Saturday, February 11, 2017

RootsTech 2017: DAY THREE, or Catholics and Mormons have a LOT in common

Today was both the first day that we made it to the keynote speaker (extremely inspiring and emotional! Of course the tears were flowing freely!) and also the first day I had a real, filling, substantial, delicious meal! You cannot get good Mexican food in my corner of Iowa; I miss real Mexican food from out west.

That reminds me of one of the speakers I heard today. He was talking about going back to your ancestral hometown (in Germany - but the same applies to other countries, too!). One of his pieces of advice was to try to remember that you are more interested in your ancestors than the people who you will be visiting, and so to try to be sensitive when you are having a conversation, to not be overbearing, to not assume that people in one region are the same as people in another etc. etc. (of course! Common sense!) But then, as a side comment, he said, “But you Americans are really, really good at doing this anyway, because you have a lot of experience interacting with people from many different states; you do this almost automatically. But it’s something for which Germans need to be explicitly reminded.”

I hadn’t thought about that at all before: how the massiveness and the mobility of my country possibly would impact the way that I communicate with and relate to other people. It was a really thought provoking comment, actually.

He spent a lot of time talking about the pre-trip preparation (plan the logistics) because (and he said this about 50 times in his presentation) when you go there, you will be doing a lot of emotional work.

That is so true. At least it was for me. It was so good that I had Danny there with me, to help me process all the emotions I was feeling.

It was such an overload of emotions, I’m still blogging about them 7 months later, haha.

I went to a class about how to create an effective research plan. It felt really boring, but then later when I was in the FHL collaborating with my 4th cousin (my age, and super enthusiastic about genealogy! It was so cool to meet her!) on our common Swedish line, I realized just how important this basic information is. It seems so basic. SO INTUITIVE. SO LOGICAL. But without a clear understanding of what we really wanted, we basically were wasting our time. Fortunately, we actually did find three really great “puzzle pieces.” What we found: our 5th great grandpa Niels Pehrsson traveled in the [John] Murdock Pioneer Company of 1863 (previously unknown!) and listed 6 people in the Perpetual Emigration Fund. He was excommunicated in either 1866 or 1867. We’re not sure which Niels Pehrsson is “ours” - there are two, and one was ex’ed in December of 1866, the other in January of 1867. The other thing we found was that *maybe* he was living in Omaha in 1870, very near to his son Lars and wife Hanna. I share these - but they are not solid conclusions yet. I think if we work to create a solid research plan, we will be able to figure out more about our grandfather and his reverse-immigration/apostasy story, and fit the pieces of the puzzle together better. I really think that the plan will be essential to making sure we don’t overlook any potential clues to whatever it is we are exactly trying to solve. Which, at the moment, neither my cousin nor I really know yet. Is it to find collateral lines to try to find people eligible for temple work? Is it to try to understand our grandfather’s story? Is it to understand our polygamist ancestors? Is it to connect to living people in Sweden? That last goal certainly sounds the most fun, and my cousin promised me that she fully intends to  go over, and that we should go together because it would just be so awesome. Sweden, huh? I have room in my heart for two European countries? Especially one that so brutally devastated the other in the thirty year’s war?

When I was pregnant with our second child, my son Dan, I was extremely anxious that I would not love him, or that I would not love him as much as our daughter, Jane. I remember constantly worrying about whether or not I would have enough room in my heart for both kids, and my husband just laughed. When Dan was born, I suddenly understood that it really is possible to love two different kids with all of your heart.

I’m sure it’s the same way with countries.

In other news, Find My Past made a huge announcement today: Catholic Records.

Actually, my friend and I had just been discussing this the day before. In a country like the United States which has no state religion, and in fact, whose very existence is linked to its lack of state religion! - in this setting, acquiring religious records is challenging. “Maybe there are some advantages to being a country of godless heathens.”

