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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Watch RootsTech 2017 Keynotes Live on

For the first time ever, keynote speakers from all RootsTech sessions, including Wednesday’s Innovator Summit, will be streamed live online at Here is the latest edition of the keynote speaker lineup.
Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International 
Rockwood currently serves as president and CEO of FamilySearch International. Over the past two years, he has made it his mission to emphasize the personal side of family history work, inspiring people to focus on the stories of ancestors and encouraging the use of technology to make records, photos, and memories more accessible. 
You can watch Steve Rockwood’s remarks on Wednesday, February 8, from 9 to 10 a.m. MST and Thursday, February 8, from 9 to 10 a.m. MST. 
Liz Wiseman, author and business leader 
Wiseman, a best-selling author, teaches leadership strategies to executives and emerging leaders around the world. She is a frequent lecturer at BYU, the Naval Postgraduate School, and Stanford University. 
You can watch Liz Wiseman’s remarks on Wednesday, February 8, from 9 to 10 a.m. MST. 
The Scott Brothers 
Drew and Jonathan Scott, more commonly known as the Property Brothers from the popular HGTV show, have built an impressive entertainment empire by working together in film, entertainment, and home renovation. At RootsTech, they’ll share stories from their past and explain why their family heritage is an important part of their lives. 
Watch the Scott Brothers’ remarks on Thursday, February 9, from 8:30 to 10 a.m. MST.
Learn more about the Scott Brothers
LeVar Burton 
Award-winning actor, producer, and director, LeVar Burton will be the keynote speaker on Friday, February 10. Burton burst on to the acting stage with his role as Kunta Kinte in ABC’s 1977 award-winning television series Roots. He is also widely recognized as the host and executive producer of Reading Rainbow. Burton also appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generationas he took the role of Lieutenant Geordi La Forge. 
Watch LeVar Burton’s remarks on Friday, February 10, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. MST.
Learn more about LeVar Burton
Buddy Valastro 
More commonly known as the Cake Boss from the hit TLC television show, Buddy Valastro will be the keynote speaker on Saturday, February 11. At RootsTech, Buddy will share why mixing eggs, sugar, and butter means a lot more than “making a cake.” 
Watch Buddy Valastro’s remarks on Saturday, February 11, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. MST.
Learn more about Buddy Valastro
CeCe Moore 
CeCe Moore is a genetic genealogist that uses DNA to uncover hidden truths about family relationships. Her work has been used to help adoptees reunite with their biological families. 
Watch CeCe Moore’s remarks on Saturday, February 11, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. MST.

Monday, January 30, 2017

An Explosion of Memories

I am still encountering a significant number of people, even members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who have yet to even view their Memories section on I recently went to my own Memories section and counted the number of people with memories added. There are approximately 425+ individuals when I view "All" in the People section of Memories with thousands of uploaded files.

Now, before going on, I need to mention that detailed instructions for gathering, preserving and adding photos, documents, stories and audio files to the Memories section of are available on The Family History Guide Project #2 for Memories. The Family History Guide is a free, sequenced and structured educational tool now linked directly from as the instructional choice.

I have found one of the fastest and most effective ways to get people engaged in family history is to show them their own Memories section. If by chance, the person has no family members that have uploaded photos, documents, stories or audio files, then you can show them what could happen if they become involved in the program by showing them a few of your own uploaded files or those uploaded by your own family.

We have been using the Memories section recently for serious research while helping patrons at the BYU Family History Library and friends to try and solve some family mysteries. I am encouraging everyone to upload their scanned photos and more importantly their documents to the Memories section and then they do not have to bring paper copies with them when we begin doing some research into their families. With the documents attached and tagged to each person in the Family Tree, we can refer to the documents instantly and not have to dig through piles or old notebooks.

What is amazing is the number of Memories that are being accumulated on According to statistics published by FamilySearch, there have been 14.89 million photos uploaded as of the date of this post. There are also an additional 1.1 million stories and over 703 million sources added to the Family Tree.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Family History on

The Families and Individuals tab on has a wealth of resources about genealogy and family history. Here is a screenshot of the tab.


The screenshot at the beginning of this post above is the Family History page from the link at the bottom of the column entitled "Eternal Families." Here are the selections from the Family History webpage.

Each of these selections links to other valuable resources either on the website, the website or The Family History Guide website. For example, there is a link from the "My Family History Calling" selection with training for Family History Consultants. There is even a selection for how to teach a Sunday Family History Lesson.

I suggest clicking around on all the options for an overview of many of the resources available.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Teaching and Helping with The Family History Guide

For some time now, I have been using The Family History Guide as a supplement to recommend when helping patrons in the Brigham Young University Family History Library and as a mention in presenting classes and webinars. Today, I had the opportunity to help at a Family History Event sponsored by one of the BYU Student Stakes for the BYU students in their stake. I spent about two hours helping the students one-on-one and rather than showing them any of the other websites, I used the Projects in The Family History Guide as the basis for showing them how to answer their questions.

In every case each of the young people, I helped, immediately recognized the value of the structured and sequenced approach to solving the questions they had about resolving their own questions as well as its application as a teaching tool. One of the students was a newly called Family History Consultant for her ward and was especially enthusiastic about the resources of the website.

The Family History Guide opens a whole new perspective and as is indicated on the website, "The Family History Guide can be your difference maker."

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Preview Visit to the Salt Lake City Family History Library Family Discover Center

My wife and I recently received an invitation to a very advanced tour of the almost completed Family Discovery Center on the first floor of the world-famous Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have been watching the remodeling effort for some time now and anticipating the results of removing the books, shelves and study areas with an updated replacement. We were asked not to publish any photos until after the official opening on February 7th, 2017 on the opening day of #RootsTech 2017 so I will wait to publish the photos until then. We did notice that a film crew was in the new Family Discovery Center filming a promotional video.

