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

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Reality of the Microfilm Issue
Microfilm has been a part of my life for many, many years. However, I am not one to grieve over changes in technology. Since the announcement by FamilySearch about the discontinuance of microfilm shipments to the Family History Centers around the world, I have been ordering and viewing more microfilm than I usually do. The very recent announcement of the one week or so extension to the cutoff date did not surprise me much. For the past month, after the announcement, I have been asking those attending my classes and presentations about their use of microfilm. I have found only a very small number of people who have used microfilm in the last year.

Apparently, people like me who are involved in doing research that entails little-used records are rare. The most important part of the press release of August 30, 2017 is the statement that all of the microfilm rented by patrons in the past five years have now been digitized by FamilySearch – over 1.5 million microfilms or about 1.5 billion images. The next statement is also equally as important: the remaining microfilms are being digitally scanned at a rate of 1000 films per day and are projected to be complete by 2020. If you think about these statements, you will realize that FamilySearch waited to make its announcement until the impact would be minimal.

For me personally, it will probably mean that I will take a few more trips to Salt Lake City, Utah to the Family History Library. But those trips were inevitable anyway because of the need to look at "restricted" records.

What I am also finding is that few people, even those who should know better, know how to access all of the digitized images. For that reason, I made two videos which are now posted on the Brigham Young University Family History Library YouTube channel. Here are the links to those videos:

No more microfilm rentals? Where do I go to see the digital copies? - James Tanner

Where are the Digitized Records on - James Tanner

These two videos summarize the present situation regarding the availability of microfilm and the images that are being digitized and uploaded to the website. Now to the question of those who are researching areas that they believe will never be digitized. My experience so far is that many of the microfilms that they believe will never be digitized have already been digitized. But for those films that are relatively obscure and have not been ordered in the past five years, FamilySearch has announced that after film ordering ends, if customers need access to a particular film yet to be digitized, they can express interest to have it added to the priority digitization list by contacting FamilySearch support. Here are the contact links:

FamilySearch Support (Toll Free: 1-866-406-1830).

As far as I'm concerned, but pretty much answers any questions that I have.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Notice from FamilySearch on Microfilm Availability

The following is a press release from FamilySearch. I will be making my own observations and comments in my next post.
Salt Lake City, Utah (30 August 2017), Thursday, September 7, 2017, marks the closing of an 80-year era of historic records access to usher in a new, digital model. FamilySearch is discontinuing its microfilm circulation services in concert with its commitment to make billions of the world’s historic records readily accessible digitally online. (See FamilySearch Digital Records Access Replacing Microfilm). As its remaining microfilms are digitized, FamilySearch has provided additional information to users of its historic microfilm program. Find and share this news announcement easily online in the FamilySearch Newsroom.

FamilySearch, a global leader in historic records preservation and access, began microfilming historic records in 1938. Advancements in technology have enabled it to be more efficient, making an unbelievable tide of digital images of historic records accessible much quicker online and to a far greater customer base. 
FamilySearch released a list of helpful facts and tips to help patrons better navigate the transition from microfilm to digital. 
  • Patrons can still order microfilms online until Thursday, September 7, 2017.
  • After film ordering ends, if customers need access to a particular film yet to be digitized, they can express interest to have it added to the priority digitization list by contacting FamilySearch Support (Toll Free: 1-866-406-1830).
  • All of the microfilm rented by patrons in the past 5 years have now been digitized by FamilySearch—over 1.5 million microfilms (ca. 1.5 billion images).
  • The remaining microfilms are being digitally scanned at a rate of 1,000 films per day and are projected to be complete by 2020.
  • New digital images are available as they are scanned in the Catalog.
  • Films currently on loan in family history centers and affiliate libraries are automatically granted extended loan status.
  • Affiliate libraries now have access to nearly all of the restricted image collections as family history centers.
  • Visitors to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City will still be able to order needed microfilms to use during their research visits.
  • Digital image collections can be accessed today in 3 places on, all under Search.
  • Catalog. Includes a description of all the microfilms and digital images in the FamilySearch collection. This is where all of FamilySearch's digitized microfilm and new digital images from its global camera operations are being published. A camera icon appears in the Catalog adjacent to a microfilm listing when it is available digitally.
  • Records includes collections that have been indexed by name or published with additional waypoints to help browse the unindexed images.
  • Books include digital copies of books from the Family History Library and other libraries, including many books that were previously copied to microfilm.
For additional help, see Finding Digital Images of Records on, or watch this how-to video “Where are the digitized records on FamilySearch?” 
“FamilySearch is committed to meeting customers’ needs as much as possible during this transition to digital access,” said Diane Loosle, FamilySearch’s Director of Patron Services. “We really appreciate the wonderful feedback we have received since the initial announcement. It is helping us better facilitate customer experiences during this next phase.” 
Loosle said FamilySearch's over 5,000 family history centers will continue to provide access to relevant technology, premium subscription services, and digital records, including restricted content not available at home. Centers have the option to return microfilm that is available online or otherwise not needed. As more images are published online, centers may reevaluate whether to retain microfilm holdings. 
See Frequently Asked Questions: Digital Access Replacing Microfilms for more information.

