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

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

How Good is the FamilySearch Family Tree as a Genealogy Program?

I have used a number of different local computer-based genealogy programs over the years and moved my accumulated data quite a few times from an older program to a newer program I thought more useful. At one point in time, I had five or six different local programs as opposed to internet-based programs running on my computer, all with my entire database. I could see advantages in each one. During this same period, I was struggling with online programs such as and's family tree program.

Over the years, the number of viable local, desktop genealogy programs began to decrease. I always had one issue due to the fact that I used Apple Macintosh computers as my primary system and few or the desktop programs had Mac versions. I finally abandoned PCs for genealogy altogether which forced me to rely even more on online programs. By the time the desktop program developers came out with Mac versions of their programs, I had pretty much transferred all my data and my attention to online programs including all four of the large online database and family tree websites:,,, and

I made a comment about the decrease in the number of "viable" programs. My reference to "viable" means that the programs were supported, updated and had valid connections to the online family trees. As technology developed, online programs, in general, became realistic alternatives to maintaining a separate desktop database. For many years, I supported the idea that the unreliability of the online programs mandated the use of a desktop-based program. But as the online programs became more full-featured and reliable, my point-of-view changed. My original issue with programs that lacked Mac-based alternatives became irrelevant. I could use my Macs to access any of the online programs, in fact, as they became available, I could use any number of devices including tablets and smartphones to access my online family trees. The desktop programs that developed a usable connect to the online database programs remain a viable alternative or supplement to the online programs. For that reason, I now primarily rely on online family tree programs and I am only interested in desktop programs that have useful connections to the online world.

How does a program such as the Family Tree compare to the available desktop programs? Some of the desktop programs have some very nice features that are not available online. There is a trade-off, however. There is an extra step in the overhead needed to maintain your database if you use multiple programs. At some point, you need to decide on using one program and then transferring information to any other useful programs on an "as needed" basis.

Whether or not you are satisfied with any one program usually depends on the degree of your familiarity with other programs. Whether you think the program is a good alternative or not depends on whether you are familiar with a variety of programs. Most of the genealogists I know are "married," in a sense, to one program. They know next to nothing about the features of other viable programs. Many of people I talk to are not aware that other software alternatives even exist. For example, from time to time, I find Personal Ancestral File (PAF) users who do not know that RootsMagic and Ancestral Quest both support and preserve PAF files.

I think there are several very good genealogy programs and would be happy to use any of them. Because I focus on the Family Tree is no indication that I do not like the other programs. For example, Family Tree Builder is a full-featured, extremely well-developed program that is free from It is very well supported and currently has a rating 4.17 out of five stars on But I would guess that few of those who are hanging on to PAF are even aware of its existence.

Most of the criticism I hear about the Family Tree is just trivial and is based on a lack of understanding of the program. I have written extensively about the complaint issues and have some videos on The Brigham Young University Family History Library YouTube Channel about the issues also. We all benefit from having a number of different choices in the genealogical community. If you don't like one program, use something else.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Family History Mission: A Visit to Washington, D.C.

The National Archives, Washington, D.C. 
No. 28

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

No, I am not feeling like a tourist. Living in Annapolis gives us both a different perspective. Our first visit to the downtown area of Washington, D.C., which, by the way, is entirely within the area covered by our mission, the Washington, D.C. North Mission, was a major expedition. Annapolis, Maryland is really quite some distance from downtown D.C. It takes from around an hour to two or more hours depending on traffic. However, we realized that traveling downtown was only the beginning of the challenge. We realized we would also need to find a parking space.

We decided to avoid the parking problem by taking the Metro or train into town. After doing some research, we found that there is a Metro SmartTrip Card that works for all the rail lines and the busses. We had to drive into D.C. to buy our cards for $2 and then load them up with some cash, but that made for an easier way to get around.

It has been some years since I rode a subway train. I used to ride the subway all the time in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but I think the last subway we rode was years ago on the Boston MTA. We had an uneventful trip downtown and a marvelous, but limited, initial tour of the National Gallery of Art. I guess it is important to know that being a Senior Missionary has some advantages not readily available to younger missionaries. We are specifically encouraged to take advantage of cultural and historical places in our mission area.

As the photo above shows, we are going to spend some time in the National Archives and the Library of Congress.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Family History Mission: Thoughts on Names

No. 27

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

When you are very young, you may think that your name is unique. As you grow older, you often realize that many other individuals share your name. In my case, when I was a teenager I visited the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia and saw a tombstone with the name "James Tanner" near the entrance to the cemetery. I still remember my surprise in seeing my name in a prominent place. Even though I now recognize that the Tanner surname is quite common and that the name "James" is one of the most common names in English, it still surprises me to see my name in a document or somewhere else.