We have visited the Family Discovery Center in the Joesph Smith Memorial building, just east of Temple Square but the new facility is very impressive and obviously much more accessible. In discussing the new Center during our visit, we were told that there are a huge number of "casual" visitors to the Family History Library, such as Chinese tour groups, that will benefit directly from the Family Discovery Center exhibits.

We tried almost all of the exhibits and found them to be very engaging. I am not sure what I expected, but the new Center exceeded all my expectations. I also discovered that my wife and I are related, at least according to the Family Tree more ways than we previously knew about. I suspect that the exhibits will be in high demand and there may be times when they are overwhelmed once the facility opens to the public.

During the time we were there, I saw several people I knew and got their impressions of the Family Discovery Center. Overall, the reactions were extremely positive. We were told that people from the surrounding business area, including the Family History Museum and workers on Temple Square, had been given tours and the volunteers at the Family Discovery Center learned that even though many of them had lived in Salt Lake City all their lives, they had not ever visited the Family History Library. Perhaps their experience with the Family Discovery Center will encourage further visits to the Library.

We made a quick visit to other parts of the Family History Library and found construction on other floors. It looks like some remodeling and freshening up of the Library is being done throughout the facility. They plan to be done by RootsTech 2017. I will be very busy at RootsTech 2017, but I do have one activity planned at the new Family Discovery Center.

I was wondering why I was chosen for a preview visit, but the answer was simply that I was a "professional genealogist," I guess there are a few perks from writing constantly.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Perspective on Genealogy Classes

Researching your family history or genealogy is a skill. The reality of doing historical research is that you have to find documents and records about your family. In the beginning, it is relatively easy when you start with yourself. Except in situations involving people with unknown parents, such as adoptions or foundlings, most people can discover two or three generations without too much difficulty. As you go back in time, the available records become scarce and finding the ones that do exist becomes more and more difficult.

In the United States, many schools teach some of the rudiments of research. But from my own observations, most of the students look on "research" as a very negative activity. They see little connection between the basic activities such as keeping notes and sources and making outlines and the overall idea of learning about something new that they didn't know before. The worst part, according to student response, is writing a "research paper." Of course, research has changed dramatically since I was in school. Today, most research is done on the internet and students spend almost no time in libraries or other record repositories.

Now, if genealogical research is a skill, how best can it be taught? The answer seems fairly obvious to me. Genealogical research skills, like any other research skills, are best learned through actually doing some research. Personally, I loved reading and libraries so much, doing research at that level was not much of a burden. Writing it all down was, however, very difficult. I can only wonder how different my life would have been if I had grown up with computers like the children do today.

What about classes? We have a strong cultural tradition that classroom teaching is the "best" and most efficient way to educate students. Because this concept of classes is so ingrained in our culture, we automatically assume that if we want people to learn to do research into their family history (genealogy) we should have classes to teach them about what they need to know. But if genealogical research is a "skill," a student could go to classes indefinitely without ever learning exactly how to do it.

I had the issue of knowledge vs. skill brought home to me forcibly when I attended law school. After graduating from law school and taking the Bar Examination, I had a lot of knowledge. What I lacked was the skill of being a lawyer. To acquire the skills I needed too be involved in many months and years of very painful law practice. This is probably the main reason why what professionals do is often referred to as a practice. I only learned how to be a lawyer by actually practicing what I had learned.

I think classes are helpful if you are actually involved in the practice of doing genealogical research. I could take classes all day about swimming or riding a horse or archery, but unless I got the opportunity to practice, I would never learn to swim or ride or shoot. The only way a person can begin to learn how to find their family members by doing research is to actually do it. The classes that we teach should always be supplemented with hands-on training where the person learning has a mentor to work with them and answer questions.

Recently, I have been doing a series of webinars along with others sponsored by the Brigham Young University Family History Library. Holding webinars that are recorded and then uploaded to the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel is a compromise between a class and personal instruction. The YouTube videos can be stopped and repeated to practice any action explained or to look at any of the resources. In addition, if I teach a live class that is not recorded, then the participants are the only ones who can experience the class, but if I record the class and put it online, I can have thousands of additional views.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Church History and Genealogy: Part Three -- LDS Church Records

By Mark A. Philbrick -, CC BY-SA 3.0,
There are three main repositories for records about the history and membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These are The Church History Library, The Family History Library, and the Brigham Young University Library. Both the Church History Library and The Family History Library are located in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. The Brigham Young University Library is located in Provo, Utah. All three of these institutions have extensive online collections of documents. In addition to these three repositories, there are a number of other universities in Utah, including the University of Utah, also in Salt Lake City, Utah, that have sizable collections of documents and other publications of value to genealogical researchers who are investigating their ancestors who were members of the Church.

The first place to begin looking for LDS Church records is on the website. You will have more success in finding specific records in the Catalog if you begin your search for the specific places where events in your ancestors' lives occurred and then looking to see if there are any associated Church records listed. Here is a screenshot of a catalog listing for Church Records in Joseph City, Navajo, Arizona, United States.

If the community was larger and had members of more than one church denomination, then the can be much more extensive, such as this one for New York State that has 70 entries.

However, you will also see that there are entries for specific LDS Church records in each applicable geographic location in the catalog.

The Church History Library Catalog also has extensive references to genealogically pertinent documents such as diaries and journals. Here is a screenshot of some items in that catalog.

You might be able to see that there are 181 items as a result of a search for Joseph City, Arizona that includes 46 journals, photographs and correspondence. If your ancestors came from a small town, such as Joseph City, Arizona, there is very good chance that some of these documents will have information about your family members.

All of the universities of any size in the world very likely have a "special collections" library of non-circulating items accumulated by the libraries over time. These special collections libraries are a gold mine of very specific information about all sorts of subjects. In Utah, the major universities have special collections libraries that include extremely valuable genealogical information about Church members. For example, the Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library, L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library has a major collection of LDS related documents, many of which are genealogically significant.

Here is a screenshot of a search for LDS Church Membership in the BYU Special Collections Library.

If you systematically search for the same types of documents in all of these different institutions, you will undoubtedly find some very interesting and helpful items.