More about duplicate ghosts in the FamilySearch Family Tree

I've been waiting for some time to discover another set of "duplicate ghosts" in the Family Tree. Some of us have been finding these long lists of duplicates regularly. At the same time, representatives of FamilySearch are making comments about how the duplicate issue has been "resolved." The screenshot above shows an individual married to one of my distant cousins. There was the original entry from the Family Tree.

This project started with a routine correction of the entry for Mary Tanner by standardizing the entries of dates and places. That action started a cascade of changes resulting in obvious duplicates. Here is a screenshot of the 32 steps I have taken up to this point.

One of the interesting results was this second entry showing a number of children.

Bear in mind, that when I had reached this point the entry showed only one duplicate for John Briggs. I had already done only one merge. Before doing any more work, I decided to check for another duplicate. The screenshot at the beginning of this post was the result of that search. I did one more merge and when I returned to do a search for more duplicates I got the following list:

 The number of duplicates had increased from 5 to 8. This is what I mean by cascading duplicates. To trigger this kind of response in the Family Tree all you have to do is add a source and look for duplicates or make any other change and start looking for duplicates. Each time that you merge an individual, more duplicates appear. I have had this situation continue while I worked for four hours straight merging duplicates. At this point, a search for duplicates for Mary Tanner shows the following:

In short, there are currently 12 duplicate entries that need to be merged. However, as I proceed to do the mergers it is inevitable that more duplicates will appear especially for the children in this family. Past experience indicates that I may end up with dozens of mergers for this one family. None of these entries of duplicate individuals is shown initially when the user searches for duplicates. These are not hypothetical duplicates, they are real. Here's a screenshot showing the first merger screen:

I recently mentioned a post that I found 106 potential duplicates of one of my direct line ancestors. From my perspective, the duplicate issue is far from resolved. In fact, when I did the first merge listed above, I got the following additional duplicates for each of the children. This raised the number of duplicates needing to be merged to 20 after I had already done three merges.

In my experience, each succeeding merge will create additional merges for some time until this particular block of duplicates is exhausted or I am exhausted whichever comes first. The mere existence of these cascading merges indicates that there is a substantial reservoir of duplicate entries still waiting in the Family Tree.

I decided to do all of the merges before finishing in publishing this article. I kept track of the number of merges necessary, but after about two hours of merging records, correcting entries, standardizing dates and places, and adding in Record Hints, I did approximately 54 merges.

 When you encounter such a situation, you need to be careful to reload the pages constantly and recheck every time for more duplicates. In many cases, the duplicates are not found by the FamilySearch Possible Duplicates. You need to search by ID number and the duplicates are obvious. I am certain that it would take someone with less experience doing merges much longer to get through this morass.  I'm also certain that FamilySearch is vastly underestimating the number of duplicate entries left in the Family Tree. Here is what the family look like after all of the merges:

There were record sources for each of the children. There really were two daughters named Mary Briggs. After writing the above about the number of merges, I added a surname to the first entry for a child named Hannah and found one more duplicate.  The total number of duplicates turned out to be 55.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The FamilySearch Family Tree is the Gateway to Temple Work

I have received several interesting comments to my recent blog posts about the subject of changes made to the data in the Family Tree. I might point out that this blog is clearly labeled as being written from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereinafter "the Church"). I certainly do not wish to do or say anything that would limit those who read this blog to those who are members of the Church. But I also do not wish to equivocate concerning the importance of temple work to those who are members of the Church and literally to everyone who is presently living or has lived on this earth. My position concerning the importance of temple work should be clear from what I have written on this blog.

Some of the comments made about the Family Tree are taking the position that "serious" genealogists should not be involved in the Family Tree for the simple reason that "their data" would be compromised by changes made by less experienced or less sophisticated users of the Family Tree. May I remind those members of the Church to take this position that they are essentially abandoning the "Gateway" to temple ordinances which is presently established by the Church. Your attitude towards the Family Tree influences those around you to depreciate the need to become involved in this important work. You're essentially saying, that taking the time to make corrections and maintain the integrity of the Family Tree is not worth the effort. I want to be perfectly clear. I believe that all of my effort with the Family Tree is worth the time it takes to perform the temple ordinances for our kindred dead.

You can use any program you wish to use to do your own personal research. But ultimately, if you wish to participate in the salvation of the dead you will need to become involved in the Family Tree or whatever program becomes available from the Church to advance the vast work of family history. Putting up with a few changes or even many changes in the Family Tree is worth the effort.

Please remember Section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants at verse 15 which states"
15 And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect.
I would further quote from a talk given by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency who stated in a talk in April Conference of 2009 entitled "We Are Doing a Great Work and Cannot Come Down:"
The tendency to focus on the insignificant at the expense of the profound happens not only to pilots but to everyone. We are all at risk. The driver who focuses on the road has a far greater chance of arriving at his destination accident free than the driver who focuses on sending text messages on his phone. 
We know what matters most in life—the Light of Christ teaches this to everyone. We as faithful Latter-day Saints have the Holy Ghost as a “constant companion” to teach us the things of eternal value. I imagine that any priesthood holder listening to my voice today, if asked to prepare a talk on the subject “what matters most,” could and would do an excellent job. Our weakness is in failing to align our actions with our conscience.
We cannot and we must not lose focus on the things that matter most. The Family Tree is one of those things that matter most.

