Adventures in Family History, part 1

Sunday night, I was at a meeting, the intent of which was to help us each get a name to take through the temple. Bandwidth problems significantly detracted from our ability to do so, but, as I was playing on FamilySearch, I discovered something incredible: I’m descended from royalty! Don’t believe me? Check it out:

See? Proof irrefutable. Mrs. Joan Brownson, my great-great-great-etc.-grandmother was the daughter of the King and Queen of England.[fn1]

Except that it didn’t feel quite right. So I dug a little deeper. Under “Parents and Siblings,” I saw this:

So it turns out I’m doubly awesome. Not only am I descended from Edward III King of England and Philippa Queen of England, but my particular ancestor was born almost 200 years after her mother died![fn2]

[fn1] It does, however, bring up a skeleton in my ancestral closet. It appears, based on somebody’s genealogical work, that Richard Bronson married his mother. Because his wife and mother not only have the same name, but the same dates of birth and death. So maybe that kind of relationship undoes the coolness of being descended from royalty.[fn1.1]

…..[fn1.1] Yes, I’m being sarcastic; I know[fn1.1.1] that he didn’t marry his mother.

……….[fn1.1.1] Okay, because I only discovered these names tonight, I guess I don’t technically know he didn’t. But I’m pretty confidant he didn’t, at any rate.

[fn2] I’m going to put the only serious part of this post in a footnote: how does one get this fixed on FamilySearch? It seems to show the last information, so I could fix it by putting in the correct information. Except that I don’t have the correct information and, right now, don’t have any way of finding it.[fn2.1] So if I replaced it, I’d just substitute one obvious error for another. (As an aside, discovering this remarkably obvious error, besides royally ticking me off, has significantly dampened the budding enthusiasm I had for family history: I can’t go through and correct all sorts of errors that have been perpetuated, but if I don’t, I’ll just continue the errors. Moreover, even if I were to go through and correct them, someone else could just follow up on it and muck up what I had, hypothetically, done.[fn2.1.1]

…..[fn2.1] Yes, I know that I could devote a ton of time trying to research family history in 16th-century England. But I’m not going to; I have other priorities calling for that time.

……….[fn2.1.1] I’ll take encouragement, btw; I’ve got another family history post that is much happier, and that was the source of my excitement. But I can’t get there until I get past this.


31 comments for “Adventures in Family History, part 1

  1. I went back far enough to find out that biblical Jesse was the grandfather of biblical Tamar, and thus the grandfather-in-law of his great-great-great-(a few more greats)-grandmother.

    Also, there were two Adams and two Eves, one pair of which begat the other. One pair was Portuguese.

  2. First, you are almost certainly descended from royalty–just not this particular set of royals.

    Second, you may or may not be able to fix this, but not by the method you are resisting (i.e., finding and entering the correct information). What you should do first is click on the “combined records” link at the bottom of either the Summary or Details sheets for Mrs. Joan Brownson. I’m guessing that you have at least three distinct individuals conflated into one combined record. Your job is to identify which of the constituent records represent Richard’s wife, which represent Richard’s mother, and which represent the princess. I assume you want to keep Richard’s wife as the primary record. So select all of the records representing the princess for separation. Then repeat the exercise for the records representing Richard’s mother. (Or reverse the order, it doesn’t actually matter).

    Of course it is almost certainly messier than I have described. You might have a single constituent record that has information for more than one of your three people on it. In that case, you’re just screwed–you can’t fix it. And, as you mentioned, even if you can fix it, somebody else will probably go back and screw it up again in a week or two.

  3. The other alternative is to make your poor Ward Family History Consultant sit down with you, or better still log in as a helper for you, and untangle it all. Though maybe its only members in my ward who decide to marry their grandmother to their pet iguana who do follow this system.

    If all else fails, emailing NFS support will generally get the problem sorted.

  4. OK, I just looked at the combined record for Mrs. Joan Brownson. Out of 223 constituent records, only one shows the king and queen as parents. And that record has Joan married to John Brownson, not Richard. In fact, only a handful of records show Joan married to Richard, so if you are certain that Richard is your ancestor, you can just separate out those few records and ignore the rest. But all of the records linked to Joan are messy. I’m a ward family history consultant myself, and I’m not sure I could untangle this mess. It’s the worst I’ve seen.

