Sunday, January 22, 2017

Consultants Use Personalized Lesson Plans

One of the things we are pushing just now as far as consultant interaction with members is to learn the family history goals of the person or family, use the helper feature to view their tree, and design a personalized lesson for them. I have put this to the test and can attest to the fact that it is truly inspired. It takes more work and preparation on the part of the consultant but is truly amazing in results.

Here are the steps a consultant takes:

  1. The high priests group leader gives the consultant an assignment to work with a family or individual. In our stake, we encourage the consultants to work in pairs and have found that to be a really good option. 
  2. The consultants get together and prepare spiritually for the meeting and talk about what role each will take.
  3. Learn what goals the person or family have in the area of family history. Really listen with both your ears and the Spirit. Those goals will be as different as the people you work with, and it is vital that you start there (remember "What desirest thou?").
  4. Ask if you may sign in to as their helper in order to see Family Tree as they see it. This is key! See below for how to sign in as helper and plan the lesson.
  5. Preview the tree and find ways to help the person meet their goal and have a successful experience. This takes time and work!
  6. Use the editable PDF you can find at to write out a plan for the lesson. Make it detailed enough to leave with the family so they can use it to remember how to do things.
  7. After the lesson, ask for a follow-up meeting if you and they feel that more help would be useful.
  8. Ask for referrals--who else do you think might benefit from a visit?
Let's look at steps 4-6 in a bit more detail, using some examples from people I have worked with (details are changed to protect privacy).

First, here is how to sign in as a helper:
  1. Ask for the username of the person (or a member of the family). This is the user name used to sign in to or If they have no idea or have no account, ask instead for the first and last name and birthdate (day, month, year). 
  2. Ask for the helper number. There are multiple ways to find this. Sign in to and click your name in the upper right corner. Click Settings and scroll to the bottom of the page to find the 5 character helper number. Or, look on their temple recommend to find the last 5 characters of the Church Membership Number. Or, ask the ward or branch clerk for the last 5 characters of the Church Membership Number. Some end in a letter. If so, be sure to capitalize the letter.
  3. Now you are ready to sign in. First go to and sign in with your own username and password.
  4. In the upper right, click Help Others--it's right under your name.
  5. Enter what you know: either their username and helper number or (by clicking the Full Name tab), the name, birthdate, and helper number.
  6. Click Sign In.
  7. You'll know you are helping someone because you see a green banner along the right side of the screen saying "helping [person's name]".
Now you are ready to explore Family Tree. What you do there depends on the goals of the person or family. Some examples follow. 

Fixing Tree Problems
Suppose the person just wants to straighten out some tangled things on Family Tree. They can describe the problem to you till they're blue in the face. But if you sign in as the helper and go to the person or family that has the problems, you'll see the problem and the solution much faster. See the table of contents of this blog for the solutions to most kinds of tree problems. Don't fix it! Just look and write down the steps for them to take to fix it. Then, when you meet, walk them through the changes. Leave that list with them so they have it for future problems. 

While you're there, you might glance around for other opportunities, such as record hints or temple opportunities, but focus on what they want to do and help them feel good about fixing things so they feel that they can use Family Tree.

Adding Memories
One person I worked with didn't want to work on Family Tree to add to the family or find temple opportunities. But he did want to add photos and scan and add documents he had for his ancestors. So, for this I didn't need to sign in as his helper. I did need to be sure he knew how to sign in so we could work together on uploading items. In this case I needed to review how to upload photos and documents and audio files. Then, list the steps on the form. Use that to help him accomplish his goal and leave the form with him so he can continue on his own. 

Evaluating Information
Sometimes people see things on Family Tree that they are pretty sure is not right, but they are reluctant  to make changes. They want help to understand how to evaluate what they see and decide what is the most accurate information. Sign in as a helper. Look at the records they want to evaluate and do some evaluating yourself. Look at sources already attached. See if there are notes and/or reason statements for the information already showing. See if people who entered information included contact information. If sources and reasons are missing, do some basic research to see what conclusions you would come to. Write down what you did. When you meet, help the person evaluate things. Suggest contacting contributors to ask them (POLITELY) about their conclusions. It is not unlikely that the other contributors have knowledge that is helpful. Don't make decisions for the person--just help him or her look at things and make a decision. Then, if they decide to make some changes, you can help them do it. 

My Tree is Full
Many LDS folks have very full trees and it looks like temple opportunities do not exist. Often, as far as their direct line goes, this is true. For these, you'll need to do more exploring and poking about to see what you can see. This is one area where that spiritual preparation really pays off. Ask for direction and then explore. Go to the fan chart and pick an ancestor on the outer rim. Click to put him/her in the center. Then switch to the descendancy view. Maybe expand that view out a bit more. You want to get out to someone born before 1830. Then start opening up the descendancy view and watch for record hints, temple opportunities, people not showing spouses, people with spouses but no children. These are research opportunities or temple opportunities or records the system found that might help uncover more family members. Decide what to pursue with the person or family and write down all the steps you take in your plan so you can leave it with them to use after you are gone. There can be a lot of steps in your explorations, so write them down as you go along or you'll get lost for sure!

