Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Oh, What a Puzzle: What if Your Genealogy is “All Done”?  

Oh, What a Puzzle: What if Your Genealogy is “All Done”?  

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - April 29, 2014

As with all generalizations, the following will have plenty of exceptions, so feel free to share your own personal experiences in the comments.

There are three kinds of people who don’t do genealogy: those who have no interest or think they have no time; those who don’t know how to get started or, having started, don’t know how to continue; and those who think their genealogy is “all done.”

The following is for those in the third category.

* * *

During all my time doing genealogy, I have met exactly one person whose genealogy is done. His name is Jens. He is Danish. He has exhausted all the possible records on all his family lines.

Other than a handful of people like Jens, it is absurd for most people to claim their genealogy is done.1 

If you hold this mistaken idea, you may have gotten it honestly. Perhaps your great-aunt Edna spent many years painstakingly reading microfilm and submitting names to the temple. Perhaps you have a stack of compiled family genealogies gathering dust on a bookshelf. Perhaps you’ve glanced at an online family tree and see that all the low-hanging fruit has been picked, processed, and packaged.

If you find yourself in this conundrum and just sat through yet another Sacrament Meeting talk about your duty to your ancestors, and felt the resultant guilt or frustration, the cavalry has arrived. Help is here! It’s called Puzzilla.

Ann Tanner2 has been serving as a volunteer at one of the largest regional FamilySearch Centers. Recently she was called over to help a woman in evident distress. This woman had concluded that she’d exhausted all her family lines, but she loved the work, so she started doing an extraction project.3 Then, much to her dismay, she found that the Church does not support private extraction projects, and felt that the rug had been yanked out from under her. Here’s Ann’s account of the rest of the story:

I asked if she had two minutes and she said she had an appointment in a few minutes and didn’t really have time to talk. I said, “This will only take two minutes and do you have two minutes?”

We went to a computer, I opened up FamilySearch, … logged on to Puzzilla, showed her the chart and then showed how the descendancy part worked. She was an experienced genealogist and immediately grasped the concept of what I was showing her and how she could now have work to do that was acceptable. As I was pulling up the program and waiting for it to populate, the lady was telling me about how depressed she was and there was not even a reason for her to get up in the mornings any more. Immediately upon understanding what she was seeing and understanding what it would mean for her life, she burst into tears and kept hugging me and crying and saying I was such an answer to prayers. I told her thanks for coming in, her results might vary, but I thought it might be a good starting place for her. She again said thank you and how I had saved her and now she could get out of bed the next morning. All that in about three minutes!

So, what was the three-minute secret that gave this woman new hope?4

The easiest way to understand Puzzilla is to log in using your LDS account and take a look. Choose a few ancestors, and look at their descendants.


If you belong to the category of those with “done” genealogy, the first screen may look something like the following.


(If it doesn’t look like this, that’s your first indication that there’s work to do.)

If you click on a dot, it will show that person.


This is Isabella Hood Hill. She and her husband, Archibald Hill, were Scottish Canadians. They joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and moved to Illinois. Isabella died at age 25 at Winter Quarters, leaving three little children.

Next I will click on “View Descendants” for Isabella Hood Hill.


As you look through her line, you will see that the family line is fairly complete, but there still is work to be done. For example, the little yellow squares indicate child deaths, and many of these children need their entries sourced and corrected. Here is Elizabeth Romney, the second child of Miles Park Romney and Hannah Hood Hill:


If I click on “View in Family Tree” I can quickly add two sources to her entry, standardize data formats, remove a misspelled alternate name, and look at the “Notes” section to see if anything should be deleted or moved to “Sources.”

One of the notes contained this tender passage from her mother’s autobiography, which I have copied into Elizabeth’s “Life Sketch.”

In December, 1866, I gave birth to a baby girl. They did not think I would live through my confinement but the Lord spared my life. We were happy. We had two sweet little girls to bless our home and make it more happy and they bound us together in love and union. In September my baby took sick and died. I thought that was more than I could bear. But we cannot stay the hand of death for it comes to all, so I lived and trusted in the Lord for comfort.

