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

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Gilad’s Keynote Address - MyHeritage LIVE - November 2018

Gilad's Keynote Address - MyHeritage LIVE - November 2018 from MyHeritage on Vimeo.

I have posted this before, but considering that RootsTech 2019 is coming up shortly, I think it would be a good idea to review what Gilad Japhet had to say last November in Oslo, Norway. It might give you an idea about some of the things that will be talked about at RootsTech in February 2019.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Do You Need Help With Your Family History?

What happens if you decide you want to start investigating your family history? Where do you go for help? From my own standpoint, there is an overwhelming flood of information about beginning to do family history research but the real question is do you want to do family history research, i.e. find out about your family or are you merely looking for a "name to take to the Temple." Taking a name to the Temple has just become easier with the new Ordinances Ready app. This app is available on the Family Tree App for both Apple iOS and Android. The Ordinances Ready app is also linked from your Temple Reserved page on the website. By using the app, you can quickly find a name to take to the Temple. Our experience with the app so far shows that it is fairly accurate an avoids some of the issues involved in just looking for and clicking on green Temple icons.

Now, if you are really interested in finding out about your family and helping to find additional family members to add to those already in the Family Tree, you could sign in to and click on the Help link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.

There is quite a list of links that include the following:

The Help Center

This is mostly links to places where you can find additional help. Of course, you can guess what is coming next. You can start with the comprehensive, structured, completely organized website; The Family History Guide.

Now, the advantage of The Family History Guide is that it links to thousands of additional resources. So it is really a one-stop solution to learning about family history. Please click on the Quick Tour and Get Started links if it is your first time on the website. By the way, The Family History Guide links to most of the resources you will find in the FamilySearch Help menu.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

What is missing in Family History today?

There are really many pieces missing from the process of genealogical research today and some of them are obvious and others are ignored almost completely. I spent the past week, in part, watching one of my daughters work on researching early English parish records. During the week, she spent a considerable amount of time also discussing her research with her husband and with her mother (my wife). Her involvement in the research process was time-consuming and intense. All three of them were involved in lengthy discussions about what they were finding and whether or not the documents supported their conclusions. By the way, they were searching original parish registers, not indexes or other secondary sources.

What was important about this experience was that it points out the pieces of family history or genealogy process that are mostly missing from the superficial treatment given to the subject by those who have never spent an entire week or month or year or longer researching one topic. Granted, there are many aspects of "family history" that can be done in small batches such as digitizing records and uploading them to a website such as Memories. But we need to look at what we are ultimately trying to accomplish and what is required when we talk about finding our ancestors.

Essentially, any correct information that is already in the Family Tree is literally the product of someone's research whether that research was accurate or inaccurate. During the past 100 years or so a few dedicated people spent considerable time researching their ancestry. What we have in the Family Tree and other family tree programs is the accumulation of that research. A lot of that research was dead-on accurate despite the limitations in the access to many records. Focusing on the limitations and inaccuracies of their research denigrates the effort and time it took to accumulate all the information they did preserve.

Granted, today, we have a dramatic increase in the availability to records through digitization and the internet, but the process of finding an ancestor or other relative is essentially the same as it was 100 years ago. The methodology may have changed but the fundamental process has not. Each person correctly added to the Family Tree is "produced" by someone doing research and finding that individual in a record created by someone in the past who had knowledge of the ancestor or relative or a duty to record an event in the ancestor's or relative's life. Historical or genealogical research is the process of locating those documents and discovering the information they contain.

Despite the availability of the information and the increased speed of the process of doing research, we still have to go through the process in order to produce the information needed to identify ancestors and relatives. The correct information does not magically appear simply because someone wrote a computer program to aid the finding process. We also need to remember that the percentage of records that have been digitized and are readily available is still a small percentage of the total documents created in the past and further, we need to realize that the percentage of those documents that are indexed is actually vanishingly small. Record hints are a huge step forward but not yet a replacement for traditional research methods.

Initially, all of the people in the Family Tree either performed their own ordinance work or had their work performed for them by proxy by someone else, usually a descendant or relative. When people found more names than were immediately taken to the Temples, a surplus of names was created.  Today, the same process is in effect. A very small number of people are finding new entries for the Family Tree and because of their work, there is a surplus of names that are not immediately taken to the Temples. Mechanically searching through the existing entries in the Family Tree and finding these surplus people who are already recorded in the Family Tree does not add or produce a new name for ordinance work. Granted, the Temple work does need to be done, but even if the surplus seems inexhaustible, it is still finite and drawing from the surplus does not replenish the system. What happens when these, mostly older, researchers die? Think about it.

So what happens if we provide a quick and easy way for people to "find a name" to take to the Temple? Every name found is then removed from the surplus built up over the past 100+ years. What is missing? Connecting the activity of finding a name with the research necessary to actually find a person who is not already in the Family Tree. Does that seem so complicated? Why then is this process denigrated and ignored?

