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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Speculations on the Future of Family History Centers and Family History in General

Last night I did a short presentation for some of the missionaries serving at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I overheard a statement made by one of the missionaries about his experiences in doing research using microfilm. He said that he had searched on microfilm records for years and he never found one name to add to his family tree. I was disappointed that I did not get the opportunity to find out more about his research experience. Yesterday's announcement from FamilySearch and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that microfilm distribution will be discontinued will have a direct and lasting effect on the Church's Family History Center operation. See "FamilySearch Digital Records Access Replacing Microfilm."

Unlike the missionary who made the comment about never finding any records on microfilm, my own experience has been quite the opposite. I have found hundreds, perhaps thousands of names for my own research and for others on the Church's microfilmed records over the years. The reality of the digitization effort is simply that the existing microfilm images can now be viewed online from any computer connected to the internet. In addition, images obtained directly from digital cameras are being added to the historically accumulated stock of microfilmed records.

For many years, the Family History Centers established by the Church have acted as the intermediary between FamilySearch and the public in providing access to the huge microfilm collection that has been accumulated since 1938. From the standpoint of the average family history researcher, my experience has been that only a vanishingly small percentage of them have ever seen a roll of microfilm or used any kind of microfilm reader to do their research. The main impact of the announcement will be on researchers like myself who have stacks of microfilm ordering slips sitting on their desktops.

This is not to say that FamilySearch has not been shipping a huge number of microfilm rolls around the world, but that these microfilmed records are used by only a small percentage of the researchers. Estimates are that less than 6% of the members of the Church are actively submitting names for temple ordinances and from my observations, most (nearly all) of those names are coming from the digital record collections online.

Family History Centers will be the first to see the impact of the discontinuance of microfilm shipping. For many Family History Centers, the ordering, receiving, processing, storing and returning of microfilm has been a time-consuming activity. For many of the patrons of the Family History Centers, the transition to online records has been difficult. From my personal observations, some of the Family History Centers have already completely transitioned to online support and their microfilm readers have not been used for some time. Patrons currently have access to five huge online databases:,,,, and The number of records currently available in digitized format from only these five websites is almost unimaginable. Members of the Chuch have free access to all five of these websites from their homes if they wish to use them.

Outside of the United States, Family History Centers are much more important to their patrons because they often provide the only online, computer-based access to the internet for their patrons. The elimination of microfilm with the digitization of the existing records will have the direct effect of making research more convenient and eliminating the time lag caused by the shipment of microfilm.

In the post-microfilm era, Family History Centers will survive if they provide real and substantial assistance to their patrons in the form of classes, specialized research assistance and other forms of support such as personal scanning services. In the United States, I suggest that the small, Stake-centered Family History Centers should be consolidated into larger regional centers. The introduction of Temple and Family History Consultants, where implemented, can move the previous support services in the small, local Family History Centers, into the homes of the members. But there will still be a need for larger centers on the model of Riverton, Utah and Mesa, Arizona.

In short, I would guess that the average member of the Church will not even be aware of the changes, particularly the discontinuance of microfilm.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Microfilm Distribution by FamilySearch to End

If you have been reading my blog posts for a while, you know that I have been speculating about the end of microfilm as a technology. Well, the time has come. has announced the end of microfilm distribution to take effect on September 1, 2017. The last day to order film will be August 31, 2017. I suggest reading the entire announcement here at this link.

From the announcement, it is evident that there will be a "lag time" between the cutoff date and when all the microfilm is digitized. A word to the wise would be to make sure that your local Family History Center will still support microfilm research after September 1, 2017, and also order in the microfilm you might need before the cutoff date.

I should also mention that the extensive microfilm collection at the Brigham Young University Family History Library will still be available, but I must assume that even BYU will not have the ability to order film after the cutoff date. I imagine that the onsite microfilm collection at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah will also be available after September 1, 2017, but that is an unanswered question.

