I’m sure that lots of you have had a guilt-inducing lesson about doing you genealogy. (We had one today.) The thing that I hate about these lessons is that while they provide “inspiring” (more like “guilt inspiring”) quotes from prophets and apostles, they offer no tools on how to help people actually DO genealogy. At the end of the lesson, the teacher asked, “What can we do to get more motivated about family history?”
I decided to answer that question. I said “Come out our family history class and we’ll help you.” I am one of those weird Mormons that actually LIKES doing family history, and I am a family history consultant in my ward. When I was called, a member of the bishopric told me that they are trying to call enough members of the ward as consultants so that everyone who wants to come can have a one-on-one session on how to do genealogy. I can tell you that there are some amazing tools out there, and genealogy isn’t nearly as hard as it used to be. Let me tell you about these tools.
When I first started doing genealogy a decade ago, the official church program was Personal Ancestral File (PAF). PAF was a pretty good program for its day, but that was before the internet revolutionized genealogy. Basically, every church member had their own file, and you did research by yourself. If you wanted to submit names to the temple, you had to first check with the Family History Library in your stake (if your stake had one), and see if the temple work had been done already. When I took names, I found many names had been done. However, it also depended on whether the staff loaded the latest CD. The system caused ordinances to be completed multiple times, and I submitted names that had already been completed. While good for its day, by today’s standards it was a very poor system and created much duplication of temple work and ordinances.
The church has moved to the internet age and has officially abandoned PAF. Their internet website has had several changes as well at http://www.familysearch.org and the latest iteration is called Family Tree. The best thing about Family Tree is that you can do most of the work at your home instead of having to go to a family history center. The amount of duplication is going to be cut dramatically (but not entirely eliminated.) There are still a lot of duplicates out there, and if you are new to family search, this is probably one area that is pretty easy to do, and will help a lot.
For those of you heavily invested in PAF, you can export your PAF to a GEDCOM file, and then upload the GEDCOM file to Family Tree. If you liked the report features of PAF, I would recommend that you can download a free version of Roots Magic. It is has more functionality than the website , and was written the folks who originally wrote PAF, so you will find not only the features you liked in PAF, but is like PAF on steroids! The free version is pretty fantastic, but if you choose to pay for Roots Magic, there are even more features. I purchased Roots Magic 4 based on a recommendation of a relative, but have stuck with the free version of version 6 and it works great. I do miss some of the paid features, but I’m tired of paying for upgrades so I am learning to live without. You can synchronize your data with FamilySearch.
The church has recently announced partnerships with Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, and FindMyPast.com. I am bummed that Familysearch does not support GEDCOM export (it only supports GEDCOM import), but since I have Roots Magic, I uploaded my GEDCOM file to Ancestry.com, and have discovered a treasure trove of information. As I have become more proficient, I have started documenting census records, as well as certificates of marriage, birth, and death. There is some really great info on Ancestry.com, and I have discovered discrepancies of dates with FamilySearch. Ancestry.com has a cool feature where it prompts you with possible matches for censuses, death records, etc, and I have found these suggestions are right 95% of the time. Truly Ancestry.com’s suggestions make genealogy much easier.
How do you get the free Ancestry.com account? Well, that can be a little tricky. Some friends of mine told me they simply sent a message to FamilySearch and got access. It didn’t work quite that way for me. On the FamilySearch website, I clicked the “Get Help”, and asked for access. A few days later, I got a form letter telling me that I couldn’t get access yet. However, about a month later, I did get access. So I recommend you all give it a try. Your results may vary. But I will say that the free account is actually better than the paid account. My sister has a paid account. With the free account, you can link individuals on Ancestry to FamilySearch, but the paid account does not have the button. I tried to figure out how to link it for my sister, but the Ancestry.com help was pretty pathetic. I don’t think there is a way to link them unless you get the free account. (If you know of a way, let us know.)
I’ve just started working with MyHeritage.com. It bills itself as a social networking way to compare family trees across the internet. I uploaded my GEDCOM file, and now I am getting messages that other people have confirmed links to my family tree. One thing I like about MyHeritage has been the ability to find ancestor photos that I did not have. That has been a pretty cool feature. However, I think it is light on documentation. While you may get ideas of who a person’s parents were, or where someone was born, it didn’t appear to me to be well documented. If I find info I do not have, I will add it to Roots Magic, but then I will try to verify the info in Ancestry.com or FamilySearch. There is a lot of poor quality genealogy out there, so I‘m a little leery to trust MyHeritage data just yet. People are known to copy bad information, so I’d be a little careful on trusting all the info there.
Find My Past / Puzilla
I haven’t tried Find My Past website yet, so I don’t know much about it. There are some other cool websites. The church has a website at http://www.puzilla.org. A lot of people think that you should always push backwards and do 9 or 10 or more generations back. This can be very hard to do, unless you get lucky and find yourself in a kingly line. The idea behind Puzilla is to take an ancestor and move forward to find information. For example, pick the descendants of your great grandfather’s brother or sister and move forward in time. A lot of the time, these people’s work has not been done, and census records, social security death records, etc are easy to find. So if you’re stuck on a line, try to work forwards instead of backwards, and you may find a lot more luck. I’ve played with this website, but I didn’t find it very easy to use. Perhaps some of you can give us all some pointers on how to use this better.
Related to Famous People?
There is also a website from BYU in which you can see if you’re related to famous people, pioneers, or other categories. I discovered that I am 14th cousins with Mitt Romney. (That means you have to go back 14 generations to find a common ancestor), as well as 6th cousins with Steve Young. On the bad side, I’m 13th cousins 5 times removed from Governor Boggs (of Missouri infamy.) These two can be fun websites.
Let’s finish with a poll and a question. Do you have any comments/helps/suggestions for genealogy?