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FamilySearch Community Trees: Oral Genealogies

Presented by David S. Barss, AG®
Project Manager – Historical Family Reconstitution Team
Community Trees Project at FamilySearch
barssds@familysearch.org


Introduction to Community Trees
• Access the Oral Genealogies through the Community Trees
• We will start with a little background and history of what the Community Trees are

What is a Community Tree?
• A Community Tree is a locality based, large, lineage linked, sourced, genealogy database.
• It is an attempt to identify the genealogy of everyone in a community.
• It also tries to gather all of the resources for that place into that one single database
• A community can be a town, county, state, country, ethnic or religious group, etc.

Community Tree Objectives
• To provide an early success experience for the users
• To identify what was already know about the people of the community
• To help focus research efforts on new lines of discovery

Path to Objectives
• To accomplish those objectives we use

  • Family Reconstitution to build the databases
  • We call and publish the merged results as Community Trees

What is Family Reconstitution?
• Family Reconstitution is an effort to merge automated historical records, thereby turning single records into families and extended pedigrees or descendencies
• We use a Layered Approach to accomplish this task
• If we do our job right, all of the records that apply to a single person who lived in the Community will be linked to one representation of that person, with documentation attached.

History of the Community Trees Project and Oral Genealogies
• 2005 the Community Trees Project began
• Oct 2009 the First Community Trees were published

  • 1.1 million lineage linked records
  • 17 Community Trees

• The original publication included records from our

  • Norway Project
  • Lewis County, Washington
  • The Historical Families Team
  1.  Previously known as the Medieval Families Unit
  2. Published three databases
  3. Representing 40 years of research activity
  • Several Others

• Currently we have published on the Community Trees Website

  • 90 Community Trees
  • 23 Geographic Regions
  • 8.4 Million lineage linked records

• Publication Tool is TNG (The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding)

  • Publishes Gedcom Files
  • Displays Pedigree and Descendant Charts, plus Family Group Records
  • Also allows for the publication of
  1. Photographs
  2. Audio and Video recordings
  3. Images of Documents

• FamilySearch Employees asked if we could include special materials on the website

  • Spencer Wood – Polynesian Oral Genealogies
  1. Oral Recordings, Pictures, and Transcripts
  • Experimented with and succeeded in publishing these materials
  • The Oral Genealogies part of the website was born
  • Mel Thatcher and Steve Nickles asked if we could do the same for
  1. Ghana and Nigeria Oral Genealogies they were collecting
  2. We added those to the Collection as well

• Current Oral Genealogies posted on the website

  • Ghana 6000 Trees with more coming
  • Nigeria 262 Trees
  • South Africa – 1 Tree (a Royal Genealogy)
  • Tonga 498 Trees
  • Others for Samoa, New Zealand, and 8 other Island Groups
  • 3.02 Million names published in the Oral Genealogy Trees

• Oral Genealogies may include

  • A Photo of the Speaker (interviewee)
  • An Audio recording of the interview (we also have one video)
  • A written transcript of the interview
  1. In the language it was spoken in
  2. Many have also been translated into English
  • Most have a Tree giving the ancestry of the speaker or descendants of their first ancestor
  • Most will also include family group records as well

How to Access the FamilySearch Community Trees site
• There are five was to access the FamilySearch Community Trees website:

  • Direct Internet Address
  1. histfam.familysearch.org
  • FamilySearch Labs – prototype projects
  1. www.labs.familysearch.org
  2. Find the Community Trees project and click on the name
  • Use the Google Search Engine
  1. Search for Community Trees, or specific names that are in the Community Trees
  2. Click on the one that leads to Community Trees at FamilySearch
  • FamilySearch Wiki
  1. wiki.familysearch.org
  2. Search for Community Trees Project
  3. Go to the article about the Community Trees Project
  4. The article includes a list of all of our Community Tree Projects
  5. Click on the Search Database to go to and search that Community Tree
  6. Click on Project Description to learn more about that Community Tree, how it was created, what data sets were used, and how to best use and search what is there
  • FamilySearch Catalog
  1. Access on the www.familysearch.org website
  2. Where whole books have been used as one of the sources for the Community Trees Project we have put a link in the FamilySearch Catalog that takes the user from the Catalog to the Community Tree.
  3. The same is true of books that have been digitally imaged, there is a link from the Catalog entry to the images
  4. With the Oral Genealogies they have included links to the audio of the interview, pictures of the person, transcripts of the interview, plus when available the pedigree and family group records from the Oral Genealogy

