Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » You Can Do This!

You Can Do This!

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 17, 2010

This checklist made up a kind of graduation portfolio for those who participated in Sunday School genealogical classes of the 1940s. Virtually all are projects that you could complete with a little effort but without a major investment in research – completing even a handful of them will result in an important collection of family information and increased confidence in your ability to do family history research, one step at a time.

Indented lines are brief explanations or suggested modernization offered by me.

Which will you do first? Which can you complete in 2010?

1. Officiate in the temple as a proxy in (a) endowments, (b) sealing of couples, (c) sealing of children to parents.

This is the ultimate purpose for the Church’s investment of effort, means, and instruction in family history, of course.

2. List the names of all your progenitors with whom you are connected by sealing, and give your relationship to each.

This is far easier to accomplish in 2010 than 1941. Although New Family Search has serious accuracy problems, IMO, it is the place to go for information on completed temple work. Start by going to New Family Search and creating an account (you’ll need your Member ID# and confirmation date – see your ward clerk if you don’t have it).

This isn’t the best item for you to begin with if family history is a new thing for you – best to work on it in connection with your pedigree chart (#7) and your set of family group records (#11). If you’re the pioneer in your family and there are not yet any sealings, then you’ll get to add this information to New Family Search as you identify your ancestors and do their temple work (and it will be correct because you did it, right? Of course right.)

3. Distinguish clearly between research for ancestral lines and the promiscuous gathering of unrelated names for temple work.

Even without a formal genealogical lesson, you might be able to guess quite well what this means. If you’d like to try out your answer as a comment to this post, let’s discuss — what is the difference between tracing your family, linking one generation to the next, one at a time, on the one hand and going through books or using internet databases to find a thousand people who share your surname on the other hand?

4. Bring to class samples of some of the earliest records kept by members of your family, as recorded in letters, family Bibles, diaries, journals, or older forms of record books.

This item encourages you to dig through your own house to locate objects and documents of genealogical value. What records do you have close at hand that won’t require a trip to any library or courthouse?

5. Fill out on the standard printed form for your Personal Record.

This form, no longer used, was a compact record of all the dates, places and people connected with the most important events in your life: full name; parents’ names; birth date and place; dates and places of church ordinances and events such as blessing, baptism, confirmation, priesthood ordinations, patriarchal blessing, mission, and callings; marriage; education; military service; and death (because the form was often filled out for ancestors). Even absent the form, compiling this information in a single document will cause you to pin down the details of your own life, which is good training for family history research.

6. Make out a family group record for your own immediate family.

This will be you and your spouse and children if you are married, or your parents with you and your siblings if you are single. See this post for links to forms and help in filling out such a record.

7. Make out your pedigree chart, beginning on line 1 with your own name.

See the same post for forms and help. The forms used today call for four generations (you, your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents); in the 1940s, the standard form called for five generations. See? It’s easier now!

If you’re just getting started you probably won’t have information to complete all four or five generations. Complete what you do know — the gaps will tell you where you will need to do more research later.

8. Memorize all names on this first page of your pedigree and be able to state your relationship to each person named thereon.

Again, that’s four generations today and five generations in the past, or at least as much as you know now. If you go for the greater challenge, that’s still only 30 names to learn and keep straight. (Sound too tough? How many friends do you have on Facebook?)

9. Make up your Portrait Pedigree.

This is a pedigree chart with small photos of your ancestors in place of their birth/marriage/death data. If you use any of the commercial genealogical database programs to organize your information, you can add scanned photos directly to the database and print out several nice styles of picture pedigrees.

10. Write the life story of a grandparent or great-grandparent, illustrating it with photographs, pictures, faith-promoting experiences or interesting anecdotes.

This need not be any great work of art, or go on for any great length. It’s simply an exercise in pulling together everything you know about an ancestor and writing it out in a coherent form. Once you get the basic facts (names and dates and places) down in narrative rather than chart form, generally in chronological order, do another draft and plug in brief versions of any stories you know – that will transform your sketch from bare bones genealogy to a more rewarding family history. You can polish and expand it at any time, but don’t let yourself get bogged down in an extensive history – a brief sketch now is better than never getting started at all.

