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

Sunday, August 31, 2014 classes at BYU Family History Library

Remember to check the Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History Library class schedule on their Facebook page for the week's classes. This week from September 2 to September 6, I will be teaching a number of classes on The schedule is as follows:
James Tanner will be teaching 5 more classes on "how to use the LDS member subscriptions at" this week. Tuesday, Sept. 2, Tuesday at 9AM, 1PM, and 5PM; Wednesday, Sept. 3, at 5PM; Saturday, Sept. 6 at 10AM in room 2242. Come join us!
The BYU Family History Library is located in the lower level of the Harold B. Lee Library right in the middle of the campus. You can park for free in the Art Museum parking lot.

Do We Have an Endless Supply of Cousins?

I received the following comment:
I have been enjoying your blogs and, I too, have mixed feelings about Church members rushing to find names for the temple without careful checking for duplication, etc. As you know, there has been a recent emphasis on the finding of cousins for this purpose by descendancy & Puzzilla research, etc. With half of my ancestry being non-LDS, I have been fairly successful in finding temple names by these and associated methods. I realize that it may not be this easy for some church members with long LDS pioneer ancestry on all lines with much of the work already done.

I was looking in your blogs to find one which addressed this cousin searching issue. For most church members, would you estimate that there are hundreds &/or thousands of searchable (i.e., in the 1700-1904's) non-member cousins in the spirit world waiting to have their temple work done? After a couple of years of intensive Puszzila research by many church members, perhaps the number of available temple names would be reduced. Of course, that would be good and probably other effective searching tools will emerge not to mention of new members coming into the Church continually around the world.
There is a rule of genealogy called "Pedigree Collapse." From Wikipedia: Pedigree collapse:
In genealogy, pedigree collapse describes how reproduction between two individuals who share an ancestor causes the number of distinct ancestors in the family tree of their offspring to be smaller than it could otherwise be. Robert C. Gunderson coined the term, which is also known by the German term Ahnenschwund (loosely translated: loss of lineage) or the term implex.
 If this were not the case, then going back 30 generations would mean that you had over a billion ancestors, which would be more than the entire population of the earth at the time. Additionally, any genealogist who has done a significant amount of genealogy has probably reached an "end of line" situation where it seems to be impossible to continue finding additional ancestors. But the current population of the earth is around 7.1 billion and each one of those people has ancestors. How do we reconcile the current population with pedigree collapse?

The answer is pretty clear, all of us have common ancestors. But a less obvious answer is that we have many more relatives who are descendants of our common ancestors than we do ancestors. Let's imagine that we are tracing our ancestral lines back to the mid-1800s. For some younger people, that might be as much as ten generations. For some very old people, that might be only three generations. But how many relatives might you have who are descendants of those mid-1800s ancestors?

The answer to that question will depend on the number of children but that number was calculated for one of my ancestors for a book published in 1982. My Great-great-grand father would presently have tens of thousands of descendants. There is really no end to all the potential cousins I might have. Every generation I go back potentially increases the number by thousands and thousands of descendants on any one line. The pool of potential cousins will increase at the rate that presently living people extend their genealogy back a few generations. Extending your pedigree even one more generation along only one line increases the pool of potential cousins by an enormous number.

At the present rate of participation in family history, we don't have to worry too much about running out of cousins. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Analysis of an Interesting Response

Part of a rather lengthy comment on a blog post I recent received reads as follows:
I am unconvinced, after reading Mr Tanner's post, that Mr. Tanner has any supporting data to back up his claims of exclusive online family tree storage. Per Mr Tanners post, he appears to be convinced that almost everyone is storing their genealogy data exclusively online.

If anyone wishes to post on the future trends of stand-alone versus online database usage/storage, please back up your assumptions with some data.

I found Mr Tanner's post to be heavy on user predictions but absolutely lacking in supporting user survey data. Id be interested in hearing from other professional or long-time researchers in regard to whether they maintain a stand-alone database. In my humble opinion, a user poll would be a better way to ascertain stand-alone versus online family tree data storage.
The blog post I wrote was entitled, "A Perspective in the Major Shift in Genealogy: Practical and Theoretical." I guessed that I needed to go back and see what I said. Well, yes I did say:
Additionally, I would suggest that the online family trees are the only genealogical record being maintained by the vast majority of the users of the online programs. In other words, the concept that a genealogist compiles records and kept these records organized in their own personal collection is now confined to a distinct and almost microscopic minority. The present reality is what actual genealogical research content there is in the mainstream of the genealogical community is totally contained in the information maintained online.
I guess I am confused as to why these statements need to be "backed up with data." They are my opinion derived from my extensive online experience. As I note in my post, there are over 72 million users of just one online database/family tree program;  I could also have pointed out that, also owned by, has another 78 million users. I do not need a survey or study to compare those numbers to the total number of professional genealogists in the various professionally oriented organizations as I set forth in my post on 2 May 2014 entitled, "Looking at genealogy professionals -- where do they fit in?" The numbers show that there really is a rather microscopic minority of certified or accredited genealogists. It is my opinion, mind you, that no poll is necessary. These numbers show that if there is any future for genealogy, it will be online.

Now what was I really saying in my previous post: I was merely pointing out that the trend to online family trees and records is inevitable. It appears to me (and many others) that isolated desktop computer based technology will almost completely disappear. For example, I use Adobe Photoshop, a very complex and expensive program. I can no longer purchase a "desktop" version of the program. The only version available is sold as Adobe Photoshop CC (2014) and is only available with a subscription to the the Adobe Creative Cloud. This is the same trend being followed by any number of other programs including the Microsoft Office 365 and even many of the genealogy programs such as Family Tree Maker from and Family Tree Builder from These programs, although they could be maintained as stand alone software, are essentially integrated into online databases. In the future, I doubt that a stand-alone version will continue to be available.

If you seriously think that continuing to sell desktop single-user programs that do not connect to the Internet in some way is economically viable, then I suggest you do not get into the software development business. As I scan across all the programs on my computer, I find that less than one in fifty of those programs could be considered to be a single-user, isolated desktop only program. When I say single user, I mean a program that cannot be somehow shared with someone else on another computer. Almost every one of my current programs depends either entirely or substantially on an Internet connection to operate.

Do you really want data? How about this from the Pew Research Internet Project:
As of January 2014:
  • 90% of American adults have a cell phone
  • 58% of American adults have a smartphone
  • 32% of American adults own an e-reader
  • 42% of American adults own a tablet computer
For the data behind device ownership trends, please visit our device ownership key indicator page.
If you think that paper-based, locally stored genealogy has a future, I suggest you get online and find out what is happening. Now, I am grateful that I have comments. They keep me honest and help me correct errors. This is only a controversial subject among an ever dwindling group of genealogists. The new, younger generation of genealogists will never even be aware that storing data online was ever an issue.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Response to Online Tree issue

 I may have written about this before, but some time ago I attended a conference in Florida. While at the conference one of the members of the genealogy society came into the meeting carrying a pile of records. He handed the records to the president of the society and explained that one of the members of the society and recently passed away. The other member had lived a few doors away and as the surviving genealogical society member observed, someone began cleaning up his apartment. The member noticed that a pile of records was ready to be dumped into the dumpster and rescued them. These records constituted all of the research done by the departed genealogist.

