Sunday, March 20, 2016

Cute family tree printables from Family Search

I love the fan chart, don't get me wrong but I can see how it may not match everyone's decor. Luckily Family Search has just launched keepsakes. Here's what they look like. You can also include your children's names.

Cute, right? And super easy to make. Really, it only takes two minutes.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How Pride and Prejudice can help you learn about your ancestors

I don't have any stories about most of my ancestors. I try to piece together what I can based on what I can find, but I'll never know much about their day-to-day lives by looking at the census. Usually I have to guess.

I recently realized, though, that some of my favourite books were written in the 1800s. Pride and Prejudice, for example, was published in 1813, when my ancestor, Grace Harry, was 8 years old and living in Cornwall, England. While I'm sure the characters in the book are far more wealthy than Grace ever was or even hoped to be, small details in the book might give me insight into her life that I couldn't find elsewhere. Maybe she was a maid....

TV shows and movies are relevant too (though books that were actually written by people who lived at the time period are probably more accurate). In Downton Abbey, for instance, the three daughters probably would have been born in the 1890s, while the Dowager Countess could have been born in the 1840s or earlier. The show could just as easily been written about my Barnes and Newman ancestors (if it were a show about coal miners).

Below is a list of some classic books with their publication dates (special thanks to wikipedia for supplying the publication dates). Many of these books have been adapted into movies as well. Keep in mind these books are mostly about adults and would correspond to ancestors born between 20 and 50 years before these publication dates.

United Kingdom and Ireland

Pride and Prejudice - 1813

Frankenstein - 1818

Jane Eyre - 1847

Great Expectations - 1861

Black Beauty - 1877

Sherlock Holmes - 1887

The Importance of Being Ernest - 1895

A Little Princess - 1905

Secret Garden - 1911

United States and Canada

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - 1820

The Scarlet letter - 1850

Uncle Tom's Cabin - 1852

Little Women - 1868

Little House on the Prairie - published 1932, takes place in the 1870s

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - 1885

Sarah, Plain and Tall - 1895

Anne of Green Gables - 1908

Gone with the Wind - 1936


The Count of Monte Cristo - published 1844 France, takes place 1815-1839

Les Miserables - published 1862 France, takes place 1815-1832

Anna Karenina - 1877 Russia

Heidi - 1881 Switzerland

What did I miss? What are your favourite books and movies about the times when your ancestors lived? Comment below and I'll add them to the list.

Photo by Naypong. Published on 05 November 2014 Stock photo - Image ID: 100296203

Seek ye out of the best genealogy sources accurate information

D&C 88:118 ... seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom...

Recently I came across an article called "The Huge Genealogy Mistake We All Need to Stop Making Now". Those kind of leading titles always get me and I'm usually disappointed but this one was good.

What's the huge mistake? Copying someone else's genealogy research, particularly public online family trees. I still highly recommend the article (even though I ruined the surprise) because it explains four very important reasons to stop copying other people's research. Instead of repeating them (and thereby plagiarizing an article on plagiarism) I'm going to focus on what to do instead.

It's an easy mistake to make. Genealogy sites are begging you to do it. Family Search literally creates your tree by copying it from someone else. Other genealogy sites find matches between your tree and other trees automatically and allow you to connect those people and share research. They encourage you to use other people's family trees as proof that your family tree is correct. But other people's family trees don't prove that your tree is correct.

There are two types of sources. Primary sources come from the time your ancestors lived. Birth, marriage and death records, military records, censuses, personal journals, memories - anything created in real time. Primary sources are usually accurate.

Gravestones are another example of a primary source

Secondary sources are created later, using the primary sources. Family trees, genealogies, books, blogs and websites, binders of research passed down by your great aunt. Secondary sources can be accurate if the person who created them was right, but they could be totally wrong if the person who created them made a mistake.

So are secondary sources completely useless? No. They're a great jumping off point. It's much easier to verify something you think might be true than it is to start from scratch.

Here's an example. You are looking for Eliza's parents. You've searched her name on several genealogy sites and she shows up on a few public family trees. The family trees look right because they've got her husband and children on there too. Most of the family trees say that her parents are William and Catherine in a small town in Wales. How does this help you? It changes your research question

You were asking "Who are Eliza's parents?" but after seeing those family trees you can ask "Are Eliza's parents William and Catherine?". The second question is much easier to answer. With three people to look for and a specific place you are much more likely to find good primary sources for Eliza.

You have to be careful, though. Proving that there were a William and Catherine who had a daughter named Eliza isn't enough. You have to prove (or disprove) that it's the right Eliza - the one who grew up to be your ancestor. Look for primary sources that link adult Eliza to her parents, or that link William and Catherine's Eliza to a different grown-up family. Marriage and death records sometimes list the parents. Sometimes adult Eliza will show up in the census living with her parents or one of her siblings. Sometimes young Eliza's sister will list adult Eliza as a witness on her marriage record. It may take a while, but you will have lots to look for.

