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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Are you a genealogical victim?

My years in court helped me to become well acquainted with victims. Those who were sued in court, the defendants, always felt like victims. Even those bringing lawsuits, the Plaintiffs, felt like victims because they had been "wronged" by the defendants. I was literally immersed in a society of victims.

As I gained experience in representing clients, I began to see that many people, not just those involved in court actions, have a distinctive "victim mentality." Quoting from Wikipedia, Victim mentality,
Victim mentality is an acquired (learned) personality trait in which a person tends to regard themselves as a victim of the negative actions of others, and to behave as if this were the case even in the lack of clear evidence of such circumstances. Victim mentality depends on habitual thought processes and attribution. In some cases, those with a victim mentality have in fact been the victim of wrongdoing by others or have otherwise suffered misfortune through no fault of their own; however, such misfortune does not necessarily imply that one will respond by developing a pervasive and universal victim mentality where one frequently or constantly believes oneself to be a victim.
The term is also used in reference to the tendency for blaming one's misfortunes on somebody else's misdeeds, which is also referred to as victimism.
Genealogists are part of our larger society and so many of the genealogists I now work with also evidence symptoms of victim mentality.  How does this victim mentality manifest itself in a genealogical context?

One of the most common manifestations for me is the reaction people have to changes made by others in the Family Tree. Aside from the problem of assumed ownership, the people who see changes made to "their family" exhibit many of the symptoms of "victim mentality." Here is a list of some of the common reactions suffered by those who see themselves as victims:
  • Ascribing non-existent negative intentions to other people
  • Negative, with a general tendency to focus on bad rather than good aspects of a situation.
  • Self-absorbed: unable or reluctant to consider a situation from the point of view of other people or to "walk a mile in their shoes"
  • Exhibiting learned helplessness: underestimating one's ability or influence in a given situation; feeling powerless
  • Stubborn: tending to reject suggestions or constructive criticism from others who listen and care; unable or reluctant to implement the suggestions of others for one's own benefit
Some genealogists I have talked to are possessive to point of refusing to allow even family members to view "their" work. Let me illustrate with a hypothetical situation.

Genealogist A who is 84 years old has been working on researching her family for most of her lifetime. When her family members show interest in her research, she becomes defensive and says that her work isn't done and she would rather they wait until she has everything in an acceptable condition. She is persuaded by one of her younger relatives to take a look at the Family Tree. When she is shown the Family Tree she immediately begins criticizing the content. She states that she is not interested in seeing anything more. Since this is my hypothetical, I could have it end the way I want. In the most common real life situation, when A dies, all of her work is lost because no one wants it and no one appreciates what she has done. 

Here is another hypothetical. Genealogist B is a meticulous researcher. He is certified by one of the major genealogical certification organizations and has exhaustive support for all his conclusions. As in the first hypothetical, he is persuaded to view the Family Tree and is immediately angry. He cannot believe that anyone would make such obvious errors and he immediately starts correcting everything he considers to be wrongly entered. The next time he goes into to view the Family Tree, he sees that someone has recopied all of the "wrong" data back into "his" Family Tree. Rather than make the corrections again or try and contact the person making the changes, he dismisses the program as "broken" and determines that he will simply ignore it. 

Some of the people I have worked with over the past few years on the Family Tree have reached the point where they say they are going to give up doing family history at all because "they" will not stop making irrational changes. These are actually real situations and are a composite of a lot of the people I deal with almost every day. I am not sure that there is a cure for victim mentality once it takes hold. If you sympathize, they feel justified. If you try to talk them out of their single-minded opinions, they reject any suggestion that they can take charge of the situation and resolve the problems.

I have always had a tendency to believe that education was the answer. Once in while, if I explain how and why the Family Tree works, the person becomes pacified, but often they just dismiss everything I say and refuse to follow any of my suggestions. 

We are not victims of the Family Tree. We will all need to adjust to the instant collaborative environment and realize that not everyone is a professional level genealogist and that many people need to be cut some slack. Most of all, we need to stop thinking we are victims and start being proactive by adding sources, notes and collaborating with those making entries in our portion of the Family Tree.                                       

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Family History Consultants as Family History Missionaries

The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah
During the past six months or so, I have been hearing references to the fact that Ward Family History Consultants should be, in effect, family history missionaries. I think the concept is an important way to move Family History Consultants from their commonly passive mode into a more active participation in Ward and Stake activities. Despite specific, existing instructions in the organizational manual, Leader's Guide to Temple and Family History Work, To Turn the Hearts, in my experience most Family History Consultants are ignored by the Ward organization and very few are even given any form of training or even orientation to their function.

The idea that the Family History Consultants should be proactive and take the initiative in contacting and helping members with their family history should have been obvious given the statement from page 20 of the Guide:
Working with Members Consultants take the initiative to reach out to members, especially those who are not comfortable using technology, by: 
Helping a few individuals or families at a time to work on their own family history so they can perform temple ordinances for their deceased relatives. The most effective place to do this is in members’ homes. The ward council could determine specific individuals or families for the consultant to work with. The high priests group leader assigns these families to the consultant. 
Answering family history questions from ward leaders and members.
The unresolved obstacle to this process has always been the lack of involvement of the responsible Ward leaders, including the High Priests Group Leader in training and supporting the Family History Consultants.

At the Brigham Young University Family History Library when a new missionary is called and begins to serve, they are mentored with an extensive training program that has been developed over the past two years based in part on The Family History Guide. Unfortunately, there is no corresponding type of instruction for Family History Consultants and even though resources such as The Family History Guide exist, few Ward leaders know of their existence.

A recent Blog post entitled, "Find Others to Teach" by Mike Sandberg highlights this issue directly. The post says,
Helping others with family history work is a lot like being a missionary. Why?
  • You are focused on bringing others to the ordinances of salvation.
  • You are focused on uniting and strengthening families on both sides of the veil.
The Holy Ghost will help you find others to teach as you seek its guidance. It will prompt you because Heavenly Father wants His children to have positive temple and family history experiences that build faith.
The post also suggests that Family History Consultants see themselves "as a missionary as you help others with family history. You are on the Lord’s errand." This post should be widely disseminated to all Family History Consultants. Our job here is to be proactive and become involved in helping people directly rather than passively waiting for someone to ask us for assistance.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Watching the Genealogical Weather

When I was living in Mesa, Arizona in the low desert watching the weather was not all that entertaining. Our move to the mountains of Utah has changed that to some extent. We are never quite certain what the weather will be like and checking the weather can mean the difference between being prepared and having a cold, wet walk to the library.