Here are previous posts in this series:

Monday, January 23, 2017

Why aren't genealogists more proactive?

Genealogy is a peculiar avocation. Because the subject matter of the avocation is the history of families and individuals, you could immediately assume that "everyone" is or could be interested. But the disconnect is analogous to many other avocations. Just because you enjoy reading is does not mean you want to become a writer. Just because you enjoy art does not mean you can or would want to paint or draw. Just because I enjoy driving my car does not mean I want to become a mechanic. Of course, I could go on and on with examples. Having an interest in researching historical records to find information about a family does not necessarily follow a simple interest in your family and its history.

In addition, many of the aspects of our present family life are very personal and "private" and we all tend to project that aurora of privacy back into the past and apply it to the lives of our ancestors. We commonly feel that not all of the messy details of our family's lives are suitable for public consumption. In addition, present fears whether warranted or not about possible issues of "identity theft" create an atmosphere that is antagonistic to sharing family details even when there is no basis for that fear.

The real world of genealogical research is far removed from the public relations world of the promoters. Genealogical research is a challenging, engrossing and very intellectual pursuit that involves very specialized skills. Those skills are acquired only after expending a considerable effort over a period of time. The mere fact that a university would offer a degree in family history is enough to illustrate the involved nature of the subject. It should not be at all surprising to see the huge differences in the quality of the research efforts between those who are dedicated to improving their knowledge and skills and those who are involved on only a very casual and superficial level.

When I was nineteen years old, I was called as a missionary to go to Argentina. As part of that calling, I spent an entire summer at what was then called the Language Training Mission on the Brigham Young University campus in Provo, Utah learning to speak Spanish. Although I had previously taken classes in both French and German in high school, I did not have even a basic proficiency in either language and absolutely no knowledge of Spanish. Learning to speak Spanish, for me, was an extraordinarily difficult challenge. When I arrived in Argentina, I did not know how to communicate, despite my intensive exposure to the language for approximately 12 weeks.

After two years in Argentina, I had finally learned how to communicate adequately in Spanish. Upon returning to my university studies, I went on to obtain a B.A. degree in Spanish and a Masters degree in Linguistics. Then, as an Army Officer in the United States Army, I was stationed in Panama for two years. When I arrived in Panama, I discovered that despite my years of speaking Spanish in Argentina and during my university studies, I essentially had to learn the language all over again. Subsequently, during my professional career as a trial attorney, I was able to represent hundreds of clients who spoke only Spanish. Later, I decided to try my hand at teaching and obtained an Arizona certification to teach Spanish at the college level. Guess what? I had to learn Spanish grammar all over again. During the years I taught Spanish, I really learned all about Spanish grammar. By the way, I can now speak Spanish, but not like a native, more like a professor. I can also do extensive research into Spanish language based genealogy.

Now, what have I learned from this experience. For the past 35 years or so, I have been learning about how to do genealogical research, including taking university level courses for five years on the subject. I am still learning about how to do genealogical research.

Granted, with computers and the availability of information about the subject of genealogical research, I could progress much faster than I did when I began years ago, but the process of learning to speak Spanish and the process of learning to do genealogical research turn out to be amazingly similar in the time and effort involved in learning about the subject. If I had not spent four years of my life immersed in speaking Spanish every day, I would not have learned it as well as I did, but on the other hand, had I not studied it in the formal setting of university and college classes, I would still have had much to learn.

Today, you can go online and find any number of websites that promise you can learn to speak Spanish in 90 days or less. I can imagine that there are some people out there in the world that could do just that, but even then I would suggest that they might have difficulty in reading the novels of Jorge Borges in Spanish or enjoying the subtilties of Spanish poetry. They might also have trouble teaching a college class in Spanish or teaching an hour-long class about genealogical research in Spanish.

Is there a casual, easy entry-level aspect to genealogy? This is a concept I struggle with daily. I believe that with the online tools we have today, that anyone with an interest in their family history can learn the basics of genealogical research. But I also believe that anyone who attempts to learn about the subject will soon begin to comprehend the reality of its complexity. In addition, those who begin investigating their families soon learn that some of those same ancestors lived very difficult and complex lives and we sometimes conclude that we would have been better off not knowing those details.

Why then do I keep teaching and talking about genealogy and genealogical research? Probably for the same reason I chose to teach Spanish for years and to teach Spanish speakers English for years. I appreciate and cherish the joy of learning and deep understanding of life that comes with that learning. Genealogy is a journey into the soul of our own lives and the lives of our ancestors. But it is not something that can be sold with superficial assurances that it is "easy" or "fun."

In teaching about genealogy and in promoting it as an activity, we should be cognizant of the serious and involved nature of the subject and also aware of the privacy concerns that it raises.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Internet Usage in the U.S. and the FamilySearch Family Tree

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who wish to take their ancestors' and relatives' names to the temples can almost exclusively do so only by entering those names in the Family Tree. If they do not have the computer skills or own the computer equipment necessary to work online, they must rely on either the computers in Family History Centers, publicly available computers or rely on friends who have a computer connected to the internet. A recent Pew Research Center study entitled, "Internet and Broadband Fact Sheet" highlights some of the challenges of having just one, online access for temple ordinance submission.

According to the Pew Research Center fact sheet, roughly 90% of the U.S. population now use the internet. Of course, genealogists are included in these statistics. Following RootsTech 2015, The Ancestry Insider's blog published a breakdown of the demographics of those attending the Conference. The post is entitled, "RootsTech Attendee Demographics" and it has the following statistics:

RootsTech (hosted by FamilySearch) recently released some interesting demographics about 2015 RootsTech conference and Innovator Summit attendees.
RootsTech AttendeesInnovator Summit Attendees
Family history beginner37%21%
Family history intermediate46%46%
Family history advanced, expert, or professional17%33%
Technology beginner19%7%
Technology intermediate59%28%
Technology advanced, expert, or developer22%65%
Over 6529%8%
These figures correspond directly with my own observations and the historical demographics of those who read my blog posts. When I review the information provided in the Pew Research Center Fact Sheet, there are some interesting conclusions. Age, income, and education are the biggest factors affecting the number of internet users in any other category. Not surprisingly, the lowest adopters of internet use are those over 65 years old. While virtually all of the 18 to 29 year olds in the country are using the internet at 97%, usage by those over 65 is at 64%.