While working at the Maryland State Archives, I ran across this entry in a probate file. This particular record was from the early 1900s. It is a very common misconception that people with the same surname are somehow related. This may be true for very unusual surnames, but the name Tanner is an occupation-derived surname and is very common in England and other places in Europe. Many genealogists, including those with considerable experience, make the mistake of concluding that a person with the same name is (or could be) a relative. If a person has ancestors who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints back in the 1800s and has the Tanner surname, it is very likely we are related. But if a person has the Tanner surname and their family came from a part of the United States other than New England and New York and Rhode Island, it is very unlikely that they are related.

While working in the Maryland State Archives, we take the original documents and prepare them for digitization. One of the things we also do is to record the main name of the document so it can be identified in a database of the potential images. This means we read through the documents for names. This results in many discussions about how to decipher the handwriting and guessing at the names. We find quite a few unusual names, for example, back in the early 1800s in Maryland, one popular girl's name was Achsah. I have no idea how it was pronounced at the time. But it is a Biblical name, Achsah was the daughter of Caleb, a prince of the tribe of Judah. She was the only girl in the family and had three brothers (1 Chronicles 4:15). She became the wife of Othniel, son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. Othniel became one of Israel's judges.

We had to replace our camera this past week since it was making so much noise we could not stand it. FamilySearch sent us a new camera and I installed it in less than an hour, not including the time it took us to find shims to level the camera. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Family History Mission: An Interesting Discovery

No. 26

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

One of our main activities at the Maryland State Archives is preparing old documents for digitization. These documents have not been opened for almost 200 years and except for those who put them in boxes, have not been touched for almost that long. Every document is an individual discovery.

While opening and preparing the documents recently, Ann made this discovery. The document shown above is an original conservatorship file signed by John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States, while he was serving as the Secretary of State of the United States. Here are some additional photos of the document. You can click on the documents to see enlarged copies.

This is a close up of the seal on the document.

This is the heading and a closer look at the insignia.

This is the cover sheet, as an actual piece of paper that is wrapped around the filed document. The courts today still require a cover sheet, but it no longer wraps around the document, it is more like a title page to the document.

Here is a closer view of the signature page. You can see the documents have acquired a permanent fold and must be unfolded and made as flat as possible for digitization. The documents are digitized under a piece of glass which holds them flatter than they would be otherwise.

We keep finding very interesting documents.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

An Excellent Example of a Local Family History Center

Now that we are getting settled into our work at the Maryland State Archives, I am starting to get in touch with the local family history community. I have joined the Anne Arundel County Genealogical Society and made my first visit to the Annapolis Family History Center. I am very impressed.

Here are some views of this very inviting facility.

If you live in the Annapolis area, you can contact me and I will be glad to meet you at the Annapolis Family History Center to help with your research. Here are some more photos. Don't you wish your Family History Center looked like this one? By the way, when I visited the FHC there were only two volunteers there. Apparently, it is not being overused. One comment on the above photo, I guess the microfilm viewers will be getting very little use.

A nice printer with lots of computers for support.

I will be taking time to become familiar with all the resources.

A nice selection of reference books.

Stay tuned for some additional information in the near future. Remember, I speak Spanish fluently.

Here is the FHC's contact information.
  • 1875 Ritchie Hwy Annapolis MD 21401-6229 United States
  • The Family History Center entrance is at the center of the rear of the building.
  • Phone: 1-410-757-4173
  • Email:
Open Hours:
  • Monday:9:30am-2:30pm
  • Tuesday:9:30am-2:30pm and 7:00pm-9:00pm
  • Wednesday:9:30am-2:30pm and 7:00pm-9:00pm
  • Saturday:9:30am-2:30pm

Monday, January 8, 2018

A Family History Mission: A Genealogist's Goldmine

No. 25

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

As I spend time looking at probate, guardianship, and indenture records at the Maryland State Archives, I am seeing records that assist in finding complete families. The guardianship records are from the Orphans Court Proceedings and often contain a way to identify every one of the children in a family. We usually look to probate records and hope to find a will from an ancestor, but so far, I have seen very few will transcripts but a lot of guardianships.

Apparently, when the father in the family died, guardians were appointed for any minor children. This could be the mother or some other member of the family. The purpose of the guardianship to protect the children's inheritances from third parties or in the event that their mother remarried. If the husband left all of his estate to his wife, then, if the wife remarried, all of the estate would then be owned by the new husband. In some cases, husbands left their wives property under the specific provision that the inheritance would be forfeited if the wife remarried. This was not so much a matter of jealousy but of the way the law worked. If the husband wanted the property to stay in his family lines, then the provision was mandatory.

Because of these particular ownership and inheritance laws, when money was left to minor children, it was necessary to protect the children's interests by appointing a guardian. Genealogists benefit immensely from the information contained these probate/guardianship files.

