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

Sunday, January 31, 2016

What is missing from the FamilySearch Family Tree?

"A picture of an optical illusion. Taken at the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg." by Diarb2008 -
Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
When you look at your family on the Family Tree, you have a tendency to look at what is there rather than what is not there. Just as this image is an optical illusion, likewise, the Family Tree becomes a conceptual illusion. Lately, FamilySearch has added different icons to alert users to what is not in the Family Tree and what either needs to be corrected or added. The issue of an inability to see what is missing in the Family Tree becomes more of a problem in direct proportion to the amount of information you find when you look. If your ancestors were early converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then you will have more of an tendency to view what is there as complete. You become like the people in the story about the Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen. From Wikipedia: The Emperor's New Clothes.
Andersen's tale is based on a story from the Libro de los ejemplos (or El Conde Lucanor, 1335),[2] a medieval Spanish collection of fifty-one cautionary tales with various sources such as Aesop and other classical writers and Persian folktales, by Juan Manuel, Prince of Villena (1282–1348). Andersen did not know the Spanish original but read the tale in a German translation titled "So ist der Lauf der Welt".[3] In the source tale, a king is hoodwinked by weavers who claim to make a suit of clothes invisible to any man not the son of his presumed father; whereas Andersen altered the source tale to direct the focus on courtly pride and intellectual vanity rather than adulterous paternity.
So, what is missing from your portion of the Family Tree? Sometimes, like the story, you need someone to come along and point out what should have been obvious. I have found that this process takes about an hour to an hour and a half. But it also takes someone who is aware of the problems with the information in the Family Tree and who also knows how to use the missing information to an advantage in finding more people not already in the Family Tree.

I cannot solve this problem with one or even many blog posts. But I can begin by showing individuals who can then show others what to look for. This process is now called FIND, TAKE and TEACH. I has become the theme of FamilySearch recently. You will hear more about this in the future, but for now, take my word for it: the Emperor has no clothes and those who have pioneer Ancestors or even long pedigrees without pioneers, are likely missing seeing what is not there.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

#RootsTech 2016 -- Explore the RootsTech Expo Hall

Expo Hall

Even if you don't attend any classes at #RootsTech 2016, it is worth your time and effort to visit the Exhibit Hall. Here are some of the interesting and challenging events and activities going on during the entire event.
Family Discovery Zone—Sponsored by FamilySearch
The family discovery zone will be a fun, engaging, and interactive experience and will feature new and exciting technologies to help you discover and connect your family and stories. Stop by and experience the fun side of family history with these activities:
Photo Scanning Area: Bring your family photos! Make digital copies for free that you can preserve, share, and even upload directly to your FamilySearch family tree.
Recording Booth: Record Your Story! Your private recording session includes 10 minutes of recording time in a sound booth, and get a free copy of it on a flash drive.
Record a Call with Someone Who Inspires You: Simply call a parent, grandparent, or someone who inspires you, and find out more about his or her life. Our app will record the conversation and give you a personal copy as well.


Get your family book scanned for free. We’ll make a digital copy, and you'll keep the original and a searchable PDF copy for you. You can also donate personal works, family journals, and books that are in the public domain.

DEMO THEATER —Sponsored by Backblaze
Curious about the newest in family history products and services? Take a seat, and listen to demonstrations by RootsTech sponsors and exhibitors. The 15-minute demos will be scheduled daily during Expo Hall hours.

CYBER CAFE —Sponsored by Dell
Refresh and recharge at the Cyber Café while at RootsTech. The café offers wireless Internet access, recharging stations for your electronic devices, and free sodas. The staff from the Family History Library will also be here to offer one-on-one help.

New to the RootsTech Expo Hall will be the Innovation Alley, where you’ll get a chance to view the latest technology and tools in the family history industry. Be sure to stop by.

Thursday, February 4, 2016: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Friday, February 5, 2016: 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, February 6, 2016: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Live Streaming Schedule for #RootsTech 2016 Now Online and Other Updates

I have posted the live streaming schedule for #RootsTech 2016 on my Genealogy's Star blog as announced by FamilySearch. See this link for the schedule:

Interested viewers can watch the live presentations at Saturday's Family Discovery Day sessions will be broadcast live on

#RootsTech 2016 is right around the corner and I will be writing about my experiences at the Conference before, during and after the event. If there is anything of particular interest to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I will try to post here on this blog. But for general interest news please see Genealogy's Star

Friday, January 29, 2016

Check out the Partner Apps on the FamilySearch App Gallery

Each of the four Partners,,, and, have dedicated apps in the App Gallery.

Full descriptions of each of the free apps are available from links from the icons. Here are the links.

If you are a tablet or iPad user, then these apps may be just the ticket you need to get started with these programs. If you are an LDS user, you have free access to all four programs and can sign into the apps with your login and password.

Final List of Speakers Announced for Family Discovery Day

There are more than 20,000 people registered for the annual Family Discovery Day at #RootsTech 2016 on February 6, 2016 at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah. This event is free to all who wish to attend and is certainly not limited to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You must register to attend, and the Conference may be registered to capacity soon.