Using the Community Trees Website Oral Genealogies
• The above steps will get you to the Community Trees Home Page
• Near the bottom of the home page is a yellow or orange line of text that says “Oral Genealogies”
• Click on that line to bring up the Oral Genealogies Home Page

  • On this home page are three yellow or orange lines near the bottom as well
  1. The first brings up an alphabetical index page to the Oral Genealogies
  2. The second brings up helpful instructions on searching for the Oral Genealogies
  3. The third returns you to the Community Trees home page
  • Selecting the Alphabetical Index Page you will see
  1. Listings for the places we have Oral Genealogies

• Several Polynesian Islands
• Three for Africa – Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa

  • Ghana is by far the largest collection (2.9 of the 3.02 million records)
  1. The alphabetical listings are listed by the first name of the First Ancestor

• The titles tell who the First Ancestor is and who the Informant is
• When you find the one you want click on one of the buttons for their data

  • Ancestral verses Descendant Oral Genealogies
  1. Ghana Oral Genealogies are Descendant in nature giving information on the First Ancestor and then his descendants down to the present
  2. The informant is not always included in the Oral Genealogy that they give
  3. Polynesian Oral Genealogies are Ancestral starting with the informant and giving their pedigree or genealogy back to the First Ancestor

Finding Oral Genealogies using the FamilySearch Catalog
• For each of the Oral Genealogies the following items are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog, they are given with the places in the catalog to search for them

  • First Ancestor – use Keywords to find them
  • Home Village – use Place-names to find them
  • Lineage or Clan – use Subject to find them
  • Tribe – use Subject to find them
  • Informant – use Author information to find them

• Be patient with the catalog

  • We currently have 6000 Ghana Oral Genealogies published
  • Currently only about 1500 of them have been added to the Catalog
  • This is a ongoing project and all will eventually be there

Other search options
• General Search from the home page

  • Fill in the name of the person you are seeking and hit search
  • This will search across all trees on the Oral Genealogies website

• Advanced Search

  • Sometimes the General Search will give you too many results
  • Using the Advanced Search will allow you to narrow the field and hopefully find the one you want
  • It is a very powerful search engine where you can control the search options for better results
  • Hint – In Ghana the First Ancestor is usually Record #1 in the Tree
  • Use the drop down arrow on the box that says “All Trees” to see a list of the Oral Genealogies, remember
  1. for Ghana they are sorted alphabetically by the first name of the First Ancestor
  2. for Polynesia they are sorted alphabetically by the name of the Informant

• Media Search

  • Click the Media Button (upper right hand corner of the search screen)
  • Select the Media you want to search for, or All Media which is at the end of the list
  • Enter the name of the person in the search box upper left hand corner of the media screen
  • Important – some Oral Genealogies do not have a Tree and therefore will not be found using the General or Advanced Search Screens.
  • The Media search, or Library Catalog, may be the only way to find entries without a Tree

• Informant in the Tree

  • Not all informants are included in the Tree they are giving in the Oral Genealogy

Time Period of the Records
• Out of curiosity we did a study to see if we could predict the time period of these records

  • For Ghana, usually the only person that has any dates, or time period, is the Informant
  • We sampled the first 100 Oral Genealogies for Ghana, 7 had no dates
  1. The oldest Informant was age 98 (= born 1911)
  2. The youngest Informant was age 28 (= born 1977)
  3. The average age of the Informants was 70 (= born 1938)
  • Another analysis showed that
  1. Most of the Oral Genealogies gave information for 6 to 8 generations
  2. The longest Oral Genealogy was 18 generations long
  • Estimating time frames
  1. We used our three starting ages plus a 25 and 20 year gap between generations
  2. 25 year gens. gets to 1736-1802 birth year at 8 gens. for the First Ancestor
  3. 20 year gens. gets to 1771-1837 birth year at 8 gens. for the First Ancestor
  4. Remember these are descendant genealogies for Ghana meaning that most of the people listed are in the modern era. Thus there are fewer people to link to in the earlier years which may present a challenge as you try to connect with the Oral Genealogies

Polynesian Genealogies in the Community Trees
• Look for French Polynesia – 6 Island Groups (81,000 records)
• Tonga Death Records (70,000 records)
• Pacific Islands – the Cole Jensen Collection (73,000 records)



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  • This page was last modified on 17 November 2014, at 17:44.
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