The New Job

In the real work-a-day world, when someone is promoted to a better job and someone else is promoted into the opening they left, the company generally has two incompetent workers to train, the two people new to their positions.

I’m not sure how Elder and Sister Rhyne feel about the things they are doing, but Sister Tuck and I need training.

We are the Family History Senior Missionaries, which so far means that we have the keys to the Family History Libraries and are supposed to open and staff them specific hours of the week. Then, once in a while, attempt to solve some genealogy and data entry questions. Working the keys is easy, but answering technical questions is a bit harder.

There are three Family History Centers (FHC) in Cambodia, one in Battambang and two in Phnom Penh; the South District Center and the North District Center. We don’t worry about the FHC in Battambang, only the South FHC and the North FHC, SFHC and NFHC respectively.

Our schedule is to be at the SFHC Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 4:30 – 5, at the NFHC Wednesday from 1 – 2 to 4:30, then split our time on Saturdays and Sundays between both FHCs. This works fine except when we visit a branch to give a Family History lesson in Sunday school and sign people up with a church account on Sunday.

Amid all this Family History work, we are still trying to maintain our assignment with the Ta Khmau branches.

When members want to get an account to do their Family History work, we need their Church Record Number and their birth date as it is in the Church Membership System. There are several problems with obtaining these numbers. First is that the members themselves seldom know them. Some members do not now know their birth date, and because they did not know it when their initial membership form was filled out by a missionary, it was only a guess, which they don’t remember. Sometimes, all they know is the year which they might even get wrong.

As an aside, here when a child is born, they most often start the age numbering with 1, because the child is in its first year. This conflicts with the rest of the world that I know about which sets the child’s age as 1 after the completion of the first year. This causes all kinds of confusion as the child reaches baptism and ordination age.

Additionally, children used to be born at home and often did not have their birth date recorded anywhere. Now the government gets involved and everyone has a registration card. With the older people, sometimes all they know is the zodiac animal they were born under, so we carry an animal year calendar to help people determine their birth year.

To find the member’s Church Record, we obtained a Bishop’s Directory for each of the Districts in Cambodia, which lists each member with their vital statistics. The problem with these reports is that membership changes have not been entered for at least a year, so the member’s record may be in a different branch than they currently live in. This is compounded by data entry errors that have occurred when translating the Khmer into Romanized English. A further complication is some members do not remember exactly what name was used on the records. The final complication is that after a period of inactivity, members may be moved to a Missing or Inactive file (the Lost File). All these things present a problem to the FHC Consultant trying to create an account for the member.

We have the Bishop’s Directory as a PDF on each of the computers we use, but searching them is time consuming and error prone. Seeing this, I determined to extract the information from the PDF files and combine it on a spreadsheet, which is not a simple and direct operation.

As a programmer, extracting the information from the PDF Files was a pleasant diversion. I used Perl, which I learned as I did it taking the better part of three days to accomplish, which yielded a spreadsheet containing all the active members in Cambodia except for the Vietnamese (because their reports were in Vietnamese Unicode). This spreadsheet has made a huge difference in finding the member’s information to help them set up an account.

I had heard there were a large number of members in the ‘Lost’ file, so I obtained a copy of the Cambodian Inactive file, wrote another Perl script and made a Lost Spreadsheet, again without the Vietnamese members.

One other spreadsheet we maintain is a list of all the member accounts we or E/S Rhyne have set up this past year. Most often when a member with an account comes in, all they remember is that they have an account, so we refer to this list to see if we have any information about them. This saves a lot of time too.

Now, as we are staffing the center and trying to do the work we find we cannot do anything without a translator. In fact, we need someone with Khmer Unicode data entry skills to actually type it in. We are beginning to learn the Church’s Family History system but see that much of what consultants in other countries have to do to help the members simply is not done here. Most of the information comes from someone’s memory, which means the genealogy is limited to three generations. There is not any recorded history we know of that can be made searchable. What had been available, Pol Pot destroyed when he killed so many Cambodians. (We have no idea if the Buddhists maintained a list of births and deaths in their Wats, but Pol Pot killed most of the Buddhist Monks too).

Right now, there are big changes coming to Family History, which excite us. We believe that every Cambodian over 35 has a story to tell, and this new system will encourage these stories to be told and recorded.

These are exciting times for Cambodia.

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