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

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Throwing the baby out with the bath water, genealogically speaking

The idiomatic expression, "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" refers to an avoidable error where something good is eliminated while trying to get rid of something bad or undesirable or rejecting something essential at the the same time as something inessential.

I am afraid the recent statements made by FamilySearch representatives come very close to throwing out the genealogical baby with the bathwater. In this case, the issue is the lack of involvement of a huge majority of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in assisting their ancestors to obtain the necessary Temple ordinances, i.e. doing their family history or genealogy. Recent statements and training from FamilySearch and other Church representatives, would lead some to believe that genealogists were part of the problem rather than part of the solution. There are some statements that come close to blaming genealogists for the lack of interest of the general Church population. So the new programs, while laudable, are presented in a way that makes many of the long time, dedicated family historians think they are being denigrated and are no longer encouraged to assist in the work. In making this statement, I am not going to quote any one person or presentation, but the effect of the statements has been mentioned to me by many very hardworking and dedicated genealogists.

Do they want us all to quit and in essence throw us out with the change to "new emphasises" and "newly introduced programs?" The dichotomy is that the 'bad" genealogists are the only ones supplying the names. On the other hand, it is obvious that the technological advances of the just the last few years have allowed those of us who have some genealogical skills to do our work more efficiently and more accurately. The ability to merge and thereby eliminate duplicate records in the Family Tree is a temendous step in opening up whole avenues of research to dedicated genealogists who want to do accurate, well-documented work for their ancestors.

Implicit in the new programs is the idea that people will "mentor" members who want to "take a family name to the Temple." Who is teaching and mentoring the mentors? Some of us have even been directly told that we should not participate in the new programs because we are "too experienced" in the "old way" of doing genealogy and we might discourage the newcomers.

From my own personal standpoint, I spend all the time I can muster helping people achieve their goal of discovering their ancestors. I surely understand the emotional impact of stories and photos. But where do these stories and photos come from if there are no competent researchers finding them?

There certainly is a need to include a larger number of people in the genealogical process, but this is not going to be accomplished by getting rid of the existing corp of competent researchers and replacing them with those who lack the skills necessary to do competent research.

I may sound like I am repeating myself in this post, but I keep getting emotionally charged messages that imply that my services are no longer needed in this new world of instant family history.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Thousands of Changes on the FamilySearch Family Tree

You might want to take a look at your Lists item on the menu for the Family Tree.

Here is a screenshot of part of my list of people I am watching:

So far, I am only watching 167 people. I will probably add some more in the future as I do more editing. When you watch someone in the Family Tree, FamilySearch sends you an email every week listing the changes made to those people.

By clicking on the button, I can see a list of all of the changes made to the people I am watching. Here is the screenshot of part of the list of all of the changes. You can see that there have been 2872 changes, which number will probably increase almost immediately.

I always review the email notice I get from FamilySearch every week. Here is a screenshot of the most recent edition:

The reality of this situation is that I am mostly happy about the changes being made. In at least two instances in this long list (not all of the list is in the screenshot) people had added unsupported duplicates, which I immediately merged. This is the main reason for watching some of the individuals in the Family Tree. If you are actively working on the Family Tree, you should be welcoming the changes rather than ranking about them. It is certain true that some of the changes are inappropriate, but many are helpful. What is certainly true is that the information in my portion of the Family Tree is in much better shape than it was even a year ago.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Why do we have prophets?

Why Do We Have Prophets?

One important aspect of becoming involved in family history is that it is an activity that raises our spiritual awareness. Researching our origins helps us sort out what is really important in our lives though an appreciation of the challenges and difficulties experienced by our ancestors. In our efforts to uncover the past, we can more fully understand the present. 

I have often wondered why so many people can accept dead prophets and reject living ones. Modern-day prophets and apostles have continually taught the need for Church members to enable the salvation of the dead by performing temple and family history work on behalf of deceased ancestors. See "Family History Work Vital, Prophets and Apostles Say." If family history work is vital, (which it is), why is there not a greater acceptance of it generally and in the church?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Explosion of Digitized Images on

Most serious family historians and genealogists are aware of the progress of the digitization of the 2.4 million rolls of microfilm archived in the vast Granite Vault outside of Salt Lake City, Utah by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For many years, we have watched the progress of the conversion process as important and vital historical records have been made freely available on the website. Technological improvements in the digitization process have pushed greater and greater numbers of documents online. For example, the first item on the list above, the
Italy, Agrigento, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1820-1865, contains 1,212,762 images. But the records added to the Historical Record Collections is not all of the digitized records. You can view the list with the most recently added records by clicking on the column heading "Last Updated." This will sort the column by the most recent date. 

To really understand all of the digitized records, you need to search for records in the Catalog. The catalog contains two ways to view the records. For example, here is a screenshot of the "Case files of the U.S. district courts for the Territory of Utah, 1870-1896 : NARA, M1401" from the catalog. 

This link, indicated by the arrow, tells the users that the entire collection has been digitized and is available online for viewing. However, this does not mean that the collection has been indexed. The indexing of the documents is lagging far behind the digitization efforts. In many cases, merely having the images is sufficient to do research. Most genealogists with research experience are used to the idea and the process of searching microfilmed records and the digitized records are so much easier to search and use. 

But the Catalog carried the record availability further. Here is a screenshot of the list of records in this same collection.

