Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, June 23, 2017

Genealogical Isolationists and the Consequences

Genealogy is a solitary pursuit. In its traditional paper-based past, a genealogist worked as an individual researcher. Occasionally a family would cooperate and share some of their joint information, but even with this sharing, families remained isolated from each other. This genealogical isolation first began to break down with the establishment of the GEDCOM program back in 1984. During my first twenty or so years of doing genealogical research, I worked entirely on my own. None of my immediate family members were at all interested in what I was doing and I was entirely unaware of the efforts of any other living family members. Even sharing my files by uploading copies of my data to the Pedigree Resource File did not provide any collaboration or sharing opportunities.

Across my many family lines, the research was fractured and disjointed. Some lines seemed to be well researched as evidenced by a collection of surname books, but others had apparently been entirely neglected. Slowly, as computer technology advanced, I was able to obtain an overall view of my family lines, but I still had no contact with any other family members. On some of my lines, such as the Tanner family line, to this day I have still never encountered a serious, source-based, genealogist who is actively working on this family line.

The effect of this isolationist fragmentation was that there was no "feedback" and errors accumulated rather than being eliminated. With the introduction of the internet, individual online family trees became a possibility. The internet opened up a way to share information. Unfortunately, the "sharing" process that evolved consisted primarily of indiscriminate copying. Shortly after online family trees became available, I began to realize that my early uploaded copies of my family lines, including all my early wrong conclusions and errors, were being quickly and efficiently copied across the internet.

The seriousness of this situation became evident when FamilySearch introduced the program. Some of my ancestors had multiple hundreds and perhaps thousands of copies. Most of these copies originated as result of the isolated word of family members for over a hundred years. But a significant portion was also the result of copies made from online sources such as the Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File.

Because each "genealogist" or "family historian" had to have their "own" copy of "their family" the number of copies, with all the accumulated errors and wrong conclusions, proliferated at an extraordinarily fast pace. The solution was the introduction of the Family Tree. This free, online, unified, collaborative program allowed everyone to cooperate and collaborate in fixing the problems generated by the years of isolation.

Guess what? Some individuals feel threatened by the unified program. There is still a huge core of isolationists who think they own their ancestors and that they somehow are right when all the rest of the world is wrong (sort of like some of the governments out there today). They not only fail to share their work, they become belligerent and protective to the point of refusing to cooperate with anyone. The tragedy is that they are very likely spending their lives duplicating research that has already been done. The Family Tree acts as a giant clearing house for genealogy. If you put your research in the Family Tree, then anyone else can see what has already been done and does not have to repeat your work.

But what about the issue of changes? Yes, the information in the Family Tree is in a state of flux. But that is the price we pay for over a hundred years of isolation. But what about the other online, collaborative family trees? Yes, there are some other collaborative family trees but FamilySearch is in a unique position due to its sponsorship by the worldwide organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church has far more than a mere economic interest in maintaining the integrity of the Family Tree. The Family Tree may evolve in the future, but it will be maintained in some fashion as long as is foreseeably possible.

But what about the isolationists? Too bad for them. They are condemned to spending a life duplicating the work of others and in the end having all their work lost to their posterity or anyone else for that matter.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Some Surprising Records on

A short time ago, I was asked to help a patron who had come from out-of-state to the Brigham Young University Family History Library with some genealogical research in the Philippines. I immediately accepted the opportunity because I simply assumed that likely had a large number of records from the Philippines for the reason that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a large number of members in that country.

I was not disappointed. There were a great number of records and I soon found some crucial ancestral names for the patron. The patron was obviously very happy. But what about finding records on the website from countries where there are few members of the Church? I learned from some of the other missionaries at the BYU Family History Library that the website had a large number of very useful records from India (see the screenshot above). 

Then I got interested to find out what other countries, outside of those usually associated with genealogical research, might be represented by records on the website. 

One key to answering the question is to start any search by using the Catalog rather than simply looking at the list of digitized records available in the Historical Record Collections. For example, there is a huge list of records from Italy. 