Checking the genealogical weather has become a lot more interesting lately due to the huge movement of digital records into the major genealogy companies. For years now we have been witnessing secondhand, the digitization of over 2.4 million rolls of microfilm stored in the famous Granite Vault in Little Cottonwood Canyon just north of where I now live. Watching the numbers increase and seeing the effect of the availability of digital records online, firsthand, is akin to watching the weather. I guess the analogy comes from watching the snow pile up outside my window as I am writing this post.

The effects of that massive digitization effort are not nearly as visible as the snow piling up outside, but the impact of making those records more available will last a lot longer than this snowfall. One interesting part of this phenomena is that so few people are even aware that it is happening, even among the more active genealogists.

Every week, FamilySearch sends out an updated list of the newly added or indexed records. You can see the newest list in the Historical Record Collections by clicking on the link to Browse all Published Collections and then by clicking on the link in the words at the top of the "Last Updated" column. Here is a screenshot showing the latest updates from the date of this post.

The interesting thing about this list is that many of these digital records have been available for some time through the Catalog. They take a while to show up in the Historical Record Collections.

The Indexing of these records is ongoing. They have been indexing records using volunteers now for 10 years as is shown by this news release from today.

Those numbers appear to be cumulative totals. The records that are identified with the label "Browse Images" in the Historical Record Collections are waiting to be indexed. The entries with numbers mean at least some of the records have been indexed but not necessarily all of the records in the collections. If you want to check to see how many of the records have been indexed, you click on the name of the collection and compare the total number of records to the number on the list of the indexed records. For example, the Sweden, Västmanland Church Records, 1538-1901; index 1622-1860 records currently show 43,976 records, but the total number of records is actually shown after clicking on the name of the collection.

The number of records in this collection is 480,952 and the difference is the number of un-indexed records.

Watching these numbers change is not quite as interesting as the weather, but it does have more of an impact on my own research than the weather usually does.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Listen and Watch December Webinars Live

We have shortened schedule for December at the Brigham Young University Family History Library. I thought it would be a good idea to mention that these webinars are broadcast live through Adobe Connect. You can go to the schedule at this link:

You can tune into the live webinar at the time on the date indicated by clicking on the name of the webinar. The advantage of listing and watching live is that you can ask questions or make comments through the "Chat Room" which is really nothing more than a place to type.

Of course, if you miss the live version, you can see the recorded webinars either on the BYU Family History Library webinar page or on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel.

We now have over 200 videos on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel and there are still more to come. We will be back on our full schedule of videos in January. If you have a suggestion for a video add a comment to this post and we will consider the suggestion.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Strategy for Helping Those New to Family History

Engendering newly hatched genealogists or family historians seem to be the objective of many of the more prominent programs and advertising campaigns from some of the larger online genealogy websites, especially The challenge is how to move these "fledglings" from their status in the nest to fully functional researchers who can make a real contribution to our collective and collaborative Family Tree. The overriding fear of the promoters seems to be that some of these fledglings will either starve or be pushed out of the nest. So what is our collective strategy for helping those new to family history? More importantly, what do we need to do to recruit more people, especially those who presently show no interest at all or are antagonistic to the whole idea of discovering our ancestors?

Over the years, it is my experience that classes and formal instruction are effective only after people have both a desire and an interest in doing family history research. Sitting through a class, especially when you have no real desire to be there, is largely a negative experience. So holding classes are no the solution to attracting new adherents. I am also of the opinion that sugar-coating the process of doing genealogical research is also not the solution.

When I decided to get a Masters Degree in Linguistics, I did not make my choice of study based on my idea that doing linguistics would be "fun" or "easy." I was attracted by the challenge and my own interest in languages. My interest was what motivated me to take my first linguistics class.

Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have heard something about "searching for their ancestors" or doing their genealogy. But this does not mean that they understand either the importance of the work or anything about the process of finding the names of their ancestors to take to the Temple. From my own experience, this is best accomplished by having a dedicated mentor (Family History Consultant) sit down one-on-one and help each member individually through the process. This interaction where the mentor/Family History Consultant has spiritually prepared to teach and has previously reviewed the member's portion of the Family Tree for some Temple opportunities is not only the most effective way to attract new adherents but is, in my opinion, the only effective was to increase participation.

Those wards and stakes where the leaders realize the importance of having a one-on-one experience with each member are the ones that are advancing most rapidly in increasing the members' participation in family history work.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Online

I still amazed that I talk with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who do not have a login or password for As a genealogist, this also means that they have not looked at either. Even if many of those I speak with do happen to have a password and login, they have forgotten it which also indicates they do not visit these two websites. Looking at Google Trends, here is the graph showing website usage of since 2011. The graph sets the highest usage of the website at 100 and so the trend is usage that falls below the highest previous point.

If I compare to, here is the graph.

Without the comparison, here is the trend for

For, the highest point of usage was in February, 2013 which is counted as 100. Currently, the usage is running at 14, a significant drop in interest and usage. It seems to me that the trend showing here correlates with my own experience in talking to people about both the main website and The graph for show the distinct upticks in April and October for added usage around the time of General Conference.

To show another view of the online usage, I looked at the trend for, also starting in 2011.

In this case, the high point was right at the beginning of the graph for 100 and the current number is 34 with a definite uptick recently. But when you compare to, you get a different perspective.

If I add in, I get the following graph.

What I think is happening is rather simple. There is a distinct movement throughout the world to move from desktop, more traditional usage of computer devices, to mobile devices. People are far less likely to search for and use a traditional website than they were just a few years ago. In fact, in 2015, Google changed its search technology to favor mobile friendly websites over those not adapted to mobile usage. See Wikipedia: Google Search. Although both and have a certain amount of adaptation to mobile usage, neither website is really promoted for mobile usage and from a genealogical standpoint, the FamilySearch Indexing program is still not available in an online application and the program has to be downloaded to a desktop computer to work.

It is also interesting that searching for either "LDS" or "FamilySearch" on the Apple App Store does not result in finding any of the Church sponsored apps and the App Gallery on is hidden at the bottom of the webpages and virtually unused and unknown according to my experience. Searches for a "family tree app" have recently spiked according to the following graph from Google Trends.

