Family History: Everyone Can Do It!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

It's crazy to think how different a person I was this time last year. I was still in school  (although preparing to start my final semester as an undergraduate), wasn't considering a mission, and the last thing on my mind was family history. I was lucky enough to have the most amazing roommate that semester, and a younger sister serving a mission, who both helped inspire me first and foremost to serve a mission, and second, to begin my (almost obsessive) involvement in family history. My little sister, Cassidy, had started a lot of the genealogy work before she left on her mission, and my sweet roommate and best friend, Kirsten, was amazing enough to help encourage me and get me involved in the awesome work of family history. We ended up going to the family history center at least once a week that semester, often spending 2-3 hours there, despite the fact that we both were insanely busy with school and work. And she was preparing at that time to leave on her mission to Russia. I will admit... after the first few times, I was hooked. But after Kirsten left on her mission, I didn't do as much work... until I was medically released from my mission and was spending an extraordinary amount of time at home, jobless, schoolless, and basically obligation-free. 

Except... I wasn't.

I knew that I was home for a reason- one of them being that I needed to recover from these migraines that started so suddenly in the MTC. But, as I so often taught (even in the MTC), part of missionary work includes completing work for the dead. And so, in order to to feel a little less like a total mooch, and again like a missionary (that feeling that I craved more than anything), I opened up my computer to FamilySearch. I was hooked... again. Except for this stuff is way better than drugs. Ha.

I was home a month and I found 204 names that need ordinances done, from baptisms, to sealings to parents and spouses. Part of it may be because my Dad and his side are not members, so there's a lot of work that needs to be done. I mean a lot. It's not like it was easy. I'm a fifth-generation Polish immigrant, and my great great grandparents that immigrated from Poland have no records beyond their birth and death dates. Part of the reason is because a lot of records were destroyed during the world wars. It's hard to do the in-depth name-searching, looking for a scrap of information about marriage records, birth certificates, headstones... but even if you don't have time to dig deep, someone out there in your family needs you to find them... chances are, they've been waiting for a long, long time for their work to be done. I sent this picture to my sister (who had inspired me in the first place) and she responded with possibly the best, most hopeful message that I had read since I was released from my mission. And these weren't even all the names I had found... I had already given 40 other names to friends that were helping me do the ordinances for my male ancestors. 

After I posted this photo, I had so many people that messaged me, or commented, that were so excited and looking for ways and helps so that they could do their family history as well. And so... here is a compilation of my tips and tricks that can help you find names to take to the temple!

Use the new Descendancy Feature on Let me tell you- I found SO many names using this feature! You can select a person and view up to a four-generation descendency that includes your person's children and all of their children, and so on. It makes it so much easier to find aunts, uncles, children, etc. who may have slipped through the cracks and may be missing vital ordinances. 

LDS members now have FREE access to genealogy sites including Ancestry.comFindMyPast, and MyHeritage. You'll want to go to these sites through FamilySearch, because it will link your FamilySearch and LDS account to these sites. 

Stuck on a name? Try visiting the LDS Family History Library in downtown Salt Lake City. They have specialists and research consultants there who will be able to help you get started and provide amazing resources. Their collection includes over 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 727,000 microfiche; 356,000 books, serials, and other formats; over 4,500 periodicals and 3,725 electronic resources. FamilySearch has provided a list of tips before you visit, which can be found here. Don't go empty-handed! The consultants there can also provide you with specific resources, lists of websites, and more that can help you, especially if you're searching for records from a specific country. I got a whole list of websites that could help me look through Polish records (even though I can't read Polish... oops!). Thank goodness for Google Translate. 

The LDS Family History Library also has classes, such as " - Navigation and Record Search Basics", "Digital Digging in FamilySearch" and even more specific classes such as "Using the German/Poland Online Gazetteer Kartenmeister" and "Russian Print and Handwriting". Check out their schedule here.

When searching for records, try a variety of spellings, birth dates/years, death years, and so on... You might not have the exact spelling, or you might have the Americanized or maiden name, or immigration records might have been indexed with a few mistakes... and associate sites have great tools for broadening your searches. Don't restrict your searches to exact names, birth or death dates, etc. And be open to doing a little deeper digging if someone looks similar to an ancestor of yours. We found out that we had been spelling Niedbalski incorrectly the whole time (thanks to the sweet Polish family history consultant at the genealogy library downtown). By changing the spelling, we were able to find a lot of the Niedbalski children (my great aunts and uncles). In the example below, Antonette was the Americanized spelling of Antonia. Once we realized this, we were able to track down some more information about her that we couldn't find before. 

Use the work that people have already done! A lot of the times, I've noticed that records have been found, parentage updated, etc. on one site, but not on another. Often times, you may need to transfer names, birth dates and places, death dates, and records between sites. I like to keep my base site as FamilySearch, because the most important aspect of genealogy in the church is completing temple ordinances, and FamilySearch is where all temple ordinances are requested and recorded. If you're looking to see what names are available to take to the temple, you'll only be able to find the ordinances they need on FamilySearch. 

Don't stop at just looking for parents or direct ancestors. Look for children, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. Sometimes the answer to finding names is not just looking for your direct ancestors, but finding the other children of your great great grandparents and working from there. One of the ways I found so many names was finding the six kids of my great great grandparents, Antonette and Frank. I couldn't find a lot of information about my own family, but by expanding my searches, I found a lot of family members of their son Max's wife, Katherine, including her parents, grandparents, and siblings. Branch out! If you're stuck on one name, try another. You could get lucky! 

Don't go to the temple without a name. Even if you don't have one, someone in your ward probably (um... definitely) has name cards that they need to get done. Heck, if you can't find anyone, I can guarantee I have name cards for you to take. 

  • Check out this talk, called "The Book" given by Elder Allan F. Packer in the October 2014 General Conference
  • OR check out this talk, called "A New Harvest Time" by Elder Russell M. Nelson in the April 1998 General Conference
  • Read this article, called "Using Family History As A Missionary Tool" by Christopher K. Bigelow
  • Look at the FamilySearch YouTube Account for more video tutorials and resources
  • If you have any ideas, tips, or trick, please feel free to comment below and I'll add them to this list!