The camera icon on the list indicates that these records are available in "film strip" format. Here is a screenshot of those records.

By putting the records online in this format, has advanced our ability to search the original records. By clicking on any one of the images you can see the images in the context of the whole roll. 

Navigation of these original documents is facilitated. 

The Catalog and the Historical Record Collections need to be used in conjunction to be used most effectively. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Family History for Non-English Speakers

Genealogists or family historians are usually not well integrated into the larger history centered community. Earlier this year, in March of 2016 The Church News reported about the Church History Symposium jointly organized by Brigham Young University and the Church History Department. Quoting from an article by R. Scott Lloyd, a Church News staff writer in an article entitled, "Presentations Examine Global Reach of Church:"
How The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is adjusting to meet the needs of an international membership was the theme this year of the annual Church History Symposium jointly organized by Brigham Young University and the Church History Department. 
The two-day symposium, titled “The Worldwide Church: The Global Reach of Mormonism,” began Thursday, March 6, on the BYU campus in Provo with a full day of scholarly presentations and an evening keynote speech by Terryl Givens, professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond in Virginia and a prolific and popular author on intellectual topics about Mormonism.
It is unlikely that any dedicated genealogists who were not also involved in the history community were even aware of this event. But the concerns expressed in the keynote by Professor Givens apply equally to the Church's genealogical community.

For example in Provo, Utah there are 18 Stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nine of those Stakes have Spanish speaking wards. In addition, there also Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Sign Language wards. As I visit wards throughout the Church in the United States, I often note a significant Spanish speaking population in surprising places around the country.

As an integral part of the Church and its teachings, genealogy should be viewed in the context of the global church. All of those working on the website should be aware that the website is availabile in the following languages:

In case you cannot recognize the names of the languages, they are German, Portuguese, English, Russian, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Chinese.

Here is what the website looks like in Chinese:

Perhaps you were not aware that the Research Wiki is also found in the following languages:

The languages are German, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish and Chinese.

In those areas where there are non-English speaking people, the Church leaders should be particularly careful to provide support for family history in the languages spoken by members of their wards and stakes.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The People Page in FamilySearch Memories

The Peoples section of the Memories section is a quick and sometimes very impressive way to view the photo contributions of your extended family. For some, viewing the Peoples section for the first time can be a highly emotional surprise. According to the Help Center document, "People page in Memories," the People page includes thumbnails (small copies) of memory items for a person, even if that person is not yet attached to the Family Tree. The system adds Memories of people within your "Scope of Interest or SOI" for four generations of your ancestors and relatives. In my case, this is hundreds of individuals.

You might note from the screenshot above, that some of the people on the page do not have photographs. Apparently, people are included as long as they have at least one memory. However, I have found some without a thumbnail photo who actually do have photos in the program. Here is an example.

When I click on the thumbnail icon, I can see that there is a photo for this person.

What I found was that I had to "set my preferred portrait" and then the thumbnail will show a photo. Here is what it looks like after I clicked on the image in the upper left of the Memories page and selected the photo:

Sometimes the thumbnail photo will show a gravemarker or a document if there is a photo missing for the person. If there is a photo and yet it does not show, you may need to set your preferred photo to the image you want to select. Again, you go to the Memories page of the person and click on the icon in the upper left-hand corner.

When you click on the icon, you get a selection of photos to use as the default image.

One significant recent change is that previously, the photos were displayed in alphabetical order by the "first" given name of the ancestor or relative. Now, they are organized by the surname.

If the People page shows more than one icon for a person, then this more than clue, it is an indication that there is a duplicate issue.

The photos in the Memories section is probably one of the most dramatic attractions of the entire program. If you want to get people engaged with the Family Tree, introduce them to the photos.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Blessed, Honored Pioneers

Some of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may have gotten an email from about their pioneer heritage. My email gave me a link to the above website listing a few of my pioneer ancestors. Here is a copy of the email.

The pioneers listed also link to the wagon company that crossed the Plains. Here is a screenshot of the pioneers in the Amasa M. Lyman/Charles C. Rich Company that included some of my Tanner ancestors.

The Pioneer Ancestors website can be accessed through For additional information see the Overland Trails Website.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Limits on Entries in the FamilySearch Memories and the Family Tree

The Memories section of the website continues to evolve. With the recent upgrade of the entire website, there have been a few limitations put on the entries. Here are some of the numerical limitations imposed:
  • 1000 -- the total number of memory tags or links you can have for one individual. If you have more than this number, then you cannot add any more tags. This means that the total number of photos, stories and records cannot exceed this number. 
  • 5 MB -- the size limit for stories uploaded or entered into the story area. This is equal to about 1,000 pages of text.
  • No limit -- to the number of total items you can contribute to Memories at this time. 
  • 15 MB -- the file size limitation for .jpg, .tif, .bmp, .png, .mp3, and .mp4a files that can be uploaded
See the following Help Center articles
In the Family Tree there are the following limits;
  • Spouses: 200
  • Parents: 100
  • Children: 400
  • Names, facts, and events in the Other Information section: 200
  • Sources: 200
  • Memories: 1,000
  • Other persons identified as "not a match": 400
  • Discussions: 50
  • Notes: 50 (each note can have up to 10,752 characters.) Please be aware that relationship notes can only be up to 12, whereas Individual notes can be up to 50.
See Limits to the data about persons in Family Tree. I am sorry that we are limited to only 200 spouses and only 400 children, however, I am certain that very, very few people will run into these limits. But there are probably some of them, such as the limit on the "not a match" that you might eventually run into with very commonly named individuals. 

