"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
April 15, 2015
Family History Alchemy: Turning Historical Records into Sources
by Kathryn Grant

As mentioned in an earlier column, FamilySearch’s Family Tree is “open edit”: any registered user can add and change information.

But there is an important foundation underlying this amazing trust: we as users are expected to find and attach historical records to provide evidence about major life events — birth, marriage, and death — for our ancestors.* For example, when and where was Henry Bescoby born? Whom did Susannah Gunton marry?

The previous column covered finding historical records, specifically on familysearch.org. As you go through the process of finding a record and realizing it is about your ancestor, you’ll likely find that the record undergoes a kind of alchemy, changing from something mildly interesting (or possibly not interesting at all) to something fascinating that speaks from the dust and tells your ancestor’s story.

The final step in the alchemy process is to attach the record to the corresponding person in Family Tree. In this way, the record becomes a source for your ancestor, providing important evidence for his or her life story.

Family Tree has made it super easy to attach sources from FamilySearch historical records. Let’s look at the easiest way first.

On the right side of a person’s detail page in Family Tree, there is a box labeled Record Hints. In this box, FamilySearch displays links to historical records that have a very strong likelihood (around 98%) of being for that person. Here’s how to verify and attach one of these records:

  1. Click the link for the historical record. A screen appears with details about the record.

  2. Review the information. If the record appears to be for your ancestor, click Review and Attach. A divided screen appears. On the left side, you’ll see information from the historical record. On the right side, you’ll see the person’s information from Family Tree.

  3. Review the information. If you still agree the record is for your ancestor, complete the Reason to Attach Source box explaining why you are attaching the source. For example, if you are attaching a christening record, you might write something like this: “Provides evidence of christening date and location, along with parents’ names.”

  4. Click Attach. A green background appears behind the person’s name on both sides of the screen to indicate that the record has been attached as a source.

  5. To view the attached source, click the person’s name at the top left of the page, and then click Sources. You’ll see a list of all sources attached to the person, including the one you just added.

Records in the Record Hints box are the low-hanging fruit. But what if no hints show up? Or what if you’ve attached all the hints and want to find more records? Fortunately, finding more records is easy as well.

Right below the Record Hints box, there is another box labeled Research Help, which contains a Search Records link. When you click this link, Family Tree uses the person’s information from the current page (name, birthdate, parents, etc.) to search FamilySearch historical records for additional records.

Possible matches are displayed on a new tab, with best matches near the top. Click the name on a record to see more detail. If the record is for your ancestor, click Attach to Family Tree. You’ll see the same divided screen described in step 2 above. Follow steps 3 – 5 above to attach the record as a source for your ancestor.

For more detail, including screen shots, visit this tutorial: How to Attach Sources in Family Tree.

Now, here’s the activity for this column: Sign in to Family Tree and navigate to the Person page of someone on your line. If there are record hints, verify that they’re correct, and then attach them. Once you’ve done that, click the Search Records link and see if you can find additional records that are clearly for your ancestor. If so, attach them as well.

Coming up: Adding people to Family Tree and resolving duplicates. Stay tuned!

*For simplicity, I’ll use the word “ancestor” to refer to anyone in your family lines, including cousins discovered through descendancy research.


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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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