"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
March 04, 2015
Introducing Family History Drivers' Ed
by Kathryn Grant

“Turn! Turn!” hollered my father from the passenger seat of the family car as I drove rapidly toward the curb. With admirable courage, he’d taken the 15-and-a-half-year-old me for the first time to practice driving in the church parking lot. I’d been beyond excited to get behind the wheel, but now I realized it wasn’t quite as easy as it looked.

Thankfully, my father and I both survived. He and others helped me gain the necessary knowledge and skills to drive safely. It wasn’t too much longer before I got my license and was able to drive on my own.

Doing family history is a lot like learning to drive a car. Most people can learn to drive a car without too much difficulty, but it takes more than just getting behind the wheel and turning the key. Successful, safe driving means knowing the basic rules of the road and how to operate a vehicle.

Similarly, most people can learn to do family history successfully, but it’s not quite as simple as signing on to familysearch.org and finding family names. There are some basic things to learn and understand that will help new family history drivers be successful and avoid “hitting the curb.”

Welcome to Family History Drivers’ Ed.

For the next several months, a series of “Light for my Path” columns will provide guidance for you who may be new to family history. Along with tools and knowledge, each column will also include suggested activities to help you make progress along the path of successful family history and temple work.

A great place to start is the Family Tree web site. Family Tree is part of familysearch.org. We can think of it as our car: let’s walk around it, get familiar with it, and even peek under the hood. Here are some key features:

  • Family Tree is not like some other family history web sites where users create individual family trees. Instead, the goal of Family Tree is to create one shared tree for all of humankind. To meet this goal, Family Tree aims to have one (and only one) complete, accurate record for each person who has lived on the earth, linked to other records by correct family relationships.

    Users work together to create this shared tree by adding names, dates, and places, as well as sources, photographs, and stories.

  • Family Tree is “open edit,” which means that any registered user can add or change information (similar to Wikipedia). Because there is only one shared tree, changes made by one user are seen by everyone.

    Used correctly, the open edit method is powerful. However, because changes are easy to make and affect all other users, it is important to be sure that the changes are accurate and backed up by reliable sources. (“Aunt Suzie said so” is typically not a reliable source unless backed up by an actual document, such as a birth or marriage certificate. We’ll be talking more about sources in a future column.)

Now, here’s the first activity:

  1. If you are LDS and don’t have an LDS Account, register for one at http://ldsaccount.lds.org/. If you’re not LDS, you can register for a FamilySearch account by going to https://familysearch.org/ and clicking the Free Account button in the upper right-hand corner. (LDS members are encouraged to use their LDS Account because it pulls family member information from Church records to display on their pedigree.)

  2. Go to https://familysearch.org and sign in.

  3. Since collaboration is key to working in Family Tree, you’ll want to share your contact information:

    1. In the upper-right corner, click your name. You’ll see a drop-down list.

    2. Click Settings.

    3. On the menu bar, click Contact.

    4. Next to your email address, click the Public check box. Allowing others to see your email address lets them contact you and collaborate with you. (You may want to set up an email address specifically for family history.)

    5. Click Save Changes.

  4. Take a few minutes to explore your tree. Don’t worry about making changes or adding people yet. If you see problems, just make a note of them. We’ll be talking about how to fix things later.

In the next column, we’ll discover how all those names got into Family Tree.

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About Kathryn Grant

Kathryn Grant is a user assistance professional with a passion for usability and process improvement. She also loves family history and enjoys the challenge and reward of building her family tree.

As a child, she lived outside the United States for four years because of her father's job. This experience fueled her natural love of words and language, and also taught her to appreciate other cultures.

Kathryn values gratitude, teaching, learning, differences, and unity. She loves looking at star-filled skies, reading mind-stretching books, listening to contemporary Christian music, attending the temple, and eating fresh raspberries.

Kathryn teaches Sunday family history classes at the BYU Family History Library, and presents frequently at family history events. For more information, visit her Family History Learning Resources page

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