Current efforts to involve the youth in genealogy need to take into account another interesting statistic from the Pew Fact Sheet: 20% of the youngest group of internet users have access only thorugh a smartphone.

So here are some of the issues. First, efforts to involve the youth in genealogy have been very ineffective so far. The number of youth who are activiely submitting names to the temples is still disturbingly small and is further illustrated by the small percentage of youth attending RootsTech as shown above. In fact, current efforts to expand involvement are aimed at an age group that is not even measured by the RootsTech attendance percentages. Second even if efforts to increase involvement were aimed at the "over 65" group of users who already make up the largest percentage of those interested, this group consists of those who evidence the least usuage of the internet.

You would expect that if overall usage of the internet has increased dramatically, you would see a similar increase in the usage of the website. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. As I have shown by writing about the results of searches on Google Trends, searches for genealogy realated topics is showing an overall decline. See "Updated Thoughts on Genealogy Blogging and Pi Day." But more importantly, the only way to submit names is through a website that does not work well on many mobile devices, especially those without keyboards.

My own personal observation is that the teenage youth spend much more time on their smartphones and tablets than they do on desktop computers. If they do spend time on a desktop computer or a laptop, they are usually working on school homework or other similar mandatory tasks. So there is a major connection among the youth of desk top computer usage with compulsory activities. Getting them to sit down and use a computer for any serious purpose, other than game playing, is very difficult.

Maybe FamilySearch should seriously look at targeting the 18 to 29 year old age group rather than spending so much effort aimed at teenagers? Additionally, maybe they should also consider a larger emphasis for those actually interested in genealogy; those over the age of 55?

#RootsTech 2017 to Celebrate African Heritage Day

Quoting from the press release:
RootsTech, the world’s largest family history conference, sponsored by FamilySearch International, will celebrate Black History Month on Friday, February 10, 2017, at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, with the first ever African Heritage Day celebration. This celebration will feature LeVar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and other well-known African American historians and research specialists. 
LaVar Burton was previously announced as a Keynote Speaker. Here is some additional information about the Conference and African Heritage Day.
African Heritage Day is a celebration of culture, unity, and history of individuals of African descent from all over the world. With the help of modern technology and the completion of initiatives like the Freedmen’s Bureau Project in 2016, those of African descent have many tools at their disposal to enable them to connect with their ancestors.
A full day of celebration with events is planned from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., starting with a morning keynote session by LeVar Burton. For more than three decades, Levar Burton has been an inspiring actor, author, and entrepreneur known for his role as Kunta Kinte in the original series Roots, his passion for literature with Reading Rainbow, and for his role as Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Burton will be sharing some of his own journey of family and storytelling, and the influence of African culture on his American experience.

In addition to Burton, RootsTech is also pleased to welcome nationally recognized speakers Kenyatta Berry, host of Genealogy Roadshow, Sherri Camp, president of the Afro-American Historical Genealogical Society, and Melvin Collier, author of Mississippi to Africa: A Journey of Discovery. In a combined session, these three will speak about their connection to their African roots and experiences that have kept them close to their ancestors. 
African Heritage Day attendees will enjoy a variety of genealogy classes, an expo hall with over 250 vendors, and an evening cultural celebration featuring the Jambo Africa/Heartbeat Burundi Drummers, an all-male drumline cultural group formed in 2009 with the goal of spreading awareness of peace from traditional African drum music. Following the morning keynote session, attendees will be treated to the joyful noise and inspirational sounds of the Calvary Baptist Church choir of Salt Lake City. 
World-renowned experts in African American genealogy and family history will teach how to unlock the door to your family’s past and make connections with your African heritage. Additional topics related to African family history research will include: how to get started as a novice, tech resources available to help with research, overcoming genealogical challenges, to understanding DNA analysis. 
The massive RootsTech expo hall is free to registered attendees and is the place to discover helpful solutions, watch demonstrations, and interact with innovative family history technology. Attendees can see what hundreds of exhibitors from around the globe have to share, including event sponsors like Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage
African Heritage Day is an unprecedented event with something for everyone. For more details about classes, prices, and how to register, visit

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Plight of the Mesa FamilySearch Library

While some Family History Centers receive very few monthly visitors, the Mesa FamilySearch Library has thousands of visitors every month, especially during the busy winter visitor season in Mesa, Arizona. Unfortunately the lovely building shown above has been condemned. During a remodeling effort scheduled back in 2014, the building was found to have a mold problem as well as some other issues. This tragic condition put the remodeling on hold where it has remained now going into the third year. The options seemed clear: fix the building and continue with the remodeling or tear it down and rebuild or close down the Library and release all the missionaries or move the library to a new building. Unfortunately, so far, none of these options have been made available to the not-so-patiently waiting library missionary staff.

As an alternative, the staff of the library has moved what could be salvaged from the building back into the old annex building that was the original Family History Library before the newer building shown above was constructed to replace it. For some time now, they have been operating a reduced schedule of classes and support for the thousands of patrons who have found their way to the substitute building. Ironically, the older building had been remodeled just a few years ago to accommodate the overflow needs to serve the patrons using the newer building. Before that, the building was used for storage and staging of the Mesa Easter Pageant among other uses.

Meanwhile, the status of the Mesa FamilySearch Library has remained in suspended animation. No one seems to know when or even if the status of the Library will be clarified. The staff of the Library has, for the most part, valiantly tried to maintain the support provided to the hundreds of thousands of people permanently living in the East Valley as well as the huge number of visitors from other states and countries. Not only is there an uncertainty about the fate of the Library, but there is also no communication about the status of the old/new building or what will ultimately happen to their staff of dedicated and experienced missionaries, some of whom have been serving for many, many years.