Let me reiterate clearly. My experience with the Family Tree is that by making an effort to make the changes and corrections, watch the entries, contact the people who make changes and ultimately add sources with citations random changes are virtually eliminated. I certainly think that it is important to use the Family Tree and I will continue to advocate in favor of using the Family Tree.  The potential of the Family Tree is to dramatically decrease duplicated research and ultimately to decrease the loss of genealogical data that constantly occurs when "serious" genealogists die. Do we want to encourage duplication of effort and encourage loss of genealogical data?

Important Discussion about the FamilySearch Family Tree

I have been thinking about and writing about the FamilySearch online family trees for about 10 years now, ever since was introduced. I would guess that I have heard and discussed almost every positive and negative comment that could possibly have been made about the FamilySearch products. I have spent days discussing aspects of both the old program and the most recent Family Tree program with representatives of FamilySearch, with patrons at the Mesa FamilySearch Library, at the BYU Family History Library, both online and in person and in locations across the United States and into Canada. As I have recently pointed out in previous posts, the main issue revolves around the collaborative, unified nature of the Family Tree.

Genealogists as a group are extremely possessive and have the tendency to think in terms of "my data" and "my family tree." Changing this attitude requires an entire paradigm shift. One of my recent blog posts, entitled "User Changes to the FamilySearch Family tree: A Touchy Subject," is an example of the types of responses and discussions that I have had over the years. After spending 39 years as a trial attorney, I have no illusions about my ability to change anyone's mind on any given subject, particularly when they are certain that they are correct. Decisions made by judges and juries after lengthy trials where days of evidence have been presented by both sides do not usually change the litigants' minds.

The Family Tree addresses some of the most basic issues confronting genealogists today. It is an evolving product based on a fundamentally sound idea. As I've said in the past and as I will continue to maintain; the Family Tree is the solution, not the problem.

I recently posted another rather long comment to the blog post link above. There are several issues and that comment that need to be addressed. I am not going to reproduce the entire comment because it is available attached to the blog post. I am selecting specific portions of the comment as I did with the earlier blog post.

1. Adding pop-up warnings to the Family Tree will assist the users in making "correct" decisions about entering inaccurate data or making unwarranted changes.

 From a programming standpoint, pop-ups are a detraction from the overall purpose of a program. It is true that they may possibly assist novice users but they become bothersome to those who use the program regularly. If there was a way to turn off the pop-ups then everyone would turn them all off. The Family Tree is open to all levels of genealogical expertise. Believe me, this frustrates the novice users as much as it does the experts. Novice users are overwhelmed with the "requirements" imposed by those with more expertise. Those who assume themselves to be experts are frustrated and annoyed by having to share the space with the unwashed masses. It is the self-appointed experts who are certain that everything they put in the Family Tree is absolutely correct that need to be educated as much or more than the novices.

The Family Tree is a universal tree. It is available to users around the world who find themselves in many different circumstances with differing levels of access to the Internet, to computers, to genealogical resources, and genealogical literacy. The Family Tree is designed to accommodate those who are entering the first few generations of a pedigree as well as those who are working back into the 1500s. Making the product more complicated does not solve these problems. Educating both ends of the user spectrum is the answer. Those who have been doing genealogical research for years probably need more orientation and education about the nature of the Family Tree than to the novices.

2. The problem of a separate family tree program is very complex.

Computer programs come and go. I have spent untold hours helping people retrieve information from their outdated Personal Ancestral File (PAF)  program files. Likewise, many other individual desktop genealogy programs have disappeared over the years. The data accumulated in those programs has in many cases been lost. In many cases, the developers of these programs have not provided a way for the users to preserve their data. It is also extremely common for dedicated genealogists to spend years accumulating piles of paper records about their families only to have those records discarded by their heirs upon their death. I could spend many blog posts writing about the programs that have been lost and the paper collections that have also been lost.

The issue of whether or not to maintain a separate program from the Family Tree simply because of the possibility of changes in the data of the Family Tree seems to me to be focusing on the wrong issue. I have never told anyone not to have their own program. But I am always mindful of the inevitable issue of how the information is going to be preserved when the genealogist dies. How are you going to preserve your data? That is the real question. One of my friends, an accomplished genealogist, died recently. None of her family members were at all interested in preserving her vast collection of records. It has only been through the dedication of a close, genealogical friend that some of that information is being preserved.

The comment is made about the Family Tree that "years of research can be wiped out by a single person with a few clicks." This statement is wrong. No information can be deleted. It can be changed but all of the changes are preserved in the change log and can be restored. This is always one of the arguments for maintaining a separate program. If you want to spend the time, there are many options for maintaining separate databases, but remember that what is not preserved in the Family Tree will likely be lost.  On the other hand, there is no way to restore paper documents that are thrown in a dumpster or information locked up in an outmoded, abandoned genealogy program.

Maintaining the integrity of the Family Tree is not nearly as difficult as the critics try to maintain.

