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

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Can Family History Bridge the Gaps?

Over the past few years, the large online genealogy companies have spent millions of dollars selling their products. Recently, some of the largest companies have created a new market for genealogy related products by selling DNA tests. Ultimately, however, all of the companies face the gaps in the demographics of the genealogy community: age and technological sophistication. For example, do the companies dumb down their products to increase their appeal to a larger audience or do they risk losing the hardcore genealogical community entirely by directing their products to the 18 to 20 something crowd who could care less about history and ancestry. As it is, almost none of the websites or advertising used by large online companies visually represent the main users of their products.

Underneath, these superficial manifestations of gaps between an anticipated, ever-expanding genealogical market and the reality of the demographics of those who are actually interested in genealogy, is a more serious problem: there are real gaps between those who are willing and able to do genealogical research and those who the large genealogical companies assume are their target markets. The success of selling DNA test kits has accelerated the widening of these gaps and will ultimately result in a crash in sales when the potential market for DNA test kits becomes saturated. The sale of DNA test kits is currently a classic example of a marketing fad. A fad product usually doesn't have much actual utility, which is one of the reasons sales drop quickly after the initial public fascination subsides. See "Fad: Definition & Examples." The utility of a DNA test lies in direct proportion to the amount of actual genealogical research done by the recipient of the test.

Long term, the only companies that will expand their genealogical customer base are those that can bridge the gap between serious genealogical research and the products they offer. For example, FamilySearch has introduced the concept of a "Family Discovery Center." This is a quasi-entertainment experience tied to some very basic genealogical concepts. The main challenge for the long term utility of the concept depends on whether or not FamilySearch is able to add value to the experience by adding technology. Once someone has visited a Family Discovery Center, what is the possibility that they will repeat the experience multiple times? Aren't the Family Discovery Centers in the same position as DNA testing in that repeat sales are unlikely?

But in both the DNA test example and the Family Discovery Center, the real gap is that between the initial experience and the utility of the experience considering the need for educated, serious genealogical research to take advantage of both. Herein lies the challenge. Can genealogy as a persuasion create a bridge over the gap between passive interest and valid research? Presently, there is no clear path to the bridge much less a bridge to cross absent an extensive and lengthy education process. If you want an easily observable metric for measuring the gap, we already have one: The Family History Guide. This one website encapsulates the basic instruction and knowledge that will begin the process of learning how to do adequate genealogical research. Rather than present essentially limited, dead-end experiences such as an isolated DNA test or a single trip to a Family Discovery Center, the path to the bridge is a systematic, structured and fully educational experience such as The Family History Guide. But as long as there is no clear connection between the needed education, i.e. The Family History Guide website, and the limited experiences, many potential genealogists will get stopped at the gaps. Simply put, The Family History Guide website is an excellent example of what the bridge between passive interest and competent research looks like.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

What is The Family History Guide?
This past week, I presented at a very well organized and well-attended genealogy conference or seminar in Yuma, Arizona. Besides having fabulous winter weather, Yuma is a small, mainly agricultural town on the Arizona border between Arizona and California and Mexico. It has also become a major winter destination for "snowbirds" or people who migrate from their homes in the cold country to warmer areas every year.

What I find almost every time I give genealogical presentations is that many people are "interested" in genealogy but either have no idea how to get started or do not know how to progress past the "casual interest" stage. I often talk to people who pull out a stack of paper and say something to the effect of what should I do now? The answer to both these questions and many others is simple: The Family History Guide.

So many people out there in the larger genealogical community are, in a real sense, remaking the wheel. They are talking and teaching about "how to get started in genealogy" when the blueprint for success is already free, online and readily accessible. But before going further in answering the question in the title of this post, I need to explain my interest and involvement in The Family History Guide website.

Almost five years ago, I was introduced to the newly developed website of The Family History Guide at a meeting of the UVTAGG or Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group. I immediately recognized the value of a comprehensive approach to teaching family history or genealogy in a concise, sequenced, and comprehensive way. Subsequently, I volunteered to help the developers with publicity and over time, both my wife and I became even more involved and both of us presently serve on the Board of Directors of the sponsoring organization, The Family History Guide Association. Why would we do this? Basically, because we are interested in advancing genealogical knowledge around the world and see this website as a major solution to this challenge.

