The Lord’s mandate given in section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants has not changed: “Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? …
“Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple … a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.” (D&C 128:22, 24.)
I don’t know if you ever saw Temple Ready. Or if you saw the New Family Search. But those are almost curse words to me and my mother (who started me in family history). That is an exaggeration. (At least it should be.) I never actually heard her curse while using Temple Ready, but I did witness several, hours-long, hair pulling sessions, full of frozen computers and deleted work.
Let’s just say that the original temple file cards, the Computer File Index, the International Genealogical Index, Temple Ready, and the New Family Search were all big, important steps in their time, without which we wouldn’t be where we are today. But I would never call them a “Book Containing the Records of our Dead, Which Shall Be Worthy of All Acceptation.”
However, that is what I am trying to create. I started with my immediate family, gathering the records that would concretely link me to my parents. Then I gathered the records that would concretely link them to their parents, and them to their parents, and them to their parents. (I am currently working on the first line of those great-grand parents. I’m doing great.) I am looking for good sources. Then I am uploading those sources to Family Tree. (No, I have not uploaded sensitive documents regarding the living.)
It is, after all, to be a book containing the records of our dead.
I wouldn’t say Family Tree is perfect. I’m currently blogging because the website isn’t loading properly. But I would say that Family Tree is beautiful and everything I could ask for (with the exception of right this minute.)
I am looking primarily for vital records (birth, marriage, and death), sharing those records, and I am taking my time. I am looking at documents and dates that have already been “done.” I make sure dates and places and family members line up with sources. I draw the line at vital statistics. Many scholars spend their entire career researching one historical figure. On the other end of the spectrum, some family historians work so quickly that family lines veer way off course and family members fall through the cracks. My family history teacher says that each family group sheet contains an average of 25 errors per page. So I focus on finding accurate vital records and reasonably certain links between generations. Then I move on. If I happen to find interesting personal information (of long-dead ancestors), I will collect it and upload it to Family Tree. But I think there is enough work for me to do in finding and verifying vital records of my family members.
I also make sure that all the information I have is available on Family Tree. Why would I keep it to myself? I don’t want to do all this work alone. So I share what I have, and allow others to add and subtract from it. If the sources are uploaded, they can speak for themselves. I want one person to do the work to find each source once, with the process and results easily visible.
I am conflicted about one point, though. [If you don’t want to read through my internal deliberation, skip down to the TLDR section below.] With only a few exceptions, I have done all this work using the free internet, from the comforts of my own home. Once I exhaust all the resources available to me for free, then I will spend money on things like Ancestry subscriptions or genealogy field trips. At that time, I’ll probably have more money than time. So far, though, (with a few exceptions), I have found everything I need for vital statistics online, readily available, free.
There are some primary sources which aren’t available for free. There are some collections of records where there is an online index of names and associated dates, and they will send you a copy (sometimes an official copy) for a fee. The church and other organizations are working hard to make images of the records available free online, but there are virtually infinite records and not infinite volunteers. There must be some importance to having an image of a record, because the Lord is calling missionaries to collect those images, and authorizing use of sacred funds for digital capture and storage equipment.
So how much is enough for a Book Worthy of Acceptation? Do I need an official copy of all primary source documents of all my ancestors stored in my house? Can I upload a picture of a primary source? Can I link to a picture of the primary source hosted somewhere else? Can I link to an index of a primary source? How much do I have to pay to obtain a picture of the source? My grandparents’ birth certificates are available if I send $24 to a lady in Omaha. A copy of their marriage license is available if I send five more dollars. I already have all of the information that I would obtain from looking at them. I would just pay for the privilege of uploading a real picture of the document instead of copying the text found on the document.
Thus far, I have been uploading images of documents if I have them, linking to the images if they are elsewhere on the internet, and copying the transcription if nothing else is available for free. Will the Lord accept a transcription of a record?
I’m going to make a judgement call. You are welcome to make a different call in your own work. The Lord doesn’t want a book containing a paper copy of all the records of our dead. We already have that collection. It’s called the earth.
