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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Can I stop people from making changes to my ancestors on FamilySearch Family Tree?

The answer to the question asked in the title to this post is technically no, but in reality, there are several things you can do to minimize anyone making irresponsible changes to your ancestors' entries on the Family Tree. As I pointed out in my previous post, there are some fundamental reasons why changes are being made to the Family Tree, but in wikis it is he (or she) who lasts the longest who wins the battle of changes.

My experience with the Research Wiki is a good example of lasting the longest. One of the Special Pages of the Research Wiki illustrates this principle. The current statistics page (part of the Special Pages) says that of the date of this post there were 80,646 total articles in the Research Wiki and a total of 159,812 pages in all. There have been 1,955,690 edits since the Research Wiki began for an average of only 12.24 per page.

OK, so here is the deal. There are many more pages in the Family Tree than there ever will be in the Research Wiki. But you will note that there have been an average of only 12.4 changes per page in the Research Wiki. I would understand this to mean that on the average it will not take a whole lot of effort to preserve the integrity of the Family Tree once the novelty of the program wears off. The most telling statistic is that although there have been over 305 million views of just the main Research Wiki page alone, there are currently only 319 people who have made changes to the Research Wiki in the last 30 days. I can only suppose that the same thing will happen to the Family Tree. There may be an initial flurry of activity as new people are added to the program but over time only a very small number of people will continue to make changes.

The oldest page in the Research Wiki was added in December of 2007. The last change to this page was made on 28 July 2008. This is what will happen with the Family Tree also. Mark my words. There will be a lot of changes early on in its existence but as time goes on, the older entries will not be looked at or changed.

If you are currently trying to "correct" the entries in the Family Tree, you are fighting with the overall changes to the program as outlined in my previous post. In addition, you are confronting people who are discovering the Family Tree for the first time and have no idea what they are doing. They will soon get discouraged or lose interest in existing ancestors. No one is particularly telling these people to spend time with existing entries, they are being told to find ancestors' names to take to the Temple. They will soon begin to ignore most of the work that is already done and where there are no green arrows or temple icons. Since no instructions are being given about what to do with existing entries, the existing entries or new entries that do not show Temple ordinance availability will be ignored. Most of the changes to the FamilySearch Research Wiki that comprise the average number of changes pertain to the time when the pages are being first edited and developed. Once the pages are developed, there are almost no changes made.

This is why I say those who persist win the battle of the changes. The casual user will simply lose interest.

Meanwhile, there are several things you can do to minimize the impact of people making changes. Here are my five top suggestions:

No. 1: Add as many sources as you can to each individual
The person who has the most sources wins. It is true that some new or inexperienced users will make changes without considering the sources listed. But, these changes are like maintaining a car or house, they will just be a constant background to the use of the program. They will diminish over time as families educate the new generation of users. In my own family, involvement with the Family Tree is slowly expanding among my older children. The larger families will start to form cores of experienced users and the problems with maintaining the Family Tree's integrity will start to diminish dramatically for existing families. The key to all this is adding every available source to each individual in the Family Tree.

No. 2: Correct existing entries
If an ancestral entry is incomplete or lacks detail, it is an open invitation for improper changes or merging. I am amazed that people seem to work on their family but fail to correct the existing entries. I wrote a blog post about the process of correcting the entries recently. See Cleaning up Entries in FamilySearch Family Tree.

No. 3: Watch all of the family members of a target ancestor
Each individual in the Family Tree can be "watched." This function provides that FamilySearch will send you an email once a week outlining all the changes to watched people in the Family Tree. Reviewing this list gives you an idea about what is happening with the Family Tree program and your watched ancestors specifically. You can then go to the changes and correct improper changes or review any new additional information you previously were not aware of.

No. 4: Communicate with anyone making an unreasonable or incorrect change
There is a basic flaw in the Family Tree program. Not all of the users are required to have contact information available. In every case where changes are made by a person without contact information, you should report abuse. There is a link to report abuse on every individual detail page. But if there is contact information, you should make the correction to the detail page and then notify the person why you made the change. There is absolutely no reason to wait for permission to correct an error. If necessary, you can use the revert function from the History page to correct extensive errors or merges. Do not make changes to the page if there has been an improper merger. Revert the merge before making any changes. But always send an email explaining the problem and the correction even if you do not get a response at all. Just make the corrections and talk about it after the fact. If there is a real disagreement with sources etc. then get into a conversation about the issues. Remain calm and don't fight.

No. 5: Be persistent
If you are wrong, admit it and allow the changes, If you are right, be sure to review any sources and and additional information provided because you might be wrong. Take time to think and reflect and not react as if the changes were personal affronts. But overall be persistent.

Most family historians are not used to instant collaboration. They are used to working on their own without anyone taking an interest or giving them feedback. Remember to be courteous and kind. But be firm in making your case and providing sources. If you do not provide a source, I will consider your change to be wrong and reverse it. Count on it.


  1. Thanks for the guidance. This is very helpful. I have tried reporting as abuse changes made by people without contact information. However, every time I do, I get an email back saying this does not meet the definition of abuse. This seems to be FamilySearch's take on abuse:

    "This feature is intended for reporting misuse of Family Tree that violates the terms of use. Some examples of misuse include:

    - Offensive or abusive language
    - Information that might harm or embarrass living relatives
    - Links to external web pages with inappropriate content
    - Solicitations for business or research services

    The report abuse feature is not intended for reporting incorrect data about a person (names, dates, and places) that another user has added. The process for resolving those issues involves adding sources, entering good reason statements, discussions, and contacting contributors." (from

    1. If someone keeps adding incorrect information to the Family Tree without some means of contacting them and repeatedly ignores sources and comments, that is harming me as a living relative. My definition.

    2. What do we do about these people then?