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

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Changing our attitude towards FamilySearch Family Tree

Almost every conversation I have had recently about family history has devolved into a tirade about some aspect of's Family Tree program. I suppose that I am a convenient sounding board for these complaints, but the nature and frequency of the complaints seems to be increasing dramatically as more people attempt to work with the program. Yesterday when my wife and I went to the home of a member to help her with installing programs, we heard a long complaint about the Family Tree program. Then again, at the BYU Family History Library last evening, there were other complaints aired about the Family Tree program. These complaints fall into the following categories:

  1. Changes and mistakes in the program in general.
  2. People using the program to "harvest" names to take to the Temple for ordinance work.
  3. Stake and Ward leaders challenging members to "take a name to the Temple" within a relatively short time period, expecting that they can somehow manufacture the name from the Family Tree program.
  4. Frustration with the inability to merge obvious duplicated individuals in the program.
  5. Improperly combined individuals that cannot be separated and where data has been lost and an inaccurate pedigree line established that cannot be changed. 
  6. Individual personal data that cannot be changed, such as a legal change of name by an individual member.
In my opinion, none of these issues involve the program, per se. They are all issues with the data contained in the program. 

Much of the frustration over changes made to the data of the program comes from the fact that the people making the changes either are not identified and have no contact information or that they are making the changes arbitrarily without any sources or explanations. It seems to me that both of these issues can be resolved by adjustments to the program itself. It is very unlikely, in the near future, that inexperienced contributors to the Family Tree will suddenly realize the need to add sources to any changes they make to the data. It is almost always the case that the person making such changes without sources is entirely unknown to the person making the complaint. It is not very pleasant to see someone change the information about your own mother or father or grandparents who you do not know and who refuses to respond to inquiries. This is especially true if the information added or substituted is arbitrary and completely inaccurate. Many of the people I talk to are abandoning the Family Tree program because of these reasons. 

The issue of harvesting names and challenges to "take names to the Temple" are two sides of the same issue.'s Family Tree program is not a source for researching about your family. It is a report of what has already been researched. You cannot realistically plumb a dry well. There is an invalid assumption that people are somehow adding names to the program without doing or reserving the Temple ordinances. It is entirely possible that this is true, but this not something that you can count on happening. Those who are hunting "green arrows" in the program are usually searching well beyond any family members they personally know or are even acquainted with. How can this be justified as doing family history?

Leaders who challenge their members to "take a name to the Temple" are working from the premise that the process of obtaining names for Temple work is easy and simple. This is not the case for most members. There are no names in Family Tree just sitting there to take to the Temple. Finding any additional ancestors may involve significant work with years of effort. In almost all the cases I have heard about these challenges, I find that there is no program in place to teach or support the members in the challenged activity. They are left to their own devices to try an find a way to "get a name." In many cases, local Ward family history consultants are ignored or not included in the "challenge." They find out about the challenge when the challenge is made. I have fielded comments about two of these challenges in the last week. I wonder how many of the Stake and Ward leaders making such challenges have actually done any genealogical research themselves? In many cases, the members turn to mining names from Family Tree to respond to the challenges. 

The issues with merging, improperly combined individuals and data that cannot be changed, all relate to the status of the Family Tree program's relationship to the old database. As long as the two programs as still connected, these issues will remain. This is simply a case of waiting for the changes to take place. Patience is advised. 

Some of these questions, such as the ones involving challenges to take a name to the Temple, involve complex and frustrating issues. Most of these types of problems can be solved by following the handbooks and mentoring people rather than challenging them. 


  1. Too bad our paths won’t cross since I am not in Utah, but if they did I would give you a completely different viewpoint. I personally feel Family Tree is about the most wonderful piece of software I have ever seen.

    I remember many, many years ago staring at a paper Family Group Sheet at the Family History Library that did not have a single source and just getting discouraged when trying to think of where to start to prove the information there.

    I remember many years ago sitting at a local Family History Center trying to merge a few people in the Ancestral File, copying the merge onto a floppy disk and sending it off, not knowing if a later edition would ever include it.

    I remember years ago sitting at home looking at a New Family Search screen with five wildly different version of a marriage date wishing there was some way to get rid of the incorrect ones.

    Now I sit with Family Tree.

    That Family Group Sheet? It’s there and six different relatives I never knew I had have attached twenty different sources.

    Those Ancestral File duplicates? There is just one of each of them now, properly merged.

    The New Family Search scattering of marriage dates? Four have been erased and the remaining one can be read right off of the marriage certificate that is attached in the sources.

    I think a lot of the problems you are hearing about relate to your blog article about the difference between good and great genealogists. After reading that article and thinking about what I have read on the Family Search feedback boards over the past months, I would distill your discussion of good vs. great to a single word: Why.

    A good genealogist finds records, reads them, and assembles them into family trees.

    A great genealogist finds records and asks, “Why? Why is this record here? Why does it say what it says? Why did someone write this down? Why does it agree with this one? Why does it disagree with that other one? Why? Why? Why?”

    As for Family Tree, a poor Family Tree data entry person doesn’t bother to learn about Family Tree.

    A good Family Tree data entry person complains when something goes wrong or can’t be done yet in Family Tree and often gives up.

    A great Family Tree data entry person asks, “Why is this happening? Why can’t I merge these? Why are these people changing things? Why are these records confused?” Then finds the answers and goes ahead and perfects the tree.

    1. I certainly enjoyed reading your comments. I agree with your assessment of FamilySearch Family Tree completely. I think the program shows extremely great potential. I guess I get tired now and again with being the sounding board for so many people who don't really understand the program.

    2. I love the Tree too. Don't let the green arrow fanatics get you down.

    3. Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. I agree with the other comments. Some people just like to complain. I, too, like FS Family Tree. Yes, it has some quirks, but the technical team has been great in getting back to me on my concerns. My only complaint now is the "familysearch" people that keep putting in data with no contact information. In all cases I have seen it is redundant. But with using findarecord and people I am watching, I can see the changes and quickly look and and respond to (delete) the redundant data.

  3. You have provided an excellent summary of the current issues with Family Tree. I guess the big question in my mind is, what's being done about these issues? From what I have seen, FT and NFS are going to continue to be linked until possibly 2016. The issue of people with no contact information making changes is huge. I probably spend 2-3 hours a week just "fixing" the changes others users make. Most of them have no contact information. I have heard talk of an internal messaging system, but we haven't seen anything yet. Even those with contact information often fail to respond and they continue to repeatedly make irresponsible changes. FS needs to develop some arbitration process to address this. The issue of IOUS has been kicking around for years, but still hasn't been addressed. The messages from FS seem focused entirely on stories, photos, and increasing the percentage of people who submit names for temple work. That is all fine, but FS badly needs the serious, committed genealogists to go in and clean up the mess that exists in many lines in Family Tree. I hate to be the curmudgeon in the house, but I am a bit concerned as well that the committed genealogists are going to abandon FT due to glacial pace of addressing the serious issues in the database and the FS messages that seem to marginalize the work they are doing to clean up and source the tree.

    1. We can move sideways into until the data gets fixed.

  4. i would like to use family search for my mcdowell tree

  5. I'm using Family Search and I know we all are related somehow or another, but their records show, on my dad's side of the family we are related to all the presidents except 3. Also, hundreds of celebrities as well. Plus the royal family in England too?