Here are some further limits on the data fields in the Family Tree.
  • Note: 10752 characters
  • Name: 256 characters per part of the name (first name, last name, title, suffix)
  • Place: 256 characters
  • Life sketch: 10,000 characters
  • Reason statements: 2,000 characters
  • Description field of a fact: 2,000 characters
Most of these are more than adequate, but you might run into these limitations if you are not aware of them. See Character limits in the fields in Family Tree. Here are a few more limits to family relationships:
  • Sources: 50
  • Notes: 12 (Each note can have up to 10,752 characters.) Please be aware that relationship notes can only be up to 12, whereas Individual notes can be up to 50.
  • Couple relationships can have up to 40 marriage events.Parent-child relationships can have up to 40 relationship types.
You may have to think about some of these for a while before they make any sense, but the limits set are not likely to pose a problem to very many users of the program. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Family Food

If you are an American, there are somethings that you can always talk about: the weather and food. You need to stay away from the usual politics, sports and etc. due to their controversial nature. Everyone has something to say about both the weather and food. But for family historians, food takes on an entirely different dimension. Let's call that "traditional food." 

I married into a family that has a multi-generational heritage of food. My wife can recall what was served at almost every significant family gathering for the last fifty years or so. My wife, my daughters, dautghters-in-law and other assorted relatives even have a food blog called, "Family Heritage Recipes."

As usual, this post has a lot to do with family history. As genealogists or family historians, we often find that people are not all that interested in talking about "genealogy" per se. What they are interested in is their family and even more, the foods they remember from family gatherings. Talking about their memories is a sure-fire way to get into the topic of saving those same memories on the Memories website. If they decide to share a recipe or two, they can make them more significant by telling the story about their origin and significance to the family. 

Some families come from recent immigrants and the foods and traditions of the "old country" are still preserved in the collective family memory. It is time to broaden our understanding of genealogy to include these valuable, traditional stories and memories. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Help Them Where They Are!

One of the most common complaints made by "experienced" genealogists concerns errors, lack of documentation and duplicates added to family trees, particularly the Family Tree. Since I do not know about any babies who are born with a complete knowledge about how to do genealogy, I assume that we all began at some time in our lives to learn the basics. The main difference today is that when some of us learned, we did so in absolute isolation. It is only the miracle of technology that let's us see the learning curves of so many neophyte genealogists.

When I was just starting out, I learned of a new technology where I could "upload" a GEDCOM file to something that came to be called the Pedigree Resource File and have a semi-permanent, backup copy of my files. Since I was mainly backing up to 3.5 floppy disks, that sounded like a really good idea, so I uploaded two full copies of my entire file. It was only much later that I figured out that the "copies" of my early attempts at documenting my family had been preserved on CDs and were available to the entire world. Many of the entries on my files were incomplete and lacked documentation. The two uploaded copies constituted two duplicated copies of my entire database. That is, two duplicate copies of the entire, unsourced and mostly incomplete data.

Time passed and the program was introduced. I soon figured out that my two preliminary database copies were entirely included in the NFS database. Including copies of my submissions to the Ancestral File and membership records, I had five copies of my own personal record in the NFS program. Now, it is old news, but the entire NFS database has been incorporated into the Family Tree program. So, today, I am living with all my own novice errors.  Of course, over time, I have corrected a lot of the information. But it is only with the recent upgrade to the Family Tree that many of the errors can now be corrected, the duplicates eliminated and all the documentation added.

My own experience perhaps gives me a perspective into what it means be a rank beginner. Had the technology been available to me that we have today, I would have been in exactly the same position to be criticized by the more knowegeable genealogists. The only reason I was not censured at the time was because no on had any particular access to my data.

So instead of becoming irate at the apparent errors and duplications in the Family Tree, just remember that but for the passage of some time, you might be the one adding the information.

Catalogs: The Key to and

Two of the large online websites, and, have something in common; large detailed catalogs. Because of the detailed nature of the catalogs, their utility goes far beyond acting as mere finding aids. On both websites, the catalogs are valuable assets in and of themselves. It is interesting that many of the websites’ users are either entirely unaware of the catalogs or use them only in a very superficial way. By failing to understand or by ignoring the catalogs’ full value, genealogical researchers end up using the websites far below their full potential.

Both of the websites’ catalogs are coupled with powerful analytical tools that assist the researcher in capturing more information from the catalogs than would be available were they just a simple listing of the contents of the websites. To understand the value of the catalogs, the researcher needs to focus not just on the content but the organization and view the entries as portals to finding additional information that would otherwise be obscure and undetectable.

At this point, users of the website are probably thinking about the Research Wiki. Haven’t I taught and maintained that the Research Wiki is the most valuable online genealogical resource on the Internet? Yes, I firmly believe that to be true. But I find myself using the FamilySearch Catalog more than I do the Research Wiki. Why is that the case? The answer to this question is the essence of the value of the catalogs. To answer the question, I had to think long and hard about the differences between the two resources.