The final list of speakers at the Family Discovery Day has finally been announced. Here is the announcement:

The free one-day event will feature inspirational messages, instructional classes, interactive activities, and exciting entertainment designed to teach LDS families how to find their ancestors, prepare names for temple ordinances, and teach others to do the same. Attendees will also receive access to the Expo Hall, where hundreds of exhibitors will showcase the latest technology and tools. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and FamilySearch will host the event. Families are encouraged to register online at 
This year’s event will kick off with an exciting opening family general session featuring newly called apostle Elder Dale G. Renlund and his wife, Sister Ruth Renlund. Their daughter, Ashley Renlund, will join them for what will be an inspiring and candid moment with the entire Renlund family. This 45-minute opening session starts at 1 p.m. 
Sheri Dew and Sister Wendy Watson Nelson will speak during the family history discussion, which will be an exclusive conversation between best friends. Sheri Dew is the executive vice president of Deseret Management Corporation and the CEO of Deseret Book Company. Sister Wendy Watson Nelson is the wife of President Russell M. Nelson and was a professor of Marriage and Family Therapy. They will share their life experiences with family history during this 45-minute session, which starts at 2 p.m. 
Primary General President Sister Rosemary M. Wixom and Young Men General President Brother Stephen W. Owen will speak during the family session. Sister Wixom will share how the plan of salvation and family history provide a taproot that anchors our children. Brother Owen will speak about the role of families in the plan of salvation. This uplifting 30-minute session starts at 3:15 p.m. 
Family Discovery Day continues its amazing lineup with a session featuring Britain Covey and Taysom Hill. Britain Covey is a University of Utah Wide Receiver from Provo, Utah. Taysom Hill is a Brigham Young University Quarterback from Pocatello, Idaho. They will both share inspiring stories, humorous memories, and faith-promoting experiences. This 30-minute session will start at 4:15 p.m. 
Family Discovery Day will close with a stunning performance by The Lower Lights, a gospel and folk band that recently performed at Kingsbury Hall. The band will bring its part-revival, part-vigil sound steeped in tradition to Family Discovery Day for an exclusive performance that attendees will not want to miss. The performance starts at 5:30 p.m. 
Family Discovery Day is free, but registration is required. Visit to learn more and to register.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Resource for Children added to The Family History Guide

The Family History Guide has added a valuable section dedicated to genealogical resources aimed a children and young adults. Their introduction notes as follows:
When children have enjoyable experiences in family history at an early age, they are more likely to continue with it as they grow older, and reap the benefits as they go.

Adults and older youth can guide children to success using the Children's page (this page) in The Family History Guide. Know each child's abilities and limitations as you guide them through the activities and learning process. A rich experience awaits them - and you!
The new section adds to their already rich collection of resources for genealogists and family historians of all levels. In addition, The Family History Guide has made it into the Semifinalists category in the 2016 Innovators Showdown at #RootsTech 2016. You can vote for the app of your choice at the Innovators Showdown and at the same time be entered to win an iPad.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Expanding Your View: The FamilySearch Partner

During the past few months, I have been concentrating on my English ancestors, particularly the Parkinson family. Before I got started, I had some instruction from my friend, Leland Moon, about the website. When I began my intensive research into the old Huntingdonshire County (now Cambridgeshire), I was amazed at the ability of the program to ferret out my ancestors and their families. My appreciation for the program and its contents increased immeasurably. But without some insight into the way the program operates, you may simply regard it as another database.

Let me explain how I learned to use the program. The first and most important step is to enter your family tree into the program. I did this with a GEDCOM file. Here is a view of my family tree.

My ancestor, James Parkinson, is shown in the middle of the screenshot. Each of the colored circles on the icons for the people represent Record Hints. Here is a screenshot of the hints for my ancestor Mary Ann Bryant.

Now here is an important point. You should be very sure of the places and dates associated with your particular ancestral line. It turns out that none of these particular record hints apply to my Mary Ann Bryant. But the problem here is that the records available for Mary Ann are under her married name. So it is important to search and other websites under alternative names. Here is another screenshot showing the family as found in the U.S. Census.

The general rule is that you need to find where your ancestors lived from records in the country of arrival before you go off searching for them in the country of origin. I did this for the Parkinson family and located the geographic area where they lived. I had to do this homework before I could realize the full potential of the program. I found the Parkinsons in a small area of Huntingdonshire, England.

Now with a location I can start to find my ancestors. First I did an overall search of the surname in the county with a date associated with my ancestor. Here is what the search looked like:

This step showed me the frequency of the surname in the county. Of course I am only searching in the records that are on, but they have a very large number of records. Here is the result of the search. I got 36 results.

The key was to search in specific geographic areas. By examining the names, I was able to find records for several of my ancestors and their family members. Eventually I began to focus on just records available from a single parish. When I reached that point in my research, it helped to see whether or not any specific parish records were available from my target parish. I checked this by searching for the parish name in the A-Z of record sets. The link is in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.

I soon found that some of the parishes were not represented by specific records on;  meanwhile I was also able to find several records and additional relatives when the family emigrated to Australia. To continue I then had to rely on microfilmed records from the parishes in the Family History Library and in the Brigham Young University Library, but many of the records were found on providing me with the specific information I needed to continue researching the family.

The caution was not relying on either record hints or searches until you knew where your relatives lived. It turns out that most of the names I was looking for were too common to find with general searches. To show how this works, here is a general search for a person with a very unusual name. In this case I am looking for my ancestor named Hephzibah Newton. Here are the results from a general search in Huntingdonshire, England.