We do not get paid. We are volunteers. The entire website and all the development and support is provided through donated funds handled by the 501 (c) 3 non-profit corporation known as The Family History Guide Association. By the way, you can donate to the Association through the website. Detailed information about the corporation is on the website. See is the world's largest source of information on nonprofit organizations.

How effective is The Family History Guide?

Well, it has been used now for years to teach the missionaries at the Brigham Young University Family History Library and some of the missionaries at the Salt Lake City, Utah Family History Library. It is used now by thousands of people around the world to advance family history and genealogy in a major way. It is an official training partner of See FamilySearch Solutions Gallery.

Another challenge to the larger genealogical community is involving younger people in their families. There are numerous online articles about the lack of knowledge of the youth about their grandparents. Significant percentages of today's youth do not even know the identities of their grandparents and even fewer know the identities of their great-grandparents. The Family History Guide has a whole section of activities to help families, youth, and children learn about family history.
The Family History Guide website is not just a superficial, one-hour, treatment of genealogy and family history. There are thousands of supporting links to further information. The Countries section provides links for starting research in most of the major countries of the world.
If you appreciate the value of family history or genealogy, please take the time to investigate The Family History Guide. What else can you do?

1. Take a second to like this post and share it with others.
2. Take a few minutes and visit The Family History Guide Association website and donate to support The Family History Guide.
3. Become involved by becoming a Trainer and teach The Family History Guide to others.
If you are able to attend the upcoming RootsTech 2019 Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, be sure and come by our booth and say hello and learn more about The Family History Guide.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Taking Advantage of Your Weekly Updates from FamilySearch Family Tree

If you are using the Family Tree program, you are probably aware of the background issue with changes to the individual profiles. Individuals' reactions to the "changes" cover the whole spectrum from anticipation to hysteria. I regularly get comments from people who say they will never use the Family Tree because of the changes. Hmm. This topic is something I regularly write about, but this time I am going to focus on one of the most important "solutions" to the problem with people changing entries on the Family Tree: the weekly update of "Changes to People You Are Watching." See above. This notice comes in the form of an email sent to the email account you use when registering for the program.

Where do the notices come from? When you are working on the Family Tree, you can "watch" anyone you are working on or interested in. If anyone makes changes to your watched individuals, all of their changes will show up on your weekly FamilySearch email. This process assumes that you are working on the Family Tree and also clicking on the Watch link on the individuals you are working on. Here is a screenshot of an individual showing the Watch link or star.

In this example, I have already clicked on the Watch link and now it will let me "Unwatch" this individual should I wish to do so.

How do I know how many people I am watching? Here is a screenshot showing the dropdown list under the Search tab.

The Lists link will take you to a list of all the people you have clicked and entered into your watch list. Here is an example. You can see that I am watching 300 people.

Now, as I wrote above, once a week, FamilySearch sends me an email telling me all the people for which there have been changes and giving me a link to all the changes. Part of this weekly list is shown at the beginning of this article.

Now, what do I do when I get the list? I review all of the reported changes. As I do so, I see that the changes generally fall into a number of categories including adding sources or other information, changing existing information, or adding or deleting individuals. Here are examples of some types of changes:

Some people seem to automatically assume that all changes are bad. This is an example of a good or at worst neutral change. This is on a list of 26 people with 109 changes (a slow week, by the way). Unless I am interested, I don't take the time to check on changes such as this one. If the story turns out to be inappropriate, then remember that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other people who are related to this person. Ultimately, someone will make a comment or change the story.

But what about some ancestor that gets inaccurate information? Here is an example.

I have removed the names of those who made the changes for these examples. Again, we have beneficial changes. If you don't recognize the person or what has been changed, you can click on the name of the person and then look at all the changes made to that person. Here is another example.

This particular entry in the Change Report has about 17 changes. Fortunately, in this case, all the changes were minor and took only a few minutes to correct. The main issue was that the entries needed to be standardized.

What about the changes made to people such as Francis Cooke?