One serious issue concerns the digitization of the remaining microfilm. Some of the microfilmed records were obtained when online digitized records were science fiction and the "owners" of the images may not be cooperative in allowing the images to be freely available. We already encounter a number of "digitized" records that are only available in Family History Centers or even restricted to viewing in Salt Lake at the main Family History Library. I suspect that this will be a much more expanded problem in the future. I know that negotiations for online access to the existing records are an ongoing problem and challenge.

I guess it is time to write about the future of Family History Centers again also.

Correcting Relationships in the FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part Four

I started this series by investigating an apparent duplicate entry in the Family Tree. Here are the first posts in this series.

Part One;
Part Two:
Part Three:

Every ancestral line in the Family Tree ends. Sometimes they end when there are no more names such as in this screenshot, and sometimes the names keep going back in time but in reality, the line ended long before the names run out.

It is extremely tempting to run out to the end of a line and begin doing research. This is particularly true when the Family Tree is viewed in the Fan Chart format. The blank spaces are like beacons beckoning us to the unknown. The reality of this situation lies in the origin of the Family Tree. Because it is a unified family tree, the information we have is the accumulation of over a hundred years of research. The blank spaces in my Family Tree are there because the combined efforts of all of the researchers over the past years have failed to find additional people. However, we are blessed today with vastly more resources than those that were available to our ancestors. But the practical effect of trying to fill in the blank spaces is that you may be spending an inordinately large amount of effort for a single person. If you want to do this you are free to do so. My experience shows that the problem of the "blank space" usually lies somewhere closer in time than the missing ancestor.

For example, the screenshot shown above would indicate that we should be looking for Simon Merrit's parents. However, it is readily apparent that we do not have any information concerning Simon Merrit and therefore have no basis for finding his parents.In fact, if we go back to his daughter, we will find that we have no information about her either.

Hmm.  By the way, we are back on the Sanderson line. As I pointed out previously, this series of posts began with a duplicate entry. Here is another screenshot of the duplicate entry:

This Sanderson line includes "our" Sarah Sanderson who was born in South Carolina. The rest of this family comes from Vermont. My conclusion is that our Sarah Sanderson has been wrongly included in this Vermont family. By skipping over these facts and focusing on Simon Merrit, we would be following the wrong line entirely. The only way we can determine whether or not we are following the right line is to carefully examine every link going back in time. Who were Sarah Sanderson's real parents? This is the question that needs to be answered before spending any time doing research on her supposed mother Elinor Merrit.

I am now ready to remove or detach our Sarah Sanderson from this family.

The reason I will care for the change is that our Sarah Sanderson was from South Carolina, not Vermont. This change has no effect on the integrity of the Vermont family but it does remove that particular line from my ancestry. Any effort that I made to research the Merrit family would've helped that family but certainly, would not have helped my own.

Interestingly, the Family Tree simply substitutes a new family line in the place of the one detached.

Now, we have a John Sanderson married to a Sarah Foscue as the parents of Sarah Sanderson. But unfortunately, we are only beginning the process. Are we certain that Sarah Sanderson is Garrard Morgan's wife? Why is this a question? The simple answer to this question is that we have no documentary evidence showing that Garrard Morgan's wife's surname was Sanderson.

We have now come around in a complete circle from where I started. Sarah Sanderson is the end of this particular line. The names of her parents are speculative and appear to have come from North Carolina rather than South Carolina where Sarah was supposedly born. I am not yet ready to detach her parents, but at this point, that is likely to happen.

What is the summary of all this? We need to carefully examine each and every ancestral link in the Family Tree. If those links are not supported by carefully examined documents and records, then the lines are tentative or wrong. The Family Tree is in need of severe pruning if it is ever to provide good fruit.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ownership and Peace in the FamilySearch Family Tree

During the past few weeks and months, I have been repeatedly subjected to comments coming from other users of the Family Tree that ranged from abusive to threatening. Likewise, I have had some of my online friends express their own frustrations with abusive and threatening comments. Is the Family Tree really supposed to be a battlefield? Are we supposed to expect that as we go about editing the information that we will be subjected to all kinds of vituperative attacks?