  5. Unfortunately New FamilySearch can be very frustrating. But don’t confuse the joys of researching your family history with the frustrations of using an imperfect software. NFS isn’t a magic eight ball that can give your name to take to the temple. It is full of the wishful thinking of royalty-hunters, and those who just wanted to take a name to the temple–any name, whether it’s an actual person, or actually their ancestor or not. The only way to experience the joys of finding an ancestor you know is yours, and who you know needs temple work completed, is by actually doing the research. Thre are hundreds of thousands of people who are not LDS and who research their ancestors for the pure enjoyment of it. It is a journey of self-discovery and well worth the investment of time. NFS is a tool to enable you to do the temple work once the research is long done.

  6. Wow. Thanks, LL, Cydlawenhau, and Christy. (But really? 223 records?)

    (I should also say, after being ticked off, I frankly find this amusing. I can think of three reasons why a person would do this: (1) Their actual family isn’t cool enough, (2) Family rumor has it that they’re descended from this particular (or maybe any) king and queen, and this was the easiest place to put it in, or (3) Someone sincerely thought that he or she had found a record, but didn’t actually pay any attention at all to any details.)

  7. Best thing to do? Don’t bother with trying to fix NFS beyond the half-dozen generations nearest to you whom you presumably can research and know well enough to fix. Your nutty sixth cousin is going to come along immediately after you’ve spent hours with your Ward consultant and the NFS people online, and mess up the record by sealing Joan as a plural wife to Lady Godiva, or something. It isn’t worth the trouble, especially because I can guarantee that there are ten other misconnections between you and anyone in this tangle.

    Especially when someone is new to family history and doesn’t have a lot of experience searching for primary sources to verify and correct the trash that has been submitted to NFS, it’s best to start with you and your parents and gather the records that will verify the facts in those generations (sounds silly — you know who you parents are, but if you’ll take the trouble to document that now and keep the records in an organized way, your grandkids won’t have any trouble verifying details in whatever crappy system in place when it’s their turn). Then you work back one family at a time, one generation at a time, verifying and correcting … and, more importantly, learning to know and love the generations you’re studying.

    But spare yourself a trip to the emergency room to treat the apoplexy that is sure to result if you indulge the morbid curiosity to look back past the generations you personally have verified and corrected.

  8. Sam, people who have spent years doing serious genealogy research (i.e. not me) can tell you all kinds of stories, like about the 19th-century forger who created entire counties worth of ancestries out of thin air.

    Of course, you’re not really doing genealogy unless you’re squinting at badly-copied microfilms in awful 18th-century handwriting in a language you don’t understand.

  9. My best advice for when you run into this problem?

    Say the Serenity Prayer.

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

    Repeat as necessary.

    And then follow Ardis’s advice.

  10. Thanks, Ardis. That’s undoubtedly sage advice.

    And Jonathan, I pray that those serious researchers drop by and share some of those stories.

    And thanks, Amy.

  11. For this exact sort of reason, I only use new.familysearch under duress. I find way too many errors I cannot fix – and I have plentiful documentation to demonstrate that they are errors! (Or even the somewhat obvious “well, I’m pretty certain that someone cannot literally be their own grandfather… let alone a son born 30 years before his father.”)

    Ardis is spot on in her advice.

  12. Sage advice, but will you follow it? Nah. :)

    FB friends already know about this, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned it in the bloggernacle: A neighbor of mine took seriously Elder Bednar’s suggestion in the last conference about getting youth involved in family history, so the friend’s son, just turned 12, has been spending a couple of hours a week with me at the library learning how to research. He does real research, too, not just downloading from NFS: I teach him about a new source or technique, and he goes off and works on his own until he finds the record. Doesn’t matter whether it’s microfilm or digital; he’s just as willing to scroll through those badly copied microfilms as he is to push computer keys. He’s taught himself to read cursive. He never forgets how to go back to a source to check it for a new relative. He’s conducted an oral interview, and drawn charts to analyze the facts he’s finding, and put together a filing system. He’s added ancestors to the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database, and solved a generations-old mystery by searching 19th century Australian newspapers online. He’s looked up facts on chicken farming and heart disease because of what he’s found in the records. And did I say, he’s just turned 12?