Searches for "familysearch app" spiked in 2014, and finding a FamilySearch app is as easy as doing a Google search for the term. It seems to me that to increase user interest and use in both and, there should be a clearer pathway to mobile usage and mobile usage should be encouraged, enabled and promoted.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Genealogical Enigma

An enigma is something that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand. From my perspective in answering questions day after day about the Family Tree, I think that for most users, the Family Tree is or has become an enigma. Almost every day that I help patrons at the Brigham Young University Family History Library, I am faced with people who are intensely upset with the Family Tree and cannot understand why FamilySearch does not "fix the problem." The problem they perceive is that some irrational person is wrongfully changing their ancestor's details and family in the Family Tree and the person making the changes refuses to acknowledge any attempt to communicate or resolve the errors being entered. Sometimes I have this situation thrown at me multiple times in one day even with comments on my blogs and emails.

What is going on here? The underlying problem is an inability of the people using the Family Tree to understand its true nature and the method that is being utilized to resolve over a hundred years of randomly contributed, unsupported and unverified genealogical data. Very few people have any experience with a collaborative program such as a wiki. Historically, as I have written many times, genealogists have worked in isolation. Nearly all genealogists are still fixated on their "own" family tree. They have no concept of the interconnectedness of the Family Tree and very little, if any, of the promotional efforts for the Family Tree emphasis the fact that whatever you put in the Family Tree can be modified by any one of the millions of other registered users, even those that are not remotely related to you.

As a user of the Family Tree you are interconnected to every other person on the family tree and every person using the family tree can add or edit the existing information about all of our collective ancestors. The challenge is the network not the data. We are only now beginning to realize that everything around us is being connected in one vast internet. Everything from toasters to cars to banks to stores to toys to TVs to our medical records to our insurance, to our country and to our world. When I go to a store, I expect to have the cashier accept my credit card to pay for whatever I am purchasing. I also expect that at the end of the month, the credit card company will automatically take money out of my bank account to pay the bill. If I am traveling, I expect to make a reservation for an airline or a hotel and show up a month or so later and walk onto the plane or into the hotel room. The examples are endless. We are connected.

Why are we surprised that genealogy has moved to connectedness? Why do we think that we can control the network? The Family Tree is a network of people jointly working on the same data. Of course, we can choose to pay our bills with cash. We can refuse to use smartphones and computers. We can drive old cars without bluetooth and listen to what is left of broadcast radio. But that world is nearly gone. My family is getting ready for the Thanksgiving holiday and doing most of the communication about arrangements with text messages. Why do we think genealogy is any different?

For years now, I have spent a major part of my days directly working with an international connection to thousands of people around the world. I have watched with anticipation the day when we could begin to incorporate all of the combined information out there in private sources about my family. If someone chooses to ignore the opportunity to collaborate, the tragedy is that whatever they have learned and accumulated over the years will be lost. Putting you own information in your own "private" program merely guarantees that what you have done will be repetitious and probably inaccurate. Interconnectivity will perforce continue to increase. All we can do if we ignore the inevitable is to remain in an eddy or backwater and in the end have all our work be forgotten.

Here is the reality in a hypothetical situation. Let's suppose you have been working for some time on "your genealogy." You believe that you are the "only" person in your family who has this interest. You have few computer skills and feel very comfortable keeping all of your "research" on paper. In a real sense, you are doing what genealogists have done for over a hundred years. What you do not know is that you have a relative, who you have never met and whose existence you do not suspect, that is researching exactly the same family lines you are so dedicated to researching. One day, you are working in a large genealogy library and you happen to talk to one of the other patrons about you most vexing research problem. To your surprise, you find out that the person with whom you confide in is a close relative and is working on exactly the same family line, but has done much more work than you have done and in fact quickly shows you that you are working on the wrong person. How do you feel? I have actually seen this happen in the last few weeks at the Brigham Young University Family History Library. Exactly like I describe it with this "hypothetical."

Why does this happen? How do we prevent these people from, in effect, wasting their time by doing work that has already been done by others? That is the main question resolved by the Family Tree. The whole idea is to allow everyone the opportunity of learning what everyone else is doing. Wrong or right. Careful or sloppy. Ignorant or learned. Everyone. The frustration expressed by so many comes from their inability to function within the online, interconnected environment. We no longer can operate in our fantasy world of isolation and ownership. We have to adapt to working in an environment where everything everyone thinks or does is instantly shared across the entire world.

I recently met with a relative who had a huge accumulation of information about some of our shared ancestral lines. She spent a lifetime gathering this information from around the world. Because all that she has done is sitting on paper copies in nice three ring binders and not shared on the Family Tree, our family will be doing all that work over again and will keep doing it over and over until it is ultimately shared and those doing the work take the time to look at the Family Tree. The tragedy is that my relative is unresponsive either to my requests for copies of her work or offers to help put the information on the Family Tree to prevent duplication of her lifelong efforts.

The Family Tree is the solution, not the problem.

The promotional efforts concerning the Family Tree are laudable, but they miss the point. Do we want every person in the world to have their own car and drive it exactly as they wish even though we all drive on the same network of roads? There are some places in the world that this happens and I am still recovering from driving in those places. In fact, I live in one now where people do not observe traffic signals and constantly run red lights. I have to adjust to survive. To some extent, we recognize that to avoid collisions we have to have at least a modicum of traffic regulation and rules. Now we come to the Family Tree another extensive network, just like our roads. We now tell all our users how easy it is. How anyone without any preparation or instruction can instantly find new family members. Aren't we creating the same chaotic situation that occurs when unregulated and uneducated people are allowed to drive cars on the roads of Utah Valley? Aren't we going to have a few crashes? There you go. I am seeing the crashes on the Family Tree every day and I am supposed to provide the first aid for the victims.

Are we still going to keep telling new genealogists or family historians to get their own program or start with paper? Both of these are still options as long as they share everything online on the Family Tree. We have the rules of the road for the Family Tree. How about starting to educate the people as to how the Family Tree works and the rules of survival that are already in place?

Monday, November 21, 2016

President Russell M. Nelson to Speak at RootsTech Family Discovery Day 2017

A presentation by President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, will highlight the upcoming Family Discovery Day at RootsTech 2017 on Saturday, February 11, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah's Salt Palace Convention Center.