I have a few suggestions for this type of situation. First, don't jump into the battle unless you have satisfactorily verified every person in your family line back to the target person. Also, don't bother to get involved unless you have new sources to add that will clarify any disagreements among the contributors. Last, don't think you have to participate unless you really want to do all the work to become a "Mayflower" expert or whatever type of expert required by the entries. Always work systematically from very well substantiated entries.

Think of the Weekly Update Report from FamilySearch as an important adjunct to your research that gives you an insight into the problems that need to be addressed in the Family Tree. As you become involved, be sure to communicate with the other people who are working on your lines.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Sneak Peek: The Family History Guide Online Tracker, Reporting Groups

The Family History Guide Online Tracker
Quoting from the announcement from The Family History Guide:
One of the most popular and powerful features of The Family History Guide website is the Online Tracker. There are currently thousands of people worldwide who are using the Online Tracker to monitor their family history learning and progress. In case you’re not familiar with it, here’s a recap of its main features:
  • Secure login and password management
  • Adding personal notes for each Choice in each Goal
  • Setting skill and knowledge levels, using slider bars (correlated with Project Exercises)
And it’s about to become a whole lot better …
I am often surprised that after five years of development, The Family History Guide is still unknown to some of the people who need it the most. The Family History Guide has definitely evolved over the past few years and as a result, its utility has increased dramatically. For anyone involved in teaching about The Family History Guide, the Online Tracker is a valuable tool. The ability to track progress for those using the program has just increased. Here is another quote from the blog post:
We’ve dropped some hints along the way about our intentions to have a full-featured Online Reporting System for the Online Tracker. This system will enable reports to be run against the data in the Online Tracker, for individuals or groups, summarizing the skills levels achieved for any Goal or Choice in The Family History Guide. Imagine being able to produce detailed reports for yourself, or a ward, stake, or genealogy group, to show the skills achieved in any category of The Family History Guide! 
We are excited to announce that we are planning to have our Reporting System available by March 1—in time for RootsTech 2019. There are two main  components to the system: Reporting Groups and Online Reports.
Speaking of RootsTech 2019, both my wife and I will be helping at The Family History Guide Booth during RootsTech 2019. As has been done in past years, the support team for The Family History Guide will be there in full force to provide classes every hour, demonstrate the website, and answer any questions. We are looking forward to sharing all of the new (and old) developments with all those who stop by our booth. By the way, you will be able to see our booth from the main entry into the Exhibit Area at RootsTech 2019. We will be right next to the large FamilySearch booth.  Hope to see you there.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Highlighting the Historical Pioneer Research Group
In academic circles, there is a clear demarcation. History is history and genealogy is genealogy. But in reality, there is a blurred line between "history" and "genealogy." Fortunately, there is a wealth of information about both the history and the individuals that participated in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are a number of exceptionally detailed websites that provide information from historical sources about the early members of the Church. The Historical Pioneer Research Group is one of the most beautifully laid out websites available with specific historical information about thousands of individuals.

Here is a quote from the website explaining the mission of the organization.
Historical Pioneer Research Group, Inc. Our Vision: 
The Historical Pioneer Research Group, Inc. strives to serve descendants of pioneers first, and also wishes to document and establish the history of the Church along the Mormon Trail through the states of Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and into Utah including camp sites, settlements and burial places along its path. 
Journals, letters, diaries, land records, pioneer newspapers, and early building patterns are cross checked with land and property record offices.  These being double checked with ground penetrating radar searches. 
All findings are made available to the public here in the Early Latter-day Saints database. Many of the resources are held at the Nauvoo Land and Record Office, at Parley and Partridge Streets, Nauvoo Illinois and The Pioneer Research Library at the Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters, 3215 State Street, Omaha Nebraska. 
The newly published "Crossroads to the West" and "Mormon Pioneer Cemeteries" join with "Mormon Places" to share people, places and events of the history of the early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This is truly a website that merits investigation. The website contains several interactive history projects:
Additionally, there are links to a number of online Pioneer research databases and help resources:

