Monday, March 20, 2017

Why Czech Matters: Part I

If it seems I’ve fallen off the face of the earth (or...blogosphere), there are a few good reasons why.

First, I went to this crazy huge conference called RootsTech. It was awesome. And after being gone for a week, my email inbox was like...a mountain. There were so many things to do when I got home.

Also, I started a new job teaching English to little Chinese kids online. I really love this job. It’s basically tailor-made for my personality and skillset.

But the main reason for my absence is not these incidental balls I’m juggling. It’s the big ball, the one that is actually related to all of my Czech family history efforts.

Why am I learning Czech? And more importantly, why should you?

I am really sick of being so reliant on my (very faulty) tools in order to understand my history.

I am not in this field to “collect names.” I want to know these people. And they were real people, as the records continue to prove. People with flaws, hopes, dreams, thoughts, opinions, skills, problems, etc. These records are priceless treasure. They capture hints of humanity. They are really special to me. But how can I access the meaning if the records, and the records about the records, are all locked behind a reverse iron-curtain: my lack of Czech.

So, I rely on really flawed tools like google translator, three screens (three brains!), and Advanced Google Searching 471. I still find the effort to transcribe the texts extremely time consuming and frustrating. I just want to be able to read without it being through this other medium, this foggy glass! I know that every layer of separation introduces some kind of error. I can’t help the separation of time, but I don’t have to compound the transcription errors by relying on reading the language through a translator...if I learn Czech.

Even more significant is the cultural knowledge I lack because of my lack of Czech. Basically, learning Czech is not some incidental, nice, fringe task. It is the key to unlocking this world of knowledge that I am forever seeking.

If you find that, like me, you want to really know these people, and really understand your Czech history and heritage, you might decide that you, too, should try to learn Czech.

But how? Well...that cannot be answered in this blog post.

It's a really, really hard language for English speakers to learn.

Oh Czech. You are also uniquely tailor-made for my personality and skillset. I really love you. And you are uniquely difficult. I guess that is what makes studying Czech so satisfying: it is a really high, steep mountain. But the view!

Basically, I feel an urgency that I cannot explain very well. It’s a strong overwhelming conviction to learn...yesterday! It’s a desire to spend all of my time focused on this one thing. I’ve always had a really advanced level of stick-to-it-ive-ness (aka tenacity), ever since I was a child.

For better or for worse, here I am with this strong conviction that learning Czech is the single most important thing that I can do in order to help improve and expand my genealogical expertise and knowledge. Learning Czech will open up all kinds of new sources, but more than that, it will help me to actually know these people. It will connect me - it already does connect me - to my heritage in a way that nothing else can. Language is so tightly wound to history and culture. It is inseparable. It’s the medium by which these things were recorded, and unlike many other European countries, Czechia's valuable historical and demographic studies remain largely untranslated to English or German.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately: trying my hardest for the past ~14 weeks to learn this really difficult language. It’s very slow. But I definitely am learning. I was skyping with my friend Milan earlier today and was really shocked because I understood him! Responding in that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame.

In summary: Czech (the language) matters because it will help me connect with my ancestors in a deeply meaningful way, a way which cannot be substituted by any other technological tool or background knowledge. It is not ancillary. It is essential.

Might it also be for you?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

10 Steps for Using FamilySearch Consultant Planner

Most people with Czech heritage do not use FamilySearch Family Tree to organize their genealogy.

There are lots of varied, logical reasons for why people might use other platforms (which wasn't the point of this post, so don't let me get sidetracked!), and truthfully, I deeply understand and agree with a lot of these reasons. And actually, I have a goal to put my research on Geni and before the end of the year (but I thought I was not supposed to get sidetracked...).

As an LDS person, of course FamilySearch Family Tree is my first tool of choice. FSFT is a genealogy tree for the entire world, which everybody can see and edit, and which is the platform for LDS people to prepare ordinance work. Basically, little cards with barcodes that you can scan inside the temple.

One huge reason why I do genealogy is because I want to take my ancestors to the temple where I can perform vicarious temple ordinance work for them, like baptism for the dead. This is no secret, nor is it a shame. It is really special to me. (Also getting sidetracked...)

Because time is limited,  FSFT has been my go-to choice for a lineage linked software (I should probably have a back-up somewhere...but I don't). I do not use it as a working research notebook because it is a public tree for the entire world, and I prefer to only share information that I know (or "know" - since, like science, anything in genealogy remains under some degree of doubt) to be true. I keep a research log in google docs, and once I am reasonably confident in my findings, I input them into FSFT.

You may or may not know that I am also a "Temple and Family History Consultant" in my ward. Technically, I am the TFHC Coordinator. I coordinate the consultants, so that we can serve all the patrons in our ward - or really, even those who are not in our ward. Our job is to serve and help people who need help with family history, including our friends, neighbors, and distant online cousins!

FamilySearch recently (like...2 weeks ago) came out with a really nice new tool to help us do that. I decided to make a short tutorial on how to use it, since there is almost nothing on the Interwebs about it yet.

10 Steps for Using the FamilySearch Consultant Planner

Step 1: Your Temple and Family History Consultant (TFHC) will invite you via email. It will look like this:

2. Click "Yes, I'd Like Help". A new window will open in your browser.

3. Give your TFHC permission to access your FamilySearch account. Kind of funny to be giving myself permission, haha.

4. Congratulations! Now your TFHC can access your spot on the tree much more efficiently and effectively.

5. This is what your TFHC will see:

Based on the information in FamilySearch, your TFHC can see information about your ancestors and about what needs to be done next, at a glance. Very purdy.

Actually, it's more than a nice GUI. It's a really effective way to see at a glance where the holes are, what research has been done, what hasn't been done, etc. As the TFHC, I know which of the consultants in my ward have experience in which geographic areas, so I can know, "Hey! They have Czechs? Sister Challis should totally help them!" Or, "Hey! They have Iowans? This looks like a great consultation job for Sister Carnahan!"

6. The TFHC wants to help this patron, so they decide to navigate to this spot in the tree (where I happen to have been researching). Notice the little green bar on the side of the page. Any edits that I make in this view will be as if they were made by the patron themselves. My next step in this research is to try to find the parents of Josef Chodura.

7. The TFHC writes a "lesson plan" for the patron. This is what it looks like. Note that the sidebar can scroll down to more textboxes, including one for "homework."

8. Here is a link to the lesson plan created by the TFHC. I suggested to FamilySearch that they enable an option for automatic email updates when the plan is created/changed. Until that option exists, I will both print the plan for my patrons, as well as email them the link to this page.

Here is the bottom of the page, which didn't fit in the screenshot above:

9. Meet with your TFHC...or...not...

Seriously, we can meet "virtually" if that makes life easier. It makes my life easier, to be able serve you from my home office.

We can discuss the plan. TFHC's can change the plan, and write notes about consultations. Honestly, this is just a consolidated and prettier version of my Family History Consultation tracking which I have been doing in google docs. This is a lot nicer.

10. Follow the plan, rinse, repeat. Your TFHC will log changes using this tool. Everybody will be happy.

You don't have to work on your genealogical goals alone!


I encourage everyone to get on FamilySearch Family Tree.

No matter what your purpose for doing genealogy, we can work together and collaborate on our genealogical efforts and create the most accurate, most complete picture of our past possible. In this post, I showed you one tiny glimpse of how I can help you do that with this new tool, but there are many, many other ways that FSFT encourages collaboration and communication. Please give it a try!