A FamilySearch Profile Photo Experiment

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Last week, I wrote about a funny glitch I came across in FamilySearch.  See that image right up there?  The profile picture?  It’s not William Taylor, it’s James Lake.  Weirder still is that picture of James Lake isn’t anywhere in the memories tab for this William.  It seems to be the ghost of a photo no longer attached to William.  Well, that post prompted a Twitter conversation that led me to conduct an experiment with FamilySearch photos and profile pictures.

These were my questions:

  • Question 1 – Does FamilySearch automatically set a default profile picture for individuals in the tree?
  • Question 2 – If one user changes the profile picture for someone in the tree, does that change the profile picture for every user?
  • Question 3 – What happens to the profile picture if the photo used for the profile picture is deleted?
  • Question 4 – Have each of these things functioned consistently over time?



Experiment Phase One – Simple Comparisons


I selected a handful of my own ancestors whose profile photos I have personally changed at some point and compared their profile from the FamilySearch Tree app on my phone, to the profile as seen when logged in as my friend.*  The results were interestingly inconsistent.

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Here are the profile images of each person.  Images from my friend’s account on the left, from my account on the right (note – I double checked the website, logged in as me, and the images on the right from the app match what I see on the website):


Based on these results we can answer two of our questions.


Question 1 – Does FamilySearch automatically set a default profile picture for individuals in the tree?



Logged in as my friend, I looked at my relatives who my friend had never looked at before.  They all showed a profile picture if they had any photos in the memories tab.  (With one strange exception that we will discuss in more detail in my report on part two of my experiment.  But recently uploaded and deleted photos can cause a person to go from having a profile photo to not having a profile photo.)


Question 4 – Have each of these things functioned consistently over time?



Because there is such a wide variety in this set of simple comparisons, it appears that FamilySearch has had different default settings for profile pictures at different times.


Experiment Phase Two – Uploading and Deleting Photos


I selected a handful of family members who did not currently have any photos in the tree.  I uploaded and deleted photos from both my friend’s FamilySearch account and my own to see what happened to the profile photo.

These are the four photos I used in my experiment:


Let’s start with John Arthur Jerrain.


John is seen in the first and second photos.  Logged in as my friend, I uploaded photo 1 and tagged John in that photo.  What happened?

  • Photo 1 became the profile photo for John when logged in as my friend.
  • Photo 1 became the profile photo for John when logged in as me.
  • In the app, photo 1 shows on John’s memory tab, but he has no profile photo.  (Note – I did not click on the profile photo circle as I wanted to see if the app would add a photo by default.)

Still logged in as my friend, I uploaded photo 2 and tagged John, Emma, & Prude in that photo.  Yes, Prude.  His full name is Prudent Arthur Jerrain.  😉  What happened?

  • Photo 1 was still the profile photo for John when logged in as my friend.
  • Photo 1 was still the profile photo for John when logged in as me.
  • In the app, photo 1 and photo 2 show on John’s memory tab, but he has no profile photo.

Still logged in as my friend, I deleted photo 1.  What happened?

  • When logged in as my friend, John now showed only photo 2 in his memories tab and had no profile photo.
  • When logged in as me, John now showed only photo 2 in his memories tab and had no profile photo.
  • In the app, John now showed only photo 2 in his memories tab and had no profile photo.

Logged in as me, I uploaded photo 1 and tagged John in that photo.  I made the tag a much larger circle so that it could be differentiated from the tag created using my friend’s account.  What happened?

  • When logged in as me, John now showed both photo 1 and photo 2 in his memories tab.  Photo 1 with the larger circle was now his profile picture.
  • When logged in as my friend, John now showed both photo 1 and photo 2 in his memories tab but had no profile picture.
  • In the app, John now showed both photos and still has no profile photo.


Now let’s chat about Emma Esther Jerrain.


Emma is seen in the second photo.  Emma already had a few photos uploaded by me.  Logged in as my friend, I uploaded photo 2.  What happened?

  • Photo 2 became Emma’s profile photo when logged in as my friend.
  • Emma’s profile photo did not change to photo 2 when logged in as me.
  • In the app, Emma’s profile photo did not change to photo 2.


What about Prudent Arthur Jerrain & Jessie Cambell Shirkie?


Prudent can be seen in pictures 2, 3, and 4.  Jessie can be seen in picture 3 and 4.  Logged in as my friend, I uploaded photo 2 and tagged Prude in that photo.  What happened?