    A developing expert like that isn’t going to be fooled by any odd thing that has been thrown into the NFS pot!

  13. A Seventy involved in the Family History dept came to speak to our stake a couple years before NFS was rolled out and told us that there was going to be some sort of moderation/appeal system whereby, when two researchers conflicted about an issue in a particular family, there would be a neutral third party at Church Headquarters who would decide what the system should show, with an eye to primary sources, and adjust things to reflect the information he/she deemed to be correct. I had imagined this as being a permanent fix, but as things were still in the drafting phase, he was reluctant to answer my specific questions about how it would work (like what happens when primary sources conflict with each other or are otherwise unclear?) But so far I’ve not heard that such a system is in place or even being attempted. The old “dispute” system created more tangles than it fixed, at least in my experience. I would love it if there were a god-like force in NFS who could see my documentation and forever banish the incorrect Jeremiah Smith from my family–but man, what an undertaking that would be for the Church to do that for everyone. There are so many such tangles on my lines, and unless there were some way for a moderator to permanently fix a particular problem, two days after you fix something, it would be unfixed again. You can contact the other researcher, but if they don’t respond to your email or do not agree with your conclusions, you’re stuck. And even if they do agree with you, there will usually be someone else who comes along with the same incorrect assumptions (rarely based on original or sourced research) and the cycle starts over again. And as to those awful records that combine details of two individuals with the same name (as referenced in Last Lemming’s #2): when I investigated the official way of dealing with them, I learned I was supposed to tag the record in all caps as a toxic record, warning others to not combine it with any other record (then add several exclamation marks). But make no mistake: all caps warnings make no difference to a lazy researcher on a person-merging spree. Ardis is right: take deep breaths and just focus on verifying. We are the “clean-up generation” of LDS genealogy, as unglamorous as that is. Or do descendency research, as I’m currently doing: nice, clean, untrodden territory with lots of unfinished research. Dead people without living LDS descendents are the nicest to research!

  14. Ardis,

    Sage advice, but will you follow it? Nah. :)

    Actually, you’ve convinced me. That said, I’m jealous of the instruction your friend’s son has received, and I’m jealous that you’ve got such a great pupil, and, well, 12?

  15. Ah, there must be an appropriate line from Dr. Seuss to describe the wild life in New Family Search.

    Actually, it just came to me, and I’m copyrighting the line:

    “And to think that I saw it on New Family Search.”

    (If you don’t know your Dr. Seuss, that was from his first children’s book, long before “The Cat in the Hat,” titled “And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street.”

    I noticed last night that someone had entered a burial date and place for my grandfather’s third wife (he was widowed twice, not a polygamist!), that was three years prior to her death and a few hundred miles from her grave. So I clicked on the contributor’s name and sent him/her an email saying politely, more or less, that the information was wrong and that this was my family and I wanted it correct, and please delete the erroneous stuff. We’ll see what happens. (Since she had no children, and was married just once, to my grandfather, there are no descendants and, in my opinion, nobody with a better claim than the descendants of her husband to insist that it be done right. But, sadly, I don’t have the right to terminate the NFS access of the person who put that misinformation up!)

  16. ardis, ive only spent a few minutes on new family search and thought i understood it’s role, but i realize i now do not…based on sam’s story, it appears it isnt a tool for “searching”…and based on your story from a (month? 2 months?) ago about your parents, it appears to not be a good source for properly verifying ordinance work either. so i think my question is, what do i use it for and are there any guidelines for finding the diamonds amidst the rubble?

  17. dave, use it as a preliminary road map — it’s a good tool for not having to start from scratch. That is, if NFS tells you that your grandfather was the son of X and Y, it’s a lot easier to to go to other records to verify that relationship (say, to find your grandfather as a child living with parents X and Y on the census, or to find a death certificate for X showing that your grandfather, X’s son, provided the information for that certificate), than it is to find your grandfather’s parents when you have absolutely no idea of who they might have been. But NFS is only as reliable as the people who contributed the information … which means it’s not reliable in too many cases. Maybe Y isn’t really your grandfather’s mother — maybe she’s his stepmother. Maybe Y really is your grandfather’s mother, but the cousin who contributed the name to NFS mixed up Y’s birthdate and Y’s parents’ names. If you’re going to have a record “worthy of all acceptation,” as the scripture says, you simply have to do the research and find the evidence in primary and secondary sources outside of NFS, to be sure your record is worthy.