11. Make out family group records for the first seven couples on your pedigree chart.

This is the same project undertaken for #7, expanded to include your parents, each set of grandparents, and each of four sets of great-grandparents.

Since family group records include spaces to record completed temple work, this is the project to get you to jump into New Family Search (see #2). Because you will have to sort out your family well enough at this point to fill out the family group records, you’ll be in a better position to untangle some of the typical problems found on New Family Search – if children are linked there to the wrong parents (sometimes children are shown as issue of the wrong marriage – one of the parents will be correct, but the other one will be a step-parent), or a child has been omitted, or extra children have somehow been added, your family group records can guide you through the New Family Search maze as you pick up temple ordinance data.

12. Join one or more family organizations and participate in one of their gatherings or activities.

If your family doesn’t have an organization and you’re not up to launching one right now, it ought to count, I think, if you contact relatives who have contributed to New Family Search and cooperate in making corrections there.

13. Send a copy of your family record to the Church Record Archives.

This is no longer done; instead, make sure the first four or five generations of your family are correct in New Family Search, and add any names or data (often, death information) that isn’t already in that database.

14. Participate (where possible) in a Library excursion and engage in genealogical research.

With Family History Centers available in so many stakes, it should be easy enough for most people to take a tour and have the volunteers explain the process of ordering records from Salt Lake City or using the records already located in that Center.

15. Keep a diary each day for a week.

For one whole week! Think you can handle that much?

16. Visit or write a letter to a relative, offering to exchange genealogical data.

There is often one person in a family who is considered the family genealogist. He or she may be delighted to share records with you; or, he or she may be tired of frequent time-consuming demands for copies of records that just seem to end up stacked in the back of a closet. Sweeten the request by offering to exchange data as this item suggests. Your great aunt Bertha may not have a complete record of the descendants of your father, and offering to provide such a complete record may be just the bait Bertha needs to fire up the copy machine.

17. Name ancestors and relatives who rendered patriotic service and state the nature of this service.

This is a good excuse to get some of the older members of your family reminiscing and sharing stories that may go far beyond military service. Take a recorder.

18. Find by your efforts in correspondence or research one new progenitor not before known to your family.

This is the big one. There is limited value in recycling family data that is well known. At some point, you’ll want to do real research in order to find that new ancestor. And then another one. And another.

19. Write a concise history of one line of your ancestry from the earliest known progenitor to the present time. Be careful to base your statements on established facts. Utilize illustrations, anecdotes and character revealing incidents wherever possible.

Like the assignment to write about a grandparent’s life, this should first be a simple sketch, expanded as you have time and can learn more family history. The point is to arrange what you know in a coherent fashion, this time covering several generations rather than a single life.

20. Write a brief description of the advantages of microfilm records from the standpoint of cost, storage, speed in copying and accuracy.

Microfilm was state-of-the-art and largely unknown to most genealogists in the early ‘40s. Rather than describing microfilm, learn something about online genealogical services, or a commercial program for organizing data on your own computer, or some other new technology for research or preservation of family records.

Family history may not seem so intimidating if you’ll tackle even a few of these specific projects. Once you start, the others will become easier. And I think Keepa readers will be both willing to share ideas if you get stuck, and delighted to cheer your progress if you’d like to come to this post later.

Start, won’t you?



  1. Some great jumping-off points are suggested – I might use some of these in training our stake’s consultants. Thanks!

    Comment by Alison — February 17, 2010 @ 7:03 am

  2. Fabulous list of do-able ideas Ardis, Thanks!

    (As an aside, I am at a frustrating impasse. I discovered Sunday afternoon, trying to snatch some names off NFS so my son could bring some to the Priest-Laurels baptisms next week, that 25+ years of steady plodding doing family names of my own research leaves very very few doable names within 8 or 9 generations. Had to send him with names of first-cousins-thrice-removed, and to reserve back a couple of women so my almost-12-year-old daughter would have some later this year.)