Hopefully you get the idea. Make it personal. Help them meet their specific goals so they feel the Spirit and their hearts turn in love to their families. Offer to return to help them some more. They felt the spirit and the joy of the work and will probably either be delighted to work with you some more or feel confident and excited to continue on their own and just contact you if they need more help. 

This is fun stuff! This is where you can see that you are changing lives and helping to bring families together for eternity. What can be more satisfying than that?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Resources for Family History Consultants

Consultants who want to learn to be more effective have some excellent resources available to them.

The Family History Callings page at ( This is a fantastic resource. It has resources for all aspects of the calling. There are 7 sections, each valuable:

Understanding My Calling has training materials for consultants in either a learn-on-your-own format or a class format as well as links to many other resources for learning.
Start with a Personal Family History Experience walks the consultant through a Find, Take, Teach experience. 
Helping Others Love Family History is perhaps my favorite section of the page as it helps a consultant understand how to plan a personalized lesson for those she works with. I think this approach is worthy of its own blog post as I am totally sold on it.
Learn to Use has answers to the most common questions that come up as people learn to use the website.
Resources for Finding Ancestors gives basic research strategies so consultants can help members find records to grow their trees.
Technical Training links to one of the other fantastic resources out there: the Family History Guide--see below.
Media Resources takes you to the LDS Media Library where you can find wonderful videos and images to use as you teach.
The Family History Guide (
This wonderful website covers sooo much. There is a section on computer basics for those who are a bit technically challenged. Beginners can start with the Family History Basics. The Projects tab takes you through step-by-step as you complete projects that get you familiar with the tools and methodology of family history. There is a Children tab that has lovely ideas for involving the whole family. The Training tab includes a section for training consultants. The Vault tab has other articles and videos. And the LDS tab is more specifically aimed at temple opportunities. Don't miss this amazing resource!

The Consultant Blog ( hosts several blogs. One is specific to consultants and well worth visiting on a regular basis. The posts vary a lot, but always give ideas that can help consultants and those they serve.'s Get Help
Whenever you have questions about the website, or about how to research something--or anything family history related, go to Sign in. Click Get Help in the top right corner. In the little search box, type some key words and press Enter on your keyboard. You'll see help articles, Learning Center lessons, and wiki articles. It's hard to think of a family history question you won't find help answering here.

FamilySearch Support
If you are still stumped or confused, pick up the phone and call 1-866-406-1830 to talk to the support folks at FamilySearch.

With so many wonderful resources out there, anyone who has a desire to be an effective family history consultant can do it. I think that part of the calling needs to be setting aside regular study time so that you can be the best possible help to those you work with.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Training Family History Consultants

This is the first post in what I plan to make a section in the Table of Contents of my blog specific to LDS family history consultants. I hope it can become a resource and forum for them and those who direct their work.

I recently received an assignment to serve as Family History Consultant Trainer in my stake. I am beginning by traveling around my stake and visiting with high priests group leaders and consultants in each unit.

I live in southwest Virginia and our stake is large geographically and very diverse. We have university towns and we have more isolated mountain communities. So resources and computer skills vary widely. In many of the mountain communities, high speed internet is rare in the homes of the members. Likewise, the skills and understanding of consultants varies from those who really don't use computers at all to the very knowledgeable and skilled. So, the challenge is to understand how to help each do the best possible in his or her specific circumstances.

As I have pondered how to approach training for each group, I came to realize that a trainer for consultants must take the same approach as we ask the consultants to take as they work with their members. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to serving as a family history consultant, so training needs to be individualized.

So, let me launch this endeavor by talking about individualizing training--and that applies both to training consultants and helping members with their family history.

I was given my assignment in December--just after our Stake Conference. Our stake president had asked us to read the Book of Mormon before the next stake conference, so my husband and I had re-set our reading of the Book of Mormon to the beginning. Naturally, my new assignment was much on my mind, and I had been praying for direction. And, lo and behold, my answer came as we were reading in 1 Nephi. In 1 Nephi 8, we read of Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life.  Then, beginning in 1 Nephi 11, we have the account of Nephi learning about the meaning of the vision.

1 Nephi 11:10
And he said unto me: What desirest thou?
Before teaching and frequently as he was teaching, the personage asked what Nephi desired. We ask consultants to do the same as they work with members--find out what their personal goals and desires are in the realm of family history. Those goals and desires will be as individual as the people they work with and we must start there if we are going to be successful in helping them feel the Spirit of Elijah and having a heart-turning and successful experience. Likewise, in training consultants I am beginning by talking to them about how they envision their calling; what are their successes; what are their challenges; what do they wish they understood better....

1 Nephi 11: 11-12
And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof... And it came to pass that he said unto me: Look! And I looked....
After learning what is desired, the personage shows him something--not everything all at once, just a bit at a time. Successful consultants and trainers of consultants do the same. Step-by-step, just a bit at a time. "Look at this with me."