  • Photo 2 became Prude’s profile photo when logged in as my friend.
  • Photo 2 became Prude’s profile photo when logged in as me.
  • In the app, photo 2 was visible in Prude’s memories, but he did not have a profile photo.

Logged in as me, I uploaded photo 3 and tagged Prude and his wife Jessie Cambell Shirkie in that photo.  I did not tag their daughter Willow Eleanor, who is also seen in this photo, because I was planning to delete this picture and Willow was not part of my experiment.  What happened?

  • When logged in as me, Prude’s profile photo changed from picture 2 to picture 3.
  • When logged in as my friend, Prude’s profile photo is still picture 2, but picture 3 can be seen in his memories gallery.
  • In the app, both picture 2 and picture 3 can be seen, but Prude has no profile photo.

What happened for Jessie with the upload of photo 3?

  • When logged in as me, Jessie’s profile photo became photo 3.
  • When logged in as my friend, Jessie’s profile photo became photo 3.
  • In the app, photo 3 shows in Jessie’s memories tab, but she has no profile photo.

Logged in as me, I uploaded photo 4 and tagged Prude and Jessie in that photo.  What happened to Prude?

  • When logged in as me, Prude’s profile photo is still photo 3, but photos 2, 3, and 4 are all visible.
  • When logged in as my friend, Prude’s profile photo is still photo 2, but photos 2, 3, and 4 are in his memories gallery.
  • In the app, all three photos are visible, but he still has no profile photo.

What happened to Jessie?

  • When logged in as me, Jessie’s profile photo is still photo 3, but photo 4 is also in her memories gallery.
  • When logged in as my friend, Jessie’s profile photo is still photo 3, but photo 4 is also in her memories gallery.
  • In the app, photo 3 and 4 are visible, but she still has no profile photo.

Logged in as me, I deleted photo 3.  What happened to Prude?

  • When logged in as me, Prude’s profile photo changed back to photo 2.
  • When logged in as my friend, Prude’s profile photo is still photo 2.
  • In the app, photo 2 and 4 are visible, but he still has no profile photo.

What happened to Jessie?

  • When logged in as me, Jessie shows no profile photo, but photo 4 is visible in her memories gallery.
  • When logged in as my friend, Jessie shows no profile photo, but photo 4 is visible in her memories gallery.
  • In the app, photo 4 is visible, she still does not have a profile photo.


Interestingly, on the day I conducted this experiment, after a photo was deleted and a person “lost” their profile photo, in the couple box of that person and their spouse, the circle for the profile photo showed a broken photo link icon.  However, the next day, that icon was gone and the profile photo area is just empty despite there being a photo in that person’s gallery.





I started with four questions.  I was able to answer all four:


Question 1 – Does FamilySearch automatically set a default profile picture for individuals in the tree?

Yes!  It is the first photo uploaded for that person.  However, if a user adds a photo for the first time to a person who already has photos, the profile photo will change to the newly added photo for that user.

In the app, however, FamilySearch does not set a default profile photo.


Question 2 – If one user changes the profile picture for someone in the tree, does that change the profile picture for every user?

Yes and No.  This function has varied over time.


Question 3 – What happens to the profile picture if the photo used for the profile picture is deleted?

It appears that based on my original post, in the past, a ghost of the photo can still remain as the profile photo.  But now, when the photo is deleted, in most cases, the profile picture is blank until a user chooses a new profile photo.  In one instance, the profile photo reverted back to the first photo uploaded by a different user.  This function is inconsistent.


Question 4 – Have each of these things functioned consistently over time?

No!  FamilySearch has clearly made some changes to how profile photos are assigned.  Based on my experiment, I think they have changed things more than one time.



Thank you, Alberta Genealogical Society – @ABGenealogy – for prompting me to complete this experiment.  When I work with patrons at my local FamilySearch center and they ask a question about some quirk they have run into on FamilySearch I often say, “Well, it used to work this way, but let’s give it a look and see how it’s working now.”  FamilySearch makes changes regularly and just when you think you have it figured out, it’s different.


Thank you, FamilySearch for constantly working to improve all areas of your website.  You are awesome and you make the genealogy world so much better for everyone!!  (I’m especially loving how fast you are digitizing records and getting them in the catalog.  Amazing!!!!  ❤️)



Happy Monday, I hope it’s a wonderful genealogy week for everyone!  If you haven’t perused the FamilySeach catalog – do give it a look today!  You just might find a hidden treasure.  If you aren’t sure where the catalog is, read this post I wrote last yearxoxo




*I logged into my friend’s FamilySearch account, with her permission, to assist in my experiment.




