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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The FamilySearch Blog Month in Review

Each month, I try to post all of the Blog posts in one convenient list. Many of my readers may not receive email copies of all of these various posts, so here is the list.

Blogger, Guest. “Discover Fascinating Details About Your Ancestor’s Life Through Military Records.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Clarke, Gordon. “Partner News – December, 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Connolly, Courtney. “Thank You for Your Gift of Discovery.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Ericson, Jim. “New: Print Temple Ordinance Cards at Home.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Gomez, Edgar. “Online Records Link Italian-Mexican Family Tree.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Hyde, Jesse. “How to Host a Great Indexing Challenge.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
———. “January Special: 2-for-1 New Year’s Resolution.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
———. “January Special: 3-in-1 New Year’s Resolution.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Kemp, Thomas Jay. “If You Don’t Put It Online – Your Descendants Will Not Find It!” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
McMurdie, Greg. “New Memories Gallery! Upload and Organize Photos in Family Tree Albums.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
———. “Upload Documents from Your Family Tree in the New Memories Gallery.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Nauta, Paul G. “Love Taza Couple to Inspire RootsTech 2016 Attendees.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Pysnak, Sylvie. “Teach Yourself and Others: New Online Training Now Available—December, 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Sagers, Diane. “2015 Year in Review: FamilySearch Grows as World’s Foremost Family History Resource.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Sorenson, Yvonne. “The Family History Library Announces Free Webinar Series—‘Beginning England Research’ in January, 2016.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Stahle, Tyler S. “3 Tech Tools Every Genealogist Should Have.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
———. “3 Ways to Use Instagram for Family History.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
———. “5 Ways the Mobile App Will Enhance Your RootsTech Experience.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
———. “Be a Part of RootsTech 2016—Tell Your Family’s Story!” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Steele, Logan. “New FamilySearch Collections Update: December 21, 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Steve Anderson. “Explore Your Ancestors’ Lives in Old Newspapers.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
———. “The Family History Library Announces Free Classes for January, 2016.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
———. “What’s New on FamilySearch—December, 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
“What’s New On FamilySearch—December, 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Wright, Matt. “7 Ways to Get Started in Family History in 2016.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.
———. “7 Ways to Get Started in Family History in 2016.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed December 31, 2015.

Teach Yourself How To Research Your Family

There is absolutely no excuse for a lack of learning about how to do family history research. There are books, videos, webinars, classes and conferences galore on the subject. These are all available online. Here is a list of places I would suggest going to learn the basics of family history. After years of research and entering data, I decided to take some formal training and spent five years or so taking Independent Study classes from Brigham Young University. The website was not functioning when I looked at it, but I am guessing they are doing some maintenance over the holiday.

I hear complaints from Family History Consultants all the time about how they have not been "trained." Well, get busy and do the training yourself. As it says in the Doctrine and Covenants 58:27:
27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
Here is the list of places to start. Some of these are free, others have a cost associated with them. You might just have to spend some time and money to learn. You might want to start looking for local classes. Some Family History Centers around the world have classes and I have seen and participated in local classes at libraries and from local genealogical societies.

OK, I hope you get the idea. To repeat, there is no excuse for claiming ignorance. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Let's look carefully at the entries on the FamilySearch Family Tree

I have spent the last week embroiled in issues about the entries in the Family Tree. Part of the challenges included three children listed in a family who were born about fifty years after the listed father died. These types of entries seem to occur as the Family Tree pedigrees extend back into the mid to early 1800s and become common during the 1700s and earlier. Let me walk through an analysis of a string of entries and show some of the problems that exist. I can do this by going to any one of my ancestral lines as are presently (2015) constituted in the Family Tree.

Before starting, I might point out that the Family Tree is a conglomeration of contributions submitted for over a hundred years by thousands of people. No one has reviewed the entries for accuracy until the entries were all accumulated and made available online beginning with the program. There are episodes of lucidity in the Family Tree, primarily with more recent entries (i.e. after 1900) and for families where there have been only a very few submissions, but most of the "old line submissions" have serious errors.

For the past few years there have been attempts to characterize these issues as applying to only a "small percentage" of the overall users. That characterization obscures the fact that the names in the Family Tree that date back into the time periods that are congested with problems come from a relatively small number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The historic population of the Church was small and so only a smaller number of submissions from these early members constitutes the bulk of the names from older research. Newer members of the Church "inherit" these previously submitted names when they "tie in" to families in the Family Tree. So a brand new member of the Church may end up with a long line of ancestors in the Family Tree by virtue of being distantly related to a legacy member.

Over the past few years, I have remarked about the small percentage of members of the Church who are actively involved in submitting names for Temple ordinances. Most recently, an article in the Church News for the week of December 27, 2015 entitled, "Improving observance:'increasing faith in God, Jesus Christ" gave a figure of about 420,000 members who submitted names during "this past year." I assume this to be for the time period extending back into 2014. Given the total population of the Church of 15,372,337 given at April General Conference in 2015, that means that the percentage of members submitting is about 2.7%. This means that any ancestral lines in the Family Tree are still concentrated in a relatively small group of people.