Well, for example, many people do not already have any family names in the Family Tree and even those that have their own name lack two or more generations of people in the Family Tree. Because of the huge number of people (even those who are members of the Church) adding those new usually easily obtainable names would add a huge number of names to the Family Tree. But because of the 110-year rule, their ordinances would necessarily be done by close family members. So even though the total number of people identified increases, the pool of surplus names would not increase substantially.

The missing piece is connecting the basic introduction of people to the concept of family history to the actual process of producing newly and correctly added names for ordinances in the Temples that then become a surplus available to those who cannot or will not do the research. In actual practice, many of the names of people in the Family Tree are duplicates. In addition, many of the relationships are inaccurately represented. A huge amount of the information is speculative or imaginative. Unfortunately, even inaccurate or imaginary people show up as potential candidates for Temple ordinances. Without the skills needed for accurate research, the overburden of inaccurate and sloppy work continues to increase.

Why am I writing this? Because personally I have been told by those in authority that my skills as a genealogical researcher are not needed and that what I tell people discourages them from turning their hearts to their ancestors. Just last night, I attended a class, ostensibly to help the participants, where the entire class consisted to showing dozens of participants how easy it was to "find names to take to the Temples." Only a token mention was made about the accuracy of the names or whether or not the people were actually related to the people they found in the Family Tree and certainly no mention was made about the process of determining whether or not the information provided by the programs was at all accurate or how to determine that accuracy. What is more important, nothing at all was said about the need to do research to "replace" the names used up by drawing on the surplus in the Family Tree.

What is needed? When we help people have a personal family history experience, we need to further provide them with a way to learn how to actually find new names to take to the Temples. We need to help people understand that when they "take a name" provided either by name extraction or by finding an opportunity in the Family Tree that they are drawing down on the surplus created by the work of others. Because those researchers do such an effective job, it really does take only a few of them to provide names for lots of people, but ignoring the need to develop competent and reliable researchers merely pushes the issue down the road.

Fortunately, we already have a tool that will help move people from having a Temple experience to helping them learn how to do research. It is The Family History Guide. But currently, there is no convenient way for a newly interested potential family historian to learn about The Family History Guide. For whatever reason, FamilySearch has not provided any direct links to the program and except for a mention in the Solutions Gallery, as far as I am aware, the program is ignored by the website. The Family History Guide is a free program operated by a non-profit charitable corporation and is not in competition with any other program.

Granted, The Family History Guide is not a cure-all for everything I am talking about in this post but it is a giant step towards providing a pathway to progress.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Comments on Family History in the Ward, Stake, or Area
Quoting from the above Temple and Family History Calling webpage:
To this end it is expected that all temple and family history consultants, whether at the ward, stake, or area level, have as their primary responsibility the opportunity to assist members with a personalized one-on-one family history experience. They should prayerfully seek the Spirit as they prepare and deliver these experiences.
This one statement answers most of the questions Temple and Family History Consultants may have about their callings in the Ward, Stake, and Area. Granted, there are a few major obstacles to this goal. First of all, the Temple and Family History Consultants (Consultant or Consultants) must know how to help those in their Ward, Stake, or Area. My suggestion is that Consultants should be self-starters. Between the resources on the website, the website, and The Family History Guide website, there is essentially a full beginner to upper division set of instructions about how to go about doing family history and teaching others.

If you are called as a Consultant, it is your own responsibility to learn what you need to do. Here is the basic charge:

  • 99 Wherefore, now let every man [and woman] learn his [her] duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence. Doctrine and Covenants 107:99 [words in brackets added]

Do you need to wait for your leader to tell you what to do? I think the scripture answers that question. But having the cooperation and support of your leaders is helpful but not particularly necessary. It obviously helps if your leader takes the time to teach you what to do. Can you do more than work with people on a one-by-one basis? Obviously, but holding classes or organizing other activities should be done with the knowledge and consent of your leaders. Working with individuals may involve meeting with them in a Family History Center or Library or working with them in their home.

Once you get yourself trained, how do you start? You start by asking people in your Ward (etc.) if they need help. If you are in a Stake position, you start by contacting all of the Ward Consultants. What if you are the only consultant in your Ward? So, start fulfilling your calling and start talking to Ward members about family history. What if you need help? If you are a Ward Consultant, talk to your Stake Consultant. If you are a Stake Consultant talk to your Area Consultant. If you are an Area Consultant talk to your FamilySearch Advisor or your Area Authority Seventy.

From personal experience, I can say that you will have some wonderful experiences helping individuals with their family history.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

What is the roll of Family History Centers in the future?

I recently visited Mesa, Arizona where I served in the Mesa Family History Center for about 10 years as a Church Service Missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [Note: the Mesa Family History Center has changed names a few times] Actually, my relationship with the Mesa Center extends back to the 1980s. For a number of years, I provided volunteer technical support for the Mesa Family History Center helping to transfer genealogy file formats between DOS and Apple operating systems. I also ran the Center's website for a while.

