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

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Family History Mission: More on Technological Changes


No. 61

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission James Tanner" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them or click back through all the posts.

There is nothing particularly different about the above probate document except that it was typewritten in 1890. As we are working on digitizing documents from the Maryland State Archives, we have handled documents from the 1700s through to the 1900s. We do cut off digitizing documents after 1940 in our particular projects, but because of this huge time span, we see dramatic changes in the documents because of changes in technology. 

The typewritten document above is a good example. The first commercial typewriters were introduced beginning in 1874. According to the Wikipedia article on typewriters, they did not become common until the 1880s. We can confirm that by our observations at the Archives. We begin seeing typewritten documents in the 1880s and early 1890s. The obvious advantage is the replacement of hard to decipher handwriting with typewritten text. 

Some of the technological changes are not so obvious. We can see the changes in the paper used to produce the documents. This is hard to see in a photograph, but here is some paper from the early 1800s.


The old paper is stiff and heavy, almost like the heavy construction paper I used to use in grade school.


The newer paper is light and flexible. You can see the improvement. But the real question is will it last as long as the older paper?

Some of the other changes we see are less obvious. We have been digitizing probate inventories and sales. These documents contain lists of the deceased person's property. It is interesting to see how the lists change from farm implements to cars and appliances. You could get a major insight into the lives of your ancestors by reading their probate property lists. 

My wife and I are mainly digitizing books and another example of the changing technology is the binding of the books. Most of the original bindings are almost completely disintegrated and the books are rebound with a standard binding. Here is an example showing the old bindings, the brown books, and the new bindings, the white, not so clean, books. 


The books in this example have been extensively used. Eventually, around the beginning of the 1900s, the courts started using bindings with removable pages. Here is an example of the metal binding technology.


This makes the books much easier to digitize since the pages can be removed and digitized as flat documents. Of course, the Archives also preserves some of the old technology. You might recognize this.





Tuesday, May 22, 2018

FamilySearch finds your relatives who were in the War of 1812



FamilySearch continues to add links to people who fall into certain categories. These category links are shown at the top of the person's Detail Page. Here is an example.


The links are the category listings on the right-hand side of the entry. The notifications from FamilySearch make you aware of the entries and provide links to some of your supposed relatives. Check your relationship carefully before assuming that the links are correct. Here is an example of the list from the War of 1812.



These entries serve a good purpose of making people aware of their heritage and also showing that some of their relatives may be found in records outside of the ones most commonly searched, but the connections are often very tenuous and suspect. Here is an example of my connection to the first person listed in the screenshot.


This connection may or may not be realistic. I would have to check each link in the connection and verify that I was actually related to these people. I have not yet checked this line and could not be confident that the connection is correct without a lot of work. But it is interesting and thought provoking.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A Survival Guide for the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part Three -- Initial Considerations


The FamilySearch.org Family Tree is the solution, not the problem. 

The reality of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that it is the official, approved way to submit names for ordinance work in the Church's Temples. There are some very limited exceptions where members are required to bring family group records to the Temples for live endowments and some sealings, but generally, the work of redeeming the dead is entirely based on what is entered into the Family Tree. As far as those who are members of the Church, this puts the FamilySearch.org website and the Family Tree on a completely different level from those who are outside of the Church's membership. If a person outside of the Church decides, for whatever reason, not to use the Family Tree program, then that is their decision. For members who make the same decision, there are more serious implications and consequences.

That said, there is a basic religiously oriented reason why members should be carefully considering any additions, changes, or other work they do with the Family Tree. Part of the consequences of either becoming involved with the Family Tree or becoming disinvolved through frustration or lack of knowledge is that the members are ignoring the scriptural and prophetic mandates we have to do the Temple ordinance work for our deceased ancestors. Presently, statistics show that only slightly over 6% of the Church membership has submitted a name to a Temple during the past year. So, despite any controversy over the features or operation of the FamilySearch.org website, there is only a very small percentage of the Church members who are even aware that there may possibly be problems with the program. I can only imagine what would happen if the other 94% somehow became interested enough to become involved in the website.

