Monday, September 4, 2017

What if someone asks me for help researching in a country I know nothing about?

Temple and family history consultants are encouraged to change their focus from a pre-set set of lessons to asking members what they want to do and helping them meet those goals one-on-one. This can be a rather scary thing to do. You never know what those goals will be or what the member wants you to help with.

My goal with this post is to try to take some of the fear away by showing you that you have resources. You don't need to know all there is to know about every aspect of temple and family history work. After all, I suspect that even the most experienced researcher or helper has many areas where he or she lacks knowledge and experience. All you really need to know is where to turn for help when you need it.

Let's take an example. Suppose I contact a member and ask what she would like to do when we get together. And suppose she says she'd really like help to track down her Ukrainian ancestors. And let's suppose I have absolutely no idea even where to find Ukraine on a map, let alone how to go about finding family history records for the country. Do I throw up my hands and ask to be released? Do I say, "Yes, well, that's an interesting goal. Want to pick one we can actually do?" Or, do I say, "That will be an interesting challenge. Let's set a date to get together and I'll do some research to see what I can learn." (In case you didn't guess, the 3rd answer is the right one).

Now you've accepted the challenge. Where do you go from here?

First, of course, you add her to your consultant planner. You look at her tree to see what she has on her Ukrainian ancestors so far and what sources she has attached. You hope and pray that you can do some searching right there in FamilySearch records and find some more stuff that you can show her how to find so she can move forward. You get a feel for how experienced she is based on whether she is the person who added records to Family Tree and what you see about her activity level on the consultant planner. (Check out my table of contents for other posts about using the consultant planner if all this is Greek to you.)

What if you need to dive deeper? Here are some places to go for help.

  1. The FamilySearch wiki. Go to In the search box near the top of the screen, enter Ukraine. The page for this particular country is FANTASTIC. It has links for getting started; links for research tools; maps; countries that border present-day Ukraine (VERY important for these Eastern European countries whose borders and names have changed so much over the years). Every country page in the wiki has 2 valuable buttons:

The Online Records one takes you to a page full of links to online records. Ask the Community takes you to the wiki page about Facebook research groups where you can find the link for the country you need help with. Experienced researchers will help you move forward with your research.
You'll find maps and information about jurisdictions in the country as well as other FamilySearch resources. Don't overlook the value of the FamilySearch wiki.
2. The Family History Guide Countries/Ethnic projects. You won't find every country or ethnic group here, but you'll find a lot. Access it at Scroll down to find the countries and ethnic group of interest and click. I went to Eastern Europe and was happy to see they have one on Ukraine. Click the country. As with all the projects on the Family History Guide, they break it down into goals and each goal into smaller sub-goals. This is a nice way to learn in small bites. Each sub-goal gives you information and links to places to learn as well as tasks to complete as you apply what you learn. 
These are my favorite 2 places to go when I need to learn how to help someone. You can also do google searches and I've done that sometimes with good results too. And there are undoubtedly other valuable resources out there I have not used, such as other family history sites that have research helps. As you learn, you can help the other person learn too. Remember to take things one step at a time. Don't dump all you learned on your poor unsuspecting student in your first meeting. Helping them explore these resources is a good option. Looking at resources together; learning together; praying about next steps together; deciding what to try next together--these are ways to help and empower the member.

So, don't let a lack of current knowledge stop you. Have an inquiring mind and go looking for answers. And, have fun!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

View My Relationship on the Mobile Apps

I much prefer the View My Relationship option on the Android and iOS FamilySearch Family Tree apps to what I see on the web interface of FamilySearch Family Tree. On the web, I see a diagram tracing back to a common ancestor. But on the apps, it tells me in words how closely we are related. I especially like to use this when working on the Ancestors with Tasks or Descendants with tasks lists.

NOTE: The screenshots below are from an iOS device. But the feature is very similar on Android devices.

For example, here is part of my Ancestors with Tasks list (gotten to by tapping Tasks at the bottom of the screen on iOS and by tapping the 3 lines in the top left and then Ancestors with Tasks on Android.) I have no idea who Jefferson Franklin Echerd is or how I might be related. So I tap his name on the list, which takes me to his details page.

