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

Sunday, December 30, 2018

An End of the Year Look at the FamilySearch Family Tree

The end of any year is a time for reflection and introspection. During the past years, there have been seemingly only cosmetic changes to the Family Tree. But some of those changes have affected the workflow and caused users to modify the way they have been working with the Family Tree. However, all in all, the fundamental issues facing the users of the Family Tree have remained the same. Here is a recent example.

Most of these changes have a neutral impact, but there are certain individuals that show up with every email from FamilySearch showing the weekly changes. Here is an example.

Francis Cooke was a passenger on the Mayflower. He is the subject of an entire book published by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (Mayflower Society). Here is a citation to that book.

Wakefield, Robert S., and Ralph V. Wood. 2000. Francis Cooke of the Mayflower and his descendants for four generations. Plymouth, MA (4 Winslow St., Plymouth 02360): General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

Every date, place, and name in that book has been exhaustively documented with extensive source citations. What is known and what is not known about Francis Cooke is not presently in dispute. The information in the book has been updated to five generations. See the following:

Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880. (Online database:, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2017). From Mayflower Families Through Five Generations: Descendants of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth, Mass., December 1620. Plymouth, MA: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1975-2015.

With all that information, you would think that this one entry would be long ago settled and no longer a source of constant change. You would be wrong. Is the problem with the Family Tree? The answer is yes and no. Obviously, any changes have to be made by users of the program and allowing changes is a basic function of the Family Tree program. When will the weekly storm over Francis Cooke and others like him end?

This is the continuing challenge of the Family Tree that remained its most pressing and disturbing issue during the year 2018. Heretofore, I have refrained from getting involved in some of these issues. During the past year, we did take a stand on my remote ancestor, William Tanner, but that is a minor issue overall. My other New England lines are the real issue. The question is whether the current state of affairs on the Family Tree is supportive enough for me to begin tackling these outstanding New England issues? On the Mayflower line, the main change during the past year was the publication online of all of the current information from the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. Although I will have to pay for access, I am now in a position to take on the effort of cleaning up many of those New England lines.

From the perspective of another year of working with the Family Tree, I can say that the program is maturing in many ways. A sufficient number of sources have been added to individual entries to solidify them and overall changes to all but a few families have decreased and many of the residual changes involve standardization and adding additional sources. As I have quoted before attributed to President Harry S. Truman, "If you can't stand the heat, got out of the kitchen." Most of the changes are being made to people who lived back in the 18th and 17th Centuries. There is plenty of work that needs to be done on the Family Tree that does not involve these remote ancestral lines. I suggest that if you are disturbed by the changes, rather than challenged as I am, I suggest you focus on your immediate family back no more than six generations and ALL of their descendants. You should find that in this venue, there will be minimal changes except for one or two exceptional issues.

As I have been saying over and over, the Family Tree is the solution, not the problem.

Friday, December 28, 2018

An End of the Year Look at the Future of Family History Centers

During the past year, I have had the opportunity to visit several Family History Centers across the United States. As 2018 draws to a close, I have several observations. The most dramatic change, for me and many others, was the final shutdown of the Mesa FamilySearch Library in Mesa, Arizona. This event alone marks the end of an era in the development and use of Family History Centers around the world. 2018 also saw a shakeup in the staffing and organization of main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I still have to take the time to visit the Family History Library and will reserve any comments until after I actually have time to do some research in the facility. In 2018, we saw the opening of another FamilySearch Center in Lehi, Utah and the announcement that another FamilySearch Center will be built in Mesa, Arizona to replace the now-defunct library. All of this seems to indicate a shift in the way Family History Centers are staffed, supported, and maintained.

Most of the Family History Centers I have visited from Canada to Florida and from the East Coast of the United States to the West Coast, are consistently located in Stake or Ward Buildings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most have one or two large rooms with computers and printers and perhaps a scanner or some other equipment. Some few have additional storage and or classroom areas. The ubiquitous banks of microfilm readers as shown in the photo above are fast disappearing from all of the centers. In some cases, there are still one or two microfilm readers left. The definition of a Family History Center, as opposed to a room with computers, is that the Family History Centers have access to the online FamilySearch Portal that gives patrons free access to several major genealogy programs that are otherwise subscription based.

Local Family History Centers are established, staffed and governed by one or more local Stake units in conjunction with some equipment and technical support from FamilySearch. To a great extent, the viability and involvement of the local members in any Family History Center directly depends on the involvement and commitment of the local leaders. In some cases, the Family History Center is the center of family history activity for an entire community. Many of the centers are used by a broad spectrum of those both members of the Church and those who are not members and are crowded with visitors every time they are open. However, a significant number of Family History Centers have almost no activity and some are literally deserted.  These underused centers usually indicate a lack of involvement by local Church authorities but in some cases, such in parts of Utah, they are merely a reflection of the "competition" of too many Family History Centers in the same general location.

Isolated Family History Centers can also be virtually deserted if the local leaders fail to conduct an adequate outreach program to promote the use of the centers in the greater community. The fundamental issues facing Family History Centers reach far beyond the involvement of local leaders and the policies and practices of FamilySearch. It is important to note that FamilySearch Centers (Discovery Centers) are fundamentally different from Family History Centers in their purpose. Quoting from the Wiki:
FamilySearch Centers (FSC) are branches of FamilySearch and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah (United States). FamilySearch Centers:
 They emphasize the following:

  • Provide Discovery Experiences
  • Provide digitizing equipment to digitize patrons' family history books, VHS tapes, slides, negatives, photos, audio cassettes
  • Provide access to genealogical records using the Family History Center Portal
  • Give personal one-on-one assistance to patrons
  • Offer free how-to classes (varies by location)
The complete Family Discovery Center experience is available at the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Many genealogists have questioned how the Family Discovery Centers support the main activities of family history, i.e. research into records to find families. I have been told by a very reliable source that statistics from FamilySearch do show an increase in family history activity following a visit to a Family Discovery Center. 