But the issues I see and have to deal with on almost a daily basis from patrons, friends and family members extend past the IOUS (Individuals of Unusual Size) or legacy members of the Church. The issue here is accuracy plain and simple.

Now to the illustration. Once again, I will pick a random family line from the Family Tree. This time I will start with a direct line ancestor by the name of William Stewart, b. 1742 in Perth, Perthshire, Scotland and d. 5 August 1826 in Greenwich, Washington, New York, United States. Mind you, this is what is currently in the Family Tree. I have no real idea of the accuracy of this information but the information I have in my own records is vastly different. I have him born in Bolton, Warren, New York. In my records, William Stewart (a very common name) was the "end" of that particular line, but on the Family Tree, the line now extends back an additional six or seven generations. If you want to follow along, you can see William at ID #LZBC-JLP.

Now to William Stewart. The sources listed in the Family Tree are the following:

There are two birth records. Hmm. One of these shows a birth in Lunenburg, Worchester, Massachusetts and one shows a birth in Perth, Perth, Scotland. They cannot both be correct. The burial record is for William and his wife Amy.

Obviously, there is an issue here. How many people are named William Stewart in New York in the time period involved? If I do a search in the digitized records on, I get the following using different birth places:

William Stewart born in New York in 1742 = 475
William Stewart born in Massachusetts in 1742 = 278
William Stewart born in Scotland in 1742 = 3,417

Hmm, looks like I have a lot of choices. The point here is that the family line which I have ending with William Stewart is now connected to a family in Scotland and extended back generations. Is this correct? Where is the information showing that William Stewart is the same person that is shown from Scotland? If William Stewart was born in either New York or Massachusetts, then he is obviously not the same person listed as born in Scotland.

I have, at least, 64 grandparents in the same generation as William Stewart and guess what? Most of them have the exact same issues. Isn't it about time we looked more carefully at the entries in the Family Tree and start documenting and correcting the entries?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Print Temple Ordinance Cards at Home

For some time now FamilySearch has been discussing the possibility that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be able to print Temple ordinance cards at home rather than print out a Family Ordinance Request form and take the form to the Temple for printing cards. The formal announcement that members will be able to print cards at home was made in a blog post from FamilySearch by Jim Ericson entitled, "New: Print Temple Ordinance Cards at Home." Here is what the formal announcement has to say:
Taking a family name to the temple using FamilySearch Family Tree has always included the step of printing a Family Ordinance Request (FOR). The FOR was then taken to the temple office where a temple worker used it to print out temple cards which were then used for ordinance work. As a result of a new collaboration between the Temple and Family History departments, temple patrons will now be able to print out temple cards at home, cutting out that extra step and making the temple experience simpler.
They might also add that it saves the Temples a whole lot of time and money. It may also likely encourage people to batch their ordinances so as to minimize the use of paper.

Whether or not you will see this as an option when you print from the Family Tree is explained by the following:
When will I be able to print Family Ordinance Request cards from home?

The ability to print temple cards from home will be activiated on a stake by stake basis, based on which temple district you live in. This process started in November, 2015, and will continue through the first few months of 2016. The order and timing will be determined by the Temple Department. There is no option to request early access.
 When your Temple district is authorized, you will see the following on the print link from your Temple reserved list:

Temple Card Submission 1

There is a section of Frequently Asked Questions in the blog post. I suggest you read the entire post carefully. The cards will not have to be printed on colored paper. The post encourages members to use regular white paper and black ink or toner. Here is what the cards will look like:

Temple Card Submission 2

Printing the cards at home will simplify the process of re-printing a card if that should become necessary. 

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop -- The Demise of

The Family Tree has made fantastic progress over the past years of its existence. The future of the program looks bright and promising except for the one overriding fact of its existence; the Family Tree is still connected to the old program and its limitations. Conspicuously absent from any of the changes and plans proposed by FamilySearch is any reference to the resolution of this major limitation to the existing program. The main symptom of the limitation is the inability of the program to deal with duplicate entries.

As a user of the Family Tree, you may never see any evidence of the underlying problem that is still haunting the entire program. Whether or not you see the issue depends on the extent your "pedigree" encounters people with duplicates that cannot yet be resolved. Here is an example of a screenshot showing the current (and longstanding) error message:

I have written about this issue now for years. The fact is that until this particular issue is resolved, the program is not fully functional. But, as I mentioned above, this only appears as an issue if you can see this error message for a particular individual. The other symptoms of the problem are more subtile. One of the most common occurrences is a notice from the Family Tree that someone has changed information about one of your watched ancestors and you find that the entity making the change is identified as "FamilySearch." This occurs because the reality of the problem with the duplicates is that there is still some residual information that is being loaded into the Family Tree and corrected by FamilySearch and other entities. Until this process is complete, we will still see the limitation on resolving duplicate entries and we will still see changes being made by FamilySearch that often look arbitrary.

