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

Monday, August 31, 2015

There is history and then there is family history

The title to this blog post is "There is history and then there is family history." This is part of a complete statement that says, "There is history and then there is family history and they are actually the same thing." The only difference is that family historians seldom look beyond the dates, names and sometimes, places and historians seldom care about those historical figures that seem ordinary and unimportant. The two categories are mostly artificially maintained by those who emphasize their own agenda. Let me give you a few examples. Here are some questions about some prominent American historical figures. Let's see if you can answer any of the questions.

  • Who was George Washington? This is not a trick question and I am referring to the one that first comes to mind.
  • Who was George Washington's wife? 
  • Can you name any of George Washington's children?
If you did happen to know something about George Washington, why would questions about his family seem unimportant and why would that be missing from your previous studies? 

I may have mentioned this before, but when I was taking U.S. history in high school, we never got past the U.S. Civil War. In all my 21 or so years of formal schooling, I never had a history class that covered events in the 20th Century. What little formal schooling I had about world history, ignored any events that occurred outside of Europe. However, since I studied Spanish at the university level and was a military intelligence officer for Central and South America, I learned a lot about the history of Latin America. Everything else I know about history came from reading books. 

Now, from the other end of the historical perspective, I had about five years of formal, university level classes in genealogy from Brigham Young University focused on North American genealogy. Anything else I have learned has come from reading books, articles, attending conferences, etc. 

What is remarkable about these two experiences is that in the history classes, I never heard a word about genealogy; in the genealogy classes, I barely heard anything about history. Why is this remarkable? They both use exactly the same sources for their information except the "historians" ignore the "purely genealogical" records and the genealogists ignore everything that is not "purely genealogical" in nature. Well, with any generalization, there are exceptions. We do have a few formally trained historians who become interested in genealogy and we do have genealogists who become interested in history. However, just because someone has advanced degrees in history does not mean diddle about their interest in or knowledge of genealogy. Likewise, my experience is that the vast majority of those people from the United States, even those supposedly interested in genealogy, have only the most rudimentary knowledge of history. Once in a while, I will find someone who knows both but they are the rare exception. 

Some of my grandchildren have already started back to school and a few are now attending the university. Except for a few vague classes in "Social Studies" they have no classes in history and of course, genealogy is never mentioned. Now, I suppose, that I since I am sitting here in Provo, I could register (even at my age) for classes at the Brigham Young University and study (even obtain a degree) in Family History. But job prospects (at my age again) would be rather dim or I could just keep on doing what I always do and that is read books about genealogy and history. 

Whenever I think about this subject, I always remember the class I taught to a group of prospective missionaries at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. I was talking about the types of records that might be used to find their ancestors and asked when the ancestors lived. Someone mentioned the mid-1800s and I asked what happened in the United States in 1862 to 1865? After asking the question a number of different ways, I realized that none of the class members had any idea when the U.S. Civil War occurred. In fact, most of them did not seem to know there was a Civil War. This may seem like an extreme example, but it is not at all unusual. How can we pretend to do "family history" and ignore the history part?

I am certainly not alone in my concern about the state of knowledge about history in the United States. Here is a quote from an organization called the Pioneer Institute on Public Policy Research entitled, "Shortchanging the Future: The Crisis of History and Civics in American Schools," by Robert Pondiscio, Gilbert T. Sewall, and Sandra Stotsky. 
The collective grasp of basic history and civics among American students is alarmingly weak. Beyond dispiriting test results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and other measures, poor performance in history and civics portends a decay of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed for a lifetime of active, engaged citizenship. The reasons for this decline are many: the amount of time devoted to history in K-12 education has demonstrably shrunk over time; demands to make curriculum more inclusive have led schools and teachers to dwell on social history, race, and gender in ways that distort the nation’s historical narrative. These changes are in turn reflected in textbooks and teaching materials used in social studies classrooms. Problems with teacher training and qualification compound the problem, leaving teachers poorly equipped to arrest the decline in history and civics. Past efforts to arrest or reverse the decline, however well intentioned, have had little discernible impact. Attempts to create national history standards have failed, and great caution must be exercised before further efforts are made to write or impose such standards. 
I recently examined the "Social Studies" book used by one of my granddaughters and was appalled at the lack of "history." The entire book was devoted to race and gender issues.

Now, what does this mean to those interested in family history? It means that the collective lack of knowledge about history creates a major disability of the average person in the U.S. from doing adequate research in their own family history.

Where do we start? Let's start by reading a history book or two or more about the countries where your ancestors lived. Let's find out what happened around the time our ancestors lived. Perhaps once we know the history, finding them and learning about them will become a natural consequence. History is about people and what they did and how they lived. Genealogy is about people and what they did and how they lived. Let's learn and remember the "history" part of family history.

Now, if your reaction is that "I am not interested in history" and I don't read books. Then how can you expect to be interested in and find out anything about family HISTORY?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

FamilySearch Blog Update -- August 2015

I spent some time accumulating and sorting all of the blog posts from FamilySearch during the past month. This list is not quite complete, mainly because some of the published posts get deleted, but it has almost all the ones I could find. Even if you are on some of the FamilySearch mailing lists, you may not have seen all of these posts.