The record was a death record from the England and Wales deaths 1837-2007. The record gave her age at death thereby giving me a way to find more information. Here is the results of a search for the same person with her married name.

My continued searches eventually got me started with a firm understanding of where this family lived and added additional parishes to the search. All of the places ended up being only a few miles from each other.

As I stated above, the key is using specific places. I have a much greater respect for the program than I did in the past.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

#RootsTech 2016 is more than classes

This will be my sixth year attending the #RootsTech conference. Rather than focus on the number and variety of classes offered, I have come to view #RootsTech 2016 as primarily a place to carry on a dialogue with people who share my interest in family history. We are gathering with people from all over the world who come to Salt Lake City, Utah in the dead of Winter to talk about a single subject. I find that talking to people, all kinds of people, is the most rewarding and important part of my #RootsTech experience. In fact, there are few classes that will provide me with the opportunity to talk, discuss and interact with people. I will spend most of my time visiting with vendors on the exhibit floor, talking to fellow genealogists and listening to what everyone has to say about what is happening in genealogy today.

You may go to the #RootsTech Conference with the expectation of hearing some useful and stimulating presentations and you are correct, there will be some very important classes and presentations. But you will also be missing much of what the conference will offer if you neglect to visit with those around you. This is especially true of those people in the Exhibit Hall. The Exhibitors List has about 140 participants. I suggest that you will be missing much of what is going on at #RootsTech 2016 if you fail to spend adequate time on the Exhibit Floor. Don't neglect the classes, but take time to visit the Exhibit Floor.

Just a note, the weather forecast for Salt Lake City, Utah during #RootsTech 2016 is for snow and cold weather. Dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes.

Monday, January 25, 2016

How do I start doing my family history?

Most traditional models for pursuing an interest in family history begin with an admonition to collect home sources and talk to relatives. Back in 1913, updated in 1915, the Genealogical Society of Utah published the following booklet.

Genealogical Society of Utah. Lessons in Genealogy. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Genealogical Society of Utah, 1915.

Quoting from pages 18 and 19:
The beginner should write out first of all, in his notebook, all the information  he already has in his possession, according: to plan  which will be given in a later lesson. He should recall with exact care the names of his parents, their birth-place, their marriage and death dates,  and these must be entered in proper  and exact order. If he can recall the names  and dates of his grand parents or great-grandparents,  on his father's line onlyfor  one line is to be given in  one bookhe should begin with them, of course; or if he can go  back several generations, he should begin with his oldest known ancestor,  and put down in proper order the full  name, birth date, place of birth, death date,  and then follow this with the wife or wives and children of said ancestor. The method for  arranging these names will be given later. But the personal recollections are first to be carefully recorded. 
After all personal information is recorded, then  you should set down in writing all data in the possession of relatives or friends that can be reached personally. Old people especially should be visited  and questioned, for these, generally,  have a valuable fund of information, which if not secured will disappear when they die.  Before it is too late, all information in the possession of grandfathers, uncles, etc., should be obtained.
 Of course this admonition applies to us today. Our basic genealogical information must still come from personal and family sources. But for those who have ancestors who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the basic information about their families is very likely already in the vast collections on and particularly the Family Tree program. Some of the information may be missing or inaccurate, but unless you are the first or nearly the first generation in the Church there may be considerable information already present online.

Many members of the Church are overwhelmed with the information already present and come to the unwarranted conclusion that "all the work has been done." This is particularly true when one or more of their ancestors has spent a considerable effort gathering and submitting information about the family. In reality, there is a rather simple answer to this assumption as shown in the following table:

This is a diagram of the powers of two. Setting aside considerations of multiple marriages and marriages between cousins, this chart illustrates the number of direct-line ancestors you would have in each generation going back in time. At ten generations, you have about 1,024 ancestors. If you consider the number of descendants these ancestors likely produced, you likely have tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of cousins. Where would you be historically in the tenth generation?

Either despite the fact or because of the fact that a considerable amount of research had been done on my own ancestral lines before I ever got interested in working out my own ancestry, I could certainly have bought into the story that the work was all done. The fact is that some of my ancestral lines ended after five generations and many more ended after six, seven or eight generations back in time. Very few of my lines actually ended as a result of a complete absence of records. Most ended because the records were not readily available to my relatives who had done the work. Many of my ancestral lines ended in the early 1800s or mid-1700s. In addition, I found and continue to find rather obvious errors in what was recorded. Those lines going on and on back into antiquity were uniformly based on little or no substantiated information. They appeared to be nothing more than name matching.

As I have noted in previous posts, I have been slowly verifying and working my way back six generations. So, where do you start? I would suggest getting to know what is already in your online Family Tree. I would not simply click back to the first end of line and feel some duty to extend the line, first, I would strongly suggest looking to see how accurate and believable the information is that is already there. Check dates, places and relationships. Look for consistency and sources. Any information in the Family Tree that lacks sources is questionable.

At this point, I often get objections from those who have little or no written ancestry. If your family comes from a culture or region where the genealogy is orally maintained, then record it and preserve it. But also record a source and tell us where you got the information. If you are an orphan abandoned on a church doorstep, then maybe you will have to wait until some future time to discover your family, but most of us have at least one line to pursue. Even if you do not know one of your parents, the numbers are still in your favor. You still have relatives and making an effort to learn about them will be immensely beneficial to them and to you.