When you do find some good primary sources attach them to your family tree! You're a secondary source too and you can make it easy for other people to verify your research. Be the tree you'd like to see in the world. :)

Photocredit: Marc Aert. Published on 18 October 2008 Stock photo - Image ID: 1001206

Monday, September 14, 2015

Ancestor Snapshot Sheets: A three week Sunday lesson curriculum

The effort to teach youth about genealogy often focuses on finding new ancestors. I think this is a mistake. Sometimes.

It's exciting to find a new ancestor, and for LDS youth it often completes a goal to find ancestor's names to bring to the temple. It's good for them to complete their goals and the excitement can fuel a love of genealogy for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, finding new names (or finding existing names that still need temple ordinances) doesn't teach the research skills that will help youth become the kind of people who do family history on a regular basis.

Also, their whole family tree could be completely wrong. I always recommend that beginner genealogists start with the most recently deceased ancestor for each of their lines, even (especially) if they can trace themselves back to Adam on FamilySearch. Youth should do this with their parents, if possible, until they get back to ancestors born in the 1800s.

Why the 1800s? It is the golden age for online genealogy research. Pre-1800s records available online range from sketchy to non-existent. Post-1800s records usually aren't publicly available yet. 

Okay, so (finally) here is the Sunday lesson curriculum I promised. The August youth Sunday School curriculum suggests several lessons about family history, so that might be a good time to do these lessons. I think these lessons would work best if they were taught for three consecutive weeks.

Week 1:

The purpose of this lesson is for the youth to get to know one of their ancestors and to start to think of their ancestors as "real people" to whom they can relate. This lesson is also meant to help the youth identify research questions for the ancestor that they choose.

You will need:

  • A class of (preferably) no more than 10 youth on their Sunday behaviour
  • An internet-connected computer for each youth
  • An adult helper for every 2-3 youth
  • Pens and highlighters for each youth
  • The handouts below

Have the youth log on to Family Search and choose an ancestor born between 1800 and 1900 who has an exact birth year. A few youth may not have an ancestor on Family Search that fits these criteria. They can work with a friend, but it would be better to try to get their parents or other family members involved and have them work on a more recent ancestor.

Invite youth to work on this ancestor snapshot sheet in order to get to know their ancestor. Tell them to highlight and leave blank any information that is missing (these are the research questions).

Many of the youth will have no problem completing this worksheet on their own; others will need step by step help. Some youth will need help calculating their ancestor's age and some may not know what an "occupation" is. Adult helpers are there to answer these sorts of questions, but it's even better if the youth help each other.

For the historical events I prepared a world history handout using information I found on I selected events that I thought the youth in my (Canadian) ward would recognize, so you may want to prepare your own for the youth in your area.

 Some youth will be able to finish this worksheet in one class period and others won't depending on the available information on their Family Search. Either way, I suggest collecting their work at the end of the class period or you may never see it again.

Week 2:

The purpose of this lesson is to teach youth how to find and record answers to research questions using online resources.

You will need:
  • A class of (preferably) no more than 10 youth on their Sunday behaviour
  • An internet-connected computer for each youth with access to premium family history websites (like
  • A family history expert for every 1-2 youth
  • Pens for each youth
  • The snapshot sheets from the week before
Have the family history experts review the highlighted portions of the snapshots sheets in advance, if possible, and identify the research questions which will be the easiest to answer using online resources. Try to make sure each youth has a few research questions that they will be able to answer during class time. It's important for everyone to have some sort of success in order to build their confidence. For youth who were able to find all of the information for the snapshot, focus on adding sources to the ancestor's Family Search page. It is unlikely that all of the available sources have been already added to Family Search.

When the youth arrive for class, give them back their worksheets from the previous week and invite them to work with the family history experts to fill in the highlighted blanks on their sheet. Some youth may want to complete their worksheets first, but most of their time should be spent on online research if possible.

Encourage the family history experts to let the youth lead as much as possible. Let them figure out the search terms on their own. Let them make their search too broad or specific and then explain to them how to improve it. The experts should not touch the computers.

When the youth find out new information about their ancestor, teach them how to add it to Family Search. You can add any kind of event or tidbit in the "Other Information" section on the ancestor's detail page. This will teach them how to edit their ancestors on Family Search. Then teach the youth how to add sources to their ancestor's page on Family Search and make sure they know that they should do this every time they find a new source for their ancestor.

By the end of the class period each youth should have found some sort of new information about their ancestor by searching for records on Family Search or another genealogy website. They should also know how to update their ancestor's details and add sources on Family Search.

If the youth have completed their ancestor snapshot sheets, let them bring them home and encourage them to talk about it with their families. For youth who have not completed their worksheets give them a choice between finishing them at home or at the next class period.

For the next lesson youth will have a choice between continuing work on their ancestor snapshot sheets or teaching what they have learned to someone else. Have them make that choice at the end of this lesson and ask them to bring someone (an adult) to teach for next week if they would like to teach. The youth will be most comfortable teaching someone they know.