Here I go with the list:

Blogger, Guest. “Following the Mormon Battalion’s Route.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Using the Family History Guide.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “‘We Had a Weighing Frolic’ - The Mormon Battalion Weight Loss Plan.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Brimhall, Dennis. “Family Stories Cut to the Heart of Family History.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Clarke, Gordon. “Partner News – August.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Decker, Steven. “Delaware Tombstone Project Nears Completion.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Native American Genealogy Is Still Problematic.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Advancements in Technology Aid Genealogists.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Greener, Glen N. “Past Persecutions Make Irish Information Difficult To Discover.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Pioneers Are Now Found in Local Jails.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Hardy, Bethany. “Pioneers of the Westward Expansion.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Henson, Kevin. “Following the Mormon Battalion’s Route.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “‘We Had a Weighing Frolic’ - The Mormon Battalion Weight Loss Plan.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

“How Can I Add a Record That I Find on to My Ancestor’s Sources in Family Tree?” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Hyde, Jesse. “Thank You for Helping to Fuel the Find*!” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Kemp, Thomas Jay. “Searching for Rufus, I Found Little Eugenie.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Slave Stories.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Kuehn, Duncan. “Three Stooges’ Story Told in Their Obituaries.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

McBride, Lisa. “Find, Take, Teach: Building Your Own Discovery Tree.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Just for You: Announcing the Updated Family History Center Director Page.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Try Something New—The FamilySearch Personal Home Page Experience.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

McMurdie, Greg. “Genealogists Share Heirlooms and Tell Stories from Their Family Tree.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

McMurdie, Greg. “3 Tips to Celebrate Ancestors from Your Family Tree at Gatherings.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Murphy, Nathan. “Public Invited to East European Genealogy Presentations.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

“Newspapers: A Genealogist’s Best Friend.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Ross, Richard. “First and Only in My Family: #IAmAPioneer.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Sagers, Diane. “No Life Is Ordinary—Please Write Your Story.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Shelley, Savannah Kate. “Service to God and Country: Discovering the Mormon Battalion.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Stories That Inspire: Removing the Rocks.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Slaugh, Eric. “FamilySearch Library Events along the Wasatch Front.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “How To: Help Your Ward Members Get Hooked on Family History.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Second Chances: A Life Touched by Family History.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “The Mormon Battalion: Blazing a Trail That Helped Settle the West.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Sorenson, Yvonne. “The Family History Library Announces Free Classes for September 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Steele, Logan. “New FamilySearch Collections: Week of August 11, 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “New FamilySearch Collections: Week of August 17, 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “Quiz: Are You a Modern Pioneer? #IAmaPionner.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Steve Anderson. “August 25, 2015—Teach Yourself and Others: New Online Training Now Available.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “In What Way Is Internet Indexing and Buying Potatoes Alike?” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “What’s New in FamilySearch—September, 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

———. “What’s New on FamilySearch—August, 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Warburton, Kathy. “Discovering the Stories of Your Early Ancestors.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

“What’s New on FamilySearch—August, 2015.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Woods, Debra. “Expanding Your Family Tree: Through Descendancy Research.” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Wright, Matt. “FamilySearch Messaging on” FamilySearch Blog. Accessed August 30, 2015.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

New Search Features on

New features are being added regularly to the website. Most of these are unheralded, but for the past few months, FamilySearch has posted a blog post summarizing the new features. The latest version is by Steve Anderson and is entitled, "What's New in FamilySearch -- September, 2015." Just as regularly, I try to comment on the changes and elaborate on those that need more explanation. There are two features highlighted in Steve's article: the new Messaging system (which I have already discussed in a previous post) and several enhancements to the Search function of the Historical Record Collections. I decided to write some thoughts on searching on

The Search functions on have been the subject of considerable discussion in the genealogical community. Not all of this discussion has been favorable to The real issue is based on a comparison between FamilySearch and other websites. To be fair, search engine technology is rapidly evolving and is in the forefront of websites developing sophisticated search technologies. The capabilities of the FamilySearch search functions is colored, in part, by the fact that there are a number of separate search functions which are not directly related. Those search functions include the following:

  • Searches made for individuals in the Family Tree including duplicate searches, searches for individuals, searches for existing individuals upon adding family members
  • Help menu searches
  • Searches within the Memories section of the website
  • Searches within the digitized book section of the website
  • Catalog searches in the FamilySearch catalog
  • Wiki searches in the FamilySearch Research Wiki
  • Searches in the Genealogies section
  • Searches within the Historical Record Collections
Although most of these searches involve similar processes, the information involved either assists or limits the searches made.

It may seem obvious, but all searches are limited by the amount of information available for the search. In the case of the Historical Record Collections, that limitation is absolute and limited to indexed records only. That means that any search of the Historical Record Collections searches only a percentage of the entire records available on the website. From time to time, I hear people complain that they can find no information on the website about their family. Usually the person making such a complaint has done what they feel to be, an exhaustive search using the search engines. Unfortunately they have missed the vast majority of the records on which are still in microfilm or digitized microfilm format and remain unindexed. For this reason, even for searches concentrating on the Historical Record Collections should include a detailed search in the FamilySearch Catalog.