One of the major considerations for developing the Family Tree program is the one-hundred-year-old effort to avoid duplication of effort by those involved in submitting their ancestral family's names to the Temples. The obvious duplication in the Family Tree is that of having multiple copies of individuals in the database. But the unseen duplication is the time spent in performing the ordinances in the Temple for the same person over and over again. When the new.FamilySearch.org program was being used, one of my ancestors, Henry Martin Tanner, had over 800 duplicate combined entries listed in the program. That list of duplicates represented part of the number of times his Temple ordinances had been repeated in whole or in part. This massive waste of time and resources was the prime motivation for a whole series of complicated programs developed by the Church over a time period that has now gone on for more than 120 years with different attempts to minimize this duplication. None of the previous programs worked very well. However, the Family Tree has substantially eliminated much of the more obvious duplication. The resources and time saved more than adequately pay for the time and money put into the program.

Can you fool the program to create a "false" entry that will allow Temple work to be done? Yes, you can. If you are a totally irresponsible person, you could simply make up names which would be the moral equivalent of lying to obtain a Temple recommend and from my perspective adding supposed ancestral names willy-nilly into the program without documentation or even an attempt to verify that the names are not duplicated verges on the same type of fraud. Fortunately, the program has one major defensive mechanism against this kind of fraud: it is a wiki. Give the numbers of people who are submitting information to the program, no committee or appointed group of people could watch the entries as effectively as allowing all of the people who have access to the program to watch their own family lines. For example, I am currently "watching" 291 people in the Family Tree and not surprisingly, when I get a list of changes each week from FamilySearch, the list usually focuses on some of the same small number of people.

Over the past few years of its existence, the Family Tree developers have been put in place some extensive safeguards to prevent duplication and notify users of the inaccuracy of their entries. The program is far from perfect in these attempts at control, but some of the obvious problems with the data are slowly being resolved. As the program has been developed since its introduction, it has become a highly efficient and suprisingly simple way to maintain an increasing flow of names to the Temples. In a matter of a few minutes, I can sit down with a member and add information about his or her family that will allow the person to print ordinance cards and "take the names to the Temple." Using the highly effective Consultant Planner, any Temple and Family History Consultant with some basic training can help many members find legitimately related deceased relatives who need the benefits of Temple ordinances.

Why then is there a constant backblast of criticism and complaint about the Family Tree? That is one of my motivating reasons for writing this series of posts about surviving the Family Tree. My cousin, Ron Tanner of FamilySearch, attributes this, in part, to what he calls "my-tree-itis" or the idea that somehow we "own" our ancestors' and relatives' information. I am not so worried about the people who claim ownership as I am about the people who indiscriminately treat the Family Tree as a place to add their unverified and unsupported, inherited or copied family information without spending the time or effort to verify its reliability and accuracy. I can defend myself against the first group who believe in ownership by simply doing my own research, but I have a difficult time working with the second group. After years of representing clients as an attorney, I had one standard rule about accepting representation: I don't do stupid and I don't do crazy. The problem is that it is often difficult to determine the existence of either condition.

There is, of course, the need to make the Family Tree a simple and straight-forward way to enter family information that conflicts directly with the larger issue of trying to maintain its integrity and accuracy. One issue I see frequently is the need some researchers seem to have to "protect" their "own" data and its accuracy from the minions of uninformed and ignorant masses on the public, online family trees. Inevitably, the basis for this attitude is a belief that their research is completely accurate and correct and everyone else has inaccurate data. I have had enough of my own research revised and corrected to recognize that my own research is not always completely accurate or correct and it may well be that someone else has more complete or more correct information than I have in my own documentation. This is my point of departure for addressing individual issues with the Family Tree so it must be time to start writing about the issues. Stay tuned.

Here are the previous posts in this series

Part One: http://rejoiceandbeexceedingglad.blogspot.com/2018/05/a-survival-guide-to-familysearch-family.html
Part Two: http://rejoiceandbeexceedingglad.blogspot.com/2018/05/a-survival-guide-for-familysearch.html

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Survival Guide for the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part Two -- The Scope of the Challenge


The FamilySearch.org Family Tree is not the problem, it is the solution. 