Monday, January 14, 2019

Gateway to Genealogy at Brigham Young University: The Family History Portal
There is one go-to place on the internet that has links to all of the Brigham Young University family history resources and that is The Family History Portal. The URL is simple: The list of links to other parts of the BYU website is impressive. I am not going to reproduce all the links because there are 39 of them, but I am going to update writing about each of the important links for those doing online research or who are interested in taking classes or learning about the program development that is going on at BYU. Some of the projects are works in progress, but all contain valuable information. Take a few minutes to explore the Portal and then stay tuned for posts highlighting the various resources.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Immigrant Ancestor Project
Quoting from the website:
Immigrant Ancestors is a project sponsored by Brigham Young University's Center for Family History and Genealogy. To create the database, student interns gather emigrant records from repositories throughout Europe, then bring them back to the project team at Brigham Young University (BYU). The contents are then extracted and verified by BYU student researchers before being added to the database.
You can search a long list of archives from the website:

You can read a lot more about the project in an article by Jill N. Crandall and Charlotte N. Champenois entitled, "The Immigrant Ancestors Project: Gathering and Indexing 900,000 Names" published in the online journal MDPI Academic Open Access Publishing.

Here is the citation to the article and the link:

Crandell, Jill N.; Champenois, Charlotte N. 2018. "The Immigrant Ancestors Project: Gathering and Indexing 900,000 Names." Genealogy 2, no. 4: 51.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Come Follow Me Companion added to The Family History Guide
One of the family activities encouraged by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the new Come Follow Me studies during 2019 is to become involved in family history. For example, the new manual entitled, "Come, Follow Me-- For Individuals and Families" suggests family history activities on Page 8. In addition, the following quote is found in the Unit Overview for the online Come Follow Me Sunday School curriculum for youth.
Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness enables family relationships to continue throughout eternity. Through family history work, we can learn more about our ancestors, identify and prepare the names of those who need gospel ordinances, and perform ordinance work for them in holy temples. The Church provides many resources to help us learn about our family history and participate in temple work for the dead.
However, there are few suggestions or activities for individuals or families that focus on family history. The Family History Guide has recently provided an extensive, weekly schedule of Family History Activities.  As The Family History Guide states:
We have created this family history companion to Come Follow Me to provide related family history activities. These can enrich your home-centered gospel study, while aiding your family in reaping the benefits and blessings of incorporating more family history into your lives. Feel free to explore the activities listed each week, and find more ideas in The Family History Guide Activities section.
The links in the Family History Guide will correspond to the weekly assignments in the Come Follow Me Manual.  For updates and discussion, please follow and like The Family History Guide Facebook page.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A New Approach to Temple and Family History Consulting? has come around full circle. Many years ago, we had just finished another series of classes in our Ward in Mesa, Arizona teaching the basics of family history from a set of lessons from a FamilySearch DVD and the Ward Family History Consultant and I were sitting around talking about the experience and concluding that the series of classes had accomplished exactly nothing in the way of encouraging the members to get involved in the own family history. In fact, some of the members had been through the classes multiple times. We decided to simply open up our computer room (not really an established Family History Center) and offer to help people every Sunday during the Sunday School Block time. We talked to the Bishop and he said that would be OK, but he was not really interested and if that is what we wanted to try, to go ahead.

For the first few weeks, we announced our availability in the various meetings and waited for people to show up. After a few weeks of having a nice discussion between the two of us, people started popping in and asking if we were really going to be there to help. They slowly started to bring their questions to us. Over the next few months, the number of people coming in began to grow. We added a few more consultants who volunteered to help and before too long, we had standing room only in the computer room. We had six computers and they were always in use. The idea of helping soon spilled over into one-on-one support in the members' homes. After a few years, when we moved out of the Ward, the room was upgraded with new desk space for computers and with new people helping. The whole experience made a tremendous impact on the family history activity in the Ward and ultimately the entire Stake.

Now it is a number of years later. I am in a different Ward in a different Stake in Provo, Utah. Rather than talk about formal classes, for years now, we have been offering to help people in their homes, at the Church, in the Brigham Young University Family History Library or wherever or whenever they need help. Since that time many years ago, we have seen two or three "new" programs from FamilySearch. The latest one is exactly what I and many others have been doing for years: helping people one-on-one find their ancestral family. Given the fact that the new 2-hour block will eliminate the opportunity to help people during the block, we will need to spend more time in their homes and with them in our home as well as using the local Family History Center and Library resources.

