Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Some details about FamilySearch Family Tree they don't tell you about in the manual

There are a number of things about the Family Tree that are not obvious and are not in the manual. Here are a few of the issues I have noticed that might help you understand what is going on in the program.

1. Many of the individual Details pages have a huge number of variations on the individual's name that show up under the category of "Alternative Name." These are useless for the most part as left-overs from all the prior submissions with slight variations in the way the name was submitted previously. Here are two screenshots showing an extreme example:

As you can see, the list of Alternative Names is longer than I can show with two screen shots. All of these alternatives are listed as "Birth Name." They are not the birth name. The birth name is at the top of the Detail Page. They are duplicates or wrong and are not necessary. They should just be deleted as duplicates. However, in making that remark, I have had people respond that they thought all of them should be preserved because they are there. On the contrary, there is absolutely no reason to preserve all of the past mistakes for posterity. Just click on each entry and delete them. If you don't want to bother to spend the time, then at least don't go around justifying keeping them in the file. 

Now, there are alternate birth names. In the rare case that someone's birth name is unknown or has variations, those variations should certainly be preserved with substantial source references. If the person changed his or her name later in life, such as when the person immigrated, then of course, that type of change should be included under Alternate Names and documented. 

2. Green Arrows almost never mean that ordinances are available unless they are people who were only very recently added to the Family Tree. If you encounter green arrows on your pedigree just remember that this information was brought over directly from and people have been working on that program looking for green arrows for the past five or six years. If there really were any ordinances ready to be done they would have long since been taken care of. In fact, the green arrows in Family Tree usually mean that more information is necessary or that there are duplicates. Unfortunately, there is still a substantial problems with the merge function of the program and so it is advisable to be highly cautious with green arrows especially those in families that you know have been members of the Church for a considerable period of time.

3. The fan chart view of the pedigree would entice you to believe that you needed to research the missing people. In reality, when the fan chart shows an end-of-line it usually means that research needs to be done in the preceding generations (more recent). The simplest way to check whether this is the case is to look at the Details Page for the individual who is listed right below the open space in the fan chart and see if there are any sources listed for that individual. If there are no sources, there is no confidence level that the information is correct. This indicates that you should start your research with that person or the first person in the line who has sources and has been substantiated.

4. As with the duplicates listed for birth names, many of the "Notes" imported from are meaningless and should simply be deleted. Read the note. If it makes sense and contributes to the information about the individual, keep it. Otherwise, delete it. 

5. Always check to see which stories, photos, and documents have already been uploaded for the program before adding your own. I am seeing as many as four and five duplicate photos for a single individual.

6. The manual does encourage you to supply your email address. I would point out that this is a cooperative program and failure to provide contact information indicates that you do not wish to cooperate. From my perspective, if you add something without substantiation and do not provide contact information I will simply delete your entry. If you have privacy concerns get over it.

7. Remember that there are still unresolved duplicates in the program for those individuals who have excessive combined duplicates carried over from This will be the case as long as the two programs are still linked. This is true even though is read-only. If you think about this, you'll realize that adding a lot of of sources and editing the entries for these individuals may end up with the loss of all the changes made when mergers are finally possible. Think about it.

 That's probably enough for the moment. It's very likely I'll have more in the future. As usual, comments are welcome and taken seriously.


  1. Excellent post! Thanks for the insights. We need more guidance like this.

  2. I have found that is not strictly read-only, When I make a change to a name, date or place, I was surprised to still see that change reflected in Using Ancestral Quest I can still see other variations of names, dates and places that are hidden in Family Tree and I can still "reset the summary" to the most correct information, substantiated by the sources I find.