There are presently several major operating FamilySearch Centers and Family Discovery Centers located primarily in Utah. 

By the way, the Brigham Young University Family History Library is not a Family History Center. It is operated and staffed by the University. The missionary staff is composed of FamilySearch Church Service Missionaries and a few long-term volunteers. The University staff and FamilySearch do work closely together, but the BYU Family History Library is ultimately part of the University.

Worldwide, Family History Centers are more than merely locations for some family history activities. In some cases, they provide computer and internet access to people who would not otherwise have a connection. These additional functions are extremely valuable. 

But what about the future? As more and more documents are digitized and available online, there is a concomitant decrease in the need to travel to a Family History Center to do some types of research. The FamilySearch Portal, in itself, is not a sufficient draw to justify maintaining a local Family History Center. Unless the local leaders begin to use their facilities to increase the outreach and involve the patrons with classes, workshops, and other activities, the local centers will surely fail. Some of them are presently being maintained merely by inertia. The worldwide change in the meeting schedule will have a significant impact on many of the Family History Centers since their main activity was during the time allocated in the three-hour block to the Sunday School. Whether or not members of the Church will stay after the meetings or visit the Centers on other days remains to be seen. 

No matter how much digital genealogical information there is online, there will always be a need for classes and one-on-one instruction and help for those doing their own family history. However, the repository activity of Family History Centers such as the huge reference materials accumulated by the Mesa FamilySearch Library over the years will likely be lost, just as it has been in Mesa, Arizona. The model for the future seems to be to exclusively rely on online sources. 

I suggest that many of the Family History Centers in the areas where there is a high Church membership, such as Utah Valley, need to be closed and or consolidated with other centers. I think major Family Discovery Centers are a valuable model for this consolidation. 

The main challenge is implementing the existing programs outlined for local Ward and Stake Temple and Family History Consultants but that is the topic for another post. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

“This Christmas mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love, and then speak it again.”

― Howard W. Hunter

Light the World

Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas

One of our Christmas traditions since we moved to Provo, Utah has been to visit the light display at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. We also took the opportunity to hear a practice performance of the wonderful and famous Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. The weather cooperated and the temperatures were cold but not too cold. We saw an almost full moon rise over Temple Square while we walked around with crowds of people also enjoying the wonderful spirit and atmosphere of this sacred place. We also saw crowds of people waiting to donate to the Light the World Vending Machines located in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building adjacent to Temple Square. You can see how this works in the following short video from last year.

#LightTheWorld Day 1: Light the World— Christmas 2017

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Are you barking up the wrong family tree?

As you begin to work on investigating your ancestry, you will eventually find it necessary to organize the information in the form of a "family tree." There are a number of variations on the concept of a pedigree chart but all the available online or desktop programs produce a chart that shows your parents, your grandparents, and etc. The idea is that the lines between the individuals represent a family relationship. Here is an example of a family tree representation from the Family Tree website.

Once the information that you enter into any one of these programs is codified into a pedigree chart, it becomes almost "set in concrete." Here is the same information in another form of pedigree chart commonly called a fan chart.

This kind of representation of a family is very persuasive. Because of our innate desire to see new horizons, we are almost compelled to run out to the end of our individual family lines and start looking for more information, i.e. adding new and more family lines. The fan chart above is an example of an important principle of genealogical research: each generation back in time of your ancestors geometrically increases the number of your family lines. This increase is not uniform however because of a principle called "pedigree collapse" that occurs when people marry their relatives. Since pedigree collapse is well documented, why does the fan chart seem to expand forever?

The concept of pedigree collapse is difficult to represent in either a standard pedigree chart or a fan chart format. Computer programs have only recently been able to work through family tree information and show familial relationships between any two individuals. For example, Relative Finder is a program that uses the Family Tree to find connections between any two people in the Family Tree. If I use the program to search for a connection between me and my wife, I find that I am related to my wife's mother as a 7th cousin, 1 time removed.

Pedigree charts do not show that kind of relationship. But there is an even more serious issue with pedigree charts (including especially fan charts). The main issue is that the information entered into the pedigree may not support the connections. Here is how Relative Finder shows I am related to my wife's mother. The entire chart is too large to fit on one screen so I am showing only the portion indicating the common ancestor.

Here is the problem. This supposed connection goes back through my Morgan line. The connection between Garrard Morgan (b. 1755, d. 1786) and the person listed as his father, John Morgan (b. 1734, d. 1765) is entirely undocumented. There are no listed sources documenting this relationship. In addition, the information about Jacob Morgan (b. 1700, died no date), his father, is entirely fabricated. The place listed for Jacob Morgan's birth did not exist in 1700 when he was supposedly born.

So here we have two issues: pedigree collapse and unsupported ancestral lines that contribute to forms of pedigree charts that cannot correctly show relationships.

If I were to "jump back" and start doing research on Richard Morgan, I would soon find that there is nothing supporting the claim of his relationship to my family line. There are two generations of Morgans that lack documentation. In fact, Morgan is an extremely common surname originating primarily in Wales.

