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

Friday, December 31, 2021

Where do you start your search for your ancestors?


I am writing this post on the last day of 2021. From what I see about interest in family history and genealogy, that interest peaks out in January and February. So, assuming that you or someone you know is just now getting started with their interest in genealogy I thought this might be a good topic. 

I have a lot of rules about genealogy that apply to doing the actual research but there are some more fundamental principles that also need to be considered. First of all, we need to move on from what we know to what we do not know. This principle presupposes that we know something. There is a tendency in family history to work from a fan chart view about what needs to be done. Here is a fan chart that might give you pause if that is where you are starting. 

The earliest openings on this fan chart is in the 1700s in Wales and Ireland. If you want an example of a steep learning curve, these are good examples. The blank spaces on this ten generation fan chart are there because over a 100 years of genealogical research has not been able to find records about these people. What this chart does not show are the tens of thousands of my relatives that haven't been "found" who are the descendants of all the people on the chart. 

But what if you are really just starting out? What do you know about yourself? Where were you born? Who were your parents? Who are your siblings? Do you have an alternate set of parents by adoption, guardianship, or other relationship? What do you do with this information? You start an online family tree and enter all the information you know. Then you start looking and asking to find out more. Where were your parents born? What other events occurred in the lives of your family? Marriages? More births? Deaths? What were your family's religious beliefs? Where did they go to church? The answers to these questions and many, many more are the basis for starting to look for records of these events. 

How do you know when and where you were born? Most people in the United States would immediately think of a birth certificate. But maybe you should know that birth certificates are a recent addition to the huge pile of genealogically important records that exist. Some states in the United States did not require birth certificates state-wide until well into the 20th Century (1900s). You may have to rely on a different kind of record to get a reasonably accurate birth date. 

Now, we are to the real beginning of genealogical research; finding the records that may have information about the events in our ancestors and relatives' lives. Where are these records? Oh, now you have the main question. 

If you were going to start building or rebuilding a house or restoring an automobile or learning how to play the piano or whatever, you would have to start learning a lot of things that might not seem important or interesting until you started your project. Well, surprise, genealogy is just like every other challenging, interesting, detailed, and difficult activity you can think of. Oh, you got a new snowboard for a gift. You are on your way to the mountains to try snowboarding for the first time. How long will it take you to learn how to just stand up and move on a snowboard? Or a bicycle, or a hoverboard, or a scooter, or whatever?

Despite the advertisements from people who are trying to get you to do your genealogy, it is not easy, but it is worth the effort. So here are some places to start learning what you really need to know to get started in finding your family. 

  • The Family History Guide -- a free educational website with all the instructions you need to know.
  • The FamilySearch Research Wiki - a free website that gives you all the information about where to find all kinds of genealogically important records.
  • The Brigham Young University YouTube Channel -- over 600 educational videos that tell you almost everything you need to know about genealogy. 
One thing you also need to do is begin searching online for the names and dates and places your ancestors lived. You have lots of relatives even if you don't know them and some of them may have already "found" your ancestors. So start with a free registration on and put in the names, dates, and places of you living relatives and see what happens. You might be surprised but is not, you know where to begin. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

What are revolving door ancestors and why do they exist?


A revolving door ancestor is a Family Tree person who has a consistently high number of changes over a long period of time. The image above is one of my border-line revolving door ancestors. This particular person has 269 all-time changes that include adding the initial information, sources, and subsequent corrections, additions and deletions. A true revolving door ancestor would have that many changes in a week. Almost all real revolving door ancestors date back into the 1700 or earlier. 

You don't want to confuse a person, such as your grandmother, who has changes to disputed or incomplete information with someone who is a real revolving door ancestor. If someone is changing or deleting information about a near family member, this is usually due to a lack of communication or insanity. It is also usually just one or two people who insist on changing source supported information with drivel. Revolving door ancestors can have dozens or even hundreds of people adding and changing information and the same person rarely is involved in changing sourced information more than once. Of course, there are are alway exceptions.

 The main source of all this "bad" information is the gigantic pool of Personal Ancestral File (PAF) and GEDCOM files that are all unsourced by the limitations of the program. There is also a segment of changes that come from people believing unsourced information in family surname or descendancy books. People tend to think that if it came from a grandmother or other relative or from a book that the information has been checked and is correct. There is also a small number of people who think that FamilySearch checks all the information in all the entries and so if you go in and make changes to an entry that says it was submitted by FamilySearch the correction can't be correct. If an entry or change shows that it was made my FamilySearch, all that means is that the program copied the information from the Ancestral File, International Genealogical Index, or some other user contributed database. 

