Never Done

There are two seasons of the year where I see folks focusing on their family history: right around Memorial Day, when we remember those who have passed – and during the month of October, which is National Family History Month.

As a Family History Consultant, it is around these times that I frequently hear two common statements: “I don’t know how to do my family history and don’t know where to start” and “My family history is done”.

I have not used these pages much to instruct or advise as I thought I would. There is already so much out there that can help people, no matter how they see their family history.

But these are becoming common questions at these times of the year even among family and I feel compelled to impose my opinions on you about these two statements.

Not knowing where to start is so very common.

It is overwhelming to think about how to approach doing family history when you start with absolutely nothing. I get it.

It may seem an odd thing to say these days but I believe the best place to begin is with a pencil and a piece of paper.

On that paper you draw the first four generations of your family as you know it – in your head.

Just the simple stuff: names and birthdays for four generations: you, your parents, your grandparents and your great grandparents.

Of course, “you” means you and your spouse, if you have one. You will want to record names of each couple as you go along.

The first thing you will notice when you begin in this fashion is that you either do not recall or were never told the full names, birth dates and, where appropriate, the dates of passing of the first four generations of your family.

This is normal and there is no reason to feel bad.

Using this simple piece of paper and seeing the holes you have in the information you are now free to get on the phone, dig through old family group sheets or even go online to find this information and get it recorded right.

The first thing you will notice is that paper is completely inefficient in getting this information down.

It can be done, but surely technology has provided a better answer for doing this, right?

Right. But this is where the confusion really starts in.

Do you go to Ancestry.com and do it their way? Do you go to FamilySearch.org and do it their way? Or do you use some other computer tool you don’t yet know about?

Many people stop right there in confusion.

This is a photo of the Manti Temple Dedication in 1888. Albert Smith was there, as well as other family members. Albert did his family history then, taking nearly 1400 names to the temple after it was dedicated.

But here’s what you need to know about all those things thrown around by family history geeks: None of them are the solution. They are all merely tools.

You see, your “family history” is the record you leave behind for your children and grandchildren.

Nobody can do it for you. Even if someone in your family has made huge efforts that marks much of your family genealogy and ordinance work “done” that doesn’t mean it’s really done.

Your mother or grandmother, after all, has a different family history than you do. She has a different spouse and her children come from different branches than your children.

Your siblings can’t do it for you because they have a different family history for the same reasons.

You see, family history, odd as it is to say, is not about the past – it is about the children – YOUR children and grandchildren.

Only you can do that unique history for them.

You can’t leave them a piece of paper with scribbles and guesses of your history. You need to jump into the deep end of the pool and do these three things:

Buy a family tree program. There are several out there. I’ve used Roots Magic and Legacy Family Tree. Both of them are state-of-the-art and interface with common online tools like those listed below. There are many other reputable tools out there. They will take time to learn.

Get on FamilySearch.org. Most people don’t understand what FamilySearch is. It isn’t a place to make a tree for your family. It is a place to add your information to the whole-world-family-tree they are building at FamilySearch. Everyone builds it, anyone can edit or contribute to it. This frustrates some people at first but if you understand that it exists to facilitate temple ordinance work you can see the sense in it. As new people add new records, sources and information to the profiles of each individual on the tree the record gets stronger. Overtime, FamilySearch has become an endless resource for incredible family history information and you will want your software program both feeding information to and taking information from FamilySearch.org. If you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you can tie your account at LDS.org to FamilySearch and see what ordinance work has and has not been done for each person.

Get on Ancestry.com. This is the biggest commercial family history site online and it has a lot of information. Some information is great, some information is erroneous. Your mileage may vary, so I urge caution on Ancestry. If you have an LDS.org account and a FamilySearch.org account you get premium access FOR FREE FREE FREE to Ancestry. It’s not all of Ancestry’s premium features that are available to you – but most of them are. You can make a tree on Ancestry and most people do. But do NOT make Ancestry your only tree.

The thing to remember about Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org is that they and all the information they contain are on the Internet. You will not always have the Internet. You can use these resources but recognize they are just that.

Your record of YOUR family history is what you generate and distribute to your family through either computer files or printed material.

There are a billion hidden details in what I’ve described above. There’s no way to make a numbered list of steps you need to take to do your history. The point here isn’t to discuss it all, it is to just get you started.

As you begin, I encourage you to reach out to me or another Family History consultant you know (every ward has one) to help you move along. I even offer you this toll free number — 877-799-7481 — that rings my personal cell phone 24 hours a day. Call me. I’d love to talk about what you are doing and help out if I can.

Of course, there are much more than four generations to your history and there is much more than just names, dates and cemeteries to Family History.

In fact, because there is much more that is why your family history is never done.

I don’t care what Grandma did. She needs to be fact checked.

She did her best with what she had at the time but there’s so much available now that wasn’t back when she was working on it. You need to validate what those in your family past did to your family history – and correct it.

I am yet to find a person anywhere who is “done”. Family history is NEVER done. Ever. I have met many who have an admirable amount of work done. But I never have met anyone who could actually “finish” their family history in their lifetimes.

And that brings us back to being overwhelmed.

There is no escaping that feeling, folks.

I’ve been hard at this now for about 7 years and I’m more overwhelmed now than when I began.

But you don’t have to eat the whole cake.

Every effort you make to chip away at it and to leave a better record of your family than was left for you is a worthy effort.