The Research Wiki is the library, while the catalog is just that; the catalog. They are both valuable tools but have different levels of use.

At a very basic level, the catalogs tell the user what is in the websites’ collections. The FamilySearch Catalog has listings of nearly all of the assets in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah as well as dozens of other FamilySearch Libraries and Family History Centers around the world. The Card Catalog on the website, lists all of the digital collections available on the website. In this sense, both catalogs provide a shortcut to determining if a certain document or source is available and searchable.

But that is just the beginning. Both catalogs can be filtered or searched to define related entries. For example, you could have both catalogs filtered to show only the documents in a particular country or division of that country. So, for example, I could very quickly determine if either FamilySearch or had a copy of a certain parish register from England. But because the FamilySearch Catalog contains listings for items that may only be available in another, more remote location, it is not a completely reliable finding aid used in that fashion. The entries in the FamilySearch Catalog may lead you to items that are only available in a particular Family History Center half way around the world.

But the increased usefulness of the entries comes from the fact that the source document may exist at all. For example, let’s suppose I was looking for documents from a certain parish in England. The Research Wiki would tell me if such a document existed but might not tell me if the document was immediately available online depending on how complete the entries were for that location. On the other hand, the Catalog would tell me immediately not only if the item existed but also whether it was readily available in digital format or on microfilm. If I needed to find out more information about the particular documents that might be available from that parish, I could browse through the list of documents in the Catalog. It is important to understand that the FamilySearch Catalog includes both digitized and undigitized items, while the catalog includes that websites digital and available collections depending on the user’s level of subscription. If I am actively doing research, I want to know if a resource is immediately available and both catalogs provide me with that information.

Thus, one main use of the Catalogs is to act as reference lists suggesting the types of documents that might be helpful in doing research on any subject or in any location. For example, I may be vaguely aware of “parish registers” but when I go to the catalogs and search, I can find and usually immediately see an example of that type of document. So one of the differences between the Research Wiki and the Catalogs is similar to the difference between using a table of contents or an index and having the entire book.

Obviously neither a wiki nor a catalog provides information about whether or not the resources listed contain the specific information you are seeking. But by using the catalogs extensively, you begin to learn the breadth of the types of information and resources that are available. If you need more information about a particular type of record, then you can use the Research Wiki to provide the more in depth explanations that might be helpful.

As I noted above, the FamilySearch Catalog contains listings from many different library locations. There are drop-down menus to show if certain items are located in more than one library. For example, I can tell if a microfilm roll is in the Brigham Young University Family History Library. There is one limitation with the catalog and that is that it has to be updated by people working on adding the entries. For this reason, it is never completely accurate.

Now, let’s suppose that I find a resource I am interested in reviewing and let’s further suppose that the item is in the Salt Lake Family History Library. In every such case, I automatically use the name of the item to do further online Google searches. It happens that the same item may be available online from some other website. The results of the search also give me addition suggested, related items to search. In this case, the catalog becomes a springboard to additional research on any given subject.

Unfortunately, the utility of the Catalogs is only completely evident with practice and experience. None of the additional benefits of using a catalog are obvious. I suggest that when starting research on either or, you need to become very well acquainted with their extensive catalogs.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

See It All: One Page Genealogy

The Brigham Young University Family History Technology Lab is dedicated to advancing genealogical software and making it freely available to the public. Their most recent release is the One Page Genealogy program. The idea of the program is to create a compact tree chart of your family from the Family Tree with just a few key strokes. The program lets you create three different types of charts starting with yourself or any other person in the Family Tree program.

To use the program, you need to login with FamilySearch. Here is an example of a four generation chart.

Here is an example of the descendancy chart:

You may wish to rotate the charts or enlarge them. The program contains a number of useful tools to change the aspect of the charts.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Look Carefully Before You Leap: Correcting entries to the FamilySearch Family Tree

Now that the Family Tree is "fixed," we should be aware that there are a certain number of very knowledgeable and competent people out there cleaning up the entries. If you find yourself in the category of those who are amply endowed with entries in the Family Tree, it just might be in your best interest to "watch" those entries for a while before you jump in and try to add your own data. For example, in my own family lines, my Great-great-grandfather, John Tanner, has tens of thousands of descendants. Presently, there are a very few, highly qualified people working on cleaning up the years of detritus that has accumulated around his entries including duplicates and incorrect information. If you are a descendant of John Tanner, you can watch this process happening by watching the entries and reviewing the emails you get from FamilySearch before you try to add your own two cents worth.

This process is especially applicable to prominent, historical figures such as Mayflower passengers and others in similar categories. Unless you have some particular expertise in doing research with these people, I suggest you may want to wait and watch the process of how these entries are being cleaned up. In fact, there are "Family Tree" missionaries who will be working on some of these issuess. Let them do their jobs. Don't feel compelled to "correct" the data unless you have solid, documented and well researched evidence.

Now these cautions do not apply as stringently to less prominent individuals. In my own lines, for example, there are plenty of individuals where I am seeing absolutely no changes other than the ones I am making myself. But if you come across one of these less prominent people, watch and wait before you jump in and try to make your own changes. The key here is to "Watch" before you begin to make changes and make sure you have documentation before making any changes.