1 Nephi 11: 14-18
...what beholdest thou? And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins. And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God? And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things. And he said unto me: Behold the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
A couple of instructive things here. First,  after we show something, we check for understanding. "What beholdest thou?" and "knowest thou [what this means]" or in other words, "What do you understand from this?"

And then, isn't it interesting that the teaching of Nephi didn't actually start with what he asked to understand? He asked in verse 9 to know the interpretation of the tree in Lehi's vision. But the angel starts with Mary and the birth and mission of Jesus. Why? Nephi needed some background before he could really understand the tree. So with our members and consultants. We find out what they want to learn or do and we show them things to get them to what they want--and sometimes that involves backtracking a bit to give them sufficient background to understand.

I love this approach! It not only helps me understand how to be a good resource to the family history consultants in our stake, but it also gives me a good way to help them understand the need to learn the desires of their members before meeting with them to offer assistance.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Narrowing Your Search

Earlier, I posted about doing broad searches. But sometimes you really want to narrow things down to get specific information. This post will talk about ways to narrow searches in the Catalog and in Historical Records on

Catalog Searches

First of all, sign in--always sign in to before you start working. It makes a difference.

At the top of the home screen, hover over Search and click Catalog. Notice all the ways you can search the catalog. 

The Call Number search is not terribly useful for online searching since it pulls up books at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT. It's a good search to use if you are in the library and happen to have a call number of a book you want to find. The rest are all good ways to search online. 

The system defaults to a place search because that is most often what we want to do. We want to find records from a specific place. The other search I commonly use is the Film/Fiche Number search as I explained in the post about finding images you didn't know were there. 

What I want to point out is that you can use more than one of these search types simultaneously. For example, I am looking for a marriage record for an ancestor that I haven't been able to find searching the digitized indexed records. I believe the person was married in Catawba County, North Carolina. So, I can do both a place and a keyword search. That will limit my search results to marriage records from the place where I'm pretty sure my ancestor married. 

So, I enter the place and then click Keywords and enter Marriages. I could go a step further and click Author and enter the author as the county court records so I only get official records and no extractions. But, since the system is not terribly generous in interpreting what you enter, I don't usually do that. I'm likely to miss things if I do. Another option would be to use the Subject filter rather than Keywords. But, again, the system is not terribly generous in interpreting and, if my subject doesn't match the subject the system gave to a record, I don't find it. Here's my search:

And my search results:
So 1 periodical and 1 probate records talks about marriages. But it's the vital records I expect to be helpful, so I can click that link and look at the offerings in the usual way.

Play around with search combinations. For instance, you might search by Surname and Place if you know that your family lived in the same place for many generations and you want to find some books about the family that others have compiled. 

Records Searches

Similarly, filter your record search results to hone in on the records you really want to find. There are multiple ways you can go about filtering search results. I'll tell you the way I prefer. But play around and find what works for you. Most of the time I get to the record search page not using the Search > Records path but from the details page of an ancestor I am working on. On that page, I click FamilySearch in the Search Records box.

The system auto-populates the search fields with the name and birth information. That's a good place to start. But, if I've found most of what I want to find about someone, I often want to narrow things down more. One way to do that is to use the Collections tab, but let's look instead at the filter options in the Refine your search panel to the left of your search results. 

First, realize that you don't have to enter a name in those first 2 fields. For women, you might want to enter only the first name and use other fields to find her with parents or spouse. Sometimes you want to search with only the last name and other filters. Sometimes you leave the name fields blank and search with spouse or parent information and other filters.

You can search using birth, marriage, or death dates and/or places. Or use the Any option in the life events area to enter a place and date range of the person's life. 

The "Restrict Records by:" is especially useful. 
  • Restricting by Location means you only want to see records for a certain place. If you know the person never left Catawba County, North Carolina and you are tired of seeing search results for a person with a similar name and date range but living in Alabama, you can restrict the results to only Catawba County, North Carolina. 
  • Restricting by Type can remove the records types you already found from your search results or focus in on a particular kind of record you want to find. For instance, if I have found all the census records about my ancestor, I might click Type and then check the boxes beside everything except Census, Residence, and Lists. Or, if all I really want to find is an ancestor's military records, I can only click in the box for Military.
  • Batch number is helpful if you have the batch number from an old IGI extracted record and you expect to find other family names on that same batch of extractions. For this, you'd typically enter only a last name in name fields and then enter the Batch Number. 
  • Restricting by Film Number can be helpful if you found a digitized indexed film that you suspect has information about more family members. You can enter the film number and other information such as a surname to see if you can find more family. 
With both the batch number and film number filters, you can also just enter the batch number or film number with no other filters. This tends to give you huge numbers of search results, so only do it if you expect this film or extraction batch to yield a lot of family information.

Just like with the catalog search, you can combine filters in the record searches. Add as many as you'd like: name, birth, death, spouse, location, record type.... But be aware that if you use too many filters simultaneously you are likely to not find much. The system is trying to find records that match everything you filtered by. So, if you enter both birth and death information in your search, you'll not find a person's birth record, since the death is not recorded there. 

Bottom line: play around. Do multiple searches with different search combinations to maximize your results.