Beginning now, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are receiving free access to three large online genealogy subscription services; Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and findmypast.com. According to an article in the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, Utah entitles, "Access to genealogy websites for LDS Church members may come sooner than expected" the schedule for providing that access is imminent. But the question arises as to what the members will do with their new genealogical options?
I have discussed the fact that only a very small percentage of the Church members will even be aware of the opportunity and even fewer will take advantage of signing up for the new services. Even if they do sign up, fewer still will know what to do with this opportunity. To take one example, traditionally, most users of Ancestry.com have viewed the program as a "reference work." That is, they have a question about an ancestor and then they use the program to find a source hopefully answering the question. So, only those actively involved in genealogical research really utilize the program at all. That is sort-of like using a car as a storage locker and not realizing that it is a transportation device. These online programs go well beyond the simple "look-it-up" category of reference materials. All of three of them have vast resources that extend well beyond a passive reference use.
In the case of MyHeritage.com, there is really no practical way to use the program as a passive reference website. For both Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com it is imperative that users upload and maintain an active family tree in the programs. Yes, this is a separate tree for each program and in addition to the one on FamilySearch.org Family Tree. The reason for this is simple, these two programs utilize extremely sophisticated search engines tied to the family tree entries to search for sources for all of the people in your uploaded family tree. In this regard, there are a few simple rules that will make this type of structure work.
1. The information you have in your online family trees must be as accurate as possible.
Since the names you put in your tree will be the ones matched and used to find source and links with other family trees, it is very important that the information you supply be as accurate as possible. It is not a good idea simply to copy what someone else has given you without doing some extensive verification. This rule is related to the old computer programming adage, "garbage in - garbage out."
2. Focus on the information you want to know.
In most cases, especially if you have a rather extensive pedigree in a Western European County, you may start to get more suggested sources than you can handle. In these cases, you need to prioritize your research goals and focus on families that you are really interested in. If you upload a huge family file, you can expect there to be a huge number of sources, some of which will be for people you didn't know you had in your database. I suggest that you think carefully about what you are putting online and include those lines you are most concerned with.
3. You need to actively work with the information you obtain.
Most sources you find in genealogical research suggest further areas that need research. If you blindly copy the sources from any of these programs without evaluating the information, you will be losing most of the value of the sources the programs do find. You need to keep yourself constantly involved in the research cycle.
4. Carefully consider the sources suggested for application to your family.
Do not get into the "same name, same person" syndrome and blindly add sources to the individuals and families in your file. Do not assume the programs are always right even if it looks very much like your ancestor.
Some people are predicting that this new arrangement with the online services will result in an "explosion of research." Well, think about it. All of these programs have been available for a relatively long time. How may people in the Church use the free FamilySearch.org resources or even know that they are there? This is a marvelous opportunity for those who take advantage of it. The rest of the Church population will be no better off than they are now.