I suspect that this scenario is played out again and again across the world. Genealogists spend years of their lives doing research but often failed to provide for the preservation of the records. Today we have a rather simple way of preserving the vast majority of the research done by all the genealogists in the world. That information can be placed online in appropriate websites.

In this regard I came across a presentation made by Israel Pickholtz. Unfortunately, the text of the presentation does not identify either the date or the place, but the information presented reaffirms the need to preserve genealogical information. The presentation relates an experience where a relative of the presenter died and all of his research was lost or unavailable. The presenter suggests using as a repository for permanently storing information. I certainly agree with this opinion. This is especially true since was purchased by This acquisition makes the survival of both databases more secure. An alternative online website would be's Family Tree. Granted, Family Tree is still in the development stage but it shows much promise in becoming an extremely valuable place to preserve genealogical data.

 Although, there are a substantial number of negative factors about online family trees, it is important to understand that they are a vital repository for preserving and securing genealogical data that would otherwise be lost. This is not true of every online family tree, but the presentation cited above and my own experience clearly indicate that there are places online where genealogical information can be reliably preserved.

In another blog post entitled "Genealogy as a Quilting Bee,"  I found another interesting article by Israel Pickholtz entitled "Concerns about Geni and Other "Collaborative Genealogy" Websites."  I recommend both these articles and the presentation referenced above as very interesting commentary on the appropriateness and particularly the limitations of online family trees.

Adding Sources from, and

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gain free access to three additional online family tree programs in addition to, there are a lot of questions raised about adding sources. During the past couple of months, I have been answering some of those question over and over again. Here are some of the questions that are frequently asked:

Why should I have more than one family tree online?
First of all, access to, and is free to Church members. It is quite common that genealogical information accumulated by you or your family is lacking in source citations. This means that as the information you have, either in your own personal genealogy records or program or in Family Tree does not have any supporting source information and cannot be verified. You can use the records on to add sources to the people on Family Tree, but the three free programs have huge numbers of additional records. These records may overlap somewhat with, but for the most part are entirely different. In addition, all of the records on the three programs are indexed, while the records on are only partially indexed and must be search manually for records of your family.

In addition, as you enter your family tree in and, these two programs automatically search their entire database for records pertaining to your family. This automatic search program is very accurate and can help you find information about the people you already have in your family tree as well as find additional unknown (to you) family members.

How many sources do I need to add?
My standard answer to this question is "all of them." Even if a source is nearly the same as another source, both sources should be recorded. There is no limit to the number of sources you should add. Every source helps establish a date and a place for the individual ancestors.

What is the source has errors?
It is very common for sources to contain errors.Part of the job of the genealogists is to evaluate sources and extract only the best information. Even though all four of the programs suggest research hints or search sources, this does not mean that they are infallible. In every case, the user needs to examine the sources suggested carefully and include only the information that is felt to be reliable., and all allow the user to compare the information in the suggested source before including it in the individual's profile. At this stage of the comparison between the two records, it is important to think carefully about consistency and plausibility. However, I do not suggest that you exclude a source simply because it has inaccurate information. This is especially true of alternative spellings and alternative dates and places. As I stated, it is my position that all sources should be included. This enables subsequent researchers to do their own evaluation of the sources without the necessity of redoing the research.

What do I do with all the sources suggested?
It is entirely possible that both and will suggest dozens if not hundreds of individual sources. This may seem very overwhelming at first. However you are under no obligation to process all those sources. The simplest way to handle a large number of source suggestions is to review the list and work on only those that apply to individuals which you are currently investigating. In a sense, the source links are a gift. You are being given the opportunity to correct and augment research that has been done without sources for over 150 years. I suggest you take this seriously and spend time looking at the sources and learning about your ancestors. You may find individuals who have been overlooked or missing from your previous research. You may also find many of the assumptions that have been previously made about your family are not supported by the sources. Remember, that it would take you an extraordinary amount of time to do the actual searching for all of those sources that is now being done automatically. Do not approach this as a burden but has an opportunity.

There is a lot more that can be said about sources. It is important to remember that these four programs have only a very small percentage of the total number of sources available to be searched. It is also important to remember that only the indexed records on can be searched by the names of your ancestors. As you begin to realize the vast number of records available waiting to be indexed, you will gain a greater appreciation for the importance of the Indexing Program.

If you have any further questions about adding sources please add them to the comments and I will address them in subsequent posts.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Breaking Down Barriers to Family History

A chance comment, made in a class I taught yesterday, stuck in my mind and as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot would say, "started the little grey cells" working away. At the time of the comment, I was discussing ways that tradition-bound genealogists erect substantial barriers to would-be family historians. In addition, an extensive comment made in response to a blog post I wrote yesterday gave me further food for thought.

The question I present is this: Are we as "genealogists" really interested in attracting new adherents to the area of family history or are we content to maintain our very evident exclusivity? Put another way, is genealogy an exclusive club that requires the payment of "one's dues" for entry or is it a popular, open-invitation community event with activities for all ages and all abilities?

Unfortunately, I seem to run into the exclusive club folks all the time. The two comments made me aware that they are alive and well and prickly in their exclusivity.

I see three major barriers to attracting new genealogists to the fold. Each of these barriers seem very innocent in themselves but they each rely on entrenched attitudes that have taken different forms at different times in the development of what we now call genealogy. For the first time I am beginning to understand more completely why there have been a number of statements made by various presentations associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that "You don't have to be a genealogist." You might also want to read a post written in 2011 by the Ancestry Insider. That post was written back when the program was being abandoned for the development of Family Tree, but expresses the goals of FamilySearch that still apply today. Quoting from the Ancestry Insider about some of the requirements of a program that would replace
FamilySearch has several goals.
  • Make it so you don’t have to be a genealogist to do genealogy.
  • Make it easy to receive (and give) assistance.
  • Make the site genealogically sound so that even advanced genealogists will want to use it
 What are the three barriers?

  1. That you need to "do something" before you begin recording your family history. 
  2. Maintaining that recording information about your family requires the use of a particular software program "that runs on your computer" or a particular format. 
  3. That genealogy consists of searching for names and dates either online or in repositories.

To understand what I mean by these three barriers, I will propose a hypothetical situation. Let's suppose that we have someone who decides to "do their genealogy or family history." This person comes into a family history center or talks to an "experienced" genealogist about getting started. What are they told" What I have observed over and over again is that the person is told to fill out a "pedigree chart" (usually on paper) so that we can "organize" the genealogy. Then the person is usually put in front of a computer and shown various programs where the "helper" finds a census record or something about the family. They are then sent home to "do their genealogy" with a photocopy of the census record. Oh, I almost forgot, in the course of helping the person with their "genealogy" the helper tells them that they "need a program on their computer to organize and work on their family history."

When the newly interested person goes home, they promptly lose the paper copies or throw them away and decide that genealogy is too complicated. They are especially puzzled by the suggestion that they need to buy a genealogy program to record their family history. Does this scenario sound familiar? This reaction is especially true of younger, device savvy, computer literate individuals.

In fact, one of the most common ways we tell people to do their genealogy is to gather all their records together in their home. See Gather Family Information. All of these suggestions seem rational and fairly innocuous. But in fact, they are substantial barriers to beginning a family history. What is needed is a clear path to beginning recording family history in a way that allows the new person to progress and not have to start over and over.