My Top Ten RootsTech 2018 Moments

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Me, RootsTech 2018, posing with my Photo+Story submission

Wow!  Last week was a blur of genealogy goodness at RootsTech.  There were so many awesome moments.  If you were not at RootsTech, but want to enjoy some of the awesomeness, you can view the general sessions and many of the classes for free here.

I made notes of so many fantastic quotes during the general sessions.  I will share those slowly over time.  My favorite keynote address was Scott Hamilton.  His love and respect for his mother was so moving.

One of the main reasons to attend RootsTech is for the classes.  They were great.  Lots of choices about lots of topics.  There was definitely something for everyone.

I loved being there all week long with one of my favorite friends, Catrina.  That definitely made the week the best RootsTech yet.  Even though we were together every day, we failed to take a picture together.  Does anyone else have that problem?  Haha.

Aside from hanging with my pal, there were lots of other amazing moments, here’s a quick recap of my RootsTech Top Ten:


10 – I spent a lot more time in the Expo hall this year.  There were so many cool sales, coupons, products, and demos.  I could have happily spent a small fortune for sure!


9 – The DNA sales were fantastic!  Living DNA was $49, 23 & Me was $99 for the autosomal + health, Ancestry was $59, and FTDNA was $59 for atDNA and $139 for YDNA.  I may or may not have purchased 7 tests from 4 different vendors…


8 – On Wednesday evening I stopped by the Larsen Digital booth and shared with them the short video of Grandpa Costello they digitized for me last year.  I thanked them for helping me discover and preserve this special treasure.  The darling woman running the booth said, “Can you say that again and let me record you?”  I laughed and then agreed.  There really is nothing like being asked to record a video on the spot to promote something.  Of course, watching it after the fact, I realized I am basically a super happy genealogy cartoon character.  😂  Here it is:



7 – On Friday I attended the BYU Sponsored Lunch.  I ended up sitting next to the head of the BYU Family History department and the Deputy Chief Genealogist for FamilySearch.  Very cool experience!  Next year I will definitely attend another sponsored lunch or two.


6 – I skipped class on Friday morning and wandered the Expo hall in relative quiet.  I met Johanne Gervais at the Québec Genealogical Society booth and learned about some awesome resources available to society members.  She also looked at two curious records for me and shared some insight.  I was delighted when she said she hadn’t seen a record quite like that before.  It’s always nice to know that a record you find curious is just as curious as you thought.  😉


5 – During my Friday morning Expo hall wanderings, I joined NGS and learned about a few opportunities from the wonderful ladies running the booth.  This was definitely a good thing for me!


4 – My first year at RootsTech I met Kit.  We chose a lot of the same classes and both love the front row so we kept sitting by each other.  By the afternoon of the first or second day, I had shared a snack with her and we have been pals ever since.  Kit and her friend Karen travel to RootsTech together each year.  This year Kit and Karen met Grace on the flight to SLC and so our circle of friends grew.  On Friday evening, Kit, Grace and I enjoyed a lovely, long dinner that was super fun!

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Thursday morning – me, Kit, and Grace (who I didn’t realize was in the shot until later, I should have gotten her in closer and with a smile ;))


3 – Meeting Diahan Southard on Thursday at her booth.  I thanked her for helping me smash a brick wall and she said, “Can you say that again and let my assistant record you?”  So on Friday, I met Diahan at her booth and we recorded a video together.  Twice in two days!!  What are the odds?  I quit thanking strangers for helping me with my genealogy after that.  😂  But it was a super fun experience!

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Diahan Southard & I on Friday after recording a video together.


2 – Finding a VERY important land deed at the FHL on Saturday for a (sort of) end-of-line ancestor that helps tighten up his timeline!  🎉


And finally… my top moment at RootsTech 2018 was…



1 – My Photo+Story Submission won 3rd place!  New Canon Rebel DSLR camera for me!  🎉




Thank you, FamilySearch and RootsTech for a great week of genealogy goodness, learning, friendship, and connections!






Thinking about RootsTech for next year?  The dates are – February 27-March 2, 2019.  I hope to see you there!




RootsTech 2018 – THIS WEEK!

It’s going to be a busy and awesome week for me at RootsTech!  I’m looking forward to a week of genealogy goodness, learning, and research at the Family History Library.

If you can’t be at RootsTech but want some RootsTech goodness, you can watch the live stream sessions from home.  Here is the streaming schedule.

Or, you can check out the recorded sessions from RootsTech 2017 here.