It does absolutely no good to get mad, frustrated, or combative about changes made to the Family Tree. There are tactics that minimize and in some cases eliminate the inaccurate changes. There are a number of videos about how to fix problems, react to changes, and other subjects on the Brigham Young University Family History Library YouTube Channel. This is an older video but still is a good place to start. 

Friday, December 24, 2021

The Irony of the FamilySearch Family Tree


One of the definitions of irony is a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects. One might expect that the Family Tree was an attempt at "book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation." (See D&C 128:22, 24). However, the irony of the Family Tree is that it has be become, for some, more like a battle against inaccurate information that is almost always unsupported by historical records. In some cases, those who are trying to correct the inaccuracies and maintain the integrity of the Family Tree are attacked with personal insults, and in some cases, threats and profanity. Until quite recently, there were Feedback links on the Family Tree allowing users to try to get the attention of FamilySearch for such behavior. These links disappeared and any comments now go the the Community section of the Family Tree, where the complaints are largely, apparently, ignored. The main attitude is that the most persistent contributor (user) wins. See this string of comments on the Community: "How is a dispute settled when individuals cannot agree upon whose family tree a person belongs to?" The "solution" seems to be to put your information on another family tree such as In short, abandon the Family Tree and do your genealogical research on another family tree program. 

Now, I have said and written over and over again that the problem with the Family Tree is not with the program itself, but with the data and the users. I still take this position. But we are now at a crossroads as far as the integrity of the Family Tree is concerned. The following will show exactly what I mean by this statement. 

Let's start with Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7, a passenger on the Mayflower who arrived in America on 11 November 1620. Beginning in 1897, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants began systematically research the genealogy of each of the Mayflower passengers. This information is available in the form of a 22 volume set of books referred to as the "Silver Books" because of the color of their covers. Here is a citation to the Silver Book for Francis Cooke.

Wood, Ralph V, Lucy Mary Kellogg, and General Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of Massachusetts. Mayflower Families through Five Generations: Descendants of the Pilgrims Who Landed at Plymouth, Mass., December 1620. Vol. 12 Family of Francis Cooke, 2015.

What is known about Francis Cooke and his descendants is clearly set forth in this book. In addition, the New England Historic Genealogy Society (NGHGS) is in the process of digitizing and indexing the entire set of books. Here is the quote from the NEHGS website. 

General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) has published the very well-known series of books; Mayflower Families Through Five Generations: Descendants of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth, Mass., December 1620, which documents the descendants of the Pilgrims. Also known as the “Silver Books” this series provides separate volumes for each of these founding families. Through a partnership with GSMD, AmericanAncestors has delivered this database with a full index of the fifth-generation descendants and their children, coupled with the page images for those people. The volumes in this collection are aligned with the volume numbers of the original series of books. 

Here is the citation to the Mayflower Society collection on NEHGS.

Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880. (Online database:, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2017). From Mayflower Families Through Five Generations: Descendants of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth, Mass., December 1620. Plymouth, MA: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1975-2015. 

Now, guess what? The content of the Mayflower Society Silver Books is on Yes, really, it is right there for anyone to research. In case you didn't know this, here is a screenshot of the collection in the Genealogies section of the website

Now, what is the issue. Here is another screenshot showing the changes in the Family Tree for one week. 

Normally, the number of changes would be well over 100 but this was for Christmas week. If you look closely you can see these changes to the Mayflower passengers and their families and the numbers.

Here is the entry for Francis Cooke in the Genealogies section of FamilySearch.

None of these changes need to be happening. As a result, someone who knows what is in the Silver Books and readily available online has to go in and make corrections. This week there are only about 48 things that need attention. In most weeks the number is over 100. Now think of all the time that is being wasted on making corrections to families that have gold standard sources and where the information cannot possibly be in dispute at this level. If you want to change what is in a Silver Book you can with extraordinary research into original records but it doesn't happen very often. 

Think of all the time that is being wasted by these frivolous changes. But then multiply that by the thousands of frivolous changes going on every day. I have personally seen huge numbers of sources simply deleted by someone who didn't want to read through them and thought they could tidy up the tree. My family members have been attacked and libeled by other users who insist on deleting all the sources for a whole family line.consisting of hundreds of sources. We can't do everything, we are hopelessly outnumbered. 