Personally, I lived with extreme conflict nearly every day of my professional life as a trial attorney. I am used to being attacked if that is possible. But most people do not have the emotional background to understand and cope with abuse and anger, especially in from an entirely unexpected venue like the Family Tree. For many years now, Ron Tanner, the Product Manager for the Family Tree and an employee of FamilySearch, has been talking about the phenomena of "my treeism." At the core of the problems we are facing with outrageous claims and comments is the idea of ownership.

The Family Tree is not "owned" by anyone. It is a jointly maintained, unified project. The concept of ownership which is rampant and ongoing, if allowed to expand and fester, will ultimately destroy the integrity of the Family Tree and lead to chaos.

Quoting from President Thomas S. Monson in a First Presidency Message dated February 2017:
To those of us who profess to be disciples of the Savior Jesus Christ, He gave this far-reaching instruction: 
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” 
If we would keep the commandment to love one another, we must treat each other with compassion and respect, showing our love in day-to-day interactions. Love offers a kind word, a patient response, a selfless act, an understanding ear, a forgiving heart. In all our associations, these and other such acts help make evident the love in our hearts.
This injunction comes directly from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ himself. See John 13:34-35
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
This injunction applies not only to those who act but to those who are acted upon. Let's start thinking in terms of kindness and love rather than rancor and vituperation. When we see a change in the Family Tree, let's act with consideration of the feelings of others and not feel threatened and offended. At the same time, we can act in kindness and still make the corrections necessary to improve the quality of the content of the Family Tree. I don't think that inaccuracy is countenanced by kindness. I think it is unkind to allow others to impose their unsupported and incorrect ideas on those who cannot or are unwilling to stand up to bullies and those who cannot understand the purpose of the Family Tree.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Dealing With the Playground Bully on the FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part Three: The Heart of the Problem

This ongoing series is directed at a comment received by one of my online friends. For convenience, I have been repeating a copy of the comment.
So you are not related to my line in anyway? By the way are you working for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Family Search? If not cease and desist! from working on my pedigrees. 
This is my problem with Family Search. That anyone who wants to can go in and delete or change anything that they choose to with out consent of the submitter. 
That file was submitted due to the change from family trees. it was easier than typing it in all over again as there are more than 13000 names on it.
to say that this is not a source is ludicrous. 
Please do not touch my line again. Go mess up someone else's pedigree. Am I angry? yes! You are not helping you are confusing and causing chaos and unnecessary work for those of us who have worked for over 40 years!
 Here is the link to the first posts.

In this particular series, I am going to ignore the issue of the user changes made to the Family Tree. If you are having a problem with the idea that someone else, even someone you consider to be stupid, can make changes to "your" portion of the Family Tree, then I suggest going back and reading some of the dozens of posts I have written on this subject. For example, "10 Important Things to Know About the FamilySearch Family Tree."

I am going to make a comment about the reference made by the Playground Bully (PB) above concerning the size of his/her GEDCOM file. First of all, the PB's reference to making the GEDCOM file available by adding it as a source is totally illusionary. No one but the PB has any access to that file. That is the main reason that the reference made as a "source" in the Family Tree is inappropriate. If the PB really wanted to use a GEDCOM file as a source then the file would have to be online and available for someone to view should they wish to do so. By the way, provides a way to share GEDCOM files through the Genealogies link located in the Search tab. Here is a screenshot of the bottom of the Genealogies page showing how you can begin the process.
For this additional reason, attaching or attempting to attach a GEDCOM file as a source to the Family Tree is inappropriate.

What about the size of the supposed GEDCOM file? Absolutely irrelevant. The size of the file and the number of names is meaningless. Some researchers can spend their entire lives doing research and find only a few hundred or fewer names about their family. Others, like me, could copy down hundreds of thousands of names in a matter of a few minutes. What is significant here is the attitude of the PB that somehow he/she now "owns" all those names and that anyone else should keep their hands off. My own experience leads me to believe that nearly all these old GEDCOM files are duplicated by what is already in the Family Tree. Forty years ago, the PB did not have access to all the information available today and it is likely that the work he/she did for the last forty years could be duplicated today in a matter of a few weeks or months if not much more quickly. What is more, all those names are probably duplicated on the Family Tree.

