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

Friday, January 9, 2015

How Effective are Family Tree Green Arrows in Promoting Family History?

Green Arrows have been around for a long time. They first appeared with the introduction of and then migrated over to Family Tree. The real question is how effective are they in providing real opportunities for taking ancestor's names to the Temples and further, how effective are they in promoting further involvement in family history? These questions need to be raised because the use of these Green Arrows (and now Green Temple Icons) has been promoted as a fast and easy way to do family history and provide names for ordinance work.

Many seasoned family historians (i.e. genealogists) believe that clicking on Green Arrows promotes duplication of Temple work and fails to provide a real family history experience. There are those who discount the issue of duplicate ordinances and believe that the "Temple Experience" provided by taking a "family name" to the Temple outweighs all of the other considerations. In the past, I have written about 14 blog posts about Green Arrows in one context or another beginning back in 2009. However, I have not written on this subject since 2012.

Why am I returning to what may be an old issue? Because lately, I have heard a large number of comments both in favor of and adverse to Green Arrows. In the remote possibility that you do not know what I am talking about, here is a screen shot showing a Green Arrow:

I have blanked out the names so that this Green Arrow will not be a target for someone to take a name to the temple. The Green Arrows have been supplemented by Green Temple Icons in the Descendancy View. Here is another screenshot showing the icons but not the names:

The Green Arrows and Green Temple Icons indicate that ordinances may be available. However, there is a warning on the screen for reserving the ordinances that states, "Possible duplicates exist. These ordinances may have already been completed." Many people think that these warnings are ineffective and that people simply proceed to do the ordinances without checking.

I decided to see how may of the Green Arrow/Green Temple Icons ended up being valid names available for Temple ordinances. The first name I checked, a wife, had four duplicate entries but was listed as available for all ordinances to be requested. When I finished the merge, the wife had additional children. The only ordinance available was a sealing to spouse. But now there were duplicate spouses. The husband had six possible duplicates all of which appeared to be valid.

I went through the process with the husband, merging the duplicates. As I began the process of merging the husband's duplicates, I immediately found additional duplicates not found on the first go-around with the wife. I also began to find duplicates for the children. I added in the duplicate wives so that I would not lose them in the process. At this point, Family Tree allowed me to do the sealing to spouse for both the duplicate wives. All the other ordinances were marked completed as long ago as 1962.

I still had five duplicates of the husband to go. Every single one had almost exactly the same information and there was no real doubt that they were duplicates. I had another duplicate wife with each of the duplicate husbands. I also had duplicate daughters. I began to wonder how many people would continue to try to find all these duplicates and not just give up and take some of the names to the Temple again. This would be a real possibility if they were under some sort of duress as far as producing names for Temple work.

At this point, I was totally convinced that if I kept looking I would keep finding duplicate entries for both the husband and the wife. After ten or so duplicates, I began to wonder if the whole process was worth the effort. Every time I searched I found duplicates for either the husband or the wife or both. There seemed to be no end to the duplicates. Remember, I just picked this particular Green Arrow issue at random after about one minute or so of looking.

Finally, about the sixth or seventh duplicate merger, all of the available ordinances appeared as done and the Green Arrows etc. disappeared. Oops. Did I say the disappeared? No, they showed that the husband had been sealed to his wife twice but there was still a duplicate wife with a Green Arrow. So the program would allow me to do the sealing a third time and relied entirely on my "honesty" in continuing this seemingly endless task. Every time I merged another duplicate, there appeared yet another copy of the wife with a sealing to spouse available.

So now I had five more duplicate copies of the wife that did not show up in the first round of duplicate mergers. Each time the new wife would be available for an ordinance and the previous ones would show the ordinance as completed. All of these candidates had exactly the same names and most of the same dates with some variations. Meanwhile the duplicate children began to pile up.

After continuing the merger, finally something new showed up: a wife with the same name but with the warning that "This person's record needs a standardized place in a birth, christening, death, burial, cremation, or marriage event." All of these spouses had unique PID numbers. Even though I kept merging and merging, I still had at least one wife with the same name and dates etc. that showed an available sealing ordinance.

I finally ended up with five copies of the same wife (remember I did the merger for the wife already) and two showed the sealing to be done and one still had a Green Arrow.

When I got to this point, I chose one of the duplicate wives and looked for more duplicates. I found three more wife duplicates all with the exactly the same people and same dates. I cannot believe that anyone who was looking for a name to take to the Temple would have kept going this long. I had been combining names for over an hour and still the program was producing more duplicates and telling me I had clear sailing to take a name to the Temple.

Finally, after more than an hour and probably more than twenty duplicate searches, I had no Green Arrow. By this time, the people showed that their ordinances had first been done in 1929. I am not sure what I have learned from this experience. But when I went back and checked on the husband, the Green Arrow appeared once more.

