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

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Whittling Away at the Free Partner Access Programs and Other Problems

What is there about the word "free" that I don't understand? Hmm. It looks like to me that some of the FamilySearch partners are deciding that some content is not part of the agreement or never was. I certainly understand that as these large online websites negotiate agreements with record repositories around the world that they may encounter some non-negotiable restrictions on the content and their ability to provide "free" access. The basic issue here is monetization of genealogically significant records.

I recently wrote a short post about Reclaim the Records. See "Reclaim The Records Challenges the New York Department of Health Over Priority." If you go to their website and read the "case studies" about the various records that were withheld by government agencies, you will begin to see the problem. The basic issue is whether or not someone or some entity can "own" records that contain information about us or about our ancestral families. For example, who owns your birth record?

There is a second issue that is raised by the lawsuit discussed in the Reclaim the Records post above. That is can a third-party, some entity that was not part of originating the records and is not the person or family named in the record gain some kind of interest in the record by payment or otherwise that entitles them to charge a fee to view or copy the record? For example, when I was born, the state of Utah created a "birth certificate." I did not ask them to do this. I did not consent to them obtaining the information about my birth. All of that was done by people who did not consult me as to whether I wanted a birth certificate or not. To add insult to injury, I was totally incapacitated at the time. I could not speak, read, or write. Now, 70+ years later, if I want to obtain a copy of the information they obtained without my knowledge or permission, I have to pay the State of Utah a fee. What is more, they can "sell" my information to a third party such as and then I will have to subscribe to Ancestry's website to see my own birth certificate.

OK, since I was a baby at the time, my parents acted for me as my parents. But essentially, any rights I had to my own information was given away at the time I was born. So now, I have no right to even view my own birth certificate without paying either the State of Utah or some other entity.

Let's take this one step further. Who owns my parents' records or information? Many genealogists think they own the information in their genealogy files? What if I want to obtain a birth certificate of my own father or mother? In almost every state of the United States, with the possible exception of Arizona, I would have to pay to obtain that information.

This is not just an issue in the United States, this is a worldwide issue. In fact, some countries and other quasi-governmental entities are increasingly making obtaining genealogically important information more difficult and more expensive. The reasons given for this action include privacy and ownership interests. Of course, the issue is much broader than our narrow genealogical interest. The real issue is the monetization of information on social network programs.

One interesting part of this issue is that the United States has Federal and State Freedom of Information Acts that require the governments to give their constituents access to certain types of records some of which have genealogical significance. Now comes the question. Can these governments "sell" that information to a third-party who then sells it to the public?

There are costs involved with obtaining and maintaining all records. Who pays for those costs? If I pay to obtain a record shouldn't I be able to charge to access the record to recoup my costs?

I am sure you will see more from me on these issues.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Building a Family Tree: An Example on -- Project Twelve

Deciding on a Project 

With a seemingly endless number of options, The Family Tree can be overwhelming. Where do I start? How do I know what to work on? The real key is found in 1 Nephi 4: 6
6 And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we should never get so "wrapped up" in our work that we forget that we are involved in giving those who have moved on to the Spirit World the opportunity to accept or reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we live worthily and pray for guidance, we will be led to those parts of the Family Tree that need our attention and work. On the other hand, if we approach our work with the Family Tree to prove something or to just "find a name" without being led by the Spirit we may lose the opportunity to help those who are ready to accept the Gospel in the Spirit World.

I find that when I approach the Family Tree with an open mind and listen to the promptings of the Spirit, I fond new discoveries every time. For example in the screenshot above, I have three direct line family surnames that I do not ever recall researching previously: Brindle, Worsley, and Leigh. Granted, all three of these lines start in the 1700s, but I am used to doing research in that time period. All of these people are my grandparents. Let me choose one line to see what happens.

Jane Worsey has six sources attached, but very little information. Here is my relationship.

There is only a minimum of clean up to do for this individual because little has been done. There are several children listed in the family of Jane Worsley and Adam Brindle, but it appears that they are in different locations and probably suspect.