Every pedigree line, including all those on the Family Tree, either end with a blank or continue with rank speculation with no supporting documentation. Now, if you look at each of your family lines, how many of them actually end before the names run out? Research on these lines needs to focus on the parents of the last verified entry in each line. Meanwhile, don't take calculated relationships seriously unless each person in the family line has been adequately verified.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

New Study Guide Section for The Family History Guide
Do you need a quick overview entry into the vast resources of The Family History Guide? A new section of The Family History Guide has just been uploaded. The Study Center is an easy way to work through some of the basic topics that are covered more completely in the rest of The Family History Guide. As shown in the screenshot, there is a selection of topics from the entire website presented in an abbreviated manner to encourage all of the users to work through the major topics.

The Family History Guide continues to grow and develop far beyond its original scope. To keep this valuable tool available, please act now to contribute through The Family History Guide Association.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

My Wish List for Family History

If you have been working on researching your family for a while, you probably have some things that you would like to see. I have several items on my wish list some of which might happen and some may never happen. I thought now that another year is ending, I would list some of the things I had on my virtual wish list.

1. The biggest challenge to the advancement of genealogical research is the ability to easily share information between both online family trees and those in desktop programs. The old GEDCOM standard has become rickety with age and is no longer adequate (if it ever was). I would like to see some kind of standards that would allow the transfer of data from one program to another. Some progress has been made between specific websites, but we really need to be able to synchronize our data from all the places it might reside.

2. As a subset on my wish list, I would like to see several changes to the website and particularly the Family Tree.
  • First and foremost, I would like to see some kind of rating system for the accuracy of the entries and for the validity of the sources. For example, if there are few or no supporting sources the overall individual entry could have a "one-star" rating.  If the information available is supported by sources and has a logical conclusion, the entry could get a "four-star" or even a "five-star" rating. Individual sources could also be starred in the same manner. This would give users of the Family Tree an idea of what the community thought of the validity of the entries. 
  • Second, I would like to see an expansion of the red Data Problems icons. It would also be nice if there were a link to show us what items are presently considered problems. Right now, if an entry is not standardized, it is marked as a Data Problem. I would suggest that this category be given its own color. 
  • Third, I would like to see a formal arbitration system to resolve conflicts about entries with some restrictions made on people who fail to cooperate. For example, if a person is making unsupported and obviously inaccurate changes and refuses to acknowledge any email or message requests to explain why the changes are being made, there should be some arbitration available to resolve the issue. If the person fails to respond to arbitration, I would suggest their ability to make changes to the Family Tree be curtailed. 
  • Following up on the previous wish, I would like to see some lines where there are extensive changes be subject to some sort of application to make a change situation. For example, the Mayflower passengers are like revolving doors. Why not have a procedure where any changes had to be proposed with supporting sources and then the change could only be made if a certain number of other users voted for the change.
  • Next, I would think it would be helpful if warning messages could be implemented for entering common date errors such as parents' vs children's' ages etc.  
3. Overall, I would like to see some additional emphasis on the Temple and Family History Consultant calling. Now that many of us will not be able to use any part of the Sunday School hour in the "Old Block" schedule for family history, there should be some guidelines as to when this activity might continue. Left up to the individual Wards, this will likely just never be scheduled. 

4. I would also like to see some more specific activities in the Family Discovery Center that lead people to investigate the entries in their portion of the Family Tree. Perhaps activities that show what is presently in the Family Tree and suggesting ways, like adding Record Hints, that could help correct and add to the existing information. 

5. I think the maintenance and operation of the family history centers located in areas where there are a large number of members (such as Utah Valley) could be consolidated into fewer and larger facilities. A good example is the Sandy Family History Center in Sandy, Utah. If there is going to be a limited availability the local Stake Family History Centers on Sunday, then why not consolidate multiple Stake Family History Centers into one larger center with Family Discovery options?

Well, my wish list could go on and on. Perhaps you have your own wish list. You could leave a comment with some of the things you would like to see. I am well aware of GetSatisfaction for FamilySearch and I am aware that many suggestions there are considered by FamilySearch. Please don't complain that I am not a "regular"  on GetSatisfaction, I really do about as much as I can. By the way, there are currently 5,463 Family Tree topics on that website. There used to be a link to the website from, but that has disappeared as have the forums and other discussion venues. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Elder and Sister Bednar to Speak at Family Discovery Day

Quoting from the announcement for RootsTech 2019:
RootsTech is pleased to announce Elder and Sister Bednar as featured speakers at the popular Family Discovery Day, happening Saturday, March 2, 2019 at 9:30 A.M. MST. Family Discovery Day is a free one-day event for families and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
 If you have never attended RootsTech 2019, this upcoming conference is your chance to do so. In past years, the free tickets to the Family Discovery Day have run out before the conference so be sure to Register early.

Monday, December 17, 2018

How Do You React to Changes Made to the FamilySearch Family Tree?

I frequently hear about and from time-to-time personally witness the Family Tree equivalent of "road rage." The Family Tree is an open, collaborative, website. Just like cars on a highway where each of us is entitled to drive wherever we choose, each of us has an equal right to view, edit, correct, or modify the information on the Family Tree and just as with driving, if we violate the rules we can be subject to sanctions. Why do some people think they own the road, just as why do some people think they own the Family Tree?

We spent the last year living in Annapolis, Maryland. While driving on the freeways, we witnessed interesting and very scary phenomena; road racing. While traveling along the freeway with the traffic flow, we would suddenly see multiple cars go by traveling at least twice as fast as the rest of the traffic. Since the traffic was often moving at 75 mph, this means the road racers were traveling at more than 150 mph on a busy freeway, swerving in and out of the lanes of traffic and often driving on the shoulder of the road. We could imagine what would happen to us if one of these crazy people ran into us.

