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A Short Story of Cooperation

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 03, 2010

This story would be more effective if I could share names and other personal information, but the people involved are all living and I don’t want to violate their privacy. Still, as a story of the international nature of the Church and cooperation in a good cause, it’s pretty good.

I have friends who are Swiss by birth but who have lived in the U.S. since the beginning of World War II. About 20 years ago they served a mission on Ile de la Réunion, an island in the Indian Ocean whose residents speak French as a first or second language. On Réunion my friends came to know and love a Chinese woman, a convert to the Church.

All the years of lessons on the importance of family history and work for the dead, together with occasional excursions to the distant Johannesburg, South Africa temple, finally impelled the Chinese woman to seek out her ancestry: She traveled to China to meet with her brother. They were able to converse only through an interpreter – she spoke French but not Chinese; he spoke Chinese but not French. Without really explaining why she wanted it, she asked her brother for their genealogy, and he promised to gather and send it to her. In the course of time, he did – ten pages of handwritten Chinese characters, which, of course, his sister could not read.

She sent copies of those pages to my Swiss friend, who took them to the Family History Library to ask for help. Eventually a Chinese missionary was found who extracted genealogical information from those handwritten pages. It turned out to be a single line of genealogy, father to son, extending from the Chinese convert and her brother on back to the 13th century, together with their wives. Temple ordinances could be done for about 75 individuals with about 25 marriage sealings.

But no one in Salt Lake could clear the data and print the cards for temple work – the temples in China are the only ones with the capability of keeping digital records in Chinese script.* So the data was sent from Salt Lake to Hong Kong, where the names were cleared and cards were printed in both Chinese and Romanized characters, and back the cards came to Salt Lake.

Then my friend had to track down the Chinese woman, who was on an extended trip to Europe visiting her children. She was located in France, and the cards were sent to her there, for her and her children to take to some European temple to do the work for their ancestors.

Where there’s a will there’s a way, even if it involves three continents and as many languages, and the cooperation of friends and family and even strangers.

[*Or so the missionary at the Family History Library told her, and so I reported it thus, neither my friend nor I having had any experience to the contrary or any reason to challenge the missionary. And in fact the data was sent to and returned by the Hong Kong temple. But overnight I've heard from someone with alternate information. I've asked her to comment publicly here when she's up and about again.]



8 Comments »

  1. Amazing and really inspirational – how family history *should* work!

    Comment by Alison — February 4, 2010 @ 1:34 am

  2. You mean I have no excuses? I really love hearing about people’s genealogical hunts–there seems to be frequent little miracles.

    Comment by ESO — February 4, 2010 @ 6:51 am

  3. Not to get all smarmy on you, ESO, but remember that part of the promise is that while our hearts turn to our fathers, our fathers will turn to us. I think they want to be found just as much as we want to find them — that’s the only way I can account for some of my own experiences. That, and actually, you know, putting in the effort.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 4, 2010 @ 8:18 am

  4. I’m wondering when this was that there were so many problems?

    My husband is in a similar situation with his family history. He has a set of bound books–they look like an encyclopedia set—of his genealogy going back hundreds and hundreds of years. He is Korean and all the books are in Korean, which he doesn’t really speak.

    Not only are the books in Korean, but they’re not in the modern Korean characters. Before Korea adopted its own alphabet, they used to “borrow” Chinese characters to write their spoken Korean language. But a Chinese person could no more read this Korean-in-Chinese than you or I could read other languages that share the roman alphabet. The other problem is that since Korea has adopted its own Korean alphabet, the folks who understand Korean-Chinese are dying off.

    So we have books in a language we can’t speak, written in another language we can’t speak either, according to a mapping that fewer and fewer people understand—GREAT!

    So my husband special ordered some books from Korea, and between that and various online tools and dictionaries (including taking photos of the pages, and inputing them into a Chinese character image-recognition program, since he doesn’t know how to type in Chinese (a whole separate language skill!)). Using these, he has painstakingly extracted a handful of records character by character.

    BUT, the “hard” part ends there! Everything on the church’s end is miraculously easy and wonderful. New Family Search is totally in tune with this whole deal—when you choose Korean language, it is smart enough to know that records may be in Korean or Chinese-Korean, and has places to enter each separately. This preserves the original Chinese-Korean from the source document, yet make it accessible to younger Koreans who only know Korean characters. It also has a place for entering a romanization/English phonetic version, which it also volunteers to generate for you. Wow!! The gazetteer is ASTOUNDING and recognizes the place names he enters before he’s even done typing–whether he’s entering them in Korean or Chinese-Korean. WOW!

    We’ve been able to do these names at 3 different temples—Oakland, LA and San Diego, CA. San Diego had a slight hiccup the first time we went, only because their installation of Microsoft Windows didn’t have non-English enabled. But that was a quick fix and then we were on our way.

    The cards even printed the name correctly in Korean custom, with the family name first. At first I thought this would cause major confusion with temple workers who had never seen Korean cards and wouldn’t know which name is the first&last, but there are those / / marks around the last name, so even with the change everything went totally smoothly!

    Anyway, just thought you could appreciate all this stuff that is really nerdy to get excited about. :-)

    Comment by sister blah 2 — February 4, 2010 @ 10:50 am

  5. Ok I am slightly embarrassed at the amount of ALL CAPS!! In that comment. I am TRULY NERDY!!! I guess. Apologies, everyone.

    Comment by sister blah 2 — February 4, 2010 @ 11:01 am

  6. So my husband special ordered some books from Korea, and between that and various online tools and dictionaries (including taking photos of the pages, and inputing them into a Chinese character image-recognition program, since he doesn’t know how to type in Chinese (a whole separate language skill!)). Using these, he has painstakingly extracted a handful of records character by character.

    This is the essential point where I think your husband’s story departs from my Swiss friend’s and her Chinese friend’s — neither of them had the drive, or the computer skills, or even the ghost of the idea, to be able to do anything like this! They were totally dependent upon the skills and advice of the missionary at the Family History Library, which likely accounts for the different way their story played out.

    In any case, between us we may have alerted somebody with this kind of difficulty that there is help available, either through the whiz-bang skills of a computer user, or through the patient (and perhaps roundabout) help of the Family History Library.

    Thanks, SB2.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 4, 2010 @ 11:08 am

  7. What lovely stories, Ardis and sister blah 2.

    It’s great to hear a positive report about some aspect of New Family Search. I’ve found NFS to be very helpful in certain ways although it’s awfully aggravating in others.

    The standardized place names can be very useful to prevent errors like I see in my family files which I’m trying to go through and correct and document. For example, in one place field I see “(Killed By The Fall Of A Tree)” which is interesting, to be sure, but belongs in the notes or the family history and not listed as a place.

    The only problem with standardized place names is when the name changes over time and you want to note the historical name, as some genealogists would prefer.

    But that’s irrelevant to these very interesting stories. Thanks for sharing them.

    Comment by Researcher — February 4, 2010 @ 11:28 am

  8. I think I have a second cousin who was born at Killed By The Fall Of A Tree, Researcher — that’s the county seat of Use This Field However I Want, isn’t it?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 4, 2010 @ 12:09 pm

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