I have been discussing this issue since was introduced years ago. Presently, many of the more obvious duplicates can be resolved by merging. But there still remains the unresolved core of individuals who fit in the category of the limitations on combining individuals. There is and always has been an explanation for this situation. You can read the latest iteration of the explanation in a Help Center document entitled, "Cannot merge duplicate records in Family Tree." This article outlines several reasons for the limitations on merging. The part of the explanation that refers to the issue is as follows:
One of the records for the individual is too large
  • These records are often referred to as IOUS, meaning "Individuals of Unusual Size."
  • Presently, other records cannot be merged with an IOUS record, nor can IOUS records be unmerged.
  • This is a known issue, and there is no estimated time for a fix.
What I have found is that any line where there is not an IOUS with the merge problem seems to work just fine. If you encounter an error when attempting to merge two or more obvious duplicates, then it is unwise to continue to work on that particular line until the problem is fixed. This is also a very good reason for not jumping back into an extended pedigree and doing work on a remote ancestor. You may not even be related to this person and all your work may be lost when some other ancestor is finally merged. This is a real, not a hypothetical problem. But as I say, you can work on lines that do not have this problem, unless all four of your grandparents happen to fall into the IOUS category.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Let all the records be had in order...

The Doctrine and Covenants 127:9 states with regard to recordings made of ordinances for the dead:
And again, let all the records be had in order, that they may be put in the archives of my holy temple, to be held in remembrance from generation to generation, saith the Lord of Hosts.
I have been working back through my generations of ancestors on the Family Tree and I am appalled at the lack of careful consideration and order that I find time after time. It is time we set our Family Tree house in order. Over the years, I have visited thousands of homes of both members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and those who are not members. I am always saddened when I find a house in disorder. There seems to be little or no correlation between economic status and education. Some people live clean and orderly lives, others live in dirt and squalor. The contrast between two homes can appear on the same street in the same neighborhood whether the homes are in a gated community of mansions or have a dirt path with dirt floors and cardboard walls. This physical squalor is sometimes in contrast to the spiritual squalor in the two homes. Many people living in beautifully kept homes have their lives in disorder while those in less well kept homes have spiritually fulfilling lives. But I have noticed that over time, orderliness increases with spirituality.

I just finished working through one family on the Family Tree with a long list of fourteen children. Two of the children listed were born up to fifty years after the father listed in the family died. In fact, as I examined the information carefully over many hours of work, I determined that the father listed in the family was not the husband of my ancestor. I found a marriage record for the husband with another wife and the children. There was no marriage record for my ancestor and the named husband and all those children. In fact, the place where the husband was listed as being born had no birth records for that person's surname going back to the earliest recorded birth, death and marriage records. When you add a child to a family is it so hard to look at the birth date and compare it to the age and death dates of the parents? In this family it turned out that the birth name of the mother, my ancestor, had not been accurately recorded even though a source citation to the birth record had been attached to the entry in the Family Tree.

I assume the revelation given by Joseph Smith concerning baptisms for the dead in Section 127 of the Doctrine and Covenants applies to the work going on in the Family Tree. Yet I see very little said or done about increasing the accuracy and orderliness of the records. We seem anxious to do the work, but unwilling to concentrate on careful, complete and accurate records. I am reminded of a talk given by President Spencer W. Kimball in the October, 1974 General Conference entitled, "God Will Not Be Mocked." President Kimball said,
Now, brothers and sisters, we have launched a cleanup campaign. We are a throw-away people. Trash piles grow faster than population by far. Now we ask you to clean up your homes and your farms. “Man is the keeper of the land, and not its possessor.” 
Broken fences should be mended or removed. Unused barns should be repaired, roofed, painted, or removed. Sheds and corrals should be repaired and painted, or removed. Weedy ditch banks should be cleared. Abandoned homes could probably be razed. We look forward to the day when, in all of our communities, urban and rural, there would be a universal, continued movement to clean and repair and paint barns and sheds, build sidewalks, clean ditch banks, and make our properties a thing of beauty to behold. 
We have asked leaders of youth groups, auxiliary organizations, and priesthood quorums to give power to this concentrated action for beautification. 
The Lord said: 
“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” (Ps. 24:1.)
“And I the Lord God, took the man [Adam], and put him into the Garden of Eden, to dress it, and to keep it.” (Moses 3:15.) 
Therefore, we urge each of you to dress and keep in a beautiful state the property that is in your hands.
I would extend this injunction to the Family Tree. We need to "dress and keep" it in a beautiful state. We need to carefully and prayerfully examine what we include in the Family Tree and make it a record of all acceptation. As President Ezra Taft Benson stated in General Conference in October, 1978,
First, I mention some things which have not changed: 
1. The Lord’s mandate given in section 128 of theDoctrine and Covenants has not changed: “Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? … 
“Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple … a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.” (D&C 128:22, 24.)
I fully recognize that we all come from different levels of experience, education and background. But where we are working on sacred records, there is an expectation of excellence. Back in 1978, President Benson recognized that at that time ancestral records may not be available to the general membership of the Church. That barrier to research has been, to a large extent, greatly reduced. We have the records we need to correct the information in the Family Tree. New records are being added every day by the millions. There is no real excuse for careless, slipshod genealogical work.

