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

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The End of the Green Arrow Harvest -- real research in genealogy begins

One of the hallmarks of the program was the ability of users to generate Temple ordinances by "looking for green arrows." From the very inception of the program it was possible to mine the program for green arrows, even though nearly all of the individuals marked with green arrows had already had their ordinances performed. In fact, there was often no practical way in the program to tell whether or not an individual indicated by a green arrow was legitimately a candidate for Temple work or merely a duplicate with all of the ordinances previously done.

Many of the people who were using the program got the impression that was a "rich source" of potential candidates for Temple ordinances. Fortunately, has been made read-only. Unfortunately, many of the people who have the impression that they could mine green arrows from the program have carried over that attitude to the Family Tree program. The basic premise underlying this attitude is that somehow there are vast numbers of people in the Family Tree program who are waiting to have their ordinances done. This attitude is based on an absolutely false premise.

Let's examine for a moment the origin of the names presently in FamilySearch Family Tree. was originally seeded with data from five different sources; the Ancestral File, the International Genealogical Index, the Pedigree Resource File, Church membership records and Church Temple records. Unfortunately, combining all of these sources of information resulted in a monumental problem of duplicate information. Additionally, the program did not allow the users to change any of the information in the file and errors and duplicate information proliferated. Whenever a change was made to the file, the older, sometimes incorrect, information was preserved along with the correction. Some of the individuals in the file ended up with hundreds of duplicates. These duplicates came, not only from the original database, but also from additional records added by the users of the program. The unfortunate results was that any particular individual in the program could have a copy showing completed Temple ordinances while at the same time having several copies where the ordinances were missing. So, anyone wanting to do additional Temple ordinances only had to go to the program, click back through their family tree, and "harvest" the individuals with incomplete ordinances indicated by green arrows. Another fatal flaw of the program was that searching for duplicates did not solve the problem. All the user had to do to duplicate that Temple work was to indicate that the matches that were found or not the same person. Many people also had (and have) the impression that the Temple work had to be redone even if there were small spelling errors or even capitalization errors in the names found of the program.

I could go on and on describing the abuses that were facilitated by But now we will move forward to the present program, Family Tree. Guess what? The new program also has green arrows. Fortunately, in nearly every instance, the green arrows in the present programs only indicate a lack of information rather than an automatic availability of Temple ordinances.

If you go back to my statements above concerning the composition of the original files that were dumped into, you will see why there are no or very few candidates for Temple ordinances in the data. Each of the components of the original program came from submissions where the Temple work was already performed or unnecessary. Unless the individuals using the program actually did additional genealogical research and entered the names into the program for the first time somehow avoiding duplication, there was no basis for a reasonable belief that the work was not being duplicated.

During the past few years I have constantly heard about challenges made by Church leaders urging the members of their Ward or Stake to have a name or names to take to the Temple within a certain time period. In some instances, the time specified has been as short as a week. The myth that there is somehow a huge reservoir of names available in and now in family search Family Tree is so persistent that both the leaders and the members believe it implicitly. For members of the Church who are diligently seeking their ancestral lines, these sorts of challenges are highly frustrating and very discouraging. For the rest of the members, who never done any genealogical research at all, the challenges are virtually impossible.

When I first began using, I found literally hundreds of green arrows. In every single case, I already knew that the Temple work and been done because I had reviewed my files extensively and done the work during the previous 15 or 20 years. Today, the duplication in Family Tree still exists to some extent. Fortunately, the program is structured to avoid most of the egregious problems experienced with But the impression that somehow the members can simply harvest green arrows persists.

The harvest is over. In the previous program it was extremely easy to generate names to take to the Temple simply by making slight changes to the names of individuals and resubmitting them for Temple work. In FamilySearch Family Tree there are still ways for dishonest people to create duplicate names to take to the Temple. I am not going to tell you how to do that. Suffice it to say, but the problem, although greatly reduced, is still with us.

In a recent article and another statements made during the recent RootsTech conference, it has been noted that only a small percentage of the current membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have entered their four generation pedigrees into Family Tree. There is an assumption that if the members entered their four generation pedigrees, it would generate a significant amount of Temple work. This may or may not be the case. Presently, many of the missing entries in Family Tree are simply missing because the members have not connected themselves to existing family lines. During a recent activity where I personally sat down with the majority of the members of my Ward and reviewed with them their personal information in Family Tree, I found a very small percentage who were actually missing there four generations after we connected them to existing people in the Family Tree.

It is certainly true, that we need to come up with new ways to involve the members of the Church in researching and seeking after their dead. But any such efforts should not involved massive duplication of Temple work facilitated by the program. Let's stop looking for green arrows and start verifying and sourcing the information and using the tools that we have available such as that will help us find where the work actually needs to be done.

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