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

Friday, September 12, 2014

How do I Start My Family History on FamilySearch Family Tree?

One of the most common questions I am asked, involves getting started with's Family Tree program.There are two completely opposite positions possible; the person has no family history in's Family Tree or the person has thousands of ancestors already recorded. Of course, these two situations vary with the amount of previous involvement your family has had in recording your ancestral lines.

The easiest of the two situations from the Family Tree perspective is if the person has almost no family history recorded. In this case the answer to getting started is rather simple: start entering information, photos, stories or documents about your family's history. You can use the "Search Records" option to search the Family Search Historical Record Collections to add additional individuals to the family tree. The idea here is to document the information you enter into the family tree with the sources where you obtained the information. A source is some kind of historical record that contains information about your family. This could be a census record, a birth or marriage certificate, a school or church record or anything containing information about your family. Avoid the temptation to copy your ancestors from someone's previous list or pedigree or book, unless they supply sources about where they obtained the information.

Beginners who find a lot of names in Family Tree have the tendency to focus on whether or not an ancestor's ordinances have been recorded in the Family Tree program. If you search back through the information already on Family Tree, focus on the individual's detail pages. The first thing to check is whether or not anyone has added sources to the detail page. Here is a screenshot showing a detail page where there is no information showing any sources:

You can see where the sources are supposed to be listed and there are none listed. If there had been sources listed, the entry would look like this:

The lack of sources indicates that the information given about the person may not be reliable or accurate. In fact, the person may not even be one of your ancestors. Even if there are sources listed for the person, you may still not be related because any one of the ancestors connecting you to this person may be wrong. To rely on the information in Family Tree, you need to have a chain of sources connecting you to the individual. This is especially true the further back in time you go. If you simply jump back until you find someone who looks like they need Temple ordinances, you cannot be sure that you are related to that person or that the person really exists.

So, assuming that you have a lot of people listed in your pedigree on Family Tree, where do you start? You start by examining the details about the individuals and building a bridge of sources so that you can rely on the information in the file. This may seem a lot less interesting than jumping around in the file trying to find green arrows or Temple icons indicating available ordinances, but it is really necessary to establish that you are really related to these people listed in the program.

One very excellent tool that has been developed to graphically indicate what needs to be done on your particular family is the Descendancy View. Here is a screenshot of the first person above in the Descendancy View:

The blue icons on the right indicate that she has no sources attached. In addition, she has no parents listed and if you look at her basic information in the traditional view, you will find that there are, at least, three different entries in Family Tree for a Margaret Whitmore although there are presently no matches found if you search for a duplicate in the program.

The answer to this question is that the data in Family Tree needs to be verified before you launch off and claim that your supposed ancestors' Temple work needs to be done. This is especially true if you find yourself on the side of the spectrum with many, many names already in the program.

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