What is almost as insane, but not quite as physically dangerous is that we have the functional equivalent of these road racers on the Family Tree. People who make wholesale changes adding duplicates children to families, changing birth and death dates, destroying whole family lines apparently at one sitting. All of this destruction is accomplished without providing any sort of source citation or justification for the changes.

Thankfully, most changes to the Family Tree do not escalate to this level. But the real question is how do we react to these changes. Do we respond by racing with our own car to try to "show" those people? Unfortunately, I find the equivalent of road rage when people overreact to changes by literally cursing the Family Tree and refusing to use it at all. However, as registered users of the Family Tree, we can quickly reverse any damage done to the entries. In addition, we can give feedback to the person who makes the unwarranted alterations.

Every time I mention this type of situation, I get responses about a commentator's particular relative who just keeps making the same changes over an over again and never responds to emails or messages sent through the Family Tree system. I keep thinking about how the complaints I am listening to are road rage genealogy. There is no doubt that the person who is making the changes is "violating" the "rules of the road" on the Family Tree but how we react to the changes is more important than the fact that the changes were made.

Maintenance on the Family Tree is similar to weeding a garden. No matter how many times we pull up the weeds, they always seem to grow back. So why do I see gardens without any weeds and others that are choked with weeds? The principle is simple and can be directly applied to the Family Tree. Pulling weeds (maintaining the Family Tree) is a constant task. If you neglect to look at your portion of the Family Tree or watch the entries, you will soon have a weedy garden. If you do like we do, parcel out the tasks of watching to family members and correct the changes made as quickly as possible, then you will see marked improvement. But be mindful of your reactions to changes. Don't get discouraged. Don't get frustrated and especially, don't get mad.

One last comment, by the way, it is not FamilySearch's fault that people make changes.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Is Family History Fun?
A Campus Devotional at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah on December 4, 2018, featured Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He talked about the differences between "fun" and "joy." Much of what he had to say is directly applicable to those who are members of the Church and are involved in the pursuit of their family history or genealogy for the purpose of generating names for Temple ordinances. You can read the entire talk in the LDS. org article entitled, "Fun vs. Joy: Elder Bednar Says Joy Is Enduring and Eternal."

The reason for writing about this issue and referring to the talk by Elder Bednar comes from the current trend advocated by some that portray family history as "fun." This characterization has always concerned me because I see very little about the subject of family history that should be so characterized. Referring to the talk given by Elder Bednar, he states,
“Joy comes from exercising faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, worthily receiving and faithfully honoring sacred ordinances and covenants, and striving to become deeply converted to the Savior and His purposes,” he said. “Fun is the result of amusement, playful and often boisterous action or speech, or pleasurable diversion.” 
While a day spent on rides at Disneyland is considered fun, joy comes through worthily preparing for and participating in the ordinance of the sacrament. 
“Joy primarily is spiritual; fun primarily is temporal,” he said. “Joy primarily is enduring; fun primarily is temporary. Joy primarily is deep and rich; fun primarily is shallow. Joy primarily is whole and complete; fun primarily is partial. Joy primarily pertains to mortality and eternity; fun pertains only to mortality. 
“How important it is for us to never confuse or trade the enduring, deep joy of devoted discipleship for temporary and shallow fun.”
Compiling your family history may involve many pleasurable activities, but as you can see from these comments, family history activities certainly fall well into the "joy" category rather than simple and very temporal. It is the shallowness of fun that makes it inconsistent with the work and dedication necessary to search out your ancestors and then take their names to the Temples. Perhaps, rather than characterizing family history activities as fun, we can focus on the long-term joyful aspects of seeing our ancestors given the opportunity to benefit from the ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ while in the Spirit World.

If members of the Church are told that family history can be a fun activity, how is that concept reconciled with the need to spend a considerable time searching through old records or learning complex computer programs? Some family history activities can be "fun" but they are not necessarily productive of work towards finding ancestral names for Temple ordinances.

For example, there are many valuable family history activities that help families become more united and may help family members develop an interest in doing the research necessary to find family members. But the joy that is derived from these activities comes when the work is actually accomplished. I think is it time that we realize that fun can lead to joy, but the true joy of living the Gospel comes from doing the work.

If you need some help with family activities that can provide an environment for joy, there are many suggestions in The Family History Guide Family Activities Section.
Meanwhile, let's focus on the joy of doing family history work and not worry about whether or not what we are doing is fun.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Super Maximizing Maps for Genealogy: Part One

England Jurisdictions 1851
The entire surface of the earth has been mapped by satellite for quite a few years and with historical maps going back into antiquity, genealogists can increase the accuracy of their research by specifically locating ancestral events and making sure the place names associated with those events are both reasonable and accurate. Over the years I have spent supporting people doing their genealogical research, I can say with absolute certainty that searching in the wrong place is the number one issue for genealogists who cannon find an ancestor. What this means is that the researcher, for whatever reason, is using the wrong place as the location of an event.  Here is an example of an obviously wrongly designated place.

Jerimiah Brown who was born in "about 1735" could not have been born in the United States. However, this designation does bring up an important issue as to how places should be recorded for genealogical purposes. The general rule is that places need to be recorded as they existed at the time the event occurred. Although the use of "United States" rather than the more correct "British Colonial America" may seem trivial, the failure to make the distinction indicates a lack of awareness of the importance of accuracy in recording place names. So was Jeremiah Brown born in South Kingstown, Washington, Rhode Island, British Colonial America, assuming he was born about 1735?

