.

To reinforce what we had been doing every Sunday for a month, the Bishop held a "Fifth Sunday" meeting earlier in the month of December on the subject of FamilySearch and the Photos and Stories. We were able to present a brief overview to a a large number of Ward members, most of whom had already seen their own file online. When I went to a Ward gathering after these experiences, every person I talked to for over an hour wanted to tell me what they had found online about their family and how they are going to put more photos online.

I think there are some specific points here that need to be made. First and foremost, the Photos and Stories part of is a fantastic success even with all of its problems and challenges. Second, the members of the Ward need a specific experience that gives them an emotional interaction with their ancestors and the Photos and Stories provides that link. Last, the effort needs to be supported by active Family History Consultants that can provide the information to the members about how to translate their interest into concrete research on their family lines. If this is done consistently, day after day, week after week, the members will begin to take their own initiative and become actively involved in research. We are also fortunate to have the Mesa FamilySearch Library so close to our area for backup to our local Ward efforts.

Think about whether some variation on this type of approach might not help your own Ward.