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.


  1. I couldn't agree with you more! What a pity. We are alienating those who have been, and still are, the bedrock of LDS genealogy. As we age, we tend to give up many things we used to do, as a rule. Family History has not been one of them because it is now so easy to do online. But... if our leaders no longer value our efforts, it just might be a lot easier to give it up for more time for other things valued by others, like family and friends. This is a pity. And you and I are not the only ones feeling this way. The only group constantly mentioned and emphasized at the BYU Gen conference just ended were the youth. And these mentionings, mostly in the consultant sessions, were given over and over again to us hordes of gray headed, experienced genealogists. How insensitive it that! There were few youths there, which was interesting too. We will have to keep on keepin' on just for the love of it, and definitely not for being valued by our leaders.

  2. I wasn’t at the BYU Conference so I don’t know what was said or how it was said.

    However, let me share a recent experience. I was able to help “coach” a high counselor (my age) in another stake in creating a Discovery Day. Until he contacted me, he saw no real reason to have this kind of event, even though his Stake Presidency counselor was directing him to do so.

    Why? Because of his first (recent) experience in family history and FamilySearch. He and his wife met with their ward family history consultant. The well-trained, well-seasoned consultant looked at his tree view and saw that he had Danish and Swedish ancestors. Then spent nearly an hour “boring” them with information about patronymics. Skipped through a few generations, gave some more history lessons and sent them on their way. They left that experience not ever wanting to do family history again and truly believing that it was all done … even the consultant basically told them it was all done.

    I spent about an hour looking at his lines and sent him a list of more than a dozen ancestors where he could start researching; some with sourced opportunities waiting for temple work. And two particular areas where he should start immediately as they were fertile for research (with valid hints providing generations of descendants not yet in Family Tree).

    As he was planning the Discovery Day, he met with another consultant in his stake (not from his ward), who met with him and his wife, took the list and found a great place to start and within an hour taught them the basics of navigating and working in the Family Tree. How to attach sources, reasoning statements, duplicates, etc. They left with valid, sourced names to start temple work. And much more work to do and they are encouraged and optimistic about family history and the role they need to fill.

    Do you see the challenge that the brethren and family history leaders are seeing? Some seasoned family history consultants are so set in how they do things they are missing the big picture. The first consultant knew a lot about the area the distant ancestors were from and taught them a few things about history and patronymics. It wasn’t what they needed to learn and it pushed them away from family history. The second consultant really understood what the patron needed and how to give them an experience that encouraged them.

    The challenge that needs to be fixed is teaching consultants how to really be a “consultant” and a “mentor”, not a history teacher, not a linguist, not anything else. It should all be about the patron and their needs and their experience. There is a paradigm shift that has to happen. The message you are hearing from this conference and others is trying to get that shift to happen.

    James and Cathy – you both do a great job at being a real consultant and mentor. I don’t really think this message is really for you (personally). It may be being said to you (personally by some), but it is really a bigger issue.

    It involves thousands of consultants who are trying to force feed “meat” to family history patron “infants” who really just need an ounce of “milk”. Is it really all about the youth? I would say no. The reason the message is being given to the youth is they don't have the meat. And right now we need people with milk or people willing only to feed others milk.

    We need 95% more of the members of the Church to embrace this work. Is it going to be easy? No. Do we need trained leaders, consultants, mentors? Yes! Can they be seasoned with decades of experience? Yes – absolutely yes! They just need to know (or be taught) how to feed infants.

    1. It makes me sad to hear about the first experience. But the real issue is that at some point that same couple will need to know all the information in the first presentation and more. To pretend that all that is needed to do adequate research is to click a few links is a fantasy. Personally I am well into the Find, Take and Teach as presented by Mike Sandberg at RootsTech. I have doing the same thing essentially for years in helping people get interested without being overwhelmed. It is also sad that a few overzealous genealogists are the model for characterizing all of us as unneeded and not worth considering.

    2. You are right. They will need all of that info and more. Just not in the beginning. That's why I believe it is a meat vs milk scenario issue we are dealing with. I love Mike's model and I too have been doing that same type of thing as well. If everyone would move to that type of model it would help.

  3. It's sad that FamilySearch is alienating the very people who they desperately need to clean-up Family Tree.

  4. James your services are desperately needed by those of us that have the passion and desire to help the members achieve their goals. Please don't ever quit. You are amazing in every way and please keep going. Those of us serving missions in FH rely on your vast knowledge and desire to share. Thank you so much!