    As for temple ordinances, so far as I have ever noticed, the temple ordinance information is correct — that is, if it shows a sealing date for X and Y, then there was a sealing ordinance performed on that date. In my parents’ case, NFS was showing a duplicate, unnecessary ordinance performed after my parents’ deaths, when my parents had been sealed in life. But the *fact* of their sealing was correct, which is the ultimate purpose of the database, I suppose.

    But besides reassuring you that you have a worthy record, searching for and compiling the evidence to prove that your record is correct has a very important side effect, IMO: You really begin to feel as if you know your ancestors as real people, because while you’re looking for that critical marriage date, you find lots of other personal details about their lives that aren’t necessary to NFS: you may find what they did for a living, or notice that they married a week before Grandpa headed off to war, or whether they lived with extended family, what church they went to (who married them?) and who their best friends may have been (witnesses to the marriage certificate), and all kinds of other bits. *That* — and not the bare genealogical facts — is what turns your heart to your fathers. And that you can never download from NFS or any other database.

    (Apologies, Sam, for using your post to stand on my own soapbox.)

  18. Ardis, no apology needed. Your perspective is super-helpful to me in figuring out (a) why to do family history, notwithstanding the problems with NFS, and (b) the most valuable things to do for me, personally. So please feel free to use this as your soapbox—that’s one of the two things I hoped for from this post (the other being stories, whether happy, frustrated, funny, or whatever).

  19. So if crowd-sourced NFS is this problematic, what software should I be using for my family history?

  20. There are several options for doing your family history. NFS is not designed to be the only place for your individual record keeping – its an aggregator (or aggrevator, depending on your experience). Just like the IGI before it, it should never be used as a primary source. As Ardis said, stick with keeping jsut a few generations back from you in line. There are a lot of people who don’t know what they are doing in NFS, dumping in all the data they’ve collected, then surfing through whatever merges the computer happens to come up with. I’ve seen a few online systems, and none of them have the scope of NFS, simply because of the number of automatic users and ready-access data. If I still worked for Ancestry, I might plug their One Family Tree system, as it keeps your tree seperate and only makes connections one-way between users, but until they either re-hire me or make some significant improvements, I won’t. ;)

    Anyway, personal FH work should be done, and saved, on your own computer, not on an online service. That way you control what goes into it. I, personally, like Family Tree maker, but there are quite a few out there, with varying costs. Unfortunately, the Church hasn’t updated or made a replacement for PAF in more than a decade.

    Whatever you go with, working on your genealogy (or family history, however you like it) is going to take time. Shortcuts like pulling others trees from the internet and stringing them into yours willy-nilly with just make a tangled mess. It may look cool (to some people) to be able to trace your line back to Adam, but expect anyone who has done research into anything beyond the 18th century to just roll their eyes.

    Fun FH tip – if you have a less than common name, and want to get more info on cousins, try searching for your last name on Facebook. You may even hook up with a cousin who has already done some detailed work on your family line, even if they are 8th cousins.

  21. I think there’s a general feeling that all church members should be using NFS exclusively, but that hasn’t seemed like a wise idea from the start. For one thing, if you’re doing real research, you’ll always have tentative connections that you need to keep track of even if they aren’t read to announce them to the world yet, and for another you’ll probably enjoy the features of professional software that let you attach photographs to your records, and prepare charts and graphs for showing off what you’ve done.

    Any professional genealogy database software is fine for most people — a lot of people are passionate about their software, but they’re usually most passionate about the software that’s most complicated and more technical than most family historians need. As long as it’s *professional* (not your nephew’s weekend spreadsheet concoction), really, any program will do. (I use RootsMagic, which I love for its ease and uncluttered screens; several friends use Legacy or Master Genealogist and swear one or the other of those is best.)

    Wikipedia has a good comparison chart that will let you see how recently a program has been upgraded and provides links to more information about each program.