3. The Family Tree is the accumulation of over 100 years of genealogical contributions.

The simple statement addresses the issue of the need to "clean up" the data. Genealogists, like everyone else, are convinced that they are absolutely correct and the rest of the world is absolutely wrong. The collaborative nature of the Family Tree allows all of us to work together in correcting these years of submissions. If you are maintaining an entirely separate program without consulting the information in the Family Tree you are laboring under an illusion of progress. For example, one ancestor that I am currently working on in my Tanner line has the incorrect parents and literally thousands of online family trees and I assume privately held programs also. All of these people accept the traditional Tanner genealogies written over 100 years ago that are simply wrong. How can all of this inaccurate information be corrected? The simple answer is it cannot. But there is a place where I can put the correct information and begin the process of educating the Tanner family members. It is the Family Tree. Will my information be changed by all those people who believe that their own version is correct? Absolutely and I will change it back. Is there somewhere else I can go to publicize the correct information? How would anyone know what I had discovered if I maintained it in my own private, personal, desktop genealogy program?

Genealogists have previously never been faced with the prospect that their work would be subject to review by someone else. In many cases, whole families have relied on the accuracy of one "expert" genealogist in the family. Sadly, much of the information passed down has not been accurately recorded. Further, family members have the tendency to defend the accuracy of the inherited data despite additional research that shows that the information is inaccurate and incorrect. This is particularly true for those who have "pioneer" ancestors. Many of these people are devastated when they find out that the information they have relied upon for years is simply wrong.

Likewise, many researchers take the attitude that their research is correct in all aspects. I have done enough of my own research to realize that my own conclusions have not always been correct. The Family Tree is difficult because it highlights our limitations and errors.

4. Training for FamilySearch users?

The conflict here is whether or not there should be some threshold requirement of competency before allowing people to enter information into the Family Tree. The real consideration is whether an individual living in an undeveloped country who wishes to preserve their family heritage should be required to learn how to read and write before entering information into the Family Tree. I certainly am an advocate of training for all of the users of the Family Tree. My wife and I are both very much involved in The Family History Guide website. Have you considered how well the Family Tree works for someone who is entering in their first four generations?

5. You have thousands of ancestors. How can you logistically make sure they are all correct all of the time?

You can't. That is why you can't have your own family tree on your own program and assume that everything is correct. That is also the reason why the Family Tree works. Because "your" ancestors are the ancestors of thousands of other people all of whom can assist in making sure that the information is correct. If you think only of your data and your efforts, that idea excludes the possibility that other relatives may make positive contributions. You're setting yourself up as being the only person who does anything correctly. Rather than criticize the system how about enlisting the help of your relatives in correcting and maintaining the integrity of the Family Tree?

6. Who do you think will make more efforts to preserve their data than FamilySearch?

We are back full circle. Over the years as I have watched programs come and go, the only constant in the genealogical community since 1894 has been FamilySearch and its predecessors.

Of course, this is an ongoing discussion. It will probably continue until all of us have passed from this earth to our eternal reward. You are certainly welcome to make any additional comments you wish to make on the subject and you can expect me to respond when appropriate.

By all means, keep "your" data anywhere you wish, but think about what happens when you die. What will happen to all your work?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Why I Use the FamilySearch Family Tree

There is only one major objection to using the Family Tree: the ability of people to change the information. All of my writing and talking about the subject does not seem to make the slightest dent in the accumulated ire generated by having "your" information changed by someone who had no idea what they were doing, did not provide a source or violated one of your cherished traditional stories. I recently spent about an hour explaining my position on this issue in a video on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel. 

I have recently received several comments from people who state that they will not use the Family Tree because of the "changes." In an attempt to provide yet another answer to these complaints, I have been thinking about the core reasons why the Family Tree exists and should be a choice for storing all of your genealogical data. I believe the most important of the reasons I came up with is the need to avoid duplication of effort. 

If you were to spend hours, days, weeks, months and even years doing research about your ancestors, how would you like to find out that someone had already done all that same research that included a source citation for every single person, event, and place recorded? That is not a hypothetical situation. It has been the reality for genealogical research for more than a hundred years. By refusing to use the Family Tree, you are, in effect, putting your research in danger of being nothing more than a duplication of work that may have been done previously. Changes to your data on the Family Tree is a really small price to pay for avoiding duplication of effort. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Restricted Records on

If you are using the Catalog to assist in doing your research, as you should be doing, you will likely run into the issue of restricted records such as the ones illustrated above. This particular record is entitled, "Bible records from the Newport Historical Society in Rhode Island." If I try to click on one of the images, I get the following notice:

I wrote about this recently in my Genealogy's Star blog. See "What are the "Restricted" Records on" First of all, this is not a new problem at all. Many of the records obtained by FamilySearch and its predecessors have been "restricted" to viewing under some circumstances. I seem to run into such records frequently when doing intensive research. As I stated in my previous post on Genealogy's Star, the restricted records fall into three distinct categories:
  • Records that are only available for review at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, i.e. when the researcher is physically present in the Library.
  • Records that are only available for review when the researcher is in a Family History Center and using a computer connected to the Family History Center Portal.
  • The very small category of records that are only available to researchers who have certain qualifications, i.e. members in good standing of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The records that fall into the third category are extremely limited in number and categories. They mainly deal with records that may have privacy concerns or that pertain to temple ordinances. As I also pointed out in the previous post, there are a number of reasons for the restrictions:
  • Privacy concerns
  • Restrictions imposed by the custodians or originators of the documents when they were obtained by FamilySearch
  • Changes in the laws in the country where the records originated
  • Limitations imposed by the contract role arrangements providing for the use of the records by FamilySearch
  • Copyright restrictions
I am repeating these lists here in order to get the maximum exposure for the reasons for restricted records. There have always been records that were unique to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and were viewable only there. Even with the extensive online increase in records, there may always be a few that fall into these categories. If you do find a record in this category, I always suggest taking a minute to check the title of the record in a Google search to see if someone else has the records and they are more available to you. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Can we eliminate the bugaboos in the FamilySearch Family Tree?