Next is a family line that I know needs work.


This is John Hamilton. He was from Paisley, Scotland, and died in an accident in his late 20s. His wife remarried, joined the Church, and moved to America. Some of their children went to America, some to Australia. A distant cousin recently emailed me from Australia, so I know that there are many relatives not included on Family Tree.

At this point, I could either learn to do Scottish research (FamilySearch Wiki: Scotland) or hire a Scottish researcher (loyal friend of Keepa, Alison, of course). Then I could trace the family lines down by diving into Australian research (FamilySearch Wiki: Australia).

So, if you feel like it’s time to get started but didn’t known where, look at Puzzilla and jump right in. Family history can be a grand adventure.

* * *

As always, a few rules of thumb:

• Don’t change information in Family Tree unless you have documentation to prove your claims.

• Work from the known to the unknown. You don’t want to start researching the wrong people! Start with the information you know, even if that means you have to start with yourself and work backwards through the generations.

• Use standard formats, list places as they were at the time the event happened, and spell out everything using regular capitalization.5

• Always cite your sources. Each citation should include enough information to allow someone to find the source and double check your work or find additional information.



  1. As noted in the introduction, please do let us know if your situation is different, and why. But don’t bother to tell us your genealogy is done back to Adam; this is a history blog so there’s a good chance readers would either laugh or sigh at the claim. []
  2. Yes, she’s my mother. []
  3. In her case, the extraction involved going through the records of ancestral communities and piecing together families and submitting their names for temple work. []
  4. And why does this post sound like an infomercial? []
  5. For a date, “17 August 1841”; for a place, “St. George, Washington, Utah Territory, United States” or “Paisley, Renfrew, Scotland”; and for a name, “John Hamilton.” []


  1. Well, there goes my last excuse. Thanks, Amy!

    Comment by Mark B. — April 29, 2014 @ 7:58 am

  2. As to footnote 4, I’m sure there was one weird trick involved, somehow.

    Fooling around with Puzzilla yesterday, after reading Amy’s post, was an eye-opener to me. As expected, when I searched names on my father’s side (he’s a convert), everything that turned up was familiar — I had submitted most of it myself. On my mother’s side (with multiple Mormon generations), though, I noticed some branches that were unfamiliar, signalling some third or fourth cousins who have been actively submitting information unknown to me.

    Because I have some difficult, seemingly dead-end Southern lines, and lines elsewhere where family stayed in a small area for several generations, I’ve long done descendant research. It’s just as rewarding from a temple-centric view as ancestral research — If you love your great-great-[whatever]-grandparents, what could be more rewarding than identifying and sealing all of their grandchildren to them? Those grandparents would be just as concerned about all their other descendants as they are concerned about you, after all. This Puzzilla tool is a great help to figuring out where to start.

    Thanks, Amy.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 29, 2014 @ 8:00 am

  3. Glad to be of service, Mark. : ) Thanks for your comments, Ardis.

    A further note of explanation. One of the things you’re looking for is something that looks like the bottom part of the third graphic in this post. The branch that runs straight down from Isabella shows a bunch of children in the third generation who don’t have any descendants showing on the next level, so there’s a big gap in the fourth generation.

    I just looked at the family (Samuel Hood Hill and wives) and see that someone has added a bunch of children who were born in Canada and belong to a different family. I could go in and remove them, but Sam’s descendants are in the church, so I’ll let them take care of it.

    But normally, that gap would be a good indication that some of Isabella’s descendants had been forgotten. (Either that or they were all wiped out in a series of gruesome accidents à la Lemony Snickett.)

    Comment by Amy T — April 29, 2014 @ 10:39 am

  4. Thanks for this, Amy. I didn’t even know about Puzzilla until this post. I’m logged in and am looking forward to a little adventure.

    Comment by David Y. — April 29, 2014 @ 11:01 am

  5. Amy,

    I have heard of this, but didn’t want to burst the bubble of having “all my work done.” Seriously, no one had generated anything new in our family tree except for the made up stuff in (I actually made up that URL, which seems oddly appropriate, but you get the idea.) I suspect that there may be something, but Puzilla seems to be down right now, so I will have to look at it later.