Because so little work has been done on this family and because the parents are direct line ancestors, there is a substantial interest in cleaning up the entries and working on adding additional information. Sometimes the Spirit leads you into situations where there is a lot of work to do. Here is what is in the Family Tree for the family as I start the process:

An initial review shows that some of the information for this family comes from the IGI or International Genealogical Index. This is another indication of the lack of research that has gone into this family so far even counting the information going back a hundred years. What is here, may or may not be valid. But this is a good opportunity to see what can be found.

Most of the entries need some standardization of dates and places. An initial review of the children listed reveals the following locations recorded for births or christenings.
  • Ann Brindle: Pemberton, Lancashire, England
  • Alice Brindle: Christening in Deane, Lancashire, England, Birth in Manchester, England, United Kingdon
  • Esther Brindle: Birth in Deane by Bolton, Lancashire, England
  • Adam Brindle: Birth and Christening in Deane, Lancashire, England
  • Ann Brindle: Christening in Deane by Bolton, Lancashire, England
  • Betty Brindle: None
  • Jane Brindle: None
  • Rachel Brindle: None
The father, Adam Brindle, is shown as born in Rivington, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom. There is no birth or christening information for Jane Worsley. There are two places (at least) named Deane in England. There is one in Lancashire. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Deane in Lancashire.
Deane is an area of Bolton, in Greater Manchester, England. It is about 2 miles (3.2 km) south west of Bolton and 11 miles (17.7 km) northwest of the city of Manchester
Historically a part of Lancashire, the Parish of Deane was one of eleven parishes within the hundred of Salford and covered roughly half of the present Metropolitan Borough of Bolton. The Church of St Mary on which the parish was centred was in the township of Rumworth.
So all of the places, when listed, are consistent. The three children with no birth or christening information are problematical. A quick search for Brindles on shows that there are about 191 people with the Brindle surname about this time period in Deane. At this point, I will spend some time adding any records I can find to this family through searches on FamilySearch and the Partner programs. [Time passes]

OK, now I am back with this family. Basically, I went through each of the children and the parents and searched for additional records for each individual. As I added in the records, I resolved any standardization issues and merged all of the duplicates. Fortunately, there was a will attached to Jane Worsley of her husband Adam Brindle. In the will he names each of his children and their spouses. But one of the listed children, the first one named Ann Brindle married to Peter Ellison is not mentioned in the will. She is also the only one not born or christened in Deane, Lancashire, England.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few "Ann Brindles" in the surrounding area. But the Ann mentioned in the Will is married to Joseph Helm and it is very unlikely that the family had two daughters with the same name who both lived to adulthood and got married. It is not unusual to see children with the same name when one of the children dies very young.

Now, there is another clue in the Will, the Ann mentioned has two children at the time the Will was signed and the first Ann has three children listed who would have been born at the time of the Will. On balance, it looks like the first daughter considering her place of birth, children, husband etc. is not part of this family.

Hmm. Guess what? I am no longer shown as related to this family. Well, that does happen. The Ann Brindle married to Peter Ellison is still my ancestor.

Time to start with a different family.

Explanation of how this project began and why I am pursuing it (updated).

In this project, I started out by picking a somewhat random person from my ancestors or my ancestors' descendants who may have lived into the 20th Century from the Family Tree and to hopefully show, step-by-step, the research needed to extend that person's family tree back several generations. Finding a person who has no apparent ancestors in the Family Tree is relatively easy for those who lived in or into the 19th Century by much harder the further you go back in the past. As I continued to examine individuals in the Family Tree my objectives have changed. I decided to include anyone who, from the lack of information in the Family Tree, needed research.

To clarify this project, I will not be reserving any of the people I discover for my own Temple List unless I am related to those I find. For those I find to whom I am not related, I will simply leave the "green icons" on the Family Tree for that person's descendants to find and use for themselves. Please refrain from doing the temple work for people to whom you are not related.

Now, after I got going doing the research, I got a couple of requests to research some people further back in time. These turned out to be old, established "end-of-line" situations. Since my original idea was to demonstrate finding people, I started with easier challenges. But in any event,  I may or may not find new people to add to the FamilyTree. Since some of the families I choose are in an "end-of-line" sort of situation independent of the time frame, there is no guarantee that I will be any more successful than the average user of the Family Tree in finding additional family members. In any event, I hope that my efforts as recorded will help either the family members or others to find more information about their ancestral families and relatives.

