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

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Reflections on Changes in FamilySearch Family Tree

Two days ago, I received a very long letter from a person who was essentially overcome with the changes to the Family Tree and wanted to know how she could delete her family tree. I realize I have addressed this issue numerous times, but apparently all the writing I can do has almost no effect, especially among those who come to the Family Tree with little or no connection to the greater online genealogical community. In case of this rather long email I received, it was evident that the person had no understanding of online family tree programs in general and almost no understanding of the Family Tree program. This is not at all unusual since the vast majority of the users of the website and Family Tree in particular simply jump in and start using the program without bothering to find out what they are using.

The tragedy of the lack of awareness of the basic structure and mechanics of the Family Tree is that the users become frustrated and antagonistic, just as the lady who wrote to me expressed. It is interesting to me that almost every issue she (and others) raised about the program are actually features and are functioning exactly like the program is supposed to function. In other words, the program is doing what it is supposed to do and the people are frustrated because they are unaware of how or why the program acts as it does.

As I see it, the problems arise as a control issue. The dissatisfied user is unaccustomed to collaborating with others in real time and feels his or her control was being threatened. Rather than use the features of the program that allow users to contact each other and work together, the unhappy person is ignorant of those features. For example, the user is likely not aware that there are a whole series of steps that can be taken to minimize the impact of other's lack of information. These steps include:

  • Watching selected individuals
  • Posting requests and information about specific individuals
  • Responding to changes
  • Providing notices and sources for every entry
  • Reporting abuse to FamilySearch
  • Making corrections to data changes rapidly after giving notice
  • Reviewing the change report sent by FamilySearch each week
In some cases, I am not sure there is a solution. The dissatisfied user simply refuses to go through the educational process needed to "come up to speed" with a program that does not function in a way they are accustomed to seeing a program work.

Much of the frustration expressed stems from two major flaws in the program:
  • Family Tree allows users to make changes without any contact information
  • Family Tree allows users to make arbitrary changes without either justification or source citations
These are flaws because the effect of allowing users to operate anonymously and without justification puts the primary information supplier at a distinct disadvantage. It is not surprising that these two challenges lie at the heart of the vast majority of the complaints I receive. 

A further tragedy is the lack of use of the extensive educational and training tools available to anyone who takes some time to review them. Here is a list of just a few of the basic resources available.

There are also a number of webinars and videos available.


  1. Once again, you are right on target with your comments. I couldn't agree more with your two major flaws:

    Family Tree allows users to make changes without any contact information
    Family Tree allows users to make arbitrary changes without either justification or source citations

    I just spent several hours trying to undo the fallout from a user merging a father with his son, apparently because they had the same name! As you might expect, there was no explanation, sources, discussions, or notes to support the change. There was contact information, but the person didn't respond to my inquiries.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, your experience is quite common.

  2. I agree. Family Tree needs to have a better way for users to collaborate. Otherwise, it is not a real community tree. If users do not want to reveal their contact information directly, then Family Tree should still require contact information and have software that forwards user messages to private users.

    It would also be nice if Family Tree provided contact information for their people who make changes to a tree, rather than have to use their general feedback system.

    For example, I just found several duplicate records had been added for my grandmother. Four of these records did represent my grandmother, but two were not my grandmother. (I had previously sourced my grandparents’ records as well as merged any duplicate records I could find with the Possible Duplicates and Find searches.) When I looked at the history, it showed these new records were added by FamilySearch and not a regular user. I have no idea why and it should have been obvious two of the records were not even my grandmother because of the sourcing I had done.

    In this case, I just went ahead and fixed it, but it would have been nice to directly collaborate with the person at FamilySearch just like we would like to with other users.

    1. Many of those records are still being ported over from That process is scheduled to end in February, 2015. But there will still be some of the files and information coming over from NFS for the next year or two.

    2. As I understand it, if a contributor is listed as “Family Search,” that means the addition was triggered by an automatic process in New Family Search. Most commonly the chain of events is this:

      1) A user printed out temple ordinance cards from New Family Search for John Doe.
      2) A different user merged, correctly or incorrectly, duplicates for John Doe.
      3) Family Tree began operation and the merged John Doe was transferred there.
      4) Someone cleaned up John Doe’s record in Family Tree.
      5) The first user finally took the ordinance cards to the temple.
      6) When the ordinance work was completed, the information from the temple’s files was added to New Family Search then synced with Family Tree adding information from the temple’s files to John Doe’s record with contributor “Family Search.” You usually won’t see any change in ordinance information because these are so often duplicate ordinances.

      Another situation where this occurs is when there is any change to a person’s LDS membership record. The changes are written to New Family Search then synced to Family Tree. In this case, the contributor might show as “LDS Membership” although it seems that sometimes it is still listed as “Family Search.”

      These automatic additions will continue until all the automatic links between Family Tree and New Family Search are severed. Right now, they are still necessary for the proper function of Family Tree in some ways that I am not totally clear on.

      You’d have to check with someone at Family Search to double check if I have all these details gleaned from various boards right. I easily could have gotten confused.

    3. I think your analysis is essentially correct, but I am not sure of the details. It is my understanding that the LDS Memberships were being corrected due to obvious errors being found in Family Tree. So some of the membership record changes are because of contradictory information in different versions (duplicates) of the same person. I understand that there is still some information in NFS waiting to be transferred but that this transfer process was to be completed by the February date contained in the FamilySearch blog post.