What is the response from FamilySearch? Essentially, that they cannot come up with a solution and that the real problem lies with the people trying to add valid sources. I watch or follow 400 people on the Family Tree and I see well over 100 changes a week. I go through each name where there are changes and either I or one of my daughters usually correct any inaccurate or spurious information with an explanation and a plea to look at the sources. We do this over and over again to the same people in some family lines. I stopped complaining to FamilySearch years ago. I just spend my time cleaning up the problems such as adding a baby born in England to a family that lived their entire lives in Northern Arizona. 

FamilySearch seems caught between trying to make the Family Tree available to users at all levels and the issue of how to keep the Family Tree intact and accurate. So far, they have resisted any suggestions that would help to stop rampant destruction. 

Now, what is our response. We will quietly (or not so quietly in my case) continue to work on the Family Tree. We will back up our work on another family tree so we can keep up with the changes. We will continue to waste time and effort correcting changes that are made for whatever reason. We will certainly look at any sources that are added and are anxious to become involved in any reasonable discussion over the content. We will also keep adding sourced entries into the Family Tree and pray that they remain intact. 

Perhaps, during the coming year of a worldwide pandemic, we can use some of the time we would be doing other things to focus on learning how to preserve the Family Tree from chaos. 

Our family (me and my daughters) have evolved a way to address the constant changes and in many cases we have stopped them from happening but we cannot be everywhere and we cannot follow every person in our family. My recent experience with one of my daughters as she watched a troll destroy years of source supported work on one family line and then respond to her attempt at stopping the damage with profanity and libel is at the core of the problem. He complaints to FamilySearch come back with suggestions that she be more careful in what she adds to the Family Tree and ignore any response to the actions of the person making the changes. Here is a quote from the response my daughter received from FamilySearch.

When disputes or confusion occur, it is important that the information is clear and available to all parties involved so they may review, together, and determine the correct information for the person in the tree. Unfortunately, some individuals do not put in sources or other information to present to other users why some data is not about the specific individual or why the new data is not relevant. We have found that more communication and more information on the person can help significantly in educating each other.

In this case we tried communication and education. We will continue to do so. I am only concerned that other users (patrons, guests etc.) are not as stubborn and persistent as we are and when confronted with this type of problem, they just give up trying to use the Family Tree. By the way, I have seen a number of seasoned, professional level genealogists who refuse to look at the Family Tree for these reasons.  

Thursday, December 23, 2021

The WikiTree Challenge Week: A great opportunity and experience


Somehow, I was chosen to be the focus of a WikiTree Challenge. This is when a team of WikiTree volunteers focus on the tree of a "special guest star." Quoting from the Help page for the WikiTree Challenge:

In 2021 we have focused on "genealogy stars" such as bestselling author AJ Jacobs, leading genetic genealogist CeCe Moore, and host of PBS TV's "Finding Your Roots," Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Our guests have been some of the world's leading genealogists and others who have made outstanding contributions in the field of genealogy. These guests were the most challenging. By working together in just one week, could our amateur genealogists make new discoveries for genealogy professionals? The answer: Yes! In our first 25 challenges we broke 500 brick walls for our guests! This is a truly incredible accomplishment.

In 2022 we are expanding the challenge to include guest stars who are not genealogists. If we can make discoveries for professional genealogists, what can we discover for non-genealogists? This promises to be fun for everyone.

Please note that although many active WikiTree members would make great guest stars, we focus on guests who do not already use WikiTree for their genealogy.

The participants in a sense compete for points earned by performing some genealogical task or research effort. It is a very interesting concept. 

Because I had spent so much time working on my own family tree, I suspected that it would be difficult to find anything of substance in a week's worth of effort. I was totally wrong. What they found during the week was amazing. One example was finding the parents of an end-of-line person from looking in the courthouse where the records were kept. These were records that were not yet online. I was amazed and thankful for all the help. It was a special gift at this Christmas season. 

I don't know how to thank some many people who helped. It looks like there were about thirty or more volunteers who all looked for some way to find information. As a result, I believe that my pedigree on the WikiTree website is probably well documented. It will take me some time to review and evaluate all the suggested records. Thanks again to the WikiTree Challenge team. 


Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Looking forward to RootsTech 2022 Virtual


RootsTech 2022 is coming faster than you expect. This year it is 100% virtual and 100% free (if you already have an internet connection and a device to connect). I am involved as an "Influencer." I guess my perception of reality should begin adapting to linguistic changes. Most of my time during RootsTech from the 28th of February to the 5th of March is going to be spent helping people around the world with their genealogical questions. I am scheduled for four hours per day for a total of 20 hours plus all the possible preparation time. This opportunity comes from the Research Help link on the Salt Lake City, Utah Family History Library Website. When you click on the "Research Help" link, you will see the following page. 

