Family History – An Introduction

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.

Personal and Family Preparedness: A God-like principle of planning to enrich life and bring forth abundance

Planning: the mother of accomplishing

Why is the creation story so important in religion?  What was God trying to teach us by repeating it in Genesis, Moses, Abraham, and other places?  In the Moses account I find it interesting that there was first a spiritual creation and then a physical one (see Moses 2-3) especially Moses 3:5

 For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. For I, the Lord God, had not caused it to rain upon the face of the earth. And I, the Lord God, had created all the children of men; and not yet a man to till the ground; for in heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither in the water, neither in the air;

It has occurred to me that God is a being who thoughtfully plans and then works to accomplish those plans.  For example, here are some other scriptures that make me think this –

 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?  Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,  Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish (Luke 14:28-30).

… and there is nothing that the Lord thy God shall take in his heart to do but what he will do it (Abraham 3:17).

And it came to pass, as the voice was still speaking, Moses cast his eyes and beheld the earth, yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, discerning it by the Spirit of God.  And he beheld also the inhabitants thereof, and there was not a soul which he beheld not; and he discerned them by the Spirit of God; and their numbers were great, even numberless as the sand upon the sea shore  (Moses 1:27–28).

Elder Sterling W. Sill said, “Planning is the mother of almost every ability. It is the place where man shows himself most like God.”

What a powerful thought!

Recently, we had an additional Relief Society (weekday) meeting on planning for our families.  Planning meals, Food Storage, Savings, Emergencies, and General Family Well-being.  AKA – food storage, 72-hour kits, etc.  (Yes, I hear the groans now ;)).   My friend Missy, found a talk that epitomized exactly what we wanted to do with the planning meeting.  It was a random Ensign talk from 1977, that she just “happened” upon, and it was completely relevant  30 + years later in amazing ways.

A Little Bit of Planning, a Lot of Success (the full transcript can be found here) by Lane Johnson (Ensign Assistant Editor) .

The part that really “hit home” for me was this:

Personal and Family Preparedness is an essential part of welfare.  Its purpose is to encourage the economic, intellectual, physical, and spiritual preparedness of families and members.  Its effect is to help them live an abundant life and to prevent them from becoming poor and needy or distressed.  …

Personal and Family Preparedness isn’t just preparation for some kind of disaster; it’s preparation for life—the “foreseen, anticipated, almost expected needs which can be met through wise preparation.” (Bishop H. Burke Peterson,Welfare Services Meeting, April 5, 1975, p. 5.)


Do you mean to tell me that I am not supposed to use welfare principles in times of distress, but to avoid times of distress?

Personal and Family Preparedness is designed around the realities of everyday family life in a remarkable balance. You can scarcely think of a problem that could arise in the life of any family member—or the family as a whole—that could not be taken care of if preparation were solid enough and early enough in one or more of these six areas. Through this kind of “provident living” (a favorite term of Sister Barbara B. Smith, Relief Society General President), families in most cases really can live happier lives because economic, physical, and emotional problems are held to a minimum and the things that make life worth living are encouraged to a maximum. Sister Smith defines provident living as being “wise, frugal, prudent, making provision for the future while attending to immediate needs.” (Ensign, May 1976, p. 118.)

The article goes on to a part that I really love (I have taken the whole, long paragraph and added some paragraphs for ease of reading.)

Now, can you see yourself sitting down with your husband or wife and a sheet of paper and a pencil and taking a serious look at your own family to see how it measures up in each of these categories? A thousand ideas will awaken within you.

Maybe you’ll realize that your children are learning to read all right, but they only read when they have to.

Or that because of a lot of small influences in your home, Cathy doesn’t like math and doesn’t really care if she’s good at it or not.

Or it may strike you that Bill is graduating from high school next spring and none of you has given any thought to what he’ll do after that.

Or you might go downstairs and look at your one-eighth of a year’s supply and that pile of boards you were going to make into shelves.

Or in a moment of self-honesty you might admit to each other that you’re in debt over your heads and at the rate you’re going you’re not going to get out.

Or you might look out the window at that pathetic thing you optimistically called a garden when you planted the seeds but abandoned when only a few things came up and you wished you knew as much about it as grandma used to.

Or you might look at your belt line and think wistfully of the days—not all that long ago, either—when you used to run around the track every other night and go swimming once in a while.