Or, check in with me here and on twitter – @genealogygirl_ – as I share a few things throughout the week.


Happy Monday, I hope you learn some amazing new genealogy tidbits this week!





Tuesday’s Tip: What to do when your FS change log presents you with a tangled mess.

FS change log mess


This video is most applicable to FamilySearch users who participate in the Family Tree.  But it also contains some gems that may help FamilySearch users who do not participate in the tree.  Here are the items covered in this video:

  • FamilySearch watch lists.
  • The change log in FamilySearch’s Family Tree.
  • Command/Control click – which I wrote about here.
  • Reviewing record attachments in FamilySearch’s Family Tree, detaching records, changing the focus person in the attachments screen and then attaching the record to the correct person.
  • Ancestry’s FamilySearch button.  Using it to link people in your Ancestry Tree to the same individual in FamilySearch.  Using it to add someone new to the Family Tree on FamilySearch.  Using it to compare the version of a person in your Ancestry Tree with the version of a person in the Family Tree on FamilySearch, and sending data between the two websites.
  • The FamilySearch internal messaging system.  Making a plan with another user.
  • FamilySearch record hints.



Remember to click the ‘HD’ button on the bottom right of the video.


I went on to spend some time updating both Annas.  If you are interested in viewing each woman in the Family Tree on FamilySearch, Anna Graf can be found here, and Anna Evelyn Shoffer can be found here.


Confusing changes and tangled messes are part of working in the Family Tree on FamilySearch.  Frankly, that is why many genealogists stay away.  If you choose to participate the Family Tree, I hope this was helpful for you.  If it was, please feel free pass it on to other Family Tree users.


Happy Tuesday, I hope you don’t come across any tangled messes on your genealogy adventures today!  😉




My Unexpected DNA Discovery – Conclusion and Tips

DNA Discovery

Finding Bob’s* birth mother and father was such a privilege.  I learned a lot, and felt like I was on a rollercoaster.  Because we were successful, I thought I would reemphasize the biggest lessons and tips that I gathered along the way.


DNA tester's warning

First – Please go into the DNA world with your eyes wide open.  There will be surprises.  Possibly, surprises that are upsetting.  Like, it turns out your favorite Grandpa isn’t your Grandpa after all – at least not biologically.  Or, you have a half-sibling you never knew about.  Or, one whole brach of your tree is completely wrong, genetically speaking.

For me, the surprises were not unwelcome.  That is not always the case.  So please, if you choose to DNA test, or ask someone else to DNA test, be open to surprises.  (People have been having babies outside of marriage for like, ever.  It bears repeating: There will be surprises.)


DNA Discovery, lesson one

Luckily for us, Bob had already tested with FamilyTree DNA and 23 and Me – three total tests.  Additionally, my uncle had Y-DNA tested with FTDNA and autosomal tested with Ancestry.  Having multiple tests in multiple places was really the key to finding Bob’s parents so quickly.

Most people can’t afford to test with every company.  As the person working with Bob’s matches, I can tell you that each one of those 5 tests played a crucial role in the process.  If even one of them hadn’t existed, we wouldn’t have gotten our answer.  Well, at least not so quickly and easily.

So what do you do if you are an adoptee and can’t afford multiple tests?  Learn about autosomal transfers so you get the most bang for your buck.


DNA Discovery, lesson two

I know this one is easier said than done in many cases.  For adoptees, they have a whole bunch of matches that they can’t differentiate.  They have nothing to work with.  There are plenty of cool science-y things you can do.  If that speaks to your soul, and you have the time – by all means, learn the cool science-y DNA tricks that barely register in my pianist/dreamer/reader/artistic brain.  If that is not you, pull up a chair and let me give you a few of my sneaky detective tricks.

Study your closest matches – up to third cousin.  Look to see if they have a tree.  If you are looking at matches in Ancestry, please note that just because there is not a tree attached to someone’s DNA results, does not mean they don’t have a tree.  Here is an example from my matches:

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This is a match I have been working with over the last few weeks to help solve some long standing mysteries.  She has not linked a tree to her DNA results.  But if you look at the very bottom left, I have the option to “Select a tree to preview” with a drop-down arrow.  After clicking the arrow I see the tree she does have.  If she had more than one tree, they would all be listed here.

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Her tree is quite small, because she had a dead-end she was trying to solve.  I have been able to help her, and she has been able to help me.  Win-win!

