Thursday, March 22, 2007

Collateral lines???!

If you're not LDS, don't bother reading this posting -- it's written in Mormonese.

Most of you know that I'm big into family history and that my job is in genealogy. So when the new issue of the Ensign appeared, I turned right to the cover story on family history. I figured it would be another faith-promoting story about miraculously finding needed information about a direct-line ancestor when all traditional genealogical avenues had been searched in vain. But no -- it's an article encouraging us to research collateral lines!!! This is huge. This changes everything. Finally all those long-ago spinsters will rejoin the human family!

Apparently Elder Packer mentioned researching collateral lines several years ago, but I don't remember hearing anything about it in mainstream LDS family history circles since then. I thought if you left your direct line ancestors and went off on a collateral line (i.e. going any further out than the children of a direct ancestor) you weren't fulfilling your responsibilities. But the article suggests that if you've come to a time or place for which there are no surviving records for direct ancestors, it's perfectly fine to branch out to grandchildren and great-grandchildren of direct ancestors, and not just for the purpose of trying to find new information on your direct ancestors.

The Seventy in charge of the Family and Church History department came to speak at our stake FHE this last Monday and he hinted that the Church has decided that doing temple work for extracted names is creating too many problems (baptisms and endowments get done, but families don't get assembled properly so they can be sealed). So my guess is that this new Ensign article represents their solution. If they open up collateral lines for members' personal research, it will provide the quantity of names required to keep all these new temples supplied with names for those temple patrons who come without a family name, and at the same time will ensure that people are not baptized and endowed and then left floating out there in space, unattached to spouses, parents, and children.

This is great stuff. One of the most meaningful family history experiences I ever had was researching a collateral relative -- a great-great-great-great-great aunt who died unmarried and childless. She was the caretaker of both of my great-great-great-great-great grandparents at the end of their lives. In her last years she was cared for by her nephew. Now I can add him to the family!

Oh, one last thing. I'm going to the Family History Library at least once every two weeks. If you live outside the SLC area and would like me to look up anything in the Library for you, let me know. And if you live in my area and need help with your family history (or just want a genealogy buddy), contact me and we can coordinate times. I'm looking at Wednesday nights or Saturday mornings.

Gotta stop blogging and start researching. I smell dead people -- let the hunt begin! Goodiegoodiegoodie!


Belladonna said...

Years ago when I was a stay-at-home mom I did TONS of genealogy, and I worked a weekly shift in my local family history library for several years. One of my prize posessions is a fat envelope filled with family file names that I researched and did ordinances for. I had some truly choice experiences with some of these kin.

However, in my family history research there seemed to be a few brick walls that I just couldn't get past. So, rather than be stumped I started doing "backwards genealogy". Rather than starting with ME and then tracing back as far as I could go in my ancestral line, I began with each of my great-grandparents and began documenting DOWNWARD to track every decendant they ever had. Talk about your collateral lines! Yikes! In one family sisters married brothers for three generations. It's nearly impossible to sort out which kids belong where! But it has been an adventure and had turned up some facinating stories I never would have learned of any other way.

For instance, one of my ancestors "went west" after his first wife (MY ancestor) died. Because I had all the records I needed for him, my great-grandma and their kids together I could have left it at that. But the Spirit of Elijah just wouldn't let me let it rest. I kept poking and digging, writing letters and making calls till I turned up a new lead. Come to find out he settled in Oregon, married a second time and had a whole passle more kids. I found the decendant of one of those kids who led me to where my ancestor's unmarked grave was. We went in halves on a nice headstone and have since had a couple nice visits to get acquainted with long lost relations, each sharing records of our half of the clan. We are both the great-great grand-daughters of this man, but progeny of different wives.

The spirit of Elijah still burns bright in my veins, although I've had little time for much research the last few years.

It's exciting to think that all those microfilm in the granite mountain are slowly but surely being converted to digital images that will be indexed and available on the internet.

I'll be in Utah around Memorial Day, although I don't expect to stop much in SLC this particular trip (Although we will drive right through it). We're headed to Millard County to pay homage to the family there. I'll wave once for you on the way by!