Or maybe while you’re sitting there you’ll stick the end of your tongue into that cavity you’ve been meaning to let the dentist look at for two or three months now.

Or maybe you’ll remember with some embarrassment—and concern—that little Ralph clings desperately to you and screams whenever you try to get him to go into the nursery; he seems to be afraid or unsure of something and you don’t know what to do about it.

And the list could go on practically forever, right? This hasn’t even scratched the surface of all the possibilities.

But enough of the problems. When you’ve got a list of them under each category (and perhaps you should keep the list fairly short at first), then the fun begins and the ideas begin to fly.

Now you begin to see one or two things that might help with one or two of your problems. Dad, maybe you decide you’ve been spending too much time away from home—be honest now—avoiding this or that problem because it was a little too much to face. So you see that you’d better—not so much that; you want to—plan to be home a little more and maybe sit down and read with the children or show them some of those mathematical puzzles that used to fascinate you so much.

Or you might find your hammer and tape measure that the children have had in their toy box for months and decide that this Saturday you’re going to build half of those shelves, and get Bill to help you too.

Or you might get some scissors and have a little fun (once the withdrawal symptoms subside) cutting up the credit cards and charge cards that seem to have control of you.

Or you might think of a way to get that big pipe welded and fixed up into a basketball standard that you and the children could set up next to the driveway.

Or you might look over all your old medical records and see how long it’s been since each one of you had this or that taken care of.

Or you might decide to swallow your maternal pride and go ahead and ask Sister Pearson how they finally got little Margaret to let go of her mother’s leg and go into her Primary class without throwing a tantrum.

And the list of solutions goes on as long or longer than the list of problems. It almost invariably happens that way; identify a problem and actually write it down and pretty soon the ideas begin to flow and bubble and solutions begin to show themselves—maybe not the right ones at first, but eventually they come.

You can find more information on the church’s teachings on Self-Reliance and Family Well-Being by following this link.

So, how was the RS meeting?  I was amazed.  We had three sisters that talked about different areas in which they had prepared for their families needs (meal planning, food storage, and 72-hour kits). In each situation, the women had been prompted to work in an area that would bless the lives of her family.  She had gone to the Lord in prayer to find a solution, and in each case, prayerful study and following promptings had blessed them.

The sisters in my ward sometimes worry about the younger sisters not learning basic RS skills (i.e. canning, quilting, sewing, etc.)  I believe that there is no reason to worry.  If a new mother feels prompted to work in an area, she will take it to the Lord.  She will plan and prepare.  She will find a way to bless her family with abundance.

Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates (Proverbs 31: 31, see also vs 10-31).

Prayerful planning brings blessings and abundance.  I have a testimony of that.


Christmas Ribbon


Last year, I put up the family tree and it sat for two weeks – a bare monument to the fact that I didn’t feel like decorating. I just couldn’t do it. I hated my decorations. I wasn’t in the mood. No one was willing to help me. It was awful to see it there, but, as I had no motivation, there it sat.

One day, I was in a store and saw some really beautiful ribbon – a whole spool of Christmas white and gold, wired for gorgeous decorating. I thought about how easy it would be to wrap it around the tree and add some lovely flourishes. It would solve my Christmas problem.

But, there was another issue. My cheapskate nature. Though the ribbon wasn’t that much, I just couldn’t justify the purchase, simply for the sake of decoration.

Then, I got an impression (a thought) that said, “Laryssa, it’s okay to spend money to celebrate the Savior.”

Wow! And it is okay. Look at the temples, even the temple grounds. They are majestic. They invite and invoke goodness and peace and glory and all that’s wonderful.

I purchased the ribbon, and decorated my tree and the special feeling of Christmas entered the house.

I submit that it’s okay to celebrate Christmas, because it builds the family, and that’s what the Savior would want us to do. It’s okay to give simple, well thought out gifts, because it represents the wise-men, and it brings the family closer and that’s what the Savior would want us to do.

It’s okay to read stories, and watch Christmas movies, and listen to carols, and see the lights, and drink hot chocolate and send out cards, because reaching out to others and spending time together is important, and, of course, it brings the family closer and after all, isn’t that what the Savior wants us to do? Strengthen the family, so that we can bring all of Father’s family back home.