Note: Please read the comments to this post. They help explain the issues involved with the Family Tree.

It is historically impossible for this person to exist. The first European settlers did not arrive in what is now Rhode Island until 1636 and the other places mentioned did not exist until well into the 1700s. However, under the present restrictions of the Family Tree, I cannot delete this person. He is a bugaboo. I could try to merge him with someone, but who? What is even more annoying is that this person has "temple ordinances" available. The answer to the question in the title of this post seems to be a resounding no.

The tragedy of the situation is that this non-existent person and the many, many others like him also named William Tanner are like a smoke screen preventing me from making any real progress in extending my verified Tanner ancestral line. The problem is that unknowing people keep attaching this entry and others like it to my verified family line. If I try to merge all these "duplicates" I will be making the same mistake all the other contributors are making in assuming that there is only one William Tanner in Rhode Island in the 1600s and 1700s.

If I did decide to merge these obviously wrong entries, I would end up with one huge wrong mega-person who would still get wrongly added into my ancestral line. I suspect that every former IOUS (individual of unusual size) in the Family Tree is now fully represented by a cloud of unmanageable duplicates.

Any reasonable and logical suggestions would be appreciated.

We can't be afraid of change

“We can't be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don't have something better.”
C. JoyBell C.

As I noted in my most recent post, change is the real challenge of working on the Family Tree. We have a good example of what happens when we try to limit changes in a wiki, such as the FamilyTree, in the parallel program, the Research Wiki. The Research Wiki was a fantastic project. During its early years, it grew rapidly until it had about 80,000 pages of extremely valuable genealogical information. There were active users into the thousands. In March of this year, 2017, I wrote an assessment of the status of the Research Wiki entitled appropriately, "The FamilySearch Research Wiki." To update my earlier post, I would observe the following:
  • In March, there were 85,027 articles, as of the date of this post, there are 85,720
  • In March, there were a total of 215,259 pages, today there are 224,885
  • In March, there were 242 active users, today there are 242 active users
In short, there is now a "stable" number of users making some additions. But what about the existing pages? I am presently watching 964 pages on the Research Wiki. I have email notifications turned on and any major change will trigger a notice to me that one of these pages has been changed. As far as I can remember, I have received only one email notification during the past few months. From my perspective, the Research Wiki is slowly disintegrating. The number of users is not nearly great enough to maintain the existing pages. 

Now, the Research Wiki is still useful. It is still "alive" in the sense that changes are being made, but it is hardly keeping up with the maintenance needed as the internet itself continues to change. 

If we impose too many restrictions on those who can edit or contribute to a wiki, in essence, we kill it. Do we really want to kill the Family Tree?

The real issue with the Family Tree is not change, it is the sad state of the data we have inherited from over 100 years of unsupported and unverified genealogical contributions. Those who set themselves up as being beyond change are, in almost all cases, merely arguing for the status quo. They want to preserve their inherited illusion that all the family history work is done and what has been done in correct. 

But wait, you say. What about the situation where you have extensive documentation and listed sources and someone who has no sources comes along and makes an illogical and unsupported change? Yeah. So what? The program allows you to change it back. Everything we own requires maintenance. We have to buy gas for our cars. We have wash clothes (well not me personally). We have to cut the lawn (once again not me personally), etc. etc. etc. If you think of the changes to the Family Tree as maintenance, you may still be unhappy, but pulling weeds is a fact of life. 

Anything worth having is worth working for. Let's get to work and preserve and correct and add to what we have in both our priceless wikis. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

User Changes to the FamilySearch Family Tree: A Touchy Subject

I recently posted the following video on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel:

Handling the changes made to the FamilySearch Family Tree? - James Tanner

In response, I got the following comparatively long comment:
I understand what you are saying, however I have come across several incidents where the data that I entered was deleted or changed without any supporting reasons to make the changes or deletions. I had supported sources, I do not believe that the person who made the changes reviewed my sources. I reached out several times to some of those who have changed the data and they say that they are sorry and still do not give me a reason why they changed the data. For the time being, I have stopped working on the Tree because I feel that I am wasting my time and I do not want to complain. I do appreciate that the Tree is free and the sources are free and very valuable however that still does not mean that people have a right to change the data without even knowing why they are changing the data. I feel that you made excuses for those who change the data and are not understanding that the people who volunteer their time to work on the Tree should be respected also. I understand that it is not "my Tree" and they are not "MY ancestors" it is not my private Tree, I have my private Tree on another site. Again, it does not give people the right to change the data without a good reason. I do enjoy your videos and thank you for volunteering your time to do it. Thank you very much.
This comment raises a number of interesting issues that I decided needed a more expansive consideration than a simple reply. Here are the issues with my own analysis and response to quotes from the comment:

Quote #1. I have come across several incidents where the data that I entered was deleted or changed without any supporting reasons to make the changes or deletions.