Quoting from the official announcement:
The unique format of RootsTech Family Discovery Day will give attendees a more intimate perspective into the family lives of Elder and Sister Nelson and their insight into the significance of family. The event is free, but registration is required at
Last year all the available tickets for the event sold out and many groups were disappointed in being able to attend. I recommend early registration and planning if you want to attend this event.

The announcement provides additional information about President Nelson and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson.
Prior to receiving his call in 1984 as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Nelson was well-known both nationally and internationally as a heart surgeon and medical researcher. He performed the first open-heart surgery in Utah and has helped people throughout the world with heart problems. He served his medical residency in surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the University of Minnesota. He is the recipient of many distinguished honors and awards and is the author of numerous publications. 
Sister Wendy Nelson, also an author and avid genealogist, graced the Family Discovery Day stage in 2016 and won the hearts of all in attendance by sharing the excitement she has experienced in her family history discoveries. She is excited to be speaking again in 2017, this time sharing the stage with her husband, President Russell M. Nelson. Prior to her marriage to President Nelson, Sister Nelson was a professor of marriage and family therapy for 25 years, the last 13 years at Brigham Young University. She holds a Ph.D. in family therapy and gerontology.
Here is a summary of the other participants and activities at the upcoming Family Discovery Day.
Joining the exciting and inspiring speaker lineup at Family Discovery Day will be Kalani Sitake, Vai Sikahema, and Hank Smith. Sitake is BYU’s head football coach. Sitake played collegiately at BYU as a fullback and served as an assistant coach for the Oregon State Beavers and Utah Utes before taking the head coaching position at BYU in December 2015. 
Vai Sikahema is a former NFL football player and current television personality. Sikahema is well-known for his diverse skills as both an anchor and sports reporter and can be seen co-anchoring NBC10 News Today on weekday mornings. He also serves as NBC10’s sports director. 
Also joining the lineup is Hank Smith, BYU professor of religion and popular public speaker. Smith enjoys speaking at assemblies in elementary, junior high, and high schools around the country. He has also published many talks on CD and speaks to tens of thousands of youth each year. His life has been touched by family history and temple work. “There is something about temple work that unlocks our own personal gifts,” he says. When asked what family means to him, he readily replies, “Don’t make me cry! Family means happiness. Family means fun. Family means experiences. It means learning, friendship, and love.” 
Family Discovery Day is a free, one-day event for members and families of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 
Attendees are invited to come and enjoy inspiring messages, engage in interactive activities for all ages, and discover the latest technology, products, and services in the family history industry by touring the expansive expo hall and other fun activities throughout the venue. Families with children and youth can discover the fun of family history together by playing games such as Family Feud and Twisted Family History. 
Family Discovery Day is the perfect place for individuals and families to discover helpful family history solutions, watch demonstrations, get one-on-one help, interact with innovative family history technologies, and mingle with hundreds of exhibitors from around the globe. 
Select sessions are also available for those with Church callings and responsibilities related to family history and the temple. Individuals will be able to get their questions answered, discover new tools, and learn best practices. 
Over 15,000 adults and children attended the free event in 2016. Tickets will be limited again in 2017 for this increasingly popular event. Interested individuals and families should register as quickly as possible online at 
* 1:00 p.m.—Opening General Session
* 1:45 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.—Sessions
* 5:30 p.m.—Closing Event

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Exploring the Future of Family History Centers, Microfilm and Other Things

This post is an updated version of one I wrote back on September 5, 2016 entitled "Thoughts on the future of Family History Centers." Since that time, I have visited Mesa, Arizona and thought a lot more about the subjects I previously raised.

There are almost 5000 Family History Centers (FHCs) around the world. Some time ago, I began analyzing the functions of the FHCs and speculating on their future. Not long ago, I spoke at the annual Genealogy Conference held by the Mesa, Arizona FamilySearch Library (FSL). I thought it would be helpful to review what happened there in Mesa, Arizona.

For many years, the Mesa FSL has been providing genealogical support and services to tens of thousands of visitors every year. Over the approximately ten years that I volunteered in the Mesa FLS, I was happily associated with hundreds of wonderful missionaries and volunteers. I further enjoyed my relationship with the hundreds of patrons from all over the world who came for help and to do research. However, because of the need for more space and to update the facility, measures were started to have the building remodeled. A second, much older, building about a block away was also remodeled and was used for classes and webinars. This was the original building that had housed the facility for many, many years going back into the 1930s when the genealogical collection had been started and originally based in the Mesa, Arizona Temple.

In 2014, after several years of negotiations, when they began to remodel the newer existing building, they unfortunately rather quickly found some serious defects in the building and all work stopped. Because of the anticipated construction, thousands of books, thousands of rolls of microfilm, approximately 50+ computers and office supplies, scanners, and other equipment in was moved into storage containers in the parking lot. Efforts were made to determine the fate of the construction and all the equipment. Finally, after almost a year of waiting, the Directors and the missionaries, moved most of the equipment that could be accommodated into the older, much smaller building. Since then, they have been operating out of the old building while the newer larger building sits empty except for some of the storage.

My recent conversations with the Directors and missionaries for the Mesa FSL indicated that they still had no idea of the future of the facility. Over the now two years since the supposed construction was to begin and be completed, they are still operating out of the much smaller facility. Many of the missionaries have finished their missions and moved on to other activities because of the lack of adequate facilities. After talking to a number of people at FamilySearch, I have never learned anything about the future of the Mesa FSL.

Meanwhile, FamilySearch has begun construction or finished remodeling on several other major facilities around the western part of the United States including St. George and Layton, Utah and the remodeling of the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. According to what I have heard, there is also a major FamilySearch office building and possible Family History Center being built in Lehi, Utah.

All of this has given me cause to reflect on the overall future of Family History Centers. In my activities here in Provo, Utah and during the past few years, I have had many opportunities have extensive conversations with dozens (very many) Family History Center Directors from all over the United States and into Canada. Many of these directors ask me questions about their facilities and the future of Family History Centers in general.

Please be aware, I have no direct information from FamilySearch or any other source. Anything I say is my opinion alone. But I can certainly speculate as well as anyone from what I have seen. In the last few months, I have personally visited at least eleven family history centers and have talked to many more directors and volunteers from around the country.