The answer to this question goes to a more serious issue; were the places named in existence in 1735? If I correct the United States to British Colonial America is the rest correct? A quick check in for South Kingstown, Rhode Island will start to answer these questions. The first thing we discover is that Wikipedia states that South Kingstown was Incorporated in 1723. Is this correct? What about the county designation? When was Washington County formed?

If we start looking at the history of South Kingstown, we find that the situation is a lot more complicated. Quoting from the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce website which contains an article entitled, "History of Southern Rhode Island - by Sandy McCaw - Chamber Historian,"
South Kingstown was founded in 1722 when Kings Towne was split into two parts. South Kingstown included the area that later became Narragansett. North Kingstown included the area that later became Exeter. A large portion of South Kingstown had first been settled in1657/8 at the time of the Pettaquamscutt Purchase. The town hall was originally located at Tower Hill, it was later moved to the village of Kingston before being moved to Wakefield in 1878 where it remains. South Kingstown’s other major villages include Peace Dale, West Kingston, Usquapaug, Green Hill, Perryville, Matunuck, and Middlebridge. 
Well, it looks like Wikipedia and the author of this history disagree, but the difference of one year does not seem to impact the place designation of Kingstown. But what is more important, Wahington County originated when King's County's name was changed to Washington County in 1781. So the county is wrongly designated.

This may seem somewhat picky and too detailed, but remember that in order to find genealogically important records, we need to know the specific places where events occurred and this includes correcting any place names to the way they were designated at the time of the event. I can demonstrate this by showing the places used for cataloging in the Catalog. Here is the first level of Rhode Island place categories.

General records from Rhode Island are classified in this part of the Catalog. If we look at the places within Rhode Island, we see the following. Note that the Catalog does not distinguish between the time period covered by British Colonial America and the United States.

You can see from this list, especially if you take the time to learn about the political jurisdictions of the area where you are doing research, that these are the current county names except for New Port and Sowams. If you refer to the Newberry Atlas of Historical County Boundaries, you will find that this is the list of both current and historical counties.
  • BRISTOL (Mass.)
  • Connecticut Colony
  • KENT
  • King's Province
  • Narragansett Country
  • New Plymouth Colony
  • Pawtuxet Settlement
  • Rhode Island Colony
  • SUFFOLK (Mass.)
There are two names in the Catalog list that don't match: New Port and Sowams. Here is an explanation of Sowams from the Wikipedia article on Warren, Rhode Island.
Warren was the site of the Indian village of Sowams, located on the peninsula called Pokanoket (Mount Hope Neck), and Edward Winslow and Stephen Hopkins from the Plymouth Colony established a trading post there in 1621. In 1623, Winslow and John Hampden saved the life of Wampanoag Sachem Massasoit, gaining an important ally. In 1636, Roger Williams was banished from Salem, Massachusetts and fled to Sowams, where he was sheltered by Massasoit until he established Providence Plantations.
Continuing the comments from the Wikipedia article:
Sowams was ceded to Rhode Island from Massachusetts in 1747 along with the Attleborough Gore (now Cumberland), Barrington, Bristol, Tiverton, and Little Compton, Rhode Island. The town was named "Warren" after British naval hero Admiral Sir Peter Warren after a victory at Louisburg in 1745. Barrington was unified with Warren at the time, until it was separated again in 1770.
The cataloging system used in the catalog is not an adequate substitute for researching both the current and historic places around the world but it is a valuable resource to get started in finding the records. A more comprehensive list of place names is available from the Board on Geographic Names from the U.S. Geological Survey.  This huge database has been growing since 1890. If I search using the Domestic Names search for Sowams, Rhode Island, I find the following list of places:

Only one of the results seems pertinent to this discussion but Sowa ms is definitely marked as "Historical." But what about New Port? It would be simple to assume that Newport and New Port are the same place but once again, I need to do some research. Apparently, New Port and Newport are the same but it behooves us all to spend the time making sure we know the exact locations in our research.

Going forward with the Catalog entries for places within Washington County, Rhode Island, here is the list.

In this example for Jerimiah Brown, there are no sources listed for either the year or place of his birth. The Rhode Island Vital Record lists a Jerimiah Brown as baptized on June 18, 1711. When the places are not accurate, you have to begin to doubt all of the other information in any entry from an online family tree.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Still Waiting for the Golden Years: Serious Thoughts on Retirement

Some of the most persistent images of retirement are those used in "retirement community" ads. They uniformly show older couples sitting on the beach or walking along a path. I am not aware that my wife and I have ever sat on the beach or anywhere else and that opportunity never entered my mind. What are we supposed to look forward to in becoming a retired person? Why does our society and culture mandate that we must stop working at some point in our lives?

However, there are definite statistics that show that in the United States, male mortality has a discontinuous increase at age 62 when men begin to retire and claim Social Security. See "The mortality effects of retirement: Evidence from Social Security eligibility at age 62." In short, retirement can be lethal. Why is this the case?

Before getting too far into this topic, I need to define retirement and distinguish it from disability. Of course, you can be both retired and disabled, but the United States has increased the legal protection for the disabled but protection from age discrimination lags far beyond. Looking back in history, retirement as a concept did not exist until the life expectancy level raised because of the industrial and technological revolutions. People did not retire, they died. Those who lived to a "ripe old age" just kept working mostly out of necessity. Germany was the first country to recognize retirement and introduced retirement benefits in 1889. Presently, the concept of retirement has passed from being a novelty to become a fundamental right. National systems such as Social Security in the United States are mandatorily imposed on all workers and until very recently workers were penalized for working past the arbitrary "retirement age."

