Monday, November 26, 2007

What Matters Most

Wow, it's been a while since I've written anything. I was talking to my dad yesterday. He lost his home in the Southern California Fires last month. The only thing he was able to salvage was a clay hand print of my brother Olin. He lost everything else. As we were talking, he said to me: "What's really important are family and pictures and personal things. Don't ever forget that." He then, in the course of the conversation mentioned the fires that have been going on in Malibu over the last few days. He said that all those nice homes are gone, but that "the most important things for those people are that they are alive and that their friends still care about them."

This really got me thinking about what I'm doing to build up relationships both within my own family, with my friends, and with those I interact with day by day. It also got me thinking about those "pictures and personal things" that are of significance to me. Am I backing things up in such a way that I will have pictures of family and friends if something were to happen? (Everything from a natural disaster like a fire, or something less severe, and more likely, like a computer failure.)

Most of my pictures I have taken are on the computer, as I have a digital camera. This conversation with my dad, has helped motivate me to back them up, as well as to label them with information such as when and where each picture was taken, as well as names of those photographed. Perhaps, for a temporary solution, I'll burn my pictures to DVDs. I'll also be sure that they are backed up on an external hard drive or another computer periodically. As far as older family photos go, that are not yet digitally preserved, I am going to start scanning some of them in, so that, if nothing else, I have a backup to the originals. This won't happen overnight, but I feel that it is important, and that it will be beneficial to me, as well as to other family members and to those who come after me.

As far as keeping a journal and personal letters, cards, etc. I've always wanted to type up my handwritten journal entries, so perhaps that is a project I should sta Currently I try to type my journal entries, and every now and then I email the word file to myself to back it up.

The other thing that I feel is important to save, and back up in some way, is contact information for family and friends. This is a hard one. It is difficult to keep current contact info for those that you know and care about, but it's important. I try to keep my address book on my computer as up to date as I can, and then I'll back the file up in various formats, and email the files to myself. I should probably print out a hard copy at least annually so that I have something physical in case I don't have access to a computer.

Anyway, the conversation with my dad just kind of sparked some of these ideas for me, and made them a little more vivid as to their importance. Because, as he said: "Everything else can be replaced." Therefore, I want to try to organize those things that cannot be replaced and back them up in such a way that, if something were to happen to the originals, I would still have those things that matter most--the pictures, letters, journal entries, and, most importantly, the ability to contact the people I love.

Friday, November 9, 2007


So, I wanted to take a moment and write about maps. Maybe I'm just slow, because I'm sure that it has been talked about in all of my classes, but am beginning to realize the importance of using maps, from the very start, on each project that I do. Once I do some preliminary searching for the individual and have a locality and a time period, the next thing I do is look that place up in maps.

I know that many academics feel that using an online mapping program such as Google Earth is not as "scholarly" as using a printed atlas or other map collection, however I have found such online resources very beneficial, and often can be more accurate in detail. For example, I wanted to know the distance (as the crow flies) between two cities for a genealogical case I was working on. I pulled up my Google Earth, found the cities and measured their distance with the built-in ruler tool. This gave me an accurate distance to the hundredth of a mile. I personally don't see the benefit of taking the extra time to go pull out an atlas and a ruler and and measure the distance and do the math, when such a tool is available that can do the job faster, and more accurately. That having been said, there is great value in atlases that show jurisdictional boundaries that may have have changed over time.

Anyway, enough about that. What I wanted to write about using the USGS website and the AniMap application to help with finding the county jurisdictions of a given place. If you go to the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) section of their page, you can search for names of cities, towns, rivers, schools, or just about geographic feature. The nice thing is that it will even find place-names that don't exist anymore. There are links located on the side that will plot your location on the following maps:

  • USGS The National Map
  • GNIS in Google Map
  • Microsoft Virtual Earth
  • TerraServer DOQ
  • TerraServer DRG
  • Find the Watershed
  • MapQuest
  • Yahoo! Local Maps
  • Expedia

This is a very nice feature. But something that I discovered to be very helpful is to take the longitude and latitude listed under the place information from GNIS, and plot that into the AniMap application. (This piece of software is available for $79 as of today from, and is a windows based application). AniMap shows all of the changes in county boundaries over time throughout the United States. This can be very helpful in determining which jurisdictions you need to look under for records regarding your ancestors. Once I know the counties that are applicable, I can then search the Family History Library Catalog (under a place Search) so that I know what types of records are available for me nearby. I also then search the BYU HBLL Catalog for historical background information on that particular county. Anyway, I found this to be very helpful in my research, so I thought I'd pass the information on to others—in hopes that it may be helpful. :o)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Catching the Vision

So, I've been a Family History--Genealogy major for almost three years now. Prior to that time I had never done any family history or genealogical work of any kind. I remember as I took my first few classes I was overwhelmed and felt like I was behind everyone else in my classes. I felt very frustrated--like I couldn't get a handle on things. That feeling persisted for quite a while. About a year ago I started to feel like I knew what I was doing, only then to take an English (as opposed to American) research class and feel like I was behind again--like I was figuring things out for the first time. This year I have realized that I'm not alone in my feelings and frustrations. That was actually a relief to me. Suddenly I'm not alone. As I talk to some of my friends with these similar feelings--individuals whom I look up to and who, in my mind, are very competent at genealogical research, I suddenly realize that I'm probably better at this than I think I am. While I may struggle when working on a project of my own, when a friend asks for help, I suddenly find myself knowing where to go, and what to do to help them.

That having been said, I see my inadequacies even more vividly as I just started teaching the Family History Class in Sunday School. I suddenly realize that I do know a lot, but that I'm not the best at teaching it. I can see how hard it can be to teach family history and genealogy to a group of people with varying backgrounds in the subject, and I think I understand, a little better than before, why I felt so lost at the beginning. This has instilled in me a desire be a better genealogist, and a better family historian. As I looked in the eyes of the individuals in my Sunday School class on Sunday I could see some "lost looks" of people who are likely feeling the same way I often feel. I want to be able to help them feel comfortable and competent. I want them to know that the feelings they may be feeling are normal, but that they can overcome them.

In an effort to revitalize myself in my own genealogical and family historical endeavors, I checked out a DVD from the library entitled: "Training for Family History Leaders" It has a clip of Elder Boyd K. Packer speaking. In it he said:

"It takes . . . the Spirit and the heart. There is no work that I know of that is so immersed in the Spirit as this sacred work of preparing names of the temple, and then the subsequent ordinances that are preformed there."

That made me think of the experiences I've had and the promptings of the Spirit that I've felt. It made me want to do a better job, and helped me catch the vision of this is all about. I love people. People make me happy. As I come to view the individuals I'm researching as people, then I come to catch the vision of what I'm doing, and that makes all the difference.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Let's Begin!

So, I'm new to blogging, but I have started reading a number of blogs over the last month or so, and I kind of like the idea. I started a blog, but didn't feel like it was very organized, so I got rid of it, and decided to start over.

A little bit about me. My name is Spencer Fields and I'm a senior at Brigham Young University majoring in Family History--Genealogy. I work as a Resident Assistant for the University at Wyview Park. I love spending time with my family and friends, taking pictures, doing genealogy, reading a good book, making web pages, and spending time outside.

On this blog I hope to share thoughts and ideas that I have found helpful in my genealogical research. Also, I'll talk about my thoughts on what I'm doing with genealogy. I don't know how organized this is going to be, but I'm going to do my best. :o)