You might begin to understand why I am skeptical about the efficacy of the Green Arrows and the Green Temple Icons. I am absolutely sure that most inexperienced members would have simply clicked on the Green Arrow or Temple at the very first and taken the name to the Temple again. I am pretty sure very, very few people would keep clicking on duplicates for over an hour while the Green Arrows continued to appear.

Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a flaw in this system and the Green Arrows do what I thought they did many years ago; they facilitate duplicate ordinances. If I had not believed that this entry was a duplicate and that the work had been done, I would not have kept looking for duplicates for over an hour.


  1. Our experience has been the same as yours, and it is a little frustrating to encounter the folks at FamilySearch who just don't see this as a problem. They feel that, since we made such a mess of mis-combining records in new FamilySearch, they want to avoid a similar mis-merging issue in Family Tree. They discount the number of duplicates there are, which we estimate to be horrendously high. It is just a titch dishonest in my opinion to not inform users of this problem, especially the youth, who have been told how wonderful it is to click away on green arrows and take 20, 50, 100 "names" to the temple by this weekend. It fakes them out as to what family history is really all about. And many of us have found that once youth do this, that is the end of their family history efforts. They think they've fulfilled their FH duty, never learning how to source, clean up records, and so on.
    Another issue here is how one finds duplicate records. The obvious Possible Duplicates search on the Details Page is a low level search function which only finds almost exact matches. One can use the Find button, or Search Historical Records, or the Add/find method when adding new people, ... but who knows this? On our website we have tried to address this very issue in our Descendancy Search and Hastening Temple Work presentations, with some pretty specific examples. But your article describes the process so well. We are going to link to it, hoping to spread the word. One of our editors, Kathryn Grant, has got a presentation in the Learning Center (yes, they did accept it) on Finding Duplicates that is a very thorough explanation of the methods one can use to find dups. Thanks for focusing on this issue.

    1. The question in the title of my post was whether or not clicking on Green Arrows was effective in promoting family history. Although I did not answer the question directly (which is common for me) I do not think that clicking on Green Arrows involves the work necessary to have a "turning the heart" experience. As I say in the next reply, I believe the Temple experience does not necessarily lead to an interest in genealogy or otherwise all of the Temple workers would be avid genealogists.

  2. In your process of finding duplicates, did you only use the "possible duplicates" search or did you also use the "find" search?

    You never stated your view on the temple experience with and without a duplicate name. I was wondering how you feel about it or what you might have heard on this subject.

    I have wondered about this. Do you have a better experience if you use a temple file name for a person who has never had the work done for him or her, or is the experience better if you take a family file name that has been previously done? I believe the experience is better if the person really needs the work, but I am not an impartial judge.

    1. In this example, I was testing the issue of clicking on a Green Arrow. I am sure I would have found more duplicates if I had used the Find link. But, from the standpoint of a user who knows little or nothing about genealogy, that is not an option. They will not assume that there might be a duplicate if the first place they look says there are none. People have a tendency to believe the program. Your remaining questions are interesting and I think Temple experiences are different than genealogy experiences and leave it at that.

  3. Just a few weeks ago our bishop stood up in priesthood meeting and complimented the youth for finding over 3,000 names to take to ward temple day! As you so well illustrate, virtually no one will go to the effort of actually properly merging all the duplicates before simply clicking a green arrow. I really have to wonder why we don't hear FamilySearch actively trying to engage the experienced, dedicated genealogists in each family to go in and clean up Family Tree and work on properly doing the merges? It seems like "help us clean up the Tree" is the message that needs to go out, but you just don't hear that!

    1. Those of us who have spent years researching our family lines realize how long it takes and how much effort it takes to find a few names. It is possible, if all of these families with these children were recent converts to the Church, that they could have a lot of "relatively easy" work to do. But it is very likely, as I illustrate, that most of these names are duplicates.

    2. Back in the "PAF Insight" days, I was actually excited to find temple work already completed so I could concentrate on work which had not already been done. At that time PAF Insight talked about 17 hours of temple time (patron time plus worker time) which were needed to complete a full set of ordinances. Whether that number is closer to 6 hours (by my calculations) or the 17 hours originally advertised is immaterial. IT IS A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF TIME.

      Those 3000 names cleared by the youth that weekend created about 18,000 hours of temple time (nine man-years). It would be a shame if we were moving labor from the youth to the adults in an attempt to give them "easy endorphins" for temple work experience. It is far more productive to “clean the tree” for 1 hour rather than submit an unnecessary ordinance which requires 6 hours. I agree this should somehow be addressed. Thanks for bringing up the conversation.

    3. I am not sure about the numbers but, I agree that the impact is significant. I am always suspicious of large numbers, especially when they are round numbers like 3000.