Almost since the introduction of the Family Tree, there has been a discussion about the possibility of requiring a source citation for any change made to the information in the Family Tree. The consideration involves the "universal" nature of the Family Tree. There are many places in the world where written genealogies are not available. In fact, there is an ongoing effort to collect oral histories around the world. You can search the transcribed oral histories on the website under the "Search Tab" and the further drop-down menu to "Genealogies." In these cases, requiring a source would definitely discourage entering information only known to the person relying on oral histories.

However, I frequently encounter the situation of unsupported changes. Considering the fact that my ancestors came from Western Europe, it is highly unlikely that we need to rely upon any oral history information. In my case, I routinely reverse any changes made without a supporting source. Should FamilySearch change the program so that a supporting source is listed for any change? I am not sure it matters that much. The Family Tree is a user maintained database. It is really up to those who are working on the program to determine if any changes are appropriate or not.

2. I had supported sources, I do not believe that the person who made the changes reviewed my sources. I reached out several times to some of those who have changed the data and they say that they are sorry and still do not give me a reason why they changed the data.

I have had exactly the same experience. In most cases, I can guess that the changes were made to conform to existing, unsupported and traditional information. Families with a long history of genealogical involvement often have entrenched conclusions about their ancestry that are patently false. These false conclusions are extremely difficult to overcome because so many copies of the wrong information have been reproduced over the years. Those making the changes to the Family Tree are simply regurgitating the wrong information. Because the Family Tree is a relatively recent innovation, it is likely to take years before the unsupported conclusions are rooted out of the system.

Meanwhile, from my perspective, we just have to put up with a certain amount of irrational and unsupported changes.

3. For the time being, I have stopped working on the Tree because I feel that I am wasting my time and I do not want to complain.

Giving up is not an option. Complaining about the situation does not necessarily produce any positive results. In one of my recent battles about content in the Family Tree, I received dozens of unsupported changes but over time, I essentially maintained the position I took regarding the information in the Family Tree by reversing the changes long enough to overcome almost all of those who did not have any additional supporting information for changes they had made. Persistence prevails.

4. I do appreciate that the Tree is free and the sources are free and very valuable however that still does not mean that people have a right to change the data without even knowing why they are changing the data. 

I am afraid that I cringe at the use of the word "right" in conjunction with the Family Tree. Everyone has exactly the same ability to make changes to the Family Tree. There is no "right" associated with this ability, it is merely a function of the program. We do not need to invent new rights to justify or condemn actions taken with regard to an online genealogy program.

5. I feel that you made excuses for those who change the data and are not understanding that the people who volunteer their time to work on the Tree should be respected also.

Perhaps I did make excuses. Perhaps excuses are warranted. Is the commentator advocating a qualifying test before allowing anyone to make changes to the Family Tree? Does the commentator realized that he or she might fail such a test? Ultimately, following such a criteria leads to the collapse of the Family Tree.

 6. I understand that it is not "my Tree" and they are not "MY ancestors" it is not my private Tree, I have my private Tree on another site. Again, it does not give people the right to change the data without a good reason.

There is no real connection between ownership of the Family Tree and the changes made. The idea of "ownership" is antithetical to the operation of the Family Tree. Saying that you understand the lack of ownership and then expressing the idea that you have to keep your private tree on another site simply illustrates the fact that you still believe that you own the data. In addition, referring to a "right to change the data" is a non-sequitur. Obviously, anyone can maintain a separate copy of their family tree on any convenient venue but the existence of those additional copies simply expand the possibility that you will duplicate the work of others.  One of the main purposes for maintaining the Family Tree is to avoid duplicate research. Keeping your own family tree only perpetuates the duplication that has gone on for over 100 years.

The issues involving user changes to the Family Tree are really quite complex. Raising issues such as "rights" and ownership in the context of defending your own changes does not contribute anything positive to the discussion. Your own reaction to the changes is really the main issue here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Harvesting vs. Planting

I think that sometimes we pay token deference to the Law of the Harvest. We find a concise statement of the Law of the Harvest in Galatians 6:7-9:
7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 
8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. 
9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
If we have any understanding at all of the Law of the Harvest, why can we suppose that we can reap the benefits of the Family Tree in the form of "green icons" without sowing additional names through the work of research? Is family history somehow exempt from the Law of the Harvest? I think not. Apparently, there are those that somehow believe that the names in the Family Tree just grew there spontaneously and that all that is necessary to find the names of those who have been taught and accepted the Gospel in the Spirit World, is to click around and harvest these "free" names.

Let me set the record straight. None of the valid names in the Family Tree got there by magic. They are the results of hours, days, months, and years of hard work on the part of those who have dedicated a significant part of their lives to discovering the hidden records of their ancestors and recording their findings in a way that the names could be incorporated in the vast collection of names called the Family Tree. If you click on a green icon that is not there as a result of your own labor, you are benefiting from the harvest of others' labors.

As long as we are told and believe that the Family Tree is somehow an inexhaustible source of names to take to the temples, without spending the hard work necessary to find and record those names, we will be at risk from the negative consequences of the Law of the Harvest. We only benefit from the harvest by doing the work.

Family history or genealogy, whatever you wish to call it, is a complex and challenging pursuit. Is there some problem with letting those who wish to do the work know the qualifications for the work? Section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants states:
1 Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men. 
2 Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day. 
3 Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work; 
4 For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul; 
5 And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work. 
6 Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence. 
7 Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Amen.
Are we missing the "laying up in store" part of the Family Tree?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Can an app find a name for you to take to the temple?

