Family History – An Introduction

This semester (Spring 2020) I am teaching a class on Family History at BYU-Idaho, and unfortunately, as it is the end of my three-year contract as a visiting professor there, this blog must once again become a repository for all of the things that I want to remember, so that I can use those ideas in the future. That was the original purpose of this blog, you know – a digital place to store what I had gained as a Seminary teacher of 7 years. As I tried to get all of those talks and scriptures in one digital setting, my purpose and motivations changed and this blog became a place to store my religious writings, thoughts, poetry, etc.

My Great-Grandfather Arthur Wooster in WWII, 
colorized at MyHeritage
My Great-Grandfather Arthur Wooster in WWII,
colorized at MyHeritage

However, I just cannot lose things like the Family History Course, and so as I teach it to my students in this strange time of COVID-19 isolation, where I teach them virtually, I’m going to adapt the lessons here in the hopes that it can help some readers, and refresh my mind later when I’m called on to teach it again – it has been my experience that the Lord NEVER wastes our learning, and so I am sure that this will not be the last time that I teach it.

So to begin, here are some talks and ideas to “whet your whistle” and get you excited to learn about family history. Come on, I know you’ve always meant to get moving with your family history, and right now – during the coronavirus isolation – here’s the perfect opportunity!

Gathering God’s Family

That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Gathering together in one as much of God’s family as we possibly can, we and they all have their agency as to whether we’ll accept our place at Aslan’s table, but we need to make sure that it is set and that there is an invitation for all of God’s children to be there. This is taught so beautifully in President Eyring’s talk, Gathering the Family of God, General Conference, April 2017. I assigned this talk as the first day’s reading and they were asked to come prepared to share insights in our opening class.

You see, the names “brother” and “sister” are not just friendly greetings or terms of endearment for us. They are an expression of an eternal truth: God is the literal Father of all mankind; we are each part of His eternal family. Because He loves us with the love of a perfect Father, He wants us to progress and advance and become like Him. He ordained a plan by which we would come to earth, in families, and have experiences that would prepare us to return to Him and live as He lives. ~President Henry B. Eyring (see link above for the full text)

Here is a link to a short video of excerpts from President Eyring’s talk. I shared it in my lesson after we discussed what stood out to us in the talk.

Family Search – the Place to Begin Gathering People, Records, Memories, and Families

While there are MANY wonderful sites for digital family histories, we will focus mainly on FamilySearch (though I will be showing some other really helpful sites and places throughout the course).

When you sign in on the FamilySearch website there is a tab entitled “Family Tree”. The goal of Family Tree is a place in which a common pedigree of mankind is linked together. Hopefully the day will come where we can all go on “Family Tree” and see how we relate to everyone. What a lofty and marvelous goal! However, we need to have each individual represented on the tree, and to have them appear only once. Sometimes, the information on Family Tree is poorly sourced, duplicative, inaccurate, and unreliable.

Our generation has the opportunity to verify and correct the information on Family Tree so that we can be confident about who our ancestors are and whether they have received the ordinances of salvation. In future lessons, you will learn how to combine duplicate records and provide sources to information that is found in Family Tree so that we can continue filling in information on our family with confidence.

To begin, I’m going to give an assignment –

FamilySearch Beginning Assignment

The purpose of this activity is to help you access FamilySearch in preparation for future assignments. You will log in to FamilySearch.

  • If you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, you will use your church account username and password (you can find your Church Record Number by contacting your bishop or by locating it on your temple recommend).
  • If you are a member and do not already have one, create a churchaccount now. You will need your birth date and membership record number. Again, your record number can be obtained from your ward clerk, your temple recommend, or on the Churchs’Tools Website. If you can’t remember your username and password this article, “I forgot my FamilySearch password or username” may help.
  • If you are not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that’s perfectly fine, you can also have a free account. Simply do not mark the box that states that you are a member (for a reference to what I am talking about, see the image below):
Screen Shot 2020-04-27 at 1.20.39 AM
  • If you are having difficulties, you can call 1-866-406-1830 for assistance.

Do as much of the following as you can and you can ask questions in the comments below for areas in which you are stuck.

  1. Log into your FamilySearch account.
  2. The goal is to have your tree contain accurate information about you, your spouse (if you have one), parents, and siblings on your Person Page (NOTE: bear in mind that if the person that you are creating a page for is living, then you are creating a bridge or ghost record (see video below) for them, and NOT their own family search person page. Currently, the only person that has access to their own personal living record is the living person. More on that later.
  3. Put the following on your Person Page:
    • A picture posted to the left of your name on your Person Page,
    • Adding or edit your Vital Information (birthdate, place, etc.)
    • Add a spouse, parent, or child
    • Using a record hint (if any)
    • Create a story, document, or audio file posted and tag it to you
    • Connect yourself to your deceased relatives by adding living relatives and then connecting to your first deceased ancestors.
  4. Watch this Video: FamilySearch when your family Tree is Empty (Links to an external site.) to help with that.
  5. Navigate Family Tree (click on “Family Tree” and then “Tree” and then the dropdown arrow next to “Landscape” see picture below) by viewing the following:
    • The Landscape View
    • The Portrait View
    • The Fan Chart View
    • The Descendancy View
    • Screen Shot 2020-04-27 at 1.49.02 AM
  6. Spend a few minutes orienting yourself with FamilySearch.
    • Click on the tabs at the top – “Family Tree”, “Search”, “Memories”, “Indexing”, etc.
    • See where they go.
    • Don’t worry! If you get lost, you can always click on the FamilySearch logo in the top left of your screen (see image below) and it will take you back to the homepage.
    • Screen Shot 2020-04-27 at 2.04.01 AM
  •  While on the home page, orient yourself with the tools that are there –
    • Such as the rolling list of memories that your relatives have added about your common ancestors.
    • The “Recommended Task List”
    • The “Recent People Viewed” List
    • And the “To Do” List

Just go in there and have fun figuring out the different features. Don’t get hung up on anything, you will learn as you go. Right now, the important thing is to orient yourself with the website.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share them below, and I would love it if you shared it with someone you know who would like to learn about family history.

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