100 years later: Find out who in your family was a World War I veteran

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Moroni Seth McConkie

Joshua Seth Hunt grew up knowing he carried the namesake of his great granduncle, Moroni Seth McConkie, who was killed in a French train accident while serving in World War I.

“My middle name to me not only serves as a reminder about my great granduncle’s service to preserve peace, it also serves as a reminder to me of all those that came before me and their hard work and service,” said Hunt, a BYU computer science major.

Hunt is part of a BYU team who — in time for the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day — just released Vet Finder, a Web application that will tell people who in their family tree are veterans of World War I. For the project, computer science professor Mark Clement, economics professor Joseph Price and four other computer science students spent the past five months creating a machine-learning feature to scan more than 32 million 1930 census records (for nearly 137 million people).

The census had been previously indexed, but much of the data had been left out, including individuals’ veteran status and the war they were veterans of. So the team created handwriting-recognition programs (a challenge, with such a range of handwriting styles) that would ultimately link veteran status to a person’s name and other already indexed info (birth date, birth place, death date, death place and relationship).

“This does something to give more visibility to the sacrifice of veterans,” said Clement, who has three people in his family line who served in World War I. “One of the purposes of our lab is to get people interested in family history, so this is another thing that hopefully helps them to learn more about their ancestors.”

Students on the team — Hunt, Maxwell Clemens, Jesse Williams, Iain Lee and Adam Warnick — were supported by mentoring funds from the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

“It’s so easy to generically think and study about the past,” said Hunt. “But this project helps us understand how we connect to it. The fact you can figure out that you have an ancestor who gave service like this helps you more deeply understand the importance and significance of their service and the war as a whole.”

Because the team to this point has focused on census records, people who were killed in the war aren’t yet linked with this application, but within the next few months, team members will have those records included as well.

This project offers a glimpse into one specific element of an individual’s family history, Clemens said, but handwriting recognition will increasingly help computers more quickly and efficiently provide significantly more family history data.

-Andrea Christensen, University Communications

BYU family history students connect missing soldiers to their families

A group of BYU students has answered the Army’s call for genealogical reinforcements.

With more than 82,000 Americans still missing from conflicts dating back to World War II, students at the BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy have been working with the Army and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to return the remains of missing soldiers to their family members.

“Normally in our family history work, we are going as far back through as many generations as we can,” said Sydney Bjork, one of the students who worked on the project this past year. “But this sort of feels like reverse family history work. We start with a soldier and then look for the closest living relative they have.”

The Army sought help with this project from BYU, which has the only family history degree in the nation. Other partners in this project include historians who research where there might be remains of missing soldiers. Archaeology units take that information and get digging. And it’s BYU’s job to find the relatives.

Since starting on the project, the students have been assigned just more than 65 cases and have finished about 48 of them. After the cases are complete, students submit a report to the Army with the results of their research, the potential DNA donors and the contact information of the soldier’s relatives.

Professor Jill Crandell standing amid her two students in the JFSB courtyard
From left: Student Melanie Torres, Professor Jill Crandell, and student Kimberly Brown.

“Family history is something that’s really tender to all of us because it’s about family and we know how much our own families mean to us,” said Professor Jill Crandell, director of BYU’s Center. “We actually become attached to those families and there is a certain amount of inspiration involved when working on these cases.”

Not all cases are created equally. Some cases take three hours to solve. Some cases take three weeks to solve. However long it takes, the students on the project always feel an overwhelming sense of joy that they were able to help in the process of bringing families closer together.

For these students, this project is more than names and dates; it’s not just casework, each one is a meaningful story. Here’s a sample of the stories they’ve learned and worked on:

  • One mother continued for decades to set an extra place at the dinner table, just in case her son came home.
  • A still-living widow of a WWII soldier still longs to know at age 97 what happened to her husband.
  • One family of Italian immigrants has two brothers missing in action.

Melanie Torres and some of her fellow students who worked on these cases have close family members who have served in the military so this work really hits home for them.

“My grandfather was in the military, my great-grandfather was in World War II and my husband is in the Air Force. It is something that just really connects to my heart,” said Torres.

-Joe Hadfield, University Communications

Students: Attend the Cousin Reunion & Save the World?

“‘Genealogical consciousness’ means seeing how past, present, and future are connected,” said Amy Harris, a BYU History professor in a recent BYU devotional. “Because developing genealogical consciousness requires that we think about strangers in the past, it develops the possibility of thinking about strangers in the present, and strangers in the future, to think about how our relationships and actions will last beyond death, will echo into future strangers’ lives.” In that sense, she asserts that family history, or the kind of awareness and activity one develops while doing it, just might “save the world.” And, “in a world of turmoil and uncertainty,” said L. Tom Perry, “it is more important than ever to make our families the center of our lives and the top of our priorities.” Thus, there is reason aplenty to attend Family History Week activities, and the Cousin Reunion in particular!

