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

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why you can edit the information in FamilySearch Family Tree

Here is my usual warning. You may very well become upset with this blog post. The topic is highly controversial and causes some genealogists fits. Now, you have been warned. Proceed at your own risk.

The fact that anyone registered on can edit any entry for any individual on the Family Tree program is a huge issue for some people. I constantly hear comments by genealogists that they absolutely will not put THEIR data on Family Tree because it will become corrupted by the unwashed masses of non-genealogists. I fully realize the futility of addressing these ownership convinced genealogists, but if you are somewhere out there sitting on the fence, perhaps I can explain what is going on and why putting YOUR information on the Family Tree is so important.

First my basic and often repeated rule: You do not own your ancestors. In the United States, involuntary servitude went out with the Thirteenth Amendment.

My second rule in this regard is simple: No one has ever created a perfect pedigree.

Like the Little Red Hen, if you won't help, I will do it myself. But then I will get to eat the bread when it is baked all by myself also.

OK, enough of the rant. Time to get down to reason. Family Tree is a unified tree. It is essentially a wiki, that is, a collaborative program where all of the users cooperate to correct the data. The first rule of a wiki is that no one owns the data. If you fail to provide your input into the Family Tree, it is your loss, not mine nor anyone else's. I am amazed with those who refuse to put their own opinions into Family Tree. Why don't they stay awake all night worrying about all those thousands of online family trees that they can't change instead of being so possessive of their own research that they do not deign to share it with anyone in the only family tree that is self correcting? Wouldn't it be nice if there was one place you could go and be somewhat assured that the information was correct, because you yourself did the research and you KNOW it is correct? Wake up. That place is FamilySearch Family Tree.

Let's suppose someone goes into the Family Tree program and changes my father's birth date. So, I change it back and point to his birth certificate as a source. They decide to change the date back and ignore my source. What then? I change it back and send them a kind note explaining that if they fail to provide a source, they should not be making changes. If they persist, then there is a link to report abuse. Failing to communicate or provide a source for a change in the data is, by definition, abuse of the system. If the offending person persists, they can be blocked from the Family Tree for a time or permanently. Data integrity is a serious issue in the FamilySearch Family Tree. But if you don't want to play the game, no one is forcing you to put your data into the Family Tree or correct any of the mis-information. But by failing to play the game, you don't get the benefit of all my research and you see I am right. So there.

Hmm, maybe I am not so right after all. I keep finding my own errors in Family Tree and correcting them, maybe it works both ways. I get the benefit of all of the other researchers as well as benefiting them with my research. Oh, I get it. It is a cooperative, collaborative family tree and very democratic also. One man or woman, one vote and all that.

So, you see, giving everyone the right to edit the information isn't as bad as it might seem. Since we all have the ability to correct the data, there is a much greater chance that the correct information will prevail. Why? Because only the people who care will take the time to enter data and correct errors. The rest of the huge community that has access to the program simply won't bother. But what about crazies and those who are stupid? Well, yes, they do exist. But since everyone can watch any ancestor they care about, the system will keep you informed and like I already said, abuse of the system can result in banishment, even if the excuse is a psychological disorder or stupidity.

Now what will happen to YOUR genealogy when you die? Who gets to change it then? Maybe, just maybe, leaving all of it on will solve that problem of persistence. Personally, I am depending on that being correct.


  1. I agree that FamilySearch Family Tree is one of the best (if not the best) place to put one's genealogy in order to preserve it for future generations. I hold that belief despite the fact that I am not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Baptism of the Dead is not a driving force behind my interest in genealogy. That said, I respect the right of the Mormon Church to have whatever views and practices it wishes and I appreciate the church's commitment to preserving information about the lives of our ancestors. In fact, I 'trust' your Church to preserve the genealogical information that I submit precisely because genealogy is a matter of religious faith for the Church. (Sometime you should consider doing a blog post on the role of non-Mormons in helping building FamilySearch Family Tree.)

    I think one of the biggest issues for FamilySearch Family Tree is the ease of using it, or rather, the lack thereof. My guess is that many more errors will be introduced by well-intentioned people who don't understand how to use the system than by rouge users with malicious intent. I first learned computer programming in Fortran as part of a 1960s electrical engineering degree. I have continued my interest in computers to this day. So if I catch myself about to make a mistake, as often as I do, how many mistakes must less experienced computer users make? I find FamilySearch Family Tree particularly confusing when trying to do merges and link families. Multiple sets of families can get created incorrectly.
    The other big issue for me is the way that Family Tree handles sources. I use RootsMagic on my PC so I can easily find matching persons in FamilySearch Family Tree and merge or upload my data. This is a great feature and has allowed me to upload almost my entire known tree. Unfortunately, Family Tree and Roots Magic are not integrated when it comes to uploading sources. I have sources for almost all entries in my RootsMagic file but I have to recreate each one of these individually in FamilySearch Family Tree. That is very time-consuming so I have only uploaded a few sources thus far. Sources should be as easy to transfer back and forth as people.

    Finally, most of my sources in RootsMagic have images attached. Every census source for example has a census image attached. Because of copyright issues, I can't upload these images to FamilySearch Family Tree. I know I can add links but these are often links to pay-to-view images. I guess there is no way around this copyright issue but it does diminish the value of what would otherwise be possible.

    Just my thoughts.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response. I do have some follow up comments I will make in a subsequent blog post.

    2. Well said, from another non - Mormon who uses FamilySearch tree.