"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
June 10, 2015
Finding a Starting Place
by Kathryn Grant

So you’ve felt promptings to work on your family history. You’ve been inspired by talks, conferences, or Ensign articles. You know in your heart that this work is important.

But now the rubber hits the road. How exactly do you get started finding family names for temple work on your own lines?

Because family histories are as varied as people, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer or foolproof formula. But there are some guidelines that will give you the best chance of success, especially when you’re starting out. We’ve talked about some of these things in past columns, but in this column we’ll pull them together into a big-picture view of how to succeed at finding your own family names for temple work.1

First, keep in mind that family history is a spiritual undertaking. The Lord is eager to help you succeed as you seek His help and the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Pray often, fast as appropriate, and seek guidance in the temple. If you don’t currently have a recommend, work toward getting one.

Second, while the Lord’s help will be vital to your success, another key is gaining the knowledge and skills you need to be successful. As a parallel, missionaries need a strong testimony and commitment; but they also need teaching skills and knowledge of culture and customs in their areas.

Similarly, in addition to your testimony of family history, you’ll want to gain research skills and learn about the areas in which your family lived. How? Find a mentor; take a class; use resources on FamilySearch.org, such as the Learning Center and the Research Wiki.

Understand the purpose of Family Tree and also where its data came from. With this understanding, you’ll know why you can’t just go into Family Tree and expect to find valid names by doing nothing more than clicking green temple icons.

Become familiar with your lines that are already in Family Tree. Find historical records about your ancestors and use them to verify the information in Family Tree. If needed, attach these records as sources.

Choose the right research strategy for your situation — ancestral or descendancy.

In ancestral research, you trace your lines back from parent to parent until there are no more historical records. You’ll likely choose ancestral research if not much work has been done on your family lines.

In descendancy research, you start the same way, tracing a line back from parent to parent. But when you reach the early 1800s or late 1700s, you choose a couple and do a u-turn: instead of continuing back through time, you go forward, finding all the children of that couple and their spouses. Then you find all the children of those couples and their spouses. You work down through the generations until you come to the 110-year privacy period.2

Look at your lines in Family Tree to find a place to start. Personally, I like to look at the fan chart view — I find it helps to see names as I listen for “heart tugs” — that feeling that comes when someone on the other side is hoping you’ll work on their lines. You may also find Puzzilla helpful.

A word of caution, however: be wary of apps or browser plugins that promise quick and easy success by crawling Family Tree for names with green temple icons. Often those names are duplicates or have errors that need to be resolved before temple work is done.

As you look for a starting point, these suggestions may help:

  • Especially at first, focus on people born after 1800. Why? In most countries, records from the 1800s onward have the best quality and availability.

  • Focus on areas where you know the language. Particularly when you’re starting out, working in an unfamiliar language adds a layer of complexity that is usually best saved for later. The exception, of course, is if you feel strongly prompted to work in an area where you don’t know the language. If that happens, find someone who speaks the language to help you.

  • If you find people in Family Tree who appear to need temple work, verify their basic information and check for duplicates before reserving temple work. But mostly you’ll want to focus on adding names that are missing.

How do you do that? Look for individuals without parents, individuals who lived to adulthood but don’t have a spouse, or couples with few or no children. Then find information about the missing individuals in historical records and add them to Family Tree.

Don’t give in to discouragement, and don’t think you need to do it all at once. You’ll find better success as you set aside regular time for family history, rather than feeling like you have to finish your whole genealogy on a couple of Sunday afternoons.

You don’t have to know everything to get started; you already know enough. As is the case with any undertaking of value, doing family history involves patience, practice, and learning from mistakes.

Along the way, you’ll experience the truth of these words of President Boyd K. Packer:

When the servants of the Lord determine to do as He commands, we move ahead. As we proceed, we are joined at the crossroads by those who have been prepared to help us. They come with skills and abilities precisely suited to our needs.

And we find provisions — information, inventions of various kinds — set along the way waiting for us to take them up. It is as though someone knew we would be traveling that way. We see the invisible hand of the Almighty providing for us. (“That They May Be Redeemed,” Regional Representatives Seminar, April 1, 1977.)

Blessings beyond understanding await us as we seek diligently to provide the ordinances of salvation to our loved ones beyond the veil.

1. These guidelines necessarily focus on FamilySearch’s Family Tree, because that’s the web site used to clear names for temple work.

2. Per Church policy, we should not do temple work for those born less than 110 years ago (i.e., after today’s date in 1905) unless we are one of the closest living relatives or have permission of one of the closest living relatives—defined as an undivorced spouse, a child, a parent, or a sibling.

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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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