A second important point about searching is that all searches are limited to the accuracy of the underlying indexing system. Indexing systems are not perfect and therefore any search of historical records that fails to produce specific results should move from using a search engine in a website to examination of the original, paper or digitized records. One common indication of the limitations of search engines in general is the fact that a particular family may be found in only certain years of the US Federal Census records. Obviously, if a family is found in the 1910 census and again in the 1930 census, they must of been in existence during the time of the 1920 census. Although there is always the possibility that the family was missed during the census, more likely the real reason the family cannot be found is because the indexing of the census is incomplete or inaccurate.

Given those limitations it is also important to understand the details of the searching process as it has been implemented on any particular website. Because the new features outlined in the FamilySearch blog post referenced above involve the Historical Record Collections, I will focus on those new changes. Quoting from the article:
When doing a new search, when you enter information you want to find (such as marriage information), you may be surprised to see census records or death certificates in the search results. That happens because the census record and death certificate contain some marriage information. But sometimes you may want to look for a person in a specific type of record for a specific place (for example, Henry Huff in marriage records for Nova Scotia, Canada).
 Let's suppose, that I were to search for my great-grandfather Henry Martin Tanner. I could begin by entering his name in the search fields as shown in the image above at the beginning of his post. However, without some qualifying limitations on the search, I am likely to have too many false results. Therefore it is necessary to limit the search by more specific information, assuming I know more information. As with any search engine of this type, you should always begin with entering as little information as possible to obtain results and then proceed by adding additional information. It is always useful to restrict the records to a specific country or region.

In this case, I will restrict my search for my great-grandfather to the United States and the state of Arizona. Here's a screenshot showing the area of the search that can be restricted geographically:

It is always more effective in searching records to restrict the scope of the search to a specific geographic area before beginning the search. There is however a danger here that you will eliminate records because you are unaware that your ancestor lived in a different geographic area.

Here are the results of my search:

As you can see from the search, there is more than one instance of a person with the name of "Henry Tanner" in the state of Arizona at about the same time and interestingly, they both had a wife named Eliza. Without more information from the user, a search engine will probably never be able to differentiate between this type of similar individuals.

One new feature of the search is that I can now click on the entry and see an expanded version of the record. Here's a screenshot showing the expanded version:

One last change, is outlined as follows from the FamilySearch post: has begun publishing collections that contain searchable indexed information that was extracted from images by computers rather than by people. This monumental advancement promises to dramatically increase the indexed information available for the many image-only collections currently published on 
While we are developing these automated indexing tools, your feedback on the accuracy of these records will greatly accelerate the improvement of the tools. On auto-indexed records only, you will see a new tab at the bottom labeled “Errors?” When you click Errors?, you will be able to provide direct feedback to the engineer on the type and specific nature of any errors you encounter.
The addition of an error reporting capability is a step in the right direction but it would be helpful also to have the ability to make a suggested correction to the index and have it added as an alternative search term.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mesa FamilySearch Library to remain closed

As I explained in my post today on Genealogy's Star, the Mesa FamilySearch Library (formerly known as the Mesa Regional Family History Center) will remain closed for the time being. I am disappointed and sad about this outcome. I certainly understand the complexity of the problem and hope that the missionaries and volunteers can have meaningful opportunities to serve in other capacities. I think I am beginning to understand more about the reasons for the impressions I had to move to Provo.

It is my opinion that the jury is still out on Family Discovery Centers. I would guess that they will have to show some measurable positive impact on the family history activity in the areas where they are established before they spread too much further in their present form. I also think that the whole system needs to be examined. If we have 4600 plus Family History Centers and the overall family history activity of the Church is not being positively affected, perhaps we need to reassess the need for the Centers and examine the real way family history is done by those who are "active" in pursuing their ancestors. We have over 100 years of experience in this regard.

I could say a lot more, but I will not. Let's wait and see what ultimately happens in Mesa and elsewhere.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Seeking After Our Dead, Our Greatest Responsibility

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Back in 1928, the Genealogical Society of Utah (the predecessor to FamilySearch) published the following book:

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Genealogical Society. Seeking after Our Dead Our Greatest Responsibility. [Salt Lake City]: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1928.

The book is a course of lessons for the study in classes in family history. At the beginning of the book, there is a quote from Brigham Young on pages 7-8:
Our ancestors back for hundreds of years * * * are all looking to see what their children are doing upon the earth. The Lord says, I have sent the keys of Elijah the Prophet——I have imparted that doctrine to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers. Now, all you children, are you looking. to the salvation of your fathers? Are you seeking diligently to redeem those that have died without the Gospel, inasmuch as they sought the Lord Almighty to obtain promises for you? For our fathers did obtain promises that their seed should not be forgotten. 0 ye children of the fathers, look at these things. You are to enter into the temples of the Lord and officiate for your forefathers." (Brigham Young, Discourses, p. 625.) (omissions in the original)
Most of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been taught and re-taught the doctrine concerning the necessity of redeeming our dead ancestors through performing the vital proxy ordinances for them in the Temples. The Church recently dedicated its 148th Temple in Indianapolis, Indiana. The continued emphasis on building Temples reinforces the importance of this great work. Why then is there such a lack of interest in actually doing the work and in some cases, active opposition?