Ask yourself this question; do I really know what I am doing? Think about whether you have the documentation necessary to make the changes unless these changes are obvious in some way. It may be necessary to "back off" and wait until you can do the proper research. It may take some time and additional tools to make the proper corrections.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Discovering our Kindred Dead

President Howard W. Hunter is quoted as saying the following:
I have learned that those who engage in family history research and then perform the temple ordinance work for those whose names they have found will know the additional joy of receiving both halves of the blessing.

Furthermore, the dead are anxiously waiting for the Latter-day Saints to search out their names and then go into the temples to officiate in their behalf, that they may be liberated from their prison house in the spirit world. All of us should find joy in this magnificent labor of love.

The objective of family history work is to make the blessings of the temple available to all people, both living and dead. As we attend the temple and perform work for the dead, we accomplish a deep sense of alliance with God and a better understanding of his plan for the salvation of the human race. We learn to love our neighbors as ourselves. Truly there is no work equal to that done in the temple. "We All Have a Work to Do," Ensign, 1995, p. 65.
The two halves of the blessings are attending the Temple and seeking out our ancestors and other relatives. We have been given a great gift today of the technology to accomplish this work to some extent from our homes. However, the simplicity of the task has made us complacent. We are like the Children of Israel in the wilderness who only had to look to be saved from the poisonous snakes. We fail to look at what we have been given. Today is the day to go to and get to work learning what you need to do and then doing it.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Following the Journey -- Part Seven: The End of the Road

All genealogical research on any given ancestral line finally ends. Records are just not available for any more research. Even though this is a natural and very common occurrence, it is something some genealogists cannot accept. They keep looking for that elusive record, long after it is almost certain that no more records exist.

Now while traveling in the Northeast, we found ourselves lost a number of times. We just had to stop, orient ourselves and turn around and try to make it back to the last known position. We need to try and do this in our family history research also. There is a time when we realize that we are on the wrong family line and it is time to retrace our steps and find out where we went wrong. However, it seems that there are always a few researchers that never seem to realize they are on the wrong line and just keep adding names long after the real relationships have been lost.

Well, it has been a good trip and it is now time to get back to Utah and research in the libraries and online. It will take a while to get back so if I miss a day or two of writing, be patient.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Following the Journey -- Part Six: Byways and Genealogy

I have been known to drive straight through for up to 12 hours or more on freeways but my real nature comes out on back roads and byways. One of my favorite roads in the United States is Highway One. I have even managed to do some serious genealogical research about people who lived along this, the original north and south route on the East Coast. While driving though small towns with names like Jonesboro, Roque Bluffs, Machias, and Pembroke, we were abundantly rewarded by the variety of houses, the scenery, and the individuality of the towns and villages.

I thought about the need we have to do research in depth and breadth. We need to really get into the lives of our ancestors and experience their lives as they lived them and not be content to collect names and dates and places as if working off a check list.

For me, the drive up Highway 1 and on into Canada retraced the early lives of many of my ancestors. As we drove through towns in Vermont, New Hampshire and on into Maine and New Brunswick, I discovered the places I had only seen listed on my family group sheets. Even though this trip was not intended to be a research expedition, I had planned the route to drive through the places where my ancestors lived. Perhaps, as I have mentioned before, I will find a need to come back to some of these places to do research, but for now, the fact that I could visit so many places where my ancestors lived was enough.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Following the Journey -- Part Five: Cemeteries and Dates

Traveling can become a routine. We almost got caught by the beautiful ocean waves at Acadia National Park, but moved on and the necessities of washing clothes and eating and sleeping caught up with us. One thing about traveling in the eastern part of the United States that is noteworthy is the huge number of cemeteries. We mostly stay off of freeways and major highways, in fact we found ourselves driving on dirt roads which are pretty hard to find in the east. What we do see are a lot of cemeteries. These and the dates on the buildings constantly remind us of the passage of time.

I noticed that many of the towns we passed through had dates when they were established in the 1700s. What was noteworthy was the fact that the buildings from that time period were still standing and some were in good shape and being used for homes and businesses. That fact started me thinking.  My father knew his father. Not a remarkable occurrence, but my Tanner grandfather died before I was born. He was born in 1895. If I go back on this line, my grandfather very likely knew his own grandfather born in 1809 and his father, my third great-grandfather was born in 1778, so many of these towns were being settled about the time my Great-great-great-grandfather was born in Rhode Island.

But if you think about it, this is only a line of three people going back; my father, my grandfather and my grandfather's grandfather. So if we take a prominent person, say Joseph Smith, the Prophet. I knew someone, my father, who knew someone, his father, who knew someone, his grandfather, who knew the Prophet personally. Had I known my own grandfather the connection would have been only two people away. Granted, I am as old as dirt, but this still illustrates an important insight for genealogists. We aren't usually talking about prehistoric times. We are researching people who still have their houses, lands and memories actively available.

I guess I am impressed by the compression of time here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Following the Journey-- Part Four: Ancestral Homeland

None of my ancestors were recent immigrants. The most recent of my ancestral immigrants came to America in the 1800s and some as early as the 1600s. So when I think of the "old country" I usually think of the New England states. As I travel onward, I am, in a sense, retracing the paths many of my ancestors took when moving across the American continent to the Southwest, now a part of Utah, Arizona, California, Idaho, Mexico and Canada. Of course, my ancestors did not have the benefit of jet planes and rental cars, but I do feel a connection when I drive through places such as Rutland and Castleton in Vermont for the first time in my memory and see where some of my ancestors lived.