Our time is now. We are the ones who need to address the inconsistencies, errors, incomplete entries and other issues with the Family Tree.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Comments on 12 Things You'll See from FamilySearch in 2016

Every once in a while, I get an email of a blog post from FamilySearch that never seems to make it into general publication on the website's blog list. A few days ago, I got a potential post entitled, "12 Things You'll See from FamilySearch in 2016." I kept watching for it to be published but I have yet to see it. I can guess a number of reasons why these potential posts never get published more extensively, but absent some official restriction, in some cases I feel I can comment on them.

Here is the list. I have included their numbered comments and where I thought necessary, made some of my own comments. I put my comments in italics so you would know what I had to say as opposed to the original list from FamilySearch.

1. The free Family Tree, used for building and collaborating on your family history, will be more robust and dramatically faster. Patrons will receive quick record hints from FamilySearch’s billions of online records when records containing an ancestor are added or modified. Hints will also begin to originate from more online collections and additional record types. In addition, increased collaboration options with improved views will be available.

The past few weeks we have had a number of bouts of poor performance from the Family Tree. Response has been slow and for a few days, the program did not function at all. I would certainly appreciate a more robust and faster response. I realize that this involves not only programming but also faster Internet connections and additional storage capacity. is moving into the realm of the "big" websites such as Google and Amazon and needs to increase its capacity to handle the traffic. Amazon has no trouble giving me hints of things to buy and I assume that it is possible for to increase the response time of Record Hints. I am not certain what is meant by increased collaboration options. I would hope that means that those who post will become more accessible and transparent to others. The ability of someone to make changes to the entries in the Family Tree and not have a way to be contacted is still an issue. Even with the messaging through the website, the person only has to ignore the messages to be unavailable. I can see several ways the views can be improved and I look forward to any improvements in this regard.

2. Improved guidance will help users achieve family history goals or provide direction when and where they need it.

This is a really vague goal. We all need to achieve our goals and may certainly need direction. I hope this doesn't mean dumbing down the program to make it unusable. 

3. A new relationship feature will enable you to easily identify how you are related to people in the Family Tree.

This would be a very welcome addition to the program. I sometimes would like to help people understand how they are related to those on the Family Tree and it can get complicated. It is also helpful with ordinance considerations to be able to point out to people that they are not related to some of those who appear in the Family Tree and should not be doing their ordinance submissions. 

4. More user-friendly search capabilities will provide less duplication, better search results, and more insight at a glance across the many record sources on

Improving search capabilities is always a worthy goal. This is another wait and see goal. It is also very vague and goes into the general category of improvement. "User-friendly" is an old advertising buzz word. It is entirely meaningless. There is nothing really "user-friendly" about computers. 

5. The process of adding family photos, stories, documents, and audio files will be easier.

This has already been accomplished with the new Gallery option. I assume that they are simply indicating that the new Memories changes will become generally implemented. We will have to wait and see if there are any more changes this coming year. 

6. A dynamic, personalized home page will help you find more family information. The offering of simple tasks while using the site will help you discover more ancestors and improve the quality of your personal family history and information in the FamilySearch Family Tree.

This is another change that has already been implemented to some users. To be frank, I mostly ignore the new page although I am sure that it could be helpful to some users. 

7. Partners will be offering more exciting third-party products and apps integrated into the content of FamilySearch that will offer fun and enriched experiences.

This is a pretty safe prediction. It is sort of like predicting that weather will continue to happen. It is also too vague for any real comments. 

8. More digital camera teams will be added to preserve historic records and make them accessible online. There are 319 digital camera teams producing 125 million images per year currently. Additional cameras in 2016 will focus on more international records.

This is really good news. The core value of the website is its collection of free records from around the world. This is one of the really good things that are ongoing and very welcome. 

9. More mobile apps on IOS and Android platforms will become available through FamilySearch.

Another vague report about things that are inevitable. 

10. A new, web-based tool will allow more volunteers to help index more historic records online from any web-enabled tablet or computer. This will also help engage more foreign language volunteers needed to index a growing tide of new international historic records.

Hmm. This has been the goal of the Indexing program for the last couple of years. Progress towards a web-based program has been slow in coming. I hope 2016 is the year when this happens and when it does, that the program actually works. 

11. RootsTech, a global event hosted by FamlySearch, will expand its streaming audience and provide recorded, useable content to reach more people worldwide.

This is another nice goal and also very predictable. This particular development has some unforeseen and complicated consequences. Some of these consequences are very positive and others not so positive. I get the impression that some Stakes of the Church feel like all they need to do for family history in their Stake is to hold a "once a year" Family Discovery Day and they are then supporting family history and off the hook for the rest of the year. 

12. New developments will encourage younger patrons to participate in family history. Building from the base created by family historians and older patrons, there will be an added emphasis on attracting youth.

Another vague goal with no real substance. The gap between the reality of doing complicated family research and merely "encouraging" the youth needs to be bridged. Real progress will be made with the youth and other members when the leaders of the wards and stakes begin to place a greater emphasis on training. Our Ward, for example, just called three new Family History Consultants and has no plans to either teach them how or what to do. My efforts to help have gone unheeded and apparently ignored. This is not a case where we need a new system, it is a case where we need to implement the existing system. 