    But really, making the assumption that all the work was done is what got me into doing historical research, and was the genesis of learning about the personal stories of some of these ancestors. That’s become my passion, so now I don’t want to get to distracted by this descendants thing, although one of those gave me this story. I am deeply conflicted now.

    Comment by kevinf — April 29, 2014 @ 1:28 pm

  6. I’m sixth generation LDS on one of my lines. Current thinking is that there are well over 1000 living descendants on this line and we can document temple trips as early as the 1880s for ancestral work. I often hear that all the work has been done.

    I discovered a second wife of my 4g grandfather this last weekend. She is now in FamilySearch. I know where and when she was married, where and when she died, and where she is buried. I need to figure out where she came from.

    Two years ago I got curious about a child’s grave, with the family name, set off in another part of the cemetery. No records, I could find, identified this child but talking with older members of the clan told me this must be the girl (my second cousin) born to never active parents. Those who had done the parent’s temple work did not know that 40 years before the couple had lost their only child.

    Yep, my work has all been done except for the bits that haven’t.

    (I admit, however, that one name every other year is not enough to keep up interest. My non-member father’s family supplies quantity when I need it.)

    Comment by STW — April 29, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

  7. After a Sunday School lesson on Family History, I went home and looked at Puzzilla. I went back through my own family quite a ways and found only two dead ends–people my mother could instantly identify without looking at a chart. “Yes, Phoebe Bird. She was born the one year the parish register didn’t get sent in . . . . and no one has digitized it. Maybe someday I’ll make it over to look in person.” Then I went back several generations and started doing descendancy searches. I wasn’t being methodical, I admit, but in an hour, I didn’t find any descendants who hadn’t had their work done, sometimes more than once. I think I forgot to mention that I come from a family of really serious over achievers. It makes being normal pretty depressing. So I’m blaming all of these multiple ordinances on them. Anyway, the Puzzilla tree didn’t seem to have any unpicked fruit either. I have decided that maybe my job is to take all of the personal histories that my parents have compiled and get those edited and loaded onto Family Tree.

    Also, for years we were told not to go beyond our own ancestors and their immediate family members. We were told that it was ‘inappropriate.’ So, when did the policy change, and for whom, exactly, are we allowed to do work? What is the most distant relationship allowable?

    Comment by LauraN — April 29, 2014 @ 2:38 pm

  8. The manuals and policies say we are responsible for doing the work for our own ancestors, but don’t define “ancestor.” The most recent policy statement I can find is this Feb. 2012 First Presidency letter, which states “Those whose names are submitted for proxy temple ordinances should be related to the submitter,” again without definition of “related.”

    That has always been my understanding — we search out our kindred dead, who are not limited to our narrow line of grandparents shown on a pedigree chart. I have always submitted all spouses and children, and the parents and siblings of spouses, when they were easily findable. They are all relatives, whether by blood or law, and they are necessary to make complete family groups. I don’t understand where the idea came from that we were limited to pedigree lines only; I’ve never seen any such limitation, and wonder if this idea comes from being overly cautious on being told we were to do our own lines and not celebrities or Holocaust victims or whatever the fad du jour was.

    That means I have sometimes gotten out a distance from my direct line — but the difference between what I’ve done, and random submissions of names, is that the precise relationship was always known — “my great-grandfather’s sister’s husband’s parents and their children” is an established, known relationship, however distant it might be.

    If anyone can point to an official source that defines “ancestor” or “relationship” to the narrow line that is traced by a pedigree chart (and not a family group sheet), I would like to know it. Well, I wouldn’t like to know it, because that would mean I would be wrong and would have to curtail my submissions, but at least I would know.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 29, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

  9. Actually, I think those people have had their work done too. With Puzzilla, to start doing ordinance work, I would probably be doing work for the ggggg Grandson of my gggggg Great grandfather, and that’s not really a very close relationship. As I said, I come from a SERIOUSLY over-achieving family, so the people with identifiable relationships going back have had work done for them.