Do the best you can. Expend the time you can. And if you’re so inclined, even put money into it.

Just do more than what you were doing before – it will be enough.

A Vision for Rootstech

Is anyone out there going to Rootstech this year?

Rootstech is the world’s largest convention dedicated to family history. From all over the world people gather to learn more about family history research and to connected with resources, vendors and experts related to geneaology.

It is held every winter in Salt Lake City, Utah and now another event is planned for the fall of 2019 in London.

Rootstech is not cheap. It costs about $200 for entry to the four day event, although it is quite easy to score free tickets for the usual Family Discovery Day offered on the last day of the event. The event offers classes on a number of family search related topics as well as speakers from all over who provide instruction and motivation. I am lucky enough to live close enough to Salt Lake to attend Rootstech most years and I will be going again February 27th through March 2nd.

I know there are others in the family who either attend this event each year or hope to attend it in the future. I have a hope that we can someday gather whatever family can attend Rootstech to meet up and share resources.

My vision for it would extend to something even greater if we could drum up enough interest. On the Sunday after Rootstech I would like to see us host our own family gather dedicated to our family history. This could be held close to Salt Lake City and live-streamed to family anywhere. The combination of Rootstech the conference with a family event dedicated to family history would be a great way to improve our collective efforts, to foster greater momentum in pushing the work forward and to build a love for our heritage with our children and grandchildren.

Such a family gathering could showcase talks given by family members, especially the elderly who cannot travel but want to contribute. It could easily share gathered information, photos and videos that others perhaps have not seen and it could generate ideas from family folks engaged in the work from all over.

That would be the eventual vision. For now I would settle on just knowing who would be at Rootstech this year and who wants to meet up if you are going. If you are, please fill out the information below so I can contact you:

When the Worlds of Westovers and Smiths Collide

My great grandfather is Arnold Westover. He married Mary Ann Smith.

Both the Westovers and Smiths have great histories. You will learn a lot more about the Smiths in an upcoming video about another Utah pioneer named Albert Smith, of Manti, Utah.

But for now I want to focus on his great grandfather, a man with one of the great names in the family, Chileab Smith.

Albert’s history speaks of his Ashfield, Massachusetts roots and the strong religious history of the family in the Baptist faith.

Chileab was the man in Ashfield, hugely influential and a founder of the Baptist church there.

When he died at the age of 93 in the year 1800 he had at that time 145 living descendants – eleven of them were Baptist ministers and ten others had married ministers – at least when they stopped counting in the 1850s.

(Just one, our Albert Smith, was once a resident of Nauvoo, a member of the Mormon Battalion, and a temple pioneer. What a rebel).

Anyway, I was reading this morning yet another history of Sheffield, Massachusetts — looking for a little new information about our Revolutionary war generations of that area.

But in reading again of the founding of Sheffield – and the contributions there made by Jonathan, Nathaniel, Jonah and John Westover – I can across the name of another area settler in the 1730s.

His name was Chileab Smith.

Could it actually be possible that the grandfathers of Arnold Westover and Mary Ann Smith were actually neighbors in settling Sheffield, Massachusetts? Could they have possibly known each other?

The answers: yes and yes.

Chileab Smith and John Westover sat on a town council together, it turns out.

But wait…there’s more: Chileab Smith married a woman named Sarah Moody.

Where have we seen that name Moody before? Well…Moody was the maiden name of Electa Beal Westover’s mother.

(You following all this?)

So…is it possible that Chileab’s wife is related to Arnold Westover’s great-great-grandmother?

I haven’t solved this one yet. Sorting through all the Sarah Moody’s in New England of the 18th century is like trying to find a Wong in a Chinese phone book.

But nothing shocks me anymore.

This is a good genealogical mystery to solve. It all hinges on who the parents of Daniel Moody are.

Who is Daniel Moody?

He’s Electa’s grandpa.

Daniel and Rebeckah Moody were parents to Rebecca Moody, who married Obadiah Beal. Electa was their sixth child.

Oh…if you’re still following along with this…here’s another mystery to solve:

Obadiah Beal was born in Ipswich, Massachusetts (say that fast) but moved at some point to northern Vermont, not far from the Canadian border.

It was there, I believe, that the Beals and the Amos Westover family came to know each other. This was around the year 1800. Alexander was born in 1798 – likely in Canada – and Electa was born in 1802 in Bristol, Vermont (not far away).

Curiously, the Beals and the Westovers somehow both next appear near each other in Ohio – in about 1810 or so.

Alexander and Electa would marry in 1823. In Ohio.

Electa had several older siblings, including a big brother named…Daniel. His full name was Daniel Moody Beal. (Named after guess who?)

Just to add to your confusion…big brother Daniel married a girl named Olive Westover. Who was Olive? She was Alexander’s little sister.

Want more?

How about this one: Amos Westover – Alexander’s Dad – married Ruth Loomis.

Her parents were Timothy Loomis and Mary Morton.

Where have we seen that name Morton before?

Well, Amos’s mother – Rachel – her maiden name was Morton.

Yep – Rachel and Mary are sisters – making Amos and Ruth first cousins.

It’s a wonder any of us were not born with six heads.

(By the way, if you want to dig into the early history of Sheffield to see the link between Chileab and John, click here). It is “Western Massachusetts, a History 1636-1925” Volume II, published in 1926.