Well no matter what happens during 2016, it will be interesting. The developments we had in 2015 were helpful and very welcome. Let's hope that 2016 will be the same. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to one and all
The Tanner Family

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The FamilySearch Family Tree is not paper

Jimmy Donal "Jimbo" Wales, the founder of Wikipedia is quoted as pointing out that Wikipedia is not paper. I would like to point out, based on that quote, that the Family Tree is also not paper. (All of my references in this post to the "Family Tree" apply solely to the Family Tree).

The following is from a Wikimedia article entitled, Wikipedia is not paper:"
Although Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, it is not bound by the same constraints as a paper encyclopedia or even most online encyclopedias. The length, depth, and breadth of articles in Wikipedia is virtually infinite. As Wikipedia grows, so will computing power, storage capacity, and bandwidth. While there is a practical limit to all these at any given time, Wikipedia is not likely ever to outgrow them.
Although there are several wiki-based, online family tree programs, the wiki-based Family Tree is unique in having been originally seeded with perhaps a billion names and its association with a huge database of digitized and microfilmed original source records from around the world all offered from free access on the website. Genealogy is only now beginning to emerge from its paper-based origins and its genealogists are being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. As the Wikimedia article further points out about Wikipedia,
The most obvious difference is that there are, in principle, no size limits in the Wikipedia universe. It is quite possible, for example, that when you finish typing in everything you want to say about poker, there might well be over 100 pages, and enough text for a full-length book by itself. This would certainly never be tolerated in a paper encyclopedia, which is why Encyclop√¶dia Britannica has such limited information on the topic (and on most other topics). 
Plain text takes up an almost negligible amount of disk space. At seven letters per word, a 300 GB hard drive that costs around $40 US can hold 45 billion words, which amounts to 12.1 million words “per penny”. As of 2012, a 1 TB hard drive costs about the same amount that 300 GB used to cost when this article was first written. A 1 terabyte hard drive can hold 153.6 billion words (1000 GB = 1 TB), which amounts to 38.4 million words per penny (and growing).
The Family Tree is designed to contain all of the information available in the world about every single individual who ever lived or ever will live on the planet. Wikipedia started out with a handful of articles on 15 January 2001.  The following graph shows its growth.

The English edition of Wikipedia has grown to 5,038,955 articles, equivalent to over 2,000 print volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Including all language editions, Wikipedia has over 37 million articles,[1] equivalent to over 16,000 print volumes.
Current statistics on the Family Tree are not similarly available, but it occasional statements by FamilySearch representatives indicate that it is also growing rapidly.

From its creation and throughout its history, Wikipedia has been continually attacked on the issue of reliability. The Family Tree currently shares this criticism. The Family Tree bears only a superficial, external relationship to Wikipedia, but they both share the same fundamental organization and operation. Both are based solely on contributor-added data. There is an extensive article on Wikipedia entitled, "Wikipedia:What Wikipedia is not." Some of the items listed apply directly to the Family Tree. These are my ideas of some of the things the Family Tree is not by paraphrasing some of the items on the list from the Wikipedia article.

The Family Tree is not a paper genealogy program.

This is probably the first and most difficult concept for the present genealogical community to accept and understand. Most of the current users of the program began their involvement with genealogy (or its euphemism, family history) either filling out paper forms or watching others fill out those same forms. The Family Tree is not limited in time and space to paper forms but the "paper forms mentality" still pervades the entire community. The most common symptom of this mentality is the "my treeism" noted by Family Tree Project Manager, Ron Tanner in a number of presentations. See "Ron Tanner Discusses Family Tree Road Map at - #BYUFHGC" and "Ron Tanner -- Live From Salt Lake City!" and many others. Contributions to the Family Tree immediately become the property of the Family Tree and not any individual contributor. No one owns the Family Tree. This fact is fundamentally disturbing to many users.

But the implications of this statement about the non-paper base of the Family Tree has much wider implications that merely moving a paper-based, fill-out-a-form type of record online. It is really a complete revision of the entire world of genealogy (family history). I am just now beginning to see the extent of this change and unless I am missing something, I am certain that few of the people presently working on the Family Tree, including all those employed and volunteering at FamilySearch, are yet entirely unaware of the impact the program is beginning to have.

FamilySearch recently published a blog post entitled, "12 Things You'll See From FamilySearch in 2016." There is no link yet from this post. It was sent to me by email. You may never see this online, but it may yet appear in the Blog. If this post is an accurate representation of the goals of FamilySearch for the Family Tree in the upcoming year, it illustrates exactly what I am talking about. The post focuses on "updates" to the program and programming improvements. The overall impact of the program on the genealogical community and its place in the world and in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not mentioned.

Family Tree is not an indiscriminate collection of information.

The Family Tree is self-moderated. Every user of the program has the opportunity to "watch" all changes and additions to the content. Wikipedia has been attacked from its onset as unreliable. School children have been instructed not to use Wikipedia as a source of information and academics around the world have condemned it as unacceptable for research. See "Reliability of Wikipedia." By reason of its functional association with a wiki-based program, the Family Tree has endured the same type of criticism. This criticism is misplaced and should have been directed all along at the millions of family group record submissions made to FamilySearch and its predecessors. This pile of "dirty laundry" was hidden away in thousands of volumes of compiled paper records and is now hung out to dry on a very visible clothesline, dirt and all.