    There doesn’t seem to be an especially good program native to the Mac (according to friends; I have no personal experience), and *none* of the iPad/iPhone apps are worth a dime (I’ve tried ’em). PAF, the church’s free software, is ancient and kludgy and not recommended. But RootsMagic, Legacy, and Master Genealogist, and probably others listed but with which I have no experience, are all adequate, with user groups and good tech support, and easy to learn.

  22. Sam, I have had similar things happen in my own family tree, where people are shown to be born either after their parents had died or before they were born (why don’t people think?!). I did some checking on this myself, as I have the Plantagenets on my family tree as well. Edward III and Philippa did have a daughter named Joan, but she was born in 1333 and died in 1348. I do not show she married at all, although she would have been of marriagable age in those days before she died at age 15. I don’t show a daughter Jane, though, nor do I show a Thomas born in 1347, although it is possible that he died young (no death date or spouse shown for him in the tree you show)and when Thomas of Woodstock came along, he was given the same name as his deceased sibling. The other children all seem to be accurate. What bothers me is that people have not entered them with their surnames. Edward III was Edward Plantagenet, and that is how he should be shown on family trees. The fact that he was king of England is nice to know, but that can be listed in the notes. It is really sad when people enter information without verifying it or witout even thinking. I heard that there soon will be a new function in New Family Search where anyone can go in and change any information. I think that will make things even worse, but I hope they will need to have source information if they do that. There does need to be someone at the “other end” to make sure people don’t show up being born 20 years after their “parents” have died. Good luck to all of us in searching out our ancestors. Keep in mind, though, when you are searching for a name to take to the temple, you need to get special permission if you want to do the work for someone born prior to 1500 and your relationship to that person would need to be verified.

  23. Personally, I do Family history as I define it. (I hate genealogy it’s like doing taxes for me). I try to stay within the first 32 names in my lines and the first 32 names in my wife’s lines. I get their stories, photo their gaves, visit their hometowns, get their portraits, etc. That gets me mostly back to Nauvoo, their sea trips, their plains crossings, their lives in the West. That’s the fun part for me.

  24. I’ve hit on this problem a couple of years ago. Interestingly some of the most “tangled” accounts in New Family Search are the immediate ancestors of prominent church leaders and pioneers. Here they have a great many posterity that all flooded the NFS system with multiple accounts, quite a bit of which was inaccurate. (Especially the ones with multiple polygamous wives and children.)

    There are many more inaccuracies the more generations you go back and you find common blood lines, but a lot of that had been documented incorrectly.

    Another big frustration was when I took a lot of time to fix an account in NFS only to have someone else upload more records and mess all up again.

    Therefore, I’ve totally changed my approach to genealogy in this high tech era. I’m researching major family lines and posting the results of my research on the Family History Encyclopedia called FamilyPedia. This is an open end wiki similar to WikiPedia (who refuses to take genealogical research). I’ve even posted major events for major characters in WikiPedia for their family history.

  25. To finish my comment from #26…

    The reason I’m working on FamilyPedia is to properly document what is the correct genealogy (with source reference material – census, birth records, etc).

    Then in later years this record will be a good strong source for cleaning up New Family Search when the church has added further improvements to that system. It will also be an important check source for everyone to consult before posting more entries to NFS.

  26. To add to #23

    I use Reunion 9 (and Reunion 8 before that) on the Mac and really like it—has built in support for LDS ordinances, but no link to NFS, yet. The companion app on the iPad is nice, but not perfect. It syncs with the Mac app, but only over local WiFi.

  27. I still use PAF 5, but then I use FamilyInsight to supplement it. FamilyInsight has a great interface with NFS, but NFS has some knots I don’t know how to untangle, so I just leave those alone and post what I have.

    The hard part is explaining to my wife that NFS is just a composite of individual submissions . . .

  28. Cool. Thanks. My ward has been pushing genealogy and getting names ready for temple work and NFS along with it. I’ll take a look at some of these suggestions.

  29. Evidently the “beta” happening with NFS is the transition to http://www.familysearch (without the new) – this new version has a better view of trees, the ability to save sources to a person, and the ability to “watch” for any changes that might happen to a person. Cool stuff moving up the pipe. :)

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