Clicking on the button takes you to page that asks you to start providing some basic information about your questions. Here is the beginning page for these online Virtual Genealogy Consultations

There are a lot of volunteers helping with this project. During the past year, since the 2021 RootsTech, I have received requests for more than 250 consultations. I know that some of the missionary/volunteers have done many, many times that number. All of us serve as Church Service Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or are employees of FamilySearch. We are still looking for more missionaries to help with the consultations. You should know that there is training and a time commitment both before the week of RootsTech and during the weeks following. You can offer to help my emailing

Of course, I am still scheduling consultations every week and will continue to do so during the RootsTech event and afterwards also. 

Monday, December 20, 2021

MyHeritage passes 1 million Subscribers


I wrote my first blog post about back on January 9, 2009. I had, only shortly before that, begun blogging about genealogy. My first blog post on Genealogy's Star was November 21, 2008, so it was only about a little over a month after I started blogging that I wrote my first post about MyHeritage. Since then, by searching all my back blog posts, I have mentioned MyHeritage in about 791 blog posts. Over the years, I have gotten to know a lot more about the website and have personal contact with many of their employees. Two major highlights were substituting as a keynote speaker at RootsTech for Gilad Japhet, the CEO of MyHeritage who had a family emergency and speaking at the MyHeritage LIVE Conference in Amsterdam, Holland as a guest of MyHeritage. 

I am always happy to see advance and succeed. They obviously fall into the very small number of my favorite genealogy websites. MyHeritage has the ability to change people's lives not just make them subscribers to their online database/family tree/DNA features. You can see how this happens by looking at their videos on the YouTube Channel

Here are some of the recent statistics about from their website.

  • As of the date of this blog post, MyHeritage has 6,757 collections with 16,110,314,085 records
  • There are about 95 million users worldwide
  • The website is in 42 different languages
  • There are over 82 million family trees
  • There are over 5.4 million DNA test in their database
Now, they have over 1 million subscribers. All of these statistics are supported by some of the most advanced technology presently used by a genealogy website. 

You can read more on this blog post, "MyHeritage Surpasses 1 Million Annual Subscribers!"

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Another New Rule of Genealogy Discovered: Number 14


Here are the previous 13 Rules.
  • Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.
  • Rule Two: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive.
  • Rule Three: Every person who ever lived has a unique birth order and a unique set of biological parents.
  • Rule Four: There are always more records.
  • Rule Five: You cannot get blood out of a turnip. 
  • Rule Six: Records move. 
  • Rule Seven: Water and genealogical information flow downhill
  • Rule Eight: Everything in genealogy is connected (butterfly)
  • Rule Nine: There are patterns everywhere
  • Rule Ten: Read the fine print
  • Rule Eleven: Even a perfect fit can be wrong
  • Rule Twelve: The end is always there
  • Rule Thirteen: Genealogists abhor a blank field
As I said back on July 11, 2020, you never know, there might be another rule somewhere out there in the genealogical universe waiting to be discovered. Well, here it is:

No. 14: You can guess but you can't make assumptions. 

This is one of the more complex rules. Historical research involves locating, reading, and extracting significant information from records that include information about someone in your ancestral line. You then draw conclusions (opinions) about the extracted information. Let me illustrate with a simplified example. 

Here is a United States Federal Census Record for the Ove C. Overson family among others. 

United States Census, 1880," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 24 December 2015), Arizona > Apache > Brigham City > ED 37 > image 3 of 4; citing NARA microfilm publication T9, (National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., n.d.)
You can click on the image to see an enlarged view. This information in the question about Place of Birth indicates that he was born in Denmark. The census record also calculates his birth year from his stated age. You could assume that he was, in fact, born in Denmark. You could also assume that he was 39 years old. However, from the information in the census record both of these assumptions could be wrong. Dates and places on U.S. Federal Census records can be completely wrong. Many budding genealogists and some with more experience have been misled by both date and place as they appear in the census records. 

An assumption implies that you are assuming that what you have already found is correct and by acting on that assumption you are committing yourself to a cause of action. The definition of the word assumption is a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof. This last part, without proof, is the important part for genealogy. Seeing that someone was born in Denmark or any other place in the census records is not proof. It is good information. It is a starting point but we are not warranted in adopting the information without further research. This applies to any other information. 