We are rapidly developing that entry path. In fact, it is already substantially available. It is called Family Tree. Believe me, it has taken me some time to work through my 32+ years of experience and realize the baggage I have accumulated. Using Family Tree as the basis for introducing people to family history is a giant step towards making family history or genealogy more accessible to more people.

Here is how that hypothetical would change. The new person would come into the family history center and would be given several options, including recording a personal oral history. But rather than giving the person a paper pedigree chart or the equivalent, they would be introduced to Family Tree and record what they presently know about their family. By doing this right at the beginning, they will not "lose ground." What they enter into the program with the assistance of the experienced genealogist, will be preserved and available either to the person at home or on any other network connected device. The next step is to show them how Family Tree will search for more information about their family. They are not told that they need "their own program" or anything else. They can add stories. They can add photos. They can add copies of documents, if they are inclined to do so, but all that is really necessary is to start adding in their own family information. If they continue with more interest, then there is a lot more to learn. But the key is, they do not need all of my our your years of genealogical baggage to get started. I think I am beginning to see why some would say "you don't need to be a genealogist to do genealogy."

I will talk about some of the other issues raised by my list of barriers in subsequent posts.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Perspective in the Major Shift in Genealogy: Practical and Theoretical

Historical genealogical research was conducted primarily in isolation. Unless you had access to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah or some other similar institution that contained collections of user submitted pedigrees and family group records, you were very unlikely to be aware of the inconsistencies and duplications between the submissions made by various researchers. The genealogical records maintained by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were no exception. The vast extent of the inconsistencies and duplications only became readily apparent with the proliferation of online family trees and in the Church, with the introduction of

However, the existence of duplication and inconsistencies had existed since the earliest recorded genealogies. No matter what the cause, the existence of the duplication inconsistencies could only be perceived as a result of the advances in technology. One of the most common complaints I listen to day after day are the inconsistent changes being made to the Family Tree program. I field an almost constant barrage of complaints about people changing obviously correct data or altering information without supplying proper sources. These problems are manifested by the nature of the Family Tree program itself allowing user editing. The same situation exists in every other online family tree program including, for example, with its multitude of copied family trees. Those differences in data however are manifested on different family trees and there is no mechanism for correction other than

Instead of operating as genealogists in the vacuum of isolation, we have been thrust into a complicated interconnected community. In many cases, whatever we do, regardless of our level of expertise, is instantly globally available. But the abundant evidence of inconsistencies and duplications is merely a surface manifestation of deeper shifts in genealogical methodology and even of the basic assumptions behind the practice of genealogy. This shift began with the first online family tree. At that point, the barriers creating genealogical isolation began to erode and collectively, we began the process of becoming aware of not only the currently contributed genealogical research, but also the accumulated work.

As the results of genealogical research began to accumulate online, it became apparent that the availability of this information was both a benefit and a bane. It is a benefit in that individuals and families could now collaborate more easily, but the availability of the research began to highlight all of the duplication and inconsistencies that had accumulated. Simultaneously, the rise of online genealogical database programs containing massive amounts of data in the form of documents and sources exacerbated the challenge.

There are certain very salient factors that have emerged as a result of the technological advances as well as the perception of the condition of genealogical research.
  • Awareness of the differing degrees of genealogical ability have been highlighted by the technological changes creating a substantial measure of tension in the community.
  • The movement of records maintained by individuals from their own paper-based systems to commercially established and structured online family trees is made any differences between the efforts of the researchers more apparent.
  • Whereas historically, genealogists at little or no contact with each other and what contact was available was limited to local societies for the most part, the new technology has opened genealogists to a global community.
  • The popularization of genealogy has attracted an increasingly apparent casually interested component of the overall genealogical community.
 If we look at the global genealogical community it is most prominently represented presently, by the overwhelming presence of millions of user submitted family trees. I am certain that most of these trees, I would say virtually all of them, have been created by individuals who have only the vaguest idea of the genealogical research process. The information in the trees has been generated by reflecting the immediately available information in families or copied from core individuals who have created researched (or partially researched) family histories. Additionally, I would suggest that the online family trees are the only genealogical record being maintained by the vast majority of the users of the online programs. In other words, the concept that a genealogist compiles records and kept these records organized in their own personal collection is now confined to a distinct and almost microscopic minority. The present reality is what actual genealogical research content there is in the mainstream of the genealogical community is totally contained in the information maintained online.

Put another way, what is happening is that genealogy is moving entirely online. For example, the online program indicates that they have more than 72 million members. I am absolutely certain that only a very small percentage of those users maintain separate genealogical databases or records other than those they have accumulated online and if they do have a local component to their research, it is likely the program supplied by, that is, Family Tree Builder. 

The fact is that in the future it will be more and more difficult to convince new and computer literate genealogists that there is any need to maintain paper records or to maintain a separate local genealogical database program. The multitude of arguments that have been made by genealogist the past few years in support of maintaining their own personal genealogical repository simply have been marginalized by the vast growth of online resources. The perception is that we can maintain all of our genealogical data online. I would submit that this perception is rapidly becoming self-fulfilling.

Those involved in promoting local programs, not directly connected to an online database, should be painfully aware of this major shift. What is even more important is that in the future there will be a way to move information between the larger online programs. Therefore, even if a program has its own online database failure to cooperate with the global community of online databases will prove to be a serious impediment.

Let me put this into some very simple terms. Most of the new genealogists will see no need for a personal genealogy program on their individual device. They will use the large online databases exclusively. Despite their competitive nature, the commercial online databases will eventually evolved a way of moving information between family trees in the different programs. More sophisticated users will maintain several online family trees depending on the services offered by the various hosting entities. As this occurs, the underlying duplication and inconsistencies will slowly and inexorably be resolved. Although, there will always be a measure of inaccuracy.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Classes at BYU Family History Library now on Facebook

The Brigham Young University Family History Library has begun publishing a list of selected classes that will be available during the weeks as well as on Sunday afternoons. The first list of classes appears today in a post by the Library and states:

James Tanner will be teaching 4 sessions on "how to use the LDS member subscriptions at". The dates are: Monday, August 25th at 1:00PM; Tuesday, August 26th at 9:00AM and 1:00 PM; and Wednesday, August 27th at 1:00PM. These will all be taught in room 2212 in the BYU Harold B. Lee Library. 

You might want to Like this Facebook page and follow it for updated information about class schedules and other activities. 

Why we might consider more than one online family tree

You cannot believe the amount of animosity, anger, incredulity, disbelief and even apathy I have experienced the last few months as I have taught classes, worked with people and explained over and over again about the free access members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have to three large online genealogy database programs. It is apparent that although many people, particularly those serving in Family History Centers and Libraries, have received an invitation to sign up for the free accounts, there has been little or no explanation given to them as to why they should do so. In class after class, let's say I had ten people in the class, half of them would not have looked at the three programs or tried to sign on and the rest would be not have done anything with the programs once they signed on. Of course, there were notable exceptions but after explaining how these programs work and why they are useful, almost all the class participants express surprise and in many cases delight at the opportunity.

The core concerns seem to center around the issue of why the user would need to have additional copies of their personal family tree. The next layer of concern immediately becomes the issue of how to maintain synchronization between the programs. Of course, there is the usual reaction to learning a new program or adopting new technology. In each class I have taught, as the subject unfolds, I get the same questions over and over again. The offer of a "free" program is simply not enough to overcome the concerns and misunderstandings that already exist.