The App Gallery has links to approximately twenty-two programs that rely on the accuracy of the data in your portion of the Family Tree to provide you with either temple opportunities or information about your relatives and ancestors. If these programs work as you might expect, then why is there any need to do your "genealogy" and isn't genealogical research and all that goes with it simply a waste of time?

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you are probably well aware that I frequently write about and provide webinars about the need to "clean up" the entries in the Family Tree. But this post is not just a repeat of the previous arguments and illustrations that I have previously used to show that nearly everyone has some errors in their portion of the Family Tree and some of us have major issues that can only be resolved by major surgery by cutting off unsupported and imaginary ancestral lines.

For this post, I decided to take three or more of the programs that purport to provide me with names using my own portion of the Family Tree and see exactly how reliable those leads really are. I am not going to mention the names or any identifying elements of the programs because that would not be fair to them and it would make it seem that I was targeting specific apps or programs. My point is simple: any program of any type that relies on the accuracy of the Family Tree will fall into the same trap.

Here we go.

Program #1 provided me with the following name for temple ordinances.

To start out, I chose to have the app search my ancestors. Little did I know that the program would take a considerable period of time to do this until I got tired and finally ended the search, The program did not find one name and it must have searched a couple of thousand or more names. With no results, I decided to add another program.

Program #2 provided me with the following name for temple ordinances.

I started the search with my second choice and this time I let the program search cousins.

The program found the following person.

Hmm. This person was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1903. The only ordinance needed was a sealing to spouse. The spouse was born in 1907 and just barely became available for ordinances under the 110 Year Rule. I decided to leave this ordinance for the immediate family. Since the dates on the completed ordinances showed that the ordinances had been done recently. I don't think that someone who was "harvesting" green icons would stop to make this evaluation. Also, since the only ordinance available was a sealing to spouse, I suggest that this is an issue with involving younger people in the process. I am getting a lot of ideas about future blog post topics. Of course, by publicizing this opportunity, someone who is unrelated to the family, could come in and try to take advantage of this opportunity.

I decided to use the same program to find another "opportunity." Once again, I was stuck with the program searching for a long period of time. The program finally finished working away and here was one of the names found:

This was once again a sealing to spouse. So anyone finding this "opportunity" could have reserved the name. Hmm. But in looking at the entries, it was obvious that there was a duplicate. Here is a screenshot showing the duplicate spouse.

In effect, this entry opens up a whole series of corrections that need to be made to the Family Tree. Upon resolving the duplicate entry, the "opportunity" disappeared. But if I didn't realize there was a duplicate, I could have reserved the name and duplicated the ordinance work. This is the main issue with the green icon finding programs. They are better at finding problems to be resolved than they are finding actual opportunities.

Program #3 had a brief disclaimer about the accuracy of the searches and was just as slow as the other two programs. When the results finally started coming in, the program found the same name I had already looked at above with the 110 Year Rule issue. After examining more than 1100 relatives, the program found no more ordinances. The danger of going back further is that it increases the possibility that the entries are inaccurate.  See the following video:

Untangling the Mess on the FamilySearch Family Tree - James Tanner

At this point, I would like to point out that I have found a significant number of people needing ordinances by cleaning up the entries and doing research, at times, extensive research. The supply of "green icons" is finite.

Because two of the programs so far have been inconclusive, I decided to try yet another.

Program #4 didn't work at all.

It is true that these programs can find "opportunities" (when they actually work). But it is also true that the opportunities turn out to be opportunities to do some research and think about the entries rather than being automatically available. More about this in the near future.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Duplicate Ghost Records on the FamilySearch Family Tree

The Family Tree has come a long way since it began with its burden of the database and program. It has now been more than a year since the program was completely cut-off from the older program and we could begin to resolve the issue of millions of duplicate records. Because so many duplicate entries have been resolved, you might get the impression that duplicate entries were no longer a problem in the Family Tree. However, while working on the Family Tree, many of us who are doing intensive research still find significant numbers of duplicates.

When connecting new entries to or when searching for records using the link to, both of these programs will often show duplicate entries that are unable to be detected by a search using the resources of the Family Tree. In other words, there are still a number of "ghost" entries in the Family Tree that are undisclosed. In addition, as research reveals additional facts about a family it is fairly common to find additional duplicate entries of the family members.

One common source for finding these new entries comes when working with a family from England. I often find what appears to be a person who is not married. Some basic research soon produces a spouse. Further research shows that the couple had children. However, upon adding the names of the children, I find that individual ordinances were done for the children and are recorded in the International Genealogical Index (IGI). When I add those children into the family, I often find duplicates. The reason for this is quite simple. Since those children have never been included previously in the family, no one has ever done a search for duplicate entries.

There are also third-party programs that can assist in finding random duplicates. Even though I have been systematically checking for duplicates and merging them when appropriate, there is still a considerable number of duplicates out there waiting to be resolved. Here's a screenshot of the search using Find-A-Record, a useful utility program.

This list of possible duplicates was still produced after more than a year of work by me and my family to systematically attempt to resolve all of the duplicates in our lines. The first entry had an immediately identifiable duplicate. Here is a screenshot showing the duplicate entry from the Family Tree.