The Family Tree is focused solely on the incorporation and maintenance of family records. It is designed to contain as much information as is available about every individual. By its genealogical nature, the type of information included is limited, but within this context, there are really no limits. An entire biography can be incorporated. However, inclusion is limited by propriety and good sense.

FamilyTree is not a blog, Web hosting service, or social networking service although differing from Wikipedia, it can be a memorial site. 

The Family Tree is specifically structured to act as a repository for family history. As such, anything about a family or individual's history should and can be included. It can function as a "memorial site" to the extent that preservation of a record of the life of an individual is included in its functions. But it is certainly not a forum for much of the information included in blog post and on Facebook.

The Family Tree is not an anarchy, democracy, bureaucracy, or a battleground.

Family Tree is primarily a family-oriented organization. Family members may or may not contribute or even be aware of its existence. Participation in the Family Tree is not compulsory, but it is strongly supported by Church leaders and the vast FamilySearch organization. There are disagreements over content, but these are a very limited an minor issue with the overall operation of the Family Tree. Unlike Wikipedia, the subject matter of the Family Tree does not impinge on political, social and religious controversy. There is no place on the Family Tree for TV shows, personalities or other controversial topics. By its orientation, the Family Tree avoids nearly all the edit wars and other content controversies on Wikipedia.

Over the past year, my perception of the way the Family Tree functions with regard to the development of individually contributed family history has evolved dramatically. I was once a stanch proponent of individually maintained and isolated genealogy databases. Although I still see a need to keep some information "off line," I have come to view the Family Tree as the central core for adding additional information about my ancestral family and relatives. I see correcting the entries both as to form and content as a positive way to sort out my own huge data files. Since my contact with other family members is extremely limited, I see the Family Tree as a way to ultimately share all that I have accumulated in a way that any family member in the future who wishes to know about their ancestors will have access to the information without re-doing the research necessary. I see the present limitations of the program being resolved and from day-to-day, I see myself entering more and more information into the program.

My main limitation is the lack of a forum where the potential and implications of the Family Tree can be discussed. I am, in a sense, conducting a one-sided conversation. Those who work with FamilySearch and other similar programs are hesitant to talk openly with me about their work and at the same time, very few others work with the program in my immediate circle of acquaintances. So I write and write some more as my viewpoint evolves. By the way, comments are helpful. But in the end, genealogy continues to be a very small, special interest with few adherents.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Update on The Family History Guide

I have mentioned The Family History Guide several times in the past because of its innovative and organized approach to teaching about family history in general and the website, including the Family Tree program in particular. The developers, Bob Taylor and Bob Ives, are currently involved in the RootsTech 2016, Innovators Showdown. In the past, I have served as one of the judges in this event, but this year, I have no direct involvement. If you have used The Family History Guide, you might consider going to their Facebook page and clicking on the "Like" link. This might help them in the competition and it certainly won't hurt. By the way, if there are any other competitors out there that you are acquainted with, you might want to "Like" their Facebook pages also. I have always felt it was important to support genealogically related software and promote the good programs I find.

I have done some promotional work for The Family History Guide based on my evaluation of the program and the need I saw for this type of instruction. The program has made the first cut for the Innovators Showdown. There were initially 46 entries from all over the world and now there are only 22 going in to the next round. Let's see if they make the final round.

The website is constantly being updated and new features added. They are up to Update #17 that included the following:
  • Updated Projects 1, 2, and 3 with new photos and several new Goals and Choices.
  • Added content for nearly all countries. This process is ongoing for several more weeks.
  • Updated the Tracker sheets for each of these countries.
The family history community needs this kind of program to give a coherent and organized way to learn how to use all of the resources. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Give a gift to yourself and to your ancestors

A few days ago, my wife and I took two of our grandchildren who attend Brigham Young University to the airport in Salt Lake City, Utah so they could fly home for Christmas break. We planned to go downtown and see the new Church History Museum exhibits. Since the Museum did not open until late in the morning, we decided to spend a little time next door in the Family History Library where we found the first floor closed for construction. Here is a photo of what we saw when we walked in.

Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah, December 19, 2015
We thought we would spend an hour or so but ended up spending most of the day researching. I looked at some restricted microfiche records from an English parish and found three of my ancestors' burial records. When I go home, I discovered that one of the three names was not in any of my records. I had just found a missing child from a family that had been researched for over a hundred years. This family member died at the age of 30 years and there may well be other records of him that can be found. Probably the reason he was not found previously was the notation that he was "unbaptized" on the record.

