Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Doing Family History Work by Uploading Media to FamilySearch

I am officially at a frustration point with respect to my family history work. But I'm not that worried about it. I've been there before and breakthroughs have eventually occurred that have allowed me to progress.

Family history research (and if you're LDS, preparatory documentation for the work of salvation for the dead) has come a long way since I first started trying to do research as a teen. Back in the day most research work required travel to a location where actual records or copies of records were stored, hours of painstaking analysis, written correspondence, and lots of writing on paper. I still have the notepad I first used when I started doing research.

While this kind of approach is still sometimes needed, most people can now complete a great deal of family history work from their home computers. Clearing names for temple work has gone from using paper records to using floppy discs to using writable CDs (all of these formats required visiting or corresponding with a family history center) to selecting a few links in a web browser window on any internet capable device.

I am a big fan of the modern FamilySearch website. Content that was once stored on local computers (where it was often out of sync) is now managed centrally, where it is available to broad audiences and where contributions from users worldwide can be coordinated. The site's heavily graphical interface can sometimes be a little slow by modern standards. But it's not bad and the tradeoffs are worth the wait.

The recently enhanced ability to upload and tag photos, stories and documents particularly interests me. This has become my go-to place when I find myself temporarily unable to progress with research and submitting names, the condition in which I currently find myself.

I do have a nit to pick with the site designers. One of the ways to access this part of the website is through the Photos link on the top menu of the website (see image below). This would more appropriately be labeled something like Media, since it includes stories and documents (and perhaps videos in the future). Why would anyone think that they first had to click on Photos to get to stories?
FamilySearch top line menu
image of FamilySearch top line menu

A second way to access select media elements is by clicking on a person's name in Family Tree. This causes a panel to appear that shows information about the individual and along with links to the various media items have been tagged for the individual (see image below). Clicking on the various links takes you to pages showing those items.
image of FamilySearch individual information panel

Uploading and tagging photos can digitally preserve images that would often otherwise languish in storage until they were eventually tossed out following the demise of whoever had the photos. Or else photos are sometimes passed down with little information, since everyone that knew who was in the photos has passed on, diminishing the family value of the photos. Putting these photos online while information is still available preserves these pictures for the long term. Original documents, such as life event certificates or even old report cards can be uploaded.

Another valuable service is recording and uploading stories about family members. Tagging all those mentioned in the story automatically links the story to those people. Most family stories disappear with the passing of those who witnessed the events or who heard the stories told by those that did.

Recently I came into possession of a handful of pages handwritten by my grandmother many years ago, where she related various names and events. I have evidence that some of the information presented is somewhat suspect, probably due to the condition of Grandma's faculties at the time. But there are some great stories.

For example, I had no idea that my father's cousin was killed in World War II and lived to tell about it. The story goes that he was a casualty in a violent battle. His body lay in a morgue while his young bride was notified and was brought to the location where she could identify the body. Given the challenges of communicating and traveling in war torn Europe, nine days had passed by the time she arrived.

When they pulled back the cover on the body, the young wife said that she saw the body move. She insisted that a doctor be brought. The doctor was displeased to be pulled away from important work. He refused to believe the woman until he suddenly saw the body twitch. My father's cousin was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he underwent surgery and remained for many weeks of recovery. But he lived a relatively normal life after that.

Since the subjects of this story are deceased and the couple no children, I'm not sure that anyone would have been aware of this story had I not encountered it, written it up, and uploaded it to FamilySearch. Now it is available to anyone with interest in the matter.

When putting stories on FamilySearch, I have found it useful to first write, review, and correct the stories in a text editor. I have used Google Drive and Microsoft Word. The content of the text editor window can then be copied and pasted into a FamilySearch story frame. Bear in mind that reading content online is different than reading it on paper. Judicious use of white space, such as adding a line between paragraphs, can help a lot. Don't bother trying to indent paragraphs. When I tried this the results were not good.

You can associate up to one photo with each story. If you have multiple photos that could accompany a story, you might try breaking the story up into smaller parts. I have found it useful when I do this to number the parts of the story by adding numbering to each story title. This allows others to more easily read the pieces in sequence.

Others can comment on the stories you create on FamilySearch and you can respond to their comments. This allows for useful collaboration, such as when others have additional information that you lack. You can also edit the stories you add to the site if you discover new or different information.

Uploading photos, documents, and stories to FamilySearch may not help clear anyone for temple work, but it is still a valuable part of the important work of turning the hearts of the children to their fathers (Malachi 4:6).

What family stories do you know that could be preserved on FamilySearch?

Update 2/4/2014: The label of the Photos link that I thought ought to have been titled differently has now been changed to Memories. I see this as a most welcome change.

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