There are several things that are happening that will have an obvious impact on Family History Centers in the future. These include the following:

1. At some point in the future, FamilySearch will finish digitizing the vast collection of microfilm held in the Granite Vault in Little Cottonwood Canyon outside of Salt Lake City. The digitized images are being added to the online collections on by the millions every week. When and if this process is substantially completed, there will no longer be any need to rent out the microfilm. So one of the major functions of Family History Centers, hosting and processing the rented microfilm will probably come to an end. There will also no longer be any need for the old, analog microfilm viewers located in many Family History Centers except for residual microfilm usage. There are a number of articles online discussing the end of microfilm. For example, on the website on April 13, 2016 in an article entitled, "A Glimpse Into the Future of Mcrofim and Microfiche" summarizes their view as follows:
Frankly, the future will continue to put more and more limits on the use of microfiche. Obsolescence looms. How much better to scan the library of microfiche you currently own to digital media and preserve that information indefinitely. If you receive new microfiche occasionally over the next few years, you can always scan them, too. Once digital, your document management system will help you access the microfiche information easier than any old microfiche reader could.
Blogger Dick Eastman wrote a post back on May 29, 2014 entitled "The Death of Microfilm." If you have any doubts about the future of microfilm in the context of genealogy, I suggest you read Dick's post.

2. In the United States and in other areas where computer access to the internet is commonly available, the fact that Family History Centers provide access to online resources is rapidly diminishing in its importance. Most of the more important and frequently used resources available in Family History Centers are now readily available online to anyone with an internet connection. The few subscription programs that have been available for free in Family History Centers are no longer as much of a draw as they used to be. However, in the parts of the world where access to computers and the internet is limited, Family History Centers still provide a desirable and valuable service in simply having connected computer available for patrons. So, depending on the local availability of computers and internet connection, some of the existing Family History Centers will either remain as valuable assets to the community or will become marginalized. From my own observations, because of the lack of local support and need for computers, some of these smaller, less fully staffed centers need to be closed.

3. As I noted in my previous post, cited above, is continuing to digitize a huge genealogical book collection. Since my September post the number of digitized books in the book collection has risen from about 304,000 to over 320,000 or about 1000 a week. Very few of the Family History Centers have substantial collections of books, but now, with so many online, the collection in Mesa, for example, has become to some extent superseded by the online collections. In additions, the partner has a collection of over 400,000 digitized books and the newly added partner,, has over 725,000 more. From these numbers alone, the need for Family History Centers to provide books has markedly diminished. If there are still unique and valuable books in the various centers around the world that can be digitized, then steps should be taken to digitize them also.

What is now left to Family History Centers is their support and training functions. Those centers that I have observed that are flourishing are heavily involved in education and support. Their volunteer staff members are involved in the community and help people in their homes, in classes, in conferences and many other ways. But those centers that rely on walk in patrons are becoming rapidly marginalized. In addition, those centers that provide supplemental services services such as scanning, printing and other related activities are thriving.

FamilySearch is experimenting with Family Discovery Centers as a way to engender interest in genealogy. Although it remains to be seen how successful these high-technology centers will be in the future, they will certainly have a short term impact in increasing interest. However, they are not a substitute for the experience and help of trained, competent volunteers and missionaries that can support genealogical research beyond the basics.

Is the successful model epitomized by the Mesa FSL still a viable option? The tragedy of the Mesa center is that it was and is doing exactly what needs to be done: that is training and supporting people in their genealogical research. The loss of the books and the microfilm is not as serious given the technological advances as the loss of an adequate training area with an experienced and capable staff.

At the core of this whole issue is the ability of FamilySearch to transition to training their volunteers and missionaries to become competent support resources where people can go to move past the simple name gathering level of family history. In this regard, over the past two years or so, the Brigham Young University Family History Library has expanded its focus on improving the competence level of the volunteers and missionaries serving there. To a large extent, due to the leadership of the Director and staff, this has been accomplished to a remarkable degree. The same focus on training Family History Center staffs and even on training local Family History Consultants will in effect "save the Family History Centers" and will provide a clear path to increasing involvement in genealogy in the future.

But those centers that passively expect the world to beat a path to their door, will be marginalized and I expect that many of them will be closed down and consolidated into larger centers that are more oriented to outreach, training and education. All we really need to do is look at online family trees to see how much of a need there is for education and training.

Friday, November 18, 2016

How Well Does Google Translate Work for Genealogists?

Because of my language background, I am more than well aware of the problems with translation. This is one reason why I have translation apps on each of my websites. It is also the reason why I am very interested in claimed advances in computerized translation programs. My ideas on instant translation come from Douglas Adams' book, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

Adams, Douglas. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. New York: Harmony Books, 1980.

The Hitchhiker's Guide (which is beginning more and more to look like a smartphone) uses a Babel fish to translate. Here is a description from the radio show.
"The Babel fish is small, yellow, leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the universe. It feeds on brain wave energy, absorbing all unconscious frequencies and then excreting telepathically a matrix formed from the conscious frequencies and nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain, the practical upshot of which is that if you stick one in your ear, you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language: the speech you hear decodes the brain wave matrix."[7]
The Google Translation app for my iPhone translates my spoken speech directly into the target language. I can test this with Spanish since I speak Spanish fluently. It works very well, but not quite as well as the imaginary Babel fish.

In the real world, as I recently noted in a blog post, Google has implemented Neural Networking to its Translate program. Translate has been used by genealogical researchers to aid in working in languages other than those native to the researcher. For a more in depth discussion of the impact of Neural Networking on the Translate program, see the following:

“A Neural Network for Machine Translation, at Production Scale.” Research Blog. Accessed November 18, 2016.
“Google Translate Is Tapping into Neural Networks for Smarter Language Learning.” PCWorld, November 16, 2016.
“Google Translate Just Got a Lot Smarter.” CNET. Accessed November 18, 2016.
“How Google Translate Squeezes Deep Learning onto a Phone.” Research Blog. Accessed November 18, 2016.

 But how well does it really work? I only gave one example in my last post, so I thought I would give a few more examples.

