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.
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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.
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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.
- 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. [↩]
- Yes, she’s my mother. [↩]
- In her case, the extraction involved going through the records of ancestral communities and piecing together families and submitting their names for temple work. [↩]
- And why does this post sound like an infomercial? [↩]
- 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.” [↩]