Why am I doing this? For the past 15 years or so, I have been helping hundreds (thousands?) of people find their ancestors. I simply intend to document the process in detail with real examples so that you can see exactly how I find family lines. I simply want to show where those "green icons" come from. Since the Family Tree is entirely cooperative, I will simply assume that when I find a family that needs some research that I am helping that family. By the way, this is Project Eleven of the series because I intend to do this over and over with different examples.

There is another reason why I am doing this. Because I constantly offer to help people find their ancestors and I get relatively few that take advantage of that offer. I need to spend some of my excess energy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days
I have been reading the serialization of the new publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that are appearing in the Ensign and Liahona magazines. It is so engaging and interesting that I have been reading parts of it out loud to my wife and this has engendered some further discussions. The book will be a four-volume series called, Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days. You can read about the book here:

You can also start reading the book here:

Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Survival Guide for the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part Sevem

If you were wondering why this series of posts is referred to as a "survival guide," all you have to do is look at the entry above and see what I have to talk about. This is what the entry looks like after I have done about eleven merges. I have referred to this situation as the "Fire Swamp" of the Family Tree for that reason. 

Of course, you will immediately note that the person in the above screenshot is identified only by the name "Lucy." I quick search on shows that there are 12,332,458 people in their records with that name. What are the chances of finding the right one? Yes, practically zero. But here, we have what looks like an estimated birth date and a place. The place is consistent with those of other assumed family members and so may be a starting place for identifying the person. 

It turns out that the location, Otham, Kent, England needs to be standardized. There are also several Record Hints. The place is a very small town. The current population, according to Wikipedia, is about 523 people.


The description mentions the old church of St. Nicholas dating from the 12th Century. Interestingly, the Record Hint for a marriage record includes the same church. 

The record also gives her surname. Just by adding in the Record Hints, I have now got specific information about this person and should be able to find her parents since the location is such a small place. 

What does this example illustrate about the Family Tree? What does it further illustrate about the process of verifying the records in the Family Tree? 

The Family Tree is not a vacant lot. It is a fully constructed edifice. However, it was built before there were are construction standards. In some cases, the entries need to renovated. In other, more serious situations, you may have to tear down the building and start all over. But the process remains the same, you have to build according to today's standards of correcting the entries, merging any duplicates and researching sources for every change and addition. 

You cannot assume that anything in the Family Tree that does not have a supporting source citation or explanation is at accurate. But once the sources are there, it is absolutely imperative that you study and read all of the sources before making any changes. If there are sources, do not do anything until you understand what has already been done. 

If you made additions and changes without the proper support of verifiable sources, you can assume that the "building inspectors" i.e. those watching the entries, will come along and remove or correct everything you do. Take your time. Learn how to read. Study the sources. 

Make sure you add all the information in the sources and use a standard format. 

Stay tuned for the next installment. 

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:
Part Five:
Part Six:

A Family History Mission: Lots of Inventories

No. 68

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.

One major component of the probate files we are digitizing at the Maryland State Archives is the estate inventories. From the earliest Colonial times, estates were taxed on a some or all of the value of the items owned by the deceased person. These inventories are extremely detailed lists of everything the person owned at the time of their death. There are also subsequent lists in the form of an accounting showing the items sold and the price paid by the purchaser.

In the earlier times, before the Civil War, these inventories include lists of the slaves owned by the person. For me, these lists of enslaved persons are extremely sad. I was particularly touched by the following entry.

This one list represents all that was evil about slavery. If you look closely at the last entry, you will see that "Blind Henry Sen." was valued at $.01. Here we have a representative of the whole problem and one of the continuing problems in our society today. Even though we have formally abolished slavery, we still have people in our society either because of race, age, or disability that are given no value.

Right now, I am just finishing listening to a three-volume history of the Civil War and at the same time, I am watching history pass before me through the probate documents.

On a lighter side, I did find these two petrified flies that are over a hundred years old.

I have mentioned that we do not wear "traditional" missionary clothing to work. Here is a photo of my wife Ann's hands after spending a day or so processing the documents for digitization. She has been working on pulling out the original document from the clamshell storage containers. We do not usually get quite this dirty, but we do wash our hands several times a day.

We are still running across interesting documents. Here is a Certification for a Justice of the Peace signed by the future president, James Buchanan, while he was the Secretary of State for the United States.

I do plan on writing more about the content of the Inventories. I think many genealogists fail to see the value of these lists in reconstructing the lives of their ancestors.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Family History Mission: The Long Stretch

No. 67

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.

Work this week was interrupted with a visit to a dermatologist and the removal of a relatively large squamous cell cancer from my arm. These types of interruptions in our digitization work don't seem to consider that we are Senior Missionaries. Fortunately, we are living in a major metropolitan area and finding a good doctor is not difficult. Most of the other missionaries serving with us here in Annapolis, Maryland have had their own visits to local doctors.

Physical condition and health is a major concern not only of the missionaries themselves but also from the Missionary Department of the Church. Before our mission, we had a complete physical and filled out a long questionnaire about any medical concerns or issues we had. My interaction with dermatologists has been going on for years and years, so the need for a visit here in Maryland was not much of a surprise. 

Some of the Senior Missionaries serving here in the Washington, D.C. North Mission are older than we are and some are younger, but all have seem to have some medical concern or another simply because of our age. The important thing is that we do not use our age as an excuse not to serve. If we had something that was very limiting, we could always serve while living at home or even from our home as telephone support missionaries. 

I am reminded of 2 Timothy 1:6-7 that says, 
6 Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.
7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
We have been set apart to serve and even though there may be some difficulties, we can still keep serving. As Paul, the Apostle goes on to say in Chapter 2 of 2nd Timothy:
1 Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
3 Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
We can do hard things.  

Monday, June 18, 2018

Church Hymnbook and Children's Songbook Being Revised

Here is the announcement from an email notice:
Under the direction of the First Presidency, committees have been assembled to recommend revisions to the current hymnbook and children's songbook. When the revisions are complete, there will only be one hymnbook and one children's songbook, offering the same hymns and songs in all languages. The new collections will be created over the next several years to reflect the needs of members around the world. 

Visit to learn more about this effort. You can give feedback about the current music and submit new original hymns, children's songs, and lyrics to be considered for inclusion in the revised collections.
Here is a screenshot of the website:

I remember the last revision and was surprised to see some the hymns that did not "make the cut."  So, if you have any favorites, you should probably give suggestions and if you have any original hymns, by all means, submit them for consideration.

The Family History Guide Continues to Grow
When people get stuck with a researching their family history, I always try to remind them of The Family History Guide. I had a Temple and Family History Consultant ask me for assistance in helping two of the members of her Ward. She needed help with Polish research and research in Korea. Both of these places are not the easiest places to do genealogical research. I showed her the Countries research pages and she was on her way to helping the people get started.

Here is the Poland research page.
And here is the one for Korea.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Survival Guide for the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part Six

The Family Tree is the solution, not the problem. 

One of the most valuable recent technological innovations is the incorporation of GPS coordinates into online mapping programs. Further incorporation of the GPS into smartphones makes navigating a big city or finding your way out in the desert much easier than it was in the past. After using the GPS directions linked to a mapping program such as Google Maps for a while, you can become almost dependent on the assistance of audio instructions.

On the other hand, there are no audio directions embedded in the Family Tree. There is really nothing even comparable to a map. The best set of directions to the program is a companion website that is not even acknowledged or linked from the Family Tree at all. That website is The Family History Guide or I could just repeat what is completely organized and explained in The Family History Guide, but that is not the purpose of this post series. The idea here is to directly address as many of the issues with the program as possible. Even those who are fairly advanced in using the Family Tree have issues and problems with the program.

Time to start into the issues. Let's begin at the beginning. Here is a screenshot of one variation of the current start-up screen for

If I scroll down, I will get an invitation to start using the Family Tree program.

This is a major step up for the website. Previously, the startup screen was harder to navigate. But if you register for the website or sign in if you are already registered, you will get a different screen. These screens are personalized and custom created for each user.

You may or may not find these features to be useful. If you click on the link in the top menu bar, you can go directly to the Family Tree. You can go directly to the Family Tree and begin entering your own name and those of your ancestors and other relatives or you can use the Family Booklet to get started, either online or on paper. The link to the Family Booklet is in the Family Tree pull-down menu item.

For many users, this may be a better option for beginning a family tree. What I have found is that many users, even those who have some experience, do not realize that there is an easy and somewhat less complicated way to begin adding information to the Family Tree. What I occasionally find is that the "standard" landscape pedigree view that is basic to genealogy is not easily understood or as obvious as it may seem to those who have grown up looking at pedigree charts. It is important to understand that there are alternatives. There are several different views and many people prefer looking at their part of the Family Tree in a fan chart format.

One of the popular complaints about the Family Tree on the support website, (See is the format of the Family Tree. Specifically, the amount of "white space" in the landscape view or the number of details shown for each person. Here is a screenshot of what you might see today for reference.

There are dozens of other options that could be added through icons or links. But in every case, there needs to be a balance between readability and functionality. Just adding functions to a program does not necessarily make the program "better." In some cases, adding more features to a program may end up defeating the original reason for developing the program in the first place. The Family Tree has more information in this landscape view than appears in my own screenshot. The reason is that I have worked over my entries and some of the offerings from FamilySearch are not presently available for this section of my part of the Family Tree. Here is a view with more information in the form of record hints and data warnings.

I am certain that the look of the Family Tree will evolve over time, but I am also hopeful that the screens, such as this one, will not get loaded down with features. There is a balance that must be achieved between the "need" for additional features and the usability of the program. For example, one of the programs with the most features is Adobe Photoshop. The program has hundreds of features and is extremely complex with detailed screens. A person can be considered to be a Photoshop expert if the person knows about 100 of the features. We don't need FamilySearch to keep adding features to the Family Tree unless those features have a general appeal and add real functionality. Of course, Photoshop would not be Photoshop if it was simple and had fewer features. It is aimed at highly motivated and trained professionals. Let's not turn the Family Tree into a professional's program.

Here are the previous posts in this series

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:
Part Five:

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Family History Mission: The Oddities and Unusual

1 July 1776 Probate file from Charles County, Maryland
No. 66

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.

Ome of the most interesting parts of digitizing records at the Maryland State Archives is finding old, unusual, or strange records. This past week, I began digitizing a Probate Record beginning the 1760s and found this record that was dated 1 July 1776. While monumental things were going on in some parts of the world, the courts in Charles County, Maryland were chugging away with their usual calendar of court cases. For me, this was interesting because the documents in the National Archives from 1776 are behind glass, but I get to see the documents close up and digitize them. But this also reminds me of the immense value of these document and so we want to be as careful as possible in handling them.

Here is an image of the two-page spread with the entry from 1776.

If you look closely, you can see the cover that is used to protect the books from some types of harm while on the shelves. The cover wraps around the book and is fastened velcro.

Here is a closeup of the earliest record I have digitized so far from 1764.

Here is the entire page.

These Probate Inventory books were very skinny but long.

I am going to do a post about the strange terms and names I find in old probate documents.

Here's an example of the lovely endpaper in some of the books. The older books have beautiful and very readable handwriting for the most part.

I have plenty more to write about, so stay tuned.

Friday, June 15, 2018

FamilySearch to Add Same-Sex Marriages to Family Tree

Headlines in the Deseret News report the following in an article dated June 13, 2018:
SALT LAKE CITY — The world's largest genealogy organization is redesigning so the LDS Church-sponsored database can store and provide records of same-sex families. 
FamilySearch first said in 2015 it would add a feature for same-sex relationships in the future. The major overhaul to the website's system should be ready by 2019, according to a statement on the website updated in April. 
The statement said's goal is to capture accurate genealogy "that represents past, present and future families of the world." 
"To support this goal," the release continued, "same-sex relationships, including same-sex parents and same-sex couples, will be provided in FamilySearch Family Tree. Several systems that surround Family Tree, such as tree and record searching, must be significantly redesigned to support same-sex relationships before Family Tree can release this capability." 
FamilySearch International is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 
The leader of a group that seeks equal rights and protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns and their families hailed the changes to FamilySearch.
As pointed out in the statement, this is not really "new" news.  Some of the online family tree programs have designated all marital relationships as "marital partners" for some years now. The Family Tree program already allows entering relationships without requiring a formal marriage date.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Are you aware of the changes in the records on the FamilySearch website?

On the website, if you sign in and then click on your name in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen, you can see the "Settings" link. One of the settings lets you subscribe to a variety of blog posts and newsletters from FamilySearch. I just subscribe to everything so I can sort-of keep up with what is going on. The image above is a weekly newsletter I get telling me about the new historical records on the website. There mostly appears to be a column of numbers and another column of zeros.

What is happening with FamilySearch's online records?

Some time ago, I wrote a series of posts telling about where all the records were located on the website. I also did a popular video for the Brigham Young University Family History Library.

Where are the Digitized Records on - James Tanner

The report that comes out each week from FamilySearch lists the records in the Historical Record Collections section of the website that have been indexed. Very few new images are being added to that section.

The new images are being added to the website but are only available through a listing in the Catalog. The video explains where these are and how to find these new records. The number of records in Catalog is currently over 800 million and rising fairly consistently.

Searching for a name on the website will only search Indexed records. You have to look through the records in the Catalog for the locations where events occurred in your ancestors' lives to find the rest or the records.

This is an excellent reason to become involved in Indexing.

See The Family History Guide ( indexing instructions.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Carefully Using Record Hints

Record hints from FamilySearch on the Family Tree have become one of the beneficial features of the website. From time to time, I get emails directing me to a record hint for a suggested relative. However, we cannot just assume that these Record Hints pertain to our family or are our relatives. We need to carefully examine the links to the person and make sure the hint is to the right person in our own part of the Family Tree.

Here are the screens I get from the above link to see my relationship. I first have to sign in to the website then I get the following screen:

There are really multiple Record Hints and the one featured in my email message is the first one in the line. Here is the relationship to Carlyle Crawley:

This is a short line of links and I can readily determine that yes, I am related to this person. I have personally added the existing sources to each of these individuals. When I view this person, I can see other opportunities to clean up the Family Tree and add sources. 

There are already eight sources listed for this person so I can compare sources and make sure I have the right person. When I click on the link to show the details of the suggested changes and hints, I see the following summary page. 

I can now examine each of the hints and add them if needed. For more information about Record Hints on the Family Tree see The Family History Guide for the Family Search Family Tree. Here is the link to the part about Record Hints:

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Family History Mission: Random Impressions

No. 65

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.

The image above is so far the oldest record that I have digitized. Since Charles County, Maryland was founded in 1658, there probably aren't a lot of older records from this county. The first English settlers arrived in what is now Maryland in 1634, although, from the looks of some of the books we just received, there might be older documents. 

As we work through digitizing thousands of records every week, we are becoming acutely aware of the details such as the handwriting. The handwriting above is extremely easy to read. But in any year, the individual writing the document could have had terrible handwriting. Also, bad handwriting seems to become more prevalent during the latter half of the 19th Century. 

When we started working over six months ago, we spent a lot of time trying to get the book situated for scanning. 

After setting up hundreds of books, the whole process is streamlined and we can do many books in one day depending on the number of pages in the books. The days pass quickly and it seems we are always starting or finishing another week. 

We have figured out the Annapolis, Maryland only has four main streets. We have been hearing emergency vehicle sirens all day and night and could not figure out why. But with only four major streets, almost all the traffic in the town has to go by our apartment at some time or another. 

We have had several of our children and their families visit since we have been here. Some of our children and their families live near the East Coast and so they have come to Washington, D.C. for their Spring Break or Summer Vacations. We have enjoyed our short times with our family. Last week, one of our daughters and her family from Utah came to visit our Branch meeting. Our daughter played the organ and the members were really happy to have someone who could play the organ, Even it was for only one Sunday. 

We have learned that the forests around our apartment are full of ticks. They are extremely active this year because it has been so wet. May 2018 was the wettest May on record for Maryland since 1989 and the third wettest May on record. It was also the warmest May on record for the rest of the United States. The ticks are very dangerous because of Lyme Disease and so we have kept out of walking into the dense forest areas. We are glad we have good raincoats. The raincoats are easier to use than umbrellas. 

The missionaries who work with us are showing their age. We have some days with doctor visits and time off because of illness. Despite these obstacles, we all seem to keep digitizing records and working as much as possible. 

We enjoy working in the Spanish speaking Spa Creek Branch. The members are really friendly and kind to us. We have seen several new members join the Branch through the efforts of our wonderful Sister Missionaries. We have been helping the members with their genealogy and since the Washington, D.C. Temple is closed, we have had one Branch Temple excursion and have two more planned. They are so excited to take their own family names to the Temple. 