Here is a randomly selected paragraph from The Family History Guide or
Look for ancestors with a light-blue icon in the couple's box - this means that record sources are available. If you don't see any of these icons, expand one or more ancestor lines to find them. A purple icon means that no sources have been recorded for the person.
Here is the Spanish translation of that same paragraph:
Busque los antepasados con un icono azul claro en la caja de la pareja - esto significa que las fuentes de registro están disponibles. Si no ve ninguno de estos iconos, expanda una o más líneas de ancestro para encontrarlos. Un icono púrpura significa que no se han registrado fuentes para la persona.
This is a pretty good translation. However, one difficulty with Spanish is that there are significant word variations from country to country. I would think, however, that a native speaker of Spanish, who did not know English would probably understand what the Translate program was trying to say.

What about translating back to English from a language I do not know well? Here is a paragraph in Hungarian. I think of a search term I want to use. Then, I translate the term into the language, in this case Hungarian, and use the translated term to search for information. I have Chrome's auto-translate function turned on, so if I want to see the original in the language of origin, I will have to click to see the original.

First the Hungarian:
- Magyarországi polgári anyakönyvek kutatása itt- Kecskemét, RK anyakönyvek: Ker.: 1678-1920, Ház.: 1737-1922!, Hal.: 1734-1761, stb. itt- Tarnaörs és Erk lakossága kronológiai sorrendben itt- Szlovákia, (Felvidék) egyházi anyakönyvek kutatása itt- Erdélyi települések anyakönyvi adatai itt!- Anyakönyvvezetők magyar-szlovák-német-latin szótára (és más szótárak) itt!- A Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár anyakönyvi mikrofilm mutatója itt- Ausztria, Stájerország : R.K. anyakönyvek a graz-i Püspökség oldalán itt
Then the translation:
Mother Books:
- Hungarian civil registries in research
- Kecskemét, RK registers Ker .: 1678-1920, 1737-1922 .: House Fish !, .: 1734-1761, etc. here
- Tarnaörs and Erk population in chronological order
- Slovakia (Highland) church registers in research
- Birth data Transylvanian villages here!
- Registrar Hungarian-Slovak-German-Latin dictionary (and other dictionaries) here!
- The Hungarian National Archives microfilm ratio at birth
- Austria, Styria R.K. registers of the Diocese Graz side here
You can copy and paste or type in the text you wish to translate. It may not be perfect, but Translate certainly works well enough to get me started in Hungarian research.  

The Scott Brothers (HGTV's Property Brothers) Will Keynote #RootsTech 2017

Quoting from a Blog post of November 17, 2016,
Jonathan Scott and Drew Scott, who star in HGTV's “The Property Brothers,” will give RootsTech 2017 attendees unique insights into the role their family has had in their lives. The 6' 5" identical twin brothers will be the Thursday keynote speakers at RootsTech on February 9, 2017, in Salt Lake City, Utah. The popular brothers share passions for film and entertainment and for renovating older homes into dream homes. They have combined those passions to form an entertainment empire which became Scott Brothers Entertainment—an independent production company.
The Scott brothers garner HGTV’s highest ratings and are syndicated to major networks worldwide. Their first series, the Property Brothers, spun off several other series including Brother vs Brother, Buying and Selling, Property Brothers at Home, and Property Brothers at home on the Ranch. They recently authored their first book, Dream Home
Their journey in entertainment includes much more than home improvement shows. Jonathan began performing in live theater and in TV and film as a child. He became a successful illusionist winning many awards and even performed live in Las Vegas. Drew was a high school basketball star and began acting in theater, improve, and sketch comedy in his teens. He even performed as a clown until he tired of the costumes and face paint. 
The pair developed a passion for real estate as teens, purchasing their first fixer-upper house when they were 17. They did some renovations, and sold it a year later for a $50,000 profit to help support them as actors for a time before they decided to go back to college. 
The Scott brothers were born in Vancouver, Canada. Their parents didn’t know they were going to have twins until the doctor saw Drew shortly after Jonathan was born. Because they lived on a ranch, Drew and Jonathan embraced the value of work at a young age—starting their first business at age seven. Their parents supported their various endeavors and encouraged them to pursue their dreams. “Our dad told us, ‘Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Think of five ways you can do it, and then do it,’” Drew said, and that advice has become their mantra. 
Both Drew and Jonathan are licensed real estate agents, but for their show, Drew is shown as the real estate agent and Jonathan as the contractor. Together they built their dream home in Las Vegas which has been featured on their series. The Scotts are involved in various philanthropic initiatives in North America and around the world. 
At RootsTech, the brothers will talk about their unique family ties, and the can-do attitudes it fostered, their positive outlooks, and childhoods, their careers, their shared passions for buying and renovating property, and for the entertainment industry.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Google Translate adds Neural Networking

Neural Machine Translation is a recent development that adds immensely more accurate translations. Very recently, Google Translate added the following features:
Neural Machine Translation has been generating exciting research results for a few years and in September, our researchers announced Google's version of this technique. At a high level, the Neural system translates whole sentences at a time, rather than just piece by piece. It uses this broader context to help it figure out the most relevant translation, which it then rearranges and adjusts to be more like a human speaking with proper grammar. Since it’s easier to understand each sentence, translated paragraphs and articles are a lot smoother and easier to read. And this is all possible because of end-to-end learning system built on Neural Machine Translation, which basically means that the system learns over time to create better, more natural translations. 
Today [November 15, 2016] we’re putting Neural Machine Translation into action with a total of eight language pairs to and from English and French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Turkish. These represent the native languages of around one-third of the world's population, covering more than 35% of all Google Translate queries!
Google Translate is an indispensable addition to any genealogist's toolbox. the program presently translates text to and from 103 languages. I tried out the translation on part of one of my blog posts and this is what I got in Spanish:
English Version
My wife is very actively researching Swedish records and so I note when some of them become available. If you would like to see the most recent letters in the Historical Record Collections, you just click on the column heading entitled, " Last Updated" and the column will be sorted according to the most recent date. You can see the List and the reference to the Last Updated above on the screenshot in the upper-right.
Google Translate's Spanish version
Mi esposa está investigando activamente registros suecos y así que noto cuando algunos de ellos están disponibles. Si desea ver las cartas más recientes en las colecciones de registros históricos de, simplemente haga clic en el encabezado de columna titulado "Última actualización" y la columna se clasificará según la fecha más reciente. Puede ver la lista y la referencia a la última actualización anterior en la captura de pantalla en la parte superior derecha.
If you speak Spanish you can make your own evaluation of the translation. If not, take my word that the Spanish is a very good translation of the English. Here is what happens if  I now take the Spanish version and translate it back into English.
Google Spanish Version
Mi esposa está investigando activamente registros suecos y así que noto cuando algunos de ellos están disponibles. Si desea ver las cartas más recientes en las colecciones de registros históricos de, simplemente haga clic en el encabezado de columna titulado "Última actualización" y la columna se clasificará según la fecha más reciente. Puede ver la lista y la referencia a la última actualización anterior en la captura de pantalla en la parte superior derecha.  
Back into English
My wife is actively researching Swedish records and so I notice when some of them are available. If you want to see the most recent charts in historical record collections, simply click on the column header titled "Last Update" and the column will be sorted by the most recent date. You can view the list and the reference to the last update above in the screenshot at the top right.
Looks pretty good to me. You can also set up Google Translate to automatically translate any webpage that you find in another language into English except for the words that appear in images.