Keryn said...


Oh my goodness, I can't even believe it's you! How ARE you? (Sorry I'm so giddy, but WOW! What a small bloggernacle!)

I live in Spanish Fork now, but we go up to Primary Children's every week right now for Gideon's casts. Maybe we could get together for lunch sometime? Email me at volcano (at) gmail (dot) com.

Now, on topic--have you seen this website: ( BYU's Computer Science created a program that lets you put in your ancestors' AFNs and voila! You get a list of famous people you are related to--and the degree of relation. So, for example, I discovered I am sixth cousin (15 times removed) to William Shakespeare.

Sarah said...

Good for you for catching the fire on this one and getting into the work! I must confess, I have yet to do any genealogy work at all. I have no excuse. I didn't even know what "collateral lines" were until this post or that you weren't supposed to research them. But you've convinced me this is good news :)

Joanne said...

My brother just starting moving this direction with my dad's line, and I'm excited (although I haven't helped him in this area yet). The whole name extraction idea has been bothering me lately. I'm interested in anything else that general authority said to your FHE group on the subject, or anything else you know. I'd like to know when and why it started. It does seem to present lots of problems, even though of course we want to bless people beyond our own families.

Marie said...

Belladonna-- I always love finding other people who caught fire on family history before retirement -- sometimes I feel like my beloved vocation is seen as something you do when society has no other use for you. I overcompensate by trying to convince people that family history and temple work are the MOST IMPORTANT principles of the gospel and therefore they should drop everything and join me. To heck with missionary work -- it's easier to just let 'em die and then baptize them. Less protestation ;) I love the story of finding your long-lost family and your ancestor's grave and getting a new marker for him. How rewarding! A couple Memorial Days ago I went by myself to find the gravestones of all my great-grandparents and was sad to see that one of my great-great -grandfathers, who lost both of his parents and one of his brothers in their handcart company had not been given one of those "Faith in Every Footstep" pre-1869 pioneer plaques. Not that he cares where he's gone, but I was sad that no one in the family had taken the time to get him one during the Sesquicentennial after all he suffered and the brave life he lived in a desert so far from his green England. I called the head of the Church History department and he confirmed all the plaques are long gone. I'll just have to get over it!

Keryn -- I love that webpage! Thank you! It doesn't produce many famous ancestors for any of my lines except the one that taps into the tangle of European royalty. Through that line I'm Shakespeare's 12th cousin 13 times removed, so you've got me beat. That would explain why you're so much cleverer than I. I assume it's the royal lines that connects us to all those famous people. I come through the Plantagenets and Evil Prince John of Robin Hood fame is my 23rd great grandfather through that line. That explains why I'm so devious. :) Curiously, of everyone it gave me (including Mormon leaders), I'm most closely related to Zachary Taylor -- 1st cuz 7 times removed. I'm embarrassed to say I'd forgotten we even HAD a president Taylor. Sorry, dear dead cousin!

Joanne-- I don't think the Seventy knew a lot about the details of the history of the Family History department and he just said that extractions were causing "problems." I know what the problem is that I've seen, though, which I assume is the one they're finding. You extract, say, birth registers. So you know the person's name, birthdate and place, father's name, mother's first name. You do the work without any other identifying information and it's sitting out there. Someone comes along who is related to this person but can't tell from the limited identifying information on the IGI record if this is the person they're after. Their knowledge of the person is an approximate birthdate and likely birthplace based on, say, a cemetery record. They don't want to do further research before running the name through Temple Ready because Ward Temple Night is tomorrow and the bishop said they HAVE to bring their own family names, so they decide to allow Temple Ready decide for them whether or not the two names are a match. Temple Ready has some major programming problems that I've witnessed over the years, besides which it can't do approximate matches very well, so it clears the name with the approximate dates and now the work has been redone. The extraction has saved us no time. I know they originally started doing extraction when members were struggling to get more direct line ancestors of their own to take to the temple (I don't know the year, but it would have been after all the names from the initial "four generation" push had been done). The extraction served two purposes -- 1) it helped pure family history research by creating an index of records that otherwise would take hours to search and 2) provided a fat stack of names to keep temples busy when family names aren't being submitted in sufficient numbers. But again, it suffered from the one-source problem.