What and When is the Cousin Reunion?

The Cousin Reunion will take place on Tuesday the 26th at noon in the Brigham’s Square Quad between the ASB, HFAC, HBLL, and JKB. Participants will be able to use their cell phones to find extended family members through relativefinder.org. Those interested in attending should, before the even:

  • know or get their FamilySearch.org account login credentials
  • go to RelativeFinder.org,
  • find and join the group BYU FHWEEK17 (password: BYU)

There will be prizes, and participants’ chances of winning will increase by logging into RelativeFinder and joining the group. Follow BYUFHProgram on Facebook if you have questions about the event, or problems with logging in.

How Will You Benefit From Attending?

 

At last year’s Family History Conference, keynote speaker Paul Cardall spoke on the connection between family history and missionary work. “As for those whose hearts have turned, I believe we will see greater faith among people if we do the family history work,” he said. Beyond developing greater faith, though, there is the benefit, as Dr. Harris said, of “building lasting relationships and connections with other people, [which is] is the only way to live happy and meaningful lives. We are built to cooperate with and belong to not just our kin, but all humanity.” Check out FHWeek.byu.edu for more information about this event, and others during that week that can help students live happier, more connected lives.

 

Think Fast: Family History Week’s Got a Lightning Round Question Corner

Did you know that Princess Diana had her own royal blood and wasn’t just grafted onto the queen’s family tree? Did you know that Robert Pattinson, Twilight‘s star vampire, has family connections to Vlad the Impaler, the man who inspired Dracula? There might be equally interesting stories and fun facts on your own tree, but you’ll never know until you’ve done more family history work. The History Department and Center for Family History and Genealogy are sponsors of BYU’s Family History Week, which is when you’ll have the chance to ask questions and learn more about genealogy. This event is open to all FHSS majors and students across campus.

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Family History Week runs from Tuesday, September 26, to Thursday, September 28. Wednesday’s event — the Lightning Round Question Corner — will give you a safe place to ask questions about family history. You’ll hear new ideas and information about available courses at BYU, and there will even be free food at the event.

The Lightning Round Question Corner begins at 5 p.m., but you can come and go as you please. The Q&A session is an open house, so drop by any time before 7 p.m.

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Courtesy of BYU Family History Week.

And if you’ve got questions about family history careers, you can also attend the Family History Fall Reception and Mini Job Fair later that night, between 7 and 8 p.m., to find out what it takes to be a family historian.

What would you like to ask a family history expert?

Comment below to give our experts an idea of how they should prepare for the big event.

Intermountain Histories: a History of Us

On Sixth South in Provo, there is an old, old building that used to house the Startup candy company. Interestingly, today, it houses several small startup companies instead of the candy company. The story of the Startup building is one of many told on Intermountain Histories.org, a digital public history project that provides scholarly information and interpretive stories of historic sites and events around the Intermountain West regions of Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. The project is managed by the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University. In collaboration with professors and students from universities across the Intermountain West, new content is created each semester in classroom settings. Those stories are then edited and revised by the Redd Center and published on the site for the public.

Using an interactive GPS-enabled map, you can take virtual or physical walking tours of historic sites. As your personal tour guide, Intermountain Histories provides historical information, photographs and images, documentary videos, audio interviews, oral histories, bibliographic citations, and other resources for you to explore. Though created in academic settings, the content is meant to be used by the general public.

The first batch of stories is small, created by a “guinea pig” group of professors and students. In the upcoming weeks, additional stories currently being edited will be published as well. Moving forward, new batches will periodically publish as collaborating professors, students, and interns at the Redd Center research, write, and edit new stories. Intermountain Histories is available for free in iTunes, Google Play, and online at IntermountainHistories.org. To receive notifications when new stories are published, follow the project on Facebook or Twitter.

“Though small at our current launch,” said Dr. Brenden Rensink, co-director, “this project will grow and fill the map with countless pins and stories.”

 

Research Logs: Essential When Doing Your Family History

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These days, family history, as we’ve mentioned here, is less about finding information about people and more about organizing the amazing amount of information available to anyone who looks. Access to records has greatly increased in recent years, but it might be a challenge for some to keep track of the research they do to find a particular person or straighten out a particularly convoluted limb of the family tree, even with the many online tools and apps available. One tool that has proven useful for many in past years is logbooks. At their most basic level, logbooks are a simple means whereby people looking for their ancestors can record what searches have been done, what results have been found, and which documents are relevant to the question at hand. Peg A. Ivanyo, in her 2016 Family History Conference class for genealogy beginners said that they can contain notes, citations, stories, and even links to blog posts. But how exactly can they be helpful?

Research logs serve to make things easier. Jill Crandell, a history professor at BYU, says that research logs help to decrease duplication of effort and make one’s searches more efficient. Her own research log website, ResearchTies.com, serves to help people plan their research, catalogue their findings, and record their interpretations. Of research logs, she says, “[they] logs need to be detailed and kept consistently. If they are, the logs will prevent researchers from searching the same sources multiple times, documents will be organized and accessible, and research analysis will be higher quality. Find a research log format that works for you, one that you are actually willing to use to record your work, then use it.”

Many years ago, she was working on tracing a nomadic family who had lived in New York, Canada, and Scotland, with a common name. The man she was researching never identified his parents in any of his documents. To solve the mystery of who his parents were, Dr. Crandell turned to her research log. Through it, she was able to learn that this man had been traveling with other people who had moved to all of the same places as him. By studying the documents saved in her log, Dr.Crandell was able to further this genealogy.

The benefits of doing genealogy, to both the doer and the ancestor, are plentiful, and logbooks are some of the many tools available to anyone who has a desire to connect with those ancestors. Paul Cardall, the noted pianist who spoke at BYU’s most recent Conference on Family History and Genealogy, spoke of the relationship between family history and missionary work. As Mormons, we believe that families can be together after this life. Therefore, it is essential to strengthen relationships with all family members, both those who are alive and those who have died…for Mormons, genealogical research or family history is the essential forerunner for temple work for the dead.”

 

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What Tips to You Have for Doing Family History?

I Seek Dead People: Family History Education

 

Brigham Young University-Provo is known for several things: being the number one stone-cold sober school, being the largest private religious university in America, and having the only four-year degree program for Family History–Genealogy. In the United States of America, Western Europe, Asia and elsewhere, no other university offers a Bachelor of Arts in this major that educates students in both history and genealogy.

At the recent RootsTech Conference, BYU had a presence, with representation from the Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections unit, the Center for Family History and Genealogy and the Family History Technology Lab as well as the Family History program.

Family History Coordinator and BYU History Professor Amy Harris, who supervises the program’s recruitment and curriculum standards says an event like RootsTech helps raise the profile and recognition of BYU’s commitment to genealogy research and education. “It’s my hope that BYU becomes more associated with high-quality genealogy and family history education and that BYU gets recognition as a major player in the genealogy community,” Harris says.

The Family History program, which receives support and funding on both the department level and college level and from donors, employs 40 students in the CFHG research lab and sends students domestic and abroad for hands-on field research and mentored student learning.

Students at the Center for Family History and Genealogy are currently seeing the migration and impact of their work for people’s use.  In partnership with LDS Church Historic Sites, students are identifying residents of Nauvoo, Illinois, from 1839 to 1846. Each resident, to the extent possible, has records trailing from birth to death. All this data is free and accessible for curious minds and researchers into the history of the Nauvoo community.

The findings can be located on FamilySearch’s Family Tree. Complete research logs along with other discoveries are just within a mouse-click reach. Learn more about the Nauvoo Community Project that is dedicated to academic genealogical research.

The Family History and Technology Research Lab also has multiple projects on the line like Relative Finder that allows you to uncover how you are related to your everyday associates: co-workers, prophets, historical figures…you name it. FHTR is always developing the latest in creative, fun applications for family history, so keep checking!

 

Fairy Great-Great-Great-Godmother: The Genealogy Fairy

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Indexing parties, family history committee callings, and a family history major all make BYU the prime place to get involved with genealogy work. But while these opportunities may bait and hook you, sometimes your dream project is too big a fish for them to hold up. The dream of a fairy godmother to wave her magic wand and fill your empty wallet becomes a prominent one. Family history is about seeking out your roots and putting a name and a face to your lineage. Ultimately, family history is just another form of storytelling, it’s about making your ancestors more than a name on a piece of paper, it’s about making them human again. Don’t let an empty pocket prevent you from doing that.

The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences does provide a family history major and minor for students who are interested in genealogy but for individual projects a full major may seem too large, and a ward indexing activity too small. However, BYU’s Family History program heavily promotes the Genealogy Fairy as a means to go beyond those limitations.

What is the Genealogy Fairy?

The Genealogy Fairy was created by High-Definition Genealogy’s Thomas MacEntree with the idea to give back to the genealogy community that prospers here in Utah. The grant is sponsored by Genealogy Bargains who, each month, put aside five percent of all revenue to help provide the monetary means for either organizations or individual historians pursuing a substantial project.

This stack of cash that has been set aside is just sitting there waiting to be put into an indexing project, a genealogy conference, or even a publishing project. Any individual can receive up to five hundred dollars in grant money per project, or if desired, can receive an equal amount in consulting advice for genealogy organizations.

How do I Take Advantage of This?

Apply here if you’re interested.

 

What kind of family history projects do you like to do?