In addition, how am I or anyone else supposed to know what part of the Family Tree this PB owns?

The last comment made by the PB is the crucial one. Unfortunately for the PB, this comment was directed at a very capable and experienced researcher who could simply let this ire blow by and ignore it. But let's suppose this rancor had been directed at a novice. This could be a reason for someone to quit doing genealogy altogether. How sad that a beginner should be subjected to this kind of abuse. My online friends and I have a system to air these issues. We can vent our feelings and get over our indignation. But those without this support system are caught and may simply decide to quit doing genealogy at all.

When I was first starting out to practice law in Phoenix, Arizona. I submitted a pleading in a case that I thought followed the rules set down by the Court. Almost immediately, I got a phone call from another attorney who verbally threatened me and accused me of malpractice because I had submitted this pleading. I was very upset and I worried about this situation for a few days. Shortly after that first phone call, in the same week, I got another call about another case and interestingly, the attorney calling me used almost the same words and tactics used by the first caller. It suddenly clicked in my mind. I was being confronted by a bully and what is more two bullies that knew they were wrong but thought they could intimidate me. In the middle of the second call, I told the other attorney to drop dead and hung up.

Here, on the Family Tree, we should be more polite and kind than I was with those deserving attorneys. But there does come a time when we need to stand up to the bullies and maintain our principles. FamilySearch, on the other hand, needs to provide some protection for the novice. Many of us have been discussing the possibility of a system of arbitration. But lacking such a system, I can only suggest that when confronted with this kind of problem, you remember to turn the other cheek but not back down. If we back down to the bullies, the Family Tree will become ruled by those same bullies and the quality and accuracy of the Family Tree will suffer. Let's continue to maintain the integrity fo the Family Tree. The Family Tree is the solution, not the problem.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dealing With the Playground Bully on the FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part Two: Making Sure You are Correct

This series is directed at a comment received by one of my online friends. For convenience, I will repeat a copy of the comment.
So you are not related to my line in anyway? By the way are you working for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Family Search? If not cease and desist! from working on my pedigrees. 
This is my problem with Family Search. That anyone who wants to can go in and delete or change anything that they choose to with out consent of the submitter. 
That file was submitted due to the change from family trees. it was easier than typing it in all over again as there are more than 13000 names on it.
to say that this is not a source is ludicrous. 
Please do not touch my line again. Go mess up someone else's pedigree. Am I angry? yes! You are not helping you are confusing and causing chaos and unnecessary work for those of us who have worked for over 40 years!
 Here is the link to the first post.

The reason why I wrote an explanation of GEDCOM files in the first post was that in approaching this kind of response, it is very important to be sure that your own position with regard to the change or addition is "correct" as far as it is possible for you to determine. The real problem with this response is the attitude and language used by the Playground Bully or PB. But before you get involved in prolonging this dispute, you should make sure you are standing on higher ground than the bully. For the purposes of this discussion, I am assuming that the PB added the source in dispute back and remade the change or addition to the information in the Family Tree.

If you do some minimal searching in the Help Center for information about sources in the Family Tree, you will see that attaching a link to a random website is not a proper source addition. In fact, the main Help Center article entitled, "Creating a source in Family Tree" indicates the following:
FamilySearch reviews URLs that you add for sources to make sure they contain content that is appropriate for inclusion in Family Tree.
  • If you enter a website that is already approved for use in Family Tree, you can save the source and proceed as normal.
  • If you enter a website that is not approved by FamilySearch, the system prompts you to submit the URL for review. When the URL is approved, you receive email notification. You then need to come back into Family Tree and re-create the source. This typically happens when you link to a personal blog, a photo-sharing site, Google documents, or another site that does not monitor content.
  • If you enter a website that has already been determined to be inappropriate, you cannot save the source.
Interestingly, PB makes an assumption in his/her statement implying that FamilySearch could be the one making the edit. In fact, FamilySearch's involvement is minimal, but it seems possible that the PB has had a previous run-in with inappropriate additions to the Family Tree based on the question being asked. As I pointed out previously, the PB likely has very superficial knowledge about GEDCOM files as evidenced by the reference to a URL link that goes to a random website.