Okay, let’s get back to the point here.  Compare the trees of your matches and look for the closest common ancestors.  Everyone will fall into two camps – maternal and paternal matches.  If you can group them based on common ancestors you will be in better shape.  Try to connect your matches.  There are connections – find them.  Pay attention to names, but be careful, they could be maiden or married surnames.  Pay attention to dates and places.  You are looking for patterns.

Use the tools in the DNA service you are using to look at matches you share with your matches.  This tool can help you separate your matches into two groups.

Look for a match who is really into genealogy, they love to help!  Even if they are a little bit more distantly related, a 3rd cousin say, they probably know a lot about their tree and can help you narrow things down.

In my case, it was easy.  I already knew which of Bob’s matches belong to my side of his tree.  I was just looking for common ancestors of the remaining matches.  All of these matches were from his birth mother’s side.  Each of them added a clue or two that helped me identify Bob’s 2nd great grandparents as the common ancestors of his closest matches.  From there I had to switch to descendancy research.


DNA Discovery, lesson three

What is descendancy research?  I’m glad you asked.  I happen to have an info graphic handy that answers that very question.

gg defined- descendancy research

I know that is super tiny and not the least bit reader friendly.  Just click on the image and it will take you to the original post.

Completing descendancy research on the common ancestors of your matches, will help you build a tree filled with your family members.  You may not know how you are related, but you do know that you are related.  Building that tree will lead you to living family members who may be able to help.

Remember – you can switch any trees in Ancestry and FT DNA to descendancy view.  This will help.  Don’t overlook those living people who are marked private.  They still show gender.  I actually looked at Lucy in someone’s descendancy view, I just couldn’t see any data other than her gender.  She and her siblings gave me a pattern to look for – a family with a certain number of sons and daughters.  That key obituary for her brother, backed up the pattern I had already discovered.

By the way, there is a delightful bit of serendipity I left out of my previous posts.  Lucy’s brother who died?  He has the exact same first name as Bob, spelled the same way.  I know there is only one way to spell Bob, but there are several ways to spell Bob’s actual name.  Bob’s given name was chosen by his adoptive mother, who did not know that Lucy’s brother had that name.  I hope that was a tender and helpful thing for Lucy in her journey.  ❤


DNA Discovery, lesson four

Once you have built the descendancy tree of your common ancestors, start adding living family members by searching for obituaries.  Recent obituaries can often be found by simply googling someone.  Learn how to do targeted google searches to help with this.  My favorite tricks are putting quotation marks around a name, like this, “Ronald Skeen Peterson”.  If I search google with that phrase, I’ve just said to google, please bring me things about a person with this EXACT name.  Be careful though, not everything uses a full name.  So I should also try, “Ronald S Peterson”, “Ronald Peterson”, and “R S Peterson”.

Ronald Peterson is a super common name, so I can make my search even more targeted by adding additional facts.  Use operators like OR, AND, NOT, etc.  So if I wanted to find an obituary for my Grandpa I could try something like this: “Ronald Skeen Peterson” AND “1997” AND (death OR funeral OR obituary).  I’ve just told google to only bring me results that include the exact name Ronald Skeen Peterson, and the year 1997, and one of these three words: death, funeral, or obituary.

These google tricks can help you find LOTS of goodies.  Of course, remember to use variants.  In fact, if I want to get reeeeeaaaaally fancy I would do this: “Ronald (Skeen OR S OR ?) Peterson” AND “1997” AND (death OR funeral OR obituary).

If you can’t find obituaries using google, consider trying GenealogyBank or another newspaper website.  Many libraries or Family History Centers have subscriptions to such websites that you can utilize in their facility for free.

Once you find an obituary, update your tree with all of the people mentioned.  Even if you only know their first name.  Get everyone linked together and make good notes so you remember which obit added which people.


DNA Discovery, lesson five

Now if you are thinking to yourself you just did that when you found some obits, you are correct.  But what I mean here is you need to learn how to find contact information for living people.  This is where we get into creepy stalker territory.  This is where my particular skill set goes into the danger zone – that area where some people may use the skills for good, like me, or for not so good.  So I will be a bit on the vague side here.  If you know me and need personal pointers, and I know you will be using your powers for good, shoot me an email.  If not, well – shape up creepy stalker!  😉

I will just point you to my three main websites for finding living people: Facebook, the White Pages, and Family Tree Now.

If you don’t have luck finding people on Facebook, spend a little more time learning how to search it effectively.  Use a name but also add a city or state.  And so on…

The White Pages are good for people who still have a landline.  However, they are constantly tweaking their website hoping to make money off of you, so there is less info here now than there used to be.