From his details page, I tap the 3 dots in the top right, whether on Android or iOS. The only differences in Android from the screen shot below is that the dots are a vertical stack and in a green bar rather than white.

I click View My Relationship in the list. 

And I see both the handy-dandy diagram AND words telling me what the relationship is so I can better decide whether I feel this person is closely enough related to me that I want to work on his record.

I imagine they'll get to this on the web interface one of these days, but for now the mobile apps are the place to see it. Often, when I am working on the web interface on a more distantly-related family, I have the mobile tree open too in case I want to check a relationship.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Pondering Our Teaching Methods

I was looking at some materials for temple and family history consultants recently and the point was being made that people start on the sidelines and our task is to help them into the game until they are self-sufficient and become actively involved in the work.

As I was pondering that, I couldn't help but wonder how often our well-intentioned teaching techniques could be a reason a person gives up in frustration or lack of interest.

My mind went back to the very first genealogy class I attended (which is what we called it back in those unenlightened days). I was a 21-year-old university student. I was relatively recently baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and full of new convert enthusiasm. I had a genuine interest in learning more about my ancestors and excited to be invited to attend the class. But my enthusiasm soon left. We had a very knowledgeable instructor--BUT.... He talked to us a lot. He told us all about court houses and state archives and writing letters and traveling overseas to track down elusive records and genealogical proof standards. He told us long stories about multi-year quests to find a record to confirm something on his own tree. I sunk in the firehose of information he shot at us and was frankly bored with his interminable stories. Nothing was hands-on. We were just supposed to absorb all his knowledge and then go do the same stuff he had done. The only useful thing he said was in the very first lesson where he told us to talk to our oldest living relatives to find out what they knew and get that recorded. So, I wrote a few letters to grandparents and aunts and uncles and got some stuff from them--and that was the end of that.

I also recalled a story a fellow consultant shared with me. She was totally committed to the new one-on-one approach to helping people and especially to determining what the helpee wanted to accomplish rather than just going in with a plan of what the consultant thinks the person SHOULD want to accomplish. She had been assigned by her high priests group leader to work with a sister in the ward. So, she made contact to set up an appointment and learn how she could be helpful. The sister told her that, really, she just wanted to understand the FamilySearch website--how to navigate it and do basic things. So that's what they did--on more than one visit by the consultant. The consultant sat by her side and suggested places to click to discover what happened and to answer questions. She basically had the sister explore the website with the safe feeling of having someone by her side in case she messed somethings up. It was a good experience in every way and the sister grew in enthusiasm and confidence.

You get the idea. As consultants, we need to be careful and thoughtful and learn to be good teachers. We need to move away from the Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 approach to temple and family history work and towards a "what desirest thou?" approach.

It's not enough to have a lot of experience or a strong opinion about the "right" way to do temple and family history work. What is enough?

It is enough to have a sincere desire to help. It is enough to be a person who listens and communicates clearly. It is enough to have the dedication to your calling to continuously study and learn. It is enough to follow the direction of our leaders and use the resources and instructions they have provided us. It is enough to pray--a lot. Pray before making contact. Pray while looking at the person's tree to find ways to help. Pray before preparing your lesson plan. Pray before you leave for the visit. Pray with the person before you begin. It is enough to use the Principles for Helping Others. It is enough to be more concerned about helping the member meet his or her temple and family history goals and to feel the Spirit in the process than about your own personal agenda. It is enough to be flexible and explore the aspects of the work that are of initial interest to the member and then, when they are ready, moving on to other aspects of it that you might have thought should have been the starting place. It is enough to remember that becoming converted to temple and family history work is like being converted to any principle of the gospel. It takes time and more than one meeting to move most people from little or no involvement to full conversion and a love of the work.

We can do it. We just need to rely more on the Lord and the whisperings of the Spirit and on our knowledge and skill. And we can help others to come to love the work and experience the joy of the work of being gathers in the kingdom.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Show Me How--New Learning Option on is quietly introducing a new way to learn how to use various aspects of the website. Right now, it's only on the Wiki page, but I understand that they are hoping to add it other places in the future.

When you go to, notice on the right border the words "Show Me How".

