Monday, June 25, 2012

When the Mormons go down

For ages, we family-history researchers have all believed that the Mormons are our friends, and that we can take advantage indefinitely of their fabulous databases in Utah, present on the Internet through the time-honored FamilySearch website.

Personally, I've always been a little dubious of this idyllic scenario. While giving thanks constantly to the Mormons for their free services, I couldn't help wondering: What would happen in the genealogical domain if these crazy idolaters of the god Mormon suddenly decided to turn the tap off? Well, I fear greatly that this is what happened a week or so ago...

For some time, they've been touting the merits of their so-called new interface to the database as a friendly godsend, devoid of errors. What they really mean is that the new interface is designed to render user contacts antiseptic, as it were, with nothing more than the display of pure Mormon-authorized data... as distinct from all the stuff that heathen contributors (such as me, for example) might have dared to submit to Utah.

The outcome, for the moment, is catastrophic. It's as if the Mormon database—the summit of irony—has lost its soul.

Personally, I have complained bitterly on their blog. The latter, incidentally, can only be accessed if you're sufficiently well-informed to think of Googling "IGI": the Mormons' International Genealogical Index. Then you have to click around to find out what might be evolving in this domain.

Meanwhile, the new interface greets family-history researchers in pleasant green tones, with the charming silhouette of a young couple and a pair of kids in the mountains, alongside a lonely but auspicious family tree, as if nothing had ever changed in the universe of the prophet Mormon:

The only problem is that... everything has changed in the interface! You simply can't use it any longer as before, to look around for data of all kinds (true and maybe false) about your ancestors.

I posted a complaint on their blog at
William Skyvington says:
June 21, 2012 at 12:11 am

The impossibility of accessing the old interface is, for me, catastrophic. I’m right in the middle of a one-name study on the Skeffingtons, Skevingtons, etc… and nearly all the essential basic data has suddenly become unavailable.
Then I tried to be constructive:
William Skyvington says:
June 23, 2012 at 5:07 am

The IGI database came into existence because of the religious beliefs of its Mormon creators. And countless genealogical researchers bless them for this immense creation, without which modern family-history investigations would not have become a daily reality. It is time, though, to start evoking the perennial dimensions of this affair. Today, we are all alarmed because the LDS church seems to have suddenly decided (for reasons that are not totally clear) to block access to the celebrated old interface. Would it not be imaginable to ask the Mormons if they might be willing to to donate a copy of their database to a world-heritage fund under the auspices of UNESCO ?
 Finally, I succumbed to despair:
William Skyvington says:
June 25, 2012 at 6:48 am

We lamenters of the demise of the good old Mormon website are all crying in the genealogical wildnerness in the sense that most people, finding that the behavior of FamilySearch has become strangely unfriendly, won’t even know how to find help, seek explanations or complain. The privileged few who are submitting comments to the present blog are sufficiently well-informed to know that they should Google “IGI”. Unless you do that, you’ll never be guided gently by the Mormons to the present blog and its litany of complaints. In other words, the old database is dying, it would appear, not with a bang but a whimper.
Happily, at a purely personal level, all is not quite as bleak as I might have suggested (in my enthusiasm for saving the old Mormon website). A year or so ago, I started to sense the fragility and the awkward presentation of data in the Mormon database. So I decided to start saving everything that was offered. Already, my preoccupation was a comprehensive one-name study of Skeffington (Skevington, Skivington, etc). It was clear to me that the major weakness of the Mormon database was that a researcher could not simply make a common-sense request such as: Please give me a listing, in chronological order, of all your Skeffington records.

Well, to cut a long story short, as soon as I sensed that the Mormons were unlikely to react positively to a request such as mine, I decided to adopt a do-it-yourself approach aimed at the production of such chronological list of records for three groups of folks: the Skeffingtons, the Skevingtons and the Skivingtons. This goal necessitated countless hours of manual processing. Today, those three precious Mormon files exist in my personal archives... and it goes without saying that I am prepared to send them freely to researchers who might be interested in such data.

Amazingly (Does God protect genealogists such as me?), I had just terminated my in-depth analysis of Bedfordshire Skevington data at the same moment, last week, when the old Mormon database went down. So, I'm no longer really concerned about whether or not the Mormons might bring their old interface back into existence, since I know exactly what it contained.

The gist of my conclusions is that normally, if my reasoning is right, and if all our respective female ancestors were righteous Christian women who only slept with their lawful husbands (that's a big "if", I agree), then individuals such as Judd Skevington (in Western Australia) and I should share exactly the same Y-chromosomes as the Tudor lord Sir William Skeffington. In that perspective, we Australians (along wth certain Skevingtons in England) might be thought of as the unique "blood descendants" (to use an old-fashioned expression that I detest, because genetic inheritance has nothing to do with blood) of the Leicestershire Skeffingtons. So, exit the Mormons, and enter DNA.

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