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.

A Surprisingly Spiritual Royal Wedding

I freely admit that I am sappy.  I spent my time today sharing in the happiness of the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.  I was so pleased to be watching an event that brought joy, in the midst of the many tragedies that have been on the world stage lately.

It was also thirty years ago, when I was just older than my daughter is now, that I watched Charles and Diana’s wedding with my sweet British Grandmother who was so patriotic that it left me with a deep love for England and the Monarchy.

Also, I was invited – 😉

The thing that surprised me about the day, however, was the actual wedding ceremony.  I was so edified by the beauty of the traditional Anglican ceremony, the hymns, readings, prayers, and the Bishop of London’s Sermon. I truly felt that the wedding was a testimony of the  importance of Marriage and the sacredness of that Union in the eyes of God given to the entire world.

I know that the depth of the ceremony will not be replayed on the news stations, it was far too religious. 😉  And I highly recommend watching it if you have the time!

For today, I will give you part of the text from the Sermon of the bishop of London.  I set in bold some of the thoughts that were particularly beautiful to me –

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

Many are full of fear for the future of the prospects of our world but the message of the celebrations in this country and far beyond its shores is the right one – this is a joyful day! It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.  

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.

William and Catherine, you have chosen to be married in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that he gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

And in the Spirit of this generous God, husband and wife are to give themselves to each another.

A spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this; the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life.

You can find the full text here.  The full program from the wedding is downloadable here.  I HIGHLY recommend reading pg 9 – the Welcome and Introduction, particularly the reasons for marriage.

It was a very lovely, very spiritual, and edifying ceremony.  It makes me desire to love my husband more deeply and work on the communication and unity of our marriage with more dedication.

Meeting those from History

“I feel sorry for anyone who misses experience of history, the horizons of history.  We think little of those who, given the chance to travel, go nowhere.  We deprecate provincialism.  But is it possible to be as provincial in time as it is in space. Because you were born into this particular era doesn’t mean it has to be the limit of your experience.  Move about in time, go places.  Why restrict your circle of acquaintances to only those who occupy the same stage we call the present?”

– David McCullough, Brave Companions – Portraits in History, p.223

nature spring 2009 046

“Get to know the great and noble human spirits in history and literature.”

Elder Eric B. Shumway, Ensign November 2008, p. 56.

When I was young, I read voraciously.  I went through a period of time in which I had a hard time connecting to books.  Recently, I’ve rekindled that joy in reading as I have started to look into histories and non-fiction writing.  I’ve especially loved listening to books on CD from the library while I do the very important, but at times mind numbing work of domestic upkeep (cleaning, cooking, laundry and driving among other things).  In no way do I count myself as an expert on the subject as I’ve just begun to really appreciate the value of self-education.

I will however, list some enjoyable books that I’ve read and ask you to do the same.  I am also curious about your recommendations.  So please list your favorite historical and/or non-fiction books, topics of books that you’d like to study,  and any recommendations for others.

Historical/Biographical –

  • 1776, David McCullough
  • John Adams, David McCullough
  • Brave Companions (Portraits in History), David McCullough
  • The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution, David O. Stewart
  • Einstein: His Life and Universe, Walter Issacson
  • Boy: Tales of Childhood, Roald Dahl
  • The Presidents of the Church: Insights into their Lives and Teachings, Truman Madsen

Haven’t read but want to –

  • Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky
  • Kings of the Hill, Dick and Lynne V. Cheney (about congress)
  • God in the White House, a history : how faith shaped the presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush, Randall Balmer
  • Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Stacey A. Cordery ( About Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter and how she shaped politics behind the scenes)
  • Washington Itself, E. L. Applewhite (guide to the city landmarks of Washington DC)

Any Recommendations? (Looking for good books about ) –

  • Elisa R. Snow
  • Catherine the Great
  • Queen Victoria/ Prince Albert
  • Marjorie Pay Hinckley (or any of the Prophet’s wives or Mothers)
  • Any former Relief Society, Young Women, or Primary President’s Biographies
  • William Wilberforce
  • Jane Austen
  • Wordsworth or Whitman
  • Winston Churchill

Of course, this is not in any order, nor is it comprehensive in nature.

I really feel that it is important to learn from those that went before.  My father has been fighting cancer off and on for years now.  I’ve always considered him my “link” to family history, the one to go to for all of the answers.  The problem is, a lot of my Dad’s knowledge is an oral history.  I think that it is so important that the stories and memories of my family are preserved for future generations. Because, unlike these noble, notable names of figures in history, the legacies of my predecessors is not as well documented.

David McCullough (Brave Companions, p.206-7) said that as he was researching for his biography on Truman, he interviewed a man, a retired Secret Service Agent, who “knew not only Truman but Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and Eisenhower as well.”  Mid-way through the interview, McCullough embarrassed, apologized for asking him questions about things that he must have been asked to talk about many times before.  The man replied that no one had ever asked him about any of it.

My Mom, in Africa where she was born and raised.
My Mom, in Africa where she was born and raised.

My mother said that people used to ask her about her story, but lately, people don’t seem to be interested.  She’s lived a brilliant, exciting, fascinating life.  I hope that I never get tired of learning from and about others.  Well, I’ll just have to add historian to my list of things to do!