For the purpose of this post, I am using the term "retirement" to mean the "withdrawal from one's position or occupation or from one's active working life." See Wikipedia, Retirement. This definition of retirement includes both voluntary and involuntary retirement. By this definition, it would be impossible for me to retire, although I do qualify for Social Security benefits. If you think about this system for even a few minutes, you will likely realize that many of the people who pay into the system never live to receive the benefits. Hmm. This is actually part of the planning of the system and as the life expectancy age increases, the ratio of old people to young people changes and if you maintain an arbitrary "retirement age" then you start having more people drawing out of the system then you do paying into the system. This disparity is further ascerbated by a decrease in the maternal reproduction rate.

Granted, I am not making as much money as I did while I was working fulltime as a trial lawyer but I still make money and it then becomes due to the vagaries of the tax system that I do not continue to pay additional self-employment or social security related taxes. In some cases, however, you could pay income taxes on your Social Security benefits. OK, so the system seems arcane and arbitrary is there anything that can be done?

Well, here is what I think. The problem is the way we define work. If I am employed by a company and they set my hours and my pay level, I suppose you could call that work. But what if I set my own hours and my pay level is based on my productivity. Is that work? Let's suppose that I like to write. I would write all day almost every day even if no one paid me for doing so. What if through some stroke of luck or whatever, I actually get paid to write, i.e. I write a book and it sells. Is that work? Do I look forward to retiring from my writing all day? Actually, I use the time that I worked all day as an attorney to write. So is my writing work or not work? So what do I dream about doing when I retire? See, by definition, I can never retire. If I were one half of the couple sitting on the beach, I would have a laptop and be typing or a camera and be taking photographs of the beach and the sunset.

This is where the whole idea of retirement including retirement communities where the idea is to play golf and sit around a drink and play cards has created an artificial view of what life should or could be like. So, you say, but I don't like to write and I don't like to take photographs. Well, there is another issue here altogether. I just got through looking at a website called That website is tailored to provide you with a long list of places where volunteers are needed to benefit the community and the nation.  I suggest that inactivity and lack of involvement lead to depression, illness, and ultimately death. I am not arguing against Social Security but I am arguing against age discrimination and a wasted, idle, old age. If you spent your life at a job you hated, take advantage of your age to do something meaningful.

Friday, December 7, 2018

What is happening with the Mesa FamilySearch Library?

Former Mesa FamilySearch Library building
During a recent short visit to Mesa, Arizona, we took the opportunity to visit the site of the renovation of the Mesa, Arizona Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and included checking out the status of the building formerly used by the Mesa FamilySearch Library. The building is still standing and enclosed by a construction fence. The area in front of the building is being used for construction materials storage.

Former Mesa FamilySearch Library Building
Meanwhile, construction on the Mesa Temple renovation is proceeding. The entire grounds of the Temple have been removed including the Visitors Center. Here are two photos of the construction.

Looking at the Temple from the southeast side where the Visitors Center once stood
Another view of the Temple from the Southeast side showing a few trees have been preserved
We walked around the entire Temple block and took photos.

Mesa Arizona Temple East Side 1
The vacant lot south of the Mesa FamilySearch Library building is being used for the storage of trees removed from the Temple Lot.

Looking north towards the Mesa FamilySearch Library Building
Construction on the Southeast corner of the Temple includes what is likely a new heating and cooling structure.

Construction on the southeast corner of the Temple Lot
Mesa Temple Construction from the south
The Family History Training Center building on the east side of the Temple is also being renovated.

Family History Library Training Center
The reflecting pool and stairway on the east side of the Temple are also gone.

East side of the Mesa Temple
In the above image, you can see the FamilySearch Family History Library building in the distance. One tiny spot of plants and flowers has survived so far.

Plants and Flowers Mesa Temple
On Main Street, across from the Temple to the east, the entire section of houses and buildings have been removed for the construction of a new Visitors Center and Family History Center. There will also be some commercial space and some apartments or condos.
Construction on Main Street to the west of the Temple
One last view of the Temple Lot from the north side on Main Street looking south where the Visitors Center was previously visible.

Mesa Temple from the north along Main Street
If you are wondering, yes, it was sprinkling a little and the weather was perfect. We are planning on returning periodically to the area and so we might be able to provide an update sometime.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Place Research by FamilySearch

It is impossible to understate the importance of identifying the exact place where events occurred in your ancestors' lives. Names are unreliable identifiers. Dates are often vague and/or inaccurate. Places associated with an exact location on the face of the earth give you a firm starting point for valid research. Can I say that any more emphatically? The very first step in identifying an ancestor or other relative should be to focus on the places where events may have occurred in their lives.

Now, this takes us to maps. One relatively obscure feature of the website is the Places Research web page. For example, the web page does not show up on the website's Site Map and there are no obvious links to the web page. It does show up in the FamilySearch Solutions Gallery as an app.

The web page does have a number of search options as shown by this screenshot:

Why is this helpful? One reason is that the Standardized Places used by the Family Tree are tied to specific geographical coordinates and you can see those coordinates used by searching for the standard place names using Place Research web page. You can also use the Place Resarch web page to see any places that are included within a particular location such as all the counties in a state or place names within a county.

One example of why exact place names and descriptions are important is illustrated by this screenshot:

If your ancestor was from "Arizona" you might think that is fairly obvious what place is being referred to. But if you look at the map above, you can see many places in the world that are called by the name "Arizona" including six in the United States. This is a very simple example but place names and locations can become a major issue in deciding where to search for an ancestor.

