Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tracing Mormon Pioneer Ancestors: The Survey

As you follow along in this tutorial, you could take the opportunity to review the state of your own genealogy and find new information about your own family as we learn about the Litson family.

Family Records

The first step is to look at the genealogical records kept within the family. You may need to contact a relative for a digital (.ged) file. My .ged file shows the family genealogy as traced by my parents and other family members, and for a program, I use both Reunion for Mac and RootsMagic.

The records on my Glade lines are pretty good, although not complete, but I have only done original research on the Pettits so I do not know how much of the following family group record is correct and where the information came from. The information is not documented, which means that no sources are listed.

A family group record can contain a lot of information. This one notes that Richard Litson was born in 1819 in Devonshire, England. Frances Ann Mathews was born in 1819 in Glamorganshire, Wales. They married in 1845 in Glamorganshire, Wales, and had four children: Eliza, Joan, Richard and Joseph. Sometime between 1858 (Joseph's birth date) and 1878 (Richard's death date) they emigrated to Utah. The family group record lists Richard and Frances's parents and the spouses of three of their children and other information including death and burial dates and places. Their LDS ordinance data is also contained in the .ged files, but I will discuss that separately in the Church Records section of this tutorial.

After checking the information you already have, the next step is to see what is available through other sources. Have other relatives put information online? 

But before we start looking at these sources, here is an important warning:


Unless you find the rare online family tree that has been researched and sourced, do not use an online family tree as anything but a starting point and suggestion of where to look for records. As a rule of thumb, people who put their family trees online do not tend to document them, and people who tend to document their family trees do not like to put them online. I am not entirely sure why this is the case, but it proves true time after time. NewFamilySearch has the potential to solve this problem, and Ancestry.com, the subject of an upcoming post, also has very good collaborative features.


FamilySearch is the genealogical department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is also a website. (For more information about using FamilySearch, see my father's recent book, The Guide to FamilySearch Online.) 

The relevant part of Familysearch.org for our purposes is Ancestral File. To find it, go to familysearch.org, look at the horizontal menu above the search box, click on "Trees," and enter some information about the ancestor. Here is a family tree for Richard Litson:

This tree adds a second marriage for Richard. It looks like it may have been a temple sealing to a deceased sister of Frances Ann Mathews, as was sometimes done back then. I also see that the name "Mathews" is spelled "Matthews" in these records. These discrepancies should be noted on a list for further research.

New Family Search

NewFamilySearch (NFS) is mostly available to members of the Church for the purposes of doing temple work, but if I understand correctly, it will be eventually made public and added to the FamilySearch website. The NFS information on this family is almost identical to the Ancestral File information.


I use RootsWeb's WorldConnect Project less frequently since NewFamilySearch became available, but every now and then it can be a place to find family trees. Try to choose one that includes sources. There are five trees for this family, all almost identical, and if you look at them, you can see a number of errors, including three of the children being listed twice.

Those three websites can all provide information for the genealogical hunt, but as noted, take all the information with a grain of salt.

Assignment #2

Locate a .ged file of your genealogy if one exists. If you're starting from scratch, start a file with yourself as the first entry in the program, and go from there, building your family generation by generation. Check the resources listed above for family trees. The next installment in this series will be posted on Thursday, so you have two days to look at online family trees. Have fun!

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