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

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Challenge of Multiple Family Trees Online

For the past couple of years, I have been constantly talking about and teaching about the large online genealogy database companies (among many other things). Recently, I have been presenting a series of classes at the Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History Library about these programs. I am part-way through the first round of classes. As I teach the classes, the BYU Family History Library has been putting videos of the classes online on their Channel. By the way, they are working on improving the quality of the videos. There have been several challenges to overcome.

What I see as the underlying issue for the users with the agreements between FamilySearch and the other three companies is the concept of maintaining multiple family trees online. Many users have their own genealogical data on a desktop computer-based genealogy program. Many of those who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have also been caught up in ongoing challenge of learning to use and maintain the Family Tree. Now these same users are confronted with learning three new (to them) programs and putting three more family trees online. Many people have expressed sincere concerns about the need for such "extra" family trees and difficult of synchronizing trees on all the different programs. There are many other concerns and issues. Each of the companies have unique features and the implementation of the features are an additional challenge.

Some of the users' concerns are valid and some are illusory. From a practical standpoint, the main challenges have involved the mechanics of learning new programs. But before the users are willing to become involved in multiple programs, they must confront the conceptual issue of maintaining multiple online databases in addition to their own genealogy program. From the standpoint of members of the Church, the issue is compounded because of the difficulties experienced with the Family Tree program. Many users are frustrated by the appearance of random changes and the overwhelming challenge of correcting multiple layers of inaccurate ancestry due to the pre-existing database inherited from Frankly, the promise of being able to share sources and information between the three partner programs and FamilySearch Family Tree is not much of a motivation. This is especially true with users who have not yet been converted to the concept of supporting their entries with adequate sources.

In addition, explanations such as having multiple backups, are not awfully convincing. Resistance to becoming involved with three additional programs is lessened somewhat for those who are already familiar with the other three online database programs. But for new users, the task of learning the new programs and understanding the concepts is overwhelming. The benefits of having the automated or semi-automated record hints and the ability to attach sources directly to an individual or family are impressive but not completely persuasive. In almost every case, I have found that involvement with the three other programs by members of the Church revolves around an explanation of the overall function of the system. Telling people that the programs are "free" is not much of a motivation, especially when the concepts of adding sources, maintaining databases and the mechanics of doing genealogical research are missing.

Before there is general acceptance of the use of these programs and pending the implementation of the ability to transfer information between the programs more completely than it presently exists, I do not see that the programs will be extensively used. Those individuals who are actively involved in genealogical research will see the value of having access to the three programs that those who have yet to become involved will not see this as an incentive.

In individual cases, when I had an opportunity to sit down and worked with members who are reasonably familiar with genealogy and even some members who are just starting out, I have been able to help them understand the advantages of using the partner programs. But I am concerned, that this process involves a substantial amount of time and effort on the part of those who have familiarity with each of the three other programs and in addition understand the complex issues faced by users of the FamilySearch Family Tree program.

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