Granted, there are still places around the world where genealogical records are not easily obtained, but before you make such a conclusion, I would suggest that you do extensive online searches. The website has more than a hundred year's worth of accumulating records and I would not discount the fact that some records may have been obtained that are pertinent to most of the world's population. 

Another example comes from China. It seems that many researchers automatically assume that Chinese records are not available. However, FamilySearch has a huge and rapidly increasing number of records from both China and Taiwan. Here is a representative screenshot.

You will never know what you are missing until you look. One last example. This one is from Africa. 

If you keep clicking down in the places included links, you will see additional resources, but you can also search by looking for a specific country.

Monday, June 19, 2017

We Take A Break For a Family Reunion

When we have a family reunion, we all go camping. We will be camping in this lovely site in the Wasatch Mountains State Park. We will have about 40+ people all camping together for a couple of days. Hmm. Real internet connection. I might not have any posts for a couple of days. :-(

Meanwhile, take this opportunity to read some of my thousands of previous posts or watch some of the almost 300 videos on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel. :-)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Family History Guide adds Content Review

The Family History Guide is a free, structured and sequenced education website sponsored by The Family History Guide Association. The goal of the Association is:
To greatly increase the number of people actively involved in family history worldwide, and to make everyone's family history journey easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable.
The Family History Guide is being used as an essential training tool at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the BYU Family History Library, the Riverton FamilySearch Library, and many Family History Centers around the world.

The Family History Guide contains thousands of links to valuable family history resources. It is a monumental job to keep all of that useful content updated and accurate. It is also possible that the users can see additions and corrections that need to be made to the content. For those reasons, we have implemented Content Review.

This new Content Review feature is designed to allow users to provide detailed feedback on the Projects, Goals, and Choices on the website in three easy steps:
  1. Reserve a Goal. Only one person at a time can review any particular goal.
  2. Work through each Choice and each step in the Goal, recording your suggestions and feedback as you go.
  3. Send your feedback to The Family History Guide.
The submission process uses a Google Docs page to submit suggested changes.

The instructions for reviewing and submitting changes are easy to follow and of course, you can also submit suggestions about the content of the Content Review itself. 

We invite all who are using the website to consider sending us a Content Review when you find broken links or feel that further additions are or would be helpful. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Science Fiction and Genealogy

I have been a science fiction fan since I was about 7 or 8 years old. I can still remember the first science fiction book I ever read. It happens to be:

Asimov, Isaac. 1950. Pebble in the sky: science fiction. London, England: Sidgwick & Jackson.

The edition that I read was most likely one of the many published in the United States about the same year. Here we are more than 60 years later. Now we can read the "old" science fiction and see how many things they got "right" and how many things they got "wrong." We have to remember that the people who wrote much of the old science fiction (maybe not so much the folks shown above on the Amazing Stories cover) were smart and thought about the future a lot. Did they really get things right?

What does this have to do with genealogy? Just about everything. Let me give a little background.

If you go back and read science fiction from the 40s and 50s, you immediately see a disconnect between the future portrayed by the writers and what we are living today. In some ways, such as space travel, we are hopelessly behind where we should have been according to the science fiction writers. We have no colonies in space, no settlements on Mars or Venus and nothing at all on the Moon. We certainly have not discovered evidence of interstellar travel and have no way to speed up the time it takes to get to the planets around another star. Star Gates, Warp Drive, and a lot of other inventions are still waiting to be discovered. 2001 and 2010 have both come and gone.

However, in other ways, such as computers, we have access to devices that were never dreamed of by the early writers. Not one early science fiction writer predicted the rise of the personal computer. I am not talking about 60s and 70s TV series like Star Trek. You can always read computers into Star Trek, but the "computer" was the whole Enterprise and the com units or communicators were merely dumb cell phones with no memory. The closest the writers came to computers was imagining extraterrestrially made devices that were "wonderfully compact calculation machines." 

See Norton, Andre. 1954. Space pioneers; stories. Cleveland: World Pub. Co., Gallun, Raymond Z., "Trail Blazer," p. 92.