Trying to do family history without getting to know your ancestors is like trying to eat unprepared dehydrated food. Get busy and bulk up your ancestry. If you do so, you will find many people who have been overlooked or who are still waiting to be found.

If you are missing the point of this post, you need to realize that the Family Tree works equally well to assist in descendancy research as it does in ascendancy research. If this does not mean anything to you, then start learning. Attend a class, read a book, watch a video or ask a friend to help.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

BYU Family History Library adds webinars, classes and videos

The Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History Library will be moving into the world of online, live webinar broadcasts starting in February, 2016. For the past month or so, we have been working out the details of hosting a live broadcast. The link to the schedule of the webinars and the in-person Sunday classes is indicated by the arrow above. Clicking on the link brings up a page of the three types of ways to view classes from the Library: in-library classes, webinars and on There is already one of the test webinars listed for review on the Online Webinar page. Here is a screenshot of the first "test" webinar.

We have discussed doing webinars showing the presenters, but for now, we will be doing primarily presentation software based classes. The University has a huge number of professors, teachers, and volunteer genealogists as a pool to draw on for presentations. We will be doing as many as three webinars a week to see how that goes. At first attendance at the webinars will be limited to the first 100 people who sign in, but if there is a demand, we may increase that number in the future.

We keep adding more content to the channel weekly and the classes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month are usually well attended. The new link page shown below will take you to all three areas of instruction.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Genealogies on FamilySearch

An often ignored section of the website is found in the Search tab at the top of the startup page.

The "Genealogies" selection links you to the Genealogies page.

There are four huge databases included in the searches from this page. Near the bottom of the page there is a way to select which of the databases you wish to search individually.

Each of these huge databases contain millions of records. These records have been created by individuals submitting records to FamilySearch and its predecessors over the years and are commonly referred to as "user submitted records." The page contains a very short explanation for each of the resources, but you can get more extensive discussions from the FamilySearch Research Wiki. Here are some links to the Research Wiki pages about each of these resources.

The International Genealogical Index or IGI is particularly useful in finding the original Temple ordinance dates for any ordinances that were done before about 2008. Unfortunately the Community Trees Project website was discontinued when the database was consolidated with and much of the information in the Community Trees is now hard to discover.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A visit to the new Provo Utah City Center Temple

On a cold and stormy day in January, my wife and I got up early to visit the open house of the new Provo Utah City Center Temple. It is expected that there will be over 500,000 visitors to the Temple before its dedication on 20 March 2016. During the past year or so we have been privileged to visit the open houses held for four other Temples.

The new Provo City Center Temple is a reconstruction of the historic Provo Tabernacle that was destroyed by  fire on 17 December 2010. The exterior of the building was salvaged and used as the basis for the reconstruction. The interior of the building as completed is exquisite. It is clearly the highest quality and most impressively beautiful handiwork I have ever seen, including the previously visited Temples. The finish is unbelievable down to the door handles and hinges. Here is a time lapse video of the construction.

Tickets for the open house are free but hard to get. Most tickets have already been reserved. If you live within visiting distance, you really need to see this remarkable edifice. Here is the link for reservations.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

150 Temples

With the dedication of the new Provo, Utah City Center Temple, there will be 150 Temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in operation around the world. The website presents a number of interesting ways to view the location and information about all of the Temples in operation. Above is a screenshot from Google Earth, the free Google program for presenting information on a map of the world. The Map Page for Temples provides a KML file, designed to interact with Google Earth and produce the view seen above. By clicking on the Google Earth map, you can zoom in to find specific information about each Temple.

 The pop-up photos and information are linked directly to the website description of each Temple. The Maps page for the Temples also includes a link to a Google Maps representation of all the Temples which would provide driving directions to each location.

You may want to take some time to explore this very interesting offering from

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What are the family history callings?

You might be surprised to learn what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considers to be family history callings. Here is the list from the website in the Family History Callings section.
Here is a short summary of the duties of each of these callings taken from The Leader's Guide to Temple and Family History: To Turn the Hearts.

Family History Consultant
Consultants are skilled teachers who work and communicate well with others. While consultants need not be experts in family history research, they should be comfortable using the resources at and helping others use them. These FamilySearch resources include family pedigrees, historical records, and the FamilySearch Family history consultants are essential to successful family history work. They help individuals and families experience the joy of doing family history. The high priests group leader provides consultants with direction and assignments.Youth can be called to serve as consultants when their technology skills can be helpful in assisting others.  (Page 20).

High Priest Group Leader
The high priests group leader coordinates the ward council’s efforts to encourage temple and family history work in the ward. He is accountable to the bishop for the results of these efforts. He also directs the work of family history consultants. He receives assistance and training from the high councilor assigned to temple and family history work. (Page 18).
Stake Indexing Director

The stake presidency, in consultation with the high councilor, recommends an individual to be called as the stake indexing director. Assistant directors may also be called. The director trains and supports members in their indexing efforts, coordinates members’ efforts, and is given rights to the indexing program’s reports in order to keep track of the stake’s participation. The director provides regular updates on the stake indexing effort to the high councilor. (See page 9).
Family History Center Director

Family history centers are staffed by individuals who have specific skills in teaching, doing family history research, and using FamilySearch technology. Staff members include: Family history center director and assistant directors, if needed. Directors and assistant directors are recommended to serve by the stake presidency and are approved by the stake presidency and the high council. The stake presidency may ask the assigned high councilor for a recommendation. (See Page 10).
Area Family History Adviser