Perhaps, this observation on me types of records we are digitizing at the Maryland State Archives give you some idea of our motivation to spend the time to volunteer as missionaries.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Double Check Your Temple Opportunities

Automated Record Hints are just hints. The suggested records may not be for the person where the hints show up. Remember, they are "hints" and should be verified before attaching. But what about the "Temple Opportunities?" Are they real or merely hints that should be verified?

Everything in the Family Tree is subject to verification with valid sources, i.e. records that actually support the information already in the Family Tree. Record Hints are links to records that might support events in your ancestors' or relatives' lives. Temple Opportunities assume that all of the genealogical links to the opportunity are valid. So let's look at the Temple Opportunity illustrated above. Here is the assumed "opportunity."

I can immediately reserve the Temple Ordinances by clicking on the blue button link or I can be a "spoilsport" and question the validity of the genealogical connection between me and the individual. Do I really want to reserve and do the ordinances for someone I am not related to? Isn't this a carte blanche from FamilySearch to do the ordinances? Who am I to question FamilySearch? The last question is somewhat rhetorical but is this a situation where we just go ahead and take advantage of the opportunity without checking the validity of the connection? Who cares anyway?

Well, since I have spent a great deal of my time over the past 36 years trying to verify my family connections, I am too old to be taught new tricks. I still don't believe assumed relationships without some sort of documentary support for the conclusion that I am related to anyone and this goes doubly for anything in the Family Tree. I guess the fundamental question is if we are going to have standards about those for whom we can and cannot do ordinance work, why don't those standards apply to "Temple Opportunities?"

So, am I or am I not related to Joseph David Weise?

Here is the chart showing my relationship.

The first question here is am I related to all those people shown as my direct line ancestors. Let's check them off.

  • Yes, I am related to my mother
  • Yes, I am related to my maternal grandfather, Harold Morgan. 
  • Yes, I am related to my Great-grandmother Mary Ann Linton.

Wait, how do I know this so far? Let me add one more check: the number of verified sources I find for each of these people.
  • Yes, I am related to my mother: 34 sources
  • Yes, I am related to my maternal grandfather, Harold Morgan: 49 sources
  • Yes, I am related to my Great-grandmother Mary Ann Linton: 29 sources
Also, I simply have not gotten around to entering all of the hundreds of additional sources and memories I have for these near relatives. Let's go on back.
  • Yes, I am related to Ellen Sutton: 40 sources
  • Yes, I am related to John Sutton: 36 sources
  • Yes, I am related to Sarah Yates: 24 sources
  • Yes, I am related to Peter Yates: 25 sources
Of course, I strongly suggest checking the sources. But let's go on.
  • Hmm, am I related to William Yates? There are six sources but he has no birth or christening dates. 
It is time to stop. Here is William Yates.

The problem is there is no actual birth or death information and the place of birth is listed as Lancashire County. How many William Yates were there in about 1688 in Lancashire?

 Was Lancashire the right county? There are 161 entries for the name William Yates in that county in that time period. Which one is my William Yates, if that is the right name? The children listed were born in three different locations, all in Lancashire County: Winwick, Wigan, and Leigh. Where were these places? How close are they to one another? The dates here are in the 1600s. One problem is that the listing for Winwick is apparently an ancient parish with three towns: Houghton with Middleton, Arbury, and Winwick of Hulme. Let's use Winwick of Hulme. 

The distances here are enough for me to question the accuracy of the inclusion of all of these children in the same family. The person we are concerned with is his son Peter Yates, my supposed ancestor. Peter Yates is one of the children supposedly born in Winwick. Remember, we have no birthplace for either the listed father, William Yates or the listed mother, Sybil. We also have no records showing the parents of Peter Yates. From this review, Peter Yates is presently the end of this line. We do not know his father's name. There is also a will and probate attached to Peter Yates that states that he is "of Lathom."

Where is Latham compared to the other Lancashire towns? What about Winwick where he is supposed to have been born or christened? It is about 18 miles away from Winwick. Once again, that is enough to make me do more research. How many Peter Yates were there in Winwick at the time listed? How many in Lathom? There only four entries in for Peter Yates in Winwick at that time, about 1733. All four of them seem to be our Peter Yates. But what about Lathom? Peter apparently died in Winwick. Could be. But the only record is the will and probate. 

From this point on in the Family Tree, the relationships become mere speculation. I could go on and on, but the descendency part of the linkage is just a questionable. Do I really want to rely on an unsupported connection going back ten unsupported generations and then back down six more unsupported generations?

What do you think? I addition, I am not presently adding any more names to my Temple list. In fact, I am unreserving all of them. The reason is that the Washington, D.C. Temple is closing and I will be here for the next year. I will go back and reserve what I need when I am able to go to the temple regularly after my mission.