When you click it, a box flies out where you can click one of the choices to indicate what you want to learn about. Or you can enter a question in the search box. Let's try the Country Page Overview to see how it works.

It jumps to Sweden Genealogy and we click Next to begin the tour.

The tour takes you to various parts of the page and provides an explanation. To progress through the tour, you just click Next on each explanatory box. You can also click Back if you want to return to an earlier box. Or click the small x in the top right to leave the tour.

It's a nice way to get a feel for various aspects of the wiki that you might not have stumbled on on your own. When you finish a tour, a box pops up with possible  next steps. 

It's nice to see more tools to help us understand how to get the most from The folks there are trying to make it as easy for us as possible. 

And, as long as I'm writing about ways to learn to use the website, you might also notice the lightbulb icons in the lower right corner of Family Tree pages, Record Search, the Memories Gallery, and (for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) your Temple reservation page. Click the icons to learn how to use the page you are on.

You no longer need to wonder how to do the basic FamilySearch tasks. Help is at your fingertips.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Relatives Around Me--Fun Feature of the Family Tree Apps

FamilySearch has recently added a Relatives Around Me feature to the Family Tree apps -- both iOS and Android. This can be fun to use at youth activities, family reunions, a Family Discovery Day, or any gathering of folks who happen to have the app. Here's how to use it:

  1. Everybody who is participating needs to open the Family Tree app on an Android or iOS device and sign in if prompted.
  2. People need to be within about 100 feet of one another -- or you can move around in a bigger crowd and scan again.
  3. On an iOS device, tap More at the bottom of the screen. On an Android device, tap the 3 lines in the top left. 
  4. Tap Relatives Around Me.   
  5. Tap Scan for Friends
  6. A message pops up asking if Family Tree can access your location--you need to allow it or it can't do the scan. 
  7. The scan starts and shows names and relationships of the people it finds.
Note: Don't take what the scan tells you as absolute truth. Especially for relationships like 17th cousin or something sorta remote like that. The results are only as reliable as the data in FamilySearch Family Tree and we all know that this data can be dubious--especially as you move back before about 1800. 

Have fun!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Entering Non-Standard Family Relationships

We all know that families are rarely ideal, so we need to be able to enter adoptions, step-parents, and children with the same mother but different fathers with or without marriage. FamilySearch Family Tree gives you ways to record these family relationships.

If you know both the birth parents and the adoptive parents, you can add both to Family Tree. Start with the child. For our example, we'll assume no parents yet show for Sam. So, we navigate to his record and click to open his details. Then scroll to Family Members and click Add Parent.

We'll start by adding the birth parents. Let's assume for the sake of our example that we only know the name of the birth mother. We enter her information (If you know she is in the system and know her Family Tree ID,  you can click Find by ID Number in the lower right of the Add box and save searching. In our example, we don't know if the parents are in Family Tree yet or not. The system searches to see if she is already in Family Tree. If you see a match, click Add Person. Otherwise, at the top in the "You Entered" box, click Create New

Now we see Sam's birth mother.

We also know his adoptive parents and want to record them too. So, at the top of the Parents and Siblings section, we click Add Parent (notice it in the screen shot above) and enter the name of either the adoptive father or mother. You have to add them one at a time. When you click Next, the system search for matches. Again, click to add a match if found or click Create New if not found. Now click Add or Find Spouse for the parent you added to get the other adoptive parent showing.

Search for and add the other adoptive parent.  Now that we have Sam's birth mother and his adoptive parents showing, we need to decide which we prefer to see on the tree view and be sure that we have the relationships correctly showing. The system has defaulted to showing his adoptive parents as the Preferred set of parents (what you see in pedigree views). If you want to change that, just click in the Preferred box below his birth mother (you can see the Preferred boxes in the screen shot above, at the bottom of each parent relationship box). 

Now let's set the relationship types, starting with Sam's birth mother. First, click Children below her name on the Parents and Siblings side. Then click the pencil icon to the right of Sam.

Below Alissa's name, click Add Relationship Type.