I have always wondered what these stanch New Englanders thought when they finally reached the western part of the United States with its contrast to the green mountains of Vermont and New York. I believe that Vermont is the greenest place I have seen since I lived in the Panama jungle. I really did feel like I had entered a foreign country when we tried to buy gas and food in Vermont. I am still puzzled as to where those folks shop since we had such a hard time finding stores and service stations.

I was also interested in the contrast as we drove from Vermont to New Hampshire and then on to Maine. Most of these lines of my ancestors came to and through Massachusetts and Rhode Island. I am staying north on this trip, but I have been to the Massachusetts and Rhode Island locations previously. Most genealogists would think of doing some "research" along the way. I have yet to find it necessary to go onsite for research. I have been able to find the original documents either online or on microfilm. But visiting the areas where they lived gives me a good idea of what they gave up to come west.

A Note About ID Numbers on the FamilySearch Family Tree

A friend of mine had a question about the connection between the Family Tree and the membership records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I guess I didn't understand her questions at first, but I finally grasped what she was talking about. Back in the days of, the membership records of the Church and the old program were directly connected. If you saw a mistake in in your own personal record, you had to go to your ward clerk to get it corrected. As part of the information used to "seed" the original program, the Church membership records were included.

Remember that the information in the original database from was used in the Family Tree so the Family Tree has "membership" information. It was widely circulated that the ID numbers for the "members" began with a "K..." This designation was used by some people to identify which of their ancestors were "members." However, the ID numbers were essentially arbitrary and I never put much stock in trying to classify the people in the Family Tree by any ID number sequence.

Now, fast forward a number of years. Some time ago, more than a year or so, the connection between the membership records and the Family Tree was completely severed. There is no correlation between the ID number assigned to a person and their "membership" in the Church. This has been the case for some considerable time. Stop trying to figure out some pattern to ID numbers. There may be some underlying patterns but the numbers certainly appear random. They are essentially accession numbers arbitrarily assigned as people are added to the Family Tree.

If someone knows anything more about the pattern of these numbers, please make a comment, but otherwise this is no longer a concern.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Following the Journey -- Part Three

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of my goals on this trip was to visit some of the places my ancestors lived. For some, this would require a trans-Atlantic flight. For me, the trip involves driving in New England. My first goal was to visit Bolton Landing, New York where my ancestor John Tanner lived before he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After consulting with my daughter, the historian, we determined that the house where he lived on the Main Street of Bolton Landing, now a resort for New York City vacationers, was torn down about three years ago and replaced by a row of condos. There was supposed to be a historic location marker, but there was no evidence of such a sign anywhere. I did locate the property with the help of a person in a local office along the street.

I guess I was not too surprised. The property values in Bolton Landing put the value of the house and lot before the house was destroyed at more than a million dollars.

This brings up an interesting issue that bears on genealogical research. You can't rely on 21st Century sensibilities in determining 19th Century values. From our family's perspective, John Tanner was a great man. However, when he left Bolton Landing, he dropped off the map, so to speak, and any legacy he left in Bolton Landing is now almost two hundred years old. It would take a really dedicated historian to stop economic development in a resort town in the name of history alone. Perhaps if John Tanner had become famous for more than his original contributions to the town, there might have been a greater incentive for preservation.

This brings up an important point. As genealogists or family historians, we may be our ancestors' only link to the present. We are not just pursuing an interesting hobby, we are involved in the vital work of connecting the present to the past. We are turning the hearts of the children to their fathers and those children will never forget those fathers even if a condo development gets in the way.

Following the Journey -- Part Two

I am not sure if this is a series or just a structured set of unconnected observations. Probably, the latter. We visited Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The trip was a good analogy to the practice of genealogy. We found the vehicular traffic to be overwhelmingly bad. We were initially stuck on the freeway for over three hours just to get into Toronto and find our hotel. After a night's sleep, we drove downtown and visited the Music Garden along the lakefront and saw the CN Tower up close. Why was this like genealogy? Because, had I left Toronto before I went downtown, I would had an extremely bad impression of the city. It was too crowded and too complicated, sort of like my own genealogy experience. But after seeing the beauty of the downtown area and the impressive buildings, I had a completely different impression.

Genealogy is like that for many of the people I talk to. It seems overwhelmingly complicated and intimidating. But as you get into the research, you can begin to see the beauty and organization of it all. In addition, the effort it takes to drive into a huge city is far outweighed by the beauty of its interior. I often say, I would be interested in genealogy if it wasn't one the of the hardest and most challenging things I have ever done. I have spent my life doing hard things and I guess after learning about genealogy, I realized that I had found a really hard thing to do and I got interested.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Following the Journey -- Part One

As I wander across the United States and back and forth into Canada, I have been thinking. I generally get plenty of time to think while sitting on an airplane or driving a car long distances. Part of my thoughts are always about genealogy. It is a subject I come back to constantly.

On this particular trip, we are in upper New York State where my second and third Tanner great-grandfathers lived. My third great-grandfather, John Tanner, was born in Hopkinton, Washington, Rhode Island in 1778. His younger children were born in Bolton Landing on Lake George, New York, where I now find myself. At one time John Tanner owned property along the Lake now worth millions and millions of dollars. He also owned the entire Green Island, the present home of a major resort hotel and development. But he gave up all that property to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and go west with the pioneers.