Part of the explanation is given in the quote from the book on page 32:
There are many duties before us in life, claiming our attention and efforts. It is often puzzling to know which are of most importance. Says the Prophet, "The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead." (Times and Seasons, Vol. 6:616.)
 At pages 35 and 36, the book goes on to expand on this issue:
Do we as Latter-day Saints fully realize the importance of the mighty responsibility placed upon us in relation to the salvation of the world? We are doing a great deal in the attempt to convert and save a perverse and wicked generation; we are sending out hundreds of missionaries into all parts of the earth, and are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in this very necessary labor, _with results that are not so very startling. We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the building of meeting houses, church schools and other buildings, and in the education of the youth of Israel * * * and in every way diligently striving to improve our own people, and disseminate knowledge that will convert the world to the gospel; but what are we doing for the salvation of our dead? Many there are, it is true, who comprehend this great work, and are faithfully discharging their duties in the temples of the Lord, but of others this cannot be said. * * * It matters not what else we have been called to do, or what position we may occupy, or how faithfully in other ways we have labored in the Church, none are exempt from this great obligation. It is required‘ of the apostle as well as of the humblest elder. Place or distinction, or long service in the Church, in the mission field. the Stake of Zion, or where or how else it may have been, will not entitle one to disregard the salvation of one's dead. Some may feel that if they pay their tithing, attend their regular meetings and other duties, give of their substance to the poor, perchance spend one or two or more years preaching in the world, that they are absolved from further duty. But the greatest and grandest duty of all is to labor for the dead. We may and should do all these other things, for which re-ward will be given, but if we neglect the weightier privilege and commandment, notwithstanding all other good works, we shall find ourselves under severe condemnation. (omissions in the original)
Now, today, we have electronic resources unimagined by our forbearers who were being taught back in 1928, nearly a hundred years ago. How can we expect to escape this obligation, when we have been given an easier path to follow? The consequences are clear as quoted on page 36:
Any man who neglects the redemption of his dead that he has the power to officiate for here, will have sorrow when he gets to the other side of the veil; if you have entered into these temples and redeemed your progenitors by the ordinances of the house of God you will hold the keys of their redemption from eternity to eternity." (Wilford Woodruff, Deseret News Weekly, Sept. 17, 1898.)
What did they have to say about doing family history research in 1928? Did they say how much fun we would have? Here is a quote from page 39:
Though research may at times prove tedious and disappointing, it holds out the highest compensations. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have it entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." (I Cor. 2:9-10.)
 Now given that introduction, here is a discussion from this book written in 1928, I think some might find interesting. I was wondering about the date of publication of this book, once I read this. It sounds a lot like what many of us have been saying today.
A man was identified by the name of John Jones, who was born in 1566 and died in 1620. His wife's name being unknown, her real name was disguised under the artificial title of “Mrs. John Jones,” and her temple work was done under that name. 
Later it was discovered that this John Jones had been married thrice. The name of his first wife was Anne Weeks and complete identification was found for her, name, parentage, dates of birth, marriage, and death. The name of the third was found to be Anne Thompson; and John Jones was her third husband. Her complete identification was obtained. Nothing was learned of the second wife. 
Can you decide for which of his three wives the baptism, endowment, and sealing of "Mrs. John Jones" may be applied? Nothing but approximated dates were used, which were totally unlike the real ones for the first wife. 
Such guess work would not be countenanced in genealogy; for it leads absolutely nowhere in the tracing of an ancestor. Is it justifiable in ordinance work? Is it a help or a hindrance in the final analysis? Again, if you know that John Jones died leaving a wife Anne, with no further particulars, except that John Jones was the father of eight children, can you truly perform the work for this family, from these facts alone? 
Or, suppose the children in this family were known, and the name of the mother, but the name of the father was unknown. Hence we do his work as “Mr. Jones;" born 1566, died 1620. Is he identified? The records may show that there were about 3,000 males of the surname Jones living during that period, many were born in that same year and many others died in 1620. 
Each individual is known and distinguished by a given name. Since many in the world bear the same given name, individuals are further distinguished by adding the family name or surname of the father.
I think this example says more than enough. What would those who were writing manuals for the Church think of the way work is done today? Some of the rules have changed since 1928, but the principles have not.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Researching your family in Mexico

The Brigham Young University Family History Library has nearly 100 instructional videos about family history. This is the most recent addition to the collection. The BYU Family History Library is part of the University's Harold B. Lee Library on campus and has all the resources of this vast library to assist patrons with their research. The BYU Family History Library videos have had over 30,000 views and new videos are uploaded regularly. You can subscribe to the "Channel" and get easier access and notifications of new videos.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015 and Family History is the source for many valuable family history resources, but is the source for information about the interaction of the members and family history within the Church organization. does not duplicate the resources of FamilySearch, but it does give insight into the way family history functions in the Church.

