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

Friday, March 27, 2015

How to Eliminate Arbitrary Changes on FamilySearch Family Tree

I am apparently the lightning rod recipient of a constant stream of vocal and written complaints about arbitrary changes being made to the Family Tree. I know exactly how to resolve this thorny issue. In fact, the resolution process is already in place and works very well. Thank you. Most of those who complain are trying to fight against the very nature of the program. The question you need to ask yourself is this: do I really want to understand how and why FamilySearch Family Tree operates or do I merely wish to revel in my misery and complain?

I have mentally gone back over the "animated discussion" I experienced in the class I was teaching earlier in the week. See "Misinformation and disinformation on FamilySearch Family Tree." Not once during that exchange did any of the participants recognize the true nature of the Family Tree program or propose any solutions to the perceived problems caused by unsupported and arbitrary changes. I also realized I had witnessed just exactly that kind of reaction much earlier in my life when, as a child, we would get into animated discussions (arguments) over the rules of a game we were playing. These arguments usually arose because no one really knew or cared about the actual rules of the game, but merely wished the rules to work in their favor.

Now this is the key. Those who are complaining about suffering the effects of changes being made in the FamilySearch Family Tree are really wanting a rule change to favor their own contributions and changes over those of any other person in the Family Tree, i.e. their own relatives. This is an issue about control, not about rules or changes. I never hear anyone complain about the fact that they can go into the program and make their own changes.

At this point, I need to quote one of the "rules of the game" set down by FamilySearch. This is a quote from a Help Center article entitled, "Reason statements for adding, editing and deleting information." Here is the quote:
When you add, edit, or delete information about a person in the tree, you should explain the reasons for your change. Providing reasons helps prevent improper changes and directs other interested researchers to sources supporting the information. 
In your explanation, use the guidelines below:
  • Write clearly. Use complete sentences.
  • Avoid “I” statements (such as “I found.…” or “My research indicates....”). Write in third person (such as “The census shows.…”).
  • Keep your tone professional and neutral.
  • Focus the explanation on the ancestor whose data is being recorded and the sources used to find the information.
  • Indicate information clearly supported by sources and information still needing sources. For example, if the birth month and year came from a census, say so.
  • Identify the sources used. If possible, attach the sources to the person, and tag sources to appear with the information supported.
  • If the records contain contradictory or incorrect information, explain why you think the version you added is the most correct..
  • Explain your reasoning if information contradicts family stories.
  • Explain why you feel the information is correct, if others could form different conclusions.
  • If you derived or estimated information, explain how you reached your conclusion.
  • If you are deleting information, explain why you feel the information you are deleting should be deleted instead of corrected.
  • Point out relevant discussions.
  • If you are unsure, ask someone to read what you have written to make sure you communicated clearly.
 The reason fields are not the place to hold a dialog or debate with other users. Use the Discussions feature to post questions or request for information from other users.
Oh my, you cry! My relatives really aren't playing by the rules!! Oh, but are you? Hmm. Let's go on and quote another rule, shall we? This one is entitled, "Why others can change information, and how to reduce improper changes." How many of you knew that there were rules to this game called Family Tree and have read them? Here I go again with another quote:
In Family Tree, all deceased people you add in Family Tree can be seen and are accessible by other users of the tree. Any user can change almost any piece of information, regardless of whether he or she originally added it. On the other hand, living people you add are not visible to other Family Tree users. 
Family Tree is intended to become a genealogical record that is correct, that contains sources to prove its accuracy, and that endures longer than any of the people who add information to it. See About FamilySearch and Family Tree (272598)
Most contributors do their best to ensure that their information is correct. However, sometimes the records required to prove something are not available. It is possible that future researchers will have access to better records than we do now. We need to allow future researchers the ability to correct and add better information as it becomes available. See Reason statements for adding, editing, and deleting information (71944) 
It is not always easy to collaborate with other researchers. Evidence may be contradictory. Incorrect family legends are common. Disagreement can arise. See Collaborating with other contributors in Family Tree (54091). Family Tree has several features that are intended to encourage people to provide accurate information and to prevent improper changes: 
If you want to maintain control over the records for your ancestors, you may choose to work in trees you create elsewhere. These could be online at other sites or with programs that can synchronize with Family Tree. Information about these can be found at:
Note carefully the last paragraph. In essence it says if you do not want to play the game by its rules, you can leave any time and work on "your own" family tree on another program. I can say with all certainty that if you yourself play by the rules, you will see a dramatic decrease in arbitrary changes.

I am thinking about a second post on this same topic. At the same time, I am beginning to think about a standard response to complaints that says something like: Have you read and studied the rules?

The real question is am I going to read and play by the rules?


  1. What a great summary of vital things folks need to know. Thanks. I'm linking to this article, as usual.

  2. Calm, reasonable presentation regarding lack of evidence still does not deter those I have encountered who keep entering what they want to believe in Family Tree. As in sports and politics, some always believe the rules governing others do not apply to them.

  3. Always love your posts. They are helping us get through this transition and education period so that we can become "of one heart" and present "a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.” (D&C 128:22, 24.) As the scouters would say, "Do your best" and "leave it better than you found it."

  4. I, of course, agree with everything you are saying. However, one huge issue I see is that Family Tree only does validation checks after the fact. After information has been entered, "Data Problems" are flagged. If FS would do validation checks as the data is being entered, I think that would greatly reduce the frequency of obviously incorrect data entries. Why wait until after data has been entered to flag a problem. Why not alert the user as they are entering data that there may be a data problem?

    1. If the algorithm now entering all manner of erroneous connections from IGI as purported sources (including myriad permutations of "same name = same person" derived from new.FamilySearch) can't distinguish (say) between folks of different generations, consider yourself dern lucky to get any error flagged at all.