What is a guess? A guess is an estimate or conjecture. In other words, when we guess we are not certain. Guessing is good as long as it is followed by real research into contemporary historic documents. As long as you realize you are guessing, you can keep from forming a wrong conclusion. One patron came into the Brigham Young University Family History Library some years ago asking for help in finding her ancestor in Germany. She came back weekly for months asking the same question. She had concluded that her ancestor was born in Germany because that is what was written in the U.S. Census. It took all those months to finally convince her that we needed more information about his birthplace and that concluding that he was born in Germany was not helpful during the time period in question when "Germany" did not exist as a separate country. She finally showed up with a handwritten note that told the place where he was born. She could have saved a lot of time by looking through what she already had. 

I could tell dozens if not hundreds of stories that illustrate the danger of making assumptions hence this new Rule of Genealogy. 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

MyHeritage adds even more new collections of French records has recently published an additional 359 million historical records from France from a vital records collection — including birth, marriage, and death records — and a naturalization records collection. Since mid-October 2021 they have added 844 million French records in total from 15 historical record collections. All these records were previously available exclusively through The new collections complement the huge French treasure trove of vital, census, military, and burial records, making MyHeritage an essential resource for anyone researching their French roots. Read more about these records in the following blog post.

MyHeritage Publishes 359 Million Additional Historical Records from France

Friday, December 10, 2021

Preorder Slavery in Zion a new book by Amy Tanner Thiriot


For the past few years, my daughter, Amy Tanner Thiriot, has been writing the most complete history to date of the approximately one hundred enslaved Black pioneers of Utah Territory The book is now being published by the University of Utah Press and is available for pre-order from the University Press and from Barnes and Noble. You can read about some of the background of this book in this article, "Historian to discuss black Mormon pioneers such as Green Flake and Utah’s relationship with slavery." You might note that the title of the book as it will be available is slightly different than the one quoted in the article. You can also see the book cited as a source in this article, "100 Century of Black Mormons." Here are two other articles that reference this important book.

Benson, Lee. “Green Flake: His Life Matters.” Deseret News, July 19, 2020.

Holslin, Peter. “Unshackled.” Salt Lake City Weekly. Accessed December 10, 2021.

Here is what the University of Utah Press had to say about the book. 

Slavery in Zion

A Documentary and Genealogical History of Black Lives and Black Servitude in Utah Territory, 1847-1862

By Amy Tanner Thiriot

An Akan proverb says, “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” This belief underlies historian Amy Tanner Thiriot’s work in Slavery in Zion. The total number of those enslaved during Utah’s past has remained an open question for many years. Due to the nature of nineteenth-century records, particularly those about enslaved peoples, an exact number will never be known, but while writing this book, Thiriot documented around one hundred enslaved or indentured Black men, women, and children in Utah Territory.

Using a combination of genealogical and historical research, the book brings to light events and relationships misunderstood for well over a century. Section One provides an introductory history, chapters on southern and western experiences, and information on life after emancipation. Section Two is a biographical encyclopedia with names, relationships, and experiences. Although this book contains material applicable to legal history and the history of race and Mormonism, its most important goal is to be a treasury of the experiences of Utah’s enslaved Black people so their stories can become an integral part of the history of Utah and the American West, no longer forgotten or written out of history.

Amy Tanner Thiriot is an independent historian and adjunct university instructor in the BYU-Idaho Family History Research program. Her work has been published in the Deseret Book series Women of Faith in the Latter Days and in Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia. She blogs at TheAncestorFiles and has written several series for Keepapitchinin: The Mormon History Blog

Praise and Reviews:“An important addition to the study of slavery and (most importantly) enslaved peoples in early Mormon Utah. The author should be commended for the painstaking archival work to bring together well-known documents as well as lesser-known documents related to this history.”

— Max Perry Mueller, author of Race and the Making of the Mormon People

“Slavery in Zion is the most thorough and exhaustive treatment to date of the lives of Black Utahns in the nineteenth-century. It should serve as an indispensable starting point for other researchers to explore all sorts of potentially fascinating and important topics.”

—Christopher C. Jones, assistant professor of history, Brigham Young University

Genealogists would be well advised to follow Amy's pattern of thorough and exhaustive history. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

More about searching on the FamilySearch website - Digging Into the entire website, Part Ten


In my last post in this series, "How do we find anything on the FamilySearch website? Digging Into the entire website, Part Nine," the title was ambiguous. I was not trying to show how to find everything on the website, I was asking a question about whether finding anything was even possible. Let me illustrate and explain the issues involved in searching for a specific record entry on the website. 