I am frequently talking to Ward Family History Consultants, High Priest Group Leaders, Bishops, High Councilors, and even Stake Presidents about family history. I find that there is a general lack of knowledge about the function of the family history program in the Church and a particular lack of understanding about the roles the which these various individuals are responsible. This lack of awareness is certainly not due to any lack of resources. The instructions and suggestions available on the website are extensive and specific.

The main entry into the online materials is the Family History Topics page on Links are provided to the following topics:

Combined Lesson
Missionary Opportunities
Media Library
Inspiring Messages

For example, I am aware of Wards that have no Family History Consultants that have been called from among the Ward members. This is surprising given the counsel from the First Presidency in a letter dated October 8, 2012 that says, in part:
The First Presidency said, “Priesthood leaders should assure that young people and their families learn the doctrine of turning their hearts to their fathers and the blessings of temple attendance” (“Names for Temple Ordinances,” First Presidency letter, October 8, 2012).
The Leader Resources teach this important principle and many others.  The instructions and materials on the website provide information for every individual with a family history responsibility, including individual members and families.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Value of Biblical Genealogies

What is the purpose and value of Biblical genealogies? It is certain that substantial portions of the Old Testament and even a part of the New Testament are dedicated to listing genealogical descent. Detractors quickly point out that the genealogies have no practical value. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a unique perspective on both the accuracy and the utility of these genealogies. Here is a quote from part of the Bible Dictionary entry on Genealogy:
Concerned with tracing the line of descent in any given family. Where certain offices or blessings are restricted to particular families, genealogies become of great importance; for example, a priest must be able to show his descent from Aaron, the Messiah from David, while every Jew must be able to show his descent from Abraham. In the Old Testament the genealogies form an important part of the history, such as of the antediluvian patriarchs (Gen. 5; 1 Chr. 1:1–4); of Noah (Gen. 10); of Shem (Gen. 11:10–32; 1 Chr. 1:17–28); of Ham (1 Chr. 1:8–16); of Abraham’s children by Keturah (Gen. 25:1–4; 1 Chr. 1:32); of Ishmael (Gen. 25:12–16; 1 Chr. 1:29–31); of Esau (Gen. 36; 1 Chr. 1:35–54); of Jacob (Gen. 46; Ex. 6:14–25; Num. 26; 1 Chr. 2:2); various (1 Chr. 3–9; Ezra 2:62; Neh. 7:64). 
The New Testament contains two genealogies of Jesus Christ; that in Matt. 1:1–17descends from Abraham to Jesus, being intended for Jewish readers; while that in Luke 3:23–38 ascends from Jesus to Adam, and to God, this Gospel being written for the world in general. We notice also that Luke gives 21 names between David and Zerubbabel, and Matthew gives only 15; Luke gives 17 generations between Zerubbabel and Joseph, and Matthew only 9; moreover, nearly all the names are different. The probable explanation is that the descent may be traced through two different lines. Matthew gives a legal descent and includes several adopted children, such adoption carrying with it legal rights, while Luke gives a natural descent through actual parentage.
 I see no reason to get into a debate about the historicity of the genealogies and I fully realize that there are some who "trace' their lineage "back to Adam" using these genealogies as a basis. The difficulty with those "back to Adam" family trees occurs long before they ever get back to a connection with the Bible.

Our LDS belief in the Bible itself is tempered by the eighth Article of Faith, which reads:
8 We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
Although not an "official" position of the Church, The website contains two statements that help clarify the LDS position regarding genealogy per se.
Critics charge that the Bible condemns genealogy, and therefore the Latter-day Saint practice of compiling family histories is anti-Biblical, often citing 1 Timothy 1:4 or Titus 3:9
The Bible does not condemn all genealogy per se. Rather, it rejects the use of genealogy to "prove" one's righteousness, or the truth of one's teachings. It also rejects the apostate uses to which some Christians put genealogy in some varieties of gnosticism.
Latter-day Saints engage in genealogy work so that they can continue the Biblical practice—also endorsed by Paul—of providing vicarious ordinances for the dead, such as baptism (See 1 Corinthians 15:29) so that the atonement of Christ may be available to all who would choose it, living or dead. See: Baptism for the dead
If, as this statement says, the purpose of engaging in genealogy work is to provide vicarious ordinances for the dead, then spending time engaged in adding the Biblical genealogies to your family lines and in adding in the connections serves no purpose at all. Not only are the intervening genealogies notoriously unreliable and familial connection with these families is tenuous at best and very likely unprovable. 

I have cited this quote a few times from the Ensign for February, 1984, but it always bears repeating:
I’ve heard that some people have extended their ancestral lines back to Adam. Is this possible? If so, is it necessary for all of us to extend our pedigrees back to Adam? 
Robert C. Gunderson, Senior Royalty Research Specialist, Church Genealogical Department. The simplest answer to both questions is No. Let me explain. In thirty-five years of genealogical research, I have yet to see a pedigree back to Adam that can be documented. By assignment, I have reviewed hundreds of pedigrees over the years. I have not found one where each connection on the pedigree can be justified by evidence from contemporary documents. In my opinion it is not even possible to verify historically a connected European pedigree earlier than the time of the Merovingian Kings (c. A.D. 450–A.D. 752). 
Every pedigree I have seen which attempts to bridge the gap between that time and the biblical pedigree appears to be based on questionable tradition, or at worst, plain fabrication. Generally these pedigrees offer no evidence as to the origin of the information, or they cite a vague source. 
The question also asks if it is necessary for us to trace our pedigrees back to Adam. I believe that when the true purpose for which we do genealogical research is understood, one will realize that it is not necessary, at this time, to connect our pedigrees back to Adam. In fact an attempt to do so is probably detrimental to the overall goal of genealogical and temple work—to make available the saving ordinances of the gospel for all the dead.
I commend the entire article to any of those who are proud to show me (or anyone else) how they have traced their lineage "back to Adam." But the most important part of the article is the statement in the last paragraph:
The volume of the work is such that there is a need for every member to be engaged in some aspect of it—but at the same time we must learn to work efficiently and effectively. We do not have time for needless projects that sap our time and resources.
It is not so much the accuracy, or lack thereof, but the fact that it is such a monumental waste of time and resources that serves no purpose.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The End of Reality -- Detecting the Genealogical Twilight Zone

I have looked at thousands of family trees over the years. The vast majority of them share a common malady. At some point in the pedigree, the information makes a sharp departure from reality and enters the genealogical Twilight Zone. Many genealogists who inhabit this shadow world are so caught up in it, that they believe every link in their pedigree to be the absolutely one, true family tree. They cannot conceive of the fact that they ever departed from reality.

This departure from reality usually occurs at a point where there are no supporting sources for the information listed for a specific family in any given line. This is easily demonstrated from the unified Family Tree. This is not a fault with the function of the Family Tree, but a reflection of the combined nature of the data. In essence, the Family Tree is a conglomeration of over 100 years of user compiled data. However, the good news is that sources are being added to the Family Tree in huge numbers. Where the sources end, fantasy begins.

Why am I writing about this subject again? The main reason is the fact that many of the newer family history programs (aka apps) rely on the data from the Family Tree. Because of this fact, many people are using programs that produce unreliable data because the ancestry given by the Family Tree is not verifiable and is very likely inaccurate. As I have mentioned in a previous post, I have only verified my own lines back six generations. I am still verifying and sourcing the descendants of those six generations and that work is far from over. I do not have to go very far before finding long lists of relatives with no supporting source information.

In the following screenshot from the Family Tree of part of my family, the purple icons indicate individuals with no sources. The red exclamation point icons indicate serious problems with the data.

You can also see, if you look closely, that there are unresolved duplicates. I might add that presently these duplicates cannot be resolved and will not be resolved until the program is completely separated from the Family Tree.

The disjointed data is more insidious that obvious. If I go back another generation with this same family, we see the following:

At this level, there appears to be some documentation, at least the icons showing no sources are missing except for the wife of the ancestor, John Morgan. But an examination of the tree shows that this particular John Morgan has no specific source listings connecting him to Garrard Morgan or supporting a birth or death date. Where did he come from? As a matter of note, this particular line goes back into the 900s. From my standpoint, it ends right here and may end one or two generations more recent.

This is what I mean by the end of reality: pedigree lines that have no sources to substantiate the names included. Pedigrees going back to Adam are only most egregious examples. Any given pedigree might end at the parents of the first person listed without sources. I am presently in a long discussion with a relative who claims to extend the Tanner line back to England. That would be nice except in all our conversations she has yet to provide even one source citation of information tying my ancestor in Rhode Island to anyone in England.

What is interesting is that the participants in the Family Tree are inexorably documenting all of their ancestral connections. That documentation is slowly but surely extending back to each of these points where reality disappears. As the documentation continues to accrue, these junctures will become more and more obvious. Many of them will likely be resolved, others will finally be put to bed and retired from the Family Tree. Over time, the Family Tree will inevitably become more and more accurate.

But the caution presently is that the Family Tree has these departures from reality and the users need to be careful about placing too much reliance on the data until the sources are found and entered.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Family History Missionary Opportunities

Church Service Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the unsung heroes of the overall missionary service. Regular, full-time missionaries, even senior missionaries, are often recognized by speaking in their Ward both before and after their callings. Service missionaries, especially those serving less than full-time and serving at home are almost never recognized or even noticed by the Ward family. However, the work they do is extremely valuable and necessary. This is especially true of the corp of service missionaries dedicated to family history.

As the website explains, Church Service Missionaries can serve in the home, close to home or away from home. I have been serving as a Church Service Missionary for a number of years, first at the Mesa FamilySearch Library (originally the Mesa Regional Family History Center) and now at the Brigham Young University Family History Library. I loved serving in Mesa and now I love serving at the BYU Family History Library in Provo, Utah. Both have been extraordinary opportunities to work with wonderful people and have fabulous experiences. In both locations, my wife has served with me at least part of the time, unless she had other callings in the Church. We both recently extended our callings for another two years. I am planning on serving as long as they will let me continue.

Serving as a Church Service Missionary does have some interesting consequences. Some of the Bishops in our Wards over the years have been puzzled about how we "fit in" to the usual Ward callings. Some of the Ward members, when they see us with our missionary badges, wonder if we are temporary in the Ward and it takes quite a bit of time to convince the Ward members that we are permanent residents. As we moved into Provo, we found that many of the members of our new Ward were serving in various volunteer and Church Service capacities, some were even serving as Family History Missionaries. This was quite a change from Mesa.

As we have served in various ways in the Family History area, we have spent time helping patrons, one-on-one, and teaching in a variety of ways. Of course, my involvement in family history extends well beyond the time that I serve in the BYU Family History Library, I always have a number of other projects and involvements going on, but the core of my activity is now with the BYU Family History Library where we serve students attending the University, people from the surrounding communities and quite a few people from around the world.

There are many ways to serve and if you are at all interested, I suggest exploring the opportunities on the Family History Missionaries Opportunities page on

Friday, August 21, 2015

FamilySearch Family Discovery Center Opens in Seattle

Here is a press release from FamilySearch about the newest Family Discovery Center that is now open in Bellevue, Washington outside of Seattle.
BELLEVUE, WA—FamilySearch International announces the grand opening of its Seattle Family Discovery Center, the first to open outside its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. Based in Bellevue, the center offers interactive experiences for visitors of all ages to discover, share, and preserve family histories and memories. It is free to the public. Find out more online at 
Visitors to the center are provided with a tablet computer as a personal guide to interface with large touch screens, where they learn more about themselves, view family origins, and discover how ancestors may have lived and even dressed. Data used for the interactive experiences is drawn from online data at and select partners. 
The center creates a “Museum of You” feeling through a variety of experiences and activities for children, five interactive station experiences, and software applications that explore family ancestral lines in fun, creative ways to help patrons discover famous relatives. 
When asked how visitors respond to the new attraction, 16-year-old Brynn Stapley of Bellevue, Washington, said, “I see amazement at the technology, the information, and how it’s presented on big screens. Visitors get excited when they discover a little piece of new information that leads to more information about their families. I think people are surprised how much they learn about themselves and their cultural heritage and then leave eager to continue the journey.” Stapley is one of 23 volunteers at the center. 
The center features a high-definition video recording studio, where visitors can answer questions about their life stories and archive the recording for long-term preservation so future children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren can access the recording later. Visitors can also bring a USB drive to take home a copy of the recorded session. 
Becca Escoto, 26, resident of Bellevue and center volunteer, said she met a couple engaged to be married and encouraged them to record their engagement story for their posterity. “It was exciting to see them in the studio, sharing a story that will be important for their future family members,” Escoto said. “What a perfect start to begin their family.” Escoto said she was also surprised to discover that she personally is an eighth cousin to President Barack Obama through their maternal family lines. 
The Seattle Family Discovery Center is a free community attraction funded entirely by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which FamilySearch International is a nonprofit subsidiary.  “We believe our precious family relationships and experiences in this life do not end with death,” said Dennis Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch International and managing director of the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 
“Today family history research and telling, sharing, and preserving family memories through stories, photos, and technology are engaging a growing number of individuals of all ages from every faith and ethnicity like never before,” said Brimhall. “Youth want to discover themselves and their family’s history in fun, exciting ways, and adults want to strengthen family connections and leave enduring legacies. The discovery experiences provided by this facility will help do just that,” Brimhall added. 
Planning for the Seattle Family Discovery Center has been years in development, and construction was completed in April 2015. In addition to the family discovery centers in Salt Lake and Seattle, FamilySearch has announced future centers in London, England, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 
The Seattle Family Discovery Center is located inside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints facility at 15205 SE 28th Street in Bellevue, Washington.PHOTO A: At the Seattle Discovery Center in Bellevue, Washington, Trace Farmer of Seattle, Washington, discovers 4,586 people share his first name while using the “Discover My Story” experience. 
I think we can expect to see more of theses in the future.

Why does FamilySearch have Partnerships?

For more than two years now, FamilySearch has been publicly involved with third party entities either through its certification program or with declared "partnerships." A list of many of these entities can be easily seen by going to the App Gallery. What is the underlying purpose of these arrangements?

Despite the obvious advantages to both sides of such agreements, there are always those detractors who would like to see some sort-of conspiracy or ulterior motive attributed to anything having to do with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So what are these advantages?

In addressing this subject, I do not claim to have any insight other than that gained from listening to people and reading blog posts for the past few years. It seems to me that the first and most obvious advantage is heavily on the side of FamilySearch and the Church. One of the main religious goals of the Church (and thereby FamilySearch) is to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world. This ultimate goal includes extending the blessings of the Gospel to all mankind, both living and dead. This explains the reason for accumulating a vast library of records about family history. See on Family History.

If spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and researching our ancestors are related principles, then making the information we accumulate about our ancestors available to others, even those not of our faith, is an important objective. As a side note, this is also one reason why keeping your own family history "private" or restricting its availability or refusing to share with family members is the antithesis of the basic reasons for doing the research in the first place. So, the question becomes, how do we, as a people and members of the Church, best share our knowledge with others around the world? One way to do this is to share the accumulated Historic Record Collections and microfilm with some of the larger online genealogy companies. Hence, the partnership agreements with,, and It also helps to explain why there are so many agreements with other family history oriented entities.

This may appear as a simplistic explanation for what appears to be a highly complex set of agreements, but as is always the case, there underlying motivation for actions taken by the Church is rather straight forward and easily understood.

I can only assume that each agreement with each of the third party family history entities has been separately negotiated and that the parties are satisfied with the arrangements. I have no need-to-know reason for learning about the details of each arrangement or contract, but I can be assured that these arrangements ultimately further the goals of the Church and FamilySearch and that they also benefit the other parties to the agreements. Meanwhile, my own personal benefit of having access to many more records and some highly beneficial programs is obvious to me.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Challenge and the Status of the FamilySearch Family Tree

In a recent blog post from the AncestryInsider entitled, "Ron Tanner Fields Questions at - #BYUFHGC" Ron Tanner was quoted as saying that FamilySearch is getting "rid" of If you try to go to the website, you get the following notice:

This notice was updated 3 February 2015. So, here we are at the end of August, 2015 and still waiting for the real "end" of I have heard that it might take until some time in 2016, to finally make the complete transition. As stated in the above notice, "This step allows FamilySearch to begin the final phase of the transition, which includes the transfer and synchronization all of the remaining data from to its replacement, FamilySearch Family Tree."

One of the most prominent problems encountered in the operation of the Family Tree because of the continued link to is the inability to resolve some of the obvious duplicates.

My perception, that comes from constantly using the program, is that the Family Tree is coming along fairly well. There are some duplicate issues that have yet to be resolved, but by and large the Family Tree is almost completely operational.

The real issues with the Family Tree are not going to be resolved merely because the transition from ends. The underlying issue with the Family Tree is the condition of the data. My response has been and continues to be to systematically work through each of the families in the Family Tree and do the following:
  • Correct all the duplicate information as much as possible 
  • Correct the names of any family members as shown in the Alternative name section
  • Eliminate duplicate individuals when allowed
  • Standardize dates and places
  • Add as many sources as can be found from my own records and from online
  • Make sure that all dates agree and all places actually existed at the time 
  • Delete any unsupported relationships
Granted this is a slow and somewhat tedious process, but until all the corrections have been done, the information is blatantly unreliable. As a result of "correcting" the data in the Family Tree, I am reasonably confident that the information for my lines is mostly accurate back six generations on all my lines. In addition, most of the descendants of these six generations have been verified and corrected. There are one or two of the lines that are inaccurate in the seventh generation, so I am currently starting on the seventh generation families.

I realize I live in a family history world where some people wish they had my problems, but by the seventh generation, the numbers start to be come a major challenge.

In short, I am no longer "waiting" for the complete transition away from I feel that enough progress has been made in stabilizing the Family Tree to allow me to do much of the work that needs to be done to correct the entries. There is no longer any valid reason to wait for further developments. The few cases where the duplicates cannot be merged can continue to be ignored, but otherwise, it is time to get to work and correct the Family Tree.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Direct Messaging Shows up live in the FamilySearch Family Tree

The very long anticipated direct messaging showed up in the Family Tree. This allows those signed into the Family Tree to send messages directly to those who do not allow their email address or other contact information to show up in the program.

In this case, sending a message to "unknown4470317" isn't going to work. If the person named is no longer alive or the contributor is something other than a real person, there is really no one out there to respond. But if the problem is simply a lack of a way to contact the person, an instant message might help.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Groundbreaking for new St. George Family Discovery Center

Groundbreaking for new St. George FamilySearch Center from on Vimeo.

Here is a local news report from St. George, Utah about the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Family Discovery Center. I suspect that there may be a few more of these announced in the future.

Results of the Worldwide Indexing Event

We received the results of the recent Worldwide Indexing Event from FamilySearch. Here is the report:
Thank you for participating in the Worldwide Indexing Event! 82,039 volunteers joined together from all over the world to help “Fuel the Find.”* Several milestones were achieved this week, including 12,251,870 records indexed and 2,307,876 records arbitrated. Click here to see what else was accomplished across the globe. 
Thank you especially to those of you who used your language skills to help index French, Italian, Portuguese, or Spanish records. The need for indexed records in languages other than English will continue well into the future. If you or others you know are fluent in one or more these languages, we need your ongoing help to “Fuel the Find” for people worldwide who are looking for their ancestors. 
If you choose to continue indexing in English only, please know that your efforts are equally needed and appreciated! 
Again, thank you for your efforts to make records searchable. Share the participation badge below with your friends on social media to let them know you helped "Fuel the Find." You are making a huge difference for people around the world!
FamilySearch also prepared an Infographic to show the worldwide participation:

Thanks to all those who helped achieve this major amount of Indexing in one week.