I can draw a parallel with classes that I teach about Google searches. Most of those who attend my classes are surprised to learn about the resources available from Google. They have always had free access to all of the Google resources but they have simply been unaware of the advantages of learning about the programs are using them for genealogy. The number of people who were already using any one of the three online genealogy database programs for hosting their own family tree are in the very small minority of those who have attended my classes so far. Most the people who attend the classes, even though they work in a Family History Center for Library have never used any one of the three programs previously. If they have used one of the programs it is usually Even if they have used and even if they have a family tree on the program, they have not used the automatic search features or shaky green leaves.

The results of explaining how these programs function is usually dramatic. They are immediately motivated to sign up for and use the programs. My guess as to why there has been so little media explanation of the advantages of using these programs is that only a very very small number of people understand the advantages and opportunities, even among those who are promoting the use of the programs.

To answer the question in the title to this post completely would involve transcribing more than an hour of instruction. But there are some basic reasons why we should consider using the automatic search functions available into the three programs. I say this because both and have search functions tied to the individuals in an online family tree but they do not promote the searches as prominently as and

Understanding the importance of all of these automatic or semi-automatic search functions involves a revolutionary change in the basic approach to genealogical research. In the past, we have proceeded by obtaining the name of an ancestor and then doing a search for supporting sources. For example, we may get a pedigree or a list of names from a relative and then begin the search for supporting documentation. In each case with the search functions of the programs, the idea is that the program provides additional sources and extensions in the pedigree originate from those sources. In other words individuals are not added to the family tree unless there is a source. This source-centric method of genealogical research is exactly 180° opposite from the most common procedures.

As an example of how this source-centric method changes the way we would do genealogy or family history is most markedly illustrated by how a beginner would start a family tree. Traditionally, we would sit down with a beginning genealogist or family historian and asked them the names of family members and fill in the blanks on a pedigree chart some type or another. We would then assist the new researcher in finding documents to support the relationships and identity of the individuals listed. When someone begins genealogical research by looking at what others have done in their family, such as on Family Tree, they are essentially doing the same thing. They are seeing names and then attempting to find sources to support those names.

Rather than follow this traditional pattern, the online programs give users the opportunity to build their pedigree entirely from sources rather than relying on unsubstantiated name contributions. So for example, going back to the beginning genealogist or family historian, they would start by entering a minimal amount of information into one or more of the online programs such as, Family Tree, or This minimal amount of information might include only the name of the person entering the information, his or her parents and maybe a few dates. At this point, the user would allow the programs to find sources and thereby add individuals to the pedigree. It is evident, at this point that anyone added to the pedigree would be supported by a source. Hence, the additional information is automatically source-centric.

Even if you already have a family tree on any one of the programs, I would challenge you to try this process and see how it works as you begin to build pedigree you will realize how revolutionary this approach is to family history. The difficulty in using Family Tree is that many users find that they already have an extensive pedigree in the program. The trap here is that they have no idea whether or not that pedigree is correct and in many cases there are no substantiating sources. So, for this reason this procedure works best starting a new pedigree in one of the other programs.

Now, why has this approach not been emphasized? Probably, the main reason is because so few people have been instructed in the importance of extending family lines from sources rather than from hearsay or fable. One evident benefit of this approach is that it will automatically eliminate the "back to Adam" syndrome. The researcher will only proceed as far as source documentation supports the extension of the pedigree. In the case of Family Tree the process will accelerate adding sources to the existing family tree. The process becomes self-correcting. Since you can only add a person to pedigree if there is a source, unsourced extensions will have to be examined closely for further documentation. Since the pedigree is built step-by-step rather than dumping in an entire existing file, duplications and incorrectly connected ancestors are automatically corrected.

Do I expect this approach to be popular? No. Do I expect experienced genealogists to gracefully accept this approach? No. Primarily, the reason for this is because they already have an investment in huge files that they see no reason in duplicating. This is the case even if they have no supporting documentation for any of the names in those files.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Is there such a thing as an advanced genealogy book?

 I received an very interesting comment to a post the other day. The commentator asked for a list of "advanced genealogy books." That started me thinking. Is there such a thing as an advanced genealogy book? Even after some consideration, I am not sure how I would categorize a book as advanced. I think the only difference between a book aimed at beginning genealogists and one that someone would consider advanced, is the topics addressed in the book. 

The reason why I cannot make the distinction is that as genealogists, we never really get past our need to consider the basics. We may not think we need any particular book to remind us of what we already know, but it is always a good idea to be reminded anyway. There is another current challenge in the world of genealogical books and that is the fast moving and changing technology. It is easy to go back to a book or even a blog post, even one or two years old, and find references that date the material. 

I have recently been reviewing and updating some articles for the Blog in the TechTips area. Some of the posts I have reviewed so far are only one or two years old but require major revisions. Books go out of date equally as rapidly. When I have suggested lists of books to genealogists in the past, I have chosen books that, to some extent, defy the ravages of time. They are so basic as to be useful years after they were written or they cover areas that do not change with technology. In fact, this is usually the case. Most genealogical principles are the same as they were 100 years ago. We seem to be more focused today, but much of what was written 100 years ago still applies to us today. We think we are "up-to-date and modern" but we are actually very, very traditional in our way of approaching genealogical issues. 

So, are there books that can be considered advanced? I guess I would have to conclude that anything in a genealogy book that you don't already know is "advanced." But I would suggest that if you have an opportunity to visit a library with a sizable collection of genealogy related books, that you take a few minutes (or hours) to walk up and down the shelves and look at the books. You will see that most of the books on the shelves will turn out to be compilations of genealogical information or writings about the history of people or places. I would suggest that the day you start investigating these books is the day you begin your "advanced" training as a genealogist. 

If you want a quick and free introduction to what you might call "advanced" genealogy, I would also suggest a few topics in Google Books. I would also suggest reading some back editions of The American Genealogist. You can get complete digital access to the entire set of back issues with a membership in the New England Historic Genealogical Society, or you can find copies in genealogy libraries around the U.S. A quick look for the journal in shows that copies are listed in 237 libraries around the world. There are a lot of other journals and books with similar information, but awareness of these journals and books is what separates the uninitiated from the initiated in genealogy. 

One set of journals that is pretty well covered for free in Google Books is the Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, published beginning in 1910. 

Reading this journal will also give you a good idea of what is considered "advanced" genealogy. From my viewpoint, advancing in genealogy is more a process of learning about sources and maturing in your ability to research those sources than it is any kind of more technical jargon-filled topic. I would suggest you start with the basic books however, and when you can remember the basics you will be already a long way down the road to becoming advanced. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Notice of Link for Early Sign-Up for LDS Member Free Access to Select Commercial Genealogy Websites

I received the following email from FamilySearch Public Affairs Manager, Paul Nauta. He suggested I pass this along to my readers:
LDS Bloggers,

We thought your LDS blog subscribers and readers would like to know how to receive their free personal accounts to,, and The first phase of the offer campaign has been managed by email invitation. More than 138,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have taken advantage of the offer to get free personal accounts.

FamilySearch has received numerous requests from LDS members who want access to this offer who have not received the email invitation for whom we did not have email addresses. The following link allows any LDS member, age 13 and above, to initiate the process of getting a free account with any of our commercial partners.

The link is:

If LDS members have any difficulties creating new accounts or converting existing partner accounts, they will need to contact FamilySearch Support at or 1-866-406-1830 for help.