As I have written quite a few times, my expanded involvement in genealogy has given me the opportunity to visit Family History Centers across the United States and into Canada. Most recently, I spent a year volunteering in the Annapolis, Maryland Family History Center. I have spent weeks at a time helping patrons at the Salt Lake City, Utah Family History Library and taught classes at the Riverton FamilySearch Library. In short, I have visited and often taught at Family History Centers which could hardly qualify as a center to fully functional centers that include a Family Discovery Center.

OK, so what? Well, the times they are a changing. Many Family History Center volunteers have been using the "Sunday School time" in the three-hour Sunday meeting block that was standard for years to teach family history classes and help individuals with their research. The only comments that have been made about "losing" this valuable family history time are that the classes and help can move to other times during the day on Sunday or to other days of the week. Of course, Family History Centers have been open for patrons during the week and in the evenings, but except for some of the very large centers, attendance during the week is spotty, to say the least.

For example, the Mesa Family History Center was seasonal. During the winter, Mesa had thousands of snowbirds who regularly came to the center and the Center was extremely busy but during the summer activity slowed down considerably. For years, most of the people using the Mesa Family History Center were not members of the Church.

With the change in the Sunday Meeting schedule, individual Family History Centers are left with fashioning their own response. One message that has come through is that family history needs to be taught and supported one-on-one. This is a laudable goal and some Wards and Stakes have taken up the task of supporting members in their homes. However, this emphasis ignores the past extensive help that was being given to patrons who were not members. Staffing and providing help at a Family History Center in a "neutral" environment such as that environment that existed in Mesa, Arizona and still does at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah obviously will not be happening so much on Sundays.

The main draw of the Mesa, Arizona Family History Center over the years was a knowledgeable and helpful staff and a huge collection of books and other resources. Obviously, many of those resources have moved online and in the case of the Mesa Center the staff has been disbanded and put out of business until the "new center" is built and operational. The loss of goodwill among the winter visitors and others who were not members of the Church is irreplaceable. No matter how effective the Family Discovery Center concept actually is, it will not replace the personal help and the resources of the old Family History Center.

Expanding the view of Family History Centers around the world, some centers provide internet and computer access for patrons who otherwise would not have such access especially to equipment besides smartphones such as scanners and printers. But wherever the centers are located, staffing and support from the local Stakes and Wards is a constant background issue. For example, during its last few years, the Mesa Family History Center (FamilySearch Library) received virtually no support from its "sponsoring" Stakes. Currently, some Family History Centers are receiving mixed messages from their sponsoring Stake about their function in the future.

So here are some questions.

Are Family History Centers as presently constituted and supported a viable concept?
This question arises, in part, from the continued rapid digitization of the basic documents needed for research and the continued movement of other genealogically related resources online. In the not too distant past, statements have been made by Church leaders that the future "family history center" is in the home. However, this concept, if carried to its ultimate end, would eliminate the use of these home-based family history centers by those who are not members of the Church.

Does the concept of one-on-one support for family history obviate the need for a family history center?
Once again, carrying this concept to its ultimate conclusion also excludes most of those people who do genealogical research in a family history center who are not members of the Church. Most members of the Church are unaware that the largest number of people with an active genealogical interest in the world is among those who only have a very vague if any idea of the Church's involvement in genealogy. Additionally, those outside the Church who are aware of Church's involvement are mystified by the lack of interest of the general Church population in family history and genealogy given our religious beliefs. Family History Centers have been acting as a bridge between the large and active genealogical community outside the Church and those few members inside the Church who have become competently active in genealogical research. Are we ready to lose that bridge? Family Discovery Centers do not provide a way for those outside the Church to interact with members in serious genealogical research.

Does the Stake sponsored model of a Family History Center adequately provide the resources needed for genealogical research?
Over the years, some local Family History Center, such as the Mesa Center, have amassed important and very valuable genealogical research resources. Some of the volunteers at these local centers have served for many, many years and are irreplaceable resources in their community. Are we now saying to these valuable individuals that they now have no place in our family history program? This was done a few years back in Salt Lake City at the main Family History Library when most of the "professional level" staff were fired and replaced by untrained volunteers with little or no experience. However, the Stake sponsored model does not necessarily create either the atmosphere or support for long term volunteers.

Is there a place for serious genealogical research in the future of Family History Centers?
Many of the comments made about family history and genealogy such as expressing the fact that you don't have to be a genealogist to do family history have denigrated those who have spent years acquiring the skills necessary to do genealogical research. Those of us who feel hurt by these comments are not going to abandon our work simply because we are no longer supported by the "system." But the reality of genealogical research is that it is not easy and it does require some special skills. Do we want to advance serious, accurate, genealogical research or are we willing to accept a superficial view of a Family History Center as a fun place to come and gain an appreciation for your heritage? As I have recently written, there is a vast gap between entertainment and serious research. Do Family History Centers have a place for those who are will to learn how to do Swedish/Russian/etc. research?

Those of us doing serious research will find a way to do our work with or without Family History Centers. However, those who feel the need to make their way through the difficult process of learning how to do that research may or may not benefit from what happens to Family History Centers in the future.

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.