Millions of Swedish Digital Records Added to FamilySearch Historical Record Collections

I have been watching the recent additions to the Historical Record Collections and find a run of valuable Swedish Church records dating back as far as 1555.

My wife is very actively researching Swedish records and so I note when some of them become available. If you would like to see the most recent letters in the Historical Record Collections, you just click on the column heading entitled, " Last Updated" and the column will be sorted according to the most recent date. You can see the List and the reference to the Last Updated above on the screenshot in the upper-right.

Updates from the FamilySearch Blogs

It has been a while since I reviewed a list of recently published blog posts from It turns out that I have been even busier than usual during the past few months. But I thought it would be a good idea to post a month's worth once and while. Not too many have been posted so far this month. Here is the list.

Blogger, Guest. “Do You Have Your Great-Great-Great-Grandfather’s Nose?” FamilySearch Blog, November 9, 2016.
———. “How to Scan Film and Negatives like a Pro.” FamilySearch Blog, November 15, 2016.
———. “Remembering a Forgotten Soldier.” FamilySearch Blog, November 7, 2016.
———. “Researching the Past to Ensure a Healthy Future.” FamilySearch Blog, November 14, 2016.
FamilySearch. “Got the Family History Bug? Start Your Search close to Home.” FamilySearch Blog, November 11, 2016.
Huber, Leslie Albrecht. “Finding US Military Ancestors in Online Records.” FamilySearch Blog, November 4, 2016.
Sagers, Diane. “English Parish Records: How to Access, Use, and Interpret Them.” FamilySearch Blog, November 8, 2016.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The "I am right and everyone else is wrong" issue in the FamilySearch Family Tree

Lately, I have been seeing a very disturbing trend among the contributors to the Family Tree. This trend usually manifests itself in the form of complaints and rants against the nature of the changing nature of the Family Tree when the changes are directed at the complainant's cherished genealogical conclusions. I am calling this tendency the "I am right and everyone else is wrong" syndrome.

Of course, the person who is ranting about the changes may be right. But the rants and comments usually end up with frustration being directed at the Family Tree. First of all, the Family Tree is not the problem, it is the solution. The real issue here is that genealogists are not used to the idea of conducting their "business" in public. They cherish their solitude and the fact that no one is around to tell them that their conclusions are wrong. There are genealogists who venture into the traditional genealogical forum of journal articles and such but these individuals stick to their own small groups and the validity of the conclusions are seldom questioned because the claimant follows the accepted format and procedures for establishing their opinion (usually referred to as a proof). I might add that most genealogists are entirely unaware that this level of communication exists. Also, those writing at this level seldom encounter disagreement with their conclusions for the simple reason that their general family members or relatives have no idea their written statement exists.

I feel I should give one simple example. If you are or claim to be a descendant of one or more of the passengers on the Mayflower have you examined in detail the conclusions and citations given in the series of books referred to as the "Silver Books?" If this term is not familiar to you, you are not alone, but you are also one of those who are unaware of the "higher criticism" level of genealogy.

Just in case you want to know, here is a link to the Silver Books:

Now, we move to the very public forum of the Family Tree. What is happening here is that these traditionally isolated genealogists are now confronted with the masses of their previously ignored relatives. This situation is confrontational because all of the opinions, right or wrong, from all of the previous submissions to the predecessors of FamilySearch are right there on the Family Tree. For example, here is a screenshot of part of my own Tanner line as it appears on the Family Tree.

The person who appears here as William Francis Tanner, Sr. is the English immigrant to Rhode Island who name is William Tanner. Despite the embellishment of his name and his birth place and is marriage information and his parentage, all of this is entirely and completely speculation and unsupported by even one document. Personally, I am not yet ready to "take on" this mess. I am still trying to work back to this point through other Tanner descendants. But this is an example of the battleground where there are contributors who are "right" and the rest of the world is "wrong."

The explanations given by these people who express their frustration with the Family Tree are usually very detailed and very complicated. This is not to say that they are wrong, but communicating at this level of complication is difficult especially when you do not know who you are communicating with. The Family Tree is actually a very good forum for this type of communication. But rather than join in a discussion, the claimants usually vent their anger and refuse to work with the Family Tree at all.

I suggest that the Family Tree is not for the faint hearted or those easily offended. Change is a fundamental aspect of the Family Tree and its strongest virtue. There will always be new adherents who try to add unsupported changes. I just recently had someone add a duplicate female version of one of my ancestors who is shown with a wife and several children. This type of change happens because the Family Tree is an open forum. But it these changes are not a basis for ranting or abandoning the Family Tree. In my case, I merely sent a notice to the person asking them to remove the duplicate non-existent person. If that fails to happen I will make the further change myself.

The existence of these types of problems are a great benefit not a problem. We are now moving from isolation to interaction. This may be a painful process for some, but as Harry Truman is reported to have said, "If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen." I would suggest that another of President Truman's sayings is also applicable, "The buck stops here." For me, the buck really does stop here. Until I can no longer do so, I will be working to maintain the integrity of the Family Tree. There, now you have notice of what to expect and guess what? I am not always right, there is an awful lot of room in the Family Tree for learning new things about my family so I expect your corrections and contributions also.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Reflections on the limits of the FamilySearch Family Tree

There are definite limits to family history and those limits are reflected and sometimes magnified by the limits of the Family Tree. Those promoting the Family Tree do not like to address the issue of limits, perhaps out of fear that some users will be discouraged before they even begin to participate. But users of the Family Tree should be aware of the limitations as well as the advantages. Before going too much further, please understand that I view the Family Tree as the solution to many of our genealogical or family history problems. But I also understand the importance of understanding the limitations.