In past posts, I have speculated about the future of Family History Centers in general, given the accelerated digitization of the microfilm records and the commonly known fact that microfilm will shortly become unavailable to make copies to send to the Family History Centers around the world. Back in 2014, Dick Eastman, a prominent genealogy blogger, wrote a post entitled, "The Death of Microfilm" that summarized the future of microfilm and by extension previewed the plight of the Family History Centers that are relying on the loan of microfilm from FamilySearch to continue that operation in the future. Another recent article on the subject from entitled, "A Glimpse Into the Future of Microfilm and Microfiche," also acknowledges the inevitable end of microfilm and microfiche usage.

But whether or not microfilm disappears, sooner or later FamilySearch will have digitized all of the microfilm in the Granite Vault that is going to be digitized and the shipment of microfilm to Family History Centers will stop.

Combined with the ongoing digitization of books and other records by FamilySearch and many others, it is inevitable that some of the uses of Family History Center will change. But what will not change is the amount of support needed to researchers in family history. In this regard, the Mesa FamilySearch Library with its trained support staff and its very active class schedule was already anticipating the primary use of Family History Centers in the future. This makes the inactivity and lack of clarification of the Library's future even more of an enigma.

I recently visited the Mesa FamilySearch Library to say hello to old friends and acquaintances and found them immersed in helping patrons and teaching classes. My heart goes out these volunteers who have continued to try to serve under very uncertain and difficult circumstances. Isn't it about time some relief and clarification of their situation is provided to these valiant servants?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Is Family History a Sunday School class?

In talking to Family History Consultants during my travels across the United States and Canada and while working in the BYU Family History Library, I almost always ask them about the family history activity in their wards, In response, I usually hear a statement about the fact that "we don't have a family history class scheduled right now." The implication of this statement is that the Family History Consultant is essentially "on vacation" until someone agrees to have a "class." The answer to this comment is simple. Family History in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a Sunday School Class.

Historically, the most common approach to promoting family history in the Church has been to "hold a class to teach the members how to do family history (or genealogy)." The classes usually consisted of the instructor hauling in a huge pile of family group records bound in "Books of Remembrance" and telling about how they discovered a remote ancestor in some obscure German record or whatever. Most recently, the entire process was codified in a brief manual entitled, "The Member's Guide to Temple and Family History" and a supporting DVD of lesson materials. Both the manual and the DVD have now been discontinued by the Church.

From my own experience in teaching the Sunday "classes" using the materials provided, those attending the class usually either stopped coming after a week or two or even if they stayed for the entire course, they failed to take any positive steps to begin doing research into their families for the purpose of finding ancestral names to take to the temples. I have talked to a large number of class participants who have been to more than one series of such classes and who still do not understand how to get started.

Many years ago, when I was still living in Mesa, Arizona, we abandoned the idea of having classes altogether and simply began conducting a "workshop" where the members of our ward could come and receive help with their research. After persisting with this format for a few years, we saw remarkable results in increased activity in the ward and ultimately the entire stake.

The basic concept here is that family history in the Church is not a program, but a principle of the Gospel. See "Family History: Not a Program of the Church, But a Principle of the Gospel." The basic instruction for family history consultants is now found on in a section called "My Family History Calling." If you spend the time to work through the instructions on, you will see a few important principles: teaching family history involves learning some basic skills about and the Family Tree, in-depth learning and teaching are supported by The Family History Guide and instruction and help is best provided in a one-on-one environment.

For the time being, the Leaders Guide to Temple and Family History Work is still available online in PDF format. See
Quoting from the Guide on pages 17 and 18:
Holding a temple and family history class is a good way to increase participation and interest in family history. The class can be used to help with ward activation, retention, and missionary efforts. Anyone may be invited to attend the class. The ward council may decide to invite certain ward members. The class is taught by an effective instructor, who may or may not be a family history consultant. The class may be taught during Sunday School or at another time that is more convenient for members. It is taught under the direction of the bishopric rather than the Sunday School president.
Lessons are generally conducted as workshops in which members actually complete their own family history work, either on the computer or on paper. Where feasible, class participants should have access to computers. Many meetinghouses are currently being equipped with wireless Internet connections. 
The number of class participants should be limited to the number who can be given personal help. The class can be repeated as often as necessary to accommodate all who desire to attend. 
Family history consultants can provide personal help to participants during the class as well as after the class in members’ homes or family history centers. 
The key provisions here are that the help is given in a workshop environment, one-on-one, and preferably in the person's home or a family history center.

Family History Consultants should be involved in learning the skills necessary to help others rather than waiting around for a class to be held. Training resources are now available through The Family History Guide and Family History Consultants should be proactive. They should be, in effect, missionaries for family history and actively seeking opportunities to help others find their ancestors using the website and the additional tools that are now available.

Family history is not a Sunday School Class.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Family History Guide at #RootsTech 2017

I have been involved in using and now supporting The Family History Guide for quite some time for the simple reason that I think it is the best, available way to learn and teach genealogical research and the Family Tree. As I have mentioned in previous posts, my wife and I have been asked to serve on the Advisory Board for the program. The Family History Guide is a free program created, operated and maintained by a non-profit L3C corporation. I was recently asked to help promote the program by teaching at their booth at #RootsTech 2017.  The plan is to have a schedule for miniclasses at The Family History Guide RootsTech booth, #1133. There are 9 different classes planned for a total of 45 sessions - all free. All of the classes are 15 minutes each, with a 15-min. break in-between for Q&A & setup. The schedule is subject to change based on a number of factors. Here is a copy of the tentative schedule:

It is sort-of hard to read, but the legend for the instructors is as follows: BI = Bob Ives BT = Bob Taylor JT = James Tanner LB = Laurie Beardall GM = Gail Martinez

You might notice that I will be presenting almost every hour during the three-day conference. Right now, this is the plan but there is always a possibility that there may be conflicts so the schedule is somewhat flexible. 