Maybe it would be sufficient to have a book containing our dead, linked in families and linked to their records. The book would say, “these are our dead, and their records are to be found here.”
I think we can take a lesson from the way the church’s recorder of temple work operates.
Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning your dead: When any of you are baptized for your dead, let there be a recorder, and let him be eye-witness of your baptisms; let him hear with his ears, that he may testify of a truth, saith the Lord; (Doctrine and Covenants 127:6)
Apparently it’s Steven E. Snow, and he’s called the Church Historian. However, it is unreasonable for him to observe every ordinance, so they call local recorders, who are supposed to be “very particular and precise” in their work. Then the general recorder is supposed to certify “with his own statement that he verily believes the above statement and records to be true, from his knowledge of the general character” of the local recorders.
And when this is done on the general church book, the record shall be just as holy, and shall answer the ordinance just the same as if he had seen with his eyes and heard with his ears, and made a record of the same on the general church book. (Doctrine and Covenants 128:2-8)
I’m going to apply this principle to the book of the records of our dead. The local recorders who create my ancestor’s records do their best to be accurate with the data. Then someone transcribes or scans the image, doing their best to be accurate. Then I find and interpret and organize those digital records, doing my best to be accurate. If that means a link to an indexed entry online that matches the family tradition, or if that means an official, notarized copy of each possible document in my possession, uploaded at highest resolution, I just need to be “very precise and accurate,” and able to certify that I believe the statement to be true, from my knowledge of the situation. Then that record will be just as holy, and shall be worthy of all acceptation, just the same.
TLDR: I need to hunt as long, and pay as much as I need, to be able to certify that I believe the names and dates to be true and accurate. But I don’t think I should take money and time from the other divine purposes of my life here on earth. Usually, I am able to be certain using only free sources and a portion of my free time.
To find those free sources, I do a search on familysearch.org/search, modifying search terms until I am satisfied I have found all there is. Then I go to familysearch.org/ask/researchwiki. This gives me a list of resources online to check next.
I post every day’s work on my family history journal blog. When February (or maybe March) is over, I’ll be moving on to a new monthly goal. Then I’ll have a baby and move to a bigger apartment. Who knows when I will get back to family history? And at that time, who knows what I did back in February 2014? My family history journal blog will know!
I have set up my workspace so that I simply click on my browser, and it opens up all the windows I need to do family history, to the very people I am working on. [In Chrome, I load my blog to a New Post, Family Tree to the father of my focus family, Ancestry.com to my aunt’s tree, familysearch.org/search, and wikipedia. I clicked on those three lines in the upper right, then Settings, then On Startup, open a Specific Set of Pages, then Set Pages, then Use Current Pages. Done!]
I don’t currently keep my genealogy data “anywhere.” I heard that Rootsmagic was the free program of choice these days. I downloaded it, imported my data to it, but found it was annoying to do everything twice. My Family History teacher (a professional genealogist) at BYU said you should keep your family data separate in case someone gets on Family Tree and, either maliciously or not, discards or changes true information. However, Family Tree keeps track of every change made on every individual, and restoring a past version is as simple as a click of a button on the See All Latest Changes page, just like Wikipedia.
Additionally, I think conflicts will be rare because I am changing nothing without having an uploaded source to back it up, or a note written saying why I think so, even if I just write “family tradition.” More likely is the case where someone else has the correct information and fixes my incorrect information.
Another reason to keep separate records is in case familysearch.org goes down. I think this is rare. I think it is much more likely that my personal computer will go down.
If I do have to re-do my work on a particular person, family, or line, at least I haven’t had to do my work twice on every person, family, and line.
I guess some would say uploading sources for everything is slow going. It is February 17th, which means that I have used the nap times and bedtimes of two weeks just on one father, mother, and their children. But at least those pages on Family Tree will be called worthy of all acceptation, ready to be presented to the Lord in the holy temple.