Doctrine and Covenants 6:13 says.
If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to theend, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.
As it pertains to those who have passed on, we believe the following quoted from the website article, "Why do Mormons perform baptisms for the dead?":
Jesus Himself, though without sin, was baptized to fulfill all righteousness and to show the way for all mankind (see Matthew 3:13-17; 2 Nephi 31:5-12). Thus, baptism is essential for salvation in the kingdom of God. We learn in the New Testament that baptisms for the dead were done during the Apostle Paul’s time (see 1 Corinthians 15:29). This practice has been restored with the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Prophet Joseph Smith first taught about the ordinance of baptism for the dead during a funeral sermon in August 1840. He read much of 1 Corinthians 15, including verse 29, and announced that the Lord would permit Church members to be baptized in behalf of their friends and relatives who had departed this life. He told them “the plan of salvation was calculated to save all who were willing to obey the requirements of the law of God” (Journal History of the Church, 15 Aug. 1840).
If follows that searching our our kindred dead provides them with the greatest gift of all; the gift of salvation in the kingdom of God. Perhaps in this Christmas season, it would be a good idea to remember that through diligently seeking out our dead ancestors, we can enable them to receive the greatest gift of all. Why not spend some time with your family this Christmas and during the coming year? I mean your extended family, including your ancestors.

Monday, December 21, 2015

New Apps on the FamilySearch App Gallery

There are presently 111 apps listed on the App Gallery. Two new apps were highlighted by Gordon Clarke in the Partner News - December, 2015 post. Here are the announcements of the two new apps:
Kinmapper is now Read Certified. Kinmapper will use data provided by your FamilySearch family tree to map the locations where your ancestors lived. Easily see your relatives on a map and search for them by name. Kinmapper makes it easy to visualize where you ancestors lived.
TapGenes is now Read Certified. Preserve your family’s health story because your doctors don’t know you like your family does. TapGenes helps you collect, preserve, and share Family Health History information to help you care for the ones you love.
A family’s health history is considered the single strongest predictor of disease risk yet only 4% of Americans have a documented health history past their parents in medical records. Family members share genes, behaviors, lifestyles, and environments that together may influence their health and their risk of chronic disease. TapGenes is designed to be simple, social, and fun. It uses engaging quizzes to capture health information and machine learning algorithms to calculate health risks.
When I signed in to Kinmapper, it gave me 8 generations of my family mapped onto a world map. Of course, I had to be registered with and sign in to the Family Tree also, but it was interesting to see how the map worked. Here is a screenshot of the home page and the map I got from my Family Tree data.

This is the map.

By clicking in, it gave me a list of all of my ancestors buried in one location.

As the instructions for KinMapper note, if the information in the Family Tree is inaccurate or incomplete the results from the map will reflect those issues. The map for Europe was even more interesting:

There is something interesting going on because the marker for Italy linked to my Grandfather who lived in Utah and died in Pasadena, California. 

That was interesting because my Grandmother was linked to Japan by another program. I am not sure how those come up. When I zoom in on England, I can see how this program is going to help me with my English Research. I am definitely going to have a use for this program. 

The next program is TapGenes. The link for this program does not yet appear in the App Gallery, but here is a screenshot of the website:

The utility of this program would depend on whether or not your extended family wanted to participate. It would potentially be useful for spotting inherited health issues, but I really doubt that my own family would be interested. This app will take some time to evaluate. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

How accurate is your own family history data?

I have yet to examine a pedigree (i.e. family tree) that went back in time more than six generations that did not have serious data problems. No matter how meticulous or experienced the researcher, there are always serious problems. Why is this the case? I can give you an example. I was once an art major at the University of Utah studying painting and drawing. Over and over again the instructors showed us that we could achieve only a certain level of competence and then we failed to see any further need for improvement. Once we become comfortable with our performance, we accept it as the norm and we could not see how we could improve on what we had done. In genealogy, we accept our previous efforts no matter how misguided or superficial they may have been. It is not until someone comes along and points out our deficiencies that we can make any further progress. A great researcher has the ability to question his or her own work as if looking at it from the outside and see the deficiencies.

Sometimes, over time, we can go back to our earlier work and see how much we could improve. What I mean by serious data problems is information that is unreliable and unsubstantiated and could indicate that the wrong people had been included in the pedigree. It is entirely possible that they might be the right people, but it also equally as possible that they are not. It is common to find that one or two lines have been extensively researched but others have had little or no attention. In the past, people have had the tendency to investigate their surname line extensively, but spend little time on the collateral lines created through marriages.

It often appears to be the rule that the number of errors made in a pedigree is directly proportional to the reputation of the researcher as an expert. As a trial attorney, there was always someone on the opposite side of the case telling me and anyone who would listen that I was wrong and guess what? A fair amount of the time, they were right. I was wrong. How you handle being told you are wrong all the time and then finding out that you were is what determines whether or not you survive as a trial attorney. The problem with genealogy is that there is usually no one out there telling you that your work is not accurate or complete. I have had copies of my genealogy files out on the Internet for years and have almost never had anyone question my work or inform me that what I had recorded was wrong. Consequently, I have spent the last 25 years or so correcting my own errors. When I go back and look at some of my early work, I have to cringe.

Don't misunderstand what I am saying. I know some fabulously competent researchers who I admire for their detailed and highly reliable work. What I am saying is that no one is immune from making errors and when you create a place for all those cumulative errors to be seen, the problem of the unreliability of their conclusions becomes extremely evident. I can illustrate this by clicking out on any one of my ancestral lines on the Family Tree. FamilySearch has implemented some basic types of error checking where the program finds people born after their mother's death and such. Here is an example found from randomly clicking out on my part of the Family Tree.