In October 2014, we are planning a full-scale campaign letting members of the Church worldwide know of access to these partner accounts. Right now, we wanted to reach out to your LDS subscribers. More details will be shared as we get closer to that launch.
Many people I have talked to do not realize what a great opportunity this is for the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  This is true of even those who are actively engaged in genealogy. We need to understand that family history is changing and evolving rapidly. There are very important reasons to put your family tree on each of these programs. I will be writing over the next few days about the advantages we have as members to have our family trees on each of these programs in addition to's Family Tree.

Let's not raise barriers to family history

We seem to be preoccupied as a genealogical community with both exclusivity and inclusivity. We want to raise the standards for reporting our genealogy online while at the same time we want to include as many new users as possible. I have a few suggestions for those who want to include more people in the family history or genealogical community. I may also have some suggestions for those who want to improve the overall quality of genealogy, but that is another post.

I see several barriers to adding more people, especially young people, to the community. I guess I don't really have any particular order to these topics, and I do not intend to imply that the ones I mention first are more important than those down on the list. Here are the things I think that keep people from becoming genealogists. But before I get into the list, I want to point out my own memory of genealogy that I saw as a barrier. When I was a lot younger, from time to time the "genealogist" in our Ward would be called upon to give a short (or longer) presentation on the subject. He or she would come into the classroom with a hefty pile of genealogy sheets in huge binders, sometimes thousands of sheets of paper and then stand there and tell us how much time and effort had gone into acquiring this huge pile of paper. Often the commentary would include a detailed explanation of tracking down an ancestor in Sweden or Germany or whatever, with references to repositories visited and the books consulted. All this made absolutely no sense to me and I suppose to most of the other people in attendance. Oh, the presentation always began with a statement about how many records had been accumulated. Fortunately, these experiences did not deter me from becoming interested, although it was much later in life when I did.

Here is the list of common barriers:

Genealogy is a competitive sport.
The first question I am often asked when I tell people that I do genealogy full-time is how many people do I have in my file? An alternative question is how far back have I gone with my research? Both of these questions imply a perception about genealogy that has become an absolute barrier to some people. They think that all family history entails is gathering huge piles of ancestors. It like the difference between riding a bike around the neighborhood for exercise and becoming one of the Spandex shorts guys on racing bikes toiling up the steep hill. If you think that you have to wear a special outfit and ride an expensive bike to participate in the sport, you will likely not start, especially if you look rather funny in Spandex. The same principle applies to genealogy. Those who are wrapped up in the genealogical world sometimes become competitive. They think that numbers are important and that pushing the family line back to Adam is an accomplishment. However, this attitude is a monumental barrier to new genealogists. I have seen people break down and cry with frustration when they confront an experienced genealogist explaining some obscure issue about records or whatever. Let's stop making genealogy into a competitive sport that requires special professional equipment and realize that it is about families.

There is just one way to record family history
One of the first things many aspiring genealogists hear when they talk to the "old timers" is that they need to buy a special genealogy program to start their search for family members. Do you realize what kind of a barrier this is to new genealogists? I would say, yes, you need to record what you learn about your family, but you can use whatever method best suits you. Personally, I would suggest, however, that you use's Family Tree program. It is free. It is relatively simple to get started. It helps you find your ancestors and it will preserve whatever information you add. You may need to get some help to start, but there is really no need to learn other programs to start. As you progress, you will find there are other programs, but keeping a copy of your discoveries somewhere for preservation purposes is all that is necessary to start. Let's keep our opinions about our favorite genealogy program to ourselves until the new genealogist understands the need for such a program.

You must cite your sources in a particular way
Can you imagine what a beginning genealogist would think if they attended a class on citations? We sometimes get so wrapped up in the trappings of genealogy, we forget the substance. We are interested in the history, the stories, the photographs, the details and the spirit rather than being fixated on a particular format. Yes, you do need to keep track of your sources and add them appropriately to your documentation. But making people think there is only one way of citing sources becomes an almost insurmountable obstacle to interest in genealogy.

You have to spend hours and hours searching for family members
This barrier can be true. But it is usually the case that a new genealogist will make discoveries about his or her family very quickly. Many people find interesting and even inspiring things about their near relatives. You will begin to feel the spirit of family history even if you spend only an hour or so a week learning about your family.

All of your genealogy is done
Especially those who come from pioneer stock, have likely been told over and over again that all their genealogy has been done. This is not only an impossibility the statement is silly. Even if one of your aunts or grandparents worked on their own genealogy for an extended period of time, they did not have the resources you have today and could not have found all of their own relatives. In addition, that person worked on only one line. It is almost inevitable that they neglected some of the lines. Also, unless your parents were related, there are likely whole lines in your own family that have never been investigated.

Genealogy is for old, retired people
This is the most objectionable and insidious of all the barriers to genealogy. There is nothing about being old or being retired that has anything to do with genealogy as such. This particular barrier is really a variation of the amount of time that needs to be spent. Just because I spend a lot of time involved in genealogy, it does not mean that you or anyone else needs to spend that much time. You choose to do what you think is important or what you do out of habit. You can probably live without TV or whatever for a few hours to spend on your family history.

You own your genealogy
This is another very significant barrier. Many genealogists become overly possessive about their genealogy, to the point of discouraging anyone from even looking at what they have done. Some people publish books containing their research and copyright the information and try to prevent people from copying any of the information just so they can sell the books and make money either for profit or to recoup the cost of publication. Because there is a published book, many of the people related to the person or family that is the subject of the book think that their genealogy is all done. This is true even if the book is entirely wrong and has no sources or basis in fact.

There are likely a lot more barriers to genealogy. Unfortunately, some of these barriers come from genealogists who, though well meaning, feel like everyone should be doing genealogy exactly the way they do.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Floating in a Sea of Records

By Pudelek (Marcin Szala) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
I used to read a lot of poetry, but I am not much impressed by what is represented a poetry today. But the words of a poem I read in high school come back to me once and while from the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." The verses that seem appropriate to me presently are as follows:
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean. 
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
Sometimes I feel like the Ancient Mariner of genealogy, floating on a sea of records, but not one of them can I use to find an elusive ancestor.  Sometimes I feel like I am treading water (or records) and barely keeping my head about the flood. For example, today's Historical Record Collections added 8,446,153 records. This is just in one day. If those records were gallons of water, It would fill a pool 2136 feet long, 400 feet wide and over 80 feet deep. That would be plenty to float the Ancient Mariner in style on fresh or salt water. Put another way, if the records were water they would be approximately 25.9 acre feet of water. In other words, the water would cover an acre to the depth of 25.9 feet. If the records were $1 bills and I had it in an investment at 4% a year, I would be getting $337846.12 in interest assuming no compound interest. That works out to $925.60 a day.

If I looked at each of the new records for one second, it would take almost 98 days going without stopping just to finish looking.

If the number of records were miles and I was traveling in my car at 75 miles per hour, it would take 4692.3 days to travel that distance without stopping for McDonald's or Burger King or anything else.