Area family history advisers do the following:
  • Consult with Area Seventies, stake presidencies, and high councilors on how family history can serve as a resource to help achieve overall goals for those whom they serve.
  • Provide training in temple and family history to stake leaders and others within stakes and wards.
  • Provide information to area leaders on the Church’s direction and plans for family history work.
  • Inform the Family History Department about family history needs and activities within the area and its stakes. Area family history advisers partner with the department to meet those needs. 
Area family history advisers are called to assist and train leaders and others in their family history efforts. They work with the Family History Department to meet the area’s family history needs.
FamilySearch Support Missionary
This opportunity for young and old alike allows mission service from home, part-time, with a flexible schedule. It provides a chance to make new friends and learn more about advancements in family history work. If you are unable to serve a full-time mission due to health challenges or other issues, this may be a good alternative for you.
Stake and Ward Leaders
The duties of the Stake and Ward leaders are set forth in the The Leader's Guide to Temple and Family History: To Turn the Hearts.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Record Hints vs Searching on Your Own

One of the fastest changing technologies that direct impacts family history research is the implementation of automatic or semi-automatic, integrated search programs. To write such program that will function effectively, it is a prerequisite to have available an extensive database of indexed, source records. Essentially, you can't afford to plumb a dry well. Unless you have a large enough base of records to search, developing search programs is pointless. Let me illustrate the concept of developing such a system starting with a basic manual search.

Let's suppose I collect ten business cards from contacts at a convention. I can put those cards on my desk in a pile and if I need to contact one of the people whose card is in the stack, I can find the card without too much trouble. What if the number increases exponentially? Now I have 100 cards on my desk. About this this time I begin to think of ways to "organize" the cards so that I can efficiently find one I am looking for so I start putting the cards in alphabetical order. This might work, even if the number of cards increases exponentially. If the cards were organized alphanumerically, then I could still use the stack to locate one card. This assumes, of course, that I know the name or company of the person I am looking for and that a card for the person or company exists in the pile of cards.

These same considerations would apply if we used an example of searching for an ancestor. If I have ten records to search, the process is trivial. If I have ten thousand records to search, the process might be overwhelming. Obviously genealogists are not the only people who want to search large databases. A paper telephone book, even a very large one, is an efficient way to organize a large number of people and make finding any one of them possible in a relatively short time. In the phone book example the people subscribed to the telephone company in a somewhat random order. But their listings in the phone book were arranged alphanumerically and that made them accessible to a search.

This same level of organization applies to genealogical records. If I have ten thousand records and I organize them in alphanumeric order, theoretically I can find the one name I am searching for. If I am doing this manually, searching 10,000 records will be about the same level of difficulty as searching through 100 records assuming they are sorted alphanumerically. How is genealogical research different than looking for a name in a phone book or other alphanumeric list? In making searches for genealogical information, we are not always aware of the names, dates or places recorded in the records we are searching. In many cases we make assumptions about the information we are searching for that is inaccurate or completely wrong in that our search terms are not the same as those in the historical records. For example I may be searching for an ancestor named John Smith born in 1800 but the name of my ancestor was actually Albert Smith and he was born in 1790. This lack of correspondence between what we are searching for and what is recorded in the historical records renders even an alphanumeric list useless.

If the genealogical record is an index then the process is similar. But if you think about it, a phonebook is unidirectional. You can look for a name (assuming you know it) but you cannot do the opposite; look for a telephone number.

These examples point out a basic limitation of all searches: any accurate search depends on the researcher's knowledge. If I know the person's name and need to know a telephone number, I can find that easily. But in order for me to manually find the name of a person with a known telephone number, I need to have a list organized by telephone number. In either case, I need to know either the name or the telephone number to use a paper-based directory. The issue of needing some basic information also applies to indexes created on a computer. As long as any additional search terms or segregated classes of information are indexed in some definable order, a manual search will be able to find information eventually that is associated with the entries in that particular field. For example, if we add a date field to our telephone record and the database is sorted by date, we can use a known date to find a record. Likewise, if we have a name, date and place for an ancestor that corresponds to the same information in an historical record, we may eventually find the record. The main limitation is and always has been the number of records to be searched.

To summarize, when I search for genealogical information, I am essentially trying to match what I think I know to information I hope is contained in some historical record. I am limited by the time and effort it takes to make such a search. If the records are organized in some way, alphanumerically or by date or by place or whatever, my search may be more efficient. For example, if I am searching church parish registers in which the information was entered chronologically and I know the name of the person I am searching for and an approximate date, I can efficiently go through a section of the records and determine if the person I am searching for is contained in the record.

In this case, matching what I already know, the ancestor's name etc. to a record may help me discover information I do not know. Using the parish register as an example, I may find the names of my ancestor's parents in a christening record.

In all these cases, a successful search depends on starting with information that we know before we begin the search; hence, the commonly used genealogical maxim to start searching from what you already know. See the following list of references to starting with what you know.

Dowell, David R. Crash Course in Genealogy. ABC-CLIO, 2011.

Helm, Matthew L., and April Leigh Helm. Genealogy Online For Dummies. John Wiley & Sons, 2008.

McGinnis, Carol. Michigan Genealogy: Sources & Resources. Genealogical Publishing Com, 2005.

“Start With What You Know.” Daughters of the American Revolution. Accessed January 18, 2016.

Here we depart from manual searches to the world of computers. A computer program can be written to take a random list of names, telephone numbers any any number of additional fields, that will find or match the contents of any field. The order of the database corpus can be entirely random and given the speed of the current computers, a very large list of multiple fields can be searched in a very short time. However, for a computer program to search paper records, the information must be extracted into a searchable format. For some types of printed documents that can be done by even more sophisticated programs called optical character recognition programs. Today there are vast databases of books, newspapers and other printed documents that can be searched by computer programs for information that matches the researcher's search terms. For example, I can find the name of an ancestor in a collection of millions of pages of newspapers. In this case my success in finding my ancestor's name will depend on my knowing how his name might have been recorded in the historical record.

In all my examples so far errors can occur that prevent me from finding the information if the historical text is unreadable for any reason or if the information I am searching for is missing from the historical record.

Now let's move on to a more complex example involving handwritten documents. Many genealogically significant records contain names, dates and places as well as other useful information. Let's further suppose that we are dealing with a collection of paper records that have multiple significant "fields" or specific classes of information. In this case, since there are currently no adequate handwriting recognition programs for genealogically important documents, the extraction of the information must still be done by human effort. We call this process "indexing." However, in effect, we are not indexing anything, we are merely transferring information from a handwritten format into a text format that can be "recognized" by a computer program. The "indexed" records are not organized in any way by the indexer, but the individual items of information, i.e. names, dates etc., are entered into fields that can be searched by a computer program.

It should be obvious that the ability of a researcher to use the "indexed" information depends entirely on the accuracy of the extraction operation. Only when the information is in a computer usable format, such as a text file of some sort, can a computer program can try to match what is entered by the researcher with what has been produced by the indexers (read extractors).

The entry of the search terms can be done manually by the researcher or another program can be written to use information already present in a family tree or other database. Here we are. As genealogists we are now either entering in our own search terms into a program that will then search the extracted (indexed) database or we are relying on a program written to automatically match information already present in the database (family tree). Once again, in both instances the effectiveness of the search depends on the accuracy of the information supplied either manually or by a program. As has been said for a long time in computer circles, "garbage in - garbage out."

In both cases, using a manually entered set of search terms and relying on a computer program that matches existing information with information extracted from historical records or documents, what we are hoping to find is additional information about our ancestors that we did not know previous to the search. Ultimately, we hope to identify additional individual ancestors. Here we come to the basic limitation of the automated search programs: they can only supply information about people already present in the database (family tree or whatever). It is only through the fact that the records may incidentally contain information about other ancestors (or relatives) that are not already present.

The automatic search programs can be made to be quite sophisticated. They can be programmed to search for alternate names, name variants, approximate dates and places that are nearby to the search terms present either entered by the researcher or already in the database.

One of the consequences of searching manually is that the search programs (commonly called search engines) will produce multiple responses to a search. Ideally any search should produce all and only all of the records pertinent to a particular set of search terms. Automated search technologies attempt to do this by suggesting "record hints" rather than record matches. In every case the so-called "record hint" must be carefully evaluated by the researcher to assure that the person suggested matches the one already in the database.

Here we come to the great flaw in both manual and automated, computer assisted searches. Both rely entirely on the accuracy of the records already present in the researcher's mind or database. Like I pointed out previously, if I am searching for "John Smith" I will find "John Smith" even if I am searching for the wrong name. In practice this occurs most frequently in the phenomena we call "same name = same person." An equally as common issue in research is failing to identify the place an event occurred accurately or consistently. Some programs try to compensate for this problem by encouraging "standardized" place names but the standardized place name may actually be inaccurate in that it fails to match the place as recorded in a historical record.

This whole subject is extremely complicated. Genealogical researchers today are in the midst of a huge transition moving from repetitious and routine searches to depending on automated search programs. Those programs will not do our research for us. We cannot assume that the results are accurate, any more than we can rely on our own efforts absent our consistent production of accurate information. Whether manual or automated, research into the unknown always relies on the accuracy of what we think we already know.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Family History Technology Workshop

Every year for the last 15 years, Brigham Young University holds a Family History Technology Workshop. This year's Workshop is scheduled the day before the Innovators Summit at RootsTech 2016. As usual, the Workshop is held at the Conference Center (Harmon Building) on the BYU campus. Here is the address and phone number: 770 East University Parkway Provo, Utah 84602 (801) 422-4853. Provo is south of Salt Lake City and the exact distance according to Google Maps from BYU to the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City is 44.3 miles. It can take up to two hours to make the trip by car, depending on traffic and weather.

This is one of those events that are very focused. If you are interested in software development for the genealogical community, you probably already know about the Workshop and are planning to attend. You can register on the website. Here is a description of the Workshop from the website:
The 2016 Family History Technology Workshop will bring together developers, researchers, technology professionals, and users to discuss the future of family history technology and genealogical research. The workshop will feature developer sessions, lightning talks, technical presentations, panels, and demos to showcase emerging and future technologies.
In the past, the Workshop has attracted a few people who apparently did not know the purpose of the Workshop and were challenged by its focus on very technical issues. But for those who are active in this area, the Workshop is where the real technical aspects of developing software and new technology are discussed. Registration for the Workshop includes a light breakfast, lunch and snacks.

I will be attending the conference and giving one of the Lightning Talks.

My RootsTech 2016 Survival Strategy

RootsTech 2016 will be my sixth RootsTech Conference as a blogger. Of course there have been a huge number of changes over the years. This will be my second year's conference while living in Utah and my wife and I have been talking about the logistics of attending the conference for sometime now. We live some distance from Salt Lake City and depending on traffic and/or the weather it can take more than two hours to make the trip. If we drive, rather than take the train, we also have to consider parking. Either way, we end up walking a lot. The FrontRunner train is a viable alternative during the week, but the schedule on Saturday from Provo would get us there too late for the Opening Keynote. So we needed to take that into consideration.

We have been having a series of storms this past week or so and the storms seem to be continuing into the immediate future. If it snows during the Conference, then the traffic becomes a huge factor in commuting. We will likely stay with family in Salt Lake for the duration of the Conference to avoid the trip. It is really nice to have that option.

The Conference is held in the Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake City and blocks in Salt Lake are about 6 to a mile. The Salt Palace is about two blocks long from north to south. So in course of walking to the Salt Palace and then walking around inside, you can put on many miles. I will have a pedometer app on my iPhone this year and so I will report the number of miles I walk every day just for interest sake.

Food is not an issue at RootsTech. The Salt Palace is located right across the street from the huge City Creek Center with over 30 restaurants within a block or two. But if the attendance last year is any indication, especially on Saturday, the Conference will be very crowded. If you want to attend a particular class, I suggest that you arrive as early as possible. I hear a lot of comments about classes being full to overflowing. The Conference has a lot of activities each day that compete with classes. I usually try to go to a few classes but for the last few years, I have seldom made more than one or two. I look at RootsTech more as an opportunity to keep in touch with other bloggers and genealogists, developers and vendors.

If you aren't a regular conference attendee, I suggest you seriously consider your footwear. I have purchased different shoes at least twice in anticipation of all the walking at RootsTech. I would further suggest discarding fashion for comfort. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes. Of course, if you are employed or have to do anything formal like present, you need to dress appropriately. It is often very cold in Salt Lake and the temperatures could be in lower teens. (well below 0 degrees Centigrade) Coats are an issue. You will need warm clothes but then you need to take into account that you will have to carry everything around with you each day. We purchased very warm parkas that fold up into a compact package that makes it possible to reduce the volume of the coats considerably. I also carry a large backpack for my computer and to store any papers or other items from the Conference.

Those of us writing during the conference have to consider the needs of our electronic devices. Trying to use WiFi at the Conference has always turned out to be a challenge. As an Ambassador, the Media Hub has connections for computers. If you are using an iPad or whatever rather than a traditional laptop, you have to consider bringing a way to charge your device and connect to the Internet. If you stay in a nearby hotel, you may have WiFi during the time you are in your room, but I have had spotty service in the past in some venues.

Most importantly, take time to rest, eat and drink enough water. It is easy to get dehydrated. There is a lot to see in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah including the Family History Library. But remember that the entire first floor of the Library is under construction. I am not sure how far along the construction will be by Conference time, but the library is usually congested during the Conference.

Be sure and say hello if you see me. The thing about conferences that I enjoy the most is talking to people and catching up with my friends from around the world. Don't worry if I look busy. I am always busy. The Media Hub is in the middle of the Exhibit Floor and since I write a lot during the Conference, I am frequently parked there typing away. Say hello anyway.

Update on the FamilySearch App Gallery

I started poking around in the App Gallery and found several of the apps were no longer linked to a website. Apparently, FamilySearch has yet to weed out the apps, such as Family Tree Maker from and StoryPress that are no longer available. It is not unusual for apps (or previously programs) to go out of production. I haven't kept a running list of the apps on the website, but it appears that the total number is staying about the same. There are presently 113 apps listed up from the last time I focused on the number when it was 111 apps but with the ones that are no longer functioning, the number has actually gone down.

When the App Gallery first comes up, it shows some "New and Noteworthy" apps. Most of the ones shown are not new and some of the new ones are not shown either. It looks like the App Gallery itself needs some attention. I may be mistaken due to the fact that I haven' t looked at the App Gallery for a while.

That said, there is one "new" (at least new to me) app. It is called Place Research by FamilySearch. Here is a screen shot of the app's page.

This is an app or program, but it is really a link to the Place Research section of the website I have written about recently. Here is a screenshot of the program.

It is probably a good idea to list some of these website functions or sections as apps since there does not seem to be an obvious link to them within the website itself. The "app" is described as follows:
As time progresses places are built, destroyed, renamed or conquered. As researchers track family histories across centuries, it becomes important to track the historical context of places as well. 
Place Research is a FamilySearch application which provides access to standardized information about locations. This information is used by several FamilySearch applications to assist researchers.
From time to time I will return to the App Gallery to highlight additional offerings. We are rapidly coming up on RootsTech 2016 and I expect we will have several new additions after the Conference.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Join the Famous People on the FamilySearch Family Tree

I guess I got started with this by looking at Relative Finder, but there is always another way to get people interested in the Family Tree and looking around. You have to remember that the Family Tree is open to the world so logically, it should have nearly every famous person who had any posterity. Here is my first example.

I suggest that you leave all of these entries alone and make no significant additions or edits unless you really are related to these people, but they are interesting to find. Here is another.