By looking at the history of this entry, it is evident that this record came from the nearly inexhaustible source of duplicates existing in the database. Since there has not been as much emphasis lately about the duplicate entries in the Family Tree, perhaps it is time to retrench and get back to the basic issues of the data set used by the Family Tree and remind all of the users that many duplicates still exist.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Parade of BYU Family History Library Videos Continues Unabated

We like to keep busy at the Brigham Young University Family History Library. Summer at a university creates its own problems. Most of the students are on summer vacation and the academic schedule is difficult to plan around. I, for one, have also been out and about and I cut back on my usual load of videos but the other contributors more than made up the difference, especially Kathryn Grant and Bob Taylor. Here are the last five videos posted to our BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel.

Duplicates in Family Tree Part 1: Why They're There and How to Find Them - Kathryn Grant

Duplicates in Family Tree Part 2 How to Resolve Them - Kathryn Grant

Remember to subscribe to our Channel. The number of subscribers helps the videos become more visible on 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The FamilySearch Partner Tracks on The Family History Guide

The Family History Guide has undergone a major expansion. Learning Tracks for each of the three major Partner Programs have been added to the website. These Partner Tracks include,, and When you choose your Learning Track, the instructions in The Family History Guide are then adapted to the chosen website.

The idea here is that by choosing a different track, the Projects change and all the Goals and Choices reflect the chosen website. For example, by choosing the track, I get the following screen:

The red arrows indicate the logos that show you that you are working in the track of the website. If I change to a different track, such as, then the instructions change to reflect that website.

In case you get lost, just click on the link to the Home page and you will get back to the beginning.

This new set of instructions, added to an already valuable website, makes The Family History Guide the "go-to" place to learn about all four of these valuable genealogy websites. The website is in "Beta" release until November 15, 2017, so you can expect the changes and the content to expand.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Where Are the Digitized Records on

Where are the Digitized Records on

A suggestion from FamilySearch got me started in making a short video showing where all the digitized microfilm records are going on the website. For some time now, I have been writing about the Catalog and its importance in the online research process. I guess my message is not getting much traction. I still find many people in my classes who do not use the Catalog to assist them and many more who have never even looked at it.

I will be writing more about the Catalog in the near future.

Monday, August 14, 2017

FamilySearch Facebook Post: Family History Centers are Now in the Home

The above graphic appeared on Facebook on August 13, 2017. It refers to a talk entitled, "Roots and Branches" given by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in General Conference in April of 2014. Recent technological developments have underscored the fact that the "traditional" model of a FamilySearch Family History Center is undergoing a revolutionary change.

The most recent development, the discontinuance by FamilySearch of microfilm rentals to Family History Centers, removes one of the staple reasons for visiting and using the resources of the Family History Centers around the world. In reality, here in the United States, many of the smaller Family History Centers had very limited microfilm involvement in any event. Removing microfilm rentals from the Family History Centers will have an impact on the use of some centers by "serious" researchers. This result will be even more marked as the existing FamilySearch microfilm collection is finally completely (as possible) digitized and available for free online.

For the average person, living in a well-developed country, with access to the internet and who has previously done little or no family history research, online and home-based sources are perfectly adequate to find the first four generations or so. But, any attempt to extend a pedigree beyond the first few generations requires resources that are not readily available or even reliable without additional effort.

For example, a child born into my Tanner family lines and who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will automatically have six or seven generations of extensively documented ancestry on the Family Tree. For that child to do any reliable extensions of any of the Tanner family lines would require intense and involved research. However, that may not be the case for the non-Tanner family lines. To support this changing situation, the U.S. Family History Centers will need to move to a support and training mode.

When we had a large yard and many fruit trees, the "low hanging" fruit was the first picked and the first depleted. It usually did not take very long before we had to spend considerably more effort to find ripe fruit using chairs and ladders. The same thing will inevitably happen with those working on the Family Tree. The "low hanging" fruit, i.e. those people who are easily found with readily available resources will soon be found. The only real way that progress will ultimately be made after this first gathering, will be to have people who are prepared and trained in finding and resolving the more difficult research issues.

Let me give an example. Let's suppose I was just starting out doing my own genealogical research today as opposed to 35 or so years ago. I could go onto and I would see thousands of the names of my ancestors on all my family lines. How long would it take me to figure out which of these thousands of entries were correct and which were wrong? Would I even suspect that what was showing in the Family Tree was both incomplete and in many cases inaccurate? True, I would have a huge reservoir of resources, but how would I know where to start and how to find additional opportunities to add to what was already there?

The answer, in part, is the new paradigm of the "Consultant Planner." However, this model also assumes that the "trainers" have been and are trained. For many years after I began doing my own genealogical research, I had to puzzle out the way to proceed on my own. I had no trainers or mentors. I am also guessing that most, perhaps nearly all, of the current involved genealogical researchers went through a similar process. Today, I would have access to The Family History Guide. But how would I know it existed? Last night, I taught a class to approximately 30 Temple and Family History Consultants and from the reaction of those present, very few were aware of any of the resources I talked about during the class.

I agree that much of the genealogical research that has been traditionally done in Family History Centers can now be done in the home. But how will those sitting in their homes know about the resources that are available? How will the Ward and Stake Temple and Family History Consultants know enough to teach them?