One reason I came to New York State was to view the Hill Cumorah Pageant. I mentioned this in a previous post. We saw the Pageant on two successive nights. One interesting thing about the Pageant is that there are a few people, some with loud broadcasting equipment, who are detractors of the whole event. They spend their time trying to convince the thousands of attendees that the Church is false and that they have a better message.

I would strongly disagree. My great-great-great-grandfather did not leave his fortune, travel across the country at his own expense with his large family, pay for the mortgage on the Kirtland Temple, suffer persecution and mobbing leaving him permanently injured, just to have someone with no knowledge or understanding of his motives or testimony of the truth, try to convince me or anyone else that he was mistaken. He knew Joseph Smith personally. He knew all of the leaders of the Church, both those who stayed the course and those who left for a variety of reasons. My legacy from John Tanner is more than just a casual belief. My ancestors suffered persecution, physical attacks, imprisonment and more for their testimonies of the truth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the testimony of Joseph Smith and the other faithful leaders of the Church.

I have the same witness and testimony. I have spent a considerable amount of time investigating and verifying the claims of those who detract the Church and its teachings. I can say unequivocally that their accusations are not founded on careful and thoughtful consideration. The motives are suspect. The detractors do not base their accusations on an objective and unbiased investigation. They twist the facts to attack the Church and its members without regard for the truth.

The truth is not always convenient or comfortable but it is the truth. I understand that these people have their views and also have a right to express those views in public as they wish. But I also have my own views. I do not attack them. I do not go to their peaceful meetings and try to stop the meeting with a bull horn and loud yelling.

What does this have to do with genealogy? Everything. I would not be here if it were not for the sacrifices of my ancestors and the least I can do is preserve their heritage.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Wandering around the world...

Yes, it is that time of year. It is time for traveling around the world and the country. This year, one of my daughters and her family are participating in the famous Hill Cumorah Pageant in New York state. Here is a brief description of the Pageant:
Experience one of the world's great outdoor theatrical productions. Each July, seven evening performances are presented on the beautiful Cumorah hillside next to the Visitors' Center. A beautiful story on an enormous 10 level stage, twelve-tower lighting, state-of-the-art sound system, Hollywood special effects, and a costumed cast of over 650 provide a truly spectacular show.
The Hill Cumorah Pageant takes place here:
The Hill Cumorah is located on Highway 21 between the villages of Palmyra and Manchester, NY, two miles north of Interstate 90, Exit 43. Seating for 9,000. Spanish translation and ASL interpretation provided. Starts at 9:15pm.
We are planning on spending the next two weeks traveling in that area and visiting the locations where many of my own ancestors lived. As usual, I will have little or no Internet contact or time to spend typing away on my computer. Part of the time we will be off the Internet entirely as we like to go places where there aren't that many people or electronics.

If you miss seeing my posts, take some time to watch some of the more than 150 videos on the Brigham Young University YouTube Channel and while you are watching, subscribe to the Channel for notice of the upcoming presentations. You can also read some of my previous 4425 posts.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Family Tree Dilemma

Public or private? Open or closed? Local or online? The debate rages on. Well, I really shouldn't say rages. I doubt anything about genealogy rages very much.

This entire issue originates with the availability of online family tree programs. When some of us started working on our genealogy, the only option for sharing the work we had done was to photocopy a family group record and even back then there were some who wrote them out by hand to save the copy cost. Wait a minute, we still have people who write everything out by hand. So there is an even more basic issue of using a computer program at all for storing your genealogical information.

Genealogy or family history is organized information and computers are tools for working with information. There really is no valid "craft" industry for handling information. I may be able to do woodworking with hand tools for some esthetic reasons, but doing genealogy by hand does not produce a more valid "product," it just takes longer and is less complete and accurate. Genealogy is about gathering information from historical sources. It is all about access. Computers and the Internet have expanded our capacity to gather information more quickly, with greater accuracy and be more complete. Already today, I have heard complaints about the "technology." But the fact is that the technology has opened up a whole new world of access to information.

Now to the topic of how to store and maintain this flood of information. Personally, I vote for the Family Tree and I no longer have to qualify my vote by a reference to the fact that the Family Tree needs to be fixed. It is fixed and it is time to get busy and work on making it into the excellent resource it always had the potential of becoming. By writing this, I am coming down on the side of public, open and online family trees.

The counter to this position can be summarized in the following points:

  • I need a program for my own work because what I have is either incomplete or sensitive.
  • I don't like Family Tree because it changes all the time.
  • I don't trust computers or the Internet.
Most of the other comments I get are variations on these issues. You do not own your ancestors. Dead people do not have privacy rights. However, if you feel strongly about any of these issues, I suggest using a different program either one on your own computer or one online. But I would add a word of caution. Make sure that you make adequate arrangements so that your genealogical work is not lost when you die. The main advantages of the Family Tree are longevity and predictability. 

The idea that the Family Tree changes is correct. It does change. But there are internal functions that help the program improve and become more accurate. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Deluge Begins: Merging, Editing and Corrections to the FamilySearch Family Tree

Genesis 7: 11-12
11 ¶In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.
12 And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.
Well, we do have a deluge of sorts going on with the Family Tree. I received my email for the changes made to my watched individuals and it was pages and pages long; hundreds of changes. 