Nearly all of the comments both pro and con directed at the FamilySearch.org Family Tree involve the content in one way or another rather than the operation of the program itself. For this reason, to begin a one-sided discussion about the FamilyTree, it is important to realize that the initial information came from a previous database called new.FamilySearch.org that supplied the bulk of the original entries. I have covered this all in previous posts over the years, but a major part of the process of commenting on the huge number of issues represented by the present Family Tree program involves the fact that it is sort of a descendant of the earlier program. The present Family Tree program was originally seeded with the huge pile of records incorporated in the earlier new.FamilySearch.org program. This huge compilation of records had a significant number of duplicate records that was rapidly increasing because of the way that the new.FamilySearch.org program functioned. Most of these duplicate records primarily consisted of whole databases of duplicate records that had been submitted by those who had been submitting names to FamilySearch and its predecessors for over a hundred years. Beginning clear back in the 1890s, none of the methods that were implemented over the years to reduce duplication actually worked; new.FamilySearch.org not only did not reduce the number of duplicate entries, it facilitated their creation.

The crux of what we need to know right now about all this previous history is that hundreds of thousands of duplicate entries inherited from submissions contributed for over more than a hundred years, have been eliminated from the Family Tree but there is likely a huge number left to eliminate. What we also need to know about all this history is that many of the records in the Family Tree are not supported by any source information at all. In my opinion which comes from working consistently and regularly with the Family Tree since it was introduced these two factors outweigh any other major considerations. I consistently see more duplicate entries being added to the Family Tree and I see constant changes that are unsupported by even a modicum of documentary support.

Notwithstanding these serious challenges, the Family Tree is alive and well. Since its inception, I have seen a constant improvement in the accuracy of the entries due to the fact that is a wiki-based program. I also see huge numbers of sources being constantly added to existing entries. According to currently reported statistics, there are nearly 950 million source entries in the Family Tree. As a result of this huge number of source entries, the reliability to the Family Tree has grown and continues to grow at a rapid pace despite its somewhat duplicative and checkered antecedents. The entries in the Family Tree are further supported by about 23.9 million photos and 1.69 million stories. There are about 1.1 billion persons in the Family Tree as of the date of the facts published by FamilySearch for April 2018.

So what is the challenge? As the poet, John Lydgate wrote; "You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time." This quote was made famous by President Abraham Lincoln. As it applies to the Family Tree, we will always have those people who are not pleased with some aspect of the program or the data, but right now, the Family Tree is the best program we have to work with. The alternative also exists in the millions of individually maintained family trees on hundreds (if not thousands) of websites.

The challenge that we all face is continuing to build a source-centric Family Tree based on the best possible records that can be found. Fortunately, much of what is now in place in the Family Tree is adequately supported by valid sources and the conclusions are reasonable and defensible. Unfortunately, as the core of validly defensible data in the Family Tree expands, the amount of data that has yet to be entered or that is without any supporting documentation also continues to expand. The comforting aspect of this reality is that what is already entered into the Family Tree is becoming more accurate and thereby more reliable at an increasing pace.

This series will address individual issues confronting the continuing viability of the Family Tree. I do not pretend to have a solution for all of the problems facing the use of this marvelous tool, but I can address as many of the problems as I can see and suggest resolutions where possible. The object of this series is to explore the issues confronting the continued growth and health of the Family Tree and to codify those issues that remain to be resolved. I fully admit that I have neither the experience or the expertise to solve these problems or issues, but I do have the time and inclination to codify them and discuss possible solutions to those issues that are actually impediments to the purpose for which the Family Tree was created and for which it is being maintained.

I am certain that as I keep writing, the main issues confronting the Family Tree will become the focus of most of my analysis. Stay tuned for further developments.

Here is the first post in this series

Part One: http://rejoiceandbeexceedingglad.blogspot.com/2018/05/a-survival-guide-to-familysearch-family.html

A Family History Mission: Preparing documents for digitization

Maryland State Archives
No. 60

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission James Tanner" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them or click back through all the posts.

I am going to go through the process of prepping (preparing) the documents from the Maryland State Archives for digitization and then show where you can find what is already available. 

We are digitizing documents for FamilySearch and the documents we digitize are subject to an agreement between FamilySearch and the archive. The contracts are specific about which documents are made available to us. The project here at the Maryland State Archives has been going on for five years or so and we expect that it will take another six or seven years to complete. We are digitizing primarily probate documents and those related to probate actions in the Orphans Court of Maryland beginning around 1600.