My first example is rather easily understood, but not too well known. Only about 20% of the records listed in the Catalog are indexed. That means when you do a search for a name using the search engine on the website, you are only searching a relatively small percentage of the records. The figure of 20% comes from statements made by FamilySearch employees. I think the actual number is far less. But I will use that number as a starting point. The Indexed records (meaning those indexed by as listed on the Browse All Collections link on the new search page. 

The list is updated regularly with newly indexed records. Also, as I wrote about recently, (See "FamilySearch using computer-assisted indexing for digitized records) this indexing may start to expand rapidly. 

Now, in the FamilySearch Catalog, there are a lot of unindexed records. What this means that you have to search by location, find a record that might apply to your ancestor using dates and places, and then search page-by-page through the record to see if the ancestor shows up. But wait, there is a serious problem with the catalog. Let me illustrate this problem with the following example. 

Let's suppose you were looking for a record in this FamilySearch Catalog Entry. 

There is a record of parish baptisms for the Registros parroquiales, 1618-1929 of the Iglesia Católica. San Pedro (Tortes, Lugo) in Spain. The first entry is for images of Bautismos 1618-1915 (desordenado, faltan años , con mat. y def.) or Baptisms 1618-1915 with the comment that they are disorganized, lack certain years, and damaged. Let's further suppose that you were looking for a marriage record. The next entry in the Catalog is for marriages. So you would skip looking at baptisms. However, if you search through every section of records in this collection of baptisms like I did, you will find that yes, records are missing, and yes, they are disorganized but what is more important you will find a marriage record like this. 

This marriage record is located in the middle of the baptism records. If you want to have an interesting time working with the Catalog, try and find this same record. I have at least shown you where the record is located which is more than I knew at the beginning of this search. 

What do we learn from this example. We cannot rely exclusively on indexes and catalogs. I have written in the past about my experience of doing research for Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus) in the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah. I found books about Colón in about five different places in the library. I learned years ago that finding specific information in a library took more than looking in the card catalog. I found the books by walking the shelves (looking at all the books in the library, yes all of them). I expand that insight to include all catalogs and all indexes. 

Now what about FamilySearch? There is still another issue and place to look. As the records that are being collected by FamilySearch are digitized, the people doing the digitization send each week's work to FamilySearch on a hard disk or, I suppose, online in some cases. Each week's collection is processed and the place and type of records are added into the FamilySearch website in the Images collections. You can find Images as the second item on the dropdown Search menu at the top of each page. Here is what you see.

If I put Spain into this search field, today when this was written, I get 710,538 results. Further investigation of these images shows that I can go to the Diócesis de Lugo, Spain (Dioceses) where I was looking for records when I found the record above and see 6,669 results. However, in this case, the records are not further broken down by parish so technically, if I wanted to see if there were any more records from Tortes, I would have to search down through all six thousand plus of this list of records. 

What is the solution to what is going on? Well, first of all, none of the other websites do much better. Some have better search engines and some have more indexed records but the only real way to be sure you are finding what you are looking for is to search through the original records page by page when that is possible. This is the real reason why it is still necessary to visit the original archives, church, repository of whatever where the records are kept when you can't find anything online. Also, do not rely on just one website make sure you know how to look directly for the records. 

Yes, you still look for names with dates and places, but you do not ever think that just because a record did not magically appear in response to your name search that there are not more places to look.

Monday, December 6, 2021

How do we find anything on the FamilySearch website? Digging Into the entire website, Part Nine


Even if you have a really good idea that a certain kind of oyster can make pearls, you still may have to look at a lot of oysters to find one pearl. If the record you are looking for could be considered a pearl, then searching on FamilySearch is a good analogy to oysters. We know FamilySearch has a lot of genealogically valuable records, but which ones are going to help us to find our ancestors? Here is an example of the results of a name search from the new search page on the website. I searched for Thomas Parkinson, England, 1830. By the way, this is one of my actual ancestors in the Family Tree. 

There are 47,328 responses which is quite normal for a name search on the website. None of the Thomas Parkinsons showing on the first page of twenty results are my ancestor and none of them have a birth date in 1830. Here is the summary card for Thomas Parkinson so you can see that he was born in 1830 and has 46 sources attached.

Oh, here is what I entered to do my search. 

Granted, I could have entered a lot more information, but you would think that I just might get someone born in England in 1830 from the results considering the fact that I know there are records on the website that have that specific information. So what is going on here? By the way, this new search screen does not help, all it does in create another step in the process of searching. I could click on more options, but why not give us more options to start instead of thousands of shotgun responses. 