In this case, my friend was the one detaching the source. The first short paragraph of PB's tirade contains two indications that this person has little knowledge about the way the Family Tree program works. First of all, your relatives are very likely to be the only people editing your portion of the Family Tree. The second statement containing the words "my pedigree" fall into the ownership issue. You do not own your ancestors. You have no more or less right to make changes or additions to the Family Tree than anyone else working on the program. The Family Tree is unified and completely participatory. It would not really matter whether or not my friend was or was not related to the PB. Everyone has equal access to the dead people in the entire Family Tree program. There is really nothing stopping me or anyone else from correcting or changing "your entries." It is certainly good manners and appropriate to make changes to your own relatives in the Family Tree, but there is nothing limiting me or anyone else from making those corrections or changes even if we are not "related."

Since we are all on even ground in making changes to the Family Tree, the response by PB here is even more inappropriate and is the main reason I refer to him/her as a bully. But even given this unified equality, FamilySearch can still make its own decisions about the appropriateness of the content of the Family Tree. Here, for this reason, alone, the source link should have been detached. It is not a good idea to have random links from the Family Tree to unrelated websites.

Should I be required to obtain your permission before making changes to your submissions to the Family Tree? The answer seems obvious. The Family Tree is designed to eliminate the need for this type of permission. In designing the Family Tree, FamilySearch specifically rejected a "closed" system of editing where permission would be required to modify any additions or corrections to the data in the program. The strength of the program is that it is an open playing field and anyone can participate. If you want to maintain your own private family tree you're more than welcome to use any of the many other programs that are available for hosting family trees.

Some contributors to the Family Tree take the position that it is "polite" to contact a contributor before making any corrections or changes. On the other hand, I feel that the system of "watching" those ancestors you are concerned with obviates the need to have permission before making changes. A permission process would severely impede the progress of correcting the huge amount of previously submitted data incorporated in the Family Tree. In addition, many of the entries do not provide information concerning the original contributor. Further, how long should we be required to wait for a response?

In discussing PB's comment with some very competent genealogists, the discussion revolved around the appropriateness of detaching sources per se. Further discussion involved the issue of whether or not it was better to leave all the sources listed whether or not they were appropriate and whether or not they added information to the Family Tree. You may have a different opinion but I feel that the fact that an inappropriate source exists may influence less sophisticated researchers into believing that there is some basis for the accuracy of the information. For example, if I put in an arbitrary date and then add a source that is entirely unrelated to the date, it may be that some researchers would be deterred from correcting the information simply by the fact that a "source" existed. For this reason, I feel that totally inappropriate sources should be detached. You may have a different opinion.

PB's comment above does not fall into this category. It is not only inappropriate, it also violates the basic premise of adding sources to the Family Tree, that is, giving further researchers the opportunity to review the original documents upon which the correction or deletion is based. What if I simply added a standard response as a source that I believed the information to be correct without supplying any documentation as to the source or origin of the information I added? In essence, this is exactly what PB is doing. He/she is claiming to be right without providing any basis for the conclusion.

 It may be possible, that PB thought that he/she was circumventing the process of uploading a GEDCOM file by simply adding it as a source. I am frequently faced with the question about adding an entire GEDCOM file to the Family Tree. In almost every single case, it is inappropriate due to the fact that the content of the GEDCOM file is duplicated in the Family Tree.

