Ancestral file: making a good thing better

Since Ancestral File's introduction 16 months ago, Church members' response to it has been overwhelming, officials of the Family History Department noted in a recent interview.

Ancestral File, introduced in September 1990 as part of the Church's FamilySearch computer system, is a computerized collection of ancestral information organized in family groups and pedigrees. The current edition includes approximately 10 million names contributed by families throughout the United States, Canada and many other countries worldwide. The file is available for use at the Family History Library and at almost 1,000 family history centers in the United States and Canada.Many members have found Ancestral File to be an exciting tool that helps them quickly and easily identify their ancestors and provide temple ordinances for them.

Ancestral File is growing rapidly in size, noted Glen Harris, manager of the Family History Department's Ancestral File Unit. Contributions ranged as high as 1 million names per month in late 1991.

As members and others from the genealogical community share their personal pedigree information through Ancestral File, it becomes more useful to everyone.

It works in this manner: Two distant relatives who do not know one another contribute information about their family pedigrees to Ancestral File. As it is added to the file, it is combined into a common pedigree, providing a much more complete picture of the family. When the two contributors use the file, they each discover the additional information, previously unknown ancestors - and each other.

Ancestral File has created a lot of activity in the Family History Department.

"We are excited about the use members are making of Ancestral File and the level of contributions," said Brother Harris.

He noted that while Ancestral File is helping many members today, all can help make it even better. He and other staff members suggested the following ways members can help improve the process:

Temple Ordinance Information. As members use Ancestral File, Brother Harris said, they should remember that the ordinance dates listed are from family records and are unofficial. Members should check the International Genealogical Index before submitting names for temple ordinances.

Copying Ancestral File information onto diskette. Robert Gunderson, medieval nobility team leader, cautioned those who are copying information from Ancestral File to floppy disk (known as "downloading") that the system lists all ancestors along all the pedigree lines - including those who appear more than once.

"When you are descended from a medieval ancestor along 30 different pedigree lines, and almost all of us are, Ancestral File will write those names to your diskette as many times as they appear."

Brother Gunderson described downloading one person's pedigree that extended back 69 generations. From generation 26 to 39, the records of 45,000 persons were downloaded. Of that number, 39,000 turned out to be duplicate records.

All of this takes time, both at the computer and later, when sorting out the duplicate information. Taking smaller amounts of information is wiser.

Contributing to Ancestral File. The Church accepts contributions to Ancestral File both in paper form and on floppy diskette using one of a number of popular genealogy computer programs such as the Church's Personal Ancestral File. Instructions about contributing to the file are available free at family history centers and at the Family History Library. A list of the computer programs that are compatible with Ancestral File is available free from the Ancestral File Unit.

"While we accept contributions on paper, members need to keep in mind that typing all of this information into computers at Church headquarters is very time consuming," explained Barbara Jackman, Ancestral File staff member. "If you submit information on paper, it may take one year or more before that information appears in Ancestral File."

Sister Jackman noted that these delays can easily be avoided. Priesthood leaders have been encouraged to install Personal Ancestral File on ward and stake computers and make these available for members to use to computerize their family history information. The youth who generally are very comfortable with computers, can participate in service projects helping older members convert their records. In addition, many members share computers and pool their efforts in computerizing their family information.

The result of this work provides a great benefits: Ancestral File contributions on floppy diskette are more accurate since they do not have to be retyped at Church headquarters, and they are easily and quickly processed since the processing can be done by computer.

"We recognize that not all members can convert information about their family to computer form," said Bonnie Gray, Ancestral File staff member. "We don't want to discourage anyone from contributing to Ancestral File. Please send your family information in - whether on paper or diskette."

She did suggest that before contributing any information to Ancestral File, members should first check the file. It is best to limit information that duplicates what is already in the file, particularly when submitting on paper. To connect contributed information to what is already in Ancestral File, members are encouraged to include at least two generations that closely match information in the file. That way, only new information is contributed, saving many hours of typing and speeding up the process for those contributions.

Correcting Ancestral File information. Much of the advice for contributing to Ancestral File applies to making corrections. Corrections will be made more quickly if members use the "edit" feature built into the current version of Ancestral File. They can create a computer file on a floppy disk right at the computer in the family history center and mail the disk directly to the Family History Department. (Ancestral File, 50 E. North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150)

Corrections submitted on paper will take longer to process.

Working together with family members. "In addition to checking Ancestral File where possible before contributing," Brother Harris noted, "We strongly encourage members to work together with other family members, particularly those who have contributed information to the file."

Names and addresses of Ancestral File contributors are listed in the file, and users can view them on screen or print them out.

Two brief publications, "Contributing Information to Ancestral File" and "Correcting Information in Ancestral File," are available free of charge at the Family History Library (35 N. West Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84510) and family history centers.

"Every improvement helps," explained Brother Harris. "We are always looking for ways to better serve everyone using Ancestral File, and we hope these suggestions will be helpful to members as they work with the file."

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