The first of these red warnings is the following:

This the second error warning:

If would be easy to dismiss this kind of error as being an aberration, but it is all too common. A few more clicks brings up the following:

At this point you might be questioning why I would associate experts with these obvious errors. By the way, here are screenshots of these error messages:

Here is the second one:

In fact, only recently, I heard someone express the opinion that they would not put their family tree up on because of all the errors. The implication of this statement is that everything in that person's family tree is accurate compared to the all the inaccurate information online and especially in the Family Tree and that they do not want to be bothered with correcting the errors in the Family Tree. Had I never gone to court, I would never have been in the wrong. In the legal profession there is the myth of the attorney who never lost a case. In reality, this claim is meaningless. The fact is that most cases are settled or in a criminal case disposed of by a plea bargain rather than going to trial. There was a law firm in Arizona that advertised that they always won for their clients. An investigation showed that they never went to trial, so technically, they could never lose. In addition, attorneys get to choose which cases they decide to take to trial. If you have never lost a case, it is because you never took a challenging case. We can't choose our ancestors. We have to live with all of the problems and data deficiencies.

Genealogists who claim perfection in their pedigrees are like the attorneys who claim a perfect case history. They can define themselves into perfection. Both attorneys and genealogists can get by making such claims because no one has ever challenged them.

Now why are experts the target of my illustrations. The Family Tree is unique in one important way. It is the accumulation of over a hundred years of family history by thousands of people. Unlike the other online family tree programs, it was not built by user contributions within the last few years, the information incorporated into the Family Tree was seeded with record submissions made over 150 years ago. What you see in the Family Tree is a consensus, albeit an approximation, of the submissions. Errors that show up in the Family Tree, like those illustrated above, are not trivial. They reflect what is on hundreds, if not thousands, of people's individually accumulated pedigrees. Like the marriage date showing that Samuel Stratton, Sr. was married at age seven, the data is full of obvious mistakes. People, including a huge number of experienced genealogists who could be considered experts, have had access to this data as it was accumulated. If the information submitted to the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over the years had been correct or corrected, these types of problems would not appear. It all too easy to blame these entries on careless inexperience. In fact, much of this information came from people who had worked on genealogy their entire lives. Much of it came from genealogical professionals doing research in England and other countries for a fee. The present state of the Family Tree is merely a reflection of the state of nearly every family tree I examine with a critical eye.

This is one reason why the Family Tree, as opposed to all of the other online family tree programs, is such a challenge to the present state of accuracy in the genealogical community. Are these same errors present in other online family trees? Certainly. Not one of the programs has enough data to substantiate all of these problems. In fact, if you were to examine my examples above, you would see that much of the information is approximated and some of the places are too general to be of help. By the way, anyone who wants to look at these entries can do so by simply searching for these particular ID numbers in the Family Tree.

Granted, the standards for data entry in the genealogical community have increased over the years. But there is still a huge overburden of old genealogical research haunting the community. In this regard, it is interesting to examine the sources attached to these individuals, supposedly substantiating the conclusions shown in the Family Tree.

Here is one of the sources for Samuel Stratton, Sr.

You might note that Samuel Stratton, Sr. is supposed to be born and died as follows:

1617 Concord,, Kent, England
25 December 1672 Watertown, Middlesex, Massachusetts, United States

The source cited and attached shows a Samuel Stratton Sr. born in Concord, Kent, England with a son named John Stratton with the son born in Carlton, Bedfordshire, England. If this doesn't look suspicious to you, then you probably have entirely missed what I am talking about here. First of all, there is no such place as Concord, Kent, England. What connects the Samuel Stratton in Bedford to the person who supposedly died in Watertown, Middlesex, Massachusetts? The fact that there is a serious error with this person's birth and marriage date is only the beginning of the problems. There is a Concord in Buckinghamshire and another in Sunderland, But no such place in Kent. 

There is a Samuel Stratton buried in Watertown, Massachusetts, but who is he? Two of his children are listed as born in Podington or Podrington, Bedfordshire, England. One is listed as being born in Massachusetts in Watertown in 1629 while the next child is born in Carlton, Bedfordshire, England in 1632. By the way, the place is Podington, Bedfordshire, England and it is about 110 miles away from Kent, England. Oh, also, Watertown, Massachusetts wasn't settled by the English until 1630, so no one was born there in 1629.

This is only a brief example of the tangled problems I almost inevitably find in the pedigrees I examine. But you say, you haven't looked at my very meticulous, carefully crafted work. Well, I am always open to surprises. But the numbers favor my suspicions. If you go back six generations you have, at least, 64 individual ancestors not counting all their children and multiple marriages. This also depends on whether you count yourself as the first generation back or start counting generations with your parents. This Stratton family is eleven generations back from counting me as the first generation. That means I have 1024 grandparents in this generation. Anyone want to tell me that they have documented every single one of their eleventh generation ancestors? 

Now, the promise of the Family Tree is that all this will eventually be sorted out. We have enough people working on the issues to correct it all. But we are not off to much of a start when people add sources that don't make any sense as in my example above. Spend some time thinking before you add a source. Please. You may also want to start looking up places and numbers on your own family tree. You will probably be surprised at what you find.