The most important and crucial issue raised by PB's comment is the fact that such comments discourage participation in the Family Tree. I will continue this discussion in my next post in this series. I would certainly invite any comments to this or any other post in the series. I feel it is important to discuss this type of issue in order to prevent people from being discouraged about participating in the Family Tree.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dealing With the Playground Bully on the FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part One: I begin the process

One of my online friends shared a response received as a result of detaching an unsuitable source from a relative on the Family Tree. The response raises a number of fundamental issues about the way the Family Tree operates and the way those who are contributing their family history to the Family Tree should interact. But before I get into an analysis of the operation of the Family Tree and the conduct of its contributors, here is the message my friend received:
So you are not related to my line in anyway? By the way are you working for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Family Search? If not cease and desist! from working on my pedigrees. 
This is my problem with Family Search. That anyone who wants to can go in and delete or change anything that they choose to with out consent of the submitter. 
That file was submitted due to the change from family trees. it was easier than typing it in all over again as there are more than 13000 names on it.
to say that this is not a source is ludicrous. 
Please do not touch my line again. Go mess up someone else's pedigree. Am I angry? yes! You are not helping you are confusing and causing chaos and unnecessary work for those of us who have worked for over 40 years!
From my viewpoint, this comment raises a whole litany of issues. Of course, I am forced to guess at exactly what happened here. I suppose that PB (playground bully) made some change to an entry in the Family Tree and tried to attach a complete GEDCOM file as a "source" supporting, in PB's mind, the validity of the changed or newly added data. I further suppose that my friend did not think that the addition or change was either accurate or appropriate and detached the source. I would further assume that my friend made the same evaluation of attaching a GEDCOM file as a source that I would have made and that is that a GEDCOM file is not appropriately cited as a source for information in the Family Tree.

Now, assuming that my suppositions are correct, the first issue that needs to be resolved is whether or not a GEDCOM file is a "source" as the term is used in the Family Tree program? But before we get to that issue, we need to make sure we understand the issue of a GEDCOM file. What is a GEDCOM file? It is probably not necessary to note that PB has no idea about a GEDCOM file for the simple reason that PB referred to what was attached a source consisting of a file called "" which is an actual website for the GED Testing Service LLC website for testing for General Educational Development, i.e. testing for a high school degree. A GEDCOM file is a computer text file and the acronym stands for a Genealogical Data Communications file. If as PB asserts, this particular GEDCOM file has about 13,000 entries (I am always suspicious of exact numbers when it comes to the size of a file), then it is a rather long document. Because a GEDCOM file is a "text" file, it can be viewed with any word processing program and can be imported into dozens of popular genealogical database programs. But as a raw GEDCOM text file, it is pretty much useless.

Let's suppose that somewhere in this long text file (GEDCOM) the information supporting the change or addition made by PB exists. How am I supposed to find it? The source referring to a particular GEDCOM file does not give me a way to either locate the file or examine it in any way. I must assume that the GEDCOM file is located on PB's computer or on some storage media, i.e. a floppy disk. Using this as a source is similar to citing an "Ancestry family tree" as a source except that there is a possibility that I could find and examine the Ancestry file.

But the information contained in a personal family tree is not a "source;" it is a user created artifact. So what does Family Search (and most of the users) accept as the definition of a "source" in the context of the Family Tree? Here is a further question. Are the users of the Family Tree supposed to know anything at all about GEDCOM files or anything else for that matter before editing, changing or removing information from the Family Tree? Hmm. There is, of course, no test for participating in the Family Tree, so why do I care whether or not this person (PB) knew what he or she was talking about?

A more basic question here is whether or not the children playing on the playground are subject to any rules at all? Can the "bully" define the rules of the playground? From a practical standpoint, the real bully on a real playground can impose his or her rules for a while, but what I am suggesting is that the Family Tree is not a playground where bullies get to define the rules.

So do the rules that do exist for the Family Tree allow someone to do what the PB did in this instance?

Moving to that question, let's start with the FamilySearch Help Center article entitled, "Creating a source in Family Tree." The lead sentence in that article gives us some guidance about what is and what is not a source on the Family Tree. Here is the quote:
When you create a source, you can enter important information about that source. This information helps you and others understand what the source is, where to find it, and how to understand its reliability. A source can either link to an online record, display a document from Memories, or be a citation that tells you where to find a copy of the record.
There are several criteria here that apply directly to the issues raised by PB's comment. But I will need to address these further issues in a new post. Stay tuned for further installments.