Here's one a little more obscure.

You can always go back a bit in time to find people you really appreciate.

I might as well complete this tour with another somewhat obscure person, but if you know me well, you can probably guess my reason for including three of these people.

Just in case you can't guess what I am doing here, I was going to give you one more clue that would help but he is not dead yet.

Just one last example.

That was going to be my last entry, but I couldn't resist at least one woman.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Examine Your FamilySearch Family Tree Entries

Is accuracy important in our work of seeking out our ancestors? I might think that this is an entirely rhetorical question, but what I have read and heard recently gives me pause to consider that the question might be real, at least to some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is, however, no equivocation in the messages being sent from the leaders of the Church and the official publications including the scriptures. Here is a quote from the Introduction to Family History Student Manual on This particular quote is from the teachings of Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872-1952)
Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872–1952) taught that the keeping of accurate records serves a divine purpose and was affirmed by revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Towards the end of Joseph’s life, a series of instructions were given the Prophet relative to the necessity of keeping records. It is on the basis of this revelation that the careful system of records is being followed in the temples. Every person is accounted for, huge volumes are stored, for the Latter-day Saints believe literally that out of the books men shall be judged. The Lord may have other means of knowing, but it is the right and orderly way for us” (The Message of the Doctrine and Covenants, ed. G. Homer Durham [1969], 161).
The practice of keeping accurate records increases the efficiency and accuracy of family history work. This begins with you in your own family history efforts.
One saying that was passed down to me from my own ancestors is this: "Anything worth doing is worth doing right." With respect to researching our family history, I think this saying applies to the work we do in assuring that the entries we put into the Family Tree should be as complete and accurate as possible. Historical research can only be as accurate as the available source records, but many of the entries in the Family Tree are without sources and have apparently never been even superficially examined for accuracy. This fact is now obvious because of the various icons that have been added to the program to warn about the need for more research and to notify users of data problems. Here is a screenshot of the various icons being used with the Family Tree program. This link is on the right side of the screen in the menu bar.

If you explore the information about your own family on the Family Tree, it will not take you long to find some of the red Data Problem icons. Here is an example.

In this case, the two warning messages are as follows:

But in many cases, the errors and omissions are much more subtle and harder to detect and the program does not find them. Some of these not-so-obvious errors can result in the user pursuing an unrelated family line when the error shows the wrong family line in the Family Tree.

This Morgan line above is an example of that issue. The individual Jacob Morgan (b. 1723, d. 1780) cannot be the father of the person shown as John Morgan (b. 1734, Deceased). If he were, he would have been only 11 years old when his first child was born.

The argument I have been hearing lately is that as long as the entries are in the Family Tree, the program shows the people's relationships and we know that the person existed and so it is entirely proper to do the Temple work because that degree of accuracy is not necessary. Following that line of reasoning, I could certainly go ahead and do the Temple work for the next generation of people attached to Jacob Morgan and in fact, there is a green Temple icon showing the availability of work to be done.

Am I related to Capt. Richard Morgan (b. 1700, d. 1763)? It is highly unlikely that I am. If I were following the rules for doing Temple ordinances, I would not be justified in doing the work for someone to whom I was not related. See the following from the Help Center article entitled, "Doing temple work for names gathered from a film or book:"
Names of nonrelated persons should not be submitted, including names of celebrities or famous people, or those gathered from unapproved extraction projects, such as Jewish Holocaust victims. For further information, see Handbook 2: Administering the Church [2010], 5.4.
Until I do some research and determine whether or not this person is a related to me, I should not be doing the Temple work. In this particular case, the Family Tree program will not allow the work to be done without further action. In this case resolution of possible duplicates.

If we examine the record for this person named "Capt. Richard Morgan" in the Family Tree, we will find that there is really no information at all.

Further, there are no sources listed for the approximate information given. But there is a possible duplicate.

Should I merge these two individuals merely because they have the same name when one of the entries is based on an estimate of when the person lived? As I keep going with this particular entry, I find that the information supplied when comparing the two individuals is inconclusive. But wait! I need to go back and determine if I am even related to either of the possible people.

Just for a note, I am really still doing research back with the family line several generations before these people are shown. Is it important that I do accurate research and determine the correct family lines? Here I am back to the first question in this blog post. I suppose each of us has to answer these questions for ourselves.  But as for me, I am going to follow my ancestral admonition: "Anything worth doing is worth doing right."

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Naming Your New Baby? A Family History Challenge

Anyone who has researched a long list of ancestors with the same given names realized the challenge of differentiating people based on their names alone. Whether or not you are one of those people who look to ancestral names for inspiration about what to name a new baby, you can find out a lot about your ancestor's naming patterns with a new app in the App Gallery called Baby Ancestry.

The new app is described as follows:
Baby name suggestions from your family history! Baby Ancestry scans your ancestors and provides a list of name suggestions. Tap a name to see the people, pictures, and stories behind that name. Easily view boy names, girl names, or both. We hope you find the perfect name for your precious little one!
Of course, I couldn't resist searching my own ancestry. Here are part of the results down to the point where the program only found one person with the name. Each name is linked to someone in the Family Tree.
It is interesting that only about eight of these names appear among my own children and grandchildren. I guess we weren't into "Mindwell" and "Lars." If you would like a little diversion and an insight into the naming patterns here in Utah, here is a popular video from