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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Do I really have to do genealogical research?

My wife, Ann, was recently helping a patron at the Brigham Young University Family History Library who requested some help with finding an ancestor in England. The patron was searching for a marriage record for a couple born in the 18th Century. In looking at the entries about this family in the Family Tree, Ann immediately noted that they had a large number of children listed, all of whom were born in different English counties. She mentioned to the patron that it was very unlikely that all of these children would have been born in different counties or even different parishes in the 1700s. Ann also noted that there were no records showing that the parents had lived in the same county.

Unfortunately these observations were entirely unappreciated by the patron. After several attempts to locate the family. Ann showed the patron the Catalog, with which the patron was entirely unfamiliar. After locating the parish where the parents were supposed to live, my wife began to show her the list of microfilms that were available to help find the English couple and sort out the issue of their children. The patron took some time before she understood what Ann was saying and my wife was getting frustrated with her responses. Apparently the patron was entirely unfamiliar with the concept of microfilm and when Ann explained how it was used and showed her some of the parish records, the patron expressed surprise that she might have to actually read these "old" records. When Ann went on to explain that she had to search the records line by line and page by page, the patron responded that she wasn't going to do that and the attempt to help ended abruptly.

Actually this type of interchange is rather common. Current advertising and public statements about searching out our ancestors have definitely dwelt on the "easy" and "fast" aspects of the current technology and entirely left out the need to do some work in the process. I was recently having a conversation with a newly called, very young (teenage) Ward Family History Consultant. When I began to show him the Family Tree and asked him to sign in so we could look at his family lines, he simply refused. He said he was not at all interested in looking at his family or any one's family. I went on to try to explain the need to at least look at the Family Tree, but to no avail.

The immediate response to these types of situations would likely be something to the effect that we should accentuate the positive and perhaps these people just need a little more help to understand how simple and interesting all of this family history stuff really is. After all, today, no one really needs to be a genealogist to do family history and people like my wife and myself are out of touch with reality. In fact I have been directly told that I would not be allowed to help or participate in "family history" because I was way too technical for proposed class members. I have even been asked not to attend a family history class held during Sunday School.

Yesterday I spent an hour or so showing a friend how to examine her portion of the Family Tree on Once again, we were dealing with ancestors in England. As is relatively common we examined a family where the wife and husband were recorded with several children. The places listed for the wife's birth and death did not correspond to the husband's entries or any of the children. In fact, the places listed for the wife did not exist. They were conglomerations of several different counties and parishes and made no sense. This was an entry that had been accepted by my friend's family for many years without question. All I did was to critically look at the places listed and do a search for the places using Google Search. The search immediately showed that the places listed for the wife, who also had a very common name, were nonexistent. Fortunately my friend understood the problem, but was still upset.

So the question is with all the indexing and instantly available records online, do we still have to do some basic research and look at "old" records? Can't we just take a DNA test and identify all of our ancestors?

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not yet have their four generation family information in the Family Tree at all. Assuming that these people speak English and have records in the United States or some of the countries in Europe, their records may be found online. But most of world's non-English speaking population is not so easily supported by the existing online, indexed records. In addition, the limitations of the digitized records on the four large online genealogy programs are even readily apparent with research into 18th Century records even in a country such as England.

Why is there this disconnect between the reality of genealogical research and the constant online advertising flow from the big four? For example, my current research is in England in the 1700s and not one of the big four genealogy websites has any records that can help me, other than microfilm from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, some of which is only viewable if I physically go to the Library. I cannot even order it in to the BYU Family History Library in Provo.

On the other hand, my experience in the genealogical community is not so much lack of understanding but outright indifference and some cases, active opposition. Sometimes that opposition has forced me to evaluate whether my active involvement in the community is necessary and that I should simply focus all my efforts on my own research. After all, I am really too much for beginners.


  1. I understand your situation completely and have dealt with many similar push-backs, sometimes in very stressful and public ways over the years, especially in church settings. There has got to be some happy medium where we can encourage individuals to seek out their family history, but not advertise it as an "easy" thing. I was so interested and then disappointed this week when I saw an announcement this week from FamilySearch about a new "First Time Guide" they had published. ( When I went to look at the guide, it was more along the lines of "here is how to navigate the tree and look for green temple icons". Ugh! I thought we were finally moving away from that. Ancestors don't just magically appear in the tree with green temple icons. It does require work! And that is okay, because everything worthwhile in life does.

  2. It's disheartening that FamilySearch has chosen to place so much emphasis on "fun and easy" and so little emphasis on accuracy of the data. It's certainly true that the youth's fingers have been trained to "text and tweet" so that they can contribute to family history work. But, it is equally true that the fingers of the seasoned, mature genealogists are needed to clean up the data in Family Tree. Unfortunately, we never hear that message from FamilySearch.

  3. Although I have been working with family history for a couple of years now, I still find there is so much more to learn. I will admit that I too use a lot of the stuff that is easily found by the big four. However, I have finally gotten to the point that I see so many errors, I am starting a new tree which I am trying to verify the information and checking sources. I don't yet go to microfilms much but have on occasion. I so appreciate someone like yourself who is so knowledgeable and willing to take the time to teach those of us who aren't!! Thanks so much for your efforts. For those who don't want to put in the effort and see that it is right, it is their loss.

  4. My experience is just as yours. My bishop called me to tell me he was not going to call me to serve on our ward Family History committee or in our local FH center, why? ... because I know too much. This is just an unbelievable situation to be in. It almost shakes my faith to believe that the policymakers, the brethren, can really support this attitude. I too feel like just doing my own work and let the rest languish.