His presentation was interesting. I've heard some tantalizing hints about what the new Family Search will be like from people at my work and from a temple worker who I pumped for info a few months back. It will help resolve the problem that results when someone does temple work for an individual for whom, at the time, they had little info. Later they find more identifying info that would help future LDS researchers know for certain that this person was "their" person and therefore make it very clear that the temple work is done. However, there is no way to change the IGI record itself, for good reason --not even by the person who submitted the work in the first place. From what I've heard, the new Family Search will allow researchers to tie the IGI record's unique number to the additional information they have on that person (but that additional info will be part of a separate database). I assume Temple Ready will also check this secondary database when clearing names.

Like I said, I think this emphasis on collateral lines will decrease our dependence on extracted names and will give people fewer excuses for avoiding their family history. Members will need fewer specialized skills to research those more recent generations. Also, he said that they're going to attempt something similar to "One World Tree," which will try to do what Ancestral File was supposed to do -- put everyone into one massive family tree. Unlike Ancestral File, it will be very fluid. Anyone can submit data, but data that is backed up by actual *sources* will trump undocumented sources. That's how they'll avoid the problem of different info for the same person. I have my questions about how well this will actually work (what about when sources contradict each other, which they often do?) but he wasn't too keen on answering detailed questions, so I guess I'll have to wait and see. He said the various temples will be put "online" with the new Family Search in four phases. The Wasatch Front will be the last phase, and his optimistic time estimate for the fourth phase was a year from now. So you'll get to try it before me -- I hope you'll write and tell me what it's like! It's going to change family history forever. Slowly but surely, the Internet will fulfil prophecy:

Nephi Anderson, in 1912: "Then, as temples multiply, and the work enlarges to its ultimate proportions, this Society, or some organization growing out of this Society, will have in its care some
elaborate, but perfect system of exact registration and checking, so that the work in the temples may be conducted without confusion or duplication."

Archibald F. Bennett, in 1947: "A universal system of intelligent cooperation will bring together on a record sheet every fact in existence regarding a particular family. This wealth of data will insure accuracy and banish error. Expensive and time-consuming duplications in research and repetitions in ordinances will be eliminated. No sooner will a new fact be uncovered in any part of
the world by a researcher then it will be communicated to the Archives center and be assigned to its proper place, on some family record."


I'm really impressed with the online indexing project the church has started. I started downloading batches a few weeks back and it's a seamless process. I am a bit peeved that they're having us reindex the US censuses up front, which are indexed on at least three paid websites. I wish they'd start with stuff you can't get everywhere else and do the censuses last, but I suppose they have their reasons. Censuses are very useful, and I guess having them available for free is important. The indexing will be more thorough than I've seen elsewhere, at least for the 1900 census.

Okay, this might be the longest comment I've ever posted. And that's saying a lot. I'll stop now!

Belladonna said...


Ya know, the things we seem to have in common just keep piling up: Genealogy, blogging, appreciation for gothic romance, playing elaborate word games, travel in the middle east, supporting microfinance... not to mention being members of the same church. I'm thinking we DEFINITELY have to meet each other in the real world one of these days.

Marie said...

Oh dear, no. I could never agree to that. I can maintain a thin veneer of intelligence in writing, but face to face....disaster.

Plus, I have an aluminum nose.

Joanne said...

Thanks for the info, Marie. You are an amazing, stunning, wise, and delightful human being -- in person and in cyberspace. I don't know how all you authentic English types tolerated me -- such a wannabe -- back at Waterford. :)

Marie said...

Sure, Joanne -- go ahead and inflate my ego. But who's gonna pay the bills when I have to get my big head reduced? Hmmmm???

If you were a wannabe, you had me fooled -- you were smart as a whip and twice as nice. The only thing any of us had on you was being able to define "comma splice" and relate the plotlines of obscure medieval plays.