If you have been to RootsTech before, you will find The Family History Guide booth, just past the Cyber-cafe where they have free sodas all day. You can also plug in your computers or whatever there. I will be splitting my time between the Media Center where the RootsTech Ambassadors hangout and The Family History Guide booth. In between, I will be talking and walking around to see the exhibitors. 

At the Brigham Young University Family History Library, we have been using The Family History Guide for some time to orient and teach the new missionaries as they begin their service. Recently The Family History Guide became a FamilySearch Partner and was linked from the website

Both my wife and I are convinced that The Family History Guide is currently the best instructional aid for family history that is available and after some thought, I decided there were few ways I could better spend my time at RootsTech 2017. If you are able to visit the conference, take a moment to say hello.

By the way, both my wife and I are unpaid, volunteers for the program. You also might notice in some of the promotional material and on the website for The Family History Guide that I am referred to as Dr. James Tanner. The title comes from my law degree and technically, in academic circles, I am a "Doctor." 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Confronting the Changes in the FamilySearch Family Tree

Rumblings and mumblings continue about changes being made to the Family Tree. Changes in the Family Tree are inevitable. That is exactly what it is designed to do. Changes are a sign that the Family Tree is healthy and growing as it should. In working with the patrons and missionaries at the Brigham Young University Family History Library this past week or so, I have once again been required to address complaints about the changes being made to the Family Tree.

I continue to write about the Family Tree because that is what I work with and support now nearly every day of my life. Ever since its introduction, the Family Tree has been the source of continued misunderstanding and, in some cases, antagonism over the issue of other users of the program making changes. If you spend any time at all working on the Family Tree, you will begin to see entries change. I will, once again, discuss both the reasons for these changes and how the effects of the ability to make changes can be minimalized.

First and foremost, the Family Tree is a wiki and has been designed to allow registered users to make changes. Except for very few entries that have been rendered "Read Only," all of the entries in the Family Tree can potentially be changed, edited or deleted. In some cases, the ability to delete individuals and entries have been limited to allowing only the person who entered the entry or information to delete that entry or information. But other than these limit restrictions, everything in the Family Tree is subject to change.

The ability of the Family Tree to change is essential to its purpose and survival. Objections to the changes usually originate because of a lack of understanding of the Family Tree's purpose. The Family Tree is unique. It is the first time that an attempt has been made to create a universal family tree that accommodates entries for the entire human family and that has been seeded with over 100 years of previously accumulated data.

Some of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are also motivated to contribute to the Family Tree because it is the primary method for submitting family names for temple ordinances. See Gospel Topics: Temples. Although the percentage of members actually using the Family Tree for this purpose is very small compared to the total number of members of the Church.

I have focused my genealogical efforts on the Family Tree for the following reasons:
  • The Family Tree has the greatest potential of preserving my data for the future
  • The Family Tree is quickly becoming a unified source, like a clearing house, where I can determine how much genealogical research has already been done on any individual
  • Because of the unified nature of the Family Tree, I am much less likely to be duplicating the research of others
  • The Family Tree is supported by a vast database of original genealogical source records
  • Through the FamilySearch Partner Programs, I can significantly expand my research efforts into other vast collections of genealogically significant sources
There are many more reasons including the undeniable fact of my mortality and the undeniable implication that I will probably never finish doing all the research and organization that I need to do. 

Now, what do I do about the changes? There is an unwarranted assumption that all changes are bad. That is an extremely egocentric position for anyone to take. My experience with the Family Tree is that most of the changes are beneficial. Those who complain about changes are usually focusing on a particular person or segment of their own portion of the Family Tree. 

Over the years I have been working on the Family Tree, I have seen the number of changes in certain family lines almost disappear. I attribute this to the following actions that I and my family members have taken.
  • We have added all the available documentation, stories, photos and sources. This fact alone has nearly stopped any changes being made in my first six or seven generations as shown on the Family Tree. I consistently find that the people who are complaining about changes have not yet taken the time to add sources, documentation, stories, and photos (if available).
  • We watch all of the individuals in our area of focus and concern so that we get weekly notifications from FamilySearch of any changes.
  • We quickly modify or remove any inappropriate changes, especially those made without any supporting sources or documentation.
  • In some cases, we communicate with the people making the changes to ascertain the reason for the changes. We request documentation where none has been provided. 
  • We make comments about the existence of source information that can be used to decide the accuracy of the information already in the Family Tree.
  • Where we have little or no data, we simply wait to make any corrections until we can do adequate research. 
  • We welcome and thank others for well documented and appropriate changes.
  • We avoid getting into change wars over remote ancestors with little or no documentation. 
Of all these actions, the most important are watching the Family Tree and regularly reviewing the changes sent each week by FamilySearch. 

Some changes are being made in an irrational manner. For example, we have an entirely undocumented person named Pardon Tanner who is repeatedly added to my third great-grandfather, John Tanner, as a child. There is no documentation of this person's existence and yet, he keeps appearing as an entry. In cases like this, there is really no way to prevent these bogus changes from occurring. We simply continue to watch the tree and remove him as a child when someone new puts that information into the Family Tree. 

If you are one of those Family Tree users who goes for long periods of time without viewing or working on the Family Tree, I suggest that you realize that changes are inevitable and that, like weeds in an unattended garden, they will proliferate in the absence of constant care and consistent work. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Insider Tips for the FamilySearch Family Tree

There are several lesser known links and features on the Family Tree that solve some sticky issues. Over the past couple of months, I have seen these developments or had someone point them out to me and I thought it might be a good idea to share them. I have written about some of them previously but sometimes helps to go over them again.

First on my list is the expansion of the "View My Relationship" link. Here is a screenshot showing one of my relative's connection to me.