Despite the title to the FamilySearch blog post, this is not a "new" approach. It is the only consistently successful approach that we know about. I, for one, am happy that FamilySearch has finally come around full-circle and started to promote the idea of actually helping people in a way that leads to more family history activity. Meanwhile, I have a few appointments and offers to help going on right now and will probably be busy for the rest of my life.

You might want to read the whole article if you don't understand what I am talking about. See the link above to the screenshot. Here it is again.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

What's Coming to FamilySearch in 2019 has announced a number of new additions and refinements to the website scheduled for introduction in 2019. They include the following:

  • Online Interactive Discovery Experiences
  • Family Tree and Friends, Associates, and Neighbor (FAN) Relationships
  • Updated Find Capability
  • Record audio remembrances related to uploaded Memories photos
  • Memories organized in albums according to interests and/or needs
  • RootsTech London 2019
You definitely have to read the blog post for the details. See What's Coming to FamilySearch in 2019.

Adding friends, associates, and neighbors to the Family Tree will be an interesting development. If this feature worked with the Maps function to see how neighborhoods and rural areas functioned it could be a major adjunct to doing research online. But if it is simply a list of names of friends, it may turn out to be more confusing than helpful. 

Audio tagging photos on Memories would be extremely useful and timesaving. It might help to clarify why some documents and photos are attached. 

Friday, January 4, 2019

Extended Comments on Family History Centers

My friend, Peter Thorne, provided me with an excellent narrative of some of the challenges of establishing and operating a Family History Center. With his permission, I thought I should share what he wrote. I needed to make a few edits and will have some comments at the end of this narrative. Places have been removed and some editing of the comments has been done for privacy reasons.
Your post today in Rejoice and be Exceeding Glad was quite interesting to me as I was involved in converting one of those dead in family history centers into a vibrant community center in ... When I became the high priest group leader, responsibility of the family history Center fell in my lap. As I became acquainted with its operation, I found the director [needed to be released] and that her administrative functions were being done by her assistant director. That was change number one director became the Ward librarian and the assistant director became the director. We then took all the microfilms and moved him into a separate room in started decommissioning some of the microfilm readers. Only one of the computers was up-to-date so we arranged for 4 new computers from FamilySearch plus a new printer and six new chairs.

Meanwhile, the new director was busy also. She started involving all auxiliaries in classes on FamilySearch. In addition, [she] got the scout council to send scouts over to obtain their family history merit badge. In addition, she encouraged community organizations to visit including one youth Jewish group. About that point, all the nonmember helpers at the library quit. Apparently they felt things were getting too religious. Without missing a step, the new director recruited full-time missionaries (with the permission of the mission) to help staff the library. Not only did this help them become more family history oriented, but it also meant they were also talking about family history to less active members and nonmembers they were teaching.

In short, the family history Center became a vibrant place for genealogy research and training. All of this is highly dependent on people - the stake president, Bishop, high priest group leader and center director. While it may not be possible convert family history Center into a FamilySearch Discovery center, there are a number of software apps available on computer that can display many of the whizbang displays in FamilySearch Discovery Centers. Perhaps in one of your blogs point out some of the apps that are available. Like Relative Finder, Roots Mapper, Twile, Virtual Pedigree and others.
My comments: One of the challenges of maintaining a vibrant Family History Center is making the atmosphere helpful without being "too Church-oriented" to the point of discouraging use by those who are not members. Everyone who comes to the Center for help should be given as much assistance as is possible without being made to feel that there is a Church involvement with the help. Over the years that I served at the Mesa FamilySearch Library (and all its previous iterations), we had a good balance between the religious and secular sides of genealogical research. All of the patrons were made to feel welcome. Some of the most mutually beneficial experiences that can assist the growth of a Family History Center is to involve the local genealogical community in its operation and maintenance.