I did make a few of the changes myself. I have been working away on the lines that were previously blocked by the "Can't Be Merged At This Time" folks. 

I have noticed that when a person makes only a very few changes it is very likely that the changes are not supported by sources or are wrong. Those who spend a lot of time making changes are more likely to be working from sources and also making more appropriate changes. For example, if some one adds a single memory usually a photo, it is my experience that it is likely a duplicate. See the following where someone added yet another copy of the photo of Sydney Tanner:

Don't get me wrong. The fact that many changes are being made is a very good thing. But it does keep those of us who are watching a lot of people really busy checking to see what was done. 

Watching the people you are interested in is a very good idea. Not only do you get a weekly update on the changes, but you also get listed a "watcher" on the people who are being watched. When someone tries to make a change, there is a notice of how many people are watching that person. This is probably a useful deterrent to making unsupported changes. 

As I went through the list of changes for this week, I was interested to see people making changes to the same person I was working on on the same day. I was also pleased to see that someone had started to work on the Mayflower passengers. 

It is an interesting time to be doing genealogical research. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Setting Family History Priorities

This message from President Joseph Fielding Smith was first printed in the Improvement Era in February, 1910 at page 352.
Do 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 hundreds of missionaries into all parts of the earth and are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in this necessary labor. We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the building of meetinghouses, Church schools, and other buildings, and in the education of the youth of Israel, in developing and improving our lands, building cities and increasing our communities, publishing periodicals and magazines, 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. This is a good sign, showing the willingness and activity of the Saints. But this does not relieve the inactive, dilatory members who are doing nothing for their dead. These persons cannot expect to receive credit for what others may be doing; the responsibility rests with equal force on all, according to our individual ability and opportunities.
 The article goes on to state:
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 the humblest elder. Place, distinction, or long service in the cause of Zion in the mission field, the stakes of Zion, or elsewhere 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, or perchance spend one, two, or more years preaching in the world, 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 reward will be given, but if we neglect the weightier privilege and commandment, notwithstanding all other good works, we shall find ourselves under severe condemnation. 
And why such condemnation? Because “the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us, is to seek after our dead.” Because we cannot be saved without them, “it is necessary that those who have gone before and those who come after us should have salvation in common with us, and thus hath God made it obligatory to man,” says the Prophet Joseph Smith. (Times and Seasons 5:616.)
If this was true back in 1910, is it still true today? We are presently blessed with many marvelous advantages and tools that were not imagined at the time President Smith wrote this article. Aren't we now under a greater obligation to seek after our dead than ever before?

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Family History Guide is the Answer

Navigating the Family History Guide - Bob Taylor

What I see as the biggest challenge in genealogy or family history today is keeping up with the accelerating pace of technological changes. The challenge is basically one of education and training. Most of us have neither the time nor the inclination to immerse ourselves in both the intricacies of genealogical research and the technological skills necessary to operate in the specialized online world. The developers of The Family History Guide have crafted a self-paced and self-directed way to work through all of the challenges facing beginning, intermediate and even advanced genealogical researchers.

The Family History Guide is not a substitute for the Research Wiki or any of the other online resources. What it does is instruct in a way that helps everyone move from where they are presently into a higher level of understanding of the knowledge and skills needed to adequately face the challenges.

The above video is the third in a series that Bob Taylor has presented for the Brigham Young University Family History Library YouTube Channel. If you subscribe to the BYU Family History Library Channel, you will get email notices from Google when new videos are uploaded.

Friday, July 1, 2016

DNA and your family tree

One of my friends related that he had recently obtained a DNA test from one of the major genealogical DNA testing companies. He was very surprised to learn that he had a percentage of Pacific Islander genes. He was moderately familiar with his "genealogy" but had never encountered any family tradition or research that showed a connection to the South Pacific. Now, the fact that the DNA test showed a potential relationship is an interesting fact, but without making a connection to a family member or doing some research to establish the basis for the finding, the information is merely interesting.

Recently, the vast online family tree program,, added DNA test results integration with its partner Family Tree DNA. As the blog post from explained:
DNA will enhance the World Family Tree by separating fact from fiction: it will help people confirm family relationships and will highlight situations where the documented genealogy does not match the biological evidence presented by DNA. DNA results will also be used for matching, in order to discover previously unknown relatives. Geni's World Family Tree will then allow users to establish and visualize the precise family tree connection with relatives found by DNA matching. 
Users can add three types of DNA tests to Geni’s World Family Tree: Y-DNA (from the Y chromosome, which is passed down from father to son), mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down from a mother to her children), and autosomal DNA (from all ancestors, pertinent for matching within the last five generations). DNA results can be automatically inferred by Geni from relatives across the family tree; by having a small percentage of the Geni users tested, a great deal of information on the World Family Tree can be verified.
Had my friend already taken advantage of one of the large online family tree programs, such as, he might have had some explanation for the surprising DNA results. It is very likely that as people obtain DNA testing, they will eventually connect themselves to more and more of their own family members. But from my own standpoint, I have been doing extensively documented genealogical research for years. DNA testing could possibly illuminate some of the more difficult to identify relationships, but not without concurrent substantiating research from other lines. The expectation is that with well documented research by many people contributing to family trees such as, eventually, the documentation and relationships will be clarified.