For some time now, we have been asking for a way to see how we are related to some of our more remote relatives. Especially if we are working on descendency research, we have a tendency to get lost and forget how we got to a particular person. The expansion of the "View My Relationship" link to 15 generations has usually solved this issue. It is also somewhat helpful when the screen comes up and says the following:

However, telling me that I do not have a relationship may not be completely accurate because I may be looking at someone who was married, at some time, to one of my cousins. This screen does make me take a look at the relationship however and make sure I am still on target looking for relatives.

Record hints have become a very helpful, common feature of the Family Tree. Here is a screenshot of a list of Record Hints.

The default is to show only three hints at a time. If you want to see more, you can click on the link at the bottom that says "Show Details." Here is the complete list.

You can now see all of the available hints in detail. You may have noticed that as you add information from these records hints (after carefully considering whether or not they apply to your relative), you may find that more hints appear. This is often the case and a good reason for adding information and correcting the entries from actual records. By the way, working through this process often adds new people and available ordinance work to the Family Tree.

You might also have noticed that some severe restrictions have been placed on the ability of users to delete individuals from the Family Tree. There is now a notice that says "Delete Person Unavailable."

You must go through the process of notifying FamilySearch about people who never existed before they can be removed in most cases unless you added the person yourself and no one else has made any changes.

It is extremely important that dates and places be standardized. What you might not know is that there is a shortcut to adding a standardized date or place. All you have to do is click at the end of the entry and then touch the space bar. This quickly brings up the suggested standard date or place. You then click on the suggested place or date, assuming that it is accurate, and it replaces the entry and you can then provide a reason for the change and close the window. When doing a series of these types of edits, you may wish to copy the reason and then use it to paste in when the reason is repetitious.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Church History and Genealogy: Part Two -- Beginning to Search

Susan Easton Black, now a retired professor of Church History at Brigham Young University and some of her associates researched LDS historical resources and compiled a 50-volume set of information on early members of the church. This is the citation to the set.

Black, Susan Easton. Membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1830-1848. Provo, Utah: Religious Study Center, Dept. of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University, 1989.

It is a good beginning point to research the available information and sources for an early LDS ancestor. It is available in hard copy in the Family History Library and Brigham Young University collections and is also available digitally.

While this compilation is extensive, it is not complete. An index of the set is available in the Early Church Information File or ECIF.

  Another source of early Church membership information is the Nauvoo Temple endowment register: 10 December 1845 to 8 February 1846.

As the statement in red notes, the Nauvoo records are indexed in the Early Church Information File, 1830-1900. However, access to some of the early Church temple records in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah may be restricted to members with current temple recommends.

If you have the time to make a visit to Nauvoo, Illinois, you need to visit the Historic Nauvoo Land and Records office. Quoting from the website:
The Land and Records Research Center (Office/Site) has records on those individuals who were in Nauvoo between 1839 and 1846. We have information on where they lived, their families, their church and community involvement, their properties, their occupation, and more. Much of our information is not accessible anywhere else.

Here are some additional references to the early Church members living in Nauvoo:

Ward, Maurine Carr, A Partial List of Church Members Living in Nauvoo, PDF file online,

University of Utah, Libraries, and Manuscripts Division. The Nauvoo Temple Sealing Records., 1849.

Black, Susan Easton. Latter-Day Saints in Adams County, Illinois (1839-1846). Accessed January 14, 2017.

If you keep searching, you will find even more records. In the next part in this series, I will examine

Friday, January 13, 2017

FamilySearch Partner Geneanet Adds 140 Million German Records, the newest of the Partner Programs, has added 140 million German records to its collections. Here is a summary of what was recently added.
We are happy to announce that we have added over 140 million German records to Geneanet. 
This new collection includes:
  • Germany, Births and Baptisms, 1558-1898: 110,134,312 records
  • Germany, Marriages, 1558-1929: 28,595,430 records
  • Germany, Deaths and Burials, 1582-1958: 7,165,394 records
Those members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with a LDS Account have a Premium membership on the website if they register through the website. The link for registration is:

Here is a screenshot of the registration page:

Thursday, January 12, 2017

New Developments in 2017 for the FamilySearch Family Tree has published a list of six things to look or in FamilySearch in 2017. Some of them, such as the Personalized Dashboard, have been around for a while in Beta tests or to selected users of the website, but others promise some interesting new options.

First on my list are the touted, New Indexing Tools. Excuse me if I am skeptical, but they have been announcing and Beta testing an online Indexing program for several years. I certainly hope that this is an accurate prediction and that they have worked out all the previous problems that prevented the program for being generally released. Here is the announcement.
“We are really excited to launch the web-based version of our successful indexing software in 2017," said Craig Miller, FamilySearch's Senior Vice President of Product Development and Engineering. "It will be easy to use and will work on any digital device with a web browser (excluding cell phones), eliminating the need to download the indexing software. That means more volunteers worldwide will be able to contribute in making more of the world’s historical records searchable by name online, and more quickly.” 
Indexing is the nifty, web-based tool FamilySearch volunteers use to make hundreds of millions of historic records worldwide searchable by name for free online each year. These indexes are the secret ingredient to your ability to discover ancestral connections online quickly and easily. Additional innovations to the tool in 2017 will include more rapid completion of tasks, improved help, and even automated indexing for some record sets (obituaries) which means more records searchable at your fingertips, faster.
I tend to think that if Craig Miller is making a formal statement, it will very likely happen. However, there is yet no specific date mentioned for the release.

The FamilySearch post also mentions the ongoing addition of new historical records. Here is what they say:
Over 330 FamilySearch digital camera teams worldwide will digitally preserve 125–150 million historical records in 2017 for free online access. Another 200 million images will be added from FamilySearch's microfilm conversion project that uses 25 specialized machines to convert its vast microfilm collection at its Granite Mountain Records Vault for online access. Over 30 percent of the 2.4 million rolls of microfilm have already been digitized and published online. The digital collections can be located in the FamilySearch catalog online and by perusing collection lists by location. 
FamilySearch's online community of volunteers will be focused on creating searchable name indexes to two major collections in the United States (marriage records and immigration records that will include passenger lists, border crossings, and naturalization petitions), and core record collections from select high priority countries.
I have heard different estimates of both the percentage of microfilmed records that have been digitized from the Granite Vault and the number being put online than those stated in the article. It is important to note that the place to go to find these new collections is the catalog not necessarily the Historical Record Collections. It appears that some collections are showing up in the Catalog before they are added to the Historical Record Collections.