The question of using full-time missionaries other than those specifically called to serve is problematical. Young full-time missionaries are called to proselyte and it would clearly depend on the Mission President's decision about their involvement. It is much better to involve local members. However, in any event, it is of the utmost importance that the volunteers or those called to serve be trained.

There is another narrative that happened as a result of the first experience showing what happens when the greater community gets involved. Here is what Peter added.
There's an addenda to this story. You remember that the new director enlisted full-time missionaries to work at the center. Well, good news spreads. About two years later I got a phone call from a missionary couple in ....  They had heard of the ... center through the mission. They were in the process of trying to open a new family history Center in ...

Earlier, they had gotten $3,500 in funding from two stakes and the mission to have a booth at the ... [county] fair not too far [away]. Things went well and they ended with almost 600 referrals. So why did they call me? They had visited ... center and talked to the new director and explained what they were trying to do. As they were leaving, the director said: "you have got to call Peter Thorne".

Apparently, neither they nor stake president were entirely sure how to create a family history Center. Fortunately, my contact in FamilySearch was just the person help us get center approved. He sent an application and advice about supplementary attachments needed for approval. Pretty soon the application was working its way up the administrative ladder. Signatures needed included, the stake president, the area church maintenance supervisor, area family history advisor and the regional FamilySearch representative. It's really hard getting people to sign something quickly.

Area church maintenance supervisor lost the original application and the area family history advisor, ... said he had mailed the application to the regional FamilySearch representative. However, the story has a good ending. My contact at FamilySearch apparently was on the committee to approve family history centers. Not only that, under certain circumstances he had the authority to approve centers. And he did after I sent him a copy of the application. I'm not sure if the original application with all the requisite attachments ever did reach Salt Lake.

I'll try to send you some pictures of the new center. I have a feeling it's probably the most beautiful center in the world. The new director and her husband were big on interior decoration. Consequently, they purchased used furniture and furnishings flea markets and refinish them in an antique green. They've got everything from infinite mirrors and antique desks to the fanciest sign-in register I've ever seen. 
It was an Elijah moment visit this new center the day before I left on my trek to Utah to begin my mission on April Fools' Day 2016. Shortly after I left they had an open house. It also was fantastic with representatives of Jewish organizations, Ellis Island and a variety of genealogical oriented organizations providing displays and as speakers. There was standing room only. In fact, the opening program was so well attended they had to use the stand for overflow seating.
Yes, there is a measure of difficulty in establishing and managing a Family History Center due, in part, to the multi-layered administrative functions involved from building maintenance to Stake officers. I don't recommend trying to circumvent the procedures by contacting someone at "FamilySearch" or whatever. Circumventing the systems may result in some long-term problems in the future. The people who should be most involved in this process are the local sponsoring Stake officials.

Likely every Family History Center that is at all active and viable has a similar type of story. I think these narratives raise some interesting issues.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Announcing the “Come Follow Me” Companion, from The Family History Guide

Announcing the “Come Follow Me” Companion, from The Family History Guide
Quoting from The Family History Guide blog post of 31 December 2018:
We are excited to announce that The Family History Guide now includes a family history Companion for the 2019 Come Follow Me gospel study program from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (These Companion pages are produced by The Family History Guide Association, not the Church.) 
You can find the Come Follow Me Companion in the Faiths menu of The Family History Guide, under “Church of Jesus Christ.” 
The 2019 area of study is the New Testament, and the Companion pages provide related family history activities and study for each week in the Come Follow me yearly schedule. (Currently, 10 weeks of activities are finished in the Companion, with the rest to follow soon.) We feel that regular involvement as families or individuals in family history activities and learning will open doors to the rich blessings promised by Church leaders.
For more information refer to the blog post or to The Family History Guide website. Enjoy the Companion to Come Follow Me for 2019, from The Family History Guide Association. You can get started now on the Home page of the Companion, or go right to the Week 1 lesson plan.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Super Maximizing Maps for Genealogy: Part Two

The oldest detailed map in existence is the Madaba mosaic dating from the 6th century CE. Its representation of "The Holy City of Jerusalem" is the earliest clear and detailed city map ever found.
My obsession with place names and locations probably dates back to when I started collecting postage stamps when I was eight years old, so it is natural that I would approach genealogical research from the perspective of historical world geography. During the past years of teaching, supporting, and writing about genealogical research, I have concluded that focusing on the specific places events occurred is THE most important factor in producing a consistently accurate historical record.