The first important limitation to recognize is that the Family Tree is a repository for information that has been contributed by genealogists and family historians over the years. It is not a place where you do research to find your ancestors. It is a place to store the information you discover and that has already been discovered. You may be surprised to find information in the Family Tree that you did not know, but essentially someone had to have submitted that information to FamilySearch or one of its predecessors for that information to appear in the Family Tree. As a result, all the information about your family in the Family Tree is "user contributed." The results of that fact is that any of the entries that are not supported by a valid, reasoned source or supporting document should be considered to be tentative and possibly unreliable. However, the mere fact that there is a source listed does not mean that the source is either reliable or correct. The reliability of the information in the Family Tree is limited to the reliability of the sources and the ability of the contributor to interpret and utilize those sources.

Family history is after all, history. It is our combined opinions and conclusions about what happened in the past based on our own memory, the memories of others and/or historical documents and records. For this reason, the Family Tree will always be a "work in progress." As we discover new information about our ancestors, we will be able to correct the information already present in the Family Tree or add new information about newly discovered ancestors.

We need to understand that the fact that the information in the Family Tree is user submitted and based on memories or documents, does not address the issue of whether or not the information is reliable. The reliability of the information needs to be determined by referring to the sources listed. As reliable and applicable sources are added, the information becomes more reliable. At the same time, the amount and quality of the supporting information for the entries in the Family Tree depend on the existence of records about the family. So, at some point of time as we go into the past, the records about any given family line run out. Unfortunately, a huge number of the family lines in the Family Tree continue on with entries beyond the point where there are no longer any supporting records. This unsupported information is like an overburden in an avalanche zone, it will inevitably fall.

So, the Family Tree has physical limits such as record unavailability and interpretation limits in its dependence on human opinions and conclusions. There is probably nothing we can do about the absolute lack of records, but over time and as more records become available, the Family Tree will become more and more accurate. By the way, some people excuse their participation in doing family history on the basis that at some time in the future, usually referred to as the "Millennium," all of the information will be available and so they plan to wait. I could write a whole post on this subject and maybe I will some day, but you can use the same excuse to postpone any good work and thereby lose you own salvation. Do you really believe that you will be any more anxious to do the work for your kindred dead at some undefined time in the future?

One interesting phenomena is the fact that some people consider the Family Tree as a source for mining temple ordinances. It is true that available temple ordinances can be found, but it is also true that the supply will quickly become depleted unless additional names are constantly added. If newly discovered individuals are either reserved or released to the temples, the supply of the iconic green temples will eventually disappear. The emphasis will have to shift from finding names in the Family Tree to finding names to add to the Family Tree. My own observations presently indicate that the time of easily available green temple icons is rapidly coming to a close. Unless we shift gears and start adding names to the Family Tree, we will begin to see a steady and dramatic decline in the names people are able to find by casual searching for green temple icons.

By the way, descendancy research has a built in 110 year limit for providing names to take to the temples. It is possible to review and verify all of the names both ancestors and their descendants back five or even six generations. At seven generations, many lines begin to falter and few lines can be verified back ten generations. The growth of the Family Tree will ultimately depend on new people beginning their pedigrees and the addition of even more records to the online collections.

Fortunately, many of the limitations inherent in the Family Tree can be resolved with concentrated and knowledgeable basic genealogical research. But without a fundamental shift in the emphasis from finding to researching, there won't be much at all to find. Here is an example.

This screenshot shows a small part of the descendancy of my 4th Great-grandfather, Joshua Tanner who was born in 1757 expanded down until all of the descendants were born after 1906 and thereby subject to the 110 year rule. There are potentially hundreds of people who appear in this view on the Family Tree, but there are no green temple icons left to process without additional research. In this view, the one green temple icon is for a person who was born in 1912.

As I go on down in this descendancy view, there are plenty of red warning icons and lots of purple icons indicating that there are no sources attached to the people, but I did not find anyone who needed immediate temple work without doing additional research and I found plenty of opportunities to do research.

The Family Tree is a marvelous tool. Since it was fixed in June of this year, it works very well. But it has inherent limitations that need to be recognized. You cannot use it for a "source" for names to take to the temple without also emphasizing the need to do careful, accurate additional research not only to verify the names already present, but to add new names of people who actually need to have their temple ordinances done.

If They Would Look They Might Live

In the 37th chapter of Alma in the Book of Mormon, Alma is transferring the records of the Nephites to his son Helaman. In his instructions to Helaman, Alma rehearses the history of the records and notes with particularity the "plates of brass." He says,
3 And these plates of brass, which contain these engravings, which have the records of the holy scriptures upon them, which have the genealogy of our forefathers, even from the beginning— 
4 Behold, it has been prophesied by our fathers, that they should be kept and handed down from one generation to another, and be kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord until they should go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, that they shall know of the mysteries contained thereon. 
5 And now behold, if they are kept they must retain their brightness; yea, and they will retain their brightness; yea, and also shall all the plates which do contain that which is holy writ.
Alma goes on to say,
6 Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. 
7 And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.
Later on in the same chapter, Alma refers to the Liahona and says,
40 And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day. 
41 Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey;
We have similar "miracles" today to assist us in working on our family history. One of these miracles is the Family Tree. Working with several other large online genealogical database programs, the Family Tree almost miraculously provides us with specific information about our kindred dead. But Alma also notes the following:
43 And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual. 
44 For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land. 
45 And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise. 
46 O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever.
 I know that the Family Tree and the other marvelous tools given to us in our day to participate in the work of the salvation of our dead ancestors are temporal. But I also know that they are, in a true sense, spiritual. But I also see that many of us are "slothful because of the easiness of the way" that we now have to find our ancestors and if we would but look, we might live. How many of us now fail to even look at the Family Tree? I am almost constantly surrounded by members who have no interest in even looking. What does that say about us?

As Alma repeatedly says beginning in chapter 36, verse 1,
1 My son, give ear to my words; for I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.
Let us keep the commandments to seek after our kindred dead and thereby prosper in the land.