In addition, place names change over time. Fortunately, FamilySearch is taking the initiative to provide time frames for the use of some place names. This is particularly true when standardizing a place name while using the Family Tree.

There are a huge number of other tools that can be used to establish the location of an event and these should not be overlooked. I write about maps and location finding devices and tools from time to time so stay tuned for further posts.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Introducing The Family History Guide YouTube Channel

Yes, there is a Channel for The Family History Guide. It would help a lot of we had more subscribers but we are going to add more videos and make the Channel a genealogical destination. is much more than just music videos, dogs, cats, and entertainment. It is a go-to place for instruction and education in almost any subject. Genealogy only makes up a very small part of the YouTube video library but it is a significant asset. You can easily see how much information there is on YouTube by doing a search. For example, here is what you get from a search for "genealogy."

You can also search for more specific topics. It has been some years now since I realized the importance of posting periodic videos and I have maintained my "video presence" long enough to see significant benefits to the community.

The Family History Guide is one of the most valuable online genealogical assets in existence. It certainly deserves more visibility and support. To remind everyone, contributing to The Family History Guide Association will help us continue with this important educational and instructional website and even clicking on a share or subscribing to the YouTube Channel can help.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

If you have Italian ancestors, you need to know this
Quoting from a recent news release from

FamilySearch International announced free access to over  150 million Italian historical genealogical records—the largest online collection of its kind. The unprecedented initiative is the result of collaboration between FamilySearch, the Italian government, the Italian State Archives (Direzione Generale per gli Archivi or DGA), and many other archives. The free collections include over 200 years of digitized images of birth, marriage, death, and other significant family history records from all regions of Italy and many other repositories. Search the free Italy collections online at 
If you have Italian ancestors, you need to read the entire news release linked here.

I seem to go through phases in helping people find their ancestors. A while ago at the Brigham Young University Family History Library, I went through a series of people asking about Italian ancestral research. For quite a long time, I had one after another requests for help with Italian research. This new announcement indicates that in the future, I should be able to help almost anyone with Italian research. Here is another amazing quote from the news release:
The Italy civil registration records are the most complete of FamilySearch’s collections. FamilySearch also has Church records in Italy dating back to the 1500s. Starting a little later, Italy's court (tribunali) records can be found. Civil records became available after 1806. After annexing large sections of Italy during his reign, Napoleon Bonaparte introduced civil registration and the mandatory creation of duplicate records. Copies of birth, citizenship or residency, marriage, and death documents were kept in the community, and a second set were sent to the court having jurisdiction for the area. Today, these are a gold mine for Italian family history researchers—as they continue to become accessible online.  
Through agreements with Italian governments and other repositories, FamilySearch is preserving not only the civil records online, but also millions more from archives throughout Italy—essentially helping to open Italian archives to patrons all over the world, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The digital images are also a safety net against natural calamities and loss to human handling. 
Obviously, as the new release explains, if these records were indexed it would greatly facilitate the ability of researchers to search the records but having researched records from countries speaking Romance languages for years, I know that the key to finding families is identifying the location where the family originated. The records are arranged chronilogically and geographically and researchers are able to trace families back generations. We do not have to wait to do extensive research.

Please read the entire article for further information and if you can read Italian, please help index the records. Indexes make starting your research a lot easier. Go to to find the records. Here is the link to the Italian records:

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Give on Tuesday for The Family History Guide

We are raising money for The Family History Guide Association and your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate $5 or $500.  Every little bit helps.  And on Giving Tuesday, Nov 27, Facebook and PayPal will match a total of $7 Million in donations. 
Simply go to our Facebook page by clicking HERE 

Thank you for your support!! 
Your donation will be automatically MATCHED TODAY ONLY by Facebook and PayPal!!                      
We've included information about The Family History Guide Association below. 

The mission of The Family History Guide Association Charity (501c3) is to greatly increase the number of people actively involved in family history worldwide and to make everyone's family history journey easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable.
Find Out More About This giving opportunity and The Family History Guide

Sunday, November 25, 2018

New FamilySearch Ordinances Ready Feature

FamilySearch has introduced a new Family Tree feature called Ordinances Ready. Here is a description of the feature from the above blog post. 
For Church members, the ultimate temple and family history goal is to provide saving ordinances for their ancestors. 
This can happen whether you are able to serve as proxy for an ancestor in person or if you share the ordinances with the temple for someone to perform in your (and your ancestor’s) behalf. 
But, for various reasons, it can sometimes be difficult to identify an ancestor needing ordinances.
The new Ordinances Ready feature in the FamilySearch Family Tree app can help. Here’s how it works: 
Ordinances Ready searches FamilySearch Family Tree, as well as temple reservation and shared lists, to find available ordinances for people you are related to. It verifies that the person:
  • Is related to you.
  • Was born at least 110 years ago.
  • Has chronologically consistent birth and death dates as compared with family relationships.
  • Is not a duplicate, based on the information available in the tree.
In the near future, the Ordinances Ready search will expand to include ordinance reservations from the temple inventory, ensuring that anyone that uses it will be able to find and request ordinances to perform in the temple.
There are some important tips regarding the program also from the blog post.
Tips for Using Ordinances Ready 
  • If you request ordinances using the new feature, be sure to take them to the temple on your next visit or give them to family, friends, or ward members. Under certain circumstances, ordinance reservations might expire after 90 days or longer.
  • The Ordinances Ready feature will help generate just a few ordinance reservations at a time to make them easier to sort through and use for each new temple trip. If you need more ordinance reservations than you find on your first search, consider encouraging others try the feature for themselves for a fun family history experience.
  • The first step when using Ordinances Ready is to select the ordinance type you are looking to perform. Notice if the results include other remaining ordinances for that person. Depending on the circumstances, these other ordinances can be shared with a family member or the temple, so others may do them. You can also unreserve the ordinances to make them available in Family Tree.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

A Family History Mission: Looking Back

Reading Room, Maryland State Archives
No. 90

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission James Tanner" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them or click back through all the posts.

In July 2017, my wife and I decided to serve a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because of our age and possible future physical limitations, this looked like about the last time we would be able to serve somewhere besides our home. While attending a workshop for Area Temple and Family History Consultants in Salt Lake City, Utah, we heard about an opportunity to serve in the Washington, D.C. North Mission as FamilySearch Record Preservation Specialists, i.e. camera operators. After exploring this opportunity we began processing our application and after a few months of preparation, we received our mission call and were on our way down the hill from our home in Provo to the Missionary Training Center (MTC).

The year on our mission passed slowly and quickly at the same time. Once you are well into the "elderly" category, you find that time seems to flash by at breakneck speed. After spending two weeks in the MTC, including a week of camera training, we were on our way across the United States to our new home in Annapolis, Maryland. We knew almost nothing about what to expect so we were constantly surprised from the moment we arrived. We had never been to Annapolis but many years ago we lived in Dundalk, Maryland next to Baltimore while I was serving in the US Army.

Our first impressions were of the intense traffic and narrow winding roads. We found ourselves assigned to a nice apartment and soon found out that we were serving with five other couples. We overlapped the service of two couples whose missions were soon over. Although we arrived just before Christmas, we were immediately busy learning our task of digitizing the probate records in the Maryland State Archives.

One of the first learning experience was the fact that as Senior Missionaries working in a government office, we served as "volunteers" and did not wear missionary badges or missionary apparel. We also quickly learned that preparing and digitizing records is hard work. We were quickly into the middle of the work. Our lifestyle changed dramatically. We were up at 5:30 am and to work by 7:00 am, later changed to 8:00 am. We had a short lunch break and worked until 4:30 pm or so. This was our schedule five days a week except for state holidays.

As volunteers, we served as guests in the Archives. Over the year, we did make many good friends among the employees and were well treated and welcome. But we did have to be careful to observe the administration's rules about the security and operation of the Archives. As I noted above, because of security reasons, the Archives limited our access to between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm. We were encouraged to be out of the building by 4:30 at the latest. There were exceptions, but we tried to follow the rules.

In the last 89 installments of this series of posts, I have described our work in detail so there is no need to go into that topic. Outside of our work, we were on our own time. Before arriving, we were unsure about our involvement in the other missionary activities of the Mission, but we soon learned that there was enough to keep us busy and that our contact with the young full-time missionaries was limited. Essentially, since we worked every day during normal business hours anything else, such as buying food, washing clothes, etc. had to take place after work or on Saturdays.

We were encouraged to take advantage of local cultural activities on Saturdays. My wife and I spent many of our Saturdays exploring the beautiful city of Annapolis or riding the Metro to Washington, D.C. to see the museums and monuments. We did not attend missionary district or zone meetings but we did occasionally have some enjoyable activities with the other Senior Missionaries assigned to the Washington, D.C. North Mission.

We began by attending the Annapolis Ward in the Annapolis Stake. At first, we were encouraged to help with the Military Relations Missionaries who served the Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. We became good friends with the Military Relations Missionaries but after a short time helping with the Academy, we began attending the Spa Creek Branch (Spanish Speaking). I have an extensive Spanish language background but Ann, my wife has very little Spanish language skills. That actually worked out perfectly because while I could work with the Spanish speaking members, Ann could work with those who spoke English and we found out that the Primary was conducted and taught principally in English because almost all the children spoke English fluently.

Since we both have extensive family history/genealogy backgrounds and since we were serving as FamilySearch missionaries, we took every opportunity to help people discover their ancestors. The Branch President and Elders Quorum President for the Branch set a goal to have trips to the Philadelphia Temple, because of the closure of the Washington, D.C. Temple for renovation,  during the year we were there and encouraged the members of the Branch to let us help them find their own family names to take to the Temple. The Branch President and Elders Quorum President recruited people almost every Sunday to work with us in the Annapolis Stake Family History Center which was located in the Stake building where we attended church. They made two very successful Temple trips while we were helping the Branch where many of the members were able to perform ordinances for their own ancestors and other relatives. I also volunteered in the Family History Center on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

During the year, we taught genealogy classes at various locations including a Lunch and Learn session at the Maryland State Archives and several classes at the Washington, D.C. Family History Center. We also joined the Anne Arundel County Genealogical Society and attended their meetings. I also did some extensive research for people who contacted me during the year. Ann helped one of the Archive volunteers publish a three-volume book about the cemeteries in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

Listing all our activities and experiences would be impossible. I did keep writing on a reduced schedule however and also managed to present a few webinars for the BYU Family History Library.

What are our plans for the future? Mainly survival. We are visiting some of our children's families on our way home and then we will be plunging back into our activities in Provo. I will be offering to serve again at the BYU Family History Library. We will also be attending genealogy conferences and teaching again. I will be serving again as an Ambassador at the upcoming RootsTech Conference. I will be returning to help teach and write for Family History Expos. We will both we serving on the Board of Directors of The Family History Guide Association and will be helping at The Family History Guide booth at RootsTech. Other than that we will have to see what other opportunities that might come our way.