The essence of the impact of computers is our ability to almost instantly talk to anyone anywhere on the face of the earth (within a few very practical limitations). In addition, the computer power sitting on my desktop right now is so far above what could have been imagined just a few years ago, that we can hardly begin to speculate how technology already in the pipeline to be sold will continue to affect our lives. One brief example: the iMac Pro: the new iMac scheduled for shipment by the end of this year will have a 27-inch Retina 5K display, up to 42MB cache, up to 4TB SSD, up to 18-core Xeon processors and up to 22 Teraflops of graphics computation. No one could imagine that you would be able to buy that much computer power for a home use.

From our near-sighted and parochial genealogical viewpoint, we are still living in the 19th Century. I still talk to people who profess an interest in genealogy that eschew the use of cell phones and have no usable computer skills. We have major genealogical companies that resist using optical character recognition or crowdsourcing indexing. Granted the changes in technology have come faster than can comfortably be assimilated, but what if the world had changed as much as the science fiction writers had predicted?

I was caught up in a group discussion recently about fraud. Many of the participants expressed concern and admitted they had been defrauded by such mundane issues as robocalls and other telephone solicitations. As a culture, we are so naive that we cannot even defend ourselves against the dangers inherent in worldwide communication, much less take advantage of the opportunities it affords us.

For example, I just received a solicitation to "present" at a major genealogy conference. Hmm. If I did so, I would spend my time, my money and my effort to attend the conference and end up talking to, at most, a few dozen, perhaps a few hundred people. That would be that. I would be one of dozens of other presenters and my presentation would quickly be forgotten. However, let's take a different tack. Suppose I decided to do a webinar for the BYU Family History Library. Preparing that webinar will take me about the same amount of time it would take to prepare a presentation for the major genealogical conference. I would not spend any time at all traveling since I live 10 minutes from the Library. Because of the new technology, I can do my presentation at any time convenient to me with no substantial cost or effort. Once the webinar is recorded, we can upload it to Google on the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel and I can get hundreds or even thousands of views. What is more, I can do several of these presentations every month not just once a year at the large conference. I can compress a hundred years' worth of conference presentations into a few months of work and anyone, any place in the world (practically speaking) can watch my presentations at a time convenient to them and save the same time and money they would have spent attending a conference. In addition, many other people can take advantage of the same technology. The number of viewers of our combined webinars exceeds any possible projection of the attendance at any possible genealogy conference.

Granted, there are other reasons for attending a genealogy conference, but perhaps sitting in a classroom is no longer one of those reasons. By the way, the longstanding genealogy conference in England, "Who Do You Think You Are?" is being discontinued. See "Who Do You Think You Are? Live! Conference to Cease." I happen to see a connection here.

Let's look at some other aspects of genealogy that will change due to technology. I regularly go to the BYU Family History Library to help patrons. Most of the time, the patrons have a specific genealogical question they would like me to answer. Let's suppose that they sent their questions to me electronically. I can now look at their portion of the Family Tree and see the problem and see if there is a solution. Let's further suppose that I have a solution. I could simply get together with the person online and through video conferencing techniques "talk" to them while they were working on their home computer and "solve" the problem. Maybe, they would like to meet in person. I could still have looked at their problem before meeting and we could expedite the solution and spend some additional time in training and networking.

This week, and other such websites, have added millions of newly digitized records to their online collections. Most genealogists are oblivious to these newly added records. From my experience, few genealogists even know that the online collections exist. I am consistently making researchers aware of digital collections that they have never heard of. In fact, I am continually learning about new additions to online websites myself and yet there are some genealogists who are more concerned with formalities than substance. They are still worried more about how to present their "findings" than how to use all of the technological changes that are happening all around them.

As I expressed in a recent post, my genealogical efforts have taken on the nature of a conversation with the world. Perhaps you would like to join in the conversation?

What else is happening? If I will be using Google Fibre with an iMac Pro, I can't even begin to guess what I can do. I am now living far advanced of what I used to read as science fiction. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Accessing Brigham Young University Collections Online -- Part Six
You can access a virtual tour of the Brigham Young University Family History/Genealogy Department online. In addition, the Library provides public access to a broad spectrum of very sophisticated electronic equipment.
Although I have been focusing on the BYU Family History Library and genealogy, the larger Harold B. Lee Library has a huge online presence.
Here are a few more examples of the broad range of online offerings from the Library.