If it sounds like what I am writing is a little bit repetitious, it probably is. We do about the same thing almost every day that we work at the Archives and we have a fixed routine for getting up in the morning. We fix our lunches the night before to save time in the morning. We do our cleaning and clothes washing during the week or on Saturdays. We have a lot of things to keep us busy just trying to survive. 

We have been getting our car washed regularly. We feel better when we can see out of the windows and have a clean car. 

We have made quite a few trips to downtown Washington, D. C. and have about exhausted ourselves and our list of museums we want to visit. It was nice earlier in the year when there weren't so many people. This last week when our children and grandchildren were visiting, the museums were so full of people you could hardly hear anything for the noise and looking at some of the exhibits was impossible. We have found some places that are not so popular and so maybe we will concentrate on the less popular attractions and leave the other museums until all the children go back to school. The day I wrote this post, we spent a day shopping for food, washing clothes, and generally catching up on sleep. 

We are happy we came on a mission and are glad to see all the documents that are being digitized. We look forward to the next few months of work. 

A Survival Guide for the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part Five -- A Firm Foundation

The Family Tree is the solution, not the problem. 

We have been reading recently about the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall in Washington, D.C. It will be partially closed for the next six years or so while the building can be renovated beginning in 2018. Here is what the Smithsonian website had to say about the renovation:
The assessment revealed that “the exterior cladding of the building—the marble façade—was warping and cracking, compromising the integrity” of the whole structure.

Christopher Browne, deputy director of the museum, notes ruefully that many of the decisions made back in the 1970s vis-à-vis its design suggest an inclination toward “value engineering.” And when affordability is prized over longevity, issues down the road are inevitable.
This is essentially what happened with the Family Tree. The components of the database came from years of piecemeal submissions without a proper foundation. I have referenced this book before, but it is still the only authoritative explanation of the ultimate origin of what we now have in Family Tree.

Allen, James B, Jessie L Embry, and Kahlile B Mehr. Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894-1994. Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, Brigham Young University, 1995.

Rather than go back over the history in this post, I would refer you to a series I wrote some years ago entitled, "The FamilySearch Family Tree -- A Review and Retrospective." Fast-forwarding to today, we find the Family Tree in the midst of its renovation project. Parts of the Family Tree have been completed other parts are still in their original state of disrepair and yet other parts are new construction in a variety of conditions. If you examine the entries in the Family Tree it is easy to tell which are the old construction, the renovated construction, and the new untried and might-be-good construction.

Here is an example of "old construction;" the kind where the walls are falling down.

This particular entry indicates, on its face, that it is "old" and probably unreliable. Here is a list of the indications of age and unreliability:

  • The name of the individual contains an alternative spelling inserted in parentheses. This is a holdover from paper family group records and the alternative spelling should be moved to the "Other Information" section. The fact that this entry still looks this way in 2018 indicates that no one from this family has yet taken the time to standardize the entries. 
  • The entry for the birth information is a little more complicated. We have a birth date, but no christening date. Since birth dates are not generally available in England in the 1600s it is likely that this is either an estimated date or simply a guess. Although it is not visible in this screenshot, this entire entry is supported by only one source which does not give a birth date for William Hamilton or Hambleton. The one source is attributed to FamilySearch and originates from an IGI Record (International Genealogical Index). 
  • The burial date is also not standardized, but there is also no supporting citation to a record showing this date is accurate. But we can assume that the person is deceased. 
There is also a "Legacy NFS ( source. Here is a screenshot of this source. 

This information could all be correct. The person may have been properly identified and all that is needed is a little light housekeeping to standardize the dates and place names rather than renovation, but there is no real way, at this point, to make that decision. 

The real question here is whether or not this structural damage goes deeper and would require more research than simply cleaning up the entry. There are two Record Hints that give additional information but how do I know I am even working with the correct ancestor? Anytime you jump back in time in your pedigree and do not validate all of the preceding entries, you are running the risk of working on the wrong ancestral line, i.e. not your line at all. 

Using the useful "View My Relationship" option, I can see how I am related to this person; if I am. 