    Comment by LauraN — April 29, 2014 @ 3:51 pm

  10. Interesting questions, Laura. If you click on the link to Puzzilla, the first page has three videos.

    The first is a quick introduction.

    The second is a talk from Elder Andersen from RootsTech 2014. It also has a transcript and probably can be assumed to be the official statement as to whose work should be done.

    The third is a demonstration from Bill Harten, the man who came up with Puzzilla. He demonstrates how to find a relative on a collateral line. My mother mentioned yesterday that he came up with Puzzilla after hearing “all done,” one too many times, and knowing that although perhaps mostly true in some cases, it was rarely 100% true. She also mentioned that he’s said that most “all done” lines can take up to half an hour to find available temple work; just one case took three hours of looking through the lines.

    And if you look through and can’t find any areas that can be enhanced and expanded with all the wonderful new online resources — I just found a Presbyterian christening record for Isabella, who’s mentioned in the post — and soon (reportedly within a few months) with the free LDS access to Ancestry, MyHeritage, and FindMyPast (amazing, amazing, and amazing), then processing and fact-checking biographies, or writing ones for ancestors who are without, is a wonderful way to turn your heart to the fathers (mothers), etc., and you may just turn up more family members in the process.

    Comment by Amy T — April 29, 2014 @ 3:51 pm

  11. And I don’t mean to sound at all dismissive of your concerns, Laura. I know how it is to have constant pressure from the ward to have family names to take to the temple, and particularly for my children to have names for proxy baptisms, and lots of them. Not going to happen.

    Comment by Amy T — April 29, 2014 @ 4:06 pm

  12. I think Puzilla was introduced at RootsTech 2014. At least, that was the first time I heard bout it. I am teaching a class on it to the county Genealogy Study Group where I live next month. I think it is a great tool to help find the descendants.

    Also, according to the information on the temple page of FS, we are “obligated” to find our pedigree (ancestors) and we may also work on their descendants (relatives), what Elder Anderson called “the cousins.” That is where Puzzilla can really be helpful.

    I can’t imagine how anyone could ever reach the point of having the work all done – temple work, yes, but not the stories and history. Also, there are constantly new documents coming on line. It is amazing how often I check someone who was all finished and I find new things. Of course, both my husband and I are converts, so we don’t have 1000 people helping us!

    I love family history!!

    Comment by Rosemary — April 29, 2014 @ 5:11 pm

  13. I have been doing descendancy “cousin” research forever; in fact, my deceased auntie was doing it forever, also, which is why I did. I saw the demonstration of Puzilla at Rootstech conference and now teach it to my Family History Sunday School class. The instructions for requesting ordinances in FamilySearch states:

    You are responsible to submit names of the following individuals:

    Immediate family members
    Direct-line ancestors (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on, and their families).

    You may also submit the names of the following individuals:

    Biological, adoptive, and foster family lines connected to your family.
    Collateral family lines (uncles, aunts, cousins, and their families).
    Descendants of your ancestors.
    Your own descendants.
    Possible ancestors, meaning individuals who have a probable family relationship that cannot be verified because the records are inadequate, such as those who have the same last name and resided in the same area as your known ancestors.

    Comment by Maurine — April 29, 2014 @ 5:17 pm

  14. One of the continuing aspects of Family History ‘work’ is keeping track of ongoing events and not losing current history by failing to record it. I work very hard at this and hope this it will be helpful to my descendants. However, as Amy T. pointed out, it can be frustrating to deal with someone who is quite certain that with minimal effort my children should be able to come up with dozens of names for temple ordinances. That’s not going to happen. I’ve wondered if I should advise my unmarried children to find convert spouses so that their children will have an easier time, but I doubt they would take my advice anyway.

    Comment by LauraN — April 29, 2014 @ 7:16 pm

  15. Last year I had a member of my ward tell me that he had traced “three of his four lines” back to Adam and Eve. Avoiding the temptation to counsel him to keep going until he reaches “Lucy”,
    I simply smiled, congratulated him, and said his accomplishment was way beyond mine.

    Comment by larryco_ — April 30, 2014 @ 2:35 am

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