BYU Family Historian
Quoting from the website.
BYU Family Historian was a periodical written annually from 2002 to 2007 by The Center for Family History and Genealogy. Assorted authors including Howard C. Bybee, David H. Pratt, and Mark I. Choate wrote articles for the publication. 
The Center for Family History and Genealogy was established at Brigham Young University in order to utilize BYU resources to simplify the process of finding of ancestors and the discovery of the world in which they lived. The Center also supported student training for life-long temple and family history service. Partners of the Center include: BYU Religious Education, BYU Department of History, BYU School of Family Life, BYU Computer Science, State Archives of Niedersachsen, Germany, and the State Archives of Bavaria, Germany.
German Maps, Topographische Karte 1:25,000

There are over 3,500 maps just in this one collection. 

Electronic Resources Statistics
This list includes references to over 2.8 million digital resources. 

I could continue highlighting collections and resources almost indefinitely and never cover them all. As genealogists, we need to become more collectively aware of the fact that genealogy is history and that the label "genealogy" does not have to appear in a library catalog for the information to be useful for our research.

For the first parts of this series see:

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Accessing Brigham Young University Collections Online -- Part Five

Every major library has a special collections section or department. The Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University has an extensive archive with a huge underground preservation vault. The L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library has some surprising collections.

Special collections libraries often collect the "papers" of historically important or interesting people. Usually, in a university or college library, the decisions to add documents to the library's collections is made by the curators, usually professors, at the school. You cannot assume that your family was "too poor" or "too obscure" to have important genealogical documents preserved in a university special collections library. For example, my Great-grandmother accumulated a huge collection of genealogically important documents during her lifetime. Normally, those documents would have been lost to her posterity. But, I made the effort to convince the BYU Special Collections Library to take all the documents. There are over 16,000 names of people she collected in those documents. Here is the catalog entry for the Mary Ann Linton Morgan Papers.

Here is the description of the documents from the Library Catalog:
The Mary Ann Linton Morgan family papers contains geneaological information and pedigree charts compiled by Mary Ann Linton Morgan. Also included are letters from 1869, 1878. Old family trees of the Sutton family are included. A diary from 1924 is contained as well as the patriarchal blessing of Mary Ann Linton Morgan. In addition, there are two letters to the family of John Hamilton Morgan from Heber J. Grant. Missionary photographs from the 1930s in Tonga are included from an Elder Vincent. The collection contains documents from 1869-1990 but primarily consists of materials from circa 1930-1950.
These "papers" are genealogically and historically valuable. A more complete description of the papers is contained in the Manuscript Collection Descriptions.

The idea here is simple. Special collections libraries might have some valuable documents relating to your family history that are "mixed in" with a collection from someone who lived at the same time and in the same place as your family members. You will never know what is there unless you look.

Another way to approach the Special Collections library is to use Here is a description of the ArchiveGrid from the website:
ArchiveGrid includes over four million records describing archival materials, bringing together information about historical documents, personal papers, family histories, and more. With over 1,000 different archival institutions represented, ArchiveGrid helps researchers looking for primary source materials held in archives, libraries, museums and historical societies.

Here is the entry for the Mary Ann Linton Morgan family papers from

Here is another entry for another of my ancestors.

Of course, I am using my own ancestors who lived in the Utah/Arizona area. But there are special collections libraries in every part of the United States and many foreign countries. These libraries have collections of documents that may include many of your ancestors. I could keep going with examples of people with huge collections. But here is one more example using my surname and searching in

There are 4,288 collections of documents. How many of these pertain to my family? That is a question that can only be answered by searching through the catalog entries and looking for the neighbors, friends, and associates of my ancestors. For an illustration, let me use an ancestor who lived in another area of the country.

Simply because I happen to know a lot about my family, I can recognize that some of these papers might have information about my own family.

For the first parts of this series see: