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

Sunday, September 2, 2018

A Family History Mission: Nine Month Overview

No. 78

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.

I seldom include people in my photos because of privacy concerns. But this one is me and I don't really have much privacy left to be concerned about, so here is a photo of the Washington, D.C. Metro and our "private" car on the train. 

Nine months of our twelve-month mission have now passed. We are seeing some more of the Senior Missionaries who work with us at the Maryland State Archives start to leave and hearing about new missionaries coming to help us digitize records. We have had an interesting time here in Annapolis, Maryland. You can guess from my posts that we are not having the usual "missionary" experience. I can not post baptismal photos or happy groups of young missionaries smiling at the camera. Five days a week our schedule is almost the same. 

Some of these observations will be a bit repetitious, but here are some of the salient issues and experiences of the past nine months. 

We do not generally look like missionaries. We work in a very dirty environment with old records that create a significant amount of dust, mold, and pieces of disintegrating paper. This has been very hard for some of the missionaries. Since I grew up through the Scouting program, I am not much bothered by dirt but that does not make it any easier to keep our work areas and ourselves clean. We were encouraged to wear washable clothes. That turned out to be one correct assessment of what we are called upon to do. 

Our work is physically difficult and sometimes exhausting. We are called upon to lift heavy books and boxes. We stand or sit for long periods of time. We use muscles we haven't used for a long time or ever. I sometimes get back to the apartment and simply have to go to sleep for a while. Turning pages in a book or moving paper would seem to be easy unless you do it for eight hours.

We see so many interesting and sometimes funny things on the documents we process. Personally, I have come to value the work even more than I did before I began processing all the documents first hand. The amount of genealogical information in these records is enormous. Since some of the records are literally falling apart, this work is vital for the preservation of this information. Some of the Senior Missionaries have no previous experience in family history or genealogy. Some have taken this opportunity to learn all that they can and spend considerable time both learning and researching and others have simply ignored the subject altogether. Whether to use the missionary time to learn or do research is left entirely up to the individual. I just kept doing what I have been doing for the past 36 years and did my own family history research and helped others as I was able to do so. 

I have an increased perspective of doing research in both the Library of Congress and the National Archives. We have had the opportunity to help lots of people find names to take to the Temples. We have enjoyed helping and working in the Spa Creek Branch (Spanish). We have had a wonderful time with the members and seen their struggles to maintain a small Spanish speaking branch. We have seen what the leaders of the Branch can do to promote family history. Simply by encouraging the members to work on their family history and providing a venue during Sunday School in the building's Family History Center, participation by the members has skyrocketed. 

We have adapted to living in Annapolis, Maryland. We have figured out how to park on the narrow, crowded streets. We have learned how to negotiate the freeways and ride the Metro and busses. We still think driving here is a major life-threatening challenge, but we have survived so far. We fully understand why Washington, D.C. is listed as one of the worst places in the US to drive. In fact, Forbes lists it as the worst. Our own former hometowns of Mesa and Scottsdale rank in the top ten best places to drive.

Annapolis, Maryland is a very interesting town. We are surprised at how small it is. It has about a third the population of Provo, Utah. We appreciate the beautiful old buildings and houses. But old means almost inaccessible and difficult to negotiate. We are still learning and hope we don't get lost on our way out of town to return to Provo.

We love working with the other Senior Missionaries. They have all sacrificed a considerable part of their lives to come and do hard work at the Archives and the one couple assigned to the Naval Academy. They are fantastic in their dedication. We have enjoyed dinners together and even a barbeque. We have almost no contact with the other missionaries, either senior or young except the pair of young missionaries assigned to the Branch where we attend our Sunday meetings.

I am grateful for the opportunities we have had to help with conferences and presentations. We had one opportunity to go to a conference for FamilySearch and we enjoyed that. Everything we do with genealogy and FamilySearch seems to involve a lot of work.

We have enjoyed being near to Washington, D.C. and having the opportunity to visit so many of the museums and memorials. We are fortunate that both of us can still walk fairly long distances and have the health to do so. We have walked many miles in a single day. For example, yesterday we went to the Library of Congress National Book Festival and ended up walking about three and a half miles.

I will keep writing about our experiences until we return to Provo.


  1. Thanks for sharing your mission experiences. Since you are working in a Spanish branch, I wanted to ask you about training resources. I was recently called as a stake temple and family history consultant. We have a very active Spanish ward in our stake with the largest membership of any ward in the stake with very little family history participation. They have 2 consultants that are called, but the consultant do not have computers at home and are struggling to learn to use FamilySearch. I normally direct people to the Family History Guide since it's the best training resource available. I can translate the Family History Guide into Spanish, but most of the articles and videos it links to, as well as the images, are all still in English. I worry that this will be confusing as one of these consultants speaks very little English and does not know not much about the computer at all either, so I worry that if part of the information is in English and part in Spanish that she will get confused.
    Are there are other resources out there specifically in Spanish that I could be using? Or have you found that the Family History Guide works okay? Or maybe I just sit down with these consultants enough times along with the people they are helping until they learn it better? Just not sure what the best thing to do is, would appreciate some input. They do have a computer lab in the building that they meet in so they do have computer they can use easily and I do speak Spanish, so that helps.

    1. Thanks for your very important comment and questions. I immediately decided that I would need to write a blog post to answer your questions. The answer is not simple. We do not necessarily try to teach family history unless the person is ready and can do some work on a computer. We are dealing with some members who do not read Spanish. We just help them find names to take to the Temple using the consultant planner. We help with the research. If they show ability and interest, we teach them how to use FamilySearch to do more. I will expand on this in a blog post today or tomorrow. Thanks again.

  2. Response for that Stake Temple & Family History Consultant:

    How about encouraging the Spanish Branch members to become proficient indexers, since digitization far outpaces Indexing at FamilySearch? Non-English record sets navigate the indexing pipeline even more slowly, so FamilySearch desperately needs indexers proficient in other languages.

    By learning FamilySearch Indexing, your inexperienced Spanish Branch members will:
    - increase keyboard skills.
    - improve understanding of computer use.
    - become familiar with content in old record sets.
    - feel successful knowing they are assisting other researchers find their ancestors.
    - feel the spirit of Elijah
    - become curious - I.e. “What documents like these survived in the places where *my* ancestors lived that could tell me more about my progenitors?”

    This plan provides a logical progression and prepares participants to be inspired by the blessings of family history work.

    Yet, the goal remains to take ancestral names to the temple. Most wards and branches have members whose research take them to a variety of locations and a variety of time periods. You could then provide one-on-one research assistance as has Elder Tanner, and the others can do more Indexing awaiting their turn.

    Good efficient use of time. 🤗