In addition to the items I have already mentioned, will be upgrading their apps; FamilySearch Family Tree and FamilySearch Memories, improving their searches and adding functions to their dashboard (the opening screens you see when you sign into the program). They will also continue to add more historical records.

The last prediction is the expansion of the "Discovery Experience" at selected locations worldwide. I have an invitation to attend a preview of the Discovery Center being constructed at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and I will be writing about that experience at the time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Baptism for the Dead and the Family Tree

I Corinthians 15:29
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
As a genealogist and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from time to time, I am confronted with negative comments about the Church and about use of the Family Tree based on a misunderstanding of the Church's teachings about baptisms for the dead. One comment I heard recently came from a person who expressed concern about using the Family Tree because she did not want "her ancestors to be baptized into the Mormon Church." The response to this concern has been made a part of the Gospel Topics Section of the website. Quoting from the article entitled, "Baptisms for the Dead,"
Some people have misunderstood that when baptisms for the dead are performed, deceased persons are baptized into the Church against their will. This is not the case. Each individual has agency, or the right to choose. The validity of a baptism for the dead depends on the deceased person accepting it and choosing to accept and follow the Savior while residing in the spirit world. The names of deceased persons are not added to the membership records of the Church.
The New Testament indicates that baptisms for the dead were done during the time of the Apostle Paul (see 1 Corinthians 15:29). This ordinance was restored with the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The key to understanding this doctrine of the Church is our belief that we exist as individual spirits who can make choices even after we die. So providing the ordinance of baptism for a person who has died through a living proxy, merely gives the dead person the opportunity to accept or reject the baptism according to their own agency. The ordinances of baptism for the dead are performed on behalf of the deceased individuals in one of the many sacred buildings that we call temples.

As a genealogist who is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believe that by offering this opportunity to my dead ancestors, I am provide something that they cannot do for themselves and further, that they may never have had the opportunity to do during their life on the earth in mortality. Of course, none of these deceased people are in any way compelled to accept the baptism and as is explained above, their names are certainly not added to the membership records of the Church.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Church History and Genealogy: Part One - Introduction

When we think of genealogy and church history in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we often refer to those early members of the Church who crossed the plains of the North American continent fleeing from religious persecution. Those "pioneers" who crossed the plains to what is now Utah are technically people who arrived between 1847 when the first pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley and 1868 when the railroad arrived in Utah. In the early days of the Church in Utah, virtually everyone was either a pioneer or the descendant of a pioneer.

Shortly after the arrival of the initial pioneer companies, Church Prophet and President, Brigham Young, began the process of sending "pioneers" out from the Salt Lake Valley to settle in other parts of the country including parts of Canada and Mexico. Quoting from the website, Utah History to Go and an article by Leonard J. Arrington from the Utah History Encyclopedia,
The establishment of settlements in Utah took place in four stages. The first stage, from 1847 to 1857, marked the founding of the north-south line of settlements along the Wasatch Front and Wasatch Plateau to the south, from Cache Valley on the Idaho border to Utah's Dixie on the Arizona border. In addition to the settlement of the Salt Lake and Weber valleys in 1847 and 1848, colonies were founded in Utah, Tooele, and Sanpete valleys in 1849; in Box Elder, Pahvant, Juab, and Parowan valleys in 1851; and in Cache Valley in 1856. Settlements in all of these "valleys," as early settlers called them, multiplied with additional immigration throughout the 1850s. 
The first in this southward extending chain of settlements was Utah Valley, immediately south of Salt Lake Valley, which was settled by thirty families in the spring of 1849. Within a year the population had grown to 2,026 people, and the foundation had been laid for a settlement on each of the eight streams in the valley.
After the arrival of the railroads in 1868, Utah began to attract many who were not members of the Church and eventually, due to expansion in other parts of the United States but Mormon settlements and others who moved for economic or other reasons, a majority of the members of the Church lived outside of the state of Utah. This occurred in the 1920s and 30s.

As the Church spread across the world and the membership continued to grow dramatically and on February 25, 1996, there were estimated to be more members of the Church living outside of the United States than there were members living in the United States. See "More Members Now outside U.S. Than in U.S."

Currently, there are millions and millions of members of the Church and a significant percentage of those members can trace their ancestry to the early members of the Church. For individuals who have ancestors who joined the Church, genealogical research is given a "leg up" because the Family Tree contains records drawn from the Church membership. If you have LDS ancestors, the first time you log into and open your part of the Family Tree, you will likely see a large number of entries and it may appear that your "genealogy is all done."

In some cases, members of the Church who sign on to and go to the Family Tree see no entries other than themselves. The reason for this is that other "living" people are not visible in the Family Tree and the new Family Tree user may have to enter some minimal information about their living parents and perhaps their living grandparents to connect to those dead people that are visible in the Family Tree. These entries for living people are essentially duplicates and have distinctive ID numbers. These entries are only visible to the person creating the entries until the person dies and a death date is entered or the person is marked deceased.

Over the time the Family Tree has been online, huge amounts of information have been added about all of the people who are or were members of the Church. However, there is a possibility that newer members of the Church, especially those who joined outside of the United States and came to Utah, may be lacking basic information. In these cases and other similar circumstances even when the members remained in the country where they joined the Church, it may be necessary to do some research into the Church's records.

A good beginning point is the Brigham Young University Library, Mormon Migration website. Even when the identity and history of those who joined the Church is known, questions often arise about particular dates such as those for baptism or marriage and it is necessary to do research into the Church records.

This series will identify and explain those Church records that are essential for genealogical research. Stay tuned.