Searching for a name, even with all the options you can muster, only searches the indexed records in the Historical Record Collections. The search engine does not search the Family Tree. searches all their family trees and gives record hints for connections. not only searches all of their family trees (millions upon millions) but also searches the entire Family Tree. Here is an example of looking for Thomas Parkinson on

Granted you still don't get the Thomas Parkinson born in 1830, but you do get results from the Family Tree. Of course, you can search for names directly on the FamilySearch Family Tree. 

Here are the results of this search. 

You can see that there are a lot of Thomas Parkinsons on the Family Tree. There has to be more here than meets the eye or we would not find anything we looked for on the FamilySearch website. So again, what is going on here? This is a chicken and an egg problem. To find a person, you need to know a lot about the person but if you can't find anything about the person then how do you start searching? The key is what every genealogist should know by heart: we start with what we know and we search for what we do not know using what we know. Genealogy starts with learning about and recording all you know about yourself. If I started searching for my own name on FamilySearch, I would probably have a difficult time finding anything because of privacy issues. But if I did a general search online first, I could probably find a lot of information that would help me. Try searching for information about yourself online to see what I mean. You might find that a name search is not a very good way to search for someone. 

Let's suppose that you begin entering information about yourself, your parents, your grandparents, etc. In genealogy, we use this information to build a search for further ancestors. If I started with myself, and looked at all the people in my family line back to Thomas Parkinson, I would find that I knew quite a bit about him from his children's records. More about this line of thought in another post.

So the key to finding someone with a name search is to start where I did with a minimum amount of information and then add information. Of course, you can only add information if you have already found the information but you can never skip over a generation without losing you way. 

Here is what happens when you provide a bit more information. 

Not much different but the search engine is finding Thomas Parkinsons born in 1830. What is the problem? This was a trick search. His birth date and place were only found on other records which we know were not indexed by FamilySearch. What if I take out the place "Farcet." Here we go. Now we have possibly found the right person or maybe not. It turns out that a lot of Thomas Parkinsons married someone named Mary Ann. Can we win this game by trying? Not really. 

What you might learn from these examples is that searching for records about your family using the search function of the various websites is not the way we really end up finding records. Indexes are great. Indexing is a great help. But unless you know more that the index, you will usually either end up with the wrong person or not find anything at all. 

I will keep writing about how we actually go about finding someone on FamilySearch (and other websites) in future posts. 

Here are the previous posts in what is going to be a very long series. 

Saturday, December 4, 2021

A Personal History of RootsTech


2011 was the first official RootsTech conference with that name. This original conference was attended by only 3000 people. You can contrast that by the virtual attendance in 2021 of well over a million people online. 

This post is some of my comments about RootsTech from the very first one up to the two I have attended online, the 2018 conference while I was on a FamilySearch mission in Annapolis, Maryland, the virtual 2020 conference, and the last in-person conference in 2020. During the past year, the Brigham Young University Family History Conference, usually in July, was cancelled in 2021 as was the Brigham Young University Family History Technology Conference usually held just before RootsTech.

I may have written about this before, but here it goes again if that is case. When I started doing family history (genealogy) research now about forty years ago, I had no idea that people got together to talk about genealogy. No one in my immediate family was at all interested in genealogy although two of my great-grandmothers had been extensively involved and I was assured that all the work had been done for my family. Additional evidence of the competed nature of my genealogy was a row of books about my ancestral family, mostly the Tanner and Jarvis families. My initial efforts involved many trips to the Salt Lake City, Family History Library and learning a succession of initially primitive computer genealogy programs. 

I think my first conference experience was when I went to a Family History Expos conference in Mesa in 2008. By that time, I was taking genealogy classes from BYU and shortly after that began working in the Mesa, Arizona Multi-Stake Family History Center (later the Mesa FamilySearch Library). By the time RootsTech became a possibility, I was also busily writing a genealogy blog called Genealogy's Star (a name I have always regretted) which also began in 2008. By this time, I had been heavily involved in genealogical research for about twenty-six years. 

As a result of the blog posts on Genealogy's Star, I was invited to attend the first RootsTech Conference in 2011 as a blogger. There are still a very few of us still around from that first group. A trek to RootsTech became an annual tradition and being a RootsTech blogger, then Ambasador, now Influencer also became a tradition. I have been involved either in person or online every year since that first conference. Actually, I think I liked the first conference the best because everything was new.