Family Tree Now is a hackers dream come true.  I urge you to go there and get you and all of you family members off of their website by “opting out”.  However, you can track down those living people you found in the obits on this website because hardly anyone has opted out yet.  This website is free, but scary!  It definitely could be used for evil.

I know I said I was only going to mention three websites, but I should also mention that High School yearbooks helped me identify Lucy.  You can find many at  But, you can often find them in local libraries online.  I found them in both places and found Lucy in them.


DNA Discovery, lesson six

I know it doesn’t always feel this way, but people are good.  There are always helpers in every family.  If your first, second, third interactions are discouraging – keep trying!  Don’t you quit.  You will find someone one day who will be happy to help.

Look for the helpers, there are always helpers.


Here are a few last tips:

Contact your matches.  Remember that people like reciprocal relationships.  They love messages that say things like, “Hey cousin, I see that we are a DNA match, I have some family photos I would be happy to share.”  Now.  An adoptee can’t say things like that.  So come up with something that invites that same type of reciprocity.  Be creative!  Maybe you are willing to help fund other family members DNA testing or something like that.

If your matches don’t respond, try again.  Be nice.  VERY nice, low-key, low-pressure.  Keep your messages short and open.  Try to deal with only one question or issue at a time.  Think like you would if you were texting someone who you know is really busy.  Once you get a feel for the other person’s interest level and time, adjust your message length and content accordingly.

Learn about DNA.  I barely know anything about DNA research, all the crazy cool, ultra-smart and nerdy charting and phasing and segmenting and so on, but it would have been the next step if my genealogy skills weren’t so robust.  Find ways to learn, watch Legacy Family Tree webinars, find Facebook groups for adoptees and DNA research, read one of Blaine Bettinger’s books, attend classes at your local Family History Center/Archive/Library, attend a genealogy conference and go to DNA classes etc.


A few closing thoughts:

I began my journey with a very clear goal – find matches that would help me learn more about my great grandfather John Costello.  I did not set out expecting to find a first cousin who was adopted at birth.  That wasn’t anywhere on my radar at all.  And yet, that is what I found.

The journey we took together was overwhelming, emotional, exhilarating, surprising, and of course had a few hiccups.

I will forever be grateful and humbled that I was able to help Bob find his birth parents.  That is a distinct honor and privilege that will hold a special place in my heart all of my days.  I hope to do it again one day.  Although… hopefully not for the same uncle.  😉

I imagine that John Costello is smiling down on all of us, a bit like a puppet master who somehow managed to keep his pre-marriage life a secret so that I would go looking at our DNA and find his long lost great grandson.

Well played Grandpa John, well played.



Isn’t genealogy cool?!  Isn’t DNA cool?!  But the combo – WOW, that is a powerhouse combo!



Thank you for sharing this journey with me.  A lot of you have been reading along.  In fact, a lot more than normally click on over to my little corner of the genealogy blogosphere.  Thank you for sharing your own stories both here and through email, text, and FB messages.  I am inspired by how many of you have a personal connection to Bob because of your own experiences or the experiences of your loved ones.  You are awesome!



*Names, dates, and places in this series of posts have been changed or omitted for privacy purposes.  Previous posts in this series found here – Part OnePart TwoPart Three, Part Four, and Part Five.


Understanding Family Tree on FamilySearch – An Introduction

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After my post on Friday about RootsMapper I can see that many of my readers are not completely familiar with Family Tree on FamilySearch.  So here’s the scoop… is a website that includes several parts:

  • Family Tree
  • Memories (which are integrated into Family Tree)
  • Search – this is where you search records
  • Indexing
  • FamilySearch Wiki which includes all sorts of help topics

Why is it important to understand the different parts?

Well, the search feature is sometimes confused with the find feature.

What now?

Yes, it’s confusing.  The search feature allows you to search for records about your family members.  The find feature allows you to search Family Tree to find your family members who exist within the tree.

Does that sound the same?  It’s really not I promise.

This is the point at which it’s important to understand the purpose of Family Tree – which is only ONE part of  Family Tree was created with the intent to be ONE tree representing all of mankind.  The goal is to get us to work together to create the most accurate and complete family tree with every person reflected in that tree only ONE time.  So that means I don’t “have a tree on FamilySearch”, I choose to participate in THE tree on FamilySearch.  That tree is named Family Tree.

It’s at this point that you may be questioning what this experience is like.  Because who wants to constantly collaborate right?  We order loving genealogists like to research something, document our findings, source someone and have it stay just as we left it, right?  Well, if you choose to participate in Family Tree you really need a more community minded perspective.  Successfully participating requires understanding the various types of experiences that occur in the collaboration process so you can preempt some of the problems and it requires patience.

