Pat’s Genealogy Tips: The Familysearch.org website

Since this week I’m reviewing Familysearch.org where you can contribute your family information to their shared Family Tree online, I thought I’d start by talking about protecting your online privacy. At past workshops, I’ve passed out copies of a good article from Family Tree Magazine—this is worth reading before you start putting personal family information online.

 The Familysearch site does limit for you the amount of information about a living person that can be seen by the public. They say that only the account holder can view sensitive information. It appears that means even though they required my birthdate to set up my free account, only my birth year appears in the public view of my family tree. In an Ancestry.com subscription, you can list the person as just “living,” but you do need to give a first or last name. Probably the most important tip to remember from the Family Tree Magazine article for genealogists is do not use computer passwords that are derived from information in your family tree and that might also answer security questions on bank and credit card accounts – “mother’s maiden name” comes to mind.

I’ve known about and been curious about the Familysearch.org genealogy site for quite awhile, but never felt I had the extra time to learn how to use a new site until now. This free website is an outgrowth of the Mormon (LDS) Church’s work to baptize church members’ ancestors. Some people object to that concept and do not want to use this website. I am withholding judgment on that concept while I find out what the site has to offer. For many years the LDS Church has had family history centers across the country where church members and non-members could use books in their libraries and request microfiche and microfilm from their collections to look at in the local family history center (there is one in Palmyra, NY.) Now, much of their information is digitized and online, and they provide access to some sites that charge for direct access.

Some of the resources at Familysearch.org are free without signing up for an account. Under the Family Tree tab, all of the search options need an account to give results.

 Under the Search tab, Images and Family Trees need an account to search, Records will let you fill out a search form, but then tells you to sign in. Genealogies will let you search a bit – it yielded limited information on my great grandfather. The Catalog option is more applicable to using at a family history center. In the Books search, I found a digitized book that could be helpful on my husband’s family and I could see an excerpt, but I need an account to see the entire text. The Research Wiki brought up a wide variety of results when I searched for Asylum, PA. When I put quotation marks around the phrase to narrow the search, I got no results. Putting quotation marks around “Escanaba, MI” brought me two easily searchable results.

All categories under the Memories tab require an account.

The Indexing tab appears to be a request for help from anyone who is interested in indexing (or transcribing) documents, not just Mormons, but the Help Resources category has good information on reading old hand-written documents.

Under the Activities tab, the categories Where Am I From, Compare A Face, and Picture My Heritage all require an account to use. All About Me can be used as a guest and yields some interesting facts about events in the year you were born, and about your name. Record My Story can be used as a guest. Enable your device’s microphone and you speak answers to prompt questions. The Activities choice is available to all and is an assortment of activities, some with a religious overtone, and some are great for the stay-at-home time during the covid-19 crisis, or for home-schoolers.

Through the Familysearch.org website Mormons have access to Ancestry.com for free, but they need a church account number to do that.

The privacy policy appears to be pretty standard. They will share contact information to third-party providers, but this seems directed more at church members.

Once I determined which features could be used without an account, I decided to set up my own account and see if I could find any new information for my family tree from this database.

The search request form is similar in the Family Tree tab, the Find tab and the categories under the Search tab.

I tried searching for my maternal great-grandparents. They are there, however one of the entries had my great grandmother born in the wrong part of Canada. There are source records for the entry and it appears it was transcribed incorrectly, as all the sources have the correct information. Bottom line – if information doesn’t look right, check all the sources listed. If there is more than one official (usually government) source, that should help you figure out what information is correct.

I then experimented with following a line on my paternal side. I’ve been looking for the history of my great grandmother’s family. My father told me the family rumor was the Watsons came from Scotland but I’ve been stuck with the family in the U.S. There was no additional information on the Watson line here so I randomly chose her maternal grandfather (surname Cole) to see how far back the line went. Thirty seven generations later, I was looking at “Alfred the Great of England” born 847, died 899! At some point I would like to check the sources on each of the people in this line – it may or may not be true. My DNA test does tell me my ancestry is 82% from England, Wales and Northwestern Europe, which supports being descended from an Anglo-Saxon king. I’m impressed that someone researched this line back thirty seven generations, but I know how hard it is to verify some records.

I tried to find this same information in Ancestry, but because of the way it is set up it was too hard and time-consuming to pursue. Familysearch adds information to one huge database and doing a search for one person under the Family Tree tab brings you to the section of the Shared Family Tree where your ancestor is “residing” if that person has already been added by someone else. In Ancestry people with subscriptions can build their own family trees and mark them “public” if they so desire so they can be shared with other searchers. And if you search for an ancestor (Search tab, Public Member Trees from the drop-down menu) you will be given a list of trees that your ancestor appears in. The hard part is you’ll have to search each tree on your own and if the tree is large, not all of the people will appear on the same page – you will have to click on little chart images to see more of a line. I could not get more than six generations past my great grandmother before there was a split – possibly brothers or cousins of the men in the Familysearch tree, or maybe the information in the Ancestry tree is correct, but without taking the time to verify it, I can’t know.

The question here is, having found this famous ancestor, what is my goal right now? I am trying to fill in more lines here in the U.S., then find out where the people come from originally and eventually, I’ll see if I can verify the link to Alfred the Great.

In summary, in a basic comparison, Familysearch.org is free but you have to set up an account and you add your family information to a single huge database. An Ancestry subscription costs money and you create your own family tree to share publically or keep private (and get those little green leaves) or you can use Ancestry Library version where you can research and save information in several ways, but you cannot build your own family tree. Both are good sources to access government, church, and other records. Familysearch.org is connected to the LDS Family History Centers where you can use books in their library and access microfiche or microfilm records.

I believe in using any and all resources in my hunt for more ancestors and while I will keep my subscription to Ancestry.com, I will use Familysearch.org as well. I wouldn’t have found my thirty-seventh great grandfather without it!

Good luck with your searches,

Pat

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