But think about it. This was just one website. How many more records went online today? Too many to count and too many to review.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Look at the Future of and FamilySearch

In a webinar sponsored by and presented by Tim Crabb of, there were a few features about the ability of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will enjoy in addition to the present connections in's Family Tree. If you have been into the program lately with an LDS Account, you might notice a FamilySearch icon next to the names in your Family Tree. Here is an example from a screenshot with an arrow showing the link:

Clicking on the icon link, gives you several options. Here is a screenshot of the options:

 Presently, the only information which can be transferred between the two programs is that contained in the details section. Sources and relationships are presently noted as coming in the future. From the webinar, Tim indicated that comparing and transferring sources and relationships would come in the next few months. In addition, he mentioned a Star Rating system where the matches between Family Tree and are rated according to whether or not they match. He also mentioned a "Tree Sharing" function which I did not completely understand.

The last item to come, was  the ability to import four additional generations for each end of line in your family tree from Family Tree on Superficially, this may sound like a good idea but I would only use this if the accuracy of Family Tree were to increase dramatically.

I am assuming we will hear more about these changes in the future since this presentation only had one sentence bullet points for each of these items.

How members are affected by the Family Tree Private Spaces

The recent announcement of's Family Tree program's Private Spaces is the topic of my blog post on Genealogy's Star entitled, "Private Spaces announced for FamilySearch Family Tree."

The other post refers to the basics of the new way of handling private information. But there are some issues that only apply to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Quoting from the Family Tree Help Center article entitled, "Understanding Private Spaces" it states:
Additional Information for Members
  • Each living person will have a different ID number or Person Identifier (PID) because each person is listed as a separate individual in each living record. Living records do not sync.
  • For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, membership information will be used to create certain people in their private space to help start their tree (mother, father, children, and so forth). Once created, these living people can be changed by the user, but such changes will not modify Church membership information. See Information that you can see from LDS Church Membership Records about living Individuals (71953).
  • Church members can modify their private space in Family Tree without having to ask the ward clerk.
  • Please contact the ward clerk if you feel the membership records are incorrect. See also Deceased individual's membership record has missing or incorrect information (53636).
  • When a ward clerk records that a person is deceased, then Church membership will create a deceased person in Family Tree, making it public. The ordinances that the person had done while living will be recorded on that copy. This will not affect the copy in your private space, and you will need to add the information that shows the person is deceased in your private space. You will then need to search for Possible Duplicates and merge your copy with the membership version. If a person made his or her personal space copy show the person as deceased, that person should merge these two records together. This procedure will need to be done by each person who has created a living person in his or her own private space.
These links may only be visible to those who log in with an LDS Access Account. You should notice from this explanation that there will be duplicate individuals created in the Family Tree program. At this time, it will be up to the members to resolve the duplicates.

If you understand what Private Spaces means, it means that only the person entering the information will see it. That includes spouses, children etc. No, your spouse will not be able to see the living people you enter and no one else will either.

I would speculate that there is a possibility that the Private Spaces may be enlarged to include other members of the family, but that is not available now, but may be in the future.

Positive Alternatives to the Typical Ward or Stake Family History Challenge

It seems to be the fashion today for Stake or Ward leaders to "challenge" the members of their respective congregations to "take a name to the Temple" within a specified time period. I hear this repeated over and over again. Usually, the leaders originating such a challenge have not spent much time doing their own genealogical research. But more importantly, they disregard those members who have spent considerable time, sometimes years, looking for ancestors and have not found any new names to take to the Temple. I have often heard feedback from these seasoned genealogists who feel that they are failing the challenge and are extremely disheartened by their lack of ability to find a potential ancestor in the time specified. In addition, those making the challenge seldom provide either the structure outlined in the Handbook or the training necessary to properly implement such a challenge. What is most likely to happen is that the members will simply try to "mine"'s Family Tree program for "green arrows" and the results will be even more duplication.

In the worse cases, which I find repeatedly, people who are desperate to "find a name" will make unsupported changes to an existing family, solely for the purpose of manufacturing a qualified name to take to the Temple.

The idea of having a "challenge" is a good one. It is just that the nature of the challenge has to be positive and not a negative experience. In recent discussions with some family members who are Family History Consultants or in other Church positions, I have heard some alternatives that I believe are much more positive.

I suggest that the challenge focus on participation in family history activities. How about challenging the Ward or Stake members to spend a certain amount of time each week in a family history activity and then, weekly, suggest appropriate activities in the Ward bulletins? Why not suggest a Stake goal for Indexing and then provide Indexing classes and seminars on the how to Index? How about a Stake goal to increase Temple activity through family history and follow the handbook to organize the Ward Councils to fulfill their functions as outlined? How about a goal to train every person in the Ward how to use FamilySearch Family Tree,, and, all of the programs that are "free" to members? How about modifying the "take a name to the Temple" goal to have those experienced members help those with less experience? How about doing a survey of all of the members and finding out those with few ancestors on the Family Tree and assigning experienced Family History Consultants to work with them in their homes (as outlined in the Handbook) to find real names to take to the Temple? How about making a room available during Sunday School each Sunday where the members can come, either with computers in the room or laptops, and have help with their research questions? How about a realistic goal to have the Wards and the Stake follow the guidelines of the Handbook.

Oh, in case you don't know which handbook I am talking about, here is the name with a link to the website: Leader's Guide to Temple and Family History Work, To Turn the Hearts. How about a preliminary goal to learn our duties as leaders and then teach those duties to those with family history callings from the Stake President to the High Councilor and so forth?

There are those Ward and Stake out there that are making progress in family history by following the guidelines and implementing realistic goals. Is your Ward or Stake in that category?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Overcoming Family Tree Phobia

There seem to be multiple levels of concern about using an online family tree and even more levels of concern about any particular family tree program. I thought it would be a good idea to discuss some of those concerns or fears by category as they apply to the Family Tree program specifically. Here is the list with the comments on each category of concern.

Lack of computer and program skills
At the most basic level, people do not understand how to use the Family Tree program. This concern is usually coupled with a limited ability to use computers and a lack of keyboard training. This is one of the most difficult issues to overcome. Some of the people who fall into this category have limited physical mobility or other impairments. It is important that these limitations not be the decisive issue in the individual's participation in genealogy online. The best solution is to have a mentor, family member or friend who is willing to help keep the person online and in contact with the greater genealogy community. In particular, it is important that the assistance come from someone with the patience to work through not only the online challenges and issues, but also can be a real help. Helping someone enter their family names into Family Tree is one way of demonstrating true charity.

Fear of compromising an extensive amount of research
Some very competent genealogists have spent a considerable amount of time amassing a huge amount of data about their ancestors. The idea that Family Tree can be modified by any user creates a conflict because they believe that the users of the Family Tree program will substitute incorrect data for correct data. Because Family Tree is a unified family tree program this means that any user can correct, add, merge, or delete information in the tree. However, this does not mean that the information can be changed arbitrarily. There are various safeguards built into the program that allow responsible users to manage the tree and prevent improper changes and modifications. These include the ability to watch any one of the individuals entered into the program and to add sources and explanations for each event documented for any individual in the program. All changes to the program are recorded in any unsubstantiated change can be reverted at any time. In addition, the program sends a weekly email notifying any interested user of changes in the people they have designated as "watched."

As a matter of fact, the entire program of Family Tree was designed to create an environment where documented and sourced data is entirely supported and encouraged. It would be a good practice to maintain a separately verified and documented pedigree in order to provide a master file from which any changes made to the program can be corrected.