You may be wondering what the benefits are to this type of community effort with the constant changes, mistakes, and disagreements.  Well, let me tell you what I’ve learned.

First, there is a place for everyone in genealogy from beginner to highly specialized expert.  When a beginner jumps in and participates in Family Tree they are bound to make mistakes.  How we approach those beginners can have a huge impact on their future efforts and how we feel about those mistakes.  Everyone brings something to the table and when we have an open mind we can be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

Second, two minds are better than one, and three minds are better than two, and on and on it goes.  When we really collaborate, we can create a much more accurate tree.  Really collaborating doesn’t mean that we are just tolerating other users, it means that we are communicating and working together to gather information, review the data and draw conclusions.  It requires writing good reason statements and leaving detailed notes so that our family members understand our reasoning.  When we take those steps our extended family members are much less likely to change our hard work.

Third, we are related to so many more people than we have met or heard of before.  By participating in Family Tree we can meet new cousins.  These connections are so good.  Guess what?  Physical items like pictures, family bibles, and journals can only be inherited by ONE person.  Connecting on Family Tree can often lead to a happy digital reunion with family heirlooms we didn’t know existed and those heirlooms can lead to more discoveries.  When we put all of our collective pieces together, the story becomes richer and more detailed.

Fourth, learning to have patience with such a massive project and all of the participants leads to personal growth AND cool genealogy discoveries.  Allow me to illustrate with a short version of a cool story.  A while back I got an email from FamilySearch notifying me that a change had been made to someone I was “watching” on Family Tree.  When I looked at it I was completely dismayed to see that “MY” James Young was a total mess.  It took some work to clean everything up and restore order in this part of the tree.  As I worked, I revisited my information about James Young.  He was my current end of line individual.  I hadn’t been able to find his death record.  All of this time cleaning him up led me to finally find that death record and then the death records of his parents.  That beginner making a mess of James Young helped me take my tree back two generations!  A mistake that brought awesome rewards.

If you have ever considered having a tree on FamilySearch I hope you will adjust your thinking and consider PARTICIPATING in Family Tree on FamilySearch.  The more the merrier!  The more experience, the more accurate the tree will be.  Family Tree can use you and your expertise on your family members.  Participating in Family Tree has been a great experience for me.  If you choose to participate I hope it will be a great experience for you too!


If you have questions about FamilySearch or Family Tree, please ask.  I am very familiar with utilizing both the tree and the other resources on FamilySearch and I want to share that knowledge.  I would love to use your questions to guide my posts on this topic.

Happy Monday!


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From the Beginning #2: Contact Your Family

write, call your family triptych

When you begin your family history journey you need information.

Much of the information you need exists in the collective body of knowledge within your family.  Some beginners skip the important step of contacting family.  This is a mistake.  You will save yourself time and effort if you contact your family first.

As you work on your family history, you will find yourself in search of information that takes you back to contacting your family.  This is a step you will repeat often as you seek to grow your tree.

When you first begin reaching out to family, remember these important tips:

  • Manage your time.  If you request information from family, be prepared to process that information in a timely manner.  Genealogy conversations have a shelf life.  You make a request, someone responds, you have a follow up question, they respond, and so on.  If you send out too many questions to too many people, you may not be able to keep up with the responses and maximize the information.  Some responders will become bored with the conversation if you allow too much time to pass – they may not answer your follow up questions.
  • Consider the circumstances of the person you are seeking information from.  Do they prefer a visit, phone call, letter or email?  If you send something in print be sure the font is appropriately sized and easy to read based on the age and eyesight of the person you are contacting.  Are they very busy?  Don’t overwhelm them with huge, open ended questions like, ‘I’m working on my family history, can you share what you have with me?’  Instead ask direct questions like, ‘I’m working on my family history, do you have a copy of Grandpa’s Personal History?’  Simple, straightforward questions with direct answers are a great way to begin a dialogue.
  • After you decide what information you are seeking, set yourself up for success.  If, for instance, you want to update a family group sheet for your brother, print out what you currently have and mail it with a SASE {Self Addressed Stamped Envelope} so he can quickly fill in the blanks, slip it in the SASE and mail it back.  Or apply the same principle with an email.  Type up what you currently know so he can check for accuracy, then in list form, ask for the information you are missing.  He can quickly fill in the answers and send the email back.
  • Consider keeping a correspondence log for each person you contact.  You may include columns such as these: date of contact, type of contact, information requested, response, follow up questions.
  • I’m going to whisper this next part, you never know who is listening…  🙂  Some long time genealogists are stingy.  Don’t hold it against them.  Every beginner in the family contacts them and asks big open ended questions wanting them to share, share, share.  Sharing is a lot of work and then most of the people who request the information lose interest and move on to something else after sufficiently messing up the tree online.  Those long time genealogists get worn out by this.  Tread cautiously when you approach a long time genealogist.  Lots of them are very open, but some are understandably stingy.  But most of the stingy ones are really nice and open too – once you earn their trust.  So, approach with care and ONE very simple request at a time until you build a relationship and understand them better.
  • Record, record, record.  Preserve, preserve, preserve.  Whatever you take the time to gather, take the time to preserve in some way.  Be organized and consider how you are going to share what you find with your posterity in the future and also your siblings and cousins now.  When you think about how to share down the road it will help you as you organize now.