This is supposed to be a direct line ancestor.  But are all the steps or links in this relationship chart reliable? Let's see if there is a need to start doing work closer to the present time in a more recent generation. I usually determine whether or not I can rely on the links by starting with the first well documented and verified ancestor and working my way back towards the target ancestor to see if there are supported links. 

In this particular line, the link between Eliza Ann Hamilton, b. 1815, d. 1901, and her parents who are listed in the program is not substantiated by any record presently shown in the Family Tree as a source. There are some documents in the Memories section that show the parents of James Hamilton, but there is presently no support for the conclusion that John Hamilton is the son of Thomas Hamilton (Hambleton) of Massachusetts. There are also no sources connect Thomas to anyone in England. The connection to someone named William Hamilton is entirely speculative. We have nothing connecting either Thomas to William or William to Thomas other than a similar name. 

At this point, we need to realize that despite the fact that this line has been passed down through generations of family members, there is no substantiation at all for the extension of the line into England. As a matter of fact, the Family Tree entries show that William Hamilton (Hambleton). died in England and that his supposed son was born in Massachusetts. Hmm. How did that happen? 

In short, before you start clicking around in the Family Tree, spend some time looking carefully at the entries. You may find yourself doing some research that you did not expect to be doing. 

Here are the previous posts in this series

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:

Monday, June 4, 2018

A Family History Mission: Digitizing Old and Fragile Books

No. 64

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.

We do have to handle fragile, very old documents and there is always the danger that they are damaged in the process. But what is the alternative? Despite professional conservation methods and careful handling, even if left alone, almost all of the documents would continue to disintegrate due to irreversible chemical changes. There are literally millions of such documents and we take our time and are careful, but the importance of preserving the information that remains outweighs the potential damage that might occur from handling. 

Most of the original court documents we are digitizing are open to public use in the archives. So by digitizing the documents we are helping to reduce the ongoing use and thereby possible consequential damage to the books, by making them available online.

Here is are some examples of how we go about digitizing the books.

The books are delivered to us on an "as needed" basis. The Archive employees bring us a few days' supply of books and reshelve the books once they are digitized.

Just as you cannot judge a book by its cover, almost all of the really old books have been rebound. In the photo above, the books that have the off-white covers are rebound from the originals. However,  even when the book has a newer looking binding, the inside pages could be falling apart.

Many of the books are stored offsite from the main building of the Maryland State Archives. These books have a Tyvek protection sheet with Velcro fasteners.

Our first step when we start a new book is to evaluate the condition and handling. We put the book on our digitization table and look at it.

These books can weigh as much as 25 or more pounds and are not easy to move and position. But we have learned how to handle them.

We record the information on the FamilySearch program that will help FamilySearch and the Archives process the book for online viewing. This is either called way-pointing or adding metadata depending on the context of the information that is recorded. You could think of this also as a way of beginning the indexing the book. 

One of the challenges of the whole operation is to make sure the information can be found once the process of digitizing the book is completed. We usually make a digital image of the cover of the book to preserve any information the cover may contain. It is also a good way to show we digitized the entire book. 

To continue showing that we have captured the entire book, we also digitize the inside cover pages of both the front and back. 

Once we have finished with these preliminary images, we set up the book for digitization. The idea here is to have a uniform black border around each of the images. Here is an image from the Catalog from Maryland showing how the images all have a black border. 

One of the challenges of digitizing books is that they are not flat. So, we have to try and keep them as flat as possible to get good images. Here is what we do to keep the books flat and to provide an even black border.

The clamps we use were specially designed by one of the Senior Missionaries who is currently working at the Maryland State Archives. Here is another book set up with clamps, masking sheets and foam pads for leveling the book. 

We evaluate the images as we go along to make sure we have not accidentally taken an image that includes our hand or has other problems. The digital images are then downloaded to a hard drive and sent each week to FamilySearch in Salt Lake City, Utah for further processing. Each week we report our time and the number of images and other information to FamilySearch. We image about 1200 pages per day on the average. Some days we image over 2000 images. The number of images depends on the condition of the books and whether or not we have any technical difficulties or are waiting for books or many other possible problems. 

As we have worked from day to day, we have improved on the way we do the imaging so that there is a smooth workflow and we can maximize our time at the Archives.