Week 3:

The purpose of this lesson is to allow extra time for youth to complete the ancestor snapshot sheets or to allow youth to teach what they have learned.

You will need:
  • A class of (preferably) no more than 10 youth on their Sunday behaviour
  • An internet-connected computer for each youth with access to premium family history websites (like
  • A family history expert for every 2-3 youth who are finishing their ancestor snapshot sheets
  • An adult who wants to learn about family history for each youth who is ready to teach
  • Pens and highlighters
  • Extra copies of the ancestor snapshot and historical events handouts
For youth that want to continue working on their ancestor snapshot sheets, try to let them do as much as they can on their own. The family history experts should play a minimal role this week, only answering questions when asked.

For youth that want to teach, give them the blank handouts and ask them to teach the adult how to complete it. They can choose ancestors from the youth's family tree or from the adult's family tree, but the adult should be sitting at the computer.

Tell the youth who are teaching that they should not be touching the computers, only explaining what to do. Encourage them to ask questions that will help the adults think about the ancestor as a real person, like "Oh this ancestor had 10 children. How many children do you have? How do you think you would feel if you had 10 children?"

Encourage the adults who are learning from the youth to let the youth lead completely. Ask lots of questions, especially questions that they think the youth will know how to answer. The youth should come away from the experience feeling empowered and knowledgeable. The adults should make this their goal.

At the end of the class period encourage youth who were working on their ancestor snapshot sheets to finish them at home with their families or to finish them with an expert at the local family history centre. Encourage youth who were teaching to consider helping their adult finish the ancestor snapshot sheet another time at their home or at the family history centre.

Make sure to mention that the youth could also teach their families these skills at a family home evening as part of their Personal Progress or Duty to God programs.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

How to sign in to FamilySearch using only your membership record number and birthday

Adults and youth alike, it's hard to remember all of your usernames and passwords. But there isn't much you can do on FamilySearch without logging in.

If you know that you signed up for FamilySearch with your membership record number, you can remember your birthday, and you have an in with the ward clerk, you can recover your username and reset your password in a matter of minutes

This is especially useful for youth who have signed up with a parent's e-mail address and have no other way of recovering their username and password in order to do family history work at mutual or for a Sunday lesson. 

First, admit that you don't know your username. (Or skip the first two steps if you remember)

Second, choose to recover it using your membership record number and birthday. You can request your membership record number from the ward clerk, or, if you are an endowed adult with a temple recommend, you can copy it from your temple recommend.

 Write down your username and move on to recovering your password. 

Provide your username and "type the letters from the picture" (thus proving that you are a human and not a robot).

Choose to recover your password using your membership record number and birthday and your password will be reset. (Write down the new password just for now)

Use your new password to log in!

Your new password will probably be hard to remember, so change it back to something you can remember by going to your account settings.

Use your reset password to change it to something you can remember next time.

Who can teach family history?

Anyone. Anyone can teach family history. Especially including youth!

This video from RootsTech has several great messages but the one that stood out to me is that these leaders of the Church believe that after one family history experience - one name prepared - you are ready to teach others. And you should!

You don't have to be an expert. You don't have to be an adult. You just have to be willing to try to figure it out as you go.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Explore your Family Tree Mutual Night

You want to do a family history mutual night. Wouldn't it be easier to just play volleyball? Nope. Because I have instructions for you!

Before the big night:

1. Make sure all (or at least most) of the youth leaders are trained in the basics of FamilySearch. You can use this video to train them on some of the fun ways youth can explore their family trees. Leaders should come to help the youth - not to work on their own family history.

2. Contact parents and ask them to sign their youth up for a FamilySearch account and connect their tree to a deceased ancestor on all of their lines if possible. Give them at least two weeks notice and follow up a few days before the activity. Offer help if they need it. Suggest that more forgetful youth bring their username and password with them when they come. If they forget their log in information check out this post.

3. Book the Family History Center and arrange for extra computers if needed. It's best if you can set it up so that everyone is in the same room if possible (it gives the youth a certain energy...). Invite your ward family history consultants. Make sure there is one consultant or trained leader for every 2-3 youth. Ask some people to come early to set up.

4. Print out this handout for the leaders and consultants.

At the activity:

1. Set the tone by bearing testimony and/or sharing a family history experience. It's important for the youth to know that their leaders are participating in family history work and experiencing blessings because of it.

2. Don't instruct the youth on what to do. Remind them that FamilySearch is just a website and they figure out how to use websites all the time. Make sure they know that they can ask each other for help and share what they find with their friends.

3. Let them explore! Let them choose what they want to do. Some of them may want to try to click back to Adam, some may want to research, some may want to try to find temple names. Let them do what they want. Let them get a little loud. Try to make sure all of the youth have a positive experience.

5. Help youth print out fan charts if they want so that they can get more information from their family. You could assign one leader or consultant to make sure each youth has the opportunity to print out a fan chart.

6. Before the activity ends, encourage the youth to find out more about their family tree by talking to their family. This can be part of personal progress (Individual Worth #6 or project).