So let’s talk about some of the different objectives you can have when making contact with your family:

  1. Basic genealogy feelers.
  2. Help me update the living people.
  3. Photo, story, journal, artifact hunting.
  4. Research questions.
  5. Help me resolve conflicting information.
  6. Collaboration plans.
  7. How do we share all this cool stuff?


1.  Basic genealogy feelers.

The purpose of this type of contact if really two fold.  One, you want your family to know that you are beginning your genealogy journey.  This is important because Aunt Jane may have been waiting for someone to share her hard work with.  Or Uncle John may come across some old family treasure in the garage and because his wife just mentioned your phone call, he sets that treasure aside for you.  Two, you want to know who in your family has ‘the stuff’, knowledge, experience, interest in the very thing you are trying to learn.  As you send out your feelers make sure you remember both parts.

2.  Help me update the living people.

Lots of family members are good at this aspect of genealogy.  Their address book is up to date.  They add every new child born with full name, birth date and place and even a photo.  Updating family group sheets is a lot easier while people are living.  This is a fairly simple exercise but one that has great value.  There are many different blank family group sheets you can use.  Like this one, or this one and it’s second page.  Try sending out a few to family members to update for you.  This is a great way to start a genealogy conversation.

3.  Photo, story, journal, artifact hunting.

Most families have treasures.  The question is, who has them?  As you ask around remember that there are often feelings associated with these items.  There is only one wedding ring and for every daughter or granddaughter that inherits one, there are others who wish they had inherited that very ring.  As you carefully ask about treasures and identify their current steward, make a list for yourself of family heirlooms.  Contact the stewards and request photos or the chance to see and photograph an item yourself.  As you identify family treasures and preserve them in some way, be sure to write a brief history about each item.  My grandmother inherited a beautiful old glider rocking chair that came from England and crossed the plains in a wagon.  It currently lives in my uncle’s living room.  I wish I could remember who the chair originally belonged to.  These are the stories to write up and put with a photo of the item.

4.  Research questions.

As we research family members we often have questions that are about the facts.  We need a document such as a birth, marriage, or death record.  Sometimes we are blessed to be related to family members that know how to research and have a collection of records.  Identify the record you are seeking and be specific when you make contact.

5.  Help me resolve conflicting information.

While researching you are going to find documents that conflict with each other.  If the person you are researching was known to an older living relative, you may choose to contact that relative to ask their assistance in deciding which information is most accurate.  Often they know something that helps you recognize that both pieces of information hold truth, it’s all in how you interpret what you are reading.

6.  Collaboration plans.

Collaboration is important to your success as a researcher.  Other family members may have resources you do not currently have.  As you work together, you will be able to grow your tree and add a richness that can’t be achieved if you go it alone.  Sometimes those plans are as simple as, ‘How about you work on that line, I work on this line and then we share what we have learned.’  Other times an older relative is willing to fund the research efforts of a younger relative who has the skill and time but not the funds.  Some family members have photos but lack the computer skills to scan and upload but they are willing to let you come over and scan.  They will usually spend time telling you who everyone in every photo is and where the photo was taken.  Whatever collaboration looks like for you – make it part of your genealogical plan.

7.  How do we share all this cool stuff?

Work together with your family to find ways to share what you already have and what you gather as you go.  There are many websites that are perfect mechanisms for sharing.  Consider which one works for you and give it a try.  Some items need to be shared other ways.  Use the creativity of your amazing family to find ways to share your treasures.

Make a plan today to contact some family members.  Choose an objective, choose a method and make the approach.  Good luck!