Over the years, RootsTech has become something my wife and I live with for much of the year. I used to spend a lot of time preparing and presenting classes, but then I realized I was talking to more people my mingling with the participants and talking to people individually than I was as a presenter. Although, I still teach classes, I have also moved to producing videos on a weekly basis and my main focus has changed to helping people individually begin their genealogy experience or helping those with complex problems involving research. I like the new online venue for RootsTech because I think it is more inclusive. When a million people can participate to some extent, this has to be weighed against having only a few thousand participants. There is always the argument about the benefit of in-person contact, but only a few of the activities at an in-person conference deal with the real issues of doing genealogical research and building a family tree. There is also the cost of attending in person. That puts a limit on the participation that may not be defensible given the opportunity to attend online. 

When I interact and teach people online one-on-one, I can see what they are doing and they can see how I find records and where the resources are located. This part is missing from in-person classes. 

What will happen in the future? I hope the huge collection of resources that came from the 2021 RootsTech Conference will continue to be available. I also hope that in the future, the collection of video presentations from RootsTech will be organized and available a a vast reference library for genealogy. This is how I view the value of RootsTech today. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

RootsTech 2022 Free Registration is now open

You can now register for RootsTech 2022. Registration is free. 

The presentations and classes from RootsTech 2021 are still available on the website. I have submitted one video for this year but I will probably be part of or on several more. Most of my time this next RootsTech 2022 will be helping the Salt Lake City, Utah Family History Library with 20-minute, free, online consultations. You can already sign up for consultations on the Family History Library website. Click on Research Helps for a link to the signup process.

Here you can sign up for a twenty minute consultation. I have found that most questions can be answered in twenty minutes.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

An important message from The Family History Guide


For many years now, my wife and I have been working on The Family History Guide website. This free research and educational website is invaluable in learning about genealogical research and a whole lot more. The Family History Guide is funded by a non-profit 501(c)3 charitable organization. All of the work that has gone into the website is voluntary. We are at a crucial point in the funding for the organization. Here is a letter from one of the founders of the website explaining the situation. 

Greetings and Happy Holidays!

I’m Bob Ives, the Executive Director and co-founder of The Family History Guide Association. I urge you to please take a few moments and read this entire update.  

Our mission 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.” To that end, we have been very busy during the pandemic. Here are a few things of note:

  • The Family History Guide website has had visitors from over 150 countries.

  • The website is used for training in many locations, including over 5,000 family history centers, the BYU Family History Library, Riverton FamilySearch Library, and the FamilySearch Library (Salt Lake), genealogical societies, and public libraries, as well as in many Latter-day Saint wards and stakes.

  • The Family History Guide Association has distributed over 50,000 pass-along cards across the United States and Canada.

  • Our team has delivered training and information to hundreds of people in state and regional genealogical societies, private groups, wards, stakes, etc, in the United States and Canada.

  • We continue to be a proud training partner with Family Search. "The Family History Guide is approved by FamilySearch as a training resource."

  • We have thousands of followers on our social media groups including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest, with a special Facebook Page for trainers and consultants.

  • Our free, weekly Blog has thousands of subscribers and features a voice option for the visually impaired.

  • The Family History Guide is now available in over 100 languages using Google Translate on the site.

  • Research training and links are available for over 100 countries.

  • We have added over 500 family history tips in our Tip Of The Day series.

  • We have a number of non-paid, volunteer staff and trainers from around the country who devote many hours to making The Family History Guide better and being our evangelists to spread the word.

  • The Family History Guide continues to be free to all users.

The Family History Guide© Association continues to be fully funded through private donations; there is no advertising on the website. The pandemic has greatly impacted our donor funding, and we need additional funding to continue operations. We are a 501(c)3  charitable non-profit, and your donations are tax-deductible in most cases. Click here to see some of the talented people on our Board of Directors and staff, and click here to see what we do.

There are so many ways to donate.  Here are a few:



We are asking you to please consider donating to help us continue the phenomenal spread of The Family History Guide throughout the world. We need immediate help to meet our many commitments such as RootsTech, The National Genealogical Society, Zoom training sessions, printing, web hosting, mailing, software licenses, and so many other ongoing expenses. All of our staff and Board Members are non-paid volunteers, as are hundreds of other trainers and supporters throughout the world. All donations go directly to our mission.

To find out how you can help with this incredible resource,

Please click here.

If you have questions regarding how you might donate, please do not hesitate to contact me at my private email.

Thank you for your time and support, and may you have a happy and blessed holiday season!

Seasons wishes!

I heartily endorse what Bob has written. Please help if you are able.