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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Solving Relationship Issues in FamilySearch Family Tree

It is not uncommon in working with;s Family Tree program to find all sorts of issues with family relationships. One of the most frequent issues is whether or not any particular list of children in a family are all the children of both of the listed parents. The simple rule used in Family Tree is that if the children shown are not the children of both of the listed parents, then the relationship should be deleted. In other words, each child must be the child of the two parents shown. This rule applies to situations where one of the parents is listed a "Unknown" also. So, for example, if the father's name is known and the mother's name is not known, but the there is another entry showing the correct mother, any child listed with the "Unknown" mother should have that relationship deleted and the child added to the entry with the correct "Known" mother.

This somewhat simple rule can become very complicated when either or both parents have multiple marriages or relationships. At this point, it is important for the researcher to understand how people can be related. There is a basic tutorial consisting of a series of lessons in the Family Tree Training Lessons and Videos that can be very helpful. This series of lessons starting in Level One and continuing in both Level Two and Level Three can help you to understand and advance your knowledge of the program. You should always work your way through all of the preceding lessons. This series begins in Level One with learning to use the "Sandbox." The Sandbox is a practice or dummy example of the Family Tree program that can be used without making changes to the actual program. Learning to use the Sandbox will enable you not only to learn the more involved parts of the entire program, but can also be used to teach others about the program without the danger that data in the "live" version of Family Tree will be lost.

Here is a screenshot of the Level One Sandbox Instruction location:

Watching the videos is no substitute for working through the exercises and practicing editing using the Sandbox version of the program. By jumping ahead in the program, you may get lost and fail to learn vital information needed to understand later principles introduced.


  1. I’m sorry but I must passionately protest.

    “So, for example, if the father's name is known and the mother's name is not known, but the there is another entry showing the correct mother, any child listed with the "Unknown" mother should have that relationship deleted and the child added to the entry with the correct "Known" mother.”

    If the training site says that, it is Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

    If a relationship is wrong, yes, delete it. But if a relationship is correct but incomplete never delete it. Only merge!

    Here is why:

    Thousands of birth records were extracted from parish records which gave only the child’s name and father’s name. These were sent for ordinance work, including the child to parents sealings, in the 1970’s through 2000’s and thereby entered into the IGI. Subsequently these were entered into New Family Search then Family Tree. Due to merges in New Family Search and data transfer quirks, it is common to run across the child

    Alfred (AAAA-AAA)

    with three sets of parents:

    John Doe (BBBB-BBB)
    Mary Smith (CCCC-CCC)

    John Doe (BBBB-BBB)
    Unknown Name (DDDD-DDD)

    John Doe (BBBB-BBB)
    Unknown (no id number)

    The child to parents sealing will be linked to either the John-Unknown Name relationship or the John-Unknown relationship. Often it is hard to tell and usually the sealing information is suppressed by the “Needs more information” message on the Ordinances page for Alfred and so not visible.

    If you delete the second two relationships, the sealing record is then gone from Family Tree and someone will end up duplicating a valid ordinance. In order to preserve the sealing record, these three relationships must be merged.

    It is easy to merge Mary Smith (CCCC-CCC) and Unknown Name (DDDD-DDD) by using the “merge by ID number” function.

    It is a little bit harder to merge Mary Smith (CCCC-CCC) and Unknown (no id number). You cannot add Mary Smith as a spouse in this relationship because she and John are already linked in a relationship. Instead, you need to add a spouse. Entering a first name of “mary” and clicking “deceased” is sufficient to create mary (EEEE-EEE). Now merge Mary Smith and mary.

    Return to Alfred’s ordinance page after completing this process and you will find that the “Needs More Information” message is gone and the original extraction record sealing date will be showing.

    1. If that what happened then this is a valid point. But then aren't you forced to assume that all Unknown Mothers fall into this category when only those extracted are the problem? If what you say is correct, which I suppose it is, then this is a serious bug in the Family Tree program because the sealing to parents ordinance is actually the child's ordinance and should follow the child no matter who the parents are.

    2. Extracted records sent for temple work by the Church have always been handled differently than names submitted by members. From the looks of things, when an extracted record was sent for ordinance work, if the mother’s name was unknown, the child to parents sealing did not add a mother’s name to the record. From my admittedly limited understanding of things, members could not, and certainly can’t now, submit a name for sealing to parents without both a father’s and mother’s name. That is where all those John Hickenlooper, child of James Hickenlooper and Mrs. Hickenlooper in Family Tree have come from. I assume anyone would say that if, in Family Tree, you have James with two wives, Mary Johnson and Mrs. Hickenlooper and you know he was only married once, you would not delete Mrs. Hickenlooper, you would merge the two women. Then the relationships and the ordinances track properly.

      As for as the sealing being an individual ordinance that only follows the child, are you sure about that? Doesn’t current policy say that if the child is sealed to the wrong father the ordinance needs to be repeated but if to the wrong mother it does not if the ordinance was done after 1 July 1969? Here is the policy on the Family Search site I am reading: “Ordinance records are sacred records of completed temple work. Ordinances need to be redone and another record created only if (1) ordinances were done for the wrong gender, (2) the wrong people were sealed together, (3) proxy ordinances were done in error when an individual was still living, (4) or proxy ordinances were performed prior to the one-year anniversary of the individual's death date.
      “Note:  Before 1 July 1969: Child-to-parent sealings performed before 1 July 1969 with an incorrect mother's name should be redone with the correct mother's name.
      “On or after 1 July 1969: Child-to-parent sealings performed on or after 1 July 1969 are valid even if a wrong monther's name is given. The word "mother" used in the temple ordinance takes precedence over any name that is given.” I would guess the reason for the procedure and policy change was primarily all those extraction records without mother’s names.

      But back to the point. Since I correct these unknown mothers as I come to them I don’t have a ready example. I’ll try to find one and demonstrate the difference ways of handling them.

    3. You are examining a very important issue. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. My reference to the ordinance being the "child's" ordinance refers primarily to the need to redo the ordinance if the parents get a divorce and remarry. It is my understanding that it is not necessary to redo the child's sealing even though it is commonly done with the new parent. See for example, If a woman who has been sealed to a former husband remarries, the children of her later marriage are born in the covenant of the first marriage unless they were born after the sealing was canceled or after it was revoked due to excommunication or name removal (Handbook 1, Stake President and Bishops, 2010, page 21, 3.6.2). See the Help Center topic Status of children Born in the covenant when a sealing is canceled or after divorce. The issue is if the child is sealed to the wrong person. From what you say, it would appear that the Family Tree program may not reflect all of these issues. Deleting the relationship of a child to its father and an unknown mother should not delete the child's sealing to the father and the known mother.

    4. I have gotten some further information on this issue and will be following up with an answer.

    5. Gordon, please email me directly at

  2. I was able to find an example for you and throw together a full explanation. It was quick work, so please excuse any typos. You will find it here:

    After I found records to demonstrate the issue I have seen, I went into the beta Family Tree site to work through the explanation in case something went wrong. You can examine the final records there and the original records in Family Tree itself. Since this does show actual ordinance information, I'm not sure it should really be on a public board. Please feel free to delete this post after you copy out the link if you share my reservations.