    Trust me, just get started, and after a while you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve gotten done.

    Comment by Coffinberry — February 17, 2010 @ 8:32 am

  3. re 16:

    Had a fun experience last week when a descendant of great grandfather’s sister contacted me online after reading a blog post I wrote last year about the family (an idea I swiped a while back from fellow Keepaninny, Researcher). We swapped scanned certificates and info, and he seems to have many subscriptions to various genealogy sites, so although I sent him more info this time, he could prove to be very useful in the long run :-)

    Comment by Anne (U.K) — February 17, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

  4. So that’s four of us genealogists who recognize the value and relative ease of these projects for beginning family history … now if we could just convince someone teetering on the edge that this is the way to go!

    I should change “great aunt Bertha” in #16 to “third-cousin Anne.” 😉

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 17, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  5. ha ha…the comparison does rather fit!

    Comment by Anne (U.K) — February 17, 2010 @ 2:23 pm

  6. I’ve done many of these, but not all, and I have been avoiding NFS like the plague. However, you give some good ideas on how better to utilize it for good, rather than the (comments edited at the source) wiki that it often resembles.

    I especially need to get in contact with some distant family members, something my brother has been better at than I have been. Good reminders without much guilt. And I really do need to memorize all the names back about 5 generations. I can reliably only go back about 3. May be a function of age, or the overabundance of increasingly more useless rock & roll trivia in my head.

    Comment by kevinf — February 17, 2010 @ 3:48 pm

  7. I know this is random, but reading the word “microfilm” reminded me: I’ve got 1 free microfilm reader for any anyone willing to pick it up in Provo. Sorry for the interruption Ardis, but I thought there was a chance one of your readers might be able to use such a thing. Email spudmonkey1 at hotmail if you want it.

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — February 17, 2010 @ 4:24 pm

  8. What a nice post with lots of good ideas for starting research.

    For suggestion number nine, here is a link to an old Portrait Pedigree, c 1950s.

    It’s a bit easier nowadays to assemble a portrait pedigree with all the nice software programs, although finding out who has the family pictures and scanning them can be a big project. I have a very nice first cousin and second cousin who are currently tracking down bunches of family files and letters and photos and sending me scanned copies. And like Anne mentioned in her comment, the second cousin located me and started sending pictures and files after she googled my blog about a month ago. (I love this kind of collaboration! It’s great!)

    Comment by Researcher — February 17, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

  9. So I should question you, kevinf, if you start to recite your pedigree and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin show up there? I know you share my pain over NFS. One way we can get revenge is to find a way to use it to further our own family history without letting it suck us into its dark depths.

    That’s just fine, Moniker. I’ll put a link in the sidebar, too, to try to draw more attention to it.

    Researcher, you’re a kindred spirit (but you knew that). I even like the fact that the picture pedigree you link to isn’t completed back five generations. It’s of value as is, and won’t discourage a beginner the way a perfectly completed pedigree might. Everybody has to start somewhere.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 17, 2010 @ 8:22 pm

  10. Makes me want to break out in song….

    Family history, you can do-oo it,
    Your family history.
    Cuz Ardis, on her blog, Keepapitchinin, has made it
    Easy as can be!
    She’s giving lessons there, sharing many tips —
    From one to tweh-ehn-ty!
    She’s an expert and she’ll help you
    Start your family history!


    [Song has been edited from its “original” version.] ha.

    Comment by m&m — February 20, 2010 @ 12:32 am

  11. I suppose if we expect little kids to sing about pro-gen-i-tors, the tune can survive Keep-a-pitch-in-in … 😉

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 20, 2010 @ 5:56 am

  12. I always sing it as:

    Trigonometry, I am doing it . . .

    Comment by Eric Boysen — February 21, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

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