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

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Reflections on Life and Genealogy

I am sitting here looking out at a busy squirrel jumping from tree to tree. Almost all of the leaves have fallen except for one small, bright yellow maple tree. My window looks out at the side of huge glacier moraine that composes the shore of ancient Lake Bonneville. In the summer, the hillside is covered with thick brush and trees, but in the winter, with the leaves gone, it is a tangle of trunks. One benefit of the fallen leaves is that my view of the valley below opens up and I can see the huge lake and mountains in the distance.

It is times like these that are the basis for reflection. Summer is past and Fall is rapidly coming to close. Life goes rapidly on its inexorable path into the unknown. When we decided to move to Utah from our long years in Arizona, I began to think about what my life would be like. I began to imagine all sorts of activities and adventures. In Mesa, Arizona, I had been very actively involved in teaching and presenting at conferences around the country. I wondered if I would have the opportunity to teach in my new hometown of Provo, Utah?

Now, after living here for a few months, I have found out that most of speculations about life in Utah were entirely unfounded. Within a very short time, I was more involved in teaching than I could have imagined in Mesa. This past week has been typical. I will have taught nineteen one to two hour classes by the time the week is over. It is like getting sucked into a whirlwind of activity. In addition, I have learned a lot about Brigham Young University and enjoyed a break out in the bright sunlight due to two general fire drills in the Library. All in all, I suspect that I have already taught many more than a hundred classes since I moved here at the end of June.

I have had some of those who attended my classes sleep through much of the presentation, while others have been so excited to learn that they can hardly sit still. Here are some of the highlights.

One of the most noteworthy effects from the classes has been the enthusiasm and surprise of many of the attendees and patrons at the Brigham Young University Family History Library as they get to know something about The reaction of the people as they begin to use the program has been very gratifying. Most of those who actually try to use the program are so surprised at the number of documents and potential sources found by this advanced technology, that they are almost overcome with emotion. has an advanced searching technology called Record Match. In addition, they also add a second, more comprehensive, searching technology called Record Detective. The results for the users from these two extraordinary technologies has been remarkable. In one case, as one of the people I was helping added a little bit more information about her ancestors, the program suddenly produced links to over 2000 sources. The user was overwhelmed.

In another case, I have seen the Record Detective add as many as 93 additional, accurately identified sources to one family from confirming a U.S. Census record. The reaction of the people I am helping has been remarkable.

It seems like every class finds at least one person who appreciates the information provided. In some cases, the people have described their reaction as life changing. I am interested to see how relatively basic instruction can have such a profound effect on genealogical researchers. It is apparent that most of the researchers have had almost no previous instruction, even though they may have been searching for their ancestors for years. In many cases, I feel extremely sad that they were not previously given the opportunity to understand the research process or the operation of the various programs.

Although life in Utah Valley can be challenging, especially with the traffic and the unpredictable drivers, genealogy is much the same as it was in Arizona. The main difference is the that the BYU Family History Library is right on the campus of a huge university and there are always hundreds of students about. In Mesa, the Mesa FamilySearch Library is in two different buildings in the downtown area. This time of year, there are hundreds of Winter visitors who come to the Library to do research. The Mesa FamilySearch Library is, of course, part of the worldwide network of FamilySearch Centers and Libraries around the world. The BYU Family History Library is actually part of the Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library and is an integral part of the University. Students come in for help with classes, since the Family History Library also has books used by the Department of Religious Education. Because of its location on the campus, the BYU Family History Library gets very few visitors from the community compared to Mesa and whole lot more students.

One thing between Mesa and Provo remains very much the same. I am getting exactly the same questions and concerns from the genealogists. I just finished a series of classes on the Research Wiki and the questions asked during the class were exactly the same as those I have had in previous classes in Mesa and elsewhere. It is strangely comforting to know that genealogists are consistent, although very frustrating at times.

After spending another week at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, I am even more impressed with both the Mesa FamilySearch Library and the BYU Family History Library. Both of these facilities offer support and resources that are equal to or at least comparable to the main Library in Salt Lake City. BYU especially has a huge selection of microfilms and both facilities provide excellent support. Going to the Library in Salt Lake City is always an experience, but unless the researcher is very prepared with specific research objectives, both of the other libraries can sometimes be more helpful. In Salt Lake City, I find most of the people glued to their computers, just as they are in Provo or Mesa. So the difference in the number of resources does not become significant unless the researcher is looking for specific resources available only in Salt Lake City.

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