Certain sets of documents are identified for digitalization. We work through the records county by county. The documents are stored on the shelves in boxes called "clamshells" and physically brought to us to prepare for digitization.  Here are what the boxes look like.


Here is what the boxes look like with documents.


The documents are tightly folded and are essentially the same condition as when they were filed away. Most of these documents have never been touched for as long as 200 years. The first step is to sort the documents into folders. Here are the documents as they are sorted.


 Here are the folders.

 
The documents in the folders have been preliminarily sorted are still tightly folded. The documents are sorted chronologically into small groups of 3 to 6 or more document sets to a folder. We select a folder to work on and then review the documents to make sure they are in chronological order.



We fill out a "target" sheet or cover sheet for each document set. The folded sets of documents may contain a series of related documents. 


The target sheet lists the main names and type of court action associated with the documents. Each packet of folded documents becomes a separate subfolder. We then carefully unfold the documents and record the information. This information is used as waypoints or a preliminary index for the digitized documents by the Archive. Unfortunately, FamilySearch does not use or incorporate this highly useful preliminary index to the records. Here are the documents being unfolded. 


Some of the documents have metal fasteners that need to be removed. 


Here is how I organize working on unfolding the documents. 


The documents are put back in the boxes and then they are ready to move to the camera stations. 


If we find mold on the documents, they have to be sent to be irradiated by the Archive before digitization.

The information on the target sheets is entered into a database that is used by the Archive to keep track of the documents.


The boxes of folders are delivered to the camera stations and are ready to digitize.


Here is a camera station with a document ready to digitize.


The target sheets are also digitized and the information in the database is verified when the image is made.


The original documents are put back in the box and they are filed away by the Archive. We are done with those documents. The images are transferred to a hard drive and shipped to FamilySearch where the images are processed and then incorporated into the FamilySearch.org website. Here is a screenshot of some of the records found in the FamilySearch.org Catalog from Maryland.


Unfortunately, these particular records are only available to be viewed in a Family History Center. But other records are available to everyone online.


Here is what some of the records look like.


If you have any questions, put them in the comments. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Changes in the Family History Resources on LDS.org

https://www.familysearch.org/ask/planner/calling?lang=eng&cid=email-MC_TFHC_051718_Button
The changes to the organization of the Melchizedek Priesthood in the Wards and Stakes has had an impact on the Temple and Family History Consultants at all levels. Consequently, there has been a reorganization of the training materials for Temple and Family History Consultants on LDS.org. In addition, there is a new page on FamilySearch.org dedicated to training Temple and Family History Consultants. Here are some links to the newly added or changed information. Remember, you will need to sign in to FamilySearch.org to see the new information. You will also need to sign in to LDS.org.

Follow all the links and you will a huge number of helpful web pages. 


Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Survival Guide to the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part One -- The Introduction


Many of the users of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree feel like they are lost in the wilderness. Some are on the verge of giving up hope and others like one commentator to my recent blog have given up entirely. Here is what she had to say.
I quit using Family Search because changes made with no documentation. And when you asked for it no response.
An additional comment agreed and said:
I totally agree. Aunt Susie said is rarely adequate for making any change in any record. Especially with today's available records, I have also found the Watch feature is not very efficient.
Because of the almost constant stream of such negative comments, I have decided to write a detailed and exhaustive analysis of every comment. If you have any concerns or questions about your own experience with the Family Tree, you can add them as comments and I will respond to every issue raised. I will be using every comment I can find in the extensive comments on the GetSatisfaction.com website. There are about 241 pages of comments. There are apparently about 18,384 "customers" that have made comments on the website.

The biggest challenge I can see starting out is imposing some kind of organization on the comments. Likely, I will be highlighting a few issues at a time and adding issues as the posts continue. If you have been reading my posts on both this blog and on Genealogy's Star, you know I have already spent a great deal of effort answering issues and promoting the Family Tree. I have also done some videos for the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel about the Family Tree and the issues raised. This series of posts will cover some of the same issues but in more depth.

Let's get started.