Catholic records are an incredible treasure trove of genealogical information. They are wonderful, wonderful records. And they are severely underutilized in the United States for several reasons. The presenter at the Find My Past booth put it diplomatically but bluntly like this:
  • Catholic records are first and foremost records of Sacraments, which are contracts between a person and God.
  • Canon law (which supersedes secular law for Catholics) has some ambiguous information about people’s right to privacy. Ambiguous because it is unclear if it includes dead people or not. This is interpreted differently by different Catholic leaders, and the Catholic church is not as hierarchically organized as it might appear, so dioceses can have very different interpretations from one another.
  • Catholic records can be very embarrassing for the Catholic church.
  • Although the Catholic church and the LDS church do a lot of excellent humanitarian aid partnership work, they have a really bad relationship when it comes to genealogy records. In the words of the Find My Past presenter, “These are based on irrational misunderstandings that have nothing to do with record accessibility and more to do with theological differences.”
  • He then talked about how different Christian religions generally accept each others’ baptisms, but none of them accept Mormon baptisms. I hadn’t really thought about that before. From a Mormon perspective, the concept of accepting other denominations’ baptisms is totally foreign and incomprehensible.
  • In 2008, the Catholic church forbade the LDS church to film any more Catholic records. I remember this. It was a terrible tragedy, from my perspective.
  • BUT...Find My Past is a great middle ground solution. Somehow, they were able to gain the trust and access to some (not all) Catholic dioceses in the United States, and so this year, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York Catholic records will be made available and searchable on Find My Past for free! The Catholic collection will also include all of the Scotland Catholic records, several dioceses in England, and ALLLLLLLLLLLL the Irish records!

That is incredible.

Why it’s incredible is because, to a large extent, the Catholic story has been omitted from the national narrative of America. I have found that this is definitely true. When I research my Catholics, they are in the margins. There was a lot of solidarity amongst Texas Czech Catholics, and they did a good job of preserving their own story, but in terms how they are preserved in the broader narrative of Texas, the Catholics are just a neglected minority that is kind of embarrassing.

And do you know what that reminds me of? Those crazy Swedish Mormons in Box Elder Ward, Brigham City, Utah.

The similarities are actually quite numerous. For example, those church records my cousin and I were looking at on microfilm today in the FHL exist in book form in the Church History Library. And we would not be allowed to read them. Why?

LDS tithing and excommunication records are completely closed to the public. There isn’t a time limit. They are closed forever. I know. I tried to look one up for one of my ancestors. The lady at the desk was allowed to tell me if they were a full tithe payer or not, but NOT how much they paid, and NOT what they paid (like, if it was in kind, or in dollars, or the amount). And excommunications are always closed.

But for some weird reason, the LDS church microfilmed this specific set of records. Maybe because there were tons of baptism and confirmation records interspersed with the excommunications and tithing records? It was a HORRIBLE document to read on microfilm. It seemed like somebody dropped the book and the pages all fell out, and then were reassembled in some kind of mostly random order. We could tell it was for our people, because they kept showing up again and again, was terrible. It was 1850-1870 LDS church records. So ironic and funny to me that these exact records would be off limits to me for the same reasons that many Catholic records are off limits. Yet there was a work around: in this case, they were filmed in 1953, so...they’re viewable. And we could read all the really interesting and terrible things that people did to be excommunicated in all their fascinating detail (seduce a neighbor’s wife, steal somebody else’s horses, lie about somebody else doing or not doing something that was really important and significant, general “apostasy” for our ancestor -  whatever that means!?).

I am so happy about the news that at least some Catholic dioceses were able to come to a workable solution and partner with Find My Past. And you know what, this works really well for Mormons, too, because guess what? As an LDS person, I get a Find My Past account!

But FMP is making all the Catholic records available for free. I just hope that they will be able to partner with the Texas Catholics, so that I will have access to my beloved Texas Czech (AND VERY CATHOLIC) story.

It’s really late, and so here are the other things that happened today really briefly:
  • I learned some things about being a better Family History Consultant in my ward
  • I learned some things about FamilySearch Family Tree that I didn’t know before, mostly some tricks about merging people, viewing history, and rearranging your workspace so that it is how you want (so THAT is what the gear button does...haha I had never actually clicked on it before!)
  • I made some connections with some other Czechs. That was cool.
  • ...and a lot more stuff happened but I can’t remember because I’m too tired.  

Tomorrow looks like it will be another awesome day!

1 comment:

  1. I remember that ban on Catholic church records, and I'm just glad that what you mentioned above still applies--different dioceses interpret that differently, because photographing Colombian Catholic records was still going strong, last I talked to someone in FamilySearch. :) I LOVE Catholic records!!! That's basically all I have to work with.