Technology Connects Family Roots, Trees, and Branches

  By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 10 February 2014

Elder Bradley D. Foster of the Seventy speaks at a Family Discovery Day devotional in conjunction with the RootsTech 2014 Family History Conference February 8, 2014.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • Three ways technology is turning hearts to ancestors and posterity:
  • 1. Now you can enter photos and stories in the Share a Memory section of FamilySearch.org.
  • 2. New partnerships with companies like Ancestry.com and MyHeritage increase the number of contributors and access to genealogical records.
  • 3. A new program called Puzilla helps "find cousins" by showing incomplete information in related lines.

Even though family history is always about the past, it is also about the present and the future, Elder Bradley D. Foster of the Seventy said February 8 at a devotional for Family Discovery Day, an LDS-oriented component of RootsTech 2014, the largest family history conference in North America.

“A knowledge of past generations blesses future generations,” Elder Foster said. “The past is the roots, or your ancestors. The present is the tree—you are the tree. The future is the branches, your children.”

Roots nourish branches through the tree, he said, carrying forward the analogy. “You are the one that helps provide the nourishment to the branches. You connect past generations to future generations.”

Speaking to thousands gathered at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City and to others who viewed the devotional or will view it via the Internet at gatherings in more than 600 stakes, Elder Foster said his aim was “to help you see a vision big enough to encompass our Heavenly Father’s plan but personal enough that you can relate to it as a parent or a grandparent.”

“I want to give you a preview of how the Lord is blessing us so that you can see what this means for you and your family,” he said.

Elder Foster spoke of three ways technology is helping turn the hearts of people to their ancestors and posterity.

“In the Share a Memory section of FamilySearch, we now have the ability to enter photos and stories,” he said. “And as you enter these stories and photos, they are preserved, protected, and easily shared—and are kept forever.”

He displayed the My Family: Stories That Bring Us Together booklet, saying it was created to help people share their family stories and photos.

“You can upload your ancestors’ pictures into your family tree online,” he said. “They will be stored in heaven—or the technical name for it is ‘the cloud.’”

The second way he spoke of that technology is helping hasten the work is “the power of partnerships.”

“We have and are forming partnerships with the leading genealogical companies in the world, such as Ancestry.com, whom you know; MyHeritage, which has the largest organization in the UK; and other major companies, all with FamilySearch at the center.”

The benefits are huge, he said, adding that the partnerships will yield access to four times the number of genealogical records and five times the number of potential contributors to the online Family Tree section of FamilySearch.org.

“Members will have free access to all family trees, and the users of these other resources will have access to many of our records,” he said. These partnerships will also give us access to technologies that we have not had in the past.”

An actor portraying President Wilford Woodruff gives words spoken by the Church President at the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple regarding how even those who are not Church members would help in hastening the work of salvation for the dead. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

He introduced President Wilford Woodruff, portrayed by an actor, who gave words the Church President spoke at the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple: “As thou hast inclined the hearts of many who have not yet entered into covenant with Thee to search out their progenitors, and in so doing they have traced the ancestry of many of Thy Saints, we pray Thee that Thou wilt increase this desire in their bosoms that they may in this way aid in the accomplishment of Thy work.”

“How would he know this 120 years ago?” Elder Foster asked. “Because he was a prophet and a seer—and seers can see.”

To show a real-life example of how Church members can reap the benefits of the newly formed partnerships between FamilySearch and commercial genealogical entities, Elder Foster introduced Sister Rosana Soares, wife of Elder Ulisses Soares of the Presidency of the Seventy, who is from Brazil.

An image of the pedigree chart of Elder Soares was projected, showing that it reaches back many generations but comes to a dead end on one of the lines. An actress appeared portraying Roza, the daughter of Elder Soares’s fourth-great-grandmother. She asked for Sister Soares’s help in being sealed in the temple to her husband, son, and grandchildren.

The screen then changed to a view of Ancestry.com, which showed more information about the family of Roza, whose last name was Picao, including the names of her husband, their son, and his family.

“With one click of the mouse, we can pull all of this information into FamilySearch,” Elder Foster said. “These gold circles signify nine family members who need their temple work completed.

It was an emotional moment on stage for Sister Soares, who embraced the actress portraying the woman in Elder Soares’s ancestral line.

“Now, many of you will say that your tree is full,” Elder Foster observed. “But actually there is so much to do, and it brings us to the third way technology is helping to hasten the work. Let me introduce you to Finding Your Cousins.”

He then invited a couple to the stage and displayed their family tree on the screen. An actress then appeared portraying the man’s third-great-grandmother. She thanked them for all the work they had done on her line but said her heart aches for her other children and grandchildren. “Will you help me find them?” she asked.

That would have been impossible until now, Elder Foster said. But he showed a new program called Puzilla.org, a computer program that allows a user to see hundreds of an individual’s family line from an aerial view with compact patterns revealing patterns of incomplete research.

Elder Foster gave the acronym ELIJAH.

“The ‘E’ stands for ‘Enter Puzilla.org and look from your ancestor’s perspective,’” he explained.

“The next step, ‘L,’ stands for ‘Look for end lines.’ … This brings us to the next step, ‘I,’ which stands for ‘Investigate.’ We investigate that end of the line. Here’s how. We can click on the dot and go to his Person Page in FamilySearch. … Now we just need to click ‘Search Records.’ Look. All these records come up. …

“Using the records … is step ‘J’ in our process: ‘Justify,’ adding new family members to the tree by finding them in the records.

“Now it is time for step ‘A,’ ‘Add’ them to your tree. …

“Finally, you can complete the last and most important step: ‘H,’ which stands for ‘House of the Lord,’ where you can take the names to receive needed temple ordinances. The work is not done until they are linked and sealed to their families.”

Elder Foster asked attendees that when they return home, they visit FamilySearch.org and look for Finding Your Cousins. That connects to a tutorial video that explains how to use the tool.