It defaults to Biological, so just add a reason you know this is correct and click Save. Then pop up to his adoptive parents and do the same thing. You need to Add Relationship Type for each parent. Click the drop-down arrow to the right of biological and click Adopted, enter how you know, and click Save. Now you have Sam's birth mother showing as well as his adoptive parents. (This would also be the way to show step-parent relationships.

Now let's suppose that Alissa Hamilton (Sam's birth mother) married later on and had other children with her husband. We want to record that too. So, click to open Alissa's details screen and scroll to Family Members. Click Add Spouse above the box showing her without a spouse but with a son. Search for and add her husband. Now Alissa shows with her husband but also with a child and no husband. 

Notice that we have not added marriage information for Alissa and Marvin. We can click the pencil icon to the right of No Marriage Events and add that. Or, if they had children but never married, just leave that empty. Under the relationship of Marvin and Alissa, we can click Add Child and enter each child they had together. 

Hopefully you see the basic pattern. You can add as many parents as you want to a child and edit the relationship types. You can add as many spousal relationships as you need for a person. If a couple lived together and had children, but never married, just don't enter a marriage event. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

How Did My Tree Get So Messed Up?

It's not unusual to return to a line of your family that you haven't visited or worked on for a while and you find that things are different. And sometimes those differences are not good. Relationships have changed; family members are missing; dates and places are goofy. FamilySearch Family Tree has a way that you can see changes that have been made, who made the change, and when. And, you can usually click a button (or 2) and get things back to rights.

On every person details page, on the right portion of the screen, is a Latest Changes box. It shows the 3 most recent changes to the record. Click Show All to see all changes made to a record since the beginning of FamilySearch Family Tree.

Most are obvious: sources were added; family members were added or removed; photos were attached. But some are a little confusing at first.

Let's start with the entries you see that indicate the change was made by FamilySearch. Fear not; FamilySearch is not going into your records and making changes willy-nilly. Here are reasons you see this.

  • The information comes from Church membership records or temple information. 
  • It is information that was on the predecessor to Family Tree and was moved by FamilySearch into Family Tree from the older website. These will not be terribly recent changes as the former system was decommissioned in Feb 2016 and so nothing continues to be brought over to Family Tree that way. 
  • Sometimes data admins come in and make changes requested by patrons that the patrons are not able to do themselves. FamilySearch is then listed as the changer of the information, although they were working on behalf of a patron.
One of the more confusing changes is something like this one:

It says a parent-child relationship was deleted and the reason the person gave was that data was the same. That doesn't seem to be about deleting something, does it? So, how can we learn more? We have  a couple of things we can do. First, we can click Show Relationship (in blue under the reason statement). When we do, we see:
So, they deleted (or maybe did something else to) the relationship of Sallie J Colvard to her parents. OK. That helps some. Can I learn more? If you look all the way to the right of this entry (not included in the screenshot), you'll see Reference. Click it. Now we're getting somewhere!

Now I know what happened. On 28 Apr 2016, KeithWray merged two instances of Sallie J Colvard. Merging involves one record surviving and the other being deleted. Since the person whose record was deleted had been showing as a child in this family, the change log shows this as a deleted relationship rather than a merged record. 

If you wanted to explore further, you could click the deleted Sallie J Colvard and actually look at that record. And, if you wanted to bring her back into the tree (the one deleted in the merge), all the way to the right of this Relationship Deleted box, you can click Restore Relationship, enter the reason you feel it needs to be restored, then click Restore.

When the merge did not delete the record currently showing in the tree, this is what you see in the change log:

Notice the Unmerge button in the top right allowing you to restore the deleted record as a separate record if you feel it was not a correct merge. This is one of those times that reason statements can be very important. They can help others understand your changes and hopefully avoid a tug-of-war. 

So, take the time to explore the change log when things look wrong. Look at reason statements; click the name of the person who made the change and send them a message asking (NICELY) for more information; if you think something is wrong, click Reference or Restore or Unmerge to put it back--and enter a good reason for doing it.

As long as we're on the topic of reason statements, take time to put in reasons that are helpful. It's not helpful to say something like "This is how it is in my tree." That doesn't tell others anything at all. It does not avoid tree wars. If anything, it would probably just aggravate people who felt that the change didn't make sense. Take time to search for evidence, and provide that evidence to your fellow Family Tree users.