Why is knowing the location of an event so important? There are several somewhat complex reasons why this is the case. Let me illustrate with a hypothetical example. Let's suppose that a baby was born somewhere in the United States in 1878. Let's further suppose that the only name we know for this baby is "Margaret." What are the chances of finding a baby named Margaret born in 1878 in the United States? Practically zero. But let's further suppose that we know that the baby was born in Washington County, Utah? What are our chances now of finding the baby?

Well, let's illustrate this with some searches in the Historical Record Collections on If we search for Margaret born in 1878 and designate the place as the United States, we get 491,785 results. Not very useful at all. But if we add in the county the number changes dramatically. Remember to check the dates and places because Utah did not become a state until 1896. In fact, there are no responses at all. Hmm. Guess what? There are other factors involved such as the fact that Utah began recording birth records in 1890. So let's change the hypothetical to a Margaret who was married in 1896 in Utah and try that search. Our first search produces 969 results. What if we know she was married in Salt Lake County? Then the number drops to 246 but if we add a specific location such as Salt Lake City, in this case, the number does not drop, but the person we are looking for is actually on the first page of the search results.

In every case, knowing the exact location of an even increased the chances of locating a person even with limited additional information. This exercise illustrates the relationship between the location of valuable genealogical records and the exact locations of events in a person's life.

But now we have a situation analogous to the chicken and the egg problem; which comes first? The name of the person? The place and event occurred? Or the date of the event? Obviously, they all work together to help identify a particular individual but as is illustrated above knowing a name is not much use at all. Knowing a name and a date is still not useful. But if you know an approximate name, i.e. surname or given name, and an approximate date and the exact place, you can usually narrow down the options to the point of making a positive identification.

Now how does this type of investigation work in the real world? Well, here is an example from the FamilySearch.or Family Tree.

In this example, William Tarbutt is listed with 36 sources but none of the sources provide either his christening date or a death date so how do we know the names of his father and mother? Nearly all of the sources list Cranbrook, Kent, England as the place of the events. However, there are some references to events in these other locations.

  • Goudhurst, Kent, England
  • Marden Parish, Kent, England
  • Canterbury, Kent, England
The time period involved is primarily in the 1700 and early 1800s well before the Industrial Revolution generally affected transportation in England. For example, railroads were introduced beginning in around 1830. 

Where are these locations? The fastest and easiest way to check and see if these locations make sense and thereby evaluated the sources is to plot these locations on a map. Google Maps works very well for this purpose, but there are many other ways to do the same thing. Here is a screenshot of the plot of the four places. 

Canterbury is the outlier but Marden is also suspect not just from the distance from most of the events, but also because there are no sources showing William Talbot in Marden. The map plots give us a basis for questioning the two solitary mentions of Marden and Canterbury. But it is still a good idea to take another step and check the frequency of the names in each of these areas. In this case, will help focus the research. I have used for this type of example many times but here we go again.

In this example, I am going to omit all of the screenshots and simply give the results of searching for Tarbutts in England and then focusing on the specific locations. There are about 7,200 Tarbutts with name variations in the English records that were born + or - ten years from 1743. If we cut the time period down to + or - five years and add the given name of William, the number drops to 46 results. If I specify Cranbrook as the place there are only 17 results and nearly all of these results support the William Tarbutt who was from Cranbrook.

What about Marden? By changing the location to Marden, I find no results at all. So, if we discount the outlying results from Canterbury and the lack of any support for Marden, we now know that the most likely ancestor was a William Tarbutt from Cranbrook or Goudhurst in Kent. We also know that we have no documents showing his parents. 

With the map, the document searches, and the historical context, we can make a decision as to whether or not we believe that a connection shown in the Family Tree to a supposed parent is believable. In this case, there is more research necessary, but if there is a William Tarbutt born in 1715 in Cranbrook, he is most likely the parent of our William Tarbutt. 

To be continued.