Privacy concerns
One of the most commonly expressed fears preventing people from entering names into an online family tree program is the fear of identity theft or violation of privacy. These are real concerns and cannot be easily dismissed. The privacy issue can be addressed by realizing that dead people have no privacy rights. In addition, public family trees are generally structured so that information about living individuals is maintained confidentially and only viewable by the user who enters the information. This does not mean that living people do not appear in online family trees but it does mean that there are safeguards so that information about living people is not readily available. In the case of Family Tree, any information entered by an individual concerning living people is viewable only by the person entering such information. It is also important to refrain from entering information that would be detrimental to living people. It is improper to enter private information such as Social Security numbers or personal contact information. The best way to approach this problem is to refrain from entering any information which you feel would compromise the privacy of any individual who is still living.

The question of identity theft is more complex. Except for some financial institutions who in advisedly maintain the practice of verifying identity by asking questions about mother's maiden name or other identity questions, there is usually no information contained in the family tree program which could be used as the basis for identity theft. I have yet to encounter the case or other instance where information obtained from an online family tree was used to perpetrate an identity theft. Caution is advised, but realistically this should not be a reason for failing to put a family tree online.

Duplication of effort
some people are concerned that maintaining a family tree will involve a substantial amount of duplicated effort in order to synchronize work entered into a local program with an online family tree. FamilySearch Family Tree has entered into strategic partnerships with three major genealogical database programs and allow those programs access to Family Tree so that data can be easily exchanged and synchronized. Of course, bringing another program into the equation increases the complexity and may, in a sense, loop back to the very first item in my list, lack of computer program skills.

These are some of the issues that I see most commonly. Most of these can be overcome through education or mentoring.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

FamilySearch Releases Additional Research Hints for Family Tree

According to a FamilySearch Blog post of 19 August 2014 by Robert Kehrer entitled,"Additional Record Hints Released," "on August 18th FamilySearch released a new update of the hinting data visible on an ancestor’s detail page in the Family Tree. This data update represents advancements in the software that will allow users to view a whole new set of hints for each ancestor. Users of the Family Tree may wish to visit their ancestor pages again and evaluate any new hints that may be displayed."

These new developments do not seem to be readily visible to the user, but as I searched around and looked at several ancestors in detail, I did see additional new record hints. It would be nice if there was something showing on the Traditional View pedigree that there were source hints available. Even though the program provides these hints, it is still up to the user to evaluate and attach the sources to the individuals in the program. This feature is very similar to the "shaky green leaf" hints in but without the pedigree view graphic indication of new hints. In FamilySearch Family Tree, you have to go to each ancestor to see the hints, it there are any.

One way to see new or existing hints is to view your ancestors in the Descendancy View. Here is a screenshot of my Great-grandfather's family in the Descendancy View showing the additional Record Hints available. I had cleared off all the record hints previously available.

The blog post goes on to explain the newly added hints as follows:
On June 17th, 2014, FamilySearch released a public preview of the record hinting feature. With this new feature, users can view the details page of any ancestor in the family tree and see suggested records that have a high confidence of being applicable to that specific ancestor. . These hints are identified by comparing the ancestor’s vital information, relatives and the relative’s vital information against all the historical records published on FamilySearch database. 
During the public preview phase of development significant enhancements will continue to be made to the quality and capability of the hinting software. An update system is also being built to provide new hints more quickly. The Hints data will continue to be updated as new records become available (more or less on a monthly basis). That means that as new people are added to the tree, they may not show record hints until the next data update. Later this fall, when the update system is complete, new hints will be generated anytime a tree person is added or significantly changed.
This is a powerful and helpful addition to FamilySearch Family Tree. The blog post from Robert adds these comments:
Genealogical researchers recognize that the first step in understanding an ancestor is to gather as many records about their life as possible. Many of the records that position the ancestor in a place, time and relationships may not be about the ancestor, but about their family members (ex. The ancestor may be listed as the mother on her daughter’s birth certificate). With this data update, the hinting system will now present all the valuable records that mention an ancestor rather than just those that are “about” the ancestor. When a user attaches a record to their tree, they are affirming to Family Tree that the person in the record is the same person they are attaching the record to in the tree. The updated hinting data will make it easier for researchers to use valid sources to document the conclusions they make.
It appears that the accuracy of the hints is very good. I will have to add a few more to be sure, but I would guess that this new development is either a direct or indirect benefit of the partnerships with and/or

Promoting Family History in the Ward and Stake

When we think about helping our Ward and Stake members to "become more involved in family history," we often think in terms of a super activity kind of project. Just as we often do with youth activities, we think of dance festivals, treks, super activities in exotic locations, and other such projects. We promote the activity by calling a number of members to spearhead the activity and organize the activity over a year or more. We then congratulate ourselves when the "activity" is a success and even get the activity written up in the Church News.

This week, for example, I have already been called by a Ward Family History Consultant who was asking about a Ward Genealogy Plan. He wanted a "plan" that other Wards had used to have a successful genealogy activity, such as challenging the Ward members to "take a name to the Temple."

I have been involved in genealogy for a long time and I have been helping members of my Ward and patrons at Family History Centers with their research for many of those years. I have seen special program come and go and I have seen almost no rise in genealogical activity in the Ward. But during all that time, I have seen valiant individuals quietly and unnoticed work diligently on finding their ancestors and send hundreds and thousands of names to the Temple for ordinance work. These diligent workers are not the stars of the Ward or Stake genealogical super-activity. In fact, their work is almost never acknowledged or even recognized. I would not be surprised if nearly all of the Bishops in the Church were entirely unaware of who was actually involved in genealogy activity.

In one of my old Wards, the Family History Consultants complained to the Bishop when we offered to help with the "family history class" that we were interfering in their callings. In another Ward, we met every Sunday to hold a research help class in a computer filled room next to the Bishop's office and he would come into the room once a year or so and express surprise that we had people working on their genealogy and wondering why we were still there helping!

Involvement in family history will not be "solved" by holding one or more super-activities. In the scriptures, we read about the miracle of the loaves and fishes in Mark 6: 31-46. We can look at this miracle as a very impressive and successful group activity. But were the people's hearts changed? Did they join the Church in multitudes at that time? I think that Ward and Stake leaders are sometimes looking for an instant kind of "loaves and fishes" experience that will "solve the problem of Ward and Stake activity when the solution does not lie in a new or even successful group activity, it lies in the constant and repeated assistance of dedicated family history consultants who work one-on-one with members to help them with their genealogy and overcoming the challenges of computers and family history.

How do you accomplish this work? The answer is not in an innovative program so much as it is in applying the principles laid down in the Scriptures and the handbooks of instruction. Follow the program as it is presently outlined and you will have success.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Teaching at the BYU Family History Library

The Brigham Young University has a schedule of classes ever 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month except for holidays. It also has a Facebook page where you can see a copy of the latest schedule. I will be teaching two classes this Sunday, at 4:30 pm and 6:00 pm. The classes are held in the Family History Library in the Harold B. Lee Library on the campus of BYU. Everyone is invited. The classes this week will be on and I am looking forward to teaching both classes. If those don't interest you, check out the schedule for the other classes offered.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Are you still using PAF?

Personal Ancestral File or PAF was first released back in 1984. It went through about a dozen upgrades before it was discontinued in 2002. Despite the lack of upgrades, the program refuses to die and I would guess that thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of people still use the program. Finally, FamilySearch made the following announcement:
Beginning July 15, 2013, PAF will be retired and will no longer be available for download or support. For full details and for information on alternative products, please visit
It has now been well over a year since this announcement and I am still talking to people who rely on PAF as their primary genealogical database. I have written about this phenomena several times over the last few years and the persistence of this program continues to surprise, no, better said, astonish me.

Since PAF was first released, we have now entered an entirely new level of family history software, with an emphasis on online programs and connections between these online programs. This is a genealogical world that from which, PAF users are almost completely isolated. The only tenuous links are the ability to copy and paste information and the now-outdated GEDCOM file transfer program. The tragedy of the situation is that those who are deprived of the latest innovations in computerized genealogy, for the most part, are perfectly happy with the situation. We could postulate that they do not know what they are missing. But the issues go way beyond that sort of simplistic evaluation.

PAF is more than a genealogy program. It is the epitomization of a whole culture. Its persistence demonstrates how well the program was originally promoted and supported, but the fact that there are so many people who still use the program illustrates that the promotion of PAF imposed a dampening effect on the entire development of genealogy in that segment of the overall genealogical society by discouraging innovation and acceptance of newer technology. No, PAF is not the cause of the stagnation of its users, but it is a heavy contributor to that stagnation.

Now, you can come back and ask, how does the use of a simple genealogy program affect the entire genealogy community? PAF appeared at a crucial point in the development of genealogical computing. It was heavily promoted simply because many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were unaware of the existence of any other program. I have even heard prominent genealogists state, in the past, that they will stop using PAF when they pry it from their cold, dead hands.

Why am I back on a tirade about PAF? Because I just spent some hours helping someone copy their data from PAF onto the FamilySearch Family Tree. Never mind that there are programs that make that transition easier and error free. Never mind that the programs are free or have free copies. Never mind that the program is now twenty-year-old technology. This person was one of the fortunate ones. He was not losing his file, he was migrating it to a newer technology. At the same time, he was totally opposed to the idea of substituting a program that could copy his entire file and accomplish the same procedure with out the need to copy each entry over into Family Tree.

I am convinced that the solution to the PAF problem lies at the heart of the entire issue of the greater acceptance of genealogy or family history. Why are all these people still using a old computer program? Why aren't they accepting newer technology? If we can answer that question, I think we have the key to answering many other sticky genealogy questions like involving the youth and broadening genealogy's appeal to a wider audience.

The Message of Malachi

In the Old Testament at Malachi 4: 5-6 it 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.
The same prophecy is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 2: 1-3:
1 Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand ofElijah 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.
Again the prophecy was cited in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 27: 9, where is states:
9 And also Elijah, unto whom I have committed the keys of the power of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, that the whole earth may not be smitten with a curse;
 Yet another reference to this same prophecy is made in Joseph Smith--History, Chapter 1: 38-39, where is states:
38 And again, he quoted the fifth verse thus: 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.
39 He also quoted the next verse differently: 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. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.
Elijah showed up as predicted as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 110: 13-16:
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.
 If repeating this same prophecy was not enough, it is repeated in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 138: 47-48:
47 The Prophet Elijah was to plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to their fathers,
48 Foreshadowing the great work to be done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fulness of times, for the redemption of the dead, and the sealing of the children to their parents, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse and utterly wasted at his coming.
I am not sure what the difference is between being cursed or utterly wasted, but I suppose both are pretty bad. But the real question here is the meaning of the verses and what, if anything, we need to do to prevent the bad consequences? I might also point out that there are very few prophecies that are repeated six or more times in the scriptures.

It is most commonly supposed that there is a connection between family history or genealogy and these quoted verses. The last quote from the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 138 is a clarification of the other verses. To further our understanding, it helps to learn about the mission Elijah fulfilled when he appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple. Here is part of the account:
Then, in another glorious vision, Joseph and Oliver saw the prophet Elijah (seeD&C 110:13–16). The coming of Elijah was so important that the ancient prophet Malachi had prophesied of it centuries earlier, and the Savior had repeated the prophecy to the Nephites (see Malachi 4:5–6; 3 Nephi 25:5–6; 26:1–2). Elijah came to commit to Joseph and Oliver the keys of sealing—the power to bind and validate in the heavens all ordinances performed on the earth. The restoration of the sealing power was necessary to prepare the world for the Savior’s Second Coming, for without it, “the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming” (Joseph Smith—History 1:39).
We should not take these promises and warnings lightly. Each of us has a solemn duty to seek after our ancestors. In the end, let us follow the admonition of the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 123:17:
17 Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully bdo all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

What is a Family History Consultant?

If we look at the Leader's Guide to Temple and Family History Work, To Tune the Hearts, the FamilySearch manual on beginning at page 19, we will see this explanation for the work of the Family History Consultant in the Ward:

Consultants are skilled teachers who work and communicate well with others. While consultants need not be experts in family history research, they should be comfortable using the resources at and helping others use them. These FamilySearch resources include family pedigrees, historical records, and the FamilySearch indexing program. Youth can be called to serve as consultants when their technology skills can be helpful in assisting others. 
The Leader's Guide states that the bishopric and the high priests group leader determine how many family history consultants are needed in the ward. The high priests group leader directs their efforts. The Leader's Guide goes on to say:

Some consultants have experience and skills that particularly suit them for additional tasks, such as: 
  • Serving in family history centers. 
  • Assisting members and other consultants in more advanced research efforts. 
  • Training other consultants.
By virtue of my service at the BYU Family History Library, I am also a Ward Family History Consultant.

So what are the Family History Consultants supposed to do? They work with the leaders in the Ward and with the members. Here is what the Leader's Guide has to say on the subject:
Working with Leaders Consultants help ward leaders learn about family history so they can share it with those they serve. Consultants take the initiative to reach out to leaders by:
  • Helping them work on their own family history so they can perform temple ordinances for their deceased relatives.
  • Demonstrating how family history can help them in their calling to minister to those they serve. 
Working with Members Consultants take the initiative to reach out to members, especially those who are not comfortable using technology, by:
  • Helping a few individuals or families at a time to work on their own family history so they can perform temple ordinances for their deceased relatives. The most effective place to do this is in members’ homes. The ward council could determine specific individuals or families for the consultant to work with. The high priests group leader assigns these families to the consultant.
  • Answering family history questions from ward leaders and members.  
I hope all of this sounds really familiar to anyone called as a Family History Consultant. If you have such a calling in the Ward, perhaps you should answer the following questions:

  • Are you teaching Ward leaders and members by "helping them work on their own family history?"
  • Are you helping your Ward leaders understand how family history can help them in their callings?
  • Are you visiting members in their homes and teaching them so they can perform temple ordinances for their deceased relatives?
  • Are you receiving direction and assignments from the Ward Council through the High Priests Group Leader?
  • Are you busy answering questions from ward leaders and members?

If you cannot answer all of the above questions in the affirmative, who is responsible to do the things outlined? As the hymn says,
Then wake up and do something more
Than dream of your mansion above.
Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure,
A blessing of duty and love.
LDS Hymn Book, Page 223.

During the past week, for example, I have taught and assisted five members of my Ward either in my home or in theirs with their family history. I do not say this to boast at all, but simply to illustrate that this is the work of the Family History Consultant. You